Friday, June 5, 2020

Pangolins may have incubated the novel coronavirus, gene study shows

A white-bellied pangolin, image from CNN.

A deep dive into the genetics of the novel coronavirus shows it seems to have spent some time infecting both bats and pangolins before it jumped into humans, researchers said Friday.

"In our study, we demonstrated that indeed SARS-CoV-2 has a rich evolutionary history that included a reshuffling of genetic material between bat and pangolin coronavirus before it acquired its ability to jump to humans," said Elena Giorgi, a staff scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory who worked on the study. (Full Story)

Also from Global Health Newswire and The Express

Why New York suffered when other cities were spared

Pedestrians walk through Times Square inNew York City on March 12.  From NNY360.

Outbreaks can’t start without a spark. The U.S. shut down most travel from China on Feb. 2, when there were at least 14,000 cases there. But it left open travel from most of Europe until March 13. During that time, Italy went from two known infections to more than 15,000.

Using genetic analysis, it’s possible to trace the lineage of the virus like a family tree with branches around the world. One analysis, from researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, showed that one branch emerged directly from China, with U.S. cases concentrated in Washington state. But a second branch of the virus grew in Italy, and was then imported to New York, rapidly becoming more prevalent. (Full Story)

Life on Mars? Meet the new rover built to give us the answer

Artist's illustration of NASA's Mars 2020 rover Perseverance, NASA image.

Roger Wiens is the principal investigator of the ChemCam and SuperCam instruments at the U.S. Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory. SuperCam is a product of a United States-France partnership, along with support from Spain. Wiens contributed this article to's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights. 

The rover sports a rock-zapping laser instrument, this time called SuperCam (the next-generation ChemCam). In addition to the laser shots that provide chemical compositions of the rocks, two other techniques give complementary information on their mineral content (the way the elements are bound together as molecules).  (Full Story)

Also from this week:

Meteor that blasted millions of trees in Siberia only 'grazed' Earth, new research says

Tunguska blast flattened a Siberian forest,from

Some lingering questions about this scenario remain, said Mark Boslough, a research professor at the University of New Mexico and physicist with Los Alamos National Laboratory. 

Boslough, who was not involved in the study, told Live Science in an email that if an object "skimmed through the atmosphere" and didn't blow up, the resulting shock wave would be significantly weaker than an explosion's blast wave.

"An object that survived such a transit through the atmosphere could not have descended close enough to the surface for a sonic boom to do the kind of damage that was observed at Tunguska," Boslough said.  (Full Story)

Corn-powered Tomahawk missiles are coming

A Tomahawk cruise missile in flight. DoD photo.

The missiles are powered by JP-10, an especially energy-dense kind of jet fuel, which runs through a turbofan jet engine. 

The process patented by Los Alamos uses a byproduct of ethanol production, letting America's love of fueling vehicles with corn fuel even more dangerous vehicles.

“We’ve patented a production process that makes JP-10 from domestic renewable feedstocks, such as corn bran,” said biomass conversion chemist Andrew Sutton in a release, “which means we can make our own fuel from start to finish in the United States.” (Full Story)

New job training collaboration announced for Taos High School students

Image from the LA Reporter.

Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Thom Mason, New Mexico Building and Construction Trades Council (NMBCTC) Executive Director Brian Condit, and Taos Municipal Schools Superintendent Lillian Torrez have announced a collaboration creating a building-trades course for Taos High School students.

“The Laboratory is pleased to partner with the New Mexico Building and Construction Trades Council and Taos High School to offer options to the emerging workforce who are interested in trade careers,” said Director Thom Mason.  (Full Story)

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