TIME FOR AN UPGRADE.
The United States has recently faced extreme weather, marked by intense heat waves, torrential storms, and rampant wildfires, challenging the effectiveness of public safety measures and warning systems in this changing climate. A stark example occurred in Maui, where a sudden blaze razed the historic Lahaina town on August 8, leading to the deaths of at least 115 people. Hawaii’s traditional emergency sirens, initially designed for military alerts and then tsunami warnings, were not activated during the wildfire for fear of causing confusion and directing residents into the fire’s path. This incident emphasizes that many emergency systems, designed for slower-moving threats, are outdated in our rapidly changing climate. Jeffrey Schlegelmilch, of Columbia University’s Climate School, highlighted the need for evolving warning methods, suggesting differentiated alerts complemented by multiple communication channels. Bill Parker, of the U.S. National Weather Service, underscored collaboration with meteorologists to improve prediction and response times. Learning from past shortcomings, Boulder County in Colorado has revamped its system to eliminate bureaucratic delays, introduced versatile warning measures, and emphasized proactive planning. Experts stress the need for a global paradigm shift in disaster preparedness, advocating for adaptive, forward-thinking strategies. (Reuters)
FUNGAL INFECTIONS ON THE RISE.
In February, two women in New York City exhibited a rare, drug-resistant fungal infection, leading to concern amongst health professionals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlighted an increase in several fungal outbreaks, from the highly drug-resistant Candida auris, which tripled its case count in two years, to meningitis, linked to contaminated anesthesia products. All these outbreaks had one commonality: fungi. Experts feel that fungal infections are rising in frequency, affecting more individuals and becoming increasingly resistant to treatments. Although data is incomplete, some attribute this spike to climate change. Fungi primarily exist in the environment and a slight change in temperature can lead to their proliferation. The Candida auris yeast, which emerged on several continents simultaneously, might be adapting to warmer climates, enabling it to invade new regions. Additionally, with climate change altering regional temperatures, fungi seem to be adapting and migrating. While the exact impact of climate change on fungal infections is complex and difficult to pinpoint, there’s consensus that better diagnostic tools and heightened awareness are essential. (Wired)
NO COVID TEST TO ENTER CHINA.
Starting Wednesday, China will no longer mandate incoming travelers to present a negative COVID-19 test result. This move marks significant progress in rolling back virus restrictions that have been in place since early 2020. The announcement was made by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin on Monday. China only ceased its “zero-COVID” strategy in December, after implementing strict measures for years. These measures included city-wide lockdowns and long quarantine periods for infected individuals. Those entering the country were also subjected to multi-week quarantines in government-approved hotels. These stringent policies impacted China’s economy, the second-largest globally, causing a surge in unemployment and occasional public unrest. (Associated Press)
UPPING THE ACTIVISM ANTE.
As the world grapples with escalating climate change, climate activists are intensifying their campaigns against the extravagant carbon footprints of the ultra-wealthy. This summer witnessed radical actions, such as spray painting superyachts, obstructing private jet take-offs, and sabotaging golf courses. The shift targets the affluent after years of focusing on major fossil fuel investors like oil and gas giants, banks, and insurance companies. Extinction Rebellion activist, Karen Killeen, stressed that their protest is against the emissions-intensive lifestyles of the wealthy rather than the individuals themselves. Activists argue that luxury practices are accelerating the climate crisis. A 2021 Oxfam report predicted that by 2030, the wealthiest 1% would account for 16% of emissions. However, while the affluent’s luxury travel significantly contributes to emissions, redirecting focus from the major corporate polluters can be detrimental. Despite skepticism about the efficacy of such activism in altering the behavior of the rich, some believe that public shaming can induce change. (Associated Press)
YOU’LL KNOW AI IS CONSCIOUS WHEN…
Science fiction has long speculated on AI becoming conscious. As advancements in AI technology continue, this possibility has been acknowledged by AI leaders, such as Ilya Sutskever from OpenAI, who hinted that advanced AI networks might have some level of consciousness. While many experts believe that AI systems are not yet conscious, the question arises: how would we determine if they were? A team of 19 neuroscientists, philosophers, and computer scientists has developed a checklist of criteria to identify potential AI consciousness. They were motivated by the lack of comprehensive discussion on the topic and its ethical implications. Recognizing consciousness in AI might change how humans treat such systems. Currently, there isn’t enough emphasis on evaluating AI for consciousness by major tech firms. Defining “consciousness” is challenging; the team focused on “phenomenal consciousness” or subjective experience. Using a theory-heavy approach, they combined various neuroscience-based theories of consciousness to create their framework, arguing that it’s more effective than behavioral tests. However, their research does not conclude that any existing AI exhibits strong signs of consciousness. (Nature)
SCIENTISTS KNOW WHY CATS LOVE TUNA.
Cats, which evolved in desert regions, have developed a surprising preference for tuna. Researchers have now uncovered a biological explanation for this. A recent study in Chemical Senses found that cat taste buds have receptors attuned to detect umami, a savory flavor associated with meats. Particularly, these receptors are specifically calibrated to molecules highly concentrated in tuna, elucidating cats’ unique penchant for the fish. Yasuka Toda, a molecular biologist, believes that understanding these preferences can aid in producing healthier diets and tastier medications for cats. Cats’ taste buds differ from humans; they can’t taste sugar, likely due to their carnivorous nature. Scott McGrane, a researcher from the Waltham Petcare Science Institute, discovered that cats possess both genes, Tas1r1 and Tas1r3, necessary to detect umami. Interestingly, in testing, cats showed a notable preference for the molecules histidine and inosine monophosphate, both abundant in tuna. This research can potentially revolutionize cat food manufacturing to make it more palatable. The origin of cats’ affinity for tuna is still unknown, but historical data suggests cats might have developed this preference from eating fish scraps in ancient civilizations. The study marks the beginning of deepening our comprehension of feline tastes and behaviors. (Science)
Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.
WORDS: The Biology Guy.
IMAGE CREDIT: Nothing Ahead.