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New study identifies 126 species that could host coronavirus
The study suggests scientists are underestimating the number of animal species that could generate the next novel coronavirus.
- The novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is a product of different coronaviruses recombining in animal species.
- A new study suggests that hundreds of animal species may harbor multiple types of coronaviruses, meaning recombination events could be more likely than previously thought.
- The authors noted that their results could help improve surveillance programs to mitigate the risks associated with a future novel coronavirus.
A new study highlights hundreds of mammal species that could contract multiple coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2, and therefore become sources of new coronaviruses. Published in Nature Communications, the research suggests that novel coronaviruses could emerge from many more animal species than scientists have so far observed.
Coronaviruses comprise a large family of viruses. Humans are known to contract only seven coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, and SARS-CoV-2, all of which can cause severe disease or death. But coronaviruses can circulate more widely in the animal kingdom, and within it scientists have identified hundreds of unique strains.
Some animals can become infected with multiple coronaviruses at the same time. When this occurs, genes from the different viruses can combine and replicate, creating a novel coronavirus. This natural process is called recombination, and it's what produced SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
So, in which animal species might the next novel coronavirus originate through recombination?
Wardeh et al.
The model predicted that each coronavirus species can infect, on average, more than 12 types of mammalian hosts. Meanwhile, the results suggested that each mammalian host can contract roughly five different types of coronavirus.
In terms of recombination, some mammalian species pose outsized threats. The study noted that the domestic pig presents a high risk because it is known to harbor many diverse coronaviruses.
"Given the large number of predicted viral associations presented here, the pig's close association to humans, its known reservoir status for many other zoonotic viruses, and its involvement in genetic recombination of some of these viruses, the pig is predicted to be one of the foremost candidates an important recombination host," the authors wrote.
The study also identified species in which SARS-CoV-2 might combine with other coronaviruses. These included the lesser Asiatic yellow bat, the common hedgehog, the European rabbit, chimpanzees, the African green monkey and domestic cats (which are already known to contract SARS-CoV-2, though there's no evidence that cats or other pets can spread the novel coronavirus to humans).
Also on that list was the dromedary camel, a "known host of multiple coronaviruses and the primary route of transmission of MERS-CoV to humans." It'd be especially concerning if MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 recombined, considering the former is highly deadly and the latter is highly contagious.
Improved surveillance programs
Still, many factors must align for coronaviruses to merge and generate a novel coronavirus, and just because an animal is vulnerable to multiple viruses doesn't mean those viruses will recombine. But the team behind the study noted that scientists are likely underestimating the number of animals that could generate novel coronaviruses, and that the results can help inform surveillance programs for at-risk species.
"Such information could help inform prevention and mitigation strategies and provide a vital early warning system for future novel coronaviruses," the authors wrote.
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"Deepfakes" and "cheap fakes" are becoming strikingly convincing — even ones generated on freely available apps.
- A writer named Magdalene Visaggio recently used FaceApp and Airbrush to generate convincing portraits of early U.S. presidents.
- "Deepfake" technology has improved drastically in recent years, and some countries are already experiencing how it can weaponized for political purposes.
- It's currently unknown whether it'll be possible to develop technology that can quickly and accurately determine whether a given video is real or fake.
The future of deepfakes<p>In 2018, Gabon's president Ali Bongo had been out of the country for months receiving medical treatment. After Bongo hadn't been seen in public for months, rumors began swirling about his condition. Some suggested Bongo might even be dead. In response, Bongo's administration released a video that seemed to show the president addressing the nation.</p><p>But the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=324528215059254" target="_blank">video</a> is strange, appearing choppy and blurry in parts. After political opponents declared the video to be a deepfake, Gabon's military attempted an unsuccessful coup. What's striking about the story is that, to this day, experts in the field of deepfakes can't conclusively verify whether the video was real. </p><p>The uncertainty and confusion generated by deepfakes poses a "global problem," according to a <a href="https://www.brookings.edu/research/is-seeing-still-believing-the-deepfake-challenge-to-truth-in-politics/#cancel" target="_blank">2020 report from The Brookings Institution</a>. In 2018, the U.S. Department of Defense released some of the first tools able to successfully detect deepfake videos. The problem, however, is that deepfake technology keeps improving, meaning forensic approaches may forever be one step behind the most sophisticated forms of deepfakes. </p><p>As the 2020 report noted, even if the private sector or governments create technology to identify deepfakes, they will:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"...operate more slowly than the generation of these fakes, allowing false representations to dominate the media landscape for days or even weeks. "A lie can go halfway around the world before the truth can get its shoes on," warns David Doermann, the director of the Artificial Intelligence Institute at the University of Buffalo. And if defensive methods yield results short of certainty, as many will, technology companies will be hesitant to label the likely misrepresentations as fakes."</p>
Context is everything.
The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced a number of new behaviours into daily routines, like physical distancing, mask-wearing and hand sanitizing. Meanwhile, many old behaviours such as attending events, eating out and seeing friends have been put on hold.
A new study looks at how images of coffee's origins affect the perception of its premiumness and quality.
- Images can affect how people perceive the quality of a product.
- In a new study, researchers show using virtual reality that images of farms positively influence the subjects' experience of coffee.
- The results provide insights on the psychology and power of marketing.