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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 The scientists involved in the new analysis, which has not been peer-reviewed or published in a journal, said they plan to publish their work online within the next few days.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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NASA awards advanced 3D printing and quantum technologies for climate research



New technologies are key to helping NASA achieve its long-term research goals for the benefit of all. To support its efforts, the agency announced on Thursday that it will create two new institutes to develop technologies in the critical fields of engineering and climate research.

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Nuclear Waste Drilling Demonstration Center launched



Increase / Artist’s impression of a deep nuclear waste disposal well by Sandia National Laboratories in 2012. The red lines show the depth of the mined storage sites: Onkalo is Finnish, and WIPP is the US Department of Energy defense waste storage facility in New Mexico.

Sandia National Laboratories

deep isolationthe company, founded in 2016 and headquartered in California, launched “Deep Well Demonstration Center” February 27. It is intended to show that getting rid of nuclear waste in deep boreholes is a safe and practical alternative to the shaft tunnels that make up most of today’s nuclear waste storage designs.

But while the initial board members were named at launch and a high-level plan released, the startup does not yet have a permanent location, nor funds committed to complete its planned drilling and testing program.

Although the idea of ​​using deep wells to bury nuclear waste not new, no one has yet demonstrated how it works. The Deep Well Demonstration Center is intended to be a full-scale end-to-end demonstration, testing everything from the safe handling of waste canisters on the surface, disposal, eventual retrieval, and ultimately permanent sealing deep underground. Techniques will also be worked out to ensure that possible underground leaks do not contaminate the environment on the surface, even many millennia after disposal.

But it will do all of this without any real nuclear waste: “This place, to be clear, will never be used for radioactive waste disposal,” said Liz Muller, CEO of Deep Isolation and chairman of the board of the Deep Well Demonstration Center.

“This is to really bring people together to understand what are the main issues that need to be addressed before we move forward,” said Ted Garrish, the center’s executive director. “There is nothing really new here in terms of real technology; it’s just to put them together and do it in a nuclear environment.”

Universal canister

By the time of this announcement, the center’s first exercise in “combining” conventional oil drilling and nuclear technology had already begun. In February, a demonstration of the technology took place at a downhole test site near Cameron, Texas. “We need to have a fastening mechanism for this nuclear design container to attach it to a standard oil and gas rig,” Mueller explained.

They used a newly designed canister large enough to hold 14 feet of spent fuel. fuel assembly from pressurized water reactor (PVR). They snapped it on with standard oilfield equipment, lowered it through the floor of the rig, and unhooked it there. Later, they hooked on him again and fished him out again.

Funded by the US Department of Energy ARPA-E program Deep Isolation is developing a new universal container that can enter the well and receive waste generated during various reactor designs, not just PWR: “We’re talking to a number of different advanced reactor companies, what would their waste form look like, could we design it to fit in this versatile container?” said Mueller, who believes they should all fit in the same size canister as the PWR spent fuel canister used in the February test.

Decentralized recycling

The universal container should make deep wells suitable for various nuclear wastes, and the depth of the wells must be suitable for various places.

At the depth at which nuclear waste storage facilities are built (about 400 meters), there is usually quite a lot of flowing groundwater that can carry pollutants to the surface. Therefore, mined storage facilities for nuclear waste must be located in unusual locations where the rock is dense and the water is static to ensure that leaks in the storage facility do not go far, even after millennia. But going much deeper, Müller argues, waste can be deposited at depths where groundwater flow is typically minimal, so there are far fewer restrictions on suitable locations. “The geology is much more flexible than when you look at a booby-trapped vault,” Muller said. “When you go much deeper, when you go a kilometer, two kilometers deep, there are many more suitable places.”

This means that most locations where nuclear waste is generated have the potential to have deep well disposal facilities, reducing the need to transport nuclear waste to centralized facilities such as unsuccessful Yucca Mountain in Nevada. “We expect the first iterations of the deep containment technology to be implemented in existing waste treatment facilities,” Mueller said.

“I think if we’ve learned anything from trying to… consolidate locations and relocate [nuclear waste] in all states, I think the main lesson, big, big lesson for everyone: don’t do it!” Mueller said. Transportation of nuclear waste remains to this day cited as one of the objections State of Nevada to the Yucca Mountain Range.

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NASA unveils new suit for astronauts on the Artemis lunar mission



A suit similar to the one the Artemis astronauts would wear on the Moon, but dyed black instead of white.

Axiom Cosmos

NASA has revealed the spacesuits that astronauts will wear on the Moon for the upcoming Artemis lunar missions, which will see the first woman and man of color reach the surface of the Moon.

“We haven’t had a new suit since the suits we designed for the Space Shuttle and these suits are currently in use on the space station – so for 40 years we have been using the same suit based on this technology. . said Vanessa Wych at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, at a March 15 press conference.

The new suit, built by private company Axiom Space for NASA, is designed to operate in the harsh environment of the moon’s south pole, where temperatures average around -13°C (9°F) but can drop hundreds of degrees. lower in craters in permanent shadow.

It will also have improved mobility over previous suits, weigh 55kg, about 25kg lighter than the suits worn by the Apollo astronauts, and have more custom joints for a greater range of motion. Since the suit has so many hinges, it is not easy to take it on and off. Astronauts will need to crawl through a hatch at the back of the suit to enter.

The suit also features a panel of lights above the helmet for working with instruments and scientific instruments in low light, as well as a high-definition camera so people on Earth can watch what the astronauts are doing.

Photos posted by Axiom Space show a suit with a black outer layer designed by Esther Marquis, costume designer from the Apple TV+ sci-fi series. For all mankind in Axiom brand colors. The suits worn on the Moon will be white to reflect heat and keep the astronauts at the right temperature.

If all goes according to schedule, NASA’s Artemis 3 mission will land the first woman and person of color on the moon in 2025. Historically, space exploration, especially on the Moon, has been done almost exclusively by white men. Until last year, for example, the specific radiation risk for women had never been studied.


  • Moon/
  • space exploration

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