GUTERRES GIVES COLD SHOULDER.
U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres is organizing a Climate Ambition Summit to boost momentum ahead of the COP28 climate summit. Notably absent from the list of 34 speakers are major emitters like China and the United States, as well as the United Arab Emirates, which will host COP28. The summit will host leaders, including those from Brazil, Canada, the European Union, and others, who heed Guterres’ call to amplify global climate action. The objective is to encourage entities whose climate plans aren’t congruent with global targets. Entities including Allianz, the World Bank, IMF, London, and California have speaking slots. Though U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry will attend, he won’t speak. Invited speakers have shown significant climate action efforts, like plans to phase out fossil fuels. Guterres criticized the global shortfall in climate action, emphasizing that current commitments are inadequate to maintain a 1.5°C temperature rise cap. (Reuters)
DEEPMIND = DEEP INSIGHT INTO DISEASE.
Google’s AI division, DeepMind, has used artificial intelligence to detect changes in human DNA that could lead to diseases, identifying about 89% of key mutations. This breakthrough is poised to enhance the speed of diagnosis and aid in discovering improved treatments. Prof Ewan Birney from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory hailed this development as “a big step forward” that could assist clinical researchers in focusing their investigations. DNA consists of four chemical components, and their sequence determines the proteins formed in a developing embryo. Any misorder in this sequence can lead to diseases. Last year, DeepMind’s AI deciphered the structure of nearly all human body proteins. Their new system, AlphaMissense, can discern if DNA sequences will result in the correct protein shape. Previously, only 0.1% of DNA mutations were classified as benign or harmful; this has now surged to 89% with DeepMind’s model. The AI tool, tested by Genomics England, promises significant benefits for healthcare. Prof Birney anticipates AI becoming integral to molecular biology and life sciences. (BBC)
SCIENCE FUNDING CUTS.
South Korea’s government has unexpectedly proposed a 10.9% reduction in research spending for 2024, redirecting resources to new projects such as rocket development, high-risk biomedical studies, and establishing a biotech innovation ecosystem akin to Boston’s. This move could halt a longstanding trend of increasing science investment that has positioned South Korea as a significant global research player. The restructuring aims to address budget deficits and target more fruitful research areas. However, the science community is concerned, citing lack of consultation and unclear budget specifics. Historically, South Korea’s R&D investment grew from 3.9% of GDP to 4.9% in 2022, second only to Israel. Recently, President Yoon Suk Yeol hinted at reduced government R&D support and criticized “predatory interest cartels” in research. The new budget favors sectors like AI, semiconductors, and space but cuts funding for foundational research. There are worries about the impact on young researchers and overall research quality. Additionally, two major health projects have been announced, aiming to enhance biomedical research outcomes and establish ties between Korean and Boston research institutes. (Science)
SEEING A DOCTOR MAY BET HARDER.
The most frequent complaint among patients is the difficulty in scheduling urgent or immediate appointments. A 2022 survey revealed it takes an average of 20.6 days for a family medicine appointment, mainly due to a shortage of clinicians and fewer medical graduates choosing primary care. A significant yet less-discussed issue affecting patient access is the shift to value-based payment in non-concierge primary care. While the intention is to emphasize quality over volume, the result prioritizes certain patient encounters over others, such as acute pain or mental health concerns, pushing many to urgent care centers or emergency rooms. Value-based care aims to enhance health outcomes, reduce costs, and empower primary care. However, to implement it efficiently requires fewer patients per clinician than the current numbers. Some solutions include team-based care models, patient education, and leveraging technology like AI. It’s crucial to align value-based incentives with patient needs and reduce clinicians’ administrative burdens, all while attracting more practitioners to primary care. (STAT)
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DEEPMIND + ALPHAFOLD OFFERS PROTEIN MUTATION INSIGHTS.
Google DeepMind has developed a tool, named AlphaMissense, which utilizes the power of the AlphaFold AI system to predict which protein mutations could lead to diseases. This new application addresses a significant limitation in using genomics for healthcare, helping professionals decipher genomes to pinpoint disease origins. Notably, while many genetic mutations leading to diseases like cystic fibrosis have been identified, a vast majority remain unknown. The AlphaMissense system enhances the interpretation of these unknown mutations. It is constructed on the AlphaFold platform, which estimates protein structures, but additionally integrates neural networks that have been trained on millions of protein sequences. While it currently outperforms other tools in identifying disease-causing variants, experts believe its long-term supremacy is uncertain. Moreover, while AlphaMissense provides advanced prediction capabilities, experts urge rigorous evaluations before clinical application. They warn against relying solely on such tools without thorough validation for actual patient diagnoses. (Nature)
HEALING THROUGH HEALING.
Kai Koerber, a survivor of the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, developed a smartphone app named Joy in response to the traumatic experience. Instead of pursuing gun control activism like some of his classmates, Koerber, who has a tech background and aspired to be a rocket scientist, created an app that uses artificial intelligence to suggest quick mindfulness activities based on users’ emotions. The unique AI algorithm detects feelings from the tone of a user’s voice, irrespective of the words or language. The aim is to offer instantaneous, easily accessible mindfulness practices tailored to one’s emotional needs. Users simply speak into the app, which recommends short activities. While the AI’s emotion detection isn’t always accurate, users can manually input their mood. The app costs $8/month and becomes more precise as more users interact with it. Experts and users laud its innovative approach but also emphasize the need for accurate representation of users’ feelings. (Associated Press)
RNA SEQUENCED FROM EXTINCT SPECIES.
Researchers have successfully sequenced RNA from an extinct species, the Tasmanian tiger, using 132-year-old museum specimens. Published in Genome Research, this groundbreaking achievement offers the potential to gain new insights into extinct species from preserved samples in museums worldwide. Unlike DNA, which remains stable over time and has been extracted from million-year-old extinct species, RNA deteriorates rapidly, making this feat remarkable. To achieve this, scientists developed a protocol specifically for extracting ancient RNA. From the Tasmanian tiger’s muscle and skin, they identified millions of RNA sequences, shedding light on the genes and proteins inherent in its tissues. The study also revealed RNA molecules from viruses that had infected the Tasmanian tiger, suggesting the potential to study ancient viruses. Experts believe this research breathes new life into the undervalued field of ancient RNA sequencing and hope to see more studies combining both DNA and RNA sequencing in the future. (Nature)
Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.
WORDS: The Biology Guy.
IMAGE CREDIT: John Gillespie.