El Niño Strengthening, Will Be among Biggest on Record, WMO Says.


The El Niño weather pattern, a phenomenon associated with extreme droughts, storms and floods, is expected to strengthen before the end of the year and become one of the strongest on record, the U.N. weather agency said on Monday.

illustration of El Nino

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said this El Niño was already “strong and mature” and the biggest in more than 15 years.

The phenomenon is driven by warm surface water in the eastern Pacific Ocean, and this time three-month averages will peak at more than 2 degrees Celsius above normal, putting this El Niño in the same league as those seen in 1972-73, 1982-83 and 1997-98, the WMO said.

“Right now we say we think it’s really going to be one of the three strongest ones, it may be one of the two, that we don’t know yet. But definitely it’s already a very strong one,” WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud told a news conference.

He said the world was better prepared for this El Niño than before, and the worst-affected countries were planning for the impact on agriculture, fisheries, water and health, and implementing disaster management campaigns to save lives and minimise economic damage.

“However, this event is playing out in uncharted territory. Our planet has altered dramatically because of climate change, the general trend towards a warmer global ocean, the loss of Arctic sea ice and of over a million sq km of summer snow cover in the northern hemisphere,” Jarraud said.

Heatwaves would be hotter and more frequent and more places would be at risk of flooding, Jarraud said, while the most severe storms — equivalent to category 4 and 5 hurricanes — would occur more often.

In addition, rising sea levels mean tsunamis and storm surges will have greater reach and inflict more damage when they hit land, Jarraud said.

El Niño conditions normally reach maximum strength between October and January, then persist through much of the first quarter.

“We anticipate that the El Niño will peak over the next few months and will progressively — when we go towards May, June, July, when we go to the second quarter of next year — will go more towards neutral conditions,” Jarraud said.

Research team refrigerates liquids with a laser for the first time


Since the first laser was invented in 1960, they’ve always given off heat—either as a useful tool, a byproduct or a fictional way to vanquish intergalactic enemies.

But those concentrated beams of light have never been able to cool liquids. University of Washington researchers are the first to solve a decades-old puzzle—figuring out how to make a refrigerate water and other liquids under real-world conditions.

In a study to be published the week of Nov. 16 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team used an infrared laser to cool water by about 36 degrees Fahrenheit—a major breakthrough in the field.

“Typically, when you go to the movies and see Star Wars laser blasters, they heat things up. This is the first example of a laser beam that will refrigerate liquids like water under everyday conditions,” said senior author Peter Pauzauskie, UW assistant professor of materials science and engineering. “It was really an open question as to whether this could be done because normally water warms when illuminated.”

The discovery could help industrial users “point cool” tiny areas with a focused point of light. Microprocessors, for instance, might someday use a laser beam to cool specific components in computer chips to prevent overheating and enable more efficient information processing.

Scientists could also use a to precisely cool a portion of a cell as it divides or repairs itself, essentially slowing these rapid processes down and giving researchers the opportunity to see how they work. Or they could cool a single neuron in a network—essentially silencing without damaging it—to see how its neighbors bypass it and rewire themselves.

“There’s a lot of interest in how cells divide and how molecules and enzymes function, and it’s never been possible before to refrigerate them to study their properties,” said Pauzauskie, who is also a scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington. “Using laser cooling, it may be possible to prepare slow-motion movies of life in action. And the advantage is that you don’t have to cool the entire cell, which could kill it or change its behavior.”

The UW team chose infrared light for its cooling laser with biological applications in mind, as visible light could give cells a damaging “sunburn.” They demonstrated that the laser could refrigerate saline solution and cell culture media that are commonly used in genetic and molecular research.

To achieve the breakthrough, the UW team used a material commonly found in commercial lasers but essentially ran the laser phenomenon in reverse. They illuminated a single microscopic crystal suspended in water with infrared laser light to excite a unique kind of glow that has slightly more energy than that amount of light absorbed.

UW team refrigerates liquids with a laser for the first time
This instrument built by UW engineers (from left) Peter Pauzauskie, Xuezhe Zhou, Bennett Smith, Matthew Crane and Paden Roder (unpictured) has used infrared laser light to refrigerate liquids for the first time. Credit: Dennis Wise/University of Washington

This higher-energy glow carries heat away from both the crystal and the water surrounding it. The laser refrigeration process was first demonstrated in vacuum conditions at Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1995, but it has taken nearly 20 years to demonstrate this process in liquids.

Typically, growing laser crystals is an expensive process that requires lots of time and can cost thousands of dollars to produce just a single gram of material. The UW team also demonstrated that a low-cost hydrothermal process can be used to manufacture a well-known laser crystal for laser refrigeration applications in a faster, inexpensive and scalable way.

The UW team also designed an instrument that uses a laser trap—akin to a microscopic tractor beam—to “hold” a single nanocrystal surrounded by liquid in a chamber and illuminate it with the laser. To determine whether the liquid is cooling, the instrument also projects the particle’s “shadow” in a way that allows the researchers to observe minute changes in its motion.

As the surrounding liquid cools, the trapped particle slows down, allowing the team to clearly observe the refrigerating effect. They also designed the crystal to change from a blueish-green to a reddish-green color as it cools, like a built-in color thermometer.

“The real challenge of the project was building an instrument and devising a method capable of determining the temperature of these nanocrystals using signatures of the same light that was used to trap them,” said lead author Paden Roder, who recently received his doctorate from the UW in and engineering and now works at Intel Corp.

So far, the UW team has only demonstrated the cooling effect with a single nanocrystal, as exciting multiple crystals would require more laser power. The laser refrigeration process is currently quite energy intensive, Pauzauskie said, and future steps include looking for ways to improve its efficiency.

One day the cooling technology itself might be used to enable higher-power lasers for manufacturing, telecommunications or defense applications, as higher-powered lasers tend to overheat and melt down.

“Few people have thought about how they could use this technology to solve problems because using lasers to refrigerate liquids hasn’t been possible before,” he said. “We are interested in the ideas other scientists or businesses might have for how this might impact their basic research or bottom line.”

Why Smart People Do Stupid Things


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In 2012, 20-year-old Abby Sletten of Hatton, North Dakota, was scrolling through pictures on Facebook, traveling over 80 mph, and then plowed into the back end of an SUV, killing a woman in the front seat of the vehicle. Sletten was charged with negligent homicide. 

In December 2013, Kari Jo Milberg crashed her car into the front end of a truck traveling in the opposite lane, killing her 11-year-old daughter and her two 5-year-old nieces. The Wisconsin mother was apparently chatting with someone on Facebook right before the accident. Milberg, who was thrown from the car, was charged earlier this year with three counts of homicide by negligent operation and one count of reckless driving causing injury.

And in 2014, 32-year-old Courtney Ann Sanford of Clemmons, North Carolina updated her Facebook status one minute before she had a fatal car accident. “The happy song makes me HAPPY,” she wrote in her update. Allegedly, she also was taking selfies before the accident in which she died.

As reported by the US Department of Transportation (DOT), at any given daylight moment in America, approximately 660,000 drivers use cellphones or manipulate electronic devices while driving, a number that has held steady since 2010. Additionally, scholars at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute have discovered that 25 percent of teens respond to a text message once or more every time they drive and that 20 percent of teens and 10 percent of parents admit that they have extended, multi-message text conversations while driving.

And if that’s not enough, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2011 reported that:

  • Nearly half of all U.S. high school students aged 16 years or older text or email while driving.
  • Students who text while driving are nearly twice as likely to ride with a driver who has been drinking and five times as likely to drink and drive than students who don’t text while driving.
  • Students who frequently text while driving are more likely to ride with a drinking driver or drink and drive than students who text while driving less frequently.

If you’re like most drivers, you’ve seen someone texting, Facebooking, or otherwise fiddling with their mobile phone while behind the wheel of a car. Perhaps you’re one of those people who can’t stop emailing, tweeting, or Instagramming while you head to work.

But paradoxically, while most of us recognize the faulty thinking behind distracted driving — in fact 94 percent of us support banning texting while driving — we find it difficult to identify it in ourselves. Arecent study by researchers at James Madison University and the University of Toronto suggests that our tendency to discern thinking errors in ourselves decreases as our “cognitive sophistication” goes up. In other words, the more intelligent you are, the less likely you are to recognize poor decision-making in yourself.

Either way, it truly is a public health problem. The CDC asserts that each day in the United States, more than nine people are killed and more than 1,153 people are injured in crashes that involve a distracted driver. For comparison, in 2013 the DOT reported that just under 28 people are killed daily by drunk drivers in the United States.

“Distracted driving is a serious and deadly epidemic on America’s roadways,” says U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “There is no way to text and drive safely. Powering down your cell phone when you’re behind the wheel can save lives — maybe even your own.”

To be clear, I have texted, emailed, and posted status updates while driving. And it’s because I think I can drive better than other people. Of course, I can operate a vehicle and text at the same time. It’s all those other knucklehead drivers who can’t. Of course, I can update Facebook while I’m at a stoplight. I mean, c’mon. I’m stopped at a traffic light. The car isn’t even moving. Who am I going to hurt? Of course, I have to respond immediately to that email from my boss. She may get angry if I don’t.

And, of course, I am an idiot.

Don’t be like me.

Scientists think a whole new type of life form could be living in our guts


Our digestive system is home to a weird and wonderful collection of bacteria, and we’re only just beginning to understand how these unique populations are not just having an effect how we digest our food, but potentially even how we think and behave.

And now new research has found that the situation in our guts is even stranger than we thought, with biologists suggesting that we may need to define a whole new type of life form to describe these tiny residents.

A team from the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, France has been attempting to redefine the way we classify the organisms living inside our colons. By studying 86 different gene families, they’ve discovered DNA sequences that are different enough to suggest they’re beyond the three forms of life that we currently recognise.

Those forms are classified as bacteria, archaea, and eukaryotes. Archaea were once bundled with bacteria, but have a different biochemical make-up and can survive in more extreme conditions, whereas eukaryotes refers to fungi, plants, and animals.

What the Paris team, led by Philippe Lopez and Eric Bapteste, found makes the case for a fourth type being added to that list, but it’s important not to get ahead of ourselves – it might also mean that the existing types are more genetically diverse than we thought.

New Scientist explains the findings, published in the journal Biology Direct.

“They analysed microbiome samples, recovering about 230,000 DNA sequences that are related to known sequences in those 86 gene families. They then used these sequences as the starting point for a second analysis – a little like digging deeper into your ancestry by using your parents’ DNA rather than your own to guide the search. This revealed an additional 80,000 stretches of microbial DNA that belonged in the 86 gene families.

But the sequence of bases was highly unusual in about one-third of the DNA – it shared just 60 percent or less of its identity with any known gene sequences. That degree of difference is what you might expect to separate different domains of life, such as bacteria and archaea.”

But before a fourth domain can be added, scientists will need to isolate and study these organisms in a lab environment, and that’s no easy task. Right now, around 99 percent of microbes can’t be grown in the lab, which is why there’s still so much we don’t know about these basic forms of life. Plus many genes are swapped around between microbes, further adding to the confusion, which is one of the reasons why this research focuses on gene families that don’t often cross over.

“These results underline how limited our understanding of the most diverse elements of the microbial world remains, and encourage a deeper exploration of natural communities and their genetic resources, hinting at the possibility that still unknown yet major divisions of life have yet to be discovered,”concludes the report.

There’s still a lot of work to do, but these findings are definitely cause for excitement if you’re a keen biologist. “Let’s wait to see how unusual the organisms are,” Bapteste told New Scientist. “Scientists have found a huge diversity of microbes in the human gut, so I would not expect it to be necessarily hostile to different life forms.”

Study finds honesty varies significantly between countries


Research from the University of East Anglia (UEA) has found that people’s honesty varies significantly between countries.

It also suggests that is less important to a country’s current economic growth than during earlier periods in history.

The study examined whether people from different countries were more or less honest and how this related to a country’s economic development. More than 1500 participants from 15 countries took part in an online survey involving two incentivised experiments, designed to measure honest behaviour.

Firstly, they were asked to flip a coin and state whether it landed on ‘heads’ or ‘tails’. They knew if they reported that it landed on heads, they would be rewarded with $3 or $5. If the proportion reporting heads was more than 50 per cent in a given country, this indicated that people were being dishonest.

The same participants were then asked to complete a music quiz where they were again rewarded financially if they answered all questions correctly. They were asked not to search for the answers on the internet, and had to tick a box confirming they had answered on their own before moving on to the next question. Three of the questions were deliberately difficult so it would be highly likely that participants would need to look up the answer—getting more than one of these questions right indicated cheating.

Study finds honesty varies significantly between countries

Data from the tests was compared to estimate whether people from particular countries were more likely to tell the truth.

The countries studied—Brazil, China, Greece, Japan, Russia, Switzerland, Turkey, the United States, Argentina, Denmark, the United Kingdom, India, Portugal, South Africa, and South Korea—were chosen to provide a mix of regions, levels of development and levels of social trust.

The study’s author Dr David Hugh-Jones, of UEA’s School of Economics, found evidence for dishonesty in all the countries, but that levels varied significantly across them. For example, estimated dishonesty in the ranged from 3.4 per cent in the UK to 70 per cent in China. In the quiz, respondents in Japan were the most honest, followed by the UK, while those in Turkey were the least truthful.

Participants were also asked to predict the average honesty of those from other countries by guessing how many respondents out of 100 from a particular country would report heads in the coin flip test. However, participants’ beliefs about other countries’ honesty did not reflect reality.

Dr Hugh-Jones, a senior lecturer in economics, will present his findings today at the London Experimental Workshop conference, hosted by Middlesex University London. “Differences in honesty were found between countries, but this did not necessarily correspond to what people expected,” he said. “Beliefs about honesty seem to be driven by psychological features, such as self-projection. Surprisingly, people were more pessimistic about the honesty of people in their own country than of people in other countries. One explanation for this could be that people are more exposed to news stories about dishonesty taking place in their own country than in others.”

In the coin flip test, the four least honest countries were China, Japan, South Korea and India. However, Asian countries were not significantly more dishonest than others in the quiz, where Japan had the lowest level of dishonesty. Dr Hugh-Jones said the difference between Asian and other countries in the coin flip may be explained by cultural views specific to this type of test, such as attitudes to gambling, rather than differences in honesty as such.

People expected Greece to be the least honest country but in the coin flip it was one of the most honest, while in the quiz it ranked in the middle. Of the respondents who expected less honesty in their own country, Greece and China were the most pessimistic. Another finding was that less honest respondents also expected others to be less honest, as, unexpectedly, did those from more honest countries.

Dr Hugh-Jones said there was increasing interest in the cultural and behavioural roots of . He found that while the honesty of countries related to their economic growth—poor countries were less honest than rich ones—this relationship was stronger for growth that took place before 1950.

“I suggest that the relationship between honesty and economic growth has been weaker over the past 60 years and there is little evidence for a link between current growth and honesty,” said Dr Hugh-Jones. “One explanation is that when institutions and technology are underdeveloped, honesty is important as a substitute for formal contract enforcement. Countries that develop cultures putting a high value on honesty are able to reap economic gains. Later, this itself improves institutions and technology, making contracts easier to monitor and enforce, so that a culture of honesty is no longer necessary for further growth.”

Dr Hugh-Jones added: “People’s beliefs about the honesty of their fellow citizens, and those in other countries, may or may not be accurate, and these beliefs can affect how they interact. For example, a country’s willingness to support debt bailouts may be affected by stereotypes about people in the needing help. So it is important to understand how these beliefs are formed.”

Quantum computer coding in silicon now possible


Quantum computer coding in silicon now possible
False-colour electron microscope image of the silicon nanoelectronic device which contains the phosphorus atom used for the demonstration of quantum entanglement. 

A team of Australian engineers has proven—with the highest score ever obtained—that a quantum version of computer code can be written, and manipulated, using two quantum bits in a silicon microchip. The advance removes lingering doubts that such operations can be made reliably enough to allow powerful quantum computers to become a reality.

The result, obtained by a team at Australia’s University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney, appears today in the international journal, Nature Nanotechnology.

The quantum code written at UNSW is built upon a class of phenomena called quantum entanglement, which allows for seemingly counterintuitive phenomena such as the measurement of one particle instantly affecting another – even if they are at opposite ends of the universe.

“This effect is famous for puzzling some of the deepest thinkers in the field, including Albert Einstein, who called it ‘spooky action at a distance’,” said Professor Andrea Morello, of the School of Electrical Engineering & Telecommunications at UNSW and Program Manager in the Centre for Quantum Computation & Communication Technology, who led the research. “Einstein was sceptical about entanglement, because it appears to contradict the principles of ‘locality’, which means that objects cannot be instantly influenced from a distance.”

Physicists have since struggled to establish a clear boundary between our everyday world—which is governed by classical physics—and this strangeness of the quantum world. For the past 50 years, the best guide to that boundary has been a theorem called Bell’s Inequality, which states that no local description of the world can reproduce all of the predictions of quantum mechanics.

Bell’s Inequality demands a very stringent test to verify if two particles are actually entangled, known as the ‘Bell test’, named for the British physicist who devised the theorem in 1964.

“The key aspect of the Bell test is that it is extremely unforgiving: any imperfection in the preparation, manipulation and read-out protocol will cause the particles to fail the test,” said Dr Juan Pablo Dehollain, a UNSW Research Associate who with Dr Stephanie Simmons was a lead author of the Nature Nanotechnology paper.

“Nevertheless, we have succeeded in passing the test, and we have done so with the highest ‘score’ ever recorded in an experiment,” he added.

Quantum computer coding in silicon now possible
Project leader Andrea Morello (left) with lead authors Stephanie Simmons (middle) and Juan Pablo Dehollain (right) in the UNSW laboratory where the experiments were performed. 

In the UNSW experiment, the two quantum particles involved are an electron and the nucleus of a single phosphorus atom, placed inside a silicon microchip. These particles are, literally, on top of each other—the electron orbits around the nucleus. Therefore, there is no complication arising from the spookiness of action at a distance.

However, the significance of the UNSW experiment is that creating these two-particle entangled states is tantamount to writing a type of that does not exist in everyday computers. It therefore demonstrates the ability to write a purely quantum version of computer code, using two in a silicon microchip—a key plank in the quest super-powerful quantum computers of the future.

“Passing the Bell test with such a high score is the strongest possible proof that we have the operation of a quantum computer entirely under control,” said Morello. “In particular, we can access the purely-quantum type of code that requires the use of the delicate quantum entanglement between two particles.”

In a normal computer, using two bits one, could write four possible code words: 00, 01, 10 and 11. In a quantum computer, instead, one can also write and use ‘superpositions’ of the classical code words, such as (01 + 10), or (00 + 11). This requires the creation of between two particles.

“These codes are perfectly legitimate in a quantum computer, but don’t exist in a classical one,” said UNSW Research Fellow Stephanie Simmons, the paper’s co-author. “This is, in some sense, the reason why quantum computers can be so much more powerful: with the same number of bits, they allow us to write a computer code that contains many more words, and we can use those extra words to run a different algorithm that reaches the result in a smaller number of steps.”

Morello highlighted the importance of achieving the breakthrough using a silicon chip: “What I find mesmerising about this experiment is that this seemingly innocuous ‘ computer code’ – (01 + 10) and (00 + 11) – has puzzled, confused and infuriated generations of physicists over the past 80 years.

“Now, we have shown beyond any doubt that we can write this code inside a device that resembles the silicon microchips you have on your laptop or your mobile phone. It’s a real triumph of electrical engineering,” he added.

How often you should wash your hair, according to science .


Wash your hair every day? You’re doing it wrong.

You’ve probably wondered how often you need to wash that (sometimes greasy, sometimes not) hair of yours. The question is a vexing one. It’s so common, in fact, that it’s the third suggestion that pops up when typing “how often” into Google (following queries about showering and pooping).

Outside the shower, our scalps gradually get shinier, darker, and more oily. So why does it happen, and how often should you wash to keep the grease at bay?

The root of the issue

Your hair gets greasy for the same reason your face gets oily: glands in the skin produce an oily substance called sebum. Sebum is what moistens hair and keeps it from drying out. The glands that produce sebum (called sebaceous glands) are located next to hair roots in the layer of skin called the dermis. Channels from the sebaceous glands lead to the hair follicle – that’s how sebum gets out of the skin and onto your scalp. Take a look:

hair follicleCredit: Helix84/Wikimedia Commons

The key thing about sebum is this: Each of us produces a different amount. Everything from genetics and hormones affects how much sebum we produce at a given time, Kaiser Permanente dermatologist Paradi Mirmirani told Business Insider in an email. The hormones responsible for extra sebum production spike during puberty, which is what causes so many of us to have extra greasy hair and acne during those lovely years.

How much washing is right for you?

While the answer is different for everyone, no one should need to wash his or her hair every day, says Mirmani. Washing too often, in fact, can do more harm than good, dermatologist and director of Boston Medical Centre’s hair clinicLynne Goldberg told Business Insider. “It’s paradoxical, but people who wash their hair a lot to get rid of oil are drying out their scalp and producing more oil,” Goldberg said.

Besides avoiding washing every day, there are other things to keep in mind when trying to determine the right amount of washing for you. Here are the three main important factors:

1. Skin type

If your skin and hair are anywhere from normal (not super oily and not super dry) to dry, you probably only need to wash it once or twice a week, according to a Columbia University health column. If you have a greasy scalp, you probably need to wash your hair more often.

2. Hair texture

Texture matters because it affects how quickly sebum works its way from your roots through the length of your hair. Coarse or curly hair slows down sebum’s spread, so if you have hair like this you may only need to shampoo once a week,say the experts at Columbia. On the other hand, people with fine, straight hair will likely need to shampoo twice a week or more.

Personally, I go about two days without washing my curly hair. In between shampoos, I rinse my hair, massage my scalp, and apply conditioner to the ends of my hair.

3. Styling

Another thing to consider is the paces you put your hair through styling and treating it. If your hair is processed or damaged by styling, you should wash it less frequently, says Mirmirani. But that’s something you’ll have to find out for yourself. I’ve figured out what works for my hair purely by experimentation. So don’t be afraid to go a couple days without shampooing and see if you like what happens.

Pediatricians’ Group Urges Cuts in Antibiotic Use in Livestock


Overuse of antibiotics in farm animals poses a real health risk to children, the American Academy of Pediatrics warns in a new report.

This common practice is already contributing to bacterial resistance to medicines and affecting doctors’ ability to treat life-threatening infections in kids, according to the paper published online Nov. 16 in the journal Pediatrics.

News Picture: Pediatricians' Group Urges Cuts in Antibiotic Use in Livestock

One expert in the field supported the academy’s stance.

“The connection between production uses of antibiotics in the agricultural sector to antibiotic resistance is alarming,” said Victoria Richards, an associate professor of medical sciences at the Quinnipiac University School of Medicine in Hamden, Conn.

She believes the danger is “not only for infants and children but other vulnerable populations, such as the pregnant and the older individuals.”

As the academy explained in its warning, antibiotics are often added to the feed of healthy livestock to boost growth, increase feed efficiency or prevent disease. However, the practice can also make antibiotics ineffective when they are needed to treat infections in people.

Some examples of emerging antibiotic germs include methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), C.difficile, and highly resistant strains of the tuberculosis bacterium.

Each year, more than 2 million Americans develop antibiotic-resistant infections and more than 23,000 die from these infections, the academy said. And in 2013, the highest incidence of such infections was among children younger than 5, federal government statistics show.

“Children can be exposed to multiple-drug resistant bacteria, which are extremely difficult to treat if they cause an infection, through contact with animals given antibiotics and through consuming the meat of those animals,” report author Dr. Jerome Paulson, immediate past chair of the academy’s executive committee of the Council on Environmental Health, said in an academy news release.

“Like humans, farm animals should receive appropriate antibiotics for bacterial infections,” he said. “However, the indiscriminate use of antibiotics without a prescription or the input of a veterinarian puts the health of children at risk.”

Dr. Ken Spaeth is chief of occupational and environmental medicine at North Shore-LIJ Health System in Great Neck, N.Y. He said that, given the huge quantities of antibiotics given to livestock each year, “it should be no surprise that animals receiving these antibiotics eventually produce and spread antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”

“Some of these drug-resistant bacteria have been found in the intestinal flora [microbial communities] of humans, while other such bacteria end up reaching consumers via contaminated meat and chicken,” Spaeth explained.

“What’s more, the resistant bacteria end up spreading into the ambient environment through water, soil and air that comes in contact with the bacteria,” he added, “thereby creating reservoirs of resistant strains which allow for further expansion of resistance.”

Spaeth noted that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the World Health Organization, have both called for a curbing of antibiotic use in animals. But the authors of the new report expressed concern over resistance from the agriculture and farming industry to such measures.

First Uterus Transplant Planned in U.S.


Crossing new frontiers in infertility treatment and organ transplantation, Cleveland Clinic doctors hope to transplant a uterus from a deceased donor into a woman without one.

The innovative procedure — tentatively scheduled for the next few months — would enable a woman with ovaries but no uterus to become pregnant and deliver a child. Eight women have reportedly started the screening process.

These women were either born without a uterus — a condition that affects 1 of every 4,500 newborn girls — or have had their uterus removed or it is damaged, according to The New York Times.

The clinical trial, a first in the United States, was announced Thursday, a year after the first live birth from a uterine transplant occurred in Sweden. In Sweden, however, live donors are used. The Cleveland Clinic doctors decided on deceased donors to avoid putting healthy women at risk, the newspaper said.

A donor and recipient would have to have matching blood and tissue type.

The hospital plans to attempt the procedure 10 times before deciding whether to continue with it, according to the Times.

“There are women who won’t adopt or have surrogates, for reasons that are personal, cultural or religious,” said Dr. Andreas Tzakis, director of solid organ transplant surgery at a Cleveland Clinic hospital in Weston, Fla., who is spearheading the project.

“These women know exactly what this is about. They’re informed of the risks and benefits. They have a lot of time to think about it, and think about it again. Our job is to make it as safe and successful as possible,” he told the Times.

It’s thought that as many as 50,000 U.S. women might be potential candidates for the procedure.

The transplantation process is not without risks. The women must take powerful transplant anti-rejection drugs, undergo surgery to implant the uterus and likely face a subsequent surgery to remove the organ after one or two babies are born, the newspaper said.

Removing the donor uterus would limit the time spent taking the powerful anti-rejection drugs, the doctors explained.

The process is complicated and time-consuming. Using in vitro fertilization, the woman’s own eggs would be fertilized with her partner’s sperm and frozen. When she has 10 frozen embryos, she would be put on a waiting list for a transplant, the Times said.

Beginning one year after transplant, the embryos would be implanted one at a time until a pregnancy is achieved.

The baby would be born via cesarean section to reduce strain on the transplanted organ. The mother could then decide to have her donor uterus removed or stop taking the anti-rejection drugs, at which point the organ would begin to wither away. Or she could try for a second pregnancy. Because of safety concerns, two is the current limit under consideration, the Timesreported.

Dr. Alan Lichtin, chairman of the Cleveland Clinic’s ethics board, told the paper that the committee’s initial impression was, “This is really pushing the envelope. But this is the way human progress occurs.”

Dr. Tomer Singer is a reproductive endocrinologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. He said this new procedure would allow “women to carry their own genetic child without the use of a gestational carrier (surrogate), which can be financially and emotionally taxing.”

Undergoing a uterus transplant “opens the door to an innovative and promising advancement within reproductive medicine. We believe that tens of thousands of women will benefit from this advancement in the future, while realizing that there are still challenges to overcome before we offer this procedure routinely,” he added.

Singer said the most significant hurdles include “side effects to both the mom and the fetus from required anti-rejection medication, as well as maintaining a normal blood supply during the procedure and for nine months after to allow for healthy growth of the fetus.”

 

 

A ‘supergene’ underlies genetic differences sexual behaviour in male ruff


Whether you are territorial, a girlfriend stealer or a cross-dresser, it's in your genes
Independent and satellite male ruffs; differences among three male morphs are determined by a chromosomal inversion Credit: Clemens Küpper

The ruff is a Eurasian shorebird that has a spectacular lekking behaviour where highly ornamented males compete for females. Now two groups report that males with alternative reproductive strategies carry a chromosomal rearrangement that has been maintained as a balanced genetic polymorphism for about 4 million years.

The two studies, one led by scientists at Uppsala university, are published today in Nature Genetics.

Three different types of ruff males occur at the leks of this species. ‘Independent’ males show colourful ruffs and head tufts and fight vigorously for territories. ‘Satellite’ males are slightly smaller than Independents, do not defend territories and have white ruffs and head tufts. ‘Faeder’ males mimic females by their small size and lack of ornamental feathers, they do not defend territory.

The Independent and Satellite males show a remarkable interaction where the Satellite males allow Independent males to dominate them on the leks.

Both Independents and Satellites benefit from the interaction because it increases their mating success by attracting females that are ready to mate, explains Fredrik Widemo who did his PhD on ruff lekking behaviour. Faeder males also have a chance to mate with females when other males are occupied with male-male interactions, continues Fredrik.

Previous studies have indicated that these remarkable differences between male morphs are under strict genetic control and are determined by a single genetic region. How can such complex differences in behaviour, size and plumage have a simple genetic basis? To shed light on this enigma the researchers have sequenced the entire genome from Independent, Satellite and Faeder males.

Whether you are territorial, a girlfriend stealer or a cross-dresser, it's in your genes
Variation in breeding plumage and strategy of male ruffs, including female mimic, satellite, and territorial morphs, is determined by a chromosomal inversion Credit: Susan McRae

We discovered that both Satellite and Faeder males carry a ‘supergene’ which is not a gene with superpower but a cluster of about 90 genes kept together by a chromosomal inversion which means that there is no genetic exchange between the three different morphs, says Sangeet Lamichhaney, one of the PhD students involved in the study.

The group reports that the sequence difference between the chromosome variants is as large as 1.4 percent that is higher than the average sequence difference between human and chimpanzee chromosomes. The scientists estimate that the chromosome inversion happened about 4 million years ago.

The Satellite and Faeder male morphs are the result of an evolutionary process over million of years and involve many genetic changes among the 90 genes in this ‘supergene’, explains Leif Andersson, who led the study.

The ‘supergene’ contains five genes that have a role in the metabolism of steroid hormones.

It is particularly interesting that we see an enrichment of genetic changes in the vicinity of a gene, HSD17B2, that determines an enzyme that converts active testosterone to a more inactive form, continues Leif Andersson. Independents have a significantly higher level of testosterone than Satellite and Faeder males and we think this is the reason that in turn leads to an altered behaviour.

There are many examples of associations between behaviour and pigmentation in animals but the underlying causal relationships have rarely been revealed. The present study now provides insights into why there is such a strong association between altered behaviour and white colour in Satellite males.

The simple answer is that the ‘supergene’ contains both genes like HSD17B2 affecting the metabolism of sex hormones and the MC1R gene controlling pigmentation, explains Sangeet Lamichhaney.

Why has this fascinating difference in male reproductive strategies evolved in the ruff?

Fighting over territories and females is both energetically costly and risky. This created an opportunity for the evolution of alternative male mating strategies in which males spend less energy on fighting, explains Fredrik Widemo.

We think that this evolutionary process started with the occurrence of the inversion about 4 million years ago and that the inversion in itself altered the regulation of one or more genes affecting the metabolism of sex hormones and this created a primitive alternative male morph, which has been further improved step by step by the accumulation of many genetic changes, ends Leif Andersson.