Archive for the ‘science’ Category

AstraZeneca’s best COVID vaccine result was a fluke. Experts have questions

November 25th, 2020
Vials in front of the AstraZeneca British biopharmaceutical company logo are seen in this creative photo taken on 18 November 2020.

Enlarge / Vials in front of the AstraZeneca British biopharmaceutical company logo are seen in this creative photo taken on 18 November 2020. (credit: Getty| NurPhoto)

Pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford made an exciting announcement Monday: the COVID-19 vaccine they developed together appeared up to 90 percent effective at preventing disease. But in the days since, that exciting news melted into a pool of confusion after it became clear that the 90 percent figure came about from a complete accident. Now, experts are scratching their heads over what actually happened in the trial and what it means for the vaccine’s future.

The questions all swirl around the vaccine’s dosage regimen. In initial press releases, AstraZeneca and Oxford explained that researchers had used two different dosage regimens to test their experimental vaccine, AZD1222. In one regimen, trial participants received two “full” vaccine doses, 28 days apart. In the other, participants received a half dose of vaccine followed by a full dose 28 days later.

Pooling results from trials in the United Kingdom and another in Brazil, the researchers found the two-full-dose regimen was 62 percent effective at preventing COVID-19—a good, but not great result. The half-dose/full-dose regimen, on the other hand, appeared 90 percent effective—a rather impressive result.

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Posted in Astrazeneca, COVID-19, operation warp speed, Oxford, SARS-CoV-2, science, vaccine | Comments (0)

Does the AstraZeneca Vaccine Also Stop Covid Transmission?

November 25th, 2020
Vaccines can prevent symptoms, but some can also keep people from spreading infection. That’s critical, and no one knows if the new vaccines do it.

Posted in Bad Breath, science, Science / Health | Comments (0)

What we can learn from contact tracing an entire province

November 25th, 2020
Image of children in a line in front of an official with a sensor on a tripod.

Enlarge / Students have their temperature measured at Daowu middle school in China's Hunan Province, part of the measures adopted to limit the spread of the coronavirus. (credit: Xinhua News Agency)

Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, there were a lot of big questions about the basic properties of SARS-CoV-2: how quickly did it spread, could it spread from asymptomatic people, what was the typical mortality rate, and so on. We quickly started getting answers on some of these, but they were all imperfect in various ways. We could trace all the cases in controlled environments, like a cruise ship or aircraft carrier, but these probably wouldn't reflect the virus' spread in more typical communities. Or, we could trace things in real world communities, but that approach would be far less certain to capture all the cases.

Over time, we've gotten lots of imperfect records, but we've started to build a consensus out of them. The latest example of this—a paper that describes contact tracing all cases that originated in Hunan, China—provides yet another set of measures of the virus' behavior and our attempts to control infection. Papers like this have helped build the consensus on some of the key features of things like asymptomatic spread and the impact of contact tracing, so we thought it was a good chance to step back and look at this latest release.

Trace all the cases

The new work, done by an international team of researchers, focuses on the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in Hunan province during the first outbreak after its origins in nearby Hubei. During the period of study, health authorities started by identifying cases largely by symptoms, and they then switched to a massive contact tracing effort and aggressive isolation policies. These efforts shut the outbreak down by early March. And, thanks to them, we have very detailed information on viral cases: 1,178 infected individuals, another 15,648 people they came in contact with, and a total of nearly 20,000 potential exposure events.

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Posted in Biology, china, COVID-19, medicine, pandemic, public health, SARS-CoV-2, science | Comments (0)

We don’t have a COVID vaccine yet, but distribution is already messy

November 25th, 2020
A sign on the entrance to a pharmacy reads "Covid-19 Vaccine Not Yet Available", November 23, 2020 in Burbank, California.

Enlarge / A sign on the entrance to a pharmacy reads "Covid-19 Vaccine Not Yet Available", November 23, 2020 in Burbank, California. (credit: Getty | Robyn Beck)

Individual states will ultimately decide who will get the first 6.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine, which will be distributed based on each state’s population rather than the levels of disease spread or number of high-risk people.

The approach, announced in a press briefing Tuesday, is a departure from earlier plans and reflects the frenzied effort to vaccinate a country of nearly 330 million as quickly as possible.

Top officials for Operation Warp Speed—the federal government’s program to swiftly develop and deliver COVID-19 vaccines and therapies—said at the briefing that the current approach is intended to “keep this simple.” However, the potential for state-by-state variation in early access to vaccines could easily become complicated—and time is ticking for states to get their distribution plans clarified. There’s just a matter of weeks before the Food and Drug Administration may grant an emergency authorization for a vaccine by Pfizer and BioNTech.

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Posted in azar, BioNTech, COVID-19, HHS, operation warp speed, Pfizer, public health, science, vaccines | Comments (0)

Saving Notre Dame chronicles effort to rebuild France’s famous cathedral

November 25th, 2020
The iconic spire collapses as smoke and flames engulf the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019.

Enlarge / The iconic spire collapses as smoke and flames engulf the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019. (credit: Geoffroy van der Hasselt/AFP via Getty Images)

On April 15, 2019, the world watched in horror as the roof of the famed Notre Dame cathedral in Paris caught fire. The blaze spread rapidly, and for several nail-biting hours, it seemed this 850-year-old Gothic masterpiece might be destroyed entirely. Firefighters finally gained the upper hand in the wee hours of the following morning. Almost immediately after the fire had been extinguished, French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to rebuild Notre Dame.

But first, the badly damaged structure had to be shored up and stabilized, and interdisciplinary teams of scientists, engineers, architects, and master craftspeople assembled to determine the best way to proceed with the restoration. That year-long process—headed up by Chief Architects Philippe Villeneuve and Remi Fromont— is the focus of a new NOVA documentary premiering tonight on PBS. Saving Notre Dame follows various experts as they study the components of the cathedral's iconic structure to puzzle out how best to repair it.

Director Joby Lubman was among those transfixed in horror when the fire broke out, staying up much of the night as the cathedral burned, until it became clear that the structure would ultimately survive, albeit badly damaged. In the office the next morning, "Everyone was a bit shell-shocked talking about it," he told Ars. "And it might sound opportunistic, but I thought, 'The restoration of this icon is going to be quite something to document.'"

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Posted in architecture, conservation, documentary, Gaming & Culture, History, materials science, notre dame, NOVA, PBS, science | Comments (0)

Want to offset your carbon footprint? Here’s what you need to know

November 25th, 2020
Want to offset your carbon footprint? Here’s what you need to know

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

In the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church offered indulgences, letting people exchange donations for slips of paper that promised reduced time in purgatory after their death. Less controversially, today someone who over-indulges in the office tea supply might feel obliged to pay for a replacement box. Do carbon offsets more closely resemble the former or the latter?

There are many reasons why you might seek to offset part of your carbon footprint, whether it’s to assuage a general feeling of guilt for your lifestyle, to precisely cover the estimated emissions of a flight, or just to do something beneficial for the environment. Regardless of motivation, all these efforts are predicated on the belief that the money you paid truly will result in the removal of the promised amount of CO2 from the atmosphere. Otherwise, you’re paying for a lie—or at least getting a smaller box of tea than you ordered.

Finding out whether you've been lied to is genuinely difficult. Here’s what you need to know.

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Posted in carbon offset, climate change, Features, greenhouse gas emissions, negative emissions, science | Comments (0)

Meet the Microbes Living on Da Vinci’s Iconic Sketches

November 25th, 2020
Think you’ve got an interesting microbiome? Your body ain’t got nothing on what’s accumulated on Leonardo’s drawings over 500 years.

Posted in Bugging Out, science, Science / Biotech | Comments (0)

Tarnished by Trump, CDC revels in Biden transition, plans “rebuilding”

November 24th, 2020
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters stands in Atlanta, Georgia, on Saturday, March 14, 2020.

Enlarge / The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters stands in Atlanta, Georgia, on Saturday, March 14, 2020. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

After being muted, sidelined, and disparaged by the Trump administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reportedly reveling in the transition to the Biden administration and eyeing a major comeback amid the still-roaring coronavirus pandemic.

“This is what we've been waiting for,” an unnamed senior CDC official told CNN Tuesday, after the ascertainment declaration from the General Services Administration. With the transition underway, senior officials are eager for Biden’s people to “send their landing team here and set up shop.”

When asked if Tuesday’s news lifted the mood among other senior leaders at the agency, the official emphatically replied: “Yes!” Senior leaders expect the transition to bring a “rebuilding of the agency,” the official added

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Posted in Biden, CDC, Infectious disease, pandemic, public health, science, Trump | Comments (0)

A successful liftoff for China’s most ambitious Moon mission to date

November 24th, 2020
Image of a rocket with engines igniting on the launch pad.

Enlarge / China's heavy lift vehicle, the Long March 5, starting its liftoff with the Chang'e 5 mission.

On Monday, China successfully sent the latest in its Chang'e missions on its way to the Moon. Chang'e 5 is the most ambitious to date and, if successful, will make China just the third country to return samples from the lunar surface (after the Soviet Union and the US). While the mission is quite complex with lots of potential for things to go wrong, it's also happening on a short schedule, so we'll have a good idea of how things are going within three weeks.

There and back again

China's Chang'e program, named after a goddess of the Moon, started back in 2007 with the launch of the Chang'e 1 orbiter. Over time, the missions have gotten increasingly complex. Chang'e 3 saw the deployment of a rover on the lunar surface, and Chang'e 4 made history with the first landing on the far side of the Moon. Already, the missions have produced exciting scientific data and lots of photos of previously unexplored areas of the Moon.

Now, China plans to get something back from the Moon that can't be distilled down to a string of ones and zeroes. As with two earlier missions, once Chang'e 5 reaches lunar orbit, it will deploy a lander to the surface. But this time, the lander will be accompanied by a sample return vehicle. After using a drill and scoop to load that up with up to two kilograms of material, the sample return vehicle will lift off from the lunar surface and rendezvous with the vehicle that brought it to the Moon.

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Posted in change, china, moon, science, space | Comments (0)

Rock art in a California cave was a visual guide to hallucinogenic plants

November 24th, 2020
This red pinwheel image (left), which is around 500 years old, may depict the unfurling petals of a datura flower (right).

Enlarge / This red pinwheel image (left), which is around 500 years old, may depict the unfurling petals of a datura flower (right). (credit: Rick Bury and Melissa Dabulamanzi)

At a cave in southern California, archaeologists recently found centuries-old bundles of hallucinogenic plants tucked into crevices in the low ceiling, near a painting that may depict a flower from the same plant, called datura. The painted images may have been a visual aid to help people understand the rituals they experienced in the cave.

Chew on this

University of Central Lancashire archaeologist David Robinson and his colleagues describe the bundles of leaves and stems tucked into the domed ceiling of California's Pinwheel Cave. The five-armed pinwheel that gives the cave its name is painted in red nearby, attended by a bizarre-looking figure with antennae, eyes pointed in different directions, and a long body. Archaeologists have dubbed it the Transmorph, perhaps because it wouldn’t answer to anything else they tried. Based on radiocarbon dates of the bundles, people placed them in the room’s nooks and crannies over several centuries, from about 1530 to 1890.

That matches the age of charcoal from nearby chambers in the cave, where people left behind traces of more mundane activities: cooking meat, grinding seeds and nuts, and making stone projectile points. Whatever rituals happened in Pinwheel Cave, they weren’t hidden away or separate from everyday life.

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Posted in ancient north america, ancient people did stuff, Archaeology, cave art, cave paintings, chumash, datura, drugs, hallucinogenics, hallucinogens, indigenous communities, indigenous North America, rock art, science | Comments (0)