The Boston Citgo sign, all 3,600 square LED feet of which has served as the backdrop to Red Sox games since 1965, is now officially a "pending landmark."

Spanish Surrealist Salvador Dalí spent much of the 1940s in the U.S., avoiding World War II and its aftermath. He was a well-known fixture on the art scene in Monterey, Calif. — and that's where the largest collection of Dalí's work on the West Coast is now open to the public.

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The middle of summer is when the surprises in publishing turn up. I'm talking about those quietly commanding books that publishers tend to put out now, because fall and winter are focused on big books by established authors. Which brings us to The Dream Life of Astronauts, by Patrick Ryan, a very funny and touching collection of nine short stories that take place in the 1960s and '70s around Cape Canaveral, Fla.

When the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union last month, the seaside town of Port Talbot in Wales eagerly went along with the move. Brexit was approved by some 57 percent of the town's residents.

Now some of them are wondering if they made the wrong decision.

The June 23 Brexit vote has raised questions about the fate of the troubled Port Talbot Works, Britain's largest surviving steel plant — a huge, steam-belching facility that has long been the town's biggest employer.

Solar Impulse 2 has landed in Cairo, completing the penultimate leg of its attempt to circumnavigate the globe using only the power of the sun.

The trip over the Mediterranean included a breathtaking flyover of the Pyramids. Check it out:

President Obama is challenging Americans to have an honest and open-hearted conversation about race and law enforcement. But even as he sits down at the White House with police and civil rights activists, Obama is mindful of the limits of that approach.

"I've seen how inadequate words can be in bringing about lasting change," the president said Tuesday at a memorial service for five law officers killed last week in Dallas. "I've seen how inadequate my own words have been."

Mice watching Orson Welles movies may help scientists explain human consciousness.

At least that's one premise of the Allen Brain Observatory, which launched Wednesday and lets anyone with an Internet connection study a mouse brain as it responds to visual information.

The FBI says it is giving up on the D.B. Cooper investigation, 45 years after the mysterious hijacker parachuted into the night with $200,000 in a briefcase, becoming an instant folk figure.

"Following one of the longest and most exhaustive investigations in our history," the FBI's Ayn Dietrich-Williams said in a statement, "the FBI redirected resources allocated to the D.B. Cooper case in order to focus on other investigative priorities."

This is the first in a series of essays concerning our collective future. The goal is to bring forth some of the main issues humanity faces today, as we move forward to uncertain times. In an effort to be as thorough as possible, we will consider two kinds of threats: those due to natural disasters and those that are man-made. The idea is to expose some of the dangers and possible mechanisms that have been proposed to deal with these issues. My intention is not to offer a detailed analysis for each threat — but to invite reflection and, hopefully, action.


A Worm's Ovary Cells Become A Flu Vaccine Machine

Jan 18, 2013
Originally published on January 23, 2013 9:57 am

As the flu season grinds on from news cycle to news cycle, there's some flu news of a different sort. Federal regulators have approved a next-generation type of flu vaccine for the second time in two months.

The two new vaccines are the first fruits of a big government push to hasten and simplify the laborious production of flu vaccines.

But alas, there's no firm evidence that either the newfangled flu vaccine approved last November, called Flucelvax, or the even newerfangled one the Food and Drug Administration greenlighted this week, called Flublok, will be any more effective in preventing flu than ordinary vaccines.

This season's conventional flu vaccine prevents illness 62 percent of the time among people who get it — certainly better odds than no vaccination, but not great. Protection is even poorer among people over 65, whose immune systems are weaker.

Flucelvax was the first approved flu vaccine to be made in cell culture rather than eggs. In Flucelvax's case, the cells come from dog kidneys.

Flublok uses cells taken from the ovaries of fall armyworms in the pupal stage to crank out its active ingredient — a piece of the flu virus's outer coat. Conventional vaccines use the whole virus.

The advantage of this technology, the FDA says, is that it "offers the potential for faster start-up of the vaccine manufacturing process."

That's because the new vaccines don't require eggs to grow up its active ingredient.

For decades, flu vaccines have been made this way:

  1. A new seasonal flu strain emerges (or more than one), which is par for the course. Laboratories rush to hybridize the strain with one that grows in eggs. That can take up to nine months, and often the yield per egg isn't great in the end.
  2. Vaccine makers inject the hybridized flu strain(s) into millions and millions of eggs to grow enough virus to make 150 million or more doses of that season's vaccine.
  3. The virus is extracted from the eggs, inactivated, purified and put into vials for repackaging into syringes of finished vaccine.

The Flublok manufacturing process starts with the gene for hemagglutinin, the protein that flu viruses carry on their coat and use to get inside human cells. Hemagglutinin, or HA, is one of the shape-shifting proteins that require flu vaccine makers to tweak their product every year.

Once Flubok's maker isolates the HA gene from an emergent virus, scientists insert it into another virus that infects only insects. Then they use this recombinant virus to infect billions of cells derived from the fall armyworm, a well-studied agricultural pest. The infected worm cells obligingly churn out quantities of the desired HA protein, which the manufacturer then purifies for insertion into that season's vaccine.

"Once you have the genetic code of HA, within 21 days you can be in production," Manon Cox of Protein Sciences, Flublok's developer, tells Shots. That's roughly three months faster than a conventional flu vaccine, she says.

The FDA says in studies involving 2,300 people, Flublok was 44.6 percent effective against "all circulating influenza strains" in that season, not just the particular strains against which the vaccine was matched.

Cox says no data are available yet on how well Flublok does against flu strains against which it is specifically targeted. The new vaccine costs around $30 a dose, somewhat above conventional vaccines.

But flu guru Michael Osterholm says the vaunted "matchiness" yardstick might not matter. He's director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

Osterholm notes federal health officials' claim that the current seasonal flu vaccine is an especially good match with the circulating viruses – yet its effectiveness is not significantly better than usual.

"A match doesn't tell us how well a vaccine is going to work," Osterholm tells Shots. "It's almost meaningless."

He says what's needed is a "game-changing vaccine" that protects against the flu 80 or 90 percent of the time. That's scientifically feasible, he maintains, but it will take a billion dollars or more to develop and bring to market.

Meanwhile, it's "probably safe to say" that the new cell-culture vaccines are "no more effective than the current vaccines."

Flulok's fast turnaround time is "absolutely a good thing," Osterholm says. "It's better to have more of this vaccine faster when we really need it. But is it a sea-change? Absolutely not. It's incremental at best."

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