How Bats and COVID Canceled Halloween

Bats, a symbol of Halloween, may be responsible for canceling it this year.The coronavirus that has grounded trick-or-treaters likely came from bats.These creatures of the night have evolved a spooky ability to harbor a number of viruses that can kill humans — without getting sick themselves.How they do it may hold the key to immortality — or a longer life, anyway.Guilt by associationThough there is no smoking gun showing that the coronavirus causing the COVID-19 pandemic came from bats, the virus is closely related to several others they harbor.Bats also are known to carry rabies and the Marburg hemorrhagic fever virus, and they are lead suspects as the source of Ebola and the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.It sure seems like they carry a lot of nasty viruses.But “maybe we just have a lot of bat viruses because there’s lots of bats,” said University of Glasgow researcher Daniel Streicker.Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can download this video to view it offline.Download File360p | 9 MB480p | 13 MB540p | 16 MB720p | 32 MB1080p | 66 MBOriginal | 82 MB Embed” />Copy Download AudioThere are roughly 1,400 different species around the world, Streicker noted, second only to rodents, which also carry a lot of diseases.”It isn’t the bats. They figured out how to deal with their viruses,” University of Saskatchewan microbiologist Vikram Misra said.Taking offTheir virus-resisting powers may be an unexpected byproduct of evolving to fly.Flying requires a tremendous amount of …

US College Campus Gets COVID-19 Warning from Wastewater

Colorado’s flagship university is getting a head start spotting COVID-19 outbreaks among students at residential dorms — by testing the wastewater.Cresten Mansfeldt, an engineering professor at University of Colorado-Boulder, heads out with students to start an early warning system on the campus for SARS COV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19. The warning system involves a plastic bin and what can be found below a sewage manhole.As for the project’s name…“Well, we call our project ‘Project Half-Shell,’ because it’s an homage to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” Mansfeldt says. “Hanging out in the sewers.”Mansfeldt’s team all wear masks to guard against COVID-19. Plus, they’re dressed for dirty work, in overalls and work gloves. There’s some heavy lifting up ahead, too. That manhole cover weighs over 100 kilograms. Mansfeldt lifts the lid then points a flashlight into the hole. Ten feet underground, a concrete ditch carries a glistening stream of sewage water.’Domestic wastewater’”So, what’s flowing through here is actually domestic wastewater,” Mansfeldt says. “Things we send down the drain either through the toilets or through showers or laundry systems. Basically, any drains that are coming out, end up flowing into these river networks that exist underneath most municipalities and cities.”“Here,” he said, “we’re most interested in what’s coming out of the toilets. In feces, because that seems to be where individuals can shed the SARS COV-2 virus here.”Engineering student Jessica Darby says checking wastewater this way gives an early warning about COVID-19 infections.“COVID is in your intestines,” she says. “And so …

Rare Meteorite Contains ‘Rich Inventory’ of Organic Compounds

Researchers say a rare type of meteor recovered nearly three years ago from a frozen lake in the U.S. state of Michigan has offered one of the best glimpses yet into the organic compounds such objects carry.A study published in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science tells the story of a bright meteor, also known as fireballs for how they light up the night sky, that fell in January 2018.Researchers say the meteors that shine with such brightness are usually larger and have traveled farther into Earth’s atmosphere without breaking up, raising hopes pieces could be recovered. Using weather radar, they were able to track the meteor’s trajectory, discovering large pieces just two days after it hit a frozen lake.University of Chicago researcher Philipp Heck said finding the meteorite (what a meteor is called once it lands on Earth) pieces so quickly and on a frozen lake was significant. He said meteors often fall into dirt or water, and if they are not discovered quickly, they can be contaminated by organic Earth material.The researchers determined they’d found an “H4 chondrite” meteorite. Only 4% of all meteorites falling to Earth are of this type, at least in recent history. Heck said it had “a rich inventory of extraterrestrial organic compounds,” which contain carbon, one of the basic ingredients of life on Earth.The discovery adds evidence to the widely held theory that compounds such as these — the so-called building blocks of life — were delivered to Earth by similar meteors shortly …

Rising New Tide of COVID-19 Cases Worldwide Force Leaders to Consider New Lockdowns

A rising tide of new coronavirus cases worldwide is forcing leaders to consider new lockdown measures to contain an increase in infections.   British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said in an interview with BBC television Friday a national lockdown in his country is not inevitable to prevent the further spread of the disease, adding that a localized approach would be efficient if rules for each area were strictly observed.   Raab’s statment followed announcements by leaders of France and Germany earlier in the week to impose new lockdowns.   French President Emmanuel Macron announced a nationwide monthlong lockdown that will take effect Friday. Macron said restaurants, bars, cafes and other nonessential businesses will be closed, while citizens will only be allowed to leave their homes for work, shopping and doctor appointments.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a debate about German government’s policies to combat the spread of the coronavirus and COVID-19 disease at the parliament Bundestag, in Berlin, Germany, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. (Photo/Markus Schreiber)German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced a set of similar measures in her own month-long lockdown which takes effect Monday. In addition to restaurants and bars, all gyms, theaters and opera houses will be shut down under Merkel’s order, while the majority of businesses, shops and hair salons will be allowed to remain open.     Schools in both nations will remain open during their respective lockdowns.   The restrictions were announced by Macron and Merkel as both nations struggle with a record number of new COVID-19 …

‘Era of Pandemics’ to Intensify Without Transformative Change, Report Says

Ecological destruction and unsustainable consumption have entered humanity into an “era of pandemics,” according to a new report.”Without preventative strategies, pandemics will emerge more often, spread more rapidly, kill more people, and affect the global economy with more devastating impact than ever before,” says the report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, a global expert body advising governments.The authors say roughly $50 billion per year in pandemic prevention would spare the world about $1 trillion per year on average in economic damage, not to mention the toll in human suffering.The report suggests ways to shift the focus to prevention, rather than trying to contain pandemics after they happen.SpilloverAs of July, COVID-19’s economic toll was at least $8 trillion and counting, the authors say.It’s just the latest costly emerging infectious disease, following HIV/AIDS, SARS, Ebola, Zika, H1N1 swine flu and others.All of these deadly diseases originated in animals before “spilling over” into humans. Nearly three-quarters of all emerging diseases have animal origins. And there are hundreds of thousands more possibly infectious viruses that have not been discovered yet, the report notes.But don’t blame the animals. The rate of spillover has increased because of human activities.COVID-19 is a prime example of the problem, the authors say. The coronavirus that causes the disease likely emerged from bats in China, where expanding human populations are increasingly encroaching on wildlife habitat. It probably spread through the wildlife trade, at a market where vendors sell wild animals for food and medicine.Deforestation, agricultural …

 White House Task Force Warns of ‘Unrelenting’ Spread of COVID-19

The White House Coronavirus Task Force warned Thursday of an “unrelenting” spread of the virus, particularly across the western half of the country, Reuters reported. Members of the task force are reportedly pushing for aggressive measures to quell the spread of the virus.The United States has confirmed more than 8.9 million cases of COVID-19 and recorded more than 228,000 deaths as of Thursday, according to data from the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.”We continue to see unrelenting, broad community spread in the Midwest, Upper Midwest and West. This will require aggressive mitigation to control both the silent, asymptomatic spread and symptomatic spread,” said the task force’s report to one state, according to CNN. The task force’s most prominent member, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told CNBC Wednesday that the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. is “going in the wrong direction.” “If things do not change, if they continue on the course we’re on, there’s going to be a whole lot of pain in this country with regard to additional cases and hospitalizations, and deaths,” Fauci said, noting that case numbers were rising in 47 states.At least seven states reported record one-day case increases Thursday, according to Reuters. …

La Nina Seen Continuing Into 2021, Affecting Temperature, Weather Patterns

The World Meteorological Organization predicts La Nina will continue through January and is expected to usher in drier and wetter conditions than normal in different parts of the world.The latest seasonal forecasts indicate the La Nina event will cause drier than normal conditions in much of East Africa and lead to increased rainfall in southern Africa. Central Asia is likely to see below normal rainfall earlier than usual.The WMO reports some of the Pacific islands and the northern region of South America will see some of the most significant precipitation anomalies associated with this year’s La Nina event — a cooling of ocean surface water along the Pacific coast of the South American tropics that occurs on average every two to seven years.Some countries and regions are particularly vulnerable to changes in weather patterns.WMO humanitarian expert Gavin Iley told VOA the Greater Horn of Africa was an area of particular concern.“As we know, it is already being beset by problems, with locust infestation,” Iley said. “And generally, the models are suggesting below normal rainfall for quite a large portion of the Greater Horn of Africa. So, obviously that could have a number of impacts … in areas like Somalia. … So, we always need to keep an eye on the latest outlook.”WMO said governments can use weather forecasts to plan ways to reduce adverse impacts in climate-sensitive sectors like agriculture, health, water resources and disaster management.WMO Deputy Director of Climate Services Maxx Dilley said governments can use La Nina forecasting to adapt their strategies …

Merkel Defends German Coronavirus Restrictions

German Chancellor Angela Merkel Thursday defended new coronavirus restrictions to lawmakers and lashed out at those who tried to dismiss the infection as harmless as the number of cases hit a new high. In a speech before the Bundestag – the German parliament – that was interrupted by heckling from right-wing politicians, Merkel said the new measures “are appropriate, necessary and proportionate.” She said, “There is no other milder approach than reducing personal contacts to try and stop the infections chain and to change the course of the infections back to a level where we can handle it.”   Merkel spoke a day after she and the governors of Germany’s 16 states agreed on far-reaching restrictions to curb the spread of the virus, including the closure of bars and restaurants, limits on social contacts and bans on concerts and other public events. But, as in most countries around the world, there has been pushback against such restrictions. There have been protests and reports of violence in some areas by those claiming the dangers of the virus have been overstated and restrictions are nothing more than a power grab. When heckling broke out from populist politicians during Merkel’s speech, Bundestag President Wolfgang Schauble warned there would be consequences for their actions if they did not let the chancellor continue. Merkel responded by lashing out at those who claim the virus is harmless, saying, “Lies and disinformation, conspiracy theories and hate, damage not only democratic debate but also the fight against the …