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The EU Must Fight the Collapse of Biodiversity – Carnegie Europe

§ October 19th, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on The EU Must Fight the Collapse of Biodiversity – Carnegie Europe

From all of Charles Darwins works on evolutionary biology, history remembers the concept of survival of the fittestthe natural world as a cruel environment in which competition is the rule and where survival is only ensured by predatory behavior. His ideas inspired a range of human ideologies and activitiesfrom the fascist fascination with eugenics and purity of race to the development of genetically modified organisms in agriculture to laissez-faire economics.

This survival-of-the-fittest mentality is alive and well in todays geopolitics. Power accumulation has been rationalized as a natural means to security, which in turn calls for competition over resources and rival ideologies.

Today, the Galpagos Islands, a highly biodiverse ecosystem where Darwin once based his research, suffers as a Chinese fishing fleet plunders the surrounding protected marine areas in a flagrant demonstration of power. With this fleet, China contributes to the pillaging of the marine world, which houses critically important species such as hammerhead sharkspredators that protect and regulate an entire marine food chain that humans, along with other species, rely upon for sustenance and survival.

Olivia Lazard is a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe. Her research focuses on the geopolitics of climate, the transition ushered by climate change, and the risks of conflict and fragility associated to climate change and environmental collapse.

This is not an isolated event. In fact, biodiversity plundering is the norm. Humans have caused the disappearance of 83 percent of wild mammals and 50 percent of plants over the last four decades. Even more striking, the latest IPBES report announced that we had started the planets sixth mass extinction. As the Dasgupta review shows, this extinction is directly correlated to the acceleration of modern economic globalization.

It is critical to underscore that a mass extinction would not be limited to the plant and animal kingdoms. As humans, we must understand our fundamental belonging to, and interdependencies with nature, if we are to save ourselves from self-inflicted famine, civilizational collapse, and extinction.

Biodiversity is life, simply put.

Most people know a little about biodiversity: that a complex linkage of plants and insects leads to pollination, which itself leads to food production. Keystone speciesanimals that have a central role in their natural environment, such as beaversdesign landscapes, regulate water flows, and help with water filtering. Phytoplankton and terrestrial vegetation use carbon dioxide as fuel and produce oxygen. Certain plant and animal species depollute soils, while others decompact them, enabling life to take hold. Mangroves protect coastlines against devastating floods and storms, while nursing shallow marine life.

Taken individually, species have crucial functions to perform underground, in the oceanic depths, and in diverse terrestrial landscapes. Taken together, every single species complements the others, working interdependently for the benefit of all within ecosystems and among them. In sum, biodiversity is the bedrock of ecosystemic resilience, which is essential to combat climate change.

Biodiversity is essentially natures art and its science. It is information on the move and intelligence of forms, colors, shapes, textures, smells, and learning. It is evolution itself, and we are a part of it. Human cultures used to emanate from bioregions, resulting in differences in food habits, architectures, and economic trades. The French term terroir encapsulates this perfectly: culture draws its strength for the ecosystems that midwife it, making for a resilient economy and people.

Yet, two intertwined phenomena are weakening human cultures and natural biodiversity. First, economic globalization has favored economies of scale over traditional production. There are strong macroeconomic benefits for this but with two side effects: standardization, as humans need more and more land to grow monocultural crops, and urbanization, as economies develop their industrial and service-based sectors. Both result in gradual, yet exponential, human encroachment on natural habitats.

The second phenomenon is uniformization of agricultural techniques and cropping. These increased substantially following the Second World War and with the Green Revolution (in which developing countries started using pesticides and high-yield crops), as did the use of pollutants and fossil fuels. These led to an assault on the land and water that biodiversity feeds upon. Over time, this has weakened the health of ecosystems worldwide, degrading their ability to store carbon, water, and life. For humans, this means that water is more polluted and that food chains are contaminated. As a result, food is less nutritious over time, because soils lose the nutrients that biodiversity produces.

In addition to these phenomena borne out of economic growth and development strategies, biodiversity has become a direct object of consumption. Because keystone species such as tigers, lions, and elephants are becoming rarer, they are also becoming more lucrative to hunt. In 2014, Interpol warned that wildlife trafficking had become the fourth most profitable illegal activity worldwideaccounting for almost 15 billion euros (over $17 billion) a year in revenues. This illegal sector combines high levels of violence with corruption, resulting in systemic human rights abuses of environmental defenders and indigenous communities. In 2017, about four environmental defenders were killed per week. With them, precious knowledge to sustainably redesign human habitats is being lost.

All of these issues are inherently intertwined with rising levels of economic inequality. In fact, inequality actually predicts biodiversity loss. This is a stark warning: economic standardization has not only stripped ecosystems of their vitality, it has also stripped human communities of their ability to steward nature and contribute to its complexity. To illustrate, free trade agreements between Europe and Latin American countries actually promote large-scale productions encroaching on local ecosystems and traditional livelihoods. These drive down prices for staple crops, and push farmers into poverty, while encouraging economic dependency upon agro-chemical inputs. There is nothing free, nor freeing about this.

The result? Social and ecological disintegration. The more politics fails to acknowledge the shifting grounds upon which it stands, the faster it will generate conflict at various scales.

If the EU is to succeed in the combined fight against climate change and the collapse of biodiversity, it must address the fundamental drivers of ecological disintegration. The EUs Green Deal is a significant step in the right direction. It is still in strategic design phases, which the foreign policy sector must contribute to proactively and constructively. A few areas already need more attention and higher prioritization.

The biodiversity, the circular economy, and the farm-to-fork strategies must be backed by the reform of old mechanisms such as the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which in its current state undermines the credibility of the Green Deal as a coherent European signature at home and abroad. The CAP in Europe is the main driver of biodiversity loss and a major contributor to carbon dioxide emissions. The next multiannual financial framework must provide robust incentives for systemic shifts toward agro-ecological approaches and ecosystems restoration.

In addition, the CAP encourages unfair competition with partners across the world, including countries in West Africa. In Burkina Faso, the CAP can dampen the contribution of traditional livelihoods to the national economy and create unnecessary poverty as subsidized European goods flood markets and automatically lock dairy producers out. At its best, the EU is a celebration of diversity in all its forms. So it should also celebrate biodiverse productive landscapes as a political landmark in its internal and foreign policy investments.

In a world where geopolitical competition leads countries and people to plunder nature, it is essential that the EU build its reputation as a foreign policy partner that supports new socioecological contracts worldwide. We must map and acknowledge the ecological interdependencies that regulate our planet, then govern in accordance with them. We must align policies, investments, and projects with social and economic stewardship of nature. The EU must investigate how to design its foreign policy in a way that preserves, regenerates, and institutionalizes the health of local ecosystems throughout its diplomatic engagements. Doing this also entails enabling or incentivizing social and political systems to take a stewardship role over their natural environment, for example by strengthening human and environmental rights together.

The EU must also urgently contribute to making the UNs Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) more robust on environmental issues. A recent study demonstrates that SDG environmental targets fail to preserve biodiversity. Instead, they skew data toward socioeconomic indicators that promote progress at the expense of nature. Development funding from Europe must address this bias.

Finally, within the Green Deal, the EU must be extremely careful not to pit climate against environmental goals. It is becoming increasingly clear that the European digitalization and green ambitions rely on mining activities that will have negative effects on key ecosystems regulating the climate. Unless the EU invests in greater research and development on battery development, industrial and popular demand for mineral extraction will quickly bring the EU to overshoot planetary boundarieskey natural limits whose overreach would lead to dramatic and irremediable damage on a global scale.

This means, to start with, that we must expand our indicators to be multidimensional. Carbon dioxide emission reduction is not enough of a measure for a transition that should aim to be systemic and ecological. Neither is GDP an accurate measure of economic performance when it fails to integrate the consumption of nature and rising inequalities across the worldboth of which undermine the rule of law.

These priority areas are far from being an exhaustive list, and yet, the work they already require is vast. The challenges we face are complex, and there is little room for error. The EU must actively connect the dots between its ambitions and natural realities to safeguard a viable future at home and abroad. If the EU is to meet the challenge, it needs to embrace this complexity and write the planets interdependencies into its policy frameworks. The risks of failing to do so will be far greater than not.

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Faculty team and website provide science-based information on GMOs – UConn Today

§ October 19th, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on Faculty team and website provide science-based information on GMOs – UConn Today

The phrase GMO creates a strong emotional reaction among many people. GMO stands for genetically modified organism, and although the technology was first used in the medical field to create insulin, the dialogues currently surrounding GMOs are polarized. In our dialogue process, team members from the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources created a space where healthy dialogues on the positive and negative aspects of GMOs can occur. It can be difficult to find science-based information that is understandable. Our working group intends to help bridge the information gap by providing real answers to questions of concern to people today and promoting discussions that help consumers form their own opinions using that science-based information.

There are many points of view concerning GMOs, both pro and con, and often there is a lack of scientific information to provide answers. A panel of UConn experts has created a website called Science of GMOs to serve as an information center for experts, farmers and consumers. The team has twelve members, including Cindy Tian, professor of animal science; Stacey Stearns, educational program administrator for UConn Extension, Bonnie Burr, head of the Department of Extension; and Gerry Berkowitz, professor of plant science, and addresses a variety of GMO topics from food safety and health issues to regulations and public perception.

We want to bring science-based information to our audiences so they can make informed decisions about GMOs, Stearns says. Every member of the team is active in their own realm of the project. There is so much misinformation out there. We wanted to make it easier for people so they could feel comfortable and confident in their choices. We encourage people to find resources, ask questions and learn more.

In addition to the website, Stearns, Tian, Burr and Robert Bird, professor of business law, are developing an online GMO certificate program called Lets Talk GMOs: Creating Consistent Communication Messages. The pilot program will launch in January 2021 for extension educators and land grant communicators, with future sessions open to farmers, other professionals and consumers.

Says Tian, The anti-science sentiment is definitely growing world-wide. I think one of the reasons is that we scientists do not do a good job of educating people. We would prefer to stay in the lab with our research. Thats why I decided to become more involved in outreach. We need to do more educating or science will have no place in society. The mainstream media focuses on sensation rather than unbiased information. Consumers need information to do their due diligence.

To facilitate the idea of open-ended discussions, the group became involved in UConn Dialogue Initiatives, a program designed to promote respectful and open-minded conversations. The team attended meetings and workshops and prepared presentations.

We learned that simply discussing facts doesnt work, Stearns explains. We have to start with shared values to connect with other people. We are trying to learn more about having conversations that address different perspectives and not make assumptions about other opinions. We need to listen carefully to understand, and then talk to people about their fears instead of simply spouting information.

The anti-GMO movement started in Europe and is going global, Tian notes. But the movement came from a group of people who do not have a deep understanding of the subject. Many of the people against GMOs are misinformed. How do we go about changing the narrative? It is not about proving the other side is wrong. Its about having a conversation. What are our common goals? We can all agree that we want safe food for our families, so where do we find information to support that?

GMO technology was first used in animal science and pharmaceuticals. Every GMO product has a beautiful story to it, Tian says. People wanted to generate models for human diseases to enable medical testing that was quicker, more ethical and efficient. Later on, scientists started genetic modification in plants, such as tobacco, to change a plants properties for producing pharmaceuticals or disease resistance in crops.

GMO plant breeding targets a particular trait by changing the corresponding gene, Tian explains. For instance, scientists bred corn that is insect resistant by taking a piece of a gene from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) and inserting it into the corn genome where the Bt produces an insecticidal protein that attacks insects. Organic farmers have been using Bt for years, but instead of spraying the bacteria on the plants several times during the season, the insecticide is expressed within the plant. Its safe and more profitable for the farmer and reduces the use of synthetic pesticides, a great benefit to the environment.

Berkowitz agrees that all of the science points to GMOs being safe for humans, but he says there are other factors to consider. His comments showcase a different aspect of the GMO discussion.

I want people to understand that our system is set up for commercial agriculture, and GMOs are no worse or better than other big ag methods, he says. There are a lot of issues in the way we manage our agriculture in this country that are not about human health, but rather about impacts to the environment and impacts on non-target organisms and genetic diversity. There are also areas where commercial agricultural could improve production through attention to soil health and good crop husbandry.

Berkowitz, One area of concern with GMO plants is how they affect the ecosystem. For instance, Bt-infused plants may be safe for humans, but what happens when the Bt enters the environment? It is toxic to several varieties of insects. There is a difference between organic gardening, where farmers spray Bt a few times per season, and using Bt-infused plants, where Bt is expressed in every cell of the plant throughout the entire life cycle among millions of acres of crops. Do we have to do that? The selective pressure for mutation and Bt-resistant insects is greater with GMO-infused plants, and its already happening.

On the other hand, Tian says that commercial agriculture producers are satisfying the needs of an expanding population with less available land, and that the primary goal for many farmers, particularly in certain parts of the world, is food security.

What the GMO group all agree on is that continuing the conversation using science-based facts while being open to different viewpoints is the answer to keeping the conversation and research moving forward.

By Kim Colavito Markesich

This article originally appeared on CAHNR Newsroom.

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Despite fearmongering, GMOs are the key to a healthy and sustainable future – Queen’s Journal

§ October 9th, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on Despite fearmongering, GMOs are the key to a healthy and sustainable future – Queen’s Journal

A lot of plant-based foods at the grocery store are labeled non-GMOas if genetically modified crops should be avoided. In reality, we ought to embrace the technology.

Genetic modification to our food is as old as agriculture itself. When humans began domesticating plants, we used selective breeding to enhance desired traits. This meant greater crop yields and bigger, tastier fruits and vegetables.

With the discovery of the DNA double helix in 1953, it eventually became possible to directly transfer favourable genes from one species to another. Naturally, this has dramatically expanded the scope of what we can do when compared to traditional methods of selective breeding.

The Non-GMO Project, which is responsible for all those labels on our food, argues consumers should have an informed choice about what they buy. But widespread anti-GMO sentiments are based on superstition, not facts.

Those who vehemently oppose GMOs claim our food is injected with viral particles and bacteria which are harmful to human health. In the most common genetically modified crop, corn, a gene from aninsect-killing bacterium is inserted. This allows the corn to produce a protein that kills insects but is harmless to humans, negating farmers need to spray potentially harmful insecticides on their crops.

There are plenty of substances that are deadly to one species but not another. Caffeine is a naturally-produced insecticide, but is consumed and enjoyed by humans every day.

Moreover, GMOs are essential to meeting the food demands of a growing population while minimizing the negative effects of agriculture on climate change. By engineering crops that need less water, we can create drought-resistant food sources at a time when droughts are becoming more frequent.

In addition, it may be possible to produce crops with a much greater yield so we can continue using farmland we already have and avoid clearing forests to create more.

Next time you see the label non-GMO on packaging at the grocery store, dont celebrate it. Theres no reason to shy away from a revolutionary technology that stands to aid us in the fight against climate change while improving human health.

Nathan is a fourth-year English student and The Journals Arts Editor.

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First-in-Human T-Cell Therapy Warrants Further Investigation in HCC – OncLive

§ October 9th, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on First-in-Human T-Cell Therapy Warrants Further Investigation in HCC – OncLive

In HCC, we have been living with only 1 systemic therapy for more than a decade: sorafenib [Nexavar], said Sangro. Now, we have other TKIs, particularly immuno-oncology agents, in both the first-line and second-line [settings]. These agents have absolutely changed the field, but it is nice to see different tools like T-cell therapy making their way into clinical research in HCC to meet the unmet needs our patients have.

During the 2020 Digital International Liver Congress (ILC), findings from multiple cohorts of a first-in-human phase 1 trial (NCT03132792) evaluating ADP-A2AFP were presented in patients with HCC or other AFP-expressing cancers who are not amenable to transplant, resection, or locoregional treatment, and who failed on, were intolerant to, or refused standard therapy.2,3 The results demonstrated 1 complete response (CR) with sustained serum AFP reduction among 4 patients treated with the 5 billion or more cell dose of autologous, genetically modified cells.2

In addition to the single CR, the other 8 patients treated with ADP-A2AFP SPEAR T cells had stable disease (n = 6) or progressive disease (n = 2).2,3

Additionally, ADP-A2AFP was associated with an acceptable toxicity profile. No evidence of significant T-cell related hepatotoxicity or protocol-defined dose-limiting toxicities were observed with the infusion.2,3

In an interview with OncLive, Sangro, director of the Liver Unit at Clnica Universidad de Navarra and a professor of medicine at the Clnica Universidad de Navarra School of Medicine in Pamplona, Spain, expanded on the findings from the phase 1 trial of ADP-A2AFP and spoke to the next steps with this research in the HCC space.

OncLive:How are T-cell receptor cells designed to target AFP?

Sangro: SPEAR T cells are engineered T-cell receptor cells. The lymphocytes that are able to attack tumors cells have receptors that are able to scan other cells. Whenever they find a receptor that matches their own receptor, they are able to engage and kill the engaged tumor cell. This happens in humans, and in particular, in patients with cancer.

However, to exploit this ability of T cells, one can modify these T-cell receptors in the laboratory so that they are able to engage with specific antigens of tumor cells with very high affinity.

That is exactly what SPEAR T cells are about. These cells are engineered so that they can target AFP in this case, presented in an A2A molecule of a tumor cell.

Some HCC tumors express a significant amount of the AFP antigens. For patients who have increased expression of AFP, [modifying] their own cells so that they can identify and attack their tumor cells could be a meaningful way of treating their cancer. That is exactly what the ADP-A2AFP trial is about.

How was this trial designed, and what inclusion criteria informed which patients were eligible for enrollment?

In this trial, patients could be treated, provided they met 2 main inclusion criteria. Patients had to be Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) compatible so that the modified T cells could identify AFP in perfect context. Secondly, patients had to express AFP. If these inclusion criteria were met, patients went into leukapheresis to extract their own lymphocytes. Then, in the lab, the [SPEAR] T cells were selected and engineered, the new cells were manufactured, and finally they were shipped back to the hospital. When the cells were received by the hospital, a lymphodepleting combination of cyclophosphamide and fludarabine was provided to the patient as a conditioning regimen to allow the cells that would be infused to persist for a long period of time in the patients body.

In this trial, 3 different doses of cells were injected. Three different cohorts (1, 2, and 3) were included, and upon confirmation of the safety in these cohorts, an expansion cohort was added.

[During the 2020 DigitalILC], we presented the results of cohorts 1, 2, and 3, as well as the findings from 1 patient in the expansion cohort. In total, [we presented] the safety and efficacy data of 9 patients.

Did anything surprise you with regard to the safety of the modified cells?

The main thing in an early development clinical trial is, of course, safety. We were happy to confirm that the treatment was by and large, very well tolerated. Most adverse effects (AEs) were consistent with [previously reported findings] of patients with cancer receiving chemotherapy as a conditioning regimen. AEs were mostly hematologic and transient in nature. Only a few patients needed specific treatment for these AEs. Also, very importantly, there were no signs of off-target AEs, meaning the cells [did not] recognize AFP on normal liver cells, which would lead to hepatitis. There were no events of relevant hepatitis.

This provides reassurance of the safety of this type of therapy in patients with cirrhosis with reduced [hepatic] functional reserve.

Did ADP-A2AFP demonstrate sufficient proof of efficacy to move forward in development?

In terms of efficacy, stable disease was the best response in 2 and 3 patients in cohorts 1 and 2, respectively. Among the 4 patients treated with the highest dose of cells, [in] cohort 3 and the expansion cohort, 1 patient had stable disease and 2 patients had progressive disease. However, 1 patient achieved a CR. This patient had limited burden of disease with very high peripheral levels of AFP, which dropped in a significant way after treatment and normalized. On the CT scan, we were able to observe the complete disappearance of all treated tumor lesions. The CR has lasted for more than 6 months. By the time of these analyses, the patient had unconfirmed tumor progression with new nodules but no progression in prior sites.

Overall, this serves as a proof of concept that these AFP-targeted autologous T cells are able to recognize, engage, and kill AFP-expressing tumor cells.

These findings mean that the trial has to continue recruitment. We need data on a larger series of patients treated with the highest dose of 5 billion cells. I should point out that it was only with the highest number of cells that we were able to observe persistence in terms of the transduced cells in the peripheral blood of the patient. This is the dose of cells that has to be investigated. Now, we need to have a larger series of patients to further confirm whether these responses are frequent and durable. Ideally, we could provide insight on [optimal] patient selection for this type of T-cell therapy.

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All about monoclonal antibody drugs the experimental treatment that may have turned Trump’s COVID-19 around – Brockville Recorder and Times

§ October 9th, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on All about monoclonal antibody drugs the experimental treatment that may have turned Trump’s COVID-19 around – Brockville Recorder and Times

White House coronavirus adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci knows it would be illogical, and he said as much, to base anything on a sample size (N) of one. Still, Fauci suspects an experimental antibody injection might very well have been behind U.S. President Donald Trumps apparent turnaround from COVID-19.

Whether or not it was that that got him better, Im strongly suspicious that it was, Fauci told CNN. Whenever you have an N equals 1, you cant prove it, but I think that the monoclonal antibody made a difference.

Trump received an eight-gram dose of the unlicensed antibody cocktail made by New York-based biotech company Regeneron on Friday. The president, his doctors said, completed the infusion without incident. Trump is also being treated with the anti-viral drug, Remdesivir, as well as dexamethasone, a cheap steroid shown to reduce deaths in people severely sick with COVID-19.

Two weeks ago, Regeneron announced, via press release, that its investigational drug, REGN-COV2, reduced viral levels and improved symptoms faster than placebo in 275 people infected with COVID-19 who were mildly to moderately ill, but not sick enough to be hospitalized. The Sept. 29 press release, the company told the National Post Tuesday, covers the only data we have in humans thus far well be sure to share more once we have it. Regeneron is also testing its COVID antibody injection in hospitalized people. There are no human studies in Canada at the moment.

Eli Lilly has also launched human trials of its own antibody therapies.

The logic behind the approach is really quite simple, said Ottawa critical care physician Dr. James Downar. It involves mass-producing antibodies against a target virus or infection, in this case the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.

Scientists first search for the most potent antibodies. In their case, the Regeneron team sifted through thousands of fully-human antibodies, as described by the company, produced by transgenic, or humanized mice exposed to SARS-CoV-2, as well as antibodies identified from humans who have recovered from COVID-19.

They focused on two antibodies that bind to the spike protein that adorns the COVID-19 virus the strongest. Its these pointy proteins that the virus uses like a skeleton key to slip inside human cells. The antibodies glob on to the proteins, blocking the virus from entering cells and causing infection.

The antibodies are mass-produced in other mice, collected, concentrated down and put into a drug preparation that can be injected into humans.

Antibodies can also be harvested from immune cells collected from the plasma of people exposed to SARS-CoV-2. You take those cells out and put them in a dish or a flask and immortalize them make them kind of live forever and replicate forever, producing antibodies over and over again, said Dr. Donald Arnold, a hematologist at McMaster University in Hamilton.

Much hope is being pinned on monoclonal antibodies because even though theyre expensive and theyre not going to make a gajillion doses, they could make a big difference in the whole landscape of the pandemic, Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, California, told STAT.

Reducing viral load is probably a good thing, but we dont know if that actually improves outcomes, Downar, of The Ottawa Hospital said. There are lots of things that can impair viral replication that dont actually change outcome. Because by the time you get an actual symptom, the virus has spread a long way and is already doing a lot of damage.

Its entirely possible that by the time youre giving it, youre giving it too late.

Medical technicians work at a drive-through COVID-19 testing facility at the Regeneron Pharmaceuticals companys Westchester campus in Tarrytown, New York, September 17, 2020. Brendan McDermid/Reuters/File

That Trump got something wholly experimental has raised eyebrows, but monoclonal antibodies are used throughout medicine for treating infectious diseases, autoimmune conditions and lymphomas.

The short answer is: great promising therapy but well need to see better data, Downar said.

The downside? Its challenging and expensive to make. Its laborious, time-consuming, and monoclonal antibody therapy can cost thousands of dollars per person treated.

As well, any antibody therapy has a potential to trigger an exaggerated or haywire immune or inflammatory response that, in rare cases, could cause damage to multiple organs, Downar said.

If youre using it in situations where the person doesnt have an adequate immune response and the insult, the infection, is causing a lot of damage, then theres good logic to think this might be effective, he said.

Its hard to say what helped Trump. The science is strongest for dexamethasone, a ubiquitous, inexpensive steroid.

Its impossible to know, said Arnold, a professor and one of the principal investigators for a large convalescent plasma trial happening in Canada.

The other piece is that, as far as I can tell, Trump had fairly mild symptoms, certainly not enough to qualify him to be hospitalized for a prolonged period of time or to require oxygen for a prolonged period of time. For many people, if they had those symptoms, they would probably not be hospitalized they would be treated in the clinic, and a lot of them would get better on their own, anyway.

Really hard to know, for all of those reasons, if this treatment made any difference in this particular case.

Email: skirkey@postmedia.com | Twitter:

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What You Need To Know About Trumps Experimental Coronavirus Antibody Treatment – Forbes

§ October 4th, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on What You Need To Know About Trumps Experimental Coronavirus Antibody Treatment – Forbes

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Dr. Sean Conley, the Presidents physician, released a note on Friday afternoon that the President had completed an infusion of 8 grams of Regenerons experimental polyclonal antibody treatment as a precautionary measure after his diagnosis of Covid-19 late last night.

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 02: U.S. President Donald Trump leaves the White House for Walter Reed ... [+] National Military Medical Center.

Shortly after the doctors note was released, the White House announced that President Trump would be transported to Walter Reed Medical Center at the recommendation of medical experts and out of an abundance of caution.

Regeneron confirmed that its antibody drug, called REGN-COV2, was provided after a compassionate use request was submitted to the company by the Presidents doctors. The company says that compassionate use requests are approved for rare, exceptional circumstances on a case-by-case basis.

Earlier this week, Regeneron released the first data from its trial of the new antibody treatment for Covid-19 which found that patients given the drug had reduced levels of the virus in their nasal passages as well as shorter disease symptoms.

The 8 gram dose given to the President was considered the high dose in the recent clinical trial, and the drug seemed to work best in patients who did not produce their own antibodies to Covid-19.

The Regeneron drug is currently still experimental and has not been approved by the FDA for emergency use, but in July it was announced that the government would collaborate with Regeneron and give the company $450 million to manufacture the antibody therapy in exchange for access to doses of the medication.

As of this afternoon the President remains fatigued but in good spirits, said Conleys note. Hes being evaluated by a team of experts and together well be making recommendations to the President and First Lady in regards to next best steps.

Antibodies against viruses are immune system cells naturally produced by both humans and animals, but some antibodies are more powerful than others. Regenerons treatment consists of two antibodies, which were identified after screening thousands of candidates from both mice that have been genetically modified to have a human immune system and from patients that have already recovered from Covid-19. The hope is that one or both of these antibodies will target the spike protein on the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which would prevent the virus from infecting healthy cells within the body. This drug is similar to one that Regeneron began developing against Ebola several years ago, which showed positive results in a study published last year. Its worth noting that so far, the company only has the results from the first 275 patients who were treated with the new Covid-19 drug, most of whom were significantly younger than President Trump and were not hospitalized. While there is an ongoing trial of hospitalized patients, that data has not been released yet.

Theres nothing bad about these results, you just cant say much about how transformative this is going to be, Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, told STAT when the initial trial results came out on September 29th. This doesnt cut it, but its moving in the right direction, thats for sure.

Regeneron is not the only company working on an antibody treatment for Covid-19. Other companies include Eli Lilly, AstraZeneca and Sorrento Therapeutics.

The Presidents doctor also said that in addition to the new drug President Trump has been taking zinc, vitamin D, famotidine, melatonin and a daily aspirin. Famotidine (a stomach acid blocker), melatonin (a sleep aid) and aspirin are not out of the ordinary. There has been some speculation that zinc and vitamin D may help prevent or shorten the length of illness from Covid-19, but this has not been definitively proven. The Presidents age and weight, however, have been demonstrated to be serious risk factors for developing severe complications from Covid-19.

Full coverage and live updates on the Coronavirus

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You should be excited that scientists are releasing 750 million genetically modified mosquitoes this year – Massive Science

§ September 28th, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on You should be excited that scientists are releasing 750 million genetically modified mosquitoes this year – Massive Science

Mosquitoes are probably most people's least favorite insect.

Mosquito-borne diseases include malaria, yellow fever, and the Zika virus all of which can cause extreme sickness, birth defects, or death. Per year, malaria is responsible for the deaths of over 400,000 people, while dengue fever causes about 20,000, according to the World Health Organization.

Vaccines have been in development for dengue fever, malaria, and Zika, but production can be very slow and result in low efficacy. Drugs can help, but can be expensive. Insecticides are successful in the short term, but mosquitoes can become resistant, and mass-release insecticide can have health impacts on plants and wildlife.

Instead, othershave focused their attention on treating the mosquitos, not the symptoms:genetically modifying mosquitos themselves to only produce sterile offspring, effectively wiping out an entire population of insects. Modern genetic modification techniques are fast, and work at thescale of genes but they mimic the plant breedingfocused on phenotype humans have been doing since the beginning of history (like, say, selective breeding of crops, which humans have been doing since agriculture was invented).

There are two general approaches to producing genetically modified mosquitoes: 1) modifying the reproductive ability of male mosquitoes so that they cannot produce offspring, and 2) modifying both male and female mosquitoes so that they are resistant to diseases or incapable of transmitting them to other species. Oxitec, the biotechnology company behind a genetically modified (GM) mosquito Aedes aegypti, has tested the first approach to GM mosquito releases in field trials in parts of Brazil, the Cayman Islands, and Malaysia. These male mosquitoes mate with a female, exchanging a gene mutation that causes the larvae to die unless they are given an antibiotic. These trials have shown to reduce mosquito populations from 80-95%, reducing dengue fever cases by 91%.

GM mosquitoes are successful in reducing mosquito populations, and reducing disease spread. But there are still many scientific questions that haven't been fully answered, including concern over public health, mosquito resistance risks, and environmental consequences associated with genetic modification of a wild-living organism. Many people believe that genetic modification goes against the natural order of the world, or that we don't know the full range of possible outcomes for releasing modified organisms into the environment.

And the skeptics have a point: GM crops, initially thought to reduce our need for pesticide applications, have resulted in increased herbicide applications in the face of the development of resistant weeds and insect pests. In the case of genetically modified corn targeting the European corn borer pest, known as Bt corn, resistance has driven an increase in pesticide use by about 7% over a 15 year period.

A map showing dengue spread in the US as of August 2020, with outbreaks in Puerto Rico, Texas, Florida, and Wisconsin, among others

Via CDC

Studies testing the safety of GM crops are widespread, but the public often sees these announcements coming from huge corporations like General Mills, aiming at selling a GM product. In a 2014 Pew Research Center survey, only 37% of adults felt that GM foods were safe to eat, and only 26% felt GM foods were safe to eat if they stated they had less scientific knowledge than their peers. And yet, multiple science and health organizations have deemed GM crops as safe for human consumption.

But what does all of this uncertainty about GM crops mean for GM mosquitoes? Oxitec is currently the first and only company to be approved to release genetically modified mosquitoes, beginning in 2009 (though not announced until 2010) with the release of 3 million genetically modified mosquitoes in the Cayman Islands in response to high levels of pesticide resistance in the mosquito population. In 2015, in response to an increase in Zika virus in the country, Brazil's National Biosafety Committee approved the release of GM mosquitoes in Juazeiro, in northeast Brazil. The trials were successful, with Oxitec concluding the modified mosquitoes reduced dengue fever mosquito populations by 95%.

It's important to note that Oxitec was not the first to alter the genetics of insects for population control. The genetic approach to render insects infertile or resistant to disease is based on the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT). SIT was developed in the 1930s as a way to reduce insect populations. The technique renders male insects sterile by exposing them to extremely high levels of radiation, before releasing them to mate with females. The technique has great success, eradicating multiple pest species such as the screwworm in the 1950s and reducing pink bollworm moth populations in California beginning in 1967.

A workflow describing proposed stages for developing, testing, and releasing genetically modified mosquitos

Via WHO

Following the success of the initial trials, Oxitec had another GM mosquito release in Jacobina, Bahia, Brazil in 2015. About 450,000 mosquitoes were released each week for 27 months, developed using a strain from Cuba outcrossed with a strain from Mexico. The Brazil trials had little-to-no pushback in the region, with many residents believing the GM mosquito resulted in a drop in dengue fever cases and limiting the success of Zika virus spread.

Oxitec applied to the EPA in the United States to release the modified insect containing a gene in GM male mosquitoes that would spread to and kill offspring in the larval stage in 2012, after outbreaks in 2009 and 2010 of dengue fever in the Florida Keys. But when the public found out about the potential experiment, a petition on Change.org gathered over 100,000 signatures against the project (it's at over 235,000 today). Many skeptics reference Oxitec's rush to use GM mosquitoes in the field in their initial Cayman Island trials without properly consulting the public.

Oxitec scrapped their original release mechanism which would allow female mosquitoes to escape from the release capsule due to public pressure. Instead, they developed a newly branded version of the mosquito technology, coining it "friendly mosquito technology." The new GM mosquito is programmed to only release males from an Oxitec capsule placed in water, and not the biting females. The "safe" name refers to the fact that male mosquitoes do not bite, so the company's release would not increase numbers of female-biting mosquitoes.

A map showing Aedes aegypti's range in the United States and Indigenous reservations

Via CDC

But environmental groups are still unhappy. Many believe the engineered mosquitoes are still putting Floridians at risk, and worry that spreading modified genes from male mosquitoes into the wild mosquito population could cause cascading effects on the food chain. Birds, insects, and mammals all feed on mosquitoes; environmentalists are concerned about any affect the genes could have on these organisms. Many scientists have speculated about whether the elimination of the mosquito would have any impact on other creatures, but others are hesitant to promote the purposeful extinction of a species.

There are also other options for reducing diseases spread by mosquitoes. A non-profit organization in Brazil known as Eliminate Dengue is working to breed mosquitoes that are less likely to spread disease. The group is focused on breeding mosquitoes to carry on a parasite widely found and naturally occurring in mosquitoes, Wolbachia, which has been shown to inhibit the mosquito's ability to spread viruses such as dengue fever or chikungunya. Eliminate Dengue, funded through the Gates Foundation, has released these mosquitoes in 40 areas worldwide. The parasite stays in the population, reducing the need to release modified mosquitoes year after year.

The majority of scientists believe that GM mosquitoes pose no human health risks. However, the possibility of hybridization between GM mosquitoes and wild mosquitoes, passing the genetically modified genetics to wild populations and into the ecosystem, is concerning to many.

The potential good may outweigh the potential bad. But with EPA approval and test releases of genetically modified mosquitoes planned for the Florida Keys and Texas, the future is already here. Only time and data will tell.

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University of Sydney to advance COVID 19 DNA vaccine to human trials – News – The University of Sydney

§ September 24th, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on University of Sydney to advance COVID 19 DNA vaccine to human trials – News – The University of Sydney

This phase 1/1b, multi-centre, observer-blinded, dose-ranging, randomized, placebo-controlled trial will assess the safety, reactogenicity and immunogenicity of different doses of the vaccine given to healthy participants aged 18 to 75 years old in three states (NSW, SA and WA) across Australia.

As a phase 1 trial, the key goal is to examine the safety of two doses of the vaccine given one month apart. If the trial is successful, then a phase 2 trial will be undertaken in a larger number of participants.

Through this network of key experts and partners, this collaborative approach promises to accelerate the development and access to this COVID-19 candidate vaccine in Australia.

The Vax4COVID specialised expertise focuses on rapid planning, recruitment, ethics and genetically modified organism (GMO) approvals, and execution of SARS-CoV-2 vaccine trials in healthy individuals and/or at-risk populations, including healthcare workers and older adults, with the capacity to pre-recruit cohorts of interested individuals.

This project embodies the important role the University of Sydneys health and medical researchers play in rising to the health challenges of our time. In what has been a difficult year, it is the collaborations between our leading scientists and industry, such as this, that will provide the solutions and pave the way forward, said Professor Duncan Ivison, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) at the University of Sydney.

Mr Laurent Dapremont, Chief Executive Officer of Technovalia said: We are very pleased and proud to be able to contribute to the development of an effective solution to the crisis we have been living for many months. This is a unique collaborative effort with outstanding partners and clinicians, and most importantly, plans are being put in place with BioNet and LuinaBio to rapidly develop a vaccine againstCOVID-19 which can be produced in Australia.

Dr Pham Hong Thai, Chief Executive Officer of BioNet-Asia, said: We are glad to continue our collaboration with Technovalia as this is the second vaccine to be evaluated in Australia, first Pertagen and now this vaccine, two recombinant vaccines against highly contagious respiratory diseases, respectively pertussis (whooping cough) and COVID-19. We are also delighted to join A/Prof. Wood and his colleagues from Vax4COVID in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia.

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Earth Matters: Our food footprint – Blog – The Island Now

§ September 23rd, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on Earth Matters: Our food footprint – Blog – The Island Now

We thrive only when the natural world thrives; when humans respect nature for all its beauty and bounty and live gently on the earth, as other living things instinctively know to do. The natural world gives us clean air to breathe, clean water to drink and an abundance of food from our oceans, lakes and rivers, our trees and rich soils.

However, it seems that more and more of us are conducting our lives as if we are somehow entitled to exploit the natural world, treating it as just another resource, another money-making opportunity or another dumping ground.

Examples of this exploitation are extractive and polluting industries such as drilling and fracking for oil and gas, strip mining for coal, rare metal mining for electronics, chemicals and plastics manufacturing, meat production farms and giant agribusinesses that grow the food we eat. Each of these enterprises strains our resources and creates significant pollution.

Though we can make personal choices that can help to mitigate the impact of some industries, such as installing geothermal systems to heat and cool our homes, attaching solar panels to produce electricity or resisting the urge to keep upgrading our cell phones, one of the easiest and most effective things we can do is to make better choices at the grocery store.

To understand the impact of food choices on our environment you have to look at every stage of the long journey from a natural resource to our dinner plates. Food production has evolved into an incredibly complicated system that uses prodigious amounts of energy, water and chemical inputs, creating pollution that now threatens our planet and our own health.

Lets just look at water pollution from farms. Not your local family farms, but huge agribusinesses growing genetically modified crops (GMOs) on hundreds of thousands of acres.

These farms use vast quantities of chemical pesticides and synthetic or human sewage-based fertilizers that runoff into nearby bodies of water, killing local flora and fauna and creating dead zones in larger bodies of water miles downstream. News reports abound about the dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico, primarily caused by agricultural runoff making its way down into the Mississippi River watershed.

Another example of water pollution from a food industry can be found right here on Long Island. For generations, shell fishermen working in Oyster Bay have hand-raked for clams, taking only those that were mature and leaving the seabed relatively undisturbed, allowing successive generations of shellfish to flourish and grow.

But in 1992, a large shellfish company conducting hydraulic and suction shellfish dredging obtained exclusive rights to 1,800 acres in the bay from the Town of Oyster Bay. Mechanical dredging damages the aquatic environment and imperils important fish species, such as the winter flounder, a threatened species in New York State as well as other federally designated endangered and threatened species.

It also damages the bay substrate, scarring the seabed and generating excessive clouding of the water, depleting oxygen and damaging the fragile ecosystem that other aquatic animals depend on for survival.

This type of aggressive extractive enterprise, in which collateral damage to the environment is just the cost of doing business, is also seen on farms that rely primarily on chemicals to produce crops.

Monsanto, the infamous pesticide and seed company which was acquired by Bayer in 2018, created genetically modified crops that were resistant to its infamous herbicide product RoundUp. The active ingredient in RoundUp, a chemical called glyphosate, has been linked not only to an array of human illnesses including cancer, microbiome and reproductive problems, but also to the decline of honeybees and monarch butterflies. Residues of glyphosate are now found in many common foods that are made with GM ingredients, like corn, soy and sugar beets and because of its widespread use, even non-GMO crops have been contaminated with this chemical. It is estimated that 93% of Americans have glyphosate in their bodies.

Exploitive and extractive agriculture is also evident in the production of meat for human consumption, which is responsible for the destruction of much of the rainforest in South America, as land is cleared for cattle grazing to supply our meat-dependent diets. Large-scale pork farms known as Concentrated Animal Feed Operations, or CAFOs, are responsible for hundreds of millions of tons of animal waste annually that contaminate rivers and streams and even sources of drinking water.

The good news is that a new paradigm for agriculture is taking hold around the world. Regenerative Agriculture is an organic farming and grazing technique that eschews chemical inputs and extractive farming techniques and instead rebuilds soils and restores soil biodiversity. Regenerative agriculture recognizes the ability of nature to close the carbon cycle, improve crop resilience and increase nutrient density.

This, in turn, can increase water-holding capacity and sequester carbon at greater depths, thus reducing climate-damaging levels of carbon dioxide. Pollution is effectively reduced to zero, and the impact on the environment is beneficial rather than detrimental.

Food production is responsible for about one quarter of the worlds greenhouse gas emissions, but historically, agriculture has responded to humanitys greatest challenges. And here it is, another great challenge to be met. We can help by keeping in mind our food footprint as we shop for and prepare our meals.

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The virus causing COVID-19 most likely evolved in natural wildlife populations before spreading to humans – Health Feedback

§ September 23rd, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on The virus causing COVID-19 most likely evolved in natural wildlife populations before spreading to humans – Health Feedback

CLAIM

[G]enetic evidence within the Spike gene of SARS-Cov-2 genome [] does exist and suggest that the SARS-CoV-2 genome should be a product of genetic manipulation; The characteristics and pathogenic effects of SARS-CoV-2 are unprecedented

DETAILS

Incorrect: The genetic features of SARS-CoV-2 are common in other coronaviruses that occur in nature and have animal reservoirs. Therefore, these features do not prove in any way that the virus was constructed in a laboratory or genetically modified. Unsupported: The author does not provide evidence to support her claim that the virus causing COVID-19 was created in a lab. The pre-print cherry-picks data and overlooks alternative hypotheses about the virus evolving in nature. Contrary to the claim, the most likely scenario is that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was transferred to humans from bats or other animal reservoirs, similar to how other viruses were transferred to humans like the SARS-CoV-1 virus (a coronavirus closely related to SARS-CoV-2) and Ebola.

KEY TAKE AWAY

Although the exact origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus remains unknown, previous claims that the virus contained artificial elements or that it had been patented were debunked. The virus most likely originated in nature, probably in bats, according to the genetic similarity between SARS-CoV-2 and other animal coronaviruses. Dr. Yan claims to prove that the SARS-COV-2 virus originated in a lab, but a careful analysis of her pre-print actually shows this claim is unsubstantiated.

This pre-print resurrected the baseless claim that SARS-CoV-2 is man-made, a claim that has been repeated since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and Health Feedback previously covered here, here, here, and here. Yans pre-print, which was not peer-reviewed by other experts in the field, claims that some unique characteristics in the SARS-CoV-2 genome prove that the virus is man-made. However, experts disputed Yans pre-print for being flawed and containing unsubstantiated claims. Gkikas Magiorkinis, Assistant Professor of Hygiene and Epidemiology and Scientific Coordinator of the National Reference Centre for Retroviruses at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, said:

[C]losely related coronaviruses have been retrieved from animals such as bats and pangolins, which makes the scenario of naturally occurring evolution far more likely than any scenario of laboratory manipulation. In fact, we have [a] clear history of zoonotic origin of lethal coronavirus outbreaks such as SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV. The paper by Li-Meng et al. does not provide any robust evidence of artificial manipulation, no statistical test of alternative hypotheses (natural evolution vs artificial manipulation) and is highly speculative.

Specifically, Yan focuses on three features of the viral genome to claim that SARS-CoV-2 is man-made. The first feature is an allegedly high similarity between the genetic sequence of SARS-CoV-2 and the previously known bat coronavirus ZC45. According to Yan, this similarity indicates that this bat coronavirus served as a template to construct SARS-CoV-2 in the laboratory. However, the bat coronavirus is only 89% related to SARS-CoV-2. In virology terms, that is very distant, said Stanley Perlman, a professor of immunology and microbiology at the University of Iowa, in an explanation to FactCheck.org.

According to Yan, the second genetic feature of SARS-CoV-2 that suggests it is man-made is the spike (S) protein that resembles that of SARS-CoV-1 from the 2003 epidemic in a suspicious manner. S protein allows the SARS-CoV-2 virus to bind to and infect animal cells. SARS-CoV-2 lacks a set of key amino acids within the S protein that conferred SARS-CoV-1 its super-affinity for human cells[1,2], however it can bind to human cells with a greater affinity than SARS-CoV-1. If scientists wanted to engineer improved binding for the S protein in SARS-CoV-2, they would most likely use the already-known and efficient amino acid sequences in SARS-CoV-1 instead of engineering a new amino acid sequence. The differences in S protein between the two viruses strongly suggest that the SARS-CoV-2 evolved independently of human intervention and instead resulted from natural evolutionary processes, undermining the claim that the virus was engineered[3].

The third genetic feature highlighted in Yans pre-print is the presence of unique restriction sites within the S protein of SARS-CoV-2, which she claims contribute to the increased virulence and pathogenicity of the virus. Restriction sites are specific recognition sequences in the genome that researchers use to cut and manipulate genes. Experts who reviewed the pre-print consider this evidence to be incorrect, as these restriction sites frequently appear in nature. Virologist and assistant research professor at Rutgers University Jason Kaelber explained in a point-by-point response to Yans pre-print in Twitter, that these types of restriction sites easily emerge in nature, as it has been documented for flu[4].

Based on these three genomic features, Yans pre-print concludes that SARS-CoV-2 does not derive from natural viral evolution, but from genetic engineering to eventually become a highly-transmissible, onset-hidden, lethal, sequelae-unclear, and massively disruptive pathogen. Cat coronaviruses, which are unlikely to be genetically engineered, also cause a wide spectrum of disease outcomes similar to COVID-19 in humans[5]. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University, also discussed these three lines of evidence in a Twitter thread stating that these genetic features also appear in nature and do not prove that the virus was created in a laboratory.

According to an 11 July 2020 statement from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) where Yan worked as a post-doctoral fellow, Yan never conducted any research on human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus at HKU during December 2019 and January 2020, and what she might have emphasised in the reported interview has no scientific basis but resembles hearsay.

In addition to insufficient support for the claim that the virus is man-made, the authors of the pre-print are not affiliated with a research institution, but rather the Rule of Law Society & Rule of Law Foundation, two related organizations with no prior record of scientific publications. The authors do not disclose any potential conflict of interests, even though these entities have connections to the former chief White House strategist Stephen Bannon and the exiled political activist Guo Wengui. Bannon and Wengui published misinformation about COVID-19 in the past.

Scientists and public health authorities repeatedly refuted similar claims about the origin of SARS-CoV-2. On 19 February 2020, 27 eminent public health scientists stated in The Lancet that numerous international studies analyzing the genome of the SARS-CoV-2 virus overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife as have so many other emerging pathogens. On 30 April 2020, the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence concurred with the scientific consensus. Indeed, the transmission of pathogens from animals to humans is a common process called zoonosis, which is responsible for about 60% of the emerging infectious diseases globally, according to the World Health Organization.

The pre-print ignores all recent data from coronaviruses in pangolins and bats, which demonstrate that genetically similar coronaviruses occur in nature and have animal reservoirs. A 17 March 2020 study published in Nature Medicine concluded that SARS-CoV-2 likely originated in pangolins or bats and later developed the ability to infect humans[3]. Accordingly, a recent publication in Science Advances suggests that recombination of SARS-CoV-2 with pangolin coronaviruses was possibly a critical step in the evolution of SARS-CoV-2s ability to infect humans[6]. This process of recombination occurs naturally when two viruses infect simultaneously the same host and exchange pieces of genetic material, resulting in a novel virus with different characteristics to the viruses it comes from.

In summary, the genetic features of SARS-CoV-2 used to support the claim that the virus is man-made are not unique and occur naturally in other coronaviruses. The pre-print does not provide any evidence that the virus has been created in a laboratory setting, and thus the hypothesis that SARS-CoV-2 is man-made remains unsupported by available scientific evidence. Although the possibility of a laboratory leak cannot be completely excluded until the origin of SARS-CoV-2 is precisely determined, evidence from genetic analyses of the virus indicates that it likely originated in bats and later made the jump into humans, probably involving other intermediary animals[7].

Several competing hypotheses have been proposed to explain where the novel coronavirus actually came from. Health Feedback investigated the three most widespread origin stories for the novel coronavirus (engineered, lab leak or natural infection), and examined the evidence for or against each proposed hypothesis in this Insight article.

This article in Medium, comprehensively summarizes the scientific flaws in Yans arguments. This review by National Geographic provides additional comments from scientists.

This fact check is available at IFCNs 2020 US Elections FactChat #Chatbot on WhatsApp. Clickhere, for more.

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Ancient DNA is revealing the genetic landscape of people who first settled East Asia – The Conversation US

§ September 21st, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on Ancient DNA is revealing the genetic landscape of people who first settled East Asia – The Conversation US

The very first human beings originally emerged in Africa before spreading across Eurasia about 60,000 years ago. After that, the story of humankind heads down many different paths, some more well-studied than others.

Eastern regions of Eurasia are home to approximately 2.3 billion people today roughly 30% of the worlds population. Archaeologists know from fossils and artifacts that modern humans have occupied Southeast Asia for 60,000 years and East Asia for 40,000 years.

But theres a lot left to untangle. Who were the people who first came to these regions and eventually developed agriculture? Where did different populations come from? Which groups ended up predominant and which died out?

Ancient DNA is helping to answer some of these questions. By sequencing the genomes of people who lived many millennia ago, scientists like me are starting to fill in the picture of how Asia was populated.

In 2016, I joined Dr. Qiaomei Fus Molecular Paleontology Lab at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. Our challenge: Resolve the history of humans in East Asia, with the help of collaborators who were long dead ancient humans who lived up to tens of thousands of years ago in the region.

Members of the lab extracted and sequenced ancient DNA using human remains from archaeological sites. Then Dr. Fu and I used computational genomic tools to assess how their DNA related to that of previously sequenced ancient and present-day humans.

One of our sequences came from ancient DNA extracted from the leg bones of the Tianyuan Man, a 40,000-year-old individual discovered near a famous paleoanthropological site in western Beijing. One of the earliest modern humans found in East Asia, his genetic sequence marks him as an early ancestor of todays Asians and Native Americans. That he lived where Chinas current capital stands indicates that the ancestors of todays Asians began placing roots in East Asia as early as 40,000 years ago.

Farther south, two 8,000- to 4,000-year-old Southeast Asian hunter-gatherers from Laos and Malaysia associated with the Habnhian culture have DNA that, like the Tianyuan Man, shows theyre early ancestors of Asians and Native Americans. These two came from a completely different lineage than the Tianyuan Man, which suggested that many genetically distinct populations occupied Asia in the past.

But no humans today share the same genetic makeup as either Habnhians or the Tianyuan Man, in both East and Southeast Asia. Why did ancestries that persisted for so long vanish from the gene pool of people alive now? Ancient farmers carry the key to that answer.

Based on plant remains found at archaeological sites, scientists know that people domesticated millet in northern Chinas Yellow River region about 10,000 years ago. Around the same time, people in southern Chinas Yangtze River region domesticated rice.

Unlike in Europe, plant domestication began locally and was not introduced from elsewhere. The process took thousands of years, and societies in East Asia grew increasingly complex, with the rise of the first dynasties around 4,000 years ago.

Thats also when rice cultivation appears to have spread from its origins to areas farther south, including lands that are todays Southeast Asian countries. DNA helps tell the story. When rice farmers from southern China expanded southward, they introduced not only their farming technology but also their genetics to local populations of Southeast Asian hunter-gatherers.

The overpowering influx of their DNA ended up swamping the local gene pool. Today, little trace of hunter-gatherer ancestry remains in the genes of people who live in Southeast Asia.

Farther north, a similar story played out. Ancient Siberian hunter-gatherers show little relationship with East Asians today, but later Siberian farmers are closely related to todays East Asians. Farmers from northern China moved northward into Siberia bringing their DNA with them, leading to a sharp decrease in prevalence of the previous local hunter-gatherer ancestry.

Genetically speaking, todays East Asians are not very different from each other. A lot of DNA is needed to start genetically distinguishing between people with different cultural histories.

What surprised Dr. Fu and me was how different the DNA of various ancient populations were in China. We and others found shared DNA across the Yellow River region, a place important to the development of Chinese civilization. This shared DNA represents a northern East Asian ancestry, distinct from a southern East Asian ancestry we found in coastal southern China.

When we analyzed the DNA of people who lived in coastal southern China 9,000-8,500 years ago, we realized that already by then much of China shared a common heritage. Because their archaeology and morphology was different from that of the Yellow River farmers, we had thought these coastal people might come from a lineage not closely related to those first agricultural East Asians. Maybe this groups ancestry would be similar to the Tianyuan Man or Habnhians.

But instead, every person we sampled was closely related to present-day East Asians. That means that by 9,000 years ago, DNA common to all present-day East Asians was widespread across China.

Todays northern and southern Chinese populations share more in common with ancient Yellow River populations than with ancient coastal southern Chinese. Thus, early Yellow River farmers migrated both north and south, contributing to the gene pool of humans across East and Southeast Asia.

The coastal southern Chinese ancestry did not vanish, though. It persisted in small amounts and did increase in northern Chinas Yellow River region over time. The influence of ancient southern East Asians is low on the mainland, but they had a huge impact elsewhere. On islands spanning from the Taiwan Strait to Polynesia live the Austronesians, best known for their seafaring. They possess the highest amount of southern East Asian ancestry today, highlighting their ancestrys roots in coastal southern China.

Other emerging genetic patterns show connections between Tibetans and ancient individuals from Mongolia and northern China, raising questions about the peopling of the Tibetan Plateau.

Ancient DNA reveals rapid shifts in ancestry over the last 10,000 years across Asia, likely due to migration and cultural exchange. Until more ancient human DNA is retrieved, scientists can only speculate as to exactly who, genetically speaking, lived in East Asia prior to that.

[Understand new developments in science, health and technology, each week. Subscribe to The Conversations science newsletter.]

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Net loss: the high price of salmon farming – The Guardian

§ September 21st, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on Net loss: the high price of salmon farming – The Guardian

When a fish is in crisis, the public wants to blame the fishermen. It is preferable to blaming ourselves. But a fish whose only problem was overfishing, a fish stock that could be saved simply by a ban on all commercial fishing, would be very rare. It would be an enviably easy problem to fix.

The salmon is as magnificent an animal as anything on the Serengeti beautiful in its many phases; thrilling in its athleticism; moving in its strength, determination and courage and it would be a tragedy if it were to disappear. All that is true, but a more important point is that if the salmon does not survive, there is little hope for the survival of the planet.

The salmon, though it belongs only to the northern hemisphere, has always been a kind of barometer for the planets health. That is because anadromous fish fish that live part of their life in freshwater lakes and rivers and part of it in the sea offer a clear connection between marine and terrestrial ecology. Most of what we do on land ends up impacting the ocean, but with salmon we are able to see that connection more clearly.

Our greatest assaults on the environment are visible in salmon. Complex as the problem of survival is for most fish, few species are faced with as many difficulties as salmon. This is partly because it is central to the food web (now that we understand the importance of biodiversity and the interdependence of species, this term has replaced the more familiar food chain) and partly because of a complicated life cycle that depends on both marine and inland habitat. In 2005, a group of scientists studying the survival prognosis for Pacific salmon concluded that 23% of all salmon stocks in the world were at moderate or high risk of complete extinction. For Atlantic salmon, the situation is even more desperate.

There is a growing realisation, greatly promoted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), that we have to start producing much more protein to sustain a growing world population. The FAO believes that we cannot afford to plough up more land for agriculture and we need to derive more protein from the sea. This is clearly not going to be accomplished with wild fish, already struggling under the effects of climate change. One way to make the sea productive is fish farming. But fish farming currently creates as many problems as it solves.

A tourist viewing the dramatic sheer mountain fjords of Norway and the island-strewn mouths of the rivers or passing the lochs of Scotland might easily never notice the presence of fish farms. They might see an unobtrusive area with metal poles sticking about a metre out of the water and perhaps some netting over the top of floating wooden walkways; it doesnt look like much. Invisible from across the loch are a million salmon below. A visitor looking closely might see a few salmon leaping, because salmon always leap.

But passersby see very little because most of the farm other than a few tubes to a feeder, the top rim of a fish pen that goes down some 50 metres (164ft), and usually a barge is below the surface of the water. The pen needs to be placed in deep water because it cannot rest on the bottom and should have more than 30 metres of swiftly moving ocean current rushing under it. The pen is large enough for about 200,000 fish as some opponents point out, packed in tightly. But fish generally dont mind a crowd, believing there is safety in numbers. Even in these packed pens, there is open water as well as crowded areas.

In Norway, where fish farming is big business, a farm might have eight or 10 pens, which would hold more fish than the wild Atlantic salmon population of the entire world. Originally fish farms in Norway were not this large. Salmon farming started in Norway in the 70s as an extension of normal agriculture, and a farmer would get a licence for one pen that would be placed in the sea as close as possible to the farm. But farmers discovered that fish farming required a great deal of capital and most gave up. At the same time, they found that if you had the capital and could farm on a large scale, it was enormously profitable. So large companies started buying up licences from failing farms, meaning it was soon a large-scale industry. A few one-licence farms still exist, but most salmon farming operations are owned by large multinational companies.

The first complaint against salmon farming is that it is polluting. A pen with 200,000 fish produces an enormous amount of waste. In nature, animal waste is not harmful; in fact it is often beneficial. But large concentrations of it can be destructive. The waste of wild fish swimming around is not harmful, but the waste of hundreds of thousands staying in the same spot is.

What was needed, the big companies that took over came to understand, was a spot in the sea where strong currents would carry and disperse the waste. A spot such as the Bay of Fundy, between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in Canada and Maine in the US, and has the strongest tides in the world, was ideal. But a few shallow- or slow-water farms still operate. Chile is often singled out by environmental groups such as Greenpeace for lax regulations and poorly located farms.

The vexing problem that fish farming companies have yet to solve is escaping fish. If they are in the Atlantic, the escaped farmed fish mix with wild. The males usually die off because they are not strong enough to compete with wild males in the tough and often violent process that is salmon spawning. But the females lay eggs and wild males fertilise them. These escapes are frequent enough that wherever there are Atlantic salmon being farmed near wild Atlantic salmon, they are mixing. Farmed genomes, often Norwegian, are showing up in the wild salmon of Norwegian, Scottish, English and Irish rivers. They turn up in the genetics of wild fish in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Maine. More than a third of the wild catch from the Faroes are actually escaped farmed fish. This is another reason why some so-called wild fish from honest merchants turn out to be farmed when DNA testing is done on the commercial catch.

Farmed salmon are not greatly different from one pen to another. They have been selected for fast growth, and growing fast seems to be their major skill. They do not have all the special survival skills of the wild stock. Although fast-growing, they only grow for a short time and never achieve the size of the more slow-growing wild salmon. This is one of the reasons that they do not reproduce at the same rate as the larger wild fish. A salmon living in the wild that has a farmed parent or even grandparent is much less likely to survive at sea, and, in fact, sea survival has declined in places with farming.

Even fish farmers agree that this is a cause for concern. In Norway, at any given time, there are about 400m farmed fish and only 500,000 wild fish. Tor Eirik Homme, director of feed and nutrition for a large Norwegian farming company, Grieg Seafood, says, I understand their fear.

The risks of escaped farmed Atlantic salmon in the Pacific, where there are far more wild salmon, are not entirely understood. Being from different genera, an Atlantic salmon will not mate with a Pacific salmon. But even farmed Atlantics spawning with each other does not guarantee that the offspring will be successful; after all, a major argument against farming in the Atlantic is that farmed fish lack survival skills.

In the summer of 2017, an accident destroyed one of eight Atlantic salmon farms in Washington state. A pen owned by a Canadian company came apart and released 250,000 farmed Atlantic salmon into the wild. They ran to Puget Sound and up into rivers. It is not certain what damage these alien fish could do in the wild. In the Atlantic, such an accident would be devastating, but most of the escaped salmon disappeared within months and are thought to be dead. The accident caused enough fear, however, that salmon farming was banned in the state. All salmon farming is to be phased out in Washington state by 2025.

Fish escape from pens simply through accidents, usually human error, though occasionally a seal might tear a net. In the Washington state case, inadequate maintenance allowing a buildup of mussels and other sea life made pens susceptible to collapse. Sometimes equipment can tear holes in nets. Fish have also escaped because of damage caused by storms. This may become an even greater problem because, due to climate change, we are living in an age with an increasing number of violent storms. The pens are being made from stronger Kevlar netting. We are improving, says Homme. In the early days sometimes some smolts [a salmons intermediary stage] would be smaller than the mesh size, he continues, one fish escaped is far too many.

The fish farming industry, so far, has been mainly looking for sticking plasters for this problem. An improvement would be to give up pens and use enclosed units, or perhaps even give up working at sea. Farmers have a number of reasons why they are reluctant to turn to such alternatives, most notably the added expense, but they may be forced to act because of a much more difficult problem: sea lice.

Sea lice are saltwater crustaceans, smaller than a fingernail but still clearly visible. There are 37 genera of sea lice, all parasites, of which two target salmon. Before there were fish farms they did not pose a significant problem. They roamed the ocean looking for salmon, which make up a tiny minority of the fish population. One or two might attach themselves to a salmon, and the fish would live with the parasites until it returned to the river. Sea lice cannot live long in fresh water, so they fall off and die in the river. In fact, anglers are pleased when they catch a fish with one or two lice still on it because it means the fish only recently entered the river and are still in their most robust state.

Until farming, sea lice survived but never found huge schools of salmon on which to feed. Now they find salmon farms with hundreds of thousands of salmon trapped in one spot. As Homme says, Now its party time. The lice eat the salmons skin. It is difficult to penetrate the scales so they attack the head and neck. They will completely skin a fishs head and then it will die of exposure. Farmers find the dead fish with raw skinned heads at the bottom of the pens. It is not unusual to lose a quarter of a pen. The lice also attack smolts. While it takes more than 50 lice to kill an adult, it only takes about 10 to kill a smolt. Sea lice are a huge financial loss for fish farmers.

From their base in the fish farms, sea lice can also easily spread out and attack nearby wild salmon. Wherever there are fish farms near wild runs, the wild runs are also plagued by sea lice. The problem is less intense in the Pacific where the wild population still greatly outnumbers the farmed fish. Nevertheless, wild salmon fisheries on the US west coast that are near salmon farms also report their fish being nearly overwhelmed by sea lice. In the Atlantic, biologists believe that some salmon are taking additional quick trips into the rivers to lose the lice. But this is a dangerous strategy. A week away from the sea means a week missing out on the high-nutrition ocean diet needed so that they will be large and strong for their spawning journey.

River managers, biologists, conservationists and environmentalists have been demanding that fish farms be moved away from wild runs, sealed off, or brought out of the sea on to land many of the same answers being proposed to deal with escapes.

There are several inland salmon farms but this has its own environmental cost. Is it a benefit to the environment to stop using the natural force of the ocean to circulate water and instead burn energy pumping water? This also becomes a more costly way to produce, and farmed salmon would no longer be a low-cost product.

Open net pens at sea are very cheap to build and operate. Ben Hatfield, the managing director of Marine Harvest Scotland, asks: Do you want to take a low carbon-efficient protein and move it on land and increase its carbon footprint? Meat [farming] is extremely inefficient and I dont want to do that to fish farming.

It has been suggested that a closed containment fish farm could produce its own energy from the fish waste it extracted. This technology is available and might make closed farming more appealing. However, Homme at Grieg Seafood says: Cost for land-based farming is another level and also it requires a lot of land. We need to produce food in the sea because that is the most space available.

Because of the high cost and questionable environmental impact of these potential alternatives, fish farmers want to try almost everything else first. They are trying to breed lice-resistant fish. Short of that, they wash the fish, brush them, warm the water for 20 seconds. But these measures will also kill a few fish. Farmers have tried to chemically kill off the lice with what is essentially an anti-crustacean poison. It will kill sea lice but can also kill shrimp or lobster. At the beginning of this century there was a huge outcry among lobstermen in the Bay of Fundy who claimed these chemicals, used by fish farmers, were also killing their lobsters. If these chemicals spread to krill, a tiny crustacean that is critical to the diet of salmon and many other fish in the ocean, it would be devastating. Questions have also been raised about eating salmon treated with these chemicals. In any event, farmers have largely stopped doing this because the lice, over time, develop immunity to the chemicals.

Fish farmers then turned to an older idea that was used against insects before pesticides were invented. Known as biological control, the idea is to find animals that will destroy the unwanted pest. Fish farmers found two Norwegian natives: wrasse and lumpsuckers.

Lumpsuckers are tiny globe-like fish that buzz around a pen beating their fins so furiously that they resemble an insect. They attach to surfaces with a sucking mechanism on their bellies. Wrasse, a colourful fish the size of a small grouper, is the more efficient lice killer, but the waters of northern Norway are too cold for them and so lumpsuckers are needed for northern farms. Neither lumpsuckers nor wrasse can live off sea lice, but if they are fed and well taken care of, they will spend their time eating the lice off salmon as an added treat.

According to Brit Hjeltnes, the deputy director of fish health at the Norwegian Veterinary Institute, placing these fish in farms is a very dangerous practice because introducing wild animals to farm animals always carries the risk of the wild bringing new diseases.

But a different problem arrived first. In capturing enough lice-fighters to protect their salmon, the farmers were overfishing wrasse and lumpsucker stocks.

Farming in closed containers instead of open pens would create some problems, but it could also eliminate the issues of escapes and sea lice and the spread of diseases. The spread of diseases has many observers troubled.

It is not surprising that large numbers of animals kept closely together are a kind of Petri dish for growing dangerous pathogens. The farmers seek to protect their fish from these pathogens the same way humans gird themselves against communicable disease: the fish are vaccinated. While smolts, the fish are anaesthetised in a bath and shot in the belly. The basic vaccine had seven components, but as new pathogens are found, additional vaccines are developed.

Farmers have been fairly successful against bacteria, but more and more viruses are being discovered. These diseases, if not controlled in the pen, might spread to the wild population.

The use of a variety of antimicrobials medication to fight bacteria, viruses and fungi is worrisome to consumers. This same issue has come up with beef, milk and other farm products. Dangerous fungi, bacteria and viruses with resistance or even immunity to all known medicines have been appearing and rapidly spreading. One dangerous fungus, Candida auris, was found in Japan and within 10 years has spread to 30 countries including the US.

These so-called superbugs are becoming a major health concern, and scientists believe they are caused by humans overusing medications. Some believe that medicating farm animals, salmon included, can overexpose humans through food and contribute to this problem.

It is also reasonable to suspect that wild fish are dying from fish-farm diseases, but this is extremely difficult to prove because the bodies of most wild fish that die are consumed by predators and never found. When the escaped salmon in Puget Sound in Washington state were examined, numerous viruses were found but none that were deemed a threat to local wild fish. Even without proof, the spread of disease by fish farms is a volatile issue.

In British Columbian fish farms, Norwegian eggs were thoroughly screened and tested for diseases. The business grew fast. In 1984 there were 10 farms and by 1986 there were 40. The industry continued to grow, and by 2003 there were 121 farms in British Columbia. But the chosen sites for farming are very close to British Columbias most important wild salmon runs. That and the number of farms have raised great public concern.

One of the original complaints against fish farming was that it is unsustainable. The industry likes to claim that it has developed a sustainable way of providing affordable fish. Salmon farming companies such as Marine Harvest are enormously profitable. Just their Scotland operation can see 58m in a good quarter.

Salmon are carnivores and eat other fish. In the early days of fish farming, fish was ground into meal and pressed into pellets that looked like dog food. It would take 10lb of wild fish (dry weight) to make a 10lb farmed fish (wet weight). So where was the gain? The fish for fishmeal tended to be scooped up by huge factory trawlers, one of the most wasteful types of fisheries.

The accusation of being unsustainable may have hit home for companies such as Marine Harvest with the rising cost of fishmeal. Forty per cent of the cost of raising a farmed fish is the feed. Farming companies would like to reduce that by turning their salmon into vegetarians, but this is not easy because salmon have short intestines designed for digesting meat but not well-suited for plants. The old, entirely fish-based feed would be prohibitively expensive today. Soy is a large component in modern fishmeal. Originally raw soy was used, but now a protein concentrate has replaced it. Protein is what salmon need and no matter what is done to soy, it does not have the 70% protein of fishmeal. Cargill, the American multinational food giant, makes different feeds at different prices. The higher the fish component, the more expensive the feed; but high-priced food might be cheaper in the long run, because the salmon grow to market size more quickly.

The goal is to get more protein with less fishmeal. The search is on for high-protein plants, but they are rare and often expensive. Marine Harvest, which produces 23% of the worlds farmed salmon, uses a feed of 14% fishmeal, 8% fish oil, 20% rapeseed oil, and more than half soy, corn and wheat gluten. But it is recognised that farming soy is not a sustainable way to produce fish either There is research into producing protein from algae grown by fermenting plants. There is also research on the ability of some insects to convert carbohydrates into protein. The black soldier fly larvae are already being used as protein in some animal feed.

Farmed fish are less likely to spread poisons when they are not fed fishmeal. Wild fish pick up contaminants from the ocean, many of which are concentrated in the cold northern waters where the small fishmeal species live. But it is really a trade-off. If farmed salmon eat more plants, they have less risk from heavy metals and PCBs, but more risk from pesticides.

Salmon farming is likely to survive enough people want the jobs, the profits, or the fish but it has many battles ahead. On 19 November 2015, the US Food and Drug Administration, to the horror of some and excitement of others, ruled that genetically engineered salmon was fit for human consumption. Further, the FDA ruled that these salmon did not have to be labelled as genetically engineered, which is the highly controversial US policy for genetically engineered crops. As such, salmon is leading the way to a scary new world. It is the first genetically engineered animal to be allowed in stores. AquaBounty Technologies, so far a small company in Massachusetts, spent almost 20 years fighting for this approval.

Invasion of the frankenbees: the danger of building a better bee

If this Frankenfish, as it is sometimes called, were to mix with a wild population, it might have disastrous repercussions, perhaps even worse than other farmed salmon. Legal challenges began immediately following FDA approval.

The genetically engineered salmon is a farmed salmon that has been manipulated to grow to market size in about half the time that it takes a normal farmed salmon. Is it the farmed salmon of the future? The plan is for it to be raised inland in contained tanks to minimise exposure to wild animals. If these genetically modified animals succeed, it may be difficult for other farmed salmon to compete. Or the old type of farmed salmon may gain a special cachet. But if genetically modified fish are produced on a large scale inland with a low carbon footprint, and making the claim that unlike the sea-farmed fish they do not harm wild fish, this might move the entire salmon farming industry away from the shore.

We are learning in the increasingly challenging struggles to save the environment that simply banning things yields very little. We have to find viable solutions. There are good reasons for fish farming and real dangers to it as well. So the question is how to make it work. And it is a dilemma that we desperately need to solve.

This is an edited extract from Salmon: A Fish, the Earth and the History of a Common Fate, published by Oneworld on 1 October. To order a copy, go to the Guardian Bookshop.

Follow the Long Read on Twitter at @gdnlongread, and sign up to the long read weekly email here.

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Ancient DNA is revealing the genetic landscape of people who first settled East Asia – Down To Earth Magazine

§ September 17th, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on Ancient DNA is revealing the genetic landscape of people who first settled East Asia – Down To Earth Magazine

The very first human beings originally emerged in Africa before spreading across Eurasia about 60,000 years ago. After that, the story of humankind heads down many different paths, some more well-studied than others.

Eastern regions of Eurasia are home to approximately 2.3 billion people today roughly 30 per cent of the worlds population. Archaeologists know from fossils and artifacts that modern humans have occupied Southeast Asia for 60,000 years and East Asia for 40,000 years.

But theres a lot left to untangle. Who were the people who first came to these regions and eventually developed agriculture? Where did different populations come from? Which groups ended up predominant and which died out?

Ancient DNA is helping to answer some of these questions. By sequencing the genomes of people who lived many millennia ago, scientists like me are starting to fill in the picture of how Asia was populated.

In 2016, I joined Qiaomei Fus Molecular Paleontology Lab at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. Our challenge: Resolve the history of humans in East Asia, with the help of collaborators who were long dead ancient humans who lived up to tens of thousands of years ago in the region.

Members of the lab extracted and sequenced ancient DNA using human remains from archaeological sites. Then, Fu and I used computational genomic tools to assess how their DNA related to that of previously sequenced ancient and present-day humans.

One of our sequences came from ancient DNA extracted from the leg bones of the Tianyuan Man, a 40,000-year-old individual discovered near a famous paleoanthropological site in western Beijing. One of the earliest modern humans found in East Asia, his genetic sequence marks him as an early ancestor of todays Asians and Native Americans. That he lived where Chinas current capital stands indicates that the ancestors of todays Asians began placing roots in East Asia as early as 40,000 years ago.

Farther south, two 8,000- to 4,000-year-old Southeast Asian hunter-gatherers from Laos and Malaysia associated with the Habnhian culture have DNA that, like the Tianyuan Man, shows theyre early ancestors of Asians and Native Americans. These two came from a completely different lineage than the Tianyuan Man, which suggested that many genetically distinct populations occupied Asia in the past.

But no humans today share the same genetic makeup as either Habnhians or the Tianyuan Man, in both East and Southeast Asia. Why did ancestries that persisted for so long vanish from the gene pool of people alive now? Ancient farmers carry the key to that answer.

DNA carries marks of ancient migrations

Based on plant remains found at archaeological sites, scientists know that people domesticated millet in northern Chinas Yellow River region about 10,000 years ago. Around the same time, people in southern Chinas Yangtze River region domesticated rice.

Unlike in Europe, plant domestication began locally and was not introduced from elsewhere. The process took thousands of years, and societies in East Asia grew increasingly complex, with the rise of the first dynasties around 4,000 years ago.

Thats also when rice cultivation appears to have spread from its origins to areas farther south, including lands that are todays Southeast Asian countries. DNA helps tell the story. When rice farmers from southern China expanded southward, they introduced not only their farming technology but also their genetics to local populations of Southeast Asian hunter-gatherers.

The overpowering influx of their DNA ended up swamping the local gene pool. Today, little trace of hunter-gatherer ancestry remains in the genes of people who live in Southeast Asia.

Farther north, a similar story played out. Ancient Siberian hunter-gatherers show little relationship with East Asians today, but later Siberian farmers are closely related to todays East Asians. Farmers from northern China moved northward into Siberia bringing their DNA with them, leading to a sharp decrease in prevalence of the previous local hunter-gatherer ancestry.

Genetically speaking, todays East Asians are not very different from each other. A lot of DNA is needed to start genetically distinguishing between people with different cultural histories.

What surprised Fu and me was how different the DNA of various ancient populations were in China. We and others found shared DNA across the Yellow River region, a place important to the development of Chinese civilisation. This shared DNA represents a northern East Asian ancestry, distinct from a southern East Asian ancestry we found in coastal southern China.

When we analysed the DNA of people who lived in coastal southern China 9,000-8,500 years ago, we realised that already by then much of China shared a common heritage. Because their archaeology and morphology was different from that of the Yellow River farmers, we had thought these coastal people might come from a lineage not closely related to those first agricultural East Asians. Maybe this groups ancestry would be similar to the Tianyuan Man or Habnhians.

But instead, every person we sampled was closely related to present-day East Asians. That means that by 9,000 years ago, DNA common to all present-day East Asians was widespread across China.

Todays northern and southern Chinese populations share more in common with ancient Yellow River populations than with ancient coastal southern Chinese. Thus, early Yellow River farmers migrated both north and south, contributing to the gene pool of humans across East and Southeast Asia.

The coastal southern Chinese ancestry did not vanish, though. It persisted in small amounts and did increase in northern Chinas Yellow River region over time. The influence of ancient southern East Asians is low on the mainland, but they had a huge impact elsewhere. On islands spanning from the Taiwan Strait to Polynesia live the Austronesians, best known for their seafaring. They possess the highest amount of southern East Asian ancestry today, highlighting their ancestrys roots in coastal southern China.

Other emerging genetic patterns show connections between Tibetans and ancient individuals from Mongolia and northern China, raising questions about the peopling of the Tibetan Plateau.

Ancient DNA reveals rapid shifts in ancestry over the last 10,000 years across Asia, likely due to migration and cultural exchange. Until more ancient human DNA is retrieved, scientists can only speculate as to exactly who, genetically speaking, lived in East Asia prior to that.

[Understand new developments in science, health and technology, each week. Subscribe to The Conversations science newsletter.]

Melinda A. Yang, Assistant Professor of Biology, University of Richmond

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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The ‘mighty mice’ that went to space could help protect astronauts’ muscles and bones – CNN

§ September 12th, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on The ‘mighty mice’ that went to space could help protect astronauts’ muscles and bones – CNN

The new study also revealed this treatment promoted the recovery of muscle and bone mass once the mice returned to Earth.

The results are promising to researchers because they could be used to develop therapies that might help astronauts mitigate the muscle and bone loss they experience during long-term spaceflight.

Targeting this pathway could also be used to help people on Earth who experience muscle and bone loss due to various conditions such as muscular dystrophy, osteoporosis and diseases that cause muscle wasting like cancer, heart disease, sepsis and AIDS.

The SpaceX cargo vehicles are unique in that they can bring new materials and experiments to the space station and return to Earth 30 days later. This means that samples can be returned to the ground in a timely manner, which enabled the live mice to be returned to Earth, said Morgan, who also serves as an emergency physician with the US Army.

These mice are just one of many groups of rodents that have flown on the space station over the years in the name of research.

While on the space station, some of the mice were treated with an agent, the ACVR2B receptor, that actually blocked the pathways to see how it impacted their bone and muscle loss. Blocking these pathways has also been known to induce muscle and bone growth.

Because some of these mice were genetically engineered to lack myostatin, they had twice the average muscle mass -- hence, the nickname "mighty mice."

The mice who flew on the space station were compared with a control group of 40 female mice who remained on Earth.

The mice in space and on Earth that received the receptor treatment largely maintained and even increased their muscle and bone mass in comparison with the untreated mice. Meanwhile, the untreated mice experienced significant muscle and bone mass loss.

After returning to Earth, mice receiving the receptor treatment also showed an enhanced recovery of muscle mass. This was compared with the control mice that were not given the treatment upon returning to Earth.

"Mice that were hypermuscular as a result of having a mutation in the myostatin gene were able to retain most, if not all, of that extra muscle during spaceflight," said study authors Se-Jin Lee and Emily L. Germain-Lee in an email.

"These findings show that blocking the activities of these hormones does work to enhance both muscle and bone even when mice are unable to bear weight."

Dr. Lee is a professor at The Jackson Laboratory and presidential distinguished professor at the University of Connecticut's School of Medicine. Dr. Germain-Lee is a pediatric endocrinologist at Connecticut Children's Medical Center and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Connecticut's School of Medicine.

"One thing that we found somewhat surprising is how resilient mice are even when subjected to all of the stresses associated with space travel," they said. "We knew that mice had been sent to space in the past, but we still found it remarkable that after spending a month at the ISS, they seemed to resume normal activity very quickly after returning to Earth."

Astronauts on the space station exercise every day to mitigate muscle and bone loss, but experiments like this can help scientists understand how the loss occurs and establish better ways to manage it.

The exercise countermeasures astronauts use, which include two hours of resistance training and cardiovascular workouts, may not always be possible during long-term spaceflight.

"The potential for a drug treatment that could prevent (bone and muscle loss) shows a lot of promise in long-duration spaceflight," Morgan said.

But there are potential side effects that need to be considered and understood, the researchers said.

"Although myostatin's major role is to regulate muscle growth, a drug that targets other hormones besides just myostatin can affect other tissues besides muscle," the researchers said.

The doctors cited an example including Acceleron, a biotechnology company, which used its version of this receptor in clinical trials to treat patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Some of the patients experienced nosebleeds, but the reason for that is not entirely understood. But it sheds light on the fact that these receptors can block other things beyond myostatin.

"The challenge moving forward will be to understand the reasons for this and other effects with the goal of figuring out how to modify these drugs to avoid such problems," the researchers said.

The study has revealed new questions for the researchers. Going forward, they want to better understand the changes caused by microgravity in blood, muscle and bone. They also want to consider how to conduct further investigation on a future space mission.

"Our hope is that this could be used both for astronauts during extended space travel and for people on Earth suffering from muscle and bone loss," the doctors said. "There is still a lot of work that would need to be done in this regard, but we believe that this type of strategy holds promise.

"We would like to focus on figuring out ways to engineer better drug candidates that might avoid some of the potential side effects. Only by understanding the underlying science will we be able to try to translate this work into new medical treatments."

Astronauts themselves are also the basis for understanding how the space environment can affect humans.

These health studies could be applied to future long-term spaceflight as NASA looks ahead with the Artemis program, which aims to return humans to the moon in 2024 and could eventually land them on Mars.

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What is a vaccine and how do they work? Find out in Science with Sam – New Scientist

§ September 12th, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on What is a vaccine and how do they work? Find out in Science with Sam – New Scientist

Since the first vaccine was developed in 1796, vaccinations have been phenomenally successful at preventing infectious diseases, and wiping out some altogether.

The latest video in our new YouTube series, Science with Sam, explains how vaccines work by training your immune system to recognise viruses and bacteria. Ever wondered how flu vaccines are made or why you need a new one every year? Click play to find out.

We also take a look at the unprecedented worldwide effort to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus, and consider the challenges involved in making, testing and distributing covid-19 vaccines.

Tune in every week toyoutube.com/newscientistfor a new episode, or check back tonewscientist.com

Most of us have never had to worry about getting smallpox, polio or diphtheria. A hundred years ago, these diseases were common killers. Now, smallpox is a thing of the past, while polio and diphtheria are very rare in most of the world. The reason? Vaccines.

Vaccines are a way of training the immune system for a big fight, so that when it comes up against the same opponent in the future, it knows exactly how to defeat it.

When you encounter a virus or bacterium for the first time, your body has a hard time fighting it. But over time, it learns to recognise the danger. Your immune system produces powerful proteins called antibodies that target and eliminate disease-causing microbes.

After you recover from an infection, specialised cells remain in your blood and keep a memory of that pathogen theyre called memory cells so the next time you face the pathogen, your body can quickly produce the right antibodies to fight it off.

Vaccines are a clever way of harnessing this mechanism to make us immune to a disease. They are made of weakened or killed viruses or bacteria that trigger an immune response, without making us ill.

The first vaccine was developed in 1796 by Edward Jenner. At the time It was commonly believed that dairymaids were immune to smallpox because they were commonly exposed to cowpox, which is a related but less deadly virus. Jenner decided to test this idea by injecting an 8-year-old boy with pus from a dairy maids cowpox lesions. A few months later he injected the boy with smallpox and found the boy was indeed immune. Who said ever said science was pretty?

Since then, vaccination programmes have been extremely successful at preventing diseases, and even eliminating some altogether. Smallpox, a disease that killed around 300 million people in the 20th century, was finally eradicated in 1980.

What about the coronavirus? Right now, there are over 100 vaccines currently in development. Scientists have moved incredibly quickly, considering we knew almost nothing about this virus at the start of this year. It normally takes years to get to this point. The fastest vaccine ever developed before was for Ebola and that took five years.

There are several different ways to make a vaccine being tried. One is to use whole viruses that have been inactivated so they cant cause a full infection. This might be done by killing them with heat.

Then there are vaccines that are made from live viruses, but they are weakened so they wont grow well in the human body. These vaccines tend to generate a strong and long-lasting immune response. For example the MMR vaccine, for measles, mumps and rubella, contains three live viruses.

Some vaccines put viral molecules into the body the important bits that our immune cells can recognise rather than whole viruses. This is how the injected flu vaccine works, and several groups are working on coronavirus vaccines like this.

The flu virus, or influenza, is a particularly difficult virus to vaccinate against, because there are many variants, or strains, that circulate. Its like the virus has many hats, and changes them often, and that makes it hard for our immune system to recognise it when a new one comes around. To produce the vaccine, the virus has to be grown in chicken eggs in a process that takes many months and millions of eggs. Every year virologists have to predict which flu strains are going to dominate in the next season, so that companies can make enough doses to meet demand. Sometimes they get it wrong, and even when theyre right, the mutating virus might mean the vaccine doesnt work as well as we hoped.

What we really want is a universal flu vaccine based on parts of the virus that dont change. Research on that is ongoing, but unfortunately it doesnt get as much investment as it needs

A relatively new approach that is being investigated is to make a vaccine containing the genetic instructions for making viral proteins, in the form of DNA or RNA. Once inside the body, the genetic code causes a persons cells to produce distinctive proteins normally found on the virus. These proteins trigger an immune response, and that creates an immunological memory.

The University of Oxford is working on a vaccine that uses a harmless virus to deliver the viral genes into cells. Its based on a virus that causes colds in chimpanzees, but its been genetically modified so that it cant reproduce in humans. The first clinical trials have shown that it is safe and induces a strong immune response.

For all the latest news on vaccines and the coronavirus why not subscribe to New Scientist? Theres a special discount code for you: get a 20 per cent discount by entering the code SAM20.

Despite all the effort being put into coronavirus vaccines, theres no guarantee that this will give us the magic bullet were looking for. Theres so much we dont know about how our immune systems respond to the virus and it may not even be possible to generate long-term immunity. A vaccine might mean you just get a bit less sick from the disease, and you might need a new dose each year.

Then there is the challenge of manufacturing and distributing billions of doses to every country in the world. It may take years to make enough to go around, raising tricky questions about who should be first in line. Some countries including the UK have made deals to get their hands on the first shipments, before the vaccines have been proven to work.

To defeat the pandemic, we need to make sure everyone who needs vaccines has access to them. We need to think globally, cooperatively, and act less like children squabbling over cookies.

To successfully wipe out a disease, a large proportion of the population needs to be inoculated, creating what is known as herd immunity, meaning there are enough immune people in the population to stop a virus from circulating. That brings us to another problem: some people are deeply sceptical about vaccines, which could be an obstacle to getting vaccination rates up to the levels required.

This mistrust has been fuelled by unfounded scare stories, such as the false idea that the MMR vaccine causes autism. All vaccines have to be rigorously assessed for their safety before they are used widely, and continue to be monitored after they are rolled out. Large clinical trials have repeatedly found no link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

Despite this, rising anti-vaccination sentiment has led to a surge in measles in the US,with more than 1000 cases reported in 2019. And in a recent survey, 1 in 4 people in the US said they wouldnt take a coronavirus vaccine if it was available.

According to the World Health Organization, immunisations prevent an estimated 2-3 million deaths every year, in people from all age groups. By any measure, vaccines are one of the most successful innovations humankind has ever come up with. The coronavirus has reminded us just how vulnerable we are to infections, and that new diseases can emerge at any moment. Vaccines are our best hope for defeating them.

What is a black hole? And could you survive one?

Is our reality just one part of a multiverse?

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Climate crisis continues unabated: United in science, but are we united in action? – Down To Earth Magazine

§ September 12th, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on Climate crisis continues unabated: United in science, but are we united in action? – Down To Earth Magazine

While emissions fell during the peak of the pandemic confinement measures, they have already mostly recovered to within 5% of the same period in 2019, said UN Secretary-General

There was much jubilation on the internet during the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown for a few reasons: The Yamuna had visibly cleared up, one could see the majestic Dhauladhar range of the Himalayas all the way from Jalandhar, and the national capital experienced a 44 per cent reduction in particulate matter 10 levels on the first day of the lockdown in March. Nature was finally healing, it seemed.

The reality, six months later, is different: The climate crisis is still raging, according to the United in Science Report 2020, the second in a series of a multi-agency report and compiled by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). It was released on September 9, 2020.

United Nations Secretary-General Antnio Guterres wrote in the foreword of the report:

The heating of our planet and climate disruption has continued apace. While emissions fell during the peak of the pandemic confinement measures, they have already mostly recovered to within five per cent of the same period in 2019 and are likely to increase further. This report stresses that short-term lockdowns are no substitute for the sustained climate action that is needed to enable us to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

The report stated that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions did decline in 2020 due to confinement policies imposed in many countries. At their lowest point, in April, daily CO2 emissions were approximately at the level they were in 2006. It added that 2020 emissions are estimated to decline by 4-7 per cent compared to 2019 levels.

The report added:

Thus, while the overall emissions reductions in 2020 will lead to a small reduction in the annual increase of the atmospheric concentrations of long-lived greenhouse gases, concentrations of the major greenhouse gases, CO2, methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O) continued to increase in 2019 and 2020.

Current emissions of both CO2 and CH4 are not compatible with emissions pathways consistent with limiting global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius or well below 2C above pre-industrial levels, the goal of the Paris Agreement. Therefore, sustained reductions in emissions are required to stabilise global warming, the report said.

It warned that the five-year period from 2016-2020 is expected to be the warmest on record with an average global mean surface temperature of 1.1C above pre-industrial era (18501900).

Arctic sea-ice has continued its long-term downward trend: Global mean sea-level has been rising faster than the long-term trend. A greater loss of ice mass from the ice sheets contributed to an increased sea-level rise.

Major impacts have been caused by extreme weather and climate events, it added. A clear fingerprint of human-induced climate change has been identified on many of these extreme events.

Source: United in Science Report 2020, World Meteorological Organization (WMO)

Photos of the Golden Gate bridge engulfed by an orange sky, California, due to forest fires continue to flood social media. The State is choking from multiple blazes that have charred to ash an estimated million acres of forests and chaparral.

Record heatwaves, coupled with precipitation changes as well as an outdated century of fire suppression policy, had made conditions ripe for wildfires already galvanized by climate change. They are projected to only get worse.

Earlier this year, large swathes of Siberia saw a prolonged and remarkable heatwave. This would have been unlikely without anthropogenic climate change.Forests and permafrost are a natural sink for CO2, but with global warming, wildfires release all captured CO2 from forests, while the melting permafrost releases CH4 trapped in the Siberian ice for many millennia. The line between carbon source and sink is getting blurred.

So here is the bottom line: We need to do more. We need to turn the recovery from the pandemic into a real opportunity to build a better future through science-based policies. The report presented latest scientific data and findings related to climate change to inform global policy and action, urging governments to heed the facts.

Governments need to unite in global cooperation while strengthening national targets and undertake urgent climate action to safeguard our collective future. The projected emissions decline for year 2020 will depend on the continued trajectory of the pandemic and government responses to address it.

We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.

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Not real news roundup: Debunking myths about vaccines, monument removals and more – Herald & Review

§ September 6th, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on Not real news roundup: Debunking myths about vaccines, monument removals and more – Herald & Review

Election 2020 Biden

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, and his wife Jill Biden walk to board a plane at New Castle Airport, in New Castle, Del., Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020, en route to Kenosha, Wis. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Raven Spence puts up a yard sign for Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden near the Grace Lutheran Church Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020, in Kenosha, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

A small Black Lives Matter group demonstrates outside the Grace Lutheran Church where Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to hold an event Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020, in Kenosha, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

A small Black Lives Matter group demonstrates outside the Grace Lutheran Church where Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to hold an event Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020, in Kenosha, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Justin Blake, uncle of Jacob Blake, protests outside the Grace Lutheran Church where Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to hold an event Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020, in Kenosha, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Justin Blake, uncle of Jacob Blake, protests outside the Grace Lutheran Church where Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to hold an event Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020, in Kenosha, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden meets with community members at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, Wis., Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden bows his head in prayer at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, Wis., Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Demonstrators march past Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, Wis., before Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden visit, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Law enforcement gather at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, Wis., before Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden visit, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden is greeted with an elbow bump as he meets with community members at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, Wis., Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks as he meets with community members at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, Wis., Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks as he meets with members of the community at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, Wis., Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks as he meets with members of the community at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, Wis., Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden listens as he meets with members of the community at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, Wis., Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden gestures as he speaks as he meets with members of the community at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, Wis., Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden listens meets with members of the community at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, Wis., Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden meets with members of the community at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, Wis., Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks as he meets with members of the community at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, Wis., Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks as he meets with members of the community at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, Wis., Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks as he meets with members of the community at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, Wis., Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden holds hands with his wife Jill Biden after meeting with members of the community at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, Wis., Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks as he meets with members of the community at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, Wis., Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks as he meets with members of the community at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, Wis., Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Porsche Bennett, Organizer for Black Lives Activists Kenosha, poses for a photo with Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, Wis., Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden gives a thumbs up as he leaves an event at a church, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020, in Kenosha, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

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A closer look at the vaccines Canada is betting on to stem the spread of COVID-19 – CBC.ca

§ September 3rd, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on A closer look at the vaccines Canada is betting on to stem the spread of COVID-19 – CBC.ca

The first patient enrolled in Pfizer's COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine clinical trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore receives an injection in May. Pfizer's vaccine candidate is one of four that Canada has announced deals to reserve.

Canada has announced that it has signed deals with four U.S. companies to reserve millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccines under development in an effort to make sure Canadians are at "the front of the line" when a vaccine becomes available.

The federal government announced agreementswith Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTechon Aug. 5and with Novavax and Janssen, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, earlier this week.

It also saidit's close to a deal with AstraZeneca, based in the United Kingdom.

All of the companies have received funding from the U.S. government's Operation Warp Speed, which is investing billions of dollars to fast-track the development of promising vaccine candidates.

Canada will receive20 million to 76 million doses of each vaccine, should any of themsuccessfully make it through clinical trials and be approved by Health Canada.

WATCH | Canadagainsaccess to 2 more potential COVID-19 vaccines:

They're among more than 150 vaccine candidates under development around the world.

While they have shown promising results in small-scale, early-stage clinical trials, even those most advanced candidates have only recently begun Phase 3 clinical trials to determine their effectiveness in preventing COVID-19, and there is no guarantee any of them will make it to market. That's the crucial large-scale human trial that mustdemonstrate that the vaccine prevents the disease, and it's thefinal stage before approval by government.

"What we don't know, of course, is which vaccines are going to be effective," Dr. Michael Gardam, medical director of infection prevention and control at Toronto's Women's College Hospital, saidin an interview with CBC's As It Happens.

"We don't know which company ultimately is going to have the best vaccine and the safest vaccine."

Gardam said the deals represent different types of vaccine from four different manufacturers. The federal government, he said, is "just kind of playing the field ... to make sure they have a reasonable chance that one of these will be successful."

Here's a closer look at the four candidates.

Headquarters: Raritan, N.J., U.S.

Type:Non-replicating viral vector

Doses reserved: Up to 38 million

Phase of development: Phase 1/2a trial started in July

How it works: This vaccine, made by a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, is a new type of vaccine called a non-replicating viral vector. Unlike traditional vaccines made from viruses or parts of viruses, this vaccine uses only a piece of coronavirus DNA. The DNA contains instructions for making a coronavirus proteinso that the human body can produce it and learn to recognize it.

The protein targeted by most COVID-19 vaccines, including this one, is called the spike protein or S-protein. It's found on the outer surface of coronaviruses and is used by the virus to bind to and enter human cells.

In this case, the DNA with instructions for making the spike protein is carried into the body by a common cold virus called an adenovirus. The adenovirus has been genetically modified so it can't replicate itself in the human body. However, because it's a virus, it may generate a stronger immune response than the DNA alone and helps get the DNA into human cells, where the spike protein can be produced. One disadvantage of this type of vaccine is that some people may have immunity to some adenoviruses from catching colds, which may make the vaccine less effective.

Viral vector vaccines haven't been approved for widespread use in humans, but 12 are in use for diseases in livestock.

Where it's at: The company reported in July that its vaccine protected monkeys against the virus after a single shot. The company started a human Phase 1/2a trial in July in Belgium and the U.S, and it announced this week it is starting a Phase 2 trial in Spain, the Netherlands and Germany. It says it will conduct Phase 3 trials in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico.

WATCH | Federal government's multiple COVID-19 vaccine deals win praise:

Headquarters: Cambridge, Mass., U.S.

Type: mRNA

Doses reserved: Up to 56 million

Phase of development: Phase 3 clinical trial started in July

How it works: Moderna's vaccine candidate is made from messenger RNA, a type of genetic material. Messenger RNA, or mRNA, is used by cells to translate instructions found in DNA to make proteins. In this case, the instructions tell a human cell how to make a stabilized version of the spike protein for SARS-CoV2. That introduces the protein into the body so immune cells can learn to recognize it and produce antibodies against it.

The mRNA is encapsulated in a lipidnanoparticle for injection into the body. The LNP "container" protects it from being degraded by enzymes and helps it enter cells, Moderna says.

The mRNA itself also generates an immune response. While mRNA vaccines have been under development and widely tested for many years, none haveever been approved for widespread human use.

Where it's at:Moderna launched the first Phase 3 clinical trial in the U.S. in July, and hopes to enrol 30,000 volunteers. The company reported in May that the vaccine produced protective antibodies in a small group of healthy volunteers, and the study showed the vaccine was safe. However, three people in an early-stage trial reportedly had severe or "systemic" adverse reactions, such as high fevers, to a high dose of the vaccine.

WATCH | Fast-tracking a COVID-19 vaccine is not without controversy:

Headquarters: Gaithersburg, Md., U.S.

Vaccine type: Protein subunit

Doses reserved: 76 million

Phase of development: Phase 1/2 clinical trial started in May

How it works: Novavax's vaccine is the most traditional of the ones reserved by the federal government. The vaccine is made from nanoparticles of a key protein from the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. When the protein particles are injected into the body with an adjuvant a compound that enhances the body's immune response the body learns to recognize and fight off the virus.

"That is a tried and true way of producing vaccines and of creating immunity," Dr. Barry Pakes, a professor at the Centre for Vaccine Preventable Diseases at the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana School of Public Health, told CBC News Network.

It's similar to vaccines already on the market, such as the hepatitis B vaccine.

Novavax makes the protein by putting the genetic sequence for the protein into a virus that infects insect cells, causing them to make large quantities of protein. The protein has some small genetic modifications compared withthe one found on the real virus to help it maintain a rigid shape and make it easier for the body to bind to and recognize.

Protein subunit vaccines don't elicit as strong an immune response as whole virus vaccines, so they often include an adjuvant. Novavax uses a proprietary adjuvant called Matrix-M, which is based on a type of compound found in many plants called a saponin. The company says it boosts the body's immune response and generates a bigger immune response with a lower dose.

Where it's at: Novavax reports in a study preprint (not yet peer-reviewed) that in Phase 1 clinical trials, its protein and adjuvant stimulate high levels of neutralizing antibodies higher than those in people who have had a natural infection with few side effects. It's currently running a combined Phase 1 and 2 trial.

Headquarters: New York, N.Y., U.S./Mainz, Germany

Type: mRNA

Doses reserved: At least 20 million

Phase of development: Phase 2/3 clinical trial started in July

How it works: Pfizer and BioNTech's mRNA vaccine is quite similar to Moderna's. It's an mRNA sequence for a stabilized spike protein. Like Moderna's vaccine, it's delivered in a lipid nanoparticle container.

Where it's at: Pfizer and BioNTech tested two different mRNA sequences for Phase 1. It reported in a study posted online that has not yet been peer-reviewed that both vaccines generated higher levels of neutralizing antibodies than found in the blood of someone who had had a natural COVID-19 infection. However, the spike protein sequence generated fewer side effects, especially in older adults, so that's the focus of a combined Phase 2 and 3 trial.

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Florida Officials Approve Release Of Genetically Modified Mosquitoes – Here And Now

§ August 29th, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on Florida Officials Approve Release Of Genetically Modified Mosquitoes – Here And Now

A biologist examines a mosquito. (Rick Bowmer/AP)

Officials in the Florida Keys have approved a controversial plan to manage mosquito-borne diseases by poisoning the gene pool of the species responsible for spreading dengue, Zika and yellow fever.

Members of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District voted this month to approve the release of more than 750 million mosquitoes that have been genetically modified so the only viable offspring they produce are males.

Only female mosquitoes bite humans, so proponents of the plan say it's a way of controlling the spread of mosquito-borne diseases without spraying pesticides. But others have called it a risky experiment with potentially dangerous effects on the environment and human health.

Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson speaks with Phil Goodman, commissioner and chairman of the board of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District.

This segment aired on August 27, 2020.

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Why are Australian church leaders opposing the Oxford coronavirus vaccine? – The Guardian

§ August 29th, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on Why are Australian church leaders opposing the Oxford coronavirus vaccine? – The Guardian

PM Scott Morrison takes a tour of the AstraZeneca laboratories in Sydney. The Australian government has an agreement with the pharmaceutical giant to secure at least 25m doses of a Covid-19 vaccine if it passes clinical trials. The University of Oxford vaccine is currently in phase-three testing. Photograph: Getty Images

Australian church leaders have raised objections to a potential Covid-19 vaccine under development at the University of Oxford over concerns it contains cell lines from an electively aborted human foetus.

The objections were sent in a letter to the prime minister, Scott Morrison, last week, cosigned by Catholic archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher, Anglican archbishop of Sydney Glenn Davies, and Greek Orthodox archbishop of Australia Makarios Griniezakis.

However, scientists say the development process is a proven method and church priorities should be on ensuring public health against the coronavirus.

The Vatican itself has in the past released statements permitting the use of vaccines drawn from foetal cell lines if no alternatives are available.

The church objections came after Morrison announced a deal with the University of Oxford that could deliver 25m doses of its potential Covid-19 vaccine if it clears trials.

So why are church leaders disputing this particular vaccine, and are there any alternatives?

A cell line is essentially cells farmed for medical and research use, with some modified so they multiply indefinitely. In this instance, they are being used as a vehicle to develop a coronavirus vaccine.

The cell line in question, HEK293, was developed in the 1970s and is commonly used for the development of vaccines and for medical research.

HEK293 was derived from human embryonic kidney cells and is now the second-most frequently used cell line in biology and biotechnology.

Human cell lines have the advantage of being able to produce proteins most similar to those naturally produced by humans.

The letters focus was on the use of a cell line cultivated from an electively aborted foetus from the early 1970s.

We flag to you that any Covid-19 vaccine cultured on a foetal cell line will raise serious issues of conscience for a proportion of our population, the letter read.

Davies told the ABC on Tuesday that to use that tissue for science is reprehensible.

The Catholic churchs teachings in this area were outlined in Dignitas Personae (The Dignity of the Person) in 2008 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The church states that researchers have an ethical duty not to use biological material of illicit origins, which it claims includes any line of cells produced from electively aborted foetuses, no matter how distantly removed.

The doctrine, however, does qualify the outright prohibition, saying there may be situations where grave reasons may be morally proportionate to justify the use of such vaccines.

For example, danger to the health of children could permit parents to use a vaccine which was developed using cell lines of illicit origin, while keeping in mind that everyone has the duty to make known their disagreement and to ask that their healthcare system make other types of vaccines available.

Dr Diego Silva, a lecturer in bioethics at the University of Sydney, believes the church leaders are missing another key moral dilemma.

We have a responsibility to think through our ethical obligations to the rest of Australians as well.

Silva said the vaccine being developed was ethically sound, and the priority was to minimise the ongoing harm, and the morbidity and mortality associated with Covid-19.

Church leaders need to think of the health of the community as a whole, Silva contended, when assessing the ethics of a vaccine.

Part of the problem is that the Catholic church is seeing this as a medical ethics question, as if it is just between the individual and their doctor. When in fact, the dilemma is a public health ethics dilemma.

It is [about] what do we owe our community? What do we owe each other as citizens? So I think its a misplaced question.

Robert Booy, a University of Sydney professor of vaccinology, told Guardian Australia on Monday that vaccines have been developed with cell lines from aborted foetuses for the past 50 years, and Christian groups had previously accepted their use because of the big distance between the cell line and the final vaccine.

Other religious groups have not joined in their objections.

Although there are no central, global representative bodies, generally Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu and Jewish communities have not previously raised objections to other vaccines and vaccination development processes.

There have been some discussions about pork or bovine gelatine used in some vaccines, but there has not been a coordinated response in the vein of the letter sent to the prime minister.

The vaccine being developed at Oxford is using a heavily modified version of a genetically engineered virus that causes the common cold in chimpanzees.

Scientists altered the engineered virus to make it look like coronavirus cells by adding its distinctive protein spikes.

The idea is that the vaccine would then teach the immune system how to attack the virus.

Professor Stephen Turner, head of the microbiology department at Monash University, said the decision to use cell line was based on how the virus worked.

One of the reasons theyve chosen to use a human cell line for the production of the vaccine is because the vaccine platform is the virus itself. Viruses dont encode the information required in themselves to actually replicate themselves, they actually have to hijack cellular processes.

Scientists have been using the HEK293 cells as factories for the vaccine, as it is easy to insert new viral genes into them. They also produce large amounts of viral protein, which are essential to the development of an immune response.

Turner said the cell line was a well-known cellular workhorse and is a proven method to effectively develop vaccines.

It actually produces a lot of the virus, and thats really important if were talking about making billions of doses.

The WHO has identified 169 potential vaccines being developed around the world, as of 20 August.

Of those, 30 are currently in clinical evaluation, including the vaccine being developed at Oxford.

Some of these vaccines do not require a live cell, and so do not use a cell line, with some using synthetic processes. Others use cell lines from animals such as hamsters.

So far, Morrison has made no mention of agreements with developers of other vaccines.

It did however allocate $5m to the University of Queenslands molecular clamp Covid-19 vaccine, which has commenced trials.

Turner believes that in time there will be a selection of vaccines available to choose from.

I envisage that there is a likelihood that, down the track, there will be a multitude of vaccines that potentially one could choose from.

But with the number of global coronavirus deaths approaching one million, Silva argues the urgent priority right now is to produce a safe and effective vaccine.

What we need is to pursue the best vaccine, rather than necessarily worrying about whether it comes from cell lines or not.

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