Tuesday, June 26, 2012

GE Mosquitoes May Assist Malaria Control

Malaria-Resistant Mosquitoes Bred in Lab for First Time

Releasing such mosquitoes in strategic locations could dramatically reduce the spread of malaria.  Scientists may have developed a new tool for combating malaria, according to a recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

After more than 20 years of genetic experimentation, researchers have discovered how to breed malaria-resistant mosquitoes that are unable to infect humans with their bites.

"We see a complete deletion of the infectious version of the malaria parasite," said Anthony James, a microbiology and molecular genetics professor at the University of California, Irvine, and the lead author of the report. This can help to "significantly reduce human sickness and death," he added.

With the help of fellow researchers from the Pasteur Institute in Paris, James and his colleagues were able to alter the DNA of Anopheles stephensi mosquitoes, which are major transmitters of the most deadly strain of malaria -- Plasmodium falciparum.

By microinjecting a specially engineered gene into the mosquitoes' eggs, the scientists produced insects that were unable to transmit the disease when they reached adulthood. More importantly, the gene that James' team created was dominant. In other words, introducing it into a wild population of mosquitoes would achieve the same result as placing a group of brown-eyed humans into a blue-eyed population: gradually, fewer children would be born with the recessive, blue-eyed gene.

This means that releasing the mosquitoes in strategic locations could dramatically reduce the spread of malaria, James said.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 650,000 people died from malaria in 2010, most of whom were African children. Some researchers believe this number could climb even higher due to climate change, which is expected to increase rainfall in many regions. More puddles and swampland would provide additional breeding grounds for mosquitoes -- translating into more cases of malaria (ClimateWire, Nov. 21, 2011).

People who have never been exposed to the disease also run the highest risk of infection, so mosquitoes may spread malaria to countless new victims as they follow the rains into fresh territories, say experts.

To make James' malaria-fighting research a reality, millions of mosquitoes would need to be bred in a lab and released into the wild at key intervals.  "We have to figure out how these things are going to scale up," explained James, who says the process of caring for tropical mosquitoes can be very labor-intensive. "This is not something that people are going to be doing in their garage."

Aside from malaria, he believes, the research could ultimately be tailored to prevent other mosquito-borne diseases, such as the West Nile virus and dengue fever.

"I'm pretty enthusiastic that in five years, we'll have tools we'll be able to use," although the ethical, social and legal aspects will likely slow progress, he said.

By Lacey Johnson and ClimateWire June 18, 2012
Reprinted from Scientific American on line ; See for original article  http://www.eenews.net/.
This is a potential game changer for the fight against malaria, if larger scale operations to produce GE mosquitoes that do not have have the disease in the mosquitoes, can be developed at modest cost.  Scaling up while controlling costs and enhancing effectiveness, will be a big task. 
Malaria transmission is a complex route, and the use of treated bed nets has made a big impact where they are used.  Many more now getting around due to greater support from donors.
But to have mosquitoes that do not carry the disease would, I think be a real breakthrough.  Yes, there are some questions about ethics over GE mosquitoes, but with millions affected each year aound the world, breaking the cycle of infection using saymass release of GE mosquitoes could be very important for many regions.
And with dengue also a major world wide problem, particularly in Asia, there are other spin offs if the technology works effectively.


Friday, June 22, 2012

Climate Change and Silent Spring - A Media Relationship?

Frank Graham Jr., field editor of Audubon magazine, marks the 50th anniversary of Rachel Carson’s classic book, Silent Spring, by examining the vitriolic attacks leveled against Carson in the 1960s and pointing to troubling parallels with the assaults on climate scientists today. Critics from industry and agriculture dismissed Carson as a mouthpiece of “a vociferous, misinformed group of nature-balancing, organic-gardening, bird-loving, unreasonable citizenry.” But as Graham notes, Carson’s groundbreaking analysis of the harmful effects of DDT and other pesticides led to important bans on dangerous chemicals. Read the article.  This was published as an intro to a Yale Environment online blog.

It is sobering to think of the effects that Silent Spring has had over the past 50 years.  From distaste and absolute rejection by many initially, to now generally accepted as mainstream science, and bringing some big changes in environmental behaviours.

As the author alludes, is the current rejection of much of the science of climate change essentially the same?

I am not so sure, as we have had in the past 50 years the creation of media "thought leaders" [ or should it be media d***heads" ] who have significant influence over much of public opinion, and at times who espouse some strange causes.  Where they have influence, dispute over views often rules.  Then there is the rise of instant experts without specialised training or considerable experience in the science areas who cloud ideas, and pander to those who are tending to disbelieve the science.  And then there is inertia, NIMBY thinking and the long time frames for effect........remember "Apathy Rules".

The role of the media is far greater today than when Silent Spring was published.  I am not sure we have yet seen any serious embrace of the results of scientific endeavour on climate change in mainstream media, to really convince the public, although the scientific media certainly has.  And with much of the public disinterested and as yet unaffected, change might be slow for some time.

In Australia as elsewhere, with various forms of carbon pricing either in place or coming very soon, then will that influence public attitudes, or will they just whinge and not adjust?  

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Yes...Sustainable Rum Production

Let's be a little frivolous today.

Nothing like a shot of rum on a cool or cold evening, especially around a campfire.  Think of outback Australia with a campfire blazing or a sea going sailing ship in the roaring forties.  But did you realise that even rum production is going ........well, sustainable!

While the term sustainable has many connotations, in this case it is about improved water use as well as smart, sustainable biomass energy use.

The Caribbean is well known for rum production, as is Bundberg in Australia.  Two of the biggest rum producers in the Caribbean though, have been embracing much more sustainable options in the rum distilling process from sugarcane.

Rum production produces rather nasty wastewater which needs to be disposed of some how. The Serrallés Rum Distillery in Ponce, Puerto Rico produces DonQ, its main brand of rum, which is the most popular rum in Puerto Rico. It is one of the largest rum distilleries in the Caribbean with an annual output capacity of 15 million proof gallons. The company has spent a decade and $16 million on a new filtration system.

Serrallés used to dump its wastewater into nearby fields, but during rainy season the waste would run off and the distillery would have to shut down when flooding starting which cost the company $200,000 a year. There are claims that Serrallés has turned the "$75 million distillery into one of the cleanest in the world."

The filtration system also saves the company money, as Roberto Serrallés, the VP of business development points out. The wastewater produces biogas which the company uses to run its boilers. Serrallés, who is a sixth generation rum maker with a Ph.D in environmental studies from the University of Oregon, said that the system saves them "as much as nearly 50 percent of annual fuel use."

Serrallés is not the only Puerto Rican rum maker to make its operations more sustainable, with itsmain competitor in Puerto Rico, Bacardi Limited also moving that way.  Bacardi released its 2012 CSR report a few months ago which highlights steps it is taking to reduce energy and water use, reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and source more responsible materials. Bacardi Limited is the largest privately held spirits company in the world.

So next time you have a bacardi and coke........you can claim to be drinking sustainably produced rum!!  Will you remember that after a few rums??  Or care?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Improving FMD Preparedness in Australia

FMD is of enormous importance to Australia, with a need to ensure it is not allowed to enter Australia, and to be thoroughly prepared if it ever does reach Australia [ I hope not!].  While we do not have the disease, we have relatively secure access to overseas markets for animal products.  That would change instantly if the disease was detected in Australia, with import countries likely to "shut the gate" and not allow entry of products.

With the assistance of industry and key stakeholders, DAFF has developed a national policy for vaccination against foot-and-mouth disease (FMD).

Assistant Secretary for Animal Health Policy, Bob Biddle said rather than considering vaccination as a ‘measure of last resort’ in controlling an outbreak, Australia will now consider the potential role of vaccination as part of the response strategy as soon as any incursion of FMD is detected.

“Experience overseas and disease modelling studies carried out in Australia show that, in some circumstances, early vaccination is essential to effective disease control,” Mr Biddle said. "The Australian Government and all states and territories recently endorsed the national policy on the use of vaccination during a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak." “The update better aligns Australia’s FMD vaccination policy with advancing vaccine technologies, community perspectives and international standards and practices.”

With the new policy in place, an FMD Vaccination Expert Advisory Group is now developing detailed guidelines indentifying the circumstances under which vaccination could be a useful strategy, and the best strategy to use for different outbreak scenarios.

The new policy acknowledges the need to maintain flexibility so that decision-makers can consider the potential role of vaccination appropriate for each specific outbreak scenario.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Bt Cotton Proves It CAN Reduce Pesticide Use


This article published in mid June 2012 is a landmark study that seems to prove that BTcotton can really reduce pesticide use in the long term as well as in the short term.

The geographical scope of the work is very wide across northern China, and results would seem to have a solid background.

There are other spinoffs too, as other damaging insects have also declined.

Worth reading.  

Friday, June 15, 2012

Australia's Digital Future - Coming Soon

Today saw the release of a significant and world first report on how Australia is and will be equipped for a digital future - for industry.

Yes, agriculture [ in a broad sense] is likely to be part of that digital future.  For many in agriculture the future is now - RFID ear tags, precision agriculture and driverless tractors, digitally equipped spray units, plus the myriad range of digital equipment in sorting, processing and handling of products, logistics.........think about it!

Download from here - http://www-07.ibm.com/ibm/au/digitalfuture/ 

Read about it soon.......your future is now.

The report is somewhat low key about agriculture.  Seems surprising, given what is already happening in the sector.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Foot and Mouth Disease - Australia MUST Be Prepared

FMD is considered a threat of enormous implications for Australia.  Internal quarantine issues, loss of trade in animals and possibly other products, loss of income and national costs in disease management, with very significant ongoing costs and loss of trade and the costs to rebuild rural industry.  Figures of $16 billion are quoted, but it may be higher considering the the UK outbreak cost A$19 billion.

It is everyone's role to be aware, especially if working in the animal industry sector, of what it is and the symptoms and an need to urgently report suspicious appearances in stock.  Starting the process provides a better option in containment, if it is confirmed.

While I can remember a range of workshops and training from quite a few years back, the need to provide updates is now emerging, with recent training and information programs for industry beginning to be provided across Australia.

Victoria has recently held information and training sessions, and more are planned around the country.

There have been a few prosecutions of individuals over detections of breaches of quarantine recently, with items that pose significant threats around FMD.  Many professionals in biosecurity are of a view that this type of problem could be an avenue whereby it would enter Australia.

While I believe most people resident in the NT take quarantine very seriously, vigilance must be maintained, and it is each and everyone who needs to be careful.

The consequences of foot and mouth disease in Australia are awful to contemplate, both for the rural industries of the NT and all of us.

More photos here - http://www.daff.gov.au/animal-plant-health/pests-diseases-weeds/animal/fmd/pic-cattle and there is more information on the web site http://www.daff.gov.au/ of it and other important animal and plant diseases.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Rabobank Positive on Live Cattle Trade to Indonesia

There is a lot of negtive sentiment regarding the live cattle trade to Indonesia, now in mid 2012, a year after the trade was suspended premptorily by the Australian Government.

Changes have been and are continuing to be made regarding slaughter and some other issues of animal welfare, but numbers are down, way down.  Indonesia is trying to be self sufficient, and import permits are restricted.  Many in the industry are sure this is not possible, at least in the near future, with additional animals needed, mostly from north Australia.  It is a win-win situation if the trade revives.

There have been demonstrations in Jakarta about rising meat prices, attributed to less cattle in the market, presumably because there is less being imported from Australia.

Last week the agribusiness giant Rabobank released a report that actually indicates that the trade will recover, but not necessarily this year.  That sounds positive, from a well respected agribusiness financier.  The media release from Rabobank is here - http://www.rabobank.com.au/News-and-Events/Media-Releases/2012-News-Archive/Pages/media-release-20120607.aspx 
with a similar one here - http://qcl.farmonline.com.au/news/nationalrural/livestock/cattle/indonesian-live-ex-outlook-positive-rabo/2586278.aspx?storypage=0 

A quote is: "In the report Australia-Indonesia live cattle trade, agricultural banking specialist Rabobank says despite current uncertainty in the market – following last year's suspension of live exports and a new operating environment since the resumption of trade – the upside of demand from Indonesia remains bright and likely to provide strong future opportunities for live cattle exports from Australia."

I am sure many pastoralists in northern Australia hope this change will be sooner rather than later.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

UAVs on Steroids

I blogged a while back about drones / UAVs and their role in modern agriculture and pastoral production, at least of aricraft and helicopters that were low cost and effective.

The article here covers military drone aircraft, remotely piloted uAVs, used by Australian military overseas in Afganistan.  They are leased through an intemediary company from the owners, an Israeli company.

I have no doubt of their capabilities, imaging and related sensing tools and similar technologies.  Well beyond what the average citizen imagines even.

Remember the scene in the movie 'Patriot Games" of IR imaging of bodies in a tent in the desert? That was declassified then, in the late 1980s.

The point is, today's military activities will be tomorrow's civilian capabilities with these technologies, particularly for deployment by firms offering services to industry.  The agriculture and pastoral industries will be among the users, and many will find it cost effective for a range of tasks.

Read the story.......it is quite fascinating, if you are into the use of remotely piloted aerial vehicles.


Thursday, June 07, 2012

Renewable Energy IS Getting Cheaper

A series of reports published on 6 June 2012 by the International Renewable Energy Association  [IRENA] [See www.irena.org ] shows some detailed figures in the publications about the costs of renewable energy form various sources, and the expected costs over the next few years.

Solar energy in various formats seems to be trending strongly lower in costs, while hydro power is already about the lowest cost around for renewable energy.

Cost of solar has reached very attractive costs for domestic use in a number of countries, with Germany among the lowest cost countries.

The reports are free and easily downloadable from their web site, and provide a fairly non partisan view of renewable energy costs in various forms, covering a rang eof solar types, hydropower, wind energy, biomass and similar.  It is interesting to note that biomass can be an attractive option cost wise in areas where residuals exist and can be converted to energy.  The reports are separate for the various energy forms.


Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Indonesian Beef Price Rises Cause Dissent

Food prices, notably that of beef, are rising in Indonesia, and quite sharply in recent months.

This is not a surprising outcome as Australian live cattle imports have dropped very sharply, with numbers unlikely to exceed around 280000, a sharp drop from two years ago when numbers were more than double that number.  Boxed beef is also down, with 30000 cartons expected to be imported in 2012, a lot less than the 140000 in 2011.

And today, the dissent was registered by Indonesians themselves, in front of Indonesian Agriculture offices in Jakarta.

While the rent a crowd issue is a well known story regarding Indonesian demonstrations, this one is solidly based on consumers annoyance over recent beef price rises impacting on the cost of living.  It is well understood that the presence of adequate numbers of Australian live cattle, fattened and finished locally in Indonesia was contributing to a adequate supply of beef at a reasonable price.

While Indonesia has claimed that local supply could replace imported Australian imported livestock, it might not be doing so as readily as they surmised it might.

No one would support poor animal slaughter practices, but it seems that meat supply is now restricted quite significantly..........and the locals are very unhappy.  And yes, slaughter practices are improving, in general terms, and most if not all in the industry want to see that continue.

BUT........the locals want a cost effective, adequate and decent supply of meat, and Australia was, and can continue to supply, those cattle that are well suited for local finishing and slaughter.  It has been a win - win situation in the past, maybe there is further hope it might be slowly moving back that way.