The world examined – An eventful 2020, anti-dengue mosquitoes and Neanderthals

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This series scans the latest research and developments in the realms of science, academia, technology and geopolitics, providing a glance at the ever changing world

GEOPOLITICS

An eventful 2020, so far!

For all the wrong reasons, 2020 has been pretty eventful and you’ll be forgiven for not keeping up. The early days of January caught everyone off guard with the worry of whether the US and Iran would clash in an all-out war.

Devastating bushfires across Australia have killed dozens of people, destroyed millions of hectares in land and also caused millions of animals to die. Raising concerns on how much world powers are contributing towards climate change.

More recently the stalemate over Trump’s impeachment continues while the USA has also signed phase one of the economic deal with China. And in relation to China, the world has its eyes on Wuhan, to see if the Coronavirus can be contained.

In the Middle East, Lebanon has formed a new government, after Hezbollah finalised a deal with the cabinet; the country is also undergoing an economic crisis.

Not far from Lebanon, Saudi’s MBS has been accused of hacking into Jeff Bezos’ (CEO of Amazon) phone through a WhatsApp message.

Today, the World Economic Forum in Davos comes to an end where world leaders, executives, academics, charity heads and celebrities have tried to discuss and impact the global agenda; climate change being the talking point of the forum.

Whatever the future holds, one thing is for sure, we are certainly not heading towards a more peaceful and happier 2020. We, once again, urge not only world leaders but the general populace to take heed to the words of Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmadaa who is the Khalifa of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam.

His top-of-the-list concern is not climate change, but rather the catastrophe the world can undergo if a world war erupts – a carnage that will be swifter than climate change.

ARCHEOLOGY

Neanderthals: Our swimming and diving relatives

Homo sapiens (us!) and Neanderthals are two species from the later stages of human evolution. The Neanderthal were hunter-gatherers whereas Homo sapiens leaned towards agriculture and a domestic lifestyle. A recent discovery in Italy has shown that Neanderthals were not only land-hunters, but they swam and even dived down to 6-13 feet to collect live clams. The discovery was of 170 clam shells in Italian caves; the shells had been shaped into tools and scrapers. “Our findings enlarge our knowledge of the range of capacities Neanderthals had,” said Sylvain Soriano, an archaeologist at Paris Nanterre University. Another archaeologist from the Autonomous University of Madrid, commending the findings, said, “This study is further evidence of the rich behavioral complexity of this human species, and their great capability to adapt to the environment and to exploit at best the resources that were available.” (Nytimes.com, 15 January 2020)

HEALTH

Worries with Coronavirus in Wuhan, China

The perturbing coronavirus which has been connected to a market in the city of Wuhan that was selling seafood and live animals is spreading. Cases of the epidemic have been found in China, USA, South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Australia and will possibly spread to other countries.

On top of this, the Lunar New Year has commenced, which is the largest human migration on earth – hundreds of millions will travel across china and aboard throughout the month. There is fear that the Lunar New Year holiday travel period will cause the virus to spread across the world.

The following precautions have been advised: Wash hands with soap regularly, cover mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, thoroughly cook meat and eggs, avoid contact with anyone showing flu-like symptoms and avoid unprotected contact with animals. (WHO)

SCIENCE

Anti-Dengue mosquitos

Synthetically engineered mosquitoes have been created that inhibited the spread of the four known types of the dengue virus. The dengue virus is spread by Aedes aegypti mosquitos and causes 25,000 annual global deaths, while infecting approximately 390 million people every year, most prevalent in tropical and subtropical areas.

Led by biologists at the University of California San Diego, an international team has now used a human antibody to supress the virus in mosquitos, addressing all the four strains of the virus. The achievement was published in the journal PLOS Pathogens.

Associate professor, Omar Akbari from the University of California San Diego said, “This development means that in the foreseeable future there may be viable genetic approaches to controlling dengue virus in the field, which could limit human suffering and mortality”. Further, co-author of the study, James Crowe MD said, “It is fascinating that we now can transfer genes from the human immune system to confer immunity to mosquitoes. This work opens up a whole new field of biotechnology possibilities to interrupt mosquito-borne diseases of man”. (sciencedaily.com, 16 January 2020)

PSYCHOLOGY

A group consisting of members from the University of Wurzburg, Germany and Peking University, China have found that women respond less strongly to fearful sounds if someone else is nearby. The journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society B published the findings of the group. Skin conductance response (SCR) was used to measure the chemical responses of the participants when they were in states of fear; the women were asked to sit at a desk and listen to scary noises through headphones. “SCR showed that the women experienced less fear when there was another person present – even if they did not know that person. It also showed that the effect was stronger when the volunteer judged the nearby person as dissimilar to themselves, regardless of their gender or race.” The results of the experiment showed that “humans instinctively put themselves on higher alert when alone.” (medicalexpress.com, 22 January 2020)

GOOD TO KNOW

The Drake Equation

Dr Frank Drake, an astronomer and astrophysicist, developed an equation that would estimate the probability of extra-terrestial intelligent life (that could communicate) within the Milky Way by multiplying variables. It reads:

The probability of life beyond earth, according to the Drake Equation, estimates as very high, with some astronomers approximating 10,000 intelligent civilisations within our galaxy. Since the equation, astronomers have discovered that the number of planets exceed the number of stars considerably, with some astrophysicists saying that advanced civilisations within the universe are “uncountable”.

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