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The Filtrate: Exascaling, Skeeter Seeking, and a Pandemic Roundup

The sheer quantity of pandemic-related news this week nearly clogged our system, so we did an additional distillation step to summarize it all. Welcome to this week’s issue of the Filtrate.

Pandemic roundup

Some of what we though we knew (or just wished was true) about SARS-CoV-2 infection is turning out to be wrong, as a cluster of new publications shows. First, it turns out that people under 21 are indeed susceptible to COVID-19. The CDC reports the details on 121 individuals under 21 who’ve died of the disease in the US since the pandemic reached us, concluding that surveillance for severe cases among kids and young adults should continue as schools start to reopen.

Extending the school reopening theme, another team of CDC researchers looked at transmission of SARS-CoV-2 outbreaks in child care centers in Utah, which I assume was a sample of convenience. In this population, twelve kids caught the virus at day care, spreading it to at least a dozen more contacts and leading to the hospitalization of at least one of their parents. So yes, kids can get it and spread it too.

Meanwhile, two groups reporting in Science used viral sequence data to trace the emergence of the virus in Europe and North America, and to look at how it spread silently in the community in Washington. Taken together, the papers show that SARS-CoV-2 got here earlier and spread faster than we realized, but that areas that took aggressive action against it were able to contain it.

Fly like an Aedes

Just because we’re in the midst of a global pandemic caused by one virus doesn’t mean all the others took a vacation. Dengue fever virus, for example, continues to spread throughout the tropics and near-tropics, causing a lot of suffering and death worldwide. It’s an insect-borne infection, carried by mosquitoes such as the infamous vector Aedes aegypti. In a new paper in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, researchers describe an interesting effect the virus has on its vector.

Female mosquitoes infected with one strain of dengue fever virus initially lengthen their flights, dispersing them further than they would go otherwise. Later in the infection, these mosquitoes become less mobile but exhibit stronger host-seeking responses. In other words, the virus seems to be triggering exactly the behaviors most likely to help it spread to new hosts. More evidence that it’s the viruses’ world, and we’re just living in it.

Exascale weighs in

If you’ve shopped for a new computer graphics card (GPU) recently, you’ll appreciate why the US Department of Energy needs a half-billion-dollar budget to build their latest supercomputer, a warehouse-filling behemoth called Aurora. As Adam Mann summarizes in an excellent PNAS article, the mainframe project seeks to achieve “exascale” computing power, or 1 quintillion operations per second, using over a hundred thousand GPU chips, plus fifty thousand or so CPUs. That’s a lot of graphics cards, and also a lot of electricity. The system is expected to come online sometime in 2021, and several other countries are racing to build their own exascale computers as well. Scientists are already raring to run sophisticated new programs on them for everything from climate modeling to drug discovery.

That’s all for this week. If you have a story you think will fit through our filter, please let us know directly or post a comment below.