Category: Science

A childhood vaccine that reduces risk of leukemia

Young children are routinely vaccinated against Haemophilus influenza type B, or HiB, a bacterium that can cause meningitis and other serious problems. But the HiB vaccine has an added benefit: It reduces the risk for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, the most common childhood cancer, and now scientists know why.

Dr. Markus Müschen, the senior author of a new study published in Nature Immunology, explained that in infants, the immune system is more “nimble” than in older people. If they are exposed to HiB early in life — in day care, for example — their immune response is usually, but not always, well controlled, fighting the bacterium without causing serious illness.

But using a mouse model, Dr. Müschen and his colleagues found that in some cases, infection with the HiB bacterium triggers a vigorous immune reaction that activates two enzymes. These enzymes can cause mutations in certain types of blood cells, driving them into malignancy. When this happens, children are more likely to develop leukemia when they are 5 to 7 years old.

Dr. Müschen, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, said that the effect of the vaccine was a 20 percent reduction in risk for leukemia. “This seems small,” he said. “But it’s highly significant in large populations. Whatever activates the immune system early in life reduces the risk for ALL.”

It ain’t going to seem small to the parents of young kids who didn’t get leukemia.

Yes — another Antarctic ice mass is becoming destabilized


Click to enlarge — Hope Bay glacier now shedding ice

The troubling news continues this week for the Antarctic peninsula region, which juts out from the icy continent.

Last week, scientists documented threats to the Larsen C and the remainder of the Larsen B ice shelf (most of which collapsed in 2002). The remnant of Larsen B, NASA researchers said, may not last past 2020. And as for Larsen C, the Scotland-sized ice shelf could also be at potentially “imminent risk” due to a rift across its mass that is growing in size…

And the staccato of May melt news isn’t over, it seems…Researchers from the University of Bristol in Britain, along with researchers from Germany, France and the Netherlands, reported on the retreat of a suite of glaciers farther south from Larsen B and C along the Bellingshausen Sea, in a region known as the Southern Antarctic Peninsula…

Using satellite based and gravity measurements, the research team found that “a major portion of the region has, since 2009, destabilized” and accounts for “a major fraction of Antarctica’s contribution to rising sea level.”

The likely cause of the change, they say, is warmer waters reaching the base of mostly submerged ice shelves that hold back larger glaciers — melting them from below.

This has been a common theme in Antarctica recently — a similar mechanism has been postulated for melting of ice shelves in nearby West Antarctica (which contains vastly more ice, and more potential sea level rise, than does the Antarctic peninsula)…

Indeed, the paper suggests these southern Antarctic peninsula glaciers may have only begun their retreat. The glaciers may now be unstable, says the paper, because some of their ice shelves currently rest on bedrock that is not only below sea level, but slopes further downhill as one moves inland…

The greater Antarctic worry remains the ice shelves and glaciers in other regions, West Antarctica and East Antarctica, whose potential contribution to sea level rise is measured in feet or meters, not centimeters or inches. Still, the broad picture is that we’re now seeing consistent — and worrying — changes in many different regions on the fringes of the vast frozen continent.

The know-nothings carry on consistently. They seek out a lone skeptic, legitimate or otherwise, whose writings match their unwillingness to accept responsibility. It doesn’t really matter what the event may be, the process inexorably trudging towards future ills and dim loss. Whether a futile war, corrupt economic policies, destruction of our planetary environment – papier mache politicians accept neither responsibility nor the charge to lead the way from disaster.

Anti-science is only part of their anti-reality. Passing the buck to the next generation’s taxpayers is perfectly acceptable to creeps who define wars as unfunded mandates.

Dogs have been man’s best friend longer than we thought

The bond between humans and dogs can feel very strong, deep and profound. It may also be much older than we once thought.

A group of researchers discovered an ancient wolf bone and say its DNA suggests dogs diverged from wolves 27,000 to 40,000 years ago — not 11,000 to 16,000 years ago, as previous research has suggested. The researchers published their findings Thursday in the journal Current Biology.

In this latest study, researchers radiocarbon-dated a Taimyr wolf bone they found in Siberia and concluded it to be about 35,000 years old. Researchers point to the ancient wolf as possibly the most recent common relative of modern wolves and dogs.

That means two things could have happened about 40,000 years ago, with the simplest scenario being that dogs became domesticated.

“The only other explanation is that there was a major divergence between two wolf populations at that time, and one of these populations subsequently gave rise to all modern wolves,” study co-author Love Dalén of the Swedish Museum of Natural History said in a release.

Under that theory, the second wolf population would had to have gone extinct…

“The difference between the earlier genetic studies and ours is that we can calibrate the rate of evolutionary change in dog and wolf genomes directly, and we find that the first separation of dog ancestors must have been in the older range,” Skoglund told Reuters.

Another implication of this study: re-imagining how dogs became an important part of human society. As the BBC notes, a prevalent theory is that dogs became domestic creatures once humans settled into agricultural-based communities.

Humans could have also “caught wolf cubs and kept them as pets and this gradually led to these wild wolves being domesticated,” Dalen told BBC. “If this model is correct, then dogs were domesticated by hunter gatherers that led a fairly nomadic lifestyle.”

Being a longterm dog family, we’ve always felt that some extra smart dogs figured out we were a soft touch and moved in.

Solving the energy crisis with affordable, renewable clean fuel — in Hobbs, NM

Joule has pioneered a CO2-to-fuel production platform, effectively reversing combustion through the use of solar energy. Free of feedstock constraints and complex processing, this platform can achieve unrivaled scalability, volumes and costs without the use of any agricultural land, fresh water or crops.

Unlike products derived with complexity from petroleum or biomass, Joule Sunflow® products are produced in a direct, continuous process from abundant resources. The novel CO2-to-liquids conversion requires only sunlight, non-potable water and proprietary catalysts that are tailored to produce specific products, including ethanol and hydrocarbon fuels that are inherently compatible with existing infrastructure.

…This uniquely modular system can achieve replicable productivity, whether installed across 100 or 1,000 acres, mitigating scale-up risks and ensuring stability of supply. At full-scale commercialization in ideal locations, the company ultimately targets 25,000 US gallons of Joule Sunflow®-E (solar ethanol) or 15,000 US gallons of Joule Sunflow®-D (solar diesel) per acre annually, for approximately $1.20/US gallon ($50/barrel).

Joule has successfully pilot-tested its platform for over two years, initiated demonstration-scale operations, and assembled a specialized team to lay the groundwork for commercial deployment. The company is moving rapidly to commercialize Joule Sunflow-E, with Joule Sunflow-D and additional hydrocarbon fuels to follow.

Phew! The link above is from the “about us” statement at their website. Wander through the whole site starting here. Looks interesting. A winner if it works.

Had this link in the hopper for a short spell and just got round to clicking through.

Do you risk Mad Cow Disease – from cutting the grass?

Grass plants can bind, uptake and transport infectious prions, according to researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). The research was published online in the latest issue of Cell Reports.

Prions are the protein-based infectious agents responsible for a group of diseases called transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, which includes bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) in cattle, scrapie in sheep, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans and chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer, elk and moose. All are fatal brain diseases with incubation periods that last years.

CWD, first diagnosed in mule deer in Colorado in the late 1960s, has spread across the country into 22 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including the counties of El Paso and Hudspeth in Texas. In northeastern Colorado and southeastern Wyoming, the disease is endemic. Soto’s team sought to find out why…

There is no proof of transmission from wild animals and plants to humans,” said lead author Claudio Soto, Ph.D., professor of neurology at UTHealth Medical School and director of the UTHealth George and Cynthia W. Mitchell Center for Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Brain Related Illnesses. “But it’s a possibility that needs to be explored and people need to be aware of it. Prions have a long incubation period.”

RTFA. It’s a serious study and should be treated as such.

OTOH, any excuse to get out of cutting the grass is OK with me.

Over 40% of bee hives died in past year – Bayer says “Don’t worry, bee happy”

More than two out of five American honeybee colonies died in the past year, and surprisingly the worst die-off was in the summer…

Since April 2014, beekeepers lost 42.1 percent of their colonies, the second highest loss rate in nine years, according to an annual survey conducted by a bee partnership that includes the U.S. Department of Agriculture…

What shocked the entomologists is that is the first time they’ve noticed bees dying more in the summer than the winter, said vanEngelsdorp said. The survey found beekeepers lost 27.4 percent of their colonies this summer. That’s up from 19.8 percent the previous summer.

Seeing massive colony losses in summer is like seeing “a higher rate of flu deaths in the summer than winter,” vanEngelsdorp said. “You just don’t expect colonies to die at this rate in the summer.”

Oklahoma, Illinois, Iowa, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Maine and Wisconsin all saw more than 60 percent of their hives die since April 2014, according to the survey…

Delaplane and vanEngelsdorp said a combination of mites, poor nutrition and pesticides are to blame for the bee deaths. USDA bee scientist Jeff Pettis said last summer’s large die-off included unusual queen loss and seemed worse in colonies that moved more.

Dick Rogers, chief beekeeper for pesticide-maker Bayer, said the loss figure is “not unusual at all” and said the survey shows an end result of more colonies now than before: 2.74 million hives in 2015, up from 2.64 million in 2014.

That doesn’t mean bee health is improving or stable, vanEngelsdorp said. After they lose colonies, beekeepers are splitting their surviving hives to recover their losses, pushing the bees to their limits, Delaplane said.

Bayer’s sophistry is impressive. They should make even larger donations to Congressional fops. They need the creeps in government who refuse responsibility for any destructive result from the corporate quest for profit at any price.

Key findings about the changing U.S. religious landscape

FSM
Click to enlarge

Pew Research Center’s new Religious Landscape Study, the first since our 2007 study, draws on a massive sample size of more than 35,000 Americans to offer a detailed look at the current religious composition of U.S. adults. The size of the sample enables us to explore relatively small religious groups (including specific Christian denominations) as well as state- and metropolitan area-level data.

In addition to the full report, the findings of the study can be explored at a new interactive website. Here are a few of the key findings:

Christians are declining, both as a share of the U.S. population and in total number. In 2007, 78.4% of U.S. adults identified with Christian groups, such as Protestants, Catholics, Mormons and others; seven years later, that percentage has fallen to 70.6%. Accounting for overall population growth in that period, that means there are roughly 173 million Christian adults in the U.S. today, down from about 178 million in 2007.

Within Christianity, the biggest declines have been in the mainline Protestant tradition and among Catholics

The decline of Christians in the U.S. has corresponded with the continued rise in the share of Americans with no religious affiliation…People who self-identify as atheists or agnostics (about 7% of all U.S. adults), as well as those who say their religion is “nothing in particular,” now account for a combined 22.8% of U.S. adults – up from 16.1% in 2007…

There are clear differences between certain demographic groups when it comes to religious affiliation

The share of Americans who identify with non-Christian faiths, such as Islam and Hinduism, has grown modestly

You’ll find the whole report online over here. An interesting read especially if you find philosophy, personal and sociological, of interest. As I do.

Yes, we’re still about a half-century or more behind the rest of the industrial West when it comes to re-examining the beliefs we inherit from our less-educated forebears. Not much we can do about it except continue to encourage education. Folks can come to progressive conclusions on their own; but, it does help to have an extended opportunity to see what the whole world is learning and talking about. Ain’t many folks getting that from cable TV or this year’s hot social media.

A consensus on coffee’s benefits

Coffee has long had a reputation as being unhealthy. But in almost every single respect that reputation is backward. The potential health benefits are surprisingly large…

Just last year, a systematic review and meta-analysis of studies looking at long-term consumption of coffee and the risk of cardiovascular disease was published. The researchers found 36 studies involving more than 1,270,000 participants. The combined data showed that those who consumed a moderate amount of coffee, about three to five cups a day, were at the lowest risk for problems. Those who consumed five or more cups a day had no higher risk than those who consumed none.

Of course, everything I’m saying here concerns coffee — black coffee. I am not talking about the mostly milk and sugar coffee-based beverages that lots of people consume. These could include, but aren’t limited to, things like a McDonald’s large mocha (500 calories, 17 grams of fat, 72 grams of carbohydrates), a Starbucks Venti White Chocolate Mocha (580 calories, 22 grams of fat, 79 grams of carbs), and a Large Dunkin’ Donuts frozen caramel coffee Coolatta (670 calories, 8 grams of fat, 144 grams of carbs).

…Years earlier, a meta-analysis — a study of studies, in which data are pooled and analyzed together — was published looking at how coffee consumption might be associated with stroke. Eleven studies were found, including almost 480,000 participants. As with the prior studies, consumption of two to six cups of coffee a day was associated with a lower risk of disease, compared with those who drank none. Another meta-analysis published a year later confirmed these findings.

Rounding out concerns about the effect of coffee on your heart, another meta-analysis examined how drinking coffee might be associated with heart failure. Again, moderate consumption was associated with a lower risk, with the lowest risk among those who consumed four servings a day. Consumption had to get up to about 10 cups a day before any bad associations were seen.

No one is suggesting you drink more coffee for your health. But drinking moderate amounts of coffee is linked to lower rates of pretty much all cardiovascular disease, contrary to what many might have heard about the dangers of coffee or caffeine. Even consumers on the very high end of the spectrum appear to have minimal, if any, ill effects.

But let’s not cherry-pick. There are outcomes outside of heart health that matter. Many believe that coffee might be associated with an increased risk of cancer. Certainly, individual studies have found that to be the case, and these are sometimes highlighted by the news media. But in the aggregate, most of these negative outcomes disappear.

Aaron E. Carroll is a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine. He blogs on health research and policy at The Incidental Economist. He carries forward from this point in his article to broaden his search for understanding of the effects of coffee drinking – usually in moderation – on your health.

I suggest you RTFA. It’s even written in human being-English.

Saving avocado trees with drones and dogs

In Florida, a devastating disease threatens the nation’s nearly half-a-billion dollar avocado industry. That’s leading researchers to use extreme measures: drones and dogs…

The hunt for the deadly fungus begins in the air. A drone scans a seemingly healthy avocado grove and in just minutes, its multi-spectral camera spots trees in trouble.

Trees indicated in yellow or red may be infected by a fungus, carried by the microscopic ambrosia beetle that causes laurel wilt…

Once the drone has narrowed the search area, the dogs set to work. The fungus spreads through a tree’s interior and is invisible to the human eye, but the smell is inescapable to the sensitive noses of these trained dogs. They check every tree at risk and sit when the disease is detected…

Laurel wilt has killed an estimated 6,000 avocado trees in Florida in the last few years. The state is the second-largest avocado producer in the nation, and a $64 million industry is now at risk…

Scientists hope to stop the disease in Florida. One of their biggest fears is that it will spread to California, the country’s largest producer of avocados. For now, growers in Florida are hoping to get through this season, as they start harvesting groves in June.

Scary enough for me. I generally have an avocado every day.

In this neck of the prairie, I’m probably eating one from Mexico or California. In fact, we’ve already had some from California already.

Know-Nothings will hate the Pope even more – Climate Change encyclical coming

pope-francis

Since his first homily in 2013, Pope Francis has preached about the need to protect the earth and all of creation as part of a broad message on the environment. It has caused little controversy so far.

But now, as Francis prepares to deliver what is likely to be a highly influential encyclical this summer on environmental degradation and the effects of human-caused climate change on the poor, he is alarming some conservatives in the United States who are loath to see the Catholic Church reposition itself as a mighty voice in a cause they do not believe in.

As part of the effort for the encyclical, top Vatican officials will hold a summit meeting…to build momentum for a campaign by Francis to urge world leaders to enact a sweeping United Nations climate change accord in Paris in December. The accord would for the first time commit every nation to enact tough new laws to cut the emissions that cause global warming.

The Vatican summit meeting will focus on the links between poverty, economic development and climate change, with speeches and panel discussions by climate scientists and religious leaders, and economists like Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia. The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, who is leading efforts to forge the Paris accord, will deliver the opening address…

In the United States, the encyclical will be accompanied by a 12-week campaign, now being prepared with the participation of some Catholic bishops, to raise the issue of climate change and environmental stewardship in sermons, homilies, news media interviews and letters to newspaper editors, said Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant in Washington.

But the effort is already angering a number of American conservatives, among them members of the Heartland Institute, a [purportedly] libertarian group partly funded by the Charles G. Koch Foundation, run by the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers, who oppose climate policy…

But climate policy advocates see a scheduled address by the pope to Congress in September as a potent moment — about 30 percent of members of Congress are Catholics, more than belong to any other religion, according to a study published this year by the Pew Research Center…

“I think Boehner was out of his mind to invite the pope to speak to Congress,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, an analyst at the National Catholic Reporter. “Can you imagine what the Republicans will do when he says, ‘You’ve got to do something about global warming’?… ”

Francis chose the name of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment. He talks the talk- and walks the walk. Unlike the patent leather princes American Catholics have been accustomed to Francis actually says the ethics and morality preached in the communal wing of his church are standards that have to be lived up to if you are to be a good Catholic.

I wonder how that will go over with creeps like John Boehner or Rick Santorum, phonies like Jeb Bush, Rubio, Jindal and Christie, et al?