Archive for Influenza

Collateralized Farmers

Posted in Ecological resilience, Influenza, Revolution, Sustainable farming with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 8, 2014 by rgwallace

In the course of his sensational exposé of Big Meat, of which I’m still in the midst, Christopher Leonard falls upon both a solution to a mystery central to influenza epizoology and a foundational admission on the part of the poultry industry.

It’s common knowledge that agribusiness are vertically integrated. All nodes of poultry or pig production are placed here in the States under each of the Big Five’s roofs. Cargill, Smithfield, JBS Swift, Pilgrim’s Pride, and Tyson raise their birds and hogs and beef from fertilization to freezer.

But that isn’t quite correct. “There is one link in the chain that Tyson [much as the other companies] has decided not to own,” Leonard writes, Continue reading

Neoliberal Ebola?

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution, HIV, Influenza, Revolution, Sustainable farming with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 23, 2014 by rgwallace

Ebola2With an update about David Quammen’s response at the bottom.

In spite of writing a long book on diseases spilling over from animals to humans, well-regarded author David Quammen can’t seem to get his mind wrapped around the possibility Ebola has likely evolved a new ecotype, for the first time spreading into a major urban area.

The first outbreak of Flaviviridae Filoviridae Ebola in West Africa apparently began in forest villages across four districts in southeastern Guinea as early as December 2013 before spreading to Conakry and the outskirts of Monrovia, the capitals of Guinea and Liberia respectively.

The number of deaths across West Africa presently stands at 149 killed out of 242 infected. According to the WHO, with a three-week incubation period cases are likely to continue to accumulate for months.

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The X-Men

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution, Influenza with tags , , , , , , , , on January 31, 2014 by rgwallace

X-Men Darwin 2The organism becomes a Chinese nest of boxes of qualities, and there is now seen to be no necessity for explaining change as change…Biology can then proceed to its real task, that of discovering the determined, material sequence of qualities, in each step of which organism and environment are involved as warp and woof. –Christopher Caudwell (1936/1986)

My views are mutating. I’m beginning to think that when evolutionary biologists characterize the source of variation on which natural selection operates as ‘random’ it is an attempt to impose on biologies the syllogism underlying Darwin’s ingenuous contribution: 1) heritible variation, 2) with effects on reproductive success, 3) produces natural selection.

Mutations, however, are routinely gamma-distributed across a genetic sequence; that is their mutation rates vary across sites and do so in particular directions (e.g., by transitions or transversions) and in domain-specific ways.

Take hemagglutinin, the influenza glycoprotein, characterized by a hypervariable head resistant to antibody memory surrounding a conserved core used to key the virus into target cells. Ostensibly selection operates in favor of surface hypervariability at the level of the phenotype. But we might ask whether it does so in such a way that imprints upon the mutation process itself.

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Trojan Pig

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution, Influenza with tags , , , , , , , , on November 15, 2013 by rgwallace

Chicken and pig exports 1961-2011To get a handle on the world’s traffic in livestock for a paper I’m co-authoring, I graphed FAOSTAT data on global live chicken and pig exports by head, 1961-2011.

The time series appear to track geographically lengthening production-demand discrepancies–areas of high production meeting demands elsewhere. Globalization exploded in chickens by 1990–not long preceding bird flu H5N1–and, after a starting wobble in the 1990s led by the United States and NAFTA, in pigs by 2000.

Indeed, even excluding illegal trade the stats don’t pick up, pig exports more than doubled by the end of the decade, when swine flu H1N1 (2009) appeared with genomic segments from influenzas circulating among pig populations in both Eurasia and North America. New agricultural ressortants appear to be accumulating at an accelerating pace since, including H1N1v, H1N2v, H3N2v, H7N9, and now a new series confirmed last week, H6N1.

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Flu the Farmer

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution, Influenza with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 17, 2013 by rgwallace

Broiler explosion11In our H7N9 post we described the possibility reducing finishing time may select for greater virulence in influenzas. That is, reducing the age at which poultry are sacrificed may select for increasing the damage influenza incurs.

There may be immunological fallout as well,

By increasing the throughput speed, and reducing the age of food animals at slaughter, the livestock industry may also be selecting for strains able to transmit in the face of younger, more robust immune systems, including, should spillover occur, in humans.

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Bird Flew

Posted in Ecological resilience, Influenza, Organic agriculture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 26, 2013 by rgwallace

Snow geese4When the red ants discovered that a new variety of canned goods had arrived, they mounted guard around the cassoulet. It wouldn’t have been advisable to leave a freshly opened can standing; they’d have summoned the whole nation of red ants to the shack. There are no bigger communists anywhere. And they’d have eaten up the Spaniard too. –Louis-Ferdinand Céline (1934)

Conservation biology explores how best to protect and restore biodiversity. The applied science aims at maintaining diversity at a variety of levels of biological organization, including genes, subspecies, species, ecosystems and biomes.

But conservation efforts aren’t interested in preserving things alone. Ecologies are defined by processes; competition, predation, symbioses, and higher-order nutrient cycling among them. Organisms are actualized in part by the actions they take upon, or with, each other.

In any environment we look at we’ll find a food web of some sort. In losing species, local ecologies can degrade and the ability of an ecosystem to buffer a disturbance of one sort of another can be compromised.

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Alien vs. Predator

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution, Farming Human Pathogens book, Influenza, Sustainable farming with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2010 by rgwallace

Dallas: [looks at a pen being dissolved by alien’s body fluid] I haven’t seen anything like that except, uh, molecular acid.
Brett: It must be using it for blood.
Parker: It’s got a wonderful defense mechanism. You don’t dare kill it.
Alien (1979)

NASA announced earlier this month one of its research teams discovered an ‘alien’ bacterium at the bottom of California’s Mono Lake. Call off the men in black, it’s strictly still a matter for the nerds in white.

The bacterium isn’t really from another planet, even as we all are a kind of astronaut wherever and whenever we find ourselves spinning through space and time. Rather, this earthly bug showed under the kinds of stringent conditions found on other planets it could assimilate arsenic into its very cellular fabric in place of what was until now thought mission-critical phosphorous.

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