Friday 28 April 2023

New avian influenza requires urgent coordinated response

 Image: © Yann Forget / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

A new study from the University of Maryland has tracked the arrival and spread of highly pathogenic Avian Influenza (H5N1). This virus is killing wild birds, impacting poultry and pushing up egg prices.


The researchers found that the deadly impact on wild birds and a shift from seasonal to year-round infections signal dangerous changes in avian influenza in the U.S. The researchers are seeking to determine how this outbreak is different from previous ones.


The research suggests that H5N1 will likely become endemic, potentially posing risks to food security and the economy.


H5N1 spread from Eurasia to the U.S. where it was first documented in late 2021. By October 2022, the disease had resulted in 31 reported wild bird mass mortalities, accounting for an estimated 33,504 wild bird detections in the U.S. and Canada. In addition, more than 58 million domestic poultry were infected or had to be culled to limit the spread of infection in the U.S. and 7 million in Canada.



This is based on an analysis of five different data sources that provide information on the incidence of highly pathogenic avian influenza in wild birds and poultry focusing on the USA and Canada, as well as information obtained from a global database from 2014 through early 2023.


Unlike the previous ‘bird flu’ virus H5N8, this disease is heavily impacting wild birds. The virus is impacting raptors, sea birds and colonial nesting birds. The data also reveals a shift from a seasonal to a year-round disease.


The research finds there is an urgent need for unprecedented coordination at a national and regional-scale to manage the spread of a disease reaching across jurisdictions and disciplines. This means federal agencies, state agencies, the agriculture sector and wildlife management, need to formulate a coordinated response.



Among the recommendation is a management approach based on a method called Structured Decision-Making, which follows a specific process of identifying and bringing together relevant individuals with an interest, expertise or stake in an issue, distinguishing the unknown from the known factors and establishing measurable goals and actions with quantifiable results.


The associated research paper outlines examples of potential triggers for action, identifying the relevant decision-makers required to coordinate a response and some of the challenges that may come up. See:


Johanna A Harvey, Jennifer M. Mullinax, Michael C. Runge, Diann J. Prosser. The Changing Dynamics of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N1: Next Steps for Management & Science in North America. Conservation Biology, 2023 DOI: 10.32942/X26K57


Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle, Pharmaceutical Microbiology Resources (

Sunday 23 April 2023

5 Reasons to Prioritize Sustainable Lab Design


Sustainable lab design can lead to healthier lab environments, reduced operating expenses, lower construction costs and valuable green building certifications. When facility managers and owners adopt sustainable design principles in new labs, they can save money and reduce their carbon footprint at the same time. Learn more about the benefits of designing environmentally-friendly labs.


By Emily Newton.


1. Improved Indoor Air Quality

Sustainable lab design can ensure that lab workers are breathing clean air on the job while also meeting projects’ environmental control needs. According to the U.S. EPA, poor indoor air quality can cause numerous serious illnesses, including respiratory disease, heart disease and lung cancer. Even if lab employees do not experience these serious conditions, smaller conditions like headaches or dizziness can pose a risk.


Sustainable lab design can improve air quality by changing the way HVAC systems are designed. Sustainable HVAC design takes a whole-building approach and prioritizes energy efficiency to achieve the level of air cleanliness labs need in a cost-effective, low-carbon way.


Energy-efficient HVAC systems minimize the amount of electricity needed for temperature control, reducing carbon emissions. Technology is often a key part of accomplishing this, involving tools like smart thermostats and automated temperature control. Additionally, a whole-building approach to HVAC design is more likely to identify building envelope leaks that pose a risk to lab processes, employees and high-efficiency heating and cooling.

2. Lower Energy Expenses

One of the top benefits of sustainable lab design is a reduction in energy expenses. Energy efficiency is a cornerstone of sustainable design, along with access to renewables. When labs consider efficient electricity use in the design process, they can save on energy costs for years to come.


Energy-efficient designs don’t need to be complicated. For example, all of the rooms in a lab facility could use LED motion-activated lights. Since many labs operate on and off 24/7, this allows employees to work at any time without leaving all the lights on around the clock. Similarly, when choosing equipment, lab managers could opt for water-cooled models instead of air-cooled. Water-cooled equipment may be a bit more expensive, but it is often more energy-efficient.


In fact, sustainable lab design can even help labs become more energy independent. Lab designers can integrate renewable energy collection into their buildings, such as roof or window solar panels. These renewables can help offset energy costs and reduce a lab’s carbon footprint. Plus, they offer some resilience against unpredictable power grid performance. Access to a backup power supply can help labs protect important assets, such as sensitive experiments or equipment.

3. Lab Materials Savings

Vital supplies like water, plastic tools and paper are essential for any lab to operate. The way these materials are used has a major impact on expenses and sustainability. Sustainable lab design goes beyond the building itself to include the design of the operating structure and everyday processes. Lab managers can use sustainability principles to reduce their materials costs.


For example, even a small lab can use tens of thousands of gallons of water every year. Making a single gallon of deionized water can require up to three gallons of water. Additionally, studies estimate that research labs dispose of over 5.5 million metric tons of plastic waste every year. Single-use plastics remain highly common in the industry in 2023.


Whenever possible, lab managers should save plastic tools and clean them for reuse or recycling. This may not always be possible when working with toxic or dangerous materials. However, sustainable labs can reduce their waste and the amount they spend on equipment by safely reusing or recycling whatever they can.


Likewise, sustainable lab designs can include water recycling systems to reduce the amount of freshwater needed. Cleaning water whenever possible also reduces the likelihood of causing water pollution in local ecosystems.

4. Lower Construction Costs

Sustainable lab design can lower the cost required to build a new lab facility and make it more appealing to potential tenants. Creating environmentally friendly buildings doesn’t have to be expensive. A growing number of design initiatives are highlighting opportunities to save money on new construction while also reducing environmental impact.


For example, the Living Building Challenge design framework encourages using reclaimed and recycled materials in new construction. This reduces local waste and allows labs to save money on expensive building materials. For instance, the Kendeda Building at Georgia Tech, the state’s first certified Living Building, used thousands of feet of reclaimed lumber from Atlanta’s film sets.


Lab designers can also source reclaimed materials from buildings scheduled for demolition or from local temporary construction. Utilizing recycled and renewable building materials is another great way to pursue sustainable building while reducing construction costs.

5. Benefiting From Tax Incentives

Sustainable lab design can allow building designers, construction companies and lab managers to take advantage of a growing number of tax incentives. For example, commercial building owners can save up to $5 per square foot for investing in energy efficiency upgrades. 


Numerous frameworks and certifications exist today to help building owners, construction companies and tenants benefit from these tax incentives. One of the most prominent is LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a leading green building certification system. Getting a LEED certification is a great way to indicate a lab’s commitment to sustainability and streamline the process of qualifying for tax incentives.


To get a LEED certification, a new lab building will need to meet strict design requirements. Lab designers can consult with a green building expert, known as a LEED Green Associate, who is certified to have a thorough knowledge of LEED principles. The guidance of a Green Associate will ensure a lab adopts as many sustainable design elements as possible, gaining the many benefits of a LEED certification, such as tax credits.

Embracing Sustainable Lab Design

Sustainable lab design allows scientific research spaces to benefit people and the environment. Adopting sustainable design practices saves money and resources. Labs can even improve their energy independence by installing renewable energy collection systems. Sustainable design also opens up doors to valuable green building certifications, which offer prestige alongside tax credits and construction savings.


Pharmaceutical Microbiology Resources (

Saturday 22 April 2023

Climate change and the potential for increased fungal infectivity

 This media comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Public Health Image Library (PHIL), with identification number #3771

Warmer climate may drive fungi to be more dangerous to our health. This is based on those fungi classed as pathogenic undergoing mutations that lead to more serious infections as heat rises. This association between temperature increases and pathogenicity causes a concern for new infectivity.


New research into fungal infectivity and temperature

The research comes from Duke University and it finds that raised temperatures cause the pathogenic fungus Cryptococcus deneoformans to turn its adaptive responses into overdrive. Heat increases its number of genetic changes, some of which might presumably lead to higher heat resistance, and others perhaps toward greater disease-causing potential.


Experiments have shown how higher heat makes more of the fungus' transposable elements more motile within the fungal DNA. This leads to changes in the way its genes are used and regulated.


These mobile elements are likely to contribute to adaptation in the environment and during an infection. This also appears to occur more quickly since heat stress speeds up the number of mutations occurring. This is a factor that has consequences in the context of climate change.


Fungal diseases are also on the rise as a consequence of more people who have weakened immune systems or underlying health conditions.


Three transposable elements


The researchers focused on three transposable elements that were particularly active under heat stress in C. deneoformans. However, there are easily another 25 or more transposable elements in that species that could mobilize.


The researchers used 'long-read' DNA sequencing to see changes that might otherwise have been missed. Computational analysis enabled them to map transposons and then see how they had moved.


It was found that heat stress sped the mutations up. Following 800 generations of growth in laboratory medium, the rate of transposon mutations was five-times higher in fungi raised at body temperature (37 Celsius) compared with fungi raised at 30oC.


One of the transposable elements, called T1, displayed a tendency to insert itself between coding genes, which could lead to changes in the way genes are controlled. An element called Tcn12 often landed within the sequence of a gene, potentially disrupting that gene's function and possibly leading to drug resistance. And a third kind, Cnl1, tended to land near or in the telomere sequences at the ends of chromosomes.

Laboratory experiments

The mobilization of transposable elements further appears to increase more in fungi living in mice than in laboratory culture. Evidence of all three transposable elements mobilizing in the fungus genome occurred within just ten days of infecting a mouse.


The researchers suspect that the added challenges of surviving in an animal with immune responses and other stressors may drive the transposons to be even more active.

Consequence of global warming

As the world warms, transposons in soil fungi like Cryptococcus neoformans could become more mobile and increase genomic changes in ways that could enhance virulence and drug resistance. 



The next phase of this research will be looking at pathogens from human patients who have had a relapsing fungal infection.


The research paper reference is:


Asiya Gusa, Vikas Yadav, Cullen Roth, Jonathan D. Williams, Eva Mei Shouse, Paul Magwene, Joseph Heitman, Sue Jinks-Robertson. Genome-wide analysis of heat stress-stimulated transposon mobility in the human fungal pathogen Cryptococcus deneoformans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2023; 120 (4) DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2209831120


Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle, Pharmaceutical Microbiology Resources (

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