Having navigated the worst of a pandemic, it is amazing how just barely over a year since the first reports of SARS-CoV-2, a vaccine was developed. What might not be as well known is that the foundation for the COVID-19 vaccine (and a just-as-rapid quell of the spread, though obviously still be vigilant and take proper precautions) was laid out for decades with the study of mRNA-based vaccines. Although I still masked up regularly until early 2023, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to get the vaccine as soon as it was available in 2021, as my family and I sought to protect ourselves and others through a day or two of aches and nausea. The scientists and technicians at the various companies that conceived of and manufactured the vaccines that have been distributed across the planet are relatively anonymous but should be commended. August being National Immunization Awareness Month, let us learn a bit more about vaccination and the pioneers that offer us important protections that we should not take for granted.
By the time I returned to graduate school to complete my PhD, the entering class in my program was half women and a large portion of my instructors were also women. I was encouraged to have access to their perspective and philosophies on science, and thought it a far cry from a decade before when most of my undergraduate instructors were men. Unfortunately, regardless of who is doing the reporting, although women do make up a good proportion of health care workers and just under half of all life science positions in the workforce, women comprise less than 30% of all STEM workers in the world, and since they are nudged away from science throughout their lives and careers while earning fewer STEM degrees than men, particularly in non-physical science fields. This is demonstrably worse for non-Asian minorities as their representation in STEM fields is under 10% overall. While I am thrilled to have been influenced by so many talented women scientists and colleagues in my career, these numbers can and should be improved.
Left-handed folks aren't as rare as people with polydactyly or syndactyly (webbed hands or feet), but you may have noticed that there aren't as many left-handed people out there as right-handed people. Some of this is due to societal pressures, but I was intrigued to learn that much of it may have to do with genetics, and these genetic mechanisms may extend not just to which hand is dominant, but how the body plan is determined. Like many things in bioscience, it isn't always apparent that handedness and its genetic components are critical to other aspects of physiology, but as we will find out together, the genes associated with whether you use one hand more efficiently than the other can also influence developmental and neurological health!
I was recording a new BioChat (you should subscribe) recently with a professor at Harvard. We discussed gene therapy in passing for the disease he was studying, and one of the things that he brought up was the need to ensure that whatever therapy is designed has to be safe and effective. This of course is the promise and also the challenge of CRISPR-based research, in which the model is known but the targeting efficiency isn't where it needs to be in order to be of practical use in therapeutics. This is a big reason why the biomedical research world was abuzz with the recent announcement (and preprint) of a major discovery by scientists at the Broad Institute, where they characterized the mechanisms and the potential utility of a system similar to CRISPR in eukaryotes.