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Genetic Linkage

Getting a COVID Vaccine is More Transparent Than Eating a Hot Dog: Countering Vaccine Hesitancy

"So, you've been eatin' hot dogs and chicken nuggets all your life and you don't want the vaccine 'cuz you don't know what's in it??" asks a befuddled chicken in a meme.

 

Actually, plenty of information is out there about "what's in it."

 

Upon entering a vaccination center, you're handed a multi-page fact sheet that, among many other things, lists the chemicals about to be plunged into your arm.

 

The first two COVID vaccines are roughly the same recipe, adjusted for proportions and tiny details: mRNA, 4 fats (including cholesterol), a pinch of sugar, and a few salts. No eggs, preservatives, ricin, or leechee nut extract. (See The First COVID-19 Vaccines: What's mRNA Got to do With it?) Ingredient lists for hot dogs and chicken nuggets are far longer and complex.

 

Yet the comparative transparency of vaccine ingredient lists isn't enough to dispel the fear of something new and unfamiliar being jabbed into your body. For many people that fear arises against a backdrop of the history of dishonesty in medicine that has misled and mistreated marginalized groups, as well as the record of unethical clinical trials for some vaccines, notably influenza.

 

To continue reading go to my DNA Science blog at Public Library of Science, where this post first appeared.

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Are We Hurtling or Hurdling Towards Herd Immunity for COVID-19?

Vaccines against COVID-19 were developed in record-smashing time, and now that the rollout has begun, attention is returning to herd immunity, in a real rather than hypothetical sense.

 

Herd immunity refers to the protection against an infectious disease that arises when a critical mass of individuals in a population becomes immune. The pathogen can't find welcoming bodies, and the epidemic dies out. Once herd immunity is attained, mitigation measures can be relaxed. But if society opens too soon, a second and even third wave of disease can ensue – as we've seen.

 

A vaccine, engineered to evoke a strong and diverse antibody response, is more likely to build herd immunity than is natural infection.

 

Establishing herd immunity against COVID-19 requires that a whole bunch of ducks align. The variables include:

 

To continue reading, go to my DNA Science blog, where this post first appeared.

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Marketers are beginning to use data mined from consumer DNA tests. Should we be worried?

(Angie Wang)

A woman lingers at a display of coffeemakers. Soon after, images of the very same contraptions festoon her Facebook feed, courtesy of her phone's GPS and store cameras.

 

A man diagnosed with a blood clot gets TV ads for a drug to prevent further episodes.

 

A person peruses ads for indoor herb gardens for a gift and is later bombarded with botanical options on social media.

 

People turn 65, and suddenly Joe Namath interrupts their favorite TV shows, with unending descriptions of Medicare Supplement plans.

 

Coincidences? Hardly. In this age of TMI, it can feel as if our very brains are being intrusively picked, constantly.

Even our DNA can be trolled for embedded preferences and habits, if we (sometimes unknowingly) provide permission.

 

How foreboding is the 'privacy crisis'?
Remi Daviet, Gideon Nave, and Jerry Wind, from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, dissect "Genetic Data: Potential Uses and Misuses in Marketing," in a report in a special issue of the Journal of Marketing.

 

To continue reading, go to Genetic Literacy Project, where this post first appeared.

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What Do Non-identical Identical Twins Have to do with COVID-19? Mutation!

Identical twins Stella and Desiree Vignes were born in 1938 in a Louisiana town so small that it wasn't on any maps. Light-skinned Blacks, the girls left town together at the age of 16 to head to New Orleans to work and escape a bleak future. Stella was mistaken for White at a job interview and continued the deception to get the position, eventually marrying her boss and leaving her sister behind. Stella experienced adulthood as White, Desiree as Black.

 

The Vignes sisters were born in the imagination of Brit Bennett, an extraordinary young writer. Her bestseller "The Vanishing Half" traces the experiences of the twins in a world where what happens to them depends upon how others perceive them – as Black or White. Of course, they go on to live starkly different lives, Stella in wealthy Brentwood, California, and Desiree back in her hometown waitressing in a diner. The drama intensifies when their grown daughters meet, one a pale blonde, the other "a dark girl" black as ebony.

 

Identical twins and higher multiples are, indeed, fascinating. The 2018 film Three Identical Strangers tells the tale of triplet brothers who met by chance at age 19 in 1980. It echoes the fictional film The Parent Trap, from 1961 with Hayley Mills and reborn in 1998 with Lindsay Lohan, each in dual roles.

 

Twin Studies

 

To continue reading, go to my DNA Science blog, where this post first appeared.

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A dangerous stage in the evolution of the novel coronavirus is upon us with the discovery of “escape mutations.” Artificial intelligence may be our best response

Real life with COVID-19 is now scarier than anything a sci-fi writer could envision. So-called "escape mutations" that can turn the virus into an out-of-control shape-shifter that hides from the immune system are now a frightening reality. And they can't be totally stopped with masks or social distancing, lockdowns or travel restrictions. Even if we could keep all viruses out, the ones already here are mutating in a direction that keeps them infectious and deadly. The battle between us and this often-lethal virus has just jumped to a new level. 

 

While it may take awhile to see whether these escape mutations will evade the vaccines approved or in the pipeline, Tyler Starr from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and colleagues report in a new study in Science an effect on two already available treatments — monoclonal antibodies. They've identified an escape mutation with a single glitch that enables the virus to evade Regeneron's double-antibody REGN-COV2 "cocktail" (which Trump took) and a third antibody in Eli Lilly's LY-CoV016. The researchers found the escapee using a new lab mapping technique that displays viruses contorted with mutation, and then they found it in a patient who was still testing positive, 145 days after the first test.

 

What does this mean? The discovery of escape mutations derailing antibody treatments means that the companies' initial tests hadn't caught them all. And the escape mutations — the new mapping revealed three others — are already in circulation.

 

To continue writing, please go to Genetic Literacy Project, where this post first appeared.

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Mutants Come to Saratoga: COVID New Variants Explained

When a new variant of the COVID-19 virus appeared in the UK as 2020 drew to a close, I didn't think it would show up a half hour's drive from my home soon after. The first cases were near Denver and in San Diego, and then traced to a jewelry store on Broadway in Saratoga Springs. We've felt rather insulated and isolated here, hours from New York City.

 

The Legacy of Caffe Lena

This week began with an email from Sarah Craig, executive director of Caffe Lena, the oldest coffeehouse in the US. Don McLean debuted "American Pie" there, Arlo Guthrie first tried out "Alice's Restaurant," and Bob Dylan and many others have commanded the iconic tiny stage in the small, homey establishment that opened in 1960.

 

The café is now in "Safe Mode," with even the fabulous online events it has held throughout the pandemic too risky to record. The one-month shutdown follows the death January 12 from COVID of Matt McCabe, owner of Saratoga Guitar and frequent performer at the coffeehouse. The opening image captures his final show, in December.

 

To continue reading, please go to my DNA Science blog at Public Library of Science. 

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The First COVID-19 Vaccines: What’s mRNA Got To Do With It?

Most of us have an intuitive understanding of how a vaccine works: show the immune system a bit of a pathogen, or something mimicking it, and trick it into responding as if natural infection is happening. The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in a flood of vaccine options.

 

When I was writing "How the various COVID vaccines work," which ran here at DNA Science on September 10, I had to keep reviewing summary charts to remember who was doing what. Vaccine technology has gone beyond live, weakened, or killed virus, even past the once-groundbreaking subunit vaccines that present parts of a pathogen, like the hepatitis B surface antigen or pertussis toxin. Now we have DNA and RNA vaccines too, delivered in different ways.

 

The first two vaccines against COVID-19, Tozinameran (the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine) and mRNA-1273, Moderna's still unchristened candidate on the brink of emergency use authorization, are mRNA. And that's confusing people, based, perhaps, on when they took high school biology (more on that coming). So here's a brief consideration of mRNA and how it can alert the immune system to fight SARS-CoV-2.

 

To continue reading, go to my blog DNA Science at Public Library of Science.

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Are Old Vaccines Helpful Against COVID-19?

The idea that old vaccines might have a role in the fight against COVID-19 has been floated since the early days of the pandemic. Vaccines stimulate the broad, innate immune response, which appears to play a key role in fighting COVID-19. Can the approach bridge the time until entire populations are vaccinated specifically against SARS-CoV-2?

 

Three vaccines dominate the discussion: bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) against tuberculosis; measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR); and oral polio vaccine (OPV).

 

To continue reading, go to MedPage Today, where this article first appeared.

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Why Do Males Fare Worse With COVID-19? A Clue From Calico Cats

Early on in the pandemic, a worse clinical scenario for the male of the species emerged. A study published mid-May from Italian researchers offered early statistics from the WHO and Chinese scientists: a death rate of 1.7% for women and 2.8% for men. Then Hong Kong hospitals reported that 15% of females and 32% of males with COVID-19 needed intensive care or had died.

 

In July a Perspective published in Nature Reviews Immunology from researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Montreal noted a similar "male bias" for other viral infections, including SARS and MERS. By then, the wide community testing in South Korea and data from the U.S. indicated 1.5-fold higher mortality for men for COVID-19. The pattern repeated in 38 countries, for patients of all ages.

 

Now a new study published in Nature Communications expands the increased risk for those who have only one X chromosome

 

To continue reading, go to my DNA Science blog at Public Library of Science.

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Worse Than COVID? The Tasmanian Devil’s Contagious Cancer

It's hard to imagine anything worse than the horrors at our hospitals right now. But in a recent JAMA webinar, Nicholas Christakis, Yale Sterling Professor, put the fatality rate of COVID-19 into historical perspective:

 

"Bad as it is, the fatality rate, at .5-.8%, isn't as bad as bubonic plague, which would kill 50% of a population in a few months. Or Ebola at 80%. Or smallpox at 95%. It could have been so much worse." He's a physician, scientist, public health expert, and sociologist.

 

It's an unusual viewpoint to downplay the horror of this moment in time, but Dr. Christakis's new book, "Apollo's Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live," takes a broader look. He said at the webinar:

 

"This way we're living right now seems alien and unnatural, but plagues aren't new to our species, just new to us. People have struggled with plagues for thousands of years. The Iliad opens with a plague on the Greeks and Apollo reigns down, the Bible, Shakespeare. What's different about our current experience is our time in the crucible happens to be occurring when we can create a vaccine in real time. The fact that we have the technological capability to respond within a year with phase 3 trials of active agents is mind-boggling."

 

We aren't the only species subject to unseen pathogens, including the viruses that aren't even cells or technically alive, just borrowed bits of our own genomes turned against us. With Dr. Christakis's wider view in mind, I noticed a new article about an infectious cancer in Tasmanian devils. It combines two terrors.

A Transmissible Cancer

 

 

To continue reading, go to my blog DNA Science at Public Library of Science, where this post first appeared.

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