How Plagues Really Work-By Wendy Orent

“The next pandemic will erupt, not from the jungle, but from the disease factories of hospitals, refugee camps and cities”

The latest epidemic to terrify the Western world is Ebola, a virus that has killed hundreds in Africa in 2014 alone. No wonder there was so much worry when two infected health care workers from the United States were transported home from Liberia for treatment – why bring this plague to the US, exposing the rest of the country as well? But the truth is that Ebola, murderous though it is, doesn’t have what it takes to produce a pandemic, a worldwide outbreak of infectious disease. It spreads only through intimate contact with infected body fluids; to avoid Ebola, just refrain from touching sweat, blood or the bodies of the sick or dead.

Yet no logic can quell our pandemic paranoia, which first infected the zeitgeist with the publication of Laurie Garrett’s The Coming Plague (1994) and Richard Preston’s Hot Zone (1995). These books suggested that human incursion into rainforests and jungles would stir deadly viruses in wait; perturb nature and she nails you in the end. By the late 1990s, we were deep into the biological weapons scare, pumping billions of dollars in worldwide government funding to fight evil, lab-made disease. As if this weren’t enough, the panic caused from 2004 to 2007 by reports of the H5N1 or bird flu virus etched the prospect of a cross-species Andromeda strain in the Western mind.

The fear seems confirmed by historical memory: after all, plagues have killed a lot of people, and deadly diseases litter history like black confetti. The Antonine Plague, attributed to measles or smallpox in the year 165 CE, killed the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius and millions of his subjects. The Justinian Plague, caused by the deadly bacterial pathogen Yersinia pestis, spread from North Africa across the Mediterranean Sea to Constantinople and other cities along the Mediterranean. By 542, infected rats and fleas had carried the infection as far north as Rennes in France and into the heart of Germany. Millions died.

Then there was the Black Death of 1348-50, also caused by Yersinia pestis, but this time spread by human fleas and from human lung to human lung, through the air. The plague spread along the Silk Road to what is now Afghanistan, India, Persia, Constantinople, and thence across the Mediterranean to Italy and the rest of Europe, killing tens of millions worldwide. Of all the past pandemics, the 1918 influenza (also known as the Spanish flu) is now considered the über-threat, the rod by which all other pandemics are measured. It killed 40 million people around the globe.

It was the great Australian virologist Frank Macfarlane Burnet who argued that the deadliest diseases were those newly introduced into the human species. It seemed to make sense: the parasite that kills its host is a dead parasite since, without the host, the germ has no way to survive and spread. According to this argument, new germs that erupt into our species will be potential triggers for pandemics, while germs that have a long history in a host species will have evolved to be relatively benign.

Many health experts take the notion further, contending that any coming plague will come from human intrusion into the natural world. One risk, they suggest, comes when hungry people in Africa and elsewhere forge deep into forests and jungles to hunt ‘bushmeat’ – rodents, rabbits, monkeys, apes – with exposure to dangerous pathogens the unhappy result. Those pathogens move silently among wild animals, but can also explode with terrifying ferocity among people when humans venture where they shouldn’t. According to the same line of thought, another proposed risk would result when birds spread a new pandemic strain to chickens in factory farms and, ultimately, to us.

But there’s something in these scenarios that’s not entirely logical. There is nothing new in the intimate contact between animals and people. Our hominid ancestors lived on wildlife before we ever evolved into Homo sapiens: that’s why anthropologists call them hunter-gatherers, a term that still applies to some modern peoples, including bushmeat hunters in West Africa. After domesticating animals, we lived close beside them, keeping cows, pigs and chickens in farmyards and even within households for thousands of years. Pandemics arise out of more than mere contact between human beings and animals: from an evolutionary point of view, there is a missing step between animal pathogen and human pandemic that’s been almost completely overlooked in these terrifying but entirely speculative ideas.

According to the evolutionary epidemiologist Paul W Ewald of the University of Louisville, the most dangerous infectious diseases are almost always not animal diseases freshly broken into the human species, but diseases adapted to humanity over time: smallpox, malaria, tuberculosis, leprosy, typhus, yellow fever, polio. In order to adapt to the human species, a germ needs to cycle among people – from person to person to person. In each iteration, the strains best adapted to transmission will be the ones that spread. So natural selection will push circulating strains towards more and more effective transmission, and therefore towards increasing adaptation to human hosts. This process necessarily takes place among people.

Read more

posted by f.sheikh

 

“How Islamic scholarship birthed modern astronomy” By Shannon Stirone

Astronomy may be the oldest natural science in the world. Before humans ever took to systematically studying the skies, we were craning our necks upwards, observing the curious movements of some bright points of light, and the stillness of others. Civilizations around the world have incorporated astronomical observations into everything from their architecture to their storytelling and while the pinnacle of the science is most commonly thought to have been during the Renaissance, it actually began a thousand years earlier and 5,000 miles to the East.

Around the 6th century AD, Europe entered what’s known as the Dark Ages. This period of time from around 500 AD until to the 13th century witnessed the suppression of intellectual thought and scholarship around the continent because it was seen as a conflict to the religious views of the church. During this time the written word became scarce, and research and observations went dormant.

While Europe was in an intellectual coma, the Islamic empire which stretched from Moorish Spain, to Egypt and even China, was entering their “Golden Age”. Astronomy was of particular interest to Islamic scholars in Iran and Iraq and until this time around 800 AD, the only astronomical textbook was Ptolemy’s Almagest, written around 100 AD in Greece. This venerable text is still used as the main reference for ancient astronomy in academia to this day. Muslim scholars waited 700 years for this fundamental Greek text to be translated into Arabic, and once it was, they got to work understanding its contents.

Astronomers like Ibn Yunus from Egypt found faults in Ptolemy’s calculations about the movements of the planets and their eccentricities. Ptolemy was trying to find an explanation for how these bodies orbited in the sky, including how the Earth moved within these parameters. Ptolemy calculated that the wobble of the Earth, or precession as we now know it, varied 1 degree every 100 years.

Kamal2


Later, astronomer Ibn Yunus found that Ptolemy was quite wrong and that in fact it was 1 degree every 70 years. However, they didn’t know that it was the Earth’s wobble causing this change because in the 10th century it was still believed that Earth was at the center of the universe. This discovery by Ibn Yunus and others like Ibn al-Shatir changed the landscape of astronomy forever. The heliocentric model eventually proposed by Copernicus in the 16th century was built on this body of work.

The math required for astronomy was also advanced in large part by Islamic scholars. They developed spherical trigonometry and algebra, two forms of math fundamental to precise calculations of the stars. Jamil Ragep, professor of Islamic studies at McGill University told Astronomy, “there were so many contributions over a millennium that it’s impossible to pick just a few.”

In the 8th century under Caliph al-Mamun al-Rashid, the first observatory was built in Baghdad and subsequent observatories were built around Iraq and Iran. Since this was before the telescope had been developed, the astronomers of the time invented observational sextants. These tools, some as large as 40 meters, were critical to the study of the angle of the sun, movement of the stars, and the understanding of the orbiting planets.

Read more

posted by f.sheikh

 

Around this same time in 964, after more and more observations took place, one of Iran’s most famous astronomers Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi published The Book of Fixed Stars, one of the most comprehensive texts on constellations in the sky.  Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi was also the first astronomer to observe the Andromeda galaxy and the Large Magellanic Cloud. These observations would have been made purely with the naked eye since the telescope hadn’t yet been created. Of course he didn’t know it was a galaxy at the time, he marked it down as a “cloud” in his notes. This work would later prove to be useful to famed Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe.

What Are The Biggest Global Threats To Public Health?

(I did not even think that Mr. Trump’s policies may end up increasing the risks of global pandemic of viruses like Zika virus. worth reading small article in Big Idea by Larry Brilliant f. sheikh )

The greatest global threats to health can be divided into two categories, explains epidemiologist and former head of philanthropy at Google, Dr. Larry Brilliant: there is the biological, and the socio-political. In the last 30 years, there have been at least 30 heretofore unknown viruses that have jumped from animals to humans, for worrying reasons Brilliant attributes to modernity and our increase in animal protein consumption. Still, the socio-political threats are the more immediately dangerous. There are centrifugal forces at play that are pushing society to two extreme camps. The domestic and global division caused President Trump’s ‘America First’ mentality and disregard for public health leaves us vulnerable to new viruses that, if they aren’t detected early enough, could be the next pandemic. “Right now because of the re-organization and nationalism… and dislike for the United Nations and its agencies, I think we’re in a period of grave vulnerability,” says Brilliant. Larry Brilliant is the author of Sometimes Brilliant: The Impossible Adventure of a Spiritual Seeker and Visionary Physician Who Helped Conquer the Worst Disease in History.

Quantum Computer-First Blueprint

(It will take billion of years to solve some of the deepest mysteries of space by an ordinary computer, but a quantum computer can solve it within a short time. As atom can be both wave and particle and at two positions at the same time, this parallel quality gives quantum computer the ability to run multiple probable scenarios at the same time and come up with the most probable outcome in a short time. No such computer exists yet, and first blue print of such a computer was released recently. Worth reading article. F. Sheikh)

This huge leap forward towards creating a universal quantum computer is published today (1 February 2017) in the influential journal Science Advances (1). It has long been known that such a computer would revolutionise industry, science and commerce on a similar scale as the invention of ordinary computers. But this new work features the actual industrial blueprint to construct such a large-scale machine, more powerful in solving certain problems than any computer ever constructed before.

Once built, the computer’s capabilities mean it would have the potential to answer many questions in science; create new, lifesaving medicines; solve the most mind-boggling scientific problems; unravel the yet unknown mysteries of the furthest reaches of deepest space; and solve some problems that an ordinary computer would take billions of years to compute.

The work features a new invention permitting actual quantum bits to be transmitted between individual quantum computing modules in order to obtain a fully modular large-scale machine capable of reaching nearly arbitrary large computational processing powers.

Previously, scientists had proposed using fibre optic connections to connect individual computer modules. The introduces connections created by electric fields that allow charged atoms (ions) to be transported from one module to another. This new approach allows 100,000 times faster connection speeds between individual quantum computing modules compared to current state-of-the-art fibre link technology.

The new blueprint is the work of an international team of scientists from the University of Sussex (UK), Google (USA), Aarhus University (Denmark), RIKEN (Japan) and Siegen University (Germany).

Prof Winfried Hensinger (2), head of Ion Quantum Technology Group (3) at the University of Sussex, who has been leading this research, said: “For many years, people said that it was completely impossible to construct an actual quantum computer. With our work we have not only shown that it can be done but now we are delivering a nuts and bolts construction plan to build an actual large-scale machine.”

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-02-blueprint-unveiled-large-scale-quantum.html#jCp