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Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Study shows how Ebola evolved during the outbreak in West Africa

Study shows how Ebola evolved during the outbreak in West Africa | Amazing Science |

The 2013–2015 Western African Ebola virus disease (EVD) epidemic, caused by the Ebola virus (EBOV) Makona variant (Kuhn et al., 2014), is the largest EVD outbreak to date, with 26,648 cases and 11,017 deaths documented as of May 8, 2015 (WHO, 2015). The outbreak, first declared in March 2014 in Guinea and traced back to the end of 2013 (Baize et al., 2014), has also devastated the neighboring countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia, with additional cases scattered across the globe. Never before has an EBOV variant been transmitted among humans for such a sustained period of time.

Published EBOV Makona genomes from clinical samples obtained early in the outbreak in Guinea (three patients) and Sierra Leone (78 patients) (Baize et al., 2014Gire et al., 2014) demonstrated that near-real-time sequencing could provide valuable information to researchers involved in the global outbreak response. Analysis of these genomes revealed that the outbreak likely originated from a single introduction into the human population in Guinea at the end of 2013 and was then sustained exclusively by human-to-human transmissions.

Genomic sequencing further allowed the identification of numerous mutations emerging in the EBOV Makona genome over time. As a consequence, the evolutionary rate of the Makona variant over the time span of the early phase of the outbreak could be estimated and predictions made about the potential of this new EBOV variant to escape current candidate vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics (Kugelman et al., 2015a).

While the insights gleaned from sequencing early in the outbreak informed public health efforts (Alizon et al., 2014Stadler et al., 2014Volz and Pond, 2014), the continued human-to-human spread of the virus raises questions about ongoing evolution and transmission of EBOV. Scientific teams in Sierra Leone, at Kenema (Kenema Government Hospital [KGH]) and at Bo (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]), continued to perform active diagnosis and surveillance in Sierra Leone following our initial study (Gire et al., 2014). After a 6-month delay of sample shipment due to regulatory uncertainty about inactivation protocols, they again began to determine EBOV genome sequences. They have sequenced samples at high depth and with technical replicates to characterize genetic diversity of EBOV both within (intrahost) and between (interhost) individuals. To support global outbreak termination efforts, the scientists publicly released these genomes prior to publication as they were generated, starting with a first set of 45 sequences in December 2014 and continuing with regular releases of hundreds of sequences through May 2015.

Now, they provide an analysis of 232 new, coding-complete EBOV Makona genomes from Sierra Leone. They  compared these genomes to 86 previously available genomes: 78 unique genomes from Sierra Leone (Gire et al., 2014), 3 genomes from Guinea (Baize et al., 2014), and 5 from healthcare workers infected in Sierra Leone and treated in Europe. They use this combined data set obtained from 318 EVD patients during the height of the epidemic in Sierra Leone and Guinea to better understand EBOV transmission within Sierra Leone and between countries. In addition, they use it to understand viral population dynamics within individual hosts, the impact of natural selection, and the characteristics of the now hundreds of new mutations that have emerged over the longer course of the epidemic.

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MRSA contamination found in supermarket sausages and minced pork

MRSA contamination found in supermarket sausages and minced pork | Amazing Science |

A survey carried out earlier this year has found the first evidence of the 'superbug' bacteria Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in sausages and minced pork obtained from supermarkets in the UK. However, researchers stress that this does not pose a significant immediate risk to the public.

In February, a team of researchers funded primarily by the Medical Research Council (MRC) bought and analyzed a total of 103 (52 pork and 51 chicken) pre-packaged fresh meat products, labelled as being of UK farm origin, from supermarkets in five different locations across in England.

All of the meat products were frozen at -20?°C and sent to the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge for testing. After thawing, researchers disinfected the exterior packaging before removing the meat. They then tested a 10g sample of meat from each packet and screened for MRSA. Two of the pork samples -- one from sausages, one from minced pork -- tested positive for MRSA; the sausage sample contained two strains of the bacteria.

In collaboration with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute an analysis of the genetic make-up of the bacteria and confirmed the presence of antibiotic resistant genes. The analysis showed that the bacteria belonged to a type of MRSA known as LA-MRSA CC398, which has emerged over the last few years in continental Europe, particularly in pigs and poultry, but was not previously believed to be widely distributed in the UK.

In many countries, LA-MRSA CC398 represents an occupational risk for those in close contact with livestock, particularly pigs and veal calves. Humans in contact with pigs (farm workers, abattoir workers and veterinarians, etc.) have significantly higher rates of the bacteria in their nasal carriage, according to epidemiological studies, for example. Other studies have revealed an association between clinical disease resulting from LA-MRSA CC398 infection and recent contact with pigs or pig farms. As with other MRSA, this type may be responsible for serious illness following wound or surgery site infections, although many people will carry MRSA on their skin or in their noses without showing signs of disease.

The researchers stress that adequate cooking (heating above 71°C) and hygienic precautions during food preparation should minimize the likelihood of transmission to humans via contaminated pork. However, they argue that the discovery of MRSA in pork identifies a potential way that the bacteria can spread from farms to the wider population.

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When a forest is burned, what comes back may not resemble what was lost

When a forest is burned, what comes back may not resemble what was lost | Amazing Science |
Chance plays a big role in forest regrowth

When a forest is burned or cut down and farmed temporarily, that land tends to undergo a series of changes. Some pioneer plants will quickly take hold, gradually changing the landscape—how much the ground is shaded and the soil composition—such that a new set of plants will thrive there. This in turn creates yet another set of conditions that eventually allows for the return of the forest.

For a long time, ecologists have thought this process, called succession, followed a fairly preordained course such that the same trees ultimately dominated the landscape once again. But they have been limited by imperfect evidence. Not likely to get funding for a 200-year-long study, plant ecologists have examined succession by studying regrowth in plots where original forests that had been cut down at different times, an approach called chronosequencing.

Robin Chazdon, an ecologist at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, wasn’t sure such work captures a true picture, however. So with her postdoc Natalia Norden and colleagues, she amassed data from several long-term studies of regrowing forests in Mexico, Costa Rica, Brazil, and Nicaragua. These studies had actually tracked in real time the changes in the kinds of trees present (species diversity), the density of trees, and how well the trees were growing (by measuring each tree’s diameter and from that forest’s growth over time). Norden then teamed up with a hydrologist to build a mathematical model that explored how these characteristics affected each other to set the trajectory of regrowth.

The model revealed that chance plays a big role in determining that trajectory, the researchers report online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In Brazil, for example, among several plots studied as the land recovered from pasture, there was a great deal of variation in the density of trees and number of species present even at just 10 years of regrowth. The size of the cleared land, the plants that were present before farming or grazing began, the amount of time before the land was abandoned, and, perhaps more importantly, what seeds happen to sprout first all shape what happens next in the early stages of secondary forest growth, Norden suggests.

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Sorry, “skeptics”: Global warming may not be so great for plant life after all

Sorry, “skeptics”: Global warming may not be so great for plant life after all | Amazing Science |

Climate change is already a heavily charged issue, fraught with political tension. But complicating the mix are a slew of misconceptions about exactly how it will affect the planet and its inhabitants.

One confusion involves plant growth. Some skeptics have argued that rising carbon dioxide levels could actually benefit agriculture, and in fact, research shows that rising temperatures and more carbon dioxide can be a boon to plants — up to a point. But that’s not the whole story, according to researcherCamilo Mora, a professor of geography at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. And in a new paper, published today in the journal PLOS Biology, he and his colleagues attempt to set the record straight.

The study examines not only the effects of rising temperatures, but also how solar radiation and water availability impact plant productivity — specifically, their effects on the number of “suitable growing days” for plants worldwide. The researchers looked at these variables under several different climate change scenarios: The worst of these is the “business-as-usual” trajectory, which is the amount of warming the planet will experience if humans do nothing to cut down on carbon emissions. The scientists also evaluated scenarios where there was a strong or moderate reduction in emissions.

The results indicate that climate change may not be the net positive to plants that some prior research has suggested. If humans allow global warming to go on unmitigated under a business-as-usual scenario, the Earth could lose a significant number of suitable growing days per year by the end of the century. And that’s bad news for people as well as plants, with the potential for widespread food shortages and economic downturns.

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Deepest known hydrothermal vents discovered in the Pacific Ocean

Deepest known hydrothermal vents discovered in the Pacific Ocean | Amazing Science |

In spring 2015, MBARI researchers discovered a large, previously unknown field of hydrothermal vents in the Gulf of California, about 150 kilometers (100 miles) east of La Paz, Mexico. Lying more than 3,800 meters (12,500 feet) below the surface, the Pescadero Basin vents are the deepest high-temperature hydrothermal vents ever observed in or around the Pacific Ocean. They are also the only vents in the Pacific known to emit superheated fluids rich in both carbonate minerals and hydrocarbons. The vents have been colonized by dense communities of tubeworms and other animals unlike any other known vent communities in the in the eastern Pacific.

Like another vent field in the Gulf that MBARI discovered in 2012, the Pescadero Basin vents were initially identified in high-resolution sonar data collected by an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV). MBARI’s yellow, torpedo-shaped seafloor-mapping AUV spent two days flying about 50 meters above the bottom of the Basin, using sound beams to map the depth and shape of the seafloor.

The AUV team, led by MBARI engineer David Caress, pored over the detailed bathymetric map they created from the AUV data and saw a number of mounds and spires rising up from the seafloor. Data from the AUV also showed slightly warmer water over some of the spires, which implied that they might be active hydrothermal-vent chimneys. A team of geologists led by David Clague then used a tethered underwater robot, the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Doc Ricketts, to dive down to the seafloor, fly around the vents, and collect video and samples of rocks and hot water spewing from the chimneys.

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World's first ocean cleaning system will be deployed by 2016

World's first ocean cleaning system will be deployed by 2016 | Amazing Science |

Deployment will become longest floating structure in world history.

Boyan Slat, 20-year old founder and CEO of The Ocean Cleanup, today announced that the world’s first system to passively clean up plastic pollution from the world’s oceans is to be deployed in 2016. He made the announcement at Asia’s largest technology conference, Seoul Digital Forum, in South-Korea.

The array is projected to be deployed in Q2 2016. The feasibility of deployment, off the coast of Tsushima, an island located in the waters between Japan and South-Korea is currently being researched.

The system will span 2000 meters, thereby becoming the longest floating structure ever deployed in the ocean (beating the current record of 1000 m held by the Tokyo Mega-Float). It will be operational for at least two years, catching plastic pollution before it reaches the shores of the proposed deployment location of Tsushima island. Tsushima island is evaluating whether the plastic can be used as an alternative energy source.

The scale of the plastic pollution problem, whereby in the case of Tsushima island, approximately one cubic meter of pollution per person is washed up each year, has led the Japanese the local government to seek innovative solutions to the problem.

The deployment will represents an important milestone in The Ocean Cleanup’s mission to remove plastic pollution from the world’s oceans. Within five years, after a series of deployments of increasing scale, The Ocean Cleanup plans to deploy a 100km-long system to clean up about half the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, between Hawaii and California.

Boyan Slat, founder and CEO of The Ocean Cleanup: “Taking care of the world’s ocean garbage problem is one of the largest environmental challenges mankind faces today. Not only will this first cleanup array contribute to cleaner waters and coasts but it simultaneously is an essential step towards our goal of cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This deployment will enable us to study the system’s efficiency and durability over time."

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Troubling new research says global warming will cut wheat yields

Troubling new research says global warming will cut wheat yields | Amazing Science |

Observant aliens visiting Earth and studying its civilizations would probably be pretty obsessed with wheat. They couldn’t fail to note how staggeringly many people we feed with the crop on this planet. “Wheat is one of the main staple crops in the world and provides 20% of daily protein and calories,” notes the Wheat Initiative, a project launched by G20 agricultural ministers. “With a world population of 9 billion in 2050, wheat demand is expected to increase by 60%. To meet the demand, annual wheat yield increases must grow from the current level of below 1% to at least 1.6%.” That’s why the punchline of a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is pretty troubling. A warming climate, it suggests, could drive wheat yields in the opposite direction – down — in the United States and, possibly, elsewhere.

“The net effect of warming on yields is negative,” write Jesse Tack of the agricultural economics department of Mississippi State University and two colleagues, “even after accounting for the benefits of reduced exposure to freezing temperatures.” That’s no small matter, the study notes, in that wheat is “the largest source of vegetable protein in low-income countries.”

The study compared results from nearly 30 years of winter wheat trials across Kansas — a state that produced $2.8 billion worth of wheat crop in 2013 — with data on weather and precipitation. Winter wheat grows from September to May and faces two major temperature-related threats during this cycle — extreme winter cold, and extreme spring heat. Global warming ought to cut down on the freezing temperatures, but also amp up really hot ones. The study found, however, that on balance, the effect is more negative than positive, with a roughly 15 percent decline in wheat yields under a 2 degrees Celsius warming scenario, rising to around 40 percent with 4 degrees (C) of warming.

As for whether the Kansas-based research can easily be extrapolated to other regions where wheat is grown around the world, that depends highly on the local climate, says lead author Tack. So long as warming creates a situation in which temperatures in a given place more frequently reach 34 degrees Celsius (or 92.3 degrees Fahrenheit) during the growing season, then it could be bad for wheat, based on his study. “The tipping point is 34 degrees Celsius,” says Tack. “In terms of the estimated warming impacts, it’s largely going to be a matter of whether the new climate has increased exposure over 34 degrees.”

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Rare African plant (Pandanus candelabrum) signals diamonds beneath the soil

Rare African plant (Pandanus candelabrum) signals diamonds beneath the soil | Amazing Science |

There’s diamond under them thar plants. A geologist has discovered a thorny, palmlike plant in Liberia that seems to grow only on top of kimberlite pipes—columns of volcanic rock hundreds of meters across that extend deep into Earth, left by ancient eruptions that exhumed diamonds from the mantle. If the plant is as choosy as it seems to be, diamond hunters in West Africa will have a simple, powerful way of finding diamond-rich deposits. Prospectors are going to “jump on it like crazy,” says Steven Shirey, a geologist specializing in diamond research at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C.

Miners have long known that particular plants can signal ore-bearing rocks. For example,Lychnis alpina, a small pink-flowering plant in Scandinavia, and Haumaniastrum katangense, a white-flowered shrub in central Africa, are both associated with copper. That’s because the plants are especially tolerant to copper that has eroded into soils from the mother lodes.

But the new plant, identified as Pandanus candelabrum, is the first indicator species for diamond-bearing kimberlite, says Stephen Haggerty, a researcher at Florida International University in Miami and the chief exploration officer of Youssef Diamond Mining Company, which owns mining concessions in Liberia. Haggerty suspects that the plant has adapted to kimberlite soils, which are rich in magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus. “It sounds like a very good fertilizer, which it is,” says Haggerty, who has published the discovery in the June-July issue of Economic Geology.

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Weather could be controlled using lasers

Weather could be controlled using lasers | Amazing Science |
Scientists are attempting to control the weather by using lasers to create clouds, induce rain and even trigger lightning.

Professor Jean-Pierre Wolf and Dr Jerome Kasparian, both biophotonics experts at the University of Geneva, have now organised a conference at the WMO next month in an attempt to find ways of speeding up research on the topic. They said: “Ultra-short lasers launched into the atmosphere have emerged as a promising prospective tool for weather modulation and climate studies.

“Such prospects include lightning control and laser-assisted condensation.”

There is a long history of attempts by scientists to control the weather, including using techniques such as cloud seeding.

This involves spraying small particles and chemicals into the air to induce water vapour to condense into clouds.

In the 1960s the United States experimented with using silver iodide in an attempt to weaken hurricanes before they made landfall. The USSR was also claimed to have flown cloud seeding missions in an attempt to create rain clouds to protect Moscow from radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

More recently the Russian Air force has also been reported to have used bags of cement to seed clouds.

Before the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, the Chinese authorities used aircraft and rockets to release chemicals into the atmosphere.

Other countries have been reported to be experimenting with cloud seeding to prevent flooding or smog.

However, Professor Wolf, Dr Kasparian and their colleagues believe that lasers could provide an easier and more controllable method of changing the weather. They began studying lasers for their use as a way of monitoring changes in the air and detecting aerosols high in the atmosphere.

Experiments using varying pulses of near infra-red laser light and ultraviolet lasers have, however, shown that they cause water to condense. They have subsequently found the lasers induce tiny ice crystals to form, which are a crucial step in the formation of clouds and eventual rainfall.

In new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Professor Wolf said the laser beams create plasma channels in the air that caused ice to form.

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This cement alternative absorbs CO2 like a sponge

This cement alternative absorbs CO2 like a sponge | Amazing Science |
Cement has been called the foundation of modern civilization, the stuff of highways, bridges, sidewalks and buildings of all sizes. But its production comes with a huge carbon footprint. Environmental chemist David Stone was seeking a way to keep iron from rusting when he stumbled upon a possible substitute that requires significantly less energy. Special correspondent Kathleen McCleery reports.
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Global Warming: Western Canada going to lose 70 percent of its glaciers by 2100

Global Warming: Western Canada going to lose 70 percent of its glaciers by 2100 | Amazing Science |

Seventy per cent of glacier ice in British Columbia and Alberta could disappear by the end of the 21st century, creating major problems for local ecosystems, power supplies, and water quality, according to a new study by UBC researchers. The study found that while warming temperatures are threatening glaciers in Western Canada, not all glaciers are retreating at the same rate. The Rocky Mountains, in the drier interior, could lose up to 90 per cent of its glaciers. The wetter coastal mountains in northwestern B.C. are only expected to lose about half of their glacier volume.

“Most of our ice holdouts at the end of the century will be in the northwest corner of the province,” said Garry Clarke, professor emeritus in the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences. “Soon our mountains could look like those in Colorado or California and you don’t see much ice in those landscapes.”

For the study, researchers used observational data, computer models and climate simulations to forecast the fate of individual glaciers.

There are over 17,000 glaciers in B.C. and Alberta and they play an important role in energy production through hydroelectric power. The glaciers also contribute to the water supply, agriculture and tourism. Clarke says while these issues are a concern, increased precipitation due to climate change could help compensate for glacier loss. The greatest impact, he suspects, will be on freshwater ecosystems. During the late summer, glacier melt provides cool, plentiful water to many of the region’s headwaters.

“These glaciers act as a thermostat for freshwater ecosystems,” said Clarke. “Once the glaciers are gone, the streams will be a lot warmer and this will hugely change fresh water habitat. We could see some unpleasant surprises in terms of salmon productivity.”
Aleena Reyes's curator insight, April 8, 7:49 PM

I hope Canadians care about environmental issues more than Americans do. Americans tend to have an "out of sight, out of mind" attitude towards issues we deem are far away even though Canada is our neighbor. The glaciers will have a huge impact on the ecosystem and energy power once they melt. I fear that it is too late to help ourselves with these.

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Mapping the Spread of Drought Across the U.S.

Mapping the Spread of Drought Across the U.S. | Amazing Science |
Droughts appear to be intensifying over much of the West and Southwest as a result of global warming. Over the past decade, droughts in some regions have rivaled the epic dry spells of the 1930s and 1950s. About 37 percent of the contiguous United States was in at least a moderate drought as of March 31, 2015.

Things have been particularly bad in California, which has just imposed its first mandatory water restrictions, the latest in a series of drastic measures to reduce water consumption. California farmers, without water from reservoirs in the Central Valley, are left to choose which of their crops to water. Parts of Texas, Oklahoma and surrounding states are also suffering from drought conditions.

The relationship between the climate and droughts is complicated. Parts of the country are becoming wetter: East of the Mississippi, rainfall has been rising. But global warming also appears to be causing moisture to evaporate faster in places that were already dry. Researchers believe drought conditions in these places are likely to intensify in coming years.

There has been little relief for some places since the summer of 2012. At the recent peak last May, about 40 percent of the country was abnormally dry or in at least a moderate drought.

The patterns above come from the Drought Monitor, which has data going back to 2000. A different measure, the Palmer Index, goes back more than a hundred years. It does lag the Drought Monitor data by more than a month, so it’s less useful for measuring what’s happening right now. But the Palmer Index shows how unusual the current period is. A 10-year average of Palmer values has been increasing for most of the last 20 years, which is to say that the country is in the midst of one of its most sustained periods of increasing drought on record.
LEONARDO WILD's curator insight, April 5, 9:03 AM

Climate change is all about the "Pendulum Effect," where the extremes is what matters, not so much the median or average. The average may fluctuate some, but the real problem comes when the weather goes haywire. Too much water can be as destructive as too little water, and this doesn't only happen in time but in space as well, where regions get too much of one and too little of the other. We'll see strips of drought and strips of wetness, strips of cold and strips of heat, like bands across regions and across the planet.

Michele Lally's curator insight, April 5, 6:05 PM

I would appreciate and will participate in step-by-step efforts individuals should actively do to help publish and ameliorate this crisis.

Julie Nordskog Andrews's curator insight, May 20, 11:40 AM

Drought map. Find this!

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Plastics with additives meant to promote biodegradation don’t decompose any faster than those without them

Plastics with additives meant to promote biodegradation don’t decompose any faster than those without them | Amazing Science |

Plastics, such as the low-density polyethylene (LDPE) used to make bags and the polyethylene terephthalate (PET) found in water bottles, can remain intact for years in a landfill. So some plastics manufacturers include additives designed to help the long polymers in the plastics disintegrate faster. Transition-metal salts called oxo-degradable additives catalyze the oxidation of the polymer chains in the presence of oxygen and ultraviolet light or heat. Other types of additives claim to increase biodegradation through different mechanisms.

Some manufacturers assert that once polymer chains are fragmented in this way, microbes can then eat them. But previous studies have cast doubt on this claim: For example, many oxo-degradable plastics do not pass a common composting certification test known as ASTM-D6400, which requires 60% of the material to be converted into carbon dioxide in 180 days. Researchers Susan Selke and Rafael Auras of the School of Packaging at Michigan State University wanted to design a rigorous field study to determine whether the materials perform as promised.

So they and their colleagues prepared films of an LDPE blend used to make bread, supermarket and trash bags, and PET sheets, like those used to make plastic water bottles, with three different additives supplied by their manufacturers. These were an oxo-degradable additive made by Symphony; a non-oxo-degradable one made by Ecologic; and Wells Plastics’ Reverte, which was originally described by the manufacturer as a combination of the two types of additives. The researchers exposed the oxo-degradable plastics to UV light at 0.80 W/m2 for about six days, the equivalent of about two months of outdoor exposure in Miami. They then treated all of the samples to mimic disposal of such plastics in a compost pile, a landfill, and soil.

By measuring the carbon dioxide and methane that evolved from the plastics in closed containers simulating composting and landfilling, the researchers could determine whether microbes had digested the materials. After about six months of composting and a year and a half of landfill-like conditions, samples that included plastics with additives did not produce significantly more methane and CO2 than the samples of plastics without them. At the end of the experiment, the team checked that microbes in the landfill simulation were still alive: When the researchers fed the microbes starch, the microbes produced gases as expected. After three years of soil burial, the plastic samples with additives did not show any greater physical degradation than samples without them.

Auras says, “We saw no evidence that these additives promote significant biodegradation in these tested environments.”

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DNA from elephant tusks reveals poaching routes

DNA from elephant tusks reveals poaching routes | Amazing Science |

A key to saving elephants may be their own dung. Researchers have demonstrated a new way of identifying where the pachyderms are being slaughtered by analyzing DNA from confiscated ivory and matching it to excrement sampled from nature reserves. The technique could provide clues to the mysterious smuggling routes used by international criminal networks.

Tracing the origin of seized ivory is “a really critical piece of the puzzle,” says conservation biologist George Wittemyer of Colorado State University, Fort Collins, who was not involved in the study.

African elephants are in crisis, facing an onslaught of poaching for the valuable ivory in their tusks. More than 50,000 were likely killed in 2013, according to conservation biologist Samuel Wasser of the University of Washington, Seattle. This number is a significant toll on the continent-wide population of about 434,000 elephants. Last year, a study suggested that 75% of elephant populations in Africa are shrinking due to poaching.

DNA is a useful tool in fighting the trade in illegal wildlife. It has been used to confirm the identity of many kinds of contraband from rare and endangered species, such as fins harvested from protected great white sharks.

In 2003, Wasser figured out how to extract DNA from ivory. The hope was to help identify where elephants were being killed. Working with Interpol, the International Criminal Police Organization, Wasser and colleagues have now sampled DNA from 28 large seizures of African ivory—each more than a half-ton—that police and custom officers had confiscated in Africa and Asia between 1996 and 2014. Large shipments like these make up 70% of ivory that is seized. “We are talking about the majority of ivory being moved around the world,” Wasser said at a press teleconference. “It is really staggering, the extent.”

To figure out where the ivory came from, the team matched its DNA to a database of DNA samples from African elephants, which took about 15 years to create. Wasser and his colleagues had gathered samples from the field, in some cases relying on trained dogs to locate dung. Other researchers contributed samples, too. All told, they had DNA from 1001 savanna elephants and 349 forest elephants from 29 countries. “It’s really a herculean effort,” Wittemyer says. By analyzing small stretches of DNA, called microsatellites, Wasser’s team found representative patterns for individual nature reserves on the scale of a few hundred kilometers, they report in Science.

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Here's where the world is running out of groundwater

Here's where the world is running out of groundwater | Amazing Science |

Some of the world's most important farming regions rely on freshwater from large underground aquifers that have filled up slowly over thousands of years. Think of the Central Valley aquifer system in California. Or the Indus basin in Pakistan and India. This groundwater is particularly valuable when rain is scarce or during droughts.

But that groundwater won't necessarily last forever. New data from NASA's Grace satellites suggests that 13 of the world's 37 biggest aquifers are being seriously depleted by irrigation and other uses much faster than they can be recharged by rain or runoff. And, disturbingly, we don't even know how much water is left in these basins. That's according to a new paper in Water Resources Research.

The map below gives an overview. In all, there were 21 major groundwater basins — in red, orange, and yellow — that lost water faster than they could be recharged between 2003 and 2013. The 16 major aquifers in blue, by contrast, gained water during that period.

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Fluid Injection's Role in Man-Made Earthquakes Revealed | Caltech

Fluid Injection's Role in Man-Made Earthquakes Revealed | Caltech | Amazing Science |

Usually small though occasionally damaging earthquakes are a side-effect of industrial processes such as geothermal energy and oil-gas production that involve injecting water underground. But scientists have been unclear about the exact role of fluid injection in triggering these man-made earthquakes.

Now, for the first time, researchers at Caltech and other institutions in the United States and France have observed how fluid injection sets off microearthquakes on a sizable, subterranean fault. The findings could lead to better seismic risk management through improved understanding of fluid flow on faults, while also illuminating the mechanics of natural earthquakes.

"At the moment, a major issue for industry is that there is no established theory to evaluate the seismic hazard associated with fluid injections," says paper coauthor Jean-Philippe Avouac, a professor of geophysics at the University of Cambridge, as well as the Earle C. Anthony Professor of Geology at Caltech, and the former director of Caltech's Tectonics Observatory (now closed), where the research began. "With experiments such as ours, we can build much-needed models that would help assess the possible location, magnitude, and likelihood of earthquakes."

The research, led by Yves Guglielmi, a professor at the European Center for Research and Education in Environmental Geosciences (CEREGE) at Aix-Marseille University in France, appears in the June 12 issue of Science.

"One of the challenges in my field is to relate deformation of rock on the scale we can simulate in the lab with what we observe in nature, which reflects deformation to scales that are many orders of magnitude larger," says Avouac. "There is a very large gap in scale."

The new study helps to fill that gap. Avouac and his colleagues ran a fluid-injection experiment on a fault running more than a quarter of a mile through limestone. The fault is accessible thanks to its location adjacent to the Laboratoire Souterrain à Bas Bruit (LSBB), a former underground military facility in southeastern France now available to scientists.

The research team drilled a hole into the fault at a depth of about 925 feet. They then lowered a five-foot-long canister outfitted with sensors called the Step-Rate Injection Method for Fracture In-Situ Properties, or SIMFIP, into the hole. The SIMFIP was designed to measure pressure, water flow rate, rock movement, and other key data while suspended in the fault zone."

The SIMFIP probe opens the way to characterizing fault properties, which are critical for seismic hazard studies and understanding the physics of earthquakes," says paper coauthor Frédéric Cappa, a professor at the Géoazur Earth and Planetary Sciences Laboratory at the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis in France. Cappa, who developed the experiments and models jointly with Guglielmi and Avouac, was a visiting professor at the Tectonics Observatory during the preparation of the study.

"The SIMFIP technology is a breakthrough," says Avouac. "We hope to see this or similar technologies used in the future to study faults in a variety of geological contexts."

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South Korean MERS outbreak is not a global threat

South Korean MERS outbreak is not a global threat | Amazing Science |

The world is watching as the largest outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outside the Middle East continues in South Korea. According to the most recent figures from the World Health Organization, 30 people have been infected, two of whom have died. Hundreds of schools have been closed. The causal coronavirus, MERS-CoV, is one of many viruses that are considered potential pandemic threats. But experts do not consider this outbreak, in which all cases are hospital-associated, to have pandemic potential or even expect it to spread further within South Korea. Here are some of the reasons why:

• MERS-CoV is not a human virus

• MERS-CoV mainly spreads in hospitals

• South Korea is doing a great job

• MERS is not SARS

• This outbreak is not that big

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Climate Model Suggests 99% of Everest Glaciers Could Disappear By End of Century

Climate Model Suggests 99% of Everest Glaciers Could Disappear By End of Century | Amazing Science |

By the end of this century, the landscape around Mount Everest may drastically change. As the planet continues to warm, the Everest region of Nepal could lose most of its glaciers, according to a study published in the journal The Cryosphere.

“We did not expect to see glaciers reduced at such a large scale,” said Joseph Shea, a glacier hydrologist at the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development in Nepal and lead author of the new report. “The numbers are quite frightening.”

Dr. Shea and his colleagues found that moderate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions could result in a 70 percent loss of glaciers around Mount Everest, while a business-as-usual scenario in which emissions remain at the same levels could result in a 99 percent loss.

To arrive at these findings, Dr. Shea and his colleagues used a computer model for glacier melt, accumulation and redistribution. They customized the model with data on temperature and precipitation, measurements from the field and remote-sensing observations collected over 50 years from the Dudh Koshi basin, which includes Mount Everest and several of the world’s other highest peaks.

The model took into account how much mass glaciers gain from snowfall, as well as the way that mass is redistributed by continual downward movement. The researchers applied the model to eight future climate scenarios, from moderate emissions reductions to none at all.

The results do not bode well for the glaciers around Everest. Even if emissions are reduced by midcentury and rain in the region increases, the model predicts that the majority of the glaciers will probably disappear by 2100.

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Ice loss in Antarctica so large that it affects Earth's gravity field

Ice loss in Antarctica so large that it affects Earth's gravity field | Amazing Science |

A group of scientists, led by a team from the University of Bristol, UK has observed a sudden increase of ice loss in a previously stable region of Antarctica. The research is published today in ScienceUsing measurements of the elevation of the Antarctic ice sheet made by a suite of satellites, the researchers found that the Southern Antarctic Peninsula showed no signs of change up to 2009. Around 2009, multiple glaciers along a vast coastal expanse, measuring some 750km in length, suddenly started to shed ice into the ocean at a nearly constant rate of 60 cubic km, or about 55 trillion litres of water, each year.

This makes the region the second largest contributor to sea level rise in Antarctica and the ice loss shows no sign of waning. Dr Bert Wouters, a Marie Curie Fellow at the University of Bristol, who lead the study said: "To date, the glaciers added roughly 300 cubic km of water to the ocean. That's the equivalent of the volume of nearly 350,000 Empire State Buildings combined."

The changes were observed using the CryoSat-2 satellite, a mission of the European Space Agency dedicated to remote-sensing of ice. From an altitude of about 700km, the satellite sends a radar pulse to Earth, which is reflected by the ice and subsequently received back at the satellite. From the time the pulse takes to travel, the elevation of the ice surface can retrieved with incredible accuracy. By analysing roughly 5 years of the data, the researchers found that the ice surface of some of the glaciers is currently going down by as much as 4m each year.

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Extinctions to accelerate as planet warms

Extinctions to accelerate as planet warms | Amazing Science |

One in six species on the planet will face extinction due to the effects of climate change, according to a US study. And Australia, New Zealand and South America will face an even higher rate of species extinction due to the number of endemic species.

The study published recently in Science shows the rate of biodiversity loss isn't just increasing with the changing climate it's accelerating. Author Associate Professor Mark Urban, from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Connecticut, says at a two degree Celsius rise in temperature compared to the pre-industrial era, global extinction risk would rise from 2.8 per cent to 5.2 per cent. However he says most experts now agree this temperature increase projection is under-estimated.

If humans follow our current, business- as-usual trajectory a temperature rise of 4.3 degrees Celsius is now predicted, says Urban. This would lead to the loss of one in six species. For the study Urban compared the results of 131 different biodiversity studies.

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Horribly bleak study sees ‘empty landscape’ as large herbivores vanish at startling rate

Horribly bleak study sees ‘empty landscape’ as large herbivores vanish at startling rate | Amazing Science |

They never ate anybody — but now, some of planet Earth’s innocent vegetarians face end times. Large herbivores — elephants, hippos, rhinos and gorillas among them — are vanishing from the globe at a startling rate, with some 60 percent threatened with extinction, a team of scientists reports. The situation is so dire, according to a new study, that it threatens an “empty landscape” in some ecosystems “across much of the planet Earth.” The authors were clear: This is a big problem — and it’s a problem with us, not them.

“Growing human populations, unsustainable hunting, high densities of livestock, and habitat loss have devastating consequences for large, long-lived, slow-breeding, and, therefore, vulnerable herbivore species,” reads “Collapse of the world’s largest herbivores” in Science Advances, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

As if humanity’s bottomless appetite for land and meat weren’t enough, organized crime and the endless hunt for body parts from elephants and rhinos is also a major factor in Africa and southern Asia, the study said. Between 2002 and 2011 alone, the number of forest elephants in central Africa declined by 62 percent. Some 100,000 African elephants were poached between 2010 and 2012. And the western black rhinoceros in Africa was declared extinct in 2011.

“This slaughter is driven by the high retail price of rhinoceros horn, which exceeds, per unit weight, that of gold, diamonds, or cocaine,” according to the study. This slaughter and its consequences are not modest, the article said. In fact, the rate of decline is such that “ever-larger swaths of the world will soon lack many of the vital ecological services these animals provide, resulting in enormous ecological and social costs.”

Herbivores, it turns out, don’t just idle about munching on various green things. They play a vital role as “ecosystem engineers,” the paper said — expanding grasslands for plant species, dispersing seeds in manure, and, in the ultimate sacrifice, providing food for predators.

Diane Johnson's curator insight, May 6, 7:35 AM

Connections to ESS human impact

Lorraine Chaffer's curator insight, June 1, 2:04 AM

Australian curriculum

The human causes and effects of landscape degradation (ACHGK051)

GeoWorld 8

Chapter 1: Distinctive landform features: values and protection

Chapter 2: Diversity of landscapes

Chapter 5: Humans value, change and protect landscapes

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3-D human skin map shows relationship between skin, chemicals, microbes and environment

3-D human skin map shows relationship between skin, chemicals, microbes and environment | Amazing Science |

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences used information collected from hundreds of skin swabs to produce three-dimensional maps of molecular and microbial variations across the body. These maps provide a baseline for future studies of the interplay between the molecules that make up our skin, the microbes that live on us, our personal hygiene routines and other environmental factors. The study, published March 30 by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may help further our understanding of the skin's role in human health and disease.

"This is the first study of its kind to characterize the surface distribution of skin molecules and pair that data withmicrobial diversity," said senior author Pieter Dorrestein, PhD, professor of pharmacology in the UC San Diego Skaggs School of Pharmacy. "Previous studies were limited to select areas of the skin, rather than the whole body, and examined skin chemistry and microbial populations separately."

To sample human skin nearly in its entirety, Dorrestein and team swabbed 400 different body sites of two healthy adult volunteers, one male and one female, who had not bathed, shampooed or moisturized for three days. They used a technique called mass spectrometry to determine the molecular and chemical composition of the samples. They also sequenced microbial DNA in the samples to identify the bacterial species present and map their locations across the body. The team then used MATLAB software to construct 3D models that illustrated the data for each sampling spot.

Despite the three-day moratorium on personal hygiene products, the most abundant molecular features in the skin swabs still came from hygiene and beauty products, such as sunscreen. According to the researchers, this finding suggests that 3D skin maps may be able to detect both current and past behaviors and environmental exposures. The study also demonstrates that human skin is not just made up of molecules derived from human or bacterial cells. Rather, the external environment, such as plastics found in clothing, diet, hygiene and beauty products, also contribute to the skin's chemical composition.

The maps now allow these factors to be taken into account and correlated with local microbial communities.
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Record sea-surface temperatures in Pacific point to record warmth in 2015 and 2016

Record sea-surface temperatures in Pacific point to record warmth in 2015 and 2016 | Amazing Science |
Sea temperatures around Australia are posting "amazing" records that climate specialists say signal global records set in 2014 may be broken this year and next.

March sea-surface temperatures in the Coral Sea region off Queensland broke the previous high by 0.12 degrees – a big jump for oceans that are typically more thermally stable than land. Temperatures for the entire Australian ocean region also set new highs for the month, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

For the Coral Sea region – which includes the entire Great Barrier Reef and stretches from Cape York almost as far south as Brisbane – sea-surface temperatures from January to March were 0.73 degrees above average at 29.16 degrees, making it the warmest three-month period on record, the bureau said. The unusual warmth off Australia comes as the Pacific Ocean remains primed for an El Nino event, as the bureau reported last month.

If such an event occurs, the underlying warming from climate change will get a further boost from natural variability, making 2014's ranking as the hottest year on records going back to the 1880s likely to be short-lived, according to Andy Pitman, head of climate research at the University of NSW. "If we do get an intense El Nino, it will blitz the records," Professor Pitman said. "The climate is on a performance-enhancing drug and that drug is carbon dioxide."

A warm 2015 is very likely, particularly given the El Nino-like conditions in the Pacific, which will provide a significant backdrop to climate change negotiations for a new international treaty in Paris late this year, Professor Pitman said. "If governments turn up in Paris after a series of major climate events, the foundation of their discussions...would be somewhat different than if they turned up in a period of benign climate," he said.

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Fukushima radiation has reached North American shores

Fukushima radiation has reached North American shores | Amazing Science |

Seaborne radiation from Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster has reached North America. Scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution detected small amounts of cesium-134 and cesium-137 in a sample of seawater taken in February from a dock on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

It's the first time radioactivity from the March 2011 triple meltdown has been identified on West Coast shores. Woods Hole chemical oceanographer Ken Buesseler emphasized that the radiation is at very low levels that aren't expected to harm human health or the environment.

"Even if the levels were twice as high, you could still swim in the ocean for six hours every day for a year and receive a dose more than a thousand times less than a single dental X-ray," Buesseler said. "While that's not zero, that's a very low risk."

Massive amounts of contaminated water were released from the crippled nuclear plant following a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami. More radiation was released to the air, then fell to the sea. Frustrated by the absence of monitoring by U.S. federal agencies, Buesseler last year launched a crowd-funded, citizen-science seawater sampling project.

He's tracked the radiation plume across 5,000 miles of the Pacific Ocean, using highly sensitive, expensive equipment at his Cape Cod, Massachusetts, laboratory. There, he analyzes samples sent to him by West Coast volunteers and scientists aboard research cruises. In October, he reported that a sample taken about 745 miles west of Vancouver, British Columbia, tested positive for cesium-134, the so-called fingerprint of Fukushima because it can only have come from that plant. It also showed higher-than-background levels of cesium-137, another Fukushima isotope that already is present in the world's oceans because of nuclear testing in the 1950s and 1960s.

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Detection of Pathogens and Novel Viruses Carried by New York City Rats

Detection of Pathogens and Novel Viruses Carried by New York City Rats | Amazing Science |

No one was under the illusion that New York’s rats were clean creatures, but a study published this week in mBio found dozens of viruses that have never been described by science, some of which may be potentially harmful to humans. “While a subset of the agents we identified are known to cause disease in humans, many more are novel viruses whose zoonotic potential cannot be inferred from available data,” Cadhla Firth, the lead researcher of the team from Columbia University, wrote. “It is therefore possible that human infection with some of the agents identified here may already be occurring, and the risk of future zoonotic transmission should not be disregarded.”

Beyond that, the researchers found many, many pathogens that are well known and are very bad for people, pets, and sometimes even zebras. So, in an attempt to scare the bejesus out of everyone, I quickly analyzed the 32 species of clinically important microbes that were identified. 

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add your insight ...

Corbin Baker's comment, April 21, 9:13 PM
Everyone knows that NYC rats are not clean. Scientists have found dozens of viruses that have never been described by science. some of which may be potentially harmful to humans.
Corbin Baker's comment, April 21, 9:31 PM
I think this is really bad. if this is deadly, it could kill a lot of people if it spreads. We could stop this by making NYC cleaner.