Gates Foundation dumps all of its BP stock

Photo/Rich Talk

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation sold off its $187 million stake in the oil giant BP sometime between September and December of 2015, according to a recent filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The move came after the foundation sold off $824 million in ExxonMobil stock, as disclosed last fall.

The foundation has been under pressure from climate activists demanding that it drop all investments in fossil fuel companies. The Guardian’s “Keep It in the Ground” campaign and the Gates Divest campaign have both been particularly dogged in focusing on Gates.

But the foundation has refused to comment on its investment decisions, so the significance of these recent oil-stock sell-offs is unclear. Bill Gates, the billionaire cofounder of Microsoft, has been skeptical of the fossil-fuel divestment movement and last year called it a “false solution.”

According to public records, the Gates Foundation held about $1.4 billion of investments in coal, oil, and gas companies at the start of 2014. Now it holds only about $200 million of those stocks, according to the Guardian…

Divestment is a sensible part of any movement to boycott corporations, political entities. Anti-human, environmentally corrupt policies deserved to be punished by public investors. Voting with your dollar$ is often the only sort of democracy these creeps recognize.

Ecopesticides starts field tests of new method to stop crop-destroying insects

A New Mexico startup company has begun field tests to prove they can kill desert locusts in Africa using a natural bio-pesticide technology developed at the University of New Mexico. The company, founded by two UNM physicians, is taking on one of the oldest problems in history, the desert locust swarms that can completely destroy food crops in Africa.

They plan to kill the locusts by getting them to eat fungi that are naturally lethal to them. The idea is to encase the fungi in tiny spheres and spread them on fields of crops. The polymer spheres protect the fungi, which thrive in cool dark, humid places, from the dryness and ultraviolet rays of the desert sun until the locusts arrive in the fields. The locusts begin eating the fungi along with the crops and die.

“It’s all about timing,” Chief Science Officer of Ecopesticides Ravi Durvasula said. “If we could find a way basically to protect those natural compounds, those fungi a little longer – How much longer? A week longer, two weeks longer? We don’t know until we test it in the sites in Africa.

“But if we can have it last a little longer, presumably you would need to use less of it. And in these are subsistence farms, where literally every dollar counts, being able to put it out less frequently, maybe being able to store it a little bit longer would help. So we are trying to develop some heat tolerance as well. It would make a huge difference in this part of the world. And so that’s really the goal…”

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is responsible for inspiring two physicians in New Mexico to think about locusts in Africa. The foundation has a major initiative to increase food security in Africa and the opportunity for a grant turned Durvasula and Adam Forshaw’s interest from the human impact of disease carrying insects to the human impact of crop destroying insects.

Durvasula is a physician and the director of the Paratransgenesis Lab in the Department of Internal Medicine at the Health Sciences Center at UNM. His research interest is exploring ways to genetically alter bacteria that can be inserted into insects to interrupt the infectious agent that allows transmission to humans. He began his research and teaching at Yale University more than a decade ago, eventually moving to UNM.

He was pleased to welcome Forshaw, a medical student with a background in chemistry, to his lab in 2012. Forshaw was doing the research portion of his medical degree and together, they went to work to find a way to disrupt the way sandflies transmit Leishmania parasites to humans. Durvasula was able to control the parasite in the laboratory, but the challenge was to control it in the field. Forshaw thought they might be able to use a chemical polymer to create small capsules to encase bacteria that transmit disease into insects.

That’s when the Gates Foundation grant opportunity turned the research in a different direction. Forshaw and Durvasula saw that their interest in controlling parasitic pests could be shifted to controlling crop destroying pests.

RTFA for more about how these two medical doctors transformed their research from infectious diseases to providing enough food to bring folks a healthy life.

Here’s the website home for Ecopesticides to check our their commitment and mssion.

Polio emergency declared as war and bandits spread the virus

The spread of polio to countries previously considered free of the crippling disease is a global health emergency, the World Health Organization said, as the virus once driven to the brink of extinction mounts a comeback.

Pakistan, Cameroon and Syria pose the greatest risk of exporting the virus to other countries, and should ensure that residents have been vaccinated before they travel, the Geneva-based WHO said in a statement today after a meeting of its emergency committee. It’s only the second time the United Nations agency has declared a public health emergency of international concern, after the 2009 influenza pandemic.

Polio has resurged as military conflicts from Sudan to Pakistan disrupt vaccination campaigns, giving the virus a toehold. The number of cases reached a record low of 223 globally in 2012 and jumped to 417 last year, according to the WHO. There have been 74 cases this year, including 59 in Pakistan, during what is usually polio’s “low season,” the WHO said.

The disease’s spread, if unchecked, “could result in failure to eradicate globally one of the world’s most serious, vaccine-preventable diseases,” Bruce Aylward, the WHO’s assistant director general for polio, emergencies and country collaboration, told reporters in Geneva today. “The consequences of further international spread are particularly acute today given the large number of polio-free but conflict-torn and fragile states which have severely compromised routine immunization services.”

“Conflict makes it very difficult for the vaccinators to get to the children who need vaccine,” David Heymann, a professor of infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said in an interview before the WHO’s announcement. “It’s been more difficult to finish than had been hoped.”

The polio virus, which is spread through feces, attacks the nervous system and can cause paralysis within hours, and death in as many as 10 percent of its victims. There is no cure. The disease can be prevented by vaccines

The resurgence of the virus “reminds us that, until it’s eradicated, it’s going to spread internationally and it’s going to find and paralyze susceptible kids,” Aylward said.

Resurgence, as well, of the question: what holds back progress for most of the people living on this planet? Is it stupidity or ignorance? My answer changes from week to week.

It takes a special kind of stupidity after all to make uninformed and ignorant decisions. Whether the ignorance is religion-based, hatred of furriners, paranoid rejection of science and info from educated folks who obviously don’t live in your own neighborhood/state/region/country/continent – doesn’t matter a whole boatload. Killing your kin and letting your children die sounds mostly stupid to me.

Tea Party tries to rally Republicans against bi-partisan education standards overhaul


Tea Party groups say they’re urging Republican governors to rethink supporting a bipartisan plan backed by President Obama to overhaul U.S. public schools…

“This is the issue that could change things for the Tea Party movement,” said Lee Ann Burkholder, founder of the 9/12 Patriots in York, Pa., which rallied 400 people to a recent meeting to discuss working against Common Core.

The White House has promoted Common Core, written by governors and state education officials in both parties and largely funded by the private Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to create consistent math and reading standards from kindergarten through 12th grade nationwide. The standards don’t dictate curriculum; states would determine the curriculum and how to prep students for standardized tests based on Common Core.

The standards have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia and are to be implemented by 2014.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican facing re-election next year, told the Post, “We didn’t see it coming with the intensity that it is, apparently all across the country.”

Supporters have expressed concern that a drop in state participation could weaken potential benefits, such as the ability to compare student test scores across states, while creating logistical hurdles for school districts developing curriculum and training teachers, the Washington Post said…

No surprise that a Georgia Republican craps his drawers when Noodnik Know-Nothings threaten him.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan voiced frustration with opposition over Common Core last week while on Capitol Hill, the Post said. He rejected comments by U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., that many of his constituents groused that federal money was used to “bribe” states to accept a “federal takeover of curriculum.”

“It’s not a black helicopter ploy and we’re not trying to get inside people’s minds and brains,” Duncan said.

Of course, trying to establish useful standards for education nationwide – instead of populist slogans – always threatens rightwingers who fear educated citizens almost as much as democracy or civil rights.

Surely they can find some way to include guns and religion into their desperate last-minute shriek.

British plant scientists win $10M grant from Gates Foundation

Celebrating a century of plant breeding

British scientists have won a £6.4 million grant to develop GM crops – one of the largest single investments into genetic modification in the UK.

The money, awarded by the Gates Foundation, will be used to cultivate corn, wheat and rice that need little or no fertiliser.

It is hoped the work at the John Innes Centre in Norwich will benefit struggling maize farmers in sub-Saharan Africa who cannot afford to treat their crops.

Plant scientists at the independent unit are trying to engineer cereal crops capable of taking nitrogen from the air – as peas and beans do – rather than needing chemical ammonia spread on fields.

Giles Oldroyd, from the John Innes Centre, told the BBC the project was vital for poorer African farmers and would have a huge impact on global agriculture.

Bravo! The Gates Foundation maintains a dedication to science for the benefit of the poor and needy that would serve as an inspiration to any government — if we could find one that would listen.

The wry part of this process is that anti-science environmentalists who decry climate deniers for fatuous opposition to schemes to combat climate change are equally hypocritical in their own
opposition to scientifically modified crops. Their fears are mostly groundless – more often predicated on populist ideology than anything else. Useless to farmers and folks who really need productive cropped foods.

Shrinking the size of tests – and their cost – down to pennies

While other scientists successfully shrank beakers, tubes and centrifuges into diagnostic laboratories that fit into aluminum boxes that cost $50,000, George Whitesides had smaller dreams. The diagnostic tests designed in Dr. Whitesides’s Harvard University chemistry laboratory fit on a postage stamp and cost less than a penny.

His secret? Paper.

His colleagues miniaturized diagnostic tests so they could move into the field with tiny pumps and thread-thin tubes. Dr. Whitesides opted for a more novel approach, reasoning that a drop of blood or urine could wick its way through a square of filter paper without any help.

And if the paper could be etched with tiny channels so that the drop followed a path, and if that path were mined with dried proteins and chemically triggered dyes, the thumbnail-size square could be a mini-laboratory — one that could be run off by the thousands on a Xerox machine.

Diagnostics for All, the private company Dr. Whitesides founded four years ago here in Boston’s Brighton neighborhood to commercialize his inspirations, has already created such a test for liver damage. It requires a single drop of blood, takes 15 minutes and can be read by an untrained eye: If a round spot the size of a sesame seed on the paper changes to pink from purple, the patient is probably in danger.

Using paper in diagnostic tests is not entirely new. It soaks up urine in home pregnancy kits and blood in home diabetes kits. But Dr. Whitesides has patented ways to control the flow through multiple layers for ever-more-complex diagnoses. His test has proved more than 90 percent accurate on blood samples previously screened by the laboratory of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a Harvard teaching hospital, said Una S. Ryan, chief executive of Diagnostics for All…

The initial target audience is AIDS patients with tuberculosis who must take powerful cocktails of seven or more drugs. Some drugs damage the liver, and deaths from liver failure are 12 times as common among African AIDS patients as among American ones, Dr. Ryan said, because current liver tests are expensive and require tubes of blood…

RTFA. Truly worthwhile effort, starting with grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and carrying through to government assistance both sides of the pond.

Taking the cost of tests from dollars to pennies makes them affordable in the 3rd World – as well as the growing pool of poverty in the industrial West. Many examples, many goals already met. The sort of medical research that doesn’t make billions for pharmaceutical giants; but, helps human beings worldwide.

Luring mosquitoes to their death with the odor of smelly feet

Mosquito landing boxes in Tanzania

Researchers in Tanzania have chemically reproduced the stench of smelly feet in an innovative new approach to combat the spread of malaria in the country.

The scientific team at Tanzania’s Ifakara Health Institute has developed a potent serum — similar to that of human foot odor — to lure and kill mosquitoes, which can carry malaria and other diseases.

Four times more powerful in attracting mosquitoes than natural human odor, the synthetic smell is now being used in a pioneering research program aimed at killing mosquitoes outdoors using a “mosquito landing box…”

Mosquitoes are lured inside the boxes by the synthetic odor, which is dispersed by a solar-powered fan. Once inside, the insects are either trapped or poisoned and left to die.

“Substances we omit when we sweat, such as lactic acid, act as a signal to mosquitoes … The aim here was to produce a mixture that would mimic a human being.” The result, said Fredros Okumu, was a chemical blend that “smelt just like dirty socks…”

“This is a great example of an African innovator, with an African innovation, tackling an African problem,” said Dr Peter Singer, CEO of Grand Challenges Canada.

“Malaria kills about 800,000 people a year, mostly children, in Africa. At the moment existing technologies, such as bed nets and sprays, tend to repel mosquitoes inside the home.

“This technology attracts mosquitoes outside the home to kill them, and could be complimentary to what is there now,” Singer continued…

For Okumu, this is a personal as well as a scientific venture. Born in western Kenya, malaria has been apart of Okumu’s life for as long as he can remember.

“All the places I have lived have been malaria zones. When I was growing up I had malaria at least twice every year,” he said.

Most American and Europeans have little knowledge of this terrible disease. So many people die, so many children especially, it really is one of the grim reapers of African history.

5 years of Gates Foundation health grants

Five years ago, Bill Gates made an extraordinary offer: he invited the world’s scientists to submit ideas for tackling the biggest problems in global health, including the lack of vaccines for AIDS and malaria, the fact that most vaccines must be kept refrigerated and be delivered by needles, the fact that many tropical crops like cassavas and bananas had little nutrition, and so on.

No idea was too radical, he said, and what he called the Grand Challenges in Global Health would pursue paths that the National Institutes of Health and other grant makers could not.

About 1,600 proposals came in, and the top 43 were so promising that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation made $450 million in five-year grants — more than double what he originally planned to give.

Now the five years are up, and the foundation recently brought all the scientists to Seattle to assess the results and decide who will get further funding.

In an interview, Mr. Gates sounded somewhat chastened, saying several times, “We were naïve when we began…”

He underestimated, he said, how long it takes to get a new product from the lab to clinical trials to low-cost manufacturing to acceptance in third-world countries…

That little won’t buy a breakthrough, but it lets scientists “moonlight” by adding new goals to their existing grants, which saves the foundation a lot of winnowing. “And,” he added, “a scientist in a developing country can do a lot with $100,000.”

Over all, he said: “On drawing attention to ways that lives might be saved through scientific advances, I’d give us an A.

“But I thought some would be saving lives by now, and it’ll be more like in 10 years from now.”

RTFA. A case study – series of studies – in developing philanthropy. Above all else, give the Gates’ credit for their commitment and dedication. It ain’t even easy to try to give money away to help people.

Wallet-sized malaria tests for developing world

Paul Yager

Researchers at the University of Washington have developed a prototype malaria test printed on a disposable Mylar card that could easily slip into your wallet and still work when you took it out, even months later.

Paul Yager, UW bioengineering professor, and colleagues described the prototype cards in the December issue of the journal Lab on a Chip. These cards are a critical step in a long-term project funded by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges in Global Health Initiative to develop affordable, easy-to-use diagnostic tools for the developing world.

“A pivotal issue in having this technology work is making these tests storable for long periods of time at ambient temperatures,” Yager said. “Normally people work with wet reagents. We’re saying we can dry the reagents down in order to store them without refrigeration. It’s the astronaut-food approach.”

The malaria cards contain reagents that would normally require refrigeration, but the researchers figured out a way to stabilize them in dry form by mixing them with sugar. Results showed that malaria antibodies dried in sugar matrices retained 80 percent to 96 percent of their activity after 60 days of storage at elevated temperatures.

While the prototype developed by the UW researchers only tests for malaria, Yager and his collaborators are working towards cards that also will test for five other diseases that, like malaria, cause high-fever symptoms: dengue, influenza, Rickettsial diseases, typhoid and measles. The “fever panel” of six diseases is merely a starting point, Yager said. The UW technology could be adapted to include other diseases in the future.

Third World, developing nations, anyplace with substandard access to medical diagnosis – all will benefit from research like this. RTFA. The Bil and Melinda Gates Foundation is picking up the tab.