Scientists Make Breakthrough in Fight Against Tsetse Fly

English: A distribution of the Tsetse fly. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Promises to yield powerful genetic tools that could one day eliminate the disease from sub-Saharan Africa

After 10 years of research, scientists have finally been able to understand the DNA code for the devastating tsetse fly. This will help in controlling trypanosomiasis disease in livestock and sleeping sickness in humans.

According to a study published in the journal Science, the precise knowledge of the insect’s biology and physiology promises to yield powerful genetic tools that could one day eliminate the disease from sub-Saharan Africa.

The study ‘Genome Sequence of the Tsetse Fly (Glossina morsitans): Vector of African Trypanosomiasis’ states that although official reports of new infections in humans recently dropped below 10,000 per year, many cases especially in rural areas with limited access to health facilities go undiagnosed.

According to the World Health Organisation, the estimated number of actual cases is 20,000 and the population at risk is approximately 70 million people in 36 African countries.

Geoffrey Attardo, a research scientist and the lead author, said while there are drugs to treat sleeping sickness, they are expensive, have many undesirable side effects, and are difficult to administer in wide swathes of rural Africa where the disease is most pronounced.

“Left untreated, sleeping sickness inevitably leads to death. This is a major milestone for the tsetse research community. Our hope is that this resource will facilitate functional research and be an ongoing contribution to the vector biology community,” said Attardo.

Found only in Africa, tsetse flies are vectors for the single-cell parasites that cause trypanosomiasis, or nagana, an often-lethal disease that affects some three million animals in the region each year at massive costs to farmers’ livelihoods and food security.

FAO says the disease leads to a debilitating chronic condition that reduces fertility, weight gain, meat and milk production, and makes livestock too weak to be used for ploughing or transport, which in turn affects crop production.

Humans bitten by carrier flies can develop African sleeping sickness, which can be fatal without treatment. No vaccine against the disease exists for livestock or humans because the parasite is able to evade mammalian immune systems, so control methods primarily involve targeting tsetse flies through trapping, pesticide treatments and sterile male release strategies.

“Decoding the tsetse fly’s DNA is a major scientific breakthrough that opens the way for more effective control of trypanosomiasis, which is good news for millions of herders and farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. Detection and treatment of trypanosomiasis is currently expensive, difficult and dangerous for the livestock as it often involves toxic drugs, but this new knowledge will accelerate research on tsetse control methods and help scientists develop new and complementary strategies to reduce the use of costly drugs and insecticides,”said Kostas Bourtzis of the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture.

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The tragedy of the high seas

Oceans of the world (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

New management is needed for the planet’s most important common resource

IN 1968 an American ecologist, Garrett Hardin, published an article entitled “The Tragedy of the Commons”. He argued that when a resource is held jointly, it is in individuals’ self-interest to deplete it, so people will tend to undermine their collective long-term interest by over-exploiting rather than protecting that asset. Such a tragedy is now unfolding, causing serious damage to a resource that covers almost half the surface of the Earth.

The high seas—the bit of the oceans that lies beyond coastal states’ 200-mile exclusive economic zones—are a commons. Fishing there is open to all. Countries have declared minerals on the seabed “the common heritage of mankind”. The high seas are of great economic importance to everyone—fish is a more important source of protein than beef—and getting more so. The number of patents using DNA from sea-creatures is rocketing, and one study suggests that marine life is a hundred times more likely to contain material useful for anti-cancer drugs than is terrestrial life.

Yet the state of the high seas is deteriorating (see article). Arctic ice now melts away in summer. Dead zones are spreading. Two-thirds of the fish stocks in the high seas are over-exploited, even more than in the parts of the oceans under national control. And strange things are happening at a microbiological level. The oceans produce half the planet’s supply of oxygen, mostly thanks to chlorophyll in aquatic algae. Concentrations of that chlorophyll are falling. That does not mean life will suffocate. But it could further damage the climate, since less oxygen means more carbon dioxide.

For tragedies of the commons to be averted, rules and institutions are needed to balance the short-term interests of individuals against the long-term interests of all users. That is why the dysfunctional policies and institutions governing the high seas need radical reform.

Net loss

The first target should be fishing subsidies. Fishermen, who often occupy an important place in a country’s self-image, have succeeded in persuading governments to spend other people’s money subsidising an industry that loses billions and does huge environmental damage. Rich nations hand the people who are depleting the high seas $35 billion a year in cheap fuel, insurance and so on. The sum is over a third of the value of the catch. That should stop.

Second, there should be a global register of fishing vessels. These have long been exempt from an international scheme that requires passenger and cargo ships to carry a unique ID number. Last December maritime nations lifted the exemption—a good first step. But it is still up to individual countries to require fishing boats flying their flag to sign up to the ID scheme. Governments should make it mandatory, creating a global record of vessels to help crack down on illegal high-seas fishing. Somalis are not the only pirates out there.

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Fish Farms Cause Rapid Local Sea-Level Rise


Groundwater extraction for aquaculture is making the land at China’s Yellow River delta sink, and that subsidence is causing local sea levels to rise incredibly rapidly

Groundwater extraction for fish farms can cause land to sink at rates of a quarter-meter a year, according to a study of China’s Yellow River delta. The subsidence is causing local sea levels to rise nearly 100 times faster than the global average.

Global sea levels are rising at about 3 millimeters a year owing to warming waters and melting ice. But some places are seeing a much faster rise — mainly because of sinking land. Bangkok dropped by as much as 12 centimeters a year in the 1980s thanks to groundwater pumping. Oil fields near Houston, Texas, experienced a similar drop during the 1920s because of oil extraction. Deltas can also sink as old river sediments compact under their own weight and watercarrying replacement sediments is held back by dams or diverted for irrigation. “You can get crazy rates of sea-level rise,” says James Syvitski, a geologist at the University of Colorado Boulder and a co-author of thestudy, published online in Geophysical Research Letters.

The researchers found that parts of the Yellow River delta are dropping by up to 25 centimeters a year, probably because of groundwater extraction for onshore fish tanks. The link between aquaculture and subsidence has attracted little international notice. “This is a new one on me,” says Stephen Brown, a fisheries scientist at the US National Marine Fisheries Service in Silver Spring, Maryland. “We are concerned about the effect of sea-level rise on fish; not the other way around,” he says.

Robert Nicholls, who studies coastal engineering at the University of Southampton, UK, and who co-authored the chapter on coastal management for the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change report, is likewise surprised by the link. “I would not have thought of this as an issue previously,” he says.

Subsidence was not mentioned in the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s 2012 report on the state of world aquaculture, says Stephanie Higgins, a PhD geology student at the University of Colorado Boulder who led the study. “This is not yet on the industry’s radar, but it should be,” she says.

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Cultured Beef: Do We Really Need a $380,000 Burger Grown in Petri Dishes?


For the first time, the public has been treated to the spectacle of lab-grown meat cooked and eaten via live Webcast.

Backed by Google billionaire Sergey Brin, Dutch tissue engineer Mark Post unveiled his “cultured beef” at a press event on August 5, answering the question posed by a 2011 Scientific American feature: “When Will Scientists Grow Meat in a Petri Dish?”

The verdict? “It is close to meat,” said nutrition scientist Hanni Rutzler. “It is not that juicy.” But British chef Richard McGeowan said the lack of fat didn’t affect his cooking of the five ounces of minced “meat” in a frying pan, thanks to lots of butter.

In addition to a lack of fat with the meat (tissue biologists just haven’t gotten that union down yet), the in vitro meat features heavy antibiotic use to keep the cells alive and growth on serum from the blood of unborn cows gathered from slaughterhouses (as well as the less gruesome sugars, proteins and fatty acids). As synthetic biologist Christina Agapakis noted in a blog critique in 2012: “Cell culture is one of the most expensive and resource-intensive techniques in modern biology.”

Then the meat requires “exercise” on a scaffold. There are questions about its nutritional value as well, such as how much iron it might contain compared with traditional meat. The lab meat has to be colored red after all, by adding beet juice because it is composed of 20,000 or so thin strips of muscle cells rather than the complicated mélange of muscle, fat, blood vessels and bone found in meat from an animal.

Despite all this, the lab beef is being cultured (and feted) because of its potential to reduce the environmental impacts of the human taste for meat. As Post notes, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that demand for meat will swell by more than 70 percent by 2050. Already 30 percent of the world’s ice-free land is devoted to feeding animals for meat thanks to the fact that cows and pigs convert only roughly 15 percent of the plants they eat into edible meat. Then there’s the problem of the greenhouse gas emissions, particularly potent methane, from all those ruminant belches and their waste, often stored in massive, stinky lagoons. The FAO estimates that livestock are responsible for nearly 20 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions from human activities—more than all cars, trucks, ships and airplanes put together.

Of course, to reduce those emissions, the lab meat would have to be grown on a diet of algae, something that has never been accomplished. If that can be done on a big scale (and that’s a big if), the lab meat would reduce methane pollution by 95 percent, as well as reduce the need for farmlands to feed livestock by 98 percent, according to a 2011 study by the University of Oxford published in Environmental Science and Technology. Or we could just eat the algae directly.

The other reason for the hoopla is ethical: philosopher Peter Singer and groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals extol such efforts for eliminating human cruelty to animals. Why not harvest muscle cells from a single cow to culture millions of hamburgers rather than slaughtering hundreds of thousands of cattle?

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Your Meat Should Be Raised on Insects, U.N. Says

Hermetiaillucens (1)

There has been a lot of press, both positive and negative, about a recent United Nations reportin which scientists recommended that we start eating insects to fight world hunger.

But the other U.N. recommendation—that farmers should consider feeding insects to poultry and aquacultured fish—did not garner nearly as much attention, despite seeming more feasible. After all, when given the opportunity, fish and chickens readily eat insects. And there is no shortage of literature on their high nutritional value and ease of breeding. But if feeding insects to animals presents so many advantages, why aren’t we doing it already?

One reason has been processing cost. Currently, protein from mealworms (beetle larvae commonly fed to animals, including pets) is 51 times as expensive as soy protein, according to a 2012 study by Dutch researchers from Wageningen University and Research Center. The study concluded that, to be competitive, the cost of mealworms would have to decrease by at least 95 percent. The scientists explained this difference in price by pointing to the low levels of automation and mechanization in insect-rearing procedures.

“Some of the folks trying to grow insects at an industrial scale haven’t found a way to produce insect-based feeds at a cost that competes with conventional feed producers,” says Glen Courtright, president of Enviroflight, one of a handful of companies that manufacture insect-based feeds worldwide. The company, located in Ohio and founded in 2009, seems to have found a way to compete with makers of conventional feed: it sells many different types of insect feeds to a few companies in the aquaculture industry, most of which are made from black soldier fly larvae.  Courtright declined to reveal how his company manages to keep its production costs down.

The other big obstacle to producing insect-based feeds has been the fear of spreading disease. Feed insects do not tend to carry pathogens that are intrinsically dangerous to humans, but when they are fed manure or reared in unsanitary conditions, they can become vectors for bacterial disease that they can transmit to pigs, chickens and, subsequently, humans.

Enviroflight avoids this risk by not feeding their flies animal manure or table scraps. “We wouldn’t touch manure with a 10-foot pole,” Courtright says. Rather, the company feeds its larvae brewer’s grains, a by-product of alcohol production it gets from local breweries.

The advantages of insect-based feeds might soon push other feed producers to join Enviroflight’s mission to create sustainable animal nutrient alternatives.

Read more . . .

via Scientific American –  Arielle Duhaime-Ross

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