AsianScientist (Dec. 31, 2020) – Even as the COVID-19 outbreak quickly unfolded through the year, science kept pace, bolstered by cross-border collaborations among researchers. For one, scientists in China raced to sequence the SARS-CoV-2 genome when it was first discovered, later sharing this information with the rest of the world.
Meanwhile, Singapore’s hospitals supplied recovered patient plasma to US biotech firm Regeneron, inadvertently contributing to President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 treatment—as Asian Scientist Magazine first reported. Amid the “infodemic” fuelled by misinformation surrounding the virus, we also published relevant explainers on COVID-19 diagnostics, best practices and even the origins of SARS-CoV-2.
With the most eventful year in recent scientific history drawing to a close, our top 10 pieces of 2020 celebrate scientific advances in the fight against COVID-19. While COVID-19 may be the topic of the hour—and indeed, the year—diverse breakthroughs by Asian researchers in other fields like quantum physics and supercomputing prove that the progress of science is still varied and relentless.
As the coronavirus spread across the globe, so did something similarly insidious: misinformation on social media platforms. Posts surfaced claiming that Kyoto University’s Tasuku Honjo had said the SARS-CoV-2 virus was ‘man-made’ or ‘invented’ in a laboratory, leading the 2018 Nobel Laureate to issue a public refutation in April.
The pandemic was still in its early stages when a research group from China sequenced the SARS-CoV-2 genome, finding that it most likely originated from bats. Led by Dr. Wang Jianwei at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, the team published their findings in Chinese Medical Journal in February, paving the way for future studies on the source and nature of the virus as it advanced worldwide.
With symptoms such as a runny nose, sore throat and fever, COVID-19 in its mildest form could easily be mistaken for a common cold. This makes testing crucial—on a national level, a country’s ability to test as many people as possible is key to containing the outbreak.
But not all tests are alike, and each kind of diagnostic has its own strengths and weaknesses. In this feature by Asian Scientist Magazine editor in chief Dr. Rebecca Tan, find out more about available diagnostics and how each one plays a role in the fight against COVID-19.
When US President Donald Trump contracted COVID-19, he was treated with an experimental antibody cocktail. One of the two antibodies in the cocktail was developed using blood samples from patients in Singapore, with US biotech company Regeneron making use of plasma supplied by Singapore’s National Center for Infectious Diseases.
Each month, the Protein Data Bank highlights a relevant molecule from its repository of over 160,000 biological structures. February’s Molecule of the Month was none other than the COVID-19 protease, which resembles the symbol of a heart. In a dishearteningly ironic twist, the molecule plays an integral role in propagating the virus..
Controversial claims over the coronavirus’ origin have proliferated on the internet, but the verdict is in: ‘evidence’ for the engineered virus theory is flimsy and illogical. In this explainer, Asian Scientist Magazine debunks false claims one by one to show that the simplest explanation is likely the best one: the virus’ origins are natural.
At 0.05 percent, Singapore’s COVID-19 death rate is among the world’s lowest—and well below the global average of 3 percent. From multi-agency task forces to meticulous contact tracing that would catch 40 percent of infections while still asymptomatic, Singapore’s effective pandemic response showed the speed and thoroughness of its authorities, writes Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health’s Dr. Jeremy Lim.
Given that COVID-19 is sometimes asymptomatic, the demand for fast and accurate diagnostic tests is booming. To address this gap, Singapore-based medtech firm Biolidics developed a rapid test kit. Using serum, plasma or blood samples, the test can achieve an accuracy of more than 95 percent in just 10 minutes—much faster than the three hours that the current gold standard, polymerase chain reaction, takes.
Amid the emerging COVID-19 outbreak in February, Singapore had won praise for its ‘gold standard’ response. Far from resting on their laurels, local medical veterans quickly set to work by identifying seven critical issues that still required urgent action.
Already the most cited engineer in history, MIT Professor Robert Langer joined the prestigious ranks of billionaire-scientists this year, his fortunes boosted by the skyrocketing stock price of Moderna. Langer spoke to Wildtype Media Group’s CEO Dr. Juliana Chan in April about the firm’s vaccine and the role science plays in our collective fight against COVID-19.
Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: Freepik.
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