Nipah virus outbreak in India

The deadliest situation has arrived in Kerela, India after the outbreak of the extremely severe Nipah virus took the life of a twelve-year-old boy. After the diagnosis of brain swelling, the boy had been admitted to a private hospital. While figuring out how to treat this infectious Nipah virus is pretty much a work in progress, there have been significant advances.

Nonetheless, the Nipah virus remains a matter of concern not only in India but for the rest of the world as well. WHO classifies it as a “virus of concern” for future pandemics because it can be easily transmitted to a healthy person from the infected one, especially through the contaminated food.

Nipah Virus Vs Corona Virus:

According to a CBS news reports, Nipah is considered to be one of the most poisonous viruses to ever infect humans. Previously, the virus has killed more than 18 individuals who were infected. The disease is far less contagious than the Covid-19 pandemic which is still infecting thousands of people daily, although the availability of vaccines has reduced the impact of this virus. However, there’s still a possibility of neurological symptoms among the survivors.

However, the Nipah infection does not spread as quickly as Coronavirus does, mainly because of the short amount of time from infection to death.

Aftermath precautions:

Following the boy’s death, public health authorities swung into action by connecting with the boy’s family, friends, and doctors. They identified and isolated at least 188 people who interacted with the boy physically. Additionally, they sealed off the entire area within about three miles from the boy’s residence in an attempt to prevent the spread of the virus.

As a consequence of this inspection, the healthcare assistants who treated the boy have shown the symptoms of the Nipah virus, and both of them have been hospitalized.

Besides Coronavirus, Nipah infection has been listed as a priority because of its great spreading potential. After the USA, India has the second-highest progressive covid-19 case count in the world.

Predictions about the virus:

In September 2020, the Chief Medical Advisor of the White House warned the public about the impending doom of the outbreaks of viruses, including Nipah and Corona. He evaluates that these viruses will enter the world of humanity and will only grow increasingly common.

Sociologically, the Nipah virus constantly appears in Southeast Asia. It is because the continuing environmental destruction has destroyed the wildlife and made the animals, including all the bat species to remain in closer proximity to human societies than ever before. To avoid this reunion, the Kerala officials are warning all the citizens to eschew bats and to trash any food that shows signs of insects taking a nibble.

In the long run, additional research will be completed on the Nipah virus and the development of effective treatments.

Radioactive Hybrid Pigs

A little over a decade after the horrifying 2011 Tsunami which led to the meltdown of a reactor at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, Japanese scientists have found a hybrid wild boar species in the radioactively dangerous zone of Fukushima.

This discovery suggests that the flora and the fauna of the region has thrived ever since the eviction of humans, allowing them to reclaim their space and adapt to life in a new environment. The hybrid pigs are a proof of the thriving fauna.

Scientists believe that the livestock that people were forced to abandoned at their homes during the 2011 evacuation have started breeding with the local wild boar to create these new hybrids.

A study by PhD students at the Fukushima University revealed that a large population of the wild boar in Fukushima had a European domesticated pig DNA variation. These wild boar-pig hybrids were first discovered in 2015, and since then their frequency has remained stable.

The study which was carried out by Donovan Anderson, a PhD student at the Fukushima University with other colleagues, included them studying samples of 243 different types of boars, pigs & hybrids. Of the sample studied, 16% were hybrid suggesting that the local population of wild boar bred with the abandoned domesticated pigs. The study also revealed that over 75% of the hybrid boar population was discovered within the initial 20km radius of the radioactive-eviction zone.

Donovan Andersen, the co-author of the study also suggests that that the hybrid boars are less likely to remain hybrids in the longer term since they had only 8% of pig’s DNA, further indicating that the domesticated pigs had poor adaptive capabilities and survival characteristics in the wild

“We do not expect these adaption changes in boar, likely caused from the absence of people, to maintain in populations especially as [human] disturbance returns,” Anderson said.

What Happened in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster?

On March 11, 2011, an earthquake measuring 9.0 Magnitude struck with its epicenter near Japan’s largest island Honshu. Less than 1 hour after the earthquake, Tsunami waves as high as 15 meters hit the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant, flooding the basements, and shutting down the diesel generators. The reactors 4, 5 and 6 were already shut down for scheduled maintenance when the earthquake hit, however, reactors 1, 2 and 3 were operating at the time.

When the flooding water disabled the diesel generators for all except the 6th unit. First level emergency was announced, and the state machinery was immediately put to work in order to avoid the meltdown of reactors and devise alternate cooling mechanisms. However, reactors 1, 2 and 3 went through meltdowns followed by hydrogen explosions, making the region extremely hazardous and inhabitable, forcing over 160,000 people out of their homes. 

As human life now readies to return to Fukushima, authorities continue to hunt down wild boars in the area that may still be radioactive and pose a threat to the human population.

Covid-19 Eliminates two flu strains

During the covid-19 pandemic, some scientists encouraged preventive measures against the coronavirus include wearing a mask, hand sanitizing, and social distancing, which could also have resulted or contributed to the elimination of multiple strains of flu.

According to Gizmodo, the researchers couldn’t discover two former usual strains of flu since March 2020. More precisely, the missing strains include the Yamagata strain of influenza B virus and the strain of influenza A virus H3N2.

Comparison of two viruses:

Amazingly, these two types of viruses haven’t shown up for more than a year anywhere in the world. Researchers are unaware if these viruses are truly eliminated, but at present they’re nowhere to found.

To evaluate which flu strains might have vanished, we have to understand how viruses are classified. Ever since the breakout, covid-19 has been compared to influenza because they similarly cause respiratory disease, yet there are apparent differences between these viruses and how they spread. Fortunately, there’s an availability of vaccines and antivirals for the treatment of influenza.

Eliminations of the flu strains:

The elimination of these flu strains is a beneficial effect during the pandemic. According to Gizmodo, many researchers and doctors are playing their valuable part in encouraging the usage of face-masks, social distancing, and quarantine. However, virologist Florian Krammer suggests that although the strains might not have been detected for over a year, we can’t be sure that they have been eliminated entirely. So, the viruses might be residing anywhere in our surroundings.

Even if the strains haven’t been fully eliminated their disappearance still makes the preparation of vaccines easier. Every year researchers are assigned the responsibility to make ‘high-tech guesses’ about which flu strains are more likely to prevail in the following months so that they can prepare preventive doses beforehand.

But, Krammer believes that less diversity among the flu viruses could be a possibility. Reduced flu virus diversity means a tiny pool of circulating viruses to choose from and a greater chance that the strains in an annual vaccine will be successful.

If the current covid-19 preventive measures are keeping us safe from other viruses as well, we might consider face masks, and social distancing even after the pandemic is over, particularly during the winter months when the flu virus is more prevalent.

Mind Control

Remember all the sci-fi movies we watched where our protagonist clad in a smart space-suit would try to control the devices around him with his mind and we were left amazed? Well, in Elon Musk’s world of rapidly-growing technology, it is turning into a real possibility.

The co-founder of Neuralink and the latest mastermind behind every technology, Elon Musk said that his brain interface company will begin its launch with the product that will let users operate the “smartphone with their mind faster than someone using thumbs”. This is especially revolutionary for people with paralysis who will now find it extremely easy to access technology.

Providing a sneak-peak into this plan after the tweets, Neuralink also released a video of a nine-year-old macaque named Pager engaged in a competitive game of Pong using two Neuralink units that were put in its brain six weeks ago.

This revelation could help people with paralysis use the implanted devices to feel more in control of their day-to-day activities and comes as a huge breakthrough.

The device has also opened up discussions around the technology for the visually impaired and Elon Musk says he is not ignorant to those issues either. A fan inquired about their plan for such a device and Musk promptly responded on Twitter saying, “Absolutely doable. Possibly as soon as Neuralink device version 2, highly likely by version 3.”

While it may be some time before Neuralink comes up with the mechanics of sending signals to different parts of a human body, these steps are ensuring steady and rapid growth to make the world a bit smarter every day.

But, how will the device work and what are the ramifications of having it in your brain? However, Musk pointed out that the device will be barely noticeable. “The device is implanted flush with the skull and charges wirelessly, so you look and feel totally normal.”

Right now, we do not have a date for when the tech would be available for public use because, considering the technicalities involved, the health and tech experts would have to work together to see if there are any challenges during the trial period that could potentially put the users at risk.

Even the critics of Elon Musk have praised this initiative and regarded it as an essential step in assisting people with disabilities so that they are also included in all the programs for growth and development in the sector. These plans serve as a long-term investment as they hint towards more meaningful goals for the future of human kind rather than prioritizing the fastest car in the world or finding life beyond Earth, the kind of projects that hold little or no practical value in the life of an average human being.

Mixed Species Embryos

Finding human organ donors for transplant is a matter of grave concern worldwide. Thousands of patients succumb to death waiting in line for organ donors. For years scientists have struggled to find alternatives and have chiefly resorted to stem-cell research hoping to grow human organs in animals such as sheep and pigs. However, the approach has not reaped any fruitful results so far.

Recently, however, scientists from various international institutes have attempted to create mixed-species embryos by injecting stem cells from humans into macaque (monkey) embryos. Monkey embryos are mainly used for this purpose because monkeys are genetically the closest to the human species.

Scientists injected 25 induced pluripotent stem cells from humans into 132 macaque embryos. The embryos were each 6-days old. All cells survived and grew inside the 132 embryos in the first 24 hours. After a lapse of 10 days, 29 embryos expired leaving only 103 chimeric embryos behind. By the 19th day, all except 3 chimeric embryos died, which too were terminated.

Researchers have marked this a great victory and believe that the rate the human cells grew inside the monkey embryos for the first 24 hours is remarkable and could be a great breakthrough in genetic engineering.

“This knowledge will allow us to go back now and try to re-engineer these pathways that are successful for allowing appropriate development of human cells in these other animals,” Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a genetics professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences in La Jolla, California, and co-author of the study told NPR.

“We are very, very excited,” he added.

“Our goal is not to generate any new organism, any monster,” Belmonte told the broadcaster. “We are trying to understand how cells from different organisms communicate with one another.

All these experiments have led to promising results, as pointed out by the researchers.

Integration of the cells was not a challenge, but the survival was proving to be difficult so eventually the researchers investigated some new ways to conduct screening for drugs. This assisted in generating transplantable cells, tissues, and even organs.

Even though the idea is serving as a major breakthrough in the world of genetics, the experiment has already been tried before but with little success. In 2017, some scientists designed human-pig chimeras by introducing human cells into pig embryos. The cells were then incubated for a period of four weeks and just when they thought it would work, the number of cells grown proved to be insufficient.

This is why the researchers focused on producing a higher rate of growth.

The experiment does raise questions on ethicacy.  “My first question is: Why?” research fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute Kirstin Matthews told NPR. “I think the public is going to be concerned, and I am as well, that we’re just kind of pushing forward with science without having a proper conversation about what we should or should not do.”

Human Reproduction

Scientists warn that the world might become infertile by 2045 if we continue at the current rate. The last decade has seen multiple warnings and threats being issued regarding the fertility of the youth by the researchers and experts who have blamed artificial products for the rapid decrease.

Right now, environmentalists have categorized the use of plastic as one of the most dangerous practices observed globally that is assisting the process of declining fertility.

The Guardian published research conducted in 2017 by Shanna Swan, a professor of environmental medicine and public health at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine in New York City about the fertility rate. The findings of the study focused on the sperm count among men in Western Countries and it was discovered that it had dropped by more than 50 percent over the last 40 years. 3 years later, Swan published a book titled Count Down that provides a detailed insight into how and why humans are not being able to procreate as efficiently as before.

“People are recognizing we have a reproductive health crisis, but they say it’s because of delayed childbearing, choice or lifestyle – it can’t be chemical,” Swan said to the Guardian. “I want people to recognize it can. I am not saying other factors aren’t involved. But I am saying chemicals play a major causal role.”

Furthermore, the Human Reproduction Update also released a study in 2017 that highlighted how the sperm concentration in men fell from 99 million per ml in 1973 to 47.1 million per ml in 2011. When you look at the statistics, you see a sharp decline of 53.4% in the sperm count in the western countries namely Australia, North America, Europe, New Zealand etc.

Swan, who has studied this issue profoundly says that one of the reasons for this steep fall is the chemicals that “interfere with or mimic the body’s sex hormones”.

“Phthalates, used to make plastic soft and flexible, are of paramount concern,” Swan said. “They are in everybody and we are probably primarily exposed through food as we use soft plastic in food manufacture, processing and packaging.” She further added that “They lower testosterone and so have the strongest influences on the male side, for example diminishing sperm count, though they are bad for women, too, shown to decrease libido and increase risk of early puberty, premature ovarian failure, miscarriage and premature birth.”

The solution to this problem is not quite simple. It has taken years and years of damage for the researchers to notice the significant decline in the fertility rate so it is not an issue you can get prescribed medicines for. Swan, along with other researchers considers it a threat to humanity because if the trend continues then the world would have fewer and fewer human beings by the end of 2045.

“The current state of reproductive affairs can’t continue much longer without threatening human survival,” Swan writes in Count Down. She says that we need a complete overhaul of the chemical industry to reassess which products are actively harming the reproductive growth rate and people at least need to be warned about the consequences of the consumption of plastic.