DEATH TOLL MOUNTS.
Relief efforts are underway in Libya, as the western Tripoli government responds to a disaster in the eastern region. Heavy rains and the aftermath of Storm Daniel have led to significant flooding, particularly in Derna. The death toll stands at roughly 3,000, with estimates suggesting 5,000 to 10,000 people missing. Key infrastructure, including apartment buildings and a major seafront bridge, collapsed. Al Jazeera’s reports indicate that a quarter of Derna has been washed away. Communication with Derna remains cut off due to the storm, complicating information gathering. Hospitals in the affected areas were inundated, necessitating immediate evacuations and leaving many trapped. International aid is urgently sought, as local capabilities are stretched thin. Benghazi’s Civil Aviation Minister, Hichem Chkiouat, described the devastation, noting bodies are found throughout the city and emphasized that about 25% of the city has vanished. (Al-Jazeera)
THE NEW NORMAL, COVID-STYLE.
As Covid-19 continues, concerns are rising with the increasing transmission and hospitalization rates. Debates are ongoing about mask mandates and the effectiveness of soon-to-be-released boosters against the latest subvariant, BA.2.86. Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Brown University, emphasized that Covid-19 is here to stay and likened its behavior to other viruses like influenza and RSV, which have seasonal surges. While Covid-19 remains more lethal than the flu, experts stress that we’re in a different phase compared to a year ago. Hospital admissions and deaths, though increasing, are significantly lower than in previous years. For instance, in the last week of August 2021, hospital admissions were nearly 86,000; this year, it was 17,400. Michael Osterholm, from the University of Minnesota, pointed out the lack of context in alarmist headlines. While many experience mild symptoms, Covid-19 remains dangerous. It can cause severe illness, long-term complications, or death. Epidemiologist Bill Hanage highlighted that despite the 100,000 Covid deaths in the US this year, the situation is better compared to previous years, but vigilance remains essential. (STAT)
WEATHER DISASTER COSTS IN THE BILLIONS.
The U.S. has experienced a record number of billion-dollar weather disasters this year, surpassing the previous annual record set in 2020. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) revealed that 23 extreme weather events, costing over $57.6 billion and taking 253 lives, have occurred from January through August. This exceeds 2020’s total of 22 such events. The current count doesn’t include damages from Tropical Storm Hilary in California or a major drought in the South and Midwest. Adam Smith, NOAA climatologist and economist, cited climate change as a significant contributor to the rising number of disasters. The situation reflects both an increase in these events and construction in risk-prone areas. Other factors, such as climate change and El Nino, are amplifying the intensity and frequency of extreme events. Former FEMA director Craig Fugate emphasized the need for the U.S. to adapt faster to these growing challenges. Stanford’s climate scientist, Chris Field, highlighted the importance of addressing climate change and enhancing resilience to reduce future damages. (Associated Press)
RAW SEWAGE DUMPING IN THE UK.
The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), England’s independent environmental watchdog, has suggested that the government, the Environment Agency (EA), and Ofwat may have breached environmental laws by permitting water companies to frequently dump raw sewage into rivers. The law permits the release of raw sewage only in extraordinary situations, such as intense rainfall. However, investigations indicate that storm overflows are being used often to discharge sewage. The OEP’s inquiry was prompted by the charity WildFish. The watchdog emphasized that potential EA shortcomings relate to sewage release permit conditions and their enforcement. Ofwat might have neglected its powers to enforce sewage treatment orders. Meanwhile, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs possibly failed in its enforcement duties. These potential breaches relate to urban wastewater treatment laws originating from EU regulations. The OEP has given the involved entities two months to respond and might consider legal action based on their replies. Critics, including politicians and environmental activists, have condemned the perceived lack of action and oversight. (The Guardian)
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MORE DRUG DATA IN THE PIPELINE.
Merck & Co. has unveiled new clinical data on its cardiovascular drug candidate, sotatercept, further showcasing its safety and effectiveness ahead of an FDA decision on its approval. This drug is the primary focus of the $11.5 billion acquisition of Acceleron Pharma. The company began laying the foundation for sotatercept’s approval about a year ago, linking it to improved outcomes for adults with pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH). The recent phase 3 trial data analyzed sotatercept’s impact on cardiovascular functions, showing potential improvements in hemodynamic status and right-ventricle function. Though these findings are preliminary and exploratory, Dr. Vallerie McLaughlin, a professor at the University of Michigan, views them positively, emphasizing sotatercept’s potential significance in PAH treatment. Furthermore, Merck provided preliminary results from an ongoing open-label extension study assessing sotatercept’s long-term effects. This study reinforces the drug’s safety and efficacy profile observed in earlier trials. (Fierce Biotech)
CLONING PIONEER PASSES.
Prof Sir Ian Wilmut, one of the creators of the world’s first cloned mammal, Dolly the sheep, has passed away at 79. His work at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh pioneered stem cell research, which holds the potential to treat various diseases by enabling the body to regenerate damaged tissue, laying the groundwork for regenerative medicine. Dolly’s creation in 1996, from a cell of an adult sheep, marked a significant scientific milestone. The process involved rejuvenating adult DNA into an embryo and implanting it into a surrogate sheep. Dolly’s birth sparked both excitement and concern, leading to debates on human cloning. The US President at the time, Bill Clinton, even announced a ban on human cloning. Prof Wilmut’s primary intent was medical advancement. The same technique that birthed Dolly can grow transplantable tissues. While the immediate impact of Dolly’s birth may have been overestimated at the time, Prof Wilmut’s contributions to science will undoubtedly have lasting effects on medical research. (BBC)
THE TINDER FOR GLOBAL WILDFIRES.
Portugal, Greece, Spain, Chile, California, and Hawaii have all experienced devastating wildfires this year, with hot conditions and strong winds exacerbating the situation. A shared factor among these places is the invasive eucalyptus tree, native to Australia. For over 200 years, eucalyptus seeds have been planted globally, thriving in diverse climates. Their rapid growth catalyzed industries, such as the paper industry in Portugal and the $9 billion forestry sector in Chile. However, the relationship between eucalyptus trees and fire is problematic, as they possess highly flammable properties. Historically, the tree was popularized in the 1800s, with botanist Ferdinand Jacob Heinrich von Mueller promoting its benefits, believing it could reforest Mediterranean regions. Presently, the tree’s aggressive spread poses challenges. For instance, Portugal, facing regular wildfires, has seen eucalyptus trees cover about 9% of its land. Globally, there are calls for the removal or management of eucalyptus trees, as their flammability compounds existing fire risks. (ABC)
KOALAS GET SOME HELP.
On September 12, the New South Wales (NSW) government, representing Australia’s most populous state, proclaimed a logging moratorium in a significant koala habitat. This ban encompasses 8,400 hectares containing 106 densely populated “koala hubs”. The koala-rich region is envisioned as a major component of the proposed 315,000-hectare Great Koala National Park, aiming to thwart the koala extinction in the state. Brad Smith from the Nature Conservation Council hailed this decision, labeling the zone as the world’s paramount koala habitat and emphasized the detrimental effects of logging on biodiversity and koalas. Dr. Stuart Blanch from WWF-Australia highlighted a concerning over 50% reduction in the NSW koala population from 2000 to 2020, attributing it to deforestation, droughts, and bushfires. He viewed the government’s action as an opportunity for reversal, advocating for extensive new protected territories. Conversely, Greens’ Sue Higginson criticized the initiative, terming it a concession to the timber sector. She warned that nearly 58% of the intended park’s koalas might remain vulnerable to logging due to the government’s extended reporting timeline, potentially lasting until 2025. Higginson urged immediate action to transition the public native forest industry. The NSW government plans consultations with the state-owned logging agency, Forestry Corporation NSW, to discuss timber supply alternatives. (Channel News Asia)
Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.
WORDS: The Biology Guy.
IMAGE CREDIT: Rachel Claire.