Biodiversity, climate change and epidemics


Since 1995it has been suggested that the emergence of new zoonoses or diseases that spread from animals to people is probably correlated with the intensive use of natural resources, which cause environmental damage, loss of biodiversity and ultimately vulnerability to face a health emergency [1]. This suggestion has gained more strength if we compare the occurrence of new zoonotic out breaks from 1996 to the most recent one in 2021 (see Figure 1). Since 2003, there have been global outbreaks of SARS (acute respiratory syndrome), H1N1 influenza in2009-2010, MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) in 2012, Ebola in Africa in2013-2016, and the Zika virus pandemic of 2015-2016 [2].

Fig 1. Frequency of zoonotic outbreaks from 1996 to 2021 (COVID19) based on data by the World Health Organization(WHO) [3]

By placing the number of outbreaks between 2016 and 2021 on a global map, we see that it is in virtually all countries and on all continents that these diseases appeared, see Figure 2.

Fig 2. Map of the distribution of pandemic outbreaks and their frequency recorded from 1996-2021 with WHO data[3]

So far we have recognized that there has undoubtedly been a greater frequency of pandemic outbreaks in the last 20 years, but the central question is whether this greater frequency is correlated with greater exploitation of natural resources valuable for the development of our societies, from raw materials such as pulp from timber resources, to the exploitation of mines to obtain metals for the manufacture of semiconductors. ceramics and resins. In addition to the above, the weight of climate change must be weighed and how it is part of an intricate network of causes and effects with global consequences [3]. In this regard, a series of vectors between climatic conditions and changes in ecosystems and their biodiversity in the case of new coronaviruses has been analyzed as follows (see Figure 3).

Fig 3.Climate change appears as a driving force for the emergence of new zoonoses such as the most recent to July 2023 of COVID19, see text for more details [3]

The different climatic parameters are modified from temperature to humidity, which affect the interactions of hosts (human), vectors (an insect or another animal)and the virus itself. Productive activities and climate change significantly affect the habitat distribution of vectors (such as bats and pangolins believed to have been the zoonotic intermediaries in COVID-19). Changes in land use for construction, deforestation and increased water and air pollution result in interaction between species, which increase the efficiency of virus transmission and affect the immune system of the hosts.

Let's take for a moment the case ofCOVID-19 and as we connect loose ends with bats, alluding to the question of the title of this essay -which up to this point is expected to make sense-, we could propose what Gupta et al. (2021) has suggested:

..." The effect of climate change on bats and their habitat and its probable correlation with the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 has among its edges many anthropogenic interventions on the natural habitat of bats, which as a consequence has caused a greater probability of contact with humans, who are susceptible toSARS-CoV-2. Climate variations and anthropogenic factors have resulted in an increase in stress to the bats themselves that are carriers of several coronaviruses. Such changes in bat physiology have aided in the creation of mutant variants capable of infecting humans."

Our ability to prevent future pandemics and be prepared in the precise place where they will occur is still limited, but what we do know is that there is a link with the modification of the habitat of the carriers (animals and insects). Normally, this modification is driven by agriculture, which is already recognized as the main factor that ensures the emergence of new diseases in the future [4][5]. In this sense, the proposals and studies on the use and exploitation of natural resources have been extensive and varied from the point of view of circular economy, the planetary limits proposed by Johan Röckstrom, or an economy limited to regional and increasingly local borders, as well as the search and research of innovative materials that are compatible with natural habitats.

           A very clear example that connects intensive agriculture with the sea is the recurrence of a mass of sargassum in the Atlantic [6]. This giant mass of algae that was originally named by the sailors of Christopher Columbus as salgaso, since it resembled a variety of small grapes from Portugal [6], may be natural sources of alginates, cellulose and fucoidans. Alginates are sugar polymers of maluronic acid (M) and guluronic acid (G) connected in tandem blocks G-G, M-M, or G-M with various applications from the cosmetic, food to pharmaceutical industry as thickening agents, foaming agents, emulsion stabilizers, among others. In the case of cellulose, they are chains of connected glucoses that are part of the cell walls of plants and algae. The main uses range from the best known in the paper industry to the less widespread as the manufacture of nanoparticles or microfibers for the textile industry. Finally, fucoidans are widely researched in various fields of biomedicine as anti-inflammatories, cell adhesion interaction inhibitors to blockers in the recognition at the molecular level of proteins.

In light of the fact that the intensive agriculture that causes the increase of sargassum in the Atlantic, it can be valued depending on the philosophical point of view either part of a circular system of regional limits that comprise the Caribbean Sea, which extends from South America to the coasts of Florida, passing through the Mexican Caribbean,  or how a planetary response that as a serious consequence fragments the planetary limits of biodiversity, since paradoxically although the marine environment where it grows is rich in nutrients, it is in turn a biological desert, this is known as Ryther's paradox [6].

In BioPlaster Research Inc. we are aware that the design and research of materials is something deeper and more complex that requires the study from the raw materials that cause the least possible impact, from their extraction or synthesis to their final disposal. The next time you consider the use and exploitation of material resources, consider in Christian terms if it is like a bat broth that would cause the next pandemic.



[1] Madhav N, Oppenheim B, Gallivan M,et al. Pandemics: Risks, Impacts, and Mitigation (2018) In: Jamison DT, GelbandH, Horton S, et al., editors. Disease Control Priorities: Improving Health andReducing Poverty. 3rd edition. Washington (DC): The International Bank forReconstruction and Development / The World Bank. Chapter 17. Availablefrom: doi: 10.1596/978-1-4648-0527-1_ch17

[2] Torres Munguía, J.A., Badarau, F.C., Díaz Pavez,L.R. et al. (2022) Aglobal dataset of pandemic- and epidemic-prone disease outbreaks. SciData 9, 683

[3] Gupta, S., Rouse, B. T., &Sarangi, P. P. (2021). Did Climate Change Influence the Emergence,Transmission, and Expression of the COVID-19 Pandemic? In Frontiers in Medicine(Vol. 8)

[4] Jones, B. A., Grace, D., Kock, R.,Alonso, S., Rushton, J., Said, M. Y., McKeever, D., Mutua, F., Young, J.,McDermott, J., & Pfeiffer, D. U. (2013). Zoonosis emergence linked toagricultural intensification and environmental change. Proceedings of theNational Academy of Sciences, 110(21), 8399–8404;

[5] Lawler OK, Allan HL, Baxter PWJ,Castagnino R, Tor MC, Dann LE, Hungerford J, Karmacharya D, Lloyd TJ,López-Jara MJ, Massie GN, Novera J, Rogers AM, Kark S. The COVID-19 pandemic isintricately linked to biodiversity loss and ecosystem health. Lancet PlanetHealth. 2021 Nov;5(11: e840-e850

[6] Lapointe, B.E., Brewton, R.A.,Herren, L.W. et al. (2021) Nutrient content and stoichiometry ofpelagic Sargassum reflects increasing nitrogen availability in theAtlantic Basin. Nat Commun 12, 3060