Category Archives: Genetics

SARS-CoV-2 is changing at a glacial pace

SCIENTISTS have had eyes on Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, since the beginning of this pandemic. They can see it is evolving, but it is happening at a glacial pace compared with two other viruses with pandemic potential: those that cause flu and Aids. That is good news for efforts to develop vaccines and treatments, but scientists remain wary that anything could still happen…

Tiruppur, India

This article first appeared in The Guardian on 18 September 2020. To continue reading, click here.

On the origins of smallpox

THE death date of smallpox is clear. After killing more than 300 million people in the twentieth century, it claimed its last victim in 1978; two years later, on 8 May 1980, the World Health Assembly declared that the variola virus, which causes smallpox, had been eradicated. But the origins of this devastating virus are obscure. Now, genetic evidence is starting to uncover when smallpox first started attacking people…

Korean smallpox goddess, late Joseon era (17th-19th Centuries)

This article first appeared in Nature on 23 July 2020. To continue reading, click here (paywall).

 

The flawed brilliance of J.B.S. Haldane

TOWARDS the end of his life, J.B.S. Haldane was inseparable from a pebble that had been found in the Valley of Elah in Israel, where David felled Goliath with a similar projectile. A king-size man who towered over British biology for several decades in the middle of the 20th century, Jack Haldane—the “half-Dane”—was a more obvious Goliath, but he always took the side of the underdog…

Haldane in Spain during the civil war

This story first appeared in The Economist  on 18 July 2020. To continue reading, click here.

 

 

Phylloxera – a pest’s genome reveals its past

A CENTURY and a half ago an alien insect alighted in Europe. It displaced millions, ruined local economies and forced scientists, politicians and ordinary folk into a frenzy of defensive activity. Phylloxera, a member of the group known to entomologists as Hemiptera, or “true” bugs (as opposed to all the other critters known colloquially as bugs), appeared in France in the 1860s and proceeded to eat its way through many of the Old World’s vines…

“The phylloxera, a true, gourmet, finds out the best vineyards and attaches itself to the best wines.” Cartoon from Punch, 6 September 6, 1890

This article first appeared in The Economist online on 4 July 2020, and in the print edition of 11 July 2020. To continue reading, click here (paywall).