Category Archives: Nature & Environment

Mysterious Strain of Anthrax is Killing Chimpanzees in African Rainforests

A strange breed of anthrax bacterium killed more than half of the dead chimpanzees analysed in new research from Africa – and scientists say the fatal infection could wipe out the local chimp population in the Ivory Coast.

As grave as the findings are, the greater implications of the Bacillus cereus biovar anthracis (Bcbva) bacterium could be that its infection vector isn’t just limited to chimps – with researchers unexpectedly finding the strain had also killed animals from numerous other species.

“To our surprise, almost 40 percent of all animal deaths in Taï National Park we investigated were attributable to anthrax,” says virologist Emmanuel Couacy-Hymann from the Ivorian Animal Health Institute. These animals include several monkey species, duikers, mongoose, and a porcupine

About the hybrid strain

Bcbva was first discovered back in 2004, when scientists found that dead chimps in the Taï National Park had been infected with an emergent strain of the usually harmless microbe, Bacillus cereus.

But this was no regular B. cereus, as the bug had somehow evolved to replicate the lethal molecular arsenal of Bacillus anthracis – the bacterium that causes anthrax.

Specifically, Bcbva seems to have adopted B. anthracis’s virulence plasmids – DNA strands that enable the bacterium to spread the Anthrax infection, which is carried when one animal eats an infected deceased animal.

Since the original discovery, researchers have found evidence that this dangerous hybrid has caused the deaths of chimpanzees, gorillas, and elephants in Cameroon and the Central African Republic, but the latest study paints an even grimmer picture.

The mystery

The findings highlight that anthrax, which is usually found in arid conditions, can also threaten populations in tropical rainforest environments, but researchers still don’t completely understand where the Bcbva strain comes from, nor how it spreads.

In the animal kingdom, anthrax usually threatens hoofed animals in dry plains, who become infected when they graze on bacterium-tainted soil.

That’s clearly not the case here, given chimps at least spend most of their time far off the ground. “We don’t know how they get infected,” researcher Fabian Leendertz from the Robert Koch Institute in Germany, who helped originally discover Bcbva, told The Atlantic.

“How do the spores make it up in the trees?”

The most likely explanation is carrion flies, which might spread the pathogen from infected carcasses to food sources that chimps subsist on, like fruit. It’s only a hypothesis for now, but the study uncovered Bcbva DNA in 12 out of 103 flies examined in the research – which suggests flies could be playing a part here.

A threat on Chimpanzees population

The worst toll was exacted on chimpanzees, though, with 31 of the 55 individuals examined having died from anthrax – and if things are left unchecked, the researchers fear the local population might not last another 150 years.

“According to our projections, anthrax could over time contribute to drive chimpanzees in Taï National Park to extinction,” says one of the team, Roman Wittig from the Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany.

Are humans safe from these bacteria?

Fortunately, there are no reported cases of Bcbva-based deaths in humans – but that holdout may not last forever, and could be down to a lack of firm autopsy data rather than any kind of immunity to the pathogen.

“In these rural areas, no one really knows what people die of. In reports, it always says things like malaria or cholera, but these are not properly diagnosed,” Leendertz told Ed Yong at The Atlantic.

“We have stories of people finding dead animals in the forest, eating them, and dying. But we can’t link those to anthrax yet.” Until we know more, there’s no cause for undue alarm here, nor are the researchers saying that this mysterious strain poses a risk to people.

We need to take this threat seriously

But the data on Bcbva’s spread among wildlife and chimps in particular – in climatic conditions not usually associated with anthrax – means there’s a lot more we need to find out about here.

“This needs to be taken seriously,” veterinary scientist Chris Whittier from Tufts University, who wasn’t involved in the research, told Science Magazine.

“I hope this opens up a lot of people’s eyes.”

The findings are reported in Nature.

Source: Science Alert


The Implication of the Local Production of Methamphetamine in Nigeria

In Mar 2016, it was reported in Nigerian Newspapers that four Mexicans and four Nigerians were arrested in Asaba, a town in south of Nigeria for producing methamphetamine in the country. Their drug factory produced between 3,000 kg to 4,000 kg of methamphetamine per production cycle. I recently found out most Nigerians don’t know about methamphetamine mainly abused as Crystal Meth or the implications of producing it in Nigeria.

What is methamphetamine?

Methamphetamine is known by different names – meth, crank, chalk or speed.  It is a synthetic (man-made) chemical, unlike cocaine, for instance, which comes from a plant. It is commonly manufactured in illegal, hidden laboratories, mixing various forms of amphetamine (another stimulant drug) or derivatives with other chemicals to boost its potency.

It is a white crystalline drug that people inhaling through the nose, smoking, injecting with a needle or take orally. It develops a strong desire to continue using it because the drug creates a false sense of happiness and well-being—a rush (strong feeling) of confidence, hyper-activeness and energy. One also experiences decreased appetite.

These drug effects generally last from six to eight hours, but can last up to twenty-four hours. The first experience might involve some pleasure, but from the start, methamphetamine begins to destroy the user’s life.

The laboratory discovered

Four Mexicans and four Nigerians were arrested in Nigeria for producing methamphetamine in the country. Image credit: Sahara Reporters

According to head of the country’s drug law enforcement agency, NDLEA, Muhammad Mustapha Abdallah, the drug cartel used the synthesis method of production, a more complex method that does not need ephedrine which has a similar chemical structure to amphetamines and is a methamphetamine analogue. He noted that methamphetamine laboratory, which is similar to the ones found in Mexico, is the first to be discovered in the country.

Effect of methamphetamine abuse

This drug is new to Nigerians and many do not know about it so most of the methamphetamine produced in the discovered laboratory are meant to be trafficked out to countries that have high demand for the drug. How never mass production of methamphetamine in Nigeria could increase the rate of abuse of the drug in the country. According to Drug Free world, methamphetamine abuse can cause short-term effects like:

  • Loss of appetite and Increased heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature
  • Dilation of pupils and Disturbed sleep patterns
  • Nausea and Bizarre, erratic, sometimes violent behaviour
  • Hallucinations, hyper-excitability, irritability, Panic and psychosis
  • Convulsions, seizures and death from high doses.

And long-term effects like:

  • Permanent damage to blood vessels of heart and brain, high blood pressure leading to heart attacks, strokes and death
  • Liver, kidney and lung damage
  • Destruction of tissues in the nose if sniffed
  • Respiratory (breathing) problems if smoked
  • Infectious diseases and abscesses if injected
  • Malnutrition, weight loss and Severe tooth decay
  • Disorientation, apathy, confused exhaustion
  • Strong psychological dependence
  • Psychosis and Depression
  • Damage to the brain similar to Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and epilepsy

Read: What Happens to the Baby of a Nursing Mother who Abuses Codeine or Tramadol

Public and environmental health concerns

Pollution linked to methamphetamine production poses a grave danger to humans as the production process requires some toxic chemicals. The NDLEA boss noted that, “Methamphetamine dump pollutes the environment. This is because, for every one pound of methamphetamine produced, about three to six pounds of toxic waste is created. This can contaminate the water table within 500 meters radius from the laboratory. Even plants close to the dump were found to be dead. The laboratory contains highly poisonous solvents and gasses,”. He explained that some of the materials used in the drug’s production are capable of an explosion while other are linked to cancer.

Read: Hazardous Waste in Nigeria: Problems and Challenges

The NDLEA stated that funds would be required to enable the agency to detect laboratories producing illicit drugs, to acquire protective kits for its agents, and to decontaminate production sites. Colonel Abdallah estimated the cost of cleaning up the laboratory in Asaba at N35 million.

The NDLEA explained that a methamphetamine laboratory could be identified by its secretive operations or detected by the irritation and smell caused by chemicals as well as colored water appearing in sewage. The agency warned that any houses used for methamphetamine production should be avoided while chemical containers must not be put to domestic use.

Read: The New Technology of Managing Pollution with Agricultural Waste

The New Technology of Managing Pollution with Agricultural Waste

As we preach the gospel of Agriculture in Nigeria and Africa at large we should also look at the horizontal effects of increased agricultural activities. High agricultural activities lead to large agricultural waste generation.

Agricultural waste if not well managed can pollute the environment, though only for a while because it is biodegradable. But it is important to note that before degrading, agricultural wastes can cause significant damage to our environment and health.

There is a new technology that involves the use of agricultural waste to manage environmental pollution. It is important that we look into this cheap and new technology.

Read: Lead Poisoning Killed 28 Children in Nigeria

Agricultural wastes have been used as mature in farms and in recent times, some are being used to make biofuel.  With Biosorption technology, before agricultural wastes are used as manure and biofuel some can be used to manage environmental pollution from poisonous metals (e.g. lead, chromium. Mercury, etc.), dyes and other organic wastes resulting from military, industrial and agricultural activities.

Heavy metals are often assumed to be highly toxic or damaging to the environment. Some are, while certain others are toxic only if taken in excess or encountered in certain forms. Lead for instance is a very toxic heavy metal, and its target organs are bones, the brain, blood, kidneys, and the thyroid glands, so heavy metals and toxic organic wastes must be removed from our waters and rivers.

Read: Hazardous Waste in Nigeria: Problems and Challenges

There are many methods available for the removal of heavy metals and toxic organic wastes from water but they come with several disadvantages such as generation of huge poisonous by-products, high capital costs and are mostly not eco-friendly.

The search for better methods lead to the discovery of the use of biological substances to remove heavy-metals through a process called biosorption which is due to the metal binding capacity of various biological materials to metals, dyes and other wastes.

Many biological materials and agricultural wastes have been discovered to absorb metals and organic wastes from water. These include hyacinth, coconut, copra meal, sea weed, legume pods, moss, water leaf, peanut shell, pineapple peals, rice husk, banana peels, water melon peels, kiwi peels, tangerine peels etc.

How does biosorption works?  

The biosorption process involves a solid phase (sorbent: biological material e.g chaff, husk, peels etc.) and liquid phase (sorbate: the water  containing metals). Due to the high attraction of the chaff or husk to the metals, dyes or other organic wastes in the water, they will bind to each other. The metals, dyes and other wastes bonded to the chaff/husk in the water is afterwards removed from the water leaving the water unpolluted.

Advantage of the use of biosorption using agricultural waste

Plantain peels

The major advantages of biosorption over conventional treatment methods include:

  • the low-cost of the process and the materials used (mostly wastes from homes and farms),
  • the high-efficiency of the method in removing metals from water,
  • the minimization of chemical or biological sludge which in most cases are toxic and can become pollutants,
  • the regeneration of the biological materials (biosorbents) and possibility of recovering the metal from the biological materials used after the process.
  • agricultural waste materials are abundant and easy to source.

Read: Catch Them Young and Train Them to Be Guardians of their Environment