Author Interviews, COVID -19 Coronavirus / 16.02.2021 Interview with: Rahul Subramanian PhD candidate Department of Ecology and Evolution Biological Sciences Division University of Chicago Chicago, IL 60637 What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?  Response: Understanding the proportion of COVID-19 cases that become symptomatic, as well as the extent to which people without symptoms contribute to COVID-19 transmission, has important public health implications. However, changes in PCR testing capacity over time have made these quantities hard to estimate precisely. We used a model that incorporates daily changes in PCR testing capacity, cases, and serology to precisely estimate the proportion of cases that were symptomatic in New York City during the initial wave of the outbreak. Only 1 in 7 to 1 in 5 cases were symptomatic. Furthermore, non-symptomatic cases of the virus (this includes people who are either pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic) substantially contribute to community transmission, making up at least 50% of the driving force of SARS-CoV-2 infection.  (more…)
Author Interviews, COVID -19 Coronavirus, Gender Differences, PNAS / 18.10.2020 Interview with: Paola Profeta, PhD Professor of Public Economics, Department of Social and Political Sciences Bocconi University Director, Msc Politics and Policy Analysis, Bocconi University Coordinator, Dondena Gender Initiative, Dondena Research Center President, European Public Choice Society What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? Response: We interview more than 20000 men and women in 8 OECD countries in two periods during the lockdown. Using two waves from 8 OECD countries, we find that women are more likely to perceive the pandemic as a very serious health problem, to agree with restraining measures and to comply with public health rules, such as using facemasks. This gender differences are less strong for married individuals and for individuals who have been directly exposed to COVID, for instance by knowing someone who was infected.  (more…)
Author Interviews, Education, Genetic Research, PNAS / 20.01.2020 Interview with: Per Engzell PhD Postdoctoral Prize Research Fellow Nuffield College, University of Oxford
Felix C. Tropf, PhD Assistant Professor in Social Science Genetics, CREST-ENSAE, Paris What is the background for this study? Response: We know that parents and offspring often resemble each other in their socio-economic outcomes: higher-educated parents tend to have children who reach a similar level of education while children of disadvantaged families struggle in school. To the extent that this compromises equality of opportunity – that is, some children end up better educated only because of their social background – social policies aim to compensate for it and promote social mobility. At the same time, not all similarity between parents and offspring can be seen as equally troubling. A society that blocked entry to university for any child born to academics would achieve high mobility, but few of us would see it as a model of equal opportunity. So some channels of transmission then, it seems, are more fair than others. Although we may disagree where to draw the line, things like parents’ ability to pay for good neighborhoods, schools, or access to college appear clearly more troubling than the inheritance of traits that make for educational success. In this study, we ask whether societies that have achieved a high degree of intergenerational mobility have done so by limiting the reach of "nature" (inherited traits), "nurture" (other family advantages), or both. We do so by combining the rich literatures of social mobility research and behavior genetics, comparing variation across several cohorts of men and women in 10 countries.  (more…)
Author Interviews, Flu - Influenza, Genetic Research, PNAS / 10.09.2019 Interview with: Jacob S. Yount, PhD Associate Professor Department of Microbial Infection and Immunity The Ohio State University, College of Medicine Co-Director, Viruses and Emerging Pathogens Program OSU Infectious Diseases Institute What is the background for this study? Response: Genetic defects in a human protein known as IFITM3 are linked to hospitalization and death upon influenza virus infections.  IFITM3 is an immune system protein that can inhibit virus entry into cells and it is produced as an early response to virus infections.  In order to better study the role of IFITM3 during infections, we engineered a mouse model that lacks this protein.   (more…)
Author Interviews, Lifestyle & Health, PNAS, Psychological Science, University Texas / 31.07.2019 Interview with: John M. Griffin PhD James A. Elkins Centennial Chair in Finance McCombs School of Business The University of Texas What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? Response: The importance of personal traits compared to context for predicting behavior is a long-standing issue in psychology. Yet, we have limited evidence of how predictive personal conduct, such as marital infidelity, is for professional conduct. We use data on usage of a marital infidelity website as a measure of marital infidelity and find that it is strongly correlated with professional conduct in four different professional settings. (more…)
Author Interviews, Genetic Research, PNAS / 02.05.2019 Interview with: Dr. Casey Trimmer, PhD Geneticist, was a post-doctoral fellow at the Monell Center when the research was conducted What is the background for this study?   Response: We detect odors using 400 different types of sensor proteins, called olfactory receptors, in our noses. An odor molecule activates a specific combination of these receptors, and this pattern of activation gives us information on what we're smelling--whether its floral or smoky, intense or weak, and how much we like it. However, how the system translates receptor activation to these perceptual features is largely unknown. Here, we take advantage of the extensive genetic variation in the OR gene family to understand the contribution of individual ORs to odor perception. By studying cases where the function of a particular OR is lost, we can examine what kinds of perceptual alterations occur, allowing us to link receptor to odor and understand what kind of information the receptor is encoding. Data linking genetic variation to perceptual changes exist for only 5 ORs. Here, we examined the perceived intensity and pleasantness of 68 odors in 332 participants. We used next-generation genome sequencing to identify variants in 418 OR genes and conducted a genetic association analysis to relate this variation to differences in odor perception. We then use a cell-based assay to examine receptor function and investigate the mechanisms underlying our associations. Finally, we examined the contribution of single OR genotype, genetic ancestry, age, and gender to variations in odor perception. (more…)
Author Interviews, McGill, PNAS / 20.02.2019 Interview with: Ben Gold, a PhD candidate Lab of Robert Zatorre The Neuro (Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital) McGill University What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?  Response: Music is just sound in air, but it carries considerable power. It captivates our brain’s reward system, we devote an enormous amount of time and money to it, and we're just beginning to tap its therapeutic potential. We wanted to explore how something so abstract could have such an impact, and since music is so well suited to establishing and manipulating patterns of sound as it unfolds, we focused on how it manipulates expectations. Previous research has shown that surprises are often the most emotional and pleasurable moments in music listening, but whether and how this engaged the brain's reward system was unclear. So we adapted an experimental protocol designed for studying learning and surprise about more concrete rewards like food or money, and applied it to a musical context during brain imaging. This protocol relies on participants making decisions from which we could infer their expectations, allowing us to estimate how surprised they were by each outcome whenever it occurred. In our case, we asked participants to make choices about colors and directions that were associated with different musical outcomes, but we didn't tell them what those associations were so that they they started with no expectations and learned as they went. We found that our participants could learn about music just like they would learn about how to find food or win money, and that the same neural process was involved. Specifically, we saw that the activity of the nucleus accumbens -- a central hub of the reward system -- reflected both how pleasant and how surprising each musical outcome was: a computation known as a reward prediction error. Across individuals, those who better represented these reward prediction errors in their nucleus accumbens also learned better about the music in the experiment, making more decisions over time to find the music they preferred.  (more…)