• Water securityAbnormalities found in drinking water in Texas’s Eagle Ford Shale region

    Chemists studying well water quality in the Texas’s Eagle Ford Shale region found some abnormal chloride/bromide ratios, alongside evidence of dissolved gases and sporadic episodes of volatile organic compounds, all indicative of some contamination from industrial or agricultural activities in the area.

  • Water securityRadioactive wastewater enters Florida major aquifer after huge sinkhole opens up below fertilizer plant

    At least 980 million liters of highly contaminated water — including radioactive substances – has leaked into one of Florida’s largest sources of drinking water. The leak was caused by a huge sinkhole which opened up beneath a fertilizer plant near Tampa. The sinkhole caused highly contaminated waste water to pass into an aquifer which supplies much of the state. The waste water contained phosphogypsum, a by-product of fertilizer production, which contains naturally occurring uranium and radium. the Floridan aquifer aquifer underlies all of Florida and extends into southern Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina, supplying groundwater to the cities of Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Gainesville, Orlando, Daytona Beach, Tampa, and St Petersburg.

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  • African securityAssessing the risk from Africa as Libya loses its chemical weapons

    By Scott Firsing

    Libya’s remaining chemical weapons left over from the Gaddafi regime are now being safely disposed of in a German facility. This eliminates the risk of them falling into the wrong hands. But can these same hands acquire weapons of mass destruction from the rest of Africa? The disposal of Libya’s chemical weapons has lowered the risk of weapons of mass destruction in Africa. But we have seen how far non-state actors are willing to go to either produce or steal such weapons. For example, analysts envision militants known as “suicide infectors” visiting an area with an infectious disease outbreak like Ebola purposely to infect themselves and then using air travel to carry out the attack. Reports from 2009 show forty al-Qaeda linked militants being killed by the plague at a training camp in Algeria. There were claims that they were developing the disease as a weapon. The threat WMD pose cannot be ignored. African countries, with help from bilateral partners and the international community, have broadened their nonproliferation focus. They will need to keep doing so if the goal is effectively to counter this threat.

  • Food securityClimate change means land use will need to change to keep up with global food demand

    Researchers warn that without significant improvements in technology, global crop yields are likely to fall in the areas currently used for production of the world’s three major cereal crops — wheat, maize, and rice — forcing production to move to new areas. This could lead to a major drop in productivity of these areas by 2050, along with a corresponding increase in potential productivity of many previously unused areas, pointing to a major shift in the map of global food production.

  • Public healthSmoke from 2015 Indonesian fires may have caused more than 100,000 deaths

    In the fall of 2015, hazardous levels of smoke from agricultural fires blanketed much of Equatorial Asia. Schools and businesses closed, planes were grounded, and tens of thousands sought medical treatment for respiratory illness. In a new study, researchers estimate that the 2015 smoke event caused upward of 100,000 deaths across Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore.

  • ZikaHow Congress is failing on Zika

    By Ana Santos Rutschman

    Three times Congress has taken up legislation to fund the continuing response to the Zika outbreak. Three times the bill, which would allocate $1.1 billion to fight the disease, has fallen short of attracting bipartisan support. While Congress delays action on Zika, the number of infected people keeps climbing. As of mid-September, there were over 3,000 reported cases in the fifty states and close to 18,000 when you count in U.S. territories like Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. One thing the Zika crisis has made clear is that solving emerging disease outbreaks increasingly involves navigating treacherous political waters. Congress’ lack of understanding of the real scope of voucher program – which aims to spur development of new drugs for neglected diseases — compromises efforts to find new ways of encouraging R&D in neglected diseases like Zika. Its inaction when it comes to extending funding for a major outbreak may endanger the health of thousands of Americans.

  • Food securityUN’s Sustainable Development Goals: Wicked trade-offs between environmental, food security goals

    As world leaders gather in New York for the UN General Assembly, one year after the formal adoption of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a new study finds that policies focused solely on the environment tend to increase food prices. However, the study goes on to identify sustainable consumption and production practices as key to achieving both environmental and food security targets simultaneously.

  • Tropical diseasesNeglected Tropical Diseases: Some progress toward addressing the chronic pandemic

    Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) have been included in United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and are now recognized as true markers of poverty. But there is still no recognition of the true level of mortality associated with this particular group of diseases. Around 12,000 people died as a result of the recent Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Sierra Leonne, and Liberia, but experts say that during the same period of time at least ten times that many people died as a result of NTDs.

  • SuperbugsStar-shaped polymers, not antibiotics, kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria

    Currently, the only treatment for infections caused by bacteria is antibiotics. However, over time bacteria mutate to protect themselves against antibiotics, making treatment no longer effective. These mutated bacteria are known as “superbugs.” Tiny, star-shaped molecules are effective at killing bacteria that can no longer be killed by current antibiotics, new research shows. The research holds promise for a new treatment method against antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or superbugs.

  • BiohackingBuilding a biosafety and biosecurity toolkit for a safer gene editing research

    A new DARPA program could help unlock the potential of advanced gene editing technologies by developing a set of tools to address potential risks of this rapidly advancing field. The Safe Genes program envisions addressing key safety gaps by using those tools to restrict or reverse the propagation of engineered genetic constructs. Safe Genes was inspired in part by recent advances in the field of “gene drives,” which can alter the genetic character of a population of organisms by ensuring that certain edited genetic traits are passed down to almost every individual in subsequent generations.

  • BiohackingGrowing concern about amateur “biohackers” creating biological weapons

    American and European security agencies have been increasingly focusing on the risk that “biohackers” – scientists who use genome-editing techniques to change life forms by increasing or decreasing the function of genes — could develop biological weapons or other dangerous biological substances. The problem is not only – or even mostly – with the work of professional scientists. Rather, the real danger lies with amateur scientists around the world who have started to use gene-editing techniques after the tools became cheap and readily available.

  • BiohackingKeeping pace with the fast-developing science of gene drives

    The emerging science of gene drives is drawing attention for its potential to help with critical health issues such as mosquito-borne diseases and environmental concerns such as agricultural pests and invasive species. At its most basic, a gene drive operates outside the traditional realm of genetics, in which an offspring has a 50-50 chance of inheriting a trait from one of its parents. A gene drive introduces a trait that will spread — or drive — through a population. “The science of gene drives is moving very fast,” says an expert. “[O]ur ability to assess the risks of gene drives, to oversee them with regulatory agencies, and to have a public discussion around gene drives is falling behind the science — We don’t want to wait until we have the technology in front of us to have discussions about regulation, oversight, ethics, and engagement.”

  • WMDFBI’s WMD Directorate marks its first decade

    If you can imagine a disaster involving explosives or the release of nuclear, biological, chemical, or radioactive material, there is a pretty good chance a group of subject-matter experts within the FBI has built an elaborate scenario around it and tested how well emergency responders face up to it. It is the main jobs of the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Directorate — to imagine worst-case scenarios and then devise ways to prevent and prepare for them. The Directorate was created ten years ago, on 26 July 2006.

  • Zika virusU.S. response to Zika: Fragmented and uneven

    By Scott L. Greer

    How is the United States responding to Zika? CDC is doing what it can to support efforts to halt disease transmission and support state and local government. But on 30 August CDC director Tom Frieden announced that the agency had almost run out of money to fight the virus. Congress has yet to pass a funding bill, leaving the Obama administration to redirect money earmarked for other purposes to support Zika research and response efforts. The response so far seems fragmented, and even somewhat contentious – not unlike the response to the Ebola crisis in the United States in 2014. The response to that public health crisis was shaped by the fragmented and partisan U.S. political system, not by epidemiology or medicine.

  • Flesh-eating bacteriaVaccine against “flesh-eating” bacteria in sight

    Biochemists have uncovered patterns in the outer protein coat of group A Streptococcus that could finally lead to a vaccine against this highly infectious bacteria — responsible for more than 500,000 deaths a year, including toxic shock syndrome and necrotizing fasciitis or “flesh-eating disease.”