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Video games aren’t just for fun — they can also be used to fight disease, new research shows.
Scientists combined video games and computer models to show that the spread of a deadly pig disease can be slowed if farmers avoid risky behaviors. The authors say insights from the video games could be used to encourage people to follow rules, in the swine industry and beyond.
Since its emergence 40 years ago, porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV) has swept through pig farms in Europe, Asia and North America. When PEDV erupted in the U.S. in 2013, it wiped out 7 million pigs. “A thimbleful of this virus could infect every single pig in the United States,” said Scott Merrill, a professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Science at the University of Vermont who was second author on the study.
PEDV is especially harmful to young pigs.
“More than 90 percent of [infected] piglets would die,” said lead author Gabriela Bucini, a postdoctoral researcher.
Merrill added, “We’ve seen and had discussions where people decided that they’re not going to work in the industry anymore because of PEDV, because it was just really hard to see this many animals get sick and die.”
While PEDV remains a threat to U.S. pig populations, its incidence has dropped since 2013. The researchers attributed the decline to a change in how farmers and other members of the production pipeline implemented safety protocols, such as disinfecting vehicles, clothing and footwear that could transmit infection between farms.
It’s clear that those protocols play an important part in preventing the spread of swine diseases, but until now there hasn’t been a way to measure just how important.
Virtual pig farms
Bucini and her team used video games to tackle this problem.
In one game, players assume the role of pig farmers and try to complete tasks while preventing their pigs from being infected with a contagious virus. As they complete the tasks, players are reminded of the risk of infection and are given the option to obey or ignore safety protocols like disinfecting clothing when entering and exiting buildings. Complying with safety protocols decreases the odds of infection, but uses up valuable time.
The games provided insight into how people behave in the real world, which the researchers incorporated into a model of PEDV transmission to track how the disease would spread — and learn how best to contain it. One of the key variables was the number of farmers who avoided risk by following the recommended safety protocols.
“We did find that by nudging or shifting the population of producers toward more risk-averse positions, the disease was more under control,” Bucini said.
Even a small change could have a big effect.
The model showed that nudging just 10 percent of risk-tolerant farmers away from risky behaviors decreased the number of PEDV cases by 19 percent. However, in order to substantially slow the spread of the disease, more than 40 percent of risk-tolerant farmers needed to change their ways.
Steve Dritz, a swine specialist and professor in Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine who was not involved in the study, expressed hope that the model could be used to prevent the spread of future livestock disease outbreaks.
“It’s a wonderful tool for when … you’re trying to figure out, ‘What are the factors that I can control to keep incursions of disease out that I’ve never seen before?'” he said.
From pigs to people
The implications of the findings extend beyond pig farming to any situation where people need to follow rules to avoid negative consequences. Using their video games, the researchers found that changing how they presented the consequences of rule-breaking influenced the likelihood that people would follow the rules — even if the consequences themselves didn’t change.
For example, conveying the risk of infection with a colorful dial rather than with percentages caused a dramatic jump in the number of game players choosing to take the time to disinfect their clothing when entering and exiting farm buildings, from 30 to 82 percent.
Merrill explained the significance of this finding using a basic hygiene practice: “If you’re getting 30 percent of the people washing their hands versus 82 percent of the people washing their hands, that can be a huge difference in how quickly and how far any sort of disease spreads.”
The research was published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science. (VOA)
Canadian researchers have discovered an overlooked gene that plays a major role in the development of antibodies, which help the immune system recognize and fight viruses including SARS-CoV-2, bacteria and other causes of infectious disease. The gene -- FAM72A -- facilitates production of high-quality antibodies by enabling the effect of an enzyme called AID (for Activation-Induced Deaminase), the researchers showed.
Immunologists have known for two decades that AID is essential to produce antibodies capable of clearing infections, but the full mechanism of its effect has remained unknown. "Our findings answer the long-standing question of how AID does its work," said Alberto Martin, a professor of immunology at the University of Toronto's Temerty Faculty of Medicine. "FAM72A helps AID to promote mutations in antibody genes that are essential for the development of effective antibodies," he added.
Genetic mutations that lead to lasting changes in DNA occur through a process called mutagenesis. | Pixabay
Genetic mutations that lead to lasting changes in DNA occur through a process called mutagenesis. In the context of antibody development, mutagenesis unfolds largely through the AID-driven mechanisms called somatic hypermutation and class switch recombination -- both of which help antibodies gain the diversity and potency they need to counter a wide range of pathogens.
The results published in the journal Nature will help researchers better understand antibody development broadly, but they also have implications for cancer. Uncontrolled mutagenesis in B cells that produce antibodies is linked to B cell lymphoma, and FAM72A is present at very high levels in other cancers such as gastrointestinal, breast, lung, liver and ovarian cancers.
"Our data show that high levels of FAM72A promote mutations in antibody genes, so increased levels of FAM72A could spur cancer development, progression or drug resistance by increasing mutagenesis,a Martin said. Martin's team is now exploring those possibilities. Intriguingly, unlike other mammals, humans have four gene versions of FAM72A and their roles in cancer and antibody production are still unknown. (IANS/ MBI)
Keywords: researchers, cancer, mutagenesis, antibody, development, antibodies, canada, COVID
Mahanadi Coalfields Limited (MCL), a subsidiary of Coal India will set up a 50 megawatt (MW) solar power plant in Odisha's Sambalpur at a total cost of Rs 301.92 crore, moving steadily towards its goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2024. MCL has placed a turnkey order to set-up a 50 MW solar power plant with a Chennai-based firm M/s Hild Energy Ltd, which will establish this green energy project within a timeline of 10 months, the MCL said in a statement on Saturday.
This solar plant would cater to the captive power requirement of MCL. The Central PSU had successfully set-up a 2MW solar power plant in Sambalpur in 2014. The company said it has pledged a target of installing 182 MW of solar power by 2024 in order to become a net zero energy company, aligning itself to use cleaner forms of energy for coal production.
The company said it has pledged a target of installing 182 MW of solar power by 2024. | Photo by Mariana Proença on Unsplash
This 50 MW solar power project will reduce CO2 emission by 91,020 tonnes per annum and carbon offsets of around 24,824 tonnes per annum, claimed the MCL. MCL is the leading production subsidiary of Coal India, having mining operations in Angul, Jharsuguda and Sundargarh districts of Odisha. Having achieved the highest ever capital expenditure of Rs 2,419 crore in the financial year 2020-21, the company has coal production and dispatch targets of 163 million tonnes and 182 million tonnes, respectively.
MCL was the coal mining company to introduce environment-friendly surface miner technology, which contributes over 95 per cent in coal production. As another environment-friendly initiative, the company has successfully introduced vertical rippers for blast-less over-burden removal in Hingula and Kaniha opencast projects. (IANS/ MBI)
Keywords: solar plant, carbon neutrality, Odisha, Sambalpur, Coal India, subsidiary, Mahanadi Coalfields Limited, solar energy
As the nation celebrated the 114th birth anniversary of his father - renowned poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan - megastar Amitabh Bachchan remembered his dad as he penned a heartfelt note for him. The actor took to his blog where he poured his heart out and also shared an unseen photo with his father. The image in question is from Big B's wedding in 1973, where the two are caught in a sweet moment as they look at each other.
Amitabh Bachchan wrote on his blog,
"My Father , my all .. November 27th his birth in the year 1907 .. Which makes it his 114th Anniversary .. He is in the heavens, with my Mother and they celebrate .. as do we , in thought word and deed .. (sic). But first."
He then posted the picture followed by elaborate paragraphs. The megastar wrote,
"Those rare moments when one would find himself rushing against the winds to prevent the distance between us and to close it down as soon as it can be. The day of my wedding and his expression of fulfilment to not just be in congratulation but instead to be in the face of a belief, a chime, an ultimate season of love and great passion, of the quarries of the fears and conditionings of these deprived gym routines kart ..(sic)". "This could have been unknown for long facilitating years, to give not expected versions and lastly large scale informations of the insides ; but as time passed by, as does now , they explained purposely, the values of education and similarity .. Be in peace and love .. (sic)",
the veteran actor concluded his note. (IANS/ MBI)
Keywords: Amitabh Bachchan, Harivansh Rai Bachchan, actor, blog, birth anniversary, 114th birthday