#36 Omicron Shifting Biology, Environmental Cheating and Climate Change on African Land Use...
How omicron shifted SARS COV2 Biology, the environmental cost of cheating to overcome cooperation and the impacts of climate change on African land use and key species...
😷Omicron Shifting Biology
How omicron shifted SARS COV2 biology…
Omicron is a variant of SARS-CoV-2 and was first reported in South Africa in November 2021. Since 2019 the world has been in a pandemic caused by the rapid outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Omicron, being one variant of this, holds a phenotype that is significantly different in comparison to other variants such as the Beta.
A recent study has focused on how immune evasion and reduced virulence are a new endocytic entry mechanism and significant antigenic change within the spike protein.
From samples collected from a group of individuals who received vaccines, researchers were able to quantify the spike specific T cells and neutralizing antibodies to estimate vaccine effectiveness. The team observed some interesting results. They identified that there was reduced neutralization of the Omicron BA.1 and BA.2 variants. The reduced neutralization was observed in the sera from those who had received two or three doses of the COVID-19 vaccine with T cell responses remaining relatively preserved. These findings were consistent with marked reduction in global vaccine effectiveness. This effectiveness was somewhat restored following vaccination with an additional booster jab.
To accurately determine the causes of ‘immune escape’, researchers analysed the biological properties of the omicron variant (in vitro). This showed that unlike some other variants, Omicron did not induce cell to cell fusion.
To determine the causes of immune escape, researchers analysed the biological properties of the Omicron variant in vitro. To this end, unlike preceding variants, Omicron did not induce cell-cell fusion. Typically cell to cell fusion occurs due to the activation of the spike protein by the cell surface transmembrane serine protease 2 at the cell membrane. The omicron variant however enters cells through a TMPRSS2 entry pathway which leads to an altered cell tropism of the virus.
Genetic sequencing has been able to correctly predict the immune evasion characteristics of Omicron. Future vaccines using high-scale genomic data will encapsulate multivalent designs. These multivalent designs would incorporate the genetic variation of circulating variants at the time and may also strive to stimulate responses to target more conserved epitopes.
The researchers reported that sequencing data does not predict the change in the viral entry mechanism. This was inferred through several laboratory observations of reduced syncytia formation in cell culture.
Future research may provide greater insights into the principle mutations within regions of the spike protein and their roles in determining cell entry and cell fusion.
The environmental cost of cheating to overcome cooperation…
A team of researchers from the University of New Brunswick have created an experiment to learn more about the evolution of cooperation in various groups of living creatures. The research team genetically altered a type of green algae to allow it to bypass cooperation.
It has long been unknown the factors that led to the evolution of cooperation between members of a biological community. Due to the fact that no one has exactly proved how it happens, competing arguments have arisen.
This new research proposes that cheating in cooperative groups must have a penalty of some sort, to prevent it becoming a widespread and dominant trait. To test this hypothesis, the research team used a simple green algae and focused on cooperation at a cellular level. This organism has just two main types of cells, those that replicate by reproduction and those that do not because they make up non-reproductive body parts. To induce some of the body cells to ‘cheat the system’, the researchers edited the algal DNA in a way that then allowed them to reproduce.
As expected, the number and proportion of body cells began to grow compared to the reproductive cells. By then exposing the algae to harsh environmental conditions such as heat and alternating periods of light and dark, they found that approx. half of the naturally reproductive cells died and that all of those that had been genetically altered died. The team suggests that this finding gives credence to their theory - that the cheaters in the group paid a penalty for cheating and so became more sensitive to changing environmental conditions ensuring their eventual death and importantly preventing any genetic material from these traitors being passed on.
The team suggest similar types of trade offs are likely in other cooperating groups and so likely played a role in the evolution of multicellularity in early life. This is however just one theory added to the mix…
☀️Impact of Climate Change
The impacts of climate change on land use in Africa…
A research team from Senckenberg and South Africa’s Stellenbosch Unviersity, has investigated how climate change could affect vegetation in protected areas in Africa. In the recent study, the team showed where these effects may coincide with both population growth and changes in land use.
The African Elephant, White Rhinoceros, Cape Buffalo, Lion and Leopard (The Big 5), are symbolic of the regions unique life. The protected areas harbor a far greater biodiversity than just these 5 animals and are one of the last strongholds of the continents unique biodiversity. However, this diversity is greatly threatened by climate change as well as a number of other anthropogenically introduced threats…
The team has studied the future impacts of climate-induced vegetation changes in Africa’s protected areas, incorporating population density and land use for two scenarios up to the end of this century. This modelling study aims to show where the three factors will be important in the coming decades and how these can interact with conservation planning.
"Climate change is increasingly threatening biodiversity as vegetation zones and habitats change for many species. In addition, the growing world population combined with globally rising living standards requires more and more land for food production, to meet the rising demand for meat, and for bioenergy. We can only halt biodiversity loss if we understand the interactions between climate change, population growth, and land use," says Carola Martens of the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Center (SBiK-F) and Goethe University Frankfurt.
The simulations used the "adaptive dynamic global vegetation model" for the following two scenarios. The "middle-of-the-road" scenario in which current societal developments continue and some climate change mitigation measures are adopted, and the "fossil-fuelled development" scenario. The fossil fuelled development sees social and economic development that is based on the further exploitation of fossil fuel resources with a high coal content and an energy intensive world.
"The results show that in both scenarios, tree cover generally increases in today's grasslands and savannas in Africa. For protected areas in West Africa, our analyses revealed climate-induced vegetation change combined with high future population and land use pressures. Only for North Africa, we expect that a large share of protected areas to be without vegetation changes in combination with decreased pressure from population and land use—generally, the pressure on protected areas is therefore increasing," said the research team. The middle of the road scenario saw higher future population pressure with the fossil fuel model resulting in greater climate induced changes and impacts on the landscape.
"Our work demonstrates that in the future, almost all protected areas are threatened by at least one factor: climate change leading to major vegetation changes, a large increase in the population around the protected area, or growing land-use pressure. The biodiversity of protected areas in West Africa may be particularly affected by this—facing a combination of strong climate change impacts, population growth, and land-use changes," says Martens.
A well rounded approach of socio-economic and ecological conditions as well as an existing or potential future conflict is an important basis for the planning of protected areas. Conservation planning and legislation needs to be adapted on a more local scale but adopted as a whole on a larger scale.
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😷Omicron Shifting Biology
Nature Microbiology, 2022. Omicron: a shift in the biology of SARS-CoV-2. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41564-022-01149-1
Cameron-Pack, M., König, S., Reyes-Guevara, A., Reyes-Prieto, A. and Nedelcu, A., 2022. A personal cost of cheating can stabilize reproductive altruism during the early evolution of clonal multicellularity. Biology Letters, 18(6).
☀️Impact of Climate Change
Martens, C., Hickler, T., Davis‐Reddy, C., Engelbrecht, F., Higgins, S., Maltitz, G., Midgley, G., Pfeiffer, M. and Scheiter, S., 2020. Large uncertainties in future biome changes in Africa call for flexible climate adaptation strategies. Global Change Biology, 27(2), pp.340-358.