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Study predicts increase in mosquito-borne diseases as planet warms

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Sept. 9 (UPI) — According to a new model, urbanization and rising global temperatures will expand the range of the mosquito species, Aedes aegypti, responsible for spreading a number of debilitating diseases, including yellow fever, Zika, chikungunya and dengue fever.

In a new paper, published Wednesday in the journal Lancet Planetary Health, scientists suggest infectious disease experts and public health policy makers must be ready to adapt as malaria becomes less prevalent and new threats emerge.

“Climate change is going to rearrange the landscape of infectious disease,” lead study author Erin Mordecai said in a news release.

“Chikungunya and dengue outbreaks like we’ve recently seen in East Africa are only becoming more likely across much of the continent. We need to be ready for this emerging threat,” said Mordecai, a biologist at Stanford University.

Studies suggest malaria, which is transmitted by the nighttime-biting Anopheles gambiae mosquito spreads most quickly when temperatures average 25 degrees Celsius, or 78 degrees Fahrenheit.

In 2018, malaria killed more than 400,000 peoples in Subsaharan Africa, sickening millions more. Public health officials have spearheaded a variety of efforts to curb the spread of the disease, but control efforts like insecticide-laced bed nets are unlikely to deter the daytime-biting Aedes aegypti mosquito.

Unlike the species of mosquito that transmits malaria, which breeds in natural water structures, the Aedes aegypti mosquito likes to breed in human-made containers, such as discarded tires and buckets. The species responsible for Zika, chikungunya and other harmful diseases also likes warmer weather.

As urban centers grow across Africa, the Aedes aegypti mosquito will be welcomed by a plethora of breeding habitat and pronounced heat island effects.

For the new study, scientists modeled the effects of urbanization and climate change on the ranges of Anopheles gambiae and Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.

While most places will experience a decrease in the threat of malaria and an increase in the threat of other mosquito-borne diseases, a few places, including cities near Lake Victoria, in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya, will experience a increase in the prevalence of both malaria and dengue fever.

Researchers hope their modeling efforts will help public health officials prepare for shifts in the threat of mosquito-borne diseases.

“It’s vital to focus on controlling mosquitoes that spread diseases like dengue because there are no medical treatments for these diseases,” said study senior author Desiree LaBeaud.

“On top of that, a shift from malaria to dengue may overwhelm health systems because diseases introduced to new populations often lead to large outbreaks,” said LeBeaud, a professor of pediatrics at the Stanford Medical School.



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Rising atmospheric dust across the Great Plains recalls lead up to the Dust Bowl

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Oct. 13 (UPI) — Atmospheric dust levels are rising 5 percent per year across the Great Plains, according to a new survey by scientists at the University of Utah.

The research, published this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, increased cropland conversion and expanded growing seasons are exposing more and more soil and wind erosion.

Authors of the new study suggest the phenomenon, if combined with drier climate conditions as a result of climate change, could yield conditions comparable to the Dust Bowl, the series of droughts and dust storms that devastated the Midwest during the 1930s.

“We can’t make changes to the earth surface without some kind of consequence just as we can’t burn fossil fuels without consequences,” lead study author Andy Lambert said in a news release.

“So while the agriculture industry is absolutely important, we need to think more carefully about where and how we plant,” said Lambert, a recent graduate of the University of Utah.

In the 1920s, farmers across the Great Plains converted massive amounts of grassland to farm tracts. When drought hit in the 1930s, extensive crop failures left newly plowed fields exposed to the wind, yielding waves of dust storms.

“These dust storms removed nutrients from the soil, making it more difficult for crops to grow and more likely for wind erosion to occur,” Lambert said.

Soaking rains eventually brought an end to the Dust Bowl, but much of the damage caused by erosion was permanent. Soils in some parts of the Great Plains have never recovered.

Three-quarters of a century later, around 2000, as demand for biofuels increased, farmers started clearing additional grassland to biofuel feedstocks.

Between 2006 and 2011, nearly 2,050 square miles of grassland across five Midwestern states was converted to farmland. Meanwhile, droughts have become longer and more across the Great Plains.

To gauge the risk of dust storms in the region, researchers amassed data from a variety of instruments designed to measure atmospheric haziness from both the ground up and space down. The data, from NASA satellites and two federally managed ground monitoring systems, showed the amount of dust in the atmosphere above the Great Plains has steadily increased over the last 20 years.

“The amount of increase is really the story here,” said study co-author Gannet Hallar, associate professor of atmospheric sciences. “That 5 percent a year over two decades, of course, is a hundred percent increase in dust loading. This is not a small signal to find.”

Scientists were also able to link rises in dust levels with crop expansion. Across Iowa, atmospheric dust increased predominantly in June and October, the planting and harvesting months for soybeans, the dominant crop. Across the southern Great Plains, where corn is more popular, the dust increases appeared in March and October.

“I think it’s fair to say that what’s happening with dust trends in the Midwest and the Great Plains is an indicator that the threat is real if crop land expansion continues to occur at this rate and drought risk does increase because of climate change,” Lambert says. “Those would be the ingredients for another Dust Bowl.”

Authors of the new study said their findings should serve as a warning to farmers and policy makers across the Midwest that proactive measures are needed to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself.



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NASA’s Kate Rubins, 2 cosmonauts dock with International Space Station

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Tracy Caldwell Dyson pauses for a portrait in her spacesuit before going underwater in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston on July 8, 2019. Photo by Bill Ingalls/UPI



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Layered hybrid fibers could be used to build anti-viral masks, researchers say

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Oct. 14 (UPI) — Hybrid polymer fibers, featuring layers with different qualities, can be used for an array of biomedical applications, according to a new study in the journal Applied Physics Reviews.

Instead of searching for a single material that meets all the requirements of biomedical processes like tissue scaffolding, drug delivery and cardiac patching, authors of the new study suggest medical researchers utilize core-sheath polymer fibers — hybrid fibers featuring a strong core surrounded by a biologically applicable sheath layer.

“You want strength, but you also want bioactivity,” study co-author Mohan Edirisinghe said in a news release.

“So, if you align them in a core-sheath polymer, you have the strength of the core material, but the functionality comes from a bioactive polymer or ingredient that is in the sheath. That is a big advantage,” said Edirisinghe, a material scientist at University College London.

Because researchers can select from an array of materials to create the core-sheath fibers, the layered fibers could be used to meet a variety of biomedical applications, including the creation of antiviral mask materials.

“If you want to make a fibrous mask from a textile, you really need to have the strength, because you’re going to wash it and use it,” Edirisinghe said. “But on the other hand, you need an active material.”

Researchers suggest virus-fighting drugs or proteins could even be embedded in the fiber’s sheath layer during the manufacturing process.

Scientists have already augmented several fiber fabrication processes to create prototype core-sheath fibers.

One of the most promising methods involves embedding a vessel with a reservoir of the core material inside another vessel with a reservoir of sheath material. The reservoirs are released simultaneously through the vessel orifices, creating a bi-layered core-sheath fiber.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg, because this is just two reservoirs with two materials, which become the sheath and core layers of the fibers, but you can extend this to three or four,” Edirisinghe said. “In each layer, you can have a different drug that satisfies a different purpose.”



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