Federal Job Opening — Planetary Protection Officer

This position is assigned to Office of Safety and Mission Assurance for Planetary Protection. Planetary protection is concerned with the avoidance of organic-constituent and biological contamination in human and robotic space exploration. NASA maintains policies for planetary protection applicable to all space flight missions that may intentionally or unintentionally carry Earth organisms and organic constituents to the planets or other solar system bodies, and any mission employing spacecraft, which are intended to return to Earth and its biosphere with samples from extraterrestrial targets of exploration…

Um, cool.

Feds agree to consider Western Bumblebees an endangered species

Federal wildlife biologists said…they will consider protecting the native western bumblebee as an endangered species.

Once widespread, bumblebees have declined across western North America and, for at least one type, it may be too late.

A Defenders of Wildlife petition drove the decision by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials to launch a scientific review to determine whether bumblebees need federal protection to survive.

The petition declares western bumblebees at risk of extinction — hammered by habitat loss in the face of development and population growth, disease, pesticides and climate change…

Bees, including native bumblebees, play key roles as pollinators of flowering plants and agricultural crops from the Dakotas to California and Alaska to Mexico.

Wildlife advocates in recent years have urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to do more to try to stop the spread of disease to wild bees. They asked federal regulators to control commercial bumblebees and, in particular, prohibit transport of bumblebees beyond their native ranges. They contend commercial bumblebees should move between states only when certified as disease-free.

Sensible. I suppose it’s asking too much of government since the Age of Reagan to consider scientific caution sufficient reason to regulate any sort of interstate commerce. It’s not like we’re considering the productivity of American foodstuffs as mission-critical, eh?

Hypocrite-of-the-week screams about unvaccinated migrants – opposes mandatory vaccination


Last week, Rep. Phil Gingrey wrote a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with a dire warning: Some of the child refugees streaming across the southern border into the United States might carry deadly diseases. “Reports of illegal immigrants carrying deadly diseases such as swine flu, dengue fever, Ebola virus and tuberculosis are particularly concerning,” Gingrey wrote. “Many of the children who are coming across the border also lack basic vaccinations such as those to prevent chicken pox or measles.”

Gingrey’s analysis carried an aura of credibility among conservatives, because, as Judicial Watch noted, the congressman is “also [a] medical doctor.” But his two-page letter is filled with false charges—there’s no evidence that migrants carry Ebola or that they’re less likely to be vaccinated—from an inconvenient messenger: The congressman has himself pushed legislation to discourage some kinds of mandatory vaccinations in the United States.

According to the World Health Organization, Ebola virus has only ever affected humans in sub-Saharan Africa. (It has been found in China and the Philippines, but has never caused an illness, let alone a fatality)…Gingrey’s misdiagnoses aren’t confined to Ebola. As the Texas Observer points out, when it comes to measles, children in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras are more likely to be vaccinated than children in the United States. None of those countries have recorded an outbreak of measles in 24 years. Kids in Marin County are more at risk.

And in 2007, he wrote an amendment that would allow parents to block their children from receiving HPV vaccines, which are designed to combat cervical cancer.

Nothing new about today’s Republicans being as ethically corrupt as they are economically ignorant, socially and politically bigoted. Some – obviously including Congress-slime Gingrey – ignore conflicts between their record and their lies.

Foster Farms poultry plants — source for salmonella outbreak — remain open despite pleas to shut them down

Three poultry plants in California that were the source of a Salmonella outbreak that has sickened hundreds of people in 20 states will continue to operate despite demands by lawmakers and consumer advocate groups that they be shut down.

Foster Farms’ plants in Fresno and Livingston will remain open after the poultry company implemented new “food safety controls over the last two months,” Ron Foster, president and CEO…said in a statement.

The U.S. Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service said it reviewed the company’s safety plans on Thursday and federal inspectors will remain at the plants.

A total of 317 people across the United States were infected by the Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak, with 42 percent of those needing hospitalization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday.

There have been no deaths, the CDC said.

So far.

Salmonella, a common bacterial foodborne illness, can cause diarrhea, nausea, fever and cramping, and can be fatal to infants and the elderly.

The decision to keep the plants open was “a disgrace” by USDA, U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter, Democrat of New York, said in a statement on Friday. She said USDA should have moved to shut down the poultry plants.

The USDA’s toothless decisions endangers public health today, and encourages bad actors in the food industry to continue to break the law tomorrow,” Slaughter said.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest said the company should recall chicken from store shelves, a move Foster Farms resisted…

Foster Farms spokesman Michael Fineman declined to provide Reuters with details of the “new safety measures” the company has put into place.

Profits are so much more important than people’s health and safety – in the land of the free.

We don’t buy crap chicken from Foster, anyway; but, this seems like an appropriate time to recommend that folks get all thoughtful and stringent about a boycott.

This Is Your Brain on Coffee – and why that’s a good thing

For thousands of years, coffee has been one of the two or three most popular beverages on earth. But it’s only recently that scientists are figuring out that the drink has notable health benefits. In one large-scale epidemiological study from last year, researchers primarily at the National Cancer Institute parsed health information from more than 400,000 volunteers, ages 50 to 71, who were free of major diseases at the study’s start in 1995. By 2008, more than 50,000 of the participants had died. But men who reported drinking two or three cups of coffee a day were 10 percent less likely to have died than those who didn’t drink coffee, while women drinking the same amount had 13 percent less risk of dying during the study. It’s not clear exactly what coffee had to do with their longevity, but the correlation is striking.

Other recent studies have linked moderate coffee drinking — the equivalent of three or four 5-ounce cups of coffee a day or a single venti-size Starbucks — with more specific advantages: a reduction in the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, basal cell carcinoma (the most common skin cancer), prostate cancer, oral cancer and breast cancer recurrence…

There’s still much to be learned about the effects of coffee…It is also unclear whether caffeine by itself provides the benefits associated with coffee drinking or if coffee contains other valuable ingredients…Nor is there any evidence that mixing caffeine with large amounts of sugar, as in energy drinks, is healthful. But a cup or three of coffee “has been popular for a long, long time,” Dr. Gregory Freund says, “and there’s probably good reasons for that.”

I went through one terrible stretch of a couple of years on the road without coffee. I’d stopped because preliminary indications in a prestigious university study suggested a potential link between pancreatic cancer and coffee. And I’d lost an acquaintance just three weeks after diagnosis.

Fortunately, they completed the study and said, “Nope. No connection.”

That was 45 years ago. I love my coffee. I consider it a normal part of my Mediterranean diet. 🙂

We all have hundreds of DNA flaws waiting to do us in! Or not.

The price of silent mutations

Everyone has on average 400 flaws in their DNA, a UK study suggests…Most are “silent” mutations and do not affect health, although they can cause problems when passed to future generations…Others are linked to conditions such as cancer or heart disease, which appear in later life, say geneticists.

The evidence comes from the 1,000 Genomes project, which is mapping normal human genetic differences, from tiny changes in DNA to major mutations.

In the study, 1,000 seemingly healthy people from Europe, the Americas and East Asia had their entire genetic sequences decoded, to look at what makes people different from each other, and to help in the search for genetic links to diseases.

The new research, published in The American Journal of Human Genetics, compared the genomes of 179 participants, who were healthy at the time their DNA was sampled, with a database of human mutations developed at Cardiff University.

It revealed that a normal healthy person has on average about 400 potentially damaging DNA variations, and two DNA changes known to be associated with disease.

“Ordinary people carry disease-causing mutations without them having any obvious effect,” said Dr Chris Tyler-Smith, a lead researcher on the study from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Cambridge.

He added: “In a population there will be variants that have consequences for their own health.”

The research gives an insight into the “flaws that make us all different, sometimes with different expertise and different abilities, but also different predispositions in diseases,” said Prof David Cooper of Cardiff University, the other lead researcher of the study.

“Not all human genomes have perfect sequences,” he added. “The human genome is packed with pervasive, architectural flaws.”

It has been known for decades that all people carry some genetic mutations that appear to cause little or no harm. Many are only damaging if they are passed on to children who inherit another copy of the faulty gene from the other parent.

In others – around one in ten of those studied – the mutation causes only a mild condition, appears to be inactive, or does not manifest itself until later life.

Databases of human mutations, like the one at Cardiff University, will have increasing importance in the future, as we move into the era of personalised medicine…But as DNA sequencing becomes more widespread, ethical dilemmas will arise about what to tell people about their genes, especially when many risks are uncertain.

We all understand the range of dead ends available for time-wasting by ethicists. Especially those with one or another superstition to justify. I come down – in advance – on the side of the simplest and most democratic premise: knowledge is always useful. I don’t care if someone decides if it’s scary or silly – I have the right to know.

Deadly drug compounder ignored contamination warnings

The company at the center of a deadly meningitis outbreak was warned by its own environmental monitors of bacterial contamination of its facility months before the first cases were reported…

Mold, and in some cases, an overgrowth of bacteria was detected in different areas of the New England Compounding Center’s two “clean rooms” nearly 90 times since January, a Food and Drug Administration report said…

Despite the warnings from its own monitors…the compounding center did not investigate the reports of the contamination nor is there documented evidence it worked to decontaminate the affected areas.

Tainted medications from the compounding center have been blamed for the outbreak of fungal meningitis that has caused 25 deaths and 338 illnesses.

The FDA’s preliminary findings were released following an inspection of the compounding center this month. In addition to documented reports of bacterial contamination, FDA investigators observed “greenish black foreign matter” and “white filamentous material” in vials of methylprednisolone acetate — the steroid linked to the meningitis outbreak…

The FDA report comes the same week that the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Pharmacy voted to revoke permanently the compounding center’s license to operate in the state as well as the licenses of the company’s three principal pharmacists.

Compounding centers like this get their exemption from federal oversight on the grounds of serving local and regional communities. The standard “states right” exemption from responsibility that conservative politicians roll in – like hogs in their own shite.

Meanwhile, these thugs have been selling their crap all over the United States and no one in the FDA noticed? No one in Congress noticed? We have elected officials who sit on their dead butts all day getting paid to examine so-called security risks of buying cellphone parts from China – but the health security risk from deadly drugs rolled out domestically to cut-price profiteers doesn’t raise an eyebrow in Washington, DC.

The profits of crime breed corruption. Same as it ever was.

As climate change grows, parasites may get nastier

A really silly tree frog

Parasites look set to become more virulent because of climate change, according to a study showing that frogs suffer more infections from a fungus when exposed to unexpected swings in temperatures.

Parasites, which include tapeworms, the tiny organisms that cause malaria and funguses, may be more nimble at adapting to climatic shifts than the animals they live on since they are smaller and grow more quickly, scientists said.

“Increases in climate variability are likely to make it easier for parasites to infect their hosts,” Thomas Raffel of Oakland University…told Reuters, based on findings about frogs and a sometimes deadly skin fungus.

“We think this could exacerbate the effects of some disease,” he said of the report he led with colleagues at the University of South Florida. It will be published in Monday’s edition of the journal Nature Climate Change…

Few…studies have considered the effects of climate variability or predictability on disease, despite it being likely that hosts and parasites will have differential responses to climatic shifts,” they wrote…

Based on factors including their size, life expectancy and factors such as their metabolisms, the scientists said frogs probably took 10 times as long as fungus to get used to unexpected temperature changes, a process known as acclimation.

Raffel said that more tests were needed of other parasites and hosts to confirm the findings. “This study was only done on an single tropical frog species,” he said.

Unforeseen consequences lead back to the crap we human beings force upon this planet’s environment forever. The time for taking responsibility is past due.

Coffee drinkers at a lower risk of dying from a variety of diseases

Your morning cup of coffee may start to taste even better after a major government study found that frequent coffee drinkers have a lower risk of dying from a variety of diseases, compared with people who drink little or no coffee.

The report…analyzed the coffee-drinking habits of more than 400,000 men and women ages 50 to 71, making it the largest-ever study of the relationship between coffee consumption and health…

As expected, the researchers found that the regular coffee drinkers in the group were also more likely to be smokers. They ate more red meat and fewer fruits and vegetables, exercised less and drank more alcohol – all behaviors associated with poor health.

But once the researchers controlled for those risks, the data showed that the more coffee a person consumed, the less likely he or she was to die from a number of health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, infections and even injuries and accidents.

Over all, the risk of dying during the 14-year study period was about 10 percent lower for men and about 15 percent lower for women who drank anywhere from two cups to six or more cups of coffee a day. The association between coffee and lower risk of dying was similar whether the coffee drinker consumed caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee. [That’s certainly useful.]

Neal D. Freedman, the study’s lead author and an investigator for the National Cancer Institute, cautioned that the findings, based on observational data, show only an association between coffee consumption and lower risk for disease, so it isn’t known whether drinking more coffee will lead to better health. As a result, Dr. Freedman said that people should be conservative in interpreting the data, but that regular coffee drinkers can be reassured.

It’s a modest effect,” he said. “But the biggest concern for a long time has been that drinking coffee is a risky thing to do. Our results, and some of those of more recent studies, provide reassurance for coffee drinkers that this isn’t the case. The people who are regularly drinking coffee have a similar risk of death as nondrinkers, and there might be a modest benefit…”

Phew! Actually, that’s a non-phew. I’ve been through coffee scares before. Inevitably, follow-on research negated the negatives and often discovered positives overlooked.

It is less than startling that the complex molecules resulting from brewing coffee contain many surprises. Coffee as a popular beverage has already exceeded the range of use one might expect from its use simply as stimulant. I admit to feeling smug that one of my morning pleasures has more positive characteristics than I assumed.

Now, I just need someone to determine what food group increases the likelihood of my fellow Americans acquiring a lifetime interest in education, science and honest government. I’d buy farmland tomorrow and start cultivation.

Mad cow disease in California

The U.S. Agriculture Department confirmed on Tuesday a California dairy cow had mad cow disease…the fourth such U.S. case since it was first found here in 2003, but said no parts of the animal entered the nation’s food supply.

John Clifford, the USDA’s chief veterinary officer, said there was “no cause for alarm” from the animal, which was found at a rendering plant that processes diseased or sick animals into non-edible products for use in things like soap or glue…

While there is no evidence that humans can catch it from drinking the milk of an infected cow, fears of a potential backlash among consumers and big importers of U.S. beef caused Chicago live cattle futures drop sharply…

The USDA is still tracing the exact life of the infected animal, which was found at an undisclosed rendering facility in central California.

The carcass of the cow, which the USDA said was infected by an “atypical” form of the disease, would be destroyed. The cow was not believed to have contracted the disease by eating contaminated food, the USDA added.

“There is really no concern for alarm here with regards to this animal. Both human health and animal health are protected with regards to this issue,” Clifford told reporters…

“The impact should not affect exports. Now, I’m not saying it may or may not, but it should not,” Clifford said, noting that the United States has been recognized by authorities as having taken steps to control its risks for the disease.

Beef exports plunged nearly 75 percent in 2004 in the wake of the first U.S. incident in late-2003, with USDA reporting net cancellations of beef sales in five out of the first six weeks following the news.

The panic factor is always underestimated – by choice – in press conferences of this character. Officials stand around with their fingers crossed behind their back – hoping they’re right about contagion, hoping they’re right about panic.

The Luddite Left will go bonkers. The populist right and the Kool Aid Party will find some way to blame Obama [does he even drink white milk?]. California politicians of both lame parties will back up the dairy industry regardless of standards.

The important task is what we’ve done best in the past. Isolate the cause after it’s found. Keep the food supply up to reasonable standards – whatever that might be.