Thursday, May 6, 2021

Researchers develop new technique to sequence genetic mutations in blood while reducing the error rates seen in common techniques by hundredfold

Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center researchers developed a new technology to overcome the inefficiencies and high error rates common among next-generation sequencing techniques that have previously limited their clinical application. To correct for these sequencing errors, the research team from the Ludwig Center and Lustgarten Laboratory at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center developed SaferSeqS (Safer Sequencing System), a major improvement to widely used technologies based on a previous technology called SafeSeqS (Safe Sequencing System) that Hopkins investigators invented a decade ago. The new SaferSeqS technology detects rare mutations in blood in a highly efficient manner and reduces the error rate of commonly used technologies for evaluating mutations in the blood more than 100-fold. (Hopkins Medicine)


Americans had 3.6 million babies last year, the lowest number in four decades

The U.S. birth rate fell 4% in 2020, marking its sixth year of continuous declines, the CDC said. Last year there were 56 births per 1,000 women of child-bearing age, the lowest rate on record. The birth rate has been declining as women increasingly delay motherhood and couples choose to have fewer children. Experts had predicted the birth rate would dip in 2020 due to the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. Historical data shows the birth rate reached its lowest level in 1936, in the wake of the Great Depression. The fertility rate dropped to 1.6 children per woman last year. Experts say that to ensure there are enough children to replace the previous generation, the rate needs to be above 2.1 children per woman. (Reuters)


The legal team of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer convicted of murdering George Floyd, has requested a retrial

Documents filed by defense attorney Eric Nelson claim that factors including jury misconduct and errors of law deprived Chauvin of a fair trial. Although Chauvin’s guilty verdict is unlikely to be overturned, requesting a new trial is often part of a legal strategy that paves the way for an appeal, according to some legal experts. Last month, Chauvin was convicted of all charges (second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter) for killing Floyd after kneeling on his neck for over nine minutes on May 25, 2020. In his filing, Nelson argued that Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill deprived Chauvin of a fair trial because he denied a request to move the trial to another county. He said the publicity surrounding the case was prejudicial to the defense because it led to “intimidation” of an expert witness. He also asked for a hearing to discuss the validity of the verdict, saying that the jury committed misconduct and was intimidated or pressured. (Associated Press)


Portugal opened the world’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge to the public

The almost 1,700-foot-long Arouca Bridge offers spectacular views of the Paiva River, some 574 feet below. Although it hasn’t yet been certified as the world’s longest by Guinness World Records, the Arouca Bridge beats the previous record-holder, Switzerland’s Charles Kuonen Suspension Bridge, by 70 feet. The footbridge, which is about 190 miles north of the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, cost the equivalent to $2.8 Million Dollars to build. Tickets sell for between $12-14 and can be booked through a local website. (Smithsonian Magazine)


China is building almost as many electric car factories as the rest of the world

Carmakers building large manufacturing plants include startups like Xpeng Motors and Nio, as well as more established firms like Zhejiang Geely, which owns Volvo. The e-car frenzy has also attracted outsiders to the sector, including e-commerce giant Alibaba, which has set up an electric car joint venture with two state-funded firms, and Evergrande, a Chinese real estate giant that has built manufacturing plants in Shanghai and Guangzhou. China’s e-car output is expected to surge to eight million vehicles a year by 2028, compared with one million in 2020, according to a forecast by LMC Automotive. LMC estimates that Europe will be producing 5.7 million fully electric cars by then, and the U.S. 1.4 million. China also plans to build 800,000 public charging stations, almost twice as many as the rest of the world. United States automakers including Ford and GM have previously announced ambitious plans to boost e-car manufacturing. (The New York Times)


A federal judge ruled that the CDC did not have the authority to institute a national moratorium on evictions

The ruling is a victory for property owners who challenged the moratorium that’s been in place since the Trump administration first enacted it last fall. The Biden administration had wanted the moratorium to extend through June 30th, but D.C. District Court Judge ruled that the Public Health Service Act does not give the CDC the legal authority to institute such a rule. The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development said the Biden administration has allocated a voucher system to give billions of dollars to renters to keep them in their homes. The moratorium only banned evictions for nonpayment of rent. A number of renters since last fall have reported being forcefully evicted for other small violations as a workaround. Judges in some states declined to recognize the federal order. The Department of Justice says it plans to appeal the ruling, which would bring the case to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. (The Hill)


Peloton is recalling all of its treadmills over safety concerns

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) said Peloton was made aware of 72 separate incidents involving children, pets, and other items being pulled under treadmills while in use. One child died and 29 others sustained injuries in these incidents. Peloton CEO apologized for not recalling the Tread and Tread+ products sooner, despite being in contact with the CPSC over the issues. Consumers who own a Tread or Tread+ were advised to stop using the product immediately and contact Peloton for a full refund. According to the CPSC, the Tread was only available as an “invitation-only release” from November 2020 to March 2021. The Tread+ has been available since September 2018 – about 125,000 total units are being recalled. The group also received reports about the treadmill’s touchscreen detaching and falling off. (CNBC)


Golfer Amy Bockerstette is set to become the first person with Down syndrome to ever compete for a collegiate national championship

The 22-year-old sophomore at Paradise Valley Community College in Phoenix, Arizona, was already the first person with Down syndrome to receive an athletic college scholarship in the U.S. She will compete with the Paradise Valley Pumas at the NJCAA golf national championship in Florida later this month. Bockerstette went viral in 2019 when she said “I got this!” before sinking a shot on the 16th hole at a practice round. She later started the I Got This Foundation, which provides golf lessons and events for people with intellectual disabilities. (CBS Sports)


An early earthquake warning system is now active for all cellphone users on the west coast

The ShakeAlert system is set up to send an alert to anyone living in California, Oregon, or Washington state in the seconds before an earthquake hits. ShakeAlert, which senses tremors underground before they can be felt on the surface, could give users up to 10 seconds to take cover before a quake hits. In August 2019, Los Angeles updated its version of ShakeAlert to notify residents of any tremor estimated to be greater than a magnitude 4.5. That app was retired in late 2020 in favor of the statewide app MyShake, which uses ShakeAlert data. California is home to several active fault lines, including the San Andreas and San Gregorio. The Cascadia Subduction Zone, hundreds of miles into the Pacific Ocean, stretches from Vancouver Island down to Northern California. Two large earthquakes, a 6.4 and 7.1 that struck 150 miles north of Los Angeles in 2019 did not trigger alerts to residents. (The Los Angeles Times)


Growing fears of inflation

Commodity shortages are continuing to grow, bringing more cause for concern and fueling inflation fears. The supply of semiconductors is not the only one falling behind. Factors like tariffs with China and labor shortages continue to impact supply chains ranging from small contractors to large corporations. Lumber is another commodity fueling inflation fears as its high demand and low supply is raising prices. A house that would have required $10,000 worth of lumber, now requires $40,000 worth. (VOX)


US birth rates drop for every major race, ethnicity and almost every age group

The U.S. birth rate fell 4% last year, the largest single-year decrease in nearly 50 years, according to a government report. The rate dropped for moms of every major race and ethnicity, and in nearly age group, falling to the lowest point since federal health officials started tracking it more than a century ago. Births have been declining in younger women for years, as many postponed motherhood and had smaller families. Birth rates for women in their late 30s and in their 40s have been inching up, but not last year. The CDC report is based on a review of more than 99% of birth certificates issued last year. The findings echo recent analysis of 2020 data from 25 states showing that births had fallen during the coronavirus outbreak. The pandemic no doubt contributed to last year’s big decline, experts say. Anxiety about COVID-19 and its impact on the economy likely caused many couples to think that having a baby right then was a bad idea.
But many of the 2020 pregnancies began well before the U.S. epidemic. CDC researchers are working on a follow-up report to better parse out how the decline unfolded, Hamilton said.

Other highlights from the CDC report:

  • About 3.6 million babies were born in the U.S. last year, down from about 3.75 million in 2019. When births were booming in 2007, the U.S. recorded 4.3 million births.
  • The U.S. birth rate dropped to about 56 births per 1,000 women of child-bearing age, the lowest rate on record. The rate is half of what it was in the early 1960s.
  • The birth rate for 15 to 19-year-olds dropped 8% from 2019. It’s fallen almost every year since 1991.
  • Birth rates fell 8% for Asian American women; 3% for Hispanic women; 4% for Black and white women; and 6% for moms who were American Indians or Alaska Natives.
  • The cesarean delivery rate rose, slightly, to about 32%. It had generally been declining since 2009.
  • The percentage of infants born small and premature (at less less than 37 weeks of gestation) fell slightly, to 10%, after rising five years in a row.

The current generation is getting further away from having enough children to replace itself. The U.S. once was among only a few developed countries with a fertility rate that ensured each generation had enough children to replace it. About a dozen years ago, the estimated rate was 2.1 kids per U.S. woman, but it’s been sliding, and last year dropped to about 1.6, the lowest rate on record. (USA Today)


New York 3-year-old survives five-story fall out of window

Surveillance video captured the horrifying moments after a toddler fell five floors onto the sidewalk below in New York City earlier this week. The video first shows an awning shake as the 3-year-old hits it on his way down. After he lands on the ground, he attempts to get up and stumbles, the footage showed. A woman finds him sitting on the sidewalk, takes out her cellphone and gazes up before more people surround the boy and offer assistance. It was reported that the Bronx toddler has Down syndrome and was home with his mother, sister, and aunt when he fell out of the window. The said they lost track of him and he removed a piece of cardboard in the window that was being used with an air conditioner. The building’s superintendent said that a window guard was originally on the window, but it had been removed to put the air conditioner in. He said it has since been replaced. The boy’s mother assumed he had died when she realized what had happened, and was too scared to go downstairs, but his aunt ran down. The New York City Police Department said the incident is being classified as an accident and no charges will be filed. Luckily, the boy suffered only a broken femur, but will have to stay in the hospital for a month to make sure he heals properly. (NBC New York)


Japanese town spent Covid-19 relief funds on building a statue of a giant squid

A coastal town in western Japan has drawn ire on social media for using some of the coronavirus relief funds it was given by the government to build a statue of a giant squid in the hopes of boosting tourism. The town of Noto in Ishikawa Prefecture was awarded the equivalent of $7.3 million dollars in grants from the central government as part of an aid program aimed at boosting local economies amid the pandemic, according to domestic media. From that amount, Noto used $229,000 to cover part of the cost of building the statue, which is 13 feet high and 29.5 feet long, domestic media reported. Total construction costs were around $274,000, they said. Squid is a local delicacy in Noto and building the statue was part of a “long-term strategy” to raise awareness about the town’s fishing industry and increase tourism, a local government official said. (CNN)

Thursday Keeps Us Thirsting For More With:

  • Beverage Day
  • Crepe Suzette Day
  • International Management Accounting Day
  • Joseph Brackett Day
  • Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day (Thursday of First Full Week)
  • Day of Prayer (First Thursday)
  • Day of Reason (First Thursday)
  • No Diet Day
  • No Homework Day
  • Nurses Day or National RN Recognition Day
  • Russel Stover Candies Day
  • World Password Day (First Thursday)


Historical Events

1527 – Spanish and German troops sack Rome; some consider this the end of the Renaissance. 147 Swiss Guards, including their commander, die fighting the forces of Charles V in order to allow Pope Clement VII to escape into Castel Sant’Angelo.

1757 – English poet Christopher Smart is admitted into St Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics in London, beginning his six-year confinement to mental asylums.

1840 – The Penny Black postage stamp becomes valid for use in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

1861 – American Civil War: Richmond, Virginia is declared the new capital of the Confederate States of America.

1910 – George V becomes King of the United Kingdom upon the death of his father, Edward VII.

1942 – World War II: On Corregidor, the last American forces in the Philippines surrender to the Japanese.

1945 – World War II: The Prague Offensive, the last major battle of the Eastern Front, begins.

1954 – Roger Bannister becomes the first person to run the mile in under four minutes.

1966 – Myra Hindley and Ian Brady are sentenced to life imprisonment for the Moors Murders in England.

1997 – The Bank of England is given independence from political control, the most significant change in the bank’s 300-year history.