Category: Science

Study projects how climate change will affect wheat-eating bugs

A couple of ordinary-looking refrigerator-type chambers at the University of Idaho may soon reveal what farmers might expect as the planet warms and carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere go up.

The chambers, which are being monitored this summer by Seth Davis and Nate Foote of the U of I, are used to measure the effect of normal and higher rates of carbon dioxide on the cereal leaf beetle – an insect that can be devastating to wheat crops. The experiment is part of a national project aimed at helping scientists understand what could happen to the ecosystem as global warming continues throughout the 21st century.

“Everyone should be happy that our projections are saying that in this region, in the near term, (effects from global warming) are not significantly damaging,” said U of I entomologist Sanford Eigenbrode. “In the long term the uncertainty is greater but unless there is some reversal of the process it’s going to get very hard to grow wheat here ultimately. The idea is to be ready…”

Eigenbrode’s team participated in the National Assessment of Climate Change released recently by the Obama administration, warning of the potential consequences of continued global warming.

It may seem trivial to study the effects of higher levels of carbon dioxide and warmer temperatures on a bug, but the experiment is a bellwether for some of the challenges farmers would face in a changing environment.

The cereal leaf beetle was introduced into the Palouse in the late 1990s but has since been successfully controlled by a parasite wasp that feeds on the beetle and reduces its effect.

Eigenbrode said there are indications, however, the beetle and the wasp would adapt differently in a warmer climate with higher carbon dioxide levels.

The parasite is likely not to be as effective at controlling the beetle, thus increasing the potential for damage to wheat and other cereal grain crops…

“There are parts of the world that used to produce crops that don’t anymore,” Eigenbrode said. “We really don’t want to be one of those places.”

Agribusiness is one of those rare niches in capitalism where participants tend to peer out into the future – preparing for the good and the bad. Unlike the rest of the investing class who barely contain themselves through monthly portions of quarterly cycles.

And Congress which, as we well know, only plans for the next election.

Thanks, Mike

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Putting Charlotte’s Web – and cannabidiol – to the (clinical) test

Zaki Jackson is one of the success stories in reducing seizures in epilepsy patients

There’s a lot to get excited about with Charlotte’s Web, the cannabis oil featured on this week’s “TechKnow” that appears to drastically reduce, or even stop entirely, massive and debilitating seizures in kids with severe epilepsy. But even setting aside the obvious controversy — should parents be treating their children with medical marijuana? — there’s still a lot that’s not yet known.

Even though Jesse Stanley, whose dispensary developed Charlotte’s Web, has a waiting list of thousands of families eager to get access to the drugs, he understands that federal distribution and wider acceptance are still a work in progress…

While Crystal Dilworth [TECHKNOW contributor and molecular neuroscientist] says there’s a clear compassionate-use argument for the Colorado families using Charlotte’s Web — most showed little to no progress with traditional, Western pharmaceuticals — any larger use of this or similar treatments raises some big questions.


Though the Stanley brothers pride themselves on consistent production standards and closely monitor the drug’s impact with families, as well as using blood tests to determine and adjust dosing amounts, Charlotte’s Web has not been a part of any FDA-approved studies.


“We assume that because Charlotte’s Web is so high in cannabidiol, or CBD, that it is what is causing the change in seizures,” Dilworth says, but the process used by the Stanley brothers doesn’t isolate pure CBD or account for the impact of other ingredients used in making the oil, such as the food-grade alcohol or olive oil. “You can’t really make the statements about what’s working if you don’t know for sure.”

The GW Pharmaceuticals trials seen in “TechKnow” are not testing Charlotte’s Web. “It’s not a preparation, it’s a pharmacological compound,” says Cilio. “Pure CBD is only obtainable in the lab. There is always a small percentage of THC in the artisanal preparation, including Charlotte’s Web.”

The Stanley brothers are concerned that if pure CBD trials aren’t successful, it could be confused with poor results for Charlotte’s Web. But, Dilworth says, “If the GW single-compound study doesn’t produce positive results, it is entirely possible that Charlotte’s Web extract is special because it contains a certain ratio of other molecules that are necessary for seizure cessation. It is not uncommon for multiple compounds to act synergistically to exert a unique physiological effect — neuroscientists call this ‘potentiation.’ CBD could still be the important molecule, but it might need help from others to be fully effective…”


While marijuana is considered very safe, there’s plenty about the long-term toxicity of cannabis products — especially when used by children — that’s unknown.

One of the very best things about Al Jazeera America becoming a reality on US television – has been the range of uniquely American features supplementing their regular news programming. TECHKNOW being one of the very best. It’s a high priority in our DVR. Though it may be a day or two before we sit down to view each week’s programming – the two or three topics featured always provoke interest and discussion.

Ain’t too much in knowledge programming on US television likely to have that effect.

Newborns exposed to dirt, dander, germs may have a lower allergy, asthma risk

Infants exposed to rodent and pet dander, roach allergens and a wide variety of household bacteria in the first year of life appear less likely to suffer from allergies, wheezing and asthma, according to results of a study conducted by scientists at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center and other institutions.

Previous research has shown that children who grow up on farms have lower allergy and asthma rates, a phenomenon attributed to their regular exposure to microorganisms present in farm soil. Other studies, however, have found increased asthma risk among inner-city dwellers exposed to high levels of roach and mouse allergens and pollutants. The new study confirms that children who live in such homes do have higher overall allergy and asthma rates but adds a surprising twist: Those who encounter such substances before their first birthdays seem to benefit rather than suffer from them. Importantly, the protective effects of both allergen and bacterial exposure were not seen if a child’s first encounter with these substances occurred after age 1…

A report on the study, published on June 6 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, reveals that early exposure to bacteria and certain allergens may have a protective effect by shaping children’s immune responses — a finding that researchers say may help inform preventive strategies for allergies and wheezing, both precursors to asthma…

The study was conducted among 467 inner-city newborns from Baltimore, Boston, New York and St. Louis whose health was tracked over three years. The investigators visited homes to measure the levels and types of allergens present in the infants’ surroundings and tested them for allergies and wheezing via periodic blood and skin-prick tests, physical exams and parental surveys. In addition, the researchers collected and analyzed the bacterial content of dust collected from the homes of 104 of the 467 infants in the study…

Asthma is one of the most common pediatric illnesses, affecting some 7 million children in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By the time they turn 3, up to half of all children develop wheezing, which in many cases evolves into full-blown asthma.

Doesn’t everyone have a grandma story about how much dirt you’re supposed to eat before you get to go to school instead of playing outdoors? I certainly did. Both sides of the family.

Is schizophrenia caused by demons? WTF?

GBeck's bedroom

“The causes of schizophrenia have been the subject of much debate”, and the debate is now extended with a new possibility proposed by Dr. Kemal Irmak, of the High Council of Science, Gulhane Military Medical Academy, Ankara, Turkey.

In the June 2014 issue…of the Journal of Religion and Health(which is an “international interdisciplinary journal which publishes original peer-reviewed articles that deal with mental and physical health in relation to religion and spirituality of all kinds.”) Dr. Irmak and colleagues ask : Schizophrenia or Possession?

“Hallucinations are a cardinal positive symptom of schizophrenia which deserves careful study in the hope it will give information about the pathophysiology of the disorder. We thought that many so-called hallucinations in schizophrenia are really illusions related to a real environmental stimulus.

One approach to this hallucination problem is to consider the possibility of a demonic world. Demons are unseen creatures that are believed to exist in all major religions and have the power to possess humans and control their body. Demonic possession can manifest with a range of bizarre behaviors which could be interpreted as a number of different psychotic disorders with delusions and hallucinations. The hallucination in schizophrenia may therefore be an illusion—a false interpretation of a real sensory image formed by demons.”

The new theory raises an enigmatic question : if medication helps patients, is it acting on the patients themselves, or on the demons which possess them?


Scientists find more about deadly citrus greening — just not enough, yet

Lukasz Stelinski

When a citrus tree is infected by the deadly greening disease, it emits a particular smell…That distinct smell could one day unlock the mysteries of the disease, which is threatening Florida’s $9 billion citrus industry.

The smell appears to attract a parasite that spreads the dangerous citrus greening that is infecting trees. But the same smell also attracts the natural enemy of the pathogen, a wasp that could potentially be the savior of Florida trees.

However, Lukasz Stelinski, associate professor of entomology at the Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred, was quick to say that this new information doesn’t offer any promise of solving the citrus greening problem.

The research team from the University of Florida in a paper published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution on Thursday wrote that four different species communicate with — and sometimes trick each other — around a scent produced by greening-infected citrus trees.

Researchers found that wasps and psyllids — which are jumping plant lice — are both attracted to the odor. This “olfactory cue” may then help wasps find and prey on the psyllid by “eavesdropping” on the odor exchanged between bacteria, citrus trees and the psyllid.

The citrus greening bacteria, which is spread by the psyllid, causes trees to produce green, disfigured and bitter fruits by altering nutrient flow to the tree, eventually killing it…

Lukasz Stelinski said that so much of Florida’s citrus crop is already infected by greening that this research might not be of much benefit in that state. But citrus-growing regions such as California or Texas — where greening has yet to take hold — could find this research useful.

Florida growers are seeing the bacteria’s effects this season. This year’s Florida orange crop is approaching the fruit’s lowest harvest in decades, and experts say greening is to blame.

Florida growers are trying just about everything that can think of to defeat the disease. A post back in July, 2013 detailed research in genetically modifying orange trees looked as if it might be one of the avenues to safety. Still takes time, though.

Thanks, Mike

Support for action on climate change ranges from the Pope to military brass

alberta oil sand petroleum coke piles
The altar where the Koch Bros worship

As the Obama administration unveils its plan to slash carbon pollution from U. S. power plants, the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church and former top brass in the U. S. military have each issued proclamations in support of climate protection.

In recent weeks, Pope Francis and a group of 16 retired U. S. military admirals and generals called separately and unequivocally for action to safeguard humanity by protecting the planet…

Calling the exploitation and destruction of nature a “sin,” Pope Francis told his flock to see the Creation not as “property, which we can rule over at will,” but as “a gift.” He called on humanity to be “not Masters of Creation” but “Custodians of Creation.”

For their part, the former military leaders issued an update to their landmark 2007 report, which had branded global climate change “a threat multiplier,” aggravating stressors that breed terrorist activity and other forms of violence.

Now, just seven years later, citing the impacts of extreme weather, such as “prolonged drought and flooding – and resulting food shortages, desertification, population dislocation and mass migration, and sea level rise,” this elite group of three and four-star admirals and generals has come together again to warn that in many areas climate impacts will be more than threat multipliers: they will be “catalysts for instability and conflict.”

The former military leaders note that more than 97 percent of climate scientists agree that the world is warming and that human actions are the primary cause. They call for the United States to lead global efforts to develop a more sustainable and efficient energy system to slow the pace of destructive climate impacts…

Ignoring reality may be key to much of populist ideology – especially the bits and pieces ruled by fundamentalist nonsense – but, we move closer every day, every month, to a point in environmental time where some of the effects of man-made climate change become irreversible.

Phony conservatives who prate about fiscal responsibility now demonstrate the worst possible example of the ideal they pretend to hold to their heart of hearts. Hypocrisy appears to be an epidemic disease among the crowd who serve as willing servants to the fossil fuel industries whether paid directly – or clinging to their agitprop like a remora to a dying shark.

That the Pope embraces the evidence of science, that military leaders work to prevent war, is admirable. That politicians and pundits continue to pimp for the slimeballs oozing from the bilge of the Chamber of Commerce is disgusting.

Thanks, Mike

Lyme disease bacteria older than the human race found locked in amber

The findings were made by researchers from Oregon State University, who studied 15-20 million-year-old amber from the Dominican Republic that offer the oldest fossil evidence ever found of Borrelia, a type of spirochete-like bacteria that to this day causes Lyme disease…

In a related study, published in Cretaceous Research, OSU scientists announced the first fossil record of Rickettsial-like cells, a bacteria that can cause various types of spotted fever. Those fossils from Myanmar were found in ticks about 100 million years old.

As summer arrives and millions of people head for the outdoors, it’s worth considering that these tick-borne diseases may be far more common than has been historically appreciated, and they’ve been around for a long, long time…

“Ticks and the bacteria they carry are very opportunistic,” said George Poinar, Jr., a professor emeritus in the Department of Integrative Biology of the OSU College of Science, and one of the world’s leading experts on plant and animal life forms found preserved in amber. “They are very efficient at maintaining populations of microbes in their tissues, and can infect mammals, birds, reptiles and other animals.

“In the United States, Europe and Asia, ticks are a more important insect vector of disease than mosquitos,” Poinar said. “They can carry bacteria that cause a wide range of diseases, affect many different animal species, and often are not even understood or recognized by doctors.

“It’s likely that many ailments in human history for which doctors had no explanation have been caused by tick-borne disease…”

Bacteria are an ancient group that date back about 3.6 billion years, almost as old as the planet itself. As soft-bodied organisms they are rarely preserved in the fossil record, but an exception is amber, which begins as a free-flowing tree sap that traps and preserves material in exquisite detail as it slowly turns into a semi-precious mineral.

A series of four ticks from Dominican amber were analyzed in this study, revealing a large population of spirochete-like cells that most closely resemble those of the present-day Borrelia species. In a separate report, Poinar found cells that resemble Rickettsia bacteria, the cause of Rocky Mountain spotted fever and related illnesses. This is the oldest fossil evidence of ticks associated with such bacteria.

I have to wonder how many times over the course of a day – when a science news items like this one may creep into the public consciousness and confront the 40% who think their bible is law writ large and truthful – do they step back and say a little prayer for their Jehovah to smite us hip and thigh for heresy. Or are they sufficiently confident in their ignorance to wipe away any potential thought of reading further? Joining the search for knowledge and understanding of life that guides scientists into every corner of existence – to me – is profoundly fulfilling.

Whey beneficially affects diabetes and cardiovascular disease risk factors in obese adults Eat cheese!

Gervais, cheese, wine

New evidence shores up findings that whey protein, which is found in milk and cheese, could have health benefits for people who are obese and do not yet have diabetes. The study, which appears in ACS’ Journal of Proteome Research, examined how different protein sources affect metabolism.

Lars O. Dragsted, Kjeld Hermansen and colleagues point out that obesity continues to be a major public health problem worldwide. In the U.S. alone, about 35 percent of adults and about 17 percent of children are obese, a condition that can lead to a number of health issues, including cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes. One risk factor for cardiovascular disease in people who are obese is high levels of fat in their blood after meals. But recent research has found that these levels partly depend on the kind of protein included in the meal. Studies have suggested that whey protein can lower the amount of fat and increase insulin, which clears glucose in the blood, keeping sugar levels where they’re supposed to be. But the details on whey’s effects were still vague, so the team took a closer look.

They gave volunteers who were obese and non-diabetic the same meal of soup and bread plus one kind of protein, either from whey, gluten, casein (another milk protein) or cod. The scientists found that the meal supplemented with whey caused the subjects’ stomachs to empty slower than the others’. These subjects also had lower levels of fatty acids in their blood after meals but higher amounts of the specific types of amino acids that boost insulin levels.

No doubt there will be both more specific – and broader – schemes of research following on from this work. If anything, this speaks directly to the Mediterranean Diet once again. I would especially recommend boiled milk cheeses like mozzarella, scamorze and ricotta.

But, those are just my Italian genes speaking. :)

Human-Chicken Interactions project gets off the ground

Modern chickens are descended primarily from the red junglefowl

The meat and eggs of domestic chickens are a source of protein for billions. Yet how and when the birds were domesticated remains a mystery. The answers to these questions could reveal a wealth of information about the genetics of domestication, as well as human behaviour, and how we can improve our husbandry of the birds.

In a bid to learn more about the chicken and its lineage, the UK government is funding a £1.94-million (US$3.3-million) effort to determine how the chicken went from being a wild fowl roaming the jungles of southeast Asia several thousand years ago to one of the world’s most abundant domesticated animals. The Cultural and Scientific Perceptions of Human–Chicken Interactions project — ‘Chicken Coop’ for short — will examine human history from the perspective of the fowl…

But no domestic animal has been moulded and remoulded by humans as extensively as chickens, says Greger Larson, an evolutionary geneticist. The animals have been bred for eating, egg-laying and fighting. And in the case of one particularly vocal breed, the creatures have even been strapped to the masts of Polynesian boats to act as foghorns. “Chickens are polymaths,” he says…

Because…mutations are so common in contemporary chickens, Larson’s team and others assumed that humans influenced these traits through selective breeding early in the course of domestication. But DNA from chickens recovered at archaeological sites across Europe, spanning the period from around 280 bc to ad 1800, has turned that idea on its head. In an analysis published last month, Larson’s team reported that none of 25 ancient chickens would have had yellow legs, and that just 8 out of 44 birds carried two copies of the TSHR variant…universal in modern breeds. So even 200 years ago, chickens may have been very different from those we know today.

With the help of other Chicken Coop members, Larson is also trying to get to grips with the wider evolutionary forces that shaped modern chickens. He hopes to determine why, for instance, chickens have not been wiped out by disease. This might have been expected because their very rapid selection — much of which has taken place since 1900 — should have led to inbreeding and, by whittling down immune genes, a reduced ability to respond to infections.

I love chicken almost as much as I love pork. I wasn’t raised with any religious or philosophical beliefs that inhibit the consumption of animal protein. So, no problem there. :)

Until modern science comes up with a sound reason to avoid healthfully-raised specimens of foods my progenitors used to catch in the wild – and eat – I will continue to do the same. Though restricting my hunt to the aisles of markets of all types, from chain stores to local farmers.