Leeches may help prevent the next coronavirus outbreak

Using the latest biotechnology, a team led by Professor Douglas Yu of Britain’s University of East Anglia extracted DNA from digested blood in leeches’ stomachs, determined what animals they had fed on, and then produced a model of the distribution of wild animals in the Ailao Shan Nature Reserve in Yunnan province.

The same DNA analysis method could feasibly be used to examine drain water for evidence of illegal wildlife consumed or traded in markets, Yu says…

Wild animals are a reservoir of viruses that, due to their ability to rapidly change genetic make-up, regularly “jump” to other species, including humans…

Until recently, biotechnology couldn’t separate individual bits of DNA in the “soup” to identify which animals they came from. But the latest technology can process multiple DNA molecules at the same time, and it has become a powerful forensic tool.

Without seeing or touching the animals, their presence can be detected from a sample of soil, water – or the remnants of digested blood in a leech’s stomach.

Yu’s team extracted DNA from leeches’ stomachs, then applied sophisticated statistical software that could compare the different DNA sequences against animal DNA sequences in existing databases, similar to how facial recognition software matches an image of an individual face from a set of millions…

The results closely matched the biology of the animals. “The right species were found in the right places,” Yu says. It also gelled with previous records of animal sightings in Ailao Shan. The leeches could be trusted.

Scientific methods don’t really care what country, culture or economic system they operate in. Yes, everything from context to funding vary; but, real data produces a catalog of information that can provide new and revealing information, conclusions.

Good for you, Doctor Yu.

Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight Blog will be joining ESPN

Nate Silver, the statistician who attained national fame for his accurate projections about the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, is parting ways with The New York Times and moving his FiveThirtyEight franchise to ESPN, the sports empire controlled by the Walt Disney Company…

At ESPN, Mr. Silver is expected to have a wide-ranging portfolio. Along with his writing and number-crunching, he will most likely be a regular contributor to “Olbermann,” the late-night ESPN2 talk show hosted by Keith Olbermann that will have its debut at the end of August. In political years, he will also have a role at ABC News, which is owned by Disney…

Before creating statistical models for elections, Mr. Silver was a baseball sabermetrician who built a highly effective system for projecting how players would perform in the future. For a time he was a managing partner of Baseball Prospectus.

At public events recently, he has expressed interest in covering sports more frequently, so the ESPN deal is a logical next step.

Mr. Silver’s three-year contract with The Times is set to expire in late August and his departure will most likely be interpreted as a blow to the company, which has promoted Mr. Silver and his brand of poll-based projections…

Speculation about the future of Mr. Silver and FiveThirtyEight heated up shortly after last November’s election, and he was wooed by no small number of other news organizations. Jill Abramson, the newspaper’s executive editor, and Mark Thompson, the chief executive of The New York Times Company, said earlier this year that they would try hard to sign Mr. Silver to a new contract…

He occasionally hinted in interviews and public appearances that his relationship with The Times had moments of tension. But it was mutually beneficial. The news organization gained Web traffic and prestige by hosting his work, and he received a salary, a wider audience and editorial support.

The same will most likely be true at ESPN.

Given that ESPN had the smarts to hire Nate Silver away from the TIMES, I also imagine the last couple of sentences will be true at ESPN. In another few weeks the new Fox Sports channel will debut and NBC’s first season of carrying sports from around the whole world will kick off with start of the English Premier League season of proper football.