Lower humidity has a link with higher rates of COVID-19 transmission, claims a joint Australian-Chinese study released Tuesday.
Drier air across several different regions of Sydney has been consistently linked to higher numbers of COVID-19 infections, the study found, reports Xinhua.
But similar links are not true for other weather factors including rain, temperature and wind.
The study was published in medical journal Transboundary and Emerging Diseases.
It is the second such study by the group on the relationship between weather conditions and COVID-19 in Australia, following a larger study conducted in China earlier this year.
The study estimated that 1 percent drop in humidity could push up COVID-19 cases by 7-8 percent, and for a 10 percent drop, the infections could as much as double.
To conduct the research, epidemiologist Professor Michael Ward from the University of Sydney teamed up with Shuang Xiao and Zhijie Zhang from the partner institution Fudan University School of Public Health in Shanghai.
"The consistency between studies is increasing confidence that humidity is a key factor in the spread of COVID-19,” Ward said. “Dry air appears to favour the spread of COVID-19, meaning time and place become important.”
Further research required
Ward said the result raises the prospect of seasonal disease outbreaks and greatly supports the use of face masks in order to prevent the spread.
He said the result is not entirely unexpected considering that when humidity is lower, the air is drier and it makes aerosols smaller.
"When you sneeze and cough, those smaller infectious aerosols can stay suspended in the air for longer. That increases the exposure for other people," he elaborated. "When the air is humid and the aerosols are larger and heavier, they fall and hit surfaces quicker."
The team said further research is required to draw more conclusive ties between humidity and coronavirus transmission and expand on how that can be taken into account to shape the public health response.
The number of globally confirmed coronavirus cases surpassed 2.2 million on Wednesday with more than 781,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University tally.
Coronavirus cases were first reported in China in December last year. In March, the World Health Organisation declared it a pandemic.
Bangladesh confirmed its first cases on March 8 and the first death on March 18. Currently, the country has more than 282,000 officially confirmed cases and over 3,700 deaths.
A team of Indian scientists claims to have found a sustainable process to make brick-like structures on the lunar surface which could be a significant step forward in space exploration.
Researchers from the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bengaluru made the breakthrough.
In a statement, IISc said the process exploits lunar soil and uses bacteria and guar beans to consolidate the soil into possible load-bearing structures.
“These 'space bricks' could eventually be used to assemble structures for habitation on the moon's surface, the researchers suggest," it said.
Space exploration has grown exponentially in the last century. With earth's resources dwindling rapidly, scientists have intensified their efforts to inhabit the moon and possibly other planets.
"It is really exciting because it brings two different fields – biology and mechanical engineering – together," said Aloke Kumar, Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, IISc, one of the authors of two studies recently published in Ceramics International and PLOS One.
It costs around $10,020 to send a pound of material to outer space, according to IISc.
Explaining the process, IISc said it uses urea which can be sourced from human urine and lunar soil as raw materials for construction on the moon's surface.
“This decreases the overall expenditure considerably. The process also has a lower carbon footprint because it uses guar gum instead of cement for support. This could also be exploited to make sustainable bricks on Earth," the statement said.
Researchers from Australia's nuclear science agency have suggested that the unique immune system of alpacas could help in curing coronavirus.
The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization (ANSTO) and Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) said on Tuesday that they are studying alpaca antibodies in the search for therapies for COVID-19, reports Xinhua.
By immunising alpacas with the spike protein from SARS-CoV-2, researchers have been able to isolate nanobodies and screen them for the ability to inhibit the virus.
They have then been able to use the Microfocus Crystallography (MX2) Beamline at ANSTO's Australian Synchrotron to study how an alpaca's immune system can fight infection by COVID-19.
Michael James, ANSTO's Australian Synchrotron senior principal research scientist, said the Synchrotron - a type of particle accelerator - has also been used to study human proteins responsible for the replication of the virus within cells and the structure of the virus that causes COVID-19.
"Since March, we've been operating a COVID-19 Rapid Access program to enable Australian and international researchers to solve the atomic structure of SARS-CoV-2 viral proteins," he said in a statement.
"We're looking at proteins either by themselves or bound to other biological molecules or anti-viral drugs that can help fight the virus or prevent its spread. In this instance, MX2 is being used to determine the structure of these inhibitory nanobodies in complex with the key region of the spike protein to understand the structural mechanism of inhibition," James said.
"These structures will provide invaluable information that will allow further development of antibody therapies against COVID-19."
Australian researchers have developed a technology that can turn seawater safe to drink in less than 30 minutes by using only a high-tech filter and direct sunlight.
According to the Melbourne-based Monash University, the specially-designed filter is capable of generating hundreds of litres of drinkable water per day, reports Xinhua.
The technology requires only direct sunlight to purify, making the process energy-efficient, low-cost and sustainable.
Metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), a class of compounds consisting of metal ions that form a crystalline material with the largest surface area of any material known, are used in making the filters.
During the desalination process, a functionalised MOF filter firstly adsorbs salt from water, which consumes no energy, then the salt filled MOF can be put under sunlight to regenerate, taking less than four minutes, before it can absorb salt from water again.
Lead author of the research, Professor Huanting Wang from the Department of Chemical Engineering at Monash University, said desalination is a feasible option to address the pressing water shortage crisis around the world.
Desalination has been used to address escalating water shortages globally.
Due to the availability of brackish water and seawater, and because desalination processes are reliable, treated water can be integrated within existing aquatic systems with minimal health risks," Wang said.
"But thermal desalination processes by evaporation are energy-intensive, and other technologies, such as reverse osmosis, have a number of drawbacks, including high energy consumption and chemical usage in membrane cleaning and dechlorination."
With low energy consumption and no chemicals needed during the process, Wang said this highlights the durability and sustainability of this new technology for future clean water solutions.
"This study has successfully demonstrated that the photoresponsive MOFs are a promising, energy-efficient, and sustainable adsorbent for desalination," he said.
The first astronauts launched by Elon Musk's SpaceX company departed the International Space Station on Saturday night for the final and most important part of their test flight: returning to Earth with a rare splashdown.
NASA's Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken bid farewell to the three men left behind as their SpaceX Dragon capsule undocked and headed toward a Sunday afternoon descent by parachute into the Gulf of Mexico.
Despite Tropical Storm Isaias' surge toward Florida's Atlantic shore, NASA said the weather looked favorable off the coast of Pensacola on the extreme opposite side of the state.
It will be the first splashdown for astronauts in 45 years. The last time was following the joint U.S.-Soviet mission in 1975 known as Apollo-Soyuz.
Space station commander Chris Cassidy rang the ship's bell as Dragon pulled away, 267 miles (430 kilometers) above Johannesburg, South Africa. Within a few minutes, all that could be seen of the capsule was a pair of flashing lights against the black void of space.
"It's been a great two months, and we appreciate all you've done as a crew to help us prove out Dragon on its maiden flight," Hurley radioed to the space station.
"Safe travels," Cassidy replied, "and have a successful landing."
The astronauts' homecoming will cap a mission that ended a prolonged launch drought in the U.S., which has relied on Russian rockets to ferry astronauts to the space station since the end of the shuttle era.
In launching Hurley and Behnken from NASA's Kennedy Space Center on May 30, SpaceX became the first private company to send people into orbit. Now SpaceX is on the verge of becoming the first company to bring people back from orbit.
"The hardest part was getting us launched, but the most important is bringing us home," Behnken said several hours before strapping into the Dragon.
A successful splashdown, Behnken said, will bring U.S.-crew launching capability "full circle."
At a farewell ceremony earlier in the day, Cassidy, who will remain on board with two Russians until October, presented Hurley with the small U.S. flag left behind by the previous astronauts to launch to the space station from U.S. soil. Hurley was the pilot of that final shuttle mission in July 2011.
The flag — which also flew on the first shuttle flight in 1981 — became a prize for the company that launched astronauts first.
SpaceX easily beat Boeing, which isn't expected to launch its first crew until next year and will land in the U.S. Southwest. The flag has one more flight after this one: to the moon on NASA's Artemis program in the next few years.
"We're a little sad to see them go," Cassidy said, "but very excited for what it means to our international space program to add this capability" of commercial crew capsules. The next SpaceX crew flight is targeted for the end of September.
Hurley and Behnken also are bringing back a sparkly blue and purple dinosaur named Tremor. Their young sons chose the toy to accompany their fathers on the historic mission.