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Genetic Linkage

Scary Variants and Vaccine Hesitancy Set Up a Perfect Storm – for the Virus

As people in the US grapple with a return to masking to stay ahead of the delta and lambda variants and their coming spawn, researchers are increasingly connecting current epidemiology to modeling predictions. The news isn't good, but we can stop what now seems inevitable – with widespread vaccination.


The Cape Cod Cluster


On Tuesday, July 27, CDC director Rochelle Walensky updated the media on new guidance recommending that everyone, including the fully vaccinated, wear masks in indoor public settings in areas of substantial and high transmission.


"The delta variant is showing every day its willingness to outsmart us and be an opportunist in areas where we've not shown a fortified defense against it. In recent days new data on outbreaks show the delta variant behaves differently than past strains. In rare occurrences, some vaccinated people are infectious after vaccination and may be contagious. This new science is worrisome and unfortunately warrants an update to the recommendations," Walensky explained. (I forgive her anthropomorphizing because she uses "data" as a plural.)


News media quickly zeroed in on Cape Cod as the site of the outbreak that prompted the change, and by Friday July 30, CDC's weekly publication the MMWR provided the details:


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

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Cats’ Genomes Make Them Good Models for Human Disease

Over the years, I've shared my home with 17 felines. Several have perched on my printer while I cranked out many articles and books on genetics.


Little did I know that the genome of Felis catus is subtly similar to my own. Now, the aptly named Leslie Lyons, an associate professor at the University of Missouri Department of Veterinary Medicine & Surgery, has published an article in Trends in Genetics, "Cats – telomere to telomere and nose to tail, that makes the case for cats as models of human disease. (Telomeres are chromosome tips.)


"Approximately 33% of households in the USA own a cat, and as pets, cats have evolved from vermin control to beloved family members," Lyons writes. In the US, 42.7 million households include at least one feline.


Cats Are More Genetically Diverse Than Us


I've always been amazed at genome analyses that indicate species that are more genetically diverse than we are, when one chimp looks more or less like another to us. Cats are more genetically diverse than us, too.


The first genome sequence of a domestic cat was published in 2007. That individual was a 4-year-old Abyssinian named Cinnamon, whose lineage traces back several generations to Sweden.


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

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Katla on Netflix: Volcanoes, Glaciers, and Meteorites, Oh My!

I usually write about a sci fi book or film midsummer. That's more necessary this summer than ever, when science reality – half a population refusing vaccination inviting natural selection to favor ever-deadlier (and perhaps vaccine-resistant) viral variants – is far more alarming than anything anyone could make up. So I was easily sucked into Katla, a terrific 8-part series on Netflix.


As the first episode opens, it's a year after a massive eruption of Katla, a volcano that looms over the small seaside village of Vík in southern Iceland, about 115 miles from Reykjavik. Until the blast, a glacier capped Katla. In real life, the human population of the village boomed to 683 in 2018, thanks to increased tourism, but I suspect it may have ebbed again due to the pandemic.


In the show, strange things start to happen among the holdouts who don't leave the ashy landscape for Reykjavik. Beings begin to stagger out of the hell in the distance, covered in a black goo: animals like birds, cows, and goats, but then people too. And that's when things begin to get weird, because the people who come forth from the volcano were dead.


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

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Looking Into a COVID Lung Using Spatial Transcriptomics

As the early weeks of the pandemic unfolded and health care workers struggled to save so many lives, researchers began tracking the path of destruction of SARS-CoV-2, focusing at first on the tango between cells of the lung and of the immune system.


Just as mRNA vaccine technology was years in the making, so was a powerful way to illuminate cellular pathology: single-cell transcriptomics using single-cell RNA-Seq, aka simply RNA-Seq. It detects the abundance of all unique messenger RNA (mRNA) molecules in a cell, collectively called the transcriptome. RNA-Seq reveals the suite of proteins a cell produces in response to a stimulus – such as an influx of viruses. The technology is more than a decade old.


But cataloging the abundance of mRNAs in a lung cell, or in any cell, isn't meaningful without the context of the organ of which it is a part. It's a little like counting the number of times the words "the," "a," and "there" appear in a novel and trying to deduce the narrative.


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

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