A Setback for a Covid-19 Vaccine, Microplastics in the Human Placenta, and More | Weekly Roundup

A Setback for a Covid-19 Vaccine, Microplastics in the Human Placenta, and More | Weekly Roundup

1. Discouraging news from Sanofi

After a series of promising news regarding covid-19 vaccines, one setback appears. Sanofi and its British development partner, GSK, announced that their candidate vaccine will be delayed until late 2021.

In a press release issued today, the French pharmaceutical company justifies their decision with the insufficient immune response observed in older adults in the combined phases 1 and 2 of the vaccine trials.

Even though the candidate covid-19 vaccine stimulated a robust immune response in adults aged 18 to 49 years, the interim results suggest that the antigen concentrations were not sufficient to elicit a reaction in older people.

The companies will optimize their formula and plan to start phase 2b trials in February 2021. If data is positive, phase 3 trials will begin in the second quarter of the year.

  • Read the story from Helen Brandswell in STAT NEWS.
  • Read the press release from Sanofi.

2. Words matters for dogs

Dogs are great at differentiating words they already know from nonsense words. However, they are not so skilled at distinguishing between similar sounds and might have a limited capacity to process words.

The conclusions are drawn from a study conducted in Budapest, Hungary. Researchers measured the brain activity of seventeen companion dogs. In their owners’ presence, dogs listened to tape-recorded instruction words, such as “sit.”

Despite their tremendous auditory abilities, dogs struggle to differentiate similar words (e.g., dog vs. dig), suggests the research published last Wednesday.

3. Tasmanian devils are fighting their way out of extinction

Tasmanian devils are one of the most intriguing creatures of all. In Ohio, a team working in the Toledo Zoo found out last week that Tasmanian Devils can absorb and then reemit light, a phenomenon known as biofluorescence.

Tasmanian devils are also one of the few species in the world that carry a transmissible form of cancer — along with domestic dogs and some bivalves. The Devil’s facial tumour disease (DFTD) is highly infectious and has almost led the species to the brink of extinction.

But researchers recently found the transmissibility rate of these tumours is slowing down, science writer Elizabeth Pennisi tells us in her column for Science Magazine. While in 1996, when DFTD was discovered, each individual infected 3,5 others, this number has now dropped to 1. These findings bring some cautious optimism to the conservation efforts of this species.

4. Ravens have cognitive skills similar to great apes

Recent studies suggested that the corvid family members have evolved strong cognitive abilities to deal with the social world. A new study published in Scientific Research deepens the knowledge of ravens’ cognitive skills, focusing on development.

Researchers in Germany compared these birds’ cognitive performance with two great ape species, chimpanzees and orangutans. Their findings indicate that ravens have rapid cognitive development and acquire skills to deal with the physical world.

“[Ravens’] cognitive performance was on par with adult great apes’ cognitive performance across the same cognitive scales.

  • Read the study published in Nature.

5. First evidence of microplastics in the human placenta

For the first time, researchers found microplastics in the human placenta. The hypothesis has been debated for a while. Still, it was only this week that a study performed in Italy confirmed it.

Researchers collected six human placentas and found traces of 12 pigmented microplastic fragments. How the microplastics reached the placenta remains unclear. However, the team hints that the respiratory or gastric tracts are the most plausible routes of entry.

In conclusion, this study sheds new light on the level of human exposure to microplastics and microparticles in general. Due to the crucial role of placenta in supporting the foetus development and in acting as an interface between the latter and the external environment, the presence of exogenous and potentially harmful (plastic) particles is a matter of great concern. 

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