NEW DELHI (AP) — A potentially worrisome variant of the coronavirus detected in India may spread more easily. But the country is behind in doing the kind of testing needed to track it and understand it better.On Monday, the World Health Organization designated the new version of the virus a “variant of concern” based on preliminary research, alongside those that were first detected in Britain, South Africa and Brazil but have spread to other countries.“We need much more information about this virus variant,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead for COVID-19. “We need more sequencing, targeted sequencing to be done and to be shared in India and elsewhere so that we know how much of this virus is circulating.”Viruses mutate constantly, and the surge in infections here has resulted in more opportunities for new versions to emerge.But India was slow to start the genetic monitoring needed to see if those changes were happening and if they were making the coronavirus more infectious or deadly.Such variants also need to be monitored to see if mutations help the virus escape the immune system, potentially leading to reinfections or making vaccines less effective. For now, the WHO stressed that COVID-19 vaccines are effective at preventing disease and death in people infected with the variant.Indian scientists say their work has been hindered by bureaucratic obstacles and the government’s reluctance to share vital data. India is sequencing around 1% of its total cases, and not all of the results are uploaded to the global database of coronavirus genomes.When there isn’t enough sequencing, there will be blind spots and more worrisome mutations could go undetected until they’re widespread, said Alina Chan, a postdoctoral researcher at Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard who is tracking global sequencing efforts.Ravindra Gupta, a professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge, said: “It has all the hallmarks of the virus that we should be worried about.”Story continuesFirst detected in the coastal Maharashtra state last year, the new variant has now been found in samples in 19 of the 27 states surveyed. Meanwhile a variant first detected in Britain has declined in India in the past 45 days.Indian health officials have cautioned that it is too soon to attribute the nation’s surge solely to such variants. Experts point out that the spread was catalyzed by government decisions to not pause religious gatherings and crowded election rallies.Dr. Gagandeep Kang, who studies microorganisms at Christian Medical College at Vellore in southern India, said researchers need to figure out if the variant is capable of infecting those who previously had COVID-19 and, if so, whether it could result in severe disease.“I don’t get why people don’t see this as important,” she said.Sequencing efforts in India have been haphazard. The country uploads 0.49 sequences per 1,000 cases to GISAID, a global data sharing effort, Chan said. The U.S., which had its own troubles with genetic monitoring, uploads about 10 in 1,000, while the U.K. does so for about 82 per 1,000 cases.Late last year, Indian government institutions were ordered to buy domestic raw materials wherever possible, in keeping with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s goal of turning India “self-reliant.” This proved impossible, since all materials for sequencing were imported, resulting in more paperwork, said Anurag Agarwal, the director of the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology. The obstacles were most pronounced between September and December, he said, but his lab was able to find workarounds and continued sequencing.Other labs didn’t, and scientists said that should have been when India ramped up its sequencing, because cases were declining at the time.Even after a federal effort started in Jan. 18, bringing together 10 labs that can sequence 7,500 samples weekly, the actual work didn’t start until mid-February due to other logistical issues, said Dr. Shahid Jameel, a virologist who chairs the scientific advisory group advising the consortium.By then, India’s cases had begun spiking.Jameel said India has sequenced around 20,000 samples, but only 15,000 were publicly reported because some were missing vital data. Until late last month, a third of the samples sent by states were unusable, he said.And now, the raging virus has infected many of the staff in the labs doing the work.“Many of our labs are facing this problem,” he said.___Pathi reported from Bengaluru and Associated Press writers Danica Kirka in London and Chonchui Ngashangva in New Delhi contributed to this report.___The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
A potentially worrisome variant of the coronavirus detected in India may spread more easily
Two symbiotic marine lifeforms who somehow evaded the prying eyes of human scientists and ‘disappeared’ from the fossil record over a quarter of a billion years ago have been found thriving offshore of Japan.
The creatures in question are non-skeletal corals and crinoids, or sea lilies, who were found proliferating on the floor of the Pacific Ocean, 100 meters (330 feet) below the surface, off the coasts of Honshu and Shikoku in Japan. They managed to survive undetected, having gone AWOL from the fossil record for longer than modern humans are thought to have existed (200,000-300,000 years ago).Morska symbioza sprzed 270 milionów lat? Dr hab. Mikołaj Zapalski z #UW razem z naukowcami z 🇵🇱 i 🇯🇵 opisali ekologiczną „żywą skamieniałość”. O lilowcach (zwierzętach przypominających kwiaty) i koralowcach można przeczytać w artykule 👇https://t.co/eJI5IETGBY— Uniwersytet Warszawski (@UniWarszawski) May 5, 2021“These specimens represent the first detailed records and examinations of a recent syn vivo association of a crinoid (host) and a hexacoral (epibiont),” the researchers wrote. Crinoids and corals shared a long, symbiotic relationship together millions of years ago, in which the corals would use the crinoids to climb higher off the seafloor to gain access to more food found in passing ocean currents.The joint Polish-Japanese research team, led by paleontologist Mikolaj Zapalski of the University of Warsaw in Poland, used stereoscopic microscopy to conduct a ‘hands-off’ examination of the Paleozoic-era pals before scanning them using microtomography to gain a look at their interior structures.
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They completed their non-invasive investigation using DNA barcoding to identify the exact species.The researchers found that these newly rediscovered specimens did not modify the structure of the crinoids’ skeletons, providing a possible clue as to why they disappeared from the fossil record for so long; fossils of soft-bodied organisms are vanishingly rare.Like this story? Share it with a friend!
COVID-19 pandemic has been caused by a coronavirus named SARS-Co V-2 which emerged in December 2019.Beijing: A document written by Chinese scientists and health officials before the pandemic in 2015 states that SARS coronaviruses were a “new era of genetic weapons” that could be “artificially manipulated into an emerging human disease virus, then weaponised and unleashed, reported Weekend Australian.The paper titled The Unnatural Origin of SARS and New Species of Man-Made Viruses as Genetic Bioweapons suggested that World War Three would be fought with biological weapons. The document revealed that Chinese military scientists were discussing the weaponisation of SARS coronaviruses five years before the COVID-19 pandemic. The report by Weekend Australian was published in news.com.au.Peter Jennings, the executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), told news.com.au that the document is as close to a “smoking gun” as we’ve got.”I think this is significant because it clearly shows that Chinese scientists were thinking about military application for different strains of the coronavirus and thinking about how it could be deployed,” Jennings said.”It begins to firm up the possibility that what we have here is the accidental release of a pathogen for military use,” Jennings added.He also said that the document may explain why China has been so reluctant for outside investigations into the origins of COVID-19.”If this was a case of transmission from a wet market it would be in China’s interest to co-operate … we’ve had the opposite of that.”Robert Potter, a cyber security specialist who analyses leaked Chinese government documents, was asked by The Australian to verify the paper. He says the document definitely isn’t fake, reported news.com.au.”We reached a high confidence conclusion that it was genuine … It’s not fake but it’s up to someone else to interpret how serious it is,” Potter said.”It emerged in the last few years … they (China) will almost certainly try to remove it now it’s been covered.”Potter further stated that it isn’t unusual to see Chinese research papers discussing areas that they’re behind on and need to make progress in.”It’s a really interesting article to show what their scientific researchers are thinking,” he added.The COVID-19 pandemic has been caused by a coronavirus named SARS-Co V-2 which emerged in December 2019. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, several of which cause respiratory diseases in humans – ranging from a common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).Since the COVID-19 pandemic began there have been over 157 million cases of COVID-19 and 3.28 million deaths worldwide, according to the latest update by Johns Hopkins University.(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
Researchers have identified a new tsunami risk posed by strike-slip faults located menacingly close to major population centers around the globe, warning that there would be little to no warning before catastrophe struck.
Strike-slip faults have long been studied, though the particular mechanics of the tsunamis they can generate have been poorly understood, until now. The latest models produced by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign using the supercomputer Blue Waters indicate the risk is far greater than previously anticipated. Strike-slip faults are subaquatic areas where large blocks or slabs of rock in the Earth’s crust fall along a fault line and can slide horizontally past one another, with truly devastating consequences.Before now, scientists suspected that tsunamis could only be triggered at strike-slip faults if there was also an underwater landslide which displaced more matter, thus generating more force to propel a giant wave.“The physics-based model used in this study provides critical insight about the hazard associated with strike-slip faulting,” said civil engineer Mohamed Abdelmeguid from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.“Particularly, the need to account for such risk to mitigate future damage to other bays traversed by strike-slip faults.”The researchers discovered that, in order for strike-slip faults to generate a tsunami, a so-called ‘intersonic’ earthquake is required.This is a particularly fast type of temblor in which the movement of the Earth’s crust at the fault line outpaces the seismic shear waves rippling through the area around the earthquake. The list of coastal cities identified by the study as being in close proximity to these strike-slip faults makes for sobering reading: San Francisco and the wider Bay Area in the US, the cities along Izmit Bay in Turkey, as well as the population centers along the Gulf of Al-Aqaba in Egypt.
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If strike-slip quakes were to hit in these particular areas, the catastrophic events predicted by the supercomputer model would occur in three phases: the initial quake which emits shockwaves through the bay, followed by the displacement of vast volumes of water, and finally the development of the destructive tsunami wave. “Unlike the earthquakes and subsequent water displacement that occur many miles offshore, an earthquake and tsunami that occurs within the narrow confines of a bay will allow for very little warning time for the coast,” civil engineer Ahmed Elbanna warned.The researchers suspect the 2018 tsunami which struck the Indonesian island of Sulawesi may well have been triggered by a 7.5 magnitude slip-strike quake discussed in their recent paper.
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It is inevitable that new Covid variants will continue to enter the country, scientists warned this weekend, claiming there are “obvious flaws” in the government’s system for reopening international travel to and from England.On Friday ministers decreed that some international travel could resume from 17 May, with travellers from England allowed to return from “green list” destinations without needing to quarantine. Portugal and Israel are on the list, along with South Georgia, the Faroe Islands and the Falklands.However, it is understood that members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) are concerned that the government’s traffic light system amounts to “window dressing” and is not based on evidence about the risks of the spread of variants.These concerns are shared by other scientists such as Professor Martin Hibberd, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), who told the Observer that more testing was necessary before international travel should be allowed to reopen. With the current approach, it was inevitable that new variants would enter the country, he said.“While in the UK, we look forward to less disease and fewer restrictions, this is not the case in most of the world. Indeed, for many countries infections are likely to come in waves for at least another year and perhaps longer. As a result, imports are likely to become an increasingly important part of new transmissions circulating within the UK. We should develop an effective strategy to cope with the competing desires to allow international travel, while keeping circulating virus in the UK to a minimum.“From my infectious disease perspective, for travel, I would like to see more testing, preferably with professionally taken swabs, and more support for quarantining, at home when it is possible – and which can be verified for compliance – together with an effective tracing programme.”This point was backed by another LSHTM expert, Martin McKee, professor of European public health. “If everyone from England going to Portugal was only mixing with people from Portugal, that would be one thing. But if you go to a Portuguese resort, it is likely you would be mixing with people from other places.“The criterion you should be looking at is not the infection rate and vaccination rate in the host country, but among the people who you’re likely to be mixing with. It’s an obvious flaw. And if you’re going to be transiting through any airport, you’re going to be mixing with people who are going to be coming from other places.”As a result, some health experts have called for holidays abroad to be subject to strict controls. Gurch Randhawa, professor of diversity in public health at the University of Bedfordshire, said people should only take holidays in the UK at present.“Permitting overseas holidays without universal quarantine measures for all countries is not a risk we should take,” he said. “Without strict measures we will have more Covid-19 deaths in the coming months because of imported variants, as vaccines have reduced efficacy against some of these different strains.”These warnings were made as travel firms hailed their best day for holiday sales in months. Tui, the UK’s largest holiday company, said it had seen a huge increase in bookings with 60% of all holidays sold on Friday being trips to Portugal.The firm added that new flights and extra holidays had been added for people who wanted to “get away as quickly as possible”. Similarly, Thomas Cook said holidays to Portugal had been its “number one seller” since the government made its announcement about foreign travel.In contrast to the warnings made by some UK scientists, Clive Dix – who recently stood down as interim head of the British vaccine taskforce – said he thought there would be “no circulating virus in the UK” by August. He told the Telegraph that the UK vaccination programme would “have probably protected the population from all the variants that are known” which meant that the country would be “safe over the coming winter”.
This is the best tl;dr I could make, original reduced by 73%. (I’m a bot)Scientists in the Netherlands have trained bees to identify COVID-19 through their sense of smell, according to a press release from Wageningen University.Eventually, the bees could identify an infected sample within a few seconds – and would then stick out their tongues like clockwork to collect the sugar water.Wageningen scientists are working on a prototype of a machine that could automatically train multiple bees at once, then uses their skills to test for coronavirus aerosols in the surrounding environment.Extended Summary | FAQ | Feedback | Top keywords: COVID-19#1 bees#2 identify#3 research#4 sample#5
British officials could declare one of the new coronavirus strains first found in India a “variant of concern”, the BBC said, as India’s main opposition leader Rahul Gandhi said the deadly second COVID-19 wave sweeping the country would be “devastating not only for our people but also for the rest of the world”.
The BBC said scientists in the United Kingdom have flagged evidence that the Indian variant of the virus spreads more quickly than its original version, Reuters news agency reported on Friday.
Scientists have recommended that one version of the variant first found in India, known as B.1.617.2, is designated a “variant of concern”, the BBC said, adding more than 500 cases of the variant had been recorded, up from 202 last week.
Public Health England (PHE), which postponed publication of its weekly data on variants on Thursday, had no immediate comment on the report.
Jeff Barrett, director of the Wellcome Sanger Institute COVID-19 Genomics Initiative, said that high numbers of cases of B.1.617.2 in Britain and around the world were “consistent with this one being more transmissible than older versions of the virus from last year”.
“(It is) possibly as transmissible as the B.117 Kent variant that is very widespread in the UK,” Barrett said on BBC radio, referring to the strain found in southeast England which fuelled Britain’s second COVID-19 wave.
The original India variant, B.1.617, was first detected in October, but Public Health England (PHE) has categorised three different subtypes, all with slightly different mutations.
WHO says the variant has already spread to more than a dozen countries, forcing nations to cut or restrict movements from India.
Other variants of concern include variants first identified in Kent, southeast England, as well as South Africa and Brazil, and Barrett said that there had been reassuring evidence from real-world studies on the effectiveness of vaccines on those.
“That paints a relatively positive picture that the vaccines are going to continue to have efficacy,” he said.
“So obviously for new variants like this one, we need to do additional experiments and really get the solid proof one way or the other about that.”
Prominent US disease modeller Chris Murray, from the University of Washington, said the sheer magnitude of infections in India in a short period of time suggests an “escape variant” may be overpowering any prior immunity from natural infections.
Infections are now spreading from overcrowded cities to remote rural villages that are home to nearly 70 percent of the 1.3 billion population.
Although northern and western India bear the brunt of the disease, southern India now seems to be turning into the new epicentre. The share of the five southern states in the country’s daily surge in infections rose from 28 percent to 33 percent in the first seven days of May, data shows.
Urns containing ashes after final rites of people including those who died from COVID-19 await immersion due to lockdown at a crematorium in New Delhi [Danish Siddiqui/Reuters]
‘Explosive wave threatens India, world’
Meanwhile, Rahul Gandhi, senior leader of India’s Congress Party, implored Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a letter to prepare for another national lockdown, accelerate a countrywide vaccination programme and scientifically track the virus and its mutations.
Gandhi said the world’s second-most populous nation had a responsibility in “a globalised and interconnected world” to stop the “explosive” growth of COVID-19 within its borders.
“India is home to one out of every six human beings on the planet. The pandemic has demonstrated that our size, genetic diversity and complexity make India fertile ground for the virus to rapidly mutate, transforming itself into a more contagious and more dangerous form,” wrote Gandhi.
“Allowing the uncontrollable spread of the virus in our country will be devastating not only for our people but also for the rest of the world.”
On Friday, India reported another record daily rise in coronavirus cases, 414,188, bringing total new cases for the week to 1.57 million. Deaths from COVID-19 rose by 3,915 to 234,083.
Medical experts say the real extent of COVID-19 in India is five to 10 times the official tallies.
In the past week, India has reported an extra 1.5 million new infections and record daily death tolls as its hospitals run out of beds and medical oxygen.
Since the start of the pandemic, it has reported 21.49 million cases and 234,083 deaths. It currently has 3.6 million active cases.
Modi has been widely criticised for not acting sooner to suppress the second wave, after religious festivals and political rallies drew tens of thousands of people in recent weeks and became “super spreader” events.
His government has also been criticised for lifting social restrictions too soon following the first wave and for delays in the country’s vaccination programme, which medical experts say is India’s only hope of controlling the second COVID-19 wave.
While India is the world’s biggest vaccine maker, it is struggling to produce and distribute enough doses to stem the wave of COVID-19.
Modi has stressed that Indian states must keep up vaccination rates. Although the country has administered at least 157 million vaccine doses, its rate of inoculation has fallen sharply in recent days.
“After having achieved a rate of around 4 million a day, we are now down to 2.5 million per day due to vaccine shortages,” Amartya Lahiri, an economics professor at University of British Columbia was quoted as saying in the Mint newspaper.
“The 5 million a day target is the lower bound of what we have to aim for, since even at that rate, it will take a year for us to get everyone two doses. The situation unfortunately is very grim.”
Meanwhile, India’s healthcare system is crumbling under the weight of patients, with hospitals running out of beds and medical oxygen. Morgues and crematoriums cannot handle the number of dead and makeshift funeral pyres burn in parks and car parks.
In the southern city of Chennai, only one in a hundred oxygen-supported beds and two in a hundred beds in intensive care units (ICUs) were vacant on Thursday, from a vacancy rate of over 20 percent each two weeks ago, government data showed.
In India’s tech capital Bengaluru, also in the south, only 23 of the 590 beds in ICUs were vacant, and only 1 in 50 beds with a ventilator were vacant, a situation officials say points to an impending crisis.
The test-positivity rate – the percentage of people tested who are found to have the disease – in the city of 12.5 million has tripled to almost 39% as of Wednesday, from about 13 percent two weeks ago, data showed.
Bengaluru has 325,000 active COVID-19 cases, with demand for ICU and high-dependency unit (HDU) beds up more than 20-fold, said H. M. Prasanna, president of the Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes Association in Karnataka state, which includes Bengaluru.
“Every patient coming to the hospital needs an ICU or an HDU bed… That is why patients are running from one hospital to another searching for an ICU bed,” he said.
“There is also a short supply of medical oxygen… Most of the small hospitals now who can’t procure oxygen on a daily basis are refusing to admit COVID patients.”
Patients at risk of contracting a severe case of Covid-19 may now be able to get timely treatment thanks to a new method developed by Swiss researchers, who studied the behavior of natural killer T cells in infected people.
Detecting and treating life-threatening forms of the novel coronavirus disease before the acute symptoms kick in has been a challenge for medics since the start of the pandemic. Now, a team from the Swiss University of Zurich might have found a solution to this problem, a press release by the university says.The researchers, who teamed up with scientists from Germany’s Tuebingen and France’s Toulouse and Nantes, discovered a specific “biomarker” capable of predicting the development of a severe Covid-19 case at the very early stages.
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The key element here is the natural killer T cells found in a patient’s blood. These cells are a type of white blood cells engaged in an immune response. According to the Swiss scientists, the changes in their number can be an early strong indicator of a looming danger.“The number of natural killer T cells in the blood can be used to predict severe cases of Covid-19 with a high degree of certainty—even on a patient’s first day in hospital,” says Burkhard Becher, the team’s leading researcher.The early diagnostics based on the new method could allow the medics to develop an optimal treatment for any patient, including the frequency of oxygen measurements, type of therapy and the need to transfer a patient to an Intensive Care Unit (ICU), the scientists say. “Predictive biomarkers are very useful for making these decisions. They help clinicians provide patients suffering severe symptoms with the best care possible,” says Stefanie Kreutmair, another co-author of the study. “Our findings also make it possible to investigate new therapies against Covid-19.”The researchers also found a way to distinguish between an acute pneumonia caused by Covid-19 and other types of pneumonia. The team analyzed blood samples of patients with severe pneumonia driven by pathogens other than the novel coronavirus. They compared various types of immune response to determine the one triggered by the novel coronavirus.“When it comes to Covid-19, however, T cells and natural killer cells display a unique behavior and describe a kind of pattern in the immune system—the immune signature specific to Covid-19,” Becher said.The total number of Covid-19 cases in the world has surpassed 155 million. More than 3 million people died from the disease. The US remains the hardest-hit nation with a total of 32 million cases reported. It is followed by India, which recently surpassed Brazil as the second worst-infected country in the world. India has been recently battling record-high infection rates amid an acute medical oxygen crisis.
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A group of scientists from the United Arab Emirates have injected camels with dead samples of Covid-19, hoping that the antibodies produced by the animals – which are immune to the virus – can someday be used to cure humans.
The Arabs have relied on camels for millennia and continue to do so in the 21st century, this time recruiting the desert animals in the battle against the coronavirus.The head of the UAE’s Central Veterinary Research Laboratory, Dr. Ulrich Wernery, and his team have chosen dromedaries or one-humped camels for their experiments because they’re known to be immune to Covid-19 and its predecessor, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). Unlike humans and some other animals, they simply lack a virus receptor, which the disease uses as a gateway into cells.“MERS-CoV, [camels] can harbor but they don’t get sick. With Covid-19, the virus cannot attach to the camels’ mucosa cells of the respiratory tract as the receptor is absent or dull,” Wernery told Al Arabiya.“This makes it all very interesting. Besides humans, minks and cats – small and big, such as such tigers and lions – can get Covid-19 and can transmit the virus to other cats and to humans and vice versa. But not camels.”
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The scientist explained that camels had been injected with the dead coronavirus so that they could produce antibodies to it. The blood samples from those animals will then facilitate “better tests for the diagnosis for Covid-19,” he said.“We hope that maybe one day we can use the blood – the antibodies – from camels to treat humans against Covid-19 infections,” Wernery stated.Covid-19 has already infected over 153 million people and killed more than 3.2 million around the globe. And it turned out that animals weren’t immune to the disease. During the pandemic, reports emerged of cats, dogs, monkeys, tigers, lions and others getting sick and even dying of the virus. Last year, Denmark had to cull its whole population of mink due to a mutated coronavirus strain.
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The exact origins of the coronavirus are currently unknown, but one of the likely scenarios considered by the World Health Organization is that the virus was transmitted from bats to humans through another animal host.Think your friends would be interested? Share this story!