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“It was like examining Black Death 16 times over” – UK scientists

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Groundbreaking research conducted by the scientist of the UK talks about the dynamics of the disease evolution and environmental factors affecting the same.

While the world was still clueless about where the diseases that eventually turn into epidemics to only expand into a pandemic actually break out from, the researchers from the UK have come up with a new revelation that ‘epidemics are not random‘.

A group of researchers led by Dr Stuart Auld from the Biological and Environmental Sciences carried out the research in this regard. A part of Stirling Outdoor Disease Experiment Project, the broader objective of the research was to determine the impact of ecological interaction on the evolution of a disease. They studied whether epidemics can be repeated with the help of Crustacean Clones. They also studied how different environmental conditions can affect the scale of such epidemics.

The research suggests that Daphnia Magna, a crustacean, was used for repeating the epidemics. The crustacean is also said to be capable of cloning itself. Similar groups of hosts and pathogens were used by the simulations in different climatic conditions. Thus, enabling the scientists to a wide range of aspects in identifying the magnitude of the epidemic and its evolution.

The research was carried out by creating natural environments in the laboratory. Ponds having different temperatures with Daphnia were being used along with Pasteuria ramosa which is a sterilizing bacterial pathogen. The setting showed how the ecological elements interacted and affected the size of the epidemic, and the way epidemics had an impact on the capacity of creatures to resist infection. Also, factors such as acidity, temperature, and predating densities played a significant part in helping scientists understand the critical nature of the epidemic.

While explaining the challenges involved in the study, Dr Auld said that “each pond differed in its temperature profile and all manner of other ecological conditions, but the starting set of hosts and pathogens was the same.” He added further saying that by putting the same animals in different environments they were able to determine the degree of vulnerability to infection.

“We know that epidemics vary: the Black Death was worse than the Great Plague of London despite being caused by the same bacterium, but it’s hard to know why,” he added. Dr Auld also stated that the study is rare. His experience was nearly like studying the Black death 16 times in varied ecological conditions.

Black Death was a bubonic plague pandemic that occurred during 1346-53.

“We were able to show that epidemics aren’t random processes; they are repeatable and predictable when you know a bit about the wider environment,” he said.

The importance of studying disease evolution and the dynamics is particularly more given the global outbreak of COVID-19, as explained by Dr Auld.

“Any underlying knowledge that helps us better predict disease dynamics – for a human, animal, and crop diseases – will ultimately be of benefit to society,” he added.

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