In todays science news you find out more about the origins of Covid-19, how the Antarctic is doing and what the plans for plant-based food is.
Covid-19: Findings from the WHO Report, More Research still Required
Nt-Date: 30 March, 2021 (Nature article)
Et-Date: 10 June, 2021 (Blog entry)
Summary: In late January and early February a team of 34 scientists consisting of various nationalities went to Wuhan and gathered and assessed Data. The WHO report concluded that it is highly unlikely that the coronavirus escaped from the laboratory in Wuhan.
Method of Research
A team of 34 scientists from nations including China, Japan, the USA and the UK gathered in Wuhan and assessed data. It ranged from investigating the wet markets to interviewing the researches at the Wuhan laboratory.
- 2/3rds (~ 67%) of the 170 people who had symptoms reported that they were exposed to live or dead animals shortly beforehand
- 10% of the 170 people travelled outside of Wuhan
- The genomes of SARS-CoV-2 that were sequenced by Chinese researchers revealed that eight (8) of the earliest sequences were identical and the infected people were linked to the Huanan market
- The findings thus suggest an outbreak on the Huanan market
- The researchers also looked into the death certificates in China; a spike first in Wuhan and then two weeks later in the wider province of Hubei, suggests that the outbreak began in Wuhan
The researchers, however, also found genomes that varied slightly from the findings described above. While some of them were linked to the market, others were not.
Hypothesis 1: The variants that couldn’t be linked to the market suggest that they may have been spreading under the radar in communities, evolving over time, and then occuring in people linked to the market.
Hypothesis 2: An outbreak may have occured on a farm that delievered animals to the Huanan market. There, several infected animals – each with a slightly different variant of SARS-CoV-2 – might have been sold at the markets in Wuhan. Thus sparking multiple infections in humans.
Market or Laboratory?
As of now, the laboratory theory falls apart and a majority of scientists say that the evidence for a natural spillover (animal to human) is far greater.
First of all, a deliberate attempt to spread the virus can be ruled out. No one in the lab had antibodies against SARS-CoV-2.
Secondly, it couldn’t have been accidentally spreaded, since they hadn’t kept any live virus strains similar to SARS-CoV-2.
Lastly, the scientists of the institute visited by the research team pointed out a Nature Medicine paper1 that showed that similar viruses existed in animals.
“We were allowed to ask whatever questions we wanted, and we got answers,” says Daszak, who collaborates with researchers at the Wuhan institute. “The only evidence that people have for a lab leak is that there is a lab in Wuhan,” he adds. (quote from the Nature article)
1 Andersen, K. G. et al. Nature Med. 26, 450–452 (2020) – [on the website of Nature]
Antarctic ice sheet retreat could trigger chain reaction
SD-Date: 13 May, 2021
Et-Date: 11 June, 2021
ScienceDaily Summary: „The Antarctic ice sheet was even more unstable in the past than previously thought, and at times possibly came close to collapse, new research suggests. The findings raise concerns that, in a warmer climate, exposing the land underneath the ice sheet as it retreats will increase rainfall on Antarctica, and this could trigger processes that accelerate further ice loss.“
Method of Research
The research was carried out by the Met Office, the universities of Exeter, Bristol, Cardiff and Stockholm, NORCE and the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research. It is „based on climate modelling and data comparisons for the Middle Miocene (13-17 million years ago) when atmospheric carbon dioxide and global temperatures reached levels similar to those expected by the end of this century“.
Important: „Dr Bradshaw stressed that conditions now are not identical to those in the Middle Miocene, and the model used in the study does not include the impact of feedbacks from the carbon cycle or the ice sheet itself.“
- The ground beneath ice sheets is less reflective which means that after it melted away, the local temperatures become warmer
- If the continent continues to warm, the wind that is usually blown from the continent out of the sea will be reversed -> extra rainfall that leads to more fresh water flowing into the sea
- Due to freshwater being less dense than saltwater, it cannot sink and circulate thus breaking the connection between the deep ocean and surface ocean -> warmer water accumulates at the deep
- Unlike in the Middle Miocene, the Earth isn’t in a favourable orbital position that likely played an important role in preventing the ice sheet from collapsing
Quote from the ScienceDaily Article:
Dr Petra Langebroek, a Senior Researcher from NORCE and the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, another co-author, added: „These findings imply a shift in ocean sensitivity to ice sheet changes occurs when ice sheet retreat exposes previously ice-covered land.“
Professor Carrie Lear from Cardiff University said that further researched is required to have a clearer picture of the long-term effects it is going to have on modern Antarctic ice sheet.
Food scientists aim to make plant-based protein tastier and healthier
SD-Date: 4 June, 2021
Et-Date: 11 June, 2021
ScienceDaily Summary: „As meat-eating continues to increase around the world, food scientists are focusing on ways to create healthier, better-tasting and more sustainable plant-based protein products that mimic meat, fish, milk, cheese and eggs.“
In 2019, the plant-based food market in the US alone was valued at around $5 million.
It is an increase by 29% from 2017. The reasons for the increasing interest, according to McClements (a leading expert in food design and nanotechnology), are improved sustainability, health and ethical reasons.
Unlike products from animals – such as milk, meat and eggs -, plant-based food has to be fortified with micronutrients that are naturally present in their counterpart. Among these micronutrients (PDF) are Vitamin D, calcium and zinc.
Furthermore, they have to be disgestible and provide the body with all essential amino acids.
In the article, McClements says that many of the current plant-based meat products are unhealthy due to saturated fat, salt and sugar that is added to them.
However, that doesn’t have to be case for ultra-processed food.
He elaborates: „We aim to design them to have all the vitamins and minerals you need and have health-promoting components like dietary fiber and phytochemicals so that they taste good and they’re convenient and they’re cheap and you can easily incorporate them into your life. That’s the goal in the future, but we’re not there yet for most products.“
The current meat consumption is already unsustainable and, as the concern of ethics is pointed out, most of the time cruel factory farming is involved. Plant-based food could be the another key for a more environmentally friendly, healthy and sustainable world – if the investments and research continues, of course.