GROUNDBREAKING OR QUESTIONABLE?
In a pioneering effort, scientists have intentionally infected individuals with the Zika virus to ascertain its potential in aiding vaccine tests against the pathogen. The study, which saw only mild symptoms in participants, highlighted the promise of ‘human challenge’ initiatives, where volunteers are exposed to pathogens under controlled conditions, especially when Zika cases are sparse. The findings, deemed a significant scientific stride towards vaccine development, are set to be shared at a reputable medical conference. This initiative emerged post a notable decline in Zika infections post-2016, which impeded traditional clinical trials due to insufficient case numbers. Following ethical clearance in 2022, 28 healthy women were enlisted for the study, undergoing stringent pregnancy tests and contraceptive counseling to mitigate Zika-associated congenital risks. The trial, administering two Zika strains to 20 participants, showcased the feasibility of a controlled infection model for vaccine efficacy trials, potentially requiring merely 50 to 100 participants. However, concerns regarding larger trials possibly triggering rare neurological issues, and the necessity of subsequent extensive clinical trials to affirm a vaccine’s safety, were articulated. This study signifies a shift towards recognizing the value of human challenge trials, especially as they might expedite vaccine development amidst low disease incidence, while underpinning the sustained relevance of Zika vaccine research given the virus’s potential resurgence. (Nature)
SCIENTIST MYSTERY DEATH.
A distinguished Spanish researcher studying Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) died after exhibiting symptoms of this fatal condition. Posthumously, unauthorized infectious samples were found in the University of Barcelona’s laboratory 4141, where he worked, prompting an internal investigation by the university, Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL), and the CIBER public consortium. The delayed discovery and analysis of these samples caused significant concern among colleagues unaware of the risks they were exposed to. The deceased researcher, who joined the lab in 2018, began experiencing symptoms in 2020, but kept his diagnosis private. It’s feared that the mishandling of infectious samples could have caused accidental infections, although no such incidents have been recorded. While lab 4141 was unequipped for handling high biohazard samples, arrangements were made for handling such samples at a more secure facility, but convenience led to risky practices. The incident has raised alarms about biosecurity and the potential long-term risks to other lab personnel, underscoring the importance of strict safety protocols in handling hazardous biological materials. (El Pais)
ABORTION MISINFORMATION RAMPANT.
As Ohio approaches Election Day, anti-abortion groups are intensifying opposition to a reproductive rights measure by invoking the term “partial-birth abortions,” a procedure banned in the U.S. for over 15 years. Through ads and debates, they suggest that approving the constitutional amendment, known as Issue 1, on November 7 could reintroduce this procedure. However, legal experts refute this claim, stating that federal laws supersede state laws, thus the federal ban on this procedure remains unaffected. The debate transcends Ohio, reflecting a broader national discourse on abortion rights. Critics argue that the term “partial-birth abortions” is misleading and stigmatizes late-term abortions. The discourse also brings to light the variance in abortion practices and legal frameworks across states, spotlighting the enduring contention surrounding reproductive rights as voters are set to decide on this crucial issue in Ohio, setting a precedent for other states’ legislative agendas on abortion rights. (Associated Press)
ARTIFICIAL HEART ADVANCE.
Carmat, a French artificial heart manufacturer, announced the implantation of seven Aeson devices as part of a clinical study in Paris, causing its shares to rise nearly 8%. After receiving a €7 million lifeline to circumvent a potential cash crisis, the company aims to complete the study by 2025. This progress is attributed to enhanced patient selection and procedural learning curves, said Professor Christian Latremouille, Carmat’s Director of Surgical Affairs. The EFICAS study, involving 52 transplant-eligible patients across six French cardiology centers, primarily aims to evaluate 180-day post-implantation survival rates and successful heart transplants within the same period without debilitating strokes. Additionally, the study will assess the prospects of state reimbursement for the device in France. Despite a nearly 70% drop earlier this year, Carmat’s shares saw a 7.8% uptick, trading at €3.36 following the announcement. (Reuters)
If you’re enjoying the Daily Dose, sign up for the Daily Dose Newsletter and get every morning’s best science news from around the web delivered straight to your inbox? It’s easy like Sunday morning.
UK OCEAN POWER.
Tidal power, a substantial yet underutilized renewable energy source, presents a significant opportunity for the UK, given its powerful tides. The predictable nature of tides, unlike the intermittent wind and solar energy, can provide a steady energy supply. Tidal power could potentially fulfill up to 11% of the UK’s annual electricity demand. Despite the promise, challenges like environmental concerns, high costs, and engineering hurdles in harsh marine conditions have hindered its development. Innovations like underwater turbines and tidal kites are being tested to harness tidal energy efficiently. Recently, 11 tidal stream energy projects received UK government funding, with a guarantee to purchase the generated electricity at a premium to encourage the industry’s growth. Experts believe, with government support and advancements, tidal energy could contribute significantly to the UK’s power grid in the next two decades. However, the cost and scalability challenges, as compared to wind and solar, remain critical hurdles for tidal energy’s broader adoption. (BBC)
INVASIVE CRABS ON THE MARCH.
In Haida Gwaii, an archipelago off Canada’s west coast, invasive species threaten the delicate ecosystem. During a field study, researcher Matt Peck discovered a rat’s nest, indicating the invasion of rats that have previously devastated nearby islands’ bird populations. Additionally, European green crabs, introduced in California three decades ago, have been moving northward, severely affecting the local eelgrass ecosystems and clam beds. In 2020, these crabs reached Haida Gwaii, and their rapid population increase is alarming, with more than 200,000 trapped this year, a significant rise from the previous year’s 30,000. The crabs also threaten important salmon spawning grounds. Local efforts to combat these invasive species are underway, but many fear the interventions are underfunded and too late. The invasive species issue also brings to the fore larger concerns about the impact on native species, the local ecosystem, and the cultural significance of the native fauna and flora to the Indigenous Haida people. (The Guardian)
PREDATORS FOR INVASIVE PYTHONS IN FLORIDA EMERGE.
For around four decades, invasive Burmese pythons have been a menace in the Everglades National Park and South Florida, severely impacting the ecosystem. A recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey and Florida-based organizations investigated the deaths of 19 juvenile pythons from May 2021 to February 2022 to understand the threats they face. Despite being hard to monitor, these findings offer insights into their life cycle. The study revealed that various predators were responsible for the juveniles’ deaths: five by alligators, three by carnivorous mesomammals, three by Florida cottonmouth snakes, and one due to overeating. Seven deaths were unattributed. One notable case involved a python attempting to eat a prey weighing 106% of its body weight, indicating a potential maladaptive behavior arising from the new environment. The discovery of multiple predators for juvenile pythons surprised the researchers and provided a glimpse of hope for devising effective python population mitigation strategies, aiming to protect native species and restore the ecological balance. (USA Today)
TCM FIRMS USING ENDANGERED ANIMAL PARTS.
Three Chinese pharmaceutical firms, Beijing Tong Ren Tang group, Tianjin Pharmaceutical group, and Jilin Aodong Pharmaceutical Group, publicly traded and backed by global banks like UBS and HSBC, are reported to use parts of endangered animals in their products, according to a report by the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency. The report, released on Monday, identifies these companies among 72 firms using body parts of threatened leopards and pangolins in 88 traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) products. The NGO urged global investors to divest their stakes in these firms due to the environmental impact. Despite outreach, the companies have not responded to queries regarding these allegations, and some investors have reportedly sold their shares in these firms. The NGO is also pressing the Chinese government to ban the commercial use of endangered animal parts in its domestic markets, although recent law amendments in China only cover the trade of most wild animals for food, leaving room for other utilizations under specific conditions. (Reuters)
ANCIENT WINEMAKING DISCOVERY.
During the excavation of Egyptian Queen Meret-Neith’s tomb in Abydos, archaeologists unearthed hundreds of 5,000-year-old sealed wine jars, some containing well-preserved grape seeds. The pristine condition of these jars surprised the dig leader, Christiana Köhler from the University of Vienna. This discovery could significantly enhance understanding of ancient winemaking, trade, and use in the Mediterranean and North Africa region, says Emlyn Dodd, an archaeologist not involved with the research. Analysis of the residues in the jars might reveal the chemical composition and flavor profile of the ancient wine. Besides the wine jars, the tomb excavation revealed inscriptions indicating Meret-Neith’s control over key governmental offices around 3000 B.C.E., leading some researchers to speculate that she might have been ancient Egypt’s first female pharaoh, though this claim is disputed by other scholars. The burial complex, including the tombs of 41 servants and courtiers built over a long time, challenges previous assumptions of ritual human sacrifice in royal Egyptian burials. Excavations continue as researchers aim to uncover more about Meret-Neith’s life and influence. (Smithsonian)
Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.
WORDS: The Biology Guy.
IMAGE CREDIT: Pranidchakan Boonrom.