Episode 1 – The Novel Coronavirus

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, J. K, Maden, et al. (2020). Human leukocyte antigen susceptibility map for SARS-CoV-2. Journal of Virology, 94(13): e00510-20.

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, A., Peng, Y., Huang, B., et al. (2020). Genome Composition and Divergence of the Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Originating in China. Cell Host Microbe, 27(3): 325-328.

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, B. E., Liu, W. C., et al. (2020). Imbalanced host response to SARS-CoV-2 drives development of COVID-19. Cell, 181: 1036-1045.

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 A. M., Faber N.S., et al. (2018). Uncertainty about the impact of social decisions increases prosocial behaviour. Nature Human Behaviour, 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 A. J. (2017). Control Deprivation Motivates Acquisition of Utilitarian Products. Journal of Consumer Research, 43(6): 1031–1047.

What brought out our inner square?

Cats have toileting and control issues too! Check this out if you need tips on how to make sure your feline companion is feeling right at home.

Janine gets stupidly excited about the mention of transcription factors in her covid19 research (see here and here and here and here) because she has been teaching students about transcription factors very recently. She has now read the memo and won’t launch into any more biology lectures during the inner square segment 😉

Image credit: CDC at Unsplash.

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