It's never been more important to be a biologist than now
This essay was submitted to the Bioscience Essay competition by the University of Gloucestershire (2020)
Biologists seek to understand the underlying scientific mechanisms of life. They research and investigate the growth, functions and habits of all organisms and their relationships with the environment, to uncover the mysteries Biology still holds. Today, the world faces many urgent and pressing issues: finding a vaccine for Covid-19, tackling climate change and many more. In the face of these issues, the world looks to biologists for help. How are Biologists going to save the world?
A very urgent problem the world faces is Global warming. This stems from the excess of carbon dioxide emissions and the insufficient mitigation of emissions, with a large absence of legally binding international agreements to reduce them, further enhanced by disagreements among countries such as the US withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement at one point. Consequently, biological discoveries to combat emissions of carbon dioxide to stop global warming are of the utmost importance.
There are currently several preliminary methods that are being developed by biologists, to find a way to stem the rate of greenhouse gas growth and reduce global warming.
Soil carbon sequestration is one such proposed method. The third largest global pool of carbon is the soil, and there are growing concerns that climate change can and will change the soil from a sink to a source. Growing amounts of agriculture have significantly reduced the amount of carbon in soils globally, an amount equivalent to more than a decade of industrial emissions. It is proposed that through changed agricultural techniques, or the amendment of soil with Biochar, Carbon could potentially be locked up again belowground, creating a long term carbon sink. This could be a significant tool to mitigate climate change, providing a wider timeframe for society to decarbonize.
Another method currently under investigation is to increase the surface reflectivity and albedo of surfaces that already reflect solar radiation back into space. For instance, plants with a waxy outer coat or hairy leaves have a higher albedo, reflecting a higher proportion of the sunlight that hits their leaves back into space. Research shows that large scale selective breeding or genetic modification of plants to produce those with a higher albedo could reduce regional temperatures by as much as 1°C in summertime.
Although there are still various risks and doubts on the ability of these methods to reduce global warming, there is a great potential for Biologists to conduct further research in this area.
Pathology and Epidemiology are branches of biology which study the pattern, causes and effects of diseases in both humans and animals. More than ever before, these branches of biology are vital. In just 10 months under Covid-19, more than a million have passed away and trillions of dollars have been used to respond to the spread of the disease. Biologists, such as microbiologists, virologists and pharmacologists, are heavily involved in the production and development in a vaccine for this virus. As of 18th October 2020, more than 150 coronavirus vaccines are in development, with several vaccines such as the Pfizer, Oxford and Moderna vaccine in their final stages of clinical trials. Many biologists and scientists are working together to bring a vaccine to the market in record time to ease the global crisis. The world looks to them to help to stop the spread of the disease and bring the world back to how it used to be.
Unfortunately, once the world has conquered today’s pandemic, there is still a high risk of another pandemic breaking out again in the near future. With a surging global population where humans encroach into natural settings with increasing speed and dimension, new and undiscovered zoonotic viruses can be transmitted with increasing momentum.
Fortunately, projects such as PREDICT, the Global Virome project and the R & D blueprint, consist of biologists from around the world working to predict the world's next pandemic. These biologists assess the degree of risk certain viruses in animals could pose to the human race, go into the field to collect samples from these animals, then analyse these samples. Inch by inch, biologists assemble an encyclopaedia of viruses that could pose a risk to humanity, giving humanity the chance to be prepared for these viruses, stopping the next pandemic before it can start.
These projects have already had several significant scientific breakthroughs so far, identifying more than 949 new viruses, discovering that bats are major reservoirs for coronaviruses, finding hot spots of SARS- like viruses in Africa and Southeast Asia and many more.
Without Biologists, these discoveries would never have been made. Biologists have already come so far, but there is still such a long bright road ahead! There are so many problems in the world right now and so many of them can be solved by Biologists. It’s never been more important to be a biologist.
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Diagrams made by me using Canva