• Pathogen detectionResearchers develop rapid method for water, air, and soil pathogen screening

    Researchers have developed a highly sensitive, cost-effective technology for rapid bacterial pathogen screening of air, soil, water, and agricultural produce in as little as twenty-four hours. “Rapid and reliable pathogen detection in field samples is critical for public health, security and environmental monitoring. Current methods used in food, water or clinical applications rely on labor and time-intensive culturing techniques while activities such as dairy farming, wastewater and runoff treatment necessitates real-time monitoring of pathogens in environment samples,” said one of the researchers.

  • Water securityWater security test bed to focus on bolstering municipal water security

    Water is the foundation for life. People use water every single day to meet their domestic, industrial, agricultural, medical, and recreational needs. After the September 2001 terrorist attacks, water system security became a higher priority in the United States. The Water Security Test Bed (WSTB) at Idaho national Laboratory can be used for research related to detecting and decontaminating chemical, biological, or radiological agents following an intentional or natural disaster. The WSTB will focus on improving America’s ability to safeguard the nation’s water systems, and respond to contamination incidents and to natural disasters.

  • PreparednessMissouri schools underprepared for pandemics, bioterrorism, natural disasters

    Pandemic preparedness is not only critical because of the threat of a future pandemic or an outbreak of an emerging infectious disease, but also because school preparedness for all types of disasters, including biological events, is mandated by the U.S. Department of Education. Missouri schools are no more prepared to respond to pandemics, natural disasters, and bioterrorism attacks than they were in 2011, according to a new study. Particular gaps were found in bioterrorism readiness — less than 10 percent of schools have a foodservice biosecurity plan and only 1.5 percent address the psychological needs that accompany a bioterrorism attack.

  • BiodefenseDHS S&T launches $100,000 prize competition to support NBAF facility

    DHS S&T announced the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) Think and Do Challenge, a prize competition that seeks ideas to leverage NBAF resources in order to conduct research to protect the nation’s animal agricultural industry and public health. S&T says that it will award up to $100,000 to help fund the development or implementation of winning submissions through the NBAF Think and Do Challenge, under the authority of the America COMPETES Act.

  • EpidemicsSurveillance technology to aid in disease detection, response

    The Ebola crisis has highlighted a need to bolster global surveillance and enhance the capability to react appropriately to further outbreaks, experts say. This should include making use of modern technologies for detecting disease, sharing information in real time and analyzing data. “We cannot afford to wait for the next outbreak of infectious disease before putting effective systems in place to safeguard public health,” says one expert.

  • BioterrorismHHS in strategic alliance to accelerate new antibiotic development

    Multiple drugs to combat bioterrorism threats and other life-threatening bacterial infections will be developed under a public-private partnership agreement between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (APSR) and AstraZeneca, a global biopharmaceutical company. The partnership will also stimulates pipeline of drugs to treat multi-drug resistant bacterial infections. CDC has estimated that in the U.S. antibiotic-resistant bacteria are responsible for two million infections and 23,000 deaths annually with an estimated annual economic burden of $35 billion on the healthcare system.

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  • Food safetyFormer peanut company owner to jail for 28 years for fatal 2009 salmonella outbreak

    In a rare instance of a prison sentence in a food contamination case, Stewart Parnell, the former owner of Peanut Corporation of America, was sentenced to twenty-eight years in prison for his role in a 2009 salmonella outbreak which killed nine people and sickened hundreds. Parnell, 61, who once managed the Peanut Corporation of America, and his brother, Michael Parnell, who was a food broker for the company, were convicted on Monday on federal conspiracy charges for knowingly shipping salmonella-tainted peanuts to customers.

  • Synthetic biologyU.S. defense agencies dominate federal synthetic biology research

    A new analysis finds the Defense Department and its Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) fund much of the U.S. government’s research in synthetic biology, with less than 1 percent of total federal funding going to risk research. Between 2008 and 2014, the United States invested approximately $820 million dollars in synthetic biology research. In that time period, the Defense Department became a key funder of synthetic biology research. DARPA’s investments, for example, increased from near zero in 2010 to more than $100 million in 2014 — more than three times the amount spent by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

  • Food securityRather food versus fuel, think in terms of both food and fuel

    Whether you have taken a side or a backseat in the discussion, the “food versus fuel” debate affects us all. Some say growing more biofuel crops today will decrease greenhouse gas emissions, but will make it harder to produce food tomorrow, which has prevented the United States from maximizing the potential of environmentally beneficial biofuels. Scientists argue that farmers can sustainably, and affordably, meet humanity’s growing demand for food and fuel.

  • Public healthTwo states changes gun laws, and suicide-by-firearm rates in the two states shift

    A new study examining changes in gun policy in two states finds that handgun purchaser licensing requirements influence suicide rates. Researchers estimate that Connecticut’s 1995 law requiring individuals to obtain a permit or license to purchase a handgun after passing a background check was associated with a 15.4 percent reduction in firearm suicide rates, while Missouri’s repeal of its handgun purchaser licensing law in 2007 was associated with a 16.1 percent increase in firearm suicide rates.

  • Drought2015 drought costs for California agriculture: Loss of $1.84 billion, 10,100 jobs

    The drought is tightening its grip on California agriculture, squeezing about 30 percent more workers and cropland out of production than in 2014, according to the latest drought impact report. In 2015, the state’s agricultural economy will lose about $1.84 billion and 10,100 seasonal jobs because of the drought, the report estimated, with the Central Valley hardest hit. The heavy reliance on groundwater comes at ever-increasing energy costs as farmers pump deeper and drill more wells. Some of the heavy pumping is in basins already in severe overdraft — where groundwater use greatly exceeds replenishment of aquifers — inviting further land subsidence, water quality problems, and diminishing reserves needed for future droughts.

  • ExplosivesCleaning explosives pollution with plants

    Biologists have taken an important step in making it possible to clean millions of hectares of land contaminated by explosives. The researchers have unraveled the mechanism of TNT toxicity in plants, raising the possibility of a new approach to explosives remediation technology. TNT has become an extensive global pollutant over the last 100 years and there are mounting concerns over its toxicity to biological systems.

  • Radiation risksRadioactive contaminants found in coal ash from all three major U.S. coal-producing basins

    A new study has revealed the presence of radioactive contaminants in coal ash from all three major U.S. coal-producing basins. The study found that levels of radioactivity in the ash were up to five times higher than in normal soil, and up to ten times higher than in the parent coal itself because of the way combustion concentrates radioactivity. The finding raises concerns about the environmental and human health risks posed by coal ash, which is currently unregulated and is stored in coal-fired power plants’ holding ponds and landfills nationwide.

  • WaterSolving the mystery of arsenic-contaminated water

    Can water ever be too clean? If the intent is to store it underground, the answer, surprisingly, is yes. In a new study, scientists have shown that recycled water percolating into underground storage aquifers in Southern California picked up trace amounts of arsenic because the water was too pure. The research sheds light on a poorly understood aspect of groundwater recharge with purified recycled water, namely the potential mobilization of arsenic. Arsenic is a naturally occurring element that can cause organ failure and cancer in humans with prolonged exposure above established health thresholds. The findings pose a problem for Orange County, California, which differs from most communities in that it purifies treated wastewater instead of discharging it directly into rivers and oceans – but the problem goes beyond Orange County.

  • Public healthCan America cope with a resurgence of tropical disease?

    By Carrie Arnold

    Having stamped out a number of tropical diseases — including malaria — decades ago, is America today complacent about a rising wave of infectious disease? It is the nature of these diseases — neglected diseases, diseases of poverty, call them what you like — that they can go unnoticed for years, chewing away at the health of individuals and communities. As poverty, geography, climate, and social factors combine to bring tropical diseases out of hiding once again in the U.S. South, physicians, politicians, and the general public have to take the warning signs seriously and recognize that the tools available for tackling tropical diseases are sorely lacking. Despite tremendous advances in other types of illness in recent decades, tropical medicine remains stubbornly stuck in the 1950s, leaving the United States as unprepared as low-income nations to treat any significant number of cases. With diseases like Chagas now known to be prevalent and transmissible within the United States, better awareness, better tests, and better treatments are all urgently required. Otherwise, the number of people affected and infected will only continue to rise as this perfect storm grows ever stronger.