MALARIA VACCINE EFFECTIVE SO FAR.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that the first malaria vaccine, RTS,S or Mosquirix, made by GlaxoSmithKline, reduced deaths by 13% among young children in Africa over almost 4 years. The vaccine also decreased severe malaria by 22% in children who received a three-shot series. This evaluation involved parts of Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi. John Tanko Bawa, from PATH, highlighted the significant impact of the vaccine which was approved by WHO in 2021. If deployed widely, the vaccine could save tens of thousands of lives, as malaria resulted in approximately 468,000 deaths of children under 5 in sub-Saharan Africa in 2021. Seventeen countries are set to receive doses next year. The evaluation used community reporters to gauge mortality rates. Matthew Laurens suggests the vaccine might provide a broader immunity boost. Despite promising data, concerns remain regarding the cost of the vaccine’s integration. Another vaccine, R-21, was also authorized by WHO recently. (Science)
GAZA HOSPITALS ARE HURTING.
Gaza hospitals are facing a severe crisis, as they run short on water and fuel for generators while managing large numbers of casualties from Israeli bombings. These medical facilities are also grappling with an influx of civilians seeking refuge from the bombings. With supplies dwindling, medical professionals are operating under extremely challenging conditions, sometimes using mobile phones for lighting, and even resorting to vinegar as an antiseptic substitute. Over 20 key hospitals have been directed by the Israeli army to evacuate, an order almost impossible to execute. Dr. Medhat Abbass from the Gaza health ministry describes the situation as dire, with medical supplies running critically low and staff being overworked. Limited medical supplies have entered Gaza via Egypt, but distribution in northern areas remains restricted due to Israeli concerns. The World Health Organization (WHO) has been unable to send fuel or medical materials to the north, largely because of security concerns. Recent footage has shown a hospital operating in complete darkness after generator failure. Further complicating the situation, the WHO has noted the overcapacity of hospitals like al-Shifa. Medical professionals on the ground describe a heartbreaking situation, with decisions on care based on a patient’s likelihood of survival rather than immediate need. The International Committee of the Red Cross confirms the harrowing accounts, emphasizing the imperative nature of hospital protection under international humanitarian law. (The Guardian)
POWERFUL HURRICANE SLAMS MEXICO.
Otis’s recent Category 5 landfall highlights the intense hurricanes that Mexico, with its coastlines vulnerable to tropical storms from both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, has historically experienced. For instance, in 1988, Hurricane Gilbert swept the Yucatán Peninsula, resulting in the loss of over 300 lives, demolishing 60,000 homes, and causing damages estimated at around $10 billion in Mexico and its neighbors. In 1997, Acapulco and its surroundings were ravaged by Hurricane Pauline, which led to floods and landslides, killing more than 200 people and leaving approximately 300,000 homeless. Many victims were from hillside communities around Acapulco’s bay. More recently, in 2015, Category 5 Hurricane Patricia affected Mexico’s Pacific Coast, particularly near Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo. Although localized damage occurred, widespread destruction was avoided, largely due to the timely interventions by Mexican authorities, which included evacuations, warnings, and the suspension of flights and cruises. (New York Times)
ROBOTAXI’S FUTURE IN DOUBT.
The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has suspended Cruise’s ability to charge passengers for its robotaxi service, just three months after granting the necessary permits. This follows the California Department of Motor Vehicles’ (DMV) suspension of Cruise’s testing and deployment permits. The DMV alleges that Cruise withheld video footage pertaining to an investigation into an incident where a Cruise robotaxi dragged a pedestrian, initially hit by another vehicle, for 20 feet. According to the DMV, Cruise only showed footage of the initial stop and omitted the segment where the pedestrian was dragged. The DMV learned of the missing footage from another government agency. Although Cruise subsequently provided the full video and denied the allegations, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is also investigating the company. The CPUC has not clarified if Cruise’s permits will be reinstated once the DMV concludes its investigation. The CPUC had previously faced criticism for permitting Cruise to expand its services citywide. (Techcrunch)
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AI-SEX-ABUSE IMAGES ON THE RISE.
Experts are raising alarms about the rise of AI-generated child sexual abuse images. Offenders are harnessing open-source AI models to produce and share these disturbing images. The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), a UK-based nonprofit dedicated to eradicating online abuse content, disclosed that it found nearly 3,000 AI-generated images considered illegal under UK law on one dark web forum alone. The AI-generated images depict severe abuses involving minors, including images of renowned children and celebrities. Although AI-generated abuse images currently represent a fraction of actual abuse content online, the rapid growth and potential of this technology is deeply concerning. Existing AI image generators can produce strikingly realistic pictures from prompts, and offenders are adjusting these models to create illicit images. Efforts are underway to develop countermeasures, such as watermarking and enhanced detection tools. Nevertheless, some experts believe that preventive measures are lagging, and the technology’s evolution might soon enable the generation of AI-produced videos. (Wired)
Meta, formerly Facebook, is being sued by attorneys general from 41 states and the District of Columbia following a multistate investigation that started in 2021. This probe was initiated after whistleblower Frances Haugen revealed that Facebook was aware of Instagram’s harmful effects on teenage girls. The Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell accused Meta of intentionally exploiting young users for profit. Separate lawsuits were filed against Meta by eight states and Washington, D.C., while 33 states jointly filed in a California federal court. These actions represent a significant push by states to ensure that social media platforms consider children’s well-being in their product designs. While Meta defends its platforms, noting that research on social media’s effects on youths is inconclusive, state officials argue that evidence indicates detrimental effects on teenagers’ mental health. Massachusetts claims that Meta uses design features to manipulate young users, contributing to negative psychological outcomes. Although Meta has made some adjustments, states assert these measures are insufficient and demand further changes to ensure the platforms’ safety for younger users. (Ars Technica)
WEST SHOULD TAKE NOTE OF CHINA INITIATIVES.
China’s $1-trillion Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), celebrating its tenth anniversary, presents a dichotomy. Financially, the initiative’s loans have drastically decreased, dropping to $4 billion in 2021 from $85 billion in 2016. However, scientific collaboration under BRI is flourishing. In recent years, China has focused on expanding its global research partnerships, especially with countries involved in BRI, without sidelining its existing connections with Europe and the US. The goal is to establish 100 laboratories in BRI countries within five years. However, the increased focus on BRI comes amidst growing geopolitical tensions, causing reduced collaborations between Chinese and Western researchers. Over a decade, China has executed numerous infrastructural projects under BRI, from ports in Greece to railways in Kenya. Yet, criticisms arise regarding the BRI’s ecological and financial sustainability. Despite challenges, science under BRI is blossoming, with collaborations yielding significant outcomes like the Pak-Austria Fachhochschule university and extensive biodiversity research in Kenya. It’s essential that the international community recognizes the significance of BRI’s research initiatives and collaborates for global progress. (Nature)
DROUGHT REVEALS ANCIENT CARVINGS.
Amid a historic drought in Brazil’s Amazon region, ancient petroglyphs, up to 2,000 years old, have been uncovered on the banks of the Rio Negro at an archaeological site called Ponto das Lajes, or Place of Slabs. These carvings, which include human faces, animals, and other natural shapes, were previously visible during a 2010 drought, with even more being revealed this year due to even lower water levels, which scientists attribute to the El Niño weather pattern and climate change-related warming in the North Atlantic. Some rocks also show grooves, indicating the site was used to produce stone tools. Carlos Augusto da Silva identified 25 groups of carvings on a rock he believes was a tool-sharpening stone. Ancient ceramic fragments have also been found, pointing to former large Indigenous settlements. Although the Ponto das Lajes petroglyphs are recognized as an archaeological site, they remain unstudied, with age estimates based on comparisons to other regional rock carvings. (The Guardian)
HALLOWEEN PLANTS A’PLENTY.
As Halloween approaches, while many focus on decorations and candies, there’s an overlooked element of festivity: spooky plants. Most gardens are curated for spring and summer, leaving Halloween, a day with numerous visitors, underrepresented in terms of seasonal plants. However, there are various gothic and near-black plants perfect for the season, enhancing the Halloween spirit. For instance, the “Pumpkin on a Stick” (Solanum integrifolium) isn’t a pumpkin but an ornamental eggplant with orange fruits resembling small pumpkins. The Bat Flower (Tacca chantrieri) resembles bats in flight and thrives away from direct sunlight. The Ghost Plant (Monotropa uniflora) grows in dark environments and has a unique white appearance due to its lack of chlorophyll. Doll’s Eye Plant (Actaea pachypoda) is adorned with white berries having purple “pupils,” but it’s toxic and can cause harm upon contact. Deep purple plants can also emulate a “black” appearance, adding a spooky touch to gardens. Alternatively, simple orange and black pansies make a delightful seasonal addition. (Associated Press)
Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.
WORDS: The Biology Guy.
IMAGE CREDIT: NIH.