Creative Commons

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Engineering Solutions for Climate Change Mitigation

Despite mounting evidence of global climate change, the depth of scepticism and global inaction is worrying.

Segments of the scientific community are now turning their focus on intentional large scale alteration of our planet’s climate system. Scientists in the techno-fix precincts believe that massive scale alternations now commonly referred to as geo-engineering could be a substitute for comprehensive mitigation action.

Geo-engineering solutions under consideration fall into two categories: carbon dioxide removal (CDR) and solar radiation management (SRM) which modify the earth’s albedo. CDR solutions would remove the cause of climate change through direct air capture or ocean fertilization. The big questions around CDR relate to large-scale deployment and the long delays in climate response.

Possible SRM interventions include stratospheric aerosols and enhancement of cloud brightness that would reduce Insolation and cool the planet. Natural experiments through volcanic eruptions have demonstrated the rapid impact potential of aerosols. It is tempting to make the case that such solutions are technically feasible substitutes for mitigation.

However, climate variability and complex feedbacks will be difficult to attribute impacts and unintended consequences to any SRM tests or experiments.

If Copenhagen is anything to go by, scientific and public interest in the possibility of geo-engineering the climate will grow.

See article by Blackstock and Long in Science (327) p. 527

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Strength Training Builds Mental Muscle

Researchers in British Columbia randomly assigned 155 women ages 65 to 75 either to strength training with dumbbells and weight machines once or twice a week, or to a comparison group doing balance and toning exercises.

A year later, the women who did strength training had improved their performance on tests of so-called executive function by 10.9 percent to 12.6 percent, while those assigned to balance and toning exercises experienced a slight deterioration — 0.5 percent. The improvements in the strength training group included an enhanced ability to make decisions, resolve conflicts and focus on subjects without being distracted by competing stimuli.

Excerpts from a story by RONI CARYN RABIN
Published: January 25, 2010 in the New York Times

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Satellite Technology Meets Banking and Insurance

Last year, Kenyan pastoralist communities lost hundreds of thousands of livestock after the rains failed. In Turkana district alone, pastoralists lost about 300,000 goats and sheep during the recent drought.

A new insurance scheme has been launched in northern Kenya which offers herdsmen a chance to protect their livestock against drought. The scheme, billed as a world first by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) will utilize satellite imagery of available grazing resources to determine when payouts are made to herders.

It is estimated that pastoralists in Marsabit keep more than 2 million cows, camels, goats and sheep, worth an estimated $67m, but currently have no way of rebuilding stocks decimated by drought induced starvation.

To build the insurance model, satellite images of plant growth in Marsabit since 1981 from the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index, a global database updated by NASA and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The information was combined with data on livestock deaths in Marsabit since 2000 to produce a programme that can reliably predict when a reduction in grazing will lead to animal deaths.

The insurance scheme will be administered by local firms Equity Bank and UAP insurance, around 1000 pastoral households are expected to pay between 3.25% and 5.5% of the value of their herds to insure them for a year. To insure a herd of 10 cows for example a family would pay the equivalent of around $50.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Malaria Therapy: Genetic Map of Artemisia Annua Offers Hope

Artemisinin combination therapies (ACTs) are the recommended treatment for uncomplicated malaria caused by the Plasmodium falciparum parasite. Artemisinin is extracted from the plant Artemisia annua.

However, yields so far have been low, making the drug expensive. Planting areas have declined because Artemisia production has been uneconomic. This drop has raised fears of shortages. Plant scientists at the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) in the Department of Biology at the University of York are addressing this problem by using molecular technologies to rapidly improve the Artemisia crop.

Development of new high yielding varieties optimized for production in different geographic regions is now a realistic target.

In an article published in Science (327, 328 2010), Ian Graham and colleagues have published the first genetic map of Artemisia annua, plotting the location on the plant's genome of genes, traits and markers associated with high performance. This will enable scientists to recognise young plants as high performers from their genetics. It will also inform the selection of suitable parent plants for breeding experiments

This breakthrough is crucial if we want to meet the ever-growing demand for effective malaria treatments. The genetic map now makes it possible to speed breeding of Artemisia and rapidly develop Artemisia into a high-yielding crop. Increased funding for malaria treatments means that ACTs demand is estimated to double from last year's figures to about 200 million treatments by 2012.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Malaria Marches On

Malaria has been eliminated from a large part of the world. Other parts of the world have not been so fortunate.

In sub-Saharan Africa, it is now estimated that there are more than 360 million clinical cases and one million deaths due to malaria each year. Despite ambitious goals such as those of the Roll Back Malaria Initiative to halve malaria deaths by 2010, mortality from the disease has actually risen halfway through the program.

The failure of existing methods for malaria control has sparked interest in several new approaches.

It has been shown that most species of mosquitoes do not transmit malaria, and even among species that do, many individuals seem incapable of transmitting the disease, i.e., are refractory. Hence the genes that permit malarial infections in mosquitoes can be identified and then replaced or altered in terms of their function.

The laboratory of Marcelo Jacobs-Lorena at Johns Hopkins University has successfully identified receptor sites for proteins that the parasite requires to pass through the gut after ingestion. The lab has produced small proteins that saturate the receptor sites and hence block amplification and transmission of the parasite.

These genetically modified mosquitoes (GMMs) can be deployed to either reduce population sizes or to replace existing populations with vectors unable to transmit the disease.

Other methods for generating refractoriness involve using antibodies that kill parasites within the mosquito and discovering genes that govern refractoriness in natural populations. A great deal is being discovered about the immune system of mosquitoes, leading many researchers in this field to believe that an effective gene construct to reduce the ability of mosquitoes to transmit malaria is not far away.

It is interesting that while a variety of means were used to eradicate malaria in North America and Europe, the most important are thought to be reducing the number of breeding sites for malaria vectors and improving residential areas to separate humans from mosquitoes.

Article published in PLoS MEDICINE February 2010

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The World in 2010

Two events in the last decade will stand out as the most phenomenal. The terrorist acts of 9/11 and the global financial crisis precipitated by America’s sub-prime mortgage market.

President George W. Bush drew the axis of evil. America went to war in Iraq and then Afghanistan. The world has never been the same again.

In 2008 we were all talking about peak oil. Pundits were predicting a catastrophic knock on effect from soaring oil prices; steep energy costs, astronomic increases in food prices and maybe the end of the automobile.

Then in the last quarter of 2008, the global economy tumbled. The global demand for oil slowed to a near halt. The US mortgage market collapsed. Banks and automakers turned into troubled or toxic assets. Government rescue plans kicked in. Deficit spending and stimulus plans become survival tools.

Not one economist predicted the global financial Armageddon. Nobody could have predicted 9/11, much less how the events of that fateful day would change how we live and travel.
Phenomenal global change happens fast and furious.

How will the world look like in 2010 and beyond 2012 into the “teens”? I certainly hope not like human teenagers. But one thing we know for certain is that the events of 9/11 and the after shocks of the global financial crisis will continue to shape how we live and travel.

The pursuit of a globally binding agreement on climate change will continue beyond 2010. It is unlikely that the UN process will yield any outcome in Mexico. China’s stature as global power and a formidable counter weight to US domination will emerge more prominently throughout the climate change negotiations.

Barack Obama’s presidency will be shaped more by America’s domestic agenda; health care and the deficit. The mid-term elections could see the Republican’s re-take Congress. Obama will slow down on his determination to press Israel to negotiate a two state solution with the Palestinians. A second term for Obama should be easy to predict. The Republican’s will need a Reagan type of leader to make a Jimmy Carter of Obama.

Iran’s regime will come under enormous and unrelenting pressure form the opposition. Ahmadinejad
and the Ayatollah will blame America and the UK, bludgeon and detain a lot of Iranians. But this will not kill the resolve of millions of Iranians who are determined to see a regime change in Teheran.

Regime change is imminent in the UK. Gordon Brown has been absolutely underwhelming. The Conservatives under David Cameron will come to 10 Downing Street. And I think Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua will leave office before the end of his first term as Nigeria’s president.

Afghanistan will not stabilize and the US and NATO troops will have to re-evaluate their mission in the wake of anti-war clamour in both Europe and America. Pakistan could spiral out of control.

Hunger, poverty, disease and economic stagnation will deepen in Africa in the coming decade. Parliamentary democracy will remain elusive in Africa. African societies will remain divided and plagued by civil strife. Countries like Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Sudan and Uganda will find it hard to navigate power transitions. Sudan will decide through a referendum in accordance to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), if the South and the North go their separate ways in 2011. Tanzania will go to the polls in October 2010 to vote for CCM and re-elect Jakaya Kikwete.

And for the World Cup finals in South Africa, I am putting my money on Brazil. And I think South Africa will do a sterling job as hosts. And Tiger Woods will not be back on the golf course.


Free sudoku by SudokuPuzz