Today's Liberal News

Katherine J. Wu

Reindeer Have a Special Eye Color Just for Winter

Of all the eyeballs in Glen Jeffery’s office, only a very small minority are his.“Oh, I’ve got an office full of eyes,” Jeffery, a neuroscientist at University College London, told me. Over Skype, he fished one of his favorites out of an opaque vial: About the size of a golf ball and fringed with white tissue, it looked a bit like a poached egg with a slate-hued yolk.

This Fall Will Be a Vaccination Reboot

In one sense, this is how it was always supposed to go: When viruses evolve, vaccines should follow, and sometimes try to leap ahead. The COVID-19 shots that the U.S. has used to inoculate hundreds of millions of people are simply so new that they’ve never had to undergo a metamorphosis; up until now, their original-recipe ingredients have stood up to SARS-CoV-2 well enough. But the virus they fight has changed quite radically, and this fall, the vaccines will finally, finally follow suit.

Squirrels Could Make Monkeypox a Forever Problem

In the summer of 2003, just weeks after an outbreak of monkeypox sickened about 70 people across the Midwest, Mark Slifka visited “the super-spreader,” he told me, “who infected half of Wisconsin’s cases.”Chewy, a prairie dog, had by that point succumbed to the disease, which he’d almost certainly caught in an exotic-animal facility that he’d shared with infected pouched rats from Ghana.

Frogs Keep Mating With the Wrong Things

Two years ago, Juan Díaz Ricaurte was hiking through the mountains of Brazil when a male yellow cururu toad affixed itself to his boot. Díaz Ricaurte gently detached the frog and set it back on the ground, several feet away; undeterred, it bounded back over and wrapped its arms around the shoe again. “It was super focused on grabbing Juan’s boot,” says Filipe Serrano, Díaz Ricaurte’s fellow biologist, who witnessed the meet-cute.

Humans Can’t Quit a Basic Myth About Dog Breeds

After four decades of training and studying dogs, Marjie Alonso has lost track of the number of pets she’s seen because their humans felt they weren’t acting as they “should.” There were the golden retrievers who weren’t “friendly” or “good enough with kids,” and the German shepherds who were more timid scaredy-cats than vigilant guard dogs.

Have We Already Ruined Our Next COVID Summer?

Almost exactly 12 months ago, America’s pandemic curve hit a pivot point. Case counts peaked—and then dipped, and dipped, and dipped, on a slow but sure grade, until, somewhere around the end of May, the numbers flattened and settled, for several brief, wonderful weeks, into their lowest nadir so far.I refuse to use the term hot vax summer (oops, just did), but its sentiment isn’t exactly wrong.

Naked Mole Rats Have a Very Strange Status Symbol

In naked-mole-rat societies, the royals do not wield scepters or don crowns. But that’s not to say that their majesty is subtle. The toothy, pruney rodents live in close-knit underground communities of up to about 300 members apiece, ruled by a tyrant queen that refuses to be mistaken for just another balding pleb.

America Is Staring Down Its First So What? Wave

If the United States has been riding a COVID-19 ’coaster for the past two-plus years, New York and a flush of states in the Northeast have consistently been seated in the train’s front car. And right now, in those parts of the country, coronavirus cases are, once again, going up. The rest of America may soon follow, now that BA.2—the more annoying, faster-spreading sister of the original Omicron variant, BA.

Why Kids’ COVID Vaccines Aren’t Performing Like Adults’

Last Friday, Lakshmi Ganapathi’s son turned 5, and finally became eligible for his first Pfizer COVID shot. Ganapathi’s family had been anticipating that moment for more than a year, yet as of late, she can’t help but feel the slightest bit deflated. At first, the COVID vaccines’ trickle down the age brackets felt worth the wait because the shots were doing such a stellar job at blocking symptoms.

You Try Constricting Your Prey and Breathing at the Same Time

When a boa constrictor coils its midriff around a wriggling rat, it’s easy to feel sorry for the soon-to-be-lifeless rodent, its blood supply so blocked that its heart stops pumping.But consider, too, the plight of the snake. The curly-fry crush of a boa—which can exert pressures of up to 25 pounds per square inch—doesn’t just squish the life out of its prey.

America Is About to Test How Long ‘Normal’ Can Hold

At this very moment, the United States, as a whole, remains in its legit pandemic lull. Coronavirus case counts and hospitalizations are lower than they’ve been since last summer. There’s now a nice, chonky gap between us and January’s Omicron peak.And yet. Outbreaks have erupted across Asia.

America’s Flu-Shot Problem Is Also Its Next COVID-Shot Problem

About 18 years ago, while delivering a talk at a CDC conference, Gregory Poland punked 2,000 of his fellow scientists. Ten minutes into his lecture, a member of the audience, under Poland’s instruction, raced up to the podium with a slip of paper. Poland skimmed the note and looked up, stony-faced. “Colleagues, I am unsure of what to say,” he said. “We have just been notified of a virus that’s been detected in the U.S.

The Freeloading Boyfriends That Just Won’t Let Go

For male Santa Marta harlequin toads, sex is an exercise in patience.The ping-pong-ball-size frogs, which are native to a mountainous strip in northern Colombia, spend most of their days milling about the region’s burbling brooks, hoping to chance upon a mate. They don’t often get lucky: Only rarely, for a few days a year around the start of the rainy season, will the species’ much-larger females venture down from the trees to flit through these loose froggy frats.

The Pandemic After the Pandemic

The world was slow to recognize long COVID as one of the most serious consequences of the coronavirus. Six months into the pathogen’s tear across the globe, SARS-CoV-2 was still considered an acute airway infection that would spark a weeks-long illness at most; anyone who experienced symptoms for longer could be expected to be dismissed by droves of doctors.

The Coronavirus’s Next Move

If the coronavirus has one singular goal—repeatedly infecting us—it’s only gotten better at realizing it, from Alpha to Delta to Omicron. And it is nowhere near done. “Omicron is not the worst thing we could have imagined,” says Jemma Geoghegan, an evolutionary virologist at the University of Otago, in New Zealand. Somewhere out there, a Rho, a Tau, or maybe even an Omega is already in the works.Not all variants, though, are built the same.

We’re Entering the Control Phase of the Pandemic

And just like that, the national attitude on COVID is flipping like a light switch. As the United States descends the bumpy back end of the Omicron wave, governors and mayors up and down the coasts are extinguishing indoor mask mandates and pulling back proof-of-vaccination protocols.

How to Reclaim Normal Life Without Being ‘Done’

In many ways, the pandemic has never felt quite so paradoxical. In the United States, cases and hospitalizations are falling, and millions of people are as vaccinated as they can be. A rash of coastal-state mayors and governors is peeling back mask mandates—a stateside mirror of countries such as Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, where pandemic restrictions have all but disappeared. Things are definitively better than they were just a few weeks ago.

The Paradox of Sour Food

When researchers consider the classic five categories of taste—sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami—there’s little disagreement over which of them is the least understood. Creatures crave sweet for sugar and calories. A yen for umami, or savoriness, keeps many animals nourished with protein. Salt’s essential for bodies to stay in fluid balance, and for nerve cells to signal. And a sensitivity to bitterness can come in handy with the whole not-poisoning-yourself thing.

Should We Go All In on Omicron Vaccines?

Two years into the pandemic, and two months into Omicron’s globe-crushing surge, our COVID-19 vaccines are finally on the cusp of a federally sanctioned update. To counter the new variant’s uncanny knack for slipping past antibodies roused by our first-generation shots, Moderna and Pfizer have both kick-started clinical trials to see how Omicron-specific vaccines fare in people.

Delta’s Not Dead Yet

Pour one out for Delta, the SARS-CoV-2 variant that Season 3 of the pandemic seems intent on killing off. After holding star billing through the summer and fall of 2021, Delta’s spent the past several weeks getting absolutely walloped by its feistier cousin Omicron—a virus that’s adept at both blitzing in and out of airways and dodging the antibodies that vaccines and other variants raise.

Why a Three-Dose Vaccine for Young Kids Might Actually Work Out

For many months now, Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine has been slowly making its way into smaller arms in smaller doses—from teens to adolescents to elementary-school-age kids in the fall. Now it’s just the under-5 crowd left, and the word on the lips of parents raring to protect their children is still, simply, when. Somehow, no one yet seems to know.

Calling Omicron ‘Mild’ Is Wishful Thinking

For weeks, the watchword on Omicron in much of America has been some form of phew. A flurry of reports has encouraged a relatively rosy view of the variant, compared with some of its predecessors. Omicron appears to somewhat spare the lungs. Infected laboratory mice and hamsters seem to handily fight it off. Proportionally, fewer of the people who catch it wind up hospitalized or dead. All of this has allowed a deceptively reassuring narrative to take root and grow: Omicron is mild.

COVID Isolation Is a Lot Like … Muffin Baking

If you’re trapped in COVID isolation right now, you’re making muffins. If that’s literally true, good for you, and I can recommend these. But I’m talking metaphorically. Right now, the infection you’re nursing, and the contagious risk it carries, is—hear me out—raw batter in an oven. You really, really don’t want to remove it too soon.Yes, we are in crisis right now. The pandemic’s been raging for two years, and I am talking about muffins.

America’s COVID Rules Are a Dumpster Fire

On Tuesday, the CDC officially dropped the detailed, 1,800-word version of its new isolation guidance for people who have been infected by the coronavirus. So far, the best way I’ve got to sum it up is this: Hunker down for five days instead of the typical 10, then do what you want. ¯_(ツ)_/¯Okay, sorry, that’s overly simplistic.

Should I Just Get Omicron Over With?

For the past two years, Marie, a 30-something student in New York, had the right idea about COVID-19: She didn’t want to get it. Then, in the middle of December, as the antibody-dodging Omicron swept through her state, the coronavirus found her all the same. But Marie’s three vaccines helped keep her illness short and manageable.

Our Relationship With COVID Vaccines Is Just Getting Started

Walter Barker has, since the fall of 2020, had five doses of COVID-19 vaccine. He’s already starting to ponder when he might need a sixth.Barker, a 38-year-old office worker in New York, received his first two doses a year ago, as part of an AstraZeneca vaccine trial. But the shots, which haven’t been authorized by the FDA, couldn’t get him into some venues. Sick of having to test every time he went to a Yankees game, Barker nabbed a pair of Moderna injections in the spring.

Omicron Is Our Past Pandemic Mistakes on Fast-Forward

With Omicron, everything is sped up. The new variant is spreading fast and far. At a time when Delta was already sprinting around the country, Omicron not only caught up but overtook it, jumping from an estimated 13 to 73 percent of U.S. cases in a single week. We have less time to make decisions and less room to course-correct when they are wrong. Whereas we had months to prepare for Delta in the U.S., we’ve had only weeks for Omicron.

T Cells Might Be Our Bodies’ Best Shot Against Omicron

Killer T cells, as their name might imply, are not known for their mercy. When these immunological assassins happen upon a cell that’s been hijacked by a virus, their first instinct is to butcher. The killer T punches holes in the compromised cell and pumps in toxins to destroy it from the inside out. The cell shrinks and collapses; its perforated surface erupts in bubbles and boils, which slough away until little is left but fragmentary mush.