Discover more from Learning by Proxy with Vivek Srinivasan
Virus Virus everywhere...
The heat is causing viruses to evolve and change. We need to prepare for more future pandemics since the climate issue does not seem to be getting solved
I am currently reading this fascinating book called Genome by Matt Ridley. In the book, he writes, “the purpose of a gene is to provide the roadmap to manufacture proteins and the purpose of a protein is to make copies of genes.”
Much like you need a chef in order to create a recipe and you need recipes to train a chef.
DNA is a sequence of letters that are replicated by proteins. Now imagine your job is to sit and make copies of a sequence of letters. Normally, you would do it without problems. Now if there was a wind blowing through the window and you had to continue with your work, from time to time you might be distracted by papers flying around and the need to clamp them down. Instead of wind if it were a storm and you had to keep the window open and continue with your work, you would be more than distracted and certain to make mistakes.
The proteins in our bodies as well as those in viruses and bacteria are being made to deal with a storm that is being caused by the warming of the environment. Imagine watching water boil in a pan, as the heat increases it becomes harder to follow what movements are taking place in the water.
In 1958, there was a paper published with concluded that the increase in ambient heat causes greater genetic mutation.
MILD heating (up to 36 C.) is known to produce a small increase of the spontaneous mutation-rates in Drosophila and in bacteria. We have found that using special conditions it is possible to have mesophilic non-sporogenic bacteria (Escherichia coli) survive relatively high temperatures (60 C.) ; this sublethal treatment produces a high frequency of mutations and unstable genes.
We have been dealing with viruses and bacteria for millennia now. Many of them are critical for us to digest food and perform several other physical activities.
We have had pandemics and diseases have spread across the world. What is unique this time around is the rate at which those diseases are evolving.
COVID-19 started out in 2019. It is 2022 and we are still talking about a new wave because of the evolution that the virus has undergone over this time. Before 2019, if a doctor diagnosed you with Coronavirus, you were probably suffering from Common Cold. It mutated.
Now, a virus whose greatest outbreaks have been restricted to Africa, more specifically Zaire (now called the Democratic Republic of Congo), is running rampant across the globe.
Monkeypox virus causes the disease in both humans and animals. It was first identified by Preben von Magnus in 1958 as a pathogen of crab-eating macaque monkeys (Macaca fascicularis) being used as laboratory animals, when two outbreaks of a smallpox-like disease occurred in colonies of monkeys kept for research. The crab-eating macaque is often used for neurological experiments. Monkeypox virus is an Orthopoxvirus, a genus of the family Poxviridae that contains other viral species that target mammals. The virus is found mainly in tropical rainforest regions of Central and West Africa. The virus is split into Congo Basin and West African clades, matching the geographical areas.
The virus was first discovered in monkeys (hence the name) in 1958, and in humans in 1970. Almost 50 cases were reported between 1970 and 1979, with more than two thirds of these being from Zaire. The other cases originated from Liberia, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone. By 1986, over 400 cases in humans were reported. Small viral outbreaks with a death rate in the range of 10% and a secondary human-to-human infection rate of about the same amount occur routinely in equatorial Central and West Africa. The primary route of infection is thought to be contact with the infected animals or their bodily fluids. The first reported outbreak outside of the African continent occurred in the United States in 2003 in the Midwestern states of Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, with one occurrence in New Jersey. The outbreak was traced to a prairie dog infected from an imported Gambian pouched rat. No deaths occurred.
Much like Covid is part of the coronavirus family, all poxes are part of the Variola virus family. Smallpox was its worst version which was eradicated globally in Dec 1979. Kids born in the last 30 years have not been inoculated for smallpox since the virus was deemed eradicated.
Take a virus, add some heat, a subtle mutation and give it a population that has never seen the virus - ever.
Here's a list of countries
EUROPE: Spain, Portugal, Sweden, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Switzerland.
There are about 100 cases that are active across this region at present. That is not the problem. The problem is the diversity of the countries that the disease has managed to reach! From the UK to Canada to Australia. All Variola virus-based diseases are spread through bodily fluids. You could touch it or inhale it. It is therefore not as easily transmitted as Covid. But having said that, it is rather strange that the disease would have travelled 10s of thousands of kilometres across the planet this easily.
Interestingly, no cases have yet shown up in Asia.
The genome sequencing results of some of the virus samples indicate that the virus has undergone 94 mutations. Some experts consider this a high number, especially since it is a DNA virus, which are usually considered to be stable. So, has a new variant of the virus appeared and could it be driving the rise in cases at a speed unheard of in its case?
I think this is unlikely. Viruses like opportunity and I think what we are seeing is a reflection of that. An introduction of monkeypox virus into susceptible populations with spread likely facilitated by optimal conditions that are just now being uncovered as outbreak investigation is ongoing.
We know some clusters have been linked to parties and shared public facilities (like saunas) in some European countries reporting cases. For a virus that spreads through close contact, these are all optimal settings for it to spread if introduced.
Source: The Wire
Maybe because in Asia, a sauna is essentially an afternoon walk.
My hunch is that the mutation has a role to play. I also feel that it is far more transmissible because of this than previously believed. I hope that WHO and the rest have learnt their lessons from the past couple of years and take the necessary precautions. It is okay to err on the side of caution than to let this one get away as well.
Au moment d'écrire ces lignes, on aurait recensé trois cas de variole du singe en Flandre. Deux cas déterminés cliniquement, ainsi qu'un contact à haut risque présentant des symptômes, d'après nos confrères du HLN.
Pour les personnes infectées par le virus, elle devront s'isoler pendant 21 jours. La variole du singe ayant une période d'incubation assez longue. Par contre, les contacts à haut risque ne sont pas obligés de s'isoler. Ils doivent quand même surveiller leur état de santé, à la recherche de symptômes particuliers.
Source: La Libre
[The gist of it - 3 people have been infected in the Flanders region of Belgium. Two have been clinically confirmed and one has been exposed and has a high risk of infection. Those infected are being asked to quarantine for 21 days. The incubation period of the virus is that long. Those who have come into contact need not isolate, although they are required to check the state of their health and report any peculiar symptoms.]
Since the virus needs to spread physically AND we have gone through one heck of a pandemic, this spread can be controlled a lot more easily. Having said that, the incidents of viral diseases and their spread is going to rise going forward.
We will not do anything about climate change because capitalism needs to be preserved.
The only thing on offer is words. Western media is filled with news of how Europe is going to transition away from Russian oil because of the Ukraine war. In fact, they all have capitulated and started buying Russian oil with Rubles. The last time the Ruble was this strong was 5 years ago.
Their words and their actions have no resonance at all. The Ruble is the best performing currency of 2022. Sanctions, my ass.
I read a book called Outbreak earlier in the year. Let me offer a list of diseases that have ripped through populations and killed millions in the past.
There are others on the list like Syphillis, HIV, Ebola, etc. But these are the repeat offenders. So watch out for their variants.
It seems like viruses are not the only ones undergoing mutation!
Among our 19 populations, we found that, on average, genetic change in response to selection was responsible for an 18.5% increase per generation in the ability of individuals to survive and reproduce.
This means offspring are on average 18.5% “better” than their parents. To put it another way, an average population could survive an 18.5% deterioration in the quality of its environment. (This may change if genetic response to selection is not the only force at play; more on that below.)
Given these rates, we found adaptive evolution could explain most recent changes in wild animal traits (such as size or reproductive timing). Other mechanisms are important too, but this is strong evidence evolution should be considered alongside other explanations.
Source: The Conversation
Perhaps humans are also undergoing such genetic changes that make it possible for us to adapt to the changing environment!