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Category — biotechnology

Climate change increases the spread of disease

Tim Radford


Muskoxen, well adapted to the Arctic, may be particularly susceptible to rapid climate change and emerging infectious diseases. Image: US Fish & Wildlife Service

We sometimes forget that one consequence of climate change is likely to be new ways for diseases to spread. But the natural world offers stark reminders.

Some like it hot: more protozoans can infect the monarch butterfly as climates become milder; nematode parasites get two chances to infect caribou and reindeer as a result of Arctic warming; and coral pathogens become more active with warmer seas.

Humans can and should learn from all these interactions, write Sonia Altizer, of the University of Georgia in the US, and her colleagues. She argues in Science that climate change is affecting the spread of disease worldwide.

Human risk of disease from carriers that might respond to higher temperatures is complicated by other factors: the wealth of a nation, its health system and its ability to respond. So it becomes harder to see the role of climate in many outcomes. But the natural world offers some clearer lessons.

“In many cases, we are seeing an increase in disease and parasitism. But the impact of climate change on these disease relationships depends on the physiology of the organisms involved, the location on the globe and the structure of ecological communities”, she says. [Read more →]

August 16, 2013   No Comments

Mark Lynas: Changing Crops for a Changing Climate

Mark Lynas speech hosted by the International Programs – College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (50th Anniversary Celebration) , and the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, Cornell University

I think the controversy over GMOs represents one of the greatest science communications failures of the past half-century. Millions, possibly billions, of people have come to believe what is essentially a conspiracy theory, generating fear and misunderstanding about a whole class of technologies on an unprecedentedly global scale.

This matters enormously because these technologies – in particular the various uses of molecular biology to enhance plant breeding potential – are clearly some of our most important tools for addressing food security and future environmental change.

I am a historian, and history surely offers us, from witch trials to eugenics, numerous examples of how when public misunderstanding and superstition becomes widespread on an issue, irrational policymaking is the inevitable consequence, and great damage is done to peoples’ lives as a result.

This is what has happened with the GMOs food scare in Europe, Africa and many other parts of the world. Allowing anti-GMO activists to dictate policymaking on biotechnology is like putting homeopaths in charge of the health service, or asking anti-vaccine campaigners to take the lead in eradicating polio.

I believe the time has now come for everyone with a commitment to the primacy of the scientific method and evidence-based policy-making to decisively reject the anti-GMO conspiracy theory and to work together to begin to undo the damage that it has caused over the last decade and a half.

On a personal note, let me explain why I am standing here saying this. Believe me, I would much prefer to live a quieter life. However, following my apology for my former anti-GMO activism at my Oxford speech in January, I have been subject to a co-ordinated campaign of intimidation and hate, mostly via the internet.

Even when I was at school I didn’t give in to bullies, and at the ripe old age of 40 I am even less inclined to do so now. Moreover, I have been encouraged by emails and other support from globally-renowned scientists who are experts on this issue, and who all said basically the same thing to me: ‘You think you’ve got hat mail? Welcome to my world’.

I think these scientists are the unsung heroes of this saga. They carried on with their important work and tried year after year to fight against the rising tide of misinformation, while people like me were belittling and undermining them at every turn. I won’t mention names, but they know who they are. Some of them are here today, and I would like to give them my deepest thanks. [Read more →]

May 31, 2013   No Comments