Inbox and Environment News - Issue 174
August 3 - 9, 2014: Issue 174
Strictest conditions on Carmichael Coal Mine project
Media release, 28 July 2014 - The Hon. Greg Hunt MP, Minister for the Environment
After undertaking a thorough assessment and consideration under national environment law, I have approved the Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail Infrastructure project, subject to 36 strict conditions.
The absolute strictest of conditions have been imposed to ensure the protection of the environment, with a specific focus on the protection of groundwater.
These 36 conditions complement the conditions imposed by the Queensland Government, and will ensure the proponent meets the highest environmental standards and that all impacts, including cumulative impacts, are avoided, mitigated or offset.
A rigorous, open and thorough environmental assessment process was undertaken to take account of the public interest in the project.
I have also visited the proposed site to better understand the project and met with the local community to understand their views.
The project, which was proposed and advanced under the previous state and federal ALP Governments, will have a resource value of $5 billion per annum over 60 years.
At full export capacity, the project is expected to contribute almost $930 million to the Mackay region's gross regional product and $2.97 billion to the Queensland economy each year for the next 60 years.
It will generate an estimated 2475 construction jobs and a further 3920 jobs during the operations phase.
The project has a lifetime resource value of at least $300 billion, and will enhance economic development opportunities throughout the region through indirect employment and training, and contract and supply opportunities.
It is estimated the project will provide electricity for up to 100 million people in India.
The strict conditions will ensure the protection of the environment as a paramount concern.
The comprehensive assessment of this project took into account advice from the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development (IESC).
I personally visited the site with the head of the IESC, and have incorporated all of her suggestions in the conditions.
Any matters raised by the Independent Expert Scientific Committee were met with further and strengthened conditions, including requirements for a review of the groundwater flow model and measures to protect the Great Artesian Basin.
The strict conditions being imposed require the proponent to:
ensure that a minimum of 730 megalitres of water are returned to the Great Artesian Basin every year for five years. This is an effective extension of the GABSI programme
peer review the parameters of the groundwater modelling and to re-run the model to determine whether further mitigation measures are required
monitor groundwater changes to verify and update the modelling
adaptively manage uncleared habitat to address potential subsidence impacts and groundwater changes
offset impacts from cleared habitat and review offset requirements if uncleared habitat is subsequently impacted through subsidence or groundwater changes
contribute funding to address cumulative impacts to threatened species and communities
undertake research on potential groundwater changes to adaptively manage risks of impacts
I acknowledge the work of the previous State and Federal ALP Governments in advancing consideration of this project. I am pleased that we have been able to apply some of the strictest environment conditions in Australian history as part of this decision.
For further information see Adani Mining Pty Ltd/Mining/Moray Downs Cattle Station 160km North West of Clermont/QLD/Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail Project at:http://www.environment.gov.au/cgi-bin/epbc/epbc_ap.pl?name=current_referral_detail&proposal_id=5736
NB: GABSI program, scrapped under Labor Government as of June 30th, 2014, with Liberal Government stating they would not overturn scrapping of, and required another 10 million to complete. – See Landline http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-07-15/qld-gabsi-race/5598026
STATEMENT ON DEATH OF OFFICE OF ENVIRONMENT AND HERITAGE OFFICER - Media release: 30 July 2014
Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) staff are mourning the loss of one of their own following the tragic events near Moree yesterday afternoon (29/7).
OEH Chief Executive, Terry Bailey said Glen Turner was fatally injured when he and a colleague were undertaking their duties near Croppa Creek, north of Moree.
“Glen was a Senior Compliance Officer and had been a NSW public servant since 2000, having joined OEH from the Department of Natural Resources in 2007”, Mr Bailey said.
“Glen was one of our most experienced compliance officers.
“He was a respected and well-liked colleague and friend to many.
“Glen is survived by his wife Alison and their two children who are in our thoughts and prayers during this most difficult time.
“The loss of a colleague touches us all, even more so under such tragic circumstances.
“The Environment Minister Rob Stokes and I will be travelling to Tamworth and Armidale tomorrow to meet with Glen’s family and our local staff.
“The matter is being investigated by Police and the OEH is supporting them in this.
“It is not appropriate for us to make further comment on the incident given it is under Police investigation”, Mr Bailey concluded.
Mr Turner was a regular visitor to the Croppa Creek area through his work with the NSW Department of Environment and Heritage. On Tuesday he was at a property near Talga Lane to serve a notice regarding illegal land clearing when a gunman opened fire. Croppa Creek farmer Ian Robert Turnbull, 79, has been charged with Mr Turner's murder and fronted Moree Local Court on Wednesday where he was refused bail.
Environment Minister Rob Stokes said he is shocked and deeply saddened following reports that an officer with the Office of Environment and Heritage died on duty on Wednesday of this week.
“My thoughts and prayers are with the family and tight knit staff of the Office of Environment and Heritage at this most difficult time” Minister Stokes said.
“It is hard to fathom how it is that someone who leaves for work in the morning does not return in the afternoon.
“On behalf of the Chief Executive OEH Terry Bailey and my colleagues in the NSW Government, our hearts go out to all those who have been impacted by this tragedy.
Details surrounding the incident are now the subject of a NSW Police investigation.
New Study 'Sediment and Turbidity Associated with Offshore Dredging Increase Coral Disease Prevalence on Nearby Reefs' Means Hay Point Port Operators Must Work Under New Conditions
In Issue 172 we brought you news of a new study that confirms reef dredging and the spread of associated refuse, including being permitted to dump dredge sediment inside the park itself, will lead to disease that will kill our corals reefs, and in particular, our, and the world's Great Barrier Reef.
On Friday we received news that the developer, North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation, will now need to meet a range of new conditions due to a challenge made by the Australian Marine Conservation Society to the GBRMA. The project will now have to monitor for coral disease, implement an environmental management plan, and limit dredging during coral spawning months. Read more HERE
Vanishing Fauna - Special Issue of Science Mag - July 25th, 2014
INTRODUCTION TO SPECIAL ISSUE - Vanishing fauna
By Sacha Vignieri
This special issue has been edited by Sacha Vignieri, Andrew M. Sugden, and Elizabeth Pennisi.
During the Pleistocene epoch, only tens of thousands of years ago, our planet supported large, spectacular animals. Mammoths, terror birds, giant tortoises, and saber-toothed cats, as well as many less familiar species such as giant ground sloths (some of which reached 7 meters in height) and glyptodonts (which resembled car-sized armadillos), roamed freely. Since then, however, the number and diversity of animal species on Earth have consistently and steadily declined. Today we are left with a relatively depauperate fauna, and we continue to lose animal species to extinction rapidly. Although some debate persists, most of the evidence suggests that humans were responsible for extinction of this Pleistocene fauna, and we continue to drive animal extinctions today through the destruction of wild lands, consumption of animals as a resource or a luxury, and persecution of species we see as threats or competitors.
Such global loss of animal species, or defaunation, is increasingly recognized as a problem akin to deforestation in terms of scale and impact. Though for emotional or aesthetic reasons we may lament the loss of large charismatic species, such as tigers, rhinos, and pandas, we now know that loss of animals, from the largest elephant to the smallest beetle, will also fundamentally alter the form and function of the ecosystems upon which we all depend (see Dirzo et al., p. 401).
Identifying the drivers of these extinctions is straightforward, but stemming the loss is a daunting challenge. Animal species continue to decline in, and disappear from, even large, long-protected reserves, due both to direct impacts, such as poaching, and indirect ecological feedbacks, such as habitat fragmentation. Though hunting and poaching might seem obvious candidates for targeted policy and management interventions, there are complex social issues underlying these activities that will require coordinated and cooperative actions by nations (see Brashares et al., p. 376).
All articles and papers HERE
Statement on NPWS Nattai office consolidation
Media release: 29 July 2014
The current Picton Office is for sale and the National Parks and Wildlife Service lease expires early next year and consequently, we have to move before then.
The closure of the Picton office and relocation of four staff to the Australian Botanic Garden at Mt Annan will not entail staff cuts or any reduction in the way we look after parks across the area.
We are also moving office-based staff from Bents Basin State Conservation Area, and this will consolidate the NPWS Nattai Area staff into one central location and increase collaboration and cohesion.
The Nattai Area office will continue to provide information services for visitors and the changes will increase staff availability to respond to public inquiries. More and more people are using the NPWS website to access information about our National Parks and the Wollondilly Shire Council has agreed to sell Park Passes and make NPWS printed material available at its visitor centre.
The move will result in considerable cost savings, thereby providing more funds for looking after local national parks such as Nattai and Thirlmere Lakes - for example improving visitor facilities and for fire, pest and weed management programs.
NPWS Nattai Area staff will continue their involvement in managing the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area and the Sydney drinking water catchment – and are just as close to these areas working from Mt Annan.
The move to the Australian Botanic Garden provides many benefits including improved access to conference and meeting facilities to help boost engagement with our stakeholders, and the synergy of interactions with NPWS staff and staff from the Australian Botanic Garden will increase the sharing of knowledge and expertise.
Our firefighting arrangements in the area remain as strong as ever. The Catchment Fire Fighting Team will remain at Nepean Dam Depot and our other front line Field Officer firefighters will remain at Oakdale and Bents Basin depots.
We have a close working relationship with the Rural Fire Service (RFS) and the Sydney Catchment Authority (SCA) and together with the SCA, NPWS employs two Catchment Remote Area Fire Teams (CRAFT) each consisting of five special fire fighters. These fire fighters provide a continuous cover during the fire season and a helicopter is based at the Nepean Dam Depot.
The NPWS Nattai Area has an important role to play in caring for the National Parks in the region and the proposed changes will enable us to improve the way we work.
Director Metropolitan and Mountains Branch
National Parks and Wildlife Service
Australia's biodiversity: status and trends - Published on 29 Jul 2014
To manage Australia's biodiversity we need to know what sort of state it's in and how that is changing over time. Dr David Yeates talks about the current state of knowledge on Australia's biodiversity and some of our biggest monitoring programs and tools. (05:11)
Access CSIRO's book Biodiversity: Science and Solutions for Australia - http://www.csiro.au/biodiversitybook
Original Seasons of Australia
C/ - Bureau of Meteorology Australia
When flowers are in bloom, cold weather starts and winds increase, the Maung people of NT know its Wumulukuk – the longest of three seasons, spanning from March to July. More info here:http://bom.ws/y
Saving seeds the right way can save the world's plants
July 30, 2014 - Exotic pests, shrinking ranges and a changing climate threaten some of the world's most rare and ecologically important plants, and so conservationists establish seed collections to save the seeds in banks or botanical gardens in hopes of preserving some genetic diversity. For decades, these seed collections have been guided by simple models that offer a one-size-fits-all approach for how many seeds to gather, such as recommending saving 50 seed samples regardless of species' pollination mode, growth habitat and population size.
A new study, however, has found that more careful tailoring of seed collections to specific species and situations is critical to preserving plant diversity. Once seeds are saved, they can be reintroduced for planting in suitable locations if conditions are favorable.
In the study, researchers from the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis and the University of Tennessee used a novel approach called simulation-based planning to make several new sampling recommendations, confirming that a uniform approach to seed sampling is ineffective.
First, collectors must choose their plant populations from a wide area rather than a restricted one. Sampling widely can capture up to nearly 200 percent more rare genes than restricted sampling. In addition, in most situations, collecting from about 25 maternal plants per population versus 50 plants appears to capture the vast majority of genetic variation. The study also showed that for many species, collecting more than eight to ten seeds per plant leads to high overlap in genetic diversity and would thus be an excess of effort.
Increasing concerns over agriculture and food security as well as an increasing recognition of how fast biodiversity is disappearing has prompted seed banks to ramp up their collections. By the same token, botanic gardens that were once more focused on showcasing plants are now increasingly having a conservation mission too, according to the study's lead author Sean Hoban, a postdoctoral fellow at NIMBioS.
"Our approach can be used to further refine seed collection guidelines, which could lead to much more efficient and effective collections, allowing us to preserve more diversity of the world's plants. These collections could benefit future ecosystem restoration projects as well as improve agricultural and forestry efforts," Hoban said.
Hoban and his colleagues are now working on ways to custom-tailor seed collections to particular species' dispersal, mating system and biology.
The study was published in the journal Biological Conservation.
1. Sean Hoban, Scott Schlarbaum. Optimal sampling of seeds from plant populations for ex-situ conservation of genetic biodiversity, considering realistic population structure.Biological Conservation, 2014; 177: 90 DOI:10.1016/j.biocon.2014.06.014
Hefty fines for bulk carrier travelling outside of shipping area - Media release, 30 July 2014: Hon. Greg Hunt MP, Minister for the Environment
Two crew members of a bulk carrier, the MV Bulk Ingenuity, have been fined a total of $125,000 after travelling outside a designated shipping area within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
I welcome the convictions and applaud the work of the Australian Federal Police, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority in conducting the joint investigation which led to this swift and successful outcome.
The penalties that have been imposed demonstrate the seriousness of the offence.
Both the Chinese second officer and master of the Hong Kong flagged ship were arrested on 28 July for offences under the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act and appeared in the Townsville Magistrates Court this week.
The second officer was fined $85,000 which represents a record amount for an individual involved in navigating a ship outside a designated shipping area in the Marine Park. The master was also fined $40,000.
On 21 July 2014, officers monitoring the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait Vessel Traffic System (REEFVTS) detected a 290-metre bulk coal carrier inside the northern part of the Marine Park east of Cape Bowling Green near Townsville.
A number of unsuccessful attempts were made to contact the vessel. When communication was established, the vessel had travelled nearly five kilometres outside the designated shipping area. However, the swift actions of REEFVTS officers prevented the ship from ever coming close to the narrow passage and its coral reefs.
Designated shipping areas are designed to protect animals, habitats and sensitive areas of the Marine Park, including coral reefs, and it is vital that commercial ships abide by these regulations.
This incident highlights the valuable work of REEFVTS, which is operated by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and Maritime Safety Queensland, in helping to ensure illegal activities are quickly identified and dealt with.
The Malabar gliding frog can make jumps of 9 to 12 metres thanks to the unique webbing between its toes!
Barnacles: Marine 'pest' provides advances in maritime anti-fouling and biomedicine
July 30, 2014 – A team of biologists, led by Clemson University associate professor Andrew S. Mount, performed cutting-edge research on a marine pest that will pave the way for novel anti-fouling paint for ships and boats and also improve bio-adhesives for medical and industrial applications. The team's findings, published inNature Communications, examined the last larval stage of barnacles that attaches to a wide variety of surfaces using highly versatile, natural, possibly polymeric material that acts as an underwater heavy-duty adhesive.
"In previous research, we were trying to understand how barnacle adhesives were interacting with surfaces of different chemistries," said Mount, an author on the journal article and founder and director of the Okeanos Research Laboratory in Clemson's department of biological sciences. "Most biofouling researchers assume that cyprid larval adhesive plaques are primarily composed of proteins and peptides, but we discovered that lipids are also present, which means that the composition of the permanent adhesive is far more complicated that previously realized."
The torpedo-shaped cyprid larvae is the last larval stage before the animal undergoes metamorphosis to become the familiar barnacle seen on pilings and jetties along the coast. Once the cyprid has found a potentially suitable spot, it cements itself permanently in place and then undergoes metamorphosis to become an adult calcareous barnacle.
In order to survive and reproduce, benthic - or bottom-dwelling - marine invertebrates like barnacles need to attach themselves in close proximity to each other. These organisms have evolved an array of adhesion mechanisms that allow them to attach virtually anywhere, including nuclear submarines, maritime ships and offshore drilling rigs, and even to animals like turtles and whales.
"The ability of barnacles to adhere to surfaces that have very different physical and chemical properties is unique and provides insight into the unique physic-chemical properties of their larval adhesive," Mount said.
With funding from the Office of Naval Research, the researchers built a two-photon microscopy system and, in collaboration with Marcus Cicerone at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, employed his innovative technique known as Broadband Coherent Anti-Stokes Raman Scattering to delineate the two different phases of the barnacle cyprid adhesive plaque.
"Using these techniques, we found that the permanent adhesive is made up of two phases: a lipid phase and a protein phase," said Mount. "The lipid phase is released first. We believe that this lipid phase protects the protein phase from excess hydration and the damaging effects of seawater, and it may limit the protein phase from spreading too thin and losing its ability to securely adhere the larvae to a surface."
This is the first finding of functional roles of lipids in marine bioadhesives.
"The application of both two-photon microscopy and broadband coherent anti-Stokes Raman scattering clearly demonstrated the role of lipids, which we traced back to the cement glands and showed that they are produced and contained in a separate subsets of cells," he said.
The researchers' renewed understanding of barnacle cyprid adhesives will advance anti-fouling coatings for the maritime industry in the years to come and help develop a new class of bio-adhesives for medical and industrial applications.
Neeraj V. Gohad, Nick Aldred, Christopher M. Hartshorn, Young Jong Lee, Marcus T. Cicerone, Beatriz Orihuela, Anthony S. Clare, Dan Rittschof, Andrew S. Mount.Synergistic roles for lipids and proteins in the permanent adhesive of barnacle larvae. Nature Communications, 2014; 5 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms5414
Colony of barnacles. Credit: © Mauro Rodrigues / Fotolia
Stigmas shrouded in silence
OPINION: The official figures on suicide from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show that our oldest citizens, those aged 80 and above, are the most likely to die by suicide in our community.
While the community and media focus is often on youth suicide, the highest suicide rates are, in fact, among those aged 80-84 years (for females) and 85 and older (for males), according to the ABS's Causes of Death Australia 2012.
Each one of these older people dies in individual circumstances, with many leaving behind people wondering whether they could, or should, have done something. None, or very few, of those left behind will feel they knew the answer to that question before the person died.
None should feel guilt for the decision and action of someone else. However, we need to ask serious questions about our collective responsibility as a society.
These questions are very personal for me. Not only have I focussed my professional career as a psychiatrist on working with older people, but I have the privilege of hearing personal stories from older people and their families about their experience of mental illness, and attempts to get help for this: successful and problematic. I have also had my own experience of requiring treatment for depression, although successfully treated without facing that moment when life seems unbearable: but changing my understanding of what this may mean. It also brings home that mental illness can happen to anyone, at any age. Australians have one of the longest life expectancies in the world. We also have one of the better developed systems for providing both residential aged care and semi-equivalent care at home. So how can I ask if we are unwittingly encouraging older Australians to die through suicide?
The first reason is the misconception by advocates of euthanasia and assisted suicide that suicide in older people is largely driven by suffering associated with severe or terminal illness. It appears rare for a media report about suicide in older people not to be either framed as an argument for euthanasia, or responded to by advocates suggesting it was a logical act'.
We live in a country that rightly celebrates free speech, and the euthanasia debate is a legitimate one, with strong arguments exchanged. However, to use our most vulnerable citizens in this debate is highly problematic, especially when the potential influence of media upon suicide is well known.
There is wide variability between countries in the involvement of people in their 80s in legalised euthanasia or assisted suicide. Almost all of us fear disease, loss of abilities and dependence upon others, and concern this will occur as we age. Looking forward at these possibilities, we feel fear and believe we could not still enjoy life if these losses occur. But most older people face these fears and still value life and the joys it can bring, even when the object of fear cannot be beaten; unless something impedes this ability.
The most recent study of older people who died through suicide in Australia found less than 10 per cent were members of a euthanasia group, and those who died through suicide had lower needs for help with selfcare than people who died from other causes. What was more common was hopelessness and living alone.
What else is more common in older people who die through suicide is depression. Not a transient sense of sadness that passes with a glass of good red, nor tearfulness at the passing of another good friend, or even constant frustration at losing health and abilities you have always valued. Rather, an immovable net that takes away satisfaction in past deeds, removes that sense you are useful to others, and interferes with every action; until effective treatment and support is provided, which is possible at any age.
This leads to the second reason we need to question our culpability as a society. We have failed to invest in what we know improves the quality of life of older people, as well as saving the economy money.
Social isolation and lack of inclusion remain major unaddressed problems for older people with mental illness. Canberra is the only Australian capital city in the WHO Global Network of Aged-Friendly Cities and Communities (www. agefriendlyworld.org) committed to promoting active ageing and ongoing quality of life. Older Australians have the worst access to mental health care of all adult Australians, and the latest available data suggests this access is getting worse, except in increasing use of residential mental health care services. People living in aged care facilities are mostly denied access to Medicare funded psychological services despite in the order of 50 per cent of residents reported to have mental illness in Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data.
Australia has multidisciplinary mental health teams with skills as good as any in the world, but with uneven and inadequate access. We also have excellent psychologists, but unlike comparable countries, there is very limited training provided for them regarding working with older people. Consequently, too many older people face an over-reliance on medication, and inadequate referral for effective psychological and social interventions.
Which leads to the third question Australians must ask themselves: Why has there been no action? There has been repeated recognition that Australia must act to improve access to quality mental health care for older people, yet as a country little progress has been made. Pockets of excellent planning and care show what can be done, but there is no planning for national action to make even good access and care the norm.
It is too easy to blame politicians, policy makers or health managers. We live in a democracy and ultimately we receive something resembling what we ask for as a society.
We need to confront our attitude to the combined stigma of mental illness and ageing. Research in Europe has found that the societies that value elders more, and their ongoing contribution to society, tend to have lower suicide rates in older people. We need to reframe how we think about ageing.
In Australia, too often we do not celebrate an ageing population. Instead we fear it.
We do not discuss the benefits of having increasing numbers of wiser, productive older people who volunteer, support their own children to work, and care for grandchildren.
Instead, we fear the burden of a stretched social security and health system. Fear, at least in part, has driven welcome investment in improving care for dementia. Hope has driven welcome investment in youth mental health. But somehow mental illness and ageing seems to squash hope. No one wants an older person they know to be depressed or otherwise mentally ill. And while no one wants an older person to feel such despair that suicide is their only option, within our current concepts of ageing it seems we worry nothing effective can be done and focus on 'other priorities'.
Ultimately, if enough people do not demand action, then those funding services will think no one wants action, and no action occurs. Even worse, for those older people facing mental illness, there is an increased likelihood that they will think no one cares. What we must decide as a nation is: are they right?
Dr Roderick McKay is a conjoint senior lecturer in the School of Psychiatry at UNSW.
This opinion piece was first published in Australian Aging Agenda.
CREATING PARITY: THE FORREST REVIEW
August 1, 2014 - Andrew Forrest’s Review into Indigenous Employment and Training, Creating Parity was released to the public.
The document is available to be downloaded here: The Forrest Review: Creating Parity (PDF - 2.26 MB)
At more than 9 months in the making, Creating Parity takes a holistic approach to improving the employment outcomes of first Australians, starting in the womb and ending in the workforce.
GenerationOne is pleased to say that the demand led employment training model has been endorsed as a key recommendation of the Review. This model has been built with the input and guidance of Australian Employment Covenant (AEC) members and we thank you for your support over the last five years.
Your tireless efforts have already placed more than 20,000 Indigenous jobseekers into work. Your bold pledges to employ Indigenous Australians, your great achievements in retention rates and your commitment to finding innovative ways to welcome and support new Indigenous employees have all informed the demand led model now being championed in Creating Parity.
We would also like to thank the many AEC members who took the time to consider and send a submission to the Review. Your submissions were great drivers in the final outcome of the report.
We now hope and expect that demand led employment will soon become the rule and not just the exception when helping Indigenous job seekers move into the workforce.
With your continued support, we can put an end to the employment disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
National Executive Director - GenerationOne
Charting culture - Published on 31 Jul 2014
This animation distils hundreds of years of culture into just five minutes. A team of historians and scientists wanted to map cultural mobility, so they tracked the births and deaths of notable individuals like David, King of Israel, and Leonardo da Vinci, from 600 BC to the present day. Using them as a proxy for skills and ideas, their map reveals intellectual hotspots and tracks how empires rise and crumble. The information comes from Freebase, a Google-owned database of well-known people and places, and other catalogues of notable individuals.
Read Nature's news story: http://www.nature.com/news/1.15650
Study advances 'DNA revolution,' tells butterflies' evolutionary history
July 31, 2014 - By tracing nearly 3,000 genes to the earliest common ancestor of butterflies and moths, scientists have created an extensive “Tree of Lepidoptera” in the first study to use large-scale, next-generation DNA sequencing.
Among the study's more surprising findings: Butterflies are more closely related to small moths than to large ones, which completely changes scientists' understanding of how butterflies evolved. The study also found that some insects once classified as moths are actually butterflies, increasing the number of butterfly species higher than previously thought.
"This project advances biodiversity research by providing an evolutionary foundation for a very diverse group of insects, with nearly 160,000 described species," said Akito Kawahara, lead author and assistant curator of Lepidoptera at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. "With a tree, we can now understand how the majority of butterfly and moth species evolved."
Available online and to be published in the August print edition of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, the study builds the evolutionary framework for future ecological and genetics research of insects, Kawahara said.
"There is a DNA revolution taking place," Kawahara said. "This is an important time in the history of science when we can use DNA sequencing on a very large scale."
Kawahara said the yearlong study is one of the first to utilize a massive amount of genetic data to answer questions about the history of butterflies and moths. The analysis reveals monumental discoveries about the lineage of Lepidoptera, including strongly contradicting the traditional placement of butterflies in evolutionary history, Kawahara said.
Using next-generation sequencing, a method used to rapidly process large amounts of DNA, scientists developed an initial sample of 46 species that represent many of the most bio diverse groups of moths and butterflies. They also combined 33 new transcriptomes, a set of RNA molecules, with 13 genomes, both of which hold genetic material for organisms. The researchers identified 2,696 genes by breaking down the DNA down and piecing it back together, Kawahara said.
Daniel Rubinoff, entomologist and director of the University of Hawaii Insect Museum, said the new study will help scientists conclusively pinpoint where butterflies belong in evolutionary history -- a question that has long troubled researchers.
"This study adds to a growing body of knowledge by bringing new techniques to the table and conclusively demonstrating the evolutionary relationships of the most popular insects on the planet," Rubinoff said. "The methods are novel and build on previous work. This is clearly the future of deep-level evolutionary research."
The wispy, delicate nature of butterflies and moths is part of their charm, but their soft-bodied larval stages have posed a problem for scientists studying them in the fossil record. In the current study, scientists aimed to better understand an evolutionary history that morphological analysis and the fossil record has fallen short of firmly establishing, said Jesse Breinholt, co-author and a postdoctoral researcher with the Florida Museum.
"The few Lepidoptera fossils we have are from about 15 million years ago," Breinholt said. "The next step is to create a dated evolutionary history for the group, from the earliest ancestors to present day."
Previous research based on anatomical features hypothesized that butterflies are close relatives of large moths, but the new tree suggests butterflies are more closely related to small (micro) moths, Kawahara said. The study also suggests butterflies are the ancestral group to the tens of thousands of moth species on the planet, and the Hedylidae family, commonly known as American butterfly-moths, were dismissed as moths and found to be true butterflies.
The tree also provides a baseline to test whether diurnal, or daytime, activity, a common butterfly trait, evolved much earlier than scientists previously believed, possibly at a time when bats' spread across the planet, as a means of escaping these and other nocturnal predators, Kawahara said.
Future research will investigate the causes of evolutionary transitions, such as diurnal activity, across Lepidoptera. Breinholt said although the new tree clarifies our understanding of butterfly and moth relationships, many lineages still need to be examined.
"I hope this is a starting point for larger studies that account for the great diversity of Lepidoptera," Breinholt said.
A. Y. Kawahara, J. W. Breinholt. Phylogenomics provides strong evidence for relationships of butterflies and moths. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2014; 281 (1788): 20140970 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2014.0970 Butterflies. Credit: © andrey7777777 / Fotolia
New hope for powdery mildew resistant barley
July 25, 2014 - New research at the University of Adelaide has opened the way for the development of new lines of barley with resistance to powdery mildew. In Australia, annual barley production is second only to wheat with 7-8 million tonnes a year. Powdery mildew is one of the most important diseases of barley.
Senior Research Scientist Dr Alan Little and team have discovered the composition of special growths on the cell walls of barley plants that block the penetration of the fungus into the leaf.
The research, by the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls in the University's School of Agriculture, Food and Wine in collaboration with the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research in Germany, will be presented at the upcoming 5th International Conference on Plant Cell Wall Biology and published in the journal New Phytologist.
"Powdery mildew is a significant problem wherever barley is grown around the world," says Dr Little. "Growers with infected crops can expect up to 25% reductions in yield and the barley may also be downgraded from high quality malting barley to that of feed quality, with an associated loss in market value.
"In recent times we've seen resistance in powdery mildew to the class of fungicide most commonly used to control the disease in Australia. Developing barley with improved resistance to the disease is therefore even more important."
The discovery means researchers have new targets for breeding powdery mildew resistant barley lines.
"Powdery mildew feeds on the living plant," says Dr Little. "The fungus spore lands on the leaf and sends out a tube-like structure which punches its way through cell walls, penetrating the cells and taking the nutrients from the plant. The plant tries to stop this penetration by building a plug of cell wall material - a papillae - around the infection site. Effective papillae can block the penetration by the fungus.
"It has long been thought that callose is the main polysaccharide component of papilla. But using new techniques, we've been able to show that in the papillae that block fungal penetration, two other polysaccharides are present in significant concentrations and play a key role.
"It appears that callose acts like an initial plug in the wall but arabinoxylan and cellulose fill the gaps in the wall and make it much stronger."
In his PhD project, Jamil Chowdhury showed that effective papillae contained up to four times the concentration of callose, arabinoxylan and cellulose as cell wall plugs which didn't block penetration.
"We can now use this knowledge find ways of increasing these polysaccharides in barley plants to produce more resistant lines available for growers," says Dr Little.
The above story is based on materials provided by University of Adelaide. Photo: A scanning electron microscope image of a fungal haustorium (Blumeria graminis f. sp. hordei) taken from inside the barley epidermal cell. Credit: Jamil Chowdhury
Sydney’s new public sculptures are good for the collective noodle - 30 July 2014
OPINION: Sydney’s Lord Mayor Clover Moore has turned me into a milk crate acolyte. Driving to work this morning, I screeched to a stop by the side of the road. Why? There was a blue milk crate lying in the gutter. Discarded. Disdained. Rest assured, the revered blue plastic object has been safely deposited in my boot.
As of 8.45pm Monday July 28, the imaginative significance of the humble milk crate changed for ever.
At that late hour, City of Sydney Council ratified the Public Art Advisory Panel’s decision to commission three major public sculptures, one of which is Hany Armanious’ enlarged blue milk crate to be installed at Belmore Park.
The remaining two works are by Japanese artist Junya Ishigami – an arch dubbed the space noodle – and British artist Tracey Emin.
Over the next three to five years, the works will be installed in Sydney’s increasingly cosmopolitan city centre. When I spoke to Director of Design at Sydney City Council Bridget Smyth yesterday, she told me that the art brief was to address the topographical urban design challenges of moving east-west from the Botanical Gardens to the western Harbour and Barangaroo.
The potential improvement to “the experience of this short walk needed to be enunciated” and affirmed in the artists’ tender proposals. The selection was made by an eminent team of Smyth, along with art consultant Barbara Flynn and four of the Art Advisory Panel members, comprising Lisa Havilah, Anne Loxley, Janet Laurence and Richard Johnson.
The panel no doubt expected a degree of public outrage over the total A$7.7M price tag. After all, arts budgets, in our current neoliberal and economic rationalist climate, are often thought of as a guilty retail pleasure.
The tender is over, the cash is allocated, the artists are commissioned. What about education and health, I hear you cry? Should they not be priorities over art? The effects of public spaces on population morale and well-being, not to mention tourist dollars, have been well researched.
I foresee that this current public sculpture debate will bloom, then quickly dwindle, leaving us the great “mental health pleasure” of experiencing art – as a community.
So what do we all think about the individual chosen works?
In light of the number of electronic or digital-screen works being installed around the Broadway/ Sydney University inner city precinct (such as Jennifer Turpin’s “halo” light sculpture on Jean Nouvel’s Broadway building and an imminent work by John Tonkin on City Road), it is interesting that the three works chosen have a Modernist-inspired materiality.
Junya Ishigami’s “noodle doodle” Cloud Arch (pictured above), over George St and totalling A$3.5M, refers to computational networks and flows of data information but is also a formalist, gestural mark: a line drawing in the sky.
The light rail will pass underneath its drawn form. In an email to me, art consultant Barbara Flynn wrote:
Permanence allows people to develop familiarity over time and in some cases deep attachments with works of art. The larger context is Council’s championing of public art and the creation of opportunities for artists citywide.
Hany Armanious’ A$1.7M blue milk crate in Belmore Park, near Central Sydney, refers to the history of the found object, the Duchampian re-purposing of readymade things, made aesthetic by its site-specific reinterpretation. By exaggerating the scale to 15x15x14 metres, Armanious’ cast fiberglass pavilion will introduce the Gothic arched forms of cathedral architecture.
In a phone interview with me, Armanious said, “I am absolutely thrilled. This is a permanent public work … moving into the future".
As to the logistics of his project and what some may interpret as a hefty price tag, there will be major engineering issues, as his sculpture is to be installed over a light rail tunnel. The proposed work is currently the subject of controversy as Melbourne artist Jarrad Kennedy alleges it is a copy of one of his own works.
Emin in Sydney
What about the Tracey Emin work?
We all remember her as one of Charles Saatchi’s Turner Prize “art brat-pack". Her installation, My Bed, 1998 (above) which recently sold for £2.2M, an unmade bed with used condoms, suggested sexual and sleep narratives.
For me, despite this new A$2.1M work’s romantic title, With your thoughts in mind, the distance of your heart, it is the weakest of the three concepts. Bronzed little birds, placed here and there, along the East-west city corridor, sounds a little lame and too crafty.
Many commercial shop windows have recently sported a bird-cage or mock birds tweeting. But Director of Design, Smyth, counters that the 60 cast bronze birds fulfilled the design brief and will function “as a treasure hunt”, leading the public pedestrians along a “spatial sequence” in that east-west corridor.
Hopefully, kids will soon make Ishigami Cloud shapes with their dinner-time spaghetti, the big blue milk crate might bring soap-box politics back to the city centre and Emin’s Sydney reputation will sing anew.
I suspect the blue milk crate, a reflection of Australian humour and “make-do mentality,” will become a distinctly iconic Sydney image in the years to come.
Prudence Gibson is a teaching fellow in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at UNSW. This opinion piece was first published in The Conversation.
9th Aug 2014 - 2pm - 4pm
Come and join us for a couple of hours and meet some of our local wildlife rescuers from Sydney Wildlife and their scaly animal friends.
Looking for something fun and educational that the whole family can be a part of? Fancy getting up close and personal with a few scaly critters? Then this event's for you!!
The Northern Beaches is home to m any species of snakes and reptiles. Find out what some of these species are and where they are likely to be found. Bring along your questions for our reptile specialists.
Don't forget to bring your camera for some happy snaps with our reptile friends.
Where: Meet point provided on booking. Cost: Free! Bookings Essential! Online. In person: Coastal Environment Centre, Lake Park Road, North Narrabeen. Phone: 1300 000 232 (Reception - Option 1)
Irrawong Reserve Community Planting Day - 16th Aug 2014 - 1pm - 4pm
Come along to the beautiful Ingleside Chase Reserve and help the Irrawong Reserve Bushcare Group
Join the Irrawong Reserve Bushcare group in the idyllic surrounds of Ingleside Chase Reserve for an afternoon of bushland restoration and planting native tubestock, and help support one of the largest Bushcare projects hosted by the Pittwater Environmental Foundation and Pittwater Council.
This project is funded by a $250,000 grant from the NSW Environmental Trust, and offers residents the chance to explore this little known and picturesque reserve, rich in native wildlife and habitat for rare and threatened species such as the Powerful Owl, Regent Honeyeater and Giant Burrowing Frog.
Tools, training and a delicious afternoon tea provided!
Where: Walking track entrance at the end of Irrawong Road. Parking available along Irrawong Road, North Narrabeen.
For more information please contact Council's Bushcare Officer on 9970 1367 or email email@example.com.
Wongala Avenue Planting Day
23rd Aug 2014 - 9am - 12pm
Help us continue the wonderful efforts by local residents during the March event! Local residents are invited to take part in a series of events to assist the Deep Creek Riparian Ecosystem Catchment Project. The grant funding is from Greater Sydney Local Land Services and will support bush regeneration, habitat creation and riparian restoration within Deep Creek, Bilarong Reserve and the Elanora Bushcare site. Come along and help us restore the natural habitat of the Deep Creek Catchment Area!
Where: Meet at the end of the public right of way at the end of Wongala Avenue, Elanora Heights.
Morning tea, tools and training provided. Free native plants will also be on offer for Elanora residents!
For more information contact the Bushcare Officer on 9970 1367 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Bush to Bay Walk
24th Aug 2014 - 9am - 11am
Come and join us for a relaxing morning walk taking in the beautiful views and coastal bushland of Pittwater. This walk takes in one of Pittwater's largest bushland reserves on its coastal clifftop. Together with the great variety of native plants in the reserve and beautiful ocean views it is a haven for bushwalkers and wildlife alike. Small animals including the long-nosed bandidcoot and elusive gecko shelter in rock overhangs and crevices, or in dead logs in the eucalypt forest.
Where: Meet point provided upon booking.
Cost: Free! Bookings Essential! Online. In person: Coastal Environment Centre, Lake Park Road, North Narrabeen Phone: 1300 000 232 (Reception - Option 1)
Bilarong Foreshore Walk and Field Day
31st Aug 2014 - 9am - 12pm
Come along and help us restore the natural habitat of the Deep Creek Catchment area!
Join us for a guided walk and bird talk in Bilarong Reserve along the foreshore of Narrabeen Lagoon through to Deep Creek, lend a hand with some weeding/planting and enjoy a scrumptious morning tea at the Deep Creek picnic area!
Where: Bilarong Reserve, end of turning circle near gates.
For more information contact Council's Bushcare Officer on 9970 1367 or email email@example.com.
Bird Watching with Pittwater Natural Heritage Association (PNHA)
Come Birdwatching with us Sunday July 6, Warriewood Wetlands, one of Sydney's premier bird spots. Book thru firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunday Birdwatching with PNHA
Would you like to know more about local birds? Our guides can help you see and hear them in these wonderful bushland reserves, and learn about their lives.
Our birdwalks start about 7.30 and end about 10am. Bring Binoculars and some morning tea for afterwards if you like. Older children welcome.
21 September Deep Creek, off Wakehurst Parkway
16 November Irrawong Reserve, Warriewood
Contact us to book and get details of each birdwalk.
Email email@example.com or ph: 0439 409 202/0402 605 721
New WIRES Wildlife Rescue App
This morning we launched our new WIRES Wildlife Rescue App!
Download the free Rescue App to your smart phone or tablet to get access to wildlife advice and rescue assistance from the WIRES Rescue Team 7 days a week. You can find download details athttp://bit.ly/1oLQmOd
You can report rescues of sick, injured or orphaned wildlife directly from the app and have instant access to the most commonly needed information to help native animals in distress.
Visit the Apple store or Google Play store to download our the WIRES Wildlife Rescue App now. More information and links at http://bit.ly/1oLQmOd
2014 Australasian Bird Fair - Australasia’s first Bird Fair
The 2014 Australasian Bird Fair will be the first large-scale bird and wildlife event of its kind in Australasia. The Fair is a response to the need to raise awareness of the plight of so many bird species which are in peril across the Australasian region. All profits from the bird fair will go to bird conservation.
The Australasian Bird Fair will have something for everyone!
What is a Habitat Stepping Stone?
A habitat is an animal’s surrounding physical environment. All animals, from the smallest bug to the largest mammal (including us), need certain things within their habitat to survive and to thrive. By providing the types of food, water and shelter that benefit local wildlife, you can create a habitat link between the existing wildlife corridors in your area. Over half of Australia's threatened species and ecosystems occur within the urban fringe, and Ku-ring-gai is home to 12 threatened animal species and 18 threatened plants.
Different animals need different habitat elements. A kookaburra needs a high branch from which to scout for food, while small birds such as finches and fairy-wrens need dense and prickly shrubs in which to hide. Plants and animals need each other for survival, so it’s important that our urban areas support a large range of birds, bees, butterflies, frogs, lizards, mammals and more. The greater the variety of Food, Water and Shelterelements you have in your garden, the more native wildlife you will help.
The habitat elements on this website have been chosen for the Ku-ring-gai area of Sydney, but many would suitable elsewhere in Australia.
If you pledge to add at least three elements to your place, you can create your very own habitat stepping stone. There are 60 to choose from, so go ahead – be creative!
PARKS, PEOPLE, PLANET: AWE-INSPIRING PICTURES
Rob Stokes MP Minister for the Environment Minister for Heritage Minister for the Central Coast Assistant Minister for Planning
Nature lovers from across the world are invited to submit photos for a photography competition to showcase the beauty and importance of national parks.
Environment Minister Rob Stokes said the competition is a celebration of the crucial role national parks play in sustaining the health of our planet. The photos will be on exhibition during the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney during November.
"The Saved photography competition encourages professional and amateur photographers, as well as Instagram lovers, to get out and about in our national parks and start snapping,” Rob Stokes said.
“NSW has some of the most diverse and awe-inspiring landscapes in the world. We are surrounded by beaches, wilderness and world heritage areas.
"We want to see what places you love to visit and the parks, animals and people living or working in the places that inspire you.”
“National parks not only conserve many threatened species but contribute to global food and water supplies and provide clean air, medicine and jobs for millions of people around the world.”
The competition categories are:
• Parks: images and stories about national parks of the world;
• People: images and stories about the interaction between people and nature; and
• Planet: images and stories about the sustainable use of natural resources in protected areas including the conservation of habitats and species.
Entries are due by 30 September and the winning pictures will be on display at the IUCN World Parks Congress to be held from 12 - 19 November in Sydney.
Fondly referred to as "Nature's Olympics" the event will bring together 160 countries and global experts from organisations including UNESCO, the United Nations Environment Program and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
You can submit photos via the competition websitewww.wpcsaved.com
For the latest on all the great things to do and see in NSW National Parks, including all things whales during the whale-watching season, sign up for our enewsletter Naturescapes. Click here to sign up http://bit.ly/SE58IX
Think before you print ; A kilo of recycled paper creates around 1.8 kilograms of carbon emissions, without taking into account the emissions produced from transporting the paper. So, before you send a document to print, think about how many kilograms of carbon emissions you could save by reading it on screen.
.....all that students are eager to know ! BOTANY online discovers the world of the internet for teaching. We invite all of you, especially all those botanists, biologists, computer scientists, teachers and students out there to contribute. BOTANY online is open for all kinds of changes and supplements ....your participation keeps it alive! Botany Online CONTENTS PAGE Above, from this website: Puffinus puffinus - Manx petrel Puffinus griseus - Dark PetrelNaumann, NATURAL HISTORY OF BIRDS OF CENTRAL EUROPE: Volume XII, Table 4 - Gera, 1903.
"I bind myself today to the power of Heaven, the light of the sun, the brightness of the moon, the splendour of fire, the flashing of lightning, the swiftness of wind, the depth of the sea, the stability of the earth, the compactness of rocks." - from the Prayer of Saint Patrick
Citizen scientists to help save Murray River turtles - 29 July 2014
Saving the turtles in the nation's biggest river, the Murray-Darling, requires a big effort – one that crosses the boundaries of universities and industry and scientists and citizens.
Zoologist Dr Ricky Spencer is leading a new research project that brings together scientists, Traditional Owners, non-government organisations and local community groups across three states in a unique Australian Research Council funded project to arrest the decline in freshwater turtles.
"Turtles play an essential role in the Murray and other river systems eating algae, dead material and keeping feral carp in check. They help to maintain the clean water that other animals, including humans, need to survive," says Dr Spencer, from the UWS School of Science and Health.
"A collapse in turtle numbers in any river would be a problem but in the 2,508km Murray River it could devastate the natural landscape and the economy of a vast area of South Eastern Australia."
A recently announced $435,000 ARC Linkage grant will support the new project to identify and quantify the causes of falling turtle numbers along the whole river system. The results will be used to develop practical management options to halt the decline.
Dr Spencer says the unique collaborative approach to save the Murray River turtles is necessary because of the shear scale of the River, the complexity of the ecosystem and the variety of potential threats to turtles.
This will be the first river-wide study of turtles, achieved by combining cutting-edge genetic and ecological techniques with a citizen science program.
Dr Spencer is calling on communities along the Murray to join the study.
"No one knows the Murray better than the people in the river townships. Their local knowledge will be invaluable to the project. It's envisaged people will be able to join locally managed field expeditions to gather crucial information on turtle numbers, their breeding and behaviour."
The Murray River project is another example of the growing importance of citizen science in turtle research.
Earlier this year Dr Spencer launched the TurtleSAT app, which gives everyone with a smart phone or tablet the ability to contribute to turtle research. The simple app allows users to log turtle sightings anywhere in Australia. Researchers are using the data, including GPS locations, to build a complete picture of freshwater turtles in Australia.
The Murray River project lead by Dr Spencer and the University of Western Sydney is funded by an Australian Research Council Linkage grant and includes these research partner organisations: Winton Wetlands Committee of Management Incorporated, Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment, Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation, North Central Catchment Management Authority, Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife, and Save Lake Bonney Group Inc.
Photo: Sally Tsoutas More HERE
Coal seam gas emissions lower than US: first Australian study - August 1st, 2014 - By Damian Barrett and Stuart Day
One of the most common questions Australians ask about coal seam gas is whether the gas wells leak – and if so, how much?
In the first Australian study of its kind, new CSIRO research now gives an indication of how much those “fugitive emissions” might be, and how we can start to reduce them.
Commissioned by the federal Department of the Environment and now published on its website, the pilot study measured emissions around 43 coal seam gas production wells – six in New South Wales and 37 in Queensland – out of the more than 5000 wells currently operating around Australia. The results reveal that:
nearly all of the 43 wells tested showed some fugitive emissions;the emissions rates were very low (in most cases less than 3 grams of methane per minute – equivalent to methane emissions from around 30 cows); in many cases, those emissions could be reduced or even stopped entirely; and the average measured levels from the Australian wells were 20 times lower than reported in a study of fugitive emissions from US unconventional gas sites, published last year in the leading international journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
In Australia, fugitive emissions from coal mining, oil and gas production account for about 8% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Although those fugitive emissions are estimated and reported under the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Act, there has often been a high degree of uncertainty associated with these estimates in Australia – particularly from coal seam gas production.
That’s why this new research is important, as it offers a first indication of fugitive emissions from coal seam gas under Australian conditions.
The report found a particular type of pressure regulator installed at many wells was a common source of methane leakage.
The report’s results
Our new report, Field Measurements of Fugitive Emissions from Equipment and Well Casings in Australian Coal Seam Gas Production Facilities, shows that of the 43 wells studied, three had no detectable leaks.
Of the rest, 37 wells emitted less than 3 grams of methane per minute, and 19 of those showed very low emission of less than 0.5 grams of methane per minute.
However, at a few wells (6 of the 43) much higher emissions rates were detected, with one well registering emissions 15 times higher than the study average. That was found to be mainly due to methane discharging from a vent on a water line.
On closer scrutiny, some of the leaks were due to faulty seals on equipment and pumps, which could be easily fixed, while other emissions were associated with exhaust from gas-fuelled engines used to power water pumps that are not regarded as “fugitive” emissions.
We tested for emissions using a four-wheel-drive fitted with a methane analyser. The car made several passes downwind from the well to measure total emissions emanating from the site.
To ensure that other potential methane sources, such as cattle, were not inadvertently included, similar measurements were made upwind of each test site. We also took a series of measurements at each well to locate sources and measure emission rates.
Why worry about fugitive emissions?
Fugitive emissions occur when methane escapes from production facilities, wells, pipes, compressors and other equipment associated with coal mining or natural gas extraction. Other human induced methane emissions occur through grazing of domestic stock, agricultural production and from landfills.
In nature, methane is released from geological sources and biological processes occurring in wetlands, swamps, rivers and dams. About 15% of human emissions of methane are derived from fossil fuels.
While burning gas for energy has lower greenhouse gas emissions compared to other fossil fuels like coal, methane has a global warming impact at least 25 times that of carbon dioxide (when measured over a 100 year period).
Even small losses of methane during gas production, processing and distribution have the potential to reduce the relative greenhouse benefit of natural gas as a fuel for electricity production.
Fugitive emissions can be costly for the coal seam gas industry because escaping gas represents a loss of a valuable commodity.
What’s next for CSG emissions research?
These new findings from 43 wells are a good start, but they are clearly only the beginning, given that represents fewer than 1% of Australia’s coal seam gas wells. More measurements are required to representatively sample the remaining 99% of wells before we can make definitive statements about methane fugitive emissions in Australia.
CSIRO scientists, through the Gas Industry Social & Environmental Research Alliance (GISERA), are undertaking further research into methane emissions in Australia including understanding the natural or background emissions of methane that come from seeps in the ground in Queensland’s Surat Basin.
This research aims to identify background sources of methane and determine the best detection and measurement methods.
Results from measuring naturally occurring methane seepage, as well as the results of this new report and others, will add to the bigger picture of assessing the coal seam gas industry’s whole of life cycle greenhouse gas emission footprint. Most importantly, we hope they will provide more answers to Australians’ question about coal seam gas.
This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Coastal Environment Centre
The Coastal Environment Centre (CEC) is a multi-award winning regional community environmental learning centre, and Pittwater Council's environmental flagship. CEC is celebrating its 20th year this December
More at: www.pittwater.nsw.gov.au/cec
Monthly Cooee Newsletter below. If you would like to receive Council's environmental newsletter via email, please firstname.lastname@example.org
August 2014 Cooee Newsletter includes information on: BushCare Planting Activities (volunteers needed), Workshops and Events, and great articles HERE
Souvenir of Sydney by NFSA - Published on 28 Jul 2014
Made by The National Film Board 1954. A brief trip around Sydney in 1954. The sights and sounds that the visitor might experience and the lifestyle of the locals.
Famine in the Horn of Africa (1984) was caused by El Nino and currents in the Indian Ocean
July 29, 2014 - Oceanic patterns are important drivers of climatic variability. There is a clear link between periods of drought in the North Ethiopian Highlands and oceanic phases of El Nino, the Indian Ocean Dipole and the Southwestern Monsoons. In order to demonstrate these links, PhD student Sil Lanckriet (Department of Geography, Ghent University) analyzed weather data since the 1950s, as delivered from a meteorological computer model. He used a procedure known as 'empirical orthogonal teleconnection analysis' (EOT). According to Piet Termonia of the Royal Meteorological Institute, such statistical techniques are a clear step forward, since they allow linking oceanic patterns across the planet with the climatic situation at a particular location on Earth's surface.
Probability for new droughts
For his PhD, Sil Lanckriet is studying climatic fluctuations in Ethiopia over the past centuries, as well as their impact on periods of drought and processes of soil erosion. His study area is located in Korem, the place written in our collective memory by several BBC documentaries, Live Aid and by the pictures of Sebastião Salgado. His promoters Jan Nyssen and Amaury Frankl are well acquainted with the area. They even relocated the exact locations of the pictures and documentaries that were world news at the time. "Our research experience in Ethiopia shows that it is certainly possible that a similar drought will occur again, but this time it will probably not lead to a famine as in 1984. The Ethiopians have been very active on matters such as reforestation and soil and water conservation. We could prove that the land is now much less vulnerable for the occurrence of droughts."
Enyew Adgo (Bahir Dar University) points out that East African meteorological agencies are well aware of the interactions between the Ethiopian weather and fluctuations of El Niño in the Pacific Ocean. The researchers show that similar patterns in the Indian Ocean should be incorporated by the meteorological models, in order to improve the prediction power of systems for Famine Early Warning.
Sil Lanckriet, Amaury Frankl, Enyew Adgo, Piet Termonia, And Jan Nyssen. Droughts related to quasi-global oscillations: a diagnostic teleconnection analysis in North Ethiopia.International Journal of Climatology, 2014 DOI:10.1002/joc.4074
Above: Famine in the Horn of Africa (1984) was caused by El Niño and currents in the Indian Ocean. Credit: Image courtesy of Ghent University
Health papers published this week:
New leads for liver disease treatments: Strict genomic partitioning by biological clock separates key metabolic functions
July 31, 2014 - Much of the liver's metabolic function is governed by circadian rhythms - our own body clock - and UC Irvine researchers have now found two independent mechanisms by which this occurs. The study, published online today in Cell, reveals new information about the body clock's sway over metabolism and points the way to more focused drug treatments for liver disease and such metabolic disorders as obesity and diabetes.
Paolo Sassone-Corsi, UCI's Donald Bren Professor of Biological Chemistry, and postdoctoral scholar Selma Masri report that two of these circadian-linked proteins, SIRT1 and SIRT6, manage important liver processes - lipid storage and energy usage in liver cells - separately and distinctly from each other.
This surprising discovery of genomic partitioning, Masri noted, reveals how strictly regulated circadian control of metabolism can be.
"The ability of the genome and epigenome to cross-talk with metabolic pathways is critical for cellular and organismal functions. What's remarkable is that the circadian clock is intimately involved in this dialogue," she said.
Circadian rhythms of 24 hours govern fundamental physiological functions in virtually all organisms. The circadian clocks are intrinsic time-tracking systems in our bodies that anticipate environmental changes and adapt themselves to the appropriate time of day. Changes to these rhythms can profoundly influence human health. Up to 15 percent of people's genes are regulated by the day-night pattern of circadian rhythms; nearly 50 percent of those involved with metabolic pathways in the liver are influenced by these rhythms.
SIRT1 and SIRT6 belong to a group of proteins called sirtuins that participate in epigenetic control of the genome and help regulate important biological processes ranging from cell health maintenance to lipid storage and energy expenditure in cells. They're widely studied for their effect on metabolism and longevity.
To discover how SIRT1 and SIRT6 work independently of each other, Masri and Sassone-Corsi conducted tests with two sets of mice - one with SIRT1 in the liver knocked out and the other with SIRT6 nullified.
The two sirtuins, the scientists learned, are committed to the control of distinct genomic domains, with hundreds of genes being SIRT1-dependent and hundreds of others relying on SIRT6. This resulted in a distinct partition of metabolic pathways and physiological functions, Sassone-Corsi said.
He added that these findings pave the way to further investigations that may facilitate the design of pharmacological strategies targeting SIRT1- or SIRT6-specific metabolic functions and pathologies.
Selma Masri, Paul Rigor, Marlene Cervantes, Nicholas Ceglia, Carlos Sebastian, Cuiying Xiao, Manuel Roqueta-Rivera, Chuxia Deng, Timothy F. Osborne, Raul Mostoslavsky, Pierre Baldi, Paolo Sassone-Corsi. Partitioning Circadian Transcription by SIRT6 Leads to Segregated Control of Cellular Metabolism.Cell, 2014; 158 (3): 659 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2014.06.050
Do your stem cells sound like cancer? While-you-wait, non-invasive cancer diagnosis by converting stem cell data into sound
July 29, 2014 - Converting stem cell data into sounds could enable GPs to make instant, non-invasive cancer diagnoses during a routine check-up. With waiting times for cancer tests at a six-year high, this could significantly reduce the agonising and potentially life-threatening wait for patients and improve U.K. government waiting time targets.* A recent study shows how data sonification (where data is conveyed as audio signals as opposed to visual illustrations such as graphs) can improve standard techniques currently used in spectroscopy stem cell analysis. What could this mean for cancer diagnostics?
Traditional diagnosis might involve taking a biopsy, sending it to the lab and waiting for the results. It is invasive and can take weeks. In the future, GPs could use audio feedback devices to diagnose certain types of cancer on the spot by scanning a patient to detect specific sound signals. With instant medical feedback, a GP can make a fast, more confident diagnosis and react immediately.
When removing cancerous tissues, even a small amount left behind can be dangerous. By listening to data in a patient's body via an audio diagnostic tool or probe, a surgeon is more likely to spot remaining cancerous cells than by visual inspection alone. This provides another layer of assistance and leaves the surgeon's eyes free to focus on the operation. This is likely to reduce surgery time and improve the probability of all cancerous tissue being removed.
Current spectroscopy methods involve firing light from a laser into cells and observing how it reacts. However, analysing the results and determining healthy cells from cancer cells typically involves the use of computational pattern analysis and assigning the cell type by eye, which is time consuming and allows no real-time feedback.
By classifying this data into audio signals, it is easier to differentiate between different types of cell, improving accuracy and allowing researchers to search through large volumes of data very quickly.
The preliminary study was launched recently at the 20th International Conference on Auditory Display. It is a collaboration between GÉANT, the pan-European research and education network; Birmingham City University and the University of Central Lancashire.
Ryan Stables, a researcher for the School of Digital Media Technology in Birmingham who lead the study said: "This method of identifying cancerous cells is similar to that of using a metal detector. It allows you to identify the characteristics of cancer in real-time, which we hope could have life-changing implications for patients through the development of better diagnostic tools.
We are now looking at using different types of data and are hopeful the research could be used for treating other physical diseases, not just cancer."
Domenico Vicinanza, Product Manager at GÉANT was responsible for the sonification, a process which often requires the use of high-speed networks to distribute large volumes of data between research teams and computing resources. He said:
"Part of my role at GÉANT is to explore new ways for representing data and discovery through the use of high-speed networks. This study is a great opportunity to assist a potentially life-enhancing project addressing one of society's biggest challenges.
"From a practical point of view, listening to a single sound for a prolonged period of time can be pretty hard on the ears, so I was keen to ensure the sounds were bearable and perceptually interesting."
* Government waiting time targets for treating cancer patients in England and Wales.
• No more than 2 months wait between an urgent GP referral for suspected cancer and starting treatment
• Starting treatment no more than 31 days after the meeting at which you and your doctor agree the treatment plan
The above story is based on materials provided by Birmingham City University.
Drugs used to treat lung disease work with body clock
July 27, 2014 - Scientists from The University of Manchester have discovered why medication to treat asthma and pneumonia can become ineffective. The findings, published in Nature Medicine, show that drugs widely used to treat lung diseases work with the body clock.
In the UK pneumonia, which is caused by an infection, affects around 1 in 1000 adults each year and is more serious for babies, young children, the elderly, smokers and those with an underlying health condition.
More than 5 million people in the UK are affected by asthma and the NHS spends around £1 billion a year treating and caring for people with the disease.
The research, led by Professors David Ray and Andrew Loudon from The University of Manchester, found out that cells lining the lung airways have their own body clock which is the time-keeper for lung inflammation - both conditions cause swelling (inflammation) in the lungs.
And the team discovered that more severe lung inflammation happens as a result of the loss of the body clock working in these cells.
Professor Loudon said: "We found a key molecule known as CXCL5 that facilitates lung inflammation which is a key regulator of how immune cells get into tissues. The loss of CXCL5 completely prevents the time of day regulation of lung inflammation which opens up new ways to treat lung diseases."
During the research, the team uncovered how glucocorticoid hormones from the adrenal gland are vital in controlling the level of inflammation in the cells lining the airway.
Professor Ray said: "This hormone works through the glucocorticoid receptor, a major regulator of gene expression. We wanted to find out therefore if glucocorticoid medicines, like prednisolone or dexamethasone would also show a time of day effect, and our research shows they do."
The team concluded that the rhythm of the clock in the lining of the cells in the lungs is important for lung diseases like asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Professor Loudon said: "In this work we define a major circadian control on lung inflammation which affects responses to bacterial infection, or pneumonia. We know that many lung diseases indeed show a strong time of day effect, including asthma, and deaths from pneumonia."
Our bodies anticipate the change from day to night by having an internal, or circadian clock.
This explains why it is hard to adjust to shift work. The body clock regulates sleep, but now has been discovered to also regulate our immune system.
"We live in a world that is divided into day and night. As a result our behaviour varies by time of day; we sleep at night, and are active, and eat during the day. Increasingly our lives are disconnected from this ancient rhythm, with artificial light, shift work, and jet lag," concluded Professor Ray.
Julie Gibbs, Louise Ince, Laura Matthews, Junjie Mei, Thomas Bell, Nan Yang, Ben Saer, Nicola Begley, Toryn Poolman, Marie Pariollaud, Stuart Farrow, Francesco DeMayo, Tracy Hussell, G Scott Worthen, David Ray, Andrew Loudon. An epithelial circadian clock controls pulmonary inflammation and glucocorticoid action.Nature Medicine, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/nm.3599
Natural products from plants protect skin during cancer radiotherapy
July 24, 2014 - Radiotherapy for cancer involves exposing the patient or their tumor more directly to ionizing radiation, such as gamma rays or X-rays. The radiation damages the cancer cells irreparably. Unfortunately, such radiation is also harmful to healthy tissue, particularly the skin over the site of the tumor, which is then at risk of hair loss, dermatological problems and even skin cancer. As such finding ways to protect the overlying skin are keenly sought. Writing in the International Journal of Low Radiation, Faruck Lukmanul Hakkim of the University of Nizwa, Oman and Nagasaki University, Nagasaki, Japan, and colleagues there and at Macquarie University, New South Wales, Australia, Bharathiar University, India and Konkuk University, South Korea, explain how three ubiquitous and well-studied natural products derived from plants can protect the skin against gamma radiation during radiotherapy.
Hakkim and colleagues discuss the benefits of the organic, antioxidant compounds caffeic acid (CA), rosmarinic acid (RA) and trans-cinnamic acid (TCA) used at non-toxic concentrations. They tested the radio protective effect of these compounds against gamma-radiation in terms of reducing levels of reactive oxygen species generated in skin cells by clinical relevance dose of gamma ray in the laboratory and in terms of the damage to the genetic material DNA, specifically double strand breaks in laboratory samples of human skin cells (keratinocytes). They found that treating the human skin cells with CA, RA and TCA can protected the cells by 40, 20 and 15 percent respectively from gamma ray toxicity. They suggest that the protective effect arises because the compounds mop up the reactive oxygen species and chemically deactivate them as well as enhancing the body's natural DNA repair mechanisms.
The team suggests that these compounds might best be used as skin protectants during combination chemo- and radio-therapy. Further work is under way to investigate the clinical potential of mixtures of the three natural products.
Lukmanul Hakkim, F., Miura, M., Matsuda, N., Alharassi, A.S., Guillemin, G., Yamauchi, M., Arivazhagan, G. and Song, H. An in vitro evidence for caffeic acid, rosmarinic acid and trans cinnamic acid as a skin protectant against -radiation.Int. J. Low Radiation, Vol. 9, No. 4, pp.305-316
New concerns over top-selling blood thinning drug after investigation
July 24, 2014 - An investigation by The BMJ raises new concerns about a top-selling blood thinning drug and the regulatory decisions that led to its approval. The study reveals how company information about the benefits of monitoring blood levels of the drug - and how this would reduce the risk of major bleeding in patients taking the drug - was not shared with regulators. According to Thomas J. Moore, Senior Scientist at US Institute for Safe Medication Practices, reducing bleeding "deserved to be ranked as a patient safety issue of the first order."
Company documents show how major bleeds could be reduced by 30-40% compared with well controlled warfarin (the widely used blood-thinning drug). ButThe BMJ has found that neither doctors nor regulators have ever been aware of these calculations.
Today's report also argues that new stroke prevention guidelines are based on "incomplete" evidence.
Dabigatran (Pradaxa), made by Boehringer Ingelheim, is one of the 'new oral anticoagulants' that prevent strokes in patients with irregular heart rhythm (known as atrial fibrillation). The condition affects around 800,000 Britons and more than 3 million Americans and raises the risk of stroke by up to five times.
It works by preventing blood from clotting and is marketed as a better alternative to warfarin because patients don't need tests to check if they have the right amount of drug in their bloodstream. A patient's blood must be thin enough to protect against stroke, but not so thin that it risks major bleeding.
Dabigatran's main benefits were documented in a single clinical trial (called RE-LY). But according to The BMJ's investigation, the regulators "had concerns about the design and oversight of the trial."
In fact, The BMJ has learned that it took three reviews of the data to calculate the number of major and fatal bleeds among trial participants and even today there are doubts if all events have been properly accounted for.
Documents obtained under freedom of information show that regulators questioned the company about the need for monitoring drug levels in the blood. But despite these concerns, dabigatran was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2010 and by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) in 2011 without the need for blood tests to check drug levels.
Once licensed, dabigatran proved a financial success, but by the end of 2011 concerns about fatal bleeds were beginning to emerge.
Documents from 2011 have revealed that the company worried about the need for monitoring and dose adjustment in high risk patients. In early 2012, the EMA asked Boehringer Ingelheim to give evidence to a specially convened expert safety committee, but the presentation did not reflect the company's concerns.
Crucially, in June 2012, a company analysis of RE-LY data showed that measuring blood dabigatran levels and adjusting the dose accordingly could reduce major bleeding events by up to 30-40% compared to well controlled warfarin.
However, Boehringer Ingelheim contest that the anti-clotting activity or blood levels of dabigatran do need to be monitored. "Our scientists determined, and the FDA concurred, that the research does not support making dosage decisions based on plasma concentrations - a conclusion based solely on science and patient welfare," a spokesperson told the The BMJ.
They added that this information was not shared because the analysis did not provide a reliable prediction of patient outcomes.
In an accompanying analysis, Thomas J. Moore and colleagues say the safety of dabigatran "can be substantially improved in both the US and EU" and they urge the manufacturer, the FDA, and EMA "to agree on a therapeutic range and recommend initial dose adjustment based on plasma measurements."
They call for the blood test to be available in the US - and for the FDA to make available the lower 110 mg strength that is approved in the EU, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia "to permit dose adjustment in high risk patients." Finally, they say regulators should recommend blood testing in all new patients, and eliminate the recommendation that dabigatran "does not in general require routine anticoagulant monitoring."
In an accompanying editorial, Rita Redberg, Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco and her colleague say today's report "illuminates a lack of transparency about the safety of unmonitored dabigatran."
They say society "must consider the trade-offs of an accelerated drug approval in terms of assurance of safety and effectiveness" and call for "a more transparent process of data collection and review that would make important clinical data available without waiting for litigation and subpoenas."
They acknowledge that society benefits when novel treatments are promptly brought to market, particularly in diseases with no alternative treatments, but conclude that "more methodological rigor prior to regulatory approval and careful and accessible post marketing surveillance can better inform patient care and allow us to recognize a truly novel therapy."
T. J. Moore, M. R. Cohen, D. R. Mattison. Dabigatran, bleeding, and the regulators.BMJ, 2014; 349 (jul23 17): g4517 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.g4517
B. Charlton, R. Redberg. The trouble with dabigatran. BMJ, 2014; 349 (jul23 12): g4681 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.g4681
D. Cohen. Concerns over data in key dabigatran trial. BMJ, 2014; 349 (jul23 12): g4747 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.g4747
D. Cohen. Dabigatran: how the drug company withheld important analyses.BMJ, 2014; 349 (jul23 12): g4670 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.g4670
New oral drug regimens cure hardest-to-treat hepatitis C infected patients, could improve treatment uptake
July 28, 2014 - Two new pill-only antiviral drug regimens could provide shorter, more effective treatment options with fewer side effects for the majority of patients infected with hepatitis C, even those most difficult to treat, according to the results of two studies published in The Lancet. Both studies focused on hepatitis C genotype 1, which is the most common genotype in the USA, Europe, North Asia, Australia, and South America, and one of the most difficult to treat.
Around 150 million people worldwide have chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, a condition that is a major cause of liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. In the USA, numbers of people with HCV-related liver failure and liver cancer are expected to treble by 2030 because of low treatment rates.
Until recently, the standard of care for chronic HCV genotype 1 involved a combination of three drugs; ribavirin (RBV), pegylated interferon (PEG) and a protease inhibitor, which together inhibit viral replication and enhance the body’s immune response to eradicate the virus. These drugs can place a substantial burden on the patient, with complicated injection and pill regimens, which can involve up to 18 tablets a day and last for up to a year, and can also cause severe side effects including anaemia and depression. Direct-acting antiviral agents (DAAs) provide new opportunities for treatment whilst reducing the need for interferon and ribavirin and their potential side effects.
In the HALLMARK-DUAL phase 3 study, Professor Michael Manns from Hannover Medical School in Germany and colleagues randomly assigned 645 patients with HCV genotype 1b from 18 countries to receive a 6-month course of treatment with a pair of oral DAAs asunaprevir and daclatasvir. A further 102 treatment-naïve patients were assigned to a placebo control group. The regimen was highly effective at clearing the virus and well tolerated even in patients who have traditionally been the hardest to treat. 90% of previously untreated patients and 82% who were intolerant of, or who had been treated unsuccessfully using standard regimens, were cured. No differences in response were seen in individuals who had characteristics such as being male, older, African American race, or having advanced liver disease—that are recognised as predictors of poor response to treatment.
According to Professor Manns, “The efficacy and safety of 24 weeks of daclatasvir plus asunaprevir represents a huge improvement on the first generation of protease inhibitor based triple therapies for HCV genotype 1b infection (up to 48 weeks of boceprevir or telaprevir in combination with PEG/RBV). This new all-oral interferon and ribavirin-free combination could provide a more effective, safer, shorter, and simpler treatment option for those traditionally hard-to-cure patients with cirrhosis or those who have failed to respond to existing therapies.”
In the COSMOS study, a team of US and European researchers led by Professor Eric Lawitz from the Texas Liver Institute, University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, USA, randomly assigned 167 individuals with HCV genotype 1a and 1b to receive a 12-week or 24-week course of once-daily sofosbuvir plus simeprevir with or without ribavirin. After just 12 weeks of treatment without ribavirin, 93% of participants (including those with cirrhosis and previous non-responders to interferon-based treatment) were cured—with no detectable virus in their blood 3 months after treatment had stopped. Neither extending treatment to 24 weeks or adding ribavirin provided any clear benefit. The 12-week sofosbuvir plus simeprevir regimen was well tolerated with less than 2% of participants reporting serious adverse events or discontinuing treatment due to an adverse event.
According to Professor Lawitz, “We saw a cure rate of about 93% with only 12 weeks of treatment using an all-oral regimen that did not include interferon or ribavirin. This is especially encouraging given the high proportion of participants who had multiple characteristics traditionally associated with low cure rates including cirrhosis. This is the first trial combining two DAAs that are currently on the market and supports recent American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases/Infectious Disease Society of America (AASLD/IDSA) and the European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL) treatment recommendations.”
Writing in a linked Comment, Professor Ed Gane, Director of the New Zealand Liver Transplant Unit at Auckland City Hospital in New Zealand says, “In the future, very-short-duration, all-oral DAA regimens should improve treatment uptake and success, and reduce the health burden from liver-related complications. When combined with targeted testing and treatment of populations who transmit infection (ie, treatment as prevention), these DAA regimens might eventually eliminate HCV infection. The only barrier to achieving this goal will be the ability to access these new therapies. In many developing countries where HCV is endemic, interferon-based therapy will remain the first choice because of the high cost of DAAs and lack of reimbursement. As almost 75% of all patients with HCV infection reside in economically deprived regions of eastern Europe, Asia, and the Middle
East, consideration should be given to discounting prices in these regions.29 Eradication of HCV infection worldwide will only be achievable through universal access to HCV testing and new DAA regimens.”
Michael Manns, Stanislas Pol, Ira M Jacobson, Patrick Marcellin, Stuart C Gordon, Cheng-Yuan Peng, Ting-Tsung Chang, Gregory T Everson, Jeong Heo, Guido Gerken, Boris Yoffe, William J Towner, Marc Bourliere, Sophie Metivier, Chi-Jen Chu, William Sievert, Jean-Pierre Bronowicki, Dominique Thabut, Youn-Jae Lee, Jia-Horng Kao, Fiona McPhee, Justin Kopit, Patricia Mendez, Misti Linaberry, Eric Hughes, Stephanie Noviello. All-oral daclatasvir plus asunaprevir for hepatitis C virus genotype 1b: a multinational, phase 3, multicohort study. The Lancet, 2014; DOI:10.1016/S0140-6736(14)61059-X
Eric Lawitz, Mark S Sulkowski, Reem Ghalib, Maribel Rodriguez-Torres, Zobair M Younossi, Ana Corregidor, Edwin DeJesus, Brian Pearlman, Mordechai Rabinovitz, Norman Gitlin, Joseph K Lim, Paul J Pockros, John D Scott, Bart Fevery, Tom Lambrecht, Sivi Ouwerkerk-Mahadevan, Katleen Callewaert, William T Symonds, Gaston Picchio, Karen L Lindsay, Maria Beumont, Ira M Jacobson. Simeprevir plus sofosbuvir, with or without ribavirin, to treat chronic infection with hepatitis C virus genotype 1 in non-responders to pegylated interferon and ribavirin and treatment-naive patients: the COSMOS randomised study. The Lancet, 2014; DOI:10.1016/S0140-6736(14)61036-9
Why we should vaccinate boys against HPV as well as girls
July 29, 2014 – In a personal view published on The British Medical Journal website a lecturer in chronic illnesses says that boys should be vaccinated against the HPV virus, as well as girls, to cut incidence of genital warts and several cancers. Gillian Prue, from the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Queen's University of Belfast, says that the human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is common in men and can lead to genital warts and the development of some head and neck, anal or penile cancers. She says incidence of this has increased in the past two decades with HPV causing 5% of all human cancers.
Since September 2008, a free vaccination has been available for 12-13 year old girls in the UK with a catch up programme for girls up to age 18. Australia, the US, Austria and parts of Canada have introduced a vaccination for both boys and girls.
Dr Prue says HPV-related disease in men "is associated with considerable burden" and "vaccinating boys is likely to produce health and economic benefits": a study of 4065 males aged 16-25 found the HPV vaccine to prevent genital warts and penile and anal cancer.
She says that with low uptake in girls the "benefit of vaccinating boys is easily apparent" with a European study showing that vaccination of 12 year old boys being associated with substantial clinical benefits such as reduced incidence of HPV-related genital warts and carcinomas.
Prue says vaccinated boys would be protected against non-vaccinated girls and other men whilst also helping to protect girls. She says the current girls-only vaccination leaves men who have sex with men (MSM) at particular risk but warns that a programme targeted at MSM in the UK may limit benefit "because many MSM acquire HPV as teenagers and many have been exposed to HPV already."
Prue concludes that economic costs are also considerable but any decision "should not be based solely on cost effectiveness" and that public health, equity and the human costs of HPV-related diseases "must be the main consideration."
Authors of a linked editorial also ask "What about the boys?." Professor Stanley, Dr O'Mahony and Dr Barton say they "share the Royal College of Surgeons' disappointment" about the lack of response to concerns about the "inequity of vaccinating only girls against HPV."
They say it is easy to see why the programme was initially targeted at young girls but evidence is now "conclusive that HPV also causes oral cancers" with most cases caused by HPV. They add that an estimated "90% of cases of anal cancer in the UK are also linked to HPV infection."
They support Prue's views on MSM adding, however, that a strategy to just vaccinate these men "would be seen to discriminate against young heterosexual men."
They say the only "sensible" answer is a "gender neutral vaccination strategy in schools" and conclude that "if the price is right, we can't afford not to."
G. Prue. Vaccinate boys as well as girls against HPV: it works, and it may be cost effective. BMJ, 2014; 349 (jul29 3): g4834 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.g4834
M. Stanley, C. O'Mahony, S. Barton. HPV vaccination. BMJ, 2014; 349 (jul29 3): g4783 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.g4783
First controlled malaria infection trial in Africa paves way for drug and vaccine development
July 28, 2014- An international research team today reports the first-ever clinical trial demonstrating controlled malaria infection in an African nation in the modern era. The study, published online in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (AJTMH) represents a significant milestone in the search for new malaria drugs and vaccines.
The study establishes that in controlled laboratory conditions in Africa, a new product containing frozen, preserved whole sporozoites, an infectious stage of the malarial parasite Plasmodium falciparum, can be used with a syringe to infect volunteers with malaria safely, providing a critical step in malaria research and development. Infected volunteers are later treated for malaria. The clinical trial is also the first of a novel malaria product to be financially supported by the government of Tanzania, through the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology.
"We are extremely excited by the good results of this malaria challenge test, which opens up unprecedented opportunity for evaluation of new malaria drugs and vaccines in Africa," said Salim Abdullah, PhD, principal investigator of the study and Chief Executive Director of the Ifakara Health Institute (IHI) Bagamoyo Research and Training Centre, Bagamoyo, Tanzania, where the study took place.
Africa suffers the highest burden of malaria deaths in the world. An estimated 90 percent of the 660,000 annual malaria deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Health Organization.
The research became possible through a breakthrough technical innovation a decade in the making. Scientists, led by Stephen L. Hoffman, MD, chief executive and scientific officer of the US company Sanaria Inc., in Rockville, Maryland - and a past president of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene - developed technology to grow the sporozoites in mosquitoes in the laboratory and then package them in a purified, aseptic form acceptable for human clinical trials. Prior to this innovation, the ability to test or "challenge" a vaccine's effectiveness required deliberately infecting vaccinated volunteers with malaria by exposing them to live infective mosquito bites in a specially constructed insectary. Few such malaria insectaries exist, and due to the resources needed, these are limited to a handful in the United States and Europe, far from the countries where malaria takes its toll.
This clinical trial established, in a controlled laboratory setting, that injecting the skin of volunteers with cryopreserved, aseptic parasites, which were harvested from mosquito salivary glands in compliance with U.S. and international regulatory standards, can safely and effectively infect adult volunteers with P. falciparum malaria in a malaria-endemic country.
The procedures used to infect the mosquitoes of the genus Anopheles with parasites cultured in the laboratory require high-security facilities, making such challenge trials logistically difficult and expensive. Building such a facility within Africa would have been prohibitive due to the risk of introducing a new species of mosquito, since the one used in malaria challenge studies globally is not native to Africa. By avoiding live mosquitoes, the research team avoided public health concerns about new mosquito introduction.
"This innovation is a game-changer for malaria research and development in Africa," said Hoffman. "This is about making available within Africa the same research tools to study malaria that we have in the USA and Europe. The IHI has now established that they can be equal partners with any clinical trial center anywhere in the world to do these first-in-humans, Phase 1 types of trials."
In an editorial accompanying the study's publication, a malaria vaccine researcher at Griffith University in Australia, Michael Good, MD, PhD, stated these benefits. "By challenging an individual in early-stage trials with a defined number of parasites of a specific laboratory strain in a controlled clinical environment, it is possible to derive more meaningful data and significantly reduce trial costs, thus facilitating product development," he said.
Good also said that there may be work still to be done to further optimize this approach to inducing malaria infection in humans, noting that sporozoites administered by mosquito bites appear to be significantly more infective than cryopreserved ones via syringe. He points toward intravenous injections as an alternate strategy to explore. "However," he concludes, "the technological significance of these developments to date cannot be overstated."
In the current study, which took place between February and August 2012, the researchers recruited a group of 30 highly educated Tanzanian men, residents of Dar es Salaam, who had minimal exposure to malaria during the previous five years. The study was double-blind to eliminate bias from scientists and participants about which persons were administered PfSPZ Challenge and which were administered a harmless saline solution.
The scientists compared the infection rate to that of a similar group of Dutch volunteers who participated in a similar study in the Netherlands in 2011. After about two weeks, all but two of the 23 Tanzanian volunteers injected with live sporozoites developed active infections, a rate similar to the Dutch volunteers. Once active infection was established, volunteers were immediately treated for malaria and cleared of parasites. None of the volunteers developed serious side effects related to the study. Mild side effects included low-grade fever, headaches and fatigue.
"For Ifakara Health Institute, this collaboration has opened up new possibilities for attracting international product development partners while increasing our own national capacity to conduct even more sophisticated clinical studies and laboratory research," said Abdullah. In addition, he added, research groups in other African nations are already getting involved, with one additional PfSPZ Challenge study completed in Kenya and others being planned.
"This is a real step forward for developing a vaccine against malaria-which has killed more human beings throughout history than any other single cause, " said Christopher Plowe, MD, MPH, professor of medicine at the University of Maryland, president-elect of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, and one of the study authors. "The ability to safely administer malaria parasites by injection rather than by mosquito bite makes it possible to test new malaria vaccines as well as drugs anywhere in the world. This is exactly the kind of new tool needed to eliminate malaria that is made possible by public-private partnerships and the continued investment in science and innovation by the U.S. and other partners."
S. Shekalaghe, M. Rutaihwa, P. F. Billingsley, M. Chemba, C. A. Daubenberger, E. James, M. Mpina, O. Ali Juma, T. Schindler, E. Huber, A. Gunasekera, A. Manoj, B. Simon, E. Savarino, L. W. P. Church, C. C. Hermsen, R. W. Sauerwein, C. V. Plowe, M. Venkatesan, P. Sasi, O. Lweno, P. Mutani, A. Hamad, A. Mohammed, A. Urassa, T. Mzee, D. Padilla, A. Ruben, B. K. Lee Sim, M. Tanner, S. Abdullah, S. L. Hoffman.Controlled Human Malaria Infection of Tanzanians by Intradermal Injection of Aseptic, Purified, Cryopreserved Plasmodium falciparum Sporozoites. American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 2014; DOI: 10.4269/ajtmh.14-0119
Many depressed preschoolers still suffer in later school years
July 30, 2014 - Children diagnosed with depression as preschoolers are likely to suffer from depression as school-age children and young adolescents, new research shows. Depressed preschoolers were 2.5 times more likely to suffer from the condition in elementary and middle school than kids who were not depressed at very young ages, according to researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
Their study is published in the July issue of TheAmerican Journal of Psychiatry.
"It's the same old bad news about depression; it is a chronic and recurrent disorder," said child psychiatrist Joan L. Luby, MD, who directs Washington University's Early Emotional Development Program. "But the good news is that if we can identify depression early, perhaps we have a window of opportunity to treat it more effectively and potentially change the trajectory of the illness so that it is less likely to be chronic and recurring."
The investigators followed 246 children, now ages 9 to 12, who were enrolled in the study as preschoolers when they were 3 to 5 years old. The children and their primary caregivers participated in up to six annual and four semiannual assessments. They were screened using a tool called the Preschool Feelings Checklist, developed by Luby and her colleagues, and evaluated using an age-appropriate diagnostic interview.
As part of the evaluation, caregivers were interviewed about their children's expressions of sadness, irritability, guilt, sleep, appetite and decreased pleasure in activity and play. In addition, researchers used two-way mirrors to evaluate child-caregiver interactions because the team's earlier research had shown that a lack of parental nurturing is an important risk factor for recurrence of depression.
The study was designed to follow children as they grew and to evaluate them for depression and other psychiatric conditions. However, if children were found to be seriously depressed or in danger of self harm, or if their caregivers requested treatment, they were referred to mental health providers. Currently, there are no proven treatments for depression that arises in the preschool years. Even in depressed adults, available treatments and medications are effective only about half the time.
At the start of the study, 74 of the children were diagnosed with depression. When the researchers evaluated the same group six years later, they found that 79 children met the full criteria for clinical depression based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V). This manual contains the American Psychiatric Association's most up-to-date official guidelines for diagnosing and treating psychiatric illnesses.
More than 51 percent of the 74 children who originally were diagnosed as preschoolers also were depressed as school-age kids. Only 24 percent of the 172 children who were not depressed as preschoolers went on to develop depression during their elementary and middle school years.
Luby's group also found that school-age children had a high risk of depression if their mothers were depressed. And they noted that children diagnosed with a conduct disorder as preschoolers had an elevated risk of depression by school age and early adolescence, but this risk declined if the children were found to have significant maternal support. But neither a mother with depression nor a conduct disorder in preschool increased the risk for later depression as much as a diagnosis of depression during preschool years.
"Preschool depression predicted school-age depression over and above any of the other well-established risk factors," Luby explained. "Those children appear to be on a trajectory for depression that's independent of other psychosocial variables."
Luby said her findings continue to contradict doctors and scientists who have maintained that children as young as 3 or 4 could not be clinically depressed. She advocates including depression screenings in regular medical checkups for preschoolers, but she said such monitoring is unlikely to begin anytime soon.
"The reason it hasn't yet become a huge call to action is because we don't yet have any proven, effective treatments for depressed preschoolers," she explained. "Pediatricians don't usually want to screen for a condition if they can't then refer patients to someone who can help."
Luby now is testing potential parent-child psychotherapies that appear promising for preschoolers with depression, but it's too early to determine whether they work. Her team also will continue following this group of children through puberty to determine whether depression during preschool remains a risk factor for depression during young adulthood.
Joan L. Luby, Michael S. Gaffrey, Rebecca Tillman, Laura M. April, Andy C. Belden.Trajectories of Preschool Disorders to Full DSM Depression at School Age and Early Adolescence: Continuity of Preschool Depression.American Journal of Psychiatry, 2014; 171 (7): 768 DOI:10.1176/appi.ajp.2014.13091198
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