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South Africa Africrypt Bitcoin Scam?: Cajee Brothers Missing Along With Billions

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A pair of South African brothers have vanished, along with Bitcoin worth $3.6 billion from their cryptocurrency investment platform.

A Cape Town law firm hired by investors says they can’t locate the brothers and has reported the matter to the Hawks, an elite unit of the national police force. It’s also told crypto exchanges across the globe should any attempt be made to convert the digital coins.

Following a surge in Bitcoin’s value in the past year, the disappearance of about 69,000 coins -- worth more than $4 billion at their April peak -- would represent the biggest-ever dollar loss in a cryptocurrency scam. The incident could spur regulators’ efforts to impose order on the market amid rising cases of fraud.

The first signs of trouble came in April, as Bitcoin was rocketing to a record. Africrypt Chief Operating Officer Ameer Cajee, the elder brother, informed clients that the company was the victim of a hack. He asked them not to report the incident to lawyers and authorities, as it would slow down the recovery process of the missing funds.

Lawyers Hired

Some skeptical investors roped in the law firm, Hanekom Attorneys, and a separate group started liquidation proceedings against Africrypt.

“We were immediately suspicious as the announcement implored investors not to take legal action,” Hanekom Attorneys said in response to emailed questions. “Africrypt employees lost access to the back-end platforms seven days before the alleged hack.”

The firm’s investigation found Africrypt’s pooled funds were transferred from its South African accounts and client wallets, and the coins went through tumblers and mixers -- or to other large pools of bitcoin -- to make them essentially untraceable.

South Africa Plans to Regulate Crypto Trading in Phased Manner

Calls to a mobile number for Cajee were immediately directed to a voicemail service. He and his brother, Raees, 20, set up Africrypt in 2019 and it provided bumper returns for investors. Calls to Raees also went straight to voicemail. The company website is down.

The saga is unfolding after last year’s collapse of another South African Bitcoin trader, Mirror Trading International. The losses there, involving about 23,000 digital coins, totaled about $1.2 billion in what was called the biggest crypto scam of 2020, according to a report by Chainalysis. Africrypt investors stand to lose three times as much.

Crypto Havens Lure Firms Fleeing South Africa Regulator Fear

While South Africa’s Finance Sector Conduct Authority is also looking into Africrypt, it is currently prohibited from launching a formal investigation because crypto assets are not legally considered financial products, according to the regulator’s head of enforcement, Brandon Topham. The police have not yet responded to a request for comment.

China has recently escalated its crackdown on cryptocurrency trading after a frenzied surge in Bitcoin and other tokens over the past six months heightened longstanding Communist Party concerns about the potential for fraud, money laundering and trading losses by individual investors.

In January, the daily value of crypto-asset trading exceeded 2 billion rand ($141 million) for the first time in South Africa, suggesting significant appetite in a market that was largely going unchecked by regulatory powers.

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The libertarian banking MOOC continues
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Study suggests COVID-19 harms parts of the brain, even in mild cases - The Boston Globe

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Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, one of the stranger symptoms of COVID-19 has been a loss of smell, taste, or both. Now, a study of brain scans of people who have had the disease offers new clues in the mystery.

Researchers from Oxford University said they had found that people who had COVID-19 had a “loss of grey matter” in areas of the brain related to smell and taste.

A review of hundreds of brain scans revealed “a significant, deleterious impact of COVID-19 on the olfactory and gustatory cortical systems,” the study said.

The research team also included members from Imperial College in London and from the US National Institutes of Health. The observational study is out in preprint form; it has not yet been peer-reviewed. The lead author declined to comment since the study hasn’t been published yet.

The researchers scrutinized before-and-after brain scans collected on average three years apart from 782 people as part of the UK Biobank project. The study group included 394 people who had gotten COVID-19 by the time of their second scan and 388 people who hadn’t. The researchers said among those study participants who had gotten sick, a high number had mild cases.

“It’s very concerning because it does suggest that the virus could be having a direct effect on certain portions of the brain,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former head of the Food and Drug Administration, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“I think what it suggests is that the balance of the information that we’re accruing does indicate that COVID is a disease that could create persistent symptoms,” he said. “So, this isn’t a benign disease. This is something you want to avoid. And the bottom line is, we have the tools to avoid it through vaccination.”

Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, said in a series of tweets last week that it was an “important study.”

He said it appeared to provide “good evidence that infections lead to neurologic damage in some portion of people.”

The findings highlighted the need to put effort into addressing the long-term impacts of the disease, and the fact that “we should not have been cavalier” about a disease whose full effects are still unknown, he said.

Dr. Eric Holbrook, chief of the rhinology division at Mass Eye and Ear and an associate professor of otolaryngology at Harvard Medical School, was more cautious in his assessment of the study.

He noted the paper had not been peer-reviewed yet. “You really have to be careful with statements being made by these papers because they haven’t been vetted,” Holbrook said.

Researchers suggested their findings might support a “popular theory” that the coronavirus enters the central nervous system through the nose. But Holbrook noted there were other possible explanations, including that the coronavirus disabled nerves in the nose, and the brain areas changed because of a lack of stimulus from those nerves.

He also said the researchers should have inquired whether the study participants had experienced loss of smell, taste, or both, which would have allowed them to compare symptoms with the changes found on the brain scans.

People who lose their sense of smell and taste fall into two groups, he said. One group recovers in two to three weeks, while the other group experiences a more prolonged loss. A large number of the latter get function back, but it’s a slow process, he said.

It’s still too early to tell what percentage of people will develop permanent loss, he said.

Material from Globe wire services was used in this report.

Martin Finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com.

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24,000 years on ice weren’t enough to kill | Ars Technica

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Rotifers are microscopic freshwater-dwelling multicellular organisms. They're already known to withstand freezing (even in liquid nitrogen), boiling, desiccation, and radiation, and the group has persisted for millions of years without having sex. The humble yet remarkably hardy bdelloid rotifer has now surprised researchers yet again—a recent study unearthed 24,000-year-old Siberian permafrost and found living (or at least revivable) rotifers there. Surviving 24,000 years in deep-freeze is a new record for the species.

Rotifers aren’t the only living organisms to emerge from permafrost or ice. The same researchers behind this latest discovery had previously found roughly 40,000-year-old viable roundworms in the region’s permafrost. Ancient moss, seeds, viruses, and bacteria have all shown impressive longevity on ice, prompting legitimate concern about whether any potentially harmful pathogens may also be released as glaciers and permafrost melt.

Given that bdelloids are generally only a threat to bacteria, algae, and detritus, however, there’s not much need for concern regarding this particular discovery. But as key players in the bottom of the food chain, newly re-emerged rotifers indicate that maybe we should think about how species that haven’t been seen for millennia might reintegrate into modern ecosystems.

Frozen zoo

The Soil Cryology Lab in Pushchino, Russia, has been digging up Siberian permafrost in search of ancient organisms for roughly a decade. The group estimates the age of the organisms it finds by radiocarbon dating the surrounding soil samples (evidence has shown that there is no vertical movement through layers of permafrost). For example, last year, the researchers reported a “frozen zoo” of 35 viable protists (nucleus-containing organisms that are neither animal, plant, nor fungus), that they calculated ranged from hundreds to tens of thousands of years in age.

In their most recent discovery, the cryology researchers found the living bdelloids after culturing the soil samples for about one month. Among rotifer classes, bdelloids have the fairly unusual ability to reproduce parthenogenetically—i.e., by cloning—and so the original specimens had already begun to do so. Although the clones made identifying the ancient parent challenging, this did greatly facilitate further investigation of the characteristics and behavior of the unfrozen strain.

Throughout all of the above permafrost studies, there is always the concern of sample contamination by modern-day organisms. Besides using techniques designed to prevent this, the team also addressed this issue by looking at the DNA present in the soil samples, confirming that contamination was highly unlikely. Phylogenetic analysis furthermore showed that the species didn’t match any known modern rotifers, although there is a closely related species found in Belgium.

Thaw, clone, freeze, repeat

The team was naturally interested in better understanding the freezing process and gaining insight into just how these rotifers survived for so long. As a first step, the researchers subsequently froze a selection of the cloned rotifers at -15° C for one week and captured videos (see above) of the rotifers reviving.

The researchers found that not all of the clones survived. Surprisingly, the clones generally weren’t much more freeze-tolerant than contemporary rotifers from Iceland, Alaska, Europe, North America, and even the Asian and African tropics. They were a little more freeze-tolerant than their closest genetic relative, but the difference was marginal.

The researchers did find that the rotifers could survive a relatively slow freezing process (~45 minutes). This is noteworthy because it was gradual enough that ice crystals formed inside of the animals’ cells—a development that is usually catastrophic for living organisms. In fact, protective mechanisms against this are highly sought-after by anyone in the business of cryo-preservation, making this latest finding especially enticing from that perspective.

Although the authors aren’t quite in that business, they do plan additional experiments to better understand cryptobiosis—the state of almost completely arrested metabolism that made the rotifers’ survival possible. As for research into cryo-preservation of larger organisms, the authors suggest that this becomes trickier as the organism in question becomes more complex. That said, rotifers are among the most complicated cryo-preserved species so far—complete with organs such as a brain and a gut.

Which returns us to the questions of what other organisms might reappear with a warming climate and what impacts they might have. Evidence so far shows that multiple types of organisms are still alive in the ice. At least on a microscopic level, it seems possible that intact micro-ecosystems may thaw together (nematodes, rotifers, protists, viruses, bacteria, etc.). How these long-dormant species will compete or coexist with modern ecosystems is difficult to predict at this point, but it’s probably worth further consideration.

Current Biology, 2021. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2021.04.077  (About DOIs).

K.E.D. Coan is a freelance journalist covering climate and environment stories at Ars Technica. She has a PhD in chemistry and chemical biology.

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Everyone ready for pandemic 2.0?
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Climate-driven coastal flooding in the US likely to get worse suddenly | Ars Technica

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Our warming planet is melting lots of ice and heating the waters of the oceans, creating a clear trend of rising oceans. In some areas of the US, this is starting to cause what's called nuisance flooding, where high tides cause coastal flooding even in the absence of storms. As the oceans continue to rise, figuring out what areas are likely to become vulnerable to coastal flooding and when is going to be critical to understanding how to manage coastal development.

Figuring out coastal development is complicated. The rate of sea level rise can vary from year to year, the local ocean levels can vary as the land settles or rises, and the pace of sea level rise is increasing. And now, a team of researchers has quantified an additional factor: regular variations in the Moon's orbit, which influence the levels reached by high tide. The team goes on to show that these changes can suppress the impact of rising seas for a time but can then contribute to a rapid increase in floods.

Cycling the Moon

The plane of the Moon's orbit isn't located exactly at the equator; instead, it's tilted slightly. That means, for part of its orbit, the Moon is orbiting above the Northern Hemisphere, and for the other part, it's over the Southern Hemisphere. The locations in its orbit where the Moon crosses between the two hemispheres are called nodes, and these shift over time. It takes a bit over 18 years for a node to complete an orbit around the Earth.

This cycle has consequences for the tides, although the impacts vary in time and based on geographic location. But in general, a high-tide mark at one point in the 18-year cycle can differ in elevation from the high-tide mark at a different point. Put in concrete terms, in St. Petersburg, Florida, the peak high tide at one point of the lunar nodal cycle is 4.7 centimeters higher than it is at the low point.

That complexity is layered on top of all the additional factors that cause variations in sea level rise. To figure out what this might mean for flooding, the researchers turned to data and models from NOAA. NOAA has determined the level of high tide that will trigger flooding at locations throughout the US, including minor and moderate levels of flooding. The agency also maintains different projections for sea level rise to the end of the century, based on whether we expect the total rise to be at the low, middle, or high end of the range of what's expected by the century's end.

All of this was combined with the Moon's influence to create an ensemble of models that project daily flood risk out through the next few decades. The team made estimates for 89 different locations throughout the US, including some of its island territories.

The Moon and more

Given that sea levels are expected to rise through the remainder of the century, it's no surprise that these projections show an increased rate of flooding. But the Moon's influence often had a surprising impact on the rate. In many locations, the Moon acted to suppress flooding for a while, blocking what would normally have been a gradual increase. As the orbit shifted, it would then act to accelerate the rate of flooding.

This creates what's termed an inflection point, where the behavior of the system changes relatively suddenly. Specific locations go from a very gradual increase in flooding days to a significantly more rapid rise. In most of the US, that inflection point occurs in the 2030s to 2040s—not very far from the present. For example, Boston is expected to see about six additional days of moderate flooding per year by the end of the decade from 2031 to 2041. But by the end of the decade following, the city will see an extra 46 days of moderate flooding. Similar trends were seen in many other cities.

While that's a significant influence, it's not the only one. There's a nonlinear relationship between sea level rise and flooding days, since a smaller margin between flooding and not makes it much easier for high tides to cause flooding.

One factor the ensemble can't take into account is the fact that sea level rise tends to vary over time, in part due to short-term influences like El Niño. If you look at global sea level data, for example, you'll see that there are a number of short-term drops in sea level (such as around 2010), and they're often interspersed with periods when the ocean's rise is faster than its average pace (see 2015-2017). These fluctuations can't be predicted in advance, but they could easily slow or boost the rate of flooding.

Finally, many areas of the US are gradually subsiding as the sediment upon which they're built compacts. Other areas that were buried in ice during the last glacial period are still rebounding from the elimination of that added mass. These also create differences between locations that influence the rate at which flooding becomes a problem.

Flooding clusters

The data also makes apparent that the rising waters aren't evenly distributed around the year. For example, by 2050, Honolulu is expected to experience about 63 days of flooding a year. But nearly half of those days are likely to occur within a three-month period. This occurs both because factors that tend to cause flooding don't necessarily go away the next day and partly just because the average rate occurrence tends to occur lots of variation over the course of a year.

Overall, a number of conclusions can be drawn from this work. Right now, flooding from sea level rise is something that, unless you live in a handful of locations, you can ignore. But the authors estimate that, in a little over a decade, sea level rise will stop being a regional issue and become a widespread, national problem. And within a decade of that, a lot of places will have passed the inflection point and on a path of rapidly increasing flooding events.

Finally, all of this is based on low-to-moderate sea level rise scenarios. Should things happen faster than that, the time window we'll have before needing to deal with these problems is going to be considerably narrower.

All of that makes it essential that these floods are taken into consideration immediately. Infrastructure we are building at present is unlikely to reach its end of life before flooding becomes far more frequent. Housing, roads, and other facilities that we are currently using will likely need to be protected or abandoned. And coastal states may want to start setting aside money to deal with the flooding that will invariably occur.

Nature Climate Change, 2021. DOI: 10.1038/s41558-021-01077-8  (About DOIs).

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Over 150 Texas Hospital Workers Are Fired or Resign Over Covid Vaccine Mandate - The New York Times

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Good, pity this was necessary
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Recovery of deleted deep sequencing data sheds more light on the early Wuhan SARS-CoV-2 epidemic | bioRxiv

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The origin and early spread of SARS-CoV-2 remains shrouded in mystery. Here I identify a data set containing SARS-CoV-2 sequences from early in the Wuhan epidemic that has been deleted from the NIH's Sequence Read Archive. I recover the deleted files from the Google Cloud, and reconstruct partial sequences of 13 early epidemic viruses. Phylogenetic analysis of these sequences in the context of carefully annotated existing data suggests that the Huanan Seafood Market sequences that are the focus of the joint WHO-China report are not fully representative of the viruses in Wuhan early in the epidemic. Instead, the progenitor of known SARS-CoV-2 sequences likely contained three mutations relative to the market viruses that made it more similar to SARS-CoV-2's bat coronavirus relatives.


Page 2

Lung squamous cell carcinoma (LSCC) is a considerable global health burden, with an incidence of over 600,000 cases per year. Treatment options are limited, and patient 5-year survival rate is less than 5%. The ubiquitin specific protease 28 (USP28) has been implicated in tumorigenesis through its stabilization of the oncoprotein c-MYC. Here, we show that genetic inactivation of USP28 induced regression of established murine LSCC lung tumors. We developed small molecule USP28 inhibitors that inhibit USP28 activity in the low nanomole range. While displaying considerable activity against the closest homologue USP25, these inhibitors showed a high degree of selectivity over other deubiquitinases. USP28 inhibitor treatment resulted in a dramatic decrease in c-Myc proteins levels and consequently induced substantial regression of autochthonous murine LSCC tumors and human LSCC xenografts, thereby phenocopying the effect observed by genetic deletion. Thus, USP28 may represent a promising therapeutic target for the treatment of squamous cell lung carcinoma.

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