Covid-19 Eliminates two flu strains

During the covid-19 pandemic, some scientists encouraged preventive measures against the coronavirus include wearing a mask, hand sanitizing, and social distancing, which could also have resulted or contributed to the elimination of multiple strains of flu.

According to Gizmodo, the researchers couldn’t discover two former usual strains of flu since March 2020. More precisely, the missing strains include the Yamagata strain of influenza B virus and the strain of influenza A virus H3N2.

Comparison of two viruses:

Amazingly, these two types of viruses haven’t shown up for more than a year anywhere in the world. Researchers are unaware if these viruses are truly eliminated, but at present they’re nowhere to found.

To evaluate which flu strains might have vanished, we have to understand how viruses are classified. Ever since the breakout, covid-19 has been compared to influenza because they similarly cause respiratory disease, yet there are apparent differences between these viruses and how they spread. Fortunately, there’s an availability of vaccines and antivirals for the treatment of influenza.

Eliminations of the flu strains:

The elimination of these flu strains is a beneficial effect during the pandemic. According to Gizmodo, many researchers and doctors are playing their valuable part in encouraging the usage of face-masks, social distancing, and quarantine. However, virologist Florian Krammer suggests that although the strains might not have been detected for over a year, we can’t be sure that they have been eliminated entirely. So, the viruses might be residing anywhere in our surroundings.

Even if the strains haven’t been fully eliminated their disappearance still makes the preparation of vaccines easier. Every year researchers are assigned the responsibility to make ‘high-tech guesses’ about which flu strains are more likely to prevail in the following months so that they can prepare preventive doses beforehand.

But, Krammer believes that less diversity among the flu viruses could be a possibility. Reduced flu virus diversity means a tiny pool of circulating viruses to choose from and a greater chance that the strains in an annual vaccine will be successful.

If the current covid-19 preventive measures are keeping us safe from other viruses as well, we might consider face masks, and social distancing even after the pandemic is over, particularly during the winter months when the flu virus is more prevalent.

Mind Control

Remember all the sci-fi movies we watched where our protagonist clad in a smart space-suit would try to control the devices around him with his mind and we were left amazed? Well, in Elon Musk’s world of rapidly-growing technology, it is turning into a real possibility.

The co-founder of Neuralink and the latest mastermind behind every technology, Elon Musk said that his brain interface company will begin its launch with the product that will let users operate the “smartphone with their mind faster than someone using thumbs”. This is especially revolutionary for people with paralysis who will now find it extremely easy to access technology.

Providing a sneak-peak into this plan after the tweets, Neuralink also released a video of a nine-year-old macaque named Pager engaged in a competitive game of Pong using two Neuralink units that were put in its brain six weeks ago.

This revelation could help people with paralysis use the implanted devices to feel more in control of their day-to-day activities and comes as a huge breakthrough.

The device has also opened up discussions around the technology for the visually impaired and Elon Musk says he is not ignorant to those issues either. A fan inquired about their plan for such a device and Musk promptly responded on Twitter saying, “Absolutely doable. Possibly as soon as Neuralink device version 2, highly likely by version 3.”

While it may be some time before Neuralink comes up with the mechanics of sending signals to different parts of a human body, these steps are ensuring steady and rapid growth to make the world a bit smarter every day.

But, how will the device work and what are the ramifications of having it in your brain? However, Musk pointed out that the device will be barely noticeable. “The device is implanted flush with the skull and charges wirelessly, so you look and feel totally normal.”

Right now, we do not have a date for when the tech would be available for public use because, considering the technicalities involved, the health and tech experts would have to work together to see if there are any challenges during the trial period that could potentially put the users at risk.

Even the critics of Elon Musk have praised this initiative and regarded it as an essential step in assisting people with disabilities so that they are also included in all the programs for growth and development in the sector. These plans serve as a long-term investment as they hint towards more meaningful goals for the future of human kind rather than prioritizing the fastest car in the world or finding life beyond Earth, the kind of projects that hold little or no practical value in the life of an average human being.

Mixed Species Embryos

Finding human organ donors for transplant is a matter of grave concern worldwide. Thousands of patients succumb to death waiting in line for organ donors. For years scientists have struggled to find alternatives and have chiefly resorted to stem-cell research hoping to grow human organs in animals such as sheep and pigs. However, the approach has not reaped any fruitful results so far.

Recently, however, scientists from various international institutes have attempted to create mixed-species embryos by injecting stem cells from humans into macaque (monkey) embryos. Monkey embryos are mainly used for this purpose because monkeys are genetically the closest to the human species.

Scientists injected 25 induced pluripotent stem cells from humans into 132 macaque embryos. The embryos were each 6-days old. All cells survived and grew inside the 132 embryos in the first 24 hours. After a lapse of 10 days, 29 embryos expired leaving only 103 chimeric embryos behind. By the 19th day, all except 3 chimeric embryos died, which too were terminated.

Researchers have marked this a great victory and believe that the rate the human cells grew inside the monkey embryos for the first 24 hours is remarkable and could be a great breakthrough in genetic engineering.

“This knowledge will allow us to go back now and try to re-engineer these pathways that are successful for allowing appropriate development of human cells in these other animals,” Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a genetics professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences in La Jolla, California, and co-author of the study told NPR.

“We are very, very excited,” he added.

“Our goal is not to generate any new organism, any monster,” Belmonte told the broadcaster. “We are trying to understand how cells from different organisms communicate with one another.

All these experiments have led to promising results, as pointed out by the researchers.

Integration of the cells was not a challenge, but the survival was proving to be difficult so eventually the researchers investigated some new ways to conduct screening for drugs. This assisted in generating transplantable cells, tissues, and even organs.

Even though the idea is serving as a major breakthrough in the world of genetics, the experiment has already been tried before but with little success. In 2017, some scientists designed human-pig chimeras by introducing human cells into pig embryos. The cells were then incubated for a period of four weeks and just when they thought it would work, the number of cells grown proved to be insufficient.

This is why the researchers focused on producing a higher rate of growth.

The experiment does raise questions on ethicacy.  “My first question is: Why?” research fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute Kirstin Matthews told NPR. “I think the public is going to be concerned, and I am as well, that we’re just kind of pushing forward with science without having a proper conversation about what we should or should not do.”

Human Reproduction

Scientists warn that the world might become infertile by 2045 if we continue at the current rate. The last decade has seen multiple warnings and threats being issued regarding the fertility of the youth by the researchers and experts who have blamed artificial products for the rapid decrease.

Right now, environmentalists have categorized the use of plastic as one of the most dangerous practices observed globally that is assisting the process of declining fertility.

The Guardian published research conducted in 2017 by Shanna Swan, a professor of environmental medicine and public health at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine in New York City about the fertility rate. The findings of the study focused on the sperm count among men in Western Countries and it was discovered that it had dropped by more than 50 percent over the last 40 years. 3 years later, Swan published a book titled Count Down that provides a detailed insight into how and why humans are not being able to procreate as efficiently as before.

“People are recognizing we have a reproductive health crisis, but they say it’s because of delayed childbearing, choice or lifestyle – it can’t be chemical,” Swan said to the Guardian. “I want people to recognize it can. I am not saying other factors aren’t involved. But I am saying chemicals play a major causal role.”

Furthermore, the Human Reproduction Update also released a study in 2017 that highlighted how the sperm concentration in men fell from 99 million per ml in 1973 to 47.1 million per ml in 2011. When you look at the statistics, you see a sharp decline of 53.4% in the sperm count in the western countries namely Australia, North America, Europe, New Zealand etc.

Swan, who has studied this issue profoundly says that one of the reasons for this steep fall is the chemicals that “interfere with or mimic the body’s sex hormones”.

“Phthalates, used to make plastic soft and flexible, are of paramount concern,” Swan said. “They are in everybody and we are probably primarily exposed through food as we use soft plastic in food manufacture, processing and packaging.” She further added that “They lower testosterone and so have the strongest influences on the male side, for example diminishing sperm count, though they are bad for women, too, shown to decrease libido and increase risk of early puberty, premature ovarian failure, miscarriage and premature birth.”

The solution to this problem is not quite simple. It has taken years and years of damage for the researchers to notice the significant decline in the fertility rate so it is not an issue you can get prescribed medicines for. Swan, along with other researchers considers it a threat to humanity because if the trend continues then the world would have fewer and fewer human beings by the end of 2045.

“The current state of reproductive affairs can’t continue much longer without threatening human survival,” Swan writes in Count Down. She says that we need a complete overhaul of the chemical industry to reassess which products are actively harming the reproductive growth rate and people at least need to be warned about the consequences of the consumption of plastic.

DNA Mutation

While quantum physics deals with the study of bizarre behavior or matter on a subatomic level, scientists since the early 1920s have looked at how the quantum mechanics play a role in the living cells, thus introducing Quantum Biology, a relatively new field putting nuclear physicists, biochemists and molecular biologists together to understand the behavior of living cells at a DNA level.

A research paper published early 2021 in the journal, Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics suggested that an unusual quantum phenomenon could be causing point mutations in the DNA structures.

Scientists at the University of Surrey’s Leverhulme Quantum Biology Doctoral Training Center used computer simulations and various quantum mechanical methods to study proton tunneling, a purely quantum phenomenon which occurs on the hydrogen bonds linking together the spiraling DNA stands.

Proton tunneling is when a proton from the hydrogen atom vanishes from one spot and reappears elsewhere. This can cause the atoms to occasionally be found on the wrong strand of DNA thus causing point mutations in the genetic code.

Even though these genetic mutations are usually short lived, and the DNA molecules readjust to their real order in a reasonable short amount of time, the scientists believe that some of these mutations could survive the DNA replication process inside the cells and possibly cause health consequences thus increasing the risk of cancer.

In a press release issued by the team of researchers, the lead author of the research Marco Sacchi said that many had long suspected that the quantum world which is weird, counter-intuitive, and wonderful plays a role in life as we know it. While the idea that something can be present in two places at the same time might be absurd to many of us, this happens all the time in the quantum world, and our study confirms that quantum tunneling also happens in DNA at room temperature.”

The scientists believe that quantum biology has a long way to go and there’s a lot more left for scientists to understand when it comes to studying the biological processes at a subatomic level, however, this recent research by the scientists at University of Surrey has proven the point that quantum mechanics are definitely at play on a biological level.

The co-author of the study and co-director of the Leverhulme Quantum Biology Doctoral Training Center, Jim Al Khalili, said that it has been thrilling to work with this group of young, diverse and talented thinkers – made up of a broad coalition of the scientific world. This work cements quantum biology as the most exciting field of scientific research in the 21st century.

Other scientists not involved in the study directly have labeled it as a massive step towards understanding quantum biology however, they believe that a much more improved computing power and methodology will be required to model entire DNA strands.

Artery Evolution

Recently, it has been found that, due to evolution, children are now being born with larger heads, with more babies now being delivered through C-section. Similarly, it has been discovered that humans are now evolving a new artery.

When a child is in the womb there is an artery called the median artery which is continuously transporting blood from the heart to the hands of the child. However after birth, usually this artery is replaced by two other arteries and this one disappears.

Now, by comparing ourselves to humans in the 18th century, there are more people today that still retain their media artery. This could be a way of saying that evolution is still taking place within the human body.

The author of this discovery, Maciej Henneberg, a specialist in anatomy at the University of Adelaide, says that this is an indicator that biological evolution is still ongoing within humans. If we were to quantify this, the researchers found, through cadavers and other means, that in the 1800s only around 10 percent of the total population retained the artery. However, when they studied people from the late 20th century, they found that around 30 percent of the people retained the artery. Through these numbers, researchers have concluded that this is the fastest way the human race has ever evolved in the past 250 years.

They also believe that if the trend were to continue, which generally should considering the principles of evolution, then the median artery which is right now an exception will become a norm and those with no median artery will become an exception. Even though this is a fascinating concept, it could have painful consequences as those with a median artery are more likely to get carpal tunnel syndrome, which can be extremely painful.

The researchers think that change has been genetic due to maternal health issues or possibly due to the mutation of genes within humans. They think that by the year 2100 the median artery should become a norm rather than the exception that it is today.

Whether this would be a positive change or a negative change it cannot be said, however, this does show us proof of how fast human evolution has been taking place and how amazing the concept of evolution truly is.