Aleena and Janine kick off the Sister Doctor Squared podcast by discussing the most pressing issue in our world right now: coronavirus. In this episode they delve into some aspects of the underlying biology of the virus, and also people’s psychological responses to the pandemic. Somehow they also end up discussing toileting and cat poo.
Variation in HLA genes – potentially a key factor in covid-19 virulence
The HLA region of the human genome is super diverse. The HLA proteins that it codes for are an essential part of the immune response. It seems that some variants of the HLA proteins are crappier at binding to covid-19 proteins. This may at least partially explain why some apparently healthy people succumb to severe disease.
Nguyen, A, David, JK, Maden, SK, Wood, MA, Weeder, BR, Nellore, A, Thompson, RF. Human leukocyte antigen susceptibility map for SARS-CoV-2. Journal of Virology. 2020; JVI.00510-20.
Covid-19 genome sequenced
The entire sequence of the covid-19 genome has been determined. It turns out it only takes 15 genes to turn the whole world upside down.
Wu, F., Zhao, S., Yu, B. et al. (2020). A new coronavirus associated with human respiratory disease in China. Nature, 579:265–269.
Too much of some things and not enough of others: severe covid-19 associated with dysregulation of the immune system
In some patients, covid-19 seems to prevent the human body from generating sufficient amounts of interferon. At the same time, and independently to the interferon issue, some patients also seem to be generating an exaggerated cytokine response following covid-19 infection, which can lead to a ‘cytokine storm’ where inflammation runs rife and bodily tissues like the lungs can be seriously damaged.
Blanco-Melo, D, Nilsson-Payant, BE, Liu, WC, Uhl, S, Hoagland, D, Møller, R, … & Wang, TT (2020). Imbalanced host response to SARS-CoV-2 drives development of COVID-19. Cell.
How badly will the African Flu harm my co-workers? That is the question.
Uncertainty about social decisions seems to drive prosocial behaviour. In a hypothetical scenario, people mildly infected with a contagious ‘African Flu’ were more likely to intend to stay home from work when the vulnerability of their co-workers was presented as uncertain, compared to when participants had no information about the vulnerability of their co-workers.
Kappes A, Nussberger AM, Faber NS, Kahane G, Savulescu J, Crockett MJ. Uncertainty about the impact of social decisions increases prosocial behaviour. Nat Hum Behav. 2018;2(8): 573‐580.
Good one, Johnny Carson
Turns out it doesn’t take much to cause a mass panic of buying behaviour. How a Tonight Show gag by Johnny Carson led Americans to panic buy toilet paper in 1973. More here.
Feeling the urge to problem-solve? You’re probably going to buy some utilitarian products (like toilet paper)
Basically, we’re all control freaks.
Chen C, Lee L, Yap AJ. Control Deprivation Motivates Acquisition of Utilitarian Products. Journal of Consumer Research, 2017;43(6): 1031–1047.