Nanobodies and jellyfish: It’s the pandemic news from Britain

The optimists among us have been counting to see how many horsemen the current apocalypse has brought, and they’ve been able to chalk them up at an impressive rate as long as no one insists that they all ride through in the same place at the same time. We’ve got war, we’ve got famine, we’ve got plague, and now–ah, yes, the satisfaction of getting the complete set–we’ve got jellyfish.

Yes, friends, the fourth horseman looks sloppy on a horse but makes up for with his powerful ick factor.

He–that’s the fourth horseman–also stings, so horses aren’t crazy about carrying him, but that’s the thing about apocalypses, they don’t care what anyone thinks of the arrangements. They don’t even care about the proper plural of their key word, which may be apocalii or apocalump.  

Britain’s (and Ireland’s–let’s not be selfish) seas have been warm and calm this summer, and that’s brought jellyfish blooms–a mile-long cluster of compass jellyfish off Devon, although admittedly that was an estimate; masses of lion’s mane jellyfish off the Isle of Lewis and off Galway. And, presumably, others. The Marine Conservation Society said, “Already, some areas of the UK’s seas resemble a ‘jellyfish soup.’ ”

Which also sounds pretty apocalyptic.


Semi-relevant photo: What’s the best place to face down an apocalypse? Bed. Minnie the Moocher is ready to face anything.

From Australia comes the news that alpacas (along with other relatives of the camel) make two types of antibodies, the usual kind and a kind called nanobodies, which aren’t (or so they claim) escapees from a trashy science fiction series but an, um, you know, alternative antibody by a different name.

Okay, it’s a single-domain antibody, which makes it sounds like the expensive version of a plain old antibody but is actually an antibody fragment. They can be easier to mass produce. Or so says WikiWhatsia. I don’t know a thing about this myself and we can only hope WikiWhatsia wasn’t deep in one of its occasional bouts of madness when it told me that.

The reason I mention this is that researchers are trying to convince an alpaca to produce a nanobody that attacks Covid-19, then test it (the nanobody not the alpaca) to see if it’s safe and effective enough to turn into a vaccine. 

Don’t be in any hurry for this to happen, but don’t rule it out either. 

My thanks to Doug Jacquier for putting me onto this. I now know that not only do alpacas spit, they make nanobodies in their spare time.


Thursday’s papers brought more news on why scientists are worried about the Russian vaccine:

Once upon a time, in the long-ago year of 1977 (is anyone other than me old enough to think that’s recent?), a virologist named Scott Halstead was studying dengue fever and he discovered that if you caught dengue fever once and it left with antibodies, the antibodies not only wouldn’t protect you from a second bout, they’d help you get sicker. 

Thank you, antibodies.

That’s called antibody-dependent enhancement, or ADE, and one worry about the Russian vaccine is that Covid might behave like dengue fever. Why shouldn’t it? It’s outsmarted us at every other turn. 

ADE’s one of the things researchers look for in phase III trials of a vaccine–the phase the Russian vaccine skipped over. 

Danny Altmann, a professor of immunology, said the work behind the Russian vaccine has been opaque.

“I don’t think the Russian researchers have done anything wrong, but I think they’ve jumped the gun. If we’re talking about safety, then you have to be looking at issues like ADE, which was a concern that scuppered some efforts to develop a Sars vaccine, where it exacerbated an asthma-like response in the lungs.”

Ideally, he said, scientists would be able to compare all the vaccine candidates being worked on around the world, using the same criteria, and find the best vaccine, not the first.

“No two of these candidates is going to be alike in terms of safety, how effective they are or how cheap they are to produce. . . . There have been too many debacles in this pandemic. This is not another occasion to blunder in. You want to line up the candidates side by side.”


England has quietly subtracted 1.3 million from the number of Covid tests it claims to have carried out.

Or–wait–not carried out. Made available. 

What does made available mean? Less than it sounds like it means, but don’t worry about it. They’re discontinuing the category anyway.

Are we clear about everything now?


New countries have been added to Britain’s Oops List. That’s the list of countries we were told, with lots of celebration, that it was safe to travel to. Then some of us traveled to them and they turned out not to be safe after all because, oops, the rate at which the pandemic spreads isn’t static, it spikes and forms second and (if it gets a chance) third waves. So the people who traveled to those countries will come home to a 14-day quarantine that they didn’t count on.

A spike of Covid cases in France saw it become an Oops Country and anyone coming to Britain from France now has to quarantine for 14 days unless they touched their feet on British soil before4 a.m. on Saturday, August 15. 

It strikes me as counterproductive, if you’re genuinely worried about people importing the virus, to give them a few days to rush home so they can beat the quarantine. If the germ’s circulating where they’ve been, it’s circulating. Germs don’t own calendars and don’t care what day it is. 

Isn’t it lucky I’m not in charge here?

Headlines reported a rush of people trying to beat the deadline. Sort of like Cinderella running from the palace with the clock madly striking midnight. 

Larry the Cat (@Nnumber10cat) reported on Twitter that Grant Shapps, the transport secretary (who unlike Larry claims to be human), thinks that 4 a.m. Saturday falls on Sunday, and reproduced Shapps’ tweet to prove it.

Shapps did not introduce the Cinderella image and neither did Larry, but has anyone ever wondered why her dress turned to rags but her shoe continued to be its fine and fancy self? Not to mention how she got her foot into a rigid crystal shoe and how she danced in it?


Someone in New Zealand went on Trade Me, “The news of Level 2 lockdown came as shock to me. During my unnecessary panic, I decided to get a test. After testing negative, I figured I’d share my gift of Covid free air with the world.

“Enjoy this free range, gluten free bag of air from the lungs of a 100% New Zealand made boy lol.”

The top bid when I checked, on Saturday night, August 15, was $80,200 NZ. Whether the seller will ever collect that is beyond me. 

Surely not.

64 thoughts on “Nanobodies and jellyfish: It’s the pandemic news from Britain

  1. I can’t be the only one who read your first paragraph and thought of Sherlock Holmes.

    You’re not alone in thinking that 1977 is fairly recent. That was the year I took my A levels, with much happier consequences than this year’s 18-year-olds are experiencing.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Surely even the Russian scientists would have done further tests if their dark Lord wouldn’t have decided it’s a matter of high political urgency to get that vaccine out first? Just wondering. This is a test comment. I wrote to WP who said Akismet could help me. So they did. Apparently, it was my Weebly page’s fault. I deleted it from my profile, and I hope it worked 😎🙋‍♀️🐝

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What it jellyfish hold the key to a vaccine? That would be the kind of irony I’d expect from nature this year. That and the fact that we won’t discover it until the swarm heads back out to sea. Then it will be cost prohibitive to harvest them.

    And, just so you know, Minnie the Moocher = Cab Calloway = “The Blues Brothers” having to be watched. Fortunately, it’s supposed to rain, so good day for a movie.

    I hope you guys have a good week.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Curious and curiouser. Not that I don’t enjoy your reports. However I am beginning to think the news reports ought to employ the Cheshire Cat to inform us lemmings who want to venture out of the home what the latest twists and turns are of the virus which someday will miraculously disappear. I just keep hoping that the orange terrorist who keeps saying miraculously disappears first.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. In case anyone needs a reminder, a Lion’s Mane jellyfish plays an important role in a Sherlock Holmes story by that name…it’s a cautionary tale. (And April already referred to it way ahead of me.)

    Another cautionary tale : some literati (not to be confused with the illuminati, although there may be some overlap) contend that when “Cinderella” was translated from the French the composition of the shoe was mistranslated as “glass” when it should have been “fur” Apparently the two words are similar in French, but I know so little French I can’t give an example.

    Yes, that is exactly the miraculous disappearance many of us Over Here are fervently hoping and praying for !

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m still waiting to illuminated. Or considered literary. Sigh. But I did google the translation of fur into French, which Lord G. says is fourure. He translates glass as verre. I’ll admit that both involve Rs and that F and V are close relatives, and that was almost where my defense of the theory ended, but I thought I’d look up the history of the glass slipper. Lo and behold, the Journal of Court Reporting has an article on it. (Don’t ask. It’s funnier if we assume it makes perfect sense.) And it tells us that a French version of the tale introduce the glass slipper and that verre is pronounced the same way as vair, which was a rare squirrel fur used by the nobility and the writer may have misunderstood which one the tale he heard meant.


      • Wow ! Thanks for your research ! Wherever I read it originally (more than once, and not recently) didn’t explain it. Not knowing French I didn’t know any better.

        I can’t explain The Lion’s Mane ” too well (it’s a short story) but it involves an unexplained death that is mysterious until Holmes discovers the jellyfish.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Why on Earth would anyone go on a holiday (in the middle of a pandemic anyway, but that’s another rant) to countries that were the epicenters of out-of-control infection rates and deaths? … rhetorical, I know, but seriously, I really, really, don’t ‘get’ the human race sometimes, a lot of the time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, there’s this government that likes happy news. So it called out the brass bands and announced that it was safe to travel, whoopy doo, and aren’t we lucky to live in a country that can arrange that for us? And a certain number of people are naive enough to believe them. So yes, the people were silly, but the government that encouraged them? They’re criminally stupid.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. So, the UK has one of the highest infection rates…

    People from the UK are suddenly allowed to go to a new country for a holiday…

    The same country then (about 2 weeks later) gets a spike in Covid-19 cases and people coming back need to quarantine…

    Purely on circumstantial evidence, are we exporting the virus now?

    Liked by 2 people

  8. News to me re the Alpacas lol…who knew and Im in Australia. I agree with you re the dates etc. When we went back into stage 4 lockdown over 2 weeks ago we were warned it was happening in 3 days at X time. I mean call me crazy but that virus would have already attached itself to those escaping their area right? Or did it say I better wait till X time? #SeniSal

    Liked by 1 person

    • You probably remember as well as I do that it’s one of the things that helped spread the virus from northern Italy to southern, although that, at least, wasn’t deliberate. While the government was working out the mechanics of quarantine (I assume) someone leaked it to the press and people flooded out.

      Liked by 1 person

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