Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Real Dangers With Microbes & Viruses

Earth's Most Abundant Entities
Let's begin with the question not often asked:

"What are the estimated 1 x 1031 viruses and estimated 9.2 x 1029 microbes on Earth doing as their ecosystem is being destroyed around them?"

We have some clues around us with which to explore a very necessary answer --necessary because this epoch which we call the Anthropocene is the epoch of an ongoing Sixth Mass Extinction, killing things all around us.

A mass extinction which may not be like any of the past five mass extinctions, at least in the sense that it is happening slower --at least in terms of geologic time scales.

This gives more time for microbes, viruses, and even the macroscopic flora and fauna to react to their changing environment.

And more to the point, it gives us an opportunity to observe those reactions to the ongoing extinctions:
"Geographers have projected temperature increases due to greenhouse gas emissions to reach a not-so-chilling conclusion: climate zones will shift and some climates will disappear completely by 2100. Tropical highlands and polar regions may be the first to disappear, and large swaths of the tropics and subtropics will reach even hotter temperatures. The study anticipates large climate changes worldwide." (Completely New Climates)
"Vegetation around the world is on the move, and climate change is the culprit, according to a new analysis of global vegetation shifts led by a University of California, Berkeley, ecologist in collaboration with researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

In a paper published June 7 in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography, researchers present evidence that over the past century, vegetation has been gradually moving toward the poles and up mountain slopes, where temperatures are cooler, as well as toward the equator, where rainfall is greater."(Major Vegetation Shifts, emphasis added)
"Narsaq’s largest employer, a shrimp factory, closed a few years ago after the crustaceans fled north to cooler water. Where once there were eight commercial fishing vessels, there is now one.

As a result, the population here, one of southern Greenland’s major towns, has been halved to 1,500 in just a decade. Suicides are up." (Greenland Changing Due To Warming, emphasis added)
Not too long ago I wondered what impact the ancient mass extinctions had on microbes and viruses (What Did The Mass Extinctions Do To Viruses and Microbes?).

Today, let's hypothesize, based on actual scientific observations, what the viruses and microbes might begin to do en masse.

First off, note that the flora and fauna of our planet are being diminished dramatically:
This latest edition of the Living Planet Report is not for the faint-hearted. One key point that jumps out and captures the overall picture is that the
Living Planet Index (LPI), which measures more than 10,000 representative populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish, has declined by 52 per cent since 1970. Put another way, in less than two human generations, population sizes of vertebrate species have dropped by half. These are the living forms that constitute the fabric of the ecosystems which sustain life on Earth – and the barometer of what we are doing to our own planet, our only home. We ignore their decline at our peril.
(Civilization Is Now On Suicide Watch - 4; cf. this PDF). If we consider that certain types of viruses and microbes require or are naturally inclined to operate in or on specific plants and specific animals but not in or on others, we can hypothesize that as times get desperate for them, and then become catastrophic for them, they will radically morph (genetically and behaviourally).

And we can further hypothesize that they will have to attempt to migrate to different species that have not become extinct yet.

There are examples of that happening now:
"Maybe you take a Toxo-infected human and they start having a proclivity towards doing dumb-ass things that we should be innately averse to, like having your body hurdle through space at high G-forces. Maybe this is the same neurobiology. This is not to say that Toxo has evolved the need to get humans into cat stomachs. It's just sheer convergence. It's the same nuts and bolts neurobiology in us and in a rodent, and does the same thing.

On a certain level, this is a protozoan parasite that knows more about the neurobiology of anxiety and fear than 25,000 neuroscientists standing on each other's shoulders, and this is not a rare pattern. Look at the rabies virus; rabies knows more about aggression than we neuroscientists do. It knows how to make you rabid. It knows how to make you want to bite someone, and that saliva of yours contains rabies virus particles, passed on to another person.

The Toxo story is, for me, completely new terrain — totally cool, interesting stuff, just in terms of this individual problem. And maybe it's got something to do with treatments for phobias down the line or whatever it is to make it seem like anything more than just the coolest gee whiz thing possible. But no doubt it's also a tip of the iceberg of God knows what other parasitic stuff is going on out there. Even in the larger sense, God knows what other unseen realms of biology make our behavior far less autonomous than lots of folks would like to think." (The Germ Theory - of Government - 9, quoting Dr. Sapolsky)
"Chloroviruses (family Phycodnaviridae) are large DNA viruses known to infect certain eukaryotic green algae and have not been previously shown to infect humans or to be part of the human virome. We unexpectedly found sequences ... in ... DNA extracted from human ... samples. These samples were obtained by throat swabs of adults without a psychiatric disorder or serious physical illness who were participating in a study that included measures of cognitive functioning. The presence of ATCV-1 DNA was ... associated with a modest but statistically significant decrease in the performance on cognitive assessments of visual processing and visual motor speed." (Chlorovirus ATCV-1, emphasis added).
As Dr. Sapolsky pointed out, the viral and microbial ability to alter brain circuits is well beyond the ability of human brain surgeons.

We are also finding out that viruses and microbes are essential for human and other life forms:
Today, we are at the edge of a main turning point in understanding biological processes. The prevailing central dogma of molecular biology of the last 50 years is no more than a subordinate clause, relevant only to a small fraction of reality.
Now, the new renaissance of viruses is taking centre stage. Research data from the last decade indicate the important roles of viruses, both in the evolution of all life and as symbionts or co-evolutionary partners of host organisms. There is increasing evidence that all cellular life is colonized by exogenous and/or endogenous viruses in a non-lytic but persistent lifestyle. Viruses and viral parts form the most numerous genetic matter on this planet.
To understand their competence in natural genome editing, we have to look not only at their linguistic competence in editing and regulating correct nucleotide sequences, but also at their communicative competence, that is, how they interact with each other, how they compete within host organisms, how they symbiotically interact with host organisms to ward off
competing parasites, how they generate de novo sequences and what life strategies they share. Exactly these features are presented in this volume. Persistent infection lifestyles that do not harm hosts, and symbiotic, cooperating viral swarms, may be more successful in evolutionary terms for integrating advantageous phenotypes into host organisms than are “selfish” agents. Increasing empirical data about the abundance of viruses and virus-derived parts in the ecosphere of this planet, and their roles in the evolution and developmental processes of cellular life forms at the level of the microscopic processes of replication, transcription, translation, alternative splicing, RNA-editing, epigenetics and repair, raise a fundamental question concerning a crucial decision about how to define and explain life ...
(Viruses: Essential Agents of Life, at viii-ix; see also this). This we find out at a time when we are so paranoid about them that all we want to do is make war on them and quarantine those of us we think are the only ones exposed to them (Obola: Art Thou Dying Properly?).

They have existed on this planet for billions of years prior to humans, but we have yet to even figure out where the hell we are (You Are Here).

If we drive the virus and microbe world insane, as previous mass extinctions have done, there will be hell to pay.

It will take them a long time to recover from us, but they have the ability to do so (In Space or Buried Alive).

We won't make it without them ... but they will make it without us.

UC Berkeley professor discusses the adaptability / resistance of microbes to anti-biotics:

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Will We Destroy Food - The Bees? - 2

The destruction of American bee colonies is a threat to the American food supply.

It is a national security concern.

This blog has considered the issue since 2009 (Will We Destroy Food - The Bees?, Will We Destroy Food - The Salmon?, Ice & Bees Gone, Rain, & Ocean Rivers).

Now, the President has issued an official memo directing quick and ongoing response to the threat and the crisis:

MEMORANDUM FOR HEADS OF EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES SUBJECT: Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators

Pollinators contribute substantially to the economy of the United States and are vital to keeping fruits, nuts, and vegetables in our diets. Honey bee pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year in the United States. Over the past few decades, there has been a significant loss of pollinators, including honey bees, native bees, birds, bats, and butterflies, from the environment. The problem is serious and requires immediate attention to ensure the sustainability of our food production systems, avoid additional economic impact on the agricultural sector, and protect the health of the environment.

Pollinator losses have been severe. The number of migrating Monarch butterflies sank to the lowest recorded population level in 2013-14, and there is an imminent risk of failed migration. The continued loss of commercial honey bee colonies poses a threat to the economic stability of commercial beekeeping and pollination operations in the United States, which could have profound implications for agriculture and food. Severe yearly declines create concern that bee colony losses could reach a point from which the commercial pollination industry would not be able to adequately recover. The loss of native bees, which also play a key role in pollination of crops, is much less studied, but many native bee species are believed to be in decline. Scientists believe that bee losses are likely caused by a combination of stressors, including poor bee nutrition, loss of forage lands, parasites, pathogens, lack of genetic diversity, and exposure to pesticides.

Given the breadth, severity, and persistence of pollinator losses, it is critical to expand Federal efforts and take new steps to reverse pollinator losses and help restore populations to healthy levels. These steps should include the development of new public-private partnerships and increased citizen engagement. Therefore, by the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, I hereby direct the following ...

(The White House Press Secretary, emphasis added). The memo goes on to name members of a task force to get cracking within 180 days.

Good move (hope it is not too late).

The previous post in this series is here.

Friday, May 16, 2014

New Meaning Given to Deepwater Horizon

Harvard at about 120 ft.
Harvard at about 12 ft.
Here are some projected views of several locations in the U.S.

Their purpose is to illustrate what those locations would look like with both a twelve foot as well as about a hundred and twenty foot sea level rise.

The Dredd Blog has had some posts about sea level rise as a result of ice caps melting in different locations of the Earth's polar regions --regions that can be distinguished from one another, in terms of quantity of ice.

The posts include a table of locations with sea level rise projections, in feet, should that distinct area or ice cap melt (Will This Float Your Boat - 4).

The maximum sea level rise shown in that table is over twice the 120 feet sea level rise shown here, which is 263.5 feet if all ice caps and glaciers around the world melt (ibid).

Boston Harbor Hotel - 120 ft.
Boston Harbor Hotel - 12 ft.
The name Deepwater Horizon has a nuanced meaning in the sense that using fossil fuels will eventually bring deep water into cities along coasts, and change their horizons.

Ocean Drive - 120 ft.
Ocean Drive - 12 ft.
Along with that is species depletion and human health problems (Gulf of Mexico Still Suffering).

Jefferson Monument - 120 ft.
Jefferson Monument - 12 ft.
None of this adds up to be something anyone wants (Terrifying Global Warming Math).

(Click on the caption at the bottom of any of the 12 ft. sea level rise photos for a link to a larger view and for other information about these photo depictions.

The 120 feet sea level rise depictions are for emphasis and are estimates.)

Another thing that should be remembered is that even the 12 ft. projections will be exacerbated by storm surges, regular floods, and winds.

Venice Beach - 120 ft.
Venice Beach - 12 ft.
Also water will go further inland in porous soils, and will damage flora miles further inland in some cases.

That is already happening in the Carolinas: "We’ve got the highest rate of sea level rise on the East Coast,” said Skip Stiles, executive director, Wetlands Watch, who will be making a presentation on the historic, current and future sea level changes and potential impact on the Eastern Shore.

Stiles said some of the evidence of sea level rise visible to people who spend time around the water include seeing wetlands disappear, ditches going tidal, backyard vegetation changes, and “ghost forests” — full grown trees that are dead along the shore because the water is “moving in underneath them.”
Stiles said all of the Virginia tide gage measurements are showing about the same rise of a foot and a half over the last 100 years." (Social Dementia Causes Heated Misunderestimations - 2, emphasis in original).