Svalbard’s mysterious ‘doomsday’ seed vault offers glimpse inside with virtual tour

Read the full story at The Guardian.

Buried in Arctic permafrost, the collection safeguards the world’s crop species – and is a magnet for conspiracy theories. Now the public can take a look around.

NOAA brings heat island data to life with maps, VR

Read the full story at Government Technology.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is working with cities to use visualizations to make urban heat island data more accessible. For Washington, D.C., this work led to a virtual reality experience.

In race to build out EV charging stations, some cities and states have a leg up

Read the full story at Route Fifty.

As the number of electric vehicles surge, a new ranking looks at the state of charging infrastructure and which cities and states are ready to receive them.

Oregon State gets grant to explore carbon sequestration in 3D-printed building materials

Read the full story from Oregon State University.

Oregon State University and Sandia National Laboratory have received a three-year, $540,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to explore capturing carbon dioxide from industrial emissions and sequestering it in a mineralized form in 3D-printed building materials.

In Cambodia, a battered Mekong defies doomsday predictions

Read the full story at e360.

After years of environmental assault — from dam building, overfishing, and logging — stretches of the Mekong River, upon which millions of people depend, appear to be recovering. Heavy rains have helped, along with a crackdown on illegal fishing and other conservation efforts.

What is spillover? Bird flu outbreak underscores need for early detection to prevent the next big pandemic

Wild birds like pelicans and ducks are getting infected with – and dying from – a new strain of avian influenza and have spread it to farm animals around the world. Klebher Vasquez/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

by Treana Mayer, Colorado State University

The current epidemic of avian influenza has killed over 58 million birds in the U.S. as of February 2023. Following on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, large outbreaks of viruses like bird flu raise the specter of another disease jumping from animals into humans. This process is called spillover.

I’m a veterinarian and a researcher who studies how diseases spread between animals and people. I was on the Colorado State University veterinary diagnostic team that helped detect some of the earliest cases of H5N1 avian influenza in U.S. birds in 2022. As this year’s outbreak of bird flu grows, people are understandably worried about spillover.

Given that the next potential pandemic will likely originate from animals, it’s important to understand how and why spillover occurs – and what can be done to stop it.

A cup of water containing viruses inside of it, with a fruit bat, chicken and pig standing on top of it. A drop of water with a new virus is falling toward a person, spreading more virus through coughing.
Viral spillover occurs when a virus spills out from an animal population into people. Treana Mayer/BioRender, CC BY-ND

How spillover works

Spillover involves any type of disease-causing pathogen, be it a virus, parasite or bacteria, jumping into humans. The pathogen can be something never before seen in people, such as a new Ebola virus carried by bats, or it could be something well known and recurring, like Salmonella from farm animals.

The term spillover evokes images of a container of liquid overflowing, and this image is a great metaphor for how the process works.

Imagine water being poured into a cup. If the water level keeps increasing, the water will flow over the rim, and anything nearby could get splashed. In viral spillover, the cup is an animal population, the water is a zoonotic disease capable of spreading from an animal to a person, and humans are the ones standing in the splash zone.

The probability that a spillover will occur depends on many biological and social factors, including the rate and severity of animal infections, environmental pressure on the disease to evolve and the amount of close contact between infected animals and people.

A sign telling people to wear masks, stay 6 feet apart and wash hands.
Epidemiologists estimate that three-quarters of all new infectious human diseases originated in animals. Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images

Why spillover matters

While not all animal viruses or other pathogens are capable of spilling over into people, up to three-quarters of all new human infectious diseases have originated from animals. There’s a good chance the next big pandemic risk will arise from spillover, and the more that’s known about how spillovers occur, the better chance there is at preventing it.

Most spillover research today is focused on learning about and preventing viruses – including coronaviruses, like the one that causes COVID-19 and certain viral lineages of avian influenza – from jumping into humans. These viruses mutate very quickly, and random changes in their genetic code could eventually allow them to infect humans.

Spillover events can be hard to detect, flying under the radar without leading to bigger outbreaks. Sometimes a virus that transfers from animals to humans poses no risk to people if the virus is not well adapted to human biology. But the more often this jump occurs, the higher the chances a dangerous pathogen will adapt and take off.

Spillover is becoming more likely

Epidemiologists are projecting that the risk of spillover from wildlife into humans will increase in coming years, in large part because of the destruction of nature and encroachment of humans into previously wild places.

Because of habitat loss, climate change and changes in land use, humanity is collectively jostling the table that is holding up that cup of water. With less stability, spillover becomes more likely as animals are stressed, crowded and on the move.

Houses and a farm next to some woods.
As housing and farmland expand into wild places, the risk of spillover increases. Cavan/Getty Images

As development expands into new habitats, wild animals come into closer contact with people – and, importantly, the food supply. The mixing of wildlife and farm animals greatly amplifies the risk that a disease will jump species and spread like wildfire among farm animals. Poultry across the U.S. are experiencing this now, thanks to a new form of avian flu that experts think spread to chicken farms mostly through migrating ducks.

Current risk from bird flu

The new avian influenza virus is a distant descendant of the original H5N1 strain that has caused human epidemics of bird flu in the past. Health officials are detecting cases of this new flu virus jumping from birds to other mammals – like foxes, skunks and bears.

On Feb. 23, 2023, news outlets began reporting a few confirmed infections of people in Cambodia, including one infection leading to the death of an 11-year-old girl. While this new strain of bird flu can infect people in rare situations, it isn’t very good at doing so, because it is not able to bind to cells in human respiratory tracts very effectively. For now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention thinks there is low risk to the general public.

Active monitoring of wild animals, farm animals and humans will allow health officials to detect the first sign of spillover and help prevent a small viral splash from turning into a large outbreak. Moving forward, researchers and policymakers can take steps to prevent spillover events by preserving nature, keeping wildlife wild and separate from livestock and improving early detection of novel infections in people and animals.

Treana Mayer, Postdoctoral Fellow in Microbiology, Colorado State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Loliware scores $15.4m to replace single-use plastics with seaweed-based materials

Read the full story from Ag Funder News.

US-based alternative materials startup Loliware has closed a $15.4 million pre-Series A round. The round included participation from L Catterton, Alumni Ventures Group, Blue Bottle Coffee founder Bryan Meehan, and many others. Longtime plastics manufacturer Sinclair and Rush, with whom Loliware has a manufacturing partnership, has also committed capital. Loliware will use the funding to launch single-use plastic alternatives made from its novel seaweed resins.

Urban gardens are good for ecosystems and humans

Read the full story from the University of Texas.

Traditionally, it has been assumed that cultivating food leads to a loss of biodiversity and negative impacts on an ecosystem. A new study defies this assumption, showing that community gardens and urban farms positively affect biodiversity, local ecosystems and the well-being of humans that work in them.

Tracing the flow of water with DNA

Read the full story from the University of Basel.

Environmental DNA analysis of microbial communities can help us understand how a particular region’s water cycle works. Basel hydrogeologist Oliver Schilling recently used this method to examine the water cycle on Mount Fuji. His results have implications for other regions worldwide.

Flood Funding Finder

The American Flood Coalition created the Flood Funding Finder to simplify the complex federal grants system and to help small communities identify and prioritize opportunities to fund flood resilience.

This interactive tool is a resource for local leaders exploring federal funding opportunities for flooding projects in small communities. While there may be additional funding opportunities for which a connection to flooding could be made, the tool focuses on opportunities where there is a trend of funded projects that address flooding and sea level rise. In addition to summarizing how each federal program can be used by small communities, the program summaries include external links to applications and in-depth program information, as well as Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) numbers that applicants may use to search for grant information on federal websites. 

The tool allows users to filter by fund characteristics, assistance type, estimated funding amount, federal support mechanism, whether for a tribal resilience program, and by closing date.