What does ‘survival of the fittest’ mean in the #coronavirus pandemic? Look to the immune system — The Conversation #COVID19


What would Darwin consider the best adaptation to protect against the coronavirus?
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Prakash Nagarkatti, University of South Carolina and Mitzi Nagarkatti, University of South Carolina

Charles Darwin popularized the concept of survival of the fittest as a mechanism underlying the natural selection that drives the evolution of life. Organisms with genes better suited to the environment are selected for survival and pass them to the next generation.

Thus, when a new infection that the world has never seen before erupts, the process of natural selection starts all over again.

In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, who is the “fittest”?

This is a challenging question. But as immunology researchers at the University of South Carolina, we can say one thing is clear: With no effective treatment options, survival against the coronavirus infection depends completely on the patient’s immune response.

We have been working on how the immune response is a double-edged sword – on one hand helping the host to fight infections, while on the other hand causing significant damage in the form of autoimmune diseases.

Darwin recognized that finches with beaks adapted to the specific food sources present on an island were more likely to survive and pass their genes to the next generation. Birds with the right beaks were defined as the fittest.
Photos.com

The two phases of the immune response

The immune response is like a car. To reach a destination safely, you need both an accelerator (phase 1) and a brake (phase 2) that are functioning well. Failure in either can have significant consequences.

An effective immune response against an infectious agent rests in the delicate balance of two phases of action. When an infectious agent attacks, the body begins phase 1, which promotes inflammation – a state in which a variety of immune cells gather at the site of infection to destroy the pathogen.

This is followed by phase 2, during which immune cells called regulatory T cells suppress inflammation so that the infected tissues can completely heal. A deficiency in the first phase can allow uncontrolled growth of the infectious agent, such as a virus or bacteria. A defect in the second phase can trigger massive inflammation, tissue damage and death.

The coronavirus infects cells by attaching to a receptor called the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), which is present in many tissues throughout the body, including the respiratory tract and cardiovascular system. This infection triggers a phase 1 immune response, in which the antibody-producing B-cells pump out neutralizing antibodies that can bind to the virus and prevent it from attaching to ACE2. This inhibits the virus from infecting more cells.

During phase 1, the immune cells also produce cytokines, a group of proteins that recruit other immune cells as well as fight infection. Also joining the fight are killer T cells that destroy the virus-infected cells, preventing the virus from replicating.

If the immune system is compromised and works poorly during phase 1, the virus can replicate rapidly. People with compromised immune systems include the elderly, organ transplant recipients, patients with autoimmune diseases, cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and individuals who are born with immunodeficiency diseases. Many of these individuals may not produce enough antibodies or killer T cells to counter the virus, which allows the virus to multiply unchecked and cause a severe infection.

Molecular model of a coronavirus spike (S) protein (red) bound to an angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptor (blue) on a human cell. Once inside the cell, the virus uses the cells’ machinery to make more copies of itself.
JUAN GAERTNER/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Lung injury resulting from inflammation

Increased replication of SARS-CoV-2 triggers additional complications in the lungs and other organs.

Normally, there is a wide range of microorganisms, both harmful and benign, that live in harmony in the lungs. However, as the coronavirus spreads, it is likely that the infection and the inflammation that ensues will disrupt this balance, allowing harmful bacteria present in the lungs to dominate. This leads to development of pneumonia, in which the lungs’ air sacs, called alveoli, get filled with fluid or pus, making it difficult to breathe.

When the alveoli, the location where oxygen is absorbed and carbon dioxide is expelled, is filled with liquid there is less space to absorb oxygen.
ttsz / Getty Images

This triggers additional inflammation in the lungs, leading to Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), which is seen in a third of COVID-19 patients. The immune system, unable to control viral infection and other emerging pathogens in the lungs, mounts an even stronger inflammatory response by releasing more cytokines, a condition known as “cytokine storm.”

At this stage, it is also likely that the phase 2 immune response aimed at suppressing inflammation fails and can’t control the cytokine storm. Such cytokine storms can trigger friendly fire – destructive, corrosive chemicals meant to destroy infected cells that are released by the body’s immune cells which can lead to severe damage to the lungs and other organs.

Also, because ACE2 is present throughout the body, the killer T cells from phase 1 can destroy virus-infected cells across multiple organs, causing more widespread destruction. Thus, patients that produce excessive cytokines and T cells can die from injury not only to the lungs but also to other organs such as the heart and kidneys.

The immune system’s balancing act

The above scenario raises several questions regarding prevention and treatment of COVID-19. Because the majority of people recover from coronavirus infection, it is likely that a vaccine that triggers neutralizing antibodies and T cells to block the virus from getting into the cells and replicate is likely to be successful. The key to an effective vaccine is that it doesn’t trigger excessive inflammation.

Additionally, in patients who transition to a more severe form such as ARDS and cytokine storm, which is often lethal, there is an urgent need for novel anti-inflammatory drugs. These drugs can broadly suppress the cytokine storm without causing excessive suppression of immune response, thereby enabling the patients to clear the coronavirus without damage to the lung and other tissues.

There may be only a narrow window of opportunity during which these immunosuppressive agents can be effectively used. Such agents should not be started at an early stage of infection when the patient needs the immune system to fight the infection, but it cannot be delayed too long after ARDS development, when the massive inflammation is uncontrollable. This window of anti-inflammatory treatment can be determined by monitoring the antibody and cytokine levels in patients.

With COVID-19, then, the “fittest” are individuals who mount a normal phase 1 and phase 2 immune response. This means a strong immune response in phase 1 to clear the primary coronavirus infection and inhibit its spread in the lungs. Then this should be followed by an optimum phase 2 response to prevent excessive inflammation in the form of “cytokine storm.”

Vaccines and anti-inflammatory treatments need to carefully manage this delicate balancing act to be successful.

With this coronavirus, it isn’t easy to know who are the fittest individuals. It isn’t necessarily the youngest, strongest or most athletic individuals who are guaranteed to survive this coronavirus. The fittest are those with the “right” immune response who can clear the infection rapidly without mounting excessive inflammation, which can be deadly.

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Prakash Nagarkatti, Vice President for Research and Carolina Distinguished Professor, University of South Carolina and Mitzi Nagarkatti, SmartState Endowed Chair of Center for Cancer Drug Discovery, Carolina Distinguished Professor and Chair, Dept. of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology, University of South Carolina

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

@CWCB_DNR: April 2020 #Drought Update

From the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ben Wade):

In western drought reporting, an average water year is cause for celebration. While average statewide snowpack and reservoir levels provide many water managers with above-average relief, our dry southern peaks and windy eastern plains are of notable drought concern. Statewide snowpack peaked at 104% of normal on April 8th, yet melt-out rates may be dramatic across the southern basins. North Central Colorado benefited from repeated snow events throughout late March and April, with the Boulder station breaking the 1908-09 snowfall record on April 16th. Drought Task Force members convened remotely on April 23rd for an annual review of roles and procedure should the State’s Drought Plan be activated. The purpose of the Drought Task Force is to direct early implementation of water conservation programs and other drought response measures intended to minimize the state’s vulnerabilities to localized drought impacts.

● The 90-day Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) (from Jan. 1 to Apr. 18) shows below average moisture for the SW and SE and above average for the central and north mountain regions.
● The U.S. Drought Monitor, released April 23, shows gradual worsening conditions across all of southern CO compared to preceding months. D0 (abnormally dry) conditions cover 13% of the state; D1 (moderate) covers 25%; D2 (severe) drought covers 29% of the southern edge (​up from 3% in March​); 33% of the state (north-central) remains drought free.

Colorado Drought Monitor April 21. 2020.

● ENSO forecasts are still trending toward neutral conditions for spring and summer 2020, with a few model traces pointed toward La Nina.
● NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center three month outlook maps show increased probability for warmer than average temperatures May through July for much of the state and favorable, slightly higher than average, precipitation outlooks for the Eastern Plains.
● Reservoir storage remains above average for all major basins except the Rio Grande (83%) and Arkansas (93%). Statewide, reservoirs are at 107% of average and 61% capacity.

● Long-term trends confirm our summers are getting hotter. The current seasonal forecast is a reflection of this.
● Water providers and water users did not report any unusual impacts or concerns at this time.

Project Management Plan Developed for Arkansas Valley Conduit — Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

Arkansas Valley Conduit “A Path Forward” November 22, 2019 via Southeastern.

Here’s the release from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka):

Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Bureau of Reclamation have adopted a project management plan that will guide construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit (AVC).

The AVC is a pipeline project that will deliver clean drinking water to 40 communities serving 50,000 people from Pueblo Dam to Lamar and Eads on the eastern plains. This water supply is needed to supplement or replace existing poor quality water and to help meet AVC participants’ projected water demands. The estimated cost of the AVC is between $564 million and $610 million.

“The Project Management Plan is the blueprint for how we will build the Arkansas Valley Conduit, and an important step in the future of the AVC,” said Bill Long, President of the Southeastern District Board of Directors. “The AVC is absolutely necessary for the future water quality and health of the Arkansas Valley.”

“The Department of the Interior and Reclamation are committed to improving the water supplies of rural southeastern Colorado,” said Commissioner Brenda Burman. “I look forward to our continued collaboration with Southeastern to move this long-delayed project forward.”

“The communities of the Lower Arkansas Valley deserve clean drinking water, which the Arkansas Valley Conduit will supply for 50,000 Coloradans for generations to come,” said Senator Cory Gardner, R-Colo. “I was proud to secure robust federal funding of $28 million to begin construction for the first time since Congress authorized the project and President Kennedy promised completion nearly six decades ago. The project management plan adopted by the Bureau of Reclamation and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy is another great step forward for this project and I’ll continue to work with local and federal leaders to ensure we deliver abundant and affordable clean drinking water to the Colorado communities in need.”

“This is a significant milestone in our efforts towards construction of the AVC,” said Jeff Rieker, Eastern Colorado Area Manager for Reclamation. “This plan will guide design and construction by Reclamation and Southeastern, and streamline our joint efforts to provide clean water to these communities.”

Reclamation and Southeastern have worked together for the past year to envision a layout for the AVC that reaches communities with the poorest water quality most quickly, reduces overall costs, and reduces the need for federal appropriations. Many communities have issues with radioactive elements in groundwater supplies. Others face increasing costs to treat water and to dispose of waste by-products from that treatment.

Under the plan, AVC water will be delivered to a point east of Pueblo by the Pueblo Board of Water Works. A contract among Reclamation, Pueblo Water and Southeastern is in the discussion stage.

From that point, Reclamation will construct the trunk line, a treatment plant and water tanks, while Southeastern will coordinate with communities to fund and build connections. Reclamation and Southeastern continue to meet regularly, using remote technology, to work on activities such as design, land acquisition and environmental review that will lead to construction.

“We’re on a path to begin construction in the near future, but we still have a lot of work to do,” said Kevin Karney, who chairs Southeastern’s AVC Committee. “Part of that will be reaching out to AVC participants to help shape how the AVC is developed. Overall, I’m excited to see the AVC moving forward.”

Congress provided additional funds to Reclamation in FY 2020. Reclamation allocated $28 million for construction of the AVC in February, and an additional $8 million for 2021 was requested in the President’s budget. The Colorado Water Conservation Board approved a $100 million finance package that still must be approved by the Colorado Legislature. Other potential sources of funding are being considered.

The AVC was part of the 1962 Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Act, but was never built because communities could not afford 100 percent of the costs. In 2009, the Act was amended to provide a 65 percent federal cost share. Reclamation identified a preferred alternative in 2014, which has been modified in the latest project management plan.

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For additional information, contact Chris Woodka at Southeastern, (719) 289-0785; Darryl Asher at Reclamation, (406) 247-7608.

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

Here’s what an emerging megadrought means for the Southwest — AZBigMedia.com #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Graphic credit: Western Water Assessment

From The Cronkite News via AZBigMedia.com:

What sets this emerging megadrought apart from others, such as those recorded in the 1200s and 1500s, is that human activity is increasing the severity. Although past megadroughts had natural causes, the report found this natural phenomenon has been made worse by humans…

It’s important to understand the difference between deserts and droughts, said Kathy Jacobs, the director of the Center for Climate Adaptation Science and Solutions at the University of Arizona.

“I think making a distinction between sort of living in a desert where it’s hot and dry, and understanding that we could be entering into decades long shortage situations that really throw all of our water supply projections for a loop is a really important distinction,” Jacobs said.

To make that distinction, Williams and his team employed methods first used by researchers at the University of Arizona, in 1937 who discovered the width of the annual growth rings in tree trunks corresponded to moisture availabilities, or soil moisture.

“Our measurement of drought is really a combination of tree ring records that come up to 1900,” Williams said. “And then that, stitched together with our climate derived estimates of soil moisture, brings us up to 2018.”

He said a megadrought isn’t a multidecade period in which every year is dry, but instead an extended period when the occasional wet years don’t come close to making up for the predominance of dry years.

If the concept of an emerging megadrought seems abstract, there’s a reason. Williams said people might not immediately feel the impact of water sources depleting due to groundwater pumping in California, Arizona and other states…

Brad Udall: “…latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with
@GreatLakesPeck

The Colorado River is one example of decreasing water resources. Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico depend on the river for water, but the amount of water each state is promised has been consistently overallocated…

“The fact that the normal average year is actually getting drier and is projected to keep getting drier in the Colorado River means that we’re probably going to have to revise how much each state is allocated on the Colorado River substantially,” Williams said.

Beyond that, Jacobs stresses the need to elect representatives to the Arizona Legislature who care about the environment and to reach out to current legislators so they know how important tighter water regulations are to Arizonans and the state’s economy…

“The stakes for humans are higher than they’ve ever been before,” Williams said. “And as we change the climate, one of the things that is most predictable is that the distribution of water is going to change. Trying to figure that out before it really becomes a crisis, I think, is one of the most valuable things we can do.”

#COVID19 is a dress rehearsal for entrepreneurial approaches to #climatechange — The Conversation #coronavirus


Business closures and recent rain contribute to Los Angeles’ recent uptick in air quality.
AP Photo/Chris Pizzello

Jeffrey York, University of Colorado Boulder

As the U.S. struggles to control the COVID-19 pandemic, some experts have suggested that we can learn something about how to address climate change from this crisis.

Climate and social policy experts are recommending green stimulus packages to restart the economy. As a professor of sustainability and entrepreneurship, I see COVID-19 bringing the predicted future human health implications of climate change to horrifying life. Like COVID-19, climate change could increase respiratory illness and strain infrastructure.

However, just as with COVID-19, entrepreneurship can offer solutions to these challenges.

Searching for a solution

Saving small businesses is a central part of recovering from the pandemic. At the same time, entrepreneurs are innovating to preserve their business and help address the challenges of COVID-19.

The same thing is already happening with climate change. When entrepreneurs offer solutions that create simultaneous ecological and economic benefits, it is called “environmental entrepreneurship.” My research shows that such entrepreneurship happens in three ways.

First, successful environmental entrepreneurs tend to see themselves as both environmentalists and businesspeople. Because of this, they often recruit investors, employees and customers from a broader group than traditional startups. Some offer a hope of reducing carbon emissions through new technologies. Others are small business heroes, creating jobs and building new industries.

Second, environmental entrepreneurs are attuned to different signals than large firms are.

While they are encouraged by environmentalist beliefs, we have also found that the importance of family can predict the number of environmental entrepreneurs in a state. Our research shows that solar energy companies are more likely to form in states that value not only the environment, but also family relationships.

Further, while large firms tend to respond to government-driven policy and economic indicators, environmental entrepreneurs respond to more subtle signals, such as local values. In the green building industry, environmental entrepreneurs ignore economic indicators, but are encouraged by local beliefs and activism. In short, they move first, taking on risk before the evidence is in.

Third, environmental entrepreneurs make a difference. We looked at the effect of various policies, activism and business practices on the adoption of new technologies like green building and renewable energy. We then divided the U.S. into more politically conservative and liberal regions to see whether policies, activism or business practices mattered more under different norms.

We found that the only consistent factor that increased green building adoption in both types of political environments was the number of environmental entrepreneurs. These findings suggest that when a critical mass of entrepreneurship occurs, the political divide on climate change fades away, and we see a rapid uptick in adoption of environmentally beneficial practices.

Solar entrepreneurship thrives in states that value the environment and families.
AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

Climate conclusions

A variety of proposals before Congress would encourage a green recovery by focusing on policy to simultaneously address climate change and the recession, but these plans will likely become mired in the political debate that entangled the Green New Deal.

Here’s what I’d suggest. Laser-focus on the creation of new small businesses as a way to rebuild, offering consulting, technical training and tax incentives.

By focusing on new ventures, those on both sides of the political aisle can rebuild an economy focused on long-term environmental sustainability and economic stability.

[Insight, in your inbox each day. You can get it with The Conversation’s email newsletter.]The Conversation

Jeffrey York, Associate Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship, University of Colorado Boulder

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

U.S. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson to conduct broad inquiry into food situation, propose changes — the Fence Post #COVID19 #coronavirus

Center, Colorado, is surrounded by center-pivot-irrigated farms that draw water from shrinking aquifers below the San Luis Valley. Photo credit: Google Earth

From the Fence Post:

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said today that he is so horrified by the government’s response to agriculture and food amid the coronavirus pandemic that he will conduct a broad investigation into the Agriculture Department’s powers and propose legislation to deal with future situations such as the arrival of African swine fever in the United States.

Noting that his callers who ask why farmers are dumping milk, plowing under fruits and vegetables and euthanizing animals included actor Richard Gere, Peterson told reporters by telephone, “I am sick and tired of answering questions that I can’t answer. After this is over, we will have an answer or I won’t be chairman of the ag committee anymore.”

Peterson also said that he will propose increasing the budget for the Agriculture Department’s Commodity Credit Corporation, a line of credit at the Treasury used to aid farmers in distress, from $30 billion per fiscal year to $68 billion, but only if the legislation requires that the agriculture secretary seek approval from the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Agriculture committees before spending the money.

Peterson noted that CCC’s allowance to spend $30 billion per year with automatic reimbursement from Congress was established in the 1980s and that the $68 billion would allow the account to keep up with inflation. Peterson said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., would support the proposal and that Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., told him that he believes there would be support for the idea in the Senate.