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Genetic Linkage

How snake venom and a smoking cessation drug inspired a nasal spray that blocks COVID

A simple nasal spray that stops SARS-CoV-2 in its tracks? 


That could block the coronavirus in the nose, before it can travel down to the lungs or be coughed onto another person, perhaps becoming a powerful partner to vaccines and therapeutics, and easy to administer, store, and ship.


It "could allow us to reduce transmission and be able to have a quick response to outbreaks in certain areas of the world," said Jeffrey Nau, CEO of Oyster Point Pharma, based in Princeton NJ. The company recently announced repurposing of the smoking-cessation pill Chantix™ (varenacline), as well as a second molecule in the same class, simpinicline, each as nasal sprays against COVID. The FDA approved Chantix, a Pfizer product, in 2006. Today nearly 400 clinical trials are exploring other uses.


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

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Viewpoint: ‘The fetus is 1/25th of an inch’ — Texas abortion ban bungles the science on when human life begins

Now that early abortion is essentially banned and criminalized in Texas, with other states soon to debate similar legislation, it's important to reflect on one of the key issues raised by this new law: When does human life begin? Here is a background primer on human prenatal development. 


Understanding the biology is more important than ever, because the new Texas law is even more draconian than it appears to be at first blush, if that's even possible. It bans abortion at 6 weeks, but this cutoff is actually 4 weeks after conception when the fetus is 1/25th of an inch. Counting gestation from the last menstrual period is archaic, perhaps a holdover from the days when most obstetricians were male. And as anyone who has ever suspected she is pregnant knows, that reasoning is absurdly wrong. The "morning-after pill" is not a "two-weeks-later" pill. Nonetheless and unfortunately, much of the media have spread the meaningless 6-week factoid.


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

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New Target for Treating Huntington’s Disease: Controlling Runaway DNA Repair

When results of a clinical trial of a treatment for a rare disease are disappointing, feelings of despair among hopeful affected families resurface – especially if the only options are repurposed drugs. That's the case for Huntington's disease, an inherited neurological condition that affects about 30,000 people in the US, 16 percent of them children.


The HD community is reeling from two such setbacks. But a new approach to halting the runaway expansion of the HD gene (called HTT) that lies behind the illness may reignite hope. The strategy focuses not on the HTT gene itself, but on another with which it interacts – a gene that takes part in repairing damaged DNA. Results appear in Cell Reports.


An "Expanding Repeat" Disease


"Horse-and-buggy doctor" George Sumner Huntington first described HD in 1872.


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

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Returning to Live Music and How a Tiny Mutation Sent Delta All Over the World

Ann Wilson, of Heart fame.

A few nights ago I went to my first live music show since pre-pandemic times: Ann Wilson, the vocalist from Heart. She and her new band were at The Egg, a small ovoid-shaped venue in Albany, New York. We were in the third row, very close to the stage. All of us wore masks, and should a smidge of nostril emerge, an admonishing usher materialized instantly.


"It's great to see all of your smiling eyes!" joked Ann as she looked out at the limited-capacity audience. The performers were unmasked, Ann belting out the tunes, the guitarist next to her writhing in the throes of guitar-face, a malady in which a man playing a guitar assumes a simian visage, like Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes caught deep in thought. Who knew that guitar-face would one day deter spread of a virus?


The show was amazing, full of rock classics, Heart tunes, and songs Ann wrote during lockdown. COVID restrictions just couldn't reign in long-ingrained concert behavior. And so we all belted out Dream On and Barracuda along with Ann and her band the Amazing Dawgs, our masks undulating to the beat, as I hoped fervently that none of the oldish audience would keel over from asphyxiation.


"An Experimental Pop Concert" Simulates Viral Spread


This morning I was happy to see a new paper, "The risk of indoor sports and culture events for the transmission of COVID-19," published in Nature Communications. Stefan Moritz and colleagues in Germany staged "an experimental pop concert" in August 2020 and found that good ventilation and "suitable hygiene measures" could limit virus-carrying aerosols and droplets.


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

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The Tomorrow War on Amazon Prime Echoes COVID: Science from the Past Saves Humanity’s Future

Scary monsters, time travel, and a female protagonist plucked from The Handmaid's Tale cast: what could be better?


A Derivative Plot with Interesting Embellishments


In Amazon Prime's new "military science fiction action film" The Tomorrow War, released July 2, young time travelers from 2051 arrive in the middle of a World Cup match near the end of 2022 with a message: humanity is on the brink of extinction from being food for the "Whitespikes." The visitors need new troops to jump ahead to the future. At first I thought the characters were saying "white stripes" and expected the appropriate soundtrack, but the spikes are part of the enemy's phenotype.


The Whitespikes appear suddenly, ducking radar and satellites, in November 2048, in northern Russia. They gobble through humanity quickly, leaving a mere half million people. So dire is the future need that military folks and civilians are selected from the populous past for week-long deployments, with no time for training. Only a third survive.


The recruits painfully get arm implants that receive signals from a hovering wormhole-based "jumplink" to suck them up into the future. The group ascension reminded me of the people reaching age 30 in Logan's Run floating joyously upward as they attain "Carousel," aka death. The jumplink is far more massive and sophisticated than the clunky bike-like vehicle that hurtled time travelers centuries forward in H. G. Wells' The Time Machine. The sucked-up ones in 2022 are then unceremoniously dumped into a future crawling with fire and destruction and hordes of leaping, slathering, hungry "aliens."


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

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