China reported a seventh death from a new form of avian flu and two more cases of infection, while Chinese officials began work on a vaccine and the World Health Organization said it is considering sending a team to China to study the disease.
Meanwhile, chicken consumption appeared to drop as Shanghai and Nanjing shut down bird markets and culled animals in an effort to contain the disease, which as of Monday had infected 24 people.
Both Chinese and WHO officials said Monday they see no evidence the disease can be spread through human-to-human contact. “We really only have sporadic cases of a rare disease,” said WHO China representative Michael O’Leary. “This is not a time for overreaction or panic.”
The mysterious new coronavirus that emerged in the Middle East and has killed 11 people is potentially more deadly than Sars and also more “promiscuous” - able to infect many different species - University of Hong Kong research has found.
Unlike Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome), the new coronavirus can affect many different organs in the body and kills cells rapidly, the researchers say.
The source of the new infection is still unknown, but the virus appears to have originated in bats, a team of European experts wrote in the journal mBio.
The HKU research listed animals including monkeys, pigs, civet cats and even rabbits that could be hosts of the virus before it found its way to humans. Lead researcher Yuen Kwok-yung, a microbiologist, said this meant the source of human infection would be difficult to trace.
The World Health Organisation announced yesterday that the disease had killed two more people - a 73-year-old from the United Arab Emirates and a Briton who had visited Saudi Arabia and Pakistan - bringing the death toll to 11. The WHO has confirmed 17 cases to date.
Yuen told the South China Morning Post that the virus could cause a deadly pandemic if it mutated further. “It could be more virulent [than Sars]”, he said. “The Sars coronavirus infects very few human cell lines. But this new virus can infect many types of human cell lines, and kill cells rapidly.”
Cloud computing code speeds processing of data-intensive microscopy data
In this week’s Nature Methods, Salk researchers share a how-to secret for biologists: code for Amazon Cloud that significantly reduces the time necessary to process data-intensive microscopic images.
The method promises to speed research into the underlying causes of disease by making single-molecule microscopy of practical use for more laboratories.
“This is an extremely cost-effective way for labs to process super-resolution images,” says Hu Cang, Salk assistant professor in the Waitt Advanced Biophotonics Center and coauthor of the paper. “Depending on the size of the data set, it can save over a week’s worth of time.”
The latest frontier in basic biomedical research is to better understand the “molecular machines” called proteins and enzymes. Determining how they interact is key to discovering cures for diseases. Simply put, finding new therapies is akin to troubleshooting a broken mechanical assembly line-if you know all the steps in the manufacturing process, it’s much easier to identify the step where something went wrong. In the case of human cells, some of the parts of the assembly line can be as small as single molecules.
Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking has long relied on technology to help him connect with the outside world despite the degenerative motor neuron disease he has battled for the past 50 years. Whereas Hawking’s condition has deteriorated over time, a highly respected computer scientist indicated at last week’s International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that he and his team may be close to a breakthrough that could boost the rate at which the physicist communicates, which has fallen to a mere one word per minute in recent years.
For the past decade Hawking has used a voluntary twitch of his cheek muscle to compose words and sentences one letter at a time that are expressed through a speech-generation device connected to his computer. Each tweak stops a cursor that continuously scans text on a screen facing the scientist.
At CES, Intel chief technology officer Justin Rattner noted that Hawking can actually make a number of other facial expressions as well that might also be used to speed up the rate at which the physicist conveys his thoughts. Even providing Hawking with two inputs would give him the ability to communicate using Morse code, “which would be a great improvement,” said Rattner, who is also director of Intel Labs.
Intel has since the late 1990s supplied Hawking with technology to help the scientist express himself. The latest chapter in their work together began in late 2011 when Hawking reached out to Gordon Moore, informing the Intel co-founder and father of Moore’s law that the physicist’s ability to compose text was slowing and inquiring whether Intel could help.
Did the title get your attention?!? Good. Read on…
Anti-vaccine book tells kids to embrace measles
Measles is responsible for thousands of tragic (and preventable) deaths each year. Which is perhaps why so many reviewers are panning a new (and apparently self-published) book by Stephanie Messenger, an Australian author and anti-vaccine activist. According to the author’s page, ‘Melanie’s Marvelous Measles’ was written to:
Educate children on the benefits of having measles and how you can heal from them naturally and successfully. Often today, we are being bombarded with messages from vested interests to fear all diseases in order for someone to sell some potion or vaccine, when, in fact, history shows that in industrialized countries, these diseases are quite benign and, according to natural health sources, beneficial to the body. Having raised three children vaccine-free and childhood disease-free, I have experienced many times when my children’s vaccinated peers succumb to the childhood diseases they were vaccinated against.
Amazon reviewers have not taken kindly to Messenger’s suggestion that measles can be an ‘adventure,’ either.
On Vampire Capitalism and the Fear of Inoculation: Why efforts to contain disease are often seen as conspiracies to sell vaccine
“Capital,” Marx wrote, “is dead labor, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks.” Vampires sucked the blood of the sleeping in Ancient Greece and spread plague in Medieval Europe, but after the industrial revolution, novels began to feature a new kind of monster, the well-dressed gentleman vampire who would become an enduring mascot for capitalism. During his 2012 presidential campaign, venture capitalist Mitt Romney, whose status as living or undead was the subject of some sporting debate, frequently found himself compared to a vampire. After transforming into a “vulture capitalist” in the primaries, he became a full-fledged vampire capitalist in Obama’s campaign ads. “It was like a vampire,” a steelworker said of the company Romney co-founded, Bain Capital, “it came in and sucked the life out of us.”
The thought of an ambitious vampire sucking the life out of honest workers was resonant in a country where the value had so recently been sucked out of nearly every home. We were reminded of the vampirism behind the housing crisis, which was set off by a rash of “predatory” loans to homeowners who lacked the ability to repay them. These loans, bundled and sold to investors, came to be known as “toxic assets” when they lost their value.
The understanding that capital can itself be toxic leads, almost inevitably, to a fear of capitalism polluting every endeavor. At the close of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, when it was clear that the flu had not caused the high mortality rates health officials had initially feared it would, the chair of the health committee for the Council of Europe accused the World Health Organization of colluding with pharmaceutical companies and creating a “false pandemic” to sell vaccines. The WHO met this accusation with equanimity, their spokeswoman saying, “Criticism is part of the outbreak cycle.” The organization then invited twenty-nine independent influenza experts from twenty-six countries to evaluate its actions during the pandemic.
A whooping cough epidemic is affecting Vermont, according to the Vermont Department of Health, which is calling on all adults 19 and older to get vaccinated.
As of last week, 522 cases of pertussis (as whooping cough is also known) had been reported statewide, Commissioner Harry Chen told a news conference Thursday. That’s more than 10 times the usual number for this time of year. More cases are being reported daily, state epidemiologist Patsy Kelso said.
About 90 percent of Vermont children have been vaccinated, Kelso said, but the immunization rate for adults is much lower, probably in the neighborhood of 10 percent. And adults are believed to be primarily responsible for spreading the disease, largely via coughing and sneezing.
Free clinics to administer the vaccine to adults will be open at regional health department offices Wednesday, Chen said. The adult booster, called Tdap, has only been available in Vermont since 2006, so most people probably have not received it. Tdap also immunizes against tetanus and diphtheria.
Rising acidity is eating away the shells of tiny snails, known as “sea butterflies”, that live in the seas around Antarctica, leaving them vulnerable to predators and disease, scientists said Sunday.
The study presents rare evidence of living creatures suffering the results of ocean acidification caused by rising carbon dioxide levels from fossil fuel burning, the British Antarctic Survey said in a statement.
“The finding supports predictions that the impact of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems and food webs may be significant.”
The tiny snail, named for two wing-like appendices, does not necessarily die as a result of losing its shell, but it becomes an easier target for fish and bird predators, as well as infection.
This may have a follow-through effect on other parts of the food chain, of which they form a core element.
The world’s oceans absorb more than a quarter of man-made carbon dioxide emissions, which lower the sea water pH.
Since the beginning of the industrial era, our oceans have become 30 percent more acidic, reaching an acidity peak not seen in at least 55 million years, scientists say.
Scientists discovered the effects of acidification on the sea butterflies from samples taken around the Scotia Sea region of the Southern Ocean in February 2008.
A few minutes late, I tiptoe into an alcove of the Phillips Collection, in Washington, D.C., where Brooke Rosenblatt is leading a discussion with ten museum visitors about Ernest Lawson’s oil painting Approaching Storm.
“Where do you think this scene takes place?” asks Rosenblatt. “Have you ever been to a place that looks like this?” She calls on audience members, who are all seated in folding chairs. The landscape of rolling hills and a stream lined with cattails seems to remind each person of a different place—Scotland, North Carolina, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, France, Switzerland. One gentleman in the front row is convinced it is upstate New York. “He obviously liked it,” he says of the artist’s relationship to the place. “It was lovingly painted.”
“Let’s step inside the picture,” says Rosenblatt. “What do you hear, smell, touch and taste?”
A man, sitting just in front of me, says he hears fish splashing in the brook. A woman in attendance hears distant thunder. And, another participant says she feels a precipitous temperature drop.
For about a year, the Phillips Collection and Iona’s Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Wellness and Arts Center, also in the nation’s capital, have partnered to offer an arts program for older adults with memory loss, Parkinson’s disease, the lingering effects of stroke and other chronic conditions. Rosenblatt, an education specialist at the Phillips, meets with participants, sometimes their family and caregivers as well, on a monthly basis; one month the group will visit the museum, and the next month Rosenblatt will bring reproductions of artworks to Iona, so that others who are less mobile can join in the conversation.
As a futurist and technologist, I’m an optimist. I view technology through the lens of how it can help people.
From this perspective, there is no better time to be alive than now. That’s because we are entering an era where the Internet has the potential to dramatically improve the lives of everyone on our planet—from curing disease, to understanding climate change, to enhancing the way companies do business, to making every day more enjoyable.
Already, the Internet has benefited many individuals, businesses, and countries by improving education through the democratization of information, allowing for economic growth through electronic commerce, and accelerating business innovation by enabling greater collaboration.
So what will the next decade of the Internet bring?