Displaying items by tag: Science
Scientist and government advisor Prof Ravi Gupta sees signs of early stages of a third wave. Although new cases are ‘relatively low’, the Indian variant spreads faster than the winter variant. All waves start with low numbers grumbling in the background before infections explode. New infections with the Indian variant are rising daily in both the north and south of England. Very few hospital patients have had two jabs. See Also an evolved version of the Indian strain, 'Nepal' Covid, has so far been found in twenty Britons. It is closely related to the Indian variant, but has new mutations. The Nepal variant has also spread to several European countries. Its detection in Portugal could put their green-list status at risk. SAGE experts warn that the UK cannot panic every time it spots a new strain. The Government is waiting for more data before making a final decision on whether restrictions will be lifted in England on 21 June. That decision will be announced on 14 June.
An international group of scientists has ditched ethical guidelines so that they can grow babies for forty days, for the sole purpose of killing them for research. The International Society for Stem Cell Research issued new guidelines that lift restrictions on certain types of unethical research that manipulate, alter, or destroy human embryos. It wants to remove a 14-day rule for research on human embryos, established in 1979, which stated scientists may only experiment on human embryos up to 14 days after fertilisation. This rule has been the current policy in the United States and generally a scientific standard throughout the world. The new guidelines have removed all restraint, creating the potential for ‘baby in a bottle’ experiments. It also wants to use three-parent human embryos (human embryo with DNA from three individuals), which is currently prohibited, and to allow creating a cell from animal and human cells, characteristic, or tissues.
The UK government, which hosts a climate summit this year, has allowed a coal mine at Whitehaven to go ahead. The leading climate scientist James Hansen has warned Boris Johnson that he risks ‘humiliation’ over plans for the mine to extract coking coal from under the Irish Sea. Dr Hansen, formerly Nasa's leading global warming researcher, urged the PM to halt production. No 10 said the UK was a world leader on climate change, but would not reverse the local council’s decision on the mine. They have stressed that industries such as steel production require coking coal - which would have to be imported if it were not produced in the UK. The mine will produce a grade of coking coal for steel-making; 85% of it is destined for export to Europe. Government sources hinted that the need for continuing domestic steel production was another reason for not opposing the mine.
Famed Christian geneticist Francis Collins has urged churches to remain closed to prevent the spread of Covid-19 amongst congregations. Speaking to the Southern Baptist Convention, Collins said that churches gathering in person are a ‘source of considerable concern’ because of the potential for ‘super-spreading’. Meanwhile the US Supreme Court ordered a federal district court to reconsider its support for restrictions on indoor religious services in California. The restrictions are being contested in several other American courts by Christians insisting their liberties are being infringed. Collins also urged Christians to reject the idea that mask requirements ‘invade your personal freedom’. He said, ‘This is a lifesaving device. When you put on that mask, you're protecting yourself from other people, but mostly you're protecting them from you. You're doing the unselfish, loving thing of saying, “I'm going to protect people from me”. That's a Christian action if ever I've heard one.’
On 21 September the government’s chief scientific adviser said that without further action the UK could see 50,000 new coronavirus cases daily by mid-October, leading to about 200 daily deaths a month later. He stressed the figures were not a prediction but an estimation if nothing is done to curb the current doubling of numbers every seven days. Speedy action is required to bring numbers down: see On 23 September, the day after a Cobra meeting chaired by the PM, new rules were declared: closing pubs, bars and restaurants at 10 pm, and more face masks rules. Fines for breaking rules were increased. The motto ‘Stay At Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives’ has been retired after an intense period of lockdown. Now Boris Johnson wants to ‘save lives, protect the NHS’ and ‘shelter the economy’.
The UK could carry out Covid ‘challenge trials’, where healthy volunteers are deliberately infected with coronavirus to test possible vaccines. Challenge studies were used to test vaccines for flu, cholera and typhoid, but there were treatments to prevent volunteers from falling ill. Coronavirus trials have the added risk that should volunteers become unwell, the only drugs available will control the disease not remove it. University student Alastair Fraser-Urquhart will volunteer if the trial goes ahead. He said, ‘I think it might save thousands of lives and bring the world out of the pandemic sooner.’ Professor Peter Horby said the trials have the potential to advance science and help us to better understand coronavirus. ‘The risk in a healthy young adult with no underlying conditions is extremely low. What's been holding things up are ethical considerations.’
Professor Francis Collins, the Christian geneticist who famously led the ‘human genome project’, has said he is hopeful about developing a successful vaccine to protect people against Covid-19. He has recently been asked to join the White House coronavirus task force to help the government combat the disease. As the head of the NIH - a government agency responsible for biomedical and public health research - Collins said that he was prepared to ‘say the truth’ to President Trump even if he disagreed with it. This followed the repudiation experience of leading immunologist and government adviser, Dr Tony Fauci. A prominent public figure in the fight against coronavirus, Dr Fauci is a ‘truth-teller who is incapable of doing anything except saying exactly what we do and don't know’. Collins added, ‘If there is one thing more infectious than virus, it is hope.’
China filed a patent for a drug seen as one of the best potential weapons against coronavirus the day after Beijing confirmed coronavirus was transmissible to humans. The revelation that it moved so fast fuels concerns about a cover-up of the pandemic when it erupted and suggests that China’s understanding of the virus was far more advanced than the impression given in public. The chairman of the US foreign affairs select committee joined the growing global call for a full, independent inquiry into China’s role, saying, ‘It is quite clear there is an awful lot that we do not know about the emergence of this disease and the responses to it. We all need to learn the lessons of the outbreak so that the international community can respond better in the future.’ Leaked documents showed that China’s officials knew they faced an epidemic but delayed warning the public for six days.
The scientific community is on the hunt for effective, scalable treatments for coronavirus, while at the same time developing a safe and tested vaccine. It took five years to produce an Ebola vaccine. The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation said that human trials with an experimental COVID-19 vaccine have already begun. One of a group of volunteers involved in testing, Jennifer Haller, became the first person to receive one at Kaiser Permanente Washington Research Institute. There is no risk of the volunteers becoming infected, because the shots of the vaccine (named RNA-1273) do not contain the coronavirus itself. WHO says there are over forty potential vaccines and as many as one hundred undergoing development, although only a handful are as yet being clinically tested. There are over thirty companies and academic institutions worldwide trying different approaches to find the silver bullet to beat COVID-19.
5G is widespread in China and being tested in America and Europe. Potentially, it will unleash a tidal wave of smart devices. Doctors will carry out surgery remotely, taking advantage of 5G’s speed to control precision robots. Designers and lawyers will work remotely through shared virtual realities. Scientific experiments will be carried out over long distances, allowing scientists across nations to take part in common research projects. 5G will transform ‘smart cities’, with sensors for gathering, analysing and processing data on public transport and energy consumption. They will improve waste collection, detecting whether bins are full and telling bin-men where those full bins are. 5G will keep traffic flowing by working traffic lights based on traffic volume. Self-driving cars will communicate instantly and avoid crashes. Rural areas will benefit from autonomous drones hovering over plants and spraying sticky ones with pesticides when needed. The most surprising innovations are those that still live in our imaginations.