Posts about science in action

Another Bee Study Finds CCD is Likely Due to Combination of Factors Including Pesticides

Abstract of open access science paper funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Crop Pollination Exposes Honey Bees to Pesticides Which Alters Their Susceptibility to the Gut Pathogen Nosema ceranae:

Recent declines in honey bee populations and increasing demand for insect-pollinated crops raise concerns about pollinator shortages. Pesticide exposure and pathogens may interact to have strong negative effects on managed honey bee colonies. Such findings are of great concern given the large numbers and high levels of pesticides found in honey bee colonies. Thus it is crucial to determine how field-relevant combinations and loads of pesticides affect bee health.

We collected pollen from bee hives in seven major crops to determine 1) what types of pesticides bees are exposed to when rented for pollination of various crops and 2) how field-relevant pesticide blends affect bees’ susceptibility to the gut parasite Nosema ceranae. Our samples represent pollen collected by foragers for use by the colony, and do not necessarily indicate foragers’ roles as pollinators. In blueberry, cranberry, cucumber, pumpkin and watermelon bees collected pollen almost exclusively from weeds and wildflowers during our sampling.

Thus more attention must be paid to how honey bees are exposed to pesticides outside of the field in which they are placed. We detected 35 different pesticides in the sampled pollen, and found high fungicide loads. The insecticides esfenvalerate and phosmet were at a concentration higher than their median lethal dose in at least one pollen sample. While fungicides are typically seen as fairly safe for honey bees, we found an increased probability of Nosema infection in bees that consumed pollen with a higher fungicide load.

Our results highlight a need for research on sub-lethal effects of fungicides and other chemicals that bees placed in an agricultural setting are exposed to.

The attempts to discover the main causes of bee colony deaths and find solutions continues to prove difficult years after the problems became major. The complex interaction of many variables makes it difficult. And special interest groups pushing pesticides and the like, which have seemed to be major contributors to the problem for years, make it even more difficult (by preventing restrictions on potentially damaging pesticide use).

The challenges in determining what is killing bees are similar to the challenges of discovering what practices are damaging human health. The success of studying complex biological interactions (to discover threats to human health) is extremely limited. I am concerned we are far too caviler about using large numbers of interventions (drugs, pesticides, massive antibiotics use in factory farms, pollution…).

Related: Europe Bans Certain Pesticides, USA Just Keeps Looking, Bees Keep DyingGermany Bans Chemicals Linked to Bee Deaths (2008)Virus Found to be One Likely Factor in Bee Colony Colapse Disorder (2007)Study of the Colony Collapse Disorder Continues as Bee Colonies Continue to Disappear

Our Dangerous Antibiotic Practices Carry Great Risks

Our continued poor antibiotics practices increase the risk of many deaths. We are very poor at reacting to bad practices that will kill many people in the future. If those increased deaths happened today it is much more likely we would act. But as it is we are condemning many to have greatly increased odds of dying from bacterial causes that could be prevented if we were more sensible.

Resistance to antibiotics is becoming a crisis

Increasingly, microbes are becoming untreatable. Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization, warned in March of a dystopian future without these drugs. “A post-antibiotic era means, in effect, an end to modern medicine as we know it,” she said. “Things as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill.”

evidence is mounting that antibiotics are losing efficacy. Through the relentless process of evolution, pathogens are evading the drugs, a problem known broadly as antimicrobial resistance.

Europe has launched a $741 million, seven-year, public-private collaborative research effort to accelerate drug development.

Seeking new antibiotics is wise but the commentary completely ignores our bad practices that are causing the problem to be much worse than it would be if we acted as though bad practices that will lead to many deaths should be avoided.

Previous posts about practices we taking that create great risk for increased deaths: Antibiotics Too Often Prescribed for Sinus Woes (2007)Meat Raised Without Antibiotics is Sadly Rare Today (2007)Overuse of Antibiotics (2005)CDC Urges Increased Effort to Reduce Drug-Resistant Infections (2006)FDA May Make Decision That Will Speed Antibiotic Drug Resistance (2007)Antibacterial Soaps are Bad (2007)Waste Treatment Plants Result in Super Bacteria (2009)Antibiotics Breed Superbugs Faster Than Expected (2010)Antibiotics Use in Farming Can Create Superbugs (2010)What Happens If the Overuse of Antibiotics Leads to Them No Longer Working? (2011)Dangerous Drug-Resistant Strains of TB are a Growing Threat (2012)

Obviously bacteria evolve to survive the counter measures we currently have. The foolish practices of promoting ignorance of evolution leads to a society where the consequences of actions, and the presence of evolution, lead to bad consequences. We find ourselves in that society.

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Cancer Vaccines

A reader commented on a previous post (MIT Engineers Design New Type of Nanoparticle for Vacines) asking about how vaccines can fight cancer. Preventative vaccines can build up immune response to viruses which cause cancer. So the vaccine actually works against the virus which prevents the virus from causing cancer.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two vaccines, Gardasil® and Cervarix®, that protect against infection by the two types of human papillomavirus (HPV) – types 16 and 18 – that cause approximately 70% of all cases of cervical cancer worldwide. At least 17 other types of HPV are responsible for the remaining 30% of cervical cancer cases. HPV types 16 and/or 18 also cause some vaginal, vulvar, anal, penile, and oropharyngeal cancers.

Many scientists believe that microbes cause or contribute to between 15% and 25% of all cancers diagnosed worldwide each year, with the percentages being lower in developed than developing countries.

Vaccines can also help stimulate the immune system to fight cancers.

B cells make antibodies, which are large secreted proteins that bind to, inactivate, and help destroy foreign invaders or abnormal cells. Most preventive vaccines, including those aimed at hepatitis B virus (HBV) and human papillomavirus (HPV), stimulate the production of antibodies that bind to specific, targeted microbes and block their ability to cause infection. Cytotoxic T cells, which are also known as killer T cells, kill infected or abnormal cells by releasing toxic chemicals or by prompting the cells to self-destruct (a process known as apoptosis).

Other types of lymphocytes and leukocytes play supporting roles to ensure that B cells and killer T cells do their jobs effectively. These supporting cells include helper T cells and dendritic cells, which help activate killer T cells and enable them to recognize specific threats.

Cancer treatment vaccines are designed to work by activating B cells and killer T cells and directing them to recognize and act against specific types of cancer. They do this by introducing one or more molecules known as antigens into the body, usually by injection. An antigen is a substance that stimulates a specific immune response. An antigen can be a protein or another type of molecule found on the surface of or inside a cell.

Related: National Cancer Institute (USA)Nanoparticles With Scorpion Venom Slow Cancer SpreadUsing Bacteria to Carry Nanoparticles Into CellsGlobal Cancer Deaths to Double by 2030
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The Great Sunflower Project

photo of sunflower (Helianthus Annuus Taiyo)Sunflower photo from WikiMedia – Helianthus Annuus ‘Taiyo’

The Great Sunflower Project provides a way for you to engage in the ongoing study of bees and colony collapse disorder. The study uses the annual Lemon Queen sunflowers (Helianthus annuus), that can be grown in a pot on a deck or patio or in a garden (and they will send you seeds).

How do bees make fruits and vegetables?

Bees help flowers make seeds and fruits. Bees go to flowers in your garden to find pollen (the powder on the flower) and nectar which is a sweet liquid. Flowers are really just big signs advertising to bees that there is pollen or nectar available – though sometimes a flower will cheat and have nothing! The markings on a flower guide the bee right into where the pollen or nectar is.

All flowers have pollen. Bees gather pollen to feed their babies which start as eggs and then grow into larvae. It’s the larvae that eat the pollen. Bees use the nectar for energy. When a bee goes to a flower in your garden to get nectar or pollen, they usually pick up pollen from the male part of the flower which is called an anther. When they travel to the next flower looking for food, they move some of that pollen to the female part of the next plant which is called a stigma. Most flowers need pollen to make seeds and fruits.

After landing on the female part, the stigma, the pollen grows down the stigma until it finds an unfertilized seed which is called an ovary. Inside the ovary, a cell from the pollen joins up with cells from the ovary and a seed is born! For many of our garden plants, the only way for them to start a new plant is by growing from a seed Fruits are just the parts of the plants that have the seeds. Some fruits are what we think of as fruits when we are in the grocery store like apples and oranges. Other fruits are vegetables like tomatoes and cucumbers and peppers.

Related: Monarch Butterfly MigrationSolving the Mystery of the Vanishing BeesVolunteers busy as bees counting populationThe Science of Gardening

How Bleach Kills Bacteria

Developed more than 200 years ago and found in households around the world, chlorine bleach is among the most widely used disinfectants, yet scientists never have understood exactly how the familiar product kills bacteria. In fact, Hypochlorite, the active ingredient of household bleach, attacks essential bacterial proteins, ultimately killing the bugs.

“As so often happens in science, we did not set out to address this question,” said Jakob, an associate professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology. “But when we stumbled on the answer midway through a different project, we were all very excited.”

Jakob and her team were studying a bacterial protein known as heat shock protein 33 (Hsp33), which is classified as a molecular chaperone. The main job of chaperones is to protect proteins from unfavorable interactions, a function that’s particularly important when cells are under conditions of stress, such as the high temperatures that result from fever.

“At high temperatures, proteins begin to lose their three-dimensional molecular structure and start to clump together and form large, insoluble aggregates, just like when you boil an egg,” said lead author Jeannette Winter, who was a postdoctoral fellow in Jakob’s lab. And like eggs, which once boiled never turn liquid again, aggregated proteins usually remain insoluble, and the stressed cells eventually die.

Jakob and her research team figured out that bleach and high temperatures have very similar effects on proteins. Just like heat, the hypochlorite in bleach causes proteins to lose their structure and form large aggregates.

These findings are not only important for understanding how bleach keeps our kitchen countertops sanitary, but they may lead to insights into how we fight off bacterial infections. Our own immune cells produce significant amounts of hypochlorite as a first line of defense to kill invading microorganisms. Unfortunately, hypochlorite damages not just bacterial cells, but ours as well. It is the uncontrolled production of hypochlorite acid that is thought to cause tissue damage at sites of chronic inflammation.

How did studying the protein Hsp33 lead to the bleach discovery? The researchers learned that hypochlorite, rather than damaging Hsp33 as it does most proteins, actually revs up the molecular chaperone. When bacteria encounter the disinfectant, Hsp33 jumps into action to protect bacterial proteins against bleach-induced aggregation.

“With Hsp33, bacteria have evolved a very clever system that directly senses the insult, responds to it and increases the bacteria’s resistance to bleach,” Jakob said.

Related: University of Michigan Press releaseHow do antibiotics kill bacteria?NPR podcast on the storyWhy ‘Licking Your Wounds’ WorksResearchers Learn What Sparks Plant Growth

2 Mysterious Species in the UK

Plane Bug - UK

Mystery insect found in Museum garden

This mystery bug has not been seen in the UK before and has made the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Garden its home. The tiny bug is baffling insect experts at the Museum who are still trying to identify the mystery newcomer. The almond-shaped bug is red and black and about the size of a grain of rice

Experts checked the new bug with those in the Museum’s national insect collection of more than 28 million specimens. Amazingly, there is no exact match.

The bug closely resembles the fairly rare species Arocatus roeselii, which is usually found in central Europe. However, the roeselii bugs are brighter red than this new bug and they are usually associated with alder trees rather than plane trees.

However, the National Museum in Prague discovered an exact match to the mystery bug in their collections – an insect that was found in Nice and is classified as Arocatus roeselii. ‘There are two possible explanations,’ explains Barclay. ‘That the bug is roeselii and by switching to feed on the plane trees it could suddenly become more abundant, successful and invasive. The other possibility is that the insect in our grounds may not be roeselii at all.’

The Museum is working with international colleagues to analyse the bug’s body shape, form and DNA to see whether it is a newly discovered species or if it is in fact Arocatus roeselii.

Here is a green bug from my trip to Clifton Gorge Nature Preserve that is probably easier to identify. Or how about this insect from the Forest Glen Preserve, Illinois. Or how about this one at Our Lady of Gethsemani Abbey, in Kentucky.

Related: posts on invasive speciesarticles on invasive plantsBallast-free Ships

Help us find out more about the mysterious alien “Ghost Slug”
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Physicist Swimming Revolution

A Revolution That Began With a Kick by Amy Shipley:

The answer, they say, cannot lie solely in the latest high-tech swimsuits introduced amid a swirl of controversy this winter, because the world-record smashing began at last year’s world championships — long before the newest of the newfangled apparel came out.

Swimmers, coaches and scientists say it is impossible to pinpoint one explanation. They cite many contributing factors, ranging from professional training groups that have sprouted across the United States to greater access to underwater cameras and other advanced technology.

But some say the most significant breakthrough has been a revival of a swimming maneuver developed more than 70 years ago by one of the physicists who worked on the atomic bomb.

Though utilized for decades, the underwater dolphin kick had not been fully exploited by the swimming mainstream until Olympic megastar Michael Phelps and a few other stars began polishing it — and crushing other swimmers with it — in recent years.

Very interesting and another example of how good ideas are often ignored for a long time.

The underwater dolphin kick attracted the interest of swimming innovators as early as the 1930s. The late Volney C. Wilson explored its possibilities before diving into later work on nuclear fission and the atomic bomb, according to David Schrader, a research professor at Marquette University who is Wilson’s biographer.

Schrader said Wilson, an alternate on the 1932 Olympic water polo team who studied fish propulsion at a Chicago aquarium, claimed to have shown the kick to Johnny Weissmuller, a training mate at the Illinois Athletic Club. “Weissmuller reproduced it perfectly, but was not impressed by it,” said Schrader in a phone interview, recalling a conversation with Wilson.

One of the first swimmers to turn heads with the underwater dolphin kick was David Berkoff, a Harvard graduate who became known for the “Berkoff Blastoff.” In 1988, Berkoff set several world records in the 100 backstroke by dolphin-kicking for 35 meters underwater at the start of the race.

Which goes to show you that you can gain advantages just by using the information that is available – your own innovation is not the only way to get ahead. Just doing a better job of adapting what others learn to your challenges can be very rewarding.

Related: Randomization in SportsBaseball Pitch Designed in the LabScience of the High Jump

Plastic Balls for the Resevoir

photo of Los Angeles resevoir

This photo looks like a April fools joke but I think it is real. Los Angeles Drops 400,000 Balls in Reservoir to Fight Suspected Carcinogen

So why deploy these balls — which are typically used by airports to prevent bird congregation on runways — in particular? Some of the other alternatives, such as a large tarp or metal cover, were considered too costly or impractical. The balls, on the other hand, are (relatively) cheap — costing 40 cents each — and are safe for drinking water; black is also the only color able to deflect UV rays.

The DWP has ordered 6.5 million of these balls, 3 million of which it plans on using to blanket the Ivanhoe and Elysian reservoirs. So, yeah, this probably isn’t the best solution for the city’s water woes but, given the circumstances, maybe the only “realistic” option in the short-term.

Los Angeles Department of Water and Power drops 400,000 balls onto Ivanhoe Reservoir:

The water needs to be shaded because when sunlight mixes with the bromide and chlorine in Ivanhoe’s water, the carcinogen bromate forms, said Pankaj Parekh, DWP’s director for water quality compliance. Bromide is naturally present in groundwater and chlorine is used to kill bacteria, he said, but sunlight is the final ingredient in the potentially harmful mix.

Photo by (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Call me a bit skeptical. Adding a huge number of plastic balls to a water supply in order to try and prevent a chemical reaction caused by added chemicals and sunlight seems a bit crazy to me. But who know maybe it is a good idea.

Related: Cheap Drinking Water From SeawaterEngineering A Cleaner RiverBoiling Water And Plastic Spikes Bisphenol A LevelsBottled Water Waste

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