Science

Army researchers at Fort Detrick who helped discover Ebola treatment seek coronavirus vaccine

Army researchers at Fort Detrick are fast at work growing batches of COVID-19 to help test treatment options and eventually find a coronavirus vaccine. “They take some of the virus and put it onto cells,” Dr. Kathleen Gibson, a core laboratory services division chief at the U.S. Army’s Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases [USAMRIID], explained through a triple-glass window as Army researchers wearing protective gear worked with the deadly virus. “They look for the virus that will actually kill portions of the cells and they’ll count those killed portions.” These are the same army scientists who helped develop vaccines for anthrax, the plague and Ebola. Now, they have been working double shifts growing large amounts of the COVID-19 virus at this sprawling lab complex. “We have more capacity to run more studies at the same time,” Col. E. Darrin Cox, the commander of USAMRIID, explained. “We can be running things in parallel rather than having to do things sequentially, and that’s helped speed up the process of the science.” Fort Detrick has one of the country’s few labs with biosafety level 4-specialized equipment, allowing researchers to work on the most deadly viruses. It’s taken two weeks to grow a lot of COVID-19. Fort Detrick received its first vial of the virus from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] a month ago. Its scientists have started the genetic sequencing of the virus, using machines capable of fast, large-scale drug testing as well. “We have a large capacity to be able to test a very large number of products. Most other places don’t have that infrastructure to be able to develop or test as many products at a time,” according to Dr. John Dye, the USAMRIID viral immunology chief. “There are at least eight different companies that are developing vaccines that all can be assessed looking for safety in humans… Having multiple shots on goal is our best chance of being able to basically battle this virus.” Army researchers have shot compounds such as chloroquine into vials of COVID-19 to see how it’s reacted. “We can test about 300 drugs or compounds in each plate,” Dr. Sheli Radoshitzky said. “We add the compounds using this robotic system and then we transfer the plates into bio-containment where we add the virus.” Since 1969, this warren of Army research labs known as USAMRIID has served as the Defense Department’s lead laboratory for medical biological defense research. It has worked with biotech firms such as Gilead to discover drugs including Remdesivir — an antiviral to fight Ebola — which may work on COVID-19. USAMRIID has worked with the CDC, National Institutes of Health [NIH] and private drug companies to bring these drugs to market. This past December, a vaccine for Ebola produced in conjunction with Merck received its license, a key step in Food and Drug Administration [FDA] approval. It was several years in the making, but these Army labs found the key particle that led to the discovery Men and women in these hallways were some of the first boots on the ground during the first Ebola outbreak. The Army scientists working with COVID-19 have used level 3 gear because the virus is less lethal than Ebola, but still highly contagious.

Major kudos to the men and women at Fort Detrick, MD for literally putting their lives on the line every day searching for a vaccine for this Wuhan virus.  We can all take comfort in knowing these folks are the best in the world at what they do, and they WILL find a cure.  It’s just a matter of when.  For more on this story, click on the text above.

Neanderthals ate dolphins and seals, researchers reveal

More than 80,000 years ago, Neanderthals were eating a wide range of food from the sea, according to the latest research, even hunting dolphins and seals. The study, which was led by the University of Gottingen in Germany, sheds new light on our extinct relatives. Excavation of a cave at Figueira Brava in Portugal provided evidence that Neanderthals looked to the sea for their food, as well as the land. “Their diet included mussels, crustaceans and fish as well as waterfowl and marine mammals such as dolphins and seals,” the researchers explain in a statement. A paper on the research has been published in the journal Science. Scientists were able to study deposits of calcite, a mineral, during the excavation of the cave, nearly 19 miles south of Lisbon. This meant that experts were able to date the excavated layers of the Figueira Brava cave to between 86,000 and 106,000 years, during the Neanderthal era. “The use of the sea as a source of food at that time has so far only been attributed to anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens) in Africa,” the researchers explain. “Food from the sea is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and other fatty acids that promote the development of brain tissue.” The findings increase our knowledge of Neanderthals. “The recent results of the excavation of Figueira Brava now confirm that if the habitual consumption of marine life played an important role in the development of cognitive abilities, this is as true for Neanderthals as it is for anatomically modern humans,” the researchers explained. The scientists have also noted that, more than 65,000 years ago, Neanderthals made paintings in three caves in the Iberian Peninsula. They also said that perforated and decorated seashells can be attributed to Neanderthals. In another recent study, experts analyzed seashells fashioned into tools that were discovered in Italy in 1949 to reveal how some Neanderthals had a much closer connection to the sea than was previously thought. In a separate study released last year, a team led by anthropologist Erik Trinkaus of Washington University reported that many Neanderthals suffered from “swimmer’s ear,” bony growths that form in the ear canal through regular exposure to cold water or chilly air. Experts have been gaining new insight into Neanderthals in recent years. In 2018, for example, archaeologists in Poland identified the prehistoric bones of a Neanderthal child eaten by a large bird. In another study released in 2018, scientists suggested that climate change played a larger part in Neanderthals’ extinction than previously thought. Last year researchers in France reported that climate change drove some Neanderthals to cannibalism. The closest human species to homo sapiens, Neanderthals lived in Eurasia for around 350,000 years. Scientists in Poland report that Neanderthals in Europe mostly became extinct 35,000 years ago. However, there are a number of theories on the timing of Neanderthals’ extinction, with experts saying that it could have occurred 40,000, 27,000 or 24,000 years ago.

Fascinating!!  …until they just had to throw in the climate change part, without explaining how, or backing it up.  Typical..

Organic molecules found on Mars ‘consistent with… life,’ study says

In 2018, NASA announced that its Curiosity rover had discovered organic molecules on Mars. A new study suggests that those molecules are “consistent with early life” on the Red Planet. The research, published in Astrobiology, notes that organisms known as thiophenes, which are found in white truffles, coal and crude oil on Earth, have also been discovered on the Red Planet. “We identified several biological pathways for thiophenes that seem more likely than chemical ones, but we still need proof,” the study’s co-author, Dirk Schulze‑Makuch, said in a statement. “If you find thiophenes on Earth, then you would think they are biological, but on Mars, of course, the bar to prove that has to be quite a bit higher.” The research suggests that a biological process “most likely involving bacteria rather than a truffle though, may have played a role in the organic compound’s existence.” However, it’s also possible that it could come from non-biological sources, such as meteor impacts. If indeed the thiophenes were formed from a biological process, it may have stemmed from bacteria that “could have facilitated a sulfate reduction process,” as Mars was warm and wet 3 billion years ago. More will be learned about the organic molecules from the European Space Agency’s Rosalind Franklin rover, slated to launch in July 2020. The researchers said that even if the next rover gets isotopic evidence of carbon and sulfur isotopes, which Schulze‑Makuch calls “a telltale signal for life,” it may not be a guarantee there was or is life on Mars. “As Carl Sagan said ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,’” Schulze‑Makuch explained. “I think the proof will really require that we actually send people there, and an astronaut looks through a microscope and sees a moving microbe.” NASA is slated to launch a new rover to Mars, known as Perseverance, on July 17, 2020. This rover will attempt to detect if there is any fossilized evidence of extraterrestrial beings, in addition to other tasks. Upon its expected arrival on the Martian surface on Feb. 18, 2021, it will join the still functioning Curiosity rover and the now-deceased Opportunity rover on the Red Planet. Unlike Curiosity or Opportunity, this rover will carry the “first helicopter that will fly on another planet,” NASA added. NASA’s long-term goal is to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s.

Fascinating!!  For more, click on the text above.     🙂

Engineers crack 58-year-old enigma, make quantum breakthrough

A team of engineers in Australia has cracked a problem that has stood for more than half a century. In 1961, scientist and Nobel Laureate Nicolaas Bloembergen had suggested that the nucleus of a single atom could be controlled using only electric fields. Now, the engineers at the University of New South Wales Sydney have achieved just that. “This discovery means that we now have a pathway to build quantum computers using single-atom spins without the need for any oscillating magnetic field for their operation,” said Andrea Morello, UNSW’s scientia professor of quantum engineering, in a statement. “Moreover, we can use these nuclei as exquisitely precise sensors of electric and magnetic fields, or to answer fundamental questions in quantum science.” Quantum computing, which lets computers manipulate information in extremely sophisticated ways, aims to provide more powerful computing than current supercomputers. The research is described in a paper in the journal Nature. The discovery was made by accident, according to the University of New South Wales, which explains that the researchers were originally attempting to perform magnetic resonance on a single atom of the chemical element antimony. “However, once we started the experiment, we realized that something was wrong. The nucleus behaved very strangely, refusing to respond at certain frequencies, but showing a strong response at others,” said Dr. Vincent Mourik, also a lead author on the paper, in a statement. “This puzzled us for a while, until we had a ‘eureka moment’ and realized that we were doing electric resonance instead of magnetic resonance.” Scientists note that generating magnetic fields requires large coils and high currents and that the fields are difficult to confine to small spaces. Electric fields, however, can be produced at the tip of a tiny electrode, enabling atoms to be easily controlled in nanoelectronic devices. The discovery could pave the way to “scalable, nuclear- and electron-spin-based quantum computers in silicon that operate without the need for oscillating magnetic fields,” according to the paper.

Fascinating!!  To read the paper in question, click on the text above.      🙂

When is Daylight Saving Time and what is it?

Americans will this Sunday, March 8, at 2 a.m., set their clocks forward an hour in the name of daylight saving time. The vast majority of the states participate in the rolling back of clocks, which ends November 1. However, Hawaii, most of Arizona and the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa and the Virgin Islands do not. Daylight saving time was created by Congress in 1918 as “a way of conserving fuel needed for war industries and of extending the working day,” according to the Library of Congress. It was repealed after World War I was over. The issue remerged during World War II and Congress established it yet again in 1942. In an effort to make daylight saving time permanent throughout the year, Republican Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott introduced the Sunshine Protection Act last year, which has languished in Congress with no real progress. “It makes absolutely no sense, there’s no justification for it,” Rubio said in a video statement in October. “It has strong support in the House and in the Senate, the White House, the president said he would sign it. I hope we can get this bill passed because I just think it makes all the sense in the world, and this changing of the clocks back and forth makes no sense at all.” President Trump has thrown his support for making daylight saving time permanently as well. “Making Daylight Saving Time permanent is O.K. with me!” he tweeted in March 2019. Some argue extending daylight saving time will disrupt sleep patterns and is harmful to one’s health. Supporters, particularly business owners, say it will save energy because people will spend more time outside.

Full worm supermoon on deck: What you need to know

Skywatchers are in for a treat next week when the full worm supermoon rises in the sky. “March’s full Moon, called the full Worm Moon, reaches peak fullness at 1:48 p.m. EDT on Monday, March 9,” explains the Old Farmer’s Almanac. “Look for the spectacularly bright Moon as it rises above the horizon that evening!” The celestial event will be the first of three supermoons in 2020, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac. EarthSky notes that the full worm moon will be the second-closest of the year’s supermoons. Supermoons happen when the moon’s elliptical orbit brings it to the closest point to Earth while the moon is full. The phrase was coined in 1979, according to NASA. “The Moon will appear full for about 3 days centered on this time, from early Sunday morning into early Wednesday morning,” adds NASA, on its website. The March full moon, which is also known as the crow moon, crust moon, sap moon and sugar moon, played an important role in Native American culture. “The more northern tribes of the northeastern United States knew this as the Crow Moon, when the cawing of crows signaled the end of winter,” explains NASA, on its website. “Other northern names were the Crust Moon, because the snow cover becomes crusted from thawing by day and freezing by night, or the Sap (or Sugar) Moon as this is the time for tapping maple trees.” Southern tribes, however, dubbed the celestial event the “worm moon,” as a result of the casts left by earthworms on the thawing ground. Some experts described the spectacular February full moon, or snow moon, as a supermoon, although others feel that it does not qualify as that category of celestial event. The snow moon was one of the largest full moons of 2020.

Very cool!!  Catch it Monday, if ya can!     🙂

SpaceX launches station supplies, nails 50th rocket landing

SpaceX successfully launched another load of station supplies for NASA late Friday night and nailed its 50th rocket landing. The Falcon rocket blasted off with 4,300 pounds of equipment and experiments for the International Space Station. Just minutes later, the spent first-stage booster made a dramatic midnight landing back at Cape Canaveral, its return accompanied by sonic booms. “And the Falcon has landed for the 50th time in SpaceX history!” SpaceX engineer Jessica Anderson announced amid cheers at Mission Control. “What an amazing live view all the way to touchdown.” The Dragon capsule, meanwhile, hurtled toward a Monday rendezvous with the space station. It’s the 20th station delivery for SpaceX, which has launched nearly 100,000 pounds of goods to the orbiting outpost and returned nearly that much back to Earth since it began shipments in 2012. Northrop Grumman is NASA’s other commercial shipper. SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk said it was the windiest conditions ever — 25 mph to 30 mph — for a booster landing at Cape Canaveral, but he wanted to push the envelope. The landing was the 50th successful touchdown of a SpaceX booster following liftoff, either on land or at sea. “Rocket will land in highest winds ever at Cape Canaveral tonight. This is intentional envelope expansion,” Musk tweeted following touchdown. The company’s first booster landing was in 2015, intended as a cost-saving, rocket-recycling move. Both the latest booster and Dragon capsule were recycled from previous flights. Among the science experiments flying: an analysis of running shoe cushioning in weightlessness by Adidas, a water droplet study by Delta Faucet Co. striving for better showerhead water conservation, 3D models of heart and intestinal tissue, and 320 snippets of grape vines by Space Cargo Unlimited, the same Luxembourg startup that sent 12 bottles of red wine to the space station last November for a year of high-altitude aging. The Dragon also contained treats for the two Americans and one Russian at the space station: grapefruit, oranges, apples, tomatoes, Skittles, Hot Tamales and Reese’s Pieces. As for packing the capsule for launch, no extra precautions were taken because of the global coronavirus outbreak, according to NASA. The usual stringent precautions were taken to avoid passing along any germs or diseases to the space station crew. The doctor-approved procedures have proven effective in the past, officials noted. This is the last of SpaceX’s original Dragon cargo capsules. Going forward, the company will launch supplies in second-generation Dragons, roomier and more elaborate versions built for crews. The company aims to launch NASA astronauts this spring. The California-based SpaceX also teaming up with other companies to fly tourists and private researchers to the space station, as well as high solo orbits in the next couple years.

Go SpaceX!!!     🙂