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Posts Tagged ‘biology

Genetically engineered mosquitoes pass lethal gene to offspring

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  • Scientists carry out ‘positive’ trial on Cayman Islands
  • New breed of insect could be used to tackle malaria and dengue fever
  • But critics say it could lead to public health problems

Breakthrough or danger? A UK-based research team has found a way of genetically modifying the Aedes aegypti mosquito so they pass on a deadly gene to their offspring

Breakthrough or danger? A UK-based research team has found a way of genetically modifying the Aedes aegypti mosquito so they pass on a deadly gene to their offspring

Serious concerns have been raised over the release of a new breed of disease-fighting mosquito which has been genetically engineered to kill their own offspring.

There are hopes the project could be used to control agricultural pests and tackle deadly insect-borne illnesses such as dengue fever and malaria.

But the research has raised concerns about the possible side-effects on public health and the environment because, once released, the mosquitos cannot be recalled.

A UK-based scientific team revealed there had been positive signs from the first release into the environment of the mosquitoes, which are engineered to pass a lethal gene onto their offspring, killing them before adulthood.

The study team – which includes experts from Imperial College London and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine – released batches of modified mosquitoes in an area of the Cayman Islands where the dengue virus-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquito is common.

The study, published in Nature Biotechnology journal, looked at how successfully the lab-reared, genetically modified insects could mate.

About 19,000 mosquitoes engineered in a lab were released over four weeks in 2009 in a 25-acre area on Grand Cayman island.

Based on data from traps, the genetically engineered males accounted for 16per cent of the overall male population in the test zone, and the lethal gene was found in almost 10 percent of larvae.

Those figures suggest the genetically engineered males were about half as successful in mating as wild ones, a rate sufficient to suppress the population.

Disease fighter? The new breed of mosquitoes could be used to tackle killer illnesses like dengue fever and malaria which affect the world's poorest populations

Disease fighter?  The new breed of mosquitoes could be used to tackle killer illnesses like dengue fever and malaria which affect the world’s poorest populations

Luke Alphey, chief scientific officer at Oxitec, the firm which devised the technique, told the BBC: ‘We were really surprised how well they did.

‘For this method, you just need to get a reasonable proportion of the females to mate with GM males – you’ll never get the males as competitive as the wild ones, but they don’t have to be, they just have to be reasonably good.’

HOW MOSQUITOES KILL THEIR OWN CHILDREN

  • The genetic approach used to create the mosquitoes is a system known as tetracycline-controlled transcriptional activation (tTA).
  • The technique is an extension of one successfully used for decades to control or eradicate pests which involves sterilising millions of insects with radiation.
  • But the process has not worked with mosquitoes, partly because the radiation also injures them, making it difficult for them to compete with healthy counterparts for mates.
  • So Oxitec has now created the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes with a gene that will kill them unless they are given the common antibiotic tetracycline.
  • With tetracycline provided in the lab, the mosquitoes can be bred for generations and multiplied.
  • Males are then released into the wild, where tetracycline is not available.
  • They live long enough to mate but their progeny will die before adulthood.

 

Authorities in the Florida Keys hope to carry out an open-air test on the modified insects as early as December after experiencing the region’s first cases of dengue fever in decades.

Dr Alphey said the technique was safe because only males were released as it was only the females that bite people and spread the disease.

But critics say the process is by no means foolproof.

Alfred Handler, a geneticist at the Agriculture Department in Gainesville, Florida, said the mosquitoes can evolve resistance to the lethal gene while being bred for generations in a lab.

Todd Shelly, an entomologist for the Agriculture Department in Hawaii, also said in a commentary published on Sunday by Nature Biotechnology that 3.5per cent of the insects in a lab test survived to adulthood despite presumably carrying the lethal gene.

Also, the sorting of male and female mosquitoes, which is done by hand, can result in up to 0.5per cent of the released insects being female, the commentary said.

If millions of mosquitoes were released, even that small percentage of females could lead to a temporary increase in disease spread, it was reported by the New York Times.

Oxitec and a molecular biologist, Anthony A. James of the University of California, Irvine, say they have developed a solution — a genetic modification that makes female mosquitoes, but not males, unable to fly.

The grounded females cannot mate or bite people, and separating males from females before release would be easier.

The World Health Organisation expects to release guidance on how GM insects should be deployed in developing countries by the end of the year.

 

Via DailyMail

12 new species of frogs discovered in India

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Scientists have found 12 new species of night frogs living in the lush mountains of southwest India, and rediscovered three that had been thought extinct.

Evolution biologist Sathyabhama Das Biju from the University of Delhi says he hopes the discoveries draw attention to amphibians as important indicators of environmental health.

He said Saturday that there are now 336 known frog species in India, and that many are threatened by habitat loss.

Night frogs are hard to find as they come out only after dark and during the monsoon season. Biju and student researchers had to sit in dark tropical forests listening for frog sounds and shining flashlights under rocks and across riverbeds.

The research is published in the latest issue of international taxonomy journal Zootaxa.

 

Via DiscoveryOn

Written by Nokgiir

September 26, 2011 at 2:19 am

Immune System Trained to Kill Cancer

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A year ago, when chemotherapy stopped working against his leukemia, William Ludwig signed up to be the first patient treated in a bold experiment at the University of Pennsylvania. Mr. Ludwig, then 65, a retired corrections officer from Bridgeton, N.J., felt his life draining away and thought he had nothing to lose.

Doctors removed a billion of his T-cells — a type of white blood cell that fights viruses andtumors — and gave them new genes that would program the cells to attack his cancer. Then the altered cells were dripped back into Mr. Ludwig’s veins.

At first, nothing happened. But after 10 days, hell broke loose in his hospital room. He began shaking with chills. His temperature shot up. Hisblood pressure shot down. He became so ill that doctors moved him into intensive care and warned that he might die. His family gathered at the hospital, fearing the worst.

A few weeks later, the fevers were gone. And so was the leukemia.

There was no trace of it anywhere — no leukemic cells in his blood or bone marrow, no more bulging lymph nodes on his CT scan. His doctors calculated that the treatment had killed off two pounds of cancer cells.

A year later, Mr. Ludwig is still in complete remission. Before, there were days when he could barely get out of bed; now, he plays golf and does yard work.

“I have my life back,” he said.

Mr. Ludwig’s doctors have not claimed that he is cured — it is too soon to tell — nor have they declared victory over leukemia on the basis of this experiment, which involved only three patients. The research, they say, has far to go; the treatment is still experimental, not available outside of studies.

But scientists say the treatment that helped Mr. Ludwig, described recently in The New England Journal of Medicine and Science Translational Medicine, may signify a turning point in the long struggle to develop effective gene therapies against cancer. And not just for leukemia patients: other cancers may also be vulnerable to this novel approach — which employs a disabled form of H.I.V.-1, the virus that causes AIDS, to carry cancer-fighting genes into the patients’ T-cells. In essence, the team is using gene therapy to accomplish something that researchers have hoped to do for decades: train a person’s own immune system to kill cancer cells.

Two other patients have undergone the experimental treatment. One had a partial remission: his disease lessened but did not go away completely. Another had a complete remission. All three had had advanced chronic lymphocytic leukemia and had run out of chemotherapy options. Usually, the only hope for a remission in such cases is a bone-marrow transplant, but these patients were not candidates for it.

Dr. Carl June, who led the research and directs translational medicine in the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said that the results stunned even him and his colleagues, Dr. David L. Porter, Bruce Levine and Michael Kalos. They had hoped to see some benefit but had not dared dream of complete, prolonged remissions. Indeed, when Mr. Ludwig began running fevers, the doctors did not realize at first that it was a sign that his T-cells were engaged in a furious battle with his cancer.

Other experts in the field said the results were a major advance.

“It’s great work,” said Dr. Walter J. Urba of the Providence Cancer Center and Earle A. Chiles Research Institute in Portland, Ore. He called the patients’ recoveries remarkable, exciting and significant. “I feel very positive about this new technology. Conceptually, it’s very, very big.”

Dr. Urba said he thought the approach would ultimately be used against other types of cancer as well as leukemia and lymphoma. But he cautioned, “For patients today, we’re not there yet.” And he added the usual scientific caveat: To be considered valid, the results must be repeated in more patients, and by other research teams.

Dr. June called the techniques “a harvest of the information from the molecular biology revolution over the past two decades.”

Hitting a Genetic Jackpot

To make T-cells search out and destroy cancer, researchers must equip them to do several tasks: recognize the cancer, attack it, multiply, and live on inside the patient. A number of research groups have been trying to do this, but the T-cells they engineered could not accomplish all the tasks. As a result, the cells’ ability to fight tumors has generally been temporary.

The University of Pennsylvania team seems to have hit all the targets at once. Inside the patients, the T-cells modified by the researchers multiplied to 1,000 to 10,000 times the number infused, wiped out the cancer and then gradually diminished, leaving a population of “memory” cells that can quickly proliferate again if needed.

The researchers said they were not sure which parts of their strategy made it work — special cell-culturing techniques, the use of H.I.V.-1 to carry new genes into the T-cells, or the particular pieces of DNA that they selected to reprogram the T-cells.

The concept of doctoring T-cells genetically was first developed in the 1980s by Dr. Zelig Eshhar at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel. It involves adding gene sequences from different sources to enable the T-cells to produce what researchers call chimeric antigen receptors, or CARs — protein complexes that transform the cells into, in Dr. June’s words, “serial killers.”

 

Read More Here

‘Lost’ rainbow toad rediscovered

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Conservationists report that the Sambas Stream toad, one of their top 10 “lost” amphibian species, has been rediscovered in Malaysian Borneo 87 years after it was last sighted.

The find was made by scientists from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak who spent months looking for the toad in the remote Gunung Penrissen mountains of Western Sarawak, a natural boundary between Malaysia’s Sarawak State and Indonesia’s Kalimantan Barat Province on the island of Borneo. (Just writing those names makes me feel like Indiana Jones.)

Conservation International reports that the initial search was fruitless — so the expedition team, led by Indraneil Das, moved up to higher elevations and resumed the hunt. Eventually there came a night when one of Das’ graduate students, Pui Yong Min, spotted a small toad sitting 6 feet (2 meters) up a tree.

Das could hardly believe what he was seeing.

Indraneil Das

This picture of an adult female explains why it’s called a Bornean Rainbow Toad. The amphibian measures about 2 inches (51 millimeters) in size.

“Thrilling discoveries like this beautiful toad, and the critical importance of amphibians to healthy ecosystems, are what fuel us to keep searching for lost species,” Das said in a news release from Conservation International.  “They remind us that nature still holds precious secrets that we are still uncovering, which is why targeted protection and conservation is so important. Amphibians are indicators of environmental health, with direct implications for human health. Their benefits to people should not be underestimated.”

That’s the whole idea behind the “Search for Lost Frogs” campaign, which was launched a year ago by Conservation International and the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s SSC Amphibian Specialist Group. The groups drew up a “Ten Most Wanted” list in hopes of inspiring researchers to intensify the search for amphibians that have not been seen for decades.

The Sambas Stream toad is also known as the Bornean rainbow toad, with the scientific name Ansonia latidisca. The long-legged, multicolored toad was described by European explorers in the 1920s, and was last seen in 1924. Das’ team identified three individuals — an adult female, an adult male and a juvenile, ranging in size from roughly an inch to 2 inches (30 to 51 millimeters).

Each of the toads was found in a different mature tree, in a region of the Penrissen range that’s outside Sarawak’s system of protected areas. The precise location is being kept secret in hopes of keeping pet collectors from going after the rainbow toads.

The toads are listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List, and Conservation International said they may be eligible for protection under Sarawak’s wildlife ordinances.

Conservation International’s Robin Moore, an expert on amphibians, said he was amazed to hear of the discovery.

“When I saw an email with the subject ‘Ansonia latidisca found’ pop into my in-box, I could barely believe my eyes,” he said in the CI announcement. “Attached was an image — proof in the form of the first-ever photograph of the colorful and gangly tree-dwelling toad. The species was transformed in my mind from a black-and-white illustration to a living, colorful creature.”

Moore said he considered it a privilege to be among the first to see the pictures of the toad.

“It is good to know that nature can surprise us when we are close to giving up hope, especially amidst our planet’s escalating extinction crisis,” he said. “Amphibians are at the forefront of this tragedy, so I hope that these unique species serve as flagships for conservation, inspiring pride and hope by Malaysians and people everywhere.”

The rainbow frog is the second of the “Ten Most Wanted” amphibians to be rediscovered. The first was the Rio Pescado stubfoot toad (Atelopus balios), a species native to Ecuador that is critically endangered.

Two down, eight to go … the search continues.

 

Via MSNBC

Biological gems found in Philippines

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 Click through a slideshow featuring the new species.

Researchers say they identified 300 species that they think are new to science this spring during a biological prospecting expedition to the Philippines, organized by the California Academy of Sciences.

“The Philippines is one of the hottest of the hotspots for diverse and threatened life on Earth,” Terrence Gosliner, dean of science and research collections at the California Academy of Sciences and leader of the 2011 Philippine Biodiversity Expedition, said today in a news release about the findings. “Despite this designation, however, the biodiversity here is still relatively unknown, and we found new species during nearly every dive and hike as we surveyed the country’s reefs, rainforests, and the ocean floor.”

The 42-day expedition was launched in late April and focused on Luzon, the largest island in the Philippine archipelago, as well as the surrounding waters. In cooperation with more than two dozen colleagues from the Philippines, the academy’s scientists surveyed a wide range of ecosystems and shared their findings with local communities and conservationists.

Among the suspected new species are dozens of types of insects and spiders, deep-sea corals, sea pens, sea urchins and more than 50 kinds of sea slugs. Scientists say they came across a new kind of cicada that makes a distinctive “laughing” call, a starfish that eats only sunken driftwood, and a deep-sea swell shark that sucks water into its stomach to bulk up and scare off predators.

When the expedition ended, the scientists combined their data and identified their top conservation priorities — expansion of marine protected areas, plus reforestation to reduce sedimentation damage to coral reefs. The academy said reduction of plastic waste was also a priority, because plastic litter was pervasive throughout the marine environment, even on the ocean floor at depths of more than 6,000 feet.

Over the coming months, the expedition’s scientists will be analyzing their specimens with the aid of microscopes and DNA sequencing equipment to confirm their discoveries.

The academy’s expedition is one of many efforts around the globe to document and safeguard biodiversity — in part because yet-to-be-discovered species may point the way to commercially useful drugs or technologies, in part because they may turn out to be key to an ecosystem’s health, and in part because they’re beautiful, exotic or just plain odd.

“The species lists and distribution maps that we created during this expedition will help to inform future conservation decisions and ensure that this remarkable biodiversity is afforded the best possible chance of survival,” Gosliner said.

 

Via MSNBC/Alan Boyle

Japan nuclear: Radiation halts water clean-up

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Operators of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant have suspended an operation to clean contaminated water hours after it began due to a rapid rise in radiation.

Some 110,000 tonnes of water have built up during efforts to cool reactors hit by the 11 March earthquake and tsunami. The contaminated water, enough to fill 40 Olympic-sized swimming pools, has been at risk of spilling into the sea. The disaster caused meltdown at three of the reactors, and radiation leaks. It is the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986. The powerful earthquake and the tsunami it generated are now known to have killed more than 15,280 people, while nearly 8,500 remain unaccounted for.

Radioactive sludge?

A spokesman for the plant operators, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), said engineers were trying to find the cause of the jump in radiation levels. “The level of radiation at a machine to absorb caesium has risen faster than our initial projections,” the spokesman said.

He added that until they knew what was causing the rising levels they would not know when the operation would be able to resume.

“But I’d say it’s not something that would take weeks,” he added.

Dealing with the radioactive water is a key step to bringing the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant under control, reports the BBC’s Roland Buerk from Tokyo.

It is the rainy season in Japan and the pools of contaminated water could overflow, adding to radiation already released into the sea, adds our correspondent.

Earlier this week, officials had warned the radioactive pools were in danger of spilling into the sea within a week.

The Fukushima power station went into meltdown after its cooling systems were crippled by March’ s devastating earthquake and tsunami.

The teams at the plant suspect the radiation rise may be linked to sludge flowing into the machinery intended to absorb caesium or the pipes surrounding it. The tsunami destroyed both power and back-up generators at the plant, breaking the cooling systems. The three unstable reactors are supposed to be brought to “a stable and cold shutdown” by January 2012. Despite the setbacks Tepco says it is still on track to meet that deadline.

 

Via BBC

Fukushima: It’s much worse than you think

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Scientific experts believe Japan’s nuclear disaster to be far worse than governments are revealing to the public.

“Fukushima is the biggest industrial catastrophe in the history of mankind,” Arnold Gundersen, a former nuclear industry senior vice president.

Japan’s 9.0 earthquake on March 11 caused a massive tsunami that crippled the cooling systems at the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) nuclear plant in Fukushima, Japan. It also led to hydrogen explosions and reactor meltdowns that forced evacuations of those living within a 20km radius of the plant.

Gundersen, a licensed reactor operator with 39 years of nuclear power engineering experience, managing and coordinating projects at 70 nuclear power plants around the US, says the Fukushima nuclear plant likely has more exposed reactor cores than commonly believed.

“Fukushima has three nuclear reactors exposed and four fuel cores exposed,” he said, “You probably have the equivalent of 20 nuclear reactor cores because of the fuel cores, and they are all in desperate need of being cooled, and there is no means to cool them effectively.”

TEPCO has been spraying water on several of the reactors and fuel cores, but this has led to even greater problems, such as radiation being emitted into the air in steam and evaporated sea water – as well as generating hundreds of thousands of tons of highly radioactive sea water that has to be disposed of.

“The problem is how to keep it cool,” says Gundersen. “They are pouring in water and the question is what are they going to do with the waste that comes out of that system, because it is going to contain plutonium and uranium. Where do you put the water?”

Even though the plant is now shut down, fission products such as uranium continue to generate heat, and therefore require cooling.

“The fuels are now a molten blob at the bottom of the reactor,” Gundersen added. “TEPCO announced they had a melt through. A melt down is when the fuel collapses to the bottom of the reactor, and a melt through means it has melted through some layers. That blob is incredibly radioactive, and now you have water on top of it. The water picks up enormous amounts of radiation, so you add more water and you are generating hundreds of thousands of tons of highly radioactive water.”

Independent scientists have been monitoring the locations of radioactive “hot spots” around Japan, and their findings are disconcerting.

“We have 20 nuclear cores exposed, the fuel pools have several cores each, that is 20 times the potential to be released than Chernobyl,” said Gundersen. “The data I’m seeing shows that we are finding hot spots further away than we had from Chernobyl, and the amount of radiation in many of them was the amount that caused areas to be declared no-man’s-land for Chernobyl. We are seeing square kilometres being found 60 to 70 kilometers away from the reactor. You can’t clean all this up. We still have radioactive wild boar in Germany, 30 years after Chernobyl.”

Radiation monitors for children

Japan’s Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters finally admitted earlier this month that reactors 1, 2, and 3 at the Fukushima plant experienced full meltdowns.

TEPCO announced that the accident probably released more radioactive material into the environment than Chernobyl, making it the worst nuclear accident on record.

Meanwhile, a nuclear waste advisor to the Japanese government reported that about 966 square kilometres near the power station – an area roughly 17 times the size of Manhattan – is now likely uninhabitable.

In the US, physician Janette Sherman MD and epidemiologist Joseph Mangano published an essay shedding light on a 35 per cent spike in infant mortality in northwest cities that occurred after the Fukushima meltdown, and may well be the result of fallout from the stricken nuclear plant.

The eight cities included in the report are San Jose, Berkeley, San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Cruz, Portland, Seattle, and Boise, and the time frame of the report included the ten weeks immediately following the disaster.

“There is and should be concern about younger people being exposed, and the Japanese government will be giving out radiation monitors to children,” Dr MV Ramana, a physicist with the Programme on Science and Global Security at Princeton University who specialises in issues of nuclear safety.

Dr Ramana explained that he believes the primary radiation threat continues to be mostly for residents living within 50km of the plant, but added: “There are going to be areas outside of the Japanese government’s 20km mandatory evacuation zone where radiation is higher. So that could mean evacuation zones in those areas as well.”

Gundersen points out that far more radiation has been released than has been reported.

“They recalculated the amount of radiation released, but the news is really not talking about this,” he said. “The new calculations show that within the first week of the accident, they released 2.3 times as much radiation as they thought they released in the first 80 days.”

According to Gundersen, the exposed reactors and fuel cores are continuing to release microns of caesium, strontium, and plutonium isotopes. These are referred to as “hot particles”.

“We are discovering hot particles everywhere in Japan, even in Tokyo,” he said. “Scientists are finding these everywhere. Over the last 90 days these hot particles have continued to fall and are being deposited in high concentrations. A lot of people are picking these up in car engine air filters.”

Radioactive air filters from cars in Fukushima prefecture and Tokyo are now common, and Gundersen says his sources are finding radioactive air filters in the greater Seattle area of the US as well.

The hot particles on them can eventually lead to cancer.

“These get stuck in your lungs or GI tract, and they are a constant irritant,” he explained, “One cigarette doesn’t get you, but over time they do. These [hot particles] can cause cancer, but you can’t measure them with a Geiger counter. Clearly people in Fukushima prefecture have breathed in a large amount of these particles. Clearly the upper West Coast of the US has people being affected. That area got hit pretty heavy in April.”

Blame the US?

In reaction to the Fukushima catastrophe, Germany is phasing out all of its nuclear reactors over the next decade. In a referendum vote this Monday, 95 per cent of Italians voted in favour of blocking a nuclear power revival in their country. A recent newspaper poll in Japan shows nearly three-quarters of respondents favour a phase-out of nuclear power in Japan.

Why have alarms not been sounded about radiation exposure in the US?

Nuclear operator Exelon Corporation has been among Barack Obama’s biggest campaign donors, and is one of the largest employers in Illinois where Obama was senator. Exelon has donated more than $269,000 to his political campaigns, thus far. Obama also appointed Exelon CEO John Rowe to his Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future.

Dr Shoji Sawada is a theoretical particle physicist and Professor Emeritus at Nagoya University in Japan.
He is concerned about the types of nuclear plants in his country, and the fact that most of them are of US design.

“Most of the reactors in Japan were designed by US companies who did not care for the effects of earthquakes,” Dr Sawada told Al Jazeera. “I think this problem applies to all nuclear power stations across Japan.”

Using nuclear power to produce electricity in Japan is a product of the nuclear policy of the US, something Dr Sawada feels is also a large component of the problem.

“Most of the Japanese scientists at that time, the mid-1950s, considered that the technology of nuclear energy was under development or not established enough, and that it was too early to be put to practical use,” he explained. “The Japan Scientists Council recommended the Japanese government not use this technology yet, but the government accepted to use enriched uranium to fuel nuclear power stations, and was thus subjected to US government policy.”

As a 13-year-old, Dr Sawada experienced the US nuclear attack against Japan from his home, situated just 1400 metres from the hypocentre of the Hiroshima bomb.

“I think the Fukushima accident has caused the Japanese people to abandon the myth that nuclear power stations are safe,” he said. “Now the opinions of the Japanese people have rapidly changed. Well beyond half the population believes Japan should move towards natural electricity.”

A problem of infinite proportions

Dr Ramana expects the plant reactors and fuel cores to be cooled enough for a shutdown within two years.

“But it is going to take a very long time before the fuel can be removed from the reactor,” he added. “Dealing with the cracking and compromised structure and dealing with radiation in the area will take several years, there’s no question about that.”

Dr Sawada is not as clear about how long a cold shutdown could take, and said the problem will be “the effects from caesium-137 that remains in the soil and the polluted water around the power station and underground. It will take a year, or more time, to deal with this”.

Gundersen pointed out that the units are still leaking radiation.

“They are still emitting radioactive gases and an enormous amount of radioactive liquid,” he said. “It will be at least a year before it stops boiling, and until it stops boiling, it’s going to be cranking out radioactive steam and liquids.”

Gundersen worries about more earthquake aftershocks, as well as how to cool two of the units.

“Unit four is the most dangerous, it could topple,” he said. “After the earthquake in Sumatra there was an 8.6 [aftershock] about 90 days later, so we are not out of the woods yet. And you’re at a point where, if that happens, there is no science for this, no one has ever imagined having hot nuclear fuel lying outside the fuel pool. They’ve not figured out how to cool units three and four.”

Gundersen’s assessment of solving this crisis is grim.

“Units one through three have nuclear waste on the floor, the melted core, that has plutonium in it, and that has to be removed from the environment for hundreds of thousands of years,” he said. “Somehow, robotically, they will have to go in there and manage to put it in a container and store it for infinity, and that technology doesn’t exist. Nobody knows how to pick up the molten core from the floor, there is no solution available now for picking that up from the floor.”

Dr Sawada says that the creation of nuclear fission generates radioactive materials for which there is simply no knowledge informing us how to dispose of the radioactive waste safely.

“Until we know how to safely dispose of the radioactive materials generated by nuclear plants, we should postpone these activities so as not to cause further harm to future generations,” he explained. “To do otherwise is simply an immoral act, and that is my belief, both as a scientist and as a survivor of the Hiroshima atomic bombing.”

Gundersen believes it will take experts at least ten years to design and implement the plan.

“So ten to 15 years from now maybe we can say the reactors have been dismantled, and in the meantime you wind up contaminating the water,” Gundersen said. “We are already seeing Strontium [at] 250 times the allowable limits in the water table at Fukushima. Contaminated water tables are incredibly difficult to clean. So I think we will have a contaminated aquifer in the area of the Fukushima site for a long, long time to come.”

Unfortunately, the history of nuclear disasters appears to back Gundersen’s assessment.

“With Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, and now with Fukushima, you can pinpoint the exact day and time they started,” he said, “But they never end.”

 

Via AJTV

 

Forever young drug ? The pill that will keep you youthful by preventing the ills of old age

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Miracle cure? the pill could prevent many of the ills of old age A ‘forever young’ drug that allows people to grow old gracefully could be available in just ten years, a leading scientist said last night.

Professor Linda Partridge, an expert in the genetics of ageing, said that the science is moving so quickly that it will soon be possible to prevent many of the ills of old age.

By taking a pill a day from middle-age, we will grow old free from illnesses of the body and mind such as Alzheimer’s and heart disease.

People could work for longer – or simply make the most of their retirement. Some research even suggests skin and hair will retain its youthful lustre.

Professor Partridge, of University College London, said: ‘I would be surprised if there weren’t things within ten years. If told you could take a drug that has minimal side-effects and that’s going to keep you healthy for another five or ten years and then you’ll drop off your perch without disability, most people would want it.’

Extraordinary as the professor’s prediction may seem, it is based on a host of promising scientific studies from around the world.

They have discovered key genes linked to longevity and health – and found ways of tinkering with them, at least in animals.

In one of the remarkable examples, a Harvard University doctor made old mice young again, in experiments that mirrored the plot of The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, where the lead character played by Brad Pitt ages in reverse.

At the start of the experiment, the animals’ skin, brains, guts and other organs resembled those of an 80-year-old person.

 

In development: One experiment saw a professor make old mice young again

In development: One experiment saw a professor make old mice young again.

Within just two months of being given a drug that switches on a key enzyme, the creatures had grown so many new cells that they had almost completely rejuvenated.

Remarkably, the male mice went from being infertile to fathering large litters.

Other research has shown that chains of reactions in the body involving insulin and related hormones are key to health and ageing. This means that years of research into diabetes could have yielded medicines that can be reinvented as anti-ageing drugs.

Professor Partridge told the Cheltenham Science Festival that some medicines abandoned by drug companies may soon be dusted off and put to use. She said:

‘There are drugs there already, some of them are just sitting in cupboards. I’d be surprised if people don’t start taking them out.

‘The principle is for drugs that if taken from middle-age will ward off quite a broad array of diseases rather than doing things piece-meal or acting when the diseases appear.’

However, she said any drugs would have to be shown to be extremely safe before they were given to healthy people to combat ageing.

 

 

Via DailyMail

Drug makes hearts repair themselves

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Man having heart attackA drug that makes hearts repair themselves has been used in research on mice.

The damage caused by a heart attack had previously been considered permanent.

But a study in the journal Nature showed the drug, thymosin beta 4, if used in advance of a heart attack, was able to “prime” the heart for repair.

The British Heart Foundation described repair as the “holy grail of heart research”, but said any treatment in humans was years away.

Due to advances in health care the number of people dying from coronary heart disease is falling.

But those living with heart failure are on the rise – more than 750,000 people have the condition in the UK alone.

UK Heart statistics

Deaths from coronary heart disease

  • 1961 – 165,216
  • 2001 – 117,743
  • 2009 – 80,223

Estimated people living with heart failure

  • 1961 – 100,000
  • 1971 – 300,000
  • 2010 – 750,000

Source: British Heart Foundation

Wake up

The researchers at University College London looked at a group of cells which are able to transform into different types of heart tissue in an embryo.

In adults epicardium-derived progenitor cells line the heart, but have become dormant.

Scientists used a chemical, thymosin beta 4, to “wake them up”.

Professor Paul Riley, from the University College London, said: “The adult epicardial cells which line the muscle of the heart can be activated, move inward and give rise to new heart muscle.”

“We saw an improvement in the ejection fraction, in the ability of the heart to pump out blood, of 25%.”

As well as pumping more blood, the scar tissue was reduced and the walls of the heart became thicker.

Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said he was “very excited” about the research but warned the scale of improvement seen in animals was rarely seen in humans.

HeartHowever, he argued that even a small improvement would have a dramatic impact on people’s quality of life.

“A normal heart has lots of spare capacity. In patients with heart failure it is working flat out just to sit down [and] it’s like running a marathon,” he said.

“You could turn a patient from somebody who’s gasping while sitting in a chair to somebody who can sit comfortably in a chair.”

Advance therapy

The mice needed to take the drug in advance of a heart attack in order for it to be effective. As the researchers put it, “the priming effect is key”.

If a similar drug could be found to be effective in humans, then the researchers believe it would need to be prescribed in a similar way to statins.

Professor Riley said “I could envisage a patient known to be at risk of a heart attack – either because of family history or warning signs spotted by their GP – taking an oral tablet, which would prime their heart so that if they had a heart attack the damage could be repaired.”

He said this could be available in 10 years.

The British Heart Foundation, which funded the study, said repairing a damaged heart was the “holy grail” of heart research.

The results strengthened the evidence that drugs could be used to prevent the onset of heart failure, it said.

 

Via BBC

Anthropologist Discovers New Fossil Primate Species in West Texas

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Physical anthropologist Chris Kirk has announced the discovery of a previously unknown species of fossil primate, Mescalerolemur horneri, in the Devil’s Graveyard badlands of West Texas.

Mescalerolemur lived during the Eocene Epoch about 43 million years ago, and would have most closely resembled a small present-day lemur. Mescalerolemur is a member of an extinct primate group — the adapiforms — that were found throughout the Northern Hemisphere in the Eocene. However, just like Mahgarita stevensi, a younger fossil primate found in the same area in 1973, Mescalerolemur is more closely related to Eurasian and African adapiforms than those from North America.

“These Texas primates are unlike any other Eocene primate community that has ever been found in terms of the species that are represented,” says Kirk, associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at The University of Texas at Austin. “The presence of both Mescalerolemur and Mahgarita, which are only found in the Big Bend region of Texas, comes after the more common adapiforms from the Eocene of North America had already become extinct. This is significant because it provides further evidence of faunal interchange between North America and East Asia during the Middle Eocene.”

By the end of the Eocene, primates and other tropically adapted species had all but disappeared from North America due to climatic cooling, so Kirk is sampling the last burst of diversity in North American primates. With its lower latitudes and more equable climate, West Texas offered warm-adapted species a greater chance of survival after the cooling began.

Kirk says Marie Butcher, a then undergraduate who graduated with degrees in anthropology and biology from The University of Texas at Austin, found the first isolated tooth ofMescalerolemur in 2005. Since that time, many more primate fossils have been recovered by Kirk and more than 20 student volunteers at a locality called “Purple Bench.” This fossil locality is three to four million years older than the Devil’s Graveyard sediments that had previously produced Mahgarita stevensi.

“I initially thought that we had found a new, smaller species of Mahgarita,” Kirk says.

However, as more specimens were prepared at the Texas Memorial Museum’s Vertebrate Paleontology Lab, Kirk realized he had discovered not just a new species, but a new genus that was previously unknown to science.

Fossils of Mescalerolemur reveal it was a small primate, weighing only about 370 grams. This body weight is similar to that of the living greater dwarf lemur. Mescalerolemur‘s dental anatomy reveals a close evolutionary relationship with adapiform primates from Eurasia and Africa, including Darwinius masillae, a German fossil primate previously claimed to be a human ancestor. However, the discovery ofMescalerolemur provides further evidence that adapiform primates like Darwinius are more closely related to living lemurs and bush babies than they are to humans.

For example, the right and left halves of Mescalerolemur‘s lower jaws were two separate bones with a joint along the midline, a common trait for lemurs and bush babies. Mahgarita stevensi, the closest fossil relative of Mescalerolemur, had a completely fused jaw joint like that of humans.

“Because Mescalerolemur and Mahgarita are close relatives, fusion of the lower jaws in Mahgarita must have occurred independently from that observed in humans and their relatives, the monkeys and apes” Kirk says.

The new genus is named Mescalerolemur after the Mescalero Apache, who inhabited the Big Bend region of Texas from about 1700-1880. The species name, horneri, honors Norman Horner, an entomologist and professor emeritus at Midwestern State University (MSU) in Wichita Falls, Texas. Horner helped to establish MSU’s Dalquest Desert Research Site, where the new primate fossils were found.

Via ScienceDaily