Netflix Doc 'Chasing Coral': 'This Has Got to Wake Up the World'
Richard Vevers was an advertising executive in London with a passion for diving. Then, he witnessed the dramatic effects of coral bleaching at Bali's Airport Reef. Shocked by what he saw, Vevers became an advocate for ocean conservation. You can see him in the new Netflix docu0mentary, Chasing Coral. Nexus Media spoke with Vevers about what climate change is doing to coral reefs and what we can do to stop it. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You are from the ad world. How did you end up underwater?
I have always been passionate about the ocean and always wanted to make a career out of it. I kind of fell into conservation. I actually started off initially just wanting to be an underwater photographer and have fun underwater. It's just been through a learning curve of understanding what's going on in the ocean that I decided to dedicate my life to it.
What were some of the most moving things you saw underwater?
I just love jumping in the water. It's like being in a safari park, but with more animals and more alien life. And so, for me, it was the most magical place in the planet, and to go and experience those places die is really quite traumatic.
As a longtime diver, what was it like to experience the coral bleaching at Airport Reef?
When you see the bleaching, you just can't comprehend it, because it is truly beautiful. This is one of the most beautiful transformations in nature. Imagine if trees suddenly turned glowing white, or were glowing different colors. It's incredible to see. So, it's hard to wrap your head around the fact that this is animals dying. When we went to see the aftereffects, especially in the Great Barrier Reef, we jumped in the water, and it looked like the reef had been dead for years. And then we came out of the water, and we realized we smelled of rotting animals. And that's when it hits you, that this is really just animals dying on an incredible scale.
You say in the film that saving the ocean is a public relations problem. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Most people don't dive, so they don't get to see these issues. And, when it comes to climate change, we often stare up at the sky and talk about one or 2 degrees. And who really cares? If it was 1 or 2 degrees hotter today, would you even notice? The problem is 93 percent of the heat is being absorbed by the ocean, and the ocean controls everything—our water supply, the weather, the climate, the oxygen we breathe, whether or not we can grow food and that's where the heat is going.
People don't realize how important coral reefs are. About one-quarter of all marine life relies on coral reefs, and about a billion people rely on coral reefs for food and income. So they're hugely important, and people haven't wrapped their heads around the consequences of potentially losing coral reefs entirely.
Can you talk about any specific solutions to help corals?
With the 50 Reefs project, we're looking for the reefs that are least vulnerable to climate change. We will lose the majority of the remaining coral reefs now. That's a given. There's probably about 10 percent of reefs that we can actually save. So, what we need to do is identify the reefs that are least vulnerable to climate change, protect them from the local impacts and bolster conservation efforts in those key regions to act as a catalyst for all coral reef conservation.
What do you hope that the folks who see this film on Netflix take away from it?
I don't like to watch climate change movies because they're generally quite miserable. But this one makes you laugh. And it takes you through this emotional journey. But what we're really hoping is that people come out with a sense of optimism, because a lot of the solutions to climate change are actually very positive. It just hasn't been communicated that way. So, for example, we tend to talk about the problems of climate change as if it's about cleaning up after a giant party, and everyone's got to do their bit, but no one really wants to. But what it's really about is jobs, making people healthier, green-ifying cities, improving housing, getting faster cars. It's all positive and achievable. We just need to do it.
This interview was conducted by Molly Taft and edited by Monika Sharma. Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.
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By Jacob L. Steenwyk and Antonis Rokas
From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
How A. Latus Differs From its Parents.<p>Elucidating the identity of closely related fungal pathogens and how they differ from each other in infection-relevant characteristics is a key step toward reducing the burden of fungal disease. For example, we found that <em>A. latus</em> was three times more resistant than <em>A. nidulans</em>, the species it was originally identified as using microscopy-based methods, to one of the most common antifungal drugs, <a href="https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00520" target="_blank">caspofungin</a>. This result provides a clear example of the potential importance of accurate identification of the <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogen causing an infection.</p><p>We also examined how <em>A. latus</em> and <em>A. nidulans</em> interact with cells from our immune system. We found that immune cells were less efficient at combating <em>A. latus</em> compared to <em>A. nidulans</em>, suggesting the hybrid fungus may be trickier for our immune systems to identify and destroy.</p><p>In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our quest to understand <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogens is becoming more urgent. Growing evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/myc.13096" target="_blank">a fraction of COVID-19 patients are also infected with <em>Aspergillus</em>.</a> More worrying is that these <a href="https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.201603" target="_blank">secondary <em>Aspergillus</em> infections</a> can worsen the clinical outcomes for those infected with the novel coronavirus. That being said, we stress that little is known about <em>Aspergillus</em> infections in COVID-19 patients due to a lack of systematic testing, and none of the infections identified so far appear to have been caused by hybrids.</p><p>So, when it comes to hybrids, some are fantastic (the minotaur), some are helpful (the mule) and some are dangerous (<em>Aspergillus latus</em>). Understanding more about the biology of <em>Aspergillus latus</em> may help in our understanding of how microbial pathogens arise and how to best prevent and combat their infections.</p>
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The Navajo Nation covers the corners of three different states. Google Maps
Growing Contribution<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM3NDY5Ny9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NjM4MTgyM30.IuQTKQs1stvYYKD6vaVTrqAyoBsUG0BhDvlhxsyKwPA/img.png?width=980" id="02a05" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2841f82b1785df5d5ed7bf64d3bb882b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
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DAN medical experts explained the difference between normal lungs, on the left, and "very serious lungs caused by COVID-19," on the right. Matias Nochetto / Divers Alert Network (DAN)
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