A-O.K. FOR CRISPR.
U.K. regulators have approved a groundbreaking CRISPR-based therapy for sickle cell disease and beta thalassemia, developed by Vertex Pharmaceuticals and CRISPR Therapeutics. This treatment modifies blood stem cells to produce healthy hemoglobin, normally active in fetuses, counteracting the defective hemoglobin that causes sickle cell disease. Clinical trials show most patients significantly benefit, with reduced pain episodes and anemia. Sickle cell disease, primarily affecting those of African descent, leads to severe health complications due to abnormal red blood cells. The therapy, Casgevy, avoids immune rejection by using the patient’s edited cells, unlike bone marrow transplants, the only other cure. Approved in the U.K. for patients over 12, similar approvals are expected in the U.S. and Europe. However, challenges like cost and accessibility remain, especially in Africa, where sickle cell is prevalent. The treatment involves complex procedures, including chemotherapy, posing logistical issues in areas with limited medical infrastructure. (Science)
EU REFUSES TO SNE ROUNDUP USE.
The European Commission has renewed glyphosate’s license, used in Roundup, for ten more years in the EU, subject to new conditions like a pre-harvest usage ban. This decision, based on assessments from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), allows countries to impose additional restrictions for biodiversity protection. The safety of glyphosate, linked to cancer in some studies but considered safe in others, remains controversial. The EFSA found no critical human or environmental health concerns, while the ECHA last year did not classify it as carcinogenic, though it noted toxicity to aquatic life and potential eye damage. The decision has drawn mixed reactions. Toxicologist Robin Mesnage acknowledges the risks to unprotected farmers but sees no consumer threat, cautioning that alternatives might be more toxic and increase food production costs. However, Natacha Cingotti from the Health and Environment Alliance criticizes the renewal, citing glyphosate’s health impacts and advocating for more sustainable agriculture practices. (Nature)
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GENOMICS AND AMR.
The paper “Harnessing Genomics for Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance” discusses the potential of genomic technologies in antimicrobial resistance (AMR) surveillance. It emphasizes the growing AMR challenge and the limitations of traditional surveillance methods. Genomic technologies offer more detailed AMR profiles, enabling better treatment and prevention strategies. The Surveillance and Epidemiology of Drug-resistant Infections Consortium (SEDRIC) assessed the benefits and challenges of genomic surveillance, proposing nine recommendations. These include establishing frameworks, enhancing capacity and training, standardizing surveillance, promoting equitable data sharing, and integrating environmental monitoring. The paper stresses that genomic surveillance, while advantageous, faces challenges like resource constraints and the need for bioinformatics training. The effective implementation of this technology is crucial for improving AMR surveillance and management globally. (The Lancet)
MOST AMERICANS NON-PLUSSED ABOUT COVID-19.
A recent KFF survey reveals that most U.S. adults are not overly concerned about contracting or spreading Covid-19 during the holidays. Approximately half of the respondents are reluctant to receive the latest Covid-19 vaccine released in September, a sentiment shared even among those previously vaccinated. The primary reason cited by these individuals is a lack of concern about the virus. The survey also highlights significant political and racial disparities in attitudes towards Covid-19. Democrats are three times more likely than Republicans to have received or plan to receive the new vaccine and are twice as likely to take Covid-19 precautions during the respiratory virus season. Moreover, Black and Hispanic adults show a higher inclination than White adults to take precautions and to get the new vaccine. These findings, derived from a nationally representative sample of around 1,400 adults interviewed between October 31 and November 7, underscore the varied perceptions and responses to the pandemic across different demographics in the United States. (CNN)
TEXAS DIVIDED BY CLIMATE CHANGE.
The Texas State Board of Education is set to vote on how science textbooks, particularly regarding climate change, will be selected. This decision has caused divisions within the board, historically known for debates over curriculum content like evolution and U.S. history. The board’s 2021 science standards recognize human contributions to climate change but exclude creationism as an evolutionary alternative. While Texas’s 1,000+ school districts are not obliged to use board-approved textbooks, the board’s decisions are influential. Controversy has arisen with some Republican members, like Aaron Kinsey, criticizing textbooks for negatively depicting the oil and gas industry. This stance is challenged by others, including the National Science Teaching Association, emphasizing the importance of scientific consensus in education. The upcoming vote will determine whether the textbooks align with the 2021 standards. The Texas Freedom Network indicates that few textbooks may not meet these criteria, highlighting the vote’s significance in shaping science education in Texas. (Associated Press)
GRASSHOPPERS BEATS CAVIAR.
In eastern Thailand, Srisuphun Srikhot farms grasshoppers, a lucrative endeavor compared to traditional agriculture. In her village of Ban Hai, she feeds the grasshoppers banana leaves and Napier grass, preparing them for sale in five days. Grasshoppers, at 35 days old, are sold live or as eggs, with eggs being more valuable. This shift to insect farming reflects a broader trend in Thailand’s Isaan region, where insects like scarab beetles, red ants, and cicadas form a significant part of the diet due to their protein content. Insect consumption, deeply ingrained in local culture, is being explored as a sustainable, climate-friendly protein source. Universities and entrepreneurs are researching and investing in insect-based foods for both local consumption and export. This change is driven by economic and climatic challenges affecting traditional farming, prompting farmers like Srikhot and Sumalee Pinikarunat, who farms coconut beetles, to adapt. Pinikarunat’s family exports beetle larvae to Laos and Vietnam, demonstrating the growing commercial potential of insect farming. Thailand, with a diverse range of edible insects, is at the forefront of this shift, recognized by the United Nations for its thriving insect farming sector. The future of food may increasingly include insects, as research continues to develop palatable, mass-produced insect-based foods. This trend is also slowly gaining acceptance in Europe, with some insects already approved for consumption. (Der Spiegel)
INCREASED TIGERS SIGHTINGS.
In China’s Heilongjiang province, multiple sightings of wild Siberian tigers near residential areas have raised concerns about human-wildlife conflict. The tigers, driven by harsh winter conditions and mating behaviors, have been spotted in Yilan County and Hulin City, with instances of livestock being killed. In Yilan, a villager found a cow mauled by a tiger, while in Hulin, over 300 kilometers away, city officials issued an alert after surveillance footage showed tigers near villages. Authorities have confirmed at least two tigers active in Hulin and advised residents to limit outdoor activities and stock up on essentials. Hulin, along the Russia-China border, occasionally sees transient Siberian tigers, while such sightings are rare in Yilan. Experts attribute the increased tiger presence to heavier snowfall causing food shortages and mating season behavior, which involves males expanding their territories. China, home to an estimated 50 wild Siberian tigers, monitors them through a real-time system in the Northeast Tiger and Leopard National Park. Despite efforts, habitat loss due to industrial growth remains a significant threat, underscoring the need for nature reserves and ecological corridors to protect tigers and minimize human-tiger interactions. (Sixth Tone)
ANTI-CLIMATE CHANGE INVESTIGATOR IMPRISONED.
Aviram Azari, an Israeli private investigator, was sentenced to nearly seven years in prison for orchestrating a global hacking operation targeting American climate activists. His actions led to the publishing of stolen emails, which ExxonMobil allegedly used to counter state investigations. Azari, arrested in 2019, pleaded guilty to charges including computer hacking and wire fraud. Prosecutors highlighted how ExxonMobil leveraged hacked documents and news reports based on them to defend against litigation. For instance, they publicized a leaked 2016 email among climate activists criticizing ExxonMobil’s role in climate change. This incident and others were used to question the integrity of investigations into ExxonMobil’s practices. Victims of the hacking, like Lee Wasserman of the Rockefeller Family Fund and Peter Frumhoff from the Union of Concerned Scientists, expressed how the campaign impacted their work and personal safety. Federal prosecutors didn’t directly accuse ExxonMobil of wrongdoing but outlined its use of stolen documents, prompting public scrutiny. Azari’s case also surfaced in a Puerto Rico climate lawsuit against ExxonMobil, suggesting its involvement in the hacking scheme. This follows prior findings that ExxonMobil had long downplayed climate change risks despite internal knowledge. (NPR)
Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.
WORDS: The Biology Guy.
IMAGE CREDIT: NASA.