Coronavirus - The Species Jump

One of my friend is a biomedical researcher and data scientist at the University of Cambridge. His lab has also been mobilised to study and help tackling the coronavirus crisis.

While discussing ways to raise mindfulness through living a simpler life and the direct consequences of not doing so, we discussed the link between the current outbreak and
mankind’s treatment of the environment. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation:

"You're certainly not wrong about the connection between our treatment of nature and the increasing threat of new infectious diseases and pandemics!

There are so many aspects that go beyond the consumption of host animals. Eventually humans are affected by their own actions of encroaching on natural habitats in order to exploit the environment: We get exposed to more and more virus reservoirs in other mammals and it simply becomes statistically more and more likely that some of those viruses make the 'species jump' via mutations that allow them to infect and thrive in humans. Just as it happened with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. It is tempting to fall in line with
conspiracy theories of a “man made bioweapon” that escaped from a lab or was deliberately released, but all scientific evidence unequivocally points to a much more problematic truth: This pandemic is a “spillover” of disease from animals, just like Ebola, Marburg, SARS, HIV or H1N1. Due to unchecked human land-use, habitat and biodiversity loss and the
skyrocketing consumption of animal products, it simply becomes more likely for problematic
contacts and species jumps to occur.    

There are still so many animals that act as virus reservoirs as well as viruses with pandemic potential out there and as we destroy natural habitats and predators, it is more likely to get exposed to viruses capable of making the jump. Moreover, climate change itself leads to a geographic shift of climates which allows diseases that were previously only endemic to e.g. tropical regions to spread far outside their normal range. We are also not far away from the thawing of the permafrost, which could lead to an ‘awakening' of aeons-old microorganisms for which we have likely lost all immunity and basic defence mechanisms throughout our evolution.

So yes, you are scientifically correct to see a connection between our behaviour, climate change and the likelihood of global disasters like the one we are fighting right now! The exact molecular history of a specific infectious disease is often hard to track and proving every single step is almost impossible, but this does not invalidate the general consensus
that the coronavirus originated in animals and has been given an opportunity to jump over to our global Homo Sapiens community due to our behaviour and actions. Like it or not.

And if you’re terrified of how the coronavirus pandemic is currently shaping our world, lives and our economy…then buckle up for climate change! Whether there will be more pandemics or not, the effects of climate change will make COVID-19 look like a vacation.
I am not being overly dramatic here…this is just what the data shows. We need to act…yesterday!”

- Dan, PhD

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