Climate

Climate Emergency Scientists Claim The Earth Is In Dire Need Of Our Help 

The Covid-19 pandemic initially helped combat climate change in America due to the lack of human activity in major metropolitans, where things like pollution are common. Now, climate scientists are warning that the climate crisis has worsened exponentially within the past decade, and this year was no different. 

In November of 2019, an article co-signed by over 11,000 scientists was published in a journal that declared a global climate emergency. This Tuesday, the same journal released an update in which they claimed a few improvements have been made to our environment thanks to the pandemic, but ultimately much more systemic work needs to be done if we want to see a real change in our planet’s health. 

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“A major lesson from COVID-19 is that even colossally decreased transportation and consumption are not nearly enough and that, instead, transformational system changes are required, and they must rise above politics.” 

“Given the impacts we are seeing at roughly 1.25 degrees Celsius (°C) warming, combined with the many reinforcing feedback loops and potential tipping points, massive-scale climate action is urgently needed,” the article reads.

Ecology professor William Ripple and forest ecosystem researcher Christopher Wold were some of the lead authors on the article update, and they cited catastrophic flooding, wildfires, and record-breaking heat waves that have been impacting America. 

The data published shows a Covid-related dip in air travel led to a decrease in the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, however, record levels of methane and carbon dioxide were still recorded in the atmosphere, which has increased acidification in the Earth’s oceans, and led to the melting of major ice sheets. 

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“Global gross domestic product dropped by 3.6% in 2020 but is projected to rebound to an all-time high,” Ripple said in a statement. 

“Likely because of the pandemic, fossil fuel consumption has gone down since 2019, as have carbon dioxide emissions and airline travel levels. All of these are expected to significantly rise with the opening of the economy.

The article update sent a very similar message as its original, calling on the government for an elimination of fossil fuels, air pollutants, a switch to mostly plant-based diets, a more sustainable economy, and a means of stabilizing the human population. 

“As long as humanity’s pressure on the Earth system continues, attempted remedies will only redistribute the pressure. But by halting the unsustainable exploitation of natural habitats, we can reduce zoonotic disease transmission risks, protect carbon stocks and conserve biodiversity, all at the same time,”  Wolf said. 

“We need to quickly change how we’re doing things, and new climate policies should be part of COVID-19 recovery plans wherever possible. It’s time for us to join together as a global community with a shared sense of cooperation, urgency and equity.”

Climate Change

Dramatic Climate Efforts Are Needed As The World Risks Hitting Temperature Limit Within 5 Years

The 2015 Paris Climate Accord aimed to pull together countries across the world in a bid to prevent global temperatures reaching 1.5C or above. Countries across the world who joined, would pledge to reduce emissions and work towards greener solutions in order to meet this target. The accord works on 5 year cycles of ‘increasingly ambitious climate action’. In 2020, the UN World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) believed there was a 20% chance that the world would not keep temperatures below 1.5C. However, in the latest forecast, they believe that there is a 40% chance that global temperatures would surpass 1.5C any year within the next five, and the odds are increasing.

The stark difference between the two forecasts is apparently down to improvements in technology which have now shown that the world was in a far worse condition than believed, that the world had already warmed more than already thought. The Paris Accord, studied temperature changes over a 30 year average, but the WMO has now found that average temperature increases of 1C will likely occur every year between now and 2025, with a 90% chance that one of those years will be the warmest on record.

The 1.5C target was set to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. Meaning that the recorded trajectory of global temperatures has been steadily increasing since the 1800’s (the time of the industrial revolution) and that increase should not be greater than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The rise may seem small in terms of numbers, but is dramatic for the world’s ecological stability. According to Sky News, Professor Petteri Taalas, World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) secretary-general stated: “Increasing temperatures mean more melting ice, higher sea levels, more heatwaves and other extreme weather, and greater impacts on food security, health, the environment and sustainable development.

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“This study shows – with a high level of scientific skill – that we are getting measurably and inexorably closer to the lower target of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.”

“It is yet another wake-up call that the world needs to fast-track commitments to slash greenhouse gas emissions and achieve carbon neutrality.”

The WMO warned that the world can expect ‘a wetter Australia, a wetter African Sahel, and a drier North America, with more cyclones in the Atlantic’, Sky News reported. After the world hits the 1.5C landmark, this may be followed by cooler years due to natural variability, and there will still be some time before the worlds temperature permanently increases above 1.5C.

The BBC spoke to Dr Joeri Rogelj, director of research at the Grantham Institute, Imperial College London who said: “the 1.5C in the Met Office announcement should not be confused with the 1.5C limit in the Paris Agreement. The Paris targets refer to global warming – that is, the temperature increase of our planet once we smooth out year-to-year variations… A single year hitting 1.5C therefore doesn’t mean the Paris limits are breached, but is nevertheless very bad news. It tells us once again that climate action to date is wholly insufficient and emissions need to be reduced urgently to zero to halt global warming.”

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Prof Ed Hawkins, a climate scientist at the University of Reading, also spoke to The BBC, who stated that if temperatures reach above 1.5C one year, it does not mean the target set by the Paris Agreement has been exceeded. “As the climate warms, we’ll get more months above 1.5C, then a sequence of them, then a whole year on average above 1.5 and then two or three years and then virtually every year,” He stated that the 1.5C limit is “not a magic number that we’ve got to avoid… It’s not a sudden cliff edge, it’s more like a slope that we’re already on and, as the climate warms, the effects get worse and worse. We have to set a line in the sand to try to limit the temperature rise but we clearly need to recognise that we’re seeing the effects of climate change already in the UK and around the world and those effects will continue to become more severe.”

There is no doubt however that serious and effective efforts to cut carbon emissions and establish greener solutions from world leaders and companies across the globe is now imperative. As Sky News writes: ‘keeping to the 1.5C limit will require dramatic efforts to cut carbon emissions by nearly half by 2030 and to net zero 20 years later. But the world’s current promises put us on track for 2-3C of warming by the end of the century.’

Ancient 15,000-Year-Old Viruses Appear In Melting Glacier Ice

Century-old moss that has been frozen away in the depths of a Tibetan Glacier has melted to reveal ancient viruses, giving scientists a real glimpse into the organisms that lived tens of thousands of years ago on Earth, as well as the history of their ecosystems.

“The melting has also created some concerns about ancient viruses coming back to haunt us. Melting will not only lead to the loss of those ancient, archived microbes and viruses, but also release them to the environment in the future,” microbiologist Zhi-Ping Zhong wrote in a new study.

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Scientists luckily have access to technology that can keep the ice samples completely sterilized, which makes it easier to work with when it comes to analyzing what exactly is in the ice. Recently, scientists identified dozens of 15,000-year-old viruses from the Guliya ice cap of the Tibetan Plateau.

“These glaciers were formed gradually, and along with dust and gases, many, many viruses were also deposited in that ice. These microbes potentially represent those in the atmosphere at the time of their deposit.”

“These are viruses that would have thrived in extreme environments, with signatures of genes that help them infect cells in cold environments – just surreal genetic signatures for how a virus is able to survive in extreme conditions,” said microbiologist Matthew Sullivan, who also worked on the study.

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When the scientists compared the genetic sequence of the recent discovery they found that a majority of the viruses present in the ice core samples were bacteria that infect Methylobacterium; this classifies the group of bacteria responsible for the methane cycle of ice in a glacier.

These types of bacteria are typically found in plant or soil habitats, which indicates to the researchers that the viruses likely were deposited in the ice through dust particles that lifted from soil tens of thousands of years ago.

“These frozen viruses likely originate from soil or plants and facilitate nutrient acquisition for their hosts.”

“We know very little about viruses and microbes in these extreme environments, and what is actually there,” says Earth scientist Lonnie Thompson.

“How do bacteria and viruses respond to climate change? What happens when we go from an ice age to a warm period like we’re in now?”

NASA Researching Bigger Helicopter For More-Detailed Exploration Of Mars

NASA currently uses the Mars helicopter known as Ingenuity to capture images and data on the Red Planet. Now, the agency has announced that they are quietly researching a bigger and better helicopter to navigate through Mars’s rough terrain. Teddy Tzanetos, a NASA robotics technologist, discussed the new spacecraft in a recent interview:

“We’re trying to look at building on the success of Ingenuity, and what we could accomplish with a larger, more capable aircraft to Mars in terms of the science we could do and the distances we could go.”

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The new aircraft is set to be a larger version of Ingenuity, which has two rotors while the new version is equipped with a much larger helicopter that contains six rotors. NASA is continuously studying the limits of Ingenuity in terms of its speed and distance. 

A larger helicopter could be beneficial due to the fact that it could carry more equipment to analyze the composition of Mars. 

The research paper on the new aircraft lists three possible destinations: “Mawrth Vallis, a valley in which NASA has detected evidence of water movement in the past; Milankovič Crater, which could harbor large water ice deposits, and Lucus Planum, a relatively flat area around which some researchers believe a helicopter could help determine when Mars lost its magnetic field and also survey volcanic flows.”

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NASA is planning on sending another aircraft to Mars in 2026 to collect rock samples that are currently being drilled by the Perseverance rover. The next time Mars will be close enough to Earth for a rocket launch will be December 2022. 

“Many people who study Mars exploration say waiting much longer than that would be a shame. I think they would be very foolish to stall it that long. I think a few years from now, people will ask why are you sending something to Mars that can’t fly, since we know it’s possible now,” said Robert Zubrin, president of the non-profit Mars Society, which advocates for exploration of the Red Planet.

NASA also recently announced that Ingenuity has so far provided valuable tools that engineers can use to navigate where to send Perseverance. Zubrin believes that NASA should specifically sent an aircraft through the Valles Marineris, the largest known canyon in the solar system.

“The Valles Marineris has a lot of deposits that were probably ancient lakes on the bottom. A helicopter could explore the walls of the canyon vertically and laterally. That would serve science and build public fascination. I think this opens up all sorts of exciting possibilities. You’d want to go to exciting places geologically that you couldn’t get to with the rovers, which is a lot of terrain,” said Ray Arvidson, a professor of Earth and Planetary Services.

Evolutionary Study Shows Human Bodies Were Partially Shaped By Climate Change 

As humans evolved, it’s become common knowledge that our body’s and brain’s have both increased in size as we developed into the Homo Sapiens we are today. The original Homo genus emerged about 300,000 years ago, and today we are much larger and have a brain three times as big as our human ancestors who lived a million years ago. 

Scientists have long debated why humans evolved the way that they did. There’s a multitude of potential explanations for why our bodies and minds grew into what they are today, but one of the newer possibilities has to do with climate change, and the role it’s played in our evolution overall. 

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A research team led by Cambridge University and Tübingen University in Germany have combined data on more than 300 human fossils from the Homo genus alongside climate models to establish a direct connection between the Earth’s climate and our evolutionary journey.

The study, published in Nature Communications, explained “what temperature, precipitation and other climate conditions each of the fossils, spanning the last million years, would have experienced when it was a living human. We found a strong link between temperature and body size, showing that climate was a key driver of body size during that period.”

The colder it gets, the bigger the humans are. If you’re bigger, you have a bigger body – you are producing more heat but losing relatively less because your surface is not expanding at the same rate,” said Dr. Manuel Will, a Tübingen University researcher and author on the study.

“It’s not completely surprising, but it’s interesting to see that in this respect our evolution isn’t that different from other mammals. We face similar problems when it comes to gaining and losing heat, so we seem to have evolved in similar ways,” said Dr. Nick Longrich.

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The study also linked changes in climate to brain size among the Homo genus species, however, it found that the environment has a much greater impact on body size than brain size. 

“This phenomenon shows that body and brain size are under different selective pressures. This study really manages to detangle the fact that both brain and body size are increasing, but increasing for very different reasons.”

“The more stable [the climate] is, the larger brains are. You need a lot of energy to maintain a big brain – in stable environments, you find more stable food, so you likely have sufficient nutrition to give you that energy,” said Dr. Will.

Dr. Will also pointed out that evolution is ongoing, “but there are different drivers now to a million years ago. The past gives us clues about the future; we can learn from it. But we cannot simply extrapolate from it. While we are currently seeing that the climate is getting warmer, we cannot assume that our bodies will get smaller as a result.”

Israeli Flag

New 130,000-Year-Old Human Fossils Discovered In Israel 

Scientists have recently discovered a new kind of early human after studying pieces of a fossilized bone that was dug up at a cement plant located in central Israel. The fragments of the skull and lower jaw included teeth that suggested the fossils were about 130,000-years-old. 

The researchers were from Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and spoke about the discoveries this past week. The fossils are called Nesher Ramla Homo, after the location in which they were discovered. 

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The earliest humans had very large teeth and no chin, and the study suggested that they may have been ancestors of the Neanderthals, which would challenge current thinking that our evolutionary cousins originated in Europe. 

“The discovery of a new type of Homo is of great scientific importance. It enables us to make new sense of previously found human fossils, add another piece to the puzzle of human evolution, and understand the migrations of humans in the old world.”

Dr Yossi Zaidner works for Hebrew University and is the one who found the fossils while exploring a mining area of the Nesher cement plant near Ramla. The team of scientists discovered the bones about 25-feet deep along with some stone tools and the bones of horses and deer. 

The study said the Nesher Ramla “resembled pre-Neanderthal groups in Europe. This is what makes us suggest that this Nesher Ramla group is actually a large group that started very early in time and are the source of the European Neanderthal,” said Hila May, a physical anthropologist at the Dan David Center and the Shmunis Institute of Tel Aviv University.

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May explained how before this discovery experts were never able to explain how Homo sapien genes were present in earlier Neanderthal populations, but now, the Nesher Ramla group may be the reason for that.

The jaw bone of these fossils had no chin and the skull was flat. 3D shape analysis revealed that the group was not related to any known group of early humans. “What they did match were a small number of enigmatic human fossils found elsewhere in Israel, dating back even earlier, that anthropologists had never been able to place,” May said. 

“As a crossroads between Africa, Europe and Asia, the land of Israel served as a melting pot where different human populations mixed with one another, to later spread throughout the Old World,” said Dr Rachel Sarig, from Tel Aviv University.

Sheela Athreya, a Texas A&M University paleoanthropologist said the new research “gives us a lot to think about in terms of the history of population groups in this region, and how they may have interacted with populations in other regions, in Europe and North Africa.”

The Nesher Ramla fossils “look like something on a lineage heading toward Neanderthal. They seem to be categorized as fossils of an intermediate variety — this group may be predecessors to Neanderthals in this area.”

New Fossils Reveal Giant Rhinos Were Once The Largest Land Mammals To Walk The Earth 

It’s been a widely known fact in the science community that giant rhinos once roamed the Earth some 25 million years ago. While they have long been considered one of the largest land mammals that ever lived, experts were still confused as to how they were able to evolve into the rhinos we more commonly see today.

Additionally, scientists had little to no information about how these rhinos travelled throughout Asia and ended up in the parts of the world where rhinos are most commonly found now. 

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Now, paleontologists have found new fossils that are finally answering some of these questions. The fossils were specifically a part of a new, sixth species of extinct giant rhino, Paraceratherium linxiaense, and where they were discovered has given experts a greater insight into how these giants move across China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and Pakistan. 

The team of researchers was led by Deng Tao from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology. 

The researchers uncovered one fossil of a completely preserved skull, jawbone, and teeth with their associated atlas; the part of the body where the head meets the spine. Another discovered fossil has three preserved vertebrae. 

The remains gave the team enough information to create a digital 3D model of this new species so that they can compare them to other giant rhinos. The team was able to determine this newest discovery was a newer rhino species due to its longer and more flexible neck. 

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The fossils were found in Gansu Province, China right at the northeastern border of the Tibetan Plateau. The fossils were likely from the Late Oligocene period which lasted from about 34 million years ago to about 23 million years ago. These rhinos were significantly larger than the rhinos of today, with an estimated shoulder height of 16 feet and a weight of over 40,000 pounds. These rhinos also lacked horns. 

“The Tibetan region likely hosted some areas with low elevation, possibly under 2,000 meters during Oligocene, and the lineage of giant rhinos could have dispersed freely along the eastern coast of the Tethys Ocean and perhaps through some lowlands of this region,” researchers wrote in the study

Researchers determined that, “in the Early Oligocene, the animal dispersed westward to Kazakhstan, with a descendant expanded to South Asia, then returning north to cross the Tibetan area to eventually produce P. linxiaense to the east in the Linxia Basin.”

“Late Oligocene tropical conditions allowed the giant rhino to return northward to Central Asia, implying that the Tibetan region was still not uplifted as a high-elevation plateau,” Deng said.

World Health Organization

WHO Says New Covid-19 Cases Continuing To Outpace Vaccination Efforts 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced this week that the Covid-19 virus is still spreading at a faster rate than the vaccines are being distributed. With the recent creation of the G7 vaccine, the WHO is hoping to share a billion doses with poorer nations who haven’t had access the way that the US has. 

“This is a big help, but we need more, and we need them faster. Right now, the virus is moving faster than the global distribution of vaccines. More than 10,000 people are dying every day … These communities need vaccines, and they need them now, not next year,”  World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told journalists.

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The Group of Seven (G7) industrialized powers did pledge to exceed their promise of more than one billion doses considering the world needs more than 11 billion to get every single citizen fully vaccinated. 

Covax, a global body that is responsible for vaccine distribution throughout the world, is filtering a majority of the G7 vaccines. “WHO wants at least 70% of the world’s population vaccinated by the next G7 meeting in Germany next year. To do that, we need 11bn doses. The G7 and G20 can make this happen,” said Tedros.

“We need to see more clarity around the actual number of doses donated, and exactly how long it’s going to take to translate their pledges into real impact and access,” Hu Yuanqiong, of the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, stated.

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Many critics have pointed out that the existence of Covid vaccine patent protections is the main reason the entire world isn’t producing effective vaccines everywhere right now. Instead of sharing the treatment for this illness that has killed millions all around the world, wealthier countries are hoarding the patents and selling them at high prices for poor countries that can’t afford it and are continuing to watch their people die. 

“Fully-fledged negotiations towards a possible suspension of intellectual property protections for Covid vaccines, as well as other medical tools needed to battle the pandemic, have just begun at the World Trade Organization after months of contentious debate.”  said Max Lawson, Oxfam’s head of inequity policy.

“G7 leaders say they want to vaccinate the world by the end of next year, but their actions show they care more about protecting the monopolies and patents of pharmaceutical giants.”

Human Rights Watch agreed, stating that:  “Focusing on vaccines and making charitable donations are not enough. The G7’s failure to unequivocally support a temporary waiver of global intellectual property rules is a deadly status quo.”

Currently, more than $16 billion is necessary to fully fund the efforts currently in place to speed up vaccine production, and overall access to Covid-19 diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines.

Syrigne of Covid Vaccine

US Must Vaccinate More People To Avoid Covid Variant From Becoming Dominant, Fauci Says 

US health officials are trying to get more and more Americans vaccinated everyday to keep Delta, a Covid-19 variant first identified in India, from proliferating and becoming the dominant strain infecting individuals across the country. 

The variant has already become the most dominant strain in the United Kingdom, accounting for about 60% of the active cases in the UK. Initially, scientists were worried about the Alpha strain, formerly known as the B117 strain, from becoming dominant, but the Delta strain is showing to be more prevalent in those aged from 12 to 20-years-old. 

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In the US currently the Delta variant accounts for about 6% of the cases that scientists have been able to genetically sequence, but the actual number is likely much higher as it takes time to sequence the DNA in each new case. 

“In the UK the Delta variant is rapidly emerging as the dominant variant. We cannot let that happen in the United States.” 

President Joe Biden previously laid out a plan to get 70% of Americans vaccinated with at least one of their doses by the fourth of July. Currently about 63.7% of America’s adult population has received their first dose for those who received either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, and 53% of Americans are fully vaccinated. 

The Delta variant is already thought to be present in 62 countries according to the World Health Organization. 

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“We continue to observe significantly increased transmissibility and a growing number of countries reporting outbreaks associated with this variant.”

The Delta strain in India has caused the healthcare system to practically crumble due to how overwhelmed they’ve become. The Indian government announced this week that the nation would be providing free Covid-19 vaccines to all adults in the country soon. 

Fauci also warned that the Delta variant, like most of the new variants that have appeared, is much more contagious than the initial variant that was spreading throughout the world last March. It also has become associated with a higher risk of hospitalization.

Studies have luckily shown that both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines are effective against the Delta strain, according to the National Institutes of Health. According to their data two doses of the Pfizer vaccine proved to be 88% effective against the Delta variant while two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine proved to be 60% effective. 

German Scientists Claim They Can Improve Covid Vaccines To Further Prevent Blood Clots 

A team of scientists in Germany believe that they have figured out why an increased number of individuals have experienced blood clots after receiving the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccines. 

The scientists also believe that they can tell the manufacturers how to improve the vaccine itself to avoid clots. Rolf Marschalek, a professor at Goethe university in Frankfurt, and colleagues spoke with the media recently about their discovery. 

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“The key is in the adenovirus – the common cold virus that is used to deliver the spike protein of the coronavirus into the body. The mRNA vaccines developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna do not use this delivery system and there have been no blood clotting cases linked to them.”

The blood clots have been very rare, as with any vaccine, however, many parents are concerned about the younger age groups receiving their vaccines as there’s already less of a chance that they’ll develop severe Covid illness, but an increased risk that they would experience a blood clot. 

Currently the UK is offering vaccines to anyone under the age of 40 wherever vaccines are available. There have been 309 blood clotting cases in the UK out of 33 million people given the AstraZeneca vaccine. The scientists in a preprint analysis claim that they believe the “problem lies in the entry of the adenovirus into the nucleus of the cell rather than just the cellular fluid, where the virus normally makes proteins.” 

“The adenovirus life cycle includes the infection of cells entry of the adenoviral DNA into the nucleus, and subsequently gene transcription by the host transcription machinery. Here lies the problem: the viral piece of DNA is not optimised to be transcribed inside of the nucleus.”

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Inside of the cell’s nucleus, parts of the spike protein splice, or split apart. These sliced pieces can then become mutant protein pieces that free float throughout your body, and lead to an increased risk of blood clots; although it’s extremely rare that that will occur. 

Professor Marschalek claims that Johnson & Johnson are already in discussions with him, as he’s only continued to emphasize that “the vaccines can be redesigned to avoid the problem.” 

“Johnson & Johnson is trying to optimize its vaccine now. With the data we have in our hands we can tell the companies how to mutate these sequences, coding for the spike protein in a way that prevents unintended splice reactions.”

No word on whether or not AstraZeneca has been contacted or not, and the research presented still needs to go through a peer review in order for it to gain more national credibility throughout the United Kingdom.