Sydney, Australia, high schoolers cooked up $2 malaria pills

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Click link below to the article – and this video

❝ The “pharma bro” who increased the price of a life-saving medicine, Daraprim, by 5,000% has been rattled by a group of Australian school students who managed to make the same drug for $2 per pill.

❝ Former hedge fund manager Martin Shkreli last year bought Turing Pharmaceuticals and almost immediately increased the price of the drug – which has been off-patent since the 1970s – from US$13.50 to US$750 a tablet.

The drug is used to treat certain types of malaria as well as toxoplasmosis, a rare and life-threatening infection caused by the Toxoplasma parasite which particularly affects people with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV.

❝ To show how exorbitant Shkreli’s pricing of the drug was, a group of year 11 students aged 16 and 17 from Sydney Grammar aimed to recreate the drug molecule in their school laboratory under the guidance of Dr Alice Williamson and Associate Professor Matthew Todd from the Open Source Malaria consortium.

They succeeded, making the drug for a mere $2 a pill

❝ On Twitter Shkreli dismissed what the students achieved, saying “how is that showing anyone up? Almost any drug can be made at small scale for a low price”.

❝ Williamson told Guardian Australia showing how cheap and easy the drug was to produce was part of the point of the project, as it highlighted how unfair Shkreli’s pricing of the drug was…“I like to let the work speak for itself.”

The kids are all right. Shkrell is still a creep!

Thanks, Honeyman and many others

Marine heatwaves are causing unprecedented climate chaos

Oz mangrove die-off
Click to enlargeNorm Duke/James Cook University

Mangrove die-off from diminished rainfall, increasing temperatures – Australia

First seabirds started falling out of the sky, washing up on beaches from California to Canada…Then emaciated and dehydrated sea lion pups began showing up, stranded and on the brink of death…A surge in dead whales was reported in the same region, and that was followed by the largest toxic algal bloom in history seen along the Californian coast. Mixed among all that there were population booms of several marine species that normally aren’t seen surging in the same year.

Plague, famine, pestilence and death was sweeping the northern Pacific Ocean between 2014 and 2015.

This chaos was caused by a single massive heatwave, unlike anything ever seen before. But it was not the sort of heatwave we are used to thinking about, where the air gets thick with warmth. This occurred in the ocean, where the effects are normally hidden from view.

Nicknamed “the blob”, it was arguably the biggest marine heatwave ever seen. It may have been the worst but wide-scale disruption from marine heatwaves is increasingly being seen all around the globe, with regions such as Australia seemingly being hit with more than their fair share…

It was in the study of a marine heatwave in south-west Australia that the term was coined just five years ago. In a report that still used the term “marine heatwave” in scare quotes, scientists from the West Australian department of fisheries found the heatwave off the state’s coast was “a major temperature anomaly superimposed on the underlying long-term ocean-warming trend”.

That year, the researchers found, Western Australia had an unprecedented surge of hot water along its coast. Surface temperatures were up to 5C higher than the usual seasonal temperature. The pool of warm water stretched more than 1,500km from Ningaloo to the southern tip of the continent at Cape Leeuwin, and it extended more than 200km offshore. Unlike a terrestrial heatwave that will normally last a couple of weeks at most, this persisted for more than 10 weeks.

…Five years later the full impact of that marine heatwave have are beginning to be more fully understood.

RTFA. It’s long, detailed – still hasn’t been through a complete gamut of peer review – but, keep your brain cells up-to-date on some of the latest findings on climate change. You need to know especially since many of our politicians fear that happening.

Conservative PM in Oz has references to climate change removed from UN report


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The lead author of a major UN report on climate change has expressed his shock that every reference to Australia was removed from the final version, following intervention from the Australian government.

Guardian Australia on Friday revealed that chapters on the Great Barrier Reef and sections on Kakadu and Tasmanian forests were removed from the World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate report, following the Australian Department of Environment’s objection that the information could harm tourism.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, which jointly published the report with the United Nations environment program and Unesco, published an independent statement on the reef this morning.

“The biggest threat to the GBR today, and to its ecosystems services, biodiversity, heritage values and tourism economy, is climate change, including warming sea temperatures, accelerating rates of sea level rise, changing weather patterns and ocean acidification.”

Adam Markham of the UCS, the lead author of the report, said he was “really disappointed” by the revelation that parts of the document had been excised.

He also noted that with the removal of every mention of Australia went a number of positive stories about research and safeguards, including the protected area management strategies being tested to make Australian world heritage sites more resilient to change.

Australia has a good story to tell about its climate science and it should tell it,” he said.

It never ends, does it. We had conservative thugs like George W in the US – and Harper in Canada – condemned by the world of science journalism for their creepy efforts at censorship. They think no one will notice, no one will stick a finger in their eye and point out their deceit.

Thanks, Honeyman

Hidden housemates in Oz

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Click to enlargeBeregama aurea, Golden HuntsmanLinda Rayor

You’re driving along and you open the sun visor. You’re cleaning at home and bump a painting hanging on the wall. Suddenly, out runs a huge, hairy spider. Australia’s huntsman spiders are the stuff of myths and nightmares.

But these are also the most interesting of their family, and deserve their place in the pantheon of Australian wildlife…

First, let’s talk numbers: there are currently 1,207 species of huntsman spider in the Family Sparassidae, out of the total 45,881 described spider species worldwide. It is estimated that there are 155 huntsman spider species found throughout Australia.

Of those, approximately 95 species are found only in Australia. All of these are probably descended from a single common ancestor that immigrated from Papua New Guinea or elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

Huntsmen are big spiders…many of the endemics are sizeable animals that can weigh 1-2 grams and may be as big as the palm of your hand.

The world’s second largest species, the massive Golden Huntsman (Beregama aurea) from tropical Queensland, weighs over 5.5 grams. An adult’s forelegs may stretch 15 cm, and they lay egg sacs the size of golf balls…

All huntsman spiders are active at night, emerging from their retreats to forage for insects and other invertebrates, and occasionally small vertebrates. They are ambush predators, generally sitting and waiting for prey to come close before running and leaping on it…

During the day, most huntsman prefer to rest in retreats under bark, crevices, or other protected areas. This is why so many people encounter the spiders under the sun visors of their cars or behind curtains in their homes, because those are perfect tight spaces for a sleepy spider…

What should you do if you do find a big spider in your car or living room? First, get a grip! She isn’t going to hurt you.

Second, find a take-away container, scoop the spider into the container and release it outside. Huntsman spiders almost never bite humans since they rely on speed to escape most predators. When they do bite, most bites are quick defensive nips without injecting venom…

Treasure your huntsman spiders. They deserve a place alongside koalas and kangaroos as iconic Australian wildlife.

Really nice article and this is only a small portion. Click the link up top in this post and read the whole thing. Interesting, entertaining, stuff worth learning.

We get Golden Orb Weaver spiders here in New Mexico that think they’re as big as a Huntsman – but, they really aren’t. They are just as pretty. You really should get to know all your housemates.

Thanks, Honeyman

Milestone a’coming: Stem cell repair system

Stem cell therapies capable of regenerating any human tissue damaged by injury, disease or ageing could be available within a few years, following landmark research led by UNSW Australia researchers.

The repair system, similar to the method used by salamanders to regenerate limbs, could be used to repair everything from spinal discs to bone fractures, and has the potential to transform current treatment approaches to regenerative medicine

Study lead author, haematologist and UNSW Associate Professor John Pimanda, said the new technique, which reprograms bone and fat cells into induced multipotent stem cells (iMS), has been successfully demonstrated in mice…

“We are currently assessing whether adult human fat cells reprogrammed into iMS cells can safely repair damaged tissue in mice, with human trials expected to begin in late 2017.”

There are different types of stem cells including embryonic stem (ES) cells, which during embryonic development generate every type of cell in the human body, and adult stem cells, which are tissue-specific. There are no adult stem cells that regenerate multiple tissue types.

“This technique is ground-breaking because iMS cells regenerate multiple tissue types,” Associate Professor Pimanda said.

“We have taken bone and fat cells, switched off their memory and converted them into stem cells so they can repair different cell types once they are put back inside the body…”…

The study’s first author, Dr Vashe Chandrakanthan, who developed the technology, said the new technique is an advance on other stem cell therapies being investigated, which have a number of deficiencies.

“Embryonic stem cells cannot be used to treat damaged tissues because of their tumour forming capacity. The other problem when generating stem cells is the requirement to use viruses to transform cells into stem cells, which is clinically unacceptable,” Dr Chandrakanthan said.

“We believe we’ve overcome these issues with this new technique.”

RTFA for the basic explanation of what the good doctors have accomplished. Bare bones, so far. Interesting that the lead in human trials is considering back and neck pain, spinal disc injury, joint and muscle degeneration. Those bits and pieces which bring major debilitation to life and lifestyle under failure.

Though, whatever we can put back together again – will help.

Domino’s to test autonomous pizza delivery robot

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Unboxing the prototype

Domino’s has announced its own autonomous pizza delivery machine. Built on military technology, DRU (Domino’s Robotic Unit) can keep pizza hot and drinks cold on the way to your house and is set to hit the streets of Australia in prototype form for testing.

Designed in Domino’s DLAB innovation hub in Brisbane, Australia, DRU is built to handle short-range deliveries with very little human intervention, has a heated compartment to keep your capricciosa warm, and a chiller to keep your drinks cool, inbuilt GPS for navigation and a bunch of sensors to try to stop it from running into things on the pavement. Domino’s says it is working with the government to build a legal framework in which it can start testing DRU in the real world…

DRU is part of a broader automation movement in the fast food industry that seeks to replace human workers with cheaper, more efficient and oftentimes more effective machines. And while Domino’s has made fun of the concept in the past, the company swears that DRU is no April Fool’s joke.

In a civilized, urban society this could work fine. Between income inequity, ignorance and greed, I can see the average neighborhood anarchist-cum-gangbanger looking at one of these as a rolling piggybank with edibles. Smash-and-grab on wheels.

OTOH, our leading contributor down under in Oz suggests a contender for useful robot employment.

Dalek-Dr-Who

Thanks, Honeyman

Discovering a little extra protein in a package of salad mix

As meat production depletes the world’s resources and compounds the changing climate, eating insects and other creepy crawlies might well be in all our futures. But one Australian woman came closer than the rest of us when she brought home a sizeable spider in her bag of salad greens.

Zoe Perry posted the video of the huntsman shifting around within the “Italian style salad” bag…to Woolworths’ Facebook page on last Thursday night.

Earlier that day, Woolworths and its fellow supermarket giant, Coles, had recalled several brands of lettuce mix linked to a gastro outbreak in Victoria.

Perry wrote:

Hi Woolworths,

Shopping as per usual for Italian style salad mix … get it home … Mum goes to open the packet and we are greeted by …

Is this what’s actually behind the ‘salmonella’ callbacks?

Kind regards,

An arachnophobic family

…Woolworths said in a reply that the supermarket chain was “very concerned about this … and take incidents like this very seriously”, and encouraged Perry to message her phone number.

Commenters responding to the video are divided over the spider’s right to be inside the bag of salad greens, and its right to live once outside of it…

The fate of the spider is not known.

Thanks, Mister Justin

2 mines in Oz now operating with driverless truck fleet


Human being included to provide scale and size.

The first big commercial deployment of driverless car technology is coming not in the streets of Silicon Valley but in the arid and sparsely populated Pilbara region of Australia. That’s where the large mining conglomerate Rio Tinto has rolled out fleets of all-driverless trucks at two iron ore mines…

Rio Tinto tells Jamie Smyth at the Financial Times that the driverless transition has improved performance by 12 percent, mainly by “eliminating required breaks, absenteeism and shift changes.”

GPS guides the trucks and allows them to deliver iron ore 24/7, 365 days a year, without the kinds of breaks and handover periods that human drivers would need. The GPS navigation system is backstopped by a team of human operators working remotely from Perth, hundreds of miles away. Not only does this reduce the total number of humans who are needed to run the trucking operation, but it eliminates the need to employ those humans in the remote and desolate mining country. A mine needs to be located where the ore is, and you often end up needing to pay a premium to recruit workers to ore-adjacent locations. Remote workers, by contrast, can live in a nice suburb of a midsize city…

As David Roberts has written, one of the biggest technical challenges in making a general-purpose autonomous vehicle is that it would have to deal with all those crazy human beings. If all the cars were autonomous and networked, they would interact and communicate in predictable ways. But for that to happen in a normal transportation context, you would first need a transition phase in which autonomous cars co-exist with human-piloted ones long enough for them to gain trust and traction.

Rio Tinto doesn’t have that problem. It controls the entire site, and can make the transition to an all-autonomous fleet all at once. There’s no “transition period”; there’s just a transition.

Yes, another job description where human beings can and will be automated out of existence. Inevitability should prompt forethought. I’m not so confident about that part.

Octopus makes own quicksand to build burrow on sea floor

The southern sand octopus has taken hide-and-seek to a whole new level. It shoots jets of water into the seafloor creating quicksand that allows it to vanish.

A skilled architect, the octopus can build a mucus-lined home – complete with a chimney –20 centimetres down into the seabed, where it holes up during the day. It only emerges from its underground burrow at night to crawl over the seafloor and snack on small crustaceans…

Other octopuses, including Octopus berrima bury themselves under a thin layer of sediment by digging into it with sweeping arm movements. But because they need direct access to the water column to breath, they remain close to the sediment surface, with their funnel sticking out.

The sand octopus has a rather different technique – it actively digs deeper though the soft sand and constructs an actual subsurface burrow, says Jasper Montana of the University of Melbourne. “This is the first known cephalopod to burrow,” he says.

Montana and his team first caught the octopus in the act of burrowing in 2008 when they were scuba diving at night in Port Philip Bay, south of Melbourne, Australia. When they shone a light on the octopus, the startled animal spread out its arms and repeatedly injected high-powered jets of water into the sediment using its funnel. This caused grains of sand to be temporarily suspended in water, making it like sandy water…

The team later collected some specimens from the wild and put five of them in an aquarium designed to show what happened once the octopus was underneath the sediment…

They found that the animal used its arms and mantle to push the sand away and form a burrow. It also extended two arms to the surface to create a narrow chimney to breathe through. Finally, it secured the walls of its new home with a layer of mucus that kept the grains of sand together so the entire thing maintained its shape.

Octopuses rock!

Thanks, Ursarodinia