Sciences – Daily News Egypt Egypt’s Only Daily Independent Newspaper In English Sat, 11 Jul 2020 12:38:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Emergence of whale shark reflects marine response to clean-up campaign: Environment Ministry Tue, 30 Jun 2020 18:35:35 +0000 Red Sea clean-up campaign resulted in removal of about four tonnes of waste

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The Ministry of Environment announced on Tuesday that the Abu Galoum Protected Area in South Sinai is seeing the emergence of the whale shark.

The shark’s reappearance in the area’s waters came during a campaign to clean-up the Red Sea floor in Taba.

Minister of Environment Yasmine Fouad emphasised that marine life has responded to the efforts to clean-up and protect the seabed in recent months, alongside efforts to manage biological diversity.

The efforts have been helped along by the lack of human activity in Egypt’s Red Sea area, due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown and virtual halt in tourism activities.

Fouad added that the campaign to clean the seabed in Taba lasted for three days, from 26 to 29 June, during which beach areas, the seabed and diving sites were cleaned.

The minister pointed out that the campaign resulted in the removal of about four tonnes of waste, including car tires, metal and plastic objects, electric wires, beach umbrellas, fishing nets, large trees, metal columns, bags and plastic cups, and glass.

The Ministry of Environment noted that some of the waste was the result of the hurricane dragon that hit Egypt in March.

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Egypt will be vocal in its actions if no GERD deal reached: Shoukry Mon, 22 Jun 2020 17:03:39 +0000 We have never made indirect reference to such possibilities [military action], says Egypt’s Foreign Minister

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Egypt has requested the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) undertake its responsibilities and prevent Ethiopia from taking unilateral action regarding the filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam’s (GERD) reservoir, Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry told The Associated Press on Sunday.

Shoukry warned that Egypt will be both vocal and clear in its actions if no deal on the matter is achieved.

On Friday, Ethiopia announced that it would begin filling the dam’s reservoir during the rainy season, which begins in July. The filling will start, Ethiopia says, even if no deal is reached with the other two countries affected by GERD, Egypt and Sudan.

The Ethiopian move comes as the three countries announced that seven days of negotiations by videoconference have failed to find a compromise. No date has been set for a return to the negotiations table.

Also on Friday, Egypt announced that it had filed a complaint to the UNSC, warning of the consequences of letting Addis Ababa unilaterally control the River Nile. Egypt added that Ethiopia’s keenness to fill the reservoir in July poses an “existential threat” to Egypt.

Shoukry did not exclude military action in case no political solution occurs. This comes amid a breakdown in negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan over filling and operation of the massive dam. Egypt has accused Ethiopian officials of stoking “antagonism” between the countries.

At the same time, Shoukry stressed that Egypt did not seek to escalate the matter, but instead sought a political solution. The minister also noted that Egyptian official exerted efforts to convince the public of Ethiopia’s right to build the dam to meet its development goals.

“Egypt has never, over the past six years, even made indirect reference to such possibilities [military action],” Shoukry said.

He pointed out, however, that if the UNSC failed to bring Ethiopia back into negotiations and filling begins [in July], “We will find ourselves in a situation that we will have to deal with.”

Shoukry noted that “when that time is upon us, we will be very vocal and clear in what action we will take.”

In an Al-Jazeera interview on Sunday, Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew repeated his previous claims that Egypt’s complaint has no impact.

Andargachew accused Egypt of resorting to the UNSC to escape the talks, and said that Addis Ababa “has documents and evidence that refute the Egyptian claims.”

In response to the accusations, Shoukry said that Egypt is ready for an immediate restart of GERD negotiations if Ethiopia refrained from unilaterally filling the dam’s reservoir without agreement.

Andargachew stressed that his country will start filling the GERD reservoir next month with no need for approval from any party. He added that Egypt and Sudan had agreed to this step in the 2015 Declaration of Principles. Andargachew further accused Cairo of backing enemies of Addis Ababa whilst also exerting much effort towards stopping Ethiopia achieving development.

Shoukry also called upon the US, other Security Council members, and fellow African nations, to help in reaching a deal that “takes into account the interests of all three countries.”

“The responsibility of the Security Council is to address a pertinent threat to international peace and security, and certainly the unilateral actions by Ethiopia in this regard would constitute such a threat,” Shoukry said during the AP interview.

Ethiopia is shortly to complete construction on GERD. Construction on the project, which is looking to become the largest hydroelectric dam in Africa, started in April 2011. The large reservoir behind the dam is to be filled over a period of at least three to five years.

During this time, it is expected that the amount of River Nile water flowing through Sudan and Egypt will be substantially reduced. Cairo has requested a filling period of at least seven years, to reduce the negative effects of the project on its historic River Nile water share of 55bn cbm.

In an AP interview on Friday, Andargachew accused Egypt of attempting to “dictate and control even future developments on our river”, whilst reaffirming his government’s insistence to start filling in July.

In response to the Andargachew’s statements, Shoukry stressed that Egypt has been flexible and accommodating, adding, “I can’t say that there is a similar political will on the side of Ethiopia.”

He described his Ethiopian counterpart’s statements as “disappointing”. He noted that starting the filling process now would demonstrate Ethiopia’s desire to control River Nile water flow, for effective sole determination of the water that reaches Egypt and Sudan.

The Foreign Minister asserted Egypt’s belief in reaching an agreement in “good faith”during negotiations. Regarding any future deal on sharing water resources from the River Nile, Shoukry also highlighted the need to consider Ethiopia’s access to other water sources besides that provided by the River Nile.

Shoukry warned that filling the reservoir without an accord would violate the 2015 Declaration of Principles governing their talks, and rule out a return to negotiations.

According to Article 10 under the declaration, “If the Parties [three countries] are unable to resolve the dispute through consultation or negotiation, they may jointly request for conciliation, mediation or refer the matter for the consideration of the Heads of State/Heads of Government.”

Egypt understands the importance of the GERD project to Ethiopia’s economic development. Egyptian officials [including President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi] have consistently affirmed their understanding to Ethiopia’s right in constructing a dam. This should take into account the “no harm” principle and the interests of downstream countries.

The River Nile is considered Egypt’s lifeline, with the country depending on its share of the river’s waters. The river provides the most populous country of the Nile River Basin with about 97% of its current water needs.

Egypt receives about 70% of its water flow from the Blue Nile and Atbara Rivers, both of which are sourced in the Ethiopian plateau. They then merge as the main River Nile in northern Sudan. This amount of water equals only 660 cbm per person, one of the world’s lowest annual per capita water shares.

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Stressors in river ecosystems not limited to climate change: study Sat, 20 Jun 2020 20:32:27 +0000 GERD creates severe regional political stresses, affecting flow and sediment flux in River Nile, says Illinois University professor

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Climate change is not the only stressor affecting river ecosystems worldwide, according to a new paper published in the journal, One Earth.

They are, in fact, being threatened by an unprecedented range of stressors caused by the daily economic, social, and political activities, the paper suggests.

The study, published last Friday, investigated a range of global large rivers, including the Mekong, Brahmaputra, Amazon, Parana, Huang He, and Mississippi Rivers.

It has highlighted the multiple and complex effects of a wide range of stressors, including pollution, water abstractions, sand mining. It looked at the rates at which these factors influenced rivers across the world.

Researchers argue that the scale and rate of change of other stressors, rather than just climate change, is so large that they are frequently more immediate threats to system change. 

These stressors can, in fact, compound and intensify the effects of climate change. For Egypt, effective governance is critical, alongside vital international cooperation in the River Nile’s management and its ecosystems.


Professor Jim Best, from the University of Illinois and co-author of the paper said, “For instance, the Aswan High Dam has controlled flow in the lower Nile for decades, and pollution from a range of sources is becoming ever more critical. Non-native species, such as the Nile perch, have also created ecological changes, and sand mining has been suggested as a threat to endemic species in [Ethiopia’s] Lake Tana.” 


Talking to Daily News Egypt, Best noted that all of these stressors have to be viewed in the context of future water resource plans. These include potential development of the Jonglei Canal in South Sudan’s Sudd swamplands, which may produce significant changes downstream. 

He added that the construction, filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is creating severe political stresses in the region. The tripartite talks between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan remain ongoing. 

“The GERD will have effects on flow and sediment flux in the Nile,” he said.


Best noted that the takeaway point for countries with trans-boundary rivers, such as those along the Nile, is that a holistic approach though international governance has to be the priority. Critically, it has to be associated with local, regional and national inputs to governance. 

He also believes the necessity for trans-boundary countries and international bodies to devote attention and resources to the monitoring of rivers. This would cover their water and sediment flow, pollutants and ecologies, to establish baselines from which the amount of ongoing change can be properly assessed. Best added, however, that such basic data, which is also critical, still remain astonishingly lacking.

“The results of the paper are important, because rivers and deltas support so many people around the world. If we do not correctly understand the threats to these systems, there is a risk that we will apply incorrect solutions,” said Professor Stephen Darby, from the University of Southampton and co-author of the paper, “This could make the problem worse, or (at best) waste resources having ineffective interventions.”

Talking to Daily News Egypt, Darby highlighted the need to manage rivers and deltas in a holistic manner.

He stressed the need to mitigate and adapt to climate change, as well as to recognise that local pressures, such as pollution, water abstractions, sand mining.

Darby also noted that pressures expressed in distant parts of the river catchment upstream may have more important impacts, with a need for these causes to be addressed.

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ASRT, Dettol Egypt hold webinar on scientific research to curb COVID-19 spread Sat, 20 Jun 2020 17:32:10 +0000 Partnership wants to envisage new channels of cooperation with Egyptian government through more community service initiatives, says ASRT President

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The Academy of Scientific Research & Technology (ASRT) and Dettol Egypt held a virtual medical conference showcasing the most prominent scientific research to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

The webinar, entitled “The Latest Science on Coronavirus & Infection Control Measures”, also discussed the means of preventing the virus. It also unveiled the latest emerging laboratory findings by the Dettol R&D Center.

Participants at the webinar included ASRT President Mahmoud Sakr, General Manager of Dettol Egypt Om Prakash, and Head of Dettol Research and Development (R&D) Center in the UK Joseph Rubino. A number of Egypt’s leading Paediatricians, Pulmonologists, Dermatologists, Clinical Pathologists, Virologists, and Microbiologists from the Universities of Cairo & Ain Shams attended the webinar together with elite scientific research experts.

The virtual medical conference was inaugurated by Sakr, who praised the Egyptian government’s endeavours to boost scientific research activities.

“Since the coronavirus outbreak, the ASRT was keen on reducing the gap between scientific research & industrial practices, linking demand with implementation & promotion of scientific research outputs,” Sakr said. “The ASRT and Dettol want to envisage new channels of cooperation with the Egyptian government through more community service initiatives, yielding prosperous investments while establishing world-class plants and laboratories in Egypt.”

Sakr noted, “The academy has integrated with all universities and research centres in Egypt, allocating investments of EGP 40m to subsidise research, development and innovation projects that alleviate the coronavirus’ implications. The research encompassed studies on genetics, epidemiology, genetic susceptibility to infection, and local manufacture of respiratory units, medical masks, disinfectants, smart gates, and smart vending devices.”

He noted that the ASRT has partially supported ongoing research at the National Research Center (NRC) and set a roadmap to redefine priorities in scientific research based on lessons learned from the pandemic.

“Following the release of the novel SARS-CoV-2 strain, Dettol R&D Center commissioned a series of independent laboratory tests with Microbac to assess the effectiveness of Dettol against the virus,” Rubino said, “Dettol assessed products proved more than 99.9% efficacy against the coronavirus. Such a ground-breaking result is to enrich Dettol’s impressive prevention record of its long-proven & tested efficacy against other contagious diseases.”

Rubino added, “We are pleased to confirm that the American Journal of Infection Control (AJIC) has recognised the significance of our testing, and has published an abstract on its website emphasising the competency of Dettol’s high-end products against the novel virus.”

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Healthcare professionals offer comfort, monitoring to COVID-19 patients at home Wed, 17 Jun 2020 09:30:06 +0000 Patients receive daily follow-up to monitor when they need emergency care

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How do you monitor patients who have symptoms of the coronavirus (COVID-19), but are not ill enough to need emergency care? How do you help those patients feel cared for and less frightened while convalescing at home?

That was the dilemma facing Dr Jeffrey Linder, Chief of General Internal Medicine and Geriatrics at Northwestern University, in dealing with a virus that is still not properly understood.

He found that the solution was to mount a massive home-monitoring programme for suspected patients of coronavirus. Through the programme, patients receive daily assistance from a range of healthcare professionals, including nurses, medical students, physicians’ assistants, and daily questionnaires. And with the digitisation of so much of life at the moment, the programme is delivered through an Electronic Health Record portal.

The programme’s development, feasibility, and early results were published on Tuesday in the New England Journal of Medicine Catalyst.

A total of 7,604 patients were monitored, of whom about 500 were sent to the emergency department.

“We were able to catch these patients before their condition dangerously deteriorated, which improved our ability to treat them,” said Linder, who also is a Professor of Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

He added, “We started the programme to address the needs of the 80% of patients who would spend their entire course of COVID-19 at home.”

Linder noted that, based on early experience of the virus, patients could deteriorate quickly, particularly if their conditions were not monitored to give them the care they need. The programme also took into account that patients frequently have many questions about quarantine, the virus’ development, as well as many social needs.

Gayle Kricke, an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Feinberg, who implemented the monitoring programme, said, “We had no models for addressing a large-scale pandemic for outpatients, so we had to create one based on our best understanding of COVID-19, public health approaches, and care in the home.”

Linder and Kricke believe the programme improved the physical and emotional care given to patients.

One team member reported, “I just spoke with a patient who is very grateful for our calls. She has been sick for six weeks, and she said that there were some nights when she didn’t feel like she could take another breath. But knowing we would be calling to check on her helped her to get through those nights. She is finally starting to feel better, but she told me over and over again how very grateful she is for all of the people who have been calling to check on her.”

The idea behind the programme was to proactively reach out to patients, rather than waiting for them to identify a worsening in their condition.

Patients are asked to regularly fill out a questionnaire on an online portal, with a team member monitoring patient responses. The team member also calls on patients for follow-up if any symptoms of concern are reported, such as shortness of breath, chest pain, or confusion

Team members also call any individuals who do not report symptoms via the patient portal or who simply do not use it.

During the call, health care providers assess and triage individuals for urgent medical care if they report severe symptoms, such as trouble breathing or a bluish tint to the lips or face. The team members also refer patients to social work for non-medical challenges, such as difficulty with finances or accessing food.

“This model could be used for other acute conditions where quick deterioration is likely, as it has been especially helpful for giving our physicians something to offer a patient when there is really no treatment available,” Linder said. “For example, it allowed us to see changes in antibiotic prescribing habits for other respiratory infections if physicians had the option to enrol a patient in a monitoring programme rather than send a patient home with nothing.”

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Joint-research team investigates evolution of fish from water to land Wed, 17 Jun 2020 09:00:56 +0000 Avoiding nasty underwater predators motivated some marine animals to spend more time on land, says research

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Research on blennies, a family of fish that have evolved physical qualities for terrestrial life, suggests that being a “jack of all trades” gives species a greater chance of survival.

So say findings by researchers from Australia’s University of New South Wales and the US University of Minnesota. The study was published on Tuesday in the British Ecological Society’s journal, Functional Ecology.

The research pooled data on hundreds of species of blennies, a diverse family of fish in which some subspecies have remained firmly aquatic. Other subspecies have literally gone from being the “fish out of water”, to developing the qualities needed to live on land.

The study investigates the evolutionary factors that might have allowed what were initially solely aquatic fish to transition onto land, and to evolve into almost entirely land species. 

The researchers found that flexible diet and behaviour were likely instrumental in the transition to land living. And once out of water, restrictions on the type of food available triggered major evolutionary changes, particularly to the teeth. As a result, land dwelling blennies have become specialists in scraping algae and detritus from rocks.

However, it was found that there was still some dependence on water among land blennies, despite having actively colonised land. Although they may avoid entirely living in water habitats, and are very defensive of their territories, they still choose to reproduce in areas amongst rocks in the splash zone. 

Land blennies have to remain in that splash zone to keep moist to breath effectively using their gills and through their skin. Evolution away from the intertidal splash to inland areas has not quite happened – yet!

Dr. Terry Ord, Director of Research, University of New South Wales’s School of Biological, Earth, and Environmental Sciences, and lead author of the study, made further light on their findings.

He said he and his team found that a broad diet and innovative, flexible behaviour have been a precursor to blenny fish emerging from water for a life on land. But once out of the water, these remarkable land fish have faced restrictions on the type of food available to them. 

“This has triggered major evolutionary adaptive changes in their morphology, in particular dramatic changes in their teeth, as the fish have been forced to adapt into specialist scrappers of the rocks to forage on algae and detritus,” he explained.

Ord told Daily News Egypt the research findings suggest being a “jack of all trades” can open the door to making a dramatic change in habitat. That includes flexibility in the types of food you can eat, and in being able to leave the water for very brief periods of time. The latter point has been put across as the precursor stage to being flexibly amphibious.

But making such a large transition in habitat can mean that these fish have to evolve specialised behaviours to flourish on land. They had to evolve from a jack-of-all-trades to a master-of-one, with diet narrowing and teeth subsequently adapting to partake of the more restrictive diet.

This means that there is the very general question of why fish leave water and attempt to live on land. There really does need to be an adaptive advantage for making such a transition.

“I’ve previously found in earlier studies that avoiding nasty aquatic predators is a big motivator for these fish to spend time out of the water,” he noted. 

The study extends this to illustrating how a broad diet has enabled certain fish to not only leave water for short periods. It has also shown how they can exploit land detritus without fear of predators or competition, leading to an eventual full transition to land.

This general scenario of fish colonising land has obvious parallels to the origin of all land vertebrates in the Late Devonian period, about 376–360m years ago. Fossils dating from that period can give us a lot of important insights into how that transition might have unfolded, and the types of evolutionary adaptations it required for the transition to happen. 

But having a contemporary example of fish making similar ecological transitions can also help us understand the general challenges that fish face out of water. This goes beyond the obvious issues relating to being able to breathe, and being able to move about on land.

Ord concluded that these fish not only provide glimpses of water-land transitions might have been like millions of years ago. They also allow us to study why any species might make such a big transition into a completely different habitat.

The question remains, why would a species that is presumably well-suited and adapted to one habitat feel the need to leave that home for another habitat that is very different. It also raises questions about a transition to a habitat for which they are less suited for the conditions that might be experienced.

“We know species make these transitions in habitat because there is ample evidence these transitions are responsible for the evolution of many of the species we see today,” Ord said. “They also reflect the diversity in morphology and behaviour we see across different species, and our study investigates the mechanisms behind making those transitions in the first place.”

Ord further explained that the study’s general implications show that a broad diet or flexible behaviour can help you move into a new habitat. But once there, this flexibility becomes eroded through natural selection.

This presumably means those highly specialised species are less likely to be able to make further habitat transitions, or cope with abrupt environmental changes in their existing habitat. 

“The blennies are a very exciting group to study, from both an ecological and evolutionary standpoint. They allow the unique opportunity to see how habitat transitions occur in nature, and also the evolutionary causes and consequences of those transitions,” Ord said. “This is unique because the ancestral aquatic species, the transitional amphibious species, and the permanent land species are effectively ecological and evolutionary snapshots of a major transition unfolding in nature. And there is so much more to study!”

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Secrets of Arabia’s prehistoric monuments revealed in study Tue, 09 Jun 2020 19:07:35 +0000 Discovery of platform in modern day Saudi Arabia provides better understanding of area’s uses and populations

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Arabia’s megalithic monuments made of dry stone walls remain largely unknown, despite holding many secrets in terms of their construction, function and chronology. 

A recent article presented the results of studies on a 35m-long stone platform, overlooking the Dûmat al-Jandal oasis in modern-day northern Saudi Arabia, and which was first constructed in the mid-sixth millennium BC. 

Published in the journal Antiquity on Tuesday, the study showed that the platform had been refurbished at least twice for expansion in its history.

The study also found that mortuary deposits had been made there from the beginning of its use. Researchers have dated tombs in the vicinity, which show continuous occupation in the area for millennia.

The discovery and analysis of this monumental platform provides a better understanding of the antiquity of the area’s occupation It also indicates that pastoralist populations have traditionally called this area home, according to Olivia Munoz, of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in Paris, and the paper’s lead author. 

“Generally speaking, however, these structures are difficult to date in the absence of datable remains or extensive investigations,” Munoz told Daily News Egypt, “In addition, our study gives indications on the probable ritual and funerary and commemorative functions of this type of monument, which are very numerous in Arabia and the southern Levant, but remain largely unstudied.”

To gain a better understanding of and accurately map the region, Munoz and her team used various techniques, including excavations with architectural and stratigraphic observations. Aerial images were also brought in for study alongside a survey carried out on foot. The team carrying out the study also relied on numerous radiocarbon dating studies carried out on charcoals and human bones found at the site.

Munoz noted that what was most striking in this study was to have been able to show that the use of this monument probably extends over several millennia. Not only does this present its regular use, but also a persistence of the symbolic practices of populations occupying the area.

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Lab-grown miniature human livers successfully transplanted in rats Tue, 02 Jun 2020 14:09:29 +0000 These mini livers secrete bile acids and urea, just like a normal liver, except they're made-to-order in the lab using patient cells

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Using skin cells from human volunteers, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have created fully functional mini livers, and then transplanted them into rats.

In this proof-of-concept experiment, the lab-made organs survived for four days inside their animal hosts. These results were published on Tuesday in Cell Reports.

“Seeing that little human organ there inside the animal – brown, looking like a liver – that was pretty cool. This thing that looks like a liver and functions like a liver came from somebody’s skin cells,” said senior author Alejandro Soto-Gutierrez, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of pathology at Pitt and faculty member of both the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine and the Pittsburgh Liver Research Center.

These mini livers secrete bile acids and urea, just like a normal liver, except they’re made-to-order in the lab using patient cells. And, although liver maturation takes up to two years in a natural environment, Soto-Gutierrez and colleagues did it within a month.

The researchers created their mini livers by reprogramming human skin cells into stem cells, coaxing those stem cells to become various types of liver cells and, then, seeding those human liver cells into a rat liver with all of its own cells stripped out.

As an ultimate test, the researchers transplanted their lab-grown mini livers into five rats, who were bred to resist organ rejection. Four days after the transplant, researchers investigated how well the implanted organs were faring.

In all cases, blood flow problems had developed within and around the graft, but the transplanted mini livers worked – the rats had human liver proteins in their blood serum.

Soto-Gutierrez is optimistic that this research is not merely a stepping-stone on the path toward growing replacement organs in a lab, but also a useful tool in its own right.

“The long-term goal is to create organs that can replace organ donation, but in the near future, I see this as a bridge to transplant,” Soto-Gutierrez said. “For instance, in acute liver failure, you might just need hepatic boost for a while instead of a whole new liver.”

But there are significant challenges to overcome, he noted, including long-term survival and safety issues.

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Saline agriculture provides safe local food source during pandemic Tue, 02 Jun 2020 13:55:19 +0000 Food grown in saline conditions could mitigate climate change, help rehabilitate degraded soils

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With the rapidly increasing population and ever increasing consumption of resources, the world is facing a food crisis.

Local solutions to providing food are gaining ground, especially in times of epidemics, such as the current coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, which frequently cause hiccups in movements of goods and individuals.

Saline agriculture has been posited as a one such solution to the global food crisis, contributing to an increase in the local production of some crops. This method of growing food as one solution to the crisis has been put forward by six experts and agricultural stakeholders during an online webinar organised by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) last week.

“The current situation that the world is living in during the COVID-19 pandemic gives us many lessons, among them the important role salt agriculture can play in supporting countries and societies in providing food locally,” said Mohamed Hussein Al-Emadi, Iran’s permanent representative to the FAO. 

“This is especially in countries that face the problem of saline soils, which are common in the Middle East,” Al-Emadi added, “These countries face the problem of food fragility, and depend on importing a large portion of their food.”

The pandemic and lockdown measures have pushed the world to focus on opportunities to produce food locally, following the disruption to imports of products and equipment used in agriculture. Local food production is, of course, dependent on the availability and potential of water and soil.

Dionysia-Angeliki Lyra, an expert with the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA), notes that the world’s population is projected to increase by 1.7 billion by 2050.

This will increase the pressure on agricultural resources and food, and will increase food production by as much as 60%. This is difficult to achieve due to the high rates of soil degradation, which are further exacerbated by climate change.

However, saline agriculture can help in mitigating the effects and impacts of climate change whilst contributing to improved food security and improving degraded soils. It also has the potential to relieve pressure on good quality water and soil, whilst also helping local communities become more resilient and adapt to climate change.

At the same time, it exploits dry areas and low-quality water resources, whilst providing new sources of food. Saline agriculture would have the added benefit of increasing animal feed, biofuels, and fabric, whilst also providing job opportunities, particularly for women and youth.

According to the participants in the discussion, various saline plants can either be used for their medicinal properties, or as food for humans such as quinoa, sea kale, millet. Plants such as Atriplex, or saltbushes, and grasses such as panicum, can be used for animal feed.

Arjen de Vos, founder of The Salt Doctors Center in the Netherlands which brings together specialists to create agricultural practice solutions, says there are about 400m hectares of saline soils worldwide. These areas alone, which are moderately saline enough for famers to grow a number of food crops on, would be enough to provide food for nearly 2 billion people.

“One of the clearest examples of these salty environments is the Egyptian Delta environment, for which the sabkha or saline areas represent 40% of the total area, and 70% of these salty areas are moderate to low salinity levels, despite farmers’ complaints about soil salinity,” de Vos explains.

De Vos’ centre tested 800 strains of 50 types of crops under certain field conditions in the Netherlands. It was found that potatoes, carrots, beetroots, and cauliflower, among other crops, showed higher tolerance to moderate salinity, and produced a high yield.

“It is more than just a crop. It is about the cultivation strategy. In order for a successful cultivation experiment to succeed, there is a set of conditions and circumstances that must be met,” de Vos added, “These conditions include the appropriate climatic conditions for planting each crop, and a sufficient amount of water, in addition to training farmers to agricultural best practices and product marketing, as well as private sector engagement.”

He also mentioned a Dutch government-funded project focusing on improving Egypt’s agricultural practices and building capacity by training university students and staff on field work in saline agriculture. 

Lyra adds that the ICBA is implementing a number of projects in countries such as Morocco, where five varieties of salt crops have been cultivated. The projects have contributed to the involvement of women and local communities, and the cultivation of crops such as quinoa.

One of the most famous types of plants cultivated by the centre is Salicornia, a salt-tolerant flowering succulent, well-known in the Netherlands and the UK. It is often irrigated using sea water, and can be used as a biofuel as well as for animal feed.

“Salicornia is better than asparagus, as it is rich in minerals and sugar, and contains calcium and magnesium that are beneficial to bone health,” Lyra said, “Awareness of the role of salt plants in food security must be raised to encourage farmers and consumers to accept it.”

According to Lyra, the centre is implementing two projects in Egypt, one of which will grow quinoa in the New Valley governorate, with the second seeing salicornia planted in the Red Sea governorate. It will assess market demand for the crops in addition to building capacities and educating farmers on cultivation strategies for these crops. Awareness campaigns will also be created to highlight the different products that can be extracted from the crops.

In ICBA’s UAE headquarters, the project provides farmers with educational and training film materials translated into Arabic and Urdu to educate farmers on growing these grains. These have been produced in addition to producing mobile apps for use in farming operations.

De Vos hopes that his centre would be able to create a network of stations worldwide to conduct local tests, and build local capacities. At the same time, it would stimulate innovation in saline agriculture, putting it on the agenda of the concerned international agencies. Work would also be carried out to ensure awareness of saline agriculture reaches the largest number of farmers around the world.

Participants in the webinar pointed out that despite its benefits, saline cultivation faces some challenges, including the difficulty of persuading farmers to grow these grains.

Plants grown in saline conditions can also produce an abundant crop, but this depends on providing the right environment in terms of soil, climate and good water management, which makes application more difficult. And despite their abundant crops and good profits, saline-grown crops remain small scale and need substantial support for expansion.

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Egypt still uses HCQ for treating some Covid-19 cases: Health Ministry Sat, 30 May 2020 18:41:54 +0000 WHO temporarily halted anti-malarial’s trials on coronavirus patients following The Lancet warning on side effects

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The Ministry of Health will continue using anti-malarial drug, hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), as part of its coronavirus (COVID-19) treatment protocol, according to Dr Mohamed Abdel Rahman, head of the central administration for preventive affairs. 

The ministry’s move comes despite the World Health Organization (WHO) decision to temporarily halt the drug’s use in coronavirus treatment, due to concerns over its side effects.

Abdel Rahman told Daily News Egypt that the ministry’s committee of experts is following up on all updates related to the coronavirus and its treatments. He noted that the committee already knows of the drug’s potential side effects on some patients with heart and liver diseases.  

He said that whilst HCQ is still part of Egypt’s Covid-19 treatment protocol, however, it is not given to all cases.  

On Monday, the WHO temporarily halted a study using hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine as potential coronavirus treatments due to safety concerns, as part of the organisation’s Solidarity Trial in 35 countries.

The decision relied on a study published in The Lancet which suggested that coronavirus patients treated with the two drugs were at risk of arrhythmia, and were more likely to die. 

Abdel Rahman said, “The committee has reviewed the paper and decided to continue using hydroxychloroquine in the protocol, as the study provided inaccurate results. Also, many European countries ignored the paper and are still using the drug.”

He called on citizens presenting with mild coronavirus symptoms to avoid hospitals to reduce infections, as long as their status remains mild and they only need follow ups during home isolation. 

Meanwhile, over 100 researchers have sent an open letter to The Lancet’s editor and the paper’s authors, requesting the journal provide details on the data’s origin. They also called for the study to be independently validated by the WHO or another institution.

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From artificial meat to bio-fortified crops, food system innovations assessed Thu, 21 May 2020 12:43:47 +0000 Authors encouraged policy reviews and carbon pricing among other recommendations for greater access to sustainable food

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Food production has always shaped the lives of humans and the face of the Earth. Be it the plough or the refrigerator, the wheel or artificial fertilisers, innovations have time and again transformed the ways we grow, process, and consume food over the last millennia.

Today, with almost 40% of all the planet’s land used for food production, the food system massively impacts climate and the environment, from nitrogen flows and biodiversity to water use and greenhouse gas emissions. 

In a new study published recently in the journal Nature Food, an international team of researchers assessed and categorised key innovations with a potential to transform the food system. They looked at several aspects, including artificial meat, seafood, bio-fortified crops and improved climate forecasts, to establish what is most needed to make them succeed.

Alexander Popp, one of the study’s authors and head of the land-use group at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), argues that agriculture has not always shaped our planet for the better.

“Nitrogen has boosted yields and lifted millions out of hunger, but if too much of it drains into nature, whole ecosystems can collapse,” Popp said, “So, in light of an expanding world population, huge and rising dietary and nutritional needs, and rapidly shrinking space to remain within safe planetary boundaries, we need to identify innovations that can transform the food system, making it sustainable while feeding more people, and what it takes to make them fly.” 

To do that, the authors conducted a technological review spanning three millennia, looking at past successes like the plough or the greenhouse. The focus was placed on innovations that have yet to be rolled out, as it is in this area that the researchers aim to answer where society should place her cards.

“We regard transformation as a process of systemic change,” said Mario Herrero of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia, “This means we not only analyse technologies, but also values, policies and governance. With such lenses we have assessed what innovations there are, globally, how to categorise them, and how ready they are.”

The ten categories identified by the researchers include food processing, gene technology, digital and even cellular agriculture. The innovations, as such, are very broad, ranging from substitutes for livestock or seafood to bio-fortified crops or improved climate forecasts. Researchers are also currently looking to boost light harvesting in photosynthesis to improve biomass yield.

“Amongst the items currently sprouting in the global incubators are very advanced elements such as insects for food or meat substitutes, but even high-impact basic research like fine-tuning photosynthesis,” Herrero said.

He added that developing a new technology remains insufficient to inspire a disruptive change in the food system, with innovations can only unfold under the right conditions for policies and social acceptance.

“Plant-based meat and milk substitutes are a great example, as the recipes for seitan, soymilk or tofu were out there for a long time,” Herrero said, “Only in recent years, with rising consumer awareness on environmental issues, health, and animal welfare, do we have the right climate for behavioural change, and companies are seeing the business opportunities.”

Herrero said that companies are now ready to refine the technology that will make the products tastier and cheaper. The final boost could come when environmental pollution gets priced, revealing the true costs of a beef burger versus a pea patty.

“Plant-based meat can become one of the largest transformations in our food system, and it might take off now,” Herrero said.

Johan Rockström, PIK director and co-author of the study, summarised by saying, “The Paris Agreement’s two-degree target together with the UN’s 2030 goals of eradicating hunger, gives us a clear direction of where we are going. This research now shows us not only how to get there, but also provides confidence that it is indeed possible to succeed.” 

Rockström added that humans do not need to consider settling on other planets to ensure all are fed. Instead, what is needed is to prepare the ground by implementing the right policies for sustainable innovators and actors that can scale change in the entire food industry. This would include carbon and nitrogen pricing and science based targets for sustainable food.

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Global carbon emissions decline 17% during pandemic Thu, 21 May 2020 12:39:36 +0000 Achieving zero net emissions could be hard without increasing wellbeing, supporting infrastructure 

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The ongoing global coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown has had an “extreme” effect on daily carbon emissions, but it is unlikely to last, according to new analysis by an international team of scientists.

The recently published study in the journal Nature Climate Change shows that daily emissions decreased 17m tonnes of carbon dioxide, globally during the peak of confinement measures in early April. The latest figures show a 17% drop compared to the mean daily levels in 2019, and mean the levels have returned to those last observed in 2006.

Emissions from land transport, such as cars, account for almost half (43%) of the decrease in global emissions during the peak confinement on 7 April. Emissions from industry and from power combined account for a further 43% of the decrease in daily global emissions.

Aviation is the economic sector most impacted by the lockdown, but it only accounts for 3% of global emissions, or 10%, of the decrease during the pandemic.

The increase in the use of residential buildings from people working at home only marginally offset the drop in emissions from other sectors. In individual countries, emissions decreased by 26% on average at the peak of confinement.

The analysis also shows that social responses alone, without increases in wellbeing and/or supporting infrastructure, will not drive the deep and sustained reductions needed to reach net zero emissions.

The team analysed government policies on confinement for 69 countries responsible for 97% of global CO2 emissions. At the peak of confinement, regions responsible for 89% of global CO2 emissions were under some level of restriction.

Data on activities showing how much each economic sector was affected by the pandemic was then used to estimate the change in fossil CO2 emissions for each day and country from January to April 2020.

The estimated total change in emissions from the pandemic amounted to 1,048 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (MtCO2) until the end of April. Of this, the largest changes were seen in China where the confinement started, with a decrease of 242 MtCO2. This was followed by the US (207 MtCO2), Europe (123 MtCO2), and India (98 MtCO2). The total change in the UK for January-April 2020 is an estimated 18 MtCO2.

The impact of confinement on 2020 annual emissions is projected to be around 4% to 7% compared to 2019, depending on the lockdown’s length and the extent of the recovery. If pre-pandemic conditions of mobility and economic activity return by mid-June, the decline would be around 4%. If some restrictions remain worldwide until the end of the year, it would be around 7%.

This annual drop is comparable to the amount of annual emission reductions needed year-on-year across decades to achieve the climate objectives of UN Paris Agreement.

“Population confinement has led to drastic changes in energy use and CO2 emissions,” said Professor Corinne Le Quéré of the University of East Anglia who led the analysis. “These extreme decreases are likely to be temporary though, as they do not reflect structural changes in the economic, transport, or energy systems.”

She added, “The extent to which world leaders consider climate change when planning their economic responses post COVID-19 will influence the global CO2 emissions paths for decades to come.”

Le Quéré also said that opportunities exist for real, durable changes to be made which will increase resilience in future crises. This would happen if economic stimulus packages are put in place that also help meet climate targets, especially for mobility which accounts for half of the decrease in emissions. 

“For example in cities and suburbs, supporting walking and cycling, and the uptake of electric bikes, is far cheaper and better for wellbeing and air quality than building roads, and it preserves social distancing,” Le Quéré said.

Prof Rob Jackson from Stanford University, and Chair of the Global Carbon Project who co-authored the analysis, added: “The drop in emissions is substantial but illustrates the challenge of reaching our Paris climate commitments. We need systemic change through green energy and electric cars, not temporary reductions from enforced behaviour.”

The researchauthors warn that the rush for economic stimulus packages must not make future emissions higher by delaying New Green Deals or weakening emissions standards.

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Kenya to use drones, mobile apps to assess impact of desert locusts Mon, 18 May 2020 17:24:07 +0000 Due to COVID-19 pandemic, invasion by desert locusts and floods, farming community will be adversely affected in terms of food security and livelihoods

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Kenya’s Agriculture Ministry on Monday said that it will in July use drones and mobile applications to help assess the impact caused by desert locusts.
Peter Munya, Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cooperatives said that the technology is coming in handy given that some regions that are heavily affected by the locusts are hard to reach.
“We have commissioned a desert locust invasion impact assessment exercise to determine their effects on agriculture since they were reported in the country in December last year,” Munya told journalists in Nairobi.
A survey of locust that is funded by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) will be carried out in 16 counties of Kenya that had been ravaged by the desert locusts. The Kenya Red Cross will lead the survey that will officially be handed over to the government in July.
“The survey will determine the extent of damage by the locusts in crops, pasture, environment and natural resources,” Munya added.
He noted that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, invasion by desert locusts and the current floods resulting from the ongoing rains, farming community will be adversely affected in terms of food security and livelihoods.
Tobias Takavarasha, representative of FAO in Kenya, said that the survey will advise on the recovery efforts to rebuild what had been lost by farmers.
“The findings will guide and inform future government preparedness in managing such events,” Takavarasha added.
He said that the UN agency has put a range of tools such as the mobile app eLocust3M that enables field officers to record where they encounter locusts, what stage of development they are in and what areas were treated.

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3.3m tonnes of solid waste removed since COVID-19 outbreak began: Shaarawy Sun, 17 May 2020 07:30:41 +0000 Greater Cairo removed about 48% of total waste  

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Minister of Local Development Mahmoud Shaarawy announced on Saturday that authorities have removed about 3.3 million tonnes of solid waste from Egypt’s since the beginning of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in March. 

Shaarawy said that Greater Cairo region accounted for nearly half of the total waste, about 48%, during the period from 18 March until 14 May. The collected waste has been sent for safe disposal.

The minister added that Greater Cairo was the largest producer of waste, reaching about one million tonnes of waste. The New Valley, North Sinai and South Sinai governorates generated the least amount of waste.

Giza governorate removed about 524,000 tonnes of waste, Qaliubiya removed 62,000 tonnes, Alexandria removed 235,000 tonnes, in Beni Suef 40,000 tonnes, South Sinai 7,125 tonnes, and Gharbeya 114,000 tonnes.

Assiut governorate removed 88,000 tonnes, Suez 14,000 tonnes, Menoufiya 146,000 tonnes, Sharqeya 135,000 tonnes, in Ismailia 51,000 tonnes, in Luxor 28,000 tonnes, in Daqahleya 168,000 tonnes, Minya 88,000 tonnes, and in Aswan 16,000 tonnes. 

In Fayoum, the concerned authorities have removed 72,000 tonnes, in Qena 30,000 tonnes, in Kafr El-Sheikh 65,000 tonnes, in Beheira 197,000 tonnes, in Matrouh 40,000 tonnes, in Red Sea 26,000 tonnes, in Damietta 40,000 tonnes, in North Sinai 9518 tonnes, in Port Said 28,000 tonnes, in the New Valley 5,000 tonnes, and in Sohag 80,000 tonnes.

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Nuclear tests in 1960s may have contributed to climate change Wed, 13 May 2020 12:49:38 +0000 Atmospheric contamination widespread despite experiments occurring in remote locations

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Nuclear bomb tests during the Cold War in the early 1960s may have contributed to increasing global warming, new research suggests.

These tests caused large-scale radioactivity, even thousands of miles from explosion sites, which in turn changed rainfall patterns.

A new British study published on Wednesday in the Physical Review Letters journal says the increase in radioactivity coincided with a similar increase in cloud thickness. This caused more rainfall on the days where high radioactivity was recorded, compared to days with less radioactivity.

The study, led by the University of Reading, relied on records dating back to between 1962-1964 from the Shetland Islands, 300 miles northwest off the coast of Scotland.

The researchers were able to note a 24% increase in precipitation on days with high radioactivity, compared to average precipitation on normal days.

Although nuclear testing was conducted in remote areas, including the Nevada Desert in the US and on Pacific and Arctic islands, radioactive contamination spread across vast areas through the atmosphere.

“Electric charge has long been thought to affect how droplets in clouds interact and grow to form rain,” said Giles Harrison, the study’s lead author and Professor of Atmospheric Physics at the University of Reading.

He added, “These ideas have previously been very difficult to test in the real atmosphere and we have found a new way to approach it.”

Harrison told Daily News Egypt, “We chose to use historical data from the nuclear tests era to examine if charge affected clouds and or rain, because radioactivity releases charge in the air. Our results show radioactivity is associated with changed characteristics of the rainfall, showing more rainfall and a tendency towards heavier rain.”

The researchers calculated the amount of charge generated radioactively, to give an estimate of how much charge might be needed to influence clouds, Harrison said.

He added that the study’s findings indicate radioactivity is related to the changing characteristics of the rainfall towards causing an increase in it when the drops merge together.

“We calculated the amount of electric charge generated radiantly, to determine the amount of charge that might be required to influence the clouds,” Harrison noted.

The team used historical records to study atmospheric properties over a period of 150 days,  in the Kew area of London and Lerwick in Scotland. The results showed variations between the two regions in terms of rainfall and on the basis of proximity to radiation sources.

It was found that Lerwick recorded less rainfall, due to its being further away from radiation sources. 

According to Harrison, the global effects of radioactivity released by nuclear weapons have far reaching repercussions for the next generation of scientists to see. This is especially as we now have an increased awareness of the environmental damage from these deadly weapons.

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Men more vulnerable to COVID-19 than women: Dutch study Sun, 10 May 2020 14:58:09 +0000 Higher amounts of blood enzyme in men purportedly makes them more susceptible to virus

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Men may be more vulnerable than women to contracting the coronavirus (COVID-19) due to their having higher concentrations of the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) in their blood.

In a large-scale study of several thousand patients by the Netherlands’ University of Groningen, researchers found that the enzyme enables the coronavirus to infect healthy cells.

The study, published on Sunday in the European Heart Journal, found that heart failure patients taking drugs for the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system (RAAS) did not have higher ACE2 concentrations in their blood. Patients were taking drugs including angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs).

“Our findings do not support the discontinuation of these drugs in COVID-19 patients as has been suggested by earlier reports,” said Adriaan Voors, Professor of Cardiology at the University Medical Center Groningen, and study leader.

He added, “ACE2 is a receptor on the surface of cells. It binds to the coronavirus and allows it to enter and infect healthy cells after it is has been modified by another protein on the surface of the cell, called TMPRSS2. High levels of ACE2 are present in the lungs and, therefore, it is thought to play a crucial role in the progression of lung disorders related to COVID-19.” 

Some recent research has suggested a link between the coronavirus’ development in patietns and ACE2 plasma concentrations ignited by the RAAS inhibitors for cardiovascular patients taking these drugs. The current study, however, indicates that this is not the case.

The study looked only at ACE2 concentrations in plasma, rather than in tissues such as those in the lungs. Researchers also cannot provide definitive evidence on the effects of RAAS inhibitors in patients with the coronavirus. This is due to the study’s conclusions mainly restricted to heart failure patients who did not have the virus.

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64 children in NY hospitalized with potential COVID-19 linked syndrome Wed, 06 May 2020 22:53:12 +0000 Syndrome features overlap with Kawasaki Disease and Toxic Shock Syndrome, including persistent fever, abdominal symptoms, rash and even cardiovascular changes requiring intensive care

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Sixty-four cases of children with a syndrome potentially linked to COVID-19 have been found across the U.S. state of New York, the state’s health department said on Wednesday.
In an advisory issued to healthcare providers, the New York State Department of Health said that as of Tuesday, 64 suspected pediatric clinical cases compatible with multi-system inflammatory syndrome associated with COVID-19 have been reported in children in hospitals statewide, including New York City.
“Thankfully most children with COVID-19 only experience mild symptoms, but in some, a dangerous inflammatory syndrome can develop,” said New York State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker.
This syndrome has features that overlap with Kawasaki Disease and Toxic Shock Syndrome, including persistent fever, abdominal symptoms, rash and even cardiovascular changes requiring intensive care.
The department asked health providers to immediately report those cases in patients who are under 21 years old, and perform a diagnostic and serological test to detect the presence of novel coronavirus or corresponding antibodies in the patient.
The advisory also said that similar cases among children have been recently reported from the United Kingdom.
“While we continue to reduce cases through social distancing, discoveries like this remind us we are still in the middle of our response to this deadly pandemic,” said Zucker.
On Tuesday, New York City officials said that 15 children in the city had been hospitalized with this rare syndrome. Over half of the children required blood pressure support and five required mechanical ventilation. No fatalities have been reported.

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Early government actions, controls lessen impact of epidemic: Researchers Wed, 06 May 2020 17:52:15 +0000 COVID-19 restrictions should not be eased early to prevent strong second wave of infections

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The earlier government controls are adopted during epidemics, the more likely there are to be reduced numbers of infections, Chinese researchers have shown.

In a paper published on Tuesday in the Frontiers in Medicine journal, scientists from Chinese universities compared the coronavirus (COVID-19) trends in Italy against those in Hunan, China.

Italy’s current strict measures have been shown to effectively prevent the further spread of the virus, the new study said.

The study’s lead author, Wangping Jia from Beijing’s Chinese PLA General Hospital, told Daily News Egypt that the team adopted an extended susceptible-infected-removed (eSIR) model. This covers the effects of different epidemic prevention measures in different periods and helps to achieve specific objectives. 

These achievements include comparing the coronavirus epidemic’s development in Italy with provinces in China with a similar level of populations, and predicting the virus’ epidemiological trend in Italy via a modified and calibrated model.

He added that the eSIR model provides a flexible edge in time-varying quarantine, which can accurately reflect real-life situations. The speed of transmission in real-life situations, however, can be changed through interventions, including personal protective measures, community-level isolation and city blockade.

The eSIR model adds a transmission modifier to the SIR model, allowing for a time-varying probability in the transmission rate.

“We want to emphasise that taking government control earlier can greatly decrease the number of infected cases by comparing the epidemic trend in Hunan and Italy,” Jia said. 

He added that it is too early to ease restrictions starting around 3 May. The potential second wave may come if restrictions are eased three months earlier, and highlighted That Italy is not at the end period of its coronavirus epidemic.

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Marine biodiversity more responsive than land-life to temperature change Wed, 06 May 2020 08:00:29 +0000 Higher global temperatures continue, with 2020 set to be hottest year on record

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Marine communities in temperate regions respond more significantly to temperature change, while terrestrial communities lag behind, according to a new study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution journal.

The study focused on linking changes in biodiversity to temperature change across temperate regions. A research team from several European universities measured the change in the number of species and organisms over time in thousands of locations. The changes were comparedto air and ocean temperature changes over the same time periods. 

Researchers found clear biodiversity responses to oceanic temperature changes, where warming coincided with increases in the number of species in most locations. Land communities, however, were not keeping pace with temperature change, in an effect called “climatic debt”.

“Surprisingly, we did not detect any systematic responses on land, that is, there was no consistent signal among all the locations, despite a larger increase in temperature,” said  Laura Antão, from the University of Helsinki’s Research Centre for Ecological Change and the paper’s lead author. “This may be because species on land have wider tolerance and more strategies to avoid warming temperatures compared to ocean organisms.”

Antão told Daily News Egypt that she and her colleagues have shown the net effects of changes in temperature on the numbers of species over the last few decades.

“We know that biodiversity change is a complex phenomenon, and that temperature is a major factor affecting species distributions and survival,” Antão said. “Our study provides a clear picture of the change in the numbers of species and individuals against changes in temperature, but it also highlights nuance in the responses, showing that biodiversity change is not the same everywhere.”

To get to the study’s findings, the researchers used what is currently the largest global database of biodiversity time series (BioTIME). The database, the result of joint efforts by scientists in collecting and sharing data, includes studies of plants, invertebrates, birds, mammals and fish. 

They also used open access global databases of temperatures, analysing data using statistical methods that account for the uncertainty in biodiversity change estimates. The team performed several sensitivity analyses to make ensure their results were robust.

“It was really exciting to be able to use so many data for so many groups of species, and to try to tease apart these big patterns in the ocean and on land,” Antão said, adding, “I am a marine biologist by training, but I am really interested in understanding how ecosystems are changing, finding out where similarities and differences are, and how we can use that information to better understand how ecosystems are structured.”

She added that the team anticipated stronger responses in the ocean, but she was surprised they did not detect a systematic signal on land. This relates to the nature of what they are trying to understand, that biodiversity change is complex, with much variation for different species and regions.

Antão added that she and her colleagues are working towards collecting more accurate data, from as many regions and on as many species as possible.

“One reason our study focused only on temperate regions was that we have very few data from tropical and polar regions, when in fact these regions are being particularly affected by climate change. So, we still need to work further to get a better picture of how and where biodiversity is changing,” she said.

Current rates of biodiversity change (linked to several human drivers) are alarming, as has recently been summarised in the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report.

According to Antão, there are still many things left to understand. This whether species are able to cope with such fast changes in the environment, which types of species come out as “winners” and “losers”, and how these changes affect our ecosystems’ integrity as whole.

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Covid-19 boosts Middle East cooperation on water, sanitation Wed, 06 May 2020 07:30:28 +0000 Poor regional water treatment facilities means populations face continued potential threat from virus

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Governments in Jordan, Palestine, and Israel must overcome political hostilities and work closely to protect citizens from the risks of the coronavirus (COVID-19). This will happen by ensuring access to clean water, as risk of infection increases through untreated wastewater and sewage seeping into the soil, groundwater, and surface water.

The message came during an online webinar organised by the Environmental Peacebuilding Association under the title ‘Water, Sanitation, Coronavirus, and Peace in the Middle East’, on 30 April.

Palestinian and Israeli environmental activists, as well as representatives from international organisations working in the region, threw their weight behind the message.

During the webinar, the participants discussed the pandemic’s risks in the three countries and the reasons why governments and citizens are working together to overcome the crisis.

Gidon Bromberg, director of environmental awareness group EcoPeace Middle East in Israel,  said there are four reasons that justify cooperation in water and sanitation in the Middle East.

It has been scientifically proven that the virus that causes the coronavirus remains active in human waste, even after it enters the sewage system, he said. Unlike in developed countries, that have advanced sewage treatment plants that can eliminate the virus, the situation is not the same in developing countries.

Bromberg added that contaminated water does not respect borders, and in one way or another seeps into the natural environment, whether in water or soil. This then crosses political boundaries, spreading infection outside a country’s borders.

The webinar’s participants added that the distance between Jordanian capital, Amman, and the Mediterranean coast in occupied Palestine is only about 100 km. Approximately 25 million people benefit from water resources in this region either from the Jordan River or underground water sources.

“We all know that huge amounts of untreated or partially treated wastewater only leak into the Jordan River from all sides, and in addition to its function as a source of drinking water and agriculture, this river receives annually over a million Christian pilgrims for the purpose of baptism. So all of those people are at risk,” Bromberg said.

In Jordan, water consumption has increased by 40% since the start of the pandemic, due to increased personal hygiene, said Tessa Terpstra, the Dutch government’s MENA Regional Envoy for Water and Energy Security in Jordan.

Terpstra noted that the situation is worsening in refugee camps, highlighting the importance of funding the implementation of renewable energy projects and wastewater treatment.

“Donors should abandon bureaucracy when considering requests for humanitarian support to establish service projects in fragile communities such as refugee camps,” said Terpstra, adding “We must treat the pandemic as a warning of other future shocks, which calls us to seek local solutions to resource sustainability.”

Mahmoud Daher, a health specialist in the Gaza Strip, said that about 97% of the area’s water is unsuitable for human use.

“The blockade caused the health sector in Gaza to deteriorate by up to 50%, which affected the performance of the cleaning and water treatment sectors,” he said.

The webinar’s participants emphasised that the Gaza Strip, which has been blockaded for nearly 13 years, is at high risk from the virus. Because much untreated or poorly treated sewage waste is dumped in Mediterranean waters annually from the Gaza Strip, there is the added risk to other countries of further contagion.

Pamela Minnigh, a UNICEF WASH Specialist in Gaza, said that the strip needs 19m cbm of water annually to meet the basic needs of its population. While 15 m of these come from poor treatment, the rest comes from Israel or contaminated wells that need purification. 

“We cannot do much in Gaza, as the Strip lacks capacity and infrastructure, especially in light of the deterioration of basic services, which increases the need for financing,” she added.

Bromberg emphaised that half of food produced in Israel is irrigated with treated water. He added, however, that the Israeli government must realise it is in the interest of its people to establish treatment plants and power stations in the Gaza Strip.


The same invitation was affirmed by Daher, who said “Now, we, the Palestinians and the Israelis, face one enemy, the pandemic, so this is the time to look for mutual interests instead of the causes of conflict.”

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NASA scientists map 16 years of ice sheet loss Thu, 30 Apr 2020 23:31:44 +0000 Greenland’s ice sheet lost an average of 200 gigatons of ice per year, and Antarctica’s ice sheet lost an average of 118 gigatons of ice per year

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NASA scientists have found that ice sheet loss from Antarctica and Greenland accounted for roughly half-inch sea level rise between 2003 and 2019, according to a NASA release on Thursday.

The results provide insights into how the polar ice sheets are changing, demonstrating definitively that small gains of ice in East Antarctica are dwarfed by massive losses in West Antarctica. According to the release, the findings come from NASA’s Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite 2 (ICESat-2), which launched in 2018 to make detailed global elevation measurements, including over Earth’s frozen regions.

The study compared the recent data with measurements taken by the original ICESat from 2003 to 2009. By doing so NASA scientists managed to generate a comprehensive portrait of the complexities of ice sheet change and insights about the future of Greenland and Antarctica.

The study found that Greenland’s ice sheet lost an average of 200 gigatons of ice per year, and Antarctica’s ice sheet lost an average of 118 gigatons of ice per year.

One gigaton of ice is enough to fill 400,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools or cover New York’s Central Park in ice more than 1,000 feet (300 meters) thick, reaching higher than the Chrysler Building.

“If you watch a glacier or ice sheet for a month, or a year, you’re not going to learn much about what the climate is doing to it,” said Ben Smith, a glaciologist at the University of Washington and lead author of the new paper, published online in Science April 30. “We now have a 16-year span between ICESat and ICESat-2 and can be much more confident that the changes we’re seeing in the ice have to do with the long-term changes in the climate.”

ICESat-2’s instrument is a laser altimeter, which sends 10,000 pulses of light a second down to Earth’s surface, and times how long it takes to return to the satellite – to within a billionth of a second. The instrument’s pulse rate allows for a dense map of measurement over the ice sheet; its high precision allows scientists to determine how much an ice sheet changes over a year to within an inch.

In Antarctica, for example, the detailed measurements showed that the ice sheet is getting thicker in parts of the continent’s interior as a result of increased snowfall, according to the study. But the loss of ice from the continent’s margins, especially in West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula, far outweighs any gains in the interior. In those places, the loss is due to warming from the ocean.

In Greenland, there was a significant amount of thinning of coastal glaciers, Smith said. The Kangerlussuaq and Jakobshavn glaciers, for example, have lost 14 to 20 ft (4 to 6 m) of elevation per year; the glacial basins have lost 16 gigatons per year and 22 gigatons per year, respectively. Warmer summer temperatures have melted ice from the surface of the glaciers and ice sheets, and in some basins the warmer ocean water erodes away the ice at their fronts.

“The new analysis reveals the ice sheets’ response to changes in climate with unprecedented detail, revealing clues as to why and how the ice sheets are reacting the way they are,” said Alex Gardner, a glaciologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, and co-author on the Science paper.

The study also examined ice shelves – the floating masses of ice at the downstream end of glaciers. These ice shelves, which rise and fall with the tides, can be difficult to measure, said Helen Amanda Fricker, a glaciologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, and co-author on the Science paper. Some of them have rough surfaces, with crevasses and ridges, but the precision and high resolution of ICESat-2 allows researchers to measure overall changes.


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Gilead announces remdesivir results in patients with severe COVID-19 Wed, 29 Apr 2020 21:00:16 +0000 The study demonstrated the potential for some patients to be treated with a 5-day regimen, which could significantly expand the number of patients to be treated with remdesivir

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American biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences on Wednesday announced study results showing that patients receiving a 5-day treatment course of remdesivir achieved similar clinical improvement in comparison with those taking a 10-day course.
By evaluating 5-day and 10-day dosing durations of the investigational antiviral drug in hospitalized patients with severe manifestations of COVID-19, the open-label Phase 3 SIMPLE trial sought to determine whether a 5-day course of remdesivir would achieve similar efficacy results as the 10-day treatment regimen used in multiple ongoing studies of remdesivir, according to the company’s announcement.
The study demonstrated the potential for some patients to be treated with a 5-day regimen, which could significantly expand the number of patients to be treated with remdesivir, while no new safety signals were identified with remdesivir across either treatment group, Gilead said.
In this study, the time to clinical improvement for 50 percent of patients was 10 days in the 5-day treatment group and 11 days in the 10-day treatment group. At Day 14, 64.5 percent of the 200 patients in the 5-day treatment group and 53.8 percent of the 197 patients in the 10-day treatment group achieved clinical recovery, the company said, noting that clinical outcomes varied by geography. The overall mortality rate at Day 14 was 7 percent among 320 patients across both treatment groups outside of Italy.
The most common adverse events occurring in more than 10 percent of patients in either group were nausea and acute respiratory failure. Grade 3 or higher liver enzyme (ALT) elevations occurred in 7.3 percent of patients, with 3.0 percent of patients discontinuing remdesivir treatment due to elevated liver tests, the study showed.
“Multiple concurrent studies are helping inform whether remdesivir is a safe and effective treatment for COVID-19 and how to best utilize the drug,” said Merdad Parsey, chief medical officer of Gilead Sciences.
These study results complement data from the placebo-controlled study of remdesivir conducted by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and help to determine the optimal duration of treatment with remdesivir, he said.
“While additional data are still needed, these results help to bring a clearer understanding of how treatment with remdesivir may be optimized, if proven safe and effective,” said Aruna Subramanian, clinical professor of medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine, and one of the lead investigators of the study.
Gilead plans to submit the full data for publication in a peer-reviewed journal in the coming weeks.

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The survival of Arabia’s ancient communities during environmental change Wed, 22 Apr 2020 11:58:41 +0000 Ancient Arab’s survival strategies can give lessons for communities going through adaptation

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About 12,000 years ago, the arid desert in today’s Arabia was rich in vegetation, with high amounts of precipitation and expanding lakes. The lush surroundings led to a corresponding expansion in ancient human settlements.

However, the environmental changes in the following millennia caused a series of severe droughts, which resulted in drastic changes in the ecosystem. In turn, the droughts led to the desertification currently witnessed across Arabia.

In a new study, a team including researchers in archaeology and geography under the supervision of Germany’s Max Planck Institute for the Human History, the detailed comparative study looks in depth at the Holocene era, or the last 12,000 years of the earth’s history that extends to the present time.

Researchers have studied human migrations and the conditions of human settlement using satellite images and radiocarbon dating. They then revealed that human societies in the region were severely affected by environmental changes in prehistoric times, which forced them to adopt more flexible strategies to cope with drought. In effect, it was a case of change their lifestyles and economies, or die.

Hostile environments

Today, the Arabian Peninsula is one of the world’s most arid regions. But its climate was not always that way, and the past witnessed greater drought and more humidity over different time periods. This started with the end of the Pleistocene era until the modern life or the Holocene era. 

The Holocene can be classified into two main parts: early Holocene and late Holocene. The early Holocene spanned a period ranging from 3,000 to 6,000 years, and was characterised by the prevalence of humidity periods in Arabia and North Africa.

Some researchers prefer to separate the time period that began with the start of the industrial revolution in Western Europe in the eighteenth century, and carries on until today. They call it “the human era” or “Anthropocene”, while others see this human effect as earlier. 

Their argument, which raises a profound disagreement among those who study the earth’s history, is that since that date man has become the only influencer on the planet. Humans have caused major changes such as global warming, ocean oxidation, climate control, affected water sources, and the movement of other species and plants.

Far from the academic disagreement, the history of the Earth is a testament to the region’s exposure to major climate changes over the last 12,000 years. The degree of response to these changes varies from site to site, depending on natural environmental conditions and economic and social changes. 

For example, the north part of Arabia had witnessed faster rates of drought compared to the southern sides.

Ahmed Kenawi, assistant professor of physical geography at the Sultan Qaboos University in Oman, explains that some evidence of environmental changes can be observed in the region. This can best be seen in geographical samples such as the network of dry wadis covering large areas, which were abundant with water during the early Holocene era. 

There is a lot of natural and vital evidence that confirms this, including drawings and carved inscriptions on some of the caves inhabited by man in these ages, which indicated the presence of a dense vegetation cover. There are also wild animals that are difficult to find in these environments in the current conditions, such as lions, tigers, and hyenas, as well as evidence of large lakes.

These eras were accompanied by the rise of many civilisations, including in Yemen. Kenawi said that the second part of the Holocene began with the prevalence of severe climatic changes. This included a sharp decrease in the amount of rain, the prevalence of drought, and resulted in a decline of the civilisations that existed at that time and deterioration of the vegetation.

Survival strategies

These natural changes have resulted in simultaneous changes in the structure and spread of human societies in the region, as a kind of response to these changes.

“We were struck by the great degree of variability in how climatic events played out across the peninsula and how regional populations responded differently,” said Professor Michael Petraglia, of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, and lead author of the study. “Though climate change today is a global problem, given our study, it’s also clear that regional and local communities must also work together to solve ecological problems and crises.”

He told Daily News Egypt that when people became more stable, they built a series of arches and dams to collect water from rain. In later times, they also used groundwater resources, such as wells, once they realised these could be exploited.

He further explained that the people of the northern regions of the Arabian Peninsula have coped amazingly with periods of drought. This is due to the fact that the region had a different rainfall system compared to the southeast of the Arabia, and people were able to gather in areas characterised by the presence of shallow ancient lakes. An excellent example of this is the Jubbah oasis in today’s north-east Saudi Arabia, where 170 stoves and livestock were found. This is the strongest evidence of a human presence in the Nefud desert during the past 9,000 years.

The study describes the period between 5900 to 5300 BCE as a “dark millennium”, where dirt prevailed in most of the region, leading scientists to believe that it was not habitable. The evidence from Jubbah, however, says otherwise.

Survival strategies pursued by the population included the shift from the fishing and agricultural trades to grazing, as a result of the lack of rain and vegetation. Many societies moved from a state of stability and settlement to a state of movement and instability. Communities migrated from the heart of the peninsula to the fluvial environments associated with the presence of rivers, such as the Levant and Iraq.

This was accompanied by other economic changes, such as a shift towards some professions based on geological environments and rock scattered throughout the region, such as stone weapons industries or building and carving in rocks.

Some residents resorted to migrating from the interior regions towards open coastal areas, and this was followed by commercial shipments with the regions of South Asia. According to the study, the sequence of droughts and the increase in severity in the late Holocene, was accompanied by high mortality rates, as a result of food shortages and the deterioration of water resources, and consequently large demographic changes and population composition.

Lessons from the past

“Despite our technology and advances we still look to the past to provide solutions to current environmental issues. The sustainability strategies employed by the ancient Arabians demonstrates flexibility adaptability and offer solutions to our changing world,” said Kira Westaway, Associate Professor of Geochronology and Quaternary science at Macquarie University, Australia. 

She added that to reconstruct this evidence requires a perfect marriage of detailed archaeological evidence and records of past climates, not an easy undertaking.

Petraglia and his colleagues successfully drew on multiple data sets and techniques to provide a comprehensive, over-arching ‘big picture’ look at how ancient Arabians dealt with similar issues to those we are facing today. 

They directly compared drought events and the timing of archaeological evidence in Jubbah’s ancient lake basins and the Nefud desert zone. On the back of this, they discovered diverse human responses and large regional differences.

Northern Arabia’s large basins acted as hubs during droughts and they built large landscape features to capture runoff. Populations in south-eastern Arabia, however, headed to coastal locations and dealt with environmental changes across climatic changes. 

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Egypt wages uphill battle against coronavirus Wed, 08 Apr 2020 07:40:58 +0000 Healthcare workers in frontline in challenge to flatten pandemic’s curve 

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The daily number of cases diagnosed with the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) in Egypt has been on the rise since the announcement of the first case in mid-February. According to official statements, 1,322 people have contracted the disease nationwide, of whom 85 cases have died and 259 have recovered and discharged from hospitals. These figures, though, are widely believed to be undercounted. 

According to the latest Ministry of Health’s statistics, Egypt is ranked 33rd in the world in terms of Covid-19 fatality rate. As for infections per million, Egypt ranked 146 globally at 10 per 1 million and 42nd in terms of recovery at 22.5% rate. The ministry said that 61% of infections are males and 39% are females. About 22% of cases aged 50-59, and 94% of the deaths were more than 50 years old. There is no accurate statistics of the geographic distribution of Covid-19 cases nationwide. 

Turning point 

On 5 March, Egyptian health authorities detected 12 coronavirus cases on board a Nile cruise ship travelling between Luxor and Aswan. The discovery of these cases was the real turning point in Egypt’s strategy to contain the pandemic.  

After the incident, the number of infections accelerated, and Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly and Health Minister Hala Zayed had to hold a press conference to clarify the situation. During the conference, which was held just a few hours following Zayed’s return from China, the minister announced that the total number of infected cases from the Nile cruise ship was 45. She added that an American lady of Taiwanese origin was the source of infection.

About five weeks since then, Egypt is still in stage 2 of the 5 stage, according to Zayed. She said recently that the recovery rate in the country is 22.5%. Without Egypt’s tight control measures, thousands of citizens could have been infected, according to a paper published in Lancet on 26 March.  

Late to test, late to report 

“There are many reasons behind the low number of infections in regions currently less affected, such as the Middle East and Africa,” says epidemiologist Ghina Mumtaz of the American University of Beirut, who is working currently on Covid-19. 

According to a commentary published recently by Mumtaz in Nature Middle East, these reasons include delay in introduction of the virus into these countries, lower levels of testing and reporting in some countries, lower income countries do not have sufficient resources to scale up testing, and overall weak infection control systems.

She said that this delay allowed some countries to take early preventive measures to break any potential transmission chains and make it difficult for an epidemic to establish itself. She doubted potential effect of seasonality and warmer weather on curbing the spread of the virus.

As for the low fatality rates in the Arab region compared to other areas in the world, Mumtaz highlighted the “effect of age.” She explained, “Based on published epidemiological evidence, severity of the Covid-19 disease is associated with older age. Since the infections in our region are recent, it may be premature to think that fatality rate is low in this part of the world.” 

In Egypt, there are no clear statistics of ventilators and Intensive Care beds nationwide, but the health ministry announced four weeks ago that it has allocated 395 hospital beds for Covid-19 patients. 

Dr Ahmed Al-Lawwah

Egypt has 131,000 beds in all hospitals, of which 96,000 in public hospitals and 35,000 in private ones, with just 13.5 beds per 10,000 people, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS). There are 2,754 ventilators, 3,959 intensive care beds for adults, and 431 intensive care beds for children at university hospitals, according to the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research. 

Egypt has conducted over 25,000 Covid-19 tests until 1 April. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Egypt has the ability to conduct 200,000 tests. 

Wagdy Amin, the Director General of Chest Diseases Department at the health ministry, said: “Testing is not a random process, we test only those who have recently arrived from a foreign country where the pandemic is spreading, those who have been in contact with a confirmed case, and those who show symptoms like fever, tiredness, dry cough, breathing difficulty, aches, and sore throat,”

Treatment protocol

Only 10% of patients need ventilators, and recovery rates in Upper Egypt are higher than other regions nationwide, Minister Zayed said.

However, Amin explained that recovery does not rely on the environment where the patient lives. “It depends on the general condition of the patient himself and if he is old, or with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or chronic respiratory disease.”

Since the outbreak, the ministry has designated the Nagilla hospital in Matrouh governorate as a quarantine hospital for the infected cases, but after detecting Luxor’s cases, the ministry added 26 additional hospitals to cover all governorates, with 50 other hospitals nationwide test suspected cases. 

“The people who were denied Covid-19 testing at hospitals should contact the ministry and file a complaint,” Amin stressed.  

The hospitals treat the symptoms, as there is no specific antiviral treatment for the infection, Amin noted. He added, “The protocol is dynamic and subject to change depending on the latest research and clinical trials worldwide.” 

Amin explained that doctors decide on best medication on a case-by-case basis, so “it is the decision of the physician, but from the protocol.” 

Moreover, the nursing supervisor at Al-Agamy quarantine hospital said the protocol includes Paracetamol, Tamiflu, Azithromycin, and anti-malaria and HIV drugs such as chloroquine. He noted that the hospital is fully equipped and it can receive up to 140 patients. 

Flattening the curve 

In order to flatten the rising curve of the virus, Egypt has taken some measures like imposing partial curfew and suspending schools and universities temporarily. All events and large public gatherings have ground to a halt. 

But Egypt, the Arab region’s most populous nation, of more than 100 million people, has a large number of its citizens living in low conditions with a weak public health infrastructure. About 32.5% of Egyptians are below the poverty line. So, the cabinet ordered EGP 500 ($31.75) monthly aid for day labourers during the period of precautionary measures. 

The government also took other measures to prepare the country for the worst scenario. More than EGP 100bn (about $6.5bn) emergency fund was allocated for the country’s anti-Covid-19 plan, of which EGP 1bn ($6.4m) for the Ministry of Health.

Egypt has closed its borders and suspended international flights. As for national returnees, they were quarantined for 14 days. They receive free medication and accommodation during this period according to a presidential decree. 

President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has ordered a 75% increase in allowances for medical professionals from EGP 700 ($44.44) to EGP 1,225 ($77.77), and a bonus for public hospital staffs. He also ordered raising the monthly bonus for house officers (junior doctor interns) to be EGP 2,200 ($139.66) from EGP 400 ($25.39).

Aya Al-Hadidy

Frontline fighters 

On 29 March, Egypt witnessed the first coronavirus-related death of a healthcare worker. Dr Ahmed Al-Lawwah, a 50-year-old professor of pathology at Al-Azhar University, who was serving in the Ismailia quarantine hospital, died of Covid-19. He contracted the virus from an Indian citizen who had undergone tests at Al-Lawwah’s laboratory, according to the health ministry spokesperson. 

Al-Lawwah’s death raised concerns over healthcare workers safety, as they are likely to contract the virus during treating the patients. 

“Doctors could easily be infected during the treatment of the patients. Infection could be transmitted from patients to doctors and healthcare workers during taking samples for testing or when the patient coughs,” said Aya Al-Hadidy, head of Intensive Care Department at Mansoura Chest Diseases Hospital. She accompanied the first coronavirus case from Daqahleya governorate to the quarantine hospital in Ismailia. 

One of the major problems doctors face at hospitals is the overcrowding in outpatient departments. “Hospitals lack high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, but other safety and protective equipment are available at the hospital,” she stressed. 

According to Ahmed Saleh, a doctor serving at the Ismailia quarantine hospital, intensive care doctors are the most vulnerable to the infection because they deal closely with the patients. He explained that the hospital could receive patients of all ages, from 4 to 70. The capacity of his department was 60 cases, and it was full. 

“We secure all infection control equipment at hospitals for the safety of medical staff, which comes in the first place,” Amin said. The ministry announced also psychological support for the healthcare workers and citizens affected by the pandemic. 

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Early human fossils shed light on man evolution Wed, 01 Apr 2020 09:00:49 +0000 At least 15 individuals of various ages have been classified as Homo naledi

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Much research has gone into the evolution of ancient hominins – ancestors to modern day homo sapiens – but little is known about their evolution. Rare skeletal fragments of a partially developed Homo naledi, or early human, found in South Africa throw light on the evolution of ancient humans. 

The skeleton was found in 2013 in the Rising Star Cave System’s Dinaledi Chamber, according to a study published on Tuesday in the PLOS ONE journal.

The fossilised remains of the new hominin species represent a collection of several individuals who lay buried 30 metres underground. They lay undisturbed until recreational cavers accidentally stumbled on them.  

Using 190 dental fragments, at least 15 individuals of various ages have been classified from H. naledi. The six adults and nine immature individuals were excavated from the Dinaledi Chamber, and date back 236,000-335,000 years. A second location inside the same system, the Lesedi Chamber, yielded partial remains of two adults and one young immature individual, which have not yet been dated.


Debra Bolter, of Modesto Junior College in California and Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand, and one of the study’s authors, saidm “In this article, we name the partial juvenile skeleton DH 7, which stand for Dinaledi Hominin 7. DH 1-6 specimens are all adults, and are represented by only cranio-dental remains. DH 7 includes the first association of skeletal elements with dentition from the 2013-2014 excavation, and includes skeletal remains never before discovered as immature elements in the sub-equatorial early hominin fossil record.”

She explained that there are very few pre-adult skeletons in the fossil record. The ability to associate the remains of an older juvenile H. naledi is a major break-through in paleoanthropology. The juvenile’s remains, in particular, are critical for understanding how an extinct species matured. 

Partial skeletons reveal the combination of baby and adult teeth, and the timing of their eruptions with the skeletal fusion of growth plates in the long bones and pelvis of the body. Scientists use comparisons with the patterns seen in extinct species to reconstruct selective pressures and changes in our own species’ developmental processes. 


Bolter added, “We used forensic anthropology and taphonomic techniques to evaluate the immature materials recovered from the 2013-2014 excavation season. For each of the 76 fossil bones specimens, we assessed several criteria, including duplication of elements, developmental stage, size, spatial proximity, refitting of specimens into single element and the anatomical position of each fossil.”


According to the author, the study provides one of the few partial skeletons of an extinct hominin, and it gives paleoanthropology a foundation to assess maturity patterns in a species that has recently gone extinct.  It may help scientists understand the factors that selected for such a long developmental period in our own species.

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Large reservoirs of ancient mineral-bound water found on Mars Wed, 01 Apr 2020 08:00:56 +0000 Crust contains about 35% of red planet’s total water

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Mars’ mantle contains at least two distinct hydrogen-isotopic reservoirs dating back about 3.9 billion years, researchers say in a Nature Geoscience paper published on 1 April. Challenging previous research, the authors propose that Mars’s mantle might not have been homogenised by a global magma ocean after it formed. 

The authors also found that Mars’s crust contains roughly 35% of the planet’s total water. In the paper, they outline the water’s relative H-isotopic consistency over the first 660 million years of Mars’s history.

Using a secondary ion mass spectrometry for two Martian meteorites, researchers collected D/H (deuterium/hydrogen) ratios of rocks and atmosphere. A similar hydrogen isotope composition was detected in the two meteorites. 

The researchers chemically analysed the meteorite, known as Northwest Africa 7034 or Black Beauty, to reconstruct Mars’ water history and planetary origins. It was formed when a huge impact cemented various pieces of Martian crust, and the infamous Allan Hills 84001 meteorite – controversial in the 1990s for allegedly containing Martian microbes.

The authors suggest that the Martian mantle is chemically heterogeneous with multiple water reservoirs. It was poorly mixed during accretion, differentiation and its subsequent thermo-chemical evolution.

“We have been investigating the history of water in the crust of Mars. Our results suggest that, unlike previous studies, water in the Martian crust is decoupled from the evolution of the Martian atmosphere and that the crust of Mars has had a pretty consistent hydrogen isotope ratio over its history,” says Jessica Barnes, Professor of Planetary Science at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. “That ratio lies between the current composition of Mars’ atmosphere and what is believed to be the Martian mantle value.”

Barnes, the paper’s lead author, added that she and her team dug deep into the literature to investigate how the crust could have such a composition if the mantle is homogeneous and with a low D/H ratio, as previously thought. 

“We found strong evidence that the interior of Mars is probably not homogeneous, but rather has two different H isotope compositions that can be related to two geochemically different types of Martian basalts,” she said. “These results are at odds with the idea that Mars had a global magma ocean and hint to multiple sources of water in Mars.” 

These findings are important for a geological reconstruction of Mars’s history regarding water and understanding the planet’s past habitability, Barnes added.

“There is large disagreement in the community about how to interpret H isotopes from Mars meteorites, so some people might not like our interpretations,” Barnes said.

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30 risk factors found during and after pregnancy for children developing psychosis Wed, 25 Mar 2020 15:20:16 +0000 This study will guide future psychosis research, form basis for psychosis risk prediction models

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 More than 30 significant risk factors have been identified for the development of psychotic disorders in offspring in a research led by the NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre (BRC). It is the first comprehensive meta-analysis of pre-and perinatal risk factors for psychosis in nearly 20 years.

These prenatal and perinatal environmental risks, meaning risks during pregnancy and seven days after birth, have a significant effect on the likelihood of a child developing psychosis. As a result, researchers suggest women at risk should be screened early on in their pregnancy so that those with these identified risks can be given additional support. The findings have been published on Tuesday in Lancet Psychiatry.

Gathering data from 152 studies published between 1977 and July 2019 and looking at 98 factors, researchers identified 30 significant risk factors and five protective factors.

Psychotic disorders are severe mental illnesses which cause abnormal thoughts, such as hallucinations or delusions, but they can affect each person in different ways. In 2014, a survey found 6% of people in England had experienced at least one symptom of psychosis.

Factors can be split into four categories; parental and familial, pregnancy, labour and delivery, and foetal growth and development. Significant protective factors were mothers being aged between 20-29, first-time mothers and higher birthweights in babies.

For risk factors, previous mental health conditions in either parent, nutritional deficiencies, low birth weight and giving birth in the colder months were found to increase the probability of a child developing psychosis. Age-related risk factors were either parent is under 20, mothers between 30-34 and fathers over 35. Researchers also found that a lack of prenatal care visits poses a risk and marked this as a potential risk factor to combat with outreach campaigns.

This study confirmed the importance of factors during labour and delivery, such as a foetus’ brain being deprived of oxygen and ruptured membranes, which are historically among the most consistently implicated risk factors. Conversely, despite previous studies focusing on infections during pregnancy causing psychosis, this study found significant associations only for HSV-2 (Herpes simplex virus 2) and maternal infections ”not otherwise specified,” while influenza did not indicate a significant effect.

This study will help guide future research in the field of psychosis and form the basis for psychosis risk prediction models, which could advance preventative strategies.

Paolo Fusar-Poli, Reader in Psychiatry and Youth Mental Health at Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience (IoPPN), King’s College London said: “This study is confirming that psychotic disorders originate in the early phases of life with the accumulation of several environmental risk factors during the perinatal and prenatal phases. The results of this study will advance our ability to detect individuals at risk of developing psychosis, predict their outcomes and eventually offer them preventive care.”

Whilst this study focused on the environmental factors, there may also be genetic or epigenetic risk factors that are implicated in the onset of psychosis.

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52% of world population to fall short of drinking water by 2050 due to climate change: UN Wed, 25 Mar 2020 14:30:25 +0000 Half of Arab agricultural lands to deteriorate within 30 years

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With the spread of the coronavirus globally, the most important advice given by the World Health Organization (WHO) to minimise risk of infection is to follow good personal hygiene habits, like washing hands constantly, which we may find boring, but accessible anyway. You only need to go to the nearest water tap in your home, business, or even a worship place and wash your hands easily. But the latest United Nations (UN) water report suggests that the most basic human right – access to clean water – may be a distant dream for billions of people.


The United Nations Global Report on Water Resources Development for 2020, titled “Water and Climate Change”, was released on Monday. It indicated that climate change will threaten the availability, quality, and quantity of water needed for basic human needs, thereby undermining the enjoyment of simple rights to drinking water and sanitation for billions of people. The report warned that 52% of world population are expected to “lose access” to safe drinking water and sanitation by 2050 due to the climate change. 


Hindering sustainable development


The report expected that the decline in water resources will hinder the achievement of the 6th goal of the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Plan. This goal stresses the need to ensure access to safe drinking water and sanitation for everyone within 10 years. About 2.2 billion people currently have no access to safe drinking water, while nearly 4.2 billion people lack safe sanitation, an estimated “55% of world population,” according to the report. 


Worldwide water consumption has increased sixfold over the past 100 years and continues to grow steadily at a rate of 1% per year due to the increasing population, economic development, and changing consumption patterns. It is estimated that climate change, along with the increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, such as storms, floods, and droughts, will exacerbate the situation in countries already suffering from water stress and generate similar problems in regions that were not severely affected.


Water quality will also be negatively affected by high water temperatures and low dissolved oxygen therein, which results in low self-purification capacity for freshwater bodies. The risk of water pollution and disease caused by floods or high pollutant concentration during droughts is also increasing, as climate change is expected to cause shifts in seasonal water availability throughout the year in several places.


Richard Conner, the report’s editor-in-chief, explained that despite global interest in measures to adapt to the risks and impacts of climate change, water resources suffer from severe under-financing on actions to mitigate these impacts and find appropriate alternatives to deal with climate change causes such as reducing greenhouse gases.


“Financing projects for climate change adaptation increased in recent years from $360bn in 2012 to an estimated $510-530bn in 2017. But of the $455bn invested in 2016, only $11bn went to water management and sanitation,” Conner said.


He added that achieving the 6th goal of the Sustainable Development Plan will be nearly impossible in the event that spending on water management globally does not increase by three times the current spending to reach $114bn a year. “This includes spending on infrastructure projects needed to purify water, fog harvesting, and diverting technologies, as well as protecting wetlands, which is one of the most important things the report stresses,” said Conner.

Arab world to be affected


Many countries will be affected by the climate change impacts on water, but the effect is most pronounced in the tropics and arid regions where most developing countries are located, with possible impacts described by the report as “appalling” on small island states “that can be erased from the world map.” Major river basins in the world will also be affected, including the Nile River Basin in Africa and the Tigris-Euphrates in Iraq.


The report’s authors divided the world into regions according to degrees of abundance and stress, including the Arab region which was mentioned in the classifications of the Middle East and North Africa. Jordan was mentioned as one of the most affected countries by water stress in the world, in addition to being one of the most successful experiences in managing its “scarce” water resources. The report also touched on Mauritania and Tunisia which have incorporated climate-related water challenges into their development plans.


Deserts make up more than 80% of the area of ​​the Arab world, and these areas are distinguished by the fact that the annual precipitation amounts do not exceed an average of 200 mm, which places them among the most arid regions of the world.

Ahmed Qenawy, a researcher and assistant professor of physical geography in Mansoura University, said climate Change comes as one of the factors affecting water insecurity in most countries of the region, especially since a large part of its rain is classified as thunderstorm and concentrated in a few days every year, which adds difficulties and challenges to the possibility of predicting and then benefiting from it.


He explained that the most affected regions by climate change, and thus water shortage, in the Arab world are the Fertile Crescent (Syria, Iraq, and Jordan), the Horn of Africa (Somalia and Djibouti), as well as Yemen. What aggravates the problem in those regions is the little amounts of rainfall, high rates of population growth, urbanisation, lack for infrastructure, and armed conflicts.


“The effects of climate change also appear in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman, but the hydrological effects of these climate changes seem less severe than in the rest of the region,” the researcher added. 


The report expected that half of the agricultural lands in the Arab world, especially in Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, and Yemen, will be affected by the impact of climate change on water. The Arab region is also expected to lose about 6% of GDP by 2050, as temperatures are likely to rise by 4-5 degrees Celsius.

Urgent solutions


While Conner stressed the need to increase spending on climate change mitigation measures, Osama Sallam, a researcher at the National Center for Water Research, said wastewater treatment and flood risk management, as well as integration between mitigation and adaptation and between sustainable development and climate policies would be effective solutions. The linkage between water, food, and energy; and the inclusion of climate change in national strategies, policies, and programmes may be appropriate solutions as well, according to Sallam.

For his part, Qenawy stressed the necessity of more work on infrastructure projects for water harvesting projects, and the adoption of green (clean) environmental policies to preserve the quality and quantity of water, especially in urban environments, and increasing water awareness among the local population. He further called for using modern technologies to select suitable sites for building reservoirs and dams.

“Constructing small and medium-sized dams in the areas of desert basins that witness large water flows occasionally, activating modern irrigation methods, and integration between the countries of the region to manage shared water resources, are also significant parts of the solution,” Qenawy concluded. 

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Observed gateway effect of e-cigarettes among teens ‘likely to be small’ Thu, 19 Mar 2020 06:30:04 +0000 Young vapers less likely to go on to smoke than peers trying other tobacco products

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The observed gateway effect of e-cigarette use among teens is “likely to be small,” with only a tiny proportion of experimental vapers going on to smoke regular cigarettes, suggests a piece of research published online in the journal Tobacco Control.

If anything, young vapers are less likely to go on to smoke regular cigarettes than their peers who try other tobacco products first, the findings indicate.

The potential gateway impact of e-cigarettes in teen smoking uptake has been hotly contested. Several studies have linked teen vaping to a heightened risk of smoking.

However, the research indicates that most of these studies have looked only at initial uptake, and not continued use. And for obvious reasons, no clinical trials can actually test whether e-cigarette use inevitably leads to smoking.

To try and produce a more nuanced analysis of the issues, the researchers compared first experimentation with different types of tobacco products among 40,000 US teens, using responses to the National Youth Tobacco Survey from 2014 to 2017.

The teens were asked if they had ever tried a cigarette, even if it was only a puff or two. Those who said yes, were classified as ever smokers; those who had smoked at least one cigarette in the past 30 days were also classified as ever smokers; while those who had smoked more than 100 cigarettes to date were classified as established smokers.

Teens in each of these groups who had tried e-cigarettes first were compared with those who had first used other combustible tobacco products, such as cigars, cigarillos, hookahs, or pipes, and those who had first used non-combustible tobacco products, such as snuff and chewing tobacco.

The three groups of smokers who had first tried e-cigarettes were then matched with teens with similar social, demographic, and behavioural characteristics, including vulnerability to taking up smoking, but who hadn’t tried e-cigarettes first.

This was done using a statistical technique called PSM, which simulates clinical trials and reduces the influence of other potentially important factors.

The most common ‘starter’ product was cigarettes, the findings showed, followed by other combustibles, e-cigarettes, and non-combustibles. This is despite e-cigarettes being more frequently used than any other product from 2015 onwards.

Girls were less likely than boys to have tried any tobacco products, but, overall, the likelihood of experimentation rose with increasing age.

Compared with those who first used tobacco alternatives to cigarettes, those who first tried e-cigarettes were less likely to have ever smoked cigarettes.

Less than 1% of teens who tried e-cigarettes became established smokers, a proportion that was significantly smaller than any other category.

The conversion rate from ever to established smoking was much lower for teens who tried e-cigarettes first: 2.7%, compared to 9% for first time combustible product consumers and almost 16% for first time non-combustible product consumers. These findings were supported by the PSM analysis.

“The association of subsequent use of e-cigarettes was stronger for adolescents initiating with cigarettes than the association of subsequent cigarette smoking for e-cigarette initiators,” wrote the researchers.

“This underlines the fact that cigarettes act as a more prominent gateway for any product use,” they explained.

This is an observational study, and as such, does not establish causality; not all factors that might have potentially influenced the findings, such as behaviour and mental health issues, were accounted for.

Nevertheless, the findings of their analysis lead the researchers to conclude, “Over the time period considered, e-cigarettes were unlikely to have acted as an important gateway towards cigarette smoking, and may, in fact, have acted as a gateway away from smoking for vulnerable adolescents….The postulated gateway effect is likely to be small.”

According to a previous study published by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, published in the American Journal of Medicine, young adults who use electronic cigarettes are more than four times as likely to begin smoking tobacco cigarettes within 18 months as their peers who do not vape.

The World Health Organization estimates that tobacco kills up to one half of its regular users via cardiovascular disease, lung and other cancers, and respiratory illnesses.

Another study published in Frontiers in Communication said that promotional vaping Instagram posts outnumber anti-vaping content 10,000 to 1.

Despite “The Real Cost” awareness campaign launched by the FDA in 2018, nearly one third of American teenagers are estimated to use e-cigarettes. The current study highlights the limited impact of the FDA campaign, while also using deep learning – an artificial intelligence method – to better understand the marketing tactics used by vaping companies.

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Shedding light on optimal materials for harvesting sunlight underwater: Report Thu, 19 Mar 2020 06:00:36 +0000 Research recently published by researchers from New York University in Joule found that scientists may have overlooked organic and inorganic materials that could be used to harness sunlight underwater and efficiently power autonomous submersible vehicles. The report develops guidelines for optimal band gap values at a range of watery depths, demonstrating that various wide-band gap …

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Research recently published by researchers from New York University in Joule found that scientists may have overlooked organic and inorganic materials that could be used to harness sunlight underwater and efficiently power autonomous submersible vehicles. The report develops guidelines for optimal band gap values at a range of watery depths, demonstrating that various wide-band gap semiconductors, rather than the narrow-band semiconductors used in traditional silicon solar cells, are best equipped for underwater use.

“So far, the general trend has been to use traditional silicon cells, which we show are far from ideal once you go to a significant depth since silicon absorbs a large amount of red and infrared light, which is also absorbed by water–especially at large depths,” says Jason A. Röhr, a postdoctoral research associate and study’s co-author. “With our guidelines, more optimal materials can be developed.”

Underwater vehicles, such as those used to explore the abyssal ocean, are currently limited by onshore power or inefficient on-board batteries, preventing travel over longer distances and periods of time. While solar technology takes off in land and in space, there is unchartered territory underwater, where submersibles have more freedom to roam. However, a unique challenge of submersible solar energy is that water scatters and absorbs much of the visible light spectrum, soaking up red solar wavelengths even at shallow depths before silicon-based solar cells would have a chance to capture them.

Most previous attempts to develop underwater solar cells have been constructed from silicon or amorphous silicon, each having narrow band gaps best suited for absorbing light on land. However, blue and yellow light manages to penetrate deep into the water column even as other wavelengths diminish, suggesting semiconductors with wider band gaps not found in traditional solar cells may provide a better fit for supplying energy underwater.

To better understand the potential of underwater solar cells, Röhr and colleagues assessed bodies of water ranging from the clearest regions of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans to a turbid Finnish lake, using a detailed-balance model to measure the limits of efficiency for solar cells at each location. Solar cells were shown to harvest energy from depths of 50 meters in Earth’s clearest bodies of water, with chilly waters further boosting the cells’ efficiency.

The researchers’ calculations revealed that solar cell absorbers would function best with an optimum band gap of about 1.8 electronvolts at a depth of two meters and 2.4 electronvolts at a depth of 50 meters. These values remained consistent across all studied water sources, suggesting that solar cells could be tailored to specific operating depths rather than water locations.

Röhr noted that cheaply produced solar cells made from organic materials, which are known to perform well under low-light conditions, as well as alloys made with elements from groups three and five on the periodic table could be ideal in deep waters. Even though the substance of the semiconductors would differ from solar cells used on land, the overall design would remain relatively similar.

“While the sun-harvesting materials would have to change, the general design would not necessarily have to change all that much,” says Röhr. “Traditional silicon solar panels, like the ones you can find on your roof, are encapsulated to prohibit damage from the environment. Studies have shown that these panels can be immersed and operated in water for months without sustaining significant damage to the panels. Similar encapsulation methods could be employed for new solar panels made from optimal materials.” Now that they have uncovered what makes effective underwater solar cells tick, the researchers plan to begin developing optimal materials.

“This is where the fun begins!” says Röhr. “We have already investigated unencapsulated organic solar cells which are highly stable in water, but we still need to show that these cells can be made more efficient than traditional cells. Given how capable our colleagues around the world are, we are sure that we will see these new and exciting solar cells on the market in the near future.”

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