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Italy’s Lombardy again in virus crisis as Brescia sees surge

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Italy’s Lombardy again in virus crisis as Brescia sees surge

ROME — Italy’s northern Lombardy region, where Europe’s coronavirus outbreak erupted last year, asked the national government Thursday for more vaccines to help stem a surge of new COVID-19 cases that are taxing the health system in the province of Brescia.

The province’s fast-growing caseload is contributing to another upswing in reported cases nationwide: Italy added another 19,886 confirmed infections Thursday, its highest daily number since early January. Authorities reported another 308 virus-related deaths, bringing the country’s official toll in the pandemic to just under 97,000.

Brescia, with a population of around 1.2 million, has seen its daily cases go from the mid-100s at the start of February to 901 on Wednesday and 973 Thursday, due to clusters of infections traced to the British variant. Doctors say the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the main public hospital went from an average of around 200 to 300 recently.

“We can’t talk about a third wave from our point of view, just because the second one never really ended,” said Dr. Cristiano Perani, head of emergency room at Brescia’s civic hospital. “The increase was gradual, but had an acceleration in the last few weeks.”

Lombardy’s governor, Attilio Fontana, said he told Italy’s health minister Thursday that the region needed an “immediate delivery (of vaccines) in the territory where the virus is growing.”

Already, Lombardy — Italy’s most populous region — has imposed new lockdown measures in Brescia and revamped its vaccine strategy to redirect the jabs it has on hand to the province and nearby towns in neighboring Bergamo. The aim of the strategy is to inoculate as many people as possible as quickly as possible in the hardest-hit areas.

Guido Bertolaso, who is in charge of the vaccine campaign, said the region was going to bypass the 30% reserves that the national government recommends keeping on hand for second doses, and starting Thursday would begin vaccinating residents ages 60-79, well earlier than scheduled. Lombardy only recently began vaccinating people aged over 80, after prioritizing health care workers and residents of nursing homes.

The aim of the strategy, Bertolaso said, is to create a “health cordon” in the area with blanket vaccinations. The approach is based on studies from Britain and Israel — and even on Lombardy’s own data — that show declines in infection rates as more people are vaccinated with only one dose.

“This is war,” Bertolaso said.

Brescia’s deputy mayor, Laura Castelletti, said residents were willing to accept new lockdown measures — which include closing all schools and day-care centers — as long as the vaccination schedule accelerated.

“We are ready to make sacrifices if the vaccination campaign goes forward 24/7,” she said.

Brescia and Bergamo were two of the Italian provinces hardest hit during the first wave of the pandemic, which began this time last year and quickly turned Lombardy into the epicenter of the outbreak in Europe.

Lombardy as a whole still accounts for nearly a third of Italy’s 96,974 confirmed COVID-19 dead, and a fifth of its 2.87 million confirmed infections. Italy has the world’s sixth-highest confirmed death toll, and the second in Europe after Britain.

Italy’s vaccine campaign, which has administered 3.92 million doses, has been slowed by delays in deliveries from the three pharmaceutical companies supplying the European Union: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the health ministry would redirect any vaccines to Lombardy, given previously established quotas which have already delivered the most doses there.

Italy’s virus czar, Domenico Arcuri, didn’t address Fontana’s request in a statement Thursday but boasted that inoculations showed “a comforting increase” this week, averaging around 100,000 a day nationally.

Nearly two months after Italy began its vaccination campaign on Dec. 27, the tiny Republic of San Marino administered its first doses Thursday. San Marino, a city state of about 33,800 people surrounded by Italy, had to buy Russian Sputnik V doses after delays in receiving allotted doses from Italy.

“This constitutes the most effective weapon we have to defeat this disease,” said Dr. Enrico Rossi, who was among the first inoculated. “It has been kind of a nightmare this year but we are hopeful that it will end.”

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Bill Gates said to be growing potatoes for McDonald’s fries

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Bill Gates said to be growing potatoes for McDonald's fries

Next time you savor a McDonald’s french fry, remember to thank Bill Gates for the tasty spud.

As reported in The Post, the soon-to-be single computer magnate happens to own more farmland than anyone else in the United States. Known for loving fast food — although his burger of choice comes from the Washington-based chainlet Burgermaster — Gates, according to NBC News, grows potatoes for McDonald’s in fields so vast they can be scoped from outer space.

Although Gates has focused his energies on saving our climate, he has made clear that the tater patches are strictly money-making operations.

“My investment group chose to do this,” stated Farmer Bill during an AMA on Reddit. “It is not connected to climate.”

Considering that Gates is said to own 269,000 acres of fertile land in 18 states, it’s easy to imagine him keeping track of it all on some souped-up series of spreadsheets. If so, gangs of divorce lawyers — including some who worked on the Jeff Bezos bust-up — have surely been scrutinizing the potato haul. Gates, the fourth-richest person in the world, married his impending ex, Melinda, without a prenuptial agreement, so they will be splitting property via a so-called “separation contract.”

No word on whether or not she will soon reign as McDonald’s potato queen.

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Honeybee worker can produce millions of identical clones, study shows

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Honeybee worker can produce millions of identical clones, study shows

A South African subspecies of the honeybee is reportedly able to produce millions of clones of itself. 

According to new research published in the journal Current Biology and Proceedings of the Royal Society B, one such insect – known as the Cape honeybee or Apis mellifera capensis– has managed to do so many times over the past 30 years. 

It’s a process called thelytokous parthenogenesis, which a group of international scientists said is akin to the “virgin birth of a female.” 

While asexual reproduction is fairly common, genetically identical offspring is not. 

The exchange of genetic material between different organisms, or “recombination,” normally leads to the production of offspring with combinations of different traits.

If there even is only one parent, New Scientist noted, offspring born from thelytokous parthenogenesis will still be born with a slightly different genetic makeup.

And yet, the worker Cape honeybee has reportedly found a way to reduce recombination and remain genetically healthy, whereas asexual reproduction has been lethal in honeybees before, resulting in inbred larvae that don’t survive. 

“For workers, it is important to reduce the frequency of recombination so as to not produce offspring that are homozygous.”

In order to learn more, the paper’s authors “experimentally manipulated” Cape workers and Cape queens to reproduce thelytokously.

“The two female castes of the Cape honeybee, Apis mellifera capensis, differ in their mode of reproduction. While workers always reproduce thelytokously, queens always mate and reproduce sexually,” the researchers explained in the paper’s abstract.

Performing fieldwork at South Africa’s Plant Protection Research Institute in Stellenbosch, the team instrumentally inseminated a queen with the semen of a single male and then introduced a brood comb holding several hundred eggs laid by the queen into a colony to be reared. 

Queens were made to reproduce asexually using what researchers said amounted to a “chastity belt.”

“When the queens were 5 days post eclosion we constrained them in an artificial insemination apparatus [37] without narcosis. We then glued a 5 mm piece of surgical tape (Micropore, 3M, Minnesota) over the sting chamber using nail varnish,” the paper explained. 

The researchers monitored the queens, confirming the chastity belts were intact after each flight around the colony and, eventually, compared asexually reproduced larvae of the queen to those of the workers.

“We monitored the queens closely for the next two weeks, to determine if and when oviposition had commenced. We collected larvae as soon as they appeared into ethanol,” the researchers wrote.

“Not all queens flew, not all returned from mating flights, and not all laid. In the end, we were able to harvest one queen and 25 of her larval progeny into ethanol.”

The group also genotyped four workers and 63 of their larvae.

Ultimately, the authors found that the queen showed levels of genetic recombination 100 times more than seen in the cloned offspring of the worker bees.

“Using a combination of microsatellite genotyping and whole-genome sequencing we find that a reduction in recombination is confined to workers only,” the abstract concluded.

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Russia’s navy kicks off large-scale drills in Pacific ocean

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Russia's navy kicks off large-scale drills in Pacific ocean

Large-scale drills of Russia’s Pacific Fleet began in the central part of the Pacific Ocean, the Russian Ministry of Defense reported on Thursday, June 10.

According to the ministry, 20 warships, submarines and support vessels are taking part in the exercises. In particular the missile cruiser “Varyag”, the large anti-submarine ship “Admiral Panteleev”, the frigate “Marshal Shaposhnikov” as well as other military and support vessels.

In addition, about 20 aircraft are involved in the exercise, including Tu-142mz long-range anti-submarine aircraft and MiG-31BM high-altitude fighter-interceptors.

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