Science News for July 4th

The Unknowns of COVID-19

Since the outbreak, scientists have struggled to understand why different individuals react differently to the virus. They now think that genes make a difference in the symptoms that an individual show. Genomic testing done in Italy and Spain have shown that individuals with severe symptoms more likely to be a carrier of at least one variant in the genome.

Immunity is another unknown. Scientists don’t know what the time span of immunity will be. The time span of immunity can depend on the severity of the case, shown by studies of SARS (a closely related virus to the COVID-19 strain) where antibodies disappeared quickly in individuals that had mild symptoms, but were present years later in individuals who had severe cases. This can also depend on mutations that the virus undergoes, something that is being cataloged for the COVID-19 strain.

Vaccines are currently in the works, Nature cites there being over 200 in progress with 20 in clinical trials. Current animal trials have shown that while vaccines can be helpful for preventing some symptoms (such as the infection in the lungs, which leads to pneumonia) but not providing protection in other body parts, showing that the vaccinations might prevent the severity of the virus without protecting against the spread of the disease.

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Need for Biodiversity Target?

For climate change, we have heard the target to not allow more than a two degree Celsius change. However, when it comes to biodiversity, there is no target in how many extinctions a year is acceptable. One suggestion is keeping it under 20 known species a year. The issue with this suggestion is that it doesn’t really go into specifics. The article pointed to fungi biodiversity, where if 20 were lost each year, its still a major increase from approximately 2 each year before humans. Depending on the type of organism, the increase from pre-human background rates can be much higher. Also, there are many species that are still being discovered (approximately 18,000 new species being discovered each year(SMV)).

What species should we choose to conserve? Are there a specific number of species, or specific species that will maintain Earth ecosystems? Think about Bradbury’s story: A Sound of Thunder, where stepping on a single butterfly significantly changes the future. Could the extinction of one species lead to significant changes? These are questions that have been posed by scientists and authors for years.


Planet Core Found?

In the region of space called the Hot-Neptune desert, a region of space around a star where no Neptune sized planets are found, something was found orbiting the star. The radius of the planet is smaller than Neptune’s but having a mass of just over 39 Earth masses, but having a density that is similar to Earth’s. The conclusion came that the planet TOI-849b was a planetary core came with looking at the known characteristics. It is believed to have lost most of the Hydrogen-Helium envelope that is part of the atmosphere for gas giant planets. This could have happened through different processes, such as planetary collisions, thermal self-disruption, photo-evaporation, or simply not having significant gas accretion during planetary formation. The thought is that this planet has a high percentage of water or other volatiles in its atmosphere.


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