Some Countries Have No COVID-19 Jabs At All

1 hour 15 minutes ago
The World Health Organization says nearly a dozen countries -- many of them in Africa -- are still waiting to get vaccines. Those last in line on the continent along with Chad are Burkina Faso, Burundi, Eritrea and Tanzania. From a report: "Delays and shortages of vaccine supplies are driving African countries to slip further behind the rest of the world in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout and the continent now accounts for only 1% of the vaccines administered worldwide," WHO warned Thursday. And in places where there are no vaccines, there's also the chance that new and concerning variants could emerge, said Gian Gandhi, UNICEF's COVAX coordinator for Supply Division. "So we should all be concerned about any lack of coverage anywhere in the world," Gandhi said, urging higher-income countries to donate doses to the nations that are still waiting. While the total of confirmed COVID-19 cases among them is relatively low compared with the world's hot spots, health officials say that figure is likely a vast undercount: The countries in Africa still waiting for vaccines are among those least equipped to track infections because of their fragile health care systems. Chad has confirmed only 170 deaths since the pandemic began, but efforts to stop the virus entirely here have been elusive. Although the capital's international airport was closed briefly last year, its first case came via someone who crossed one of Chad's porous land borders illegally.

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Voyager 1 Detects Plasma 'Hum'

18 hours 23 minutes ago
Obipale shares a report from Phys.Org: Voyager 1 -- one of two sibling NASA spacecraft launched 44 years ago and now the most distant human-made object in space -- still works and zooms toward infinity. The craft has long since zipped past the edge of the solar system through the heliopause -- the solar system's border with interstellar space -- into the interstellar medium. Now, its instruments have detected the constant drone of interstellar gas (plasma waves), according to Cornell University-led research published in Nature Astronomy. Examining data slowly sent back from more than 14 billion miles away, Stella Koch Ocker, a Cornell doctoral student in astronomy, has uncovered the emission. "It's very faint and monotone, because it is in a narrow frequency bandwidth," Ocker said. "We're detecting the faint, persistent hum of interstellar gas." This work allows scientists to understand how the interstellar medium interacts with the solar wind, Ocker said, and how the protective bubble of the solar system's heliosphere is shaped and modified by the interstellar environment.

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BeauHD

MDMA Passes a Big Test For PTSD Treatment

22 hours 55 minutes ago
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: In an important step toward medical approval, MDMA, the illegal drug popularly known as Ecstasy or Molly, was shown to bring relief to those suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder when paired with talk therapy. Of the 90 people who took part in the new study, which is expected to be published later this month in Nature Medicine, those who received MDMA during therapy experienced a significantly greater reduction in the severity of their symptoms compared with those who received therapy and an inactive placebo. Two months after treatment, 67 percent of participants in the MDMA group no longer qualified for a diagnosis of PTSD, compared with 32 percent in the placebo group. MDMA produced no serious adverse side effects. Some participants temporarily experienced mild symptoms like nausea and loss of appetite. Before MDMA-assisted therapy can be approved for therapeutic use, the Food and Drug Administration needs a second positive Phase 3 trial, which is currently underway with 100 participants. Approval could come as early as 2023. Mental health experts say that this research -- the first Phase 3 trial conducted on psychedelic-assisted therapy -- could pave the way for further studies on MDMA's potential to help address other difficult-to-treat mental health conditions, including substance abuse, obsessive compulsive disorder, phobias, eating disorders, depression, end-of-life anxiety and social anxiety in autistic adults. And, mental health researchers say, these studies could also encourage additional research on other banned psychedelics, including psilocybin, LSD and mescaline. "This is a wonderful, fruitful time for discovery, because people are suddenly willing to consider these substances as therapeutics again, which hasn't happened in 50 years," said Jennifer Mitchell, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco, and lead author of the new study.

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BeauHD

FDA Clears Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine For Kids Ages 12 To 15

1 day 4 hours ago
The Food and Drug Administration on Monday approved Pfizer and BioNTech's request to allow their Covid-19 vaccine to be given to kids ages 12 to 15 on an emergency use basis, allowing states to get middle school students vaccinated before the fall. The two-dose vaccine is already authorized for use in people 16 and older. CNBC reports: Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock said the decision brings "us closer to returning to a sense of normalcy and to ending the pandemic." She assured parents that the agency "undertook a rigorous and thorough review of all available data" before clearing it for use in the teens. The companies said in late March that the vaccine was found to be 100% effective in a clinical trial of more than 2,000 adolescents. They also said the vaccine elicited a "robust" antibody response in the children, exceeding those in an earlier trial of older teens and young adults. Side effects were generally consistent with those seen in adults, they added. Vaccinating children is seen as crucial to ending the pandemic. The nation is unlikely to achieve herd immunity -- when enough people in a given community have antibodies against a specific disease -- until children can get vaccinated, health officials and experts say. Children make up around 20% of the total U.S. population, according to government data. Between 70% and 85% of the U.S. population needs to be vaccinated against Covid to achieve herd immunity, experts say, and some adults may refuse to get the shots. Though more experts now say herd immunity is looking increasingly unlikely as variants spread. The report notes that the same two-dose regimen that's use for people 16 years of age and older will also be used for kids ages 12 to 15. FDA approval for kids under age 12 could come in the second half of the year.

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BeauHD

Gas Flaring Declined in 2020, Study Finds

1 day 6 hours ago
Gas flaring worldwide decreased by 5 percent in the pandemic year, mostly because of lower demand for oil, according to a recent report from the World Bank. From a report: While the overall drop was expected, the report offered a detailed picture of the flaring activities around the world, with steep declines in some areas, like the United States, and surprising increases in others, notably China. Flaring occurs when the gas that emerges with crude oil is burned off rather than captured. That burning emits carbon dioxide, a gas that is the main contributor to climate change. According to World Bank officials, flaring adds roughly 400 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent emissions to the atmosphere every year. According to the report, Russia was responsible for more flaring overall than any other country in 2020, contributing 15 percent of the global total. But within Russia, there were areas of progress. Burning continued to decrease in the Khanty-Mansi region of Siberia, where flaring volumes have dropped by nearly 80 percent over the previous 15 years.

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Covid Variant From India Triggers WHO Concern Over Fast Spread

1 day 8 hours ago
A fast-spreading strain of Covid-19 first identified in India, the scene of one of the world's most fearsome outbreaks, will be classified as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization. From a report: The global health group will publish a detailed report Tuesday on the variant, called B.1.617, said Maria van Kerkhove, the WHO's technical lead officer on Covid-19. "There is some available information to suggest increased transmissibility," she said at a media briefing on Monday. A study of a limited number of patients that has not undergone peer review also suggested that the mutant can evade some key antibodies, she said. "As such, we're classifying this as a variant of concern at the global level." India's health system has been stretched to the breaking point by a virus wave that's proving highly lethal and difficult to control. The country has reported more than 300,000 new virus infections for the past 19 days straight. Fearing an influx of infections and mindful of the new variant, countries including Singapore, the U.K. and Tanzania have curbed travel to and from India.

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'Mushrooms on Mars is a Hoax. Stop Believing Hacks'

2 days 10 hours ago
Several science web sites are strongly disputing a China-based journal's claim that time-lapse photos of Mars show growing mushrooms. TNW Neural headlined their story "Mushrooms on Mars is a hoax — stop believing hack 'scientists'" If you believe those images demonstrate fungus growing on Mars, I'm about to blow your frickin' mind. Check out this pic. You see that? To heck with fungus, that's an entire highway growing out of the sand in front of a moving bus. You can clearly see that the Earth's sandy crust is being broken apart as the expanding highway organism grows beneath it. Or, if you're the "Occam's Razor" type: the wind is just blowing sand around. I've never been to Mars, but I'm led to believe there are rocks, dust, and wind. Do we really need to go any further in debunking this nonsense? They also link to Retraction Watch's page about the story's lead author, Rhawn Gabriel Joseph. IFL Science picks up the story: Nicknamed the Space Tiger King — due to the photographs posted on his frankly ridiculous personal website — Joseph has spent decades erroneously claiming that life has already been discovered on other planets. Back in the 1970s, he began alleging that NASA's Viking lander had found biological matter, despite the agency stating the exact opposite of this. After setting up his own journal in an attempt to air his unscientific assertions, he later filed a lawsuit against NASA in order to force them to investigate a structure which he claimed resembled a "putative biological organism", but which later turned out to be a rock. CNET adds: "Claiming that mushrooms are sprouting all over Mars is an extraordinary claim that requires better evidence than an analysis of photographic morphology by a known crank who has claimed, on the basis of the same kind of analysis, that he has seen fields of skulls on Mars," says Paul Myers, a developmental biologist at the University of Minnesota, Morris, who has followed Joseph's work in the past... After being alerted to the new paper on Wednesday, I sent emails to the associate editors-in-chief of Advances in Microbiology, asking for clarification around the peer review process. They have not responded to requests for comment. I also emailed members of the editorial board listed on SCIRP's website, including Jian Li, a microbiologist at Monash University in Australia. He says he has not been on the journal's editorial board "for at least five to six years" and has not handled any of the papers in the journal. The "mushrooms" theory was also dismissed by several actual scientists, reports Futurism: "The conditions on Mars are so extreme that you're not going to see fungi or any kind of life growing at that sort of speed under conditions like coldness and low air pressure," Jonathan Clarke, president of Mars Society Australia, told the South China Morning Post. "Life can barely survive, let alone thrive." Clarke also took issue with the paper claiming that mushrooms were actually growing on Mars. "It's just like if you go to a beach and there are shells," he told the newspaper. "If the wind blows, the sand moves and exposes more shells. But we won't say the shells are growing there, it's just that they become visible..." "We have more than photos, records, instruments that tell us what these materials are made of," David Flannery, lecturer at the Queensland University of Technology who is a member of NASA's Mars 2020 mission science team, told SCMP. "And we have models for the features we see around us.... Robots are sending back huge amounts of data," he added. "We have plenty of information but it's just that no one is interpreting the features that we see as something like fungi. There's zero evidence for that." "This paper, which is really not credible, will be ignored by the scientific community," Flannery said.

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EditorDavid

New Study Again Finds Mediterranean Diet Lowers Symptoms of Brain Aging

2 days 11 hours ago
CNN reports that a new study has again found that Mediterranean diets can lower your risk of dementia "by interfering with the buildup of two proteins, amyloid and tau, into the plaques and tangles that are hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease." "The mountain of evidence continues to build that you are what you eat when it comes to brain health," said Dr. Richard Isaacson, who directs the Alzheimer's Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian Hospital... "For every point of higher compliance with the diet, people had one extra year less of brain aging. That is striking," Isaacson added. "Most people are unaware that it's possible to take control of your brain health, yet this study shows us just that...." What is the Mediterranean diet...? The true diet is simple, plant-based cooking, with the majority of each meal focused on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and seeds, with a few nuts and a heavy emphasis on extra-virgin olive oil. Fats other than olive oil, such as butter, are consumed rarely, if at all. And say goodbye to refined sugar or flour. Meat can make a rare appearance, but usually only to flavor a dish. Instead, meals may include eggs, dairy and poultry, but in much smaller portions than in the traditional Western diet. However, fish, which are full of brain-boosting omega-3's, are a staple. The study, published Wednesday in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, examined 343 people at high risk of developing Alzheimer's and compared them to 169 cognitively normal subjects... After adjusting for factors like age, sex and education, the study found that people who did not follow the diet closely had more signs of amyloid and tau buildup in their spinal fluid than those who did adhere to the diet... "These results add to the body of evidence that show what you eat may influence your memory skills later on," said study author Tommaso Ballarini, a postdoctoral fellow at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Bonn, Germany, in a statement... This isn't the first research to find a link between brain health and the Mediterranean diet or one of its plant-based cousins. A study of nearly 6,000 healthy older Americans with an average age of 68 found those who followed the Mediterranean or the similar MIND diet lowered their risk of dementia by a third. After reviewing the new study, Isaacson told CNN that "The strongest factor to really move the needle was regular fish consumption."

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EditorDavid

China's Out-of-Control Rocket Plunges Out of Orbit, Crashes Into Ocean

2 days 19 hours ago
An out-of-control Chinese rocket plunged out of orbit and reentered Earth's atmosphere in the Indian Ocean (just west of the Maldives), reports CNN, citing China's space agency: Most of the rocket was "destroyed" on reentry to the atmosphere, the space agency said. The rocket, which is about 108 feet tall and weighs nearly 40,000 pounds, had launched a piece of a new Chinese space station into orbit on April 29. After its fuel was spent, the rocket had been left to hurtle through space uncontrolled until Earth's gravity dragged it back to the ground. Generally, the international space community tries to avoid such scenarios. Most rockets used to lift satellites and other objects into space conduct more controlled reentries that aim for the ocean, or they're left in so-called "graveyard" orbits that keep them in space for decades or centuries. But the Long March rocket is designed in a way that "leaves these big stages in low orbit," said Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Astrophysics Center at Harvard University. In this case, it was impossible to be certain exactly when or where the booster would land. The European Space Agency had predicted a "risk zone" that encompassed "any portion of Earth's surface between about 41.5N and 41.5S latitude" — which included virtually all of the Americas south of New York, all of Africa and Australia, parts of Asia south of Japan and Europe's Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece. The threat to populated areas of land was not negligible, but fortunately the vast majority of Earth's surface area is consumed by oceans... The rocket is one of the largest objects in recent memory to strike the Earth after falling out of orbit, following a 2018 incident in which a piece of a Chinese space lab broke up over the Pacific Ocean and the 2020 reentry of an 18-metric-ton Long March 5B rocket [also launched by China].

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EditorDavid

Does XKCD's Cartoon Show How Scientific Publishing Is a Joke?

3 days ago
"An XKCD comic — and its many remixes — perfectly captures the absurdity of academic research," writes the Atlantic (in an article shared by Slashdot reader shanen). It argues that the cartoon "captured the attention of scientists — and inspired many to create versions specific to their own disciplines. Together, these became a global, interdisciplinary conversation about the nature of modern research practices." It depicts a taxonomy of the 12 "Types of Scientific Paper," presented in a grid. "The immune system is at it again," one paper's title reads. "My colleague is wrong and I can finally prove it," declares another. The gag reveals how research literature, when stripped of its jargon, is just as susceptible to repetition, triviality, pandering, and pettiness as other forms of communication. The cartoon's childlike simplicity, though, seemed to offer cover for scientists to critique and celebrate their work at the same time... You couldn't keep the biologists away from the fun ("New microscope!! Yours is now obsolete"), and — in their usual fashion — the science journalists soon followed ("Readers love animals"). A doctoral student cobbled together a website to help users generate their own versions. We reached Peak Meme with the creation of a meta-meme outlining a taxonomy of academic-paper memes. At that point, the writer and internet activist Cory Doctorow lauded the collective project of producing these jokes as "an act of wry, insightful auto-ethnography — self-criticism wrapped in humor that tells a story." Put another way: The joke was on target. "The meme hits the right nerve," says Vinay Prasad, an associate epidemiology professor and a prominent critic of medical research. "Many papers serve no purpose, advance no agenda, may not be correct, make no sense, and are poorly read. But they are required for promotion." The scholarly literature in many fields is riddled with extraneous work; indeed, I've always been intrigued by the idea that this sorry outcome was more or less inevitable, given the incentives at play. Take a bunch of clever, ambitious people and tell them to get as many papers published as possible while still technically passing muster through peer review ... and what do you think is going to happen? Of course the system gets gamed: The results from one experiment get sliced up into a dozen papers, statistics are massaged to produce more interesting results, and conclusions become exaggerated. The most prolific authors have found a way to publish more than one scientific paper a week. Those who can't keep up might hire a paper mill to do (or fake) the work on their behalf. The article argues the Covid-19 pandemic induced medical journals to forego papers about large-scale clinical trials while "rapidly accepting reports that described just a handful of patients. More than a few CVs were beefed up along the way." But pandemic publishing has only served to exacerbate some well-established bad habits, Michael Johansen, a family-medicine physician and researcher who has criticized many studies as being of minimal value, told me. "COVID publications appear to be representative of the literature at large: a few really important papers and a whole bunch of stuff that isn't or shouldn't be read." Unfortunately, the Atlantic adds, "none of the scientists I talked with could think of a realistic solution."

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EditorDavid

Astronomers Search For Answers To Origins of Interstellar Visitors Like 'Oumuamua

3 days 4 hours ago
"Getting to another extrasolar planet is never going to happen in my lifetime, or that of Western civilisation," says Alan Jackson, an astronomer and planetary scientist at Arizona State University. "But we can have nature deliver pieces of them to us that we can actually see up close." Slashdot reader boudie2 shares this article from BBC Future, which notes that astronomers spent decades looking for objects from outside our solar system — until two arrived at once. "'Oumuamua has not yet been definitively classified as a comet or an asteroid — it might be something else entirely," the article points out. For one thing, 'Oumuamua didn't have a comet-like tail: Two things in particular fixated scientists. The first was its mysterious acceleration away from the Sun, which was hard to reconcile with many ideas about what it might have been made of. The second was its peculiar shape — by some estimates, it was 10 times as long as it was wide. Before 'Oumuamua, the most elongated known space objects were three times longer than they were wide... [F]inally, earlier this year Jackson and his colleague Steven Desch came up with an explanation that seems to explain 'Oumuamua's quirky features, without the need for any alien technology... "We just realised that nitrogen ice could supply exactly the amount of push it needs — and it's observed on Pluto," he says. To corroborate the idea, they calculated how shiny the surface of 'Oumuamua was and compared it to the reflectivity of nitrogen ice — and found that the two were more or less exact matches. The team concluded that the object was likely to be a chunk of nitrogen ice, which was chipped off the surface of a Pluto-like exoplanet around a young star. Based on the evolution of our own solar system, which started out with thousands of similar planets in the icy neighbourhood of the Kuiper belt, they suggested that the fragment may have broken off around half a billion years ago... Though the object would have finally reached the very outermost edge of the Solar System many years ago, it would have taken a long time to travel to the balmy, central region where it was first discovered — and been gradually worn down into a pancake as it approached. This explains its unusual shape and its acceleration in one go, because the evaporating nitrogen would have left an invisible tail that propelled it forwards. "Our atmosphere is mostly nitrogen and you can see though it," says Jackson. "Nitrogen gas is difficult to detect." Again, not everyone is happy with this suggestion. Luckily, the second interstellar object, 2I/Borisov "has turned out to be emphatically less difficult to decipher than its cosmic companion. It's been recognised as the first interstellar comet ever found."

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EditorDavid

New Studies Show Covid-19 Vaccines' Effectiveness Against Variants

3 days 9 hours ago
CNN recently reported on "a batch" of new studies published Wednesday — with one quantifying how much immunity improves after the second dose, and others showing how well coronavirus vaccines work against new variants of the virus: The first nationwide study of coronavirus vaccination, done in Israel, showed Pfizer/BioNtech's vaccine works far better after two doses. Two shots of the vaccine provided greater than 95% protection from infection, severe illness and death, Dr. Eric Haas of the Israel Ministry of Health and colleagues reported in the Lancet medical journal. "Two doses of BNT162b2 are highly effective across all age groups in preventing symptomatic and asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infections and COVID-19-related hospitalizations, severe disease, and death, including those caused by the B.1.1.7 SARS-CoV-2 variant," they wrote. The B.1.1.7 variant, first seen in Britain, has spread widely and is now the most common new variant seen in the US. It was also common in Israel when the study was done... "By 14 days after vaccination, protections conferred by a second dose [of the Pfizer vaccine] increased to 96.5% protection against infection, 98% against hospitalization, and 98.1% against death," the team wrote. But people who got only one dose of the vaccine were far less protected. One dose alone gave just 57.7% protection against infection, 75.7% against hospitalization, and 77% against death.... Separately, a team in the Gulf state of Qatar looked at the efficacy of Pfizer's vaccine in the population there when B.1.351 and B.1.1.7 were both circulating. They found reassuring results. "The estimated effectiveness of the vaccine against any documented infection with the B.1.1.7 variant was 89.5% at 14 or more days after the second dose. The effectiveness against any documented infection with the B.1.351 variant was 75%," the researchers wrote in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine... Vaccine maker Moderna reported Wednesday that a booster shot delivering a half-dose of its current vaccine revs up the immune response against both B.1.351 and P.1. And a booster dose formulated specifically to match B.1.351 was even more effective, Moderna said in a statement... In another study, vaccine maker Novavax confirmed earlier findings that showed its vaccine protects against B.1.351.

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EditorDavid

New Audio From Mars Captures Sounds of Ingenuity Helicopter's Flight

3 days 10 hours ago
"A ghostly hum has been echoing across the plains of Mars' Jezero Crater," reports Business Insider. Slashdot reader quonset writes: NASA has released a short video of Ingenuity's fourth flight on Mars. However, a bountiful side effect is they were able to hear the hum of its rotors. Perseverance's microphone was turned on during the flight, and despite Ingenuity being over 260 feet away, it was able to capture both sight and sound of the historic event. While the majority of sound is Martian wind rustling against the microphone, NASA enhanced the sound to make the rotor sounds more audible. They are most apparent when Ingenuity returns to its takeoff spot and the rotor hum dies down when the blades come to a halt. "We had carried out tests and simulations that told us the microphone would barely pick up the sounds of the helicopter, as the Mars atmosphere damps the sound propagation strongly," said NASA's science lead for the Perseverance rover's microphone. "We have been lucky to register the helicopter at such a distance. This recording will be a gold mine for our understanding of the Martian atmosphere."

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EditorDavid

Nuclear Reactions Are Smoldering Again At Chernobyl

3 days 22 hours ago
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Science Magazine: Thirty-five years after the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine exploded in the world's worst nuclear accident, fission reactions are smoldering again in uranium fuel masses buried deep inside a mangled reactor hall. "It's like the embers in a barbecue pit," says Neil Hyatt, a nuclear materials chemist at the University of Sheffield. Now, Ukrainian scientists are scrambling to determine whether the reactions will wink out on their own -- or require extraordinary interventions to avert another accident. Sensors are tracking a rising number of neutrons, a signal of fission, streaming from one inaccessible room, Anatolii Doroshenko of the Institute for Safety Problems of Nuclear Power Plants (ISPNPP) in Kyiv, Ukraine, reported last week during discussions about dismantling the reactor. "There are many uncertainties," says ISPNPP's Maxim Saveliev. "But we can't rule out the possibility of [an] accident." The neutron counts are rising slowly, Saveliev says, suggesting managers still have a few years to figure out how to stifle the threat. Any remedy he and his colleagues come up with will be of keen interest to Japan, which is coping with the aftermath of its own nuclear disaster 10 years ago at Fukushima, Hyatt notes. "It's a similar magnitude of hazard."

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BeauHD

Sinopharm: Chinese Covid Vaccine Gets WHO Emergency Approval

4 days ago
AmiMoJo shares a report from the BBC: The World Health Organization (WHO) has granted emergency approval for the Covid vaccine made by Chinese state-owned company Sinopharm. It is the first vaccine developed by a non-Western country to get WHO backing. The vaccine has already been given to millions of people in China and elsewhere. The WHO had previously only approved the vaccines made by Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna. With little data released internationally early on, the effectiveness of the various Chinese vaccines has long been uncertain. But the WHO on Friday said it had validated the "safety, efficacy and quality" of the Sinopharm jab. The WHO said the addition of the vaccine had "the potential to rapidly accelerate Covid-19 vaccine access for countries seeking to protect health workers and populations at risk." It is recommending that the vaccine be administered in two doses to those aged 18 and over. A decision is expected in the coming days on another Chinese vaccine developed by Sinovac, while Russia's Sputnik vaccine is under assessment.

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BeauHD

The Coronavirus Is an Airborne Threat, the CDC Acknowledges In Updated Public Guidance

4 days 3 hours ago
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: Federal health officials on Friday updated public guidance about how the coronavirus spreads, emphasizing that transmission occurs by inhaling very fine respiratory droplets and aerosolized particles, as well as through contact with sprayed droplets or touching contaminated hands to one's mouth, nose or eyes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now states explicitly -- in large, bold lettering -- that airborne virus can be inhaled even when one is more than six feet away from an infected individual. The new language, posted online, is a change from the agency's previous position that most infections were acquired through "close contact, not airborne transmission." As the pandemic unfolded last year, infectious disease experts warned for months that both the C.D.C. and the World Health Organization were overlooking research that strongly suggested the coronavirus traveled aloft in small, airborne particles. Several scientists on Friday welcomed the agency's scrapping of the term "close contact," which they criticized as vague and said did not necessarily capture the nuances of aerosol transmission. "C.D.C. has now caught up to the latest scientific evidence, and they've gotten rid of some old problematic terms and thinking about how transmission occurs," said Linsey Marr, an aerosol expert at Virginia Tech. The new focus underscores the need for the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue standards for employers to address potential hazards in the workplace, some experts said.

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BeauHD

SpaceX Might Try To Fly the First Starship Prototype To Successfully Land a Second Time

4 days 5 hours ago
An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: SpaceX is fresh off a high for its Starship spacecraft development program, but according to CEO Elon Musk, it's already looking ahead to potentially repeating its latest success with an unplanned early reusability experiment. Earlier this week, SpaceX flew the SN15 (i.e. 15th prototype) of its Starship from its development site near Brownsville, Texas, and succeeded in landing it upright for the first time. Now, Musk says they could fly the same prototype a second time, a first for the Starship test and development effort. A second test flight of SN15 is an interesting possibility among the options for the prototype. SpaceX will obviously be conducting a number of other check-outs and gathering as much data as it can from the vehicle, in addition to whatever it collected from onboard sensors, but the options for the craft after that basically amounted to stress testing it to failure, or dismantling it and studying the pieces. A second flight attempt is an interesting additional option that could provide SpaceX with a lot of invaluable data about its planned re-use of the production version of Starship.

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BeauHD

Sharks Use Earth's Magnetic Field To Navigate the Seas

4 days 5 hours ago
A new study suggests some sharks can read Earth's field like a map and use it to navigate the open seas. ScienceMag: The result adds sharks to the long list of animals -- including birds, sea turtles, and lobsters -- that navigate with a mysterious magnetic sense. "It's great that they've finally done this magnetic field study on sharks," says Michael Winklhofer, a biophysicist at the Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg in Germany, who was not involved in the study. In 2005, scientists reported that a great white shark swam from South Africa to Australia and back again in nearly a straight line -- a feat that led some scientists to propose the animals relied on a magnetic sense to steer themselves. And since at least the 1970s, researchers have suspected that the elasmobranchsâ"a group of fish containing sharks, rays, skates, and sawfish -- can detect magnetic fields. But no one had shown that sharks use the fields to locate themselves or navigate, partly because the animals aren't so easy to work with, Winklhofer says. "It's one thing if you have a small lobster, or a baby sea turtle, but when you work with sharks, you have to upscale everything." Bryan Keller, an ecologist at Florida State University, and his colleagues decided to do just that. The researchers lined a bedroom-size cage with copper wire and placed a small swimming pool in the center of the cage. By running an electrical current through the wiring, they could generate a custom magnetic field in the center of the pool. The team then collected 20 juvenile bonnethead sharks -- a species known to migrate hundreds of kilometers -- from a shoal off the Florida coast. They placed the sharks into the pool, one at a time, and let them swim freely under three different magnetic fields, applied in random succession. One field mimicked Earth's natural field at the spot where the sharks were collected, whereas the others mimicked the fields at locations 600 kilometers north and 600 kilometers south of their homes. When the applied field was the same as at the collection site, the researchers found that the animals swam in random directions. But when subjected to the southern magnetic field, the sharks persistently changed their headings to swim north into the pool's wall, toward home, the researchers report today in Current Biology

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A New Covid Vaccine Could Bring Hope To the Unvaccinated World

4 days 6 hours ago
The German company CureVac hopes its RNA vaccine will rival those made by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech. It could be ready next month. From a report: In early 2020, dozens of scientific teams scrambled to make a vaccine for Covid-19. Some chose tried-and-true techniques, such as making vaccines from killed viruses. But a handful of companies bet on a riskier method, one that had never produced a licensed vaccine: deploying a genetic molecule called RNA. The bet paid off. The first two vaccines to emerge successfully out of clinical trials, made by Pfizer-BioNTech and by Moderna, were both made of RNA. They both turned out to have efficacy rates about as good as a vaccine could get. In the months that followed, those two RNA vaccines have provided protection to tens of millions of people in some 90 countries. But many parts of the world, including those with climbing death tolls, have had little access to them, in part because they require being kept in a deep freeze. Now a third RNA vaccine may help meet that global need. A small German company called CureVac is on the cusp of announcing the results of its late-stage clinical trial. As early as next week, the world may learn whether its vaccine is safe and effective. CureVac's product belongs to what many scientists refer to as the second wave of Covid-19 vaccines that could collectively ease the world's demand. Novavax, a company based in Maryland whose vaccine uses coronavirus proteins, is expected to apply for U.S. authorization in the next few weeks. In India, the pharmaceutical company Biological E is testing another protein-based vaccine that was developed by researchers in Texas. In Brazil, Mexico, Thailand and Vietnam, researchers are starting trials for a Covid-19 shot that can be mass-produced in chicken eggs. Vaccines experts are particularly curious to see CureVac's results, because its shot has an important advantage over the other RNA vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech. While those two vaccines have to be kept in a deep freezer, CureVac's vaccine stays stable in a refrigerator -- meaning it could more easily deliver the newly discovered power of RNA vaccines to hard-hit parts of the world.

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Scientists Create Record-Breaking Laser With Mind Blowing Power

4 days 13 hours ago
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: For the Korean research team led by senior author Chang-hee Nam, a plasma physicist and professor at Gwangju Institute of Science & Technology, their breakthrough in laser science may be a physically small feat (striking an area the size of a micron) but will have a huge impact on how we study not only cosmic phenomena from the beginning of time but how we treat cancer as well. After ten years of toiling, the team has demonstrated in a paper published on Thursday in the journal Optica the development of a laser with record-breaking intensity over 10^23 watts per square centimeter. Nam told Motherboard in an email that you can compare the intensity of this laser beam to the combined power of all of the sunlight across the entire planet, but pressed together into roughly the size of a speck of dust or a single red blood cell. This whole burst of power happens in just fractions of a second. "The laser intensity of 10 W/cm is comparable to the light intensity obtainable by focusing all the sunlight reaching Earth to a spot of 10 microns," explained Nam. To achieve this effect, Nam and colleagues at the Center for Relativistic Laser Science (CoReLS) lab constructed a kind of obstacle course for the laser beam to pass through to amplify, reflect, and control the motion of the photons comprising it. Because light behaves as both a particle (e.g. individual photons) as well as a wave, controlling the wavefront of this laser (similar to the front of an ocean wave) was crucial to make sure the team could actually focus its power. Nam explains that the technology to make this kind of precise control possible has been years in the making. Nam said that the ultrahigh power laser design played a role in this discovery by helping remove beam distortions while the deformable mirrors made it possible to have "extremely tight focusing without any aberrations." Beyond being a scientific breakthrough, Nam said that this high-intensity laser will open doors to explore some of the universe's most fundamental questions that had previously only been explored by theoreticians. Nam also said that these lasers have a more terrestrial purpose as well in the form of cancer treatment technology.

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19 minutes 46 seconds ago
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