The hunt for COVID-19 treatment leads to a llama called Winter

The hunt for an effective treatment for COVID-19 has led one team of researchers to an unlikely ally: a llama named Winter and her antibodies

The researchers linked two copies of a special kind of antibody produced by llamas to create a new antibody that binds tightly to a key protein on the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. This protein, called the spike protein, allows the virus to break into host cells. Initial tests indicate that the antibody blocks viruses that display this spike protein from infecting cells in culture.

“This is one of the first antibodies known to neutralize SARS-CoV-2,” says Jason McLellan, associate professor of molecular biosciences at the University of Texas at Austin and co-senior author, referring to the virus that causes COVID-19.

The team is now preparing to conduct preclinical studies in animals such as hamsters or nonhuman primates, with the hopes of next testing in humans. The goal is to develop a treatment that would help people soon after infection with the virus.

“Vaccines have to be given a month or two before infection to provide protection,” McLellan says. “With antibody therapies, you’re directly giving somebody the protective antibodies and so, immediately after treatment, they should be protected. The antibodies could also be used to treat somebody who is already sick to lessen the severity of the disease.”

Read on, my friends. Our society dotes on awarding laurels to champions. In addition to the scientists leading the fight against COVID-19, I suggest thanks also be awarded to the critters who test and trial and help us all to survive.

New Mexico – and a wintertime tornado


Click to enlargeAntonio Chiquito/Facebook

❝ Antonio Chiquito was having a relatively normal winter day in Tinian, N.M., on Feb. 17. Temperatures were about 30 degrees, with heavy snow showers, and nothing seemed too out of the ordinary. And then he spotted a tornado — made out of snow.

“I had been at church, and then I came home and took the sheep out,” recalled Chiquito, who lives on the eastern end of the Navajo Nation. “When I was heading inside to warm up, I glanced up and saw the funnel cloud.”

❝ Sure enough, Chiquito’s suspicions were correct: It was a tornado. At first, he was a little frightened, but surprisingly not shocked. He had seen twisters in Tinian before but never following a snow squall.

❝ The National Weather Service in Albuquerque…confirming the funnel as a landspout, which is a tornado that forms from the ground up rather than one that descends from spinning clouds above.

Out-of-the-ordinary weather is now becoming “occasional”. Conservative politicians at a minimum have to acknowledge the existence of real events. Unless they’re president, of course.

Tree-planting project helped Yorkshire town miss winter floods


Click here for the project blog — Heather bales impeding gully flow

Tree planting and other natural approaches have prevented flooding at Pickering in North Yorkshire over Christmas, at a time when heavy rainfall caused devastating flooding across the region.

An analysis of the Slowing the Flow scheme published on Wednesday concludes that the measures reduced peak river flow by 15-20% at a time when 50mm of rain fell on sodden ground in 36 hours. The scheme was set up in 2009 after the town had suffered four serious floods in 10 years, with the flooding in 2007 estimated to have caused about £7m of damage.

The work included planting 40,000 trees, 300 “leaky” dams and the restoration of heather moorland, all intended to slow the flow of water into the river and reduce its peak height. A new flood storage area was also set aside in fields near Newtondale. The project cost the government £500,000, significantly less than a proposed flood wall in the town.

The report concludes that the scheme prevented flooding that would otherwise have occurred to homes and the town museum. The work supports the calls for a more natural approach to flood risk management that followed a series of serious floods in recent years.

Not a be-all and end-all, the fact remains that utilizing natural defenses can prevent a significant portion of flood events – and serve the public interest by diminishing the effects of extraordinary events.

That the plantings cost significantly less than measures proposed by a government doing their level best to spend less and less on public needs is praiseworthy. This also increases the odds of getting such projects past Tory beancounters.

El Niño ready to set new all-time record

Tropical Pacific water temperatures are shockingly hot. Last week equatorial Pacific water temperatures averaged 3 degrees Celsius above normal for the first time ever in the key Niño 3.4 region. The previous weekly high Niño 3.4 value of 2.8 degrees was tied last week with Nov. 28, 1997. The Niño 3.4 region, used to measure the strength of an El Niño ranges from 170W to 120W from 5 degrees north to 5 degrees south of the equator. If temperatures continue to rise, or plateau for a few more weeks, this will be the strongest El Niño in history…

The extraordinary surge of heat in the equatorial Pacific continues to push from the dateline towards the Americas. Temperatures anomalies are predicted to peak over the next month by a number of climate models, but the effects of the excess oceanic heat will continue to grow in the atmosphere into the winter months. 2015 is already crushing records as the warmest year on record but 2016 may be even warmer because the peak in atmospheric temperatures is months later than the peak in sea surface temperatures.

Our political hacks – whether the free range sort in state legislatures or the Gold Standard inside the Washington DC Beltway – will continue to evaluate climate change depending upon the single meaningful factor in their analysis — cold, hard cash.

Earthquakes force Dutch government to cut gas field production


Let in a little winter air?

The Dutch government has ordered a further tightening of gas production at Groningen, Europe’s largest gas field, in response to a spate of earthquakes that have caused extensive property damage in the Netherlands’ northernmost province.

Output at the field, the world’s 10th largest, will be capped at 30 billion cubic metres (bcm) for the whole of 2015, Economy Minister Henk Kamp told reporters on Tuesday. At the beginning of the year, production of 39.4 bcm was planned.

“The earthquakes are still there, and we will have to reckon with earthquakes in the future,” Kamp later told Reuters. “We can do two things to preserve safety: reduce the production of natural gas and strengthen houses, and we’re doing both.”…

Which tells us something about the size of profits – and how priorities are sorted. Even though Kamp says, “We’ll do whatever is necessary for the safety of the people in Groningen.”

In February, output was cut to 16.5 bcm for the first half of the year after the Dutch Safety Board said gas companies and state regulators had failed to take the threat of earthquakes seriously enough.

In the second half of the year, output will be capped at 13.5 bcm, with stored gas tapped if necessary to make up for any shortfall…

Analyst Oliver Sanderson of Thomson Reuters Point Carbon said reaction to the planned reduction had been relatively muted because it was announced in June, during the summer…

“Last time there was a cold winter, two years ago, Groningen was producing at around 54 bcm,” he said…”Where is Europe going to get 25 bcm?”

He said that with Groningen producing at 30 bcm in a cold winter, the shortfall in Western Europe would have to be met mostly with Russian gas, supplemented with some Norwegian gas and liquefied natural gas imported by tanker.

Try selling that in Brussels,” he said, referring to the political sensitivity of European governments increasing, rather than lessening, their reliance on Russian energy.

Sometimes, circumstances make it a little easier to understand some nations keeping commercial and trade policies separate from the latest political conflicts.