You Give Me Dengue Fever, And More In This Week's Very Tardy Sci-Blog!
Hey, Humans! It's time once again for another weird and unsettling Wonkette Sci-Blog! We are able to take up this valuable retail real estate now because Ace Political Blogger and Mammalian Protuberance Enthusiast M. Joseph Sheppard has canceled out on us, and there has been an inordinate amount of revelry among the Editorial Staff this week. This unfortunate situation will certainly be corrected soon, when they are able focus well enough again to find the Editorial Banhammer (HINT: look inside the vodka spiked melon).
Enjoy and be appalled while you can!
Humanity has been at war with tropical diseases, well, since there has been a Humanity. The Earth's Tropic zones have all the right characteristics of perfect factories for bacterial, viral and parasitic diseases: a year-round hot climate, periodic heavy rains, an abundance of rapidly reproducing mobile disease vectors and widespread natural reservoirs for disease causing organisms. Most of the more widespread and persistent diseases are the ones spread by Arthropod vectors. Mosquitos alone have arguably carried the disease which cause more human suffering worldwide than any other. Malaria and Yellow Fever alone virtually halted French construction of the Panama Canal 1889, after a loss of 22,000 lives. The disease list in itself is scary and reads like a catalog of horrors, not all of them from the past.
We've made a lot of progress over the years, towards managing and controlling these persistent plagues. Much of the credit goes to public health interventions, and the growth of Public Health as a concept has been driven by Scientific method. The advent of microbiological germ theory and the proven link of disease-causing parasites to their insect vectors identified the challenge, and the gradual development of integrated control methods has gone far to meet it.
The good news in tropical disease news this week is a happy combination of Pharmacolocy and innovative Biotechnology in the treatment of Malaria. Currently, the most effective treatment for this disease is the drug artemisinin, a plant-based compound derived from the bark of the Wormwood tree. There's the problem, as the volume of wormwood needed to synthesize arteminisin came nowhere close to matching the worldwide demand. Now, however, researchers at US biotech company Amyris (building on groundbreaking research by Jay Keasling’s group at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory) have engineered the common Brewer's Yeast organism to produce an important precursor compound that, in a few steps, can be made into artemisinin. This important breakthrough now allows production of this drug in ton-lots, using widely available technology, at low cost and limiting the dependence of an exclusively agricultural supply.
The Bad News in tropical disease news this week is that a new epidemiological study has found that the World Health Organization's estimate for the number of cases of Dengue Fever is three times lower than it really is. Dengue is a brutal mosquito-transmitted disease that's often called "Bonebreak Fever" for the excruciating pain it causes. There's no preventative vaccines available and no real treatment, other than palliatives. Infectious disease specialist Jeremy Farrar, of the Oxford Clinical Research Unit in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, published this study in the Journal Nature with epidemiologist Simon Hay. "Dengue is one of the few infectious diseases increasing its global spread and the number of cases annually," Farrar said. Most of the verified cases in the United States have been from travelers who've been exposed in the tropics, but there have been local outbreaks, most notably on the Texas-Mexico Border. As the world warms, the tropics expand and long cold winters become a rarity, we can expect the tropics to send more of these diseases to places they've never been seen.
In the More Bad News for Tropical Diseases (and Public Health) category: the drastic and unnecessary Federal Sequester Budget cuts are hitting the CDC, NIH and Biomedical Research in general hard. Saving money by crippling research for a generation is not merely "eating the seed corn," it's more like setting all the seed corn on fire.
A study released by evolutionary biologist Brian Mautz this week did not surprise at least half of the population, who knew this already, but did provide evidence that, in fact, size does matter. Brace yourselves for a deluge of awful photos on Twitter and some serious grouchiness from that fraction of the population that did not know this.
Well, what better to follow that story than Today's Cephalopod: the extremely weird Blanket Octopus. Tentacle Fanciers rejoice!
The Liquid Robotics corporation has adapted its ocean traveling Wave Glider robots as what it's calling an "autonomous sea-faring data center." The Wave Glider SV3 will swim the world's waterways, collecting vast amounts of environmental data from on-board sensors, illicitly linking with other computer systems and plotting world domination. Just like in the movies.
Are you staring at me? It turns out that the human brain tells us that we're being stared at by others, even when we're not, according to research done by Professor Colin Clifford from the University of Sydney's School of Psychology. Our brains, when presented with "limited visual cues" tends to fill in areas of empty information with information of its own. We seem to be hardwired for this visual bias, though it's not clear why. Hey -You lookin' at me?
Bad News! The increasing amount of Carbon in the atmosphere is speeding up the moulting process of blue claw crabs, creating giants that could eat the oyster stocks back into oblivion. Then, they will turn on us.
On April 11th, the Sun unleashed the most powerful solar flare of the year: a class M 6.5 storm. Radio disruptions, increased auroral activity and a worldwide conflagration have been predicted.
Are you tired of not having the truth handy while you're arguing with paid oil industry trolls on the internet ? I sure am! Fortunately the good people at the Climate Reality Project have come up with the very handy information-distribution tool, Reality Drop. It's design uses "...competitive gaming techniques to combat climate denial online" and has already been proven effective against the boilerplate anti-AGW machine. Go Get Em' Wonkeratti!
Thanks, Wonketeers, for stopping by to Sci-Blog with me today. I have to apologize for the lateness of today's post, which is inexcusable. The lesson here is never to go out on the town with Wonkett Cultists when you have important things to do the next day. Won't happen again, I promise. Probably. Well, maybe not for a week or so.