Friday, July 10, 2020

Opinion: Herd immunity may be closer than you think

Blood sample for a Covid-19 antibody test, from the WSJ.

So why didn’t a Covid-19 outbreak occur outside Wuhan for months without social distancing and lockdowns? New studies suggest mutations might have made it more virulent. A Los Alamos National Laboratory study found that a single-letter mutation in the 614 gene, which appears to have emerged in Europe before March, altered the shape of the spike on the virus, enabling it to attach to cells more easily.

Genetic sequencing of virus samples shows that the G614 strain, which swept through Europe and New York in March, seeded most U.S. infections. The D614 strain, which doesn’t have this mutation, showed up on the West Coast earlier in the winter. The G614 variant overtook the D614 strain in most places even though it arrived later—suggesting it may be more infectious. (Full Story)

Scientists are learning more about the virus that causes COVID-19 by sequencing its genomes

Genome analytics tracks new US cases by each county daily. LANL image.

Tracking changes helps ensure diagnostic testing keeps pace. That’s one of the objectives for a new website launched by Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Bioscience Division. The COVID-19 Genome Analytics site ( screens current COVID-19 assays (basically tests that determine the accuracy of the tests) against the sequences to determine the most reliable ones for diagnosing the disease itself as the virus’ genetics shift.

The diagnostic angle "is extremely important," LANL scientist Patrick Chain says. "The virus mutates over time; it's not very fast, but some of those mutations are what allows researchers to track its progress and advancement along a geographic map. We were evaluating the mutations to see whether or not they effect the particular regions of the virus that are being targeted" by the testing re-agents used in the diagnostic tests. (Full Story)

Coronavirus crisis: New variant more contagious than the original

Scanning Electron Micrograph of the Covid-19 virus, from NIH.

A mutation of Sars-CoV-2 has reportedly established itself worldwide and can infect human cells more easily than the original virus. Published in the journal Cell, the study found the mutation with the code D614G could be more contagious. This mutated strand was found to be more common among virus samples from Europe and North America.

Scientists from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, Duke University in California and the University of Sheffield teamed up to analyse genome sequences. They found the mutated variant forms more functioning spike proteins meaning it infects more cells. (Full Story)

Fractal void cubes could make for better shock-dissipating armor

Simulated images show how the cubes with more intricate fractal void patterns dissipate shock waves more effectively, LANL image.

The microscopic structure of a material plays a huge role in how well it absorbs impacts, and now researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory have hit upon a structure that works particularly well. The team 3D-printed cubes with fractal voids inside them, which could be a useful structure for new materials in helmets, armor and other protective items.

Materials that need to be shock-resistant are usually structured with gaps to help dissipate the shock waves. But the exact shape of these structures is still being experimented with, as researchers test “nanofoam”, herringbone, honeycomb, and microlattice patterns, among many others. (Full Story)

Graphene could enable better electron sources

Layer of graphene allows photocathode substrates to be cleaned and reused, LANL image.

Photocathodes that produce electron beams for electron microscopes and advanced accelerators can be refreshed and rebuilt repeatedly without opening the devices that rely on them, provided the electron emitting materials are deposited on graphene.

“The machines that rely on these electron emitters typically operate under high vacuum,” said Los Alamos National Laboratory physicist Hisato Yamaguchi. “By choosing graphene over materials like silicon or molybdenum, which tend to degrade during use, we can clean the substrate and redeposit electron-emitting materials without opening the vacuum. This can dramatically reduce downtime and labor involved in replacing photocathodes.” (Full Story)

Study finds less impact from wildfire smoke on climate

Research reveals that wildfire smoke plumes contribute less to warming temperatures than previously thought. Photo from the LA Reporter.

New research revealed that tiny, sunlight-absorbing particles in wildfire smoke may have less impact on climate than widely hypothesized because reactions as the plume mixes with clean air reduce its absorbing power and climate-warming effect. In a unique megafire study, a Los Alamos National Laboratory-led research team studied the properties of smoke from Arizona’s massive Woodbury Fire last summer using a powerful set of observing techniques.

“These observations may be useful for those trying to represent organic light absorbing aerosols, or brown carbon, in climate models by identifying how they age, as well as understanding processes affecting how strongly they absorb light and cause warming,” said James Lee, lead author on a paper released in JGR: Atmospheres this week and a Los Alamos postdoctoral researcher. (Full Story)

Also from the Reporter this week:

Matthew Hoffman wins DOE Early Career Research Award

Matthew Hoffman, LANL photo.

Matthew Hoffman of the Los Alamos National Laboratory Fluid Dynamics and Solid Mechanics group has received a highly valued Early Career Research Program funding award from the US Department of Energy’s Office of Science. This is the 11th year DOE has provided the awards, designed to bolster the nation’s scientific workforce with support to exceptional researchers during their early careers.

“We are committed to supporting our early-career scientists at the Laboratory. Their contributions are essential to continuing our proud tradition of excellence.” said Director Thom Mason. “Matthew’s award reflects the important science our young researchers are doing for both the Laboratory, its mission, and the nation.” (Full Story)

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