DAILY DOSE: Nobels in Physics and Medicine handed out; Stoneman Willie gets his due.


The 2023 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz, and Anne L’Huillier for their revolutionary experiments involving attosecond light pulses, enabling unprecedented insight into the rapid processes within atoms, specifically electron behavior. Electrons, moving at phenomenal speeds within atoms, were previously observed as blurs, eluding detailed study. The development of light pulses, measured in attoseconds (a quintillionth of a second), functions like a high-speed shutter to scrutinize electron movement and behavior. This breakthrough in “attosecond physics” not only sharpens our understanding of atomic and molecular processes but also paves the way for enhanced electron microscopy, accelerated electronics, and innovative diagnostic tests for early disease detection. L’Huillier, based at Lund University, becomes the fifth woman awarded a physics Nobel and emphasized the significance during a press conference. This advancement signals a remarkable stride in exploring and understanding the microcosmic realm of electrons. (BBC)


Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their groundbreaking mRNA research, crucial in developing COVID-19 vaccines and recognized as a “game changer” in managing the pandemic, potentially saving millions of lives. Their innovative approach, divergent from traditional vaccine-making methods, involves using a snippet of genetic code to instruct protein creation. While early skeptics doubted the viability of the mRNA approach due to the body’s destructive immune response, Karikó and Weissman discovered a tiny RNA modification that evaded immune detection, opening new frontiers in vaccine technology. Beyond COVID-19, this research paves the way for developing vaccines against various diseases like Ebola and malaria and is being explored in cancer treatment and other gene therapies. While the scientists initially thought the Nobel win was a prank, the announcement brought genuine surprise and happiness. The prize brings not only financial reward ($1 million) and esteemed recognition but also underscores the impact of resilient scientific pursuit on global health crises. (Associated Press)

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended the widespread utilization of a second malaria vaccine, R21/Matrix-M, which is expected to mitigate the gap between supply and demand caused by the limited availability of the first malaria vaccine, Mosquirix or RTS,S. Developed at the University of Oxford, R21 has shown approximately 75% efficacy against clinical malaria in phase 3 trials, with a promise to save tens of thousands of lives annually, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa where malaria is most prevalent. While it awaits WHO prequalification, the R21 vaccine is forecasted to be broadly available by the second half of 2024, offering a more affordable option at $2 to $4 per dose compared to RTS,S, and will be eligible for purchase by UNICEF and Gavi, among others. Both vaccines demonstrate similar efficacy and will be integrated into at least 28 countries’ malaria control programs. WHO emphasizes combining vaccine use with existing malaria countermeasures, like insecticide-treated nets and antimalarial drugs, to maximize impact. (Science)


The National Zoo’s beloved giant pandas—Mei Xiang, Tian Tian, and their cub Xiao Qi Ji—are set to return to China in early December, marking a potential end to a 50-year-old panda exchange agreement, and occurring amidst rising U.S.-China tensions. This move is noted as part of China’s “punitive panda diplomacy,” reflecting a pattern of recalling pandas from various Western countries amid diplomatic disagreements. While there has been no confirmation on renewing the exchange program, the zoo has adopted a somewhat pessimistic public stance, recently concluding a weeklong farewell event, “Panda Palooza.” Critics see China’s recall of the pandas as a symbolic gesture amid issues like U.S. sanctions on Chinese officials and disputes over technological and agricultural practices. A surge in anti-American sentiments in China, amplified by unexpected panda deaths and alleged mistreatment in U.S. zoos, further complicates the situation. Fans of the pandas hope for a resolution, possibly during upcoming high-level talks between U.S. and Chinese officials. (Associated Press)

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After 128 years on display at Auman’s Funeral Home in Reading, Pennsylvania, a mummified man referred to as Stoneman Willie will finally receive a proper burial. The man, an alcoholic who died from kidney failure in 1895, was accidentally mummified during experimentation with new embalming techniques. His identity remained unknown for decades due to his use of a fake name upon arrest for petty crime, and the funeral home had previously petitioned to retain the body to observe the embalming results. Recently, Auman’s Funeral Home has identified Willie through historical documents and plans to publicly share his name at the burial ceremony. Willie, an iconic figure in Reading’s local folklore, was celebrated in the city’s 275th-anniversary parade, and will be on public display at the funeral home before his burial in a local cemetery. His authentic name will be revealed and inscribed on his tombstone, providing closure to a long-standing local mystery. (Reuters)

Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.

WORDS: The Biology Guy.

IMAGE CREDIT: Nobel Prize Foundation.

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