Brazilian researchers make Covid-19 testing breakthrough

. May 22, 2020
Brazilian researchers make Covid-19 testing breakthrough Photo: Anya Ivanova/Shutterstock

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We open this newsletter with some good news: Brazilian researchers have developed a scalable, highly sophisticated method for Covid-19 testing. On a more negative note, Brazilian carbon emissions won’t go down this year. And the effort to prevent websites from profiting from misinformation.

Brazilian Covid-19 testing technology is cheaper and more efficient

Researchers at São Paulo’s Albert Einstein Hospital have developed,

in the space of just two months, a genetic test to diagnose Covid-19. It is the first in the world to use next-generation sequencing (NGS), a flagship technology that makes large-scale whole-genome sequencing accessible. The hospital expects to enhance its test-processing capacity from 2,200 to 5,530 tests per day.</p> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> The new testing technology comes as Brazilian labs struggle to deal with a lack of inputs to run Covid-19 tests. In some states, testing capacity has been <a href="">reduced</a> by 75 percent.</p> <ul><li><a href="">Low testing</a> has prevented Brazil from assessing the full extent of the coronavirus outbreak. While confirmed cases are just over 310,000, many scientists have estimated the true number of infections is higher than 4 million.</li></ul> <p><strong>How they did it.</strong> The new tests were a byproduct of the hospital&#8217;s startup incubator, which invests in biotechnology. One of its startups, Varstation, had developed an artificial intelligence system capable of analyzing patients&#8217; genetic sequencing and diagnosing diseases or genetic mutations to decide on the best treatment for the patient. The system was used for Covid-19 as the pandemic reached Brazil.</p> <ul><li>Besides being scalable, the technology can also be easily transferred to labs that already have genome sequencing technology.</li></ul> <p><strong>Trademark.</strong> NGS is a sophisticated, expensive testing technology. But researchers at Albert Einstein say their product has different technical details that make it cheaper —&nbsp;which they don&#8217;t reveal. The hospital filed for a patent in the U.S. on Friday.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Despite pandemic, Brazil is set to <em>enhance</em> carbon emissions</h2> <p>The pandemic has driven carbon emissions down around the world. Last month, analysis by website <a href=";utm_medium=social&amp;;utm_campaign=buffer">Carbon Brief</a> showed an unprecedented 5.5-percent projected drop for the year. On Tuesday, a study published in the journal <a href="">Nature Climate Change</a> shows that the world&#8217;s daily carbon dioxide emissions dropped 17 percent in April —&nbsp;against 2019 levels — as around 4 billion people worldwide were placed under some form of quarantine.</p> <ul><li>Brazil, however, is an outlier —&nbsp;as 44 percent of the country&#8217;s emissions are linked to land deforestation. And the pandemic has not slowed down land-grabbing and forest destruction in the slightest. Data from the National Institute of Space Research (Inpe) and its real-time deforestation detection system show that deforestation alerts in the Amazon <a href="">increased 63.75 percent in April</a>, compared to last year.</li></ul> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> According to Brazil&#8217;s Climate Observatory, Brazil&#8217;s carbon emissions are projected to <em>grow</em> 29 percent this year, even with the pandemic.</p> <div class="wp-block-image"><figure class="aligncenter size-large"><img loading="lazy" width="636" height="510" src="" alt="testing amazon deforestation pandemic" class="wp-image-40032" srcset=" 636w, 300w, 610w, 203w, 387w" sizes="(max-width: 636px) 100vw, 636px" /></figure></div> <p><strong>Laissez-faire.</strong> Many environmental organizations accuse the Jair Bolsonaro administration of turning a blind eye to Amazon deforestation or even empowering land grabbers. Environment Minister Ricardo Salles, however, denies all accusations.&nbsp;</p> <ul><li>“We haven’t encouraged any of this,” he said in an <a href="">exclusive interview</a> to <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>. “Unlike previous governments, we don’t engage in make-believe. They pretended there was no mining in the Amazon (…) instead of legalizing it and promoting environmental licensing, they allowed the infractions.”</li></ul> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Hitting fake news websites where it hurts</h2> <p>Born with the mission of calling out companies that run ads on websites spreading misinformation, anonymous Twitter account <a href="">Sleeping Giants Brasil</a> has made a mark after only four days of operations. It has drawn the attention of at least 30 brands — which were forced to issue statements on their ad policy.</p> <ul><li>Sleeping Giants was created four years ago in the U.S. by marketing copywriters who wanted to warn companies that posted ads on far-right website Breitbart (as well as other misinformation channels). As the creators suspected, many companies had no idea where their digital ads were being hosted.</li></ul> <p><strong>How digital advertising works. </strong>Most online ads are run through automated systems&nbsp;such as Google AdSense. They target consumers based on who they are, what they like (or don&#8217;t like), and which websites they visit. That information is obtained through &#8220;<a href="">cookies</a>,&#8221; which are small files websites place on a visitor&#8217;s computer, allowing them to obtain personal data about that specific user. Last year, Google Ads was the <a href="">second highest-grossing media format</a> bought by ad agencies in Brazil, representing 25 percent of all ad money in the country.</p> <ul><li>Advertisers, however, have some agency in the process. They can block certain websites from running their ads, and that&#8217;s what Sleeping Giants hopes to do —&nbsp;drying up the revenue of misinformation or extremist channels. It worked in the U.S.&nbsp;</li></ul> <p><strong>Why it matters. </strong>Spreading misinformation can be highly profitable in a cash-for-click system. <em>Jornal da Cidade</em>, an outlet filled with false or misleading information, had over 34 million page views in April alone.</p> <p><strong>Bolsonaro.</strong> Following an exposé into <em>Jornal da Cidade</em>, publicly-controlled bank Banco do Brasil announced it would block the overtly pro-Bolsonaro website from its ad policy. The move didn&#8217;t last for long, however, with the bank retracting after complaints from one of President Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s sons, Rio City Councillor Carlos Bolsonaro, rumored to be in charge of his father&#8217;s social media strategy.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>What else you need to know today</h2> <ul><li><strong>20,000 deaths. </strong>Brazil recorded 1,188 new <a href="">coronavirus deaths</a> on Thursday, bringing the total tally to 20,047. The country has doubled its death count in just 12 days, and is the only among the top 5 worst-affected countries by Covid-19 to have an ascending infection and death curve.</li><li><strong>Lethal weapon. </strong>At the beginning of the pandemic, the number of police operations in Rio de Janeiro dropped dramatically. In April and May, however, the number of actions (173) and police killings (65) <a href="">topped 2019 numbers</a> (147 and 49, respectively). This week, a 17-year-old boy was killed at home during a police operation. Cops left the residence with almost 80 bullet marks and claim the death occurred after a shootout started by criminals, which neighbors say is a lie.</li><li><strong>Finally? </strong>On Monday, Supreme Court Justice Celso de Mello watched footage of an April 22 cabinet meeting — considered to be the key piece of evidence in an investigation into President Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s alleged attempt to illegally meddle with the Federal Police in order to shield his family and friends from investigations. Justice Mello was reportedly “incredulous” with the footage&#8217;s content, but has taken his time to decide whether or not to make the entire video public. He promised a decision by 5 pm today —&nbsp;making this yet another tense Friday in Brasília.</li><li><strong>Confrontation.</strong> The inboxes of many Brasília judges have been filled with anonymous attacks and death threats. Justice Mello called them a move by &#8220;fascistic and cowardly Bolsonarists.&#8221;</li><li><strong>Counterintelligence. </strong>After Sergio Moro left the Justice Ministry, the department <a href="">passed an ordinance</a> calling for a counterintelligence sweep for bugs — &#8220;to prevent, detect, and neutralize possible threats to institutional security.&#8221; A Federal Police detective will be responsible for picking the sites to be swept and for overseeing the entire operation.</li><li><strong>Is 35th time the charm?</strong> After calling former Justice Minister Sergio Moro a &#8220;false hero&#8221; and accusing him of criminal conduct on multiple occasions, the Workers&#8217; Party used Mr. Moro&#8217;s recent revelations about Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s alleged interference with the Federal Police to file a new impeachment request against the president —&nbsp;the 35th sitting at House Speaker Rodrigo Maia&#8217;s desk.

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