A new analysis suggests a growing number of deadly diseases may be a harbinger of climate change

If you think 2018 was a tumultuous year in news — think again. Just as the country grappled with an economic crisis, a politically explosive election and a tragic massacre — the Last Four Traitors — also came a chilling new sign that it will be home to “The Last Four Mutations,” a local term for dangerous changes in an organism that could lead to disease transmission to humans.

Those changes in an animal species can be demonstrated by identifying “fatal mutations,” or key changes in the genetic code of a creature that can cause disease in humans or other organisms. As a story published on Monday in New Scientist magazine reported, while “The Last Four Mutations” is nothing new, there is a growing concern over how local efforts to control their spread could lead to more diseases spreading more quickly.

According to the new story, in the last two years, between 40 and 50 cases of lethal mutations have appeared, including “breakthrough mutations” that have appeared in lions, pangolins, impalas and bats.

“The greater the number of lethal mutations on the same species, the greater the chance of it causing a human disease in the future,” the writer Rob Snider wrote.

In order to better understand these changes in the animal kingdom, experts traveled to South Africa’s Eastern Cape, a part of the country that has long been considered a “hotspot” for herpetogenes, the gene sequences associated with such lethal mutations.

“South Africa has more humans than any other country, so the prevalence of all disease and non-disease mutations is greater than any other place,” Mukul Kulkarni, a wildlife geneticist at Duke University, told Snider. “It is a great population to study, because if we do not know how these mutations are travelling, how fast they are spreading, how people adapt to them and the changes people make to them, we cannot possibly predict where they will go.”

Despite the risks these changes present, people continue to unwittingly introduce them by buying infected animals and butchering them for meat. However, if that doesn’t happen — and experts agree that should make that happen — then local curative efforts and protections can help stop their spread. However, this also runs the risk of dragging future questions about how humanity and its ecosystem interact into the current climate of climate change.

Read the full story at New Scientist.

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