Dec 7, 2017

Axios Science

Thanks for subscribing to Axios Science. Please invite your friends and colleagues to sign up for the newsletter. And, as always, send me your feedback. You can reply to this email or send me a note at

1. After Sandy Hook, gun rush led to additional deaths

Axios' Erin Ross writes: In the five months after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, gun sales rose and people took their guns out of storage. This exposure led to at least 60 more accidental deaths than would otherwise have happened — and 20 of them were children, according to a new study published Thursday in the journal Science.

The charts above show monthly changes away from the expected seasonal rate of gun purchases and accidental firearm deaths in children. Following Sandy Hook, both spiked dramatically.

"This event should have awakened people to what can we do in our society, but too many people took the opposite tact and caused more harm to themselves and others," David Hemenway, who conducts research on injury prevention at Harvard and was not involved in the study, tells Axios.

Read the rest of Erin's story here.

2. Axios stories to spark your brain
3. The race to diminish peanut allergies in kids

Axios' Eileen Drage O'Reilly and Bob Herman write: Drug companies are racing to get the FDA's green light for immunotherapies to treat kids with peanut allergies — a breakthrough that might actually reduce their allergies, not just treat an allergic attack when it happens. They're testing everything from oral medicines to skin patches to vaccines and nasal sprays, with some companies hoping their products will reach the market by 2019.

Why it matters: Roughly 2% of all American children have a peanut allergy — which is one of the most dangerous food allergies — and alleviating reactions could save lives. Peanut allergy therapies also have drug companies seeing dollar signs, with a potential global market of up to $8 billion.

"If you had told me 40 years ago that AIDS would be a treatable disease and we would have [no FDA-approved drugs] for food allergies, I would have totally laughed at you. But here we are," James Baker Jr., CEO of the consumer advocacy group Food Allergy and Research and Education, tells Axios.

Where it stands: There are almost 40 peanut allergy studies underway and listed on, and nearly 40 others completed recently.

"This is clearly an unmet need," says Gerald Nepom, director of Immune Tolerance Network, a mostly NIH-funded entity. The only current available remedy for patients is to avoid peanuts and carry an epinephrine shot at all times.

What to watch: The two therapies likely to seek regulatory approval first are a skin patch called Viaskin Peanut, by the French company DBV Technologies, and a pill called AR101, by California-based Aimmune Therapeutics.

Read the rest of their story.

4. What we're reading elsewhere
  • Opioids outside the U.S.: People in need of pain relief struggle to get painkillers in Africa where "opioid has become a dirty word," reports Donald McNeil Jr. in the New York Times.
  • Big problem: A small fraction of U.S. 8th graders understand fractions. Robert Siegler in Scientific American explores why and what can be done.
  • A good yarn: The Atlantic's Ed Yong describes the high value placed on storytelling skills in hunter-gatherer societies. One result: Good storytellers have 0.5 more children than others on average. Yong writes: "If storytelling is truly an adaptation, as [study author] Migliano suggests, it has to benefit individuals who are good at it — and it clearly does."
  • Bitcoin's other high cost – energy, writes Eric Holthaus in Grist. One wow stat: "Today, each bitcoin transaction requires the same amount of energy used to power nine homes in the U.S. for one day."
5. Something wondrous

Before there were birds, animals and dinosaurs, horseshoe crabs were here. Over the past 450 million years, these relatives of scorpions and spiders (not crabs) passed through five mass extinctions. They stuck to the coasts for the most part so there was little pressure for them to evolve. The horseshoe crabs you see today look similar to their earliest ancestors.

But every now and again, horseshoe crabs ventured out — or rather in — to freshwater environments. When they did, their morphology is thought to have changed. The fossil record during this time is sparse though because horseshoe crabs lack an exoskeleton with minerals that can be preserved except under exceptional conditions.

A new fossil find in Idaho from 245 million years ago when the state sat on the coast of the supercontinent Pangea is "a missing puzzle piece," Allan Lerner, a research associate in paleontology at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, tells Axios. It is so far the only specimen of a new genus called Vaderlimulus with a large — "extravagant would be a good word," Lerner says — helmet and small body that evolved as it expanded into a freshwater environment. Eventually it went extinct though Lerner says they aren't sure why.

This discovery shows horseshoe crabs used to be diverse. But today, only four species remain, and they're in decline due to human actions.

"We shouldn't take for granted that because they have lived as long as they have they will survive," Lerner says.