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T-Cells From Common Colds Could Help Create A ‘Variant-Proof’ Covid Vaccine 

According to new research from the Imperial College London, T-cells that are generated as part of the body’s natural immune response to the common cold could help protect against serious Covid-19 illness, and potentially lead to a vaccine that would be effective against new variants of the virus. 

The recently published study began back in September 2020 and followed 52 household contacts of people who had tested positive for Covid-19. The data showed that 26 people who were exposed to the virus, but didn’t show any symptoms, had significantly higher cross-reactive T-cells, which were generated by previous common colds.

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“The conclusion should not be that if you’ve had a common cold you don’t need to worry about contracting COVID-19. This is so for a number of reasons, including that not all colds are caused by coronaviruses, and T-cells’ ability to fight off symptomatic infections wanes over time,” Professor Aljit Lalvani, one of the authors of the study, explained. 

“What the study tells us is that there is a mechanism, a natural mechanism of natural protective immunity, that is triggered by previous common cold coronavirus infections, so we want to harness that naturally occurring protective immunity to develop better vaccines.”

Lalvani explained that the majority of the current Covid-19 vaccines out there specifically target the virus’ spike protein, as that’s the part that attacks healthy human cells. The vaccines then cause the body to produce antibodies and T-cells that can respond to that protein. 

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He then explained how the new research found that T-cells created after a common cold caused by other coronaviruses (which are common) can attack a type of protein that remains similar among all the known Covid-19 variants. These proteins are what give the virus the ability to replicate itself. 

“The fact that the T-cells can attack the internal proteins of each of these related COVID-19 variants means that they give what’s called a broad cross-protection. That’s in sharp contrast to the surface spike protein, which is the target of antibodies induced by vaccines.”

“Clearly, SARS-CoV-2 is under huge, intense pressure in the global population because most people now have these antibodies, whether induced by vaccination or infection, so the virus is trying naturally to evade that immunity through mutation, and that’s why Omicron has such a high number of mutations in the spike protein. But the internal proteins are relatively unchanged,” Lalvani stated. 

“We’re very fortunate to have found what immunologists refer to as the ‘Holy Grail,’ so we’re keen for people to understand this and to see that, at last, there is a path towards dealing with future variants.”

“This is now a definitive green light to move forward and develop a T-cell inducing vaccine to internal core proteins, which should protect against current and future variants,” he said.

Experts Warn Omicron Covid Variant Is A ‘Reason To Be Worried’

The Omicron Covid-19 variant was first detected in South Africa, and has now spread to 14 countries, with some experts claiming the variant has already reached the US. Scientists are working to figure out how much more dangerous and contagious the new variant is when compared to other variants, especially as international governments race to ease travel restrictions. 

The US has been imposing travel restrictions on travelers from South Africa since Monday, as well as other countries around the region. The variant has already been confirmed in Canada, and Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former head of the Food and Drug Administration, discussed the variant on the news recently. 

“The new variant is likely already in the United States, but the government is better positioned to detect cases of the new strain than it was a year ago.”

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As of this week, most travelers from southern Africa are barred from entering the United States, and restrictions have been renewed for all travel from southern Africa to most European countries. Within 36 hours of discovering the new strain, scientists in South Africa alerted the world and began testing current vaccines against the strain immediately. Dr. Anthony Fauci discussed the increased risk for unvaccinated Americans when it comes to any variant. 

“The US certainly has the potential to go into a fifth wave of high infections if enough people don’t come forward for vaccination and booster shots.”

South Africa’s government and president, however, are worried that the region is being unjustly blamed for the new variant, when the reality is these variants only have the opportunity to develop due to uneven distribution of the Covid-19 vaccines throughout the world. 

“We want all travel bans to be reversed, as they have no basis in science. These restrictions are completely unjustified and unfairly discriminate against our country,” South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa said. 

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“I think there’s good reason to be worried. I don’t think that means that we’re powerless, answers are coming. We need to collect data. We need to investigate and understand this variant,” said Professor Anne Van Gottberg of South Africa’s Institute for Communicable Diseases.

“We should be doing the things that we know work when you’re dealing with a pandemic virus. It’s not the time to panic. We should be concerned, and our concern should spur us to do the things that we know work,” Dr. Fauci said.

Fauci explained that “the concern over the new variant comes from the number and type of mutations found around the spike protein, the part of the virus molecule that allows it to attach itself to human cells. The high number of mutations and where they were found suggests that this would be more transmissible, and also suggests that it might evade some of the immune parameters that we have, such as antibody and plasma treatments, and the current vaccines.”

“It appears to be spreading very readily and has a transmission advantage. One of the key things we don’t know right now is whether the new variant causes more severe COVID-19 symptoms than previous strains.”

Omicron currently accounts for more than 2,000 new daily cases in South Africa. One expert in the nation is worried that the daily infection rate could triple within the next week alone. 

“I am expecting we will top over 10,000 cases by the end of the week per day,” Dr Salim Abdool Karim said during an online press briefing by the Health Ministry.

President Biden Reflects On ‘Deadlist Year On Reacord For Transgender Americans’ During Day Of Remembrance 

President Joe Biden released a statement for Transgender Day Of Remembrance, where he paid tribute to “those we lose in the deadliest year on record for transgender Americans.” 

“We also remember the countless other transgender people, disproportionately Black and brown transgender women and girls, who face brutal violence, discrimination, and harassment.” 

The White House marked the day on Friday with a vigil in the Diplomatic Room of the White House, hosted by second gentleman Doug Emhoff. 

Transgender Day of Remembrance is meant to be the final day of Transgender Awareness Week, and it takes the time to memorialize victims of anti-transgender violence all across the country. The Human Rights Campaign recently declared 2021 as the deadliest year on record for transgender and nonbinary people, with at least 45 transgender or gender-nonconforming people on record being killed in hate-filled acts of violence. 

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 “Our hearts are with all who knew and loved the 45 people who have been killed this year. The march to end this epidemic of violence continues.” White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a tweet.

Within his statement, Biden called on the Senate to pass the Equality Act, which amends the 1964 Civil Rights Act to protect people from being discriminated against based on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

“The Equality Act will ensure that all people are able to live free from fear and discrimination, a right all Americans should have.” 

The Equality Act was passed in the House back in March, but has since been stalled by the Senate. “In spite of our progress strengthening civil rights for LGBTQI+ Americans, too many transgender people still live in fear and face systemic barriers to freedom and equality,” Biden wrote.

According to news reports, “the administration also released a report Saturday from the first Interagency Working Group on Safety, Opportunity, and Inclusion for Transgender and Gender Diverse Individuals, which is made up of representatives from the US Agency for International Development, the Departments of State, Justice, Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Education, Homeland Security, Labor, Interior and Veterans Affairs, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the US Interagency Council on Homelessness.”

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The report also emphasized that the “violence against transgender Americans is the direct result of systemic anti-transgender stigma and hate, pervasive discrimination, disproportionate criminalization, and marginalization and exclusion of gender minorities, with violence against transgender communities heightened today due to a historic spike in legislation targeting transgender people for discriminatory and unjust treatment.”

Biden’s statement is the latest in a series of administrative motions that aim to support the LGBTQ+ community. Biden has since revered former president Trump’s ban on transgender Americans in the military, reinstated a special envoy for LGBTQ+ rights, and issued the first presidential proclamation to mark Transgender Day Of Visibility as an official day in March. 

Beyond the heightened violence that transgender Americans have faced this year, from a legislative standpoint their rights were also being consistently threatened. In fact, 2021 also marked a record year for anti-transgender legislation; 100 bills have been introduced among state legislators across 33 states all of which aimed at restricting the rights of transgender individuals. 

A majority of the bills target transgender youth, to which Bien responded:

“To ensure that our government protects the civil rights of transgender Americans, I charged my team with coordinating across the federal government to address the epidemic of violence and advance equality for transgender people,” Biden stated. 

“I continue to call on state leaders and lawmakers to combat the disturbing proliferation of discriminatory state legislation targeting transgender people, especially transgender children. Today, we remember. Tomorrow — and every day — we must continue to act.”

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Google Introduces New Tool To Help Minors Delete Their Photos From Search 

Google is now making it easier for minors or their parents to delete photos from search results within their devices. 

Google posted a blog post this week in which they detailed how they’ll be rolling out a tool that allows parents and their kids, younger than the age of 18, to request the removal of images from Google’s imaging tab, as well as request to have the images no longer appear as thumbnails in search inquiries. 

Google previously released methods for users to request the removal of personal information and photos that are deemed as “non-consensually explicit” or reveal “financial, medical, and national identification” information. The company’s newest security measures extend that protection to images of minors. 

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“We know that kids and teens have to navigate some unique challenges online, especially when a picture of them is unexpectedly available on the internet. We believe this change will help give young people more control over their digital footprint and where their images can be found on Search.”

The company’s blog post explained how the new form allows users to flag certain URLs that contain any images or search results that they want removed. Google will then review each submission and reach out to the user if additional information is needed. 

Google did emphasize, however, that these requests won’t result in the total removal of a particular image from the internet, and users will likely need to contact a website’s webmaster to ask for specific content to be removed. 

The company announced this new tool back in August as a part of their larger plan to protect minors across its platforms. Other features within Google such as “Family Link” allow parents to better monitor their kids accounts and internet activity. 

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Big tech companies all over the world have been called out for their lack of efforts when it comes to protecting minors from the harmful content that’s on the internet. David Monahan, campaign manager at Fairplay, a child advocacy group, recently spoke to the media about Google’s newest efforts, and hopes for the future. 

“We’re glad to see Google take this overdue step to give children and teens and their families more control over what images show up in search results. We hope Google will go farther to reverse its collection of sensitive data and give families the ability to erase the digital footprint that Google and its partners maintain on every young person in the US.”

Alexandra Hamlet, a clinical psychologist who works with teenagers, said Google’s request process could also “help parents talk more openly with their kids about managing their online presence. That could include discussing what’s worthy of consideration for removal, such as a photo that could harm their future reputation versus one where they perceive to look less than perfect.”

“While some parents may believe that their teen can handle the removal of various pictures without help, I do suggest that they still have conversations about values and how they tie into image online. They could be missing out on a great opportunity to help their teen to build insight and assertiveness skills,” she explained.

Outdoor Music Festival

Why Younger Musicians Are Getting Their Estates In Order Early

Artists like Anderson .Paak and Taylor Swift are already planning out their legacies as a means of keeping control of their music catalogues as their careers continue to develop.

South Africa

Meet The Black Mambas, A Women-Only Ranger Team Working To Preserve African Wildlife

June 23rd is known as World Female Ranger Day as a means of raising awareness and funding to support the women within the industry who are working hard to preserve the Earth. Only 11% of the world’s global ranger population is made up of women, so the campaign, co-founded by adventurers Holly Budge and Margot Dempsey, works to shed light on the inequalities that exist within the industry. 

The Black Mambas are a women-only team of rangers who work in Africa to preserve the dwindling wildlife population throughout the continent. The group was founded in 2013 when rhino poaching was reaching an unprecedented high in South Africa. 

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The group itself is made up of 36 women all from local tribes who are armed only with pepper spray. They work everyday to patrol the Kruger National Park’s fence lines for unwelcome intruders, as well as checking camera traps and finding snare traps. The group was founded out of this particular national park, which is why they spend a majority of their time there. 

 Nkateko Mzimba joined the team back in 2014 when they began more community outreach efforts as well. Mzimba claimed that the group began connecting with local schools to teach kids about the importance of protecting the Earth and its many inhabitants. 

“We ask our community to change, to protect wildlife for their kids, trying our best to show we love and support them, and we give them food.” 

The Black Mambas have to date reduced bushmeat poaching by 89% and virtually eliminated the use of snare traps. While they themselves are not armed beyond pepper spray, should they come across packers with weapons, they can easily call for armed backup from local authorities. 

“The Black Mambas support me. I am here because of them, and I want to empower them. Women were always undermined. Now, they see the importance of us in the bush. When people offer bribes, we say no – we don’t share information. Some say this is a man’s job, but we’ve proved that we can do this,” Mzimba explained. 

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In Zimbabwe, the first all-female anti-poaching unit was recently established in 2017. Akashinga and the Black Mamba’s amazing efforts in Africa is actually the reason Budge and Dempsey established World Female Ranger Day in the first place. 

“I wanted to bring their stories to the world. Some are AIDS orphans, some come from abusive marriages. Now, they’re breadwinners and their kids go to school. But other women don’t have this success, and World Female Ranger Day will bring their challenges to light.”

“I felt privileged to see their work firsthand. It was like a war zone – the Akashingas all carried AK47s, with wild animals and signs of poachers around us. It made me appreciate how dangerous their work is. They’re not playing rangers. This is real, very real,” Budge explained. 

World Female Ranger Day works to provide an international forum for rangers everywhere to share advice and offer support. 

“We offer grants for improved facilities and equipment, along with annual awards. These rangers are fantastic role models, inspiring and empowering women with a strong message that anything can be overcome with training, self-belief, determination, and resilience,” says Budge.

“On World Female Ranger Day, we’re role models to ladies out there who feel underrated. We need a day to celebrate us. And they need to see us, to be inspired.”

Facebook Scientists Can Now Tell Where Deepfakes Come From 

Artificial intelligence workers at Facebook have developed a new software that can reveal when a picture or video post is a deepfake as well as where it came from. 

Deepfakes are defined as videos that have been digitally altered in some way using AI technology. Typically, these videos show very hyper-realistic celebrity faces, saying whatever the user making the post wants them to say. These videos have become increasingly realistic, and popular, making it extremely hard for humans to tell what’s real, and what’s not. 

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The Facebook researchers claim their new AI software can establish if a piece of media is a deepfake or not based on a single image taken from said video. The software will also be able to identify the AI that was used to create the video, no matter how advanced the technique. 

Tal Hassner, an applied research lead at Facebook, said that it’s “possible to train AI software to look at the photo and tell you with a reasonable degree of accuracy what is the design of the AI model that generated that photo.”

Deepfakes in general are a major threat to internet safety, in fact, Facebook banned them back in January 2020 due to the amount of misinformation they were spreading. Individuals can easily create doctored videos of powerful politicians making wild claims about the US that other world leaders could potentially see and take seriously before it’s determined that the video is indeed fake. 

Hassner said that detecting deepfakes is a “cat and mouse game, they’re becoming easier to produce and harder to detect. One of the main applications of deepfakes so far has been in pornography where a person’s face is swapped onto someone else’s body, but they’ve also been used to make celebrities appear as though they’re doing or saying something they’re not.”

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Nina Schick is a deepfake expert who’s worked closely with the White House and President Biden on this issue. She emphasized that while it’s amazing that we now have the technology to detect when these videos are fake, it’s just as important to find out how well they actually work in the real world and how well they’re able to track and stop individuals from continuing to make them. 

“It’s all well and good testing it on a set of training data in a controlled environment. But one of the big challenges seems to be that there are easy ways to fool detection models, like by compressing an image or a video.”

It’s still unclear how or even if Facebook will be using this technology to combat the amount of misinformation deepfakes work to spread on the platform, but Tassner explained that ideally the technology will be used among all in the future. 

“If someone wanted to abuse them (generative models) and conduct a coordinated attack by uploading things from different sources, we can actually spot that just by saying all of these came from the same mold we’ve never seen before but it has these specific properties, specific attributes,” he said.

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UK Cat Owners May Be Forced To Microchip Their Pets Due To Increase In Thefts 

The millions of cat owners in the United Kingdom may soon be forced to microchip their furry friends, or face fines for refusal, due to new government policies that are working to prevent feline theft, which has been on the rise within the past year for the nation. 

Police data in the UK shows that the number of cats being stolen has tripled within the past five years; with a notable 12.3% increase last year alone. Owners are now being called upon to microchip their cats the same way dogs are so in the case of a petnapping, they’ll be easier to track down; and it will be easier to find the perpetrator. 

Local media reports wrote that  “a microchipping measure, which means animals can be tracked and identified if stolen and resold, is being introduced as part of a package of changes by a ministerial taskforce to combat the growing black market in stolen pets. Those who do not get their cats registered will face a fine of up to £500.”

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Robert Buckland is the UK’s justice secretary who’s running the taskforce for this initiative alongside Priti Patel and George Eustice, the home and environment secretaries. One government spokesperson spoke to the press this week about these new measures:

“Last month the home secretary, the lord chancellor and the environment secretary met to discuss a cross-government approach to combating this issue and we will announce next steps in due course. This builds upon the huge amounts of work already undertaken by junior ministers and officials to address this cruel and criminal practice.”

Stefan Blakiston Moore, an advocacy and government relations officer for Cats Protection, said: “It is a Conservative manifesto commitment [for cats to be legally microchipped] so we hope they will come forward with this. Cats Protection has been campaigning for it for a number of years. We are waiting for a response to that but we are hopeful a positive change will come and compulsory microchipping is brought in.”

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Moore explained that currently in the “UK there are 2.6 million cats that are not microchipped. It is usually a significant amount of cats and the risk is when they go missing or are stolen as has been reported. Without a microchip it is extremely difficult to reunite them with their owners.”

Ministers are also considering a ban on all cash purchases of pets as a means of stopping the black market for pet trading; one of the largest black markets in the world besides drugs. Some cat breeds can sell for over $2,000, and lockdown has led to a major surge in dog and cat sales, which has led to an increase in pet theft. 

“There is a thriving black market in cash sales of animals, no questions asked. A cash ban is appealing because we know it crippled the stolen scrap metal industry and microchipping is absolutely central to the way in which animals’ welfare is maintained,” a senior government source told the press.

The bill is currently being discussed among ministers in the UK, and a decision will likely be reached in the coming month.

Cybersecurity Real Estate

Real Estate Agencies Creating ‘Incident Response Plans’ To Prepare For Potential Cyberattacks

The amount of personal information exchanged during a real estate transaction makes the industry especially vulnerable to these kinds of online attacks.