Energy, Environment, and Conservation 

  • The invasive Mediterranean mussel has spread around the world, and a new study finds that its success may be due to a highly flexible “pangenome” — the first such genome described in animals. The mussels have a “core genome” of about 45,000 genes, but another 15,000 genes that are often missing in individuals. The authors call these “dispensable genes” and posit that they may allow the mussel to thrive among high biotic and abiotic stress. This study has not yet been peer-reviewed (bioRxiv).
  • The Kirtland’s Warbler has been removed from the Endangered Species List by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The species was listed in 1967 under a previous version of the Endangered Species Act; in 1971, it was estimated there were only 201 singing males left in the wild. Today, there are nearly 2,400 singing males. This follows 30 years of replanting jack pine habitat in northern Michigan for the birds, as well as culling more than 3,500 parasitic brown-headed cowbirds annually (Science Mag). 
  • A non-profit called Ocean Cleanup has successfully removed plastic from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch for the first time. The organization’s goal is to remove half the plastic in the patch, which is twice the size of Texas. Several other iterations of the removal device failed, but this device was able to remove large pieces of plastic as well as microplastics down to 1 mm in size (EcoWatch). 
  • The Formosan clouded leopard, which was last spotted in 1983 and declared extinct in 2013, has been sighted in Taiwan, where it is endemic. The leopard’s habitat was degraded by logging. Researchers say they can begin working on the species again (My Modern Met).

Higher Education and Academia

  • Several laboratory groups at the University of California, Berkeley, were forced to scramble to find ways to rescue samples and organisms after Pacific Gas & Electric cut off electricity to a large area of northern California. UC Berkeley only has limited backup power, which the university explained is used only to “preserve critical research infrastructure.” Many laboratories are not included in this category and were left for days without power, forcing lab members to transport freezers to other universities and bring organisms to be cared for in their own homes. Several other universities lost power as well (Gizmodo).

Federal Agencies

  • A new study finds that choice of grant topic is the second largest contributor to whether an R01 grant application to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) gets reviewed, accounting for 21% of funding disparity. It also showed that black applicants were more likely to pick topics that were less interesting to the reviewers. The cycle is supported because most grant reviewers are selected from grant awardees. NIH officials say they need to study the problem further before suggesting alternative practices (Science Mag). 
  • The National Science Foundation (NSF) has announced a new $120 million grant program to fund research into artificial intelligence through both planning grants and up to six artificial intelligence research institutes. Proposals are due in early 2020 (NSF). 

Public Health

  • The Food and Drug Administration has approved Descovy, a new daily medication that protects against contraction of HIV but has fewer toxic side effects than Truvada, the current drug approved for the same purpose. The maker of Truvada, Gilead, has been accused of price gouging (Advocate). This comes as California has become the first state to approve pharmacists to dispense anti-HIV drugs without a prescription. Both drugs like Descovy and Truvada that prevent HIV contraction (pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP), and drugs that block the virus from spreading and causing harm following exposure (post-exposure prophylaxis or PEP) will be available over-the-counter for 60 days. PEP is only effective if taken within 72 hours of exposure, and supporters say people cannot always see a doctor within that time window so allowing purchase without a prescription will increase access (The Guardian). 

Science Communication / Miscellaneous 

  • Scientists have discovered 20 new moons orbiting Saturn, bringing the total number of discovered moons around the planet to 82, although it is estimated that there might be 100. Saturn now is thought to have the most moons of any planet in the solar system, followed by Jupiter (Science News).

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