science


Shipping CratesAccording to a new study just released in the current issue of Science, “over half a million shipments of wildlife containing >1.48 billion live animals have been imported by the United States since 2000…[and] the majority (92%) of imports were designated for commercial purposes, largely the pet trade.” Most of these imports were fish and species of coral, although all major groups of animals were imported.

That is a lot of animals; roughly 4.8 animals per person in the Unites States (estimated population in US is 304,000,000 according to Google)! Unfortunately, this study also found that a large number of these shipments did not contain the proper information to determine what exactly was being imported. According to this study, almost a third of the shipments were only labeled generically, using labels like “marine fish” or “live invertebrate.” This may be cause for concern, considering most of the imported animals were from wild populations in places like Southeast Asia, which has a high threshold of emerging diseases, which may be transmissible between animals and humans.

The authors of this study, including scientists from the Wildlife Trust, Brown University, Pacific Lutheran University, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Global Invasive Species Programme, suggest that new measures are needed to decrease the risk of new pathogen introduction and to protect not only people, but also local animals and the health of our ecosystem. Unfortunately, there is currently no national strategy, legislative authority, or funding devoted to oversight of the live wildlife trade to implement any changes, but this study recommends much more strict record keeping of imported animals, third-party surveillance of imports and testing of pathogens in imported animals, and better public education about the dangers of diseases that may be brought in to the country.

The CDC’s “Healthy Pets, Healthy People” Web site advises pet owners about zoonotic diseases associated with some wildlife, but not only do pet owners need to be more aware of what they are bringing into their homes. Pet stores, veterinarians, and animal advocates should also be more educated on the risks of imported wildlife and how possible diseases may effect their businesses.

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Duckweed may help clean up the planet!

Wouldn’t it be great to get rid of animal (and maybe even human) waste in an eco-friendly way while also producing energy to run our cars? This scenario may be closer than we think. Researchers at North Carolina State University presented data at the annual conference of the Institute of Biological Engineering in Santa Carla, Calif last month that may bring us closer to this goal.

A tiny aquatic plant, called duckweed, was used to clean up animal waste stored in “lagoons” on hog farms. Growing this plant on wastewater produces five to six times more starch per acre than corn and captures nutrients that would otherwise pollute the environment. The fast-growing, high-starch duckweed can then be converted into ethanol, just as is currently being done with corn.

This is good news for those who have been arguing against the environmental friendliness of using corn as a bio-fuel. Concerns with using corn in this capacity include land competition for food crops, groundwater depletion, soil erosion, algae blooms, and the formation of “dead zones” in waterways inundated with pesticide and fertilizer runoff. The use of duckweed may convent some, if not all, of these problems. Indeed, duckweed may even reduce the nutrient (fertilizer) load on farms.

Dr. Jay Cheng, a professor of biological and agricultural engineering at North Carolina State University, and Dr. Anne-Marie Stomp, associate professor of forestry at North Carolina State University, are planning on continuing their research by establishing a pilot-scale project to help establish a large-scale system for growing duckweed on animal wastewater, and then harvesting and drying the duckweed for ethanol production. Let’s just hope they can keep the duckweed from contaminating natural bodies of water!

adapted from a news release by North Carolina State University on EurekAlert!

bh-logoHi everyone! Again, sorry for the long delay in posting…I have recently been up to my eyeballs in work! I have also started posting on the Science and Technology Community BrightHub.com. Check out some of my recent posts regarding allergies and look for my new articles about what’s going on in cancer research. I will be working on posting here more often as well! In fact, I may try to post a new entry today!

Sorry it’s been so long since I posted anything on my blog! I have been busy with grad school stuff. I was also working on an online science magazine that came out in the beginning of November.  Check it out at http://www.students.emory.edu/sciencewriters/inscripto.php Another issue is due out in Feb.

I will start posting stories again here soon.

Imagine not being able to buy a new pair of pants or even shoes that fit. Imagine not being able to buy lunch today. Or yesterday and the day before.  Imagine not being able to feed your children. Is this poverty? To some, yes. To others it is just the beginning. Now envision not being able to take your infant for her first check up and vaccinations. Or not being able to pay $0.50 for medication to treat your children’s hookworm infection. All over the world, these problems are happening right now.

You may think, “what does poverty have to do with science and medicine?” But increases in poverty have been linked with many infectious diseases including hookworm infection, Chagas disease, malaria, and syphilis as well as other health problems such as obesity, diabetes, asthma, and dental disease.

Not only do these ailments exist mainly in poverty stricken areas, but these diseases actually promote the continuation of poverty. These diseases have numerous detrimental effects on pregnancy and healthy childbirth, the growth and development of children, and the productivity of adults. This vicious cycle of poverty and disease are close bedfellows and both need to be addressed to take a step towards eradicating poverty on a global scale.

If you search poverty and disease on pubmed, you come up with over 3,500 hits. Many researchers have shown correlations between poverty and health problems, and some are trying to do something about it. The Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases Control is a partnership formed in 2006 as the first ever global effort to combat these diseases. Working with the World Health Organization, these groups are trying to increase awareness of the problems associated with the injurious poverty-health cycle, as well as change how these problems are dealt with.

It is not enough just to treat the disease. Likewise, it is not enough just to improve sanitation and housing. In addition to these steps, which are already being done, education in destitute areas, monitoring for new outbreaks, and continuing research and development of vaccines to prevent instead of merely treat disease are crucially important.

sources include:

Hotez. Hookworm and Poverty. Ann N.Y. Acad Sci. 200825 Jul. 1136: 38-44

Hotez et al. Neglected Infections of Poverty in the United States of America. PLos Neglected Tropical Diseases 2(26): e 256

Vogt R. Evaluation of riske factors and a community intervention to increase control and treatment of asthma in a low income semi-rural California community. J Asthma. 2008 Sep; 45(7): 568.

Squassi A, et al. Reationship between oral health in children and poverty related factors. Acta Odontal Latinoam. 2008; 21(1): 49.

Hotez, et al. The anti-poverty vaccine. Vaccine. 2006 26 July 24(31-32); 5787.

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare – their child is hanging out with a group of delinquents! They are probably asking themselves why this is happening…

Florida State University criminologist Kevin M. Beaver may have an answer for them. According to a new study published in the Journal of Genetic Psychology, this may be genetic. A certain variation in a gene encoding the dopamine transporter gene, DAT1, may cause adolescents to seek out anti-social peers.

The dopamine transporter gene actually clears dopamine, an important “feel-good” neuro-transporter, from the brain. This chemical is part of our brain’s reward/motivation system and plays a role in drug addiction as some drugs (such as ecstasy) mimic dopamine and leave you feeling depressed once the high wears off. DAT1 variation seen in this study may cause lower levels of the protein to be expressed (see this paper), theoretically allowing for higher levels of dopamine.

Some good news from this study is that the association of this gene with the risky behavior is only seen in males with a “high-risk” family environment. So, being an active, positive participant in your child’s life is IMPORTANT to their happiness and well-being.

It has previously been suggested that abnormally high levels of dopamine can play a role in such conditions as ADHD, schizophrenia, and mania. This leads me to believe that there may be many reasons why kids with this problem may hang out with anti-social, delinquent peers and, perhaps, why parents that are actually paying attention to their children may help circumvent the problem.

I find this study interesting because it emphasizes the fact that both genetic AND environmental factors can and do play a role in our actions and in disease. I think it is very important for us to remember that often times there are multiple factors playing a role in every biological process, making things much more complicated to understand and treat.

Sara Davidson: Pleasant Dementia and Inner Peace | Newsweek Health for Life | Newsweek.com.

I read this article in Newsweek today. It was very interesting, and somewhat uplifting in a strange way. Sara Davidson chronicles her mother’s slide into dementia. Her mother turns into a very pleasant, in-the-moment type of person, with little anger towards her lack of memory.

“Pleasant Dementia” doesn’t turn up any articles in a very quick pubmed search, but this term has apparently generated a lot of interest since the Newsweek article went online. In the article, it is suggested that damage to the frontal lobes or the left hemisphere of the brain may cause this phenomena. Many people commenting on the story suggest that a frontal lobotomy may make dementia “easier” to accept…An interesting idea, but perhaps a bit hasty. I am curious to see if any researchers pick-up this line of research to delve deeper into why some people become “pleasantly” demented while most become angry and difficult to work with.

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