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Study: Neanderthal genes may be liability for COVID patients – The Observer

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BERLIN — Scientists say genes that some people have inherited from their Neanderthal ancestors may increase their likelihood of suffering severe forms of COVID-19.

A study by European scientists published Wednesday by the journal Nature examined a cluster of genes that have been linked to a higher risk of hospitalization and respiratory failure in patients who are infected with the new coronavirus.

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Researchers Hugo Zeberg and Svante Paabo determined that the genes belong to a group, or haplotype, which likely came from Neanderthals. The haplotype is found in about 16% of the population in Europe and half the population in South Asia, while in Africa and East Asia it is non-existent.

Modern humans and Neanderthals are known to have interbred at various points in history, resulting in an exchange of genes than can still be found today.

The genes are one of several risk factors for COVID-19, including age, sex and pre-existing conditions like obesity, diabetes and heart problems.

Zeberg and Paabo, who work at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, noted that the prevalence of the particular Neanderthal gene group is highest in people from Bangladesh, where 63% are estimated to carry a copy of the haplotype.

They cited studies from the U.K. showing that people of Bangladeshi descent have about two times higher risk of dying from COVID-19 than the general population.

“It is striking that the genetic heritage from the Neanderthals has such tragic consequences during the current pandemic,” Paabo said in a statement. “Why this is must now be investigated as quickly as possible.”

But Andre Franke, director of the Institute of Clinical Molecular Biology at the University of Kiel, Germany, said the findings have no immediate impact on the treatment of COVID-19.

In a comment ahead of the study’s final publication, Franke said one interesting question arising from the study is why that haploytpe — unlike most Neanderthal genes — survived until today.

“Perhaps it’s good for a very active immune system if one doesn’t have other risk factors,” he suggested.

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Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, Russian counterparts return safely to Earth from space station – Fox News

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A trio of space travelers safely returned to Earth on Thursday after a six-month mission on the International Space Station.

The Soyuz MS-16 capsule carrying NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, and Roscosmos’ Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner landed on the steppes of Kazakhstan southeast of the town of Dzhezkazgan at 7:54 a.m. (2:54 GMT) Thursday.

After a brief medical checkup, the three will be taken by helicopters to Dzhezkazgan from where they will depart home.

NASA RELEASES NEVER-BEFORE-SEEN PICTURES OF BENNU, AN ASTEROID THAT MAY HOLD THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF LIFE

Cassidy will board a NASA plane back to Houston, while Vagner and Ivanishin will fly home to Star City, Russia.

In this photo released by Rosaviatsiya, NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy sits in a chair shortly after the landing near town of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020.
(Rosaviatsiya via AP)

The crew smiled as they talked to masked members of the recovery team, and NASA and Roscosmos reported that they were in good condition.

In this photo released by Roscosmos Space Agency, NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy sits in a chair shortly after landing near town of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020.

In this photo released by Roscosmos Space Agency, NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy sits in a chair shortly after landing near town of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020.
(Roscosmos Space Agency, via AP)

As part of additional precautions due to the coronavirus, the rescue team members meeting the crew were tested for the virus and the number of people involved in the recovery effort was limited.

Cassidy, Ivanishin and Vagner spent 196 days in orbit, having arrived at the station on April 9. They left behind NASA’s Kate Rubins and Roscosmos’ Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, who arrived at the orbiting outpost a week ago for a six-month stay.

In this photo released by Roscosmos Space Agency, Roscosmos' cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin, left, and Ivan Vagner sit in fchairs shortly after the landing near town of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020.

In this photo released by Roscosmos Space Agency, Roscosmos’ cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin, left, and Ivan Vagner sit in fchairs shortly after the landing near town of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020.
(Roscosmos Space Agency via AP)

Cassidy, returning from his third space mission, has now spent a total of 378 days in space, the fifth highest among U.S. astronauts.

NASA’S OSIRIS-REX SPACECRAFT MAKES HISTORIC TOUCHDOWN ON ASTEROID BENNU

While serving as the station’s commander, Cassidy welcomed SpaceX Demo-2 crew Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, the first NASA astronauts to launch to the space station on an American spacecraft from American soil since the retirement of the space shuttle fleet in 2011.

In this photo released by Rosaviatsiya, Roscosmos' cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin sits in a chair shortly after the landing near town of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020.

In this photo released by Rosaviatsiya, Roscosmos’ cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin sits in a chair shortly after the landing near town of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020.
(Rosaviatsiya via AP)

Cassidy and Behnken completed four spacewalks for a total of 23 hours and 37 minutes, becoming two of only four U.S. astronauts to complete 10 spacewalks.

In this photo released by Rosaviatsiya, Russian rescue team helicopters land near a Russian Soyuz MS-16 capsule, left, landed near town of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. Rosaviatsiya via AP

In this photo released by Rosaviatsiya, Russian rescue team helicopters land near a Russian Soyuz MS-16 capsule, left, landed near town of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. Rosaviatsiya via AP
(Rosaviatsiya via AP)

Before the crew’s departure, Russian cosmonauts were able to temporarily seal the air leak they tried to locate for several months. The small leak has posed no immediate danger to the station’s crew, and Roscosmos engineers have been working on a permanent seal.

The Soyuz MS-16 capsule carrying NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, and Roscosmos' Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner landed on the steppes of Kazakhstan, southeast of the town of Dzhezkazgan, on Thursday.

The Soyuz MS-16 capsule carrying NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, and Roscosmos’ Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner landed on the steppes of Kazakhstan, southeast of the town of Dzhezkazgan, on Thursday.
(Roscosmos Space Agency via AP)

In November, Rubins, Ryzhikov and Kud-Sverchkov are expected to greet NASA’s SpaceX first operational Crew Dragon mission comprising NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi.

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NASA Astronaut Kate Rubins Votes From Space – TMZ

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NASA successfully tags asteroid Bennu: What you need to know about the mission – CNET

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Artist’s conception of NASA’s Osiris-Rex spacecraft and the asteroid Bennu.


NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

Editors’ note: Osiris-Rex has touched down on Bennu. Our coverage of the event is here. Our answers to questions about the mission are below.

NASA’s Osiris-Rex spacecraft briefly touched down on a large asteroid Tuesday to snag some rocks and dust from its surface to be returned to Earth for study. On Wednesday, NASA revealed the first batch of images. The event marks a major first for NASA and a boon for science, space exploration and our understanding of the solar system. 

The touch-and-go, or TAG, sample collection of asteroid 101955 Bennu was deemed a success at around 3:12 p.m. PT. NASA broadcast the TAG maneuver live on NASA TV and the agency’s website. You can find a video at the end of this piece. For answer to your mission questions, read on. 

When did the mission begin?

Osiris-Rex as a concept has been in existence since at least 2004, when a team of astronomers first proposed the idea to NASA. After more than a decade of development, the spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Sept. 8, 2016, atop an Atlas V rocket from United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The spacecraft spent the next 26 months cruising to Bennu, officially arriving on Dec. 3, 2018.

Since then, the mission team has spent nearly two years orbiting the diamond-shaped space rock, surveying and mapping its surface to select the best sampling spot. In recent months, rehearsals led up to the sample collection attempt. 


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NASA successfully lands Osiris-Rex spacecraft on an asteroid…

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Why Bennu?

Bennu is what’s called a “rubble pile” asteroid, meaning it was formed in the deep cosmic past when gravity slowly forced together remnants of an ancient collision. The result is a body shaped something like a spinning top with a diameter of around one-third of a mile (500 meters) and a surface strewn with large rocks and boulders. 

Bennu is thought to be a window into the solar system’s past: a pristine, carbon-rich body carrying the building blocks of planets and of life. Some of these resources, such as water and metals, could also be worth mining at some point in the future for use on Earth or in space exploration. 

The asteroid has one other characteristic that makes it particularly interesting to scientists, and humans in general. It has a chance of impacting Earth in the distant future. On NASA’s list of impact risks, Bennu is ranked No. 2. Current data shows dozens of potential impacts in the final quarter of the 22nd century, although all only have a minute chance of actually happening. 

How does TAG work?

For anyone who’s ever dabbled with robots or maybe even entered a robotics competition, the Osiris-Rex mission would seem to be the ultimate culmination of a young roboticist’s dreams. The touch-and-go sampling procedure is a complex, high-stakes task that’s been building to a key climactic moment for years. If it succeeds, it will play a role in history and our future in space. 

The basic plan was for Osiris-Rex to touch down on Bennu at a rocky landing site dubbed Nightingale. The van-size spacecraft would need to negotiate building-size boulders around the landing area to touch down on a relatively clear space that’s only as large as a few parking spaces. However, a robotic sampling arm was the only part of Osiris-Rex to actually set down on the surface. One of three pressurized nitrogen canisters was fired to stir up a sample of dust and small rocks that could then be caught in the arm’s collector head for safe keeping and return to Earth. 

The descent to the surface of Bennu took roughly four hours, about the time it takes the asteroid to make one full revolution. After this slow approach, the actual TAG sample collection procedure remarkably lasted only a few seconds. 

Preparing for TAG did not go exactly as planned. Mission organizers initially hoped the surface of Bennu would have plenty of potential landing spots covered primarily with fine materials comparable to sand or gravel. It turns out the surface of Bennu is extremely rugged with no real welcoming landing spots. 

After spending much of the last two years reevaluating the mission, the team decided to try “threading the needle” through the boulder-filled landscape at Nightingale.

It’s all paid off, so far. Osiris-Rex was able to touch down, but we won’t know for sure if it collected a sample until later in October. Fortunately, if the tag was unsuccessful, the spacecraft can try again. It’s equipped with three nitrogen canisters to fire and disrupt the surface, which means the team gets up to three tries at nabbing a sample. 

Then what?

Immediately after collecting its sample, Osiris-Rex fired its thrusters to back away from Bennu. The spacecraft will continue to hang around above Bennu for the rest of 2020 before finally performing a departure maneuver next year and beginning a two-year journey back to Earth. 

On Sept. 24, 2023, Osiris-Rex is scheduled to jettison its sample return capsule, which will land in the Utah desert and be recovered for study. 

Hasn’t this been done before?

Yes. Japan’s Hayabusa spacecraft successfully returned tiny grains of the asteroid 25143 Itokawa to Earth in 2010. Its successor, Hayabusa-2, fired a special copper bullet at the large asteroid Ryugu in 2019 and then retrieved some of the shrapnel. That sample is on its way back to Earth.  

How can I watch? 

The CNET Highlights channel covered the event live. You can rewatch the stream below:

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