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How far should genetic engineering go to allow this couple to have a healthy baby? – Sydney Morning Herald

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One morning in 2005, Shelley Beverley woke up to find that she had gone deaf. She was 21, and living in Johannesburg with her older brother Neil. I was very scared, she says. It was just so sudden. She struggled through the rest of the day, hoping that her hearing would come back, but it didnt. In one sense, her hearing loss wasnt entirely a surprise: Beverleys grandmother had been deaf, Neil had lost his hearing when he was 13, and her mum, Mary, had lost hers when she was 32. We knew it ran in the family, she says, but I thought Id been lucky and not inherited it.

Beverley, 35, lives in Margate, a semi-rural district south of Hobart, with her husband James. The couple migrated to Australia from South Africa in 2010, looking for space, buying 2 hectares of lush green grass at the foot of a forested ridge near the mouth of the Derwent River. We love the wildlife here, says James, looking out the living room window. Weve seen pademelons, echidnas, quolls, blue-tongue lizards, even a Tassie devil. At dusk, hundreds of kangaroos emerge from the forest to gorge on the grass. Its very peaceful, says James. Its really helped us after everything thats happened.

Apart from their deafness, Beverleys family had largely enjoyed good health. Then, in September 2015, her mother, Mary, then 62, started experiencing fatigue and stomach pain. Doctors in Durban ordered a colonoscopy, but the procedure made her worse. Her feet became swollen and purple. Because of their hearing problems, Shelley and Mary had communicated mainly in text messages. But soon I began noticing that her wording got a bit funny, says Beverley. It didnt always make sense.

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Beverley flew to Durban in February 2016, but by that time her mother could no longer talk or walk. She was so weak that she couldnt move her hands or lift her neck. Two days after Beverley arrived in Durban, her mother caught a virus that caused fluid to build up on her lungs. The doctors tried unsuccessfully to drain it. Shortly afterwards, she died. She weighed just 36 kilograms. It was so fast, Beverley says. And we were still in the dark about what she had.

Shortly before Marys death, Neil had also fallen ill. He developed a number of mysterious symptoms, including facial twitches and seizures. He kept falling over and tripping, and experienced vomiting and headaches so severe he lost his vision for weeks at a time. His behaviour became strange showering with his clothes on, and hallucinating.

One day, Dad was driving him around and Neil started talking to all these little people he thought were around his feet, says Beverley. Doctors in Durban had trouble diagnosing him, so they sent a biopsy to London, where he was found to have a type of mitochondrial cytopathy one of a large family of chronic and progressive diseases that affect the muscles, brain and nervous system. As the family soon learnt, the condition has no cure and no effective therapies. One of the common early symptoms is hearing loss.

Neil died in June 2017, aged 34, by which time Beverley had discovered she also had the condition. It was fear, so much fear, she says. She began experiencing symptoms, including migraines and vision loss. She has since developed diabetes, hypertension, gastro-paresis (when your stomach muscles dont work), and pharyngeal dysphagia (difficulty swallowing). Every time I get sick now, the flu or something, I think, When am I going to need a wheelchair or a feeding tube? When will my legs stop working?

Mito has taken everything from me, she says. If I die, at least James will still have a part of me.

Beverley has bright blue eyes and long, straight, ash-brown hair. Shes got a lazy left eye and uncommonly pale skin, which she attributes to her condition. Oh, and I had bunions out in 2010, she says, laughing wryly.

She doesnt know how long shes got left, but she is determined to make it count. She has joined mito awareness groups, and is an active member of the Mito Foundation, which supports sufferers, and funds research. She has exhaustively researched the condition and takes every opportunity to educate doctors. Youd be surprised by how little they know about it, she says.

But her overriding focus has been on a cutting-edge, and currently illegal, procedure called mitochondrial donation, a form of IVF which would allow those with the condition to have children, safe in the knowledge they would not be passing it on. Mito has taken everything from me, she says. If I die, at least James will still have a part of me. I would like him to look at our child, and say, You have your mums smile or your mums eyes.

An IVF treatment known as mitochondrial donation could potentially save up to 60 Australian children a year from being born with the condition. Credit:

Mitochondrial donation has been labelled immoral and unethical, a slippery slope to designer babies, not to mention potentially unsafe. The only country in the world to have legalised it is the UK. A report by medical experts into the technologys potential application in Australia is due to be delivered to Health Minister Greg Hunt this month.

This fight is really personal to me, Beverley says. Short of a cure, people with mito should at least have the option of having healthy children.

Mitochondria are microscopic structures in human cells that provide the body with energy. For this reason, they are often described as the cells powerhouse. They are crucially important: if your mitochondria fail or mutate, your body will be starved of energy, causing multiple organ failure and premature death.

A stylised representation of a mitochondrion, which provides the body with energy. Malfunction can lead to organ failure and death.Credit:Josh Robenstone

Mito, which is maternally inherited, usually affects the muscles and major organs such as the brain, heart, liver, inner ears, and eyes. But it can cause any symptom in any organ, at any age. Indeed, the term mito includes more than 200 disorders, the symptoms of which are maddeningly varied and seemingly unrelated, leading to delayed diagnoses or incorrect diagnoses or, indeed, no diagnosis.

Many of these people have been fobbed off by doctors or laughed off by people who think they are hypochondriacs, says Dr David Thorburn, a mitochondrial researcher at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, in Melbourne, who has diagnosed some 700 cases over the past 28 years. Most people are relieved to finally know what it is, because that is the end of that part of their journey.

Its sometimes said babies produced as a result of mitochondrial donation would have three parents the mother, the father, and the donor.

Up to two million people worldwide have some form of mito. - Others, like Beverley, who have a less severe type of the disease, will get adult onset, and can expect to become ill in their 30s, 40s or 50s.

According to Thorburn, One of the things that most dismays families with mito is the lack of control they have over passing the condition down to future generations of their family.

Remaining childless is one way to stop the condition from being passed down, as is adopting, but as Thorburn acknowledges, There is an innate desire in many individuals to have their own children. For these people, mito donation offers the very real prospect that the condition is eliminated from future generations.

Mitochondrial replacement is a highly specialised procedure, requiring a level of manual dexterity sufficient to manipulate a womans egg, which is roughly the width of a human hair. Within that egg is a nucleus, where a persons genes are located, and the cytoplasm, the jelly-like substance that surrounds it. Mitochondria are found in the cytoplasm.

Mitochondrial replacement involves taking a donor females healthy egg, removing its nucleus and replacing it with the nucleus of the woman affected by mitochondrial disease, but whose nucleus is healthy. The egg is then fertilised using her partners sperm. (Another option is to fertilise the egg first, and then swap the nucleus.) The resulting embryo is then implanted into the mother.

Researcher David Thorburn: "Mito donation offers the very real prospect that the condition is eliminated from future generations."Credit:Josh Robenstone

Since more than 99.9 per cent of our genes are found in the eggs nucleus, which remains unaffected, the procedure will have no impact on the childs height, hair colour or mannerisms. Despite that, its sometimes said that babies produced as a result of mitochondrial donation would have three parents the mother, the father, and the donor.

The technology has been tested in mice for more than 30 years, but only since 2009 has research been done on human embryos, mainly in the UK. Almost from the start, the research was subject to sensational headlines about scientists playing God, and the possibility of genetic engineering, with much of the hysteria being fuelled by anti-abortion groups. The Catholic Church described it as a further step in commodification of the human embryo and a failure to respect new individual human lives.

In 2012, the Human Genetics Alert, an independent watchdog group in London, wrote a paper comparing any baby produced with mitochondrial replacement to Frankensteins creation, since they would be produced by sticking together bits from many different bodies. According to the Conservative British MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, the procedure was not a cure for disease, it is the creating of a different person.

Regulators subjected the technology to four separate scientific reviews, together with rounds of ethical debate and community consultation. In 2015, the UK Parliament voted to legalise the technology for use in humans, on the proviso that it only be available to those women at high risk of passing on the disease. Since then, 13 couples in the UK have received the go-ahead to undergo the procedure.

Its unclear how many children, if any, have been born: the parents have asked that details not be published. Meanwhile, scientists like Thorburn wait eagerly for news of any developments. I know the UK researchers well and have asked several of them, and they are keeping completely quiet about it in respecting the families wishes, he says.

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If there have been babies born in the UK using the procedure, they arent the first. In April 2016, a child was born using the technique in Mexico, to a Jordanian mother who carried a fatal mitochondrial condition known as Leigh syndrome. The doctor in charge, an American fertility specialist called Dr John Zhang, later admitted that he had gone to Mexico because the procedure is illegal in America. In Mexico, he admitted, There are no rules.

Even those who want mitochondrial donation legalised in Australia concede that much remains unknown about the procedure. Its long-term risks can only be understood through lifelong health check-ups, but this is impossible until any children conceived via this procedure become adults. Implications for subsequent generations also remain unclear.

No medical procedure is 100 per cent safe, says Sean Murray, CEO of the Mito Foundation. But we think we are at the stage now where the benefits of the technology are greater than the risks.

One of the issues around safety concerns the compatibility of the donors mitochondria with the recipients nuclear genes. A 2016 study in mice suggested that mismatched mitochondria affected their metabolism and shortened their lives. Another concern is known as carryover, whereby a tiny amount of mutant mitochondria is inevitably transferred from the affected mothers egg into the donor egg during the procedure.

Instead of it being wiped out, the mutation might then reappear in the descendants of any girls born as a result. For this reason, some people have proposed that the procedure be restricted to male embryos only, but this raises all kinds of ethical issues around selective breeding and sex selection.

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Indeed, it often seems as if the term ethical minefield was coined especially with mitochondrial donation in mind.

My primary ethical concern has to do with the sanctity of human life, says Father Kevin McGovern, a Catholic priest and member of the National Health and Medical Research Councils Mitochondrial Donation Expert Working Committee.

If mitochondrial donation is permitted here, the technique most likely to be used is pronuclear transfer, which requires that both the donors egg and the affected mothers egg be fertilised. [This is to ensure that both eggs are at the same developmental stage.] But once the nucleus is removed from the donors fertilised egg, it is discarded. For people who believe that life begins at conception, this is akin to murder. You are creating two lives and destroying one for spare parts.

The Catholic Church has consistently opposed mitochondrial donation. In a Senate inquiry into the technology in 2018, Dr Bernadette Tobin, director of the Plunkett Centre for Ethics at the Australian Catholic University, suggested the process was intrinsically evil.

The inquiry also heard from Father Anthony Fisher, Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, who raised concerns about the moral right of the child to know how he or she was conceived the problem of what he called genealogical bewilderment and the donors right to remain anonymous. He also worried that women might effectively become egg vending machines: The availability of human ova is often assumed when people talk about reproductive technology as if they were somehow there in a cupboard to be used. In fact, it means women have to be used to obtain these eggs. They are extracted by invasive procedures that do carry some risk.

A report by medical experts into mitochondrial donation and its potential application in Australia is due to be delivered to Health Minister Greg Hunt this month. Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Equally troubling for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, the peak national body for the churchs bishops, was the fact that mitochondrial donation involved conceiving babies not by marital intercourse [but by] a technical procedure.

Most of these concerns are redundant, argues the Mito Foundations Sean Murray. We already have a well defined regulatory framework for dealing with all this, he says. As far as the donors right to remain anonymous, we would defer to the appropriate federal or state and territory regulations that apply for sperm or egg donations. In regard to a kids right to know they had a mitochondrial donor, societally there seems to be a preference to inform kids. Its important for them to understand their genetic lineage.

Then theres the matter of consent. The parents can wrestle with the ethical issues and weigh up all the risks, but the only person who cant consent to the procedure is the unborn child. Well, says Murray, they cant consent to being born with mito, either.

The Mito Foundations Sean Murray: "In regard to a kids right to know they had a mitochondrial donor, societally there seems to be a preference to inform kids."Credit:Joshua Morris

Murray, 47, is one of the founding directors of the Mito Foundation, which was established in Sydney in 2009. Mito runs in my family, he says. My older brother, Peter, died of it in 2009 at 45, and my mum passed away in 2011, at 70. What people often dont understand is that even in families that have mito, each member can have different mutational loads basically, different amounts of bad mitochondria. Peter got a high load, but I didnt. Thats why Im still here.

A computer scientist by training, Murray now works full-time on the foundation. Much of his job involves travelling around the country, explaining mito to politicians, journalists and philanthropists, raising funds for research and, most crucially, advocating for a change to the laws.

Mitochondrial donation falls foul of two pieces of legislation: the Research Involving Human Embryos Act 2002, and the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction Act 2002. The laws prohibit the implantation of a human embryo that contains more than two peoples genetic material. The laws were subject to a mandatory review in 2010, but the then Labor government recommended they remain the same.

In 2013, the Mito Foundation urged the government to revisit its decision. Two years later, it began lobbying in earnest. What we tried to get across was that the science around mito donation has come a long way since 2010, says Murray. Also, the process that the UK went through to legalise it really reassured us that the procedure is safe and effective.

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In the past five years, Murray and his colleagues have consulted with more than 100 MPs and senators. Only one of them, according to Murray, said I dont like this. They have also talked to dozens of industry experts, including academics and medical and research bodies, about the benefits of mitochondrial donation. Most of them get it straight away, he says. We are talking about a technique that will prevent the chance of having a morbidly ill child.

Now, a breakthrough appears imminent. In February 2019, Health Minister Greg Hunt asked the National Health and Medical Research Council to look into the matter, review the science and conduct public consultation. The NHMRC is due to hand its report to Hunt this month. The expectation among the mito community is that he will recommend the laws be changed. Any proposals would then need to be debated in Parliament, where issues around reproductive medicine have, in the past, been hotly contested.

Murray expects some opposition from more conservative MPs, but nothing like the rancour seen in the NSW Parliament during last years debate over legalising abortion. Shadow health minister Chris Bowen has, for his part, said that Labor will support changing the laws.

Mitochondrial sufferer Shelley Beverley at home in Tasmania. This fight is really personal to me. Credit:Peter Mathew

Whether this will help people like Shelley Beverley is unclear. If Hunt gives it the green light, it will take two years at least for mitochondrial donation to become available to prospective parents, given the time involved in drafting and passing legislation, establishing a regulatory regime and getting doctors up to speed with the technology.

This will probably be too late for Beverley. I really only have about a year left to give it a go, she tells me. After that, my symptoms may progress and biologically things get worse after 35. She says she would consider going to the UK for the treatment, but that at present they are not accepting international patients.

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In the meantime, she watches TV, and reads a little, but not too much. (It puts me to sleep.) She gardens: she has a bed of huge white and pink roses out the back of her house, as a memorial to her mother and brother. And she eats. James cooks for me. He lets me choose the best meat and potatoes! Ive put on weight since I met him. She describes James as something close to an angel. He will listen to every problem I have or feeling I experience. He will always put me first.

Beverley started going out with James when she was 21, right around the time she first went deaf. I was so scared that he wouldnt like me as much. I remember calling him and saying I was scared he would leave me. But James is still here. Im very lucky to have him, she says. If I go, I want him to have a part of me.

To read more from Good Weekend magazine, visit our page at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Brisbane Times.

Tim Elliott is a senior writer with Good Weekend.

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How far should genetic engineering go to allow this couple to have a healthy baby? - Sydney Morning Herald

Genetically targeted chemical assembly of functional materials in living cells, tissues, and animals – Science Magazine

From genetics to material to behavior

Introducing new genes into an organism can endow new biochemical functions or change the patterns of existing functions, but extending these manipulations to structure at the tissue level is challenging. Combining genetic engineering and polymer chemistry, Liu et al. directly leveraged complex cellular architectures of living organisms to synthesize, fabricate, and assemble bioelectronic materials (see the Perspective by Otto and Schmidt). An engineered enzyme expressed in genetically targeted neurons synthesized conductive polymers in tissues of freely moving animals. These polymers enabled modulation of membrane properties in specific neuron populations and manipulation of behavior in living animals.

Science, this issue p. 1372; see also p. 1303

The structural and functional complexity of multicellular biological systems, such as the brain, are beyond the reach of human design or assembly capabilities. Cells in living organisms may be recruited to construct synthetic materials or structures if treated as anatomically defined compartments for specific chemistry, harnessing biology for the assembly of complex functional structures. By integrating engineered-enzyme targeting and polymer chemistry, we genetically instructed specific living neurons to guide chemical synthesis of electrically functional (conductive or insulating) polymers at the plasma membrane. Electrophysiological and behavioral analyses confirmed that rationally designed, genetically targeted assembly of functional polymers not only preserved neuronal viability but also achieved remodeling of membrane properties and modulated cell typespecific behaviors in freely moving animals. This approach may enable the creation of diverse, complex, and functional structures and materials within living systems.

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Genetically targeted chemical assembly of functional materials in living cells, tissues, and animals - Science Magazine

Timeline Shows 3 Paths To COVID-19 Treatment And Prevention (INFOGRAPHIC) – Forbes

In uncertain times, we are witnessing one of the greatest moments in the history of science.

A projected timeline for treatment and prevention of the novel coronavirus. Although we are living ... [+] through uncertain times, we are also witnessing one of the greatest moments in science history.

Scientists are breaking speed records in their race to develop treatments for the new coronavirus. Some are panning through old molecules hoping to find effective drugs. Others are applying the latest breakthroughs in synthetic biology to engineer sophisticated treatments and vaccines.

Ive previously talked about some synthetic biology companies are racing to create treatments. Others like Mammoth Biosciences are developing much-needed testing. Every day brings additional reports of the latest breakthroughs from around the world. But how can we make sense of all this information?

To provide a big-picture perspective, SynBioBeta and Leaps by Bayer have partnered to help visualize the overall progress of the research community. At the heart of the project is an infographic showing the timeline to the various treatments and preventions (click here to download it). Its based on data from The Milken Institute, which recently released a detailed tracker to monitor the progress of each of the more than 60 known COVID-19 treatments and preventions currently in development.

One takeaway: the progress to develop coronavirus treatments and preventions is moving at an unprecedented pace, with historic records being broken nearly every week.

The crisis response from the global biotech community has been truly inspiring, says Juergen Eckhardt, SVP and Head of Leaps by Bayer, a unit of Bayer AG that leads impact investments into solutions to some of todays biggest challenges in health and agriculture. We are excited to partner on this visual timeline to help a broader audience understand how and when scientific innovation may bring us through this deeply challenging time.

COVID19: Projected timeline for treatment and prevention. Three paths: pre-existing drugs, antibody ... [+] therapies, and vaccines.

There are standard stages to getting a drug approved. In Phase 1 trials, a drugs safety is assessed in a small group of healthy subjects. In later stages (Phase II & III), efficacy is measured in a larger number of people, often versus a placebo. The situation with COVID-19 is predicted to become so dire so quickly, however, that many are looking to fast-track testing. This could include granting experimental drugs expanded access, for compassionate use, which would allow physicians to give them to patients who are critically ill before testing is complete.

The fastest way to safely stop COVID-19 would be to discover that an already-approved medication works against it. Repurposed drugs do not require the same extensive testing as novel medicines and may already be available in large quantities. The Milken Institutes tracker identifies 7 candidate drugs in this category.

One is the malarial medicine chloroquine, which in recent days has been touted by some as a possible miracle drug against the coronavirus. German pharmaceutical company Bayer last week donated three million tablets of chloroquine to the U.S. The FDA and academics are together investigating whether it can provide relief to COVID-19 patients.

There are hundreds if not thousands of other FDA-approved drugs on the market that are already proven safe in humans and that may have treatment potential against COVID-19, so many scientists are rapidly screening the known drug arsenal in hopes of discovering an effective compound.

Antibodies are proteins that are a natural part of the human immune system. They work around the clock in blood to block viruses and more. The problem at the moment is that because the novel coronavirus (known as SARS-CoV-2) is new, no one has had time to develop antibodies against it.No one, that is, except those who have recovered from COVID-19.

Antibodies taken from those people could help patients who are still infected. Such patient-to-patient transfers can be performed without extensive testing or lengthy approval processes so long as standard protocols are followed. It is yet unknown whether this treatment option will work for COVID-19, nor whether there will be enough recovered donors to deal with the infection at scale.

To improve this process, companies like Vancouver, WA-based AbCellera are applying new biotechnologies.

AbCellera is using proprietary tools and machine learning to rapidly screen through millions of B cells from patients who recovered from COVID-19. B cells are responsible for producing antibodies. The company has announced a partnership with Eli Lilly on this project and aims to bring its hottest antibodies those that neutralize the virus to the clinic.

AbCellera's platform has delivered, with unprecedented speed, by far the world's largest panel of anti-SAR-CoV-2 antibodies," said Carl Hansen, Ph.D., CEO of AbCellera, in a statement. "In 11 days, we've discovered hundreds of antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for the current outbreak, moved into functional testing with global experts in virology, and signed a co-development agreement with one of the world's leading biopharmaceutical companies. We're deeply impressed with the speed and agility of Lilly's response to this global challenge. Together, our teams are committed to delivering a countermeasure to stop the outbreak."

James Crowe at Vanderbilt University is also sifting through the blood of recovered patients. Using a new instrument called Beacon from a company called Berkeley Lights. Crowes team has been scouring through B cells to find antibodies that neutralize SARS-CoV-2. The technology behind this project was developed in recent years with funds from the Department of Defense.

Normally this would be a five year program, Crowe told me. But in the rapid process his team is following, animal studies could be done in as fast as two months.

This morning, Berkeley Lights announced a Global Emerging Pathogen Antibody Discovery Consortium (GEPAD) to attack COVID-19 and other viruses. It is partnering with Vanderbilt University, La Jolla Institute for Immunology, and Emory University to accelerate the work above to the broader research community.

This collaboration also included commercial partners, including Twist Bioscience, who synthesized DNA for the project.

Our mission is to provide the raw material needed for biologists to make breakthroughs, said Twists CEO Emily Leproust. If DNA is needed, we want to make it, quickly and perfectly

Another company that specializes in DNA synthesis, SGI-DNA, is offering its tools at much reduced cost to researchers developing COVID-19 treatments. The company said that people from around the world are coming to them for help.

"There is zero time to waste," said Todd R. Nelson, Ph.D., CEO of SGI-DNA. He said that researchers need synthetic DNA and RNA, which its Bio-XP machine can provide in as little as eight hours.

Nelson continued, "In a matter of a day or two, we have built the genes thought to be critical to the development of successful vaccines against SARS-CoV-2. SGI-DNA has made them available in the form of different genetic libraries, which researchers can use to find druggable targets in a matter of hours, dramatically accelerating the time to market for therapeutics and vaccines.

Beyond searching for antibodies in recovered patients, biotechnologists have other tricks up their sleeves.

One approach involves genetically engineering laboratory mice to mimic the human immune system. These animals can then be presented with the virus or parts of the virus and allowed to recover. The hope is that their B cells would then produce effective antibodies. Because this happens in a controlled setting, biologists can better understand and engineer the process.

A company called GenScript was pursuing this strategy as early as February 4, when police escorted 8 transgenic mice immunized with the 2019 nCoV antigen to research labs in China. In 12 hours, its researchers successfully found specific antibodies in the mice that could recognize the novel virus and potentially block it from binding to cells. In less than 24 hoursagain using Berkeley Lights new Beacon instrument for working with thousands of individual, live cellsGenScript completed a series of steps that would have taken three months using previous technology.

Yet another approach involves computational approaches and artificial intelligence. Firms like Distributed Bio are using computers to reengineer antibodies to better target SARS-CoV-2. The company is optimizing antibodies that are known to target SARS-CoV-1, the virus behind the 2003 outbreak of SARS.

We believe broadly neutralizing antibodies with engineered biophysical properties will become key weapons to win the war against all coronaviruses said Jake Glanville, CEO of Distributed Bio.

Vaccines work by simulating infection, which allows the body to mount its own defense against a virus. Effective vaccines take time to develop, and they can take even longer to test. But recent progress in biotechnology is again accelerating these efforts.

Notably, Moderna has launched a Phase 1 vaccine trial against COVID-19 in record time. Patients in Seattle have already begun receiving injections of an experimental mRNA vaccine. Moderna cranked out doses of this and won approval from the FDA for testing in just 44 days an all-time record.

These programs show a massive focus on a common enemy, and a coming together of disparate firms.

Ginkgo Bioworks, a giant in the emerging field of synthetic biology, has announced a $25 million fund to help spur even more collaboration. The company is offering its laboratory equipment and know-how to anyone with a good idea of how to stop COVID-19. We dont want any scientists to have to wait. The pandemic has already arrived, so the time for rapid prototyping and scale-up is right now, said Jason Kelly, CEO of Ginkgo.

These effortsand the infographic aboveshould give you hope. Although we are all now living in uncertain times, we are also witnessing one of the greatest moments in the history of science.

It's a terrible time, and simultaneously a fantastic time to see the global science community working together to conquer this very hard and challenging disease, said Berkeley Lights CEO Eric Hobbs. We are also learning and developing the tools and technologies to ensure that we can react faster to the next threat, so that we don't get to this point again in the future.

Follow me on twitter at @johncumbers and @synbiobeta. Subscribe to my weekly newsletters in synthetic biology.

Thank you to Ian Haydon and Kevin Costa for additional research and reporting in this article. Im the founder of SynBioBeta, and some of the companies that I write aboutincluding Leaps by Bayer, Mammoth Biosciences, Distributed Bio, Twist Bioscience, SGI-DNA, Genscript, Berkeley Lights, and Ginkgo Bioworksare sponsors of the SynBioBeta conference and weekly digest heres the full list of SynBioBeta sponsors.

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Timeline Shows 3 Paths To COVID-19 Treatment And Prevention (INFOGRAPHIC) - Forbes

COVID 19: 21st Century Reality Check – The Globalist

The impact of COVID 19 is far-reaching and profound. The virus is unseen and moving fast. It can infect without symptoms. Its use of innocent carriers makes everyone suspect.

It also attacks in a random fashion, with just enough victims to easily lead the rest to the edge of panic. And while COVID 19 appears to kill 20 to 30 times more people than the worst form of flu, it seems to still be like a common cold, in that it may not be strong enough for the body to develop a lasting immune system response.

In spite of the earlier hype, artificial intelligence (AI) has singularly failed to help much.

There was little in the way of predictive analytics about where the pandemic would strike and how it would develop.

The jury is also out on another much-touted darling, biotechnology. Biotech has yet to offer anything like a silver bullet.

Meanwhile, the entire world waits with baited breath for a designer drug or vaccine spliced and stitched up with genetic engineering tools like CRISPR, to vanquish COVID 19.

At the present stage, we cant even answer very simple questions: What comes when this current peak wanes?

All we seem to know is that there will be a new normal. For the foreseeable future, it may not be like anything before.

There is even a good chance some of the same questions we now face may still be around during the next peak of infections, and the one after.

Amidst all this hand-wringing and unleashing of previously unseen economic rescue packages, only the Anglo-Saxons and the Calvinist Dutch have asked the Mother of all Questions:

Who is prepared to pay the price for an abnormal, new normal ? And what exactly will this look like?

The first victim of COVID 19 is likely to be tourism. Which matters because it is one of the worlds biggest economic sectors.

The era of retirement voyages on cruise ships is probably sunk for good. But what about airlines, the lifeblood of the 21st centurys globalized economy?

After all, this is an industry where passengers are even far more densely packed than on cruise ships, sitting squeezed together for hours on end in an air-tight tube.

Worse, owing to the industrys mantra of operating a hub-and-spokes system at airports, a single asymptomatic carrier may be enough to kindle a burgeoning cycle of infections in many different countries.

That evidently is what happened at resorts in Austria and Italy during that fateful ski holiday week at the end of February.

Note as well that, in 2003 when COVID 19s SARS cousin sprouted in China, 1.65 billion people travelled by air that year. In 2018, the figure was already two-and-a-half times higher, at 4.2 billion.

Moving up and down the economic value chain produces only more of the same uncomfortable questions.

Here are some of the pertinent questions to be asked:

1. What is the business outlook for AirBnB, co-living, bars and cafes, discos and cinemas, open-air markets?

2. Will remote learning be the death knell for brick-and-mortar university campuses?

3. How virus-proofed are food and fruit supply chains from Spain to northern Europe, from Mexico to the United States?

4. Do the lorries backed up at borders within the Schengen area conceal refugees?

5. At a time when emergency services are stretched, what is the chance of a terror attack, and how effective would be a response?

6. And although it is clear that a lockdown reduces most targets for a mass casualty attack, there is one notable exception the public hospital.

Most of the world remains hopeful about vaccination against COVID 19. However, a successful vaccine is unlikely to be ready before the end of this year.

After this, there will be the challenge of ramping up production and organizing the immunization of billions of people.

In the meanwhile, should one or more pharmacological treatments be successful, the question remains: How many can be treated, and where?

With 5-10% of COVID 19 cases needing ventilator support, is there room for drive-in halfway houses, between home and hospital, or hospital and intensive care?

In many parts of Europe, serious debate about such questions have been derailed by newsbytes and occasional self-congratulation about hospitals and ICUs.

Way beyond this, tough questions need to be faced. One of the most immediate issues is strategic self-sufficiency.

Take the case of Germany, the presumed master of infrastructure spending and planning. With war out of fashion in Europe, little attention was given to the amazing finding that a large part of Germanys fighter jets, helicopters, tanks and submarines did not work when tested.

This was largely an ideological battle between the left and the political center. However, public health should be another matter.

Nobody is really surprised that there was a severe shortage of face masks even in hospitals in Italy. But why on earth is there one in Germany?

Health systems in ageing societies may lack nurses and lab technicians but face masks?

Just how off we are on our presumably modern reaction and thought patterns, consider this: Before the COVID 19 crisis, the world was obsessed about plastics, of doing away with them.

As is ironically turns out now, the best defense against viral contamination is a plastic barrier. All of a sudden everybody prays for plastics Great Return.

Amidst the many ethics questions we will have to ponder, there are two lessons which COVID 19 might teach us.

1. To pay for the panoply of ever-cheaper products we do not really need, we have lived our lives on a curve of diminishing returns. There will be a recession, probably a severe one, but the world economy will recover. To what degree is our choice.

2. As we sit locked down at home, we can celebrate the return of time. We do not need to overwork to save for free time, at a later date.

It may also be salutary to remember that refugees did not cause the 21st centurys first pandemic. Tourists did.

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COVID 19: 21st Century Reality Check - The Globalist

After Coronavirus the World Will Never Be the Same. But Maybe, It Can Be Better – Singularity Hub

Life has changed a lot in the past few days, weeks, or months, depending where you live. As efforts to contain the novel coronavirus ramp up, its likely going to change even more. But were already sick of being at home all the time, we miss our friends and families, everythings been canceled, the economy is tanking, and we feel anxious and scared about whats ahead.

We just want this to be over, and we figure its only a matter of time. Were making plans for what well do when things go back to normaland banking on that happening.

But what if life never fully goes back to how it was pre-coronavirus? What if this epidemic is a turning point, and after it the world is never the same?

More importantlyor, at least, more optimisticallywhat if the world could come out of this crisis better than it was before?

Jamie Metzl, technology and healthcare futurist, geopolitical expert, entrepreneur, author of Hacking Darwin: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Humanity, and Senior Fellow of the Atlantic Council, thinks this is possiblebut it all depends on what we do and how we behave right now. In a talk at Singularity Universitys virtual summit on COVID-19 last week, Metzl explained why he believes that were never going back to normaland what we should be doing now to make the new normal a good one.

For many of us, the most impactful geopolitical event thats happened during our lifetime was the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The world changed that day, and its never returned to how it was before.

A flu-like pandemic with a relatively low mortality rate may seem minor compared to the deliberate murder of thousands of innocent people. But, Metzl said, Its my contention that this isnt a 2001 moment, this is something much bigger. I think of this as a 1941 moment.

1941 was the thick of World War II. Nobody knew what the outcome of the war was going to be, everybody was terrified, and the US and its allies were losing the war. But even in the height of those darkest of times, Metzl said, people began imagining what the future world would look.

It was 1941 when President Roosevelt gave his famous Four Freedoms speech, and when American and British leadership issued the Atlantic Charter, which set out their vision for the post-war international order. To this day, our lives exist within that order.

The situation were in right now is, of course, different; its not a war. It is, in Metzls words, a convergence of the worlds of science and biology and the world of geopolitics. And as the coronavirus crisis continues to play out, its geopolitical implications are going to become much greater.

Metzl shared a quote from Italian Communist theorist Antonio Gramsci, written in the 1930s: The old world is dying and the new world struggles to be born. Now is the time of monsters.

Oofthats a big statement.

Metzl deconstructed it. For starters, he said, the post-WWII order that weve all grown up with was dying before this virus appeared.

Post-WWII planners envisioned a world that shared sovereignty and curbed nationalism. But were now in a period of dramatic re-nationalization of the world, with populist, extremist, or authoritarian leaders in power from Brazil to the US to China, and many countries in between.

Institutions intended to foster global cooperation (like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations, and the World Health Organization) have been starved in the context of this re-nationalization, and as a result we dont have effective structures in place to address global crisesand not just coronavirus. Think of climate change, protecting the oceans, preparing for a future of automation and AI; no country can independently take on or solve these massive challenges.

Not all is lost, though. There are some positive pieces of this globalization story that we also need to be mindful of, Metzl said.

When the Spanish flu pandemic hit in 1918, there were only 2 billion people on Earth, and of those 2 billion only 30 percent were literate.; the brain pool for solving problems was about 600 million people.

Now we have a global population of 7.5 billion and an 86 percent literacy rate, which means over 6.5 billion people can be part of the effort to fix whats broken. Just as crucially, were more connected to each other than weve ever been. It used to take thousands of years for knowledge to transfer; now it can fly across the world over the internet in minutes. The pandemic moves at the speed of globalization, but so does the response, Metzl said. The tools were bringing to this fight are greater than anything our ancestors could have possibly imagined.

But at the same time were experiencing this incredible bottom-up energy and connectivity, were also experiencing an abysmal failure of our top-down institutions.

Have you felt afraid these last few days and weeks? I sure have. The economy is tanking, people are losing their jobs, people are getting sick, and we dont know the way out or how how long its going to last. In the meantime, a lot of unexpected things will happen.

There will be an economic slowdown or recession, and there will be issues with our healthcare systemsand these are just the predictable things. Metzl believes well also see significant second and third-order effects. If the poorer parts of the world get hit hard by the virus, we may see fragile states collapsing, and multi-lateral states like the European Union unable to support the strain. Our democracies are going to be challenged, and there may be soft coups even here in the US, Metzl said. Speaking of challenges to democracy, there are actors whose desires and aspirations are very different from our own, and this could be a moment of opportunity for them.

The world is not going to snap back to being exactly like it was before this crisis happened, Metzl said. Were going to come out of this into a different world.

We dont know exactly what that world will look like, but we can imagine some of it. Basically, take the trends that were already in motion and hit the fast-forward button. Virtualization of events, activities, and interactions. Automation of processes and services. Political and economic decentralization.

But for the pieces of the future that were unsure of, now is 1941. Now is the time when we need to think about what we would like the new world to look like, and start planning for it and building it, Metzl said.

In hindsight, its easy to picture a far better response and outcome to the COVID-19 outbreak. What if, three months ago, thered been a global surveillance system in place, and at the first signs of the outbreak, an international emergency team led by the World Health Organization had immediately gone to Wuhan?

Weall of usneed to re-invigorate a global system that can engage people inclusively across differences and across countries, Metzl said. We need to be articulating our long-term vision now so that we can evaluate everything against that standard.

Theres not a total lack of a positive long-term vision now; the UN sustainable development goals, for example, call for gender equality, no poverty, no hunger, decent work, climate action, and justice (among other goals) around the world.

The problem is that we dont have institutions meaningful enough or strong enough to effect realization of these principles; theres a mismatch between the global nature of the problems were facing and the structure of national politics.

Just as our old normal was the new normal for our grandparents in the mid-1900s, this new normal that feels so shocking to us right now will simply be normal for our children and grandchildren. But there are some criticaland wonderfuldifferences between the mid-1900s and now.

We have more educated people, stronger connections, faster sharing of information, and more technological tools and scientific knowledge than ever before in history. The number of people who can be part of this conversation is unprecedented, Metzl said. We couldnt have done this in the industrial age or even the nuclear age. Theres never been this kind of motivation combined with this capacity around the world.

In 1941, the global planning process was top-down: a small group of powerful, smart people decided how things would be then took steps to make their vision a reality. But this time will be different; to succeed, the new global plan will need to have meaningful drive from the bottom up.

We need to recognize a new locus of power, Metzl said. And its us. Nobody is going to solve this for us. This is our moment to really come together.

Image Credit: Joseph Redfield Nino from Pixabay

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After Coronavirus the World Will Never Be the Same. But Maybe, It Can Be Better - Singularity Hub

If and when it has time, the UK must ponder its post-Brexit biotech options – just-food.com

Johnson has championed deregulation and divergence from the EU on GM

In the three years after the UK's referendum on EU membership, it was often said Brexit had monopolised the political agenda leaving precious little "bandwidth" for anything else. But who would have imagined an issue of such magnitude was about to emerge that would consign Brexit to the "and in other news" section of TV bulletins?

That the biggest Brexit story last week was that EU negotiator Michel Barnier had tested positive for coronavirus and David Frost, his UK counterpart, is self-isolating after showing symptoms, tells its own story.

A few critical and challenging issues had dominated the long debates over the UK's membership of the EU, while undeniably important topics, including the country's differences with Brussels over genetic modification and biotechnology, were relatively little discussed. However, UK prime minister Boris Johnson is going some way to correcting that.

Boris backs British biotech

Since securing his premiership and withdrawal from the EU, Johnson has repeatedly made a point of championing deregulation and divergence from the EU on GM as a Brexit boon for the UK and a priority for his administration. Johnson also appointed George Eustice, a longstanding and vocal critic of the EU approach, as Secretary of State at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Based rigidly on the precautionary principle, EU regulations both on planting GM crops and commercialising foods made from GMO ingredients are consideredby many scientists overly restrictive and lengthy. Over the years, governments and policymakers from across the political divide have sympathised with that view but could do no more than push for reform in Brussels.

Johnson now has the opportunity to put the UK on a different footing. His intended direction of travel is clear, though GM is a highly contentious issue that could challenge even his libertarian instincts.

There has been strong support for deregulation on biotech in the scientific community for many years, so Johnson's remarks have been welcomed enthusiastically by crop scientists.

Professor Jonathan Jones of The Sainsbury Laboratory crop research institute, a practitioner and energetic proponent of GM technology for three decades, bemoans the "glacial" progress of GM regulation, but says the Johnson rhetoric is "exciting".

However, he cautions: "Of course, he's not delivered everything he's promised in the past but I think he's serious on this one. How rapidly we get there from here I don't know. It's complicated."

Consumer fears easily provoked

A prime challenge is the consumer concern and suspicion GM has always attracted. This has engendered a highly cautionary approach by retailers, as reflected in a comment from Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at UK food retail trade body The British Retail Consortium, for this article. "Retailers do not currently sell genetically-modified food under their own brands and would not do so unless there is a change in consumer demand," Opie says.

"Activist groups often behave irresponsibly in terms of inflaming public fears about something that is totally benign"

Others would say consumer fears which, while borne partly out of the understandable natural caution people have about technology related to food, are stoked by misinformation and sensationalised reporting, resulting in the retailers' and public policy being led by the least well informed on the topic. "Activist groups often behave irresponsibly in terms of inflaming public fears about something that is totally benign," Prof. Jones contends.

Food manufacturers have also been somewhat reticent about supporting GM publicly, even if they recognise the benefits of the technology.

Asked by just-food for its view on where the UK should go on biotech, the UK food manufacturing representative body The Food and Drink Federation, states: "FDF believes that modern biotechnology, including genetic modificationand new breeding techniques, offers considerable potential to improve the quality and quantity of [the] food supply and could contribute to sustainability by helping to produce more food using fewer resources and with less impact on the environment. FDF recognises that the impact of biotechnology must be objectively assessed, based on sound science and evidence, and be underpinned by an effective regulatory landscape."

The recognition of the potential benefits but a reluctance to go into battle on behalf of GM can clearly be seen in that statement. While Prof. Jones brands current policies on GM as the "tyranny of the more risk-averse", he says he "totally understands the brand reputation pressures both manufacturers and retailers are under". They see "a little bit of upside in terms of cost reduction but a vast amount of downside in terms of risking damage to my precious brand".

All this means biotech has been somewhat friendless, not receiving the widespread support from the private sector that technological innovation in other fields often can. Its backing by "Big Agri" has obviously been significant globally but the associations within that sector help foster some of the distrust, giving environmental campaigners a potent focus for their activities that has resonated with the public.

Farmer support

The National Farmers Union has generally been more publicly supportive of GM, however. Helen Ferrier, chief science and regulatory affairs adviser at the NFU, says it supports a "proportionate and enabling" regulatory framework on GM.

Vicki Hird of food and environment pressure group Sustain, however, suggests the picture is more mixed. "There's a lot of farmers I know who aren't members of the NFU [who] have a position on GM and biotech which is quite different from the NFU," Hird says, adding that protection of their European market will be a prime concern for many, underlining the influence ongoing negotiations could have on the UK's biotech ambitions.

"The UK currently remains aligned with the EU in its approach to genetically modified food. The UK's stance beyond January 2021 will depend very much on the outcome of trade negotiations," the BRC's Opie says.

Gene-editing move?

Where there could be more immediate progress is in the field of new gene-editing techniques. Dr Richard Harrison, director of Cambridge Crop Research, part of the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB), is leading research utilising modern gene-editing techniques, including CRISPR-Cas9, to modify the genetic make-up of the Fusarium venenatum fungus, the mycoprotein source for meat substitute brand Quorn, owned by Philippines group Monde Nissin.

"We're trying to understand how the fungus uses different carbon sources, and also how it regulates responses to nitrogen as well, because if we could understand that, then we'd be able to use a far greater range of crop-based carbon sources to produce mycoprotein," Harrison explains.

Being able to vary what mycoprotein is fed on could broaden the options for how and where mycoprotein can be sustainably produced as a meat alternative. The research is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, with Quorn manufacturer Quorn Foods, a subsidiary of Monde Nissin,as a project partner and co-funder.

However, Harrison stresses the objective is not to produce a genetically engineered Fusarium venenatum that Marlow Foods might then commercialise, but that the gene-editing techniques are being used as "a research tool to validate our hypotheses".

Speaking to just-food last year, then Quorn Foods CEO Kevin Brennan said the company would "never go anywhere near genetic modification". This is not surprising and is common position among food companies. Owing to a 2018 European Court of Justice ruling, any food produced from ingredients derived from the gene-editing processes Harrison's team is employing would be subject to the EU's GM regulations and would have to be labelled as containing GMOs.

Brennan said the research "provides underpinning science for alternative carbohydrates but also to support feed optimisation". He continued: "If we can understand at a granular level what the organism reacts to we can optimise feedstock to encourage the ideal growth".

Ironically, some older and less accurate mutagenesis techniques, such as using gamma radiation and chemicals to alter genetic profile, fall outside the EU regulation. "All scientists are asking for is an objective evaluation rather than emotive one," Harrison adds.

In common with many scientists, Harrison believes EU regulations on genetic modification and gene editing to be overly restrictive and an impediment to scientific progress, not least as it discourages private-sector investment. So, would there be greater commercial opportunities for food companies, and consequently more investment in research, if the UK were to diverge from EU biotech regulations?

"Would a more proportionate regulatory framework bring in more investment? I think the answer is yes"

Harrison has no doubt there would, and Prof. Jones concurs. "Would a more proportionate regulatory framework bring in more investment? I think the answer is yes."

The NFU's Ferrier also believes regulatory reform will boost investment. "What we're interested in as an organisation is that you're able to move from the research into private-sector R&D and then commercialisation, because as long as seed companies don't see the EU and the UK as somewhere that they want to invest in, then you can do as much brilliant science as you like but the UK, farmers, society, environment, won't get any of the benefit because it will just stay in the research community."

Climate emergency

With regard to the regulation of genetic technologies in food production overall, Harrison urges a strictly evidence-led approach, not least given the challenges posed by climate change.

"There is enormous potential to grow crops with fewer pesticides by using naturally-occurring, disease-resistance genes. You could do that through traditional breeding but that takes a long time and costs a lot of money. Genetic technology makes it a lot faster and we should really have access in the 21st century to those technologies because we rapidly need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Genetic technology could really be a powerful tool to accelerate our decarbonisation of the foodchain."

Prof. Jones adds: "We need every tool in the toolbox to address the perfect storm of rising temperatures, greenhouse gas emissions and rising population."

While recognising the benefits of separating gene-editing technology from GM, Prof. Jones is concerned arguing in favour of this may unintentionally lend weight to the view that there is still something to be feared in genetic engineering. "There are literally dozens of technologies like that that would be fantastic for the sustainability of agriculture, that you can only really accomplish by moving genes from one plant to another or by moving genes between bacteria and plants which is something that's happened naturally in evolution scores of times," he says, strongly urging the government to follow through on its supportive stance on GM.

Nevertheless, gene editing could be the more immediate movethat is easier to negotiate politically and practically. It is also almost impossible to imagine the UK moving out of the transition period with an ECJ ruling featuring in its legislation. Ferrier believes the UK could also work with other member states, many of which were concerned by the ECJ ruling, to move EU opinion on the issue. "This is the opportunity to work with other member states who are similarly concerned about it. That is an area that the UK research sector can have a strength in and it is a really exciting area for developing products that farmers could grow."

While the UK government is so far holding to its December deadline, the coronavirus pandemic seems highly likely to result in the extension of the transition period. When it does finally leave the EU, the UK is likely, at the very least, to have a different regulatory approach to gene editing, if not immediately on GM overall.

When exactly the transition period will now end, however, may depend more on how successful scientists have been at understanding the genome of Covid-19 than the genetic composition of any food crop.

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If and when it has time, the UK must ponder its post-Brexit biotech options - just-food.com

Covid 19: HOMEF Cautions On Use of Biodiversity – Leadership Newspaper

The Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Dr Nnimo Bassey has called for sober consideration on the development and use of Biodiversity following the virtual shut down of global economy.

Dr Bassey gave the charge in his welcome remarks at a stakeholders conference which held in Abuja on Monday, March 23, 2020 with the theme Agricultural Technofixes and the state of Biosafety in Nigeria.

In his words The world is virtually shut down due to the ravages of a virus. This is no time for grandstanding or for anyone to claim that they have got anything under control.

He said addressing the issues of agricultural technofixes and the state of our Biosafety gives us the template to consider the current situation in our world and the unpredictability of what could happen next. Noting that while scenario planners may have foreseen a pandemic of the scale that Corona virus has provoked, it comes as a total surprise to the average person.

The Activist emphasised that they had had on several occasions warned that things could go deeply wrong and out of hands if humans persist in toying with the genetic make up of living organisms for the consideration of power in a few moguls and for profit, adding that when humans engineer crops to make them act as pesticides, nature offers super pest or super bugs.

In any case humans get trapped in needless and unwinnable battles against nature he said

Recently, mainstream genetic engineering has progressed to the level of editing genetic makeup of organisms and not necessarily having to engage in trans-species transfer of genetic materials.This has focussed on becoming extinction technologies

He maintained that while modern biotechnology promoters like the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) and the regulatory National Biosafety Management Agency(NBMA) feel confident that they can handle any sort of technicalities in both the mainstream and newfields of extreme technofixes We are deeply concerned that their grandstanding would not stop the purveyors of these technologies from weaponising them.

Giving the opening remarks, Minister of state for Environment, Barrister Sharon Ikeazor, stated that, With Nigerias population projected to exceed 400 million by 2050, an immediate priority for agricultural is to maximize crop productivity in a manner that is environmentally friendly, sustainable and cost effective.

The Minister who was represented by the Director General/CEO, National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), Dr. Rufus Ebegba said Government efforts to ensure food security have been challenged by climate change effects such as droughts and floods, erratic weather conditions and declining soil fertility among others.

The Minister said to address these challenges, Nigeria has adopted several technologies including modern agricultural biotechnology to ensure food security in the country.

She maintained that to protect biological diversity from the potential risks posed by products arising from modern biotechnology such as Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and ensure international best practices in the application of modern biotechnology, Nigeria has put in place the necessary legal and policy instruments to guide its development and safe use.

The Minister however noted that Biodiversity in Nigeria is under enormous pressure and highly threatened due to land use changes from agriculture and over grazing,over exploitation of natural resources, environmental pollution and climate change.

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Covid 19: HOMEF Cautions On Use of Biodiversity - Leadership Newspaper

2020-2025 Global and Regional Genetic Engineering Industry Production, Sales and Consumption Status and Prospects Professional Market Research Report…

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Building a ‘doomsday vault’ to save the kangaroo and koala from extinction – CNET

The road into Batlow is littered with the dead.

In the smoky, gray haze of the morning, it's hard to make out exactly what Matt Roberts' camera is capturing. Roberts, a photojournalist with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, keeps his lens focused on the road as he rolls into the fire-ravaged town 55 miles west of Canberra, Australia's capital. At the asphalt's edge, blackened livestock carcasses lie motionless.

The grim scene, widely shared on social media, is emblematic of the impact the 2019-20 bushfire season has had on Australia's animal life. Some estimates suggest "many, many billions" of animals have been killed, populations of endemic insects could be crippled and, as ash washes into riverways, marine life will be severely impacted. The scale of the bushfires is so massive, scientists are unlikely to know the impact on wildlife for many years.

But even before bushfires roared across the country, Australia's unique native animals were in a dire fight for survival. Habitat destruction, invasive species, hunting and climate change have conspired against them. Populations of native fauna are plummeting or disappearing altogether, leaving Australia with an unenviable record: It has the highest rate of mammal extinctions in the world.

A large share of Australia's extinctions have involved marsupials -- the class of mammals that includes the nation's iconic kangaroos, wallabies, koalas and wombats. A century ago, the Tasmanian tiger still padded quietly through Australia's forests. The desert rat-kangaroo hopped across the clay pans of the outback, sheltering from the sun in dug-out nests.

Now they're gone.

Australia's 2019-20 bushfire season has been devastating for wildlife.

In a search for answers to the extinction crisis, researchers are turning to one lesser-known species, small enough to fit in the palm of your hand: the fat-tailed dunnart. The carnivorous mouse-like marsupial, no bigger than a golf ball and about as heavy as a toothbrush, has a tiny snout, dark, bulbous eyes and, unsurprisingly, a fat tail. It's Baby Yoda levels of adorable -- and it may be just as influential.

Mapping the dunnart's genome could help this little animal become the marsupial equivalent of the lab mouse -- a model organism scientists use to better understand biological processes, manipulate genes and test new approaches to treating disease. The ambitious project, driven by marsupial geneticist Andrew Pask and his team at the University of Melbourne over the last two years, will see scientists take advantage of incredible feats of genetic engineering, reprogramming cells at will.

It could even aid the creation of a frozen Noah's Ark of samples: a doomsday vault of marsupial cells, suspended in time, to preserve genetic diversity and help prevent further decline, bringing species back from the brink of extinction.

If that sounds far-fetched, it isn't. In fact, it's already happening.

Creating a reliable marsupial model organism is a long-held dream for Australian geneticists, stretching back to research pioneered by famed statistician Ronald Fisher in the mid-20th century. To understand why the model is so important, we need to look at the lab mouse, a staple of science laboratories for centuries.

"A lot of what we know about how genes work, and how genes work with each other, comes from the mouse," says Jenny Graves, a geneticist at La Trobe University in Victoria, Australia, who has worked with marsupials for five decades.

The mouse is an indispensable model organism that shares many genetic similarities with humans. It has been key in understanding basic human biology, testing new medicines and unraveling the mysteries of how our brains work. Mice form such a critical part of the scientific endeavor because they breed quickly, have large litters, and are cheap to house, feed and maintain.

The lab mouse has been indispensable in understanding physiology, biology and genetics.

In the 1970s, scientists developed a method to insert new genes into mice. After a decade of refinement, these genetically modified mice (known as "transgenic mice") provided novel ways to study how genes function. You could add a gene, turning its expression up to 11, or delete a gene entirely, shutting it off. Scientists had a powerful tool to discover which genes performed the critical work in reproduction, development and maturation.

The same capability does not exist for marsupials. "At the moment, we don't have any way of manipulating genes in a devil or a kangaroo or a possum," says Graves. Without this capability, it's difficult to answer more pointed questions about marsupial genes and how they compare with mammal genes, like those of mice and humans.

So far, two marsupial species -- the Tammar wallaby and the American opossum -- have been front and center of research efforts to create a reliable model organism, but they both pose problems. The wallaby breeds slowly, with only one baby every 18 months, and it requires vast swaths of land to maintain.

The short-tailed opossum might prove an even more complicated case. Pask, the marsupial geneticist, says the small South American marsupial is prone to eating its young, and breeding requires researchers to sift through hours of video footage, looking for who impregnated whom. Pask also makes a patriotic jab ("they're American so we don't like them") and says their differences from Australian marsupials make them less useful for the problems Australian species face.

But the dunnart boasts all the features that make the mouse such an attractive organism for study: It is small and easy to house, breeds well in captivity and has large litters.

"Our little guys are just like having a mouse basically, except they have a pouch," Pask says.

Pask (front) and Frankenberg inspect some of their dunnarts at the University of Melbourne.

A stern warning precedes my first meeting with Pask's colony of fat-tailed dunnarts.

"It smells like shit," he says. "They shit everywhere."

I quickly discover he's right. Upon entering the colony's dwellings on the third floor of the University of Melbourne's utilitarian BioSciences building, you're punched in the face by a musty, fecal smell.

Pask, a laid-back researcher whose face is almost permanently fixed with a smile, and one of his colleagues, researcher Stephen Frankenberg, appear unfazed by the odor. They've adapted to it. Inside the small room that houses the colony, storage-box-cages are stacked three shelves high. They're filled with upturned egg cartons and empty buckets, which work as makeshift nests for the critters to hide in.

Andrew Pask

Frankenberg reaches in without hesitation and plucks one from a cage -- nameless but numbered "29" -- and it hides in his enclosed fist before peeking out of the gap between his thumb and forefinger, snout pulsing. As I watch Frankenberg cradle it, the dunnart seems curious, and Pask warns me it's more than agile enough to manufacture a great escape.

In the wild, fat-tailed dunnarts are just as inquisitive and fleet-footed. Their range extends across most of southern and central Australia, and the most recent assessment of their population numbers shows they aren't suffering population declines in the same way many of Australia's bigger marsupial species are.

Move over, Baby Yoda.

As I watch 29 scamper up Frankenberg's arm, the physical similarities between it and a mouse are obvious. Pask explains that the dunnart's DNA is much more closely related to the Tasmanian devil, an endangered cat-sized carnivore native to Australia, than the mouse. But from a research perspective, Pask notes the similarities between mouse and dunnart run deep -- and that's why it's such an important critter.

"The dunnart is going to be our marsupial workhorse like the mouse is for placental mammals," Pask says.

For that to happen, Pask's team has to perfect an incredible feat of genetic engineering: They have to learn how to reprogram its cells.

To do so, they collect skin cells from the dunnart's ear or footpad and drop them in a flask where scientists can introduce new genes into the skin cell. The introduced genes are able to trick the adult cell, convincing it to become a "younger," specialized cell with almost unlimited potential.

The reprogrammed cells are known as "induced pluripotent stem cells," or iPS cells, and since Japanese scientists unraveled how to perform this incredible feat in 2006, they have proven to be indispensable for researchers because they can become any cell in the body.

"You can grow them in culture and put different sorts of differentiation factors on them and see if they can turn into nerve cells, muscle cells, brain cells, blood vessels," Pask explains. That means these special cells could even be programmed to become a sperm or an egg, in turn allowing embryos to be made.

Implanting the embryo in a surrogate mother could create a whole animal.

It took about 15 minutes to get this dunnart to sit still.

Although such a technological leap has been made in mice, it's still a long way from fruition for marsupials. At present, only the Tasmanian devil has had iPS cells created from skin, and no sperm or egg cells were produced.

Pask's team has been able to dupe the dunnart's cells into reverting to stem cells -- and they've even made some slight genetic tweaks in the lab. But that's just the first step.

He believes there are likely to be small differences between species, but if the methodology remains consistent and reproducible in other marsupials, scientists could begin to create iPS cells from Australia's array of unique fauna. They could even sample skin cells from wild marsupials and reprogram those.

Doing so would be indispensable in the creation of a biobank, where the cells would be frozen down to -196 degrees Celsius (-273F) and stored until they're needed. It would act as a safeguard -- a backup copy of genetic material that could, in some distant future, be used to bring species back from the edge of oblivion, helping repopulate them and restoring their genetic diversity.

Underneath San Diego Zoo's Beckman Center for Conservation Research lies the Frozen Zoo, a repository of test tubes containing the genetic material of over 10,000 species. Stacked in towers and chilled inside giant metal vats, the tubes contain the DNA of threatened species from around the world, suspended in time.

It's the largest wildlife biobank in the world.

"Our goal is to opportunistically collect cells ... on multiple individuals of as many species as we can, to provide a vast genetic resource for research and conservation efforts," explains Marlys Houck, curator at the Frozen Zoo.

The Zoo's efforts to save the northern white rhino from extinction have been well publicized. Other research groups have been able to create a northern white rhino embryo in the lab, combining eggs of the last two remaining females with frozen sperm from departed males. Scientists propose implanting those embryos in a surrogate mother of a closely related species, the southern white rhino, to help drag the species back from the edge of oblivion.

For the better part of a decade, conservationists have been focused on this goal, and now their work is paying off: In the "coming months," the lab-created northern white rhino embryo will be implanted in a surrogate.

Sudan, the last male northern white rhinoceros, was euthanized in 2018.

Marisa Korody, a conservation geneticist at the Frozen Zoo, stresses that this type of intervention was really the last hope for the rhino, a species whose population had already diminished to just eight individuals a decade ago.

"We only turn to these methods when more traditional conservation methods have failed," she says.

In Australia, researchers are telling whoever will listen that traditional conservation methods are failing.

"We've been saying for decades and decades, many of our species are on a slippery slope," says John Rodger, a marsupial conservationist at the University of Newcastle, Australia, and CEO of the Fauna Research Alliance, which has long advocated for the banking of genetic material of species in Australia and New Zealand.

In October, 240 of Australia's top scientists delivered a letter to the government detailing the country's woeful record on protecting species, citing the 1,800 plants and animals in danger of extinction, and the "weak" environmental laws which have been ineffective at keeping Australian fauna alive.

Institutions around Australia, such as Taronga Zoo and Monash University, have been biobanking samples since the '90s, reliant on philanthropic donations to stay online, but researchers say this is not enough. For at least a decade, they've been calling for the establishment of a national biobank to support Australia's threatened species.

John Rodger

"Our real problem in Australia ... is underinvestment," Rodger says. "You've got to accept this is not a short-term investment."

The current government installed a threatened-species commissioner in 2017 and committed $255 million ($171 million in US dollars) in funding to improve the prospects of 20 mammal species by 2020. In the most recent progress report, released in 2019, only eight of those 20 were identified as having an "improved trajectory," meaning populations were either increasing faster or declining slower compared to 2015.

A spokesperson for the commissioner outlined the $50 million investment to support immediate work to protect wildlife following the bushfires, speaking to monitoring programs, establishment of "insurance populations" and feral cat traps. No future strategies regarding biobanking were referenced.

Researchers believe we need to act now to preserve iconic Australian species like the koala.

In the wake of the catastrophic bushfire season and the challenges posed by climate change, Australia's extinction crisis is again in the spotlight. Koalas are plastered over social media with charred noses and bandaged skin. On the front page of newspapers, kangaroos bound in front of towering walls of flame.

Houck notes that San Diego's Frozen Zoo currently stores cell lines "from nearly 30 marsupial species, including koala, Tasmanian devil and kangaroo," but that's only one-tenth of the known marsupial species living in Australia today.

"Nobody in the world is seriously working on marsupials but us," Rodger says. "We've got a huge interest in maintaining these guys for tourism, national icons... you name it."

There's a creeping sense of dread in the researchers I talk to that perhaps we've passed a tipping point, not just in Australia, but across the world. "We are losing species at an alarming rate," says Korody from the Frozen Zoo. "Some species are going extinct before we even know they are there."

With such high stakes, Pask and his dunnarts are in a race against time. Perfecting the techniques to genetically engineer the tiny marsupial's cells will help enable the preservation of all marsupial species for generations to come, future-proofing them against natural disasters, disease, land-clearing and threats we may not even be able to predict right now.

Pask reasons "we owe it" to marsupials to develop these tools and, at the very least, biobank their cells if we can't prevent extinction. "We really should be investing in this stuff now," he says. He's optimistic.

In some distant future, years from now, a bundle of frozen stem cells might just bring the koala or the kangaroo back from the brink of extinction.

And for that, we'll have the dunnart to thank.

Originally published Feb. 18, 5 a.m. PT.

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Building a 'doomsday vault' to save the kangaroo and koala from extinction - CNET

Genetic engineering company says they have created a coronavirus vaccine – 9News.com KUSA

HOUSTON A Houston-based genetic engineering company said it has a vaccine aimed at the deadly coronavirus outbreak, according to a report by the Houston Business Journal.

The genetic engineering firm, Greffex Inc. has one of its laboratories based in Aurora, Colorado.

RELATED: Coronavirus death toll hits 2,100 in mainland China

RELATED: Colorado man living in China posts brutally honest Instagram videos of coronavirus self-quarantine

John Price, president and CEO of Greffex Inc., told KHOU, our sister station in Houston, that Greffex's scientists completed the coronavirus vaccine this week.

The trick in making a vaccine is can you scale the vaccine that youve made to be able to make a certain number of doses, can you test the vaccine quickly and efficiently and then can you get it into patients and thats where we have an edge as well on the other companies that are out there," said Price. "And that has to do with speed and essential uniformity of how we make vaccines, so that drops the cost down.

Price said the vaccine will now move into a testing phase with the Food and Drug Administration.

The Houston Business Journal reported, in September 2019 Greffex received an $18.9 million contract from the National Institute of Health's National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases to develop new treatments for infectious threats.

If the vaccine gets government approval, Price said his company plans to give it away for free to nations hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak.

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Genetic engineering company says they have created a coronavirus vaccine - 9News.com KUSA

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: Busting the myth by looking at the facts – The European Sting

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A digital illustration of the coronavirus shows the crown-like appearance of the virus. (UN News)

Finally, some good news about the new coronavirus pneumonia outbreak (COVID-19). According to Reuters, Chinas National Health Commission reported a substantial drop of 77% in new coronavirus cases last week, as the number of new cases in China dropped last Wednesday to 394 from 1,749 on the previous day. According to CNNs most recent report, indeed the coronavirus situation is currently stabilising in China.

In addition, researchers from the University of Queensland (UQ) in Australia have announced their major breakthrough in developing the first coronavirus vaccine. More good news comes from Texas, US, whereby an American genetic engineering company reports it has completed the development of a coronavirus vaccine. Other multinational drug companies like Sanofi and Janssen are entering the race of developing the vaccine. Moreover, Chinas Vice Science and Technology Minister Xu Nanping stated that China is starting trials on its coronavirus vaccine in a months time from now.

Is the coronavirus more deadly than Ebola, SARS, MERS? On the contrary, COVID-19 has the lowest fatality rate compared to other deadly viruses. According to the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, while the new coronavirus pneumonia has a case fatality rate (CFR) of 2.65%, Ebola has a CFR as high as 50%, MERS has a CFR of 34.4% and SARS has a CFR of 14-15%. Hence, coronavirus shouldnt be compared even to the rest as the fatality rate is much lower. Unfortunately, the latter isnt stressed in the news headlines whatsoever, simply because fearmongering and sensationalism is something that other media do for a living. Also, factual data like the low fatality rate of COVID-19 would stop the panic and result in a more realistic approach to the coronavirus outbreak, which could lead pop media to lose pop readership.

Besides, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the official EU Agency, which provides daily updates on the coronavirus, clearly stipulates about today that the risk associated with COVID-19 infection for people from the EU/EEA and UK is currently considered to be low to moderate.

What is the real reason behind this overly exaggeration of the press about COVID-19?

Since the outbreak of coronavirus in December 2019 in Chinas Hubei province, the world has been witnessing an increase in coronavirus cases with approximately 80,000 people being infected around the world. Chinas government has already taken emergency measures to contain the expansion of the disease like controlling the movement of people in the Hubei province or building a new large hospital to treat the coronavirus cases in a matter of days.

Nevertheless, during the first two months of 2020 the world has been taking some exaggerated measures against China like cancelling/blocking flights to/from China which refer to both transfers of people and goods. And all that despite the fact that the World Health Organization has been adamant that such measures are not recommended.

In addition, the worlds press has been extremely critical over the strict isolation measures taken by China to confine the outbreak. They also blamed China for violating human rights. At the same time in Italy these days entire villages and towns in the northern part of the country are completely quarantined by the Italian government. Consequently, the latter shows that what China does for the Hubei province is nothing more than standard emergency prevention measure to be taken by a country.

Moreover, as a result of fearmongering by the media through the omission of facts like for example the low fatality rate of the coronavirus, people tend to have a racist approach against Chinese citizens who are living or traveling outside China. Isnt it utterly unfair though and absolutely wrong to assimilate the few dozens of thousands of coronavirus cases with the 1.4 billion population of a country?

As regards the coronavirus impact on the second biggest economy of the world, besides the opportunistic approach by many markets to capitalise on this emergency with hostility, it seems that the economy is not dearly affected as gamblers would hope. In particular, the Ambassador of China to the EU has been recently reassuring on the matter: With business activities deferred and demand for services reduced, there is some impact on the Chinese economy. Yet the impact is limited, short-term and manageable. The epidemic will not change the positive prospects of the Chinese economy in the long term, the huge market demand offered by the 1.4 billion Chinese people, nor Chinas commitment to reform and opening-up. There is no need for global investors to worry too much.

All in all, while the coronavirus is surely a new challenge for the world in 2020, it is much needed that the worlds media maintain a balanced approach, discussing the coronavirus outbreak objectively without tactically losing interest from positive evolutions and news like the vaccination development achievements, the low fatality rate of the disease or the drop in the cases in China or effective responses. The latter is necessary to avoid that people panic. Besides, WHO has established a specific website to inform people and media about the coronavirus, which is based on facts, a sine qua non for journalism as it should be.

Follow this link:

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: Busting the myth by looking at the facts - The European Sting

9 great reads from CNET this week – CNET

It's presidential primary season, which gave us a bounty of election-related stories this week including a handy breakdown of where the Democratic candidates stand on key tech issues.

Also, Jeff Bezos launched a $10 billion fund to fight climate change, we (officially) weighed in on Samsung's new Galaxy Z Flip and S20 Ultra phones, and there was a coronavirus breakthrough -- the first 3D protein map should help pave the way for a vaccine.

Here are the week's stories you don't want to miss:

When one letter off leads you to malicious advertisements rather than the website of the former cybersecurity czar.

Commentary: Epic Games' runaway freight train is finally slowing down.

Based on Amazon's environmental track record, some activists say the CEO's philanthropy is "hypocritical."

ElectionGuard isn't designed to make voting machines safe from hackers. It's meant to make hacking them pointless.

From an AI-generated Taylor Swift to a nude sculpture with a buzzing bee colony for a head, artists reflect on the promise and terror of artificial intelligence.

Incredible feats of genetic engineering and frozen biobanks could prevent Australia's iconic marsupials from disappearing for good.

Presidential candidates are paying social media influencers to spread political messages.

Meet the season 12 drag queen waltzing from competitive gaming into reality TV.

Let's go on a $1,500 nostalgia trip.

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9 great reads from CNET this week - CNET

Is the vaccine to thwart the new coronavirus stored in a Houston freezer? – Houston Chronicle

Scientists around the world are scrambling to develop a vaccine to stop the spread of the new coronavirus, but the best candidate might be an experimental one stored in a Houston freezer.

The vaccine, developed by researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston researchers, effectively protected mice against SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, the pneumonia-causing virus from the same family that spread in the early 2000s. The vaccine never progressed to human testing because manufacturing of it wasnt completed until 2016, long after SARS had burned out.

It generated zero interest from pharmaceutical companies, said Peter Hotez, a Baylor vaccine researcher and infectious disease specialist. Because the virus was no longer circulating, their response was essentially, thanks, but no thanks.

Hotez thinks the vaccine-in-storage can provide cross-protection against the new coronavirus, now officially named COVID-19, whose spread through China and, increasingly, to other countries has the world on edge. The virus, first detected in Wuhan, China, has now infected more than 75,000 people and killed more than 2,200, more than the 774 deaths from SARS. Although the bulk of the cases and deaths have occurred in China, COVID-19 now has been confirmed in 28 countries, the U.S. among them.

On HoustonChronicle.com: Coronavirus fears weigh on Houston economy as oil prices fall, businesses lose customers

The 34 cases in the United States 21 repatriated individuals and 13 travelers who fell ill after returning include three in Texas, an American citizen who was part of a group evacuated from China on a State Department-chartered flight, and two citizens on the Diamond Princess cruise ship. All three were taken to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.

The Baylor-UTMB vaccine looks promising for COVID-19 because the virus so resembles SARS Hotez calls it SARS-2 which circulated between November 2002 and July 2003, mostly in mainland China and Hong Kong but also in Toronto, whose economy was so badly wrought by the outbreak that it needed a boost from a benefit concert featuring the Rolling Stones, Justin Timberlake and others to help shake the effects.

COVID-19 shares 82 percent of its genes with SARS and infects people through the same cell receptor, one of the spike-like proteins that stud the surface of coronaviruses and gives the family their name. The viruses originally jump from animals to people.

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The two coronaviruses, which have mostly resulted in deaths in the elderly and people with serious underlying conditions, both can cause a severe form of pneumonia characterized by fever, cough and breathing difficulties. The early thinking is that COVID-19 is less lethal than SARS but more contagious.

There is no licensed treatment or vaccine for either, just supportive care focused on the symptoms.

The hope that the Baylor-UTMB vaccine should provide at least some, if not full, protection has had Hotez working the telephone the last few weeks, pleading with pharmaceutical companies and federal scientific agencies to pony up the funding needed to move the vaccine into clinical testing. The vaccine is still a candidate for such testing because the team has tested its continuing usefulness every six months, when it removes a sample from the freezer.

It may require some tweaking, but its stable, said Dr. James LeDuc, director of the Galveston National Laboratory on the UTMB Galveston campus. Every virus is different, features some adaptations.

The laboratory, a high-security biocontainment facility for the study of exotic disease, recently received the live COVID-19, which it will use to test the vaccine in mice, to see whether the SARS vaccine protects against it. The labs researchers created mice engineered to replicate the human disease.

###

Funding for clinical trials remains the big hurdle. Even with the new coronavirus circulating, Hotez has found few nibbles from pharmaceutical companies beyond the request to keep them informed and the suggestion their interest would pick up if the new coronavirus becomes a seasonal infection, like the flu.

Instead, Hotez is pinning his hopes for clinical trial funding on two grant proposals one to the British government; and another to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, an Oslo-based coalition of charities (the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a sponsor) and governments that aims to derail epidemics by speeding up the development of vaccines.

The Baylor-UTMB venture is just one of the many ongoing efforts to halt the coronavirus epidemic. About 300 scientists dialed in remotely to a World Health Organization meeting last week to fast-track tests, drugs and vaccines to help slow the outbreak. UT-Austin scientists published a paper in Science on their creation of the first 3D atomic-scale map of the spike protein the part of the virus that attaches to and infects human cells that should provide a road map for better vaccine development.

At least eight initiatives to develop new vaccines have been announced, most of which use new technology, such as a type sometimes called genetic immunization, that is considered highly promising but has not yet led to licensure. One Houston firm, Greffex, said it has used genetic engineering to create a COVID-19 vaccine it will now take to animal testing.

Hotez said he thinks the Baylor-UTMB vaccine has an advantage because its already been successfully tested in animals and because its based on classic vaccine technology, the same technology used, for instance, in approved vaccines for Hepatitis B and the human papillomavirus. He said the less-than-perfect match should provide protection in the same way flu vaccines provide protection even though theyre typically from 100 percent matches.

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In addition to repurposing the SARS vaccine, the Baylor-UTMB team is working to develop its own new vaccine targeting COVID-19. But Hotez acknowledged that work will take longer than the SARS vaccine. He said hes surprised Chinese officials havent reached out to him about testing the vaccine in China.

Baylors work is conducted through its Texas Childrens Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, whose mission involves fighting public health threats that affect people who live in poverty such as neglected tropical diseases and coronaviruses. It has made vaccines for neglected tropical diseases Chagas disease, schistosomiasis and hookworm, and the coronavirus MERS, or Middle East respiratory syndrome, the camel flu that originated in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and later was confirmed in South Korea. Unlike SARS, MERS does not resemble COVID-19.

On HoustonChronicle.com: Why Houston is uniquely situated to be better prepared for the coronavirus threat

But the question is, can any vaccine make it through clinical testing in time to make a difference in the fight against an emerging epidemic or pandemic?

LeDuc noted that there are no shortcuts to the testing required to prove vaccines are safe and effective in people, a process he acknowledges could take a year, during which time the disease may burn out.

Hotez said the only thing that might expedite testing is if the spread of the disease becomes dire, a sobering thought that some public health officials think is looking more and more likely as COVID-19 is diagnosed in more countries.

It is why Hotez laments the missed opportunities to develop and stockpile vaccines for SARS, MERS and even Zika, the mosquito-borne infection that emerged in 2014-2017 but then burned out.

Its like little kids soccer games where everyone just follows the ball, said Hotez. They all run to the ball when its one spot, then to the next spot where it goes and then the one after that. No one stays at the goal to play defense.

todd.ackerman@chron.com

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Is the vaccine to thwart the new coronavirus stored in a Houston freezer? - Houston Chronicle

$19.8B Synthetic Biology Market by Tools, Technology, Application and Region – Forecast to 2025 – Yahoo Finance

Dublin, Feb. 17, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The "Synthetic Biology Market by Tools (Oligonucleotides, Enzymes, Synthetic Cells), by Technology (Gene Synthesis, Bioinformatics), by Application (Tissue Regeneration, Biofuel, Renewable Energy, Food & Agriculture, Bioremediation) - Global Forecast to 2025" report has been added to ResearchAndMarkets.com's offering.

The global synthetic biology market is projected to reach USD 19.8 billion by 2025 from USD 6.8 billion in 2020, at a CAGR of 23.9%.

This report analyzes the market for various synthetic biology market and their adoption patterns. It aims at estimating the market size and future growth potential of the synthetic biology market and its subsegments. The report also includes an in-depth competitive analysis of the key players in this market, along with their company profiles, product offerings, and recent developments.

Factors such as the increasing demand for synthetic genes and synthetic cells, wide range of applications of synthetic biology, declining cost of DNA sequencing and synthesizing, increasing R&D funding and initiatives in synthetic biology, and increasing investments in the market are propelling the growth of this market. However, rising biosafety, biosecurity, and ethical concerns related to synthetic biology are likely to hamper the growth of this market.

The oligonucleotides and synthetic DNA segment is expected to grow at the highest rate during the forecast period

Based on tools, the market has been segmented into oligonucleotides and synthetic DNA, enzymes, cloning technology kits, chassis organisms, xeno-nucleic acids, and synthetic cells. In 2019, the oligonucleotides and synthetic DNA segment is expected to register the highest CAGR during the forecast period.

This can be attributed to factors such as the rising demand for synthetic DNA, synthetic RNA, and synthetic genes, which are used in a wide range of applications, such as pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, personal care, flavors and fragrances, probiotics, green chemicals, and industrial enzymes.

The genome engineering segment is expected to grow at the highest CAGR during the forecast period

On the basis of technology, the market is segmented into gene synthesis, genome engineering, cloning, sequencing, site-directed mutagenesis, measurement and modeling, microfluidics, nanotechnology, bioinformatics technologies.

The genome engineering segment is expected to register the highest CAGR during the forecast period due to factors such as the increasing use of engineering technologies for manipulating complex genomes, growing therapeutics development for cancer and other diseases, and the increasing technological advances in CRISPR-toolbox and DNA synthesis technologies.

The industrial applications segment is expected to grow at the highest CAGR during the forecast period

Based on application, the synthetic biology market is segmented into medical, industrial, food & agricultural, and environmental applications. The industrial applications segment is expected to grow at the highest CAGR owing to the rising applications of synthetic biology in producing renewable energy, biomaterials & green chemicals, and enzymes.

The Asia Pacific is projected to witness the highest growth during the forecast period

The synthetic biology market is divided into North America, Europe, the Asia Pacific, Latin America, and the Middle East & Africa. In 2019, North America accounted for the largest share of the synthetic biology market.

However, the APAC region is expected to witness the highest growth during the forecast period owing to the growth in the number of pharmaceutical & biopharmaceutical companies, the increasing number of healthcare & life science facilities, and increasing requirements for regulatory compliance in pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical companies, growing number of international alliances, heavy funding for synthetic biology research, and strong government support.

Furthermore, the increasing focus on the Asia Pacific markets due to their low-cost manufacturing advantage also provides growth opportunities for manufacturers.

Key Topics Covered

1 Introduction

2 Research Methodology

3 Executive Summary

4 Premium Insights 4.1 Market Overview4.2 Asia Pacific: Market, By Application4.3 Market: Geographic Growth Opportunities4.4 Market, By Region (2018-2025)4.5 Market: Developed vs. Developing Markets

5 Market Overview 5.1 Introduction5.2 Market Dynamics5.2.1 Drivers5.2.1.1 Wide Range of Applications of Synthetic Biology5.2.1.2 Rising R&D Funding and Growing Initiatives in Synthetic Biology5.2.1.3 Declining Cost of DNA Sequencing and Synthesizing5.2.1.4 Increasing Investments in the Market5.2.2 Restraints5.2.2.1 Biosafety, Biosecurity, and Ethical Concerns5.2.3 Opportunities5.2.3.1 Rising Need for Fuel Alternatives5.2.3.2 Increasing Demand for Protein Therapeutics and Personalized Medicine5.2.3.3 Increasing Research in Synthetic Drugs and Vaccines5.2.4 Challenges5.2.4.1 Standardization of Biological Parts

6 Synthetic Biology Market, By Tool 6.1 Introduction6.2 Oligonucleotides & Synthetic DNA6.2.1 Oligonucleotides and Synthetic Dna to Dominate the Market During the Forecast Period6.3 Enzymes6.3.1 Development of Enzymes has Helped in Evolving New Therapies for A Range of Diseases6.4 Cloning Technology Kits6.4.1 Need for the Creation of Artificial Dna Along With Their Assembly is Driving the Growth of the Segment6.5 Synthetic Cells6.5.1 Synthetic Cells Will Allow Tailoring Biologics and Its Adoption is Expected to Grow in the Coming Years6.6 Chassis Organisms6.6.1 Increasing Demand for Fossil Fuels is Likely to Propel the Demand for Chassis Organisms6.7 Xeno-Nucleic Acids6.7.1 Xnas are Increasingly Researched With the Growing Demand for Breakthrough Medicine

7 Synthetic Biology Market, By Technology 7.1 Introduction7.2 Gene Synthesis7.2.1 Gene Synthesis to Dominate the Market During the Forecast Period7.3 Genome Engineering7.3.1 Increasing Demand for Synthetic Dna and Genes is Expected to Drive Market Growth7.4 Sequencing7.4.1 Ngs Technology is Rapidly Becoming an Indispensable and Universal Tool for Biological Research7.5 Bioinformatics7.5.1 Use of Bioinformatics Technologies is Increasing With the Rising Need for Data Management and Curation7.6 Cloning7.6.1 Cloning Aids in Building New Genetic Modules/Pathways, Enabling Rapid Advances in Research Across Various Industries7.7 Site-Directed Mutagenesis7.7.1 Wide Applications in Genetic Engineering, Dna Assembly, and Cloning Technologies is Driving This Segment7.8 Measurement & Modeling7.8.1 Computational Modeling is Aiding the Growth of the Segment During the Forecast Period7.9 Microfluidics7.9.1 Droplet Microfluidics is Gaining Wide Recognition in the Field of Synthetic Biology7.1 Nanotechnology7.10.1 Convergence Between Synthetic Biology and Nanotechnologies Aid in Building Complex Bodies

8 Synthetic Biology Market, By Application 8.1 Introduction8.2 Medical Applications8.2.1 Pharmaceuticals8.2.1.1 In 2019, the Pharmaceuticals Segment Accounted for the Largest Share of the Medical Applications Market8.2.2 Drug Discovery and Therapeutics8.2.2.1 Cancer Detection & Diagnostics8.2.2.1.1 With Rising Investments for Cancer Research, the Market for Synthetic Biology is Expected to Grow for This Segment8.2.2.2 Other Drug Discovery and Therapeutic Applications8.2.3 Artificial Tissue & Tissue Regeneration8.2.3.1 Bio-Synthesis8.2.3.1.1 Bio-Synthesis is Dominating the Market With Its Increasing Adoption in Creating Artificial Genomes8.2.3.2 Stem Cell Regulation8.2.3.2.1 Use of Synthetic Biology in Stem Cell Regeneration and Reprogramming Somatic Cells is Expected to Drive Market Growth8.2.3.3 Other Artificial Tissue and Tissue Regeneration Applications8.3 Industrial Applications8.3.1 Biofuel and Renewable Energy8.3.1.1 Advantages of Using Genetically Engineered Organisms for the Synthetic Production of Biofuels is Driving Market Growth8.3.2 Industrial Enzymes8.3.2.1 Textile Industry8.3.2.1.1 Synthetic Biology is Being Applied in the Textile Industry to Replace Traditional Raw Materials8.3.2.2 Paper Industry8.3.2.2.1 Enzymes are Being Increasingly Used in the Pulp and Paper Industry8.3.2.3 Other Industries8.3.3 Biomaterials & Green Chemicals8.3.3.1 Silk-Based Proteins are A Type of Biomaterial Prepared Through Synthetic Biology8.4 Food & Agriculture8.4.1 Synthetic Biology Techniques are Applied in the Food and Agriculture Industry to Produce Metabolites, Health Products, and Processing Aids8.5 Environmental Applications8.5.1 Bioremediation8.5.1.1 Owing to the Growing Severity of Environmental Problems, It has Become Necessary to Develop Cost-Effective, On-Site Methods for Environmental Monitoring and Bioremediation8.5.2 Biosensing8.5.2.1 Biosensor Applications Commonly Make Use of Microalgae Owing to Their High Reproductive Rates and Ease of Culturing Due to Their Microscopic Size

9 Synthetic Biology Market, By Region 9.1 Introduction9.2 North America9.2.1 US9.2.1.1 The US Dominates the North American Market9.2.2 Canada9.2.2.1 Strong Research Infrastructure and Availability of Funding Will Support Market Growth9.3 Europe9.3.1 UK9.3.1.1 The UK Holds the Largest Share of the European Market9.3.2 Germany9.3.2.1 The Rapidly Growing Pharmaceutical Market is Expected to Drive Market Growth9.3.3 France9.3.3.1 Research Across All Industries is Strongly Supported By the Government9.3.4 Denmark9.3.4.1 Denmark has the Third-Largest Commercial Drug-Development Pipeline in Europe9.3.5 Switzerland9.3.5.1 Market Growth is Primarily Driven By the Well-Established Pharmaceutical & Biotechnology Industry in the Country9.3.6 Spain9.3.6.1 Spain has A Well-Established Network of Research Centers, Universities, and Hospitals, Which Form an Ideal Environment for Research9.3.7 Italy9.3.7.1 Growth in This Market is Mainly Driven By Increasing Life Science R&D in the Country, Funded By Both Public and Private Organizations9.3.8 Rest of Europe9.4 Asia Pacific9.4.1 Japan9.4.1.1 Large Number of Research Initiatives Towards the Development of Precision Medicine Supporting Market Growth9.4.2 China9.4.2.1 Growth in R&D to Enhance the Technological Capabilities in the Country, Thereby Driving the Demand for High-Quality Research Tools9.4.3 Australia9.4.3.1 Increasing Focus of the Healthcare System on Precision Medicine to Offer Significant Growth Opportunities9.4.4 India9.4.4.1 Increasing Pharma R&D and Government Funding in the Biotechnology Industry are the Major Factors Driving Market Growth9.4.5 Rest of Asia Pacific9.5 Latin America9.5.1 Strong Pharmaceutical Industry in the Region to Provide Significant Growth Opportunities9.6 Middle East and Africa9.6.1 Increasing Partnerships Among Global Players With Government Organizations in the Region to Support Growth

10 Competitive Landscape 10.1 Overview10.2 Market Share Analysis10.2.1 Synthetic Biology Market, By Key Players, 201810.3 Competitive Leadership Mapping10.3.1 Visionary Leaders10.3.2 Innovators10.3.3 Dynamic Differentiators10.3.4 Emerging Companies10.4 Competitive Situation and Trends10.4.1 Product Launches10.4.2 Expansions10.4.3 Acquisitions10.4.4 Other Strategies

11 Company Profiles 11.1 Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc.11.1.1 Business Overview11.1.2 Products Offered11.1.3 Recent Developments11.2 Merck KGaA11.3 Agilent Technologies Inc.11.4 Novozymes A/S11.5 Ginkgo Bioworks11.6 Amyris Inc.11.7 Intrexon Corporation11.8 Genscript Biotech Corporation11.9 Twist Bioscience11.10 Synthetic Genomics Inc. (SGI)11.11 Codexis Inc.11.12 Synthego Corporation11.13 Creative Enzymes11.14 Eurofins Scientific11.15 Cyrus Biotechnology Inc.11.16 Other Major Companies11.16.1 Atum11.16.2 Teselagen11.16.3 Arzeda11.16.4 Integrated DNA Technologies Inc.11.16.5 New England Biolabs

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$19.8B Synthetic Biology Market by Tools, Technology, Application and Region - Forecast to 2025 - Yahoo Finance

Potential CAR T-cell Therapy Targeting ROR1 Seen to Clear Cancer… – Immuno-Oncology News

A potential newCAR T-cell therapy by Oncternal Therapeutics showed strong activity against leukemia in mice, completely eliminating cancer cells from major tissue reservoirs in four weeks and extending survival by at least two months, according to preclinical data.

The CAR T-cells also remained highly active after being injected into the animals, and could be detected in the blood at least three months later without showing signs of exhaustion.

These findings were recently presented in a poster, Preclinical evaluation of anti-ROR1 CAR T cells employing a ROR1 binding SCFV derived from the clinical stage mab cirmtuzumab, at the ASCO-SITC Clinical Immuno-Oncology Symposium in Orlando, Florida.

CAR T-cell therapyis a type ofimmunotherapyin which researchers collect a patientsT-cells immune cells with anti-cancer activity and engineer them to recognize and eliminate cancer cells. This is done by introducing a gene in the cells genome that codes for a man-made receptor called a chimeric antigen receptor, or CAR which recognizes and targets a specific cancer molecule.

Upon finishing the genetic engineering step, the CAR T-cells are expanded in the lab and then injected into the patients blood. Typically, only one injection is needed, as the CAR T-cells are intended to be a long-lived treatment. By deriving the CAR T-cells from the patient, chances are also less likely of an immune system reaction to the re-introduced cells.

Oncternals CAR T-cell product is designed to target the ROR1 protein, which is produced during development but not usually found in adult tissues, except in some blood cancers a characteristic that makes it an attractive therapy target.

The therapeutic potential of the ROR1 protein was identified by researchers at the UC San Diego School of Medicine, who also developed a monoclonal antibody, called cirmtuzumab, targeting this protein.

Cirmtuzumab has been deemed safe in blood cancer trials, leading researchers at UCSC with support from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) to develop a CAR T-cell product that targeted ROR1 in the exact same location.

At the ASCO-SITC presentation, the researchers shared preclinical data demonstrating the effectiveness of the anti-ROR1 CAR T-cells. In the lab, they found the engineered cells were able to specifically locate and attack cells that expressed ROR1.

This led them to test these CAR T-cells in a mouse model of leukemia. Mice given the treatment survived for over 90 days, compared to an average of 21 days in a control group of mice given non-engineered T-cells from the same donor. Another control animal group received no therapy.

In the treated mice, leukemia cells were seen to clear from the bone marrow, kidney, and spleen four weeks after treatment administration. These CAR T-cells also remained with no signs of exhaustionin treated mice 90 or more days later.

We are encouraged by the preclinical results of this ROR1 CAR-T program and look forward to advancing it to clinical testing, initially for treating patients with hematological cancers, potentially in the fourth quarter of this year, James Breitmeyer, MD, PhD, the president and CEO of Oncternal, said in a press release.

It is exciting to see the potent preclinical activity of the ROR1 CAR-T cell therapy and its selectivity in targeting tumors, added Thomas Kipps, PhD, the lead researcher into ROR1 treatments at UCSD. Harnessing cirmtuzumabs specificity for ROR1 expressed on cancer cells has the potential to improve CAR-T efficacy and safety, and address the high unmet medical need for treating patients with aggressive cancers.

Cirmtuzumab is now being tested in clinical trials in people with advanced breast cancer and those with B-cell lymphoid cancers.

David earned a PhD in Biological Sciences from Columbia University in New York, NY, where he studied how Drosophila ovarian adult stem cells respond to cell signaling pathway manipulations. This work helped to redefine the organizational principles underlying adult stem cell growth models. He is currently a Science Writer, as part of the BioNews Services writing team.

Total Posts: 392

Ins holds a PhD in Biomedical Sciences from the University of Lisbon, Portugal, where she specialized in blood vessel biology, blood stem cells, and cancer. Before that, she studied Cell and Molecular Biology at Universidade Nova de Lisboa and worked as a research fellow at Faculdade de Cincias e Tecnologias and Instituto Gulbenkian de Cincia.Ins currently works as a Managing Science Editor, striving to deliver the latest scientific advances to patient communities in a clear and accurate manner.

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Potential CAR T-cell Therapy Targeting ROR1 Seen to Clear Cancer... - Immuno-Oncology News

A Word That Everybody Hates | Bert Bigelow – Patheos

Google eugenics and you will find yourself buried under a mountain of different definitions. Some are fairly objective, but the vast majority disparage, even demonize, the idea. A few examples:

The study of how to arrange reproduction within a human population to increase the occurrence of heritable characteristics regarded as desirable. Developed largely by Sir Francis Galton as a method of improving the human race, eugenics was increasingly discredited as unscientific and racially biased during the 20th century, especially after the adoption of its doctrines by the Nazis in order to justify their treatment of Jews, disabled people, and other minority groups.

The study of or belief in the possibility of improving the qualities of the human species or a human population, especially by such means as discouraging reproduction by persons having genetic defects or presumed to have inheritable undesirable traits (negative eugenics) or encouraging reproduction by persons presumed to have inheritable desirable traits (positive eugenics).

A pseudoscience with the stated aim of improving the genetic constitution of the human species by selective breeding.

A writer of a recent article on another blog attacks Richard Dawkins for some statements he made about eugenics. Here is what Dawkins said:

Its one thing to deplore eugenics on ideological, political, moral grounds. Its quite another to conclude that it wouldnt work in practice. Of course it would. It works for cows, horses, pigs, dogs & roses. Why on earth wouldnt it work for humans? Facts ignore ideology.

For those determined to miss the point, I deplore the idea of a eugenic policy. I simply said deploring it doesnt mean it wouldnt work. Just as we breed cows to yield more milk, we could breed humans to run faster or jump higher. But heaven forbid that we should do it.

A eugenic policy would be bad. Im combating the illogical step from X would be bad to So X is impossible. It would work in the same sense as it works for cows. Lets fight it on moral grounds. Deny obvious scientific facts & we lose or at best derail the argument.

Even with his outspoken opposition to eugenics, he was excoriated, not only by the writer of the piece, but also by commenters. The final paragraph pretty much says it all:

Sorry, Dawkins, but whether eugenics worksand what it would even mean for it to workis actually an open question. Youre the one being unscientific, not your critics. Also, to say, in sum, Im not pro-eugenics, but it would work and anyone who says otherwise is an idiot, when in fact the jury is very much out on whether eugenics would workor even what that meansis weird.

A commentor says:

I think that any attempt to improve the human genome is very dangerous and perhaps existential in nature.

What if a couple, both blonde and blue-eyed, decide that they want a dark-haired, dark-eyed daughter? So, they have the genome in their fetus modified to make that happen. How is that an existential danger?

I acknowledge that I have moved the goalposts. The definitions I quoted above were based on earlier science, when genetic engineering was not possible. Now it is, although it is in an early stage of development, and many of the criticisms about unanticipated negative side-effects are valid. But Dawkins point was that science continues to advance, and saying that it will NEVER be possible is wrong.

Another commenter says:

The moral arguments against eugenics are profound.

How so? A religious believer might think that the design of a human being is the provenance of God, and usurping His authority is blasphemy, or even heresy. I dont share their beliefs, and see nothing fundamentally immoral about modifying a human genome. I recognize the dangers, and would not approve of it until there is reasonable assurance that no harm would result. But there is never a certainty of that, just as there is no certainty that if you get on an airplane, you will arrive at your destination safely. Life is full of risks.

The criticism of Dawkins for his comments is, in my opinion, unwarranted. He is a technologist. He understands the dangers and even said that he opposes eugenics. But that isnt enough to satisfy the defenders of Gods primacy in creating us according to His design. Or those who say that we will never be able to do it without risk. That is probably true, but who should decide what the risk vs. benefit ratio should be?

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A Word That Everybody Hates | Bert Bigelow - Patheos

WHO: Therapeutic trial results against Covid-19 expected in three weeks – The Star Online

GENEVA/BEIJING (Xinhua): The World Health Organization (WHO) said Thursday (Feb 20) that preliminary results from clinical trials of therapeutics against the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) are expected in three weeks.

"We're also looking forward to results from two clinical trials of therapeutics prioritised by the WHO R&D Blueprint," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a daily briefing.

In Beijing, a senior National Health Commission official said Friday that Chinese scientists are racing to develop vaccines by adopting five technological approaches.

The approaches include inactivated vaccines, genetic engineering subunit vaccines, adenovirus vector vaccines, nucleic acid vaccines, and vaccines using attenuated influenza virus as vectors.

Of the two WHO trials, one is the combination of two drugs for HIV, lopinavir and ritonavir, the other is testing an antiviral called remdesivir

"We expect preliminary results in three weeks," the WHO chief said.

Remdesivir is a drug developed by US pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences. It has shown good antiviral activity against SARS and MERS coronavirus in previous cell and animal experiments.

It has also shown fairly good antiviral activity against the Covid-19 at the cellular level.

A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial of remdesivir started on Feb 6 in several hospitals in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, and the trial will last until the end of April.

A study published in 2004 showed the anti-HIV drug combination of Lopinavir and Ritonavir has "substantial clinical benefit" when given to patients who had SARS.

The Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital, where the first 41 known patients were treated, has already launched a randomised, controlled trial of the anti-HIV drug combination, according to a report by Chinese researchers in the Lancet medical journal late last month.

The third version of Covid-19 treatment guidelines published by China's National Health Commission suggested that taking two Lopinavir/Ritonavir pills and inhaling a dose of nebulised alpha-interferon twice a day could benefit patients.

"Some projects have entered the stage of animal testing," Zeng Yixin, deputy director of National Health Commission, told a press conference on China's fight against the novel coronavirus outbreak.

"Under the premise of ensuring safety, effectiveness and accessibility (of vaccines), (we) foresee that as soon as from April to May this year some vaccines could enter clinical trials, or under specific conditions, could be applied for emergency use," Zeng said.

"Our goal is that if required by the outbreak situation, the emergency use of vaccines, as well as the emergency review and approval process, can be activated in accordance with laws," the official said. - Xinhua

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WHO: Therapeutic trial results against Covid-19 expected in three weeks - The Star Online

Meet Emily Beecham: the actress set to dominate 2020 – harpersbazaar.com

Emily Beecham is in a very philosophical mood. Running a hand through her russet locks, she gazes contemplatively out of the window onto the bustling London streets below. Who knows whats going to happen in the future? she says. Humans might need to adapt to be able to absorb carbon dioxide like plants. That could be useful, with the oxygen becoming scarce... but lets not think about that!

It is her new film, the neon-bathed, anxiety-spiking thriller Little Joe, that has prompted this existential malaise. In the movie, Beecham plays Alice, a renegade botanist who forgoes the necessary safety checks to genetically engineer the worlds first mood-boosting antidepressant plant, a sample of which she smuggles home to her teenage son Joe. Starting out as a wholly commendable scientific breakthrough, the flower gradually appears to turn against its creator, confining those who inhale its head-spinning pollen to a deadened state of seeming happiness. There is a gnawing question at the centre of Little Joe: are these characters genuinely euphoric or just emotional suppressed? To its credit, the film eludes the Manichaeism of conventional storytelling and allows viewers to draw their own conclusions on the matter.

Courtesy of Festival de Cannes

It really makes you think for yourself, Beecham agrees. We had some very unexpected questions when we first screened it. Theres a scientific explanation, a psychological explanation and then theres also the idea that its all a load of nonsense and absolutely nothing is going on at all. My character is down this rabbit hole of not knowing what she believes. The movie premiered in competition at last years Cannes Film Festival, where its slippery grasp of medical ethics divided critical opinion; the actress, for her part, enjoyed her time on the Croisette. Id never been to Cannes before. It was very opulent, very glamorous and really fun.

She had already returned to the UK when she was summoned back to France to stand in contention for the festivals Best Actress prize (resulting in a rip-roaring journey that involved her zooming across the Cte dAzur by motorbike just in time for the ceremony). Beecham, visibly stunned, went on to clinch the trophy for her subtle work, a deliberately contrived, quasi-mechanical performance that soon descends into fully fledged paranoia her red-rimmed eyes darting about suspiciously over her surgical mask. Leaving with the award was a shock to say the least, she admits now. I just really wasnt expecting that. We celebrated with lots of food and drink, and a little dance. It was amazing, obviously, but completely overwhelming.

Toni Anne Barson

Equally overwhelming, I imagine, is answering big-picture questions on her puzzlingly unclassifiable film. Heres another one for her: how much freedom should scientists have when it comes to modifying living organisms? She exhales deeply, staring into the middle distance to really ponder before answering. I know there are strict regulations placed on it now after the French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier who was an inspiration for my character in the film actually invented a revolutionary gene-editing tool that enables you to quickly genetically engineer something, she explains. Since then, and quite understandably, rules have been tight so that it doesnt get into the wrong hands. Genetic engineering is amazing for medicine, I hear, with its ability to help scientists try to cure diseases.

I pivot to another cornerstone of Little Joe: the open-ended, endlessly interpretable topic that is the meaning of happiness. Happiness is subjective, Beecham says firmly. Some people think material wealth or career success or relationships equal happiness. The Buddhists ideal is just to be. On a personal level, I feel happy if Im working with people who inspire me. I also like listening to music, seeing a friend, reading a book, watching a film... nothing that unusual really. I do love finding weird little treasures in vintage stores. She pauses, bright-eyed before adding: As long as I dont become a hoarder!

The superficially cheerful laboratory over which Alice presides in Little Joe unsurprisingly skews male, with Ben Whishaw featuring as a lower-ranking plant breeder. Meanwhile, the movies crew, led by the visionary director Jessica Hausner, was much more gender-balanced. Jessica is a really good leader who always follows her vision, says Beecham. There was a lot of respect and focus on set. She knew when to say, No, that isn't the film I want to make, this is the film I want to make. Everything was very choreographed: the timings, the camera movements, picking up props... She persists until we get the right take, which I really admire because that can be difficult.

Although mostly emanating authority, Beechams character, by contrast, is subject to micro-aggressions at the office, with men around her condescendingly remarking This has all been a bit much for you when she highlights her plants potential danger. Alice is very senior in her workplace in a very male-dominated environment, says Beecham. She is the boss and she has the most successful plant so she calls all the shots. There is subtle begrudgement about that and a bit of power play between her and Chris [Whishaw]. Perhaps women have to work harder to gain that dominance or respect.

Beecham is set to wade even further into the depths of scientific ethics with her upcoming Netflix project Outside the Wire, which explores the use of artificial intelligence in warfare (Its just a coincidence really!), but perhaps her most anticipated new film is Cruella. Due in cinemas next year, this is the live-action prequel to Disneys classic 101 Dalmatians in which Emma Stone plays the puppy-snatching, sartorially spotted villain. Fascinatingly, Craig Gillespie has been brought on to direct something of a left-field choice given that the film-maker is best known for zany indies in which Margot Robbie kneecaps a skating rival (I, Tonya) and Ryan Gosling falls in love with a sex doll (Lars and the Real Girl).

Its an edgy Disney story, Beecham reveals. Cruella is an anarchic girl with a rebellious streak, so Craig brought out that menacing fun, coupled with a certain vivacity and a real London feel. There was a naturalness to the shoot. It was this massive production and he would have us improvising lines, writing new scripts it was very fresh and authentic. Its going to be a really fun and interesting film. The movies costumes are fantastical, Vivienne Westwood-inspired creations whose outlandishness did prove challenging for the actress co-star. Emma [Stone]s costume was very elaborate. She was slightly paralysed in it because she couldnt really move her head, Beecham says, laughing. She had to lie down an awful lot between takes because she literally couldnt move. Until we see Cruellas origin story, prepare to be moved by Beechams faultlessly modulated turn in Little Joe, a masterclass of quietly unravelling containment.

Little Joe is released in cinemas on Friday.

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Meet Emily Beecham: the actress set to dominate 2020 - harpersbazaar.com

Connecting the Coronavirus to Agriculture – CounterPunch

A coronavirus.

A new deadlycoronavirus2019-nCoV, related toSARSandMERSand apparently originating in live animal markets in Wuhan, China, is starting to spread worldwide.

Chinese authorities havereported5974 cases nationwide, 1000 of them severe. With infections in nearly every province, authoritieswarned2019-nCoV appears to be spreading fast out of its epicenter.

The characterization appears supported byinitial modeling.

The virussbasic reproduction number, a measure of the number of new cases per infection given no cap on available susceptibles, is clocking in at a healthy 3.11. That means in the face of such momentum, a control campaign must stop up to 75% of new infections to reverse the outbreak. The modeling team estimates there are presently over 21,000 cases, reported or not, in Wuhan alone.

Full-genome sequences of the virus meanwhileshowfew differences between the samples isolated across China. Slower spread for such a fast-evolvingRNA viruswould be marked by mutations accumulating place-to-place.

The coronavirus is starting to open up theaters overseas. Travelers with 2019-nCoV havebeen treatedin Australia, France, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Vietnam, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and the United States. Local outbreaks are nowstarting upwithin sink countries.

As the infection is characterized by human-to-human transmission and an apparent two-week incubation period before the sickness hits, the infection will likely continue to spread across the globe. Whether itll be Wuhan everywhere remains an open question.

The viruss finalpenetranceworldwide will depend on the difference between the rate of infection and the rate of removing infections by recovery or death. If the infection rate far exceeds removal, then the total population infected may approach the whole of humanity. That outcome, however, would likely be marked by large geographic variation brought about by a combination of dead chance and the differences in how countries responded to their outbreak.

Pandemic skeptics arent so sure of such a scenario.Far fewerpatients have been infected and killed by 2019-nCoV than even the typical seasonal influenza. But the mistake here is in confusing a moment early in an outbreak for a viruss essentialist nature.

Outbreaks are dynamic. Yes, some burn out, including, maybe, 2019-nCoV. It takes the right evolutionary draw and a little luck to beat out chance extirpation. Sometimes enough hosts dont line up to keep transmission going. Other outbreaks explode. Those that make it on the world stage can be game changers, even if they eventually die out. They upend the everyday routines of even a world already intumultor atwar.

The deadliness of any potential pandemic strain is the meat of the matter, of course.

Should the virus prove less infectious or deadly than initially thought, civilization goes on, however many people are killed. The H1N1 (2009) influenza outbreak that worried so many a decade-plus ago proved less virulent than it first seemed. But even that strain penetrated the global population, and quietly killed patients, at magnitudes far beyond these first follow-up dismissals. H1N1 (2009)killedas many as 579,000 people its first year, producing complications in fifteen times more cases than initially projected from lab tests alone.

The danger here is found in humanitysunprecedented connectivity. H1N1 (2009) crossed the Pacific Ocean in nine days, superseding predictions by the most sophisticated models of the global travel network by months. Airline data show atenfoldincrease in travel in China just since the SARS epidemic.

Under such widespread percolation, low mortality for a large number of infections can still cause a large number of deaths. If four billion people are infected at a mortality rate of only 2%, a death rate less than half that of the 1918 influenza pandemic, eighty million people are killed. And unlike for seasonal influenza, we have neitherherd immunity, nor a vaccine to slow it down. Even speeded-up development will at best takethree monthsto produce a vaccine for 2019-nCoV, assuming it even works. Scientists successfully produced a vaccine for the H5N2 avian influenza onlyafterthe U.S. outbreak ended.

A critical epidemiological parameter will be the relationship between infectivity and when those infected express symptoms. SARS and MERSprovedinfectious only upon symptoms. If this bears out for 2019-nCoV, we may be in relatively good shape, all things considered. Even without a vaccine or tailored antivirals, we can immediately quarantine the suddenly sick, breaking chains of transmission with nineteenth-century public health.

Sunday, however, Chinas health minister Ma Xiaoweistunnedthe world announcing that 2019-nCoV had expressed infectivitybeforesymptoms. Its such a turnabout that infuriated U.S. epidemiologists are demanding access to the data showing the new infectivity. The shock implies researchers stateside expect the virus couldnt possibly be able to evolve outside what they appear to imagine as some public health archetype. If the new infection life history holds true, health authorities arent going to be able to use symptoms to identify newly active cases.

These unknownsthe exact source, infectivity, penetrance, and possible treatmentstogether explain why epidemiologists and public health officials are worried about 2019-nCoV. Unlike the seasonal influenzas cited by pandemic skeptics, the uncertainty rattles practitioners.

It is the nature of the job, to worry, yes. Worry is built into the very probabilities and systemic errors embodied more broadly in the trade. The damage in failing to prepare for an outbreak that proves deadlyfar exceedsthat from the embarrassment of preparing for an outbreak that fails to live up to the hype. But in an era celebrating austerity, few jurisdictions wish to pay for a disaster that is no guarantee, whatever the collateral benefits of precaution or, on the other end of outcomes, the devastating losses associated with a bad gamble.

The choice how to respond is often entirely out of epidemiologist hands anyway. The national authorities who will make these decisions juggle multiple and often contrary agendas. Stopping even a deadly outbreak isnt always treated as the most important objective.

While authorities stumble about figuring out what to do, the scale of impact can suddenlyengagein escape velocity. As 2019-nCoV itself demonstrated moving from a single food market to the world stage in a month, the numbers can ramp up so far and fast that an epidemiologists best effort, theirraison dtre, is dealt a lethal blow by facts on the ground.

My own visceral reactions this disease round have skipped across worry, disappointment, and impatience.

Im an evolutionary biologist and public health phylogeographer who has worked on various aspects of these new pandemics for twenty-five years, much of my adult life. As Ivewrittenelsewhere, with the help of many others, I have tried parlaying a growing understanding of these pathogens, from thegenetic sequencesof my initial studies up through economic geographies of land use, the political economy of global agriculture, and the epistemology of science.

Clarity can sour a soul. As my social media chimed with queries about 2019-nCoV, my immediate response bordered on pique and exhaustion. What, pray, do you wish me to say? What do you want me to do about this?

In dispensing advice personal and professional to legitimately worried friends and colleagues, I made some wrong calls. To one farmer friends query about traveling abroad, I advised a surgeons mask, washing hands before all meals, and stop fucking livestock, bro. Darkly ribald humor gets me through stress, but his earnest reply, Stop fucking livestock? showed I had missed my mark. Not a good look on my part at all. I apologized. He laughed about it later.

Its an occupational hazard. There is the danger of an existential dread that arises from the political inertia epidemiologists must square off with in preparing the world for a nigh-on irresistible pandemic their constituencies pretend is no bother until its too late.

If 2019-nCoV is indeed the Big Bug, and it is not clear yet if thats the case, there is almost nothing to be done at this point. All we can do is batten down the public health hatches and hope the virus kills only a small part of the worlds population instead of 90%.

Clearly humanity shouldntstartreacting to a pandemic when its already underway. Its a total dereliction of any notion of forward-thinking theory or practice. And leaders and their learned supporters worldwide identify themselves asPrometheans!

As Iwroteseven years ago:

I expect it will be a long time before I address an outbreak of human influenza again other than in passing. While an understandable visceral reaction, getting worried at this point in the process is a bit bass-ackwards. The bug, whatever its point of origin, has long left the barn, quite literally.

This century weve already trainspotted novel strains of African swine fever,Campylobacter,Cryptosporidium,Cyclospora, Ebola, E. coli O157:H7, foot-and-mouth disease, hepatitis E,Listeria, Nipah virus, Q fever,Salmonella,Vibrio,Yersinia, Zika, and a variety of novel inuenza A variants, including H1N1 (2009), H1N2v, H3N2v, H5N1, H5N2, H5Nx, H6N1, H7N1, H7N3, H7N7,H7N9, and H9N2.

And near-nothingrealwas done about any of them. Authorities spent a sigh of relief upon eachs reversal and immediately took the next roll of the epidemiological dice, risking snake eyes of maximum virulence and transmissibility.

That approach suffers more than a failure of foresight or nerve. However necessary, emergency interventions cleaning up each of these messes can make mattersworse.

You see, sources of intervention compete. And, as my colleagues and I argue, emergency criteria are deployed as impositions inGramscian hegemonyto keep us from talking about structural interventions around power and production. Because, dont you know, were warned,ITSANEMERGENCYRIGHTNOW!

Atop this game of keep away, the failure to address structural problems can render these very emergency interventions ineffectual. TheAllee thresholdthat prophylaxes and quarantine aim to push pathogen populations belowso that infections may burn out on their own unable to find new susceptiblesissetby structural causes.

As our teamwroteabout the Ebola outbreak in West Africa:

Commoditizing the forest may have lowered the regions ecosystemic threshold to such a point that no emergency intervention can drive the Ebola outbreak low enough to burn out. Novel spillovers suddenly express larger forces of infection. On the other end of the epicurve, a mature outbreak continues to circulate, with the potential to intermittently rebound.

In short, neoliberalisms structural shifts are no mere background on which the emergency of Ebola takes place. The shiftsarethe emergency as much as the virus itself Deforestation and intensive agriculture may strip out traditional agroforestrys stochastic friction, which typically keeps the virus from lining up enough transmission.

Despite now with both an effectivevaccineandantivirals, Ebola is presently undergoing its longest recorded outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo. What got lost along the way? Where is our biomedical God now? Blaming the Congolese to cover up this failure is an exercise incolonial displacement, washing imperialisms hands of decades of structural adjustment and regime change in the global Norths favor.

Saying theres nothing we can do isnt quite right either, however, even as the complaint about reacting only upon a new diseases attack still stands.

Within any one locale, thereisa left program for an outbreak, including organizing neighborhood brigades in mutual aid, demanding any vaccine and antivirals developed be made available at no cost to everyone here and abroad, pirating antivirals and medical supplies, and securing unemployment and healthcare coverage as the economy tanks during the outbreak.

But that way of thinking and organizing, an integral part of thelefts legacy, appears to have left the building for more performative (and discursive) configurations online.

The reactionary bent to disease control left and right has since pivoted me to assisting efforts at anti-capitalist agricultures and conservation. Lets stop the outbreaks we cant handle from emerging in the first place. At this point in my career, with the structural pacing the emergencies, I generally write about infectious diseases in only tangential terms.

Structural causes of disease are themselves a source of debate. For one, questions remain as to 2019-nCoVs origins.

Muchinitial attentionhas been placed on a particular exotic food market in Wuhan, with an orientalist preoccupation with strange and unsavory diets, representing both the end of biodiversity the West itself is destroying and a revolting source of dangerous disease:

The typical market in China has fruits and vegetables, butchered beef, pork and lamb, whole plucked chickens with heads and beaks attached and live crabs and fish, spewing water out of churning tanks. Some sell more unusual fare, including live snakes, turtles and cicadas, guinea pigs, bamboo rats, badgers, hedgehogs, otters, palm civets, even wolf cubs.

Said snakes are brandished as both signifier and signified, aliteral sourceof 2019-nCoV that also harkens to a paradise lost and original sin from a serpents maw.

There is epidemiological evidence in the hypothesiss favor. Thirty-three of 585 samples at the Wuhan market werefoundpositive for 2019-nCoV, with 31 at the west end of the market where wildlife trading was concentrated.

On the other hand, only 41% of these positive samples werefoundin market streets where the wildlife were housed. A quarter of the original infecteesnever visitedthe Wuhan market or appeared directly exposed. The earliest case wasidentifiedbefore the market was hit. Other infected marketers trafficked in hog alone, a livestock species that expresses a common vulnerable molecular receptor, leading one team tohypothesizehog as the putative source for the new coronavirus.

AtopAfrican swine fever, which has killed as many ashalfof Chinas hog this past year, the latter possibility would represent quite the clusterfuck. Such disease convergences are not unheard of, even folding into an intimatereciprocal activation, wherein proteins of each pathogen catalyze each other, facilitating new clinical courses and transmission dynamics for both diseases.

At the same time, Western Sinophobiadoesnt absolveChinese public health. Certainly the anger and disappointment the Chinese public hasdirected atlocal and federal authorities for their slow reaction to 2019-nCoV cant be spun as weaponized xenophobia. And in our wise efforts to keep our foot out of that trap, we may also be missing a critical agroecological symmetry.

Setting aside the culture war,wet marketsandexotic foodarestaples in China, as is now industrial production, juxtaposed alongside each othersince economic liberalizationpost-Mao. Indeed, the two food modes may be integrated by way of land use.

Expanding industrial productionmay push increasingly capitalized wild foodsdeeperinto the last of the primary landscape,dredging outa wider variety of potentially protopandemic pathogens. Peri-urban loops of growing extent and population density mayincreasethe interface (and spillover) between wild nonhuman populations and newly urbanized rurality.

Worldwide, even the wildest subsistence species are being roped into ag value chains: among themostriches,porcupine,crocodiles,fruit bats, and thepalm civet, whose partially digested berries now supply the worlds most expensive coffee bean. Some wild species are making it onto forks before they are even scientifically identified, including one new short-nosed dogfishfoundin a Taiwanese market.

All are increasingly treated as food commodities. As nature is stripped place-by-place, species-by-species, whats left overbecomesthat much more valuable.

Weberian anthropologist Lyle Fearnleypointed outthat farmers in China repeatedly manipulate the distinction between wildness and domesticity as an economic signifier, producing new meanings and values attached to their animals, including in response to the very epidemiological alerts issued around their trade. A Marxist mightpush backthat these signifiers emerge out of a context that extends well beyond smallholder control and out onto global circuits of capital.

So while the distinction between factory farms and wet markets isnt unimportant, we may miss their similarities (and dialectical relationships).

The distinctions bleed together by a number of other mechanisms. Many a smallholder worldwide, including inChina, is in actuality acontractor, growing out day-old poultry, for instance, for industrial processing. So on a contractors smallholding along the forest edge, a food animal may catch a pathogen before being shipped back to a processing plant on the outer ring of a major city.

Spreading factory farms meanwhile may force increasingly corporatized wild foods companies to trawl deeper into the forest, increasing the likelihood of picking up a new pathogen, while reducing the kind of environmental complexity with which the forest disrupts transmission chains.

Capital weaponizes the resulting disease investigations.Blaming smallholdersis now a standard agribusiness crisis management practice, but clearly diseases are a matter ofsystemsof productionover time and space and mode, notjustspecific actors between whom we can juggle blame.

As a class, the coronaviruses appear to straddle these distinctions. While SARS and 2019-nCoV appeared to have emerged out of wet marketspossible pigs asideMERS, the other deadly coronavirus, emerged straight out of anindustrializing camel sectorin the Middle East. Its a path to virulence largely left out of broader scientific discussion about these viruses.

It should change how we think about them. I would recommend we err on the side of viewingdisease causalityand intervention beyond the biomedical or even ecohealth object and out into the field of ecosocial relationships.

Other ethoses see a different way out. Some researchersrecommendwe genetically engineer poultry and livestock to be resistant to these diseases. They leave out whether that would still allow these strains to circulate among what would now be asymptomatic food animals before spilling over into decidedly unengineered humans.

Again turning back the clock, a source of my pique, nine years ago Iwroteabout what efforts at genetically engineering out pathogens miss as matters of first principle:

Beyond the issue of the affordability of the new frankenchicken, especially for the poorest countries, influenzas success arises in part from its capacity to outwit and outlast such silver bullets. Hypotheses tied to a lucrative model of biology are routinely mistaken for expectations about material reality, expectations are mistaken for projections, and projections for predictions.

One source of vexation is the dimensionality of the problem. There is even among mainstream scholars a dawning realization influenza is more than mere virion or infection; that it respects little of disciplinary boundaries (and business plans) in both their form and content. Pathogens regularly use processes accumulating at one level of biocultural organization to solve problems they face at other levels, including the molecular.Agribusiness ever turns us toward a techno-utopian future to keep us in a past bounded by capitalist relations. We are spun round and round the very commodity tracks selecting for new diseases in the first place.

The secret thrill (and open terror) epidemiologists feel in an outbreak is nothing more than defeat disguised as heroism.

Almost the entirety of the profession is presently organized around post-hoc duties, much like a stable boy with a shovel following behind the elephants at a circus. Under the neoliberal program, epidemiologists and public health units are funded toclean upthe systems mess, while rationalizing even the worst practices that lead to many a deadly pandemics emergence.

In acommentaryon the new coronavirus, one Simon Reid, a professor of communicable disease control at the University of Queensland, instantiates the resulting incoherence.

Reid pings from topic to topic, failing to weave a whole out of his technicist observations. Such folly isnt necessarily a matter of incompetence or malicious intent upon Reids part. It is more a matter of the contradictory obligations of the neoliberal university.

U.S. leftists recently joined swords over the existence of theprofessional-managerial class.Jacobinsocial democratsrailat the capitalist PMC they angle to join in a Sanders administration, while tankies claim managers are proletarian too. Ill sidestep the metaphysical debatehow many PMC can dance on an epipen?only to observe that whether the PMCtheoreticallyexists in epidemiology, Ivemetits members in the flesh. They live!

Reid and other institutional epidemiologists are on the hook for cleaning up diseases of neoliberal originsyes, including out of Chinawhile meting out comforting platitudes that the system that pays them works. Its a double bind many practitioners choose to live with, nay, prosper from, even should the resulting epidemiologies threaten millions.

Reid here kinda gets the food system and conservation parts of the explanation for 2019-nCoV (and many of its celebrity forerunners out of the series of epidemiological reality shows run this century so far). But in introducing this protopandemic, he propositions, to paraphrase, that This utter horror has a saving gracehooray! And it is that China has been a source of repeated outbreaks, but it, and a WHO nowowned byphilanthrocapitalism, conducts exemplary biocontrol.

We can reject Sinophobia, offer material support, and still well remember Chinacovered upthe SARS outbreak in 2003. Beijing suppressed media and public health reports, allowing that coronavirus to splatter across its own country. Medical authorities one province over from an outbreak didnt know what their patients were suddenly showing up with at the ER. SARS eventually spread across multiple countries as far as Canada and was barely driven to extirpation.

The new century has meanwhile been marked by Chinas failure or refusal to unpack its near-perfect storm of rice, duck, and industrial poultry and hog production driving multiple novel strains of influenza. It is treated as a price for prosperity.

This is no Chinese exceptionalism, however. The U.S. and Europe have served as ground zeros for new influenzas as well, recentlyH5N2andH5Nx, and their multinationals and neocolonial proxies drove the emergence ofEbolain West Africa andZikain Brazil. U.S. public health officials covered for agribusiness during theH1N1 (2009) andH5N2outbreaks.

Perhaps then we should refrain from choosing between one of two cycles of capital accumulation: the end of the American cycle or the start of the Chinese one (or, as Reid appears to do, both). At the risk of accusations ofthird campism, choosing neither is another option.

If we must partake in the Great Game, lets choose an ecosocialism that mends themetabolic riftbetween ecology and economy, and between the urban and the rural and wilderness, keeping the worst of these pathogens from emerging in the first place. Lets choose international solidarity with everyday people the world over.

Lets realize a creaturely communism far from the Soviet model. Lets braid together a new world-system, indigenous liberation, farmer autonomy, strategic rewilding, and place-specific agroecologies that, redefining biosecurity, reintroduce immune firebreaks of widely diverse varieties in livestock, poultry, and crops.

Letsreintroducenatural selection as an ecosystem service and let our livestock and crops reproduce on-site, whereby they can pass along their outbreak-tested immunogenetics to the next generation.

Consider the options otherwise.

Maybe Ive been unfair to the Reids of the world, who as a matter of professional obligation must believe their own contradictions. But, as five hundred years of war and pestilence demonstrate, the sources of capital that many epidemiologists now serve are more than willing to scale mountains made of body bags.

Rob Wallace is the author ofBig Farms Make Big Flu.

A version of this article originally appeared on Monthly Review.

Link:

Connecting the Coronavirus to Agriculture - CounterPunch

Key findings about Americans’ confidence in science and their views on scientists’ role in society – Pew Research Center

(KTSDESIGN/Science Photo Library)

Science issues whether connected with climate, childhood vaccines or new techniques in biotechnology are part of the fabric of civic life, raising a range of social, ethical and policy issues for the citizenry. As members of the scientific community gather at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) this week, here is a roundup of key takeaways from our studies of U.S. public opinion about science issues and their effect on society.

The data for this post was drawn from multiple different surveys. The most recent was a survey of 3,627 U.S. adults conducted Oct. 1 to Oct. 13, 2019. This post also draws on data from surveys conducted in January 2019, December 2018, April-May 2018 and March 2016. All surveys were conducted using the American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of being selected. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, education and other categories. Read more about the ATPs methodology.

Following are the questions and responses for surveys used in this post, as well as each surveys methodology:

1Some public divides over science issues are aligned with partisanship, while many others are not. Science issues can be a key battleground for facts and information in society. Climate science has been part of an ongoing discourse around scientific evidence, how to attribute average temperature increases in the Earths climate system, and the kinds of policy actions needed. While public divides over climate and energy issues are often aligned with political party affiliation, public attitudes on other science-related issues are not.

For example, there are differences in public beliefs around the risks and benefits of childhood vaccines. Such differences arise amid civic debates about the spread of false information about vaccines. While such beliefs have important implications for public health, they are not particularly political in nature.

In fact, Republicans and independents who lean to the GOP are just as likely as Democrats and independents who lean to the Democratic Party to say that, overall, the benefits of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine outweigh the risks (89% and 88% respectively).

2Americans have differing views about some emerging scientific and technological developments. Scientific and technological developments are a key source of innovation and, therefore, change in society. Pew Research Center studies have explored public reactions to emergent developments from genetic engineering techniques, automation and more. One field at the forefront of public reaction is the use of gene editing of babies or genetic engineering of animals. Americans have mixed views over whether the use of gene editing to reduce a babys risk of serious disease that could occur over their lifetime is appropriate (60%) or is taking medical technology too far (38%), according to a 2018 survey. Similarly, about six-in-ten Americans (57%) said that genetic engineering of animals to grow organs or tissues for humans needing a transplant would be appropriate, while four-in-ten (41%) said it would be taking technology too far.

When we asked Americans about a future where a brain chip implant would give otherwise healthy individuals much improved cognitive abilities, a 69% majority said they were very or somewhat worried about the possibility. By contrast, about half as many (34%) were enthusiastic. Further, as people think about the effects of automation technologies in the workplace, more say automation has brought more harm than help to American workers.

One theme running through our findings on emerging science and technology is that public hesitancy often is tied to concern about the loss of human control, especially if such developments would be at odds with personal, religious and ethical values. In looking across seven developments related to automation and the potential use of biomedical interventions to enhance human abilities, Center studies found that proposals that would increase peoples control over these technologies were met with greater acceptance.

3Most in the U.S. see net benefits from science for society, and they expect more ahead. About three-quarters of Americans (73%) say science has, on balance, had a mostly positive effect on society. And 82% expect future scientific developments to yield benefits for society in years to come.

The overall portrait is one of strong public support for the benefits of science to society, though the degree to which Americans embrace this idea differs sizably by race and ethnicity as well as by levels of science knowledge.

Such findings are in line with those of the General Social Survey on the effects of scientific research. In 2018, about three-quarters of Americans (74%) said the benefits of scientific research outweigh any harmful results. Support for scientific research by this measure has been roughly stable since the 1980s.

4The share of Americans with confidence in scientists to act in the public interest has increased since 2016.

Public confidence in scientists to act in the public interest tilts positive and has increased over the past few years. As of 2019, 35% of Americans report a great deal of confidence in scientists to act in the public interest, up from 21% in 2016.

About half of the public (51%) reports a fair amount of confidence in scientists, and just 13% have not too much or no confidence in this group to act in the public interest.

Public trust in scientists by this measure stands in contrast to that for other groups and institutions. One of the hallmarks of the current times has been low trust in government and other institutions. One-in-ten or fewer say they have a great deal of confidence in elected officials (4%) or the news media (9%) to act in the public interest.

5Americans differ over the role and value of scientific experts in policy matters. While confidence in scientists overall tilts positive, peoples perspectives about the role and value of scientific experts on policy issues tends to vary. Six-in-ten U.S. adults believe that scientists should take an active role in policy debates about scientific issues, while about four-in-ten (39%) say, instead, that scientists should focus on establishing sound scientific facts and stay out of such debates.

Democrats are more inclined than Republicans to think scientists should have an active role in science policy matters. Indeed, most Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (73%) hold this position, compared with 43% of Republicans and GOP leaners.

More than four-in-ten U.S. adults (45%) say that scientific experts usually make better policy decisions than other people, while a similar share (48%) says such decisions are neither better nor worse than other peoples and 7% say scientific experts decisions are usually worse than other peoples.

Here, too, Democrats tend to hold scientific experts in higher esteem than do Republicans: 54% of Democrats say scientists policy decisions are usually better than those of other people, while two-thirds of Republicans (66%) say that scientists decisions are either no different from or worse than other peoples.

6Factual knowledge alone does not explain public confidence in the scientific method to produce sound conclusions. Overall, a 63% majority of Americans say the scientific method generally produces sound conclusions, while 35% think it can be used to produce any result a researcher wants. Peoples level of knowledge can influence beliefs about these matters, but it does so through the lens of partisanship, a tendency known as motivated reasoning.

Beliefs about this matter illustrate that science knowledge levels sometimes correlate with public attitudes. But partisanship has a stronger role.

Democrats are more likely to express confidence in the scientific method to produce accurate conclusions than do Republicans, on average. Most Democrats with high levels of science knowledge (86%, based on an 11-item index of factual knowledge questions) say the scientific method generally produces accurate conclusions. By comparison, 52% of Democrats with low science knowledge say this. But science knowledge has little bearing on Republicans beliefs about the scientific method.

7Trust in practitioners like medical doctors and dietitians is stronger than that for researchers in these fields, but skepticism about scientific integrity is widespread. Scientists work in a wide array of fields and specialties. A 2019 Pew Research Center survey found public trust in medical doctors and dietitians to be higher than that for researchers working in these areas. For example, 48% of U.S. adults say that medical doctors give fair and accurate information all or most of the time. By comparison, 32% of U.S. adults say the same about medical research scientists. And six-in-ten Americans say dietitians care about their patients best interests all or most of the time, while about half as many (29%) say this about nutrition research scientists with the same frequency.

One factor in public trust of scientists is familiarity with their work. For example, people who were more familiar with what medical science researchers do were more trusting of these researchers to express care or concern for the public interest, to do their job with competence and to provide fair and accurate information. Familiarity with the work of scientists was related to trust for all six specialties we studied.

But when it comes to questions of scientists transparency and accountability, most Americans are skeptical. About two-in-ten or fewer U.S. adults say that scientists are transparent about potential conflicts of interest with industry groups all or most of the time. Similar shares (roughly between one-in-ten and two-in-ten) say that scientists admit their mistakes and take responsibility for them all or most of the time.

This data shows clearly that when it comes to questions of transparency and accountability, most in the general public are attuned to the potential for self-serving interests to skew science findings and recommendations. These findings echo calls for increased transparency and accountability across many sectors and industries today.

8What boosts public trust in scientific research findings? Most say its making data openly available. A 57% majority of Americans say they trust scientific research findings more when the data is openly available to the public. And about half of the U.S. public (52%) say they are more likely to trust research that has been independently reviewed.

The question of who funds the research is also consequential for how people think about scientific research. A 58% majority say they have lower trust when research is funded by an industry group. By comparison, about half of Americans (48%) say government funding for research has no particular effect on how much they trust the findings; 28% say this decreases their trust and 23% say it increases their trust.

Read the rest here:

Key findings about Americans' confidence in science and their views on scientists' role in society - Pew Research Center


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