Sunday, December 5, 2021

BIG Wrap

Robotaxis enter service in Beijing

It looks like a normal car, but the white taxi by the curb has nobody driving it, and communicates with customers digitally to obtain directions and take payment. Beijing this week approved its first autonomous taxis for commercial use, bringing dozens of the so-called "robotaxis" to the streets of the Chinese capital, Tech Xplore reports. The vehicles can only carry two passengers at a time and are confined to the city's southern Yizhuang area. An employee of the taxi firm also...

The latest on COVID variant Omicron

The World Health Organization has designated Omicron a COVID-19 variant of concern, and many countries are racing to try and contain it, banning flights from southern Africa. Scientists are working to dissect the variant and try to understand its behaviour, Medical Xpress reports. Here is a brief explainer of what is known so far about Omicron – days after it emerged – as shared by South African scientists. It is unclear where the variant originated,...

Study finds steady increase in infection rate after second vaccine dose

A study published today by the British Medical Journal finds a gradual increase in the risk of COVID-19 infection from 90 days after receiving a second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The study was carried out by the Research Institute of Leumit Health Services in Israel. Israel was one of the first countries to roll out a large-scale COVID-19 vaccination campaign in December 2020, and has seen a resurgence of infections since June 2021. Researchers examined electronic...

‘Analysis pipeline’ provides rapid insight into how cells are changed by disease

A new "image analysis pipeline" is giving scientists rapid new insight into how disease or injury have changed the body, down to the individual cell, reports Tech Xplore. It's called TDAExplore, which takes the detailed imaging provided by microscopy, pairs it with a hot area of mathematics called topology, which provides insight on how things are arranged, and the analytical power of artificial intelligence to give, for example, a new perspective on changes in...

Jumpin’ Jupiter – that year really flew by

The hunt for planets beyond our solar system has turned up more than 4,000 far-flung worlds, orbiting stars thousands of light years from Earth. These extrasolar planets are a veritable menagerie, from rocky super-Earths and miniature Neptunes, to colossal gas giants. Among the more confounding planets discovered to date are "hot Jupiters" – massive balls of gas that are about the size of our own Jovian planet but that zing around their stars in less than 10 days, in...

Exposure to harmless coronaviruses boosts SARS-CoV-2 immunity

A team of researchers led by the University of Zurich (UZH) has discovered another component that contributes to SARS-CoV-2 immunity – previous antibody responses to other, harmless coronaviruses. "People who have had strong immune responses to other human coronaviruses also have some protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection," says Alexandra Trkola, head of the Institute of Medical Virology at UZH. In their study, the researchers used a specially developed assay to analyse antibody levels against four...

Facebook and Instagram encryption plans delayed to 2023

Plans to roll out end-to-end encryption on Facebook and Instagram have been delayed amid a row over child safety, reports the BBC. Meta, Facebook's parent company, said messaging encryption on the apps would come in 2023. The process would see only the sender and receiver able to read messages. Law enforcement and Meta would not. However, child protection groups and politicians have warned that it could hamper police investigating child abuse. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty...

Antibodies from dengue and Zika provide lasting cross-protection in kids

Cross-protective antibodies from dengue and Zika last far longer than previously thought, scientists have found in a study involving more than 4,000 children in Nicaragua, reports Medical Xpress. The 11-year longitudinal analysis unexpectedly revealed that antibodies from either dengue or Zika – which naturally protect against infections caused by either virus – remain stable for years and do not precipitously wane. Solving scientific mysteries about old foes such as dengue, and an emerging infection...

First electric autonomous cargo ship launched in Norway

The world's first fully electric autonomous cargo vessel was unveiled in Norway, reports Tech Xplore. By shipping up to 120 containers of fertilizer from a plant in the southeastern town of Porsgrunn to the Brevik port a dozen kilometres away, the much-delayed Yara Birkeland, will reportedly eliminate the need for around 40,000 truck journeys a year that are now fuelled by diesel. "Electricity has a 'niche' use, in particular for ferries, as these are...

Study indicates genetic evolution in Europeans within last few millennia

A team of researchers has found evidence of natural-selection-based evolutionary changes to people living in Europe over the past 2,000 to 3,000 years. In their paper published in the journal Nature Human Behavior, the group describes their comparative study of people living in the U.K. today, with those living across Europe over the past several thousand years. Noting that few studies have been conducted with the goal of learning more about evolutionary changes in...