• Keeping 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.”

  • FBI’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.

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

    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.

  • Vaccine 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.”

  • Climate, air travel maps identify countries in Africa, Asia at greatest risk of Zika virus

    Many countries across Africa and Asia-Pacific may be vulnerable to Zika virus outbreaks, with India, China, the Philippines, Indonesia, Nigeria, Vietnam, Pakistan, and Bangladesh expected to be at greatest risk of Zika virus transmission due to a combination of high travel volumes from Zika affected areas in the Americas, local presence of mosquitos capable of transmitting Zika virus, suitable climatic conditions, large populations, and limited health resources. The authors of a new study say that identifying where and when populations would be most susceptible to local transmission of Zika virus could help inform public health decisions about the use of finite resources.

  • Zika reference strain sequenced; will help in diagnosis, screening

    An international team of researchers has sequenced a strain of the Zika virus that will be used as a World Health Organization (WHO) reference strain to identify Zika virus infection in the blood, thus making it easier to diagnose the disease.

  • Solar-powered Ring Garden combines desalination, agriculture for drought-stricken California

    With roughly 80 percent of California’s already-scarce water supply going to agriculture, it is crucial for the state to embrace new technologies that shrink the amount of water required to grow food. Alexandru Predonu has designed an elegant solution which uses solar energy to power a rotating desalination plant and farm that not only produces clean drinking water for the city of Santa Monica, but also food crops — including algae.

  • Water pollution across three continents poses health risks to hundreds of millions

    Water pollution has risen across three continents, placing hundreds of millions of people at risk of contracting life-threatening diseases like cholera and typhoid. Pathogen and organic pollution rise in more than 50 percent of river stretches in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Asia hit hardest by rise in severe pathogen pollution, with up to a half of all river stretches affected. Up to 323 million people on three continents at risk of infection from diseases caused by pathogens in water.

  • Florida teen only the 4th U.S. survivor of brain-eating amoeba claiming 97 percent mortality rate

    A 16-year-old South Florida boy has defied the odds by becoming only the fourth U.S. patient to survive an attack by brain-eating amoeba.Naegleria fowleri is a microscopic amoeba commonly found in warm freshwater lakes, rivers, and streams. If the amoeba enters the body through the nose, it typically makes it way to the brain, causing an extremely rare and destructive infection of the brain. In the past fifty years, only four people in the United States have been reported to have survived out of the 138 cases reported, giving it almost a 97 percent mortality rate.

  • Robot, drones to help collect crop testing data to bolster agricultural production

    A rumbling robot and several high-flying drones recently made an on-site appearance at Clemson University to burrow through and buzz above fifteen acres of experimental sorghum plots containing more than 2,800 replicated entries. The space-age devices are part of a collaborative project with Clemson University and other partners designed to significantly enhance the ease and frequency of data collection for crop testing in ways that will eventually benefit all agricultural production in South Carolina and around the world.

  • Syria faces food crisis as wheat shortage deepens

    Syria’s ongoing wheat harvest is not large enough to feed people living in areas controlled by the government, researchers have warned. Syrian farmers sold 450,000 tons of wheat last year — less than half the quantity needed to supply government-controlled areas of the country with enough bread. In total, the country will need around one millions tons of wheat to avoid a hunger crisis. Before the war, Syria used to produce five million tons of wheat pear year. Out of these, two million tons were consumed in the country while the rest was either sold as exports or stored in a stockpile. This stock was aimed at meeting Syria’s food needs for five years but is now nearly depleted.

  • Data sharing should become routine for best response to public health emergencies

    The recent outbreaks caused by Ebola and Zika viruses have highlighted the importance of medical and public health research in accelerating outbreak control and have prompted calls for researchers to share data rapidly and widely during public health emergencies. However, the routine practice of data sharing in scientific research, rather than reactive data sharing, will be needed to effectively prepare for future public health emergencies.

  • “Zombie drug” flakka causes “excited delirium,” but probably not cannibalism: Experts

    It was a gruesome sight: Florida police pulled a 19-year-old Florida State University student away from the bodies of his two victims, only to find that the one of them was severely bitten in the face. Police officers say the immediately knew who (or, rather, what) the culprit was: flakka, or bath salts, a powerful man-made drug. Experts say that “bath salts” drugs can cause “excited delirium,” but probably do not drive users to cannibalism.

  • Yellow Fever outbreak on verge of going global, with vaccine supply running short

    The largest Yellow Fever epidemic for decades is now sweeping the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola and could soon spread to the Americas, Asia, and Europe. The outbreak has all but emptied global emergency stocks of vaccine. There are only seven million emergency vaccines available for the current vaccination campaign — too few to even fully cover the city of Kinshasa, let alone the whole of the DRC.

  • Climate change to increase health risks from wildfires in U.S. West

    A surge in major wildfire events in the western United States as a consequence of climate change will expose tens of millions of Americans to high levels of air pollution in the coming decades. The researchers estimated air pollution from past and projected future wildfires in 561 western counties, and found that by mid-century more than eighty-two million people will experience “smoke waves,” or consecutive days with high air pollution related to fires.