BCS Investigates Covid-19

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BCS Investigates Covid-19

Picture of paper strips showing Covid test results

When the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus emerged as a global threat in early 2020, numerous investigators in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and Building 46 quickly turned their attention to understanding the virus and its effects. From novel test methods to organismal and social effects of Covid-19 infection, these investigators are making vital contributions.

One-step test provides rapid and sensitive Covid-19 detection

A team of researchers at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, the Ragon Institute, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has developed a new diagnostics platform called STOP (SHERLOCK Testing in One Pot). The test can be run in an hour as a single-step reaction with minimal handling, advancing the CRISPR-based SHERLOCK diagnostic technology closer to a point-of-care or at-home testing tool. As of this publication, the test has not been reviewed or approved by the FDA and is currently for research purposes only.

Image above: On STOPCovid test strips, a negative result is indicated by a single line (left panel) and a positive test by two lines (right panel).
Image credit: Abudayyeh-Gootenberg lab, McGovern Institute, and Zhang lab, McGovern Institute/Broad Institute

Our itch to share helps spread Covid-19 misinformation

When people are consuming news on social media, their inclination to share that news with others interferes with their ability to assess its accuracy. The study presented the same false news headlines about Covid-19 to two groups of people: One group was asked if they would share those stories on social media, and the other evaluated their accuracy. The participants were 32.4 percent more likely to say they would share the headlines than they were to say those headlines were accurate. “There does appear to be a disconnect between accuracy judgments and sharing intentions,” says Professor David Rand, co-author of a paper detailing the findings. “People are much more discerning when you ask them to judge the accuracy, compared to when you ask them whether they would share something or not.”

How could Covid-19 and the body’s immune response affect the brain?

To get ahead of the possible long-term neurological problems from infection, multiple labs in The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT have begun pursuing research to determine whether and how it affects the brain, either directly or via the body’s heightened immune response. For example, Picower Institute Member Gloria Choi and Harvard University immunologist Jun Huh have meticulously traced the pathway by which infection in a pregnant mother can lead to autism-like symptoms in her child and how, counterintuitively, infection in people with some autism spectrum disorders can temporarily mitigate behavioral symptoms.

Examining the social impact of Covid-19

After being forced to relocate from their MIT dorms during the Covid-19 crisis, two members of Professor Rebecca Saxe’s lab at the McGovern Institute are now applying their psychology skills to study the impact of mandatory relocation and social isolation on mental health. Graduate student Heather Kosakowski and undergraduate Michelle Hung developed a survey to measure how the social behavior of MIT students, postdocs, and staff is changing over the course of the pandemic. Survey questions were designed to measure loneliness and other aspects of mental health.