Goldenrods that evolved in the presence of herbivores release volatile chemicals that trigger defenses in neighboring plants of their species, even those that are genetically unrelated.

by Ashley Yeager

When a beetle larva bites into the leaf of a goldenrod plant, a perennial herb known for its bright yellow flowers, it gets a mouthful of food to fuel its growth. But the plant’s perspective is rather different. The bite damages the goldenrod (genus: Solidago), causing it to launch molecular defenses against the insect and to emit a concoction of chemicals that change the physiology of goldenrod plants nearby. It’s as if the plants are communicating about the invader.

For researchers studying plants’ responses to herbivory, the reasons for this communication are something of a mystery. “We don’t have a good understanding of why these plants are emitting these cues,” Rick Karban, an entomologist who studies plant communication at the University of California, Davis, tells The Scientist. “We don’t even know if the cues that plants are emitting—that other plants can perceive and respond to—are somewhat intentional,” or just a byproduct of leaf damage.

The notion that plants communicate was controversial until the end of the 20th century. Biologists first argued that trees and plants could “talk” to one another in the 1980s, but data supporting the idea were dismissed by many researchers as statistically sketchy. Over the past few decades, however, the scientific community has revised its opinion. A series of papers have shown that when a plant such as goldenrod is damaged, it releases volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that prompt neighboring plants to mount their own chemical defenses against an impending herbivore attack. Karban says researchers are now focused on why the emitting plant puts out this signal, and whether it derives a benefit from telling those around it that it’s being eaten.

It’s possible that surrounding plants are merely eavesdropping on the signal emitter, which derives no benefit from the situation. Researchers have also proposed two alternative hypotheses that involve a benefit to the emitter. The first—the kin selection hypothesis—states that the plant emitting the signal indirectly benefits thanks to the increased survival of genetically related individuals in its vicinity, even if the plant itself is damaged by herbivory. The second—the mutual benefit hypothesis—posits that the plant emitting the signal directly benefits from communication because the preemptive chemical defenses launched by all its neighbors result in a hostile environment that encourages the herbivorous insect to move away from the area.

Finding evidence to distinguish between these scenarios hasn’t been easy, especially because plant communication is a small field. But a long-running project offers new clues. In 1996, a team at Cornell University started an elaborate experiment on one goldenrod species, S. altissima, regularly spraying rows and rows of the plant with the insecticide fenvalerate, while leaving other rows untreated. After 12 years, the researchers collected plants from each of the rows, brought them to the lab, snipped the stems, and grew clones. Then, the team set up collections of the clones in pots at a nearby farm, let goldenrod beetle larvae munch on some of the plants, and measured the emission of VOCs.

“This research was really mostly curiosity driven,” says Aino Kalske, a postdoctoral researcher in ecology and evolution biology at the University of Turku in Finland and a former graduate student at Cornell who helped with the experiment. She and her colleagues were particularly interested to see if the goldenrod’s chemical messages would evolve differently depending on whether the plants had been treated with insecticide and were protected from insect attacks or had been left untreated and experienced higher levels of herbivory. Differences in signaling between the treated and untreated plants’ descendants might be a small step toward determining which hypothesis about plant communication was correct.

The team found that VOCs emitted by goldenrod plants whose predecessors had been sprayed with the insecticide only induced genetically identical plants to mount preemptive chemical defenses to insect invasion—consistent with the kin selection hypothesis. But VOCs emitted by goldenrod whose predecessors hadn’t been sprayed with the insecticide induced the preemptive defense from all the other goldenrod plants around them, even plants that weren’t their kin—consistent with the mutual benefit hypothesis.

Additionally, the plants exposed to herbivory converged on a shared VOC signal over the course of the study—with all of the goldenrod plants eventually emitting the same chemical signals whether they were genetically identical to the emitter plant or not. Plants treated with insecticide showed no such signal convergence, the researchers reported in Current Biology last September. This sort of convergence on a single chemical signal is thought to benefit plants exposed to herbivory by providing a stronger deterrent against invading insects or a stronger attraction for the herbivores’ natural enemies. Kalske says the study provides the first concrete evidence that plants aren’t merely eavesdropping on one another, and that the emitter derives a benefit from releasing its chemical messages.

“The main value of the paper is the extremely long-lasting experiment needed to assess an evolutionary change in an organism,” Emilio Guerrieri, a researcher at the National Research Council of Italy’s Institute for Sustainable Plant Protection who was not involved in the study, writes in an email to The Scientist. The experiment, he says, “represents a sound demonstration that herbivores shape the VOC emission of a plant.”

Researchers still don’t know much about how the plants actually receive and respond to the VOC cues, Kalske notes, or whether the presence of other types of herbivores, such as mammals, influences similar signal changes. These are questions that the team would still like to answer, she says, not least because of the potential agricultural applications. “Understanding the intricacies of the plant world and plant-plant communication in more detail can potentially help us in plant protection in the agricultural context, if we can learn how to use these volatiles to turn on defenses in crop plants effectively.”

https://www.the-scientist.com/notebook/generations-of-insect-attacks-drive-plants-to-talk-publicly-67159?utm_campaign=TS_DAILY%20NEWSLETTER_2020&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=85515973&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-8vgYliNz5ABV6V5y8nfekspNyWlR_u8kwYavJWO2rn12UkRI4JtrgOhqW_8tWCBOElTrXoYiey8YAUjNTNNyBHJfH0MQ&_hsmi=85515973

The outbreak of COVID-19 has forced people to stretch the idea of virtual socializing to its limits, with seemingly every IRL get-together now finding its video-chat equivalent. Virtual happy hours? Sure! Virtual book clubs? Worth a try! Virtual … weddings? Why not? So it was only a matter of time before people realized that now is also a great time to bring the board game, that reliably vintage excuse for gathering, into the video-chat fold.

Just ask Emma Alterman. She and her college friends have a long-standing tradition of getting together to play games. So when Alterman , a New Yorker who works in education policy research, started doing her job remotely earlier this month, “I was thinking about how all of my meetings had moved virtual,” she said. “And so I figured, why not move game night virtual?”

I’m not talking about online Scrabble or other video game equivalents here. I’m talking about the kind of games that have tangible components like boards, tokens, cards, dice, and the like, but that, with a little tweaking, could still work over video conferencing. As Dustin Palmer, who lives in San Francisco and works as a program manager for Code for America, put it to me, “There are a lot of games that are virtual or even board games you can play online like Scrabble or something like that, but I think what we were kind of craving is something that replicates that in-person experience that we can’t get right now.” This was a priority for Sarah Kuranda, who does communications for a tech company, as well: “I kind of like the tactile part of moving the pieces,” she said. “It just feels a lot different when you play it, versus clicking buttons.”

Game choice is paramount. Not every board game can be played online, but more than you might think work for Zoom. A few weeks ago, game designer Scott Rogers took to his blog to post a list of 10 board games he thought would work well over video chat. He told me about a few basic approaches: One way it can go, Rogers said, is that “one person is kind of the moderator or the master of the game—and the other players are still there, they still might have certain elements of the game at their disposal—but the moderator’s kind of acting as the hands for those other players.” This is basically what Palmer said his group did with the game they chose, One Night: One person sat out to facilitate.

Kuranda, though, chose Ticket to Ride, a strategy game comparable to Settlers of Catan, because she and the friends she was playing with owned physical copies: “We each set up a board on our side, and then we would just say what moves we were doing and what pieces we were putting down. As long as we communicated, it worked pretty well.”

A game called Pandemic is, perhaps unsurprisingly, another popular choice. Kate Dramstad, a software engineering manager in Montana, described playing with some friends from college: “The two folks who were hosting the game for us had a camera pointed at the board, a camera pointed at the cards, and then one camera pointed at the two of them,” she said. (Once they got the hang of it, it almost felt casual, even: “It reminded me most of being back in college where you had a common room that people would just kind of come through and hang out and sit down for a while and then you say, ‘OK, I’m headed to bed.’ ”)

You’re probably starting to see that this often involves a certain amount of MacGyvering. For example, with the game that came up most when I was interviewing people for this story, Codenames—also a Slate-endorsed favorite, by the way—each party I spoke to figured out a slightly different way to play it over video, some more complicated than others. They all seemed to work fine.

“I use Zoom for work a lot,” Alterman said. “So I was able to think about the different features that Zoom offers” that could be marshalled for Codenames purposes. Screen-sharing would let her show off the grid of cards while still participating in the game herself, and on-screen annotating would let her mark the cards as they were revealed to be red, blue, or neutral.

That left just one thing to figure out: “There’s the little map in Codenames where the clue givers have to see which cards are red and which are blue, but no one else can see that, so I had pictures of those, and I emailed those out to the clue givers at the start of each round,” Alterman said. Well, almost: “I will admit I do not own the game, so I texted my mother and had her send me photos of the cards.” Generous of Mom.

All in all, it was easy. “It certainly did not take any more time than it would to clean my house and put out snacks and get ready to host people in person,” Alterman said.

Anna Brune, who works in sports marketing in Chicago, figured out her own way to play Codenames for her board-game-loving family, which is currently spread out in far-flung locations.

“It was funny because my sister and I had one idea of how to best play it, and my mom had a different one, but we kind of teamed up and got my mom to do it our way,” Brune said.

“The board was at my parents’ house, so my parents would send us a picture of the board, and then my sister and I would both pull it up on our computers and as different words were taken—I used Photoshop, I don’t know what program she used—we would just cross out those tiles so that we could keep up with what was happening.”

Brune said it felt like the real thing: “Even though it was all e- and technology, we still had plenty of times to accuse each other of cheating like we usually do.”

Meanwhile, Melis Akman, an evolutionary biologist in Oakland, California, had yet another method of playing Codenames: This one involved using the website Horsepaste, which is free and lets players use their smartphones to play; Netgames.io is another one that does the same thing for Codenames and other games. The catch there is that each player might want to have two devices—a phone to play on and a computer to video-chat with. It saves the time of having to take pictures and distribute them or annotate anything, but a bit of the aforementioned tactile pleasures might also disappear in the tradeoff.

Akman, for her part, said she hopes to get together with friends to play every other day, or maybe even every day. “I think it’s going to be really helpful for me to stay sane and not lose my mind while staying at home,” she said.

Here are a few other stray tips from the gamers I spoke to:

• “At my work we do a lot of remote work. I have remote teammates. Our best practice is to have everyone open their laptop and have their video on [even when multiple people are in the same place]. It gets you—it depends on what you’re doing, maybe 75 percent to that in-person experience at least for sharing information and reacting in real time and making jokes and all of that.” —Dustin Palmer

• “One of the big things is if you’re the person that has the actual board pieces at your place and everybody else is doing it though the phone or through video chat, let them come up with the system. It seems so simple to you if you have the stuff because you’re there, but to the people that are remoting in, it might be different. Since they’re the ones that are remote, they probably have a better idea. Let them take charge of that.” —Anna Brune

• “If you don’t own many board games or if you’re bored with the games you already have, there is a phenomenon in the board gaming world called ‘print and play.’ If you don’t want to spend the money or you can’t get to a game store to get a copy, you can print these out. Part of the joy of a print-and-play game is you’re actually also making the game. If you’re crafty, this can be a lot of fun.” —Scott Rogers

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.

https://slate.com/human-interest/2020/03/board-games-video-chat-codenames.html

The “baile funk” dance parties have been called off. Some open-air drug markets are closed for business. Gangs and militias have imposed strict curfews. Coronavirus is coming, and Rio de Janeiro’s lawless favelas are gearing up for the onslaught.

City of God, a sprawling complex of slums made famous in a hit 2002 movie of the same name, registered the first confirmed case of coronavirus in Rio’s favelas over the weekend.

Now, with the state government woefully underfunded and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro widely criticized for a slow response to the outbreak, criminal gangs that have long held sway across Rio’s favelas are taking their own precautions against the virus, according to residents and press reports.

According to well-sourced Rio newspaper Extra, City of God gangsters have been driving round the slum, blaring out a recorded message to residents.

“We’re imposing a curfew because nobody is taking this seriously,” the message said, according to Extra’s Tuesday story. “Whoever is in the street screwing around or going for a walk will receive a corrective and serve as an example. Better to stay home doing nothing. The message has been given.”

Reuters was unable to confirm the veracity of the recorded message, but City of God residents, who declined to give their names for fear of retribution, confirmed an evening curfew and other restrictions.

The gangs’ concern over the outbreak echoes fears nationwide about the fate of Brazil’s nearly 15 million favela residents confronting what some have dubbed “the disease of the rich.”

The coronavirus landed in the country with wealthier Brazilians returning from Europe, but is quickly migrating into poorer communities, where crowded quarters, informal labor and weak public services threaten to accelerate its spread.

Drug gangs or rival paramilitaries often act as de facto authorities in the favelas. With little or no government presence in the neighborhoods, gangs enforce social contracts. They also engage in regular shootouts with each other and police forces.

Across Brazil, some 40 million people lack access to the public water supply, while 100 million – nearly half the population – live without a connection to sewage treatment, according to the country’s National Water Agency.

“Basic sanitation is terrible,” said Jefferson Maia, a 27-year-old resident of the City of God. “Sometimes, we don’t even have water to wash our hands properly. We are very concerned with the coronavirus issue.”

Thamiris Deveza, a family doctor working in Rio’s Alemao complex of slums, said residents had been complaining for the last two weeks about a lack of water in their homes, making it difficult for them to clean their hands and protect themselves from the fast-spreading virus.

She said many pharmacies in the neighborhoods had run out of hand sanitizer. When available, it was prohibitively expensive.

FAST SPREAD

Coronavirus cases are expanding quickly in Brazil. The country had 2,201 confirmed cases on Tuesday, with 46 related deaths, according to the Health Ministry.

Rio state, where around a fifth of the population lives in favelas, now has 305 cases. Governor Wilson Witzel warned on Friday that the state’s public health system was in danger of “collapse” within 15 days.

Rio Mayor Marcelo Crivella has said that officials will deposit free soap at entrances of the city’s favelas and relocate older people with health problems to hotels. The city has already signed a deal to secure 400 rooms, he said.

“Those most at risk need to be protected as soon as possible,” Crivella told journalists on Saturday.

On Tuesday, Rio’s urban sanitation unit Comlurb kicked off a more comprehensive cleaning of some of the city’s most transited areas, including around hospitals, the mayor added.

But the favelas are still likely to be a major public health challenge, said Edmilson Migowski, an infectologist at Rio’s Federal University.

“The entry of the coronavirus into denser, less planned and less culturally assisted areas could be devastating,” he said. “Where water, soap and detergent are lacking, it will be difficult to stop the spread.”

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-brazil-favelas-fea/gangs-call-curfews-as-coronavirus-hits-rio-favelas-idUSKBN21B3EV?utm_source=NSDAY&utm_campaign=8ea0a51a66-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2020_03_25_04_56&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1254aaab7a-8ea0a51a66-374123611

By Michael Le Page

Eating too much salt may impair the body’s ability to fight bacterial infections, according to studies in mice and in 10 human volunteers.

Christian Kurts at the University Hospital of Bonn in Germany and his team first showed that mice given a high salt diet were less able to fight kidney infections caused by E. coli and body-wide infections caused by Listeria monocytogenes, a common cause of food poisoning.

“The bacteria caused more damage before the immune system got rid them,” says Kurts.

Next, the team gave 10 healthy women and men who were 20 to 50 years old an extra 6 grams of salt a day on top of their normal diet, in the form of three tablets a day. After a week, some of their immune cells, called neutrophils, had a greatly impaired ability to engulf and kill bacteria compared with the same tests done on each individual before they took extra salt.

The team didn’t examine the effect of high salt intake on the body’s ability to fight viral infections.

The World Health Organization recommends that people eat no more than 5 grams of salt a day to avoid high blood pressure, which can cause strokes and heart disease. In the UK, people eat 8 grams on average, suggesting many consume as much or more than the volunteers in the study.

The team thinks two mechanisms are involved. First, when we eat lots of salt, hormones are released to make the body excrete more salt. These include glucocorticoids that have the side effect of suppressing the immune system throughout the body.

Second, there is a local effect in the kidney. Kurts found that urea accumulates in the kidney when salt levels are high, and that urea suppresses neutrophils.

Journal reference: Science Translational Medicine, DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aay3850

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2238629-eating-too-much-salt-seems-to-impair-bodys-ability-to-fight-bacteria/?utm_source=NSDAY&utm_campaign=8ea0a51a66-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2020_03_25_04_56&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1254aaab7a-8ea0a51a66-374123611

By Donna Lu

High-tech shoes are making running more efficient – eventually, they could help us run more than 50 per cent faster.

David Braun and Amanda Sutrisno at Vanderbilt University in the US, modelled the energy used during running and the factors that can affect that – including air resistance, the limited power of a human leg, and the losses that occur each time a foot hits the ground.

They found that the leg only supplies energy about 20 per cent of the time that a person’s foot is on the ground. To improve upon that, they have conceptualised a spring-powered device that would increase the amount of power a person’s legs generate while running.

An exoskeleton connected to each foot that contains a programmable spring would allow the leg to supply energy 96 per cent of that time, according to their analysis.

The device would store energy created as the leg bends in the air, compressing the spring, and release it when the runner takes a step. It would also lessen collisional energy loss. “I would compare this to a catapult that is pulled up in the air and then released on the ground,” says Bruan.

The stiffness of the spring in the envisioned device would need to be changeable. “The faster the running motion is, the stiffer the leg should be,” says Braun. The simplest way to do this would be to build in a way to change the active length of the spring, he says.

The researchers analysed the running style of 100-metre sprint world record holder Usain Bolt, who runs at a top speed of 12.3 metres per second. The device would in theory boost Bolt’s top speed to 20.9 metres per second.

Even if the device increased the proportion of time the legs are generating power to only 60 rather than 96 per cent, it would still enable a theoretical speed of 18 metres per second, says Braun.

The researchers are currently building a prototype. Braun says the device could eventually be used by the military, but also for recreational purposes. “People love things that allow them to move faster,” he says.

Journal reference: Science Advances, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aay1950

Read more: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2238609-spring-powered-shoes-could-help-us-run-more-than-50-per-cent-faster/#ixzz6HnsLNJ3H

Hospitals in New York City are gearing up to use the blood of people who have recovered from COVID-19 as a possible antidote for the disease. Researchers hope that the century-old approach of infusing patients with the antibody-laden blood of those who have survived an infection will help the metropolis — now the US epicentre of the outbreak — to avoid the fate of Italy, where intensive-care units (ICUs) are so crowded that doctors have turned away patients who need ventilators to breathe.

The efforts follow studies in China that attempted the measure with plasma — the fraction of blood that contains antibodies, but not red blood cells — from people who had recovered from COVID-19. But these studies have reported only preliminary results so far. The convalescent-plasma approach has also seen modest success during past severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Ebola outbreaks — but US researchers are hoping to increase the value of the treatment by selecting donor blood that is packed with antibodies and giving it to the patients who are most likely to benefit.

A key advantage to convalescent plasma is that it’s available immediately, whereas drugs and vaccines take months or years to develop. Infusing blood in this way seems to be relatively safe, provided that it is screened for viruses and other infectious agents. Scientists who have led the charge to use plasma want to deploy it now as a stopgap measure, to keep serious infections at bay and hospitals afloat as a tsunami of cases comes crashing their way.

“Every patient that we can keep out of the ICU is a huge logistical victory because there are traffic jams in hospitals,” says Michael Joyner, an anaesthesiologist and physiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “We need to get this on board as soon as possible, and pray that a surge doesn’t overwhelm places like New York and the west coast.”

On 23 March, New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced the plan to use convalescent plasma to aid the response in the state, which has more than 25,000 infections, with 210 deaths. “We think it shows promise,” he said. Thanks to the researchers’ efforts, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today announced that it will permit the emergency use of plasma for patients in need. As early as next week, at least two hospitals in New York City — Mount Sinai and Albert Einstein College of Medicine — hope to start using coronavirus-survivor plasma to treat people with the disease, Joyner says.

After this first rollout, researchers hope the use will be extended to people at a high risk of developing COVID-19, such as nurses and physicians. For them, it could prevent illness so that they can remain in the hospital workforce, which can’t afford depletion.

And academic hospitals across the United States are now planning to launch a placebo-controlled clinical trial to collect hard evidence on how well the treatment works. The world will be watching because, unlike drugs, blood from survivors is relatively cheap and available to any country hit hard by an outbreak.

Scientists assemble

Arturo Casadevall, an immunologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, has been fighting to use blood as a COVID-19 treatment since late January, as the disease spread to other countries and no surefire therapy was in sight. Scientists refer to this measure as ‘passive antibody therapy’ because a person receives external antibodies, rather than generating an immune response themselves, as they would following a vaccination.

The approach dates back to the 1890s. One of the largest case studies occurred during the 1918 H1N1 influenza virus pandemic. More than 1,700 patients received blood serum from survivors, but it’s difficult to draw conclusions from studies that weren’t designed to meet current standards.

During the SARS outbreak in 2002–03, an 80-person trial of convalescent serum in Hong Kong found that people treated within 2 weeks of showing symptoms had a higher chance of being discharged from hospital than did those who weren’t treated. And survivor blood has been tested in at least two outbreaks of Ebola virus in Africa with some success. Infusions seemed to help most patients in a 1995 study in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but the study was small and not placebo controlled. A 2015 trial in Guinea was inconclusive, but it didn’t screen plasma for high levels of antibodies. Casadevall suggests that the approach might have shown a higher efficacy had researchers enrolled only participants who were at an early stage of the deadly disease, and therefore were more likely to benefit from the treatment.

Casadevall corralled support for his idea through an editorial in the Wall Street Journal, published on 27 February, which urged the use of convalescent serum because drugs and vaccines take so long to develop. “I knew if I could get this into a newspaper, people would react, whereas if I put it into a science journal, I might not get the same reaction,” he says.

He sent his article to dozens of colleagues from different disciplines, and many joined his pursuit with enthusiasm. Joyner was one. Around 100 researchers at various institutes self-organized into different lanes. Virologists set about finding tests that could assess whether a person’s blood contains coronavirus antibodies. Clinical-trial specialists thought about how to identify and enroll candidates for treatment. Statisticians created data repositories. And, to win regulatory clearance, the group shared documents required for institutional ethical-review boards and the FDA.

Tantalizing signs

Their efforts paid off. The FDA’s classification today of convalescent plasma as an ‘investigational new drug’ against coronavirus allows scientists to submit proposals to test it in clinical trials, and lets doctors use it compassionately to treat patients with serious or life-threatening COVID-19 infections, even though it is not yet approved.

“This allows us to get started,” says Joyner. Physicians can now decide whether to offer the therapy to people with very advanced disease, or to those that seem to be headed there — as he and other researchers recommend. He says hospitals will file case reports so that the FDA gets a handle on which approaches work best.

Researchers have also submitted to the FDA three protocols for placebo-controlled trials to test the plasma, which they hope will take place at hospitals affiliated with Johns Hopkins, the Mayo Clinic and Washington University in St. Louis, along with other universities that want to take part.

Future directions

The US tests of convalescent plasma aren’t the first. Since early February, researchers in China — where the coronavirus emerged late last year — have launched several studies using the plasma. Researchers have yet to report on the status and results of these studies. But Liang Yu, an infectious-disease specialist at Zhejiang University School of Medicine in China, told Nature that in one preliminary study, doctors treated 13 people who were critically ill with COVID-19 with convalescent plasma. Within several days, he says the virus no longer seemed to be circulating in the patients, indicating that antibodies had fought it off. But he says that their conditions continued to deteriorate, suggesting that the disease might have been too far along for this therapy to be effective. Most had been sick for more than two weeks.

In one of three proposed US trials, Liise-anne Pirofski, an infectious-disease specialist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, says researchers plan to infuse patients at an early stage of the disease and see how often they advance to critical care. Another trial would enrol severe cases. The third would explore plasma’s use as a preventative measure for people in close contact with those confirmed to have COVID-19, and would evaluate how often such people fall ill after an infusion compared with others who were similarly exposed but not treated. These outcomes are measurable within a month, she says. “Efficacy data could be obtained very, very quickly.”

Even if it works well enough, convalescent serum might be replaced by modern therapies later this year. Research groups and biotechnology companies are currently identifying antibodies against the coronavirus, with plans to develop these into precise pharmaceutical formulas. “The biotech cavalry will come on board with isolating antibodies, testing them, and developing into drugs and vaccines, but that takes time,” says Joyner.

In some ways, Pirofski is reminded of the urgency she felt as a young doctor at the start of the HIV epidemic in the early 1980s. “I met with medical residents last week, and they are so frightened of this disease, and they don’t have enough protective equipment, and they are getting sick or are worried about getting sick,” she says. A tool to help to protect them now would be welcomed.

Since becoming involved with the push for blood as a treatment, Pirofski says another aspect of the therapy holds her interest: unlike a pharmaceutical product bought from companies, this treatment is created by people who have been infected. “I get several e-mails a day from people who say, ‘I survived and now I want to help other people’,” she says. “All of these people are willing to put on their boots and brush their teeth, and come help us do this.”

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00895-8?utm_source=fbk_nnc&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=naturenews&fbclid=IwAR08dlcqj_ixR5eJxFxrlI4UikMrTpBLLA4_aYTxfD5CfjRLi8lli2DB3gI&utm_source=Nature+Briefing&utm_campaign=7fdc8b2aa7-briefing-dy-20200325&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c9dfd39373-7fdc8b2aa7-44039353


The roads may have fewer cars on them these days, but for many truckers, the journey feels a lot longer.

by CHRISTIAN COTRONEO

There’s no shortage of people facing extraordinary adversity to help us maintain some semblance of civilization in these pandemic times.

There are the usual suspects — doctors, nurses, firefighters — who make courage under fire seem so routine.

And then there are truckers.

Rain, shine or pandemic, the U.S. relies on about 3.5 million truck drivers to keep goods — the lifeblood of an economy — in circulation.

That includes canned foods and non-perishables like tuna and rice and beans, bound for small stores and shops in every nook of the country. And yes, there’s always a need for more toilet paper on Aisle 12.

There’s also Amazon — and the unending stream of smart speakers, cordless vacuums and pretzel crackers that Americans feel they need at a time like this.

That’s to say nothing of essential medical supplies and the equipment that’s sadly emblematic of our times: masks, ventilators, disinfectant. It’s not just about distributing those goods to stores and homes, but getting the raw materials, like plastic and pulp, to the manufacturers.

All of it is literally a trucker’s burden to bear. And that burden has never been heavier.

Taking truck drivers for granted

“I think people, quite frankly, take truck drivers for granted when things are normal,” Todd Jadin, of Wisconsin-based Schneider, which boasts 14,000 drivers under its umbrella, tells USA Today. “The work they do every day is that much more important right now.”

Sure, driving is a little easier these days — thanks to the millions of Americans who are staying home and trying to social distance the coronavirus to death.

But for truckers, already accustomed to driving as many as 11 hours per day, the road has gotten even longer. That’s because, for all the miles a trucker logs, there’s always been a bright beacon at the side of just about every highway: the iconic truck stop.

Maybe it’s a diner, where a driver can get a meal and even take a shower. Or a parking lot, where the engines finally go silent, and truckers catch some much-needed shut-eye.

The thing is, as Wired reports, those gleaming lights are going dark. Side-of-the-road eateries are closing to discourage public gatherings. State authorities are even shuttering places that specifically cater to truckers — spots at turnpikes that offer showers, parking and bathrooms.

One of American’s biggest travel center operators, TA-Petro, recently closed all of its driver lounges and fitness centers, Wired also notes.

The few facilities still open are crowded and, as you might imagine, an increasingly risky proposition in these viral times.

But that’s one area where you can help. Follow the lead of police officers in Eufaula, Alabama, who help truckers who can’t fit their rigs through the drive-thru — often the only option when restaurant dining rooms are closed.

“We will either go get something for you or give you a ride to the nearest drive-thru (if you don’t mind riding in the back seat!” the department posted on Facebook. “If manpower is such that we cannot assist, we will secure someone that can.”


Truck stops are closing down, giving drivers fewer opportunities to take a load off.

Truckers are parents, too

And truckers face other hurdles unique to these times.

“If a school system closes down, our employees may not have child care,” T.J. O’Connor of Kansas-based trucking-and-logistics company YRC Worldwide, tells USA Today. “Or we have a driver go out there to make a pickup and there’s a sign on the door that says one of the employees tested positive and they’re closed. What do you do?”

But these days, too much is riding on a trucker’s cargo for them to simply stay home.

“Times like this, people need to realize that everything you have is brought to you by truck drivers. Right now, we’re the ones out there taking chances on our health and our safety to make sure there’s food in the grocery stores,” Robert Stewart, a Pennsylvania-based trucker tells CBS News.

In other words, they deserve our admiration now more than ever.

As Deb Labree, an independent owner-operator based in Missouri, tells the industry journal Freight Waves, “When this pandemic is over, I hope truckers who were a huge part of keeping America moving and the shelves stocked realize they have achieved hero status in my book.”

https://www.mnn.com/green-tech/transportation/stories/truckers-coronavirus-heroes-pandemic-economy?utm_source=Weekly+Newsletter&utm_campaign=cc33a3c162-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_WED0325_2020&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_fcbff2e256-cc33a3c162-40844241