First up, via Want China Times, an outbreak discovery:
New H5N2 virus found in Taiwan first of its kind anywhere: expert
A new type of the H5N2 avian influenza virus detected at goose farms in southern Taiwan has never been seen before, the director-general of Taiwan’s government-run Animal Health Research Institute said Sunday.
Tsai Hsiang-jung said the H5N2 subtype flu strain is a recombinant virus, and “after reporting the case to the World Organization for Animal Health, it will be the first of its kind in the world.”
The Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine under the Cabinet-level Council of Agriculture confirmed Sunday an outbreak of the new H5N2 strain at four goose farms in Yunlin county and a duck egg farm in Pingtung county. It also confirmed an outbreak of H5N8 avian flu at a goose farm in Chiayi county.
The Washington Post has the latest on a very troubling issue we’ve been following for a while:
BPA alternative disrupts normal brain-cell growth, is tied to hyperactivity, study says
In a groundbreaking new study, researchers have shown why a chemical once thought to be a safe alternative to bisphenol-A, which was banned by the government for baby bottles and sippy cups, might itself be more harmful than BPA.
University of Calgary scientists say they believe their research is the first to show that bisphenol-S, an ingredient in many products bearing “BPA-free” labels, causes abnormal growth surges of neurons in an animal embryo.
This disruption of prenatal cellular activity in zebra fish, which share 80 percent of their genes with humans and are considered a good model for studying human brain development, has been directly linked to hyperactivity, according to the study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Lund University debunks the junk:
Do viruses make us smarter?
A new study from Lund University in Sweden indicates that inherited viruses that are millions of years old play an important role in building up the complex networks that characterise the human brain.
Researchers have long been aware that endogenous retroviruses constitute around five per cent of our DNA. For many years, they were considered junk DNA of no real use, a side-effect of our evolutionary journey.
In the current study, Johan Jakobsson and his colleagues show that retroviruses seem to play a central role in the basic functions of the brain, more specifically in the regulation of which genes are to be expressed, and when. The findings indicate that, over the course of evolution, the viruses took an increasingly firm hold on the steering wheel in our cellular machinery. The reason the viruses are activated specifically in the brain is probably due to the fact that tumours cannot form in nerve cells, unlike in other tissues.
“We have been able to observe that these viruses are activated specifically in the brain cells and have an important regulatory role. We believe that the role of retroviruses can contribute to explaining why brain cells in particular are so dynamic and multifaceted in their function. It may also be the case that the viruses’ more or less complex functions in various species can help us to understand why we are so different”, says Johan Jakobsson, head of the research team for molecular neurogenetics at Lund University.
And from the New York Times another neurological conundrum:
After Enterovirus 68 Outbreak, a Paralysis Mystery
A nationwide outbreak of a respiratory virus last fall sent droves of children to emergency departments. The infections have now subsided, as researchers knew they would, but they have left behind a frightening mystery.
Since August, 103 children in 34 states have had an unexplained, poliolike paralysis of an arm or leg. Each week, roughly three new cases of so-called acute flaccid myelitis are still reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Is the virus, called enterovirus 68, really the culprit? Experts aren’t certain: Unexplained cases of paralysis in children happen every year, but they are usually scattered and unrelated. After unusual clusters of A.F.M. appeared this fall, enterovirus 68 became the leading suspect, and now teams of researchers are racing to figure out how it could have led to such damage.
From Climate Desk, sadly unsurprising:
72 Percent of Republican Senators Are Climate Deniers
- These are the people who make our laws.
As Climate Progress revealed Thursday, more than half of the Republican members of the new Congress “deny or question” the overwhelming scientific consensus that humans are causing climate change. If you just look at the Senate, the numbers are even more disturbing. Thirty-nine GOP Senators reject the science on climate change—that’s 72 percent of the Senate Republican caucus.
The list includes veteran lawmakers like James Inhofe (Okla.), who is the incoming chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) and has written a book titled, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. And it includes new senators like Steve Daines (Mont.), who thinksclimate change might be caused by solar cycles. (For a great interactive map showing exactly how many climate deniers represent your state in Congress, click here.)
What’s more, the Climate Progress analysis shows that many of the congressional committees that deal with climate and energy issues are loaded with global warming deniers:
…68 percent of the Republican leadership in both House and Senate deny human-caused climate change. On the committee level, 13 out of 21 Republican members of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, or 62 percent, reject the science behind human-caused global warming, joined by 67 percent, or 21 out of 31 Republican members, of the House Energy and Commerce Committee…In addition to Inhofe, 10 out of 11, or 91 percent, of Republicans on EPW have said climate change is not happening or that humans do not cause it.
The Associated Press covers water woes:
Farmers in dry California decry water decision favoring fish
California farmers struggling with drought say a U.S. Supreme Court decision issued Monday that keeps strict water restrictions in place to protect a tiny, threatened fish has forced them to leave thousands of acres unplanted in the nation’s most fertile agricultural region.
The justices rejected appeals from farmers in California’s Central Valley and urban water districts who had challenged a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plan to safeguard the 3-inch-long Delta smelt, a species listed as threatened in 1993 under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The smelt lives in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the largest estuary on the West Coast that supplies much of California with drinking water and irrigates 4.5 million acres of farmland. Farmers contend that vast amounts of water sent into the ocean under the smelt regulations have made the three-year drought worse for them.
Farmers say their economic interests have been ignored while officials seek to protect the fish.
And from Mother Jones, a graphic look at impacts of one of the biggest of water hogs, the California almond agribiz, an industry that outguzzles the Golden State’s massive vineyards [click on the image to enlarge]:
From the article:
The value of the California almond market hit $4.8 billion in 2012—that’s triple the level of a decade earlier. Only dairy is worth more to the state than almonds and grapes. In fact, almonds, along with California-grown pistachios and walnuts, are becoming so lucrative that big investment funds, eager to get in on the boom, are snapping up land and dropping in trees.
There’s just one problem: Almond orchards require about a third more water per acre than grape vineyards. In fact, they’re one of California’s thirstiest crops. It takes a gallon of water to produce a single almond—more than three times the amount required for a grape and two and a half times as much for a strawberry. There’s more water embedded in just four almonds than there is in a full head of lettuce. But unlike row crops, which farmers can choose not to plant during dry spells, almond trees must be watered no matter what.
Next, via teleSUR, allegation of GMO business as usual:
Peru: Transnationals Accused of Interfering With GM Food Laws
Concerns are being raised about the effect of the introduction of genetically modified food, which threatens the country’s biodiversity.
Civil society groups denounced on Monday the intervention by transnational corporations like Monsanto in stopping the implementation of a genetically modified (GM) foods prohibition law.
Three years ago Peru banned genetically modified seeds to protect its rich biodiversity that includes 56 types of corn and close to 4000 thousand types of potatoes among thousands of other products.
Luis Gomero, is the executive coordinator of Alternative Agriculture Action Network. This is a group of NGO’s, agricultural associations, municipalities and other governmental and non-governmental institutions. He says the large multinationals are penetrating the government to push for the allowance of GM foods.
Fox News Latino brings us to the the world of mother[earth]-fracking:
Environmentalists target fracking in Gulf of Mexico
The Center for Biological Diversity has sued the U.S. government, alleging it has failed to release public documents revealing the extent and risks of offshore hydraulic fracturing by oil and gas companies in the Gulf of Mexico.
The public has a right to know where, when and how much fracking the federal government is allowing in the Gulf of Mexico,” Kristen Monsell, an attorney with the center, said.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., argues that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement must disclose permits, reports, e-mails and other documents related to the federal government’s approval for oil and gas companies to frack offshore wells in the gulf.
And a case of frack-o-fail from the Guardian:
Poland’s shale gas revolution evaporates in face of environmental protests
- Fear and loathing stalk Poland’s shale fields, where a 400-day site occupation stopped a Chevron drill earlier this year
Plans for a shale gas-fuelled economic revival appear to be evaporating as test wells have not performed as expected or have suffered regulatory delays. Foreign investors have pulled out and sustained environmental protests like that in Zurawlow have hampered drilling plans.
Officials privately talk of the shale experiment as a ‘disaster’.
In September, 3Legs Resources became the latest firm to call a halt on investments after disappointing results. Six weeks before, its chief financial officer, Alex Fraser, had said they were “potentially on the threshold of a very significant result,” involving “potentially hundreds of wells”.
On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with the Asahi Shimbun:
Fukushima evacuees pledge to rebuild communities on Coming-of-Age Day
Outside of their hometowns and a day earlier than usual, hundreds of evacuees in Fukushima Prefecture celebrated Coming-of-Age Day with the nuclear disaster still looming large in their thoughts.
The evacuees, who have turned 20 or will do so over the next three months, had their later teenage years shaped largely by the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.
They are entering adulthood with the nuclear disaster still unresolved and reconstruction efforts blocked by high radiation levels.
And a Fufu-up closer to home, via the Los Angeles Times:
Los Alamos lab contractor loses $57 million over nuclear waste accident
The contractor managing the nuclear weapons laboratory at Los Alamos, N.M., was slapped with a $57-million reduction in its fees for 2014, largely due to a costly nuclear waste accident last year.
The contractor, Los Alamos National Security, saw its fee reduced 90% because of the accident, in which a 55-gallon drum packaged with plutonium waste from bomb production erupted after being placed in a 2,150-foot underground dump in the eastern New Mexico desert.
The Department of Energy determined that the contractor had a “first-degree performance failure” and cut its fee to $6.25 million — a pittance compared with the $63.4 million that the contractor could have earned if it had met all of its 2014 contract incentives.