The head of the World Health Organization warned Monday the world must prepare for the next global pandemic, warning that the consequences could be even deadlier in the future.
“The threat of another variant emerging that causes new surges of disease and death remains, and the threat of another pathogen emerging with even deadlier potential remains,” WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a meeting of the World Health Assembly in Geneva, noting that pandemics are “far from the only threat we face.”
Tedros stressed that the international community “cannot kick this can down the road.” “If we do not make the changes that must be made, then who will? And if we do not make them now, then when? When the next pandemic comes knocking — and it will — we must be ready to answer decisively, collectively and equitably,” he stressed.
More than 6.9 million people globally have died of COVID, according to a WHO tally. Tedros noted that the COVID pandemic showed “basically everyone on the planet” needs to be better protected.
“We cannot kick this can down the road,” he said. “If we do not make the changes that must be made, then who will? And if we do not make them now, then when? When the next pandemic comes knocking — and it will — we must be ready to answer decisively, collectively and equitably.”
The 194 WHO member states are working on a global pandemic accord, with negotiations set to continue over the next year. Tedros said it’s an important initiative to keep the world safer.
“And for enhanced international cooperation, the pandemic accord — a generational commitment that we will not go back to the old cycle of panic and neglect that left our world vulnerable, but move forward with a shared commitment to meet shared threats with a shared response,” he said.
Since 2009, American scientists have discovered more than 900 new viruses, “60 Minutes” reported last year. One potential threat comes from the human encroachment on natural bat habitats. Experts warn that such encounters increase the risk of pathogen transmission from bats to humans, potentially sparking future pandemics.
More than 1 billion people are at risk because of a “battle” between the global economic system and nature, Ryan McNeill, a deputy editor of data journalism at Reuters, told CBS News. He is one of the authors of a recent series exploring hot spots around the world.
In West Africa, 1 in 5 people lives in a high-risk “jump zone,” which Reuters describes as areas with the greatest likelihood of viruses jumping from bats to humans. Parts of Southeast Asia are also areas of concern. In South America, deforestation has created more high-risk areas than anywhere else in the world, McNeill said.
A mustard plant infected with a certain parasite grows strangely, its development warped by tiny invaders. Its leaves take on odd shapes, its stems form a bushy structure called a witches’ broom and it may grow flowers that do not produce seed. Most peculiarly of all, it lives longer than its uninfected brethren, in a state of perpetual adolescence.
“It looks like it stays in a juvenile phase,” said Saskia Hogenhout, a scientist at the John Innes Centre in England, who studies the life cycle of the parasite, which is called Aster Yellows phytoplasma.
The plant’s neighbors grow old, reproduce and die, but the phytoplasma’s eerily youthful host persists. It becomes something like a mix between a vampire that never ages and a zombie host whose body serves the needs of its parasite, namely, tempting sap-sucking insects to feast on the plant’s bodily fluids as long as possible. When the insects ingest the parasite, they spread it to new hosts, and the whole “Night of the Living Dead-meets-Dracula” cycle repeats.
How the parasite exerts such wide-ranging control is a subject of more than casual curiosity among scientists — phytoplasmas can cause destructive disease in crop plants like carrots. In a paper published in September in the journal Cell, Dr. Hogenhout and her colleagues reveal that some of these creepy alterations are driven by the work of a single protein from the parasite called SAP05, which stands in the way of the plant’s maturation.
SAP05 is not the first substance made by this phytoplasma that the scientists have linked to the symptoms it causes. The team sequenced the parasite’s genome some time ago and has pinpointed a handful of proteins that it may use to zombify its victims. But in the new paper, they explain how SAP05 seems to drive some of the more surprising effects, like the life-span extension.
It turns out that SAP05 binds to two groups of plant proteins that control the expression of genes used in development. Once it latches onto them, it causes them to be broken down by the plant’s own garbage disposal machinery. As a result, the plants appear frozen in time, unable to progress.
That makes sense, from the parasite’s perspective. If host plants were to mature normally, they would grow flowers and produce seeds, putting all of their energy toward making the next generation of plants. Before long they would drop their leaves and wither away.
“You can imagine that this situation is not a perfect situation for the parasite,” Dr. Hogenhout said.
Parasites benefit from the plant being sterile, so they can focus its energy toward making the microbe’s offspring. They also benefit from the plant staying alive and full of tasty juices as long as possible, the better to facilitate insects feeding on it.
Intriguingly, however, the scientists found that SAP05 attaches to a very specific piece of the cell disposal machinery to accomplish this goal. By tweaking the composition of that piece, they could radically curtail SAP05’s effects. Plants — in this case Arabidopsis thaliana, the diminutive mustard plant that’s a common lab model — with this modification did not grow into witches’ broom shapes, and they did not live longer than uninfected plants.
But that didn’t mean they were better off. Plants engineered to evade SAP05 had notably shorter lives when they were infected by the parasite. It seems that SAP05 may provide some protection against the stress of an infection, making it easier for the host to bear. Without that, the plant may be freer to continue its maturation, but it is also taking a greater hit from the disease than the zombie plants, which are more impervious to the parasite’s other effects. The zombies live on, protected by the organism that rides within them.
This control is likely exquisitely timed with the life cycle of the sap-feeding insects, Dr. Hogenhout said. After the insects feed on a plant, infecting it with the parasite, they lay eggs on it. At the same time that the parasite is taking over, the eggs are maturing.
When the young insects hatch, perhaps 10 days later, there is just enough time left in the plants’ extended life span for them to feast heartily on their juices before taking flight. Along for the ride will be their good friend, the phytoplasma.
“The parasite has now proliferated, just in time,” Dr. Hogenhout said.
Plant Fungus Infects Human in First Reported Case of Its Kind:ScienceAlert (Abomination Shot Implantation)
The Depopulation Agenda Plan is commencing…
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