Public health

  • Escape of deadly bacteria at Louisiana bio-research facility raises concerns

    Weeks after federal and state officials launched an investigation into how the burkholderia pseudomallei bacteria which causes life-threatening disease Melioidosis, escaped a laboratory at the Tulane National Primate Research Center in Louisiana, another investigation is now looking into how a veterinary clinic worker might have been exposed to the bacteria.Tulane was conducting vaccine research on the bacteria in a laboratory that requires a biosafety level 3 rating — - the second highest security level.

  • NBAF-focused research already underway at K-State U, ahead of level-4 biolab opening

    Although the remaining funding for the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility, or NBAF, was recently finalized, work on the federal livestock research facility has continued to move forward in recent years — including Kansas State University conducting research which will help jump-start future operations at NBAF. NBAF will be DHS’s premier foreign animal disease research lab. It will research high-consequence livestock diseases that threaten animal and human health. The $1.25 billion lab will be on the northeast edge of K-State Manhattan, Kansas campus. NBAF is anticipated to begin operations in 2022 or 2023. Construction of the facility’s central utility plant is more than 90 percent complete.

  • Protecting crops from radiation-contaminated soil

    Almost four years after the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan, farmland remains contaminated with higher-than-natural levels of radiocesium in some regions of Japan, with cesium-134 and cesium-137 being the most troublesome because of the slow rate at which they decay. In a just-published study, scientists have identified a chemical compound that prevents plants from taking up cesium, thus protecting them — and us — from its harmful effects.

  • When parents hesitate about vaccines, what should health-care providers say?

    In recent years, the United States has witnessed multiple outbreaks of vaccine-preventable illnesses, including pertussis (whooping cough) and measles. In the same time frame, vaccine refusal rates have gone up, and an increasing number of parents are requesting modified vaccine schedules that differ from the one recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Although research overwhelmingly supports the safety and effectiveness of vaccines and indicates that the risk of negative side effects from childhood vaccines is extremely small, many parents still have concerns about vaccine safety. More research is needed to determine which interventions and ways of communicating information about vaccination are most effective at reducing parents’ vaccine hesitancy and refusal. What is clear from existing research is that respectful, tailored communications and recommendations to immunize coming directly from the health-care provider are associated with increased vaccination uptake.

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  • Aluminum poses a threat to food security

    One third of the world’s food-producing land has been lost in the past forty years as a result of soil degradation, putting global food security at risk. Researchers have discovered how aluminum, a toxic result of soil acidification, acts to reduce plant growth. The researchers discovered that aluminum in soils could reduce the growth of roots within five to thirty minutes of exposure.

  • Agriculture groups say bill would disrupt farming operations, decrease food production

    The Legal Workforce Act(LWAH.R. 1147), introduced by U.S. Representative Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and approved this week by the House Judiciary Committee, could disrupt farming operations if it passes Congress. LWA requires employers in the United States, within three years, to use E-Verifyto verify whether employees are legally allowed to work in the country. Ag industry groups say that passing LWA without some sort of immigration reform for agricultural workers could lead to a $30 billion to $60 billion decrease in food production. The ag industry also notes that each of the two million hired farm employees supports two to three fulltime American jobs in the food processing, transportation, farm equipment, marketing, retail, and other sectors.

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  • DHS termination of bio-detection contract questioned

    In February 2014, six months before Silicon Valley startup NVS delivered the first prototypes of its polymerase chain reaction (PCR) pathogen detector to DHS, the department sent NVS’s chief executive Hans Fuernkranz a notice terminating the project. According to a 26 November 2014 draft audit report by DHS’s inspector general’s office, the decision was improperly made by a single agency official without supporting evidence and “against S&T [DHS Science & Technology Directorate] subject matter expert advice.”The official who made the decision to cancel the project had expressed concerns about the cost associated with the NVS contract, and said the contract was terminated because existing technologies could better meet the agency’s needs for confronting bio-threats. The auditors say, however, that they “did not identify evidence to substantiate any of the concerns.”

  • Warming temperatures cause of recent California droughts

    California has experienced more frequent drought years in the last two decades than it has in the past several centuries. That observed uptick is primarily the result of rising temperatures in the region, which have climbed to record highs as a result of climate change, Stanford scientists say. Researchers have examined the role that temperature has played in California droughts over the past 120 years. They also examined the effect that human emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are having on temperature and precipitation, focusing on the influence of global warming upon California’s past, present, and future drought risk. The team found that the worst droughts in California have historically occurred when conditions were both dry and warm, and that global warming is increasing the probability that dry and warm years will coincide. The findings suggest that California could be entering an era when nearly every year that has low precipitation also has temperatures similar to or higher than 2013-14, when the statewide average annual temperature was the warmest on record.

  • Tracking, mapping epidemics in order to limit their spread

    Researchers are using the new Biosurveillance Gateway Web site to map epidemics in order better to understand and prevent deadly diseases. The Web site relies on lab databases and tools from around the world, so that registered health officials and researchers can track outbreaks better to predict how a pathogen might spread in the United States and elsewhere. Though still in its beta state, the Web site provides spread information and mapping on a variety of diseases, including ones that only infect animals or plants. Theoretical computational software is integrated into the maps to help predict what a future epidemic might do, and the histories of recorded outbreaks across the globe are presented for comparison.

  • Asian herb holds promise as treatment for Ebola virus disease

    New research that focuses on the mechanism by which Ebola virus infects a cell and the discovery of a promising drug therapy candidate. A small molecule called Tetrandrine derived from an Asian herb has shown to be a potent small molecule inhibiting infection of human white blood cells in vitro or petri dish experiments and prevented Ebola virus disease in mice.

  • U.K. military last fall evaluated possible Ebola use by terrorists

    In October 2014, during the peak of the Ebola epidemic which terrorized citizens in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, security and terrorism analysts considered the probability of the Islamic State (ISIS) or other terror groups weaponizing Ebola and unleashing the virus in New York, Paris, London, or another major city. Many bioweapon researchers played down Martinez’s claim, saying terrorists looking to use Ebola as a weapon would encounter problems. Still, last fall, a U.K. military research unit was tasked with evaluating whether terrorist organizations could use Ebola to attack Western targets.

  • Antibiotics spawn new communities of harmful bacteria

    Most people have taken an antibiotic to treat a bacterial infection. Now researchers reveal that the way we often think about antibiotics — as straightforward killing machines – needs to be revised. The research not only adds a new dimension to how we treat infections, but also might change our understanding of why bacteria produce antibiotics in the first place.

  • Ocean acidification threatens U.S. coastal communities

    Coastal communities in fifteen states that depend on the $1 billion shelled mollusk industry (primarily oysters and clams) are at long-term economic risk from the increasing threat of ocean acidification, a new report concludes. The Pacific Northwest has been the most frequently cited region with vulnerable shellfish populations, the authors say, but the report notes that newly identified areas of risk from acidification range from Maine to the Chesapeake Bay, to the bayous of Louisiana.

  • Climate change may dramatically reduce wheat production: Study

    A recent study involving Kansas State University researchers finds that in the coming decades at least one-quarter of the world’s wheat traded will be lost to extreme weather from climate change if no adaptive measures are taken. Based on the 2012-13 wheat harvest of 701 million tons worldwide, the resulting temperature increase would result in 42 million tons less produced wheat per degree of temperature increase. To put this in perspective, the amount is equal to a quarter of the global wheat trade, which reached 147 million tons in 2013.

  • DNA synthesis creates risk of resurrecting deadly viruses

    Scientists are warning that decades of public research on the sequencing of virus DNA are now posing unforeseen threats, as synthesis technologies advance to the point where individuals without expert knowledge may be able to reconstruct long dormant viruses using readily available maps. Diseases which have been extinct for many years may be resurrected by bioterrorists using mail-order DNA kits, with openly published sequence data as their guide. Among these, smallpox eradicated since 1980, could be reintroduced by using the 1994 gene mapping which was prepared in order better to understand why the disease was so deadly.