Category Archives: Medicine

The global race to contain Omicron

WHAT does Omicron conjure in your mind? I’ve seen the new “scariant” compared to Frankenstein’s monster and a Transformer, but I picture it as an overgrown mafioso named “Tiny”, whose trousers stop short of his feet, who uncomplainingly takes on all the dirty work and whose mother loves him. As well she might. The latest variant of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 has already been reported in 17 countries, and the first sample to have tested positive for it, in South Africa, was only taken on 9 November – though it is possible it was circulating beneath the radar before then. That’s a lot of grandchildren in a short space of time…

This article first appeared in New Statesman on 1 December 2021. To continue reading, follow this link: https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/health/2021/12/the-global-race-to-contain-omicron

How does Covid end?

AS Cop26 gets under way in Glasgow this weekend, one collective action problem is taking centre stage against the backdrop of another. Covid-19 has been described as a dress rehearsal for our ability to solve the bigger problem of the climate crisis, so it seems important to point out that the pandemic isn’t over. Instead, joined-up thinking has become more important than ever for solving the problem of Covid-19…

This article first appeared in The Guardian on 29 October 2021. To continue reading, click here.

 

Epigenetics, the misunderstood science

A little over a decade ago, a clutch of scientific studies was published that seemed to show that survivors of atrocities or disasters such as the Holocaust and the Dutch famine of 1944-45 had passed on the biological scars of those traumatic experiences to their children.

The studies caused a sensation, earning their own BBC Horizon documentary and the cover of Time (I also wrote about them, for New Scientist) – and no wonder. The mind-blowing implications were that DNA wasn’t the only mode of biological inheritance, and that traits acquired by a person in their lifetime could be heritable. Since we receive our full complement of genes at conception and it remains essentially unchanged until our death, this information was thought to be transmitted via chemical tags on genes called “epigenetic marks” that dial those genes’ output up or down. The phenomenon, known as transgenerational epigenetic inheritance, caught the public imagination, in part because it seemed to release us from the tyranny of DNA. Genetic determinism was dead…

DNA methylation

This article first appeared in The Observer on 10 October 2021. To continue reading, click here.

Covid lawsuits and inquiries loom

EARLIER this month, proceedings opened in Austria in a civil suit brought against the authorities by the widow and son of a man who died of Covid-19 after staying in Ischgl, the ski resort widely regarded as having hosted a super-spreader event early in the pandemic. The week before, former French health minister Agnès Buzyn was ordered by a court to answer, essentially, for the government’s lack of anticipation of the pandemic…

Ischgl, Austria

This article first appeared in The Guardian on 29 September 2021. To continue reading, click here.