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New covid lineage data links raccoon dogs to pandemic



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The long-running and bitter debate about the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic has added a small but potentially significant data point: A sample taken from a market in Wuhan in early 2020 showed genetic traces of both the coronavirus and a raccoon dog, according to scientists who analyzed recent findings. data from China.

Like many elements of the mystery, new data first reported Atlantic Oceandoes not prove how, where and when people first contracted the virus. But it does support the theory that the pandemic started naturally from animals rather than originating in a laboratory, a theory that some researchers support.

This was stated by the Director General of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. resumed his call for China to share scientific data on the origin of the pandemic.

“We continue to call on China to be transparent in data sharing, and to carry out the necessary investigations and share results,” Tedros said. “Understanding how the pandemic began remains both a moral and a scientific imperative.”

The new evidence comes from swabs taken from animal stalls at the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan. Investigators collected them at the beginning of 2020, when the market was closed and all the animals were taken away. One the smear contained a mixture of genetic material, including a large number of a raccoon dog along with traces from the coronavirus, said Stephen Goldstein, a virologist at the University of Utah who was part of the team that analyzed the data.

“We can’t definitively prove that there were infected raccoon dogs that were the first source of the virus to enter humans,” Goldstein said, “but it’s very suggestive.”

What you need to know about raccoon dogs that may be linked to the origin of the coronavirus

According to Goldstein, the data came from Chinese scientists who submitted a paper to a scientific journal that has yet to be published. The scientists involved in the new analysis, which has not been peer-reviewed or published in a journal, said they plan to publish their work online within the next few days.

“I would love to see their paper come out before news of our analysis is out,” said Michael Sparrow, an evolutionary virologist at the University of Arizona who took part in the new analysis.

“We would like to collaborate with Chinese scientists and this is still our intention going forward,” Goldstein said.

Other animals that are likely to have been sold on the market may also be infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. But the new data “raises raccoon dogs to the top of the list of pandemic-causing animals,” Robert Gurry, a virologist at Tulane University who took part in the new analysis and a longtime proponent of market theory, said in an email Friday. .

“It’s just another brick on a huge wall of evidence that fits together,” Sparrow said. “If it wasn’t so politicized, it would be one of the most glaring sets of evidence we’ve ever had on how the pandemic came about.”

But David A. Relman, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford University who said both origin scenarios are plausible, called the new data “very inconclusive” in an email. “Honestly, the breathlessness and zeal with which stories like this are pushed forward in the face of very incomplete and confusing ‘data’ leaves me frustrated and worried,” he said.

The debate about the origin of the virus has become highly politicized, and this latest data from scientists who have long advocated a market origin is unlikely to change the views of those who support the lab leak theory.

“There are no smoking guns in this case,” said Peter Hotez, co-director Texas Children’s Hospital Vaccine Development Center. “But if you look collectively at the evidence available to date, so far it all points to a natural origin for covid.” Addressing the origin question will be critical to preparing scientists for any future coronavirus outbreak, he said.

House Republicans are holding hearings on the origin of the pandemic, and Republican lawmakers are pushing the theory of a lab leak and the possible blame of American scientists and government officials. Robert Redfield, director of the Trump administration’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testified on March 8 that the pandemic most likely began with a lab leak.

President Biden asked his intelligence agencies to look into the origin of the virus two years ago, and they failed to reach consensus, although they agreed that it was not a bioweapon. Four agencies and the National Intelligence Council favored natural origin with “low confidence”. The FBI approved the lab leak with “moderate confidence”.

But shortly before the opening of the pandemic hearings in the GOP-led House of Representatives, an updated report from the intelligence community showed that the Energy Department had moved from neutral to concluding, again with “low confidence”, that a laboratory origin was most likely. probably. This decision was not accompanied by new data or an explanation of why the researchers began to favor the theory of laboratory leaks.

Geography has played a huge role in the debate. The Covid outbreak started in Wuhan, home to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which has done extensive research on coronaviruses. There has long been a debate in the scientific community about the relative risks and benefits of experiments that, in an attempt to understand viruses, manipulate them in ways that make them more transmissible or virulent.

But since the outbreak began in Wuhan, the Huanan Seafood Market has been in the spotlight. Many of the first documented human cases of the virus were concentrated in and around the market. Among the sick were sellers. And environmental samples showed the presence of the virus mainly in that part of the vast market where animals were sold and butchered.

“The market is like a bull’s-eye,” Sparrow said. “Clearly, in December, the first cases in the community were freshly bled from ground zero in the market.”

Goldstein said he believes animals with the virus likely contracted it on a farm or elsewhere before they were brought to market.

China has long denied that the virus came from the market or a lab, and instead speculated that it originated overseas. Chinese scientists and lab leakers said the cluster of cases in Huanan could be explained as a superspreading case caused by an infected person shopping in a crowded market.

Last summer, the journal Science published two papers written by many the same scientists who did this new analysis, who claimed there were at least two separate side effects from the animals in the Wuhan market. But the authors of the papers acknowledged that their report did not resolve many questions about the spills, including what animal or animals were involved, who sold them, or where they came from.

The new study still doesn’t. But it raises the possibility that a raccoon dog or some other animal contracted the virus in late 2019.

“The bottom line is that there were animals on the market and they are right where the virus was,” Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the University of Saskatchewan who took part in the new analysis, said in an email. “We can’t say for sure if they were infected, but this is very strong evidence that live animals in the Huanan market were the cause of the pandemic.”

Benjamin Neuman, a virologist at Texas A&M University who was not involved in the new analysis, said the origin of the pandemic may forever remain unclear.

“As with any cold case, the evidence is unlikely to get stronger over time, so aside from the time machine, this may be the closest we have ever come to an origin,” Neumann said in an email. “We still don’t have definitive evidence of animal-to-human transmission of the virus, but this is a big step in that direction.”

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Black widows lose to brown widows in the fight for your attic and garage



Few spiders in the United States have a more fearsome reputation than black widows. But all over the South, bulbous arachnids with red hourglasses on their stomachs are in deadly competition with the brown widow, a relative from abroad, and lose.

This is not the case when one species beats another for food or habitat. In published studies Monday in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America, biologists have discovered that young brown widow spiders have a striking tendency to seek out and kill their American cousins.

“Brown widows will aggressively target black widows, target them,” said Louis Coticchio, research director at St. Petersburg College in Florida and author of the paper. “They’re not very good at being neighbors.”

Three species of black widow are found in North America, including the southern black widow, Latrodectus mactans. Extremely shy insect hunters, black widows love to live in basements, woodpile and sheds. This predilection for human habitation sometimes results in people being bitten – 1,004 cases in 2021, according to the American Poison Centers. – but deaths are extremely rare. “Black widows generally don’t bite when they’re being chased,” preferring to run, play dead or snap webs when someone pokes a finger, Mr Coticchio said. “Only if you pinch them, you can bite.”

Brown widows, a closely related species, arrived in Florida around 1935, probably from South Africa. A single mother produces several egg sacs and possibly thousands of spiders. Like black widows, brown widows love to live among people. Brown widows are less venomous than their native relatives and are not at all shy.

Mr. Cotticio worked for several years as a zookeeper at the Poisonous Species Zoo in California, hunting for spiders in his spare time. While hunting western black widows in suburban Los Angeles, he noticed that wherever they and brown widows crossed paths, black widows eventually disappeared. After receiving his bachelor’s degree from the University of South Florida, he discovered the same thing. “Each time I went back to the site, there were fewer and fewer of them until they were gone.”

To understand why, Mr. Coticchio and his colleagues studied mathematical population simulations of two species of widows, which showed that both black and brown widows were more likely to be eaten than to starve to death. booty

When they paired brown and black widows in containerized habitats — along with other related species such as red house spiders and triangular web spiders — the researchers found that brown widows were 6.6 times more likely to kill black widows than other species. Young brown widows, in particular, rushed straight to their natural cousins, eating them 80 percent of the time.

The researchers found that adult brown widows were less belligerent and significantly less likely to successfully kill a black widow lurking in established webs. But they still staged observable attacks. “Southern black widows have never been aggressors and have always been prey,” Mr. Cottigio said.

What drives such predation attempts? The researchers speculate that one possibility lies in the spiders’ respective temperaments: Brown widows tend to be bold, exploring nearby webs and attacking spiders that don’t fight back. House and web spiders challenge them, and brown widows often continue to coexist peacefully with them. Shy, retiring black widows usually tried to escape, resisting only as a last resort.

“We found the same high levels of aggression and activity in invasive brown widows in Israel,” said Monica Moveri, a spider biologist at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, who was not involved in the new study. “One key remaining question is whether brown widows are superior to native species” in other parts of the world they have invaded, she said.

In the southern and western United States, the outlook for urban black widows is bleak. But the species has a fallback: Black widows love deserts and forests as much as they do the suburbs, Mr Cottigio said, while brown widows prefer urban and suburban areas. The ongoing competition may end up driving black widows out of basements and attics in favor of the wilderness, where their aggressive relatives will not follow.

In the meantime, Mr. Cottigio said, if you find yourself in a plot with black widows, do not rush to kill them: they are already having a hard time.

“If you have anything on your land,” he said, “do a good deed and take it out into the street somewhere.”

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Humor about space forces, laser dazzlers and the chaos that war in space can actually cause



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Lee Billings: Hello. This is Lee Billings.

Clara Moskowitz: And Clara Moskowitz.

We are editor-in-chief of Scientific American’s space science department. Today we start..

Billings: We are launching…

Moskowitz: So we’re launching… staying true to our roots… the new Science Quickly series.

Billings: we call Space is fast.

Moskowitz: In every episode, we take you on a journey to the sky.

Billings: Into the space.

Moskowitz: To explore what we know…

Billings: And what we have just learned about the universe we all live in.

Moskowitz: Today, in our introductory episode, we’ll start with… space forces.

Billings: It’s right….

Moskowitz: We sat down with Lieutenant General Nina ArmagnoDirector of the US Space Forces Headquarters

Billings: Welcome, lieutenant general, thanks for coming.

Moskowitz: So, can we start with a very simple question: what are the Cosmic Forces?

Armango: The Space Force is a service, just like the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps. We are the newest service for United States of America. And we were established on December 20, 2019.

The United States Space Force trains and equips Guardians so that the Guardians can conduct space operations for the benefit of our nation.

Billings: Now, for some people, Cosmic Forces sound, well, a little funny? Like something out of science fiction?

Moskowitz: I mean, pretty quickly after then-President Trump announced you all, pop culture kind of grabbed onto your story.

Armango: Do you mean Netflix?

Moskowitz: Yeah, that show starring Steve Carell.

[CLIP: Netflix’s Space Force ]

Armango: Actually, it was funny. I thought it was funny.

So the first couple of episodes seemed funny to me. And I hate to say it, but you know, it just made fun of the Coast Guard actually more than it made fun of the Space Force.

And to show the rivalry between the Air Force and the Space Force, I thought it was just fun. Because the truth is that we came out of the Air Force and we rely on the Air Force for many, many, many things, I mean it’s a real partnership run by the Ministry of the Air Force.

And we, at the Pentagon, each service has a corridor. And in the Space Force corridor, we have a humor section, because not only is there a Netflix series, but Ben and Jerry’s ice cream called “Boots on the Moon.” And I think there’s still one tiny box hanging in the Pentagon somewhere.

Billings: It’s nice to know the Guardians of the Galaxy, uh… I mean, the Guardians have a good sense of humor. But back to reality. How important are cosmic forces?

Armango: We’ve been in space operations for decades. I want to be clear that just because we have a new service does not mean that the United States has suddenly become active in space. We have been working for decades.

And in fact, when we were first established in 2019 and then again in January 2020, the funding line that we were already using was allocated and given to the Space Force, about $18 billion at the time.

This is big money. But this is 10% of the Air Force budget. And it’s only about 2% [Department of Defense] budget.

Fast forward to this week: The President’s budget request, which has been sent to Congress, is asking for $30 billion for the US Space Force. So it’s almost a doubling of requests, but I think it shows the importance of what we’re trying to do.

We do not just continue to provide the best services from the space industry, we also now have to protect and protect the space industry. And this is a great thing, that’s why the Cosmic Forces were created.

Because, joking aside, Russia and China threaten our capabilities. They create opportunities that could threaten our systems in space.

And we must be able to defend, defend and continue to operate so that in a future conflict, crisis or even war, our forces in any other field, in the air, on land, at sea, under water, can still gain a refined advantage. the data they currently receive from the space domain.

Moskowitz: What would it really mean to go to war in space?

Armango: Well, war in space would be devastating. Because that would probably destroy the domain itself. So, you know, the world as we know it would be very, very different.

Billings: Hey And what will it mean for ordinary people on Earth if we lose some of these opportunities in space?

Armango: I mean, you know, today, especially in modern American life, we benefit from this timing signal from the GPS constellation – this timing signal controls everything from, you know, the power that we enjoy to, you know , of blue color. dot on your mobile phone.

I mean, the timing signal is everything, not to mention the positioning and navigation that GPS provides to the world for free.

A war in space could eventually disrupt these services. As a last resort, it can be destroyed completely and potentially for a very, very long time. Debris stays in space forever. So I don’t even want to bet a year on it. It will be decades.

I think we take it all for granted. I really do.

Moskowitz: You?

Armango: Oh no, no, I don’t know.

Many years ago, for example, if something went wrong with the GPS satellite. The checklist step said call the engineer because the engineer you know must have had some kind of electronic or, you know, system failure. Today, the first thought of the Guardians is that this could be nefarious, this could be the beginning of an attack.

Moskowitz: Tell us what would happen if a nefarious act were to take place in space. What could the enemy do?

Armango: An actor can attack us with cyber security. There are ground suppression capabilities that Russia and China have, and ground laser blinding capabilities that they have. They have ground-launched missiles, an anti-satellite weapon that they both demonstrated to China in 2007, creating thousands of fragments. And then Russia back in 2021, in November, another anti-satellite test.

In both cases, these countries remove their own non-functional satellites, but irresponsibly create thousands of debris.

Billings: Wait a second, what is a blinding laser?

Armango: This is a ground laser. And some satellites have very sensitive optics. And the laser can… so the blinder does no damage, so it kind of pulses with the laser. Doesn’t damage optics. But the more powerful laser they are working on can damage not only sensitive optics, but also destroy the solar array.

So, these opportunities are real, that is, they already exist.

Moskowitz: The scariest prospect in any war is nuclear weapons. What role does the Space Force play in protecting against nuclear war?

Armango: nuclear triad. The United States Space Force is essential to the nuclear triad.

Moskowitz: This is the combined land, sea and air nuclear arsenal of the United States.

Armano: We provide missile warning as well as satellite communications that will warn our country of a nuclear attack. This will provide communications for the President of the United States so that when he makes decisions about a nuclear response, this information will be transmitted through our satellite communications systems in space, which are operated by the United States Space Force.

So we are irreplaceable. That’s why we refer to our missile warning satellites and our SATCOM satellites as “valuable assets.”

Billings: Let’s say there was a nuclear attack. What then does the Cosmic Force do?

Armano: if the United States were attacked by nuclear force, we would be the first to know, because these missile warning sensors are constantly watching – they are actually watching all over the globe. And they’re looking for infrared radiation. So, the ICBM plume is quite large. And it will be detected by the first United States space forces and the facilities that we have in orbit.

They are definitely strategically targeted at Russian ICBM fields, as well as China, as China is also building up its nuclear capability.

Moskowitz: What opportunities do Russia and China actually have now?

Armano: Russia definitely had very combat-ready spaceships during the Cold War. Over time, these capabilities have weakened a little, but I would say that they still pose an acute threat.

China is growing rapidly and developing all the space capabilities we have. So, they’re definitely working on their missile warning system.

We don’t have to worry about a nuclear exchange. I mean… any nation that has nuclear weapons knows it’s existential.

Now Russia is talking about using tactical nuclear weapons. They wrote about it, spoke publicly about their use in conventional combat. And again and again the United States says, oh no, it’s a red line, it’s a red line.

There is a nuclear taboo that is observed by responsible nuclear countries. And that’s the best deterrent, it’s a taboo that you shouldn’t use nuclear weapons, even tactically, which sounds like they’re not that destructive, but nuclear weapons are destructive. And this taboo still exists, this red line is still very bright.

Billings: So Lieutenant General, you’re talking about containment. How to successfully calculate what will deter a nuclear attack?

Armano: Deterrence is indeed in the mind of the enemy. The idea is to be strong enough to make your opponent say “not today”. Every time they wake up, or should I hit the USA? Not today. Because the United States… our strength is a deterrent.

Moskowitz: Well, thanks, lieutenant. General Armano, it was a pleasure talking to you.

Armano: Thank you. It’s great to be here.

Billings: And thank you You to listen to Cosmos, Quickly. We have a lot more soon everything you wanted to know about space, but were afraid to ask.

Moskowitz: Science Quickly is produced by Jeff DelVishio, Tulica Bowes and Kelso Harper.

Billings: Dui Lin Tu and Nina Berman assisted us in filming this episode.

Moskowitz: Like and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And for more scientific news, visit

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Geometric deep optical sounding | The science



The review discusses the latest developments in the field of optical sensing and imaging.

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