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We reviewed last year’s COVID-19 questions, readers weigh in on tuatars and more


Selling double

The New Zealand lizard-like tuatara is the first known vertebrate with two mitochondrial genomes, Devin A. Reese reported in “The tuatara hides an extra set of genes” (SN: 27/02/21, p. 10).

Reader Alfonso Solimano I was wondering if every mitochondrion in tuatara cells has a copy of both genomes.

It is likely that the two genomes do not exist in a single mitochondrion, says the genomic Robert Macey from the Peralta Genomics Institute in Oakland, California, it is unknown how DNA is arranged in the organelle. It is possible that 200 to 1,200 mitochondria in a single cell may house both genomes, with one version per mitochondria, Macey of. Or maybe just one of the two genomes appears in a single cell.

Increase the world

Diamond retains its structure even when compressed to more than five times the pressure in the Earth's core, Emily Conover reported in “Diamond Keeps Under Pressure” (SN: 27/02/21, p. 15).

Reader Robert Stenton He asked what would happen to the diamond if scientists also subjected the material to about 6000 ° Celsius, the temperature at the center of the Earth.

When researchers struck diamonds with powerful lasers, they not only increased the pressure of the material, but also raised its temperature to thousands of degrees C, Conover of. In fact, the diamond warmed up enough for scientists to think it could melt. But that was not what happened. “The result really raises two puzzling problems: why the diamond didn’t turn to another phase and why it didn’t melt,” she says.

Energy harvest

The Milky Way emits gamma rays with energies approaching one trillion volts of electrons, Emily Conover reported in “The brightness of the Milky Way is highly energetic” (SN: 27/02/21, p. 12).

Reader Mark Blackham I wonder if it is possible to take advantage of these gamma rays for practical use.

These high-energy particles are rare and difficult to detect, Conover of. And while a quadrillion-volt electrons is a huge amount of energy to carry a single fundamental particle, it’s not as impressive on a macroscopic scale. The kinetic energy of a flying mosquito, for example, is about 1 trillion volts of electrons. The gamma rays found by the researchers carried the energy of hundreds of mosquitoes, Conover of. "I don't think it's especially helpful to try to capture that energy."

Questions and answers about COVID-19

Science News reporters Tina Hesman Saey, Aimee Cunningham, Jonathan Lambert e Erin García de Jesús they are following the latest research to stay up to date on the coronavirus pandemic. A year later, we reviewed readers ’questions about COVID-19 from the April 11, 2020 issue.

Reader Ken M. He asked a year ago if there are two versions of the coronavirus, one that causes mild symptoms and another that has more severe effects.

As of April 2020, there were no two versions of the virus in the United States or elsewhere. Now that is no longer the case. Several variants of the coronavirus are circulating worldwide. The new variants seem to spread more easily and quickly than the original.

"Why are people so daring (COVID-19)?" reader Joe B. he asked at the time. In the United States, the flu seems a much bigger cause for concern, he wrote.

Even a year ago, scientists knew that COVID-19 was killing at a faster rate than the flu. COVID-19 killed 2.7 million people worldwide by the end of March 2021, with more than half a million dead in the United States. Meanwhile, social alienation, the use of masks, and other efforts to reduce the spread of coronavirus have likely dropped cases of influenza and other respiratory illnesses (SN online: 2/2/21).

Although COVID-19 vaccines are increasingly available, experts fear that there will be an increase in cases on the horizon as more contagious variants spread (SN: 27/03/21, p. 6) and some states of the United States are beginning to lift public health restrictions.



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