Scientists Finally Finish Decoding Entire Human Genome 

Scientists say they have finally assembled the full genetic blueprint for human life, adding the missing pieces to a puzzle nearly completed two decades ago. An international team described the first-ever sequencing of a complete human genome – the set of instructions to build and sustain a human being – in research published Thursday in the journal Science. The previous effort, celebrated across the world, was incomplete because DNA sequencing technologies of the day weren’t able to read certain parts of it. Even after updates, it was missing about 8% of the genome. “Some of the genes that make us uniquely human were actually in this ‘dark matter of the genome’ and they were totally missed,” said Evan Eichler, a University of Washington researcher who participated in the current effort and the original Human Genome Project. “It took 20-plus years, but we finally got it done.” Many — including Eichler’s own students — thought it had been finished already. “I was teaching them, and they said, ‘Wait a minute. Isn’t this like the sixth time you guys have declared victory? I said, ‘No, this time we really, really did it!” Eichler said. Scientists said this full picture of the genome will give humanity a greater understanding of our evolution and biology while also opening the door to medical discoveries in areas like aging, neurodegenerative conditions, cancer and heart disease. “We’re just broadening our opportunities to understand human disease,” said Karen Miga, an author of one of the six studies published …

South Koreans Flock Overseas for ‘Revenge Travel’ as COVID Rules Ease

After spending two years being socially distanced in his home country of South Korea, Kim Hoe-jun booked a last-minute flight to Hawaii, where he had enjoyed his honeymoon six years ago, giving in to his craving for overseas travel. “I bought the ticket just a week ago, but it was rather a no-brainer. It felt like I was making up for those two years not being able to go abroad often as I used to before COVID,” he said, before boarding the plane from Incheon International Airport on Friday. Vaccinated and boosted, Kim and his wife are among South Koreans joining in a rush for “revenge travel” — a term that has been trending on social media as people scramble to book overseas trips that were delayed by coronavirus restrictions. The boom started after March 21 when South Korea lifted a seven-day mandatory quarantine for fully vaccinated travelers arriving from most countries. The restriction had been eased last year but was reimposed in December as the highly infectious Omicron variant spread. The country has largely scrapped its once-aggressive tracing and containment efforts despite a record COVID-19 wave, joining a growing list of Asian countries that have eased quarantine rules, including Singapore, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Koreans now appear more ready to travel. Polls showed people are less worried about the implications of catching the virus, and increasingly see its prevention as out of their hands. Sales of overseas flight tickets on 11st, an e-commerce unit of SK Telecom, South …

CDC Drops COVID-19 Health Warning for Cruise Ship Travelers

Federal health officials are dropping the warning they have attached to cruising since the beginning of the pandemic, leaving it up to vacationers to decide whether they feel safe getting on a ship. Cruise-ship operators welcomed Wednesday’s announcement, which came as many people thought about summer vacation plans. An industry trade group said the move by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention validated measures that ship owners have taken, including requiring crew members and most passengers to be vaccinated against the virus. The CDC removed the COVID-19 “cruise ship travel health notice” that was first imposed in March 2020, after virus outbreaks on several ships around the world. However, the agency expressed reservations about cruising. “While cruising will always pose some risk of COVID-19 transmission, travelers will make their own risk assessment when choosing to travel on a cruise ship, much like they do in all other travel settings,” CDC spokesperson Dave Daigle said in an email. Daigle said the CDC’s decision was based on “the current state of the pandemic and decreases in COVID-19 cases onboard cruise ships over the past several weeks.” COVID-19 cases in the United States have been falling since mid-January, although the decline has slowed in recent weeks, and the current seven-day rolling average for daily new cases in the U.S. is roughly unchanged from two weeks ago, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University. States have rolled back mask mandates, putting pressure on federal officials to ease virus-related restrictions. Outbreaks continue to be …

Towering Ice Volcanoes Identified on Surprisingly Vibrant Pluto

A batch of dome-shaped ice volcanoes that look unlike anything else known in our solar system and may still be active have been identified on Pluto using data from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, showing that this remote frigid world is more dynamic than previously known. Scientists said that these cryovolcanoes — numbering perhaps 10 or more — stand anywhere from 1 kilometer (six-tenths of a mile) to 7 kilometers (4-1/2 miles) tall. Unlike Earth volcanoes that spew gases and molten rock, this dwarf planet’s cryovolcanoes extrude large amounts of ice — apparently frozen water rather than some other frozen material — that may have the consistency of toothpaste, they said. Features on the asteroid belt dwarf planet Ceres, Saturn’s moons Enceladus and Titan, Jupiter’s moon Europa and Neptune’s moon Triton also have been pegged as cryovolcanoes. But those all differ from Pluto’s, the researchers said, owing to different surface conditions such as temperature and atmospheric pressure, as well as different mixes of icy materials. “Finding these features does indicate that Pluto is more active, or geologically alive, than we previously thought it would be,” said planetary scientist Kelsi Singer of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, lead author of the study published this week in the journal Nature Communications. “The combination of these features being geologically recent, covering a vast area and most likely being made of water ice is surprising because it requires more internal heat than we thought Pluto would have at this stage of its history,” …

Kenya Gets Huawei-Linked Chinese Communications Cable

China has connected a high-speed, multimillion-dollar, 15,000-kilometer undersea cable to Kenya, as Beijing advances what’s been dubbed its “digital silk road,” and Africa seeks the infrastructure it badly needs for better internet connectivity.   Chinese giant Huawei is a shareholder in the $425-million PEACE cable, which stands for “Pakistan and East Africa Connecting Europe.” It stretches from Asia to Africa and then into France, where it terminates.  It reached the coastal city of Mombasa on Tuesday, with the CEO of local partner company Telekom Kenya, Mugo Kibati, saying the cable would help meet the sharp rise in demand for internet services on a continent where internet adoption has trailed the rest of the world, but which is home to a growing, young and increasingly digital population.    “This ultra-high-capacity cable will assist Kenya and the region in meeting its current and future broadband capacity requirements, bolster redundancy, minimize transit time of our country’s connectivity to Asia and Europe, as well as assist carriers in providing affordable services to Kenyans,” said Kibati.   Business development For his part, the PEACE Cable’s COO, Sun Xiaohua, said in a statement that the new infrastructure would “bring more business development to this region.” From Kenya, the cable will later be extended further down the continent’s east coast to South Africa.    It’s estimated that 95% of international data flows via submarine cables, and in terms of Africa, China dominates, with the most projects aimed at connecting the continent. Aside from the PEACE cable, China’s …

White House Launches COVID-19 Website

The White House Wednesday announced it has launched a new website — COVID.gov — designed to provide the latest pandemic information as well as access to vaccines, tests, treatments, and masks on a single site. In a press release, the White House said the site provides access to all the tools available to address COVID-19, including a list of all 90,000 vaccination sites established in the United States, links to obtaining masks and tests, and where to obtain COVID-19 treatments. There is also a search function, which can be used to find the latest information on the status of the pandemic in a given area. The site also features a so-called “test-to-treat” locator, designed to allow access to U.S. pharmacies and community health centers, where anyone can get tested for COVID-19 and, if required, receive appropriate treatment. The statement notes U.S. President Joe Biden originally announced the Test-to-Treat initiative in his State of the Union address earlier this month, and since then his administration launched more than 2,000 of the sites across the country. More than 240 sites were established in Veteran’s Health Administration and Department of Defense facilities to serve veterans, military personnel, and their families. The White House also made a pitch for Congress to approve an additional $22 billion in emergency funding to help continue the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials say in the last two weeks, due to a lack of funding, the administration has already had to stop reimbursements to health care providers for …

US Astronaut Returns to Earth Safely in Russian Capsule

A U.S. astronaut has returned to Earth Wednesday aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft after nearly a full year aboard the International Space Station, during which relations between the two space giants plummeted over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The capsule carrying NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and Russian cosmonauts, Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov, completed a parachute-assisted landing on the snow-covered steppe of central Kazakhstan, several hours after undocking from the ISS. For Vande Hei, it ended a U.S. record-breaking stay in space. He was in space for 355 days, breaking the previous record of 340 days set by Scott Kelly in 2016. NASA says the two countries are continuing to cooperate on the ISS, although Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russia’s space agency Roscosmos, posted a series of angry tweets shortly after the invasion of Ukraine, suggesting Russia could abandon the ISS and let it plummet back to Earth. He also shared a video showing Russian cosmonauts abandoning Vande Hei on the ISS. But in a handover ceremony Tuesday before departing the orbital outpost, Shkaplerov, who commanded the latest ISS crew, expressed a more harmonious view. “People have problems on Earth. On orbit we are one crew,” he said. The invasion has led to fallout in other areas of cooperation between Moscow and other international partners in space travel. The European Space Agency has postponed an unmanned mission to Mars because it relied on a Russian rocket. And British-based satellite company One Web canceled a series of launches because they …