Most online, but digital divide grows.

Five out of every six Australians are now online and regard the internet as a central part of their lives – but people who don’t have access are at a deepening disadvantage as the digital gap widens, researchers have warned.

The latest research for the World Internet Project (WIP) compared Australians’ online habits to internet users in Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. The survey shows that 86 per cent of Australian households have internet access, with 96 per cent of these being broadband connections.

Also, the proportion of people who connect through their mobile devices has more than doubled – from 15 per cent in 2009 to 37 per cent in 2011.

“Many people expected internet take up by Australians to slow down in 2011, but the latest survey shows that there is still a strong growth,” say Professor Julian Thomas and Mr Scott Ewing from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (CCI) at Swinburne University of Technology.

“More people are going online, and they are doing more things when they do.

“The internet is now Australia’s most important source of information – and is rapidly replacing traditional media of newspapers, radio and television,” they say.

The survey reveals that most respondents see the internet as a social technology that increases their contact with friends and family. It is also an important source of entertainment, challenging television as Australian’s biggest entertainment medium, the researchers say.

Other popular activities include looking for information on restaurants and recipes. Respondents also love to shop online, as 72 per cent say they are buying something on it every month.

A quarter of the respondents also say they look at internet sites with sexual content, and one in ten do so at least weekly: Australians own up to a slightly higher rate of ‘sex surfing’ than do other nationalities in the survey.

However, the strong growth of internet take up is also widening the digital gap, the researchers say.

“As more people use the internet, it’s easy to assume that everyone is online – but that’s not the case. A large amount of low-income households still do not have home broadband access,” says Prof. Thomas.

The survey shows that internet access is directly linked to income and almost four in ten households earning less than $30,000 a year say they cannot afford home broadband. They are less likely to access government services or material online and do not see the internet as a fast and efficient way to obtain information.

“These people are at greater disadvantage and in danger of being left behind as services put more of their resources on the web,” Mr Ewing says.

“Differences in income also affect how much people benefit from the internet. Not everyone gets the same ‘bang for their buck’ online, as people from lower income households are more likely to see it as a frustrating technology.”

“As we approach the rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN) – with two thirds of our respondents saying that the development of NBN is a good idea – the question is what we should do to encourage lower income households to connect as well,” says Prof. Thomas.

“Since the extra bandwidth from NBN will provide more opportunities for Australians to access online content, we have to make sure that everyone partakes in this – so that the digital divide does not become more serious.”

The World Internet Project is a 32-country partnership that aims to explore how the Internet influences social, political, cultural, and economic behaviour and ideas, as measured by the attitudes, values, and perceptions of both Internet users and non-users. CCI is the Australian partner of the World Internet Project.

Source: Science Alert


How liquids boil without bubbling?

Explosions caused by boiling liquid could be reduced by suppressing the liquid from bubbling, according to a new University of Melbourne study.

The research, which is the first of its kind, has identified a specially engineered steel surface that allows liquids to boil without bubbling.

“This would be advantageous for use in industrial situations such as nuclear power plants, where vapour explosions are best avoided, or where gentle heating is desirable” said Professor Derek Chan, from the University’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics.

The study suggests that the new surface could also be applied to other situations that involve the transfer of heat, such as reducing fogging and preventing ice or frost formation on windows.

“Our results show the potential of using this textured surface to control heating and cooling events that affect the formation of frost on windows and ice on the control surfaces of aircrafts or even refrigeration units,” he said.

The international study was done in collaboration between the University of Melbourne and Dr Neelesh Patankar from the Northwestern University in the United States and Dr Ivan Vakarelski and his team at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia where the experimental studies were carried out.

The study was published in the journal Nature.

The research found that a textured, highly water-repellent steel surface controls the boiling process of a liquid and stops it from bubbling up the sides of a container and boiling over.

This is achieved by using a textured surface structure to control the stability of the vapour layer, that is, the layer of steam that forms on a surface when water is boiled.

“In most smooth surfaces, heat transfer from the surface to the liquid is prevented by the low thermal conductivity of the vapour layer,” said Professor Chan.

“This vapour layer collapses when the surface cools, which could result in an explosion.”

Professor Chan said that in textured surfaces, the vapour layer is maintained until the surface is completely cooled, preventing the liquid from bubbling and boiling over.

“The discovery shows how the texture of surfaces can combine to control the boiling of liquid in a way that was not thought to be possible”, he said.

Source: Science Alert



Ways to curb falls in elderly.

A large-scale international review involving University of Sydney researchers has shed light on falls in older people, revealing some interventions can effectively prevent falls in people over 65 and living in their own homes.

The review, published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, included 159 trials involving more than 79,000 participants from Australia, the UK and New Zealand and was co-authored by the University of Sydney’s Professor Lindy Clemson, Faculty of Health Sciences and Associate Professor Cathie Sherrington, George Institute for Global Health.

The research was led by the University of Otago in New Zealand, and also involved researchers from the University of Hull and the University of Warwick in the UK.

“Falls have debilitating and isolating social consequences for older people, not to mention the increasing economic cost they present in our ageing population,” says Professor Clemson.

“Our review found a number of interventions can prevent older people from falling, with solutions as simple as wearing an anti-slip shoe device in icy conditions and as complex as surgical and drug treatments. We found multiple-component exercises for groups or individuals significantly reduced the risk of falls.”

In fact, three trials in the review found that interventions could save more money than they cost.

Falls affect approximately 30 percent of people over 65 living in the community. Around one in five falls requires medical attention, and one in ten results in a fracture.

“Falls can start a downward spiral of immobility, reduced confidence, and incapacity leading to institutionalisation, so it’s really important we tackle the issue to prevent as many falls as possible,” says Professor Clemson, who developed a program for falls prevention published in the British Medical Journal last month.

The Cochrane review found performing safety modifications and behaviour changes in the home to be particularly effective in falls reduction, especially for people with severe visual impairments and when the assessment was carried out by a qualified occupational therapist.

Some forms of medication changes and surgery also reduced falling, with people fitted for pacemakers for particular heart rate disorders (carotid sinus hypersensitivity) falling less often than those without the pacemakers. Women receiving cataract surgery on the first eye also had a reduced rate of falling, although removing the cataract from the second eye had no further effect.

According to the review, older people may be at an increased risk of falling while adjusting to new glasses or major changes in prescriptions. However, the risk reduced when people wearing multifocal glasses who took part in activities outside the home swapped their multifocals for two separate pairs of glasses for distance and close vision tasks.

Source: Science Alert

New test predicts risk for Autism.

A team of Australian researchers, led by University of Melbourne has developed a genetic test that is able to predict the risk of developing Autism Spectrum Disorder, ASD.

Lead researcher Professor Stan Skafidas, Director of the Centre for Neural Engineering at the University of Melbourne said the test could be used to assess the risk for developing the disorder.
“This test could assist in the early detection of the condition in babies and children and help in the early management of those who become diagnosed,” he said.
“It would be particularly relevant for families who have a history of Autism or related conditions such as Asperger’s Syndrome,” he said.

Autism affects around one in 150 births and is characterized by abnormal social interaction, impaired communication and repetitive behaviours.

The test correctly predicted ASD with more than 70 per cent accuracy in people of central European descent. Ongoing validation tests are continuing including the development of accurate testing for other ethnic groups.

Clinical neuropsychologist, Dr Renee Testa from the University of Melbourne and Monash University, said the test would allow clinicians to provide early interventions that may reduce behavioural and cognitive difficulties that children and adults with ASD experience.
“Early identification of risk means we can provide interventions to improve overall functioning for those affected, including families,” she said.

A genetic cause has been long sought with many genes implicated in the condition, but no single gene has been adequate for determining risk.
Using US data from 3,346 individuals with ASD and 4,165 of their relatives from Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE) and Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI), the researchers identified 237 genetic markers (SNPs) in 146 genes and related cellular pathways that either contribute to or protect an individual from developing ASD.

Senior author Professor Christos Pantelis of the Melbourne Neuropsychiatry Centre at the University of Melbourne and Melbourne Health said the discovery of the combination of contributing and protective gene markers and their interaction had helped to develop a very promising predictive ASD test.

The test is based on measuring both genetic markers of risk and protection for ASD. The risk markers increase the score on the genetic test, while the protective markers decrease the score. The higher the overall score, the higher the individual risk.

“This has been a multidisciplinary team effort with expertise across fields providing new ways of investigating this complex condition,” Professor Pantelis said.

The study was undertaken in collaboration with Professor Ian Everall, Cato Chair in Psychiatry and Dr Gursharan Chana from the University of Melbourne and Melbourne Health, and Dr Daniela Zantomio from Austin Health.

The next step is to further assess the accuracy of the test by monitoring children who are not yet diagnosed over an extended study. 

The study has been published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

Source: Science Alert

One step closer to ‘Mad Cow’ test

A simple blood test for Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease and Mad Cow disease is a step closer, following a breakthrough by medical researchers at the University of Melbourne.

Using newly available genetic sequencing scientists discovered cells infected with prions (the infectious agent responsible for these diseases) release particles which contain easily recognised ‘signature genes’.

Associate Professor Andrew Hill — from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Bio21 Institute — said these particles travel in the blood stream, making a diagnostic blood test a possibility.

“This might provide a way to screen people who have spent time in the UK, who currently face restrictions on their ability to donate blood,” he said.

“With a simple blood test nurses could deem a prospective donor’s blood as healthy, with the potential to significantly boost critical blood stocks.”

Mad Cow disease was linked to the deaths of nearly 200 people in Great Britain who consumed meat from infected animals in the late 1980s.

Since 2000, the Australia Red Cross Blood Service has not accepted blood from anybody who lived in the UK for more than six months between 1980 and 1996, or who received a blood transfusion in the UK after 1980.

The research is published in this week’s Oxford University Press Nucleic Acids Research journal.

Lead author Dr Shayne Bellingham said the breakthrough might also help detect other human neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

“This is an exciting new field where we can test for conditions in the brain and throughout the body, without being invasive,” he said.

The researchers’ genetic testing focused on a form of cell discharge called exosomes.

If exosomes were infected with prions (the pathogen that causes Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease and Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, commonly known as Mad Cow Disease) they were found to also carry a specific signature of small genes called microRNA’s.

The research was undertaken at the University of Melbourne, with assistance from the Mental Health Research Institute of Victoria, the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Australian Research Council.

Source: Science Alert

How dredging affects corals?

Research by the Australian Institute of Marine Science has discovered that proposed dredging works along the WA coast could severely impact certain coral species found in local waters.

Scientists from the Institute along with the Australian Research Centre of Excellence conducted laboratory tests to develop lethal and sub-lethal benchmarks for coral exposed to dredging-generated sediments related to offshore developments.

The researchers tested two species of coral found in offshore locations to six levels of total suspended solids for 16 weeks, including a four week recovery period.

They tested the horizontal foliaceous species Montipora Aequituberculata and the upright branching species Acropora Millepora, both of which are found along WA’s coast.

Montipora Aequituberculata proved to be more susceptible as after 12 weeks all coral tissue under the sediment had died, exposing white coral skeleton.

Australian Institute of Marine Science senior principal research scientist Ross Jones says the sediment can affect coral by impacting their ability to feed as well as settling on the coral’s surface, causing it to expend energy cleaning itself.

“It can also attenuate light—light attenuation is a key thing because a lot of these habitats are primary producer habitats so the corals and sea life need light to photosynthesise and light is attenuated by the sediments,” Dr Jones says.

“It is like having permanently cloudy weather all the time, so it has the potential to have an effect on the marine environment.”

The study found that sediment accumulation on coral tissue was a “strong and consistent cause of tissue mortality” and resulted in the death of whole coral fragments over prolonged periods.

“What the study showed was that one species which was generally a flat plate-like coral was affected more so that the branching Acropora species because the sediment began to pile up on the coral,” Dr Jones says.

“That happened to an extent and rate at which it couldn’t clear itself, so it gradually became buried because the sedimentation rate was faster than its ability to clear itself.”

Woodside Energy funded the study and was cited as the operator of the proposed $30 billion Browse liquefied natural gas development at James Price Point, north of Broome.

Dr Jones says Woodside commissioned the study because it was investigating the effects of dredging at Browse.

“This study was initially commissioned by Woodside to try and come up with some numbers to build an environmental assessment of the project,” Dr Jones says.

He says this report is only a small amount of the research that will be conducted in the next few years into what sediment does to corals and other marine life in response to the proposed dredging.

Source: Science Alert



Early bionic eye lets patient see.

In a major development, Bionic Vision Australia researchers have successfully performed the first implantation of an early prototype bionic eye with 24 electrodes.

Ms Dianne Ashworth has profound vision loss due to retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited condition. She has now received what she calls a ‘pre-bionic eye’ implant that enables her to experience some vision. A passionate technology fan, Ms Ashworth was motivated to make a contribution to the bionic eye research program.

After years of hard work and planning, Ms Ashworth’s implant was switched on last month at the Bionics Institute, while researchers held their breaths in the next room, observing via video link.

“I didn’t know what to expect, but all of a sudden, I could see a little flash…it was amazing. Every time there was stimulation there was a different shape that appeared in front of my eye,” Ms Ashworth said.

Professor Emeritus David Penington AC, Chairman of Bionic Vision Australia said: “These results have fulfilled our best expectations, giving us confidence that with further development we can achieve useful vision. Much still needs to be done in using the current implant to ‘build’ images for Ms Ashworth. The next big step will be when we commence implants of the full devices.”

Professor Anthony Burkitt, Director of Bionic Vision Australia and Professor of Engineering at the University of Melbourne said: “This outcome is a strong example of what a multi-disciplinary research team can achieve. Funding from the Australian Government was critical in reaching this important milestone. The Bionics Institute and the surgeons at the Centre for Eye Research Australia played a critical role in reaching this point.”

Professor Rob Shepherd, Director of the Bionics Institute and a member of the Medical Bionics Department at the University of Melbourne, led the team in designing, building and testing this early prototype to ensure its safety and efficacy for human implantation. Cochlear technology supported aspects of the project.

Dr Penny Allen, a specialist surgeon at the Centre for Eye Research Australia, led a surgical team to implant the prototype at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital.

“This is a world first – we implanted a device in this position behind the retina, demonstrating the viability of our approach. Every stage of the procedure was planned and tested, so I felt very confident going into theatre,” Dr Allen said.

The implant is only switched on and stimulated after the eye has recovered fully from the effects of surgery. The next phase of this work involves testing various levels of electrical stimulation with Ms Ashworth.

“We are working with Ms Ashworth to to determine exactly what she sees each time the retina is stimulated using a purpose built laboratory at the Bionics Institute. The team is looking for consistency of shapes, brightness, size and location of flashes to determine how the brain interprets this information.

“Having this unique information will allow us to maximise our technology as it evolves through 2013 and 2014,” Professor Shepherd said.

How it works

This early prototype consists of a retinal implant with 24 electrodes. A small lead wire extends from the back of the eye to a connector behind the ear. An external system is connected to this unit in the laboratory, allowing researchers to stimulate the implant in a controlled manner in order to study the flashes of light. Feedback from Ms Ashworth will allow researchers to develop a vision processor so that images can be built using flashes of light. This early prototype does not incorporate an external camera – yet. This is planned for the next stage of development and testing.

Researchers continue development and testing of the wide-view implant with 98 electrodes and the high- acuity implant with 1024 electrodes. Patient tests are planned for these devices in due course.

About Bionic Vision Australia

Bionic Vision Australia is a national consortium of researchers from the Bionics Institute, Centre for Eye Research Australia, NICTA, the University of Melbourne and the University of New South Wales.

The National Vision Research Institute, the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital and the University of Western Sydney are project partners.

The project brings together a cross-disciplinary group of world-leading experts in the fields of ophthalmology, biomedical engineering, electrical engineering and materials science, neuroscience, vision science, psychophysics, wireless integrated-circuit design, and surgical, preclinical and clinical practice.

This research is funded by a $42 million grant over four years from the Australian Research Council (ARC) through its Special Research Initiative (SRI) in Bionic Vision Science and Technology.

Source: Science Alert

New device heals muscle pains.

Using a hand held device the size of a computer mouse for just 30 minutes could significantly change how people deal with, and recover from, the pain associated with musculoskeletal conditions.

Edith Cowan University (ECU) School of Exercise and Health Sciences Master by Research student Harry Banyard has been investigating the effectiveness of electromagnetic therapy in treating muscle damage.

Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy (PEMFT) has already been proven to enhance the healing of bone fractures and osteoarthritis, but no scientific evidence exists on whether it can help the recovery of muscles, explains Mr Banyard.

“In testing the PEMFT, using a machine called an e-cell, I wanted to determine whether the device could really have an impact on debilitating conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and muscle tears and sprains experienced by elite athletes,” Mr Banyard said.

“Current treatments for these conditions include costly trips to physiotherapists and remedial massage therapists. This device could provide an alternative.”

The e-cell device was tested by Mr Banyard over a period of six months on both male and female volunteers. Muscle damage was induced in their biceps by forcibly lowering their extended arm using a machine whilst they tried to maximally resist against it.

“The results suggested that the e-cell treatment significantly enhanced the recovery of muscle function including a rapid return of strength and range of motion, significantly reducing swelling and tenderness,” Mr Banyard said.

“For an elite athlete, being able to recover quickly can have a significant impact on their performance, a hundredth of a second can mean the difference between winning or losing, so any measurable improvement this device can provide is valuable.”

“The range of conditions that the e-cell could assist in treating is endless. It has the potential to be used in post-operative care for joint replacements, as well as in elite athlete recovery and for the weekend warrior gym goer who goes a bit too hard.”

Source: Science Alert

Screening halves breast cancer deaths.

Women who undergo screening halve their risk of dying from breast cancer, a new study from the University of Melbourne has found.

The study, published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention is the largest of its kind in Australia and one of the largest in the world. It followed about 4,000 women in a study of the BreastScreen program in Western Australia.

University of Melbourne Research Fellow Dr Carolyn Nickson and colleagues from the Melbourne School of Population Health said the findings reaffirmed the importance and efficacy of mammography.

The study focused on women aged 50-69 years, who are in the target age range for screening. It included 427 cases where women had died from breast cancer and 3,650 control women who were still alive when the other women died.

The research team compared screening attendance between the two groups and found screening was much lower among women who had died from breast cancer, a finding that is consistent with a similar study from South Australia and with numerous studies from around the world. Comparison with similar studies showed an average estimate of a 49 per cent reduced risk of dying.

Some other studies including studies from Australia claim that screening doesn’t reduce risk of dying from breast cancer. However, these studies do not compare outcomes for individual women.

“Sound research methods have been used in this study. I believe it is time to move on from the debate about whether screening reduces mortality and to instead direct research resources to help improve the program for women who choose to use it,” Dr Nickson said.

“It is important that Australian women have accurate information about the pros and cons of participating in BreastScreen. The findings of this study may help women decide whether to participate.”

“Early detection is the key to early treatment and the free BreastScreen program is the best health service available to detect breast cancers earlier in women aged 50-69 years.”

Source: Science Alert



Earth’s plates move slower than thought.

The mystery of erratic changes in the history of Earth’s past and current plate motions has been cracked by academics from The Australian National University.

Dr Giampiero Iaffaldano, from the Research School of Earth Sciences in the ANU College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, led a team that found true changes in plate motions occur on timescales no shorter than a few million years.

“The scenario arising from recent data was puzzling because plates appeared to move erratically and significantly over geologically-short periods of less than one million years,” said Dr Iaffaldano.

“This posed a conundrum, as the forces that would be required to explain their sudden motions far exceed the most optimistic estimates we could make.”

Dr Iaffaldano’s research focused on the detailed records of plate motions across the mid-oceanic ridges in the South Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans. After accounting for data noise – the portion of data that was unrelated to Earth’s plate motions – he found that true changes in plate motions occur on timescales no shorter than five million years.

“A major discovery of the study is that, upon noise reduction, true changes in plate motions occur on timescales no shorter than a few million years. This yields simpler movement patterns and more plausible dynamics,” he said.

“We showed that noise is in fact a significant bias to our understanding of the forces shaping Earth’s surface, particularly as more and more measurements of plate motions are made available.

“This does not mean that these measurements are wrong, but we need to reduce noise as much as possible before making any geophysical conclusions. In our study we provide for the first time a method to do so in a simple and efficient way, by statistically determining the likelihood of a certain plate-motion change at a given time in the geologic past.”

Source: Science Alert



The Ecology of Disease – How Environmental Sustainability Can Make or Break Animal and Human Health.

The featured article is a rare gem that highlights the interrelatedness of humans with the environment, pointing out that most epidemics, such as AIDS, Ebola, West Nile, SARS, and Lyme disease, just to name a few, are a direct result of man’s failure to live in harmony with nature. By severely disrupting our environment, we create our own demise.

A project financed by the United States Agency for International Development has made its goal to determine the ecology of disease – a project that, if successful, will aid health officials in determining where the next disease outbreak may occur. While lack of food sources, water and sanitation play a key part in disease, they know that in developing countries disease also hinges heavily on the types of wildlife in an area, destruction of wildlife and forest areas, and the diseases and bacteria the wildlife may be carrying.

As reported by the New York Times:1

“There’s a term biologists and economists use these days – ecosystem services – which refers to the many ways nature supports the human endeavor. Forests filter the water we drink, for example, and birds and bees pollinate crops, both of which have substantial economic as well as biological value.

…By mapping encroachment into the forest you can predict where the next disease could emerge, So we’re going to the edge of villages, we’re going to places where mines have just opened up, areas where new roads are being built. We are going to talk to people who live within these zones and saying, ‘what you are doing is potentially a risk.'”


Our modern lifestyle has largely separated us from nature, and few stop to consider the immense impact environmental destruction has on our individual health. We simply cannot extricate ourselves from the symbiotic relationship we have with nature, and that includes both the environment and wildlife, big and small.

According to the featured article, some 60 percent of emerging infectious diseases in humans originate in the animal kingdom, and environmental destruction promotes this animal-to-human transfer of disease.

A new project called Predict, funded by the United States Agency for International Development, aims to determine where new diseases are likely to emerge, based on how the landscape is altered by human activities. The project will also study forest-, wildlife- and livestock management to prevent the spread of pandemic disease.

As the New York Times explains:

“The Nipah virus in South Asia, and the closely related Hendra virus in Australia, both in the genus of henipah viruses, are the most urgent examples of how disrupting an ecosystem can cause disease. The viruses originated with flying foxes, Pteropus vampyrus, also known as fruit bats…
[O]nce the virus breaks out of the bats and into species that haven’t evolved with it, a horror show can occur, as one did in 1999 in rural Malaysia.

It is likely that a bat dropped a piece of chewed fruit into a piggery in a forest. The pigs became infected with the virus, and amplified it, and it jumped to humans. It was startling in its lethality. Out of 276 people infected in Malaysia, 106 died, and many others suffered permanent and crippling neurological disorders.”

According to experts, the answer to preventing these kinds of pandemics lies in understanding how leaving nature intact can protect against the emergence of disease. For example, according to a study cited in the featured article, a four percent increase in deforestation in the Amazon increased malaria by nearly 50 percent! The reason for this non-linear increase in disease in response to cutting down of forest is because disease-spreading mosquitoes thrive in a mix of water and sunlight, which is in ample supply in deforested areas.

Lyme disease is another disease produced by man’s interference with nature. By reducing and fragmenting large swaths of forests, larger predators such as wolves, foxes, and hawks, for example, have been pushed out. As a result, certain kinds of mice that are the primary carriers of Lyme bacteria have been given free rein to multiply.

According to the New York Times:

“‘When we do things in an ecosystem that erode biodiversity – we chop forests into bits or replace habitat with agricultural fields – we tend to get rid of species that serve a protective role,’ [Lyme disease researcher] Dr. Ostfeld told me. ‘There are a few species that are reservoirs and a lot of species that are not. The ones we encourage are the ones that play reservoir roles.'”

The One Health Initiative

In response to these findings, a worldwide program called the One Health Initiative2 launched a couple of years ago, involving a number of medical, veterinarian and agricultural organizations and federal agencies, along with more than 600 scientists and other professionals in both human and veterinary medicine. Its mission statement reads:

“Recognizing that human health (including mental health via the human-animal bond phenomenon), animal health, and ecosystem health are inextricably linked, One Health seeks to promote, improve, and defend the health and well-being of all species by enhancing cooperation and collaboration between physicians, veterinarians, other scientific health and environmental professionals and by promoting strengths in leadership and management to achieve these goals.”

Sustainability is at the heart of this holistic view. And the creation of such a global program comes not a moment too late, as the ever increasing spread of genetically engineered crops and plants now threatens sustainability everywhere.

Genetically Engineered Plants – One of the Most Dire Threats to Sustainability

As explained by Dr. Don Huber – an expert in soil-borne diseases, microbial ecology, host-parasite relationships, and GE toxicity – it’s essential to understand that agriculture is a complete system based on inter-related factors. In order to maintain ecological balance and health, you must understand how that system works as a whole. Any time you change one part of that system, you change the interaction of all the other components, because they work together.

It is simply impossible to change just one minor aspect without altering the entire system, and this is why genetically engineered crops pose such a dire threat not just to the environment, but also to wildlife, livestock, and humans, and do so in more ways than one.

Dr. Huber’s research, which spans over 55 years, has been devoted to looking at how the agricultural system can be managed for more effective crop production, better disease control, improved nutrition, and safety. The introduction of genetically engineered crops has dramatically affected and changed all agricultural components:

  • The plants
  • The physical environment
  • The dynamics of the biological environment, and
  • Pests and diseases (plant, animal, and human diseases)

Food Quality is Related to Soil Quality

One of the major modifications done to genetically engineered (GE) food crops is the introduction of herbicide resistance. Monsanto is the leader in this field, with their patented Roundup Ready corn, cotton, soybean and sugar beets, which can survive otherwise lethal doses of glyphosate – the active ingredient in Roundup.

The introduction of glyphosate-resistance has had a direct impact on soil microbes, which in turn decreases the food quality. While the link between an herbicide (which is directed toward plants) and soil microbes may not be immediately apparent, this ripple effect occurs because, again, it’s an inter-related system.

In a nutshell, herbicides are chelators that form a barrier around specific nutrients, preventing whatever life form is seeking to utilize that element from utilizing it properly. That applies both to plants and soil microbes – as well as animals and humans. This may actually be one of the primary reasons why genetically engineered foods appear to be able to cause such profound health problems in those who consume them. According to Dr. Huber, the nutritional efficiency of genetically engineered (GE) plants is profoundly compromised. Micronutrients such as iron, manganese and zinc can be reduced by as much as 80-90 percent in GE plants!

The quality of the food is almost always related to the quality of the soil. The most foundational and critical components of the soil are the microorganisms that thrive there – more so than the necessary nutrients, because it’s the microorganisms that allow the plants to utilize those nutrients.

According to Dr. Huber:

“The plant can only utilize certain [reduced] forms of all the nutrients… The way that it becomes reduced in the soil is through those beneficial microorganisms. We also have microorganisms for legumes like soybeans, alfalfa, peas, or any of the other legumes that can fix up to 75 percent of their actual nitrogen for protein in amino acid synthesis that actually comes from the air through the microorganisms in the soil.

Glyphosate is extremely toxic to all of those organisms. What we see with our continued use and abuse of this powerful weed killer is that it is also totally eliminating many of those organisms from the soil. We no longer have the same balance that we used to have.”

The result of this imbalance in soil organisms is disease – in plants, animals, and humans. As just one example, toxic botulism is now becoming a more common cause of death in dairy cows whereas such deaths used to be extremely rare. The reason it didn’t occur before was because beneficial organisms served as natural controls to keep the Clostridium botulinum in check. Glyphosate, and glyphosate-resistant crops decimate beneficial organisms not just in soil, but also in animal and human intestines. As a result, the Clostridium botulinum is allowed to proliferate in the animal’s intestines and produce lethal amounts of toxins.

Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth is… Some Food for Thought

As Dr. Huber states:

“When future historians come to write about our era they are not going to write about the tons of chemicals we did or didn’t apply. When it comes to glyphosate they are going to write about our willingness to sacrifice our children and to jeopardize our very existence by risking the sustainability of our agriculture; all based upon failed promises and flawed science. The only benefit is that it affects the bottom-line of a few companies. There’s no nutritional value.”

Unfortunately, due to lack of labeling, many Americans are still unfamiliar with what genetically engineered foods are. We now have a great opportunity to change that, and I urge you to participate and to continue supporting the California ballot initiative – which will require labeling of genetically engineered foods and food ingredients, and eliminate the routine industry practice of labeling and marketing such foods as “natural.”

The voting takes place in November. Remember, since California is the 8th largest economy in the world, a win for the California Initiative would be a huge step forward, and would likely affect ingredients and labeling nation-wide, as large companies are not likely going to label their products as genetically engineered when sold in California, but not when sold in other states. Doing so would be a PR disaster.

But it’s an enormous ongoing battle, as the biotech industry will outspend us by 100 to 1, if not more, for their propaganda. Needless to say, the campaign needs funds, as there are no deep corporate pockets funding this citizen’s initiative. So, please, if you have the ability, I strongly encourage you to make a donation.

Some good news: the California “Yes on 37” Right to Know campaign recently received the endorsement of the California Labor Federation and U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Mark Leno.

“Senator Boxer said, ‘California consumers have the right to know if their food has been genetically engineered. This basic information should be available for consumers on the label the way it is in 50 other countries around the world.’ The Digital Journal reported on July 27.3

State Senator Mark Leno said, ‘The people of California want to know what’s in their food. More than half the people in the world live in countries that already require labeling of genetically engineered foods. Californians deserve to have this information too.’

Steve Smith, Communications Director for the California Labor Federation, said, ‘Working people deserve the right to know what is in the food we are feeding our families. Prop 37 is a commonsense measure that ensures our families are able to make educated choices about the food we purchase. We’re proud to join with millions of Californians in supporting the right to know what’s in our food.'”

I urge you to get involved and help in any way you can. Be assured that what happens in California will affect the remainder of the U.S. states, so please support this important state initiative, even if you do not live there!

  • Join the CA RightToKnow campaign, and tell everyone you know in California to vote YES on Proposition 37.
  • Whether you live in California or not, please donate money to this historic effort through the Organic Consumers Fund.
  • Talk to organic producers and stores and ask them to actively support Proposition 37.  It may be the only chance we have to label genetically engineered foods.