Biodiversity: The tale of the ‘un-extinct’ fish

This unique amphibian – which is believed in local culture to have healing properties – has been saved from extinction, in part, by a local group of nuns, who run a captive breeding facility for the animals.
“This just goes to show,” says Gerardo Garcia, “that animals can re-adapt to the wild when reintroduced at the right time and in the right environments”.
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Header image: Chester Zoo
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Egyptian pharaoh’s mummy digitally unwrapped for first time

The mummy of Amenhotep I was taken from the Valley of the Kings, and reburied by the priests in the Deir el-Bahari Royal Cache, a complex of tombs and temples near Luxor, to keep them safe.
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Header image: PA Media
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Ancient mass migration transformed Britons’ DNA

She added: “If Ireland shows a similar pattern to Scotland, in that we find little evidence of substantial inward migration following the Early Bronze Age, we have to ask how and when was Celtic language introduced to that island.”
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Header image: Cambridge Archaeological Unit
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How the common cold can boot out Covid

Published on December 2, 2021Written by BBC

The virus that causes the common cold can effectively boot the Covid virus out of the body’s cells, say researchers.

Some viruses are known to compete in order to be the one that causes an infection.

And University of Glasgow scientists say it appears cold-causing rhinovirus trumps coronavirus.

The benefits might be short-lived but rhinovirus is so widespread, they add, it could still help to suppress Covid.

Think of the cells in your nose, throat and lungs as being like a row of houses. Once a virus gets inside, it can either hold the door open to let in other viruses, or it can nail the door shut and keep its new home to itself.

Influenza is one of the most selfish viruses around, and nearly always infects alone. Others, such as adenoviruses, seem to be more up for a houseshare.

There has been much speculation about how the virus that causes Covid, known as Sars-CoV-2, would fit into the mysterious world of “virus-virus interactions”.

The challenge for scientists is that a year of social distancing has slowed the spread of all viruses and made it much harder to study.

The team at the Centre for Virus Research in Glasgow used a replica of the lining of our airways, made out of the same types of cells, and infected it with Sars-CoV-2 and rhinovirus, which is one of the most widespread infections in people, and a cause of the common cold.

If rhinovirus and Sars-CoV-2 were released at the same time, only rhinovirus is successful. If rhinovirus had a 24-hour head start then Sars-CoV-2 does not get a look in. And even when Sars-CoV-2 had 24-hours to get started, rhinovirus boots it out.

“Sars-CoV-2 never takes off, it is heavily inhibited by rhinovirus,” Dr Pablo Murcia told BBC News.

He added: “This is absolutely exciting because if you have a high prevalence of rhinovirus, it could stop new Sars-CoV-2 infections.”

Similar effects have been seen before. A large rhinovirus outbreak may have delayed the 2009 swine flu pandemic in parts of Europe.

Further experiments showed rhinovirus was triggering an immune response inside the infected cells, which blocked the ability of Sars-CoV-2 to make copies of itself.

When scientists blocked the immune response, then levels of the Covid virus were the same as if rhinovirus was not there.

‘Hard winter’ ahead

However, Covid would be able to cause an infection again once the cold had passed and the immune response calmed down.

Dr Murcia said: “Vaccination, plus hygiene measures, plus the interactions between viruses could lower the incidence of Sars-CoV-2 heavily, but the maximum effect will come from vaccination.”

Prof Lawrence Young, of Warwick Medical School, said human rhinoviruses, the most frequent cause of the common cold, were “highly transmissible”.

He added that this study suggests “that this common infection could impact the burden of Covid-19 and influence the spread of SarsCoV2, particularly over the autumn and winter months when seasonal colds are more frequent”.

Exactly how all this settles down in future winters is still unknown. Coronavirus is likely to still be around, and all the other infections that have been suppressed during the pandemic could bounce back as immunity to them wanes.

Dr Susan Hopkins, from Public Health England, has already warned of a “hard winter” as a result.

“We could see surges in flu. We could see surges in other respiratory viruses and other respiratory pathogens,” she said,

The results have been published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

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Header image: Getty Images
Editor’s note: As usual, this study is highly speculative but lends credence to the argument that natural immunity is a far safer bet than taking an experimental jab with untold long term side effects.
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The enigma of Europe’s submerged behemoth volcano

“The danger isn’t the eruption, but the possible underwater landslides,” says Ventura. If the seismic movements beforehand, or the explosion itself, led one of its flanks to collapse, it would displace such a large volume of water that it would trigger a tsunami.
The devastation of Naples
We now know that submarine landslides from the Aeolian arc of volcanoes could have contributed to past tragedies.
In 1343, for instance, the poet Petrarch described a terrible sea storm that devastated the Bay of Naples, leading to hundreds of deaths.
A recent study by Sara Levi at the State University of New York and colleagues suggests this may have been the result of a tsunami, originating on Stromboli. Analysing archaeological evidence from the volcano, the team found evidence of an ancient landslip,  resulting in a tsunami that reached the Calabrian coast.
A more recent eruption at Stromboli, in 2002, led to two tsunamis. The waves only affected the island itself, however, without reaching the mainland – and no one was killed by the surge.
Unfortunately, we can’t yet calculate the precise threat from Marsili. “We just don’t have enough data,” says Glauco Gallotti, a physicist at the University of Bologna. But there are good reasons to think it may pose a danger, he says. For one thing, the continuing hydrothermal activity could have weakened the volcano’s rocks. What’s more, recordings of microearthquakes shows that lava is still churning in the magma chamber, he says. For both these reasons, we should take the possibility seriously with further research.
In a paper published earlier this year, Gallotti’s team considered five different scenarios, each examining the effects of different possible landslides. In the first couple of cases, the displacement of water was minimal – leading to a wave of just a few centimetres in height.
A collapse on the north-western flank, however, proved to be more serious – leading to a 3-4m high (10-13ft) wave reaching southern Campania, and a 2-3m high (6.6-10ft) wave hitting Calabria and Sicily within 30 minutes of the event. This is worth taking seriously, since a “scar” on Marsili’s seamount suggests that a similar landslide may have occurred in the past. “And it could have generated waves between 1m and 3m high [3-10ft],” says Gallotti.
The worst-case scenario involved the collapse of the southern-central summit and the eastern flank. According to Gallotti’s calculations, it would result in a 20m-high (66ft) wave reaching Sicily and Calabria within 20 minutes. Further research will be needed to assess the probability that this will occur, he emphasises. “But we can’t [yet] rule out the possibility.”
If an eruption does happen, the human cost may depend on the time of year, and whether or not the tsunami arrived in the peak of the tourist season. “The south of Italy is vastly populated in the summer,” Gallotti says. The elevation of Italy’s coastline means that people should be safe if they were around one kilometre inland, he estimates.
Seismic sisters
Ventura agrees that these risks should be explored. “It’s clear that Marsili needs to be monitored for possible instabilities on its flanks.”
As the events at Stromboli had shown, Marsili may be the biggest volcano in Europe, but its sisters could also pose significant threats. “It’s worth remembering that in the Tyrrhenian Sea, as in the Strait of Sicily, there are at least 70 underwater volcanoes, whose story, in some cases, is totally unknown,” says Ventura.
Of particular concern is the Palinuro volcano, located 65km (40 miles) off the coast of Cilento. According to Gallotti, recent studies show that the volcanic complex has a 150m-layer (490ft) of loose material that could be displaced with seismic movements. Ideally, future surveys will provide further details of that structure and its chances of collapse.
If the risk is significant, the Italian government may need to take action to pre-empt the potential disaster. At the moment, there is no good monitoring system to warn Italian people of an impending tsunami. But it need not be too difficult to build, Gallotti says. He points out that a network of buoys, fitted with motion sensors, should be able to detect characteristic differences in the sea’s movements that signal the emergence of a tsunami.
This could send an automatic SMS alert to people in the areas affected – allowing them to reach higher ground before the tsunami hit.
Ventura suggests it may also be possible to monitor the movements of the volcano itself. “In the last 40 years the technology for monitoring active volcanoes has made huge strides,” he says.
In addition to an early warning system, Gallotti would also like to see greater awareness of the potential danger – among the public and policy makers. As evidence, he cites a paper by Teresita Gravina, at Guglielmo Marconi University, Nicola Mari at the University of Glasgow, and colleagues, which recently assessed people’s risk perception in southern Italy.
In general, people were aware that tsunamis could occur in the area, but their knowledge was hazy. When asked about the most recent events, for example, only 3.3 percent of the people who answered mentioned the 2002 tsunami at Stromboli, for instance. Most believed themselves to be ill-informed about the events, with limited knowledge of the tsunami’s potential causes or the best ways to act, were another to occur.
“This is quite serious,” Gravina and Mari told BBC Future in an email. “It’s probably due to the fact that in Italy there’s little communication on these subjects. To know how a seismic phenomenon, or a tsunami, forms is very important, because you can assess completely different scenarios and the different behaviours that would be necessary to avoid the danger.” Any attempts to design an effective early warning system would need to consider the behaviours of the different communities, they say.
(We’ve already seen this with Covid-19 – two populations can react to exactly same information in very different ways.)
There have been some positive steps. A recent project in Salerno, organised by Italy’s Civil Protection Department, attempted to simulate the emergency caused by a tsunami. “This could have increased their awareness of the risk,” Gravina and Mari say. But for most people, the danger of an underwater landslide, caused by a submarine volcano, is still little understood – meaning that much more work is needed to educate people of the possibility.

Sajid Javid: NHS backlog in England could reach 13 million

He told the Sunday Telegraph: “What shocked me the most is when I was told that the waiting list is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. It’s gone up from 3.5 million to 5.3 million as of today, and I said to the officials, so what do you mean ‘a lot worse’, thinking maybe it goes from 5.3 million to six million, seven million. They said no, it’s going to go up by millions… it could go as high as 13 million. Hearing that figure of 13 million, it has absolutely focused my mind, and it’s going to be one of my top priorities to deal with because we can’t have that.“

Among the solutions, Mr Javid said, would be to pay private healthcare providers to continue to treat NHS patients, and keeping virtual doctors’ appointments.

A BBC analysis found in May that almost a third of hospitals had seen long waits for treatment increase – with more than 10% of patients going a year or more without treatment.

In March, around five million patients were waiting for surgery – the highest number since modern records began.

It comes as Covid case numbers rose above 30,000 for the fourth day in a row on Saturday, amid concerns over the move to end most of England’s remaining curbs later this month.

Mr Javid has previously warned that virus cases could reach 100,000 a day over the summer, if the ending of restrictions goes ahead as planned on 19 July.

If that does happen, then hospital admissions could reach 2,500 a day, according to statistician Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter.

Appearing on The Andrew Marr Show on BBC One, Prof Spiegelhalter said it was “absolutely inevitable” that the UK would soon experience “a big wave of cases“.

He said the hospital admissions estimate was “very high” but “considerably lower” than the peak of the second wave.

Patients would also likely be younger and therefore require shorter stays in hospital, Prof Spiegelhalter added.

Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the academy was “cautious about issuing dire warnings” but she had become “profoundly concerned” over the last couple of weeks about the idea of lifting restrictions in England on 19 July.

“There seems to be a misapprehension that life will return to normal from then and that we can throw away all the precautions and, frankly, that would be dangerous,” she said.

A few hospitals in the UK have announced that non-urgent surgery is being postponed because of rising admissions of Covid patients, very high patient numbers at A&E, and staff self-isolating, the BBC’s health editor Hugh Pym reported.

In Wales, home births were suspended by the Swansea Bay health board due to the number of staff self-isolating or unwell.

Health experts in Scotland said clinicians were “resigned” to spiralling Covid cases putting more pressure on health services in the coming weeks.

However, the link between Covid, hospitalisation and death has been weakened by the vaccine rollout, with admissions to hospital and deaths below the levels seen last winter.

Being fully vaccinated reduces the risk of symptomatic Covid-19 by about 90 percent, and hospitalisation by up to 94 percent, depending on the jab.

England fans attending Sunday’s Euro 2020 final against Italy at Wembley were offered on-the-spot jabs at a nearby vaccination centre.

Prof Stephen Powis, of NHS England, described the vaccine as the “best defence” and urged fans to “be a team player and get both your vaccinations in what is a game of two jabs“.

The NHS will also air an advert during TV coverage of the final to encourage people who have not been vaccinated to get their jab.

So far, 45.7 million first doses have been distributed by the NHS across the UK – more than 86 percent of all UK adults.

Meanwhile, experts have warned it is possible to catch two coronavirus variants at the same time after an unvaccinated 90-year-old woman in Belgium became sick with the Alpha and Beta types simultaneously.

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