January 23-29, 2022: Issue 523

Study finds Anticoagulant has beneficial side-effects for COVID-19 patients 

November 12, 2021
Clotting problems and resulting complications are common in COVID-19 patients. Researchers at the Medical University of Vienna have now shown that a member of the anticoagulant group of drugs not only has a beneficial effect on survival of COVID-19 patients, but also influences the duration of active infection with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. The results were recently published in the journal Cardiovascular Research.

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is a multifaceted infectious disease. While, at the start of the global pandemic, it was assumed that COVID-19 was primarily a disease of the lungs, it is now known that several functional systems in the human body are affected following infection with the pathogen SARS-CoV-2. One of these functional systems is blood clotting. COVID-19 patients have an increased risk of thromboses and embolisms, such as strokes, pulmonary or myocardial infarctions, and even deep vein thromboses. The use of drugs that inhibit blood clotting has been part of the treatment guidelines for COVID-19 since July 2020. "These complications during hospitalisation have a direct impact on the well-being of patients and increased the risk of dying from COVID-19," reports David Pereyra from MedUni Vienna's Department of General Surgery, who is first author of the publication. The underlying coagulopathy is still not fully understood.

COVID-19 triggers unique clotting problems

"The coagulopathy observed in COVID-19 patients is novel and differs in many respects from previously known coagulation problems," says Alice Assinger, group leader at the Institute of Vascular Biology and Thrombosis Research at the Medical University of Vienna and last author of the publication, "COVID-19-associated coagulopathy displays characteristics that, although partially comparable with other coagulation diseases, cannot be fully explained by them." Alice Assinger's group therefore started to look for an explanation for this sub-condition of COVID-19 in the spring of 2020, in an early phase of the pandemic.

In a multi-centre analysis of COVID-19 patients in Vienna, Linz and Innsbruck, the group observed that COVID-19-associated coagulopathy occurs almost exclusively in patients requiring intensive care or in patients who die as a result of COVID-19. Although anticoagulant drugs improve the survival of COVID-19 patients, they show no effect on immunological processes related to blood coagulation (immunothrombosis).

Low-molecular-weight heparin curtails duration of infection

The analyses showed, however, that the period of active SARS-CoV-2 infection is curtailed in patients treated with low-molecular-weight heparin, the most commonly used anticoagulant. "In patients who receive this drug, infection time is an average of four days shorter than in patients who are not treated with low-molecular-weight heparin. We were surprised to see that low-molecular-weight heparin may have a direct effect on coronavirus and its infectivity," said David Pereyra. Experimental data show that heparin can inhibit the ability of SARS-CoV-2 to bind to cells, thereby preventing them from being infected.

These observations were made in the context of a close collaboration between the three hospitals involved -- the Favoriten Hospital in Vienna, the Innsbruck Regional Hospital Innsbruck and the Johannes Kepler University Hospital in Linz -- as well as through the active exchange between basic researchers and clinicians," says Alice Assinger, underscoring the relevance of good cooperation during the COVID-19 pandemic for a better understanding of the disease and its treatment.
David Pereyra, Stefan Heber, Waltraud C Schrottmaier, Jonas Santol, Anita Pirabe, Anna Schmuckenschlager, Kerstin Kammerer, Daphni Ammon, Thomas Sorz, Fabian Fritsch, Hubert Hayden, Erich Pawelka, Philipp Krüger, Benedikt Rumpf, Marianna T Traugott, Pia Glaser, Christa Firbas, Christian Schörgenhofer, Tamara Seitz, Mario Karolyi, Ingrid Pabinger, Christine Brostjan, Patrick Starlinger, Günter Weiss, Rosa Bellmann-Weiler, Helmut J F Salzer, Bernd Jilma, Alexander Zoufaly, Alice Assinger. Low-molecular-weight heparin use in coronavirus disease 2019 is associated with curtailed viral persistence: a retrospective multicentre observational study. Cardiovascular Research, 2021; DOI: 10.1093/cvr/cvab308

Under a moon spell: Shark attacks related to lunar phases

January 12, 2022
New research from LSU and the University of Florida suggests that more shark attacks occur during fuller phases of the moon. 

While the exact cause remains unclear, the researchers found that more shark attacks than average occur during periods of higher lunar illumination and fewer attacks than average occur during periods of lower illumination. Many different types of animals show behaviours that are linked to moon phases yet few studies to date have looked at the connections between lunar phases and shark attacks.

What makes this research important is the abundance of data the researchers analysed. Their findings are based on a global shark attack record collected during a 55-year period from 1960 to 2015 from the International Shark Attack File housed in the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida. 

Being able to crunch numbers for shark attacks across the globe and over the course of decades revealed a clear correlation between lunar phases and shark attacks, although the reasons why remain unknown.

"It's not a matter of more light at night for sharks to see. Most shark attacks occur in the daylight. However, the moon can exert other forces on Earth and its oceans in ways that are much more subtle -- for example, the gravitation pull that we see affect the tides," said Steve Midway, LSU associate professor and researcher on the project. 

His combined expertise in fisheries ecology and statistical analyses in the College of the Coast & Environment's Department of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences allowed him to add a unique perspective to this research.

The scientists say it is still too early to demonstrate that lunar illumination is a causative factor for shark attacks. However, their new data serves as a building block towards better understanding shark attacks and could be useful for developing recommendations for water-based recreational activities in the future.

"The abundance of data we have would suggest that there is something there that's worth continuing to look at," Midway said.

Lindsay A. French, Stephen R. Midway, David H. Evans, George H. Burgess. Shark Side of the Moon: Are Shark Attacks Related to Lunar Phase? Frontiers in Marine Science, 2021; 8 DOI: 10.3389/fmars.2021.745221  Image: Map of all 2020 Shark Bites from the International Shark Attack File's 2020 Annual Report courtesy International Shark Attack File

Changes in sleep and biological rhythms from late pregnancy to postpartum linked to depression and anxiety

January 18, 2022
A set of parameters including sleep and biological rhythm variables are closely associated with the severity of depressive and anxiety symptoms, starting in the third trimester of pregnancy to the third postpartum month, according to a new study.

The three-month period before and after giving birth is a vulnerable time for women's mental health. It is estimated that 15 to 18 per cent of women experience anxiety and seven to 13 per cent experience depression during this peripartum period. In addition, nearly 10 per cent of women experience clinical levels of comorbid anxiety and depression during this time.

In the largest observational study to date investigating changes in sleep and biological rhythms during the peripartum period, researchers identified several variables that are linked to depression and anxiety. Most notably, changes in the circadian quotient (the strength of the circadian rhythms), the average amount of activity during nighttime rest, and the amount of fragmentation of nighttime rest were strongly linked to higher depressive and anxiety symptoms.

"Our findings highlight the importance of stabilizing the internal biological clock during the peripartum period to maintain healthy mood and minimize anxiety," said Benicio Frey, senior author of the study and professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioural neurosciences at McMaster University.

"Given the findings, future efforts should be made to standardize evidence-based interventions targeting these biological rhythms variables identified by our team, either as treatment or prevention strategies."

Frey and his research team conducted the study from the Women's Health Concerns Clinic at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton. This clinic specializes in psychiatric disorders during the peripartum, premenstrual, and perimenopausal periods.

Researchers recruited 100 women, 73 of whom they followed from the start of the third trimester to three months postpartum. They analyzed subjective and objective measures of sleep, biological rhythms, melatonin levels, and light exposure using a variety of tools, including questionnaires, actigraphs (wearable sleep monitors), laboratory assays, and other methods.

Interestingly, the findings indicate that certain biological rhythms variables may be important to depressive symptoms at specific points along the peripartum timeline. For instance, higher fragmentation of nighttime rest was linked to a decrease in depressive symptoms at six to 12 weeks postpartum -- a period that tends to coincide with a higher risk of developing postpartum depression.

Support for the study was provided in part by The Research Institute of St. Joe's Hamilton and the Teresa Cascioli Charitable Foundation Research Award in Women's Health.

Anastasiya Slyepchenko, Luciano Minuzzi, James P. Reilly, Benicio N. Frey. Longitudinal Changes in Sleep, Biological Rhythms, and Light Exposure From Late Pregnancy to Postpartum and Their Impact on Peripartum Mood and Anxiety. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 2022; 83 (2) DOI: 10.4088/JCP.21m13991

How a contagious cancer spread among clams

January 18, 2022
A contagious blood cancer jumped from one species of clam to another and spread among clams living in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, shows a study published today in eLife.

The findings add to evidence that cancers may spread among different species of bivalve shellfish and suggest that human activities may be inadvertently contributing to the spread of these cancers to new locations and species.

Contagious cancers have been identified in dogs, Tasmanian devils, and bivalves such as clams and mussels. These diseases usually spread among individuals of the same species. But previous studies have documented at least two cases of contagious cancers spreading among bivalve species.

"We set out to confirm whether a leukemia-like blood cancer found in some bivalves also infects Venus verrucosa, otherwise known as warty venus clams that are found in the seas of southern Europe," says Daniel García-Souto, a postdoctoral researcher in genetics at the University of Santiago de Compostela -- USC, Galicia, Spain, and a co-first author of the study alongside Alicia Bruzos and Seila Diaz at USC.

The researchers collected 345 warty venus clams from the coastal areas of Spain, Portugal, France, Ireland and Croatia. They found a type of blood cancer called hemic neoplasia in warty venus clams collected from two different coastal regions of Spain. One group of infected clams was found along the country's Atlantic coast, while the other group was found more than 1,000 nautical miles away in the Mediterranean Sea.

The team used a technique called whole-genome sequencing to reveal that the cancer originated in a single clam, later became infectious, and spread among warty venus clams. The cancer contained genetic sequences from both the warty venus clam and another unknown species of clam. By comparing the unknown genetic sequence to a genetic database of bivalve species, the researchers were able to identify the mystery clam as Chamelea gallina, or the striped venus clam.

Further testing of DNA taken from the cell mitochondria and nucleus in both clam species confirmed that the cancer had jumped from the striped venus clam to the warty venus clams.

"The genetic similarity of the cancer cells found in warty venus clams in both the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea suggests that human shipping activities may have transported the cancer from one region to another," says co-first author Alicia Bruzos, who was a Researcher PhD Student at USC at the time the study was carried out, and is now at the Francis Crick Institute in London, UK. This idea is supported by a previous study in eLife* which showed that mussels carried a contagious cancer across the Atlantic by hitching a ride on ships.

The team now hopes to carry out further studies to determine the age of the tumours in their clam specimens and to explore for how long cancer may have been spreading among these species.

"Our work confirms that contagious cancers can jump between marine clam species," concludes senior author José Tubío, Researcher in Genomes and Disease at USC. "As this may pose a potential threat to marine ecology, we need to keep studying and monitoring pathogens including cancers to help protect these species."

Seila Diaz, Alicia L Bruzos, Daniel Garcia-Souto, Sara Rocha, Ana Pequeño-Valtierra, Camila F Roman-Lewis, Juana Alonso, Rosana Rodriguez, Damian Costas, Jorge Rodriguez-Castro, Antonio Villanueva, Luis Silva, Jose Maria Valencia, Giovanni Annona, Andrea Tarallo, Fernando Ricardo, Ana Bratoš Cetinić, David Posada, Juan Jose Pasantes, Jose MC Tubio. Mitochondrial genome sequencing of marine leukaemias reveals cancer contagion between clam species in the Seas of Southern Europe. eLife, 2022; 11 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.66946

Scientists uncover 'resistance gene' in deadly E. coli

January 14, 2022
Scientists have pinpointed a gene that helps deadly E. coli bacteria evade antibiotics, potentially leading to better treatments for millions of people worldwide.

The University of Queensland-led study found a particular form of the bacteria -- E. coli ST131 -- had a previously unnoticed gene that made it highly resistant to commonly prescribed antibiotics.

Professor Mark Schembri, from UQ's School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences, said this 'resistance gene' can spread incredibly quickly.

"Unlike gene transfer in humans, where sex is required to transfer genes, bacteria have genetic structures in their cells -- called plasmids -- that are traded quickly and easily between each other," Professor Schembri said.

"This resistance gene is in one such plasmid and is swiftly making E. coli ST131 extremely resistant to widely prescribed fluoroquinolone antibiotics.

"These antibiotics are used to treat a wide range of infections, including urinary tract infections (UTIs), bloodstream infections and pneumonia.

"Importantly, this gene works with other resistance genes to achieve resistance at a level greater than the highest antibiotic concentrations that we can achieve during treatment.

"So we're going to have to rethink our treatment plan, and strive to create antibiotics that can tackle these infections in spite of this antibiotic resistance mechanism."

The findings have given the team the first clues to explain how antibiotic-resistant E. coli ST131 has emerged and spread so quickly around the world.

E. coli causes more than 150 million infections each year, primarily urinary tract infections (UTIs).

It's also one of the most common causes of sepsis, a disease that kills around 11 million people every year.

Now researchers' sights are set on creating better treatments to stop E. coli ST131 infections in their tracks.

"We've lost a critical part of our armoury to treat UTI and sepsis, but there's still hope," Professor Schembri said.

"Now that we understand the impact of this plasmid-mediated antibiotic resistance gene, we can devise more tailored treatment strategies.

"These might include new combinations of antibiotics, or even alternative non-antibiotic drugs that block E. coli ST131 infection."

Study lead author, Dr Minh-Duy Phan, said this information could also be used to more efficiently track emerging resistance against critical last-line antibiotics.

"Resistance against antibiotics like carbapenems and polymyxins is emerging rapidly in some parts of the world, and we found the fluoroquinolone resistance gene we characterised in our study is often linked to such resistance," Dr Phan said.

"Evolution has provided E. coli with this gene, but I'm confident that human ingenuity can still prevail against this deadly bacterium."

Minh-Duy Phan, Kate M. Peters, Laura Alvarez Fraga, Steven C. Wallis, Steven Hancock, Nguyen Thi Khanh Nhu, Brian Forde, Michelle J. Bauer, David L. Paterson, Scott A Beatson, Jeffrey Lipman, Mark A. Schembri. Plasmid-mediated ciprofloxacin resistance imparts a selective advantage on Escherichia coli ST131. Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, 2021; DOI: 10.1128/aac.02146-21

One in five future thyroid cancers linked to excess weight

Avoiding excess weight, especially obesity, should be a priority for thyroid cancer prevention, the first study to evaluate future thyroid cancer burden in Australia has found.

The world-first study published in the International Journal of Cancer and led by Dr Maarit Laaksonen from UNSW's School of Mathematics and Statistics, found that one in five future thyroid cancers in Australia is attributable to current levels of overweight and obesity.

Dr Laaksonen, a senior lecturer in Data Science, says this is concerning as the prevalence of obesity in Australia has doubled during the last two decades, with 75 per cent of Australian men and 60 per cent of Australian women being overweight or obese.

"This finding translates to close to 10,000 thyroid cancers in the next 10 years," Dr Laaksonen says. "Obesity explains 75 per cent of this burden in Australia."

The main authority for cancer research, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, has concluded that body fatness is a causal risk factor of thyroid cancer.

But Dr Laaksonen says this is the first time a study has evaluated the thyroid cancer burden attributable to current levels of overweight and obesity and compared this burden by sex.

Thyroid cancer is one of the few cancers that is 2-3 times as common in women as in men, but Dr Laaksonen says the study found that the future thyroid cancer burden attributable to overweight/obese is higher for men compared with women.

Being overweight or obese explains two in five thyroid cancers in men, and one in 10 thyroid cancers in women.

"It is still not well understood what causes the sex difference in overweight/obesity-related thyroid cancer risk," Dr Laaksonen says.

"But our findings add evidence to the urgent need to halt and reverse the current global trend in weight gain, especially obesity and especially in men."
Dr Laaksonen says while this study defines what is linked to one in five thyroid cancers in Australia, it's not well understood what explains the remainder.

"Other lifestyle factors do not appear to be implicated but ionizing radiation exposure, iodine deficiency and some genetic factors and family history are known to increase the thyroid cancer risk. Thyroid cancer is a bit like prostate cancer that its risk factors are not yet very well understood."

The study findings were based on seven Australian cohort studies involving 370,000 participants, which enabled the evaluation of less common cancers such as thyroid cancer.

"We linked the data from these seven studies, which all ascertained the participants' Body Mass Index [BMI] at study baseline, with national cancer and death databases, which allowed us to estimate the strength of BMI-cancer and BMI-death associations during the follow-up," Dr Laaksonen says.

"We estimated up-to-date prevalence of overweight and obesity in the Australian population from the latest National Health Survey from 2017-2018, and then combined the strength of association and exposure prevalence estimates to estimate population attributable fractions [PAF].

The PAFs describe what fraction of future cancers at the population level is explained by current exposure. We did this by applying advanced PAF methods which I developed."

The advanced PAF methods allow for unbiased disease burden estimates, as well as for the comparison of preventable disease burden by population subgroups in the study. "These methods require access to large cohort data," Dr Laaksonen says.

As prevalence of overweight/obesity is higher in men than women it adds to the sex difference in thyroid cancer burden.

"Finally, we multiplied the PAF estimates by the projected numbers of thyroid cancers in the next ten years (2021-2030) to get the absolute numbers of thyroid cancers that are expected to occur due to body fatness," Dr Laaksonen says.

The aim of the project, which was jointly funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Cancer Institute NSW, was to evaluate for the first time preventable future burden of cancer in Australia and its determinants.

The team involved in this study includes collaborators and representatives of the seven cohort studies on which the study was based on.

They are from various Australian universities, institutes and Cancer Councils.

Dr Laaksonen has previously published findings on preventable lung, colorectal, breast, endometrial, ovarian, pancreatic, kidney, bladder and head and neck cancers.

The data scientist is a member of an international team that has recently received a $550,000 grant from the World Cancer Research Fund to expand the cancer burden analyses internationally.

"This grant is a fantastic opportunity to use my methods to inform global cancer control. Our collaboration includes experts at Cancer Council Victoria, University of Melbourne, University of New South Wales and Harvard University," she says.

Her next steps include a study on the preventable burden of stomach and oesophageal cancers, and a summary paper on preventable cancer burden in Australia across all cancers.

Maarit A. Laaksonen, Robert J. MacInnis, Karen Canfell, Jonathan E. Shaw, Dianna J. Magliano, Emily Banks, Graham G. Giles, Julie E. Byles, Tiffany K. Gill, Paul Mitchell, Vasant Hirani, Robert G. Cumming, Claire M. Vajdic. Thyroid cancers potentially preventable by reducing overweight and obesity in Australia: a pooled cohort study. International Journal of Cancer, 2021; DOI: 10.1002/ijc.33889

Epstein-Barr virus may be leading cause of multiple sclerosis

January 13, 2022
Multiple sclerosis (MS), a progressive disease that affects 2.8 million people worldwide and for which there is no definitive cure, is likely caused by infection with the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), according to a study led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researchers.

Their findings were published online in Science on January 13, 2022.

"The hypothesis that EBV causes MS has been investigated by our group and others for several years, but this is the first study providing compelling evidence of causality," said Alberto Ascherio, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard Chan School and senior author of the study. "This is a big step because it suggests that most MS cases could be prevented by stopping EBV infection, and that targeting EBV could lead to the discovery of a cure for MS."

MS is a chronic inflammatory disease of the central nervous system that attacks the myelin sheaths protecting neurons in the brain and spinal cord. Its cause is not known, yet one of the top suspects is EBV, a herpes virus that can cause infectious mononucleosis and establishes a latent, lifelong infection of the host. Establishing a causal relationship between the virus and the disease has been difficult because EBV infects approximately 95% of adults, MS is a relatively rare disease, and the onset of MS symptoms begins about ten years after EBV infection. To determine the connection between EBV and MS, the researchers conducted a study among more than 10 million young adults on active duty in the U.S. military and identified 955 who were diagnosed with MS during their period of service.

The team analysed serum samples taken biennially by the military and determined the soldiers' EBV status at time of first sample and the relationship between EBV infection and MS onset during the period of active duty. In this cohort, the risk of MS increased 32-fold after infection with EBV but was unchanged after infection with other viruses. Serum levels of neurofilament light chain, a biomarker of the nerve degeneration typical in MS, increased only after EBV infection. The findings cannot be explained by any known risk factor for MS and suggest EBV as the leading cause of MS.

Ascherio says that the delay between EBV infection and the onset of MS may be partially due the disease's symptoms being undetected during the earliest stages and partially due to the evolving relationship between EBV and the host's immune system, which is repeatedly stimulated whenever latent virus reactivates.

"Currently there is no way to effectively prevent or treat EBV infection, but an EBV vaccine or targeting the virus with EBV-specific antiviral drugs could ultimately prevent or cure MS," said Ascherio.

Other Harvard Chan School researchers who contributed to this study include Kjetil Bjornevik, Marianna Cortese, Michael Mina, and Kassandra Munger.

Funding for this study came the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health (NS046635, NS042194, and NS103891), the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (PP-1912-35234), the German Research Foundation (CO 2129/ 1-1), the National Institutes of Health (DP5- OD028145), and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Kjetil Bjornevik, Marianna Cortese, Brian C. Healy, Jens Kuhle, Michael J. Mina, Yumei Leng, Stephen J. Elledge, David W. Niebuhr, Ann I. Scher, Kassandra L. Munger, Alberto Ascherio. Longitudinal analysis reveals high prevalence of Epstein-Barr virus associated with multiple sclerosis. Science, 2022 DOI: 10.1126/science.abj8222

Who are the ‘Original Sovereigns’ who were camped out at Old Parliament House and what are their aims?

Toni Hassan, Charles Sturt University

The politics swirling around Canberra’s Aboriginal Tent Embassy – set up on the lawns opposite Old Parliament House 50 years ago – have always been complex.

These politics got more layered this summer when protesters not formally connected to the embassy – people calling themselves the Original Sovereigns – defaced and allegedly set fire to the main entrance of Old Parliament House.

The Original Sovereigns come out of the so-called Original Sovereign Tribal Nation Federation (OSTNF) in Australia. The Federation blends with and borrows from the global Sovereign Citizens (SovCits) movement.

Indigenous custodians of the Canberra region have rejected any connection to the Original Sovereigns, embarrassed and upset by what they see as a lack of respect shown by the interstate visitors to the capital.

From mid-December the Original Sovereigns set up a camp they called Muckudda (interpreted as “storm coming”) near but separate from the Aboriginal Tent Embassy.

They took their protest to the gates of Government House on Tuesday, led by a spokesperson, Indigenous activist Bruce “Buddy” Shillingsworth Jnr. On Thursday they went to Parliament House on Capital Hill, where they clashed with police.

On Friday, police began to dismantle the Muckudda camp. Shillingsworth Jnr was arrested and appeared in court charged with abetting arson related to the December 30 fire. He pleaded not guilty.

Twists on notions of sovereignty

Indigenous Australians have long asserted Aboriginal sovereignty was never ceded on the continent. However, ideas around sovereignty, statehood and self-government differ among First Nations peoples.

Sovereign citizens also assert the authority of the Australian state is illegitimate. Their reasons and interpretations of the law are often convoluted and conspiratorial.

According to US lawyer Caesar Kalinowski, the global movement has “no leader, no central repository for ideas, and no unifying collective mission, with most adherents gaining their information through nebulous webpages or YouTube videos”.

The movement, which originated among farmers in the US midwest, has ties to right-wing patriot or militia movements. SovCits members believe, among other things, that federal attempts to protect the environment and regulate gun ownership (and more recently mandate vaccines) interfere with their civil or constitutional liberties.

In Australia, the SovCits have tried to connect with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to gain the credibility that comes from assertions of Indigenous sovereignty.

Just how formally enmeshed members of the Original Sovereign Tribal Nation Federation are with the SovCits movement is unclear, likely made deliberately opaque by members, but they do adopt concepts and rhetoric from one another.

Both groups have deep suspicions of mainstream media and both employ similar tactics, such as targeting buildings that symbolise political power. Across the interconnected groups, there’s a fair amount of testosterone, anger and ego.

There are regular lived-streamed forums bringing together Indigenous and non-Indigenous people involved with the now dismantled Muckudda Camp. When followers have questioned the group’s aims, organisers point to the actions of the Yidindji Tribal Nation in Northern Queensland. This group has renounced legal ties with the Commonwealth and began a process from 2014 to secede from Australia. Yidinji has its own ministers, identity cards and law enforcement agency.

But the so-called Original Sovereigns have little or nothing to do with current Tent Embassy caretakers. The embassy, which has had periods of latency since 1972, has been more active since 2000 as a vigil promoting First Nations sovereignty. It has a self-appointed committee, with its own power struggles and fundraising drives.

The embassy, which is included on the Commonwealth Heritage List, is a potent place where activists and subcultures of all kinds are drawn – a visible soapbox. Others go there because they are homeless.

Social media exchanges involving members connected to the Muckudda Camp continue to talk up plans to #TakeOldParliment, inspired by the Capitol Hill insurrection in Washington.

Ties to political conservatives

The Original Sovereign Tribal Federation was formed in 2010 by Mark McMurtrie (who also goes by the name Dunham Badi Jakamarra). McMurtrie claims Indigenous heritage and that he’s been initiated into Warlpiri Law of the Northern Territory.

The Federation’s website says it has a treaty with a “large number of tribes”. It aims to unite the “original society nationally” and “expose the fraud being conducted against the tribes on behalf of the Crown Corporation by its UK and Australian parliaments”.

In 2020, the Federation signed a memorandum of understanding with the fledgling Great Australian Party led by former One Nation senator Rod Culleton.

The Federation and the Great Australian Party declared in a media release “the current state and federal governments of Australia are operating without license”.

Members of the Federation have also been pursued by Australia’s largest anti-vaccine lobby group, Reignite Democracy Australia; a crowd shown to back the United Australia Party’s Craig Kelly and Clive Palmer.

The Federation has set itself up in opposition to an older, more coherent and scholarly movement of First Nations activists called the Sovereign Union.

The Sovereign Union was organised by Ghillar Michael Anderson, an Euahlayi elder from Goodooga in northwest New South Wales. Anderson is the only surviving member of the group that put up the umbrella as the original Tent Embassy. He has a law degree and was once an adviser on First Nations treaties to Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser.

Anderson has spent many years trying to unite Indigenous nations, working with volunteers and advisers to essentially try and work out how to “put Aboriginal law on top of Australian law”. He puts forward shire councils as a model for what could be done, and promotes the idea of dual citizenship, not secession.

Anderson won’t openly criticise those people drawn to the “Muckudda” resistance camp at Old Parliament House. He told me he has more concern for what he calls “too many conservative blacks who think these [white] fellahs will give us what we want”.

Future reckoning?

What has panned out in the Tent Embassy precinct in December and January is not black and white.

The destruction to Old Parliament House has added to the mistrust among the pro-sovereignty parties in the Canberra parliamentary zone.

There were plans to “take Old Parliament house” over the weekend, but after Friday’s eviction of the Muckudda Camp, the protest seemed to fizzle out.

Tensions could continue to worsen during commemorative events planned for the 50th anniversary of the Tent Embassy around January 26. In a sign of the new anxieties, the embassy’s caretakers have insisted people who are planning to camp must formally register.

Whatever happens in the midst of a pandemic, the program will rely on the police to keep the peace.The Conversation

Toni Hassan, Adjunct research fellow, Charles Sturt University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Sportswashing: how mining and energy companies sponsor your favourite sports to help clean up their image

Robin Canniford, The University of Melbourne and Tim Hill, University of Bath

Fossil fuel and carbon-intensive industries have an image problem. As awareness of their environmental impact grows, energy and mining companies in particular are desperate to maintain control over spiralling levels of public esteem.

For decades, greenwashing has been a go-to tactic for companies seeking to mask their damaging effects on natural environments, and governments across the world have begun to legislate against it.

Nevertheless, another more subtle practice remains in the marketing toolkit: sportswashing. By sponsoring sporting teams or events, organisations harness the positive impacts of sport to wash off negative associations with problems such as environmental degradation and human rights abuses.

In Australia, mining and energy companies often partner with sporting organisations from the grassroots to the elite level. As our research has shown, sports sponsorship is a powerful way to channel the energy of sporting “atmospheres” into brands, diverting attention from firms’ roles in furthering climate change.

So as Australia clinches another Ashes series, let’s take a closer look at how official partners such as Alinta Energy can benefit from sponsoring sporting events.

How does sportswashing work?

Sporting events have long been a site to exert “soft power”. Countries that host the Olympics or the FIFA World Cup, for example, are able to challenge negative global images. Take Qatar: in the lead up to this year’s FIFA World Cup, the nation has taken opportunities to reshape its reputation on a number of issues including human rights.

Sports sponsorship can serve similar purposes for businesses. Mining and energy giants such as Adani, Rio Tinto, Origin, and Woodside all sponsor sports teams and leagues from local to international levels of sport.

Our research shows when companies sponsor sport events, their brands become associated with atmospheres: intense experiences of shared emotion. Over time, sports fans come to associate sponsors’ logos and names with these experiences such that sponsors’ brands become stores of this emotional energy, rather like batteries.

This benefits companies because when people feel emotions in relation to a brand, they’re more likely to remember that brand and become loyal customers. Simultaneously, these positive emotional associations can distract from companies’ problematic connections to a range of issues including climate change and pollution.

Is the tide turning against sportswashing?

In 2021 a critical report found more than 250 advertising and sponsorship deals between corporate polluters, and leading sports teams and organisations around the world.

The report, by the New Weather Institute, implicated a range of Australian sports events and leagues including the Australian Football League, Australian Baseball League, and the 2021 Australian Tennis Open.

Some condemned the Australian Open for accepting gas giant Santos as an “official natural gas partner”. And last year Comms Declare, an advertising and marketing industry body, said the decision was at odds with Tennis Australia’s commitment to the United Nations Sports for Climate Action Framework.

Surf Life Saving Australia has also been criticised for accepting sponsorship from petrol supplier Ampol, not least because the fossil fuel industry threatens the very coastal environments that surf lifesaving calls home.

Sportspeople are joining these critical voices, too. Former Australian rugby captain and conservationist David Pocock last year criticised Rugby Australia’s decision to accept Santos as the Wallabies’ major sponsor, likening it to tobacco company sport sponsorship in the 1980s.

What does this mean for sport sponsorships?

As awareness of sportswashing grows, we think sponsorship deals are likely to generate increasing scrutiny from consumers, investors, and from other companies. This will have big implications for companies whose sponsoring partnerships are perceived as sportswashing.

In recent years, sports fans have protested against the owners of sports teams, as well as event organisers, for a range of issues. Research shows that activism can damage revenue and share prices for companies.

More generally, by creating negative media publicity and government attention, sports activism can undo the intended benefits of sponsorship, further damaging brand images.

In some cases, activists have been able to demand policy u-turns. For example, Liverpool FC supporters forced owners to scrap ticket price rises and issue an apology. Whether activists can bring about change in environmental sportswashing remains to be seen.

Nevertheless, it may be time for sports governing bodies, owners and event managers to reconsider contributions from environmentally unsustainable companies. Such sponsorship is at odds with the the cultural value of sporting events and the benefits sport brings to all levels of society.The Conversation

Robin Canniford, Department of Management & Marketing, The University of Melbourne and Tim Hill, Lecturer in Marketing, University of Bath

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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