Forget global warming, worry about the Earth’s MAGNETOSPHERE.


  • The Earth's protective field extends thousands of miles into space and its magnetism affects everything from global communication to animal migration and weather patterns
    Earth’s magnetic field has weakened by 15 per cent over the last 200 years
  • Could be a sign that the planet’s north and south poles are about to flip
  • If this happens, solar winds could punch holes into the Earth’s ozone layer
  • This could damage power grids, affect weather and increase cancer rates
  • Evidence of flip happening in the past has been uncovered in pottery
  • As the magnetic shield weakens, the spectacle of an aurora would be visible every night all over the Earth

 

Deep within the Earth, a fierce molten core is generating a magnetic field capable of defending our planet against devastating solar winds.

The protective field extends thousands of miles into space and its magnetism affects everything from global communication to animal migration and weather patterns.

But this magnetic field, so important to life on Earth, has weakened by 15 per cent over the last 200 years. And this, scientists claim, could be a sign that the Earth’s poles are about to flip.

 The Earth’s protective field extends thousands of miles into space and its magnetism affects everything from global communication to animal migration and weather patterns

Experts believe we’re currently overdue a flip, but they’re unsure when this could occur. 

If a switch happens, we would be exposed to solar winds capable of punching holes into the ozone layer.

The impact could be devastating for mankind, knocking out power grids, radically changing Earth’s climate and driving up rates of cancer.

‘This is serious business’, Richard Holme, Professor of Earth, Ocean and Ecological Sciences at Liverpool University told MailOnline. ‘Imagine for a moment your electrical power supply was knocked out for a few months – very little works without electricity these days.’

 The Earth’s climate would change drastically. In fact, a recent Danish study believes global warming is directly related to the magnetic field rather than CO2 emissions.

The study claimed that the planet is experiencing a natural period of low cloud cover due to fewer cosmic rays entering the atmosphere.

 Radiation at ground level would also increase, with some estimates suggesting overall exposure to cosmic radiation would double causing more deaths from cancer.

Researchers predict that in the event of a flip, every year a hundred thousand people would die from the increased levels of space radiation.

‘Radiation could be 3-5 times greater than that from the man-made ozone holes. Furthermore, the ozone holes would be larger and longer-lived,’ said Dr Colin Forsyth from the Mullard Space Science Laboratory at UCL.

The magnetosphere is a large area around the Earth produced by the planet’s magnetic field. It presence means that charged particles of the solar wind are unable to cross the magnetic field lines and are deflected around the Earth

The magnetosphere is a large area around the Earth produced by the planet’s magnetic field. It presence means that charged particles of the solar wind are unable to cross the magnetic field lines and are deflected around the Earth.

Space agencies are now taking the threat seriously. In November, three spacecraft were launched as part of the SWARM mission to uncover how the Earth’s magnetic field is changing.

The mission plans to provide better maps of our planet’s magnetic field and help scientists understand the impact of space weather on satellite communication and GPS.

‘Whilst we have a basic understanding of the interior of the Earth, there is much we still don’t know,’ said Dr Forsyth.

‘We do not fully understand how the Earth’s magnetic field is generated, why it is variable and the timescales of these variations.’

The mission will provide a current map of Earth’s magnetic field. But historic evidence of its decline has already been found in a surprising source – ancient pottery.

Scientists have discovered that ancient pots can act as a magnetic time capsule. This is because they contain an iron-based mineral called magnetite. When pots form, the magnetite minerals align with the Earth’s magnetic field, just like compass needles.

WHAT IS GEOMAGNETIC REVERSAL?

  The Earth’s magnetic field is in a permanent state of change. Magnetic north drifts around and every few hundred thousand years the polarity flips so a compass would point south instead of north. The strength of the magnetic field also constantly changes and currently it is showing signs of significant weakening.

The Earth magnetic field is mainly generated in the very hot molten core of the planet. The magnetic field is basically a dipole (it has a North and a South Pole). Magnetic reversal or flip is the process by which the North Pole is transformed into the South and vice versa, typically following a considerable reduction in the strength of the magnetic field. However, weakening of the magnetic field does not always result in a reversal.

During a reversal, scientists expect to see more complicated field pattern at the Earth’s surface, with perhaps more than one North and South Pole at any given time. The overall strength of the field, anywhere on the Earth, may be no more than a tenth of its strength now.

The Earth’s magnetic field is generated in the very hot molten core of the planet. Scientists believe Mars used to have a magnetic field similar to that on Earth which protected its atmosphere

By examining pottery from prehistory to modern times, scientists have discovered just how dramatically the field has changed in the last few centuries.

They’ve found that Earth’s magnetic field is in a permanent state of flux. Magnetic north drifts and every few hundred thousand years the polarity flips so a compass would point south instead of north.

If the magnetic field continues to decline, over billions of years, Earth could end up like Mars – a once oceanic world that has become a dry, barren planet incapable of supporting life.

WHAT ARE THE DANGERS OF A MAGNETIC FLIP?

 Life has existed on the Earth for billions of years, during which there have been many reversals.

There is no obvious correlation between animal extinctions and those reversals. Likewise, reversal patterns do not have any correlation with human development and evolution.

It appears that some animals, such as whales and some birds use Earth’s magnetic field for migration and direction finding.

Since geomagnetic reversal takes a number of thousands of years, they could well adapt to the changing magnetic environment or develop different methods of navigation.

Radiation at ground level would increase, however, with some estimates suggesting that overall exposure to cosmic radiation would double causing more deaths from cancer. ‘But only slightly,’ said Professor Richard Holme.

‘And much less than lying on the beach in Florida for a day. So if it happened, the protection method would probably be to wear a big floppy hat.’

Electric grid collapse from severe solar storms is a major risk. As the magnetic field continues to weaken, scientists are highlighting the importance off-the grid energy systems using renewable energy sources to protect the Earth against a black out.

‘The very highly charged particles can have a deleterious effect on the satellites and astronauts,’ added Dr Mona Kessel, a Magnetosphere discipline scientist at Nasa.

In one area, there is evidence that a flip is already occurring. ‘The increasing strength of the South Atlantic anomaly, an area of weak field over Brazil, is already a problem,’ said Professor Richard Holme.

The Earth’s climate could also change. A recent Danish study has found that the earth’s weather has been significantly affected by the planet’s magnetic field.

They claimed that fluctuations in the number of cosmic rays hitting the atmosphere directly alter the amount of cloud covering the planet.

Henrik Svensmark, a weather scientist at the Danish National Space Centre who led the team behind the research, believes that the planet is experiencing a natural period of low cloud cover due to fewer cosmic rays entering the atmosphere.

But scientists claim the rate of decline is too fast for the Earth’s core to simply burn out. Instead, the story told by ancient pottery suggests the Earth’s poles could be about to undergo another flip.

According to the British Geological Survey, the Earth’s magnetic field has on average four or five reversals in polarity every million years and we’re now overdue a similar event.

‘At the moment, we cannot accurately determine whether or not the Earth’s field is about to flip,’ said Dr Forsyth. ‘We have only been recording the Earth’s field for around 170 years; about 1-15 per cent of the time a flip is expected to take.’

If a flip occurs, it would cause the Earth’s magnetic shield to be weakened for thousands of years, opening up our defences and causing cosmic radiation to get through.

 ‘We have a double layer defence shield,’ Jim Wild a space scientists at Lancaster University. 

‘Space is full of stuff that’s not great for biological tissue. If we didn’t have an atmosphere, that stuff would be hitting us. It’s the magnetic field protects atmosphere from the solar wind.’

‘Some speculative studies have suggested that as the Earth’s magnetic field weakens we could see an increase in cloud coverage in the troposphere and an increase in the polar ozone holes,’ added Dr Forsyth.

‘This would be particularly evident in the northern hemisphere where up to 40 per cent of the ozone within the hole region could be lost, far greater than the current losses.’

In fact, in one area, there is evidence that a flip is already occurring. ‘The increasing strength of the South Atlantic anomaly, an area of weak field over Brazil, is already a problem,’ said Professor Holme.

Not all of the effects of a weak magnetic field will be bad. The much sought-after spectacle of an aurora would be visible every night all over the Earth as solar winds hit the atmosphere

‘Satellites flying over have far more problems than in other locations. Astrophysical satellite are just switched off in this location, but from my perspective, this isn’t much good if you want to study the Brazilian rainforest.’

‘The very highly charged particles can have a deleterious effect on the satellites and astronauts,’ added Dr Mona Kessel, a Magnetosphere discipline scientist at Nasa.

Scientists however, are quick to point out that while a magnetic flip could cause problems for mankind, the event won’t be a catastrophic.

‘We’ve had many reversals in the past, and haven’t been able to show that they had anything to do with, for example, mass extinctions,’ said Professor Holme.

And not all of the effects will be bad. The much sought-after spectacle of an aurora would be visible every night all over the Earth as solar winds hit the atmosphere.

There remains, however, much work yet to be done in understanding the properties of the deep Earth.

The Earth’s core is a hostile world where the crushing forces and temperatures, similar to that of the surface of the sun, take our scientific understanding and abilities to the limit.

‘This isn’t some crazy theory that might happen,’ said Professor Wild. ‘There is evidence, but we still need to do more science to understand the impact…I’m confidence we can come up with a solution.’

WHAT IS THE SWARM MISSION?

 Swarm is a ESA satellite mission which was launched on 22nd November 2013.

The mission consists of three identical satellites which will precisely measure the strength and direction of Earth’s magnetic field. The new data will be processed by British Geological Survey to produce an accurate map of this field.

In order to best measure the field, the satellites will orbit in a unique configuration. Two satellites will fly side-by-side at height of 450 km, while the third satellite will fly at an altitude of 530 km.

The lower two satellites will allow very fine measurements of the magnetic field generated by the rocks in the Earth’s crust, which are difficult to detect otherwise. The upper satellite will give a simultaneous measurement at a different location.

 

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Google could be the first company to implement Asimov’s Three Laws.


Rumors of an ethics board to accompany Google’s recent acquisition of the artificial intelligence company DeepMind Technologies could see the creation of uniform robotics laws in the future.I-Robot-SunnyScience fiction is positively littered with the idea of artificial intelligence. From the first whispers of mechanical consciousness by Samuel Butler in 1906 to the current day concepts of fully formed digital people like Cortana in the Halo franchise, the basic idea that one day machines will be able to think and act on their own is deeply seeded in our global culture.Google has taken surprising and fantastic strides in the last couple of months to actively encourage the imaginations of many to run wild, with Andy Rubin now leading a rapidly expanding team of purchased companies to create bipedal robots. All of the pieces are on the board for the kind of humanoid thinking machines from our favorite books as a child, but with that comes the responsibility of governing those machines and setting standards for their existence.Artificial intelligence, in a basic sense, is already a significant part of how Google is able to deliver some of the incredible services the company offers today. Produts like Google Now, search engines, and ad delivery networks rely heavily on advanced algorithms. For their next trick Google has purchased DeepMind Technologies whose technology has been demonstrated thinking like humans when playing video games.

It’s not been made clear where or how this technology will be used at Google, but the purchased has been coupled with a report that an ethics board is being formed to help create rules for the application of artificial intelligence.

Artificial Intelligence

Google has a lot of things that an ethics board for artificial intelligence could have a hand in. As a contractor to the Department of Defense, as the creator of self driving vehicles, and as the glue bringing together dozens of the brightest minds in robotics, there’s more than a few applications that will require rules for the general population to be alright with everything. Almost more important that how this newly acquired technology is used on public facing projects is how it is used internally at Google, which is a big part of why theethics board would need to be comprised of employees who are familiar with Google’s inner workings as opposed to outside sources.

The next few steps for Google are important ones because as of right now they are at the forefront of these technologies. The rules created for the use of artificial intelligence in whatever context Google decides to apply them may start out as being specific to Google, but the significant global influence the company has could quickly see them become standards as other organizations begin to move into these same areas. It puts Google in a unique new position of power as an authority in artificial intelligence, and could easily make them responsible for the first implementation of the three laws of robotics.

And, of course, Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws are:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

 

This 78-Year-Old Vegan Bodybuilder Might Make You Reconsider Your Diet.


Jim Morris was a competitive bodybuilder for 30 years, and became vegan within the past twelve. At 50 he was a vegetarian, and at 65 he was a vegan.


Jim talks about health problems he endured when he ate meat and dairy products. He explains that if he continued to eat unhealthy animal based products he wouldn’t be alive today.

“The protein in animal products is filled with fats and chemicals and all sorts of stuff that’s harmful to you. When I was competing and stuffing down all that stuff, I had lots of digestive problems, I was constipated and bloated, just miserable all the time. I don’t concern myself with protein anymore, because there is enough in what I eat. I am not only healthy, but I feel better about myself and how I relate to other creatures in the world.” –Jim

If you are curious about vegetarian and vegan diets, hopefully this post will inspire you to look into it further.

Studies show that vegetarians and vegans live, on average, 6 to 10 years longer than meat-eaters and they’re less likely to suffer from chronic illnesses. It’s always important to do your research if you are considering a major dietary change, don’t just take my word for it, look, search, and you will see for yourself.

Source: : PETA.org

What Killed the Woolly Mammoth?


Professor finds some evidence to support a comet collision as the trigger for the Younger Dryas, which may have contributed to megafauna extinction
Nanodiamonds

Nanodiamond textures observed with high-resolution transmission electron microscopy: A) star twin; B) multiple linear twins.

Bull Creek, OK excavation

The excavation at Bull Creek, Okla., shows the paleosol — ancient buried soil; the dark black layer in the side of the cliff — that formed during the Younger Dryas.
Could a comet have been responsible for the extinction of North America’s megafauna — woolly mammoths, giant ground sloths and saber-tooth tigers? UC Santa Barbara’s James Kennett, professor emeritus in the Department of Earth Science, posited that such an extraterrestrial event occurred 12,900 years ago.

Originally published in 2007, Kennett’s controversial Younger Dryas Boundary (YDB) hypothesis suggests that a comet collision precipitated the Younger Dryas period of global cooling, which, in turn, contributed to the extinction of many animals and altered human adaptations. The nanodiamond is one type of material that could result from an extraterrestrial collision, and the presence of nanodiamonds along Bull Creek in the Oklahoma Panhandle lends credence to the YDB hypothesis.

More recently, another group of earth scientists, including UCSB’s Alexander Simms and alumna Hanna Alexander, re-examined the distribution of nanodiamonds in Bull Creek’s sedimentological record to see if they could reproduce the original study’s evidence supporting the YDB hypothesis. Their findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

“We were able to replicate some of their results and we did find nanodiamonds right at the Younger Dryas Boundary,” said Simms, an associate professor in UCSB’s Department of Earth Science. “However, we also found a second spike of nanodiamonds more recently in the sedimentary record, sometime within the past 3,000 years.”

The researchers analyzed 49 sediment samples representing different time periods and environmental and climactic settings, and identified high levels of nanodiamonds immediately below and just above YDB deposits and in late-Holocene near-surface deposits. The late Holocene began at the end of the Pleistocene 11,700 years ago and continues to the present. The researchers found that the presence of nanodiamonds is not caused by environmental setting, soil formation, cultural activities, other climate changes or the amount of time in which the landscape is stable. The discovery of high concentrations of nanodiamonds from two distinct time periods suggests that whatever process produced the elevated concentrations of nanodiamonds at the onset of the Younger Dryas sediments may have also been active in recent millennia in Bull Creek.

“Nanodiamonds are found in high abundances at the YDB, giving some support to that theory,” Simms said. “However, we did find it at one other site, which may or may not be caused by a smaller but similar event nearby.”

A “recent” meteorite impact did occur near Bull Creek but scientists don’t know exactly when. The fact that the study’s second nanodiamond spike occurred sometime during the past 3,000 years suggests that the distribution of nanodiamonds is not unique to the Younger Dryas.

 

Dad Is Prepping Over 800 Napkin Notes for Daughter’s Lunchbox Before He Dies.


Leaving napkin notes in his daughter’s lunchbox is one dad’s way of showing his daughter that he’s thinking about her at school.

View image on HootSuite website

A father who has received three cancer diagnoses may not know how long he has to live, but in the time he has left, he is making sure that his daughter will find an inspiration message in her lunchbox every day until she graduates high school.

W. Garth Callaghan of Glen Allen, Virginia — aka “Napkin Note Dad” — has been writing tips and famous quotes on napkins and putting them in his daughter Emma’s lunchbox since she was in elementary school. Now his goal is to prepare 826 napkin notes, and photos on Imgur catalogue his progress, with help from the non-profit “because I said I would,” which promotes the importance of keeping promises. And recently, the 14-year-old has been writing napkin notes back to her dad, such as “an arrow can only be shot by pulling it backwards, so when life is dragging you back, it means it’s going to launch you into something awesome.”

In September, Callaghan created a Facebook page for his “Napkin Notes” and published a Kindle eBook, hoping to inspire more parents to “Pack. Write. Connect.” or adopt a similar ritual at home. Adults who need a little inspiration can check out his Twitter account @wgarth, where today he tweeted pictures of napkins with quotes by the legendary movie star Audrey Hepburn and the late hockey coach Herb Brooks, who coached the U.S. hockey team that defeated the Soviet Union in the “Miracle on Ice” game at the 1980 Winter Olympics.

Google Buys AI Startup, Hires Ethics Board To Oversee It.


Google: There’s An Alien Moon Base.


Careful monitoring of the moon’s surface has turned up a picture of what appears to be a massive unidentified alien base or aircraft.

A paranormal researcher made the discovery while tinkering with Google’s Moon Viewer, discovering an object triangular in shape. Significantly, it looks nothing like the hardware astronauts have left behind on lunar landings.

A close-up of the mysterious objects reveals a strip of seven lights that are arranged in a way that suggests intelligent design and not just a strange arrangement of landscape. Its size certainly makes it larger than any of the aircraft used on Earth and has some believing that it might be some sort of launching base for UFOs. Or, it could just be some photographic glitch…

As pointed out by the image’s skeptics, the method by which the moon imagery is encoded on the Google platform ensures that weird tricks of the eye happen once people zoom in enough. At a certain point, what is really only barren moon terrain can start to look like shocking, iron-clad evidence.

But the researcher who found the anomaly claims they “found nothing else like it in any of the other craters” after a thorough search. Meaning, if indeed there was a glitch, wouldn’t that mean there were other places on the moon that played tricks on our eyes?

Considering that we’ve long heard rumors of conspiracies and government secrets involving the moon, perhaps the structure isn’t alien at all and is just the beginnings of a lunar base we haven’t been told about. For all we know, our awful landlords have already branched out into turning the moon into another condo development.

New Flying Car Spreads Its Wings.


Mankind’s primordial dream of flight is taking off with a new twist as a Slovak prototype of a flying car spreads its wings. Inspired by the books about flying by French authors Jules Verne and Antoine de Saint Exupery, Slovak designer and engineer Stefan Klein has been honing his flying machine since the early 1990s.

“I got the idea to start working on a vehicle of the future at university, but honestly, who hasn’t dreamt of flying while being stuck in the traffic?” Klein told AFP.

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“Flying’s in my blood — my grandfather and my father flew ultra-light aircraft and I got my pilot’s license before I was old enough to drive a car,” said Klein, who has designed cars for BMW, Volkswagen and Audi and now teaches at the Bratislava-based Academy of Fine Arts and Design.

His elegant blue-and-white vehicle for two is six meters (20 feet) long so it fits neatly in a parking space or a garage and tanks up at any filling station. But once it reaches an airport it can unfold its wings within seconds becoming a plane.

Dubbed “the world’s prettiest and best-designed airborne automobile so far” by US aviation magazine Flying and Inhabitat.com design, an innovation website, the Aeromobil also has the distinction of originating in Slovakia, the world’s largest per-capita car producer.

“So far there have been about twenty attempts to manufacture a flying car around the globe,” the president of the Slovak Ultra Light Aviation Federation, Milan Ciba, told AFP. “Among them, Aeromobil appears very viable,” he said.

Other models include the US-based Terrafugia’s “Transition” flying car expected to be launched on the market within a year, while the helicopter-type Dutch PAL-V gyrocopter could go on sale in this year.

Klein’s dream took to the skies in September when he piloted the Aeromobil during its first wobbly test flight. Once airborne, the it can reach a top speed of 200km/h (124 mph) and travel as far as 700 km (430 miles), consuming 15 liters (4 gallons) of petrol per hour.

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“A combination of a car and a plane will always lose against the competition when we start comparing energy consumption,” Jan Lesinsky from the Slovak University of Technology told AFP.

But would-be users could glide by long lines and security checks at airports, saving time on medium-distance journeys. Klein and his team are currently working on the next generation of Aeromobil that will go into production in a few months and hopefully receive Slovak Ultra Light Aircraft Certification (SFUL).

“Would-be users would have to follow the legislation already in place for ultra light aircraft,” SFUL president Federation Milan Ciba told AFP. “Pilot/drivers will need to have both a driver’s and pilot’s license with at least 25 flying hours,” he added.

Car Drops You Off, Finds A Parking Space, Parks

An enthusiastic pilot himself, Klein remains down to earth when looking to the future. “I don’t expect Aeromobil to go into mass production, it will always be an alternative means of transport,” Klein said.

“It can, however, be very interesting for countries with vast areas lacking infrastructure like Russia, China or Australia,” he added.

Flying cars will most likely take off among pilots licensed for ultra-light aircraft, says Ciba.

“It would make their lives so much easier — they would be able to park their car/aircraft at home, drive to the airport, take off, land and drive to their destination without switching vehicles,” he muses.

Prawns show promise in parasite control.


Reintroducing prawns to lakes and rivers in which they have been partially or fully lost may be a sustainable way of controlling the parasitic diseaseschistosomiasis, which kills more than 200,000 people every year in Sub-Saharan Africa alone, says a study.

Researchers have found some native prawns to be voracious predators of the freshwater snails that transmit schistosomiasis parasites and so could be used as a biological control, they report in a study in press in Acta Tropica.



Field tests are under way in Senegal, and researchers suggest that farmingthe edible prawns could help local populations cut disease while also providing an additional source of income.

“Prawns may offer a simple and affordable transmission control solution in rural poor communities where few alternatives exist and drug treatment is failing to achieve long-term disease reductions,” the study says.

People get infected from contact with water containing schistosomiasis parasites, which are released by infected snails.

Although people who carry schistosomiasis can be treated with the drug praziquantel, reinfection from fresh exposure to infested waters hampers disease control and eradication.

In laboratory experiments, researchers based in the United States set out to measure the rate at which prawns eat uninfected snails. They found that they consume an average of 12 per cent of their body weight in snails each day.

The researchers also found that young prawns that are still growing are more efficient at controlling snail numbers than large, fully-grown prawns. The larger prawns ate more snails but the smaller ones were more efficient as they ate more snails per gram of body weight and fed on snail eggs and hatchlings, too, the study shows.

These results support the idea of the aquaculture of native prawns, and their reintroduction to freshwater bodies where their numbers have fallen, the authors say.

When prawns are too small to be sold at market they are “high-efficiency snail killers”, says Susanne H. Sokolow, lead author of the study and a researcher at Stanford University in California. “When they grow and their efficiency declines, we can harvest them.”

“It can be a win-win solution. You can have a prawn aquaculture programme that supports public health efforts by reducing snail populations and also boosts the local economy because prawns are more valuable on most markets than fish,” Sokolow tells SciDev.Net.

“It’s possible that prawns will preferentially consume infected snails, which would enhance their efficiency as biological control agents”

Susanne H. Sokolow, Stanford University in California

Sokolow and her co-workers tested two native prawn species — one from Cameroon and another from Malaysia — against two snail species that transmit schistosomiasis in Africa and Latin America. They found that both species of prawns fed on these snails.

The researchers have already taken their experiment to field settings to see if the prawns can help curb the disease’s transmission from snails to people through water.

They have teamed up with the 20|20 Initiative, a California-based NGO that applies research from the developed world to challenges facing rural Africa, to assess their snail control strategy in the Senegal River in West Africa. The researchers speculate that dam construction may have reduced prawn numbers and increased schistosomiasis infections among local people there.

Over the past few years, they have added prawns to net enclosures built alongside the river in Lampsar village, Senegal, and are monitoring reinfection in local people treated with praziquantel. They plan to expand this field trial, named Projet-Crevette, to two more villages later this year.

The next step in Sokolow’s research is to compare prawns’ consumption of infected versus uninfected snails in laboratory experiments.

“It’s possible that prawns will preferentially consume infected snails, which would enhance their efficiency as biological control agents,” she says.

But Alan Fenwick, director of the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative at Imperial College London, United Kingdom, warns that such “predator–prey relationships normally don’t work brilliantly”.

He says: “Once they’ve eaten all the snails, the prawns will die out and the snails will come back.”

Sokolow counters that frequent addition of prawns to lakes and rivers could balance any population changes that occur naturally.

“We are proposing to [add] a managed population of prawns via aquaculture and restocking,” she says.

Hookworm genome sequence helps identify drug candidates.


Scientists have sequenced the genome of Necator americanus, the parasite behind around 85 per cent of human hookworm infections, giving them an unprecedented insight into the worm’s biology that could help accelerate the development of drugs, diagnostics and vaccines against it.
 
They also used the sequence of the hookworm genome to identify possible targets for drugs and vaccines, publishing their findings in Nature Genetics this week (19 January).
 
Hookworms are responsible for neglected tropical diseases that affect 700 million people in poor communities. Infection with N. americanus leads to anaemia, malnutrition in pregnant women and impairment of children’s cognitive and physical development.
 
With treatment failure due to drug resistance already becoming a challenge for current anti-hookworm therapies, new interventions are needed, the paper says.
 
But the lack of the parasite’s complete genetic sequence has hampered the hunt for new approaches, scientists say.
 
One example is a family of proteins known as SCP/TAP, which are involved in host-parasite interactions.
 
They “have been studied as potential candidates for developing treatments” says Makedonka Mitreva, corresponding author from The Genome Institute at Washington University, United States.
 
“However, the full complement and the complexity of their gene family was not known.”
 
The study identified 96 of these proteins specific to N. americanus, which could be potential drug or vaccine targets.
 
Stefan Geiger, an immunologist at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil, welcomes the study.
 
“This information will reveal the parasite’s essential functions and allow the design of much-needed substances for humans that [act specifically] against this organism,” he says.
 
The researchers also used the new data on the hookworm’s protein kinases, a group of enzymes that regulate many cell processes, to screen existing drugs and inhibitors for potential drugs. The highest-scoring substance was a molecule approved for treating a form of the cancer leukaemia, but 233 other compounds also proved promising, the paper says.
 
Identifying existing drugs that can also be used to treat hookworm is an inexpensive way to obtain substances to turn into much-needed drugs, especially for use in developing countries, says Mitreva.
 
“Decoding the Necator americanus genome is just the start of the postgenomic era in hookworm research,” Mitreva adds.
 
The researchers also provided an example of how the genome sequence can now be used to develop more-nuanced knowledge about the pathogen. 
 
They created a microarray of 564 proteins the genome codes for and tested it against the blood of 200 individuals from Minas Gerais state in Brazil. This allowed them to identify 22 antigens, parts of these proteins, to which immune systems responded to, as well as to see how different individuals’ immune systems responded differently.
 
“This approach is important because it allows us to compare immune responses based on distinct infection profiles — such as age, duration of infection, parasitic load, history of exposure and genetic background — and identify different antigens,” says Geiger.