#77: If you support evil, you are evil

We've all heard the news by now, but still: New York proposing to withdraw its many many pension 💰 from fossil fuels and simultaneously suing the lying bastards who fueled this little 🔥💦⛈❄️ nightmare is glorious. Just glorious. 

That's one reason why our little gif is doing double-time today. Every empire comes a crashing down, even if your hats and sweaters are super rad, and also we're on the forefront of some amazing bio-tech/medicinal advances and might all live forever. One day. Not yet. But one day.

In the meantime, we can dream of water on Mars

On to the news!

 

Let's talk about drugs. 💉😷

New York Plans New, $400 Million Public-Health Lab for Harlem Site

"The lab annually tests more than 200,000 clinical and environmental samples, a department spokesman said. That is for everything from anthrax, HIV, rabies and Zika to food-borne illnesses, along with processing other tests conducted at the city’s public hospitals and sexual-health clinics."

+ Sounds moderately helpful.

 

Drug makers feel burned by string of vaccine pleas

"Every few years an alarming disease launches a furious, out-of-the-blue attack on people, triggering a high-level emergency response. SARS. The H1N1 flu pandemic. West Nile and Zika. The nightmarish West African Ebola epidemic.

In nearly each case, major vaccine producers have risen to the challenge, setting aside their day-to-day profit-making activities to try to meet a pressing societal need. With each successive crisis, they have done so despite mounting concerns that the threat will dissipate and with it the demand for the vaccine they are racing to develop.

Now, manufacturers are expressing concern about their ability to afford these costly disruptions to their profit-seeking operations. As a result, when the bat-signal next flares against the night sky, there may not be anyone to respond.

GSK has made a corporate decision that while it wants to help in public health emergencies, it cannot continue to do so in the way it has in the past. Sanofi Pasteur has said its attempt to respond to Zika has served only to mar the company’s reputation. Merck has said while it is committed to getting its Ebola vaccine across the finish line it will not try to develop a vaccine that protects against other strains of Ebola and the related Marburg virus."

+ This feels less helpful. But on the other hand...

"Hatchett said the sacrifices of pharmaceutical companies in outbreak response work are still underappreciated.

“If you look at the performance of the vaccine companies, it’s hard to think of an example going back 30 or 40 or 50 years where they haven’t stepped up to the plate. I think their record of corporate social responsibility is a story that they don’t get nearly enough credit for, given the risks and what they take on and how little they get out of responding,” he said.

Even if governments help fund vaccine work, money can dry up and costs can add up. Scientists reassigned to work on emergency vaccines have to put aside other work that their company — and its shareholders — hope will earn profits.

“There are opportunity costs, especially if you’re trying to do something fast. I mean, we put the equivalent of a couple of programs worth of people on Zika,” Shiver said. “They were all working on high-priority projects for us and we switched them off those projects. … And those programs slowed down or stopped.”

 

Viruses are the antibiotics of the future

"When Motherboard met Guillonneau earlier this year, he had traveled from France to the Eliava Institute in Tbilisi, Georgia to try an alternative to antibiotic drugs called phage therapy. This form of treatment uses a special kind of virus called a bacteriophage to destroy bacteria and treat infections. This method of treating bacterial infections has been known for about a century, but it has only been approved for therapeutic use in Russia, Georgia, and, recently, Poland due to concerns about using a replicating biological agent to treat infections. 

Guillonneau's genetic disorder is exceedingly rare, but phage therapy is his last hope for treatment. Yet even for people who don't suffer from Netherton Syndrome, phage therapy may be one of the few technologies preventing deaths from antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections."

 

How the immune system could stymie some CRISPR gene therapies

"A team of researchers led by paediatric haematologists Matthew Porteus and Kenneth Weinberg of Stanford University in California analysed blood samples from 22 babies and 12 healthy adults for immune responses to the two most commonly used forms of the Cas9 enzyme.

They found that 79% of study participants made antibodies against Cas9 from the bacterium Staphlococcus aureus, and 65% of them made antibodies against the enzyme from Streptococcus pyogenes.

In a related experiment, 46% of 13 adult participants produced immune cells called T cells that target Cas9 from S. aureus. No T-cell responses were found against the other form of Cas9 tested, although the researchers acknowledge that their test may not have been sensitive enough to detect them. 

Why does that matter? 

The body’s immune responses can sabotage a gene therapy — and pose a health risk to the person receiving the treatment. Antibodies against Cas9 can bind to the enzyme in the bloodstream, before it has had a chance to act. And T cells that target Cas9 could destroy cells in which the protein is expressed, wiping out ‘corrected’ cells and potentially triggering a dangerous widespread attack on the body’s own tissues."

 

How a wildlife biologist became a plague-chaser in the American Southwest

"Usually, the corpses are already underground, not because they’ve been buried, but because they are prairie dogs. In the throes of plague, they crawl down into their burrows to die at home. David Wagner isn’t there for their bodies. He’s more interested in the fleas that transmitted plague in the first place.

Sometimes, like their dead hosts, they too are beneath the earth, and he needs to coax them out. At other times — when he’s investigating what he’d call a “hot site” —  the blood is gone from the corpses, the fleas have begun to starve, and they’ve jumped their way to the surface to wait for another mammal to pass by. “You can just see them popping around looking for something to feed on,” Wagner said. “It’s pretty creepy.”

The creepiness stems in part from the fact that a bite, left untreated, could give Wagner lumps the size of chicken eggs; make him bleed from his mouth, nose, and rectum; turn his extremities a gangrenous black; and kill him within days. The prospect doesn’t worry him much. He carries prophylactic antibiotics, which he’ll take if he starts to feel his muscles aching or his throat getting sore. He wears latex gloves. And really, more than a liability, his access to fleas full of plague is an opportunity."

 

Fuck Cancer, Volume LXXVII 🖕

Immune boosting virus could be used to treat brain tumors

"A trial of a potential new brain cancer treatment has shown that a virus injected directly into the bloodstream can reach tumors deep inside the brain and switch on the body’s own defense system to attack them. 

The trial involved just nine patients, but scientists said that if the results could be replicated in larger studies, the naturally occurring ‘reovirus’ could be developed into an effective immunotherapy for people with aggressive brain tumors."

 

Mechanism for resistance to immunotherapy treatment discovered

"An urgent question for cancer scientists is why immunotherapy achieves dramatic results in some cases but doesn't help most patients. Now, two research groups from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have independently discovered a genetic mechanism in cancer cells that influences whether they resist or respond to immunotherapy drugs known as checkpoint inhibitors.

The scientists say the findings reveal potential new drug targets and might aid efforts to extend the benefits of immunotherapy treatment to more patients and additional types of cancer."

 

All that talk about drugs is a nice segue into...🚀

Trump’s tweets cause sales of anti-radiation drug to skyrocket

"Troy Jones, who runs the website www.nukepills.com, said demand for potassium iodide soared last week, after Trump tweeted that he had a “much bigger & more powerful” button than Kim — a statement that raised new fears about an escalating threat of nuclear war.

“On Jan. 2, I basically got in a month’s supply of potassium iodide and I sold out in 48 hours,” said Jones, 53, who is a top distributor of the drug in the United States. His Mooresville, N.C., firm sells all three types of the product approved by the Food and Drug Administration. No prescription is required.

In that two-day period, Jones said, he shipped about 140,000 doses of potassium iodide, also known as KI, which blocks the thyroid from absorbing radioactive iodine and protects against the risk of cancer. Without the tweet, he typically would have sent out about 8,400 doses to private individuals, he said.
Jones also sells to government agencies, hospitals and universities, which aren’t included in that count.

Alan Morris, president of the Williamsburg, Va.-based pharmaceutical firm Anbex Inc., which distributes potassium iodide, said he’s seen a bump in demand, too.

“We are a wonderful barometer of the level of anxiety in the country,” said Morris."

+ VERY proud to see good old Colonial Williamsburg still relevant in the end days!

 

The CDC wants to gently prepare people for (an unlikely) nuclear war

"The CDC is holding a session January 16 to discuss personal safety measures and the training of response teams "on a federal, state, and local level to prepare for nuclear detonation."

The meeting, part of the agency's monthly Public Health Grand Rounds, will include presentations like "Preparing for the Unthinkable" and "Roadmap to Radiation Preparedness," and it will be held at the CDC's headquarters in Atlanta. "Grand rounds" are a type of meeting or symposium in which members of a public health community come together to discuss topics of interest or public importance."

+ Here's the official invite. Got security clearance? You're in!

 

Trump could destroy the entire human species, says Yale psychiatrist who warned Congress members

"If it were possible, Dr. Bandy Lee said, "we would be declaring a public health emergency that needs to be responded to as quickly as possible.”

“As more time passes, we come closer to the greatest risk of danger, one that could even mean the extinction of the human species,” she said. “This is not hyperbole. This is the reality.”

After a series of tweets from Trump that appeared to threaten North Korea with nuclear war, Lee and hundreds of her colleagues at the National Coalition of Concerned Mental Health Experts issued a statement calling into question his mental health and psychological fitness for the presidency."

Anywho.

 

Lies, and the liars who tell them (and other fun new stories about climate change) 🤯🌊⚡️

Trump’s Coal Bailout Is Dead

"The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission unanimously rejected a proposal to subsidize coal-burning and nuclear power plants on Monday. Its defeat hands a victory to the motley coalition—of environmental groups, natural-gas companies, free-market advocates, and Democratic state attorneys general—who had opposed the rule and promised to fight it in court.

The 5-0 rejection was all the bitterer for the administration because four of the five commissioners who lead the agency were appointed by President Trump, and three are Republicans."

+ Damn that feels good.

 

Three Ways Fox News Misleads its Readers on Sea Level Rise

"First, a bit of backstory.

Early last Tuesday morning, a reporter from Fox News contacted the Union of Concerned Scientists  about a piece he was planning to write. The piece was to feature a new study about sea level rise published in the journal Earth Systems and Environment, and the reporter wanted to “get a general response from you as to whether you see the paper in question as credible and whether you think its claim that sea level rise has been exaggerated is plausible.” “The authors say [their results] call into question the broader claim that sea levels are rising rapidly,” he wrote. 

Astrid Caldas and I both read the paper then decided I would respond within the reporter’s deadline in about 90 minutes. The email I sent to the reporter made four main points: 1. Sea level rise is extremely well-established; 2. One cannot use any one tide gauge record (or any one region) to infer a global trend; 3. It is difficult to determine long-term trends from tide gauges with large data gaps; 4. The paper in question had some telltale signs of a suspicious peer-review process.

The reporter clearly took this information with more than a few grains of salt."

 

All of these points are #vital, because we're not fighting against some fantastical, dark future. Climate change is here.

"Coastal communities all over the world are already facing the double whammy of sea level rise and extreme weather events that in some cases are threatening the very existence of entire island states. Now a new study adds weight to the argument that for the sake of these communities we need to ramp up efforts and achieve what many think almost impossible, keeping global warming below 1.5° C (2.7° F).

A team from Tufts University, Rutgers University, and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany found that if countries managed to stabilize global temperatures within this threshold by 2150, the impact of sea level rise would be significantly reduced. The global average sea level would be about 17.7 centimeters (7 inches) less than under a 2° C scenario (3.6° F), which is conventionally considered more achievable. The paper is published in the journal Environmental Research Letters and will be included in the landmark special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the 1.5° C goal, which will collate the available literature on the topic."

 

Three Months After Maria, Roughly Half of Puerto Ricans Still Without Power

"For the first time in the 100 days since Hurricane Maria slammed Puerto Rico, the government finally knows how many people still don’t have power: about half.

The figure released Friday by the island’s governor and power utility company indicates that more than 1.5 million people on the island are still in the dark. Experts say some parts of the island are not expected to get power back until next spring.

“We understand how difficult it has been for the people for Puerto Rico who have been without power for so long,” said Ricardo Rosselló, the governor of Puerto Rico, as he announced a request for up to 1,500 more restoration workers from the mainland’s electric industry.

In its statement on Friday, the authorities said power restoration has been slow because of the sheer scale and complexity of the damage. Much of the island’s 2,400 miles of transmission lines, 30,000 miles of distribution lines and 342 substations were damaged in the storm, they said. Carlos D. Torres, the system’s restoration coordinator, said workers were finding “unexpected damage” in some areas even as they make repairs in others."

+ An American travesty. Now imagine these sentences, written about New York, or Miami, or New Orleans (again), or D.C. Climate change is here.

 

And it's not just for the coastal "elite".

"A study out Wednesday from Science Advances highlights the growing flood risk regions around the world will see in the next 25 years, primarily driven by greenhouse gases already emitted into the atmosphere. Significant numbers of people on every continent are threatened by river flooding, with the need for adaptation greatest in the U.S., parts of India and Africa, Indonesia, and in Central Europe."

+ Here's just one quote from the study:

"For the United States (Figs. 2A and 3A), 42 of the 50 states, and the District of Columbia, will experience an increased flood risk if no additional protection measures are taken."

Live in China? Here's another one.

"China will observe an increased high-end flood risk from 24M [18M; 34M] to 55M [46M; 69M] affected people. All but Shanghai show an increase in high-end risk of at least 20%; 14 of 31 provinces will have more than a million people each under high-end risk."

 

Risks & Consequences ✊🛰🐢👽

We must accept more risks if we want space travel to take off

"But if we want to do more than just joy rides – colonising Mars, for example – should we be prepared for more fatalities?

Of course, in an ideal world no one would die during a space mission, but pushing the boundaries of human endeavour requires risk-taking, almost by definition. Is it worth it, or would deaths turn the public off space flight all together?

To answer these questions, we must first look at who is taking the risks, and who stands to gain from them. Like other expensive and dangerous activities, space flight is governed by calculations of risk versus reward."

 

Climate change is turning 99 percent of these baby sea turtles female

Green sea turtles do not develop into males or females due to sex chromosomes, like humans and most other mammals do. Instead, the temperature outside a turtle egg influences the sex of the growing embryo. And this unusual biological quirk, scientists say, endangers their future in a warmer world.

Already, some sea turtle populations are so skewed by heat that the young reptiles are almost entirely female, according to a new report in the journal Current Biology.

“This is one of the most important conservation papers of the decade,” said biologist David Owens, a professor emeritus at the College of Charleston who was not a part of this research. It will not be long, perhaps within a few decades to a century, until “there will not be enough males in sea turtle populations,” he warned.

+ Raise your hand if you like sea turtles

 

Climate Change May Have Helped Spark Iran’s Protests

"A severe drought, mismanaged water resources and dust storms diminished Iran's economy in recent years, according to experts who study the region. While the protests are largely driven by resistance to the country's hardline conservative government, such environmental factors might have contributed to the largest protests inside Iran in years.

Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad understood that climate change and water mismanagement was ravaging family farms, and his government provided subsidies to families who struggled to put food on the table, said Amir Handjani, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's South Asia Center. When the current president, Hassan Rouhani, signaled that he would reduce those benefits, enraged Iranians across the nation's arid countryside joined the wave of protests.

"You have climate change, shortage of water, they can't grow their crops, and now they're getting their cash handouts taken away," said Handjani. "It's a panoply of issues coming together at once.""

 

Do you like food? I do. So much. So very much. Especially food born in SPACE.

"Some years ago, NASA bred wheat in space with the goal of providing an unending food supply for astronauts. To help the plant along, astronauts shined light on the plant continuously. As far as the crop was concerned, the sun never set. It was always noon on a cloudless day. The extra light fueled its rapid growth.

Researchers are now using the same technique here on Earth to quickly grow several successive generations of wheat in an effort to breed a crop that can stand up to persistent drought, severe heat, or heavy rainfall driven by climate change. Their experiments created a wheat cycle from seed to seed in just eight weeks, making it possible to grow as many as six generations of wheat in a single year.

Scientists believe that the process can make more food in a shorter period of time to feed an ever-growing hungry world; at the same time, the ability to produce more crops more quickly will facilitate researchers’ ability to experiment with different genetic combinations to develop more climate resistant strains."

 

The Leftovers