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Tue, 18 May 2021
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The data suggest we achieved herd immunity before the vaccines were rolled out

cows cow confrontation
  • Population immunity played a major role in ending each wave of SAR-CoV-2 infection
  • Herd immunity thresholds differ by about two-fold across England, and have been reached
  • Different herd immunity thresholds correlate with regional differences in ethnicity and air temperature - possibly both operating by changing the rate of indoor contacts
  • The Infection Fatality Rate has changed dramatically during the pandemic: it first rose during (and possibly because of) lockdowns, and then fell by over eight-fold as older and vulnerable individuals were vaccinated. It is now so low, and herd immunity so well established, that vaccinating younger adults and children with novel genetic technology vaccines cannot be medically or ethically justified.


Sharks use Earth's magnetic field as a GPS

bonnethead shark
© Colby Griffiths
Bryan Keller holds a bonnethead shark • North Edisto River, South Carolina
Sharks use the Earth's magnetic field as a sort of natural GPS to navigate journeys that take them great distances across the world's oceans, scientists have found. Researchers said their marine laboratory experiments with a small species of shark confirm long-held speculation that sharks use magnetic fields as aids to navigation — behavior observed in other marine animals such as sea turtles.

Their study, published this month in the journal Current Biology, also sheds light on why sharks are able to traverse seas and find their way back to feed, breed and give birth, said marine policy specialist Bryan Keller, one of the study authors.

"We know that sharks can respond to magnetic fields," Keller said. "We didn't know that they detected it to use as an aid in navigation ... You have sharks that can travel 20,000 kilometers (12,427 miles) and end up in the same spot."

The question of how sharks perform long-distance migrations has intrigued researchers for years. The sharks undertake their journeys in the open ocean where they encounter few physical features such as corals that could serve as landmarks.


Ivy League scientist says NASA may have accidentally spread life to Mars

Mars Lander
© NASA/UPI/Newscom/File
The robotic arm on NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander scooping Martian soil samples
Amid the latest exploration and search for life on Mars, a Cornell scientist wonders what kind of microbe humans could have accidentally "carried into space and survived the trip to make its new home on Mars."

Cornell University geneticist Christopher Mason wrote in an May 10 piece for the BBC that life discovered on the red planet might have actually originated on earth in NASA labs, despite thorough on-site cleaning procedures and spacecraft assembly in specialized rooms.

Spacecraft, like the Perseverance Rover, are built in meticulously sterilized rooms piece by piece with each component cleaned before being added. This should theoretically ensure that no bacteria or organism survives the assembly process, according to Mason.
"Filtration systems in the spartan rooms offer an extra layer of protection so only a few hundred particles can contaminate each square foot. But, it is almost impossible to get to zero biomass. Microbes have been on Earth for billions of years, and they are everywhere. They are inside us, on our bodies, and all around us. Some can sneak through even the cleanest of clean rooms."

Comment: A video combining drone Ingenuity and the Perseverance Rover in their current missions on Mars:


Einstein's thinking on bees, birds and their clues about physics, revealed in previously unknown letter

© Dyer et al. 2021, J Comp Physiol A / The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Letter by Albert Einstein, validated by The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where Einstein bequeathed his notes, letters and records.
The 1949 letter by the physicist and Nobel laureate discusses bees, birds and whether new physics principles could come from studying animal senses.

It's a position still being realized within physics to this day, with a growing body of research and understanding of how animals such as birds and bees find their way around.

Now a study led by RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, discusses how recent discoveries in migratory birds back up Einstein's thinking 72 years ago.

Comment: More recent, fascinating discoveries within the animal kingdom that reveal much more about the workings of our world: And check out SOTT radio's:


China's 1st Mars rover 'Zhurong' lands on the Red Planet

Tianwen-1 mars rover
© CCTV/China National Space Administration
An artist's concept of China's first Mars rover mission, Tianwen-1, at the Red Planet.
China just successfully landed its first rover on Mars, becoming only the second nation to do so.

The Tianwen-1 mission, China's first interplanetary endeavor, reached the surface of the Red Planet Friday (May 14) at approximately 7:11 p.m. EDT (2311 GMT), though Chinese space officials have not yet confirmed the exact time and location of touchdown. Tianwen-1 (which translates to "Heavenly Questions") arrived in Mars' orbit in February after launching to the Red Planet on a Long March 5 rocket in July 2020.

After circling the Red Planet for more than three months, the Tianwen-1 lander, with the rover attached, separated from the orbiter to begin its plunge toward the planet's surface. Once the lander and rover entered Mars' atmosphere, the spacecraft endured a similar procedure to the "seven minutes of terror" that NASA's Mars rovers have experienced when attempting soft landings on Mars.

A heat shield protected the spacecraft during the fiery descent, after which the mission safely parachuted down to the Utopia Planitia region, a plain inside of an enormous impact basin in the planet's northern hemisphere. Much like during NASA's Perseverance rover landing, Tianwen-1's landing platform fired some small, downward-facing rocket engines to slow down during the last few seconds of its descent.

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) has not yet officially confirmed the successful landing, but it has been announced on social media by the state-run China Global Television Network (CGTN) and by researchers at Macau University of Science and Technology in China.

Microscope 2

Covid-19 may insert itself into human genome, strongest evidence to date suggests

Our genome is a graveyard littered with genetic fragments of viruses that once plagued our ancestors. If a controversial claim by MIT researchers withstands the criticisms being leveled at it, the virus behind the current pandemic has a fair chance of joining them.

Having a few chunks of virus code scattered among our genes doesn't necessarily mean the pandemic is here to stay. It could even go some way towards explaining why a handful of patients continue to test positive for COVID-19 long after recovery.

But SARS-CoV-2 simply isn't equipped with the tools to bury itself in our genetic library, meaning it would need a way to convince our own bodies to manage the job on its behalf.

Comment: For insight into the likely origins of the coronavirus and its workings, check out SOTT's Compelling Evidence That SARS-CoV-2 Was Man-Made

See also: The Inanity of RNA Vaccines For COVID-19


Measuring time accurately increases the entropy in the universe

world clock
© Bruce Rolff/Alamy
The most accurate clocks create the most disorder

Bruce Rolff/Alamy
Keeping time accurately comes with a price. The maximum accuracy of a clock is directly related to how much disorder, or entropy, it creates every time it ticks.

Natalia Ares at the University of Oxford and her colleagues made this discovery using a tiny clock with accuracy that can be controlled. The clock consisted of a 50-nanometre-thick membrane of silicon nitride, vibrated by an electric current. Each time the membrane moved up and down once and then returned to its original position, the researchers counted a tick, and the regularity of the spacing between the ticks represented the accuracy of the clock.

They found that as they increased the clock's accuracy, the heat produced in the system grew, increasing the entropy of its surroundings by jostling nearby particles. "If a clock is more accurate, you are paying for it somehow," says Ares.

In this case, you pay for it by pouring more ordered energy into the clock, which is then converted into entropy. "By measuring time, we are increasing the entropy of the universe," says Ares. The more entropy there is in the universe, the closer it may be to its eventual demise. "Maybe we should stop measuring time." The scale of the additional entropy is so small, though, that there's no need to worry, she says.

Fireball 5

Geologists identify rare meteorite impact site in Dakota County

Shocked Quartz
© Courtesy of Julia Steenberg
Small grains of shocked quartz buried deep under ground in Inver Grove Heights, Minn., are evidence of an ancient meteorite impact in the area
An area around Inver Grove Heights, Minn., is the site of an ancient meteorite crash, according to recent analysis by the Minnesota Geological Survey.

The discovery came as scientists were updating geologic maps of Dakota County. They identified anomalies in the rock record — certain layers appeared out of order or irregularly sized. This led to further examination and the identification of small grains of shocked quartz, which is known to be produced only by the extreme shock and compression of a meteorite impact or nuclear explosion.

"It's really exciting and new," geologist Julia Steenberg told MPR News host Cathy Wurzer. Steenberg and her colleagues are hoping to do more research to better understand the age of the impact and the size of the meteorite involved.

Globally, known meteorite impact sites are exceptionally rare. This is the first identified in Minnesota and one of fewer than 200 in the world.


Scientists decode the 'language' of immune cells

Immune Cells
© Brooks Taylor/UCLA
In this image from a microscopy video, scientists “listen” to macrophages as they responded to an immune threat.
UCLA life scientists have identified six "words" that specific immune cells use to call up immune defense genes — an important step toward understanding the language the body uses to marshal responses to threats.

In addition, they discovered that the incorrect use of two of these words can activate the wrong genes, resulting in the autoimmune disease known as Sjögren's syndrome. The research, conducted in mice, is published this week in the peer-reviewed journal Immunity (Cell Press).

"Cells have evolved an immune response code, or language," said senior author Alexander Hoffmann, the Thomas M. Asher Professor of Microbiology and director of the Institute for Quantitative and Computational Biosciences at UCLA. "We have identified some words in that language, and we know these words are important because of what happens when they are misused. Now we need to understand the meaning of the words, and we are making rapid progress. It's as exciting as when archaeologists discovered the Rosetta stone and could begin to read Egyptian hieroglyphs."

Immune cells in the body constantly assess their environment and coordinate their defense functions by using words — or signaling codons, in scientific parlance — to tell the cell's nucleus which genes to turn on in response to invaders like pathogenic bacteria and viruses. Each signaling codon consists of several successive actions of a DNA binding protein that, when combined, elicit the proper gene activation, in much the same way that successive electrical signals through a telephone wire combine to produce the words of a conversation.


Chernobyl's molten guts are warming up, and scientists don't know why

© Zheka-Boss/iStock/Getty Images
Over the past five years, a sensor keeping count of neutron emissions deep within the rubble of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant has kept track of a gradual spike in activity.

The rising count might be nothing. It might even drop back down again, given time. Scientists aren't exactly keen on taking any chances, as the potential for a runaway nuclear fission reaction in the future can't be ruled out until we know what's going on.

Unfortunately, the precise location of the decaying material beneath debris and heavy slabs of concrete makes detailed investigations and potential fixes all that more challenging.

As reported by Science Magazine's Richard Stone, researchers at the Institute for Safety Problems of Nuclear Power Plants (ISPNPP) in Kyiv, Ukraine, are yet to determine whether the noted rise in neutrons heralds pending disaster, or is more of a storm in a nuclear tea-cup.

"There are many uncertainties," ISPNPP's Maxim Saveliev told Stone. "But we can't rule out the possibility of [an] accident."

Comment: See also: