Death By Ice Melt


When fretting over the future effects of climate change, one may be worrying about just how hot it will get, how many coastal cities and islands will be lost to rising oceans or the massive loss of life through drought and famine. But what about mystery diseases? Yep. Add one more thing to your climate change related anxiety list. Mystery diseases.

You see, frozen in the Arctic and Antarctic tundra and ice sheets are pathogens that have been imprisoned for more than a millennia. And climate change is going to bring about the big thaw that will set them free. Many of them have never before been encountered by modern man. Remember what happened when Europeans introduced strange pathogens to indigenous peoples in their invasive travels? Yeah, without natural resistance, those native populations were decimated with disease.

So what exactly is lurking in the permafrost and ice?

–   Example:   August, 2016, remote Siberian tundra region of the Yamal Peninsula, a 12-year-old boy dies and 20 other people hospitalized with anthrax infections.

Now, a conspiracy theorist would point the finger at the Russian government, accusing it of using these poor folk as guinea pigs in bio-terror weapons research. The reality is, as determined by medical researchers, that the anthrax was a 75-year-old reindeer strain.

A quarter of a century ago the dead reindeer were covered with permafrost where they died. The heatwave that occurred in the area in 2016 exposed the contaminated corpses. The soil was then contaminated, thus the grassland being currently grazed upon was contaminated as well. The pathogens also washed into natural water supplies during periods of rainfall.

Final result? About 2,000 head of local reindeer grazed on the infected grassland. They, in turn, infected their human herds-people. This is the future of mystery disease due to climate change. Especially since there are more than a million reindeer carcasses infected with anthrax in Arctic regions that are buried close to the surface because you can’t dig deep graves in frozen ground.

In addition to anthrax, scientists also suspect strange varieties of influenza will be released. In Alaska, there have been discovered intact viruses of Spanish flu dating back to 1918. What else might be buried in shallow graves in frozen ground around the world? Corpses infected with active strains of smallpox and bubonic plague.

One Siberian town has a mass grave containing about 40% of its population that died in a smallpox epidemic in the 1890s. Already the permafrost layer is melting and washing away. Not only will this lead to contamination in the old town’s immediate area but any part of civilization the waters of the nearby Kolyma River contact will also be in danger of infection.

And pathogens can live longer than a couple of hundred years. Back in 2005 NASA researchers were successful in resurrecting bacteria removed from a frozen Alaskan pond. The microbes were 32,000 years old.

In 2007 scientists brought back to life bacteria that was 8 million years old and another sample that was 100,000 years old. They retrieved them from a glacier in Antarctica.
But do they have the strength to be virulent after a period of dormancy that long? For the answer, just refer to the findings of French evolutionary biologist Jean-Michel Claverie of Aix Marseille University. In 2014 Claverie resurrected two viruses from Siberia’s permafrost that were 30,000 years old. Once alive again, they quickly took on infectious status. Claverie’s conclusion:

“… these ancient layers could be exposed… If viable virions are still there, this could spell disaster.”

The most dangerous virions are called  “giant viruses”. These are the ones that can survive being buried in ice, dormant for eons, and become active again. It’s because, unlike a regular virus, a giant virus has a tough genetic make-up that can survive outside a host cell. Think of it like the virus having a protective shield around its DNA that prevents biochemical degradation.

And it gets worse. It’s not just ice melt we modern day humans have to worry about. Crystals, as old as 50,000 years, dug out of a Mexican mine were found to harbor microbial bacteria, a bacteria that has not seen the surface of the earth for over 4 million years. Studies have determined that this particular bacteria is resistant to 70% of current commonly used antibiotics. Great. The gringa says, “Stop all that digging!”

How does a super-bacteria like that come about? Well, there’s not much for it to eat in a cave, isolated from water, light, etc. To survive, an organism has to be ruthless in competition with other organisms for whatever means are available for nutrition.

What the heck is being done about this? Well, the gringa would like to provide some measure of relief. This all means that the diseases that riddled Neanderthals, our ancestors, may all come back to haunt us. But thanks to scientists like Claverie the diseases our ancient ancestors suffered from are being discovered and vaccines are being created.

Sources:

BBC

PNAS

Image Credit: BBC

Video Credit: Seeker

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Does Bacteria Fart?


(Originally posted 2/28/16 on Read With The Gringa)

Lately the gringa has been captivated by a variety of aromas. Her dear little puppy, Abby-pup, has her own unique fragrances that identify her dog breath, dirty dogginess, wet dogginess and upset tummy gas. Every morning, while the gringa drinks her coffee, her middle-aged armpit sweat glands produce copious amounts of pungent odor. When the caveman arrives home from work he smells like caliche dust after a long day of delivering gravel. The gringa finds this smell kind of sexy, actually. However, there is one caveman smell that the gringa finds terribly offensive. Caveman farts are the things gringa nightmares are made of.

What the heck is a fart? Well, it’s gas. Actually, it’s a combination of gases: nitrogen, hydrogen, hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, carbon dioxide and methane. The oxygen is usually in the air we take in as we swallow food and even snore, which the caveman does on earsplitting levels. The other gases are by-products created by the food as it breaks down in the large intestine. And, eventually, they simply have to escape lest we all blow up like a helium balloon.

You may not realize it but the average person is simply filled with loads of gas. We pass gas about 10-20 times daily, depending on what you eat. In fact, if you could bottle up all of your daily farts, they would probably fill up a quart jar. Now, bits of undigested food don’t just magically change into gas. The gas is actually the creation of bacteria. Inside the large intestine more than 500 varieties of bacteria reside, happily gnawing away at all the undigested bits and bobs that make their way to that netherworld.

But is it the type of bacteria or the type of food that produces the smell? Well, it’s both. The smelliest gas released in a fart is hydrogen sulfide. Beef, poultry, eggs, broccoli, and other foods high in sulfur compounds are the ingredients for really rotten smelling farts. That means that even a vegetarian’s fart smells bad.

Now, bacteria don’t have intestines to actually fart. Basically, they just smell themselves. They simply emanate the appropriate odor for what they’ve been eating. So, in essence, a fart is an explosion of bacterial aromas. Seeing as how there are trillions upon trillions of bacteria throughout your digestive system, it is understandable, then, how such a concentration of smelly creatures can really pack a punch by the time a fart makes it to the outside world.

But don’t be sad or embarrassed that you are farting bacteria produced gas. It helps keep you healthy. Those smelly bacteria are your friend.

Sources: Love Your Gut

Kid’s Health

Unity Point

Image Credit: Style Vitae

Video Credit: TED-Ed

How Bad Is 82%?


Did the gringa’s dear readers hear the news? The Earth’s report card has arrived and, well, it doesn’t seem to be all that bad. It’s a “B”, after all, 82%. That’s the grade the University of Washington’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory gave our lovely planet. What, exactly, does that mean?

By using what the laboratory calls the “habitability index”, our planet was graded on the likelihood of supporting life. It rated an 82%. The same guidelines used to determine the habitability of life on other exoplanets throughout the vast cosmos was applied to Earth and she got a “B”. Among these guidelines are factors like: atmospheric pressure, terrain, existence of water, etc.

The funny thing is that if we didn’t live here already, and sent out a probe to conduct an analysis of our planet according to this habitability index, we wouldn’t think the planet was inhabited or capable of sustaining life if we wanted to pay it a visit with boots on the ground. We would think it was too hot to support life. What? Yes. Our scientists would think it too close to our host star, the Sun. The gringa says, “That’s crazy!” I then have to wonder how many other planets out there in space have been deemed “uninhabitable” but, in actuality, could very well support life and possible may be doing just that?!

The researchers at SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) seem to be thinking along the same lines as the gringa. Now, SETI typically keeps a fairly low profile. However, with the discovery of exoplanets, there is renewed vigor in the organization’s work.

When work first began in the 1980s, SETI was not a group of ufologists looking for little green men. These were serious scientists who were actually skeptical that intelligent life existed in the universe other than here on Earth. And then the discovery of exoplanets was made. These cosmic bodies orbit stars just like Earth and our neighbors within our own Solar System.

In addition to the discovery of exoplanets, extremophiles were also discovered. These are living organisms that survive within an extreme ecosystem, such as bacterial ecosystems around a 700 degree Fahrenheit hydrothermal vent, surviving without sunlight and under extreme oceanic pressure.  That means that life in the most basic form that evolved into all that populates our planet today can exist in outer space. In fact, it’s highly likely that it does, somewhere, we just have to find it.

You see, about 2,000 exoplanets have been discovered and that is just scratching the surface of an infinite universe. Mankind’s limited exploration abilities have yet to uncover what is likely to be hundreds of thousands, possibly millions and billions, of exoplanets. That dramatically increases the chances that somewhere out there is an exoplanet supporting life.

Consider that many of these exoplanets are much older than Earth. That means they have had plenty of time for bacteria to evolve into intelligent beings. Now, more than ever, is the gringa excited about the future of space exploration. The nearest exoplanet with a score high enough on the habitability index to consider a likely place to start in such a search is over 1,400 light years away. The gringa would rather go there than Mars.

 

Photo Source:  www.rawscience.tv.com