Pioneers of mRNA COVID Vaccines Win Nobel Prize for Medicine

 

Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman laid the groundwork for immunizations that were rolled out during the pandemic at record-breaking speed. This year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded to biochemist Katalin Karikó and immunologist Drew Weissman for discoveries that enabled the development of mRNA vaccines against COVID-19. The vaccines have been administered more than 13 billion times, saved millions of lives and prevented millions of cases of severe COVID-19, said the Nobel committee. Karikó, who is at Szeged University in Hungary, and Weissman, at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia (UPenn), paved the way for the vaccines’ development by finding a way to deliver genetic material called messenger RNA into cells without triggering an unwanted immune response. They will each receive an equal share of the prize, which totals 11 million Swedish krona (US$1 million). Karikó is the 13th female scientist to win a Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology. She was born in Hungary, and moved to the United States in the 1980s. “Hopefully, this prize will inspire women and immigrants and all of the young ones to persevere and be resilient. That’s what I hope,” she tells Nature.

 

https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-023-03046-x

Read the full article at: www.nature.com

The Newest and Largest Starlink Satellites Are Also the Faintest

 

Despite being larger than the original Starlink satellites, the new “Mini” version is fainter, meeting astronomers’ recommendations.

 

 

SpaceX launched their first batch of second-generation Starlink satellites on February 27th. These spacecraft are called “Mini,” but they are only small in comparison to the full-size satellites that will come later. The 116 square meters of surface area make them more than four times the size of the first-generation spacecraft.

The Minis’ large dimensions were an immediate concern for professional and amateur astronomers alike because area usually translates to brightness. However, SpaceX changed their physical design and concept of operations (conops) in order to mitigate their brightness. The company developed a highly reflective dielectric mirror film and a low-reflectivity black paint, which are applied to several parts of the spacecraft body. The mirror-like surface reflects sunlight into space instead of scattering it toward observers on the ground. In addition, the solar panels can be oriented so that observers do not see their sunlit sides.

 

 

The brightness mitigation plan sounded promising but measurements were needed to determine its effectiveness. So, a group of satellite observers began recording magnitudes. Scott Harrington recorded the first data point visually on March 14th. He has since obtained 125 additional magnitudes from his dark-sky location in Arkansas. Meanwhile, Andreas Hornig developed software to process video observations. He derived 108 magnitude measurements recorded from Macedonia on the night of April 12th alone. In all, we have acquired 506 brightness measurements for our study.

 

SpaceX launched three additional batches of 21 or more Mini satellites in April, May, and June. These spacecraft ascend from low, orbit-insertion heights toward their eventual altitude at 560-km (350 mi). Until May, we were observing Mini satellites at all heights without knowing whether they were operating for brightness mitigation. Then Richard Cole in the UK noticed that some spacecraft had leveled off at 480 km. He reasoned that these satellites might already be in mitigation mode and suggested that we prioritize them.

 

We found that the Minis at that height were several magnitudes fainter than those at other altitudes. SpaceX sent us a message on May 16th confirming that Richard was correct. Now that we could distinguish between mitigated and unmitigated spacecraft, we began to characterize the brightness of each group, prioritizing measurements for those satellites that were already operational.

Observed brightness indicates how severely satellites impact celestial observations. The average magnitude for mitigated Mini spacecraft in our database is 7.1, just below the limit set by astronomers’ recommended guidelines. So, most of them are invisible to the unaided eye and do not interfere greatly with research.

Read the full article at: skyandtelescope.org

Ancient Viruses in Our DNA May Fuel Dementia

Researchers discovered a potential link between “endogenous retroviruses” present in the human genome and the development of neurodegenerative diseases.

 

Summary: Researchers discovered a potential link between “endogenous retroviruses” present in the human genome and the development of neurodegenerative diseases. Their study found that these ancient viral remnants might influence the spread of protein aggregates commonly associated with certain dementias. While these retroviruses don’t trigger neurodegeneration, they may exacerbate the disease process. This discovery offers new potential therapeutic avenues, such as suppressing gene expression or neutralizing viral proteins.

 

Research cited published in Nature (Aug. 18, 2023):

https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-023-40632-z 

Read the full article at: neurosciencenews.com

Champion-level drone racing using deep reinforcement learning

An autonomous drone has competed against human drone-racing champions — and won. The victory can be attributed to savvy engineering and a type of artificial intelligence that learns mostly through trial and error.

 

First-person view (FPV) drone racing is a televised sport in which professional competitors pilot high-speed aircraft through a 3D circuit. Each pilot sees the environment from the perspective of their drone by means of video streamed from an onboard camera. Reaching the level of professional pilots with an autonomous drone is challenging because the robot needs to fly at its physical limits while estimating its speed and location in the circuit exclusively from onboard sensors.

 

Here the authors of this paper introduce Swift, an autonomous system that can race physical vehicles at the level of the human world champions. The system combines deep reinforcement learning (RL) in simulation with data collected in the physical world. Swift competed against three human champions, including the world champions of two international leagues, in real-world head-to-head races. Swift won several races against each of the human champions and demonstrated the fastest recorded race time.

 

This work represents a milestone for mobile robotics and machine intelligence, which may inspire the deployment of hybrid learning-based solutions in other physical systems. An autonomous system is described that combines deep reinforcement learning with onboard sensors collecting data from the physical world, enabling it to fly faster than human world champion drone pilots around a race track.

Read the full article at: www.nature.com