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Archive - Jul 3, 2020

Gene Mutations That Cause Familial Mediterranean Fever (FMF) May Convey Resistance to Bubonic Plague; FMF Mutations in Gene for Inflammation Protein Pyrin Associated with Plague Resistance

Researchers have discovered that Mediterranean populations may be more susceptible to an autoinflammatory disease because of evolutionary pressure to survive the bubonic plague. The study, carried out by scientists at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of the National Institutes of Health, determined that specific genomic variants that cause a disease called familial Mediterranean fever (FMF) may also confer increased resilience to the plague. The researchers suggest that because of this potential advantage, FMF-causing genomic variants have been positively selected for in Mediterranean populations over centuries. The findings were published online on June 29, 2020 in Nature Immunology. The article is titled “Ancient Familial Mediterranean Fever Mutations in Human Pyrin and Resistance to Yersinia pestis.” Over centuries, a biological arms race has been fought between humans and microbial pathogens. This evolutionary battle is between the human immune system and microorganisms trying to invade our bodies. Microbes affect the human genome in many ways. For example, they can influence some of the genomic variation that accumulates in human populations over time. "In this era of a new pandemic, understanding the interplay between microbes and humans is ever critical," said Dr. Dan Kastner, MD, PhD, NHGRI Scientific Director and a co-author on the paper. “We can witness evolution playing out before our very eyes.” One such microbe is Yersinia pestis, the bacterial agent responsible for a series of well-documented bubonic plague ( epidemics that led to over 50 million deaths.

Some Animals Can, Indeed, Sense Coming Earthquakes Ahead of Time, New Study Suggests; Future Work Will Pursue Development of Early-Warning Systems Harnessing This “Sixth Sense” of Animals

Even today, nobody can reliably predict when and where an earthquake will occur. However, eyewitnesses have repeatedly reported that animals behave unusually before an earthquake. In an international cooperation project, researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Konstanz/Radolfzell and the Cluster of Excellence Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour at the University of Konstanz, have investigated whether cows, sheep, and dogs can actually detect early signs of earthquakes. To do so, they attached sensors to the animals in an earthquake-prone area in Northern Italy and recorded their movements over several months. The movement data show that the animals were unusually restless in the hours before the earthquakes. The closer the animals were to the epicenter of the impending quake, the earlier they started behaving unusually. The movement profiles of different animal species in different regions could therefore provide clues with respect to the place and time of an impending earthquake. You may watch a video about the research project in, the online magazine of the University of Konstanz: Please see details of the new research below. The results were published online on June 3, 2020 in Ethology. The open-access article is titled ““Potential Short-Term Earthquake Forecasting by Farm-Animal Monitoring” ( Experts disagree about whether earthquakes can be exactly predicted. Nevertheless, animals seem to sense the impending danger hours in advance. For example, there are reports that wild animals leave their sleeping and nesting places immediately before strong quakes and that pets become restless.