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DAILY DOSE: Genomic database for people of African descent long overdue; Columbia see dramatic drop in dengue cases due to mosquito program.


Meharry Medical College, alongside Regeneron Genetics Center and pharmaceutical giants like AstraZeneca, Novo Nordisk, and Roche, have launched an initiative to compile a vast genomic database from 500,000 people of African descent. This project, funded by the pharmaceutical industry, aims to create a new reference genome to enhance understanding of genetic variations affecting Black populations and address health disparities by potentially leading to new treatments and diagnostic tools. Less than 2% of current genetic research represents people of African ancestry, a gap this project seeks to fill. Meharry will recruit participants for blood donations, with genetic sequencing conducted by the Regeneron Genetics Center at no cost. The effort will also involve other historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and the University of Zambia. The data will be stored anonymously at the Diaspora Human Genomics Institute, accessible through participating HBCUs and African institutions. Additionally, a 10-year grant program will support genomics research and STEM education, with each pharmaceutical company contributing $20 million to these efforts. (Associated Press)


In Colombia, three cities experienced a dramatic reduction in dengue cases following the release of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes infected with the Wolbachia bacterium by the World Mosquito Program (WMP). Wolbachia hinders the mosquitoes from transmitting viruses, resulting in a 94-97% drop in dengue incidence in areas where these mosquitoes became prevalent. Since 2015, the project expanded across Bello, Medellín, and Itagüí, covering a 135 square kilometer area and impacting 3.3 million residents. The WMP’s goal is for Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes to outnumber their wild counterparts by breeding, thus sustaining dengue suppression. Despite natural fluctuations in dengue incidence, the marked decrease suggests a strong link to the intervention. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has not yet officially endorsed this method. The WMP is continuing its efforts and plans to establish a mosquito production factory in Brazil to further the program’s reach, adapting strategies to each region’s unique geographical and social landscape. (Nature)

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Article Six of the Paris Agreement, which allows for international cooperation in greenhouse gas emissions reduction, has raised concerns about greenwashing. This provision enables countries that exceed their emissions reduction targets to trade their surplus reductions with others, potentially allowing for countries to purchase reductions rather than achieving them domestically. Critics argue this could lead to countries buying a “green” image without actual decarbonization. Skepticism also surrounds the overestimation of emissions reductions and the effectiveness of the carbon credit system. While a supervisory body is set to refine this mechanism, doubts persist over the certification process. Several countries are already engaging in agreements under Article Six, with Switzerland, Singapore, and Japan among the early participants, and the UAE is reportedly negotiating with African nations. Despite the EU’s stance of not using carbon credits until 2030, it supports credible use by other countries. The success of Article Six depends on the upcoming details to be worked out by the supervisory body for implementation in 2024. (Channel News Asia)


Sheena Josselyn, a researcher at The Hospital for Sick Children and professor at the University of Toronto, aspires to understand memory formation. Initially drawn to medicine and psychology by the allure of solving complex problems and inspired by “The Silence of the Lambs,” Josselyn transitioned from studying sex offenders to the molecular intricacies of memory. She studies engrams, the physical manifestations of memory in the brain, acknowledging the challenge in locating these memory traces due to their diffuse nature. Josselyn’s work includes erasing fear memories in mice using optogenetics and analyzing the impact of drugs like cocaine on memory. Her group has also explored the creation of false memories. She discusses the potential therapeutic applications of her research for conditions such as PTSD and Alzheimer’s and notes the role of new neurons in why we lack memories from early childhood. Josselyn emphasizes the significance of repetition and attention for memory retention, acknowledging the distracting influence of technology on learning. (El Pais)

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Greek journalist Thanasis Koukakis was unknowingly infected with the Predator spyware after clicking a link, compromising his sources and movements. This incident was part of the broader “Greek Watergate,” where 92 individuals, primarily government critics, were surveilled. The scandal implicated financiers and companies in Germany, who were part of the Intellexa Alliance that developed and sold spyware like Predator globally. Despite potential benefits for law enforcement, such tools have been misused for intrusive surveillance, raising significant privacy and ethical concerns across Europe. Efforts to regulate the industry have met with resistance, and comprehensive EU-level oversight is still lacking. (Der Spiegel)


The UK government has announced that species reintroduction is no longer a priority, drawing criticism from wildlife groups and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. The government is instead focusing on habitat restoration and tackling pollution to enhance biodiversity. This comes amid reports of declining species due to farming expansion and climate change impacts. Wildlife charities and farmers have previously worked to reintroduce species like beavers, which can aid in flood prevention but also potentially damage crops. The absence of clear guidance and protected status for certain species, such as beavers, has left farmers uncertain about management practices. Critics argue that reintroducing species is essential for combating nature loss and climate change and can have beneficial effects on the environment. The committee has recommended creating a list of priority species for reintroduction, assessing risks, establishing management plans, and improving community engagement. (BBC)


In Copenhagen, the Laura Maersk containership, designed to run on both traditional fuel and greener methanol, represents the shipping industry’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This switch could save 100 tons of emissions daily. However, cargo shipping, which accounts for nearly 3% of global emissions, is challenged by the need for a constant, portable energy source. While wind harnessing is revisited, battery power is impractical due to infrequent charging opportunities. Currently, green methanol is scarce and costly, and the industry requires new ships or retrofits, alongside port infrastructure changes. Maersk aims for zero carbon emissions by 2040, investing in cleaner fuels. Regulation could level the playing field for companies investing in greener options. The European Union and the U.S. are implementing rules to promote decarbonization, but global regulation by the International Maritime Organization is crucial. Despite green methanol’s limitations, Maersk views it as a step towards systemic change, amidst skepticism about its overall impact. (New York Times)


Alan Mazzotti, a Colorado pumpkin grower, faces the harsh realities of climate change with limited irrigation water and extreme heat affecting his crop yield. Despite decent snowfall, his water delivery was halved, prompting him to plant only half his usual pumpkin crop. Unexpected rains then hindered further planting. Farmers across the Southwest and West are similarly impacted, with some losing over 20% of expected yields. Pumpkins, which can typically withstand heat, struggled under record-breaking temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, complicating harvesting and increasing decomposition rates. While Illinois reported a successful harvest, Texas farmers grappled with high heat during the harvest season and soaring irrigation costs as groundwater levels drop. Rising costs for electricity, supplies, and labor are squeezing farmers’ margins, with labor issues exacerbated in Colorado by new overtime pay laws for farmworkers. Mazzotti, facing a “no-win situation,” is doubtful about the future of farming in his family. (Associated Press)

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

WORDS: The Biology Guy.

IMAGE CREDIT: Emmanuel Ikwuegbu.

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