It’s a medical mystery: Exactly how do emerging viruses such as SARS, HIV and hantavirus suddenly burst forth, seemingly from nowhere, to start infecting people and causing lethal diseases, sometimes in epidemic proportions?
In research that shines light on this worrisome phenomenon, a team of scientific sleuths based at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB) has examined and tested viruses from two late-20th-century outbreaks of Venezuelan equine encephalitis (VEE)—a deadly illness that can cause brain inflammation in horses and people—and compared them with a very similar virus that doesn’t tend to infect horses or people. The outbreaks occurred in 1993 and 1996 in deforested regions of the Mexican states of Chiapas and Oaxaca. In at least this case, the solution to the mystery is, as Sherlock Holmes might put it, “Evolutionary, my dear Watson.”
The scientists cite evidence suggesting that by replacing forests with ranchland along a 500-mile-long, 20- to 50-mile-wide swath of Mexico’s and Guatemala’s Pacific coastal plains, people put extreme evolutionary pressure on the strain of the VEE virus formerly prevalent there. This VEE virus previously was believed to be spread by a particular sub-species of mosquito known as Culex (Melanoconion) taeniopus as that feeds mainly on and infects rodents and other small mammals but that is not thought to be effective at transmitting the virus to horses or people to cause epidemics.
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Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
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Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
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