Tagged: University of Arizona

Why was 1918 flu pandemic so deadly? New clues…

In 1918, as one global devastation in the shape of World War I came to an end, people around the world found themselves facing another deadly enemy, pandemic flu. The virus killed more than 50 million people, three times the number that fell in the Great War, and did this so much faster than any other illness in recorded history.

But why was that particular pandemic so deadly? Where did the virus come from and why was it so severe? These questions have dogged scientists ever since. Now, a new study led by the University of Arizona (UA) may have solved the mystery…

They hope the study not only offers some new clues about the deadliness of the 1918 pandemic, but will also help improve strategies for vaccination and pandemic prevention, as Prof. Worobey explains:

“If our model is correct, then current medical interventions, especially antibiotics and vaccines, against several pneumonia-causing bacteria, could be expected to dramatically reduce mortality, if we were faced today with a similar set of pandemic ingredients…”

Researchers reconstructed the origins of the 1918 pandemic virus, the classic swine flu and the postpandemic seasonal H1N1 flu virus lineage that circulated between 1918 and 1957, to find out why the 1918 pandemic was so deadly…

For their investigation, the researchers developed an unprecedentedly accurate “molecular clock,” a technique that looks at the rate at which mutations build up in given stretches of DNA over time…

Prof. Worobey and his team used their molecular clock to reconstruct the origins of the 1918 pandemic virus, the classic swine flu and the postpandemic seasonal H1N1 flu virus lineage that circulated between 1918 and 1957…

They found that a human H1 virus that had been circulating among humans since around 1900 picked up genetic material from a bird flu virus just before 1918 and this became the deadly pandemic strain.

Exposure to previous strains of flu virus does offer some protection to new strains. This is because the immune system reacts to proteins on the surface of the virus and makes antibodies that are summoned the next time a similar virus tries to infect the body.

But the further away the new strain is genetically from the ones the body has previously been exposed to, the more different the surface proteins, the less effective the antibodies and the more likely that infection will take hold.

Prof. Worobey notes…”We believe that the mismatch between antibodies trained to H3 virus protein and the H1 protein of the 1918 virus may have resulted in the heightened mortality in the age group that happened to be in their late 20s during the pandemic.”

He says their finding may also help explain differences in patterns of mortality between seasonal flu and the deadly H5N1 and H7N9 bird flu viruses.

The authors suggest perhaps immunization strategies that mimic the often impressive protection that early childhood exposure provides could dramatically reduce deaths from seasonal and new flu strains.

Biologists of this calibre are walking encyclopedias of science, history, chemistry and the knowledge to assemble it all within the guidance of evolution into a unique illuminating dialectic.

It is a delight to stand inside the cone of enlightenment made possible by dedication to science, the addition of something of value to human understanding.

OTOH, you may spend your spare time watching reality TV. :)

Thanks, Mike

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Climate change happening too quickly for some species to adapt

combes-mountain-myth-snow-leopard
Species that live on mountains, such as the snow leopard, are particularly at risk

Among the many strange mantras repeated by climate change deniers is the claim that even in an overheated, climate-altered planet, animals and plants will still survive by adapting to global warming. Corals, trees, birds, mammals and butterflies are already changing to the routine reality of global warming, it is argued.

Certainly, countless species have adapted to past climate fluctuations. However, their rate of change turns out to be painfully slow, according to a study by Professor John Wiens of the University of Arizona. Using data from 540 living species, including amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals, Wiens and colleagues compared their rates of evolution with the rates of climate change projected for the end of this century. The results, published online in the journal Ecology Letters, show that most land animals will not be able to evolve quickly enough to adapt to the dramatically warmer climate expected by 2100. Many species face extinction, as a result…

The study indicates there is simply not enough time for species to change their morphologies – for example, by altering their bodies’ shapes so they hold less heat – to compensate for rising heat levels. Too many generations of evolutionary change are required. Nor is moving habitat an option for many creatures. “Consider a species living on the top of a mountain,” says Wiens. “If it gets too warm or dry up there, they can’t go anywhere.”

The crucial point of the study is that it stresses a fact that is often conveniently ignored by climate change deniers. It is not just the dramatic nature of the changes that lie ahead – melting icecaps, rising sea levels and soaring temperatures – but the extraordinary speed at which they are occurring. Past transformations that saw planetary temperatures soar took millions of years to occur. The one we are creating will take only a few generations to take place. Either evolution speeds up 10,000-fold, which is an unlikely occurrence, or there will be widespread extinctions.

Climate change deniers – even more so their acolytes – won’t be bothered by scientific studies answering their allegiance to fossil fuel fanboys. If they were the sort who read science for love of the discipline, enjoying the additional knowledge for what it is, they would be unlikely to lap up the agitprop rooted in corporate greed in the first place.

No – we’re answering questions raised not even as idle rhetoric; but, solely as additions to PR campaigns orchestrated by flacks and fools recruited to prop up anti-intellectualism, anti-science and anti-progress which calls into the question the motives of profiteers.

How to manufacture a lightweight infinite pipeline

A University of Arizona professor has invented a theoretically infinite pipe that promises to bring down the costs of laying pipelines while reducing environmental damage. Developed by Mo Ehsani, Professor Emeritus of Civil Engineering at the University of Arizona, the new pipe, called InfinitiPipe, is of a lightweight plastic aerospace honeycomb under layers of resin-saturated carbon fiber fabric put together by a new fabricating process that allows pipes to be built in indefinite lengths on site.

Because they’re out of sight, we sometimes forget how much pipe lies buried under our feet. Spreading throughout and between towns and cities there are thousands, if not millions of miles of pipeline carrying fuel, water, sewage, cables and all manner of other things that make up the veins and arteries of modern civilization. The problem is that any large pipe intended to have any strength, such as those made out steel, concrete or heavy plastic, can only be made in very short lengths. This is partly due to the weight of some materials, but mainly because they’re transported on trucks.

This means that a pipeline, no matter how long, is made up of a series of short sections with hundreds or thousands of joints – each one a potential leak. It also means that the pipes often have to be manufactured at distant locations and then shipped and hauled to construction sites over great distances and at great cost…

Since the InfinitiPipe is made of lightweight materials, transportation costs are much cheaper than for concrete or steel. This makes on site manufacturing an economical proposition. Ehsani envisions a manufacturing unit installed inside of a truck where the pipe would be fabricated and the truck moving forward as the pipeline is fed out.

Ehsani’s design not only promise qualitative cost reduction in the industrialized world – it could enable locally-built projects throughout the world. Building materials need only be delivered periodically to portions of the pipeline route. Local tradesman can be trained to run the quipment and provide necessary labor along artery. Safety and soundness is better assured by the technology.

As humans evolved – we had sex with all of our relatives!

Our species may have bred with a now extinct lineage of humanity before leaving Africa, scientists say.

Although we modern humans are now the only surviving lineage of humanity, others once roamed the Earth, making their way out of Africa before our species did, including the familiar Neanderthals in West Asia and Europe and the newfound Denisovans in East Asia. Genetic analysis of fossils of these extinct lineages has revealed they once interbred with modern humans, unions that may have endowed our lineage with mutations that protected them as we began expanding across the world about 65,000 years ago.

Now researchers analyzing the human genome find evidence that our species hybridized with a hitherto unknown human lineage even before leaving Africa, with approximately 2 percent of contemporary African DNA perhaps coming from this lineage. In comparison, recent estimates suggest that Neanderthal DNA makes up 1 percent to 4 percent of modern Eurasian genomes and Denisovan DNA makes up 4 percent to 6 percent of modern Melanesian genomes.

“We need to modify the standard model of human origins in which a single population transitioned to the anatomically modern state in isolation — a garden of Eden somewhere in Africa — and replaced all other archaic forms both within Africa and outside Africa without interbreeding,” researcher Michael Hammer, a population geneticist at the University of Arizona in Tucson, told LiveScience. “We now need to consider models in which gene flow occurred over time…”

We think there were probably thousands of interbreeding events,” Hammer said. “It happened relatively extensively and regularly.”

I don’t think the “extensive and regular” part is a surprise either. It may upset some boring, straight-laced and narrow-minded pundits; but, evolution doesn’t pay any attention to ideology.

How genes jump from crop to crop – a new model

Bees do it, humans do it – move genes among crop plants, that is. But until now, researchers and growers had a hard time getting a grip on the factors that determine how much of this gene flow happens in an agricultural landscape.

A new data-driven statistical model that incorporates the surrounding landscape in unprecedented detail describes the transfer of an inserted bacterial gene via pollen and seed dispersal in cotton plants more accurately than previously available methods…

The transfer of genes from genetically modified crop plants is a hotly debated issue. Many consumers are concerned about the possibility of genetic material from transgenic plants mixing with non-transgenic plants on nearby fields. Producers, on the other side, have a strong interest in knowing whether the varieties they are growing are free from unwanted genetic traits.

Up until now, realistic models were lacking that could help growers and legislators assess and predict gene flow between genetically modified and non-genetically modified crops with satisfactory detail.

This study is the first to analyze gene flow of a genetically modified trait at such a comprehensive level. The new approach is likely to improve assessment of the transfer of genes between plants other than cotton as well.

“The most important finding was that gene flow in an agricultural landscape is complex and influenced by many factors that previous field studies have not measured,” said Heuberger. “Our goal was to put a tool in the hands of growers, managers and legislators that allows them to realistically assess the factors that affect gene flow rates and then be able to extrapolate from that and decide how they can manage gene flow.”

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Farmers next to GM fields benefit from pest reduction as expected

Farmers growing conventional corn next to GM crops can benefit from the reduction in crop-destroying pests without paying the premium for GM seeds, a new study has shown.

The research, published today in the journal Science, examined 14 years of records in the top US corn-producing states of Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin, looking at the prevalence of the European corn borer, a moth whose caterpillars eat into corn stalks and topple the plants.

The so-called Bt GM corn varieties were first planted in 1996 and produce toxins taken from a soil bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis, which is deadly to the pest. In GM fields, the pest is eradicated, but the data showed that in neighbouring non-GMO fields the pest populations shrank by 28-78%, depending on how much GM corn was being grown in the surrounding area.

The study also found that the caterpillar-killing GM varieties grown in the vast US corn belt had retained their potency 14 years after being first sown, showing the pests had not developed resistance.

Scientists said the demonstration of the “halo effect” was a triumph for genetically modified crops. Prof Bruce Tabashnik, an entomologist from the University of Arizona, who was not part of the research team, said: “It’s a wonderful success story. It’s a great example of a technology working how it should…”

The researchers, led by Prof Bill Hutchison at the University of Minnesota, also calculated the economic benefits over the 14 years of the GM corn-growing. They valued the extra corn harvested because of the reduction in corn borer numbers and took into account the extra $1.7bn farmers had paid for the GM seeds, equivalent to $10-20 per hectare. The total benefit was $6.8bn but they found it was not evenly distributed: non-GM fields gained two-thirds of the total benefit, despite making up only one-third of the land.

Another hundred years or so and there will be sufficient testing and records to show everyone whether or not GM food crops are a step forward. Probably enough to satisfy most.

And the naysayers will not change their objections one iota.

Malaria-proof mosquito genetically engineered


Test larvae have flourescent marker tied to gene

For years, researchers worldwide have attempted to create genetically altered mosquitoes that cannot infect humans with malaria. Those efforts fell short because the mosquitoes still were capable of transmitting the disease-causing pathogen, only in lower numbers.

Now for the first time, University of Arizona entomologists have succeeded in genetically altering mosquitoes in a way that renders them completely immune to the parasite, a single-celled organism called Plasmodium. Someday researchers hope to replace wild mosquitoes with lab-bred populations unable to act as vectors, i.e. transmit the malaria-causing parasite.

“If you want to effectively stop the spreading of the malaria parasite, you need mosquitoes that are no less than 100 percent resistant to it. If a single parasite slips through and infects a human, the whole approach will be doomed to fail,” said Michael Riehle, who led the research effort…

Riehle’s team used molecular biology techniques to design a piece of genetic information capable of inserting itself into a mosquito’s genome. This construct was then injected into the eggs of the mosquitoes. The emerging generation carries the altered genetic information and passes it on to future generations…

When Riehle and his co-workers studied the genetically modified mosquitoes after feeding them malaria-infested blood, they noticed that the Plasmodium parasites did not infect a single study animal.

We were surprised how well this works,” said Riehle. “We were just hoping to see some effect on the mosquitoes’ growth rate, lifespan or their susceptibility to the parasite, but it was great to see that our construct blocked the infection process completely…”

“The eradication scenario requires three things: A gene that disrupts the development of the parasite inside the mosquito, a genetic technique to bring that gene into the mosquito genome and a mechanism that gives the modified mosquito an edge over the natural populations so they can displace them over time.”

“The third requirement is going to be the most difficult of the three to realize,” he added, which is why his team decided to tackle the other two first…

At this point, the modified mosquitoes exist in a highly secured lab environment with no chance of escape. Once researchers find a way to replace wild mosquito populations with lab-bred ones, breakthroughs like the one achieved by Riehle’s group could pave the way toward a world in which malaria is all but history.

Bravo!

Tons of detail in the article. Sooner or later the study will be published somewhere with free access.

Our early tree-dwelling ancestors were also bipedal

Experiments by a UA anthropologist and his colleagues show that fossil footprints made 3.6 million years ago are the earliest direct evidence of early hominins using the kind of efficient, upright posture and gait now seen in modern humans.
More than three million years ago, the ancestors of modern humans were still spending a considerable amount of their lives in trees, but something new was happening.

David Raichlen…and his colleagues…have developed new experimental evidence indicating that these early hominins were walking with a human-like striding gait as long as 3.6 million years ago.

A trackway of fossil footprints preserved in volcanic ash deposited 3.6 million years ago was uncovered in Laetoli, Tanzania, more than 30 years ago. The significance of those prints for human evolution has been debated ever since.

The most likely individuals to have produced these footprints, which show clear evidence of bipedalism, or walking on two legs, would have been members of the only bipedal species alive in the area at that time, Australopithecus afarensis. That species includes “Lucy,” whose skeletal remains are the most complete of any individual A. afarensis found to date…

Since the Laetoli tracks were discovered, scientists have debated whether they indicate a modern human-like mode of striding bipedalism, or a less-efficient type of crouched bipedalism more characteristic of chimpanzees whose knees and hips are bent when walking on two legs.

To resolve this, Raichlen and his colleagues devised the first biomechanical experiment explicitly designed to address this question…

“Based on previous analyses of the skeletons of Australopithecus afarensis, we expected that the Laetoli footprints would resemble those of someone walking with a bent knee, bent hip gait typical of chimpanzees, and not the striding gait normally used by modern humans,” Raichlen said. “But to our surprise, the Laetoli footprints fall completely within the range of normal human footprints…”

What is fascinating about this study is that it suggests that, at a time when our ancestors had an anatomy well-suited to spending a significant amount of time in the trees, they had already developed a highly efficient, modern human-like mode of bipedalism,” said Gordon.

True Believers may ignore this entire post and the linked article. Of course.

You may now return to jiggling your beads or whatever it is that you fondle on a Sunday evening after all televised sports have ended.