Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cerebral malaria may have passed from gorillas to us

Humans may have originally caught malaria from gorillas, scientists say. Until now, it was thought that the human malaria parasite split off from a chimpanzee parasite when humans and chimpanzees last had a common ancestor.But researchers from the US, three African countries, and Europe have examined malaria parasites in great ape faeces.They found the DNA from western gorilla parasites was the most similar to human parasites.

Cerebral malaria
Malaria is caused by a parasite called Plasmodium, and is carried by mosquitoes. The most common species found in Africa, Plasmodium falciparum, causes dangerous cerebral malaria. Over 800,000 people die from malaria each year in the continent.
Until now, scientists had assumed that when the evolutionary tree of humans split off from that of chimpanzees - around five to seven million years ago - so had Plasmodium falciparum. This would have meant that humans and malaria co-evolved to live together. But new evidence suggests human malaria is much newer. Dr Beatrice Hahn of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, in the US, is part of a team that had been studying HIV and related infections in humans and great apes.

DNA analysis
To study the DNA of infections in wild apes, you cannot use blood samples. So the team collected 2,700 samples of faecal material from two species of gorilla - western and eastern - and from common chimpanzees and bonobos, also known as pygmy chimpanzees.They tried sequencing Plasmodium DNA from the faeces with techniques that use a large sample, and drew a genetic family tree to see which parasites were related. Dr Hahn said "When we did conventional sequencing, the tree didn't make any sense, because each sample contained a mixture of parasites."
They diluted the DNA so that they had just one parasite's genome represented in a single sample, and then amplified the DNA from there. This means they were able to separate the DNA from different species of the parasite much more effectively.They then found the tree made much more sense. But they also found some surprising results.The human Plasmodium was not very closely related to chimpanzee Plasmodium, as had been thought - but it was very closely related to one out of three species of gorilla Plasmodium from western gorillas in Central and West Africa.There was more genetic variety in the gorilla parasites than in human parasites, and Dr Hahn said this means the gorilla is likely to be the "reservoir" - the origin of the human parasite. "Other studies have just looked at chimps, so didn't find the gorilla parasite," said Dr Hahn. She added that some studies have looked at animals in captivity - so it is possible any parasites have "jumped" from their human keepers.

The researchers, who report their findings in Nature, are now going to investigate further to see exactly how different the gorilla and human parasites are. Dr Hahn says that it is possible they are even the same species, and that cross-infection between humans and gorillas may be going on now. Members of the team Dr Martine Peeters and Dr Eric Delaporte of the University of Montpelier in France are working with hunters and loggers in Cameroon, who spend a lot of time in the forests. They will investigate whether these workers carry malaria parasites from the gorillas, which would suggest that new infections from other species can still happen.They also do not yet know how badly apes are affected by malaria. Dr Hahn said that the team would now like to find out whether apes are able to catch the malaria parasite, without getting ill or dying in the way that humans do.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Testers 'fabricating air pollution reports'

You have got to be kidding me!!! Fabricated air pollution reports in a highly developed and alledgedly environmentally concious country, Australia. What's next???

A former employee of an Australian air testing company alleges data is being fabricated and fraudulently provided to regulatory bodies and is going unchecked by the government. The former employee - who has now left the industry - alleges that shortcuts were habitually taken when testing for air pollution from smoke stacks during his three-year tenure with the company.

"While I was there, there wasn't any formal training. You were thrown in the deep end and the equipment was a piecemeal piece of equipment to do what was required, but not to do anything properly.

"I even saw on numerous times my superiors turning up on site with me to do the work and then saying that they couldn't be bothered doing the sampling.
"I've also seen them, for dioxins and furans, which were very expensive tests that had to be done, instead of doing the six-hour sample I've seen them pretend to have taken samples onto filter papers."

The scientist says he and colleagues were pressured to cut corners.
"Being hurried off site, not being given enough time. If it would take a whole week to get a job completed, you would get it completed in two days because you're required elsewhere. So you were sent off somewhere else and the figures were made up so that you could get two large jobs done in a week instead of just the one."
The man says he has obtained copies of reports that support his claims since leaving the company.

And he says he believes the fraudulent behaviour is going undetected and could be widespread within the industry.

He alleges the National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) and the Department of Environment and Resource Management are not sufficiently regulating compliance to standards.

"The Environmental Protection Agency is requesting that industry provide them with reports by NATA-accredited bodies that detail the levels of air emissions that they have," he said.

"But when these reports are submitted they are taken at face value and they're not being properly scrutinised by either NATA or the EPA. So there is nothing to show that these are being done properly, and I have evidence to show that they haven't been done properly if they were to be checked."

He says the effects of non-compliance could be detrimental for the public. "If we don't have accurate figures on what is being emitted into the air, in Gladstone for example, we have no way of knowing if levels are being exceeded past safe community levels - and the air could have high levels of lead, high levels of dioxins, of carcinogens, or poisons into the atmosphere which could then cause sickness."

The scientist also says that due to non-compliance going unchecked, councils make uninformed decisions about industry expansions. And he says similar discrepancies in air testing could be occurring in the coal seam gas industry.

"If they got the incorrect information about the amount of pollutants that are being put into the atmosphere, they are unable to accurately determine whether to go ahead with expansions, because they don't have a correct baseline to know what the air pollution levels are at any one time."

He says during his time at the company he saw large companies go from struggling to pass compliance tests, to easily passing environmental standards.
"NATA needs to start doing their job properly," he said.

"Unfortunately they're not an independent body because they are paid for by the stack testing companies themselves ... so there is no independence there. "But ideally we should look more towards the American model, where the environmental protection agency have their own sampling officers who are fully experienced in stack testing and actually will perform surprise visits to stack testing companies when they're on site, are able to audit reports, and have a requirement that raw data is included in the stack testing reports so that anyone can have a look and ensure that things are being done to the standard.

"At the moment there are no requirements that you include your raw data in Australia. And every testing company should have that data. It should be no problem for them to include it in any report that they submit, to show that things were done to the standard."

Monday, September 20, 2010

Innovative green technologies help China's drive to save energy and cut emissions!

The Chinese government’s investment in research and development of green technologies has exceeded 10 billion yuan (1.47 billion U.S. dollars) for the 2006-2010 period.

Zhang Laiwu, vice minister of science and technology, made the remark Thursday at a press conference in Beijing, also saying that China had developed key technologies that could cut greenhouse emissions.

China has applied energy-saving technologies to traditional industries including steel, power, building materials, chemicals and agriculture, which have enhanced their competitiveness, he said. China has also issued supportive policies for new-energy industries. For instance, the pilot program of energy-saving and new-energy vehicles has been implemented in 25 cities, and the government has provided subsidies for the purchase of 5,000 vehicles, he said.

Also, more than 1.6 million LED lights were being used in 21 cities in a pilot program to promote the use of LED lights, which will save more than 164 million KWH of electricity annually, he said.

Another interesting story this month revealed that China has succeeded the United States as the most attractive location to invest in renewable energy projects. China's clean energy market - particularly in solar, biomass and wind - are presenting golden opportunities for investors.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Green driving

Most people are quite concerned about the state of our natural environment these days, and with good reason.

We are all looking for ways to lessen our impact on the environment and to be more well informed citizens of the world; well, most of us anyway. There are many ways to “go green” and to lead a more environmentally friendly lifestyle, but most of us don’t think about the fuel consumption when driving our car as a way of going green. Most people just look at it as a way of cutting fuel cost, however, driving green has great benefits for the environment. Here are a few tips that will help you reduce your fuel cost AND reduce your impact on the environment:

Pay attention to traffic: Speeding, accelerating and braking hard can deplete efficiency by 33%
Underinflated tires: Tires that are underinflated by 20% increases fuel consumption with 5-10%. Check your car's manual to find out how much air should be in your tires.
Aircondition increases the fuel consumption with up to 15%
Empty your trunk: Driving with extra weight in the trunk can increase the fuel consumption with up to 5%

These tips will help you reduce your car's fuel consumption, but of course it would be better for the environment (and your wallet) if you don't drive your car at all and take the bus, your bicycle or set up car pooling with your collegues.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Show me your dance moves, and I'll tell you if you are healthy

Scientists say they've carried out the first rigorous analysis of dance moves that make men attractive to women.

The researchers say that movements associated with good dancing may be indicative of good health and reproductive potential. "When you go out to clubs people have an intuitive understanding of what makes a good and bad dancer," said co-author Dr Nick Neave, an evolutionary psychologist at Northumbria University, UK. "What we've done for the very first time is put those things together with a biometric analysis so we can actually calculate very precisely the kinds of movements people focus on and associate them with women's ratings of male dancers."

Dr Neave asked young men who were not professional dancers, to dance in a laboratory to a very basic drum rhythm and their movements with 12 cameras.

These movements were then converted into a computer-generated cartoon - an avatar - which women rated on a scale of one to seven. He was surprised by the results. "We thought that people's arms and legs would be really important. The kind of expressive gestures the hands make, for example. But in fact this was not the case," he said.

"We found that (women paid more attention to) the core body region: the torso, the neck, the head. It was not just the speed of the movements, it was also the variability of the movement. So someone who is twisting, bending, moving, nodding."
Movements that went down terribly were twitchy and repetitive - so called "Dad dancing".

Dr Neave's aim was to establish whether young men exhibited the same courtship movement rituals in night clubs as animals do in the wild. In the case of animals, these movements give information about their health, age, their reproductive potential and their hormone status. "People go to night clubs to show off and attract the opposite sex so I think it's a valid way of doing this," Dr Neave explained. "In animals, the male has to be in good physical quality to carry out these movements. We think the same is happening in humans and certainly the guys that can put these movements together are going to be young and fit and healthy."

Dr Neave also took blood samples from the volunteers. Early indications from biochemical tests suggest that the men who were better dancers were also more healthy

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The benefits of wild salmon vs. farmed salmon

For all the sea food lovers out there - Are the health risks of eating the commonly sold farmed salmon? It could seem like, you should check whether the salmon you buy is farmed or wild.

Salmon farming, which involves raising salmon in containers placed under water near shore, began in Norway about 50 years ago and has since caught on in the U.S., Ireland, Canada, Chile and the United Kingdom. Due to the large decline in wild fish from overfishing, many experts see the farming of salmon and other fish as the future of the industry. On the flip side, many marine biologists and ocean advocates fear such a future, citing serious health and ecological implications with so-called "aquaculture."

George Mateljan, founder of Health Valley Foods says that farmed fish are "far inferior" to their wild counterparts. "Despite being much fattier, farmed fish provide less usable beneficial omega 3 fats than wild fish," he says. Indeed, U.S. Department of Agriculture research bears out that the fat content of farmed salmon is 30-35 percent by weight while wild salmons' fat content is some 20 percent lower, though with a protein content about 20 percent higher. And farm-raised fish contain higher amounts of pro-inflammatory omega 6 fats instead of the preponderance of healthier omega 3s found in wild fish.

"Due to the feedlot conditions of aquafarming, farm-raised fish are doused with antibiotics and exposed to more concentrated pesticides than their wild kin," reports Mateljan. He adds that farmed salmon are given a salmon-colored dye in their feed "without which their flesh would be an unappetizing grey color." Some aquaculture proponents claim that fish farming eases pressure on wild fish populations, but most ocean advocates disagree. To wit, one National Academy of Sciences study found that sea lice from fish farming operations killed up to 95% of juvenile wild salmon migrating past them. And two other studies -- one in western Canada and the other in England -- found that farmed salmon accumulate more cancer-causing PCBs and dioxins than wild salmon due to pesticides circulating in the ocean that get absorbed by the sardines, anchovies and other fish that are ground up as feed for the fish farms. A recent survey of U.S. grocery stores found that farmed salmon typically contains 16 times the PCBs found in wild salmon; other studies in Canada, Ireland and Great Britain reached similar conclusions.

Another problem with fish farms is the liberal use of drugs and antibiotics to control bacterial outbreaks and parasites. These primarily synthetic chemicals spread out into marine ecosystems just from drifting in the water column as well as from fish feces. In addition, millions of farmed fish escape fish farms every year around the world and mix into wild populations, spreading contaminants and disease accordingly.

Who would have known that fish farms are actually that bad to the environment? And that the fish are far from being as healthy as their wild counterpart. I will for sure be checking next time I buy salmon!!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Clean Up the World Weekend 2010

In 2010 the campaign's flagship event; Clean Up the World Weekend will be held from the 17-19 of September.

Clean Up the World is a community based environmental campaign that inspires and empowers communities from every corner of the globe to clean up, fix up and conserve their environment.

Now in its 18th year, Clean Up the World, held in conjunction with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), mobilises an estimated 35 million volunteers from 120 countries annually, making it one of the largest community-based environmental campaigns in the world. The campaign brings together businesses, community groups, schools, governments and individuals in a range of activities and programs that positively improve local environments.

Since the first Clean Up the World campaign in 1993 the improvements achieved due to the efforts of millions of concerned volunteers around the world have been astounding. Examples of community-led Clean Up the World activities include:
• Recycling and resource recovery
• Tree planting
• Education campaigns
• Water reuse and conservation
• Competitions
• Exhibitions
• Fix up projects.

Clean Up the World encourages participants to organise an activity on, or around this weekend and celebrate their environmental achievements.
Getting involved is easy! Communities can conduct activities such as clean up events or organise environmental awareness raising activities. Groups, organisations, businesses and communities around the world unite and take action at a local level to address the global issue of climate change.

Check out the Clean Up the World for events in your community as well as information on how to register YOUR event:

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Greenpeace board Cairn drilling rig off Greenland

Environmental campaigners slip through security boats to scale Cairn Energy oil rig in dawn raid.

Greenpeace claims to have shut down offshore drilling by a British oil company at a controversial site in the Artic after four climbers began an occupation of the rig just after dawn.

The environment campaigners said the four protesters evaded a small flotilla of armed Danish navy and police boats which have been guarding the rigs in Baffin Bay off Greenland since the Greenpeace protest ship Esperanza arrived last week. The rigs are operated by the Edinburgh-based oil exploration company Cairn Energy, which last week prompted world-wide alarm among environmentalists after disclosing it had found the first evidence of oil or gas deposits under the Artic.

Several multinational oil companies, including Exxon. Chevron and Shell, are waiting for permission from Greenland to begin deep sea drilling in the Arctic's pristine waters.

Campaigners claim this led to a dangerous rush to exploit one of the world's last major untapped reserves in one of its most fragile locations. The US Geological Survey last year estimated there may be 90bn barrels of oil and 50tn cubic metres of gas across the Arctic.

The campaign group said: "At dawn this morning our expert climbers in inflatable speed boats dodged Danish Navy commandos before climbing up the inside of the rig and hanging from it in tents suspended from ropes, halting its drilling operation.
"The climbers have enough supplies to occupy the hanging tents for several days. If they succeed in stopping drilling for just a short time then the operators, Britain's Cairn Energy, will struggle to meet a tight deadline to complete the exploration before winter ice conditions force it to abandon the search for oil off Greenland until next year."

The occupation comes after a nine-day stand-off between Greenpeace and the Danish navy, which has sent its frigate Vaedderen to the area, deploying elite Danish commandos on high-speed boats to patrol a 500m exclusion zone around the rigs.
Last week the Danes warned the Esperanza it would be forcibly boarded and its captain arrested if it breached the security zone. After Greenpeace launched its helicopter to take photographs, the security area was extended to include a 1,800m high air exclusion zone.

Greenpeace argues that the Arctic drilling programme is extremely perilous because of the sea ice and intense weather conditions in the region, and claims it is one of the 10 most dangerous drilling sites in the world. The Baffin Bay area is known as "iceberg alley". Last week, it filmed a support vessel trying to break up an iceberg using high pressure hoses.

It says the risks posed by this operation go "far beyond" the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico; in the Arctic an oil spill would destroy the region's vulnerable and untouched habitats, while the cold water would prevent any oil from quickly breaking up. Any emergency operation to tackle a disaster would encounter huge technical and logistical problems in such a remote area.
Cairn Energy argues it is there at Greenland's invitation, to help bolster and strengthen the island's economy. It also insisted its drilling operations obeyed some of the world's strictest environmental and safety regulations. "We've put procedures in place to give the highest possible priority to safety and environmental protection," it said.

It emerged last week that BP had withdrawn from applying to join in the Greenland oil exploration programme, a direct consequence of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Sim McKenna, one of the Greenpeace climbers on board the Cairn rig, said: "We've got to keep the energy companies out of the Arctic and kick our addiction to oil, that's why we're going to stop this rig from drilling for as long as we can.
"The BP Gulf oil disaster showed us it's time to go beyond oil. The drilling rig we're hanging off could spark an Arctic oil rush, one that would pose a huge threat to the climate and put this fragile environment at risk."

Morten Nielsen, deputy head of Greenland police, said the four protesters would be arrested and prosecuted. "The position of the Greenlandic police is that this is a clear violation of the law, the penal code of Greenland. The perpetrators will be prosecuted by the Greenlandic authorities," he said.

"But what we intend to do, how and when, is an operational detail it wouldn't be smart to advise Greenpeace about." Speaking from the island's capital, Nuuk, Nielsen confirmed that the police had rescue vessels close by the protesters in case any fell into the water, which was only a few degrees above freezing. He denied the police and navy had been outwitted by the protesters setting off at dawn.

"We have to evaluate the downside of any interception," he said. "The highest value we have to preserve is life and if the result of intercepting the Greenpeace activists would bring the police or for that matter the activists' lives in jeopardy, we are not going to intercept right now."

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Are our toilet habits affecting the environment?

It is estimated that in our lifetime we spend up to three years on the loo, using an average of 110 rolls each year, but new research has delved deeper to uncover the toilet habits of the nation.

The survey looked at everything from technique to differences between the sexes, but one of the biggest questions dividing the people in the survey was "Do you scrunch or fold the loo roll?". According to the research, 68% fold their toilet paper before wiping and only 15% of us scrunch it.

And the results backed up the traditional belief that women are more likely to scrunch while men are more likely to fold, but only by a bit; one fifth of women admitted to scrunching their toilet paper compared to 10% of men, whereas three quarters of men admitted to folding against 63% of women.

Age is also an interesting factor, as the results showed that the older a person gets the more likely they are to fold their loo roll - which could come down to them having a little more time to spend a penny.

Only 57% of 18 to 24-year-olds admit to folding before wiping, whereas three quarters of those over 55-years-old claim to do the same thing. Meanwhile, men like to have something to read on the loo, 59% compared to just 43% of women. The reading material of choice is newspapers (45%), books (33%) and magazines (46%) ,whereas some of us are more high-tech reading mobile text messages (21%), internet pages on phones or laptops (17%) with others simply looking to take life less seriously, as 4% read joke books.

When it comes to waste, women are worse than men as 86% use up to 15 sheets of toilet roll every time they go to the toilet compared to 74% of men. However, 3% of men do admit to using over 25 sheets per visit which would be sure to block most toilets as well as being a complete waste and bad for the environment.
Many of those aged between 25 and 34-years-old are clearly still mummy and daddy's little angel, as 12% admitted that their parents still purchase their toilet roll for them.

And girls who live with their boyfriend should watch their supply, as the research shows 0% of boyfriends will replenish the stock if it runs out.(hmmm one can wonder what they will do if the girlfriend doesn't buy new stock!!!)