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WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING: Why we should be thankful for scientists who will make world healthier, wealthier, safer

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Virus Outbreak-New Variants

Cadell Walker comforts her daughter Solome, 9, as nurse Cindy Haskins administers a Pfizer COVID-19 shot at a vaccination clinic for young students at Ramsey Middle School on Nov. 13 in Louisville, Ky. Scientists say vaccinating kids against COVID-19 should not only slow the spread of the coronavirus but also help prevent potentially-dangerous variants from emerging.

For some, Thanksgiving is mainly a welcome excuse for gluttony or the well-deserved start of a four-day break from work. But for those who take the meaning of the day seriously — and who give thanks for the blessings that they, their families and their loved ones enjoy — this Thanksgiving is perhaps the most complicated one ever. Between the pandemic and the stark political and cultural divisions on display in America, many Thanksgiving gatherings won't be as safe or as happy as normal.

Despite this backdrop, there is still much to be thankful for, starting with scientific advances with huge potential to improve human health, create wealth and respond to the climate emergency.

Two perfect examples were on display last year, when U.S. pharmaceutical companies Moderna and Pfizer, along with its German partner BioNTech, were able to develop, test and seek approval for effective COVID-19 vacations in just 10 months. Both vaccines are made from messenger RNA, the molecule that transmits DNA's instructions to guide cells' protein-building. This makes creating effective vaccines much easier than with old approaches.

The Moderna and Prizer vaccines were the first based on mRNA to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Get ready for dozens more. Some will treat other infectious diseases beyond COVID-19, including AIDS. Others will treat cardiovascular disease, the number one cause of death in the world, as well as many types of cancer.

Beyond that, mRNA is also significant as an indication of how humanity might be reshaped as scientists — including many in San Diego — increase their skills at understanding and engineering biology. The McKinsey global think tank says "The Bio Revolution" has the potential not just to transform health care but "the way we build our physical world." From construction to agriculture, engineered organisms and products are coming. It's conceivable that organisms could be created that yield a cheap, non-polluting source of energy. If the latter is developed, the quality of living for the entire world could improve because of the arrival of what futurists call a "post-scarcity economy."

This development would also have the immense benefit of finally weaning most of the world off the fossil fuels that helped caused Earth's climate emergency. But there is other great news on the energy front that is much further along and more immediately promising. Many nuclear physicists believe a breakthrough is near in nuclear fusion, creating a cheap, hugely abundant source of energy that doesn't create radioactive nuclear waste or greenhouse gas emissions. This is why fusion start-ups have attracted billions of dollars in funding.

Yes, some conversations may be awkward today, but the prospects for a healthier, wealthier world no longer threatened by pandemics or a heating planet make for a brighter tomorrow. Have thanks that this is possible — and not just a science-fiction plot.

San Diego Union-Tribune



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