Genetically engineered mosquitoes ready to assault disease

Genetically modified mosquitoes could prove effective in tackling dengue fever and other insect-borne diseases, a UK-based scientific team has shown. The male mosquitoes are modified so their offspring die before reproducing.

In a dengue-affected part of the Cayman Islands, researchers found the GM males mated successfully with wild females.

In Nature Biotechnology journal, they say such mating has not before been proven in the wild, and could cut the number of disease-carrying mosquitoes.

Dengue is caused by a virus transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito as it bites.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that there may be 50 million cases each year, and the incidence is rising, with some countries reporting what the WHO terms “explosive” outbreaks. As yet, there is no vaccine…

When females breed with the sterile males rather than wild fertile ones, there will be no viable offspring, meaning there are fewer mosquitoes around to transmit the disease…

Oxitec, a company spun off from Oxford University, uses a genetic engineering approach. Offspring of their GM males live through the larval stage but die as pupae, before reaching adulthood…

“We don’t advocate [GM mosquitoes] as a ‘magic bullet’ that will solve all dengue in one go, so the question is how it fits in as part of an integrated programme – and for dengue, it would be a huge component of an integrated programme,” said Luke Alphey, Oxitec’s chief scientific officer…

The next step in the work is to demonstrate that deploying GM males does suppress the insect population enough that it is likely to have an impact on dengue incidence.

Dr Alphey said results from the project last year in the Cayman Islands suggested they’re already there. Seems so to me as well. But, real science demands multiple trials, evaluation by peer review in scientific journals.

We can count on the popular press to provide a predictable amount of cheerleading for those who panic if the words “genetic” and “modification” appear in the same sentence. The good news is that those capable of offering the range from suggestions to criticism based on sound science will certainly visit the work published for review. The know-nothings will restrict their noise to sources requiring no credentials or qualifications whatsoever.

70 arrested in Arizona, drug smugglers for Sinaloa cartel

Guns, marijuana and cocaine seized during Operation Pipeline Express
Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

At least 70 suspected drug smugglers with alleged ties to the powerful Sinaloa cartel have been arrested in Arizona, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.

The massive take-down of the drug trafficking network in Arizona included arrests of Mexican and U.S. suspects who allegedly smuggled more than 330 tons of illegal narcotics a year through Arizona.

More than 20 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies were involved in the 17-month multiagency investigation called Operation Pipeline Express. Speaking at a news conference Monday in Phoenix, law enforcement officials said the organization was responsible for smuggling more than $33 million worth of drugs a month…

Officials say the ring, organized around cells based in the Arizona communities of Chandler, Stanfield and Maricopa, used backpackers and vehicles to move loads of marijuana and other drugs from the Arizona-Mexico border to a network of “stash” houses in the Phoenix area. After arriving in Phoenix, the contraband was sold to distributors from multiple states nationwide.

Law enforcement officials seized thousands of pounds of marijuana, cocaine and heroin in a series of raids. They also seized more than 100 weapons, including multiple assault rifles and ammunition.

Authorities say the organization has been around for at least five years. According to a news release, officials say they “conservatively estimate the ring has smuggled more than 3.3 million pounds of marijuana, 20,000 pounds of cocaine and 10,000 pounds of heroin into to the United States, generating almost $2 billion in illicit proceeds.”

Most folks who feel – as I do – that drug use should be decriminalized, managed through price-fixed clinics still have nothing but contempt for the slimy gangsters who run the import business for American habits and addiction.

Throw away the key.

Copper sues deli over bagel sandwich seasoned with body hair

A police officer is suing a New Jersey delicatessen and its cook, who admitted stuffing body hair into the officer’s bagel sandwich in revenge for a traffic arrest.

The lawsuit filed by Patrolman Jeremy Merck of the Evesham, New Jersey, Police Department seeks unspecified damages from Good Foods to Go in Marlton, New Jersey, and its cook, Ryan Burke…

Merck ordered an egg, cheese and turkey bagel and after eating part of it, he found it “was adulterated with pubic, chest or other human hair,” the lawsuit said.

Merck sought medical help and was checked for communicable diseases at a hospital, his attorney, Bruce Zamost, said on Friday. None was detected.

Burke, who served Merck the sandwich, was later charged with aggravated assault, retaliation against a public servant and food tampering. He ultimately served 15 days in jail.

According to a police report from the criminal case, “Burke admitted to tearing out hairs from his chest and his pubic area and placing them on Ptl. Merck’s sandwich out of anger due to the fines and lawyers fees he had from the prior arrest in 2009…”

A woman who answered the phone at the headquarters of the restaurant chain declined to comment on reports Burke was fired after the sandwich incident. The restaurant’s lawyer, Mark Sander, could not be reached for comment…


I’m never surprised over what people will do for retaliation – nor am I ever surprised by how often these dodos are caught after choosing to do something truly stupid.

Palestinians awarded full membership in UNESCO

UNESCO delegates stand and cheer after approving Palestinian membership
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Palestine has become a full member of the UN cultural and educational agency in a move that the United States and other opponents say could harm renewed Middle East peace efforts.

The US had threatened to withhold roughly $80 million in annual funding to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) if it approved Palestinian membership. The United States provides about 22% of Unesco’s funding.

Which is about how the average mafia functions. Extortion doesn’t make for lasting politics.

Huge cheers went up in Unesco after delegates approved the membership by 107 votes to 14 with 52 abstentions. Eighty-one votes were needed for approval in a hall with 173 Unesco member delegations present.

“Long live Palestine!” shouted one delegate, in French, at the unusually tense and dramatic meeting of Unesco’s general conference.

While the vote has large symbolic meaning, the issues of borders of an eventual Palestinian state, security troubles and other disputes that have thwarted Middle East peace for decades remain unresolved.

Palestinian officials are seeking full membership in the United Nations, but that effort is still under examination and the US has said it will veto it unless there is a peace deal with Israel. Given that, the Palestinians separately sought membership at Paris-based Unesco and other UN bodies…

The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, last week called Unesco’s deliberation “inexplicable”, saying discussion of Palestinian membership of international organisations could not replace negotiations with Israel as a fast track towards Palestinian independence.

There is no “fast track” towards Palestinian independence if you think that honorable and ethical negotiations will be forthcoming from Israel’s ruling politicians. They hold power from a commitment to manifest destiny and lebensraum.

There is no “fast track” as long as the train dispatcher deals only in American dollars dedicated to short-term and long-term goals decided essentially by Israeli politicians. There is little or no attention paid to the needs of the displaced nation of Palestine.

History and historic decisions aren’t resolved in press releases from the State Department. Especially those offered in support of imperial occupying armies.

China unveils supercomputer based on their own chips

China has made its first supercomputer based on Chinese microprocessor chips, an advance that surprised high-performance computing specialists in the United States.

The announcement was made this week at a technical meeting held in Jinan, China, organized by industry and government organizations. The new machine, the Sunway BlueLight MPP, was installed in September at the National Supercomputer Center in Jinan, the capital of Shandong Province in eastern China.

The Sunway system, which can perform about 1,000 trillion calculations per second — a petaflop — will probably rank among the 20 fastest computers in the world. More significantly, it is composed of 8,700 ShenWei SW1600 microprocessors, designed at a Chinese computer institute and manufactured in Shanghai.

Currently, the Chinese are about three generations behind the state-of-art chip making technologies used by world leaders such as the United States, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan…

Dr. Jack Dongarra said the Sunway’s theoretical peak performance was about 74 percent as fast as the fastest United States computer — the Jaguar supercomputer at the Department of Energy facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, made by Cray. That machine is currently the third fastest on the list.

…Dr. Dongarra said it was intriguing that the power requirements of the new Chinese supercomputer were relatively modest — about one megawatt, according to reports from the technical conference. The Tianhe supercomputer consumes about four megawatts and the Jaguar about seven.

And as usual, an advancement in computer design in one nation prompts advancement in another. It’s what competition is about. When it’s an advancement from a surprising source – though why this is a surprise I don’t know – even better. It extends the number of competitors.

Only ideological fossils will be upset over the news.

And kudos to another blogger for beating everyone to the street with this story.

Coppers believe body in freezer is woman vanished 28 years ago

What – me worry?

A store owner who kept a woman’s body hidden in a storage unit in Lewiston refused a request to take a lie detector test 10 years after his girlfriend went missing, says a retired state police.

Frank Julian declined to take a polygraph test while discussing Kitty Wardwell’s 1983 disappearance and didn’t seem to be interested in what had happened to her, said Joe Zamboni, who retired from the Maine State Police in 2004…

Julian died this month at age 80 in Lewiston…in south-central Maine. His relatives found the body inside the storage unit he had rented in 1992. The medical examiner’s office and state police crime laboratory are using DNA to identify the remains, which police suspect are those of Wardell’s.

Zamboni picked up the case after the original investigator was promoted. He said Wednesday that there was never any doubt that Julian was the chief suspect in Wardwell’s disappearance 28 years ago…

Julian said the last time he saw Wardwell was on June 6, 1983. Over the years, the case remained open and was treated as an unsolved homicide…

The body was discovered last Friday by family members cleaning out the 10-by-10 storage unit, which the storage company owner said Julian paid for in advance every three months. The body was inside an unplugged freezer, which was stashed inside the unit along with stacks of boxes and household items…

DNA samples were obtained during an autopsy on Monday, but officials weren’t ready Wednesday to announce the identity of the body.

No doubt they will want a high percentage decision on the DNA analysis. And it looks like the oldest criminal stunt in the books – doing a great job of hiding the body – worked well enough for a probable killer to die of old age.

Lucid dream movements translate from real life

Whether we’re falling or flying, dancing or driving, moving in our dreams feels very real to us at the time. And our brains, it seems, agree. By imaging the brains of sleeping subjects, researchers have found that when we move in our dreams, our brains fire in the same pattern as when we move in the real world.

Because we tend to forget our dreams as soon as we wake up, researchers know little about how our minds create them. Neuroscientists Martin Dresler and Michael Czisch, both of the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, Germany, and their colleagues wanted to find a way to use brain-imaging techniques to watch what people were doing in their dreams. To interpret these images of the dreaming brain, however, they would first have to know how the brain looks when it is performing a certain task in the dream — a difficult challenge because most dreamers can’t control what they’re doing.

Very rarely, however, dreamers experience a phenomenon known as lucid dreaming, in which a sleeper is aware that he or she is dreaming and has some level of control over actions in the dream. “About half of people have had a lucid dream, Dresler says, but “very few have them on a regular basis.” Certain people can learn to dream lucidly more often. The training involves techniques such as writing down dreams and committing to remember that you’re dreaming when you see a certain theme, such as a flying cow…

Dresler and Czisch recruited six people who had been trained in lucid dreaming, instructed them to dream that they were clenching either their left or their right hand, and then let them fall asleep in a brain scanner…Only two of the subjects were able to have lucid dreams in the noisy scanners. But in each of them, one in fMRI and one in NIRS, the researchers saw the area of the motor cortex that controls the left hand light up in the same way as in someone who was awake. The subjects were able to perform the task in two different dreams each…That suggests that “dreams are not just represented as a visual scene” like watching a movie, Dresler says, but involve the whole body…

It’s a very impressive work,” Daniel Erlacher says, particularly given the difficulty of getting someone to dream lucidly in a noisy scanner. To strengthen their findings, the authors plan to recruit more lucid dreamers to determine whether the brain responds similarly in everyone. And they hope to find out what happens when their dreamers perform more complex tasks such as walking, speaking, or even flying, which would help researchers interpret dreams and understand how and why the mind creates them.

Bravo! I know it’s self-evident; but, the more we know about how the brain processes information, decisions – the more we know about ourselves as individuals.

E-readers get heavier with each book – WTF?

E-readers are meant to let bookworms carry their entire libraries with them without any additional weight – but the devices actually get heavier every time a new text is downloaded.

The weight difference is unlikely to make much difference to holidaymakers’ baggage allowances, however, because each new tome is about as heavy as a single molecule of DNA. Filling a 4GB Kindle to its storage limit would increase its weight by a billionth of a billionth of a gram

Prof John Kubiatowicz a computer scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, explained…that storing new data involves holding electrons in a fixed place in the device’s memory.

Although the electrons were already present, keeping them still rather than allowing them to float around takes up extra energy – about a billionth of a microjoule per bit of data.

Using Einstein’s E=mc² formula, which states that energy and mass are directly related, Prof Kubiatowicz calculated that filling a 4GB Kindle to its storage limit would increase its weight by a billionth of a billionth of a gram, or 0.000000000000000001g…

E-readers could also become slightly heavier in the summer, because they would take on more energy from their exposure to sunlight, scientists explained.

Graeme Ackland, of Edinburgh University, told the Guardian: “If Prof Kubiatowicz is really struggling with the extra weight, he is welcome to come to Edinburgh where it’s cooler, and the lack of thermal energy in his Kindle will more than compensate.”

Of course, if we’re going to make comparisons based on geography we should compensate for weight differences between, say, Edinburgh – which probably could grow mildew on stainless steel – and my neck of the prairie with a current annual rainfall less than 7 or 8 inches.

Some of those water molecules may prefer to attach themselves to some plot lines rather than others. 🙂

As the population boom declines, remember to thank women

Not anymore, man!

This week the world will reach 7 billion people. Understandably that raises concern about a soaring world population. But there is a good news story from the demographic data that is not often told. We — or rather the poor women of the world — are defusing the population bomb.

Women today are having half as many children as their mothers and grandmothers. The global average is now down to 2.5 children per woman, and it continues to fall.

This is not just a rich-world phenomenon. Much of Asia now has fertility rates below two, from Japan and Korea to China, with its one-child policy, through Taiwan, Vietnam, Burma, Singapore and much of southern India and parts of the Middle East. Behind the veil, the women of Iran have cut their fertility from eight to less than two in a generation…

Falling fertility happens faster if countries get richer and if women are better educated. Similarly urbanization helps a lot. While even young children can be an economic asset on an African peasant farm, they are an economic liability in cities, where they require education before they can get a job. The teeming megacities of the poor world may look like symbols of overpopulation, but they are part of the solution, too.

But the real story is that rich or poor, Muslim or Catholic, secular or devout, socialist or capitalist, with tough government birth control policies or none, most countries tell the same story. Small families are becoming the new norm…

…We are, I believe, likely to see “peak population” by about mid-century. Perhaps at around 9 billion people.

After that, on current trends of fertility falling to below replacement levels, we will see a falling world population.
And rapid aging. With longer life expectancy and fewer babies, this is all but inevitable. China will soon be aging faster than anywhere on Earth. Aging is set to be the dominant demographic phenomenon of the 21st century, just as the population boom dominated the 20th century.

Pearce makes a couple of eloquent points – among them that the Arab Spring wouldn’t have been as likely if North African families were still stuck into the numbers of a few decades ago. Everyone would have been spending twice as much time trying to earn enough to feed the whole family. Fewer hours working – more time to contribute a voice to questions of social justice.

He finishes with questions of consumption as more serious than population. Laying the responsibility for action on rich nations. And to some extent I agree. Though living here in the GOUSA we tend to forget the rest of the world hasn’t been caught up in the absurd consumption society that has defined the United States since WW2.

And, please – remember to thank women for reducing the population burden. I doubt if the number of men who can think that far ahead match the number of sensible women. Men, after all, don’t get pregnant.