Tuberculosis: the forgotten pandemic!

Every year March 24 marks World Tuberculosis (TB) Day and this year the theme is ‘Invest to End TB. Save lives’. In this blog, Professor Sanjib Bhakta, Professor of Molecular Microbiology and Biochemistry, discusses the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on TB, why this is so alarming, and how research at the Mycobacteria Research Laboratory of the Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology (ISMB) at Birkbeck is making a difference. 

Professor Sanjib Bhakta’s research group at the World Tuberculosis Day Keynote lecture at the Infectious Diseases conference

World Tuberculosis (TB) Day is a significant and meaningful day to highlight public awareness of TB around the world. TB is typically a respiratory infection caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The causal bacterial pathogens are spread via droplets and primarily infect the lungs. However, TB can infect any part of the body and can cause infection that spreads throughout the systems of the body.  

More than a quarter of the global population (approximately 2 billion) are infected with M. tuberculosis, with approximately 10% regularly developing into active TB, increased by risk factors such as HIV, smoking, diabetes and malnutrition. It is estimated that by 2050, drug resistant TB will be responsible for 2.6 million deaths a year.  

COVID-19 has greatly impacted the available services, treatment and diagnosis of TB, disrupting ongoing progress towards combating the disease1. Co-infection of COVID-19 and TB resulting in more severe disease and higher death rates have been reported among this population. Improved preventative measures, such as vaccines, rapid diagnosis and new drugs are in dire need to bring this pathogen under control.  

In order to tackle this forgotten pandemic effectively, strong global interdisciplinary partnerships, community engagement and antimicrobial stewardship are crucial. We, at Mycobacteria Research Laboratory, have participated in many key multi-centred research activities and public engagements in an effort to highlight community awareness on TB and antibiotic resistance. These include: 

  1. As active members of the British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, we have played roles as “Antibiotic Action Champion” and/or “Antibiotic Guardian” 
  2. We have partnered with the “Joi Hok” charity in Kolkata, India to reach out to local and global school children on various science and art based public engagement projects to raise public awareness on TB and anti-microbial resistance (AMR) in TB and the project won the Microbiology Society Outreach Prize in 2020.
  3. We aim to validate new therapeutic targets for new anti-TB drug design3. In addition, our research has identified the prospect of repurposing non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reverse the AMR in TB4
  4. Recently, we have received a Birkbeck-Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund (ISSF) Translational Research Award to fund our investigation on repurposing NSAIDs to tackle TB. In our research group World TB Day public awareness poster this year and World TB Day Keynote lecture at the Infectious Diseases conference (23 and 24 March 2022) in London, we will be highlighting our interdisciplinary approaches to tackle antimicrobial resistance in TB.    

Our international biotechnology partner, Dr Parvinder Kaur, Principal Scientist of the Foundation for Neglected Disease Research, said: “FNDR, India, is a not-for-profit biotech organization working to discover and develop novel drugs for various infectious diseases that have a high socio-economic impact. FNDR’s clinical drug candidate, TBA-7371, is currently undergoing Phase-2 clinical trial focusing on drug-resistant TB. Our collaborative efforts with Professor Bhakta’s Mycobacteria Research Laboratory at the Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology include TB drug development support and knowledge exchange to facilitate translational aspects of TB research.”  

Key References: [1] WHO, Tuberculosis deaths rise for the first time in more than a decade due to the COVID-19 pandemic, (2021) [2] Microbiology Society, Members Sreyashi Basu and Sanjib Bhakta win the 2020 Microbiology Outreach Prize (2020) [3] Maitra, A., et al., FEMS Microbiology Reviews, 43 (5) 548–575 (2019) [4] Maitra, A et al., Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, 75 (11) 3194–3201 (2020)  

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In their own words: tips from our Cheveners

With interviews for the prestigious Chevening Scholarship currently underway in embassies and British High Commissions around the world, Birkbeck’s 2021 Cheveners share their experience applying for the prestigious UK government scholarship and offer tips for the interview.

photo of the 2021 Chevening scholars

Birkbeck’s Chevening cohort, 2021

  • The best advice is to read your essays and try to tell them to different people who can ask you more about them. You have to be very sure about what you want to tell, about your story. This is the most important thing.Adriana Marcela del Aguila Panduro, Peru

  • I read up on everything I could find about Chevening itself, then went on to read up about some of the alumni to get a sense of the calibre of people associated with Chevening. Then I thought critically of what I intend on doing with my life after the opportunity with the skills and qualifications if I were to be a successful awardee. Simphiwe Madlanga, South Africa

    photo of Chevening scholar Maria Laura Zerain

    Maria Laura Zerain by the Thames

  • The best advice I can give to applicants for the interview process is to practice in front of a mirror to be able to have good body language and above all feel and trust the content of their essays since this will allow them to flow when answering the questions.Maria Laura Zerain, Bolivia

photo of NIna Perunovic, Montenegro

Nina Perunovic, Montenegro

      In my interview I highlighted a few things:

  • Why I chose the course: before applying I carefully went through module descriptions, CVs of the professors and expected learning outcomes. Also, it is important to pay attention where a knowledge of particular modules can be applied.
  • I described why I chose a specific university (Birkbeck, University of London) by pointing out the benefits of studying there including the broad range of international students, the benefits and flexibility of evening classes, the high percentage of working professionals, convenient and attractive location etc. It is just as important as the program itself.
  • I also wanted to outline what I will be doing both with respect to short term and long-term goals. In addition, I wanted to express my interest on why I am passionate about the program I chose. I concluded by highlighting the commitment to my community and my country after I return. Additionally, my advice would be…
  • Demonstrate sincere passion for your chosen program. Passion is the only thing you cannot fake. At the end that is difference between having a job and having a career.
  • Be honest and humble about long term goals and your contribution to the community. Do not despise small beginnings because “a journey of thousands of miles begins with a single step.” – Nina Perunovic, Montenegro

    When I was applying for Chevening, I talked to former alumni
    . Some said it was a very complex process but simple.
  • I remember doing visualisation meditation thirty minutes before my interview.
  • My Number one tip would be to hug yourself, because you have already done a really good job.
  • Second, for the interview, I created a folder and named it ‘Practice, practice, practice and be spontaneous.’ So, be ready for the questions, but during the interview go with the flow.
  • Number three, do as many mock interviews as you can. Ask your family members, friends and even pets to listen to your thoughtful plans about the future and country.
    Khatuna Goguadze, Georgia  

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Sunday 20 March is International Happiness Day- no, that’s not a joke!

As the United Nations releases its 10th annual  World Happiness Report—just days ahead of the annual International Day of Happiness , Dr David Tross, Associate Lecturer in the Department of Geography, considers how our age, actions and attitudes matter in times of adversity. 

happy couple laughing

Given the bleak news cycle of the last few years, it might seem jarring to think about happiness. But conditions of adversity (not extreme adversities like death or war) can tell us a lot about happiness, not only about coping in difficult times but also about creatively responding, becoming more conscious of the lives of others, and re-evaluating our own lives.  

Take one example. In the summer of 2020, the Office for National Statistic’s survey of the national mood reported that almost half of its respondents had identified some positive benefits of lockdown. One was work-related: not having to commute and spend long hours in the office. Other benefits were spending more time with family (particularly quality time with children), appreciating a slower pace of life and connecting with the natural environment. One of my research subjects (a cohort of older people writing for the Mass Observation Project) described lockdown as ‘the longest and best holiday I have ever had’. 

We probably shouldn’t be surprised. Many activities that research studies have shown to be associated with happiness – loving relationships, achieving things, the arts, nature, doing things for others – were still possible during lockdown. Volunteering is another. “For me”, says Karl Wilding, then CEO of the National Council of Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), “COVID demonstrated that people want to be part of something bigger”. Not only did the 3 million plus people involved in COVID mutual aid groups constitute what the NCVO called ‘the largest peacetime mobilisation in British history’, there was a demonstrable uplift in what might be termed ‘community spirit’: more people felt that others were helping one another, they were more confident that others would help them if needed, and they were checking on neighbours far more than normal. Maybe Nietzsche was right when he suggested that human societies ‘build their cities on the slopes of Vesuvius’.  This resilience may be testament to a key phenomenon identified decades ago by happiness researchers — the extraordinary ability of people to adapt to changes in circumstances and shift their expectations to whatever the ‘new normal’ might be. So it was with lockdown. People adapted, found alternative ways to pass the time and got on with things. Indeed, a more general point is that research into how ordinary people think about happiness reveals a fairly ‘stoic’ attitude with regards to personal expectations; the good and bad in life intermingle, and fantasies of everlasting happiness are just that. As another research subject wrote, ‘I think that the troubles of life have to be experienced in order to realise when you are happy’.

In happiness terms then, actions and attitudes matter in times of adversity. During COVID, age was another intriguing factor.

One seemingly paradoxical theme emerging about the impact of the pandemic: despite being more vulnerable to dying or being hospitalised by Covid-19, older people’s wellbeing seemed less affected than that of other age groups. The main losers? Young people, whose self-reported anxiety and depression tripled. To be sure, lifestyle didn’t change as much for most older people. Job security doesn’t concern most retirees. It also helped if you lived in comfortable housing and had your own garden. In this sense, the pandemic has only served to highlight pre-existing social inequalities.  

But it’s all very well coping, what about the core theme in happiness research of the importance of a life imbued with meaning and purpose — what of the plans delayed, the adventures stalled? It was noticeable in my research how narratives of happiness lacked the ‘elevating’ characteristics of really joyful and fulfilling experiences you normally would find – the social celebrations, cultural excursions, the stimulus of the new, the communal rituals. However, for some at least, the dutiful social obligations of lockdown life, the small acts of protecting others as well as oneself, were ways of satisfying a sense of meaning through the idea that individual behaviours were ones directly connected to the public good, and that what any given person did, actually mattered. That’s not a bad happiness prescription.  

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From finding Birkbeck on an alumni profile to studying and working in the UK

A self-taught software developer, BSc Computing student Peace Onyehanere, shares the details of life as an international student at Birkbeck and how she marries part-time work and studies. 

Peace Onyehanere by her bike

Can you tell us about your background? 
I am a self-taught software developer studying at Birkbeck to get a degree in Computing. Before joining Birkbeck, I did a diploma in Computing, and I worked as a software developer in Nigeria. 

How did you hear about Birkbeck?  
I found Birkbeck from an alumni’s LinkedIn profile. I got curious and did some research about studying at Birkbeck. I decided to choose Birkbeck as my first choice as I liked the evening studies, and I also had the best experience reaching out to lecturers for my course to ask questions. 

What is it like living in London?  
I watched a couple of YouTube videos on living in London and transportation in London so the first time I had to take public transport, I thankfully did not get lost. Google maps also came in handy. I always made sure to ask the driver when I got on the bus to be sure I am on the right bus. I shop at cheap supermarkets to save some money. There has not been any lockdown since I started studying. But there have been more cases of Covid-19 and new variants at the end of term one. I then had my classes online and I have enjoyed it.  

Peace Onyehanere at her desk

Can you tell us about your studies?   
I have honestly enjoyed online teaching over in-person teaching. With virtual learning, the classes are recorded, and you can refer back to it after the class. There are also reading material and pre-recorded videos you can go through before the class. Each of the courses I have studied so far have been three hours long. But we do have breaks in between the class. There is also a support class provided on weekends where you can ask more questions and get help. 

How is a typical day for you? 
I work as a Frontend developer at a FinTech company. I started job hunting before moving to the UK. I got a couple of offers before arriving, but I got the offer for the company I currently work at while in the UK. A typical day for me starts with work and ends with a lecture if I have one that day. As I work from home, I don’t have to go out. I try to go out and explore my environment, but I am mostly indoors all day. 

Have you used any of BBK support services?  
I have followed Birkbeck Futures and attended the last event organised. I have also had the opportunity to be mentored via the Mentorship program. 

What have you found most challenging about your time in the UK so far? 
I have had a great time in the UK. The one thing I have found challenging is the weather and the short days. I look forward to a great time at Birkbeck and meeting more people. 

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What is data analytics and how can it help your business?

Paul Yoo smiling for the camera.

With the surge of data volume and processing requirements, the need to understand data analytics is ever-rising.

Dr Paul Yoo, Deputy Director of the Birkbeck Institute for Data Analytics, shares how businesses can harness big data to improve their services.

What is data analytics?

Data analytics is the process of using data to solve problems. It addresses challenges relating to converting unstructured, complex, large-scale data into useful and actionable information.

Data analytics tools help in the data analytics processes, from loading data to transformation, model optimisation and deployment. Data analytics uses various tools for the analysis of unstructured, complex data, including images, texts, and graphs.

How can businesses use data analytics to improve their performance?

Many industries are involved in business data analytics applications in areas such as marketing, revenue forecasting, manufacturing, fraud detection and more. Data analytics can answer questions that help businesses by measuring marketing and advertising metrics, identifying consumer behaviour and the target audience, and analysing market trends.

At the Birkbeck Institute for Data Analytics (BIDA), we have recently helped one of the largest semiconductor manufacturing companies in Asia in designing new sensors using advanced data analytic techniques for simultaneous fault detection in semiconductor wafer manufacturing. The current technologies for semiconductor manufacturing fault detection use the big raw data (streamed by over 40K sensors implanted around their fabrication processes). As the semiconductor wafers can only be validated after fab out (when the wafers are completed with processing) which usually takes about thirty days, there was a pressing need for a rapid fault diagnosis of the cause. The newly developed sensors using advanced data analytics techniques helped maintain high process yield while minimising tool downtime in semiconductor manufacturing.

Where can I learn more about data analytics?

BIDA offers free AI and data analytics training and engagement services for business. Our AI and data analytics clinic can help you to implement AI models and data analytic solutions specific to your industry, be it banking and finance, automotive, healthcare, or any other niche.

The clinic also provides ongoing opportunities to network, gain information and seek expert advice in areas of AI and data analytics. BIDA’s training portfolio actively targets industry players across a variety of sectors that would benefit from new insights gained using data analytics techniques.

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Final chapter for the public library?

MSc Public Policy and Management student Laurie Sanderson examines the future of the public library.

The slogan, “information wants to be free”, might have come from the 1980’s US hacking scene in the early days of the internet, but it could just as easily be applied to the UK’s 1850 Public Libraries Act, which gave local authorities powers to establish free public libraries in response to a rising wave of civic unrest and working class demands for social, political and economic rights.

Described by Andrew Carnegie as “cradle(s) of democracy”, public libraries were seen as institutions which would not just improve literacy, but foster a sense of citizenship.

In recent years, the UK’s public library system has seen a steady decline in visits. Between 2005 and 2018, the numbers of visitors to public libraries dropped from 48.2% to 32.7% (unlike museums and galleries, which overtook libraries in 2008 and have remained relatively stable since 2012).

Graph showing percentage of UK adults visiting public libraries and museums from 2005-2017

Whilst that decline predates austerity, cuts to local government funding since 2010 have inevitably led to tough choices about which services to prioritize. Between 2010 and 2019, around 773 libraries closed, and spending on the service declined from £1bn to £750 million according to CIPFA.

Around 65% of public libraries are located on, or near, high streets – giving them an undeniable presence at the heart of many of our communities. But so did Blockbuster, and that didn’t stop it being rendered obsolete by the internet. You can find almost any information you need online now. In 2004, the Economist wondered whether the public library would even be with us by 2020 – whilst that was premature, are we reaching the final chapter?

Graph showing library visits vs other UK attractions.We don’t know where the decline trajectory will lead, but libraries still have a sizeable audience. Before the coronavirus pandemic, in 2018/19, libraries had over 220 million visitors. That’s more people than visited all UK cinemas, the combined English and Scottish professional football leagues, and the UK’s top ten visitor attractions combined.[1] That isn’t an insignificant base to start from.

But are libraries still important? They certainly cater to a genuinely diverse audience. The latest DCMS figures show a broad cross-section of ethnicities visiting them (with people of Asian heritage the single largest group). Users are more likely to be women than men (36.7% of women visit, compared to 25% of men), and whilst employed users are more likely to be in higher managerial, administrative or professional than manual jobs (36.6% to 28%), they are also slightly more likely to be unemployed than employed (33.2% to 30.4%).

As a result, a growing school of thought has emerged stressing public libraries are essentialGraph showing library visits by ethnicity 2019-20. spaces within civil society for building cohesion between different groups.

They are places where people from all walks of life can come together and learn – from books and each other. In an age of fake news, culture wars and populism, that feels more important than ever.

So, if the public library isn’t dead yet, and there are powerful reasons for preserving it, what can we do to stem the decline?

A report carried out by Ipsos Mori and the Carnegie Trust in 2016 gives us some indications of improvements which would encourage more people to visit public libraries. Looking at England, the top three are better information about services, more events, and a café or coffee shop on site. Other popular measures include better online and IT services, longer opening hours, and a diversified range of activities and services.

Graph showing improvements that would encourage more users of libraries.

In other words, an improved (online and physical) offering, better facilities, and an increased emphasis on the library as a space for people to come together for events or to access services could revitalize the public library.

The good news is that we can find plenty of green shoots of innovation in the UK and beyond – from libraries digitizing services, merging with bookshops and cafes, and repurposing their spaces for everything from homeless shelters to film and karaoke clubs.[1] It’s too soon to write off the public library just yet.

[1] Public Libraries News, Ideas and innovations in public libraries, https://www.publiclibrariesnews.com/practitioners/ideas-and-innovations-in-public-libraries [Accessed 12 Jan 2022]

[1] Data – from various: https://www.espn.com/soccer/, https://www.statista.com/statistics/268598/premier-league-total-aggregate-attendance/, https://www.cipfa.org/about-cipfa/press-office/latest-press-releases/spend-on-british-libraries-drops-by-nearly-20m, https://www.cinemauk.org.uk/the-industry/facts-and-figures/uk-cinema-admissions-and-box-office/annual-admissions/, https://www.cinemauk.org.uk/the-industry/facts-and-figures/uk-cinema-admissions-and-box-office/annual-admissions/

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Farewell adultery: new divorce laws come into effect in April 2022 

Fifty years on since the introduction of the Divorce Reform Act, new laws coming into effect in the Spring will remove adultery as a basis for divorce. Daniel Monk, Professor of Law, discusses the history of the Act, seen as progressive for its time, and implications from the legal reform. 

Cover of book on Divorce Reform Act

Cover: Fifty Years of the Divorce Act 1969 (Hart/Bloomsbury)

On 6 April the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2021 will come into force. This long awaited statute repeals the Divorce Reform Act 1969 and sweeps away the final vestiges of matrimonial fault as a legal basis for divorce. For campaigners and family law practitioners this is a cause for celebration. The focusing on establishing adultery and detailing the ‘unreasonable’ behaviour of spouses exacerbated emotional distress and in practice had long become a ritualised often formulaic paper exercise. Removing the need to refer to individual conduct reflects not just that divorce has become far more socially acceptable but also that divorce is perceived as a right, as important as the human right to marry, a personal choice, a private matter. The decision of the Supreme Court in Owens v Owens in 2018, in which a wife’s petition for divorce was, exceptionally, defended by her husband and, even more surprisingly, rejected by the court, was, consequently, a shocking reminder of how out of step the law was with contemporary experiences and perceptions of divorce, and marriage. As such the Supreme Court judgement assisted in the path to reform, possibly intentionally.

But it is worthwhile remembering that the Divorce Reform Act 1969 was itself heralded as a progressive reform. Alongside the Sexual Offences Act 1967 and the Abortion Act 1967 it justifiably stands as a representative symbol of that permissive, increasingly secular, time. Of course, the history is more complex: all those landmark statutes were riddled with compromises.

The 1969 Act removed all references to ‘marital offences’ and ‘the guilty party’ and enshrined the principle that a divorce could be granted if the marriage had ‘broken down irretrievably’. But while it enabled this to be established by facts relating to separation and, radically, simply by consent of the parties, at the same time it repackaged earlier ‘offences’ of adultery, behaviour and desertion as ‘facts’ which could also be relied on to establish breakdown of a marriage.

In practice adultery and behaviour remained consistently popular ‘facts’ for divorce. There may be pragmatic reasons for this – it avoided delay and separation can sometimes be hard to establish – but it also suggests that for a large number of people attributing responsibility for the breakdown of a relationship was always more than simply a legal hurdle, but a way of validating a personal narrative or emotional truth. The social stigma attached to divorce has undoubtedly shifted, but far less, if at all, the investment in romantic ideals, conjugal coupledom and belief in the value of the making of a life-long commitment.

For many sexual fidelity remains key. Indeed, some gay and lesbian activists went so far as to complain that the law’s refusal to recognise adultery as a basis for ending same-sex marriages and civil partnerships was a form of unjust discrimination. This somewhat bizarre demand for the legal recognition of ‘same-sex adultery’ overlooked the haunting significance of ‘illegitimacy’ and gendered double standards inherent in the offence of adultery. But it demonstrates how malleable concepts are, how change and continuity go hand in hand: the commands of moral judgment morphing into desires for therapeutic justice.

Adultery has deep roots. Prior to 1937 it had been the sole basis for divorce, and double standards for husbands and wives were enshrined in the law. Going back further it is worth remembering that Protestant theological recognition of divorce was premised on a zealous belief in the importance of punishing adulterers and a withering scorn for Catholicism’s more pragmatic practises of formal separation and all too easily obtained annulments.

With Adultery soon to disappear from the statute books, family law students will no longer be required to read what must be some of the most prurient cases in the law. Confession: they were fun to teach. Adultery will live on in costume dramas – A Very British Scandal about the notorious divorce case Argyll v Argyll (1962) is the most recent example – and as an historical curiosity in countless plays and novels. But what impact, if any, will the legal reform have on spousal expectations and aspirations? Devoid of any legal scaffolding, what place will Adultery have in wider public consciousness?

One reason why it is hard to answer these questions is because of the deep-seated ambivalence about divorce per se. While no longer enveloped in theological sin or social disgrace, shame lingers on and is reinforced by the cruel notion of a ‘failed marriage’. Divorce as a problem is buttressed in more subtle ways by fashionable ‘psychological’ narratives that place increasing emphasis on ‘attachment disorders’ to explain relationship failure. Emotional truths may replace a legal truth in undertaking the autopsy of a marriage, but they are more, not less, judgmental. The endless retelling of the divorce of Charles and Diana is evidence of an appetite for the blame game – by observers as well as the parties – while the fact that in law their divorce was based on separation is overlooked.

The centrality of emotions and feelings in narratives of divorce also obscures other explanations. When statistics recently revealed an increase in divorces of spouses over 60, who had been married for over 30 years, few greeted this as, in part, a welcome indicator that for the first time for a significant number of women divorce was not just socially but an economically viable option. High rates of owner occupation in that age group may be a factor – unlikely to be reached again. It’s too often overlooked that decreases in divorce reflect economic as much as emotional realities and should be a cause for concern. ‘Is divorce good for women?’ has long been a question dividing feminist opinion. The 1969 Act was described by some as a ‘Casanova’s charter’ for husbands but by others as an essential tool of liberation.

Divorce reform has been a key way in which the institution of marriage has been reimagined and reinvented. But at the same time divorce has always been about more than the institution of marriage, rather a window into complex, unsettling and ambivalent personal and political stories about progress, desire, and commitment.

Fifty Years of the Divorce Act 1969 (Hart/Bloomsbury), edited by Joanna Miles, Daniel Monk and Rebecca Probert, was published yesterday. It presents a ‘life-story’ of the Act through the lens of history, law, literature, demography and sociology, and looking to the future suggests ways for evaluating what makes a ‘good’ divorce law.

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Turning Capitalism on its Axie

MSc Politics, Philosophy and Economics student Keir Dolan explains how a popular play-to-earn game is redefining work and creating financial freedom.

Also known as GameFi, play-to-earn (P2E) is a revolutionary video gaming format offering players the opportunity to create economic incentives out of their gaming experience.

Built on a blockchain backbone, vast virtual worlds are placed at the hands of intrepid players willing to commit their time and effort to these unique digitalised environments. “Games with real, player-owned economies will become places, where we live, work, and play – true digital nations,” writes Sky Mavis, better known as the team behind the #1 blockchain game and runaway success, Axie Infinity.

Dubbed a “digital pet universe”, Axie Infinity is a nonfungible token (NFT) game about breeding, collecting and fighting ‘Axies’ in order to procure Axie Infinity Shards (AXS) and Smooth Love Potion (SLP) tokens, which can then be exchanged for real money.

Propelled by growing mainstream interest in NFTs and the broader cryptocurrency sector, Axie Infinity has enjoyed a staggering rise to stardom over 2021.

User growth, or smart contract interactions by unique wallet addresses (UWA), expanded from a modest 700 daily AWA interactions in early February to 118,000 by early November 2021. On their website, Axie Infinity goes even further, claiming a record 3 million daily active players in January 2022; and USD 3.6 billion in total trade across the in-house marketplace (2018-22).

In October 2021, Sky Mavis announced that USD 152 million was raised in a Series B funding round, valuing the company at USD 3.0 billion – and the Axie player base stands to benefit considerably: “We give real stake in our products to our users”, promotes Sky Mavis on their website.

Not mere virtue signalling

Axie players are stakeholders in the business. By acquiring AXS tokens, the governance token, players gain voting rights and have a voice in the game’s development. Staking AXS tokens, by placing them into a funding pool, provides voting privileges and rewards players with AXS in return. This keeps the ecosystem secure and provides an economic incentive for the players to see the game succeed.

Current circulating supply of AXS is 60.9 million, worth USD 0.4 billion (January 2022). Total supply will reach 270 million over a 65-month unlock schedule – we’re at month fourteen. Sky Mavis holds about 30% of the supply, but plans to wind this down to 21% in order to decentralise the platform.

“Our goal…is to align the incentives between the players of the game and the developers”, states the company on their white paper.

Creating value in a video game is tricky business, particularly if your target demographic are savvy tech adults and your product comprises digitalised monsters in a fictitious universe. Moreover, the token assets, core to the game’s economic incentive, are subject to intense volatility – AXS witnessed an astronomical 800% surge from GBP 0.4 in January 2021 to GBP 118.30 in July, before a climb down of over half the token’s value to around GBP 45 in early January 2022; SLP can swing anywhere between 10-40% in a typical day-to-day session.

“Being at the bleeding edge of gaming and blockchain technology makes Axie Infinity particularly susceptible to volatility, from internal and external factors. We expect there will be significant highs and lows in the years to come…” says the company on their blog.

Future growth will be decided by the market of trust in the company’s objectives to continue to reinvest in the platform and adjust their ‘tokenomic’ strategy (token-economics) to the demands, swings and mechanics of the NFT-gaming market. Value, for Sky Mavis and Axie Infinity, is created in the key promise to players and developers; to remain a decentralised platform.

The democratised nature of Axie Infinity is helping to reshape the modern corporate governance, while simultaneously providing real financial opportunities for people who might otherwise fall through the cracks. In the Philippines, where national unemployment sits at around 18%, one rural community is reported to have escaped poverty by playing the game – even attracting the likes of a 66-year -old grandmother.

This potential for financial gain is spurring the development of community clusters around the globe, with most of these groups located in the Global South. At just over 40%, the Philippines comprises the largest portion of the Axie player base, followed by Venezuela and the US at 6.3% and 5.7% respectively.

Reported earnings of PHP10,000 (USD 206) per week may not be particularly enticing to Western players, but to Filipino players “It’s food on the table”, reports Coindesk in an interview with Gabby Dizon, a Filipino app developer.

As F. Hayek said of then-new book, Fatal Conceit, in 1984: “I don’t believe we shall ever have a good money again before we take the thing out of the hands of government, that is, we can’t take them violently out of the hands of government, all we can do is by some sly roundabout way introduce something they can’t stop.”

For a small company of 30 located exclusively in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Axie Infinity’s progress is a noteworthy achievement – “Economic freedom for gamers” adorns their Twitter handle followed by 850k worldwide.

Community-driven, player-focused and player-owned. Axie Infinity represents the core values of NFT gaming, seeking a strong, intimate relationship with its player base and a development community that the company predicts will be central to its progression in the years to come. The game provides an opportunity for those on the fringes of society to build capital in a new, innovative format that does not discriminate based on geographic location, ethnicity, religious orientation or gender. It may even offer those with debilitating disabilities or chronic illness an opportunity to create communities with others in a novel format, while simultaneously earning a living.

Can a mobile game redefine the rules of capitalism and even solve the riddle of the great Global North vs Global South divide? Quite possibly.

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Chinese New Year draws to a close

With Tuesday’s Lantern Festival bringing Chinese New Year 2022 to a close, MA History of Art student, Valerie Lee, from Malaysia shares her favourite aspects of the festival, including the culinary delights, and how being away from home did not take away any of her enthusiasm for the annual celebration.

Valerie Lee photo for Chinese New Year

It doesn’t feel the same being away from home especially on the most important Chinese festival, the Lunar New Year. Together with friends and relatives living in London, we welcome the Year of the Tiger with a reunion dinner on New Year’s Eve.

Guests who arrive at our home are welcome to have some snacks that we’ve prepared on the table, such as pineapple tart, kuih kapit, peanut cookies, and so on while chatting to catch up on our lives.

We start our meal with a Yusheng, also known as Prosperity Toss, 捞生 (lo shang), a dish that originated from Seremban, Malaysia in the 1940s. It normally includes raw fish (occasionally salmon) strips combined with shredded vegetables, as well as a variety of sauces and seasonings. Yúshēng (魚生) means “raw fish,” but it was regarded as a homophone for Yúshēng (余升), which signifies an increase in abundance. We stood around the table, chopsticks in hand, tossing the dish into the air while saying “auspicious wishes” aloud, believing that the height of the toss reflected our growth in fortunes.

We also prepared Poon Choi, 盆菜 (Pen Cai), which means “basin cuisine” or “big bowl feast”. Poon Choi is traditionally packed with overflowing ingredients to represent wealth and prosperity. The number of ingredients that may be added is limitless. Roast beef, dried mushrooms, prawns, abalone, fish maw, broccoli, yam, and other ingredients are common.

After our dinner, children or the unmarried will received red packets, 红包 (hong bao) from married couples. The red colour of the envelope represents good luck and serves as protection against evil spirits. It’s also given when someone comes to visit as a token of appreciation.

Although we are staying in London, we will carry out the traditions to make ourselves feel at home during this festive spring. We would like to wish all of you a happy and prosperous Chinese New Year. May you and your family have happiness, good health, and success all year!

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Decoupling coal from India must keep climate justice in mind

MSc Politics, Philosophy and Economics student Sonia Joshi argues that the western approach to
addressing climate change is far from equal.

COP26 ended with more of a whimper than a bang. Last minute changes proposed by India and backed by other coal-emitting countries requesting the ‘phase out of unabated coal power’ to be changed to ‘phase down’ were considered a dilution of already wavering commitments. The International Energy Agency recently reported that in 2021 the world consumed more coal-fired electricity than ever before. India is the second largest global emitter of CO2 from coal whilst also suffering from the ravages of climate change, including a high susceptibility to deadly flooding, famines and air pollution.

As one of the biggest polluters and a country most at risk from the fallout of climate change, should and could India be doing more to phase out coal? The answer depends on how you frame the question.

Graph showing biggest coal CO2 emitters.

India has been hit hard after a COVID-19 induced recession with an additional 75 million people in poverty; cheap energy is essential for its recovery. India along with other emerging nations argue that the Global North’s rise in economic prosperity has been accelerated by its extraction and consumption of fossil fuels for over 200 years; according to a recent study, since 1850 in fair share terms the G8 countries (USA, EU28, Japan and Canada) have overshot their ‘carbon budget’, being responsible for 85% of aggregate carbon emissions despite only accounting for 12% of the global population.

Graph showing biggest CO2 emitters.

In contrast, India is in credit of 90 billion tonnes of CO2 or 34% of the total credit. When accounting for CO2 emissions per capita, the impact of wealthy nations on atmospheric CO2 is even more striking; Qatar takes the top spot, USA drops to 14th place and India falls to 134th. India’s per capita energy use is in fact extremely low; approximately one third of the global average, and one tenth of the USA average.

For now, India needs coal to help keep electricity flowing in an already resource-constricted population. Coal is necessary for 70% of its current electricity generation, with the State-owned Coal India Limited employing 21 million people. Despite this, a significant percentage of the 1.4 billion population still has no access to electricity. Fair share matters if the atmospheric commons have a finite capacity for CO2. With this calculation in mind, one could argue that members of the G8 such as the USA, one of the highest gross and per capita emitters, should be doing more to decelerate coal usage to buy time for other emerging nations to transition.

India is clear it needs to phase out coal; grass roots movements and labour organisations, including the 2 million strong National Hawkers Federation, regularly highlight the impacts of pollution on India’s cities and consistently call for a transition to renewable energy. However, a rapid decoupling from coal would not only leave millions in the dark but also create huge swathes of unemployment creating a political and humanitarian crisis.

Chart showing cumulative CO2 emissions 1750 - 2020.

An understanding of India’s predicament helps to shed light on how much progress was made by India in COP26 and how much more is needed. India’s government has pledged to reduce the carbon intensity of its economy by 45% and obtain half of its energy requirements from renewable sources by 2030. For India to participate in a green transition, it will need funding to help economic diversification, investment in improving efficient coal use, green technologies and distribution of infrastructure to roll out renewables such as solar panels. Industry restructuring could provide alternative, sustainable and ecological opportunities for employment outside of fossil fuel intensive industries, helping the economy and the people decouple from climate disasters.

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