WASHINGTON (AP) — A Canadian geologist may have found the earliest fossil record of animal life on Earth, according to a report published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Around a billion years ago, a region of northwest Canada now defined by steep mountains was a prehistoric marine environment where the remains of ancient sponges may be preserved in mineral sediment, the paper says.

Geologist Elizabeth Turner discovered the rocks in a remote region of the Northwest Territories accessible only by helicopter, where she has been excavating since the 1980s. Thin sections of rock contain three-dimensional structures that resemble modern sponge skeletons.

“I believe these are ancient sponges — only this type of organism has this type of network of organic filaments,” said Joachim Reitner, a geobiologist and expert in sponges at Germany's University of Gottingen, who was not involved in the research.

The dating of adjacent rock layers indicates the samples are about 890 million years old, which would make them about 350 million years older than the oldest undisputed sponge fossils previously found.___

New CDC guidelines set off rush to reimpose mask mandates

New guidance from the federal government set off a cascade of mask rules across the nation Wednesday as cities, states, schools and businesses raced to restore mandates and others pushed back against the guidelines at a time when Americans are exhausted and confused over constantly shifting pandemic measures.

Nevada and Kansas City, Missouri, were among the locations that moved swiftly to re-impose indoor mask requirements following Tuesday’s announcement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But governors in Arizona, Pennsylvania and South Carolina said they would resist reversing course.

The federal recommendations quickly plunged Americans into another emotionally charged debate over the face coverings meant to curb easy transmission of the deadly coronavirus.

In Florida, a Broward County School Board meeting devolved into a screaming match between irate parents and board members on Tuesday. Some protesters even took to burning face masks outside the building.

In suburban Atlanta, Jamie Reinhold said she would pull her kids from school if the district stuck to the CDC’s guidance, which the 52-year-old believes takes the country “backward” and damages confidence in the vaccines.

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Biden to launch vaccine push for millions of federal workers

WASHINGTON (AP) — Hoping to set a model for employers nationwide, President Joe Biden will announce Thursday that millions of federal workers must show proof they’ve received a coronavirus vaccine or submit to regular testing and stringent social distancing, masking and travel restrictions.

An individual familiar with the president's plans, who spoke on condition of anonymity to confirm details that had yet to be announced publicly, emphasized that the new guidance is not a vaccine mandate for federal employees and that those who decide not to get vaccinated aren’t at risk of being fired.

The new policy amounts to a recognition by the Biden administration that the government — the nation’s biggest employer — must do more to boost sluggish vaccination rates, as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations rebound, driven largely by the spread of the more infectious delta variant.

Biden has placed the blame for the resurgence of the virus squarely on the shoulders of those who aren't vaccinated.

“The pandemic we have now is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Biden said during a visit Wednesday to a truck plant in Pennsylvania, where he urged the unvaccinated to “please, please, please, please” get a shot. A day earlier, he mused that “if those other 100 million people got vaccinated, we’d be in a very different world.”

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FDA allows automatic 'generic' swap for brand-name insulin

U.S. regulators took action Wednesday that will make it easier to get a cheaper, near-copy of a brand-name insulin at the drugstore.

Doctors now have to specifically prescribe what’s called a biosimilar or OK substituting it for a more expensive brand-name insulin.

Wednesday’s move by the Food and Drug Administration will allow pharmacists to automatically substitute the cheaper version, just as they do with generic pills for other kinds of drugs.

It’s the FDA’s first approval of an “interchangeable” biosimilar, a near-copy of an injected biologic medicine that’s manufactured inside living cells. It could save diabetics and health plans millions of dollars annually and encourage other drugmakers to create more biosimilar medicines. Health data firm IQVIA projects U.S. savings from increasing use of biosimilars from 2020 through 2024 will top $100 billion.

The FDA agreed that Viatris Inc.’s Semglee was interchangeable with widely used Lantus, a fast-acting insulin.

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Leftist political novice sworn in as Peru's president

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Pedro Castillo, a leftist political novice who has promised to be a champion of his country’s poor, on Wednesday became Peru’s new president.

The rural teacher who has never held political office before was sworn in less than two weeks after he was declared the winner of the June 6 runoff election. He is Peru’s first president of peasant origin.

In a ceremony in the capital of Lima, Castillo made a commitment “for God, for my family, for my peasant sisters and brothers, teachers, patrolmen, children, youth and women, and for a new Constitution.” He then he sang the national anthem, taking off his signature hat and placing it over his heart.

He succeeds President Francisco Sagasti, whom Congress appointed in November to lead the South American nation after weeks of political turmoil.

Castillo, who up until days ago lived with his family in an adobe home deep in the Andes, will face a deeply divided Congress that will make it extremely challenging for him to fulfill his ill-defined campaign promises to aid the poor, who are now estimated to make up about a third of the country’s population. His political savviness will be immediately tested, and his ability to reach agreements could even determine if Congress allows him to finish his term.

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Infrastructure deal: Senate votes to start work on $1T bill

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate voted Wednesday night to begin work on a nearly $1 trillion national infrastructure plan after President Joe Biden and a bipartisan group of senators reached agreement on major provisions of the package that is a key part of his presidential agenda.

Biden welcomed the accord as one that would show America can “do big things” — with the most significant long-term investments in nearly a century, he said, on par with building the transcontinental railroad or the Interstate highway system.

"This deal signals to the world that our democracy can function,” Biden said in a statement. “We will once again transform America and propel us into the future.”

The rare bipartisan showing, on 67-32 vote, signaled the interest among senators in starting the process to consider the infrastructure package. But it’s unclear if enough Republicans will eventually join Democrats to support final passage. The procedural step Wednesday night is expected to launch lengthy consideration.

 

Lead GOP negotiator Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio announced the bipartisan group's agreement earlier at the Capitol, flanked by four other Republican senators who have been in weeks of talks with Democrats and the White House on the package.

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