Stopping evolution from nullifying coronavirus vaccine + Making monkey brains bigger

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Should scientists use human genes to make other primate brains bigger or smarter?

EXCERPTS: Scientists introduced a human gene, ARHGAP11B, into monkey fetuses. The gene caused an increase in the size of the monkey brains, including folding similar to that of human brains. The study poses some serious ethical questions on genetic engineering.

In an experiment that could portend a real-life Planet of the Apes situation, scientists spliced human genes into the fetus of a monkey to substantially increase the size of the primate’s brain. And it worked. Researchers from Germany’s Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Germany and Japan’s Central Institute for Experimental Animals introduced a specifically human gene, ARHGAP11B, into the fetus of a common marmoset monkey, causing the enlargement of its brain’s neocortex. The scientists reported their findings in Science... (MORE - details)

Virus evolution could undermine a COVID-19 vaccine – but this can be stopped

EXCERPTS: . . . It turned out the drug was very good at killing the virus, but the virus was even better at evolving resistance to the drug. A spontaneous mutation in the virus’ genetic material prevented the drug from doing its work, and so the mutant viruses were able to replicate wildly despite the drug, making the patients sick again. It took another decade before scientists found evolution-proof therapies.

Could the same thing happen to a COVID-19 vaccine? Could a vaccine that is safe and effective in initial trials go on to fail because the virus evolves its way out of trouble? As evolutionary microbiologists who have studied a poultry virus that has evolved resistance to two different vaccines, we know such an outcome is possible. We also think we know what it takes to stop it. COVID-19 vaccines could fail – but if they have certain properties, they won’t.

[...] Before COVID came along, the two of us [Andrew Reed, David Kennedy] compared vaccines that keep working with vaccines that have been undermined by pathogen evolution. It turns out that truly evolution-proof vaccines have three features.

First, they are highly effective at suppressing viral replication. This stops further transmission. No replication, no transmission, no evolution.

Second, evolution-proof vaccines induce immune responses that attack several different parts of the microbe at the same time. It is easy for a single part of the virus to mutate and escape being targeted. But if many sites are attacked at once, immune escape requires many separate escape mutations to occur simultaneously, which is almost impossible. This has already been shown in the laboratory for SARS-CoV-2. There the virus rapidly evolved resistance to antibodies targeting a single site, but struggled to evolve resistance to a cocktail of antibodies each targeting multiple different sites.

Third, evolution-proof vaccines protect against all circulating strains, so that no others can fill the vacuum when competitors are removed. 

[...] Clearly, the world needs COVID vaccines. We believe it is important to pursue those that will keep working. Likely, many candidates in the current portfolio will. Let’s work out which those are in clinical trials and go with them. Vaccines that provide only temporary relief leave people vulnerable and take time and money to swap out. They may also negate other vaccines should viruses evolve that are resistant to several vaccines at once. Today, the world has insecticide-resistant mosquitoes and crop pests, herbicide-resistant weeds, and an antibiotic resistance crisis. No need for history to repeat itself... (MORE - details)

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