Archive for virulence

H5Nx Marks Big Poultry’s Spot

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution, Influenza with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 9, 2016 by rgwallace

h5n8-japan-2The causes of the horrible fire that swept through an illegally squatted warehouse in Oakland last week, killing 36 concertgoers, are, as with other disasters, a political football.

Clearly, as city officials were quick to point out, the “Ghost Ship” warehouse floated on illegal construction: no sprinklers and a “boarded-up upstairs exit, a cobbled-together stairway made partly of wooden pallets, propane tanks used to heat water, and piles of flammable debris.”

The community outrage and hurt require a sacrifice, and attention has been thrown on the checkered history of Ghost Ship founder Derick Almena, who “paid $4,500 a month to rent the warehouse, and would then charge tenants $500 to $1,500 for rent — as many as 20 people at a time.” The district attorney reportedly is drawing up a murder warrant.

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Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution, Influenza with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 30, 2016 by rgwallace


dayton-turkeyThe explosion, at last, lies down. As if, though–the two drug enthusiasts who got in and out of its last moment insist–out of pity, rather than because it must. –China Miéville (2015)

A season’s greetings may mark as much a farewell as a salutation.

By a full-throated onamonapia we channel our near-national bird, which, when the other national holiday is upon us, is suddenly lined up for death in the millions. And gobble gobble we continue throughout the day–and into the new year–gnawing Viking drumsticks while watching Meat Packers bludgeon Rust Belt Steelers into what for the team owners are lucrative cases of chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

By way of zooarchaeologist Stanley Olsen, Heather Horn dates our enthusiasm back before the country, to the Mayans, who among others domesticated the ocellated turkey long before the arrival of the conquistadors. Raising them caught on so wildly in Europe that the birds–mislabeled Turkey in origin by explorers who once thought themselves in India–were brought back to America by colonial Patriots bound for Massachusetts and Virginia.

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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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Eat Prey Love

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 7, 2012 by rgwallace

I wrote the following for a conservation biology class fifteen years ago, when I was but a wee lad. Despite the outdated references, and a few nip-and-tuck edits, I think it’s aged gracefully. I’ve added two updates for some context.

Vero Wynne-Edwards proposed animal species—specifically the red grouse he studied—regulate their own numbers to avoid overexploitation of their food supply. The contention effectively launched modern evolutionary theory, if only in virulent opposition.

George Williams wrote a scathing critique of such theories of group selection. William Hamilton derived the concept of inclusive fitness, whereby relatives help each other to promote their shared genetics. John Maynard Smith, among others, developed an evolutionary game theory, in which altruism was instead a selfish act, part and parcel of a larger tournament of favors and punishments.

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A Visitation of the Influenza

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution, Farming Human Pathogens book, Influenza with tags , , , , , , , , on October 20, 2009 by rgwallace

DefoeIn seeping through the world’s every nook and cranny, pandemics have a way of forcing themselves into our lives as a lurking presence. Even the most insular of functionaries, who typically makes his living solving problems by ignoring them, straightens up and takes notice.

As an epidemic wave arrives, each of us faces intimate decisions we may have thought a concern only for someone somewhere else far, far away. Should my family flee, vaccinate, wear masks, scrub regularly, shun crowds, isolate itself, drink brandy-infused elderberry, or, for the jittery among us, just crawl into bed until 2011? Others, on the other hand, may ask whether we should even bother worrying.

The answers are as variable as the people who arrive at them. Over the past two weeks I’ve heard friends and family heatedly talk through their positions online and in the real world. I’ve overheard strangers in cafes, on buses, and on the street wrestle with what were months ago only abstract possibilities better left to the eggheads.

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A Critical Moment in Influenza’s History

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution, HIV, Influenza with tags , , , , , , , , on July 23, 2009 by rgwallace

Featherless ChickensI gave the following presentation last night at Give & Take, a show and tell for adults held at Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis. The organizers ask all presenters (and audience members) two questions: What do you know about? What do you want to know about? A lot of fun and a great learning experience. Other than the photo of the featherless chickens I show none of my slides here, but I think you’ll get the picture.

We begin with a visceral abomination. We recoil at the sight of these chickens bred for baldness. But we recoil for reasons other than those for flinching at mystery meats, for instance. We’re repulsed by the meat because we can’t connect our food to something identifiably organic.

Our featherless friends, on the other hand, seem a violation of temporality. We don’t expect the finished broiler—leg, breast, wings—to be walking about on its own. The sequence is all wrong.

You can imagine these as stars of your own personal Latourian nightmare. You’re dreaming you’re in your local supermarket—maybe only in your underwear, maybe not—and you watch these two birds walk down aisle 6 and hop right into a meats freezer. You look down into the freezer. Shivering birds “Hello, bok, bok, bok, I’m a red dot special! I’m a red dot special!” You wake up in a cold sweat with feathers from your pillow floating everywhere.

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Yes, Swine Flu Is Worse Than Seasonal Influenza

Posted in Evolution, Influenza with tags , , , on July 15, 2009 by rgwallace

Although most cases of swine-origin H1N1 influenza have been ‘mild’, half of those hospitalized with severe illness have none of the pre-existing conditions that might complicate an influenza infection: asthma, heart disease, hepatitis, immunosuppresion, pregnancy, among others.

A new study explains why. Itoh et al. demonstrate swine-origin H1N1, now pandemic, to be intrinsically more virulent than previously assumed. Indeed, the infection expresses characteristics of some of the more deadly influenzas, including highly pathogenic H5N1, the bird flu virus.

Itoh and colleagues tracked the pathogenesis of the new H1N1 infection. They conducted experiments on mice, ferrets, pigs and macaques, comparing the effects of swine-origin H1N1 and recent strains of seasonal H1N1. The team discovered,

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