A fifth force of nature.
1. Matt Ridley: “Inch by painful inch, the truth is being dragged out about how this pandemic started. It is just about understandable, if not forgivable, that Chinese scientists have obfuscated vital information about early cases and their work with similar viruses in Wuhan’s laboratories: they were subject to fierce edicts from a ruthless, totalitarian regime. It is more shocking to discover in emails released this week that some western scientists were also saying different things in public from what they thought in private. The emails were exchanged over the first weekend of February 2020 between senior virologists on both sides of the Atlantic following a meeting arranged by Sir Jeremy Farrar, head of the Wellcome Trust, with America’s two top biologists, Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, and Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Freedom of Information requests sent last year produced farcical results in both Britain and America: ghost emails with all the contents redacted. Now, the US government has been forced to make unredacted versions available to Republicans on the House of Representatives’ oversight committee for an “in camera review.” Thankfully, staffers transcribed some of the contents. They show that Dr Fauci, Dr Collins and Sir Patrick Vallance, our Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, were briefed, on and after February 1, by several virologists who thought at the time that the new virus showed signs of having been manipulated in the laboratory. Not only did they never breathe a word of this suspicion to the media or the public, they rubbished it. (Source: telegraph.co.uk)
2. A simple roadside weed may hold the key to understanding and predicting DNA mutation, according to new research from University of California, Davis, and the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Germany. The findings, published today in the journal Nature, radically change our understanding of evolution and could one day help researchers breed better crops or even help humans fight cancer. Mutations occur when DNA is damaged and left unrepaired, creating a new variation. The scientists wanted to know if mutation was purely random or something deeper. What they found was unexpected. “We always thought of mutation as basically random across the genome,” said Grey Monroe, an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences who is lead author on the paper. “It turns out that mutation is very non-random and it’s non-random in a way that benefits the plant. It’s a totally new way of thinking about mutation.” (Source: ucdavis.edu, nature.com)
3. Thawing Arctic permafrost laden with billions of tons of greenhouse gases not only threatens the region’s critical infrastructure but life across the planet, according a comprehensive scientific review. Nearly 70% of the roads, pipelines, cities and industry — mostly in Russia — built on the region’s softening ground are highly vulnerable to acute damage by mid-century, according to one of half-a-dozen studies on permafrost published this week by Nature. Another study warns that methane and carbon dioxide escaping from long-frozen soil could accelerate warming and overwhelm global efforts to cap the rise in Earth’s temperature at livable levels. Exposure of highly combustible organic matter no longer locked away by ice is also fueling unprecedented wildfires, making permafrost a triple threat, the studies report. (Source: japantimes.co.jp, nature.com)
4. China is luring record levels of investment into the country’s technology sector, even as it clamps down on consumer-technology firms like Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and ride-hailing company Didi Global Inc. Unlike in previous years, when most Chinese tech funding went to internet startups in e-commerce, the bulk of the money in the past year headed into areas that hew more closely to Communist Party priorities, such as semiconductors, biotechnology and information technology. Venture-capital investors put $129 billion into more than 5,300 startups in China in 2021, higher than the market’s last record of around $115 billion for 2018, according to data from investment database Preqin, which has tracked China venture-capital deals since 2000. (Source: wsj.com)