DAILY DOSE: Abortion rights win big in U.S. elections; New NIH director confirmed.


Ohio voters have approved a constitutional amendment to safeguard abortion and reproductive health care rights, becoming the seventh state to endorse such protections post-Roe v. Wade’s overturning. This move, marking a significant win for abortion rights advocates, may signal a trend for the 2024 elections where Democrats aim to leverage the issue to maintain the White House. President Biden and Vice President Harris praised the result, highlighting the minority status of anti-abortion views nationwide. The amendment, known as Issue 1, features robust language defending the right to abortion and other reproductive decisions, countering a 2019 state law that bans most abortions. Despite the amendment’s passage, Republican officials vow to continue efforts against abortion. Voter support for Issue 1 reflects the national trend favoring legal abortion in early pregnancy and could influence future legislative actions and campaign strategies. (Associated Press)


The U.S. Senate confirmed Monica Bertagnolli as the new director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), making her the 17th director and the second woman to lead the world’s largest biomedical research agency. Bertagnolli, a cancer surgeon and clinical trial expert, steps into the role after a period of interim leadership following Francis Collins’s departure. Her confirmation was met with bipartisan support, though concerns from both conservative and liberal senators about NIH’s policies and drug pricing influenced the vote. Bertagnolli aims to extend NIH’s innovations to diverse populations and faces immediate challenges, including advocating for NIH funding amidst calls for budget cuts. Her tenure, potentially limited by the remainder of Biden’s term, will involve addressing NIH’s research priorities, postdoc salaries, and the agency’s relationship with the newly created Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health. Bertagnolli’s leadership is welcomed by the research community, despite the complexity of the role and the political pressures involved. (Science)

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Nature has retracted a high-profile paper on a supposed room-temperature superconductor, authored by physicists Ranga Dias and Ashkan Salamat, after issues were raised regarding the materials’ provenance, measurement accuracy, and data processing. This retraction was requested by eight co-authors and marks the third retraction for Dias and Salamat, casting doubts on their credibility. Dias, facing plagiarism allegations, has objected to previous retractions, while Salamat approved the recent ones. The scientific community had anticipated this retraction due to earlier concerns. This controversy has raised questions about the peer-review process at Nature. While the superconductor field remains promising, with ongoing research and funding, the incidents have caused apprehension among young researchers and may have affected student recruitment, despite assurances from some that the field’s integrity remains intact. (Nature)


Anastrozole, a drug previously used to treat breast cancer, has been licensed in England as a preventive treatment for post-menopausal women at moderate or high risk of the disease. Trials indicate it could halve the incidence of breast cancer in this group. About 289,000 women could be eligible, potentially preventing 2,000 cases annually and saving the NHS £15m in treatment costs. Women concerned about their risk can seek a GP referral for a risk assessment. Anastrozole is cost-effective, at around 4p per day, and has been recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence since 2017. It’s now licensed by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. Despite its menopause-like side effects, Anastrozole is seen as a better option than tamoxifen, with fewer serious side effects. It works by reducing estrogen, with a daily 1mg tablet course lasting five years, offering extended protection even after cessation. The licensing of Anastrozole is hailed as a significant advancement in preventive care for breast cancer. (BBC)

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According to scientists, 2023 is on track to be the hottest year on record, with temperatures averaging 1.43°C above the pre-industrial era. The urgency for decisive climate action is underscored as the world approaches the COP28 climate summit. October 2023 was the warmest October ever, at 1.7°C above late 1800s levels. Human activities, like burning fossil fuels and destroying natural habitats, have increased atmospheric greenhouse gases, causing a 1.2°C rise since the Industrial Revolution. The significant heat anomalies witnessed, including an extreme October, have been attributed to factors such as greenhouse gas emissions and El Niño effects. These rising temperatures are linked to severe human suffering through heatwaves, droughts, and other climate-related disasters, highlighting the human rights implications of failing to meet the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C. Current policies are projected to lead to a 2.4°C increase, indicating a dire need for enhanced climate measures. (The Guardian)


The release of Laricobius nigrinus beetles into Nova Scotia marks a potential turning point in battling the invasive hemlock woolly adelgid, which threatens the province’s hemlock trees. Shipped from British Columbia, where they naturally control the adelgid, these beetles are part of a new research program to determine their effectiveness and survival through East Coast winters. The adelgid, first detected in Nova Scotia in 2017, could kill 90% of the hemlocks within a decade if unchecked. The biocontrol program, a first of its kind in Canada and costing $144,000 for this shipment, aims to establish a self-sustaining beetle population. Alongside biocontrol, scientists are also employing pesticides, with newer methods allowing treatment of up to 200 trees a day. Hemlocks play a crucial role in the ecosystem, and their loss would affect many species and cultural landscapes. The project’s success could be a model for managing invasive species and preserving ecological integrity. (CBC)


On Halloween, a pod of orcas sank a sailing boat after a 45-minute attack, the latest in a series of such incidents in southwestern Europe. This event marks the fourth boat sinking by orcas in two years in the region. Orcas from the Strait of Gibraltar have been known to harass vessels for over three years. The boat, Grazie Mamma, owned by Polish company Morskie Mile, was severely damaged when orcas repeatedly hit the rudder, leading to water ingress. All passengers were evacuated safely before the vessel sank upon reaching the port of Tanger-Med in Morocco. The increase in orca attacks, from 52 in 2020 to over 200 in the following year, has prompted experts to call for international coordination to prevent further incidents. While the reasons behind these attacks remain unclear, theories suggest they could be a form of play or a response to past traumatic experiences with boats. Experts emphasize that these events are isolated and orcas pose no significant threat to humans in boats under normal circumstances. (USA Today)


The “Bleu Royal,” a ring with a 17.61-carat fancy vivid blue pear-shaped diamond, has set a record at Christie’s auction in Geneva by selling for over $44 million, surpassing its pre-sale estimate of $35 million. This sale has made the “Bleu Royal” the most expensive jewel sold at auction in the year it was sold. The gemstone, which has been part of a private collection for 40 years, will now transition to another private collector. (Associated Press)

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

WORDS: The Biology Guy.


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