Over the course of the pandemic, scientists have been monitoring emerging genetic changes to Sars-Cov-2. Mutations occur naturally as the virus replicates but if they confer an advantage – like being more transmissible – that variant of the virus may go on to proliferate.
This was the case with the ‘UK’ or B117 variant, which is about 50% more contagious and is rapidly spreading around the country. So how does genetic surveillance of the virus work? And what do we know about the new variants? Ian Sample speaks to Dr Jeffrey Barrett, the director of the Covid-19 genomics initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, to find out Coronavirus – latest updates See all our coronavirus coverage.
Virologist Angela Rasmussen talks about her battle against misinformation in the media, the virus, vaccines, disinfecting surfaces, home testing, and the next pandemic.
Eric J. Topol, MD: Hello, I’m Eric Topol for Medscape, and this is Medicine and the Machine. I’m so glad to have my colleague and partner in this podcast, Abraham Verghese, with me from Stanford. Today, we have the rarefied privilege to discuss the whole pandemic story, the virus and vaccines, with one of the country’s leading virologists, Dr Angela Rasmussen. Welcome, Angie.
Angela L. Rasmussen, MA, MPhil, PhD: Thank you so much for having me, Eric. It’s wonderful to be here.
This podcast rectifies the blizzard of variously valid COVID information blaring on the media today, and adds to the discussion. Virologist Angela Rasmussen talks about several interesting aspects of the pandemic. BSL laboratories are discussed. BSL refers to Biological Safety Level. If a lab is dealing with a dangerous pathogen, like the hemorrhagic fever viruses, a level 4 lab is required.
“Moon suit”- like positive pressure encasements, special hoods and disposal devices are required to ensure containment of the organisms, and to prevent their escape into the environment.
She discussed the differences between live viruses, detected by PFUs (plaque-forming units) on a sheet of living cells, and what the available Covid tests pick up, namely RNA which may or not be infective. Saliva vs nasal swab samples, PCR vs antibody tests were compared. She explained what the “cycle number” in PCR tests refers to, and its significance She then discussed “fomite” transmission, and observed how hard it was to experimentally prove.
Aerosol transmission is thought more likely. Also discussed is how lucky we were that this Pandemic involved a Coronavirus, instead of another viral family that was less studied. Moderna, for instance, was in the process of developing a MERS ( a Coronavirus) Vaccine. She finished up with the observation that distancing and masks, although imperfect, are still useful.
Stephen Hahn, U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner, Sigal Atzmon, founder and chief executive officer of Medix Global, and Roche CEO Severin Schwan, on the pandemic, Covid-19 vaccines and the new mutation.
Science Editor-in-Chief Holden Thorp joins host Sarah Crespi to discuss his editorial on preventing vaccine hesitancy during the coronavirus pandemic. Even before the current crisis, fear of vaccines had become a global problem, with the World Health Organization naming it as one of the top 10 worldwide health threats in 2019. Now, it seems increasingly possible that many people will refuse to get vaccinated. What can public health officials and researchers do to get ahead of this issue?
Also this week, Sarah talks with Science Senior Correspondent Jon Cohen about his story on Chinese scientist Shi Zhengli, the bat researcher at the center of the COVID-19 origins controversy—and why she thinks President Donald Trump owes her an apology.
Finally, Geert Van der Snickt, a professor in the conservation-restoration department at the University of Antwerp, talks with Sarah about his Science Advances paper on a new process for peering into the past of paintings. His team used a combination of techniques to look beneath an overpainting on the Ghent Altarpiece by Hubert and Jan Van Eyck—a pivotal piece that showed the potential of oil paints and even included an early example of painting from an aerial view.
Researchers have run numerous military-style simulations to predict the consequences of fictitious viral outbreaks. We discuss how these simulations work, what recommendations come out of them and if any of these warnings have been heeded.
24:08 One good thing
Our hosts pick out things that have made them smile in the last week, including audience feedback, the official end of the Ebola outbreak in the northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, and an enormous t-shirt collection.