• MSF closes final West Africa Ebola projects for survivors

    The Ebola outbreak that swept across West Africa infected more than 28,700 people and killed more than 11,300 men, women, and children. Whole families were ripped apart and communities were devastated by the disease, which saw schools close, economies grind to a halt and health systems collapse, leading to even greater loss of life. The shocking human toll of the outbreak was exacerbated by the painfully slow international response. More than two and a half years after the Ebola outbreak officially began, MSF is now closing its last projects in West Africa dedicated to caring for people who survived the disease.

  • DARPA enlists insects to protect agricultural food supply, commodity crops

    It may not be obvious to humans, but the life of a plant is full of peril. Viruses, pests, fungi, herbicides, drought, pollution, salinity, flooding, and frost — the plants that we depend on for food, clean air, and materials are challenged by myriad threats, natural and man-made. A new DARPA program is poised to provide an alternative to traditional agricultural threat response, using targeted gene therapy to protect mature plants within a single growing season.

  • Combatting antibiotic resistance

    CDC has awarded more than $14 million to fund new approaches to combat antibiotic resistance, including research on how microorganisms naturally present in the human body (referred to as a person’s microbiome) can be used to predict and prevent infections caused by drug-resistant organisms. The initiative, which also provides funding for state health departments and other partners, implements the tracking, prevention, and antibiotic stewardship activities outlined in the National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria.

  • Developing tests for radiation absorbed in nuclear emergency

    In a large-scale nuclear or radiological emergency, such as a nuclear detonation, hundreds of thousands of people may need medical care for injuries or illness caused by high doses of radiation. To help save as many people as possible and better prepare the nation for the health impacts of such catastrophic emergencies, HHS will sponsor late-stage development of two tests, known as biodosimetry tests, which can determine how much radiation a person’s body has absorbed.

  • HHS bolsters U.S. health preparedness for radiological threats

    The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) says that as a part of its mission to help protect Americans’ health following even the most unthinkable of disasters, it is purchasing two medical products to treat injuries to bone marrow in victims of radiological or nuclear incidents. Bone marrow is essential to producing blood.

  • New candidate vaccines against the plague show promise

    The plague of Black Death infamy has had the power to strike fear in people since the Middle Ages — and for good reason. Once someone begins to show symptoms, the disease progresses very quickly and is almost 100 percent fatal without prompt treatment. Antibiotic-resistant Y. pestis strains have been isolated from plague patients and can be engineered for use as a bioweapon. Researchers have developed new potential vaccines that protect animals against the bacteria that causes the deadly plague.

  • Ambitious Baltimore water pollution clean-up project

    Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and the urban rivers that flow into it are important sources of water to Chesapeake Bay, popular recreation sites for residents and tourists, and the targets of an ambitious clean-up plan to make the harbor swimmable and fishable by the year 2020. In a first for Baltimore and the nation, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Environmental Protection Agency will soon be installing a suite of sensors that will provide the public and scientists with the first comprehensive, real time look at water quality in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

  • Business cycle drives the spread of viral diseases

    Next time a flu epidemic hits your area, putting everyone in bed, rejoice: it may mean that the recession is over. A new paper highlights the connection between the business cycle and the spread of viruses: “We find that epidemics spread faster during economic booms,” the paper says. “During booms more people are traveling, which increases inter-personal contacts and the spread of diseases.”

  • Even if the Paris Agreement is implemented, food and water supplies remain at risk

    If all pledges made in last December’s Paris climate agreement (COP21) to curb greenhouse gases are carried out to the end of the century, then risks still remain for staple crops in major “breadbasket” regions and water supplies upon which most of the world’s population depend. Recognizing that national commitments made in Paris to reduce greenhouse gas emissions fall far short of COP21’s overarching climate target — to limit the rise, since preindustrial times, in the Earth’s mean surface temperature to 2 degrees Celsius by 2100 — a new report advances a set of emissions scenarios that are consistent with achieving that goal.

  • A military view on climate change: It’s eroding our national security and we should prepare for it

    U.S. military leaders and defense planners have been studying climate change for years from a perspective that rarely is mentioned in the news: as a national security threat. And they agree that it poses serious risks. Here is how military planners see this issue: We know that the climate is changing, we know why it’s changing, and we understand that change will have large impacts on our national security. Yet as a nation we still only begrudgingly take precautions. The next president will have a choice to make. One option is to continue down the path that the Obama administration has defined and develop policies, budgets, plans, and programs that flesh out the institutional framework now in place. Alternatively, he or she can call climate change a hoax manufactured by foreign governments and ignore the flashing red lights of increasing risk. The world’s ice caps will not care who is elected or what is said. They will simply continue to melt, as dictated by laws of physics. But Americans will care deeply about our policy response. Our nation’s security is at stake.

  • Strengthening U.S. infrastructure to withstand disasters

    The delivery of essential services — whether in food, water, health, or emergency response — relies increasingly upon a complex, interconnected system of critical infrastructure. Ensuring these interdependent systems continue to operate during disasters and other disruptive events is crucial to maintaining public health and safety. NSF announces $22.7 million in new investments to promote better understanding and functioning of these infrastructures in an effort to improve their resilience.

  • A nerve agent antidote taken before a chemical weapons attack

    Nerve agents are molecular weapons that invade the body and sabotage part of the nervous system, causing horrific symptoms and sometimes death within minutes. Few antidotes exist, and those that do must be administered soon after an attack. Now, scientists an early-stage development of a potential treatment that soldiers or others could take before such agents are unleashed.

  • Megadrought lasting three decades likely for Southwest U.S., Midwest

    The consequences of climate change paint a bleak picture for the Southwest and much of America’s breadbasket, the Great Plains. The role of climate change in causing extreme heat waves, drastic rainfall, negative impacts on human health, and threatened food security have received more attention recently than megadrought, but scientists view prolonged drought risk as yet another natural hazard that becomes more likely from human activity.

  • New technology pinpoints water contamination sources

    When the local water management agency closes your favorite beach due to unhealthy water quality, how reliable are the tests they base their decisions on? As it turns out, those tests, as well as the standards behind them, have not been updated in decades. Now scientists have developed a highly accurate, DNA-based method to detect and distinguish sources of microbial contamination in water.

  • Slowing the spread of infectious diseases

    Outbreaks of infectious diseases such as Zika increasingly threaten global public health. Scientists expect five such new diseases to emerge each year. To find out whether our interaction with the environment is somehow responsible, the Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases (EEID) program — a joint effort of the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) — has awarded $16.6 million in new grants. The scientists receiving the grants will study disease transmission among humans, other animals, and environment.