Two Companies Fined after Worker Fall

Home » No Win No Fee » Latest Personal Injury News » 2014 » 4 » Two Companies Fined after Worker FallTwo Companies Fined after Worker FallTwo Scottish companies have been fined by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after a 37-year-old worker was injured in a fall from height.Refurbishment projectScott Massie, aged 37 at the time of the accident, was employed by Riverside Construction Aberdeen, which had been subcontracted by Aberdeen Fabrication (A-FAB) to work on a major refurbishment project on a property in the Market Street area of the city.Peterhead Sheriff Court heard that Mr Massie was replacing a floorboard over a hole in the first floor. The gap was used to hoist important materials from the ground floor to higher storeys, but had outlived its usefulness and was set to be filled so construction could continue.But as the Scot manoeuvred the board into position, it fell through the hole and set Mr Massie off balance, sending him falling to the floor below. Mr Massie landed on his back nearly four metres below, fracturing his spine in several places.At first, the construction worker started to call out for help, but no one heard him and he had to crawl back up to the first floor before colleagues found him and called for an ambulance.HospitalUpon arriving at hospital, Mr Massie was diagnosed with eight fractures to his vertebrae and two broken ribs.The man had to stay in hospital for almost two months and had to go through painful physiotherapy to learn how to walk again. He has also since been told he has permanent damage to his lower back.Upon being informed of the accident, the HSE launched an investigation to establish the facts of the case.It was discovered that just a few weeks before Mr Massie fell, the agency had served an Improvement Notice on principal contractor A-FAB after concerns over a lack of safeguarding to protect against falls from height.After an investigation, the HSE established that A-FAB had failed to sufficiently address safety issues that would prevent people from falling through holes in the floors and it was taken to Court alongside Riverside Construction Aberdeen.Court actionFor its part in Mr Massie’s injuries, A-FAB was fined £45,000 after pleading guilty to a breach of Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.Riverside Construction was hit with a smaller, but still substantial, fine of £30,000 after it pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.Speaking after the trial ended, HSE’s principal inspector Isabelle Martin said, “It was clear there was a risk of a fall through the holes in the floor at this site and had Aberdeen Fabrications and Riverside Construction (Aberdeen) taken the action required by HSE inspectors this incident could have been avoided.”But as a result of the failings of his employer Riverside Construction and the principal contractor Aberdeen Fabrications, Mr Massie has suffered severe injuries from which he is unlikely to ever fully recover.”Falls from height are the single biggest cause of workplace deaths and there is no excuse for employers failing to protect workers.”By Chris StevensonOr Call freephone 0800 884 0321SHARE THIS

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Neurotics don’t just avoid action: They dislike it, study finds

That person we all seem to know who we say is neurotic and unable to take action? Turns out he or she isn’t unable to act but simply doesn’t want to.A study of nearly 4,000 college students in 19 countries has uncovered new details about why neurotic people may avoid making decisions and moving forward with life. Turns out that when they are asked if action is positive, favorable, good, they just don’t like it as much as non-neurotics. Therefore persuasive communications and other interventions may be useful if they simply alter neurotics’ attitudes toward inaction.These findings come the study “Neuroticism and Attitudes Toward Action in 19 Countries.” It is published in the Journal of Personality and was written by Molly E. Ireland, Texas Tech University; Justin Hepler, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Hong Li, Battelle Center for Analytics and Public Health; and Dolores Albarracn -the principal investigator of the study– from the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania.”You’re so neurotic!” It’s a phrase that’s tossed about casually, but what exactly is neuroticism? It is a personality trait defined by the experience of chronic negative affect — including sadness, anxiety, irritability, and self-consciousness — that is easily triggered and difficult to control. Neurotic people tend to avoid acting when confronted with major and minor life stressors, leading to negative life consequences.The researchers sought to determine whether and under what conditions neuroticism is associated with favorable or unfavorable representations of action and inaction. They investigated whether depression and anxiety would decrease proactive behavior among neurotic individuals, and whether a person’s collectivistic tendencies — considering the social consequences of one’s behavior before acting — would moderate the negative associations between neuroticism and action/inaction. The study found neurotics look at action less favorably and inaction more favorably than emotionally stable people do.”People who are less emotionally stable have less positive attitudes towards action and more positive attitudes toward inaction,” the authors wrote. “Furthermore, anxiety was primarily responsible for neurotic individuals’ less positive attitudes toward action. …

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First peanut genome sequenced

The International Peanut Genome Initiative — a group of multinational crop geneticists who have been working in tandem for the last several years — has successfully sequenced the peanut’s genome.Scott Jackson, director of the University of Georgia Center for Applied Genetic Technologies in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, serves as chair of the International Peanut Genome Initiative, or IPGI.The new peanut genome sequence will be available to researchers and plant breeders across the globe to aid in the breeding of more productive and more resilient peanut varieties.Peanut, known scientifically as Arachis hypogaea and also called groundnut, is important both commercially and nutritionally. While the oil- and protein-rich legume is seen as a cash crop in the developed world, it remains a valuable sustenance crop in developing nations.”The peanut crop is important in the United States, but it’s very important for developing nations as well,” Jackson said. “In many areas, it is a primary calorie source for families and a cash crop for farmers.”Globally, farmers tend about 24 million hectares of peanuts each year and produce about 40 million metric tons.”Improving peanut varieties to be more drought-, insect- and disease-resistant can help farmers in developed nations produce more peanuts with fewer pesticides and other chemicals and help farmers in developing nations feed their families and build more secure livelihoods,” said plant geneticist Rajeev Varshney of the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics in India, who serves on the IPGI.The effort to sequence the peanut genome has been underway for several years. While peanuts were successfully bred for intensive cultivation for thousands of years, relatively little was known about the legume’s genetic structure because of its complexity, according to Peggy Ozias-Akins, a plant geneticist on the UGA Tifton campus who also works with the IPGI and is director of the UGA Institute of Plant Breeding, Genetics and Genomics.”Until now, we’ve bred peanuts relatively blindly, as compared to other crops,” said IPGI plant geneticist David Bertioli of the Universidade de Braslia. “We’ve had less information to work with than we do with many crops, which have been more thoroughly researched and understood.”The peanut in fields today is the result of a natural cross between two wild species, Arachis duranensis and Arachis ipaensis, which occurred in north Argentina between 4,000 and 6,000 years ago. Because its ancestors were two different species, today’s peanut is a polyploid, meaning the species can carry two separate genomes, designated A and B subgenomes.To map the peanut’s structure, researchers sequenced the genomes of the two ancestral parents because together they represent the cultivated peanut. The sequences provide researchers access to 96 percent of all peanut genes in their genomic context, providing the molecular map needed to more quickly breed drought- and disease-resistant, lower-input and higher-yielding varieties of peanuts.The two ancestor wild species had been collected in nature, conserved in germplasm banks and then used by the IPGI to better understand the peanut genome. The genomes of the two ancestor species provide excellent models for the genome of the cultivated peanut. A. duranenis serves as a model for the A subgenome of the cultivated peanut while A. …

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Migraine attacks increase following stress ‘let-down’

Migraine sufferers who experienced reduced stress from one day to the next are at significantly increased risk of migraine onset on the subsequent day, according to a new study conducted by researchers at the Montefiore Headache Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University. Stress has long been believed to be a common headache trigger. In this study, researchers found that relaxation following heightened stress was an even more significant trigger for migraine attacks. Findings may aid in recommending preventive treatments and behavioral interventions. The study was published online in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.Migraine is a chronic condition that affects approximately 38 million Americans. To examine headache triggers, investigators at the Montefiore Headache Center and Einstein conducted a three month electronic daily diary study which captured 2,011 diary records and 110 eligible migraine attacks in 17 participants. The study compared levels of stress and reduction in stress as predictors of headache.”This study demonstrates a striking association between reduction in perceived stress and the occurrence of migraine headaches,” said study lead author Richard B. Lipton, M.D., director, Montefiore Headache Center, professor and vice chair of neurology and the Edwin S. Lowe Chair in Neurology, Einstein. “Results were strongest during the first six hours where decline in stress was associated with a nearly five-fold increased risk of migraine onset. …

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Beer marinade could reduce levels of potentially harmful substances in grilled meats

The smells of summer — the sweet fragrance of newly opened flowers, the scent of freshly cut grass and the aroma of meats cooking on the backyard grill — will soon be upon us. Now, researchers are reporting that the very same beer that many people enjoy at backyard barbeques could, when used as a marinade, help reduce the formation of potentially harmful substances in grilled meats. The study appears in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.I.M.P.L.V.O. Ferreira and colleagues explain that past studies have shown an association between consumption of grilled meats and a high incidence of colorectal cancer. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are substances that can form when meats are cooked at very high temperatures, like on a backyard grill. And high levels of PAHs, which are also in cigarette smoke and car exhaust, are associated with cancers in laboratory animals, although it’s uncertain if that’s true for people. Nevertheless, the European Union Commission Regulation has established the most suitable indicators for the occurrence and carcinogenic potency of PAHs in food and attributed maximum levels for these compounds in foods. Beer, wine or tea marinades can reduce the levels of some potential carcinogens in cooked meat, but little was known about how different beer marinades affect PAH levels, until now.The researchers grilled samples of pork marinated for four hours in Pilsner beer, non-alcoholic Pilsner beer or a black beer ale, to well-done on a charcoal grill. Black beer had the strongest effect, reducing the levels of eight major PAHs by more than half compared with unmarinated pork. “Thus, the intake of beer marinated meat can be a suitable mitigation strategy,” say the researchers.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by American Chemical Society. …

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Genetic evidence for single bacteria cause of sepsis identified for the first time by academic team

An international team of academics, including Professor Marco Oggioni from the University of Leicester’s Department of Genetics, has studied how localized infections can turn into the dangerous systematic disease sepsis — and has identified for the first time through genetic evidence that a single bacteria could be the cause.The study, which has been published in the academic journal PLOS Pathogens, examined the events that lead to sepsis by Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus), a major human pathogen, in mice. They found that in most cases the bacteria causing sepsis was started by a single pneumococcal cell.The study was an interdisciplinary collaboration between the Departments of Genetics, Infection Immunity and Inflammation and Mathematics at the University of Leicester, Professor Richard Moxon at the University of Oxford and scientists from overseas including the University of Siena.Professor Oggioni said: “Our data in experimental infection models indicate that we do not need only strategies which target many bacteria when it is too late, but that early intervention schemes which prevent the one-single cell that starts the disease process might provide substantial benefit to the patient.”In this work we have for the first time provided genetic evidence for a single cell origin of bacterial invasive infection. The scenario was hypothesized over 50 years ago, but so far only phenotypic and statistical evidence could be obtained for this event.”Under normal circumstances, when different bacteria are used in models of experimental infection of hosts who have not previously encountered the same pathogen, the vast majority is destroyed rapidly by the host’s innate immune system.In the researcher’s model, a dose of one million bacteria is needed to induce systemic disease in about half of the hosts in the study.This is in stark contrast to a much lower number of bacteria thought to make up the starting “seed” that leads to the development of systemic infection — and the assumption is that there must be one or more “bottlenecks” in the development of the disease.To investigate these bottlenecks, the researchers injected mice with a mix of three different variants of S. pneumoniae. About half of the mice developed sepsis and in almost all cases the bacteria causing sepsis were derived from only one of the three variants used in the initial challenge.Using statistical analysis as well as direct DNA sequencing, the researchers could show that in most cases the bacterial population causing sepsis was started by a single pneumococcal cell.When the researchers looked closer at how the immune system resists most injected bacteria, they found that macrophages, a type of immune cell that can gobble up bacteria, and specifically macrophages in the spleen, are the main contributors to an efficient immune response to this pathogen.Their findings suggest that if bacteria survive this initial counter-attack, a single ‘founder’ bacterium multiplies and re-enters the bloodstream, where its descendants come under strong selective pressure that dynamically shapes the subsequent bacterial population — resulting in the sepsis.The data also suggests that the single bacterium leading to sepsis has no obvious characteristics that give it an advantage over the 999,999 others, but that random events determine which of the injected bacteria survives and multiplies to cause disease.It is believed that the findings, suggesting that the development of sepsis starting from a single founding cell which survives the immune system’s initial counter-attack in mice, could also potentially apply to human systemic infections.This information could prove vital to understanding sepsis, as the causes of the disease are still largely unknown to the scientific community.Dr Oggioni added: “Knowing that there is a moment when a single bacterial cell escapes “normal” immune surveillance at the beginning of each invasive infection is an important paradigm and essential information which, in our opinion, should lead to changes in therapeutic protocols in order to maximise success of treatment outcome.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Leicester. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Stem cell study finds source of earliest blood cells during development

Hematopoietic stem cells are now routinely used to treat patients with cancers and other disorders of the blood and immune systems, but researchers knew little about the progenitor cells that give rise to them during embryonic development.In a study published April 8 in Stem Cell Reports, Matthew Inlay of the Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center, and faculty member of the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, and Stanford University colleagues created novel cell assays that identified the earliest arising HSC precursors based on their ability to generate all major blood cell types (red blood cells, platelets and immune cells).This discovery of very early differentiating blood cells, Inlay said, may be very beneficial for the creation of HSC lines for clinical treatments. “The hope is that by defining a set of markers that will allow us to make purer, cleaner populations of these precursor cells, we’ll be able to reveal the key molecular events that lead to the emergence of the first HSCs in development.This could give us a step-by-step guide for creating these cells in a dish from pluripotent stem cell lines” added Inlay, who is an assistant professor of molecular biology & biochemistry at UC Irvine and conducted the study while a postdoctoral researcher in the Irving Weissman lab at Stanford.The work was performed in collaboration with Thomas Serwold, now an assistant professor in the Joslin Diabetes Center at Harvard Medical School.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of California – Irvine. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Improved pavement markings can save lives

As spring finally emerges after a ferocious winter, our battered roads will soon be re-exposed. While potholes and cracks might make news, a larger concern should be the deterioration to pavement markings, from yellow to white lines, which are a major factor in preventing traffic accidents.A study from Concordia University, funded by Infrastructure Canada and published in Structure and Infrastructure Engineering, found that snowplows are the biggest culprit in erasing roadway markings.The research team also examined the impact of salt and sand on the visibility of pavement markings. The conclusion: a simple switch in paint can save cars — and lives.Using data from the Ontario and Quebec ministries of transportation and the municipalities of Montreal and Ottawa, Professor Tarek Zayed of Concordia’s Department of Building, Civil and Environmental Engineering measured the relationship between materials used in pavement markings, and their age and durability.He also compared highways with city roads, examined traffic levels and took note of the types of vehicles involved. Finally, Zayed and his research team examined marking types such as highway centre lines, pedestrian crosswalks and traffic intersections.They found snowploughs to be the worst on roads because they literally scrape paint off the streets. “Snow removal is the major contributing factor to wear and tear on pavement markings, because when snow is pushed off the road, part of the markings is taken off too,” says Zayed.What can improve the chances of pavement markings surviving the winter? Zayed suggests that an upgrade to more expensive and durable epoxy paint might be more cost effective in the long run. Other options include paint tape and thermoplastic, although these are quite expensive.He also suggests wider use of a technical device called a retroreflectometer to help assess the paint’s reflectivity and resulting effectiveness. “In the U.S., this standard has been in place for almost a decade,” he says, adding that minimum standards for reflectivity are used to signal when a road must be repainted.Zayed also says Canadian roads are in desperate need of more studies. For example, while epoxy is known to be a more durable paint, since it is not yet widely used in Ontario and Quebec, more research is needed to show exactly how it holds up to stressors like salt and snow removal.While several studies have been conducted in the central and southern United States to compare and evaluate the durability of pavement markings, Zayed points out that the findings don’t translate very well given the strikingly different weather conditions between warm versus seasonal climates.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Concordia University. The original article was written by Suzanne Bowness. …

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Global food trade can alleviate water scarcity

International trade of food crops led to freshwater savings worth 2.4 billion US-Dollars in 2005 and had a major impact on local water stress. This is shown in a new study by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Trading food involves the trade of virtually embedded water used for production, and the amount of that water depends heavily on the climatic conditions in the production region: It takes, for instance, 2.700 liters of water to produce 1 kilo of cereals in Morocco, while the same kilo produced in Germany uses up only 520 liters. Analyzing the impact of trade on local water scarcity, our scientists found that it is not the amount of water used that counts most, but the origin of the water. While parts of India or the Middle East alleviate their water scarcity through importing crops, some countries in Southern Europe export agricultural goods from water-scarce sites, thus increasing local water stress.”Agriculture accounts for 70 percent of our global freshwater consumption and therefore has a huge potential to affect local water scarcity,” lead author Anne Biewald says. The amount of water used in the production of agricultural export goods is referred to as virtual water trade. So far, however, the concept of virtual water could not identify the regional water source, but used national or even global averages instead. “Our analysis shows that it is not the amount of water that matters, but whether global food trade leads to conserving or depleting water reserves in water-scarce regions,” Biewald says.Combining biophysical simulations of the virtual water content of crop production with agro-economic land-use and water-use simulations, the scientists were able for the first time to determine the positive and negative impacts on water scarcity through international trade of crops, livestock and feed. The effects were analyzed with high resolution on a subnational level to account for large countries like India or the US with different climatic zones and relating varying local conditions regarding water availability and water productivity. Previously, these countries could only be evaluated through national average water productivity. …

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Eel expedition 2014 has arrived in The Sargasso Sea

The research vessel Dana is currently in the Sargasso Sea on an intensive research expedition to the European eel’s spawning grounds subsequently following the eel larvae’s drift back to Europe. The Sargasso Sea is a large oceanic area between Bermuda and the West Indies. There are 19 species of eel in the world. Two of them spawn in the Sargasso Sea: The American and The European Eel.In the past 30 years there has been a dramatic decline in the European eel population. Today, the number of young eel returning to the coasts of Europe is just 2-10 per cent of the quantities seen in the 1970s. In 2008, the dramatic decline in eel numbers led the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to add the eel to its list of critically endangered species.A characteristic feature of the European eel is that spawning takes place far from the juvenile nursery grounds in Europe, requiring the eel larvae to ride the ocean currents for a 6,000 kilometre return journey across the Atlantic. The expedition will investigate whether climate-related changes in the eel’s spawning grounds or the ocean currents transporting the eel larvae to Europe are responsible for the eel’s sharp decline. The expedition will also gather information on the food preferences of the newly hatched eel — the understanding of eel larval feeding is a prerequisite for successful rearing of larvae and the farming of eel. Farmed eel can be used for re-stocking and using these for consumption would lower the fishing pressure on the population.The expedition brings together almost 40 experts from a wide range of research areas at both Danish and international universities and institutions (including French, German,Swedish and American participants). The expedition, which is headed by Senior Researcher Peter Munk from DTU Aqua, is funded by the Danish Centre for Marine Research and the Carlsberg Foundation. …

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Pathways that direct immune system to turn ‘on’ or ‘off’ found

A key discovery explaining how components of the immune system determine whether to activate or to suppress the immune system, made by Kelvin Lee, MD, Professor of Oncology and Co-Leader of the Tumor Immunology and Immunotherapy Program at Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI), and colleagues led to published findings being selected as the “Paper of the Week” by the Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC). The honor places his work among the top 2 percent — in terms of significance and overall importance — of the year’s manuscripts reviewed by the journal.This research focused on the immune system’s dendritic cells (DCs), crucial cells that initiate and regulate immune responses. For example, the dendritic cells activate T lymphocytes to fight an infection or cancer. Curiously, they are also known to suppress the immune response. Determining when DCs turn the immune response “on” or “off” is a major question in immunology.For this project, Dr. Lee’s team explored two receptors (called CD80 and CD86) expressed on the surface of dendritic cells that trigger the cells to make either immune-stimulating factors (interleukin-6) or immune-suppressive factors (indolemine 2, 3 dioxygenase, IDO). They defined the intracellular pathways by which the receptors triggered each response and also uncovered a previously unrecognized interaction with another receptor called Notch-1.Understanding how these pathways are put together opens the door to targeting components of the pathway so physicians can manipulate the dendritic cells to either activate or suppress the immune system in a way that’s therapeutically beneficial.“Activating the immune response would enhance a patient’s response to a vaccine designed to prevent a cancer from growing or recurring,” explains Dr. Lee. “Suppressing or blocking an unwanted immune response would be helpful in organ-transplant cases, to prevent rejection, or in autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.”With regard to cancer, Dr. Lee explains how manipulating the CD80/CD86 pathway could impact treatment for multiple myeloma, a cancer of a type of white blood cell in the bone marrow.“Myeloma cells use this pathway to survive and grow by inducing the DC to make IL-6 — which promotes the cancer cells’ survival — and IDO, which blocks anti-cancer responses,” he says. …

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Reindeer grazing may counteract effects of climate warming on tundra carbon sink

Local reindeer grazing history is an important determinant in the response of an ecosystem’s carbon sink to climate warming, say researchers at the Arctic Centre of the University of Lapland. Their study was published in the journal Nature Climate Change on 16 March 2014. The research project has been funded by the Academy of Finland.The consequences of global climate warming on ecosystem carbon sink in tundra are of great interest, because carbon that is currently stored in tundra soils may be released to the atmosphere in a warmer climate. This could contribute to atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, and thus create a positive feedback that intensifies global change.A major portion of the Arctic is grazed by reindeer. In northernmost Europe, the reindeer was domesticated a few centuries ago. In a field experiment in northern Norway, the effects of experimental warming were compared between lightly and heavily grazed tundra. The grazing history between these areas had varied for the past 50 years. Carbon balances showed that under the current climate, lightly grazed, dwarf-shrub-dominated tundra were a stronger carbon sink than heavily grazed, graminoid-dominated tundra. However, warming decreased the carbon sink in lightly grazed tundra, but had no effect in heavily grazed tundra. Thus, tundra with a long history of intensive grazing showed a weak response to climate warming.The main reason for this grazer-induced difference was that in heavily grazed tundra, graminoids with rapid growth rates were able to increase their photosynthesis and carbon fixation under increased temperatures. …

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The Escalating Debate Over E-Cigarettes

Follow the bouncing ping-pong ball. “E-cigarettes are likely to be gateway devices for nicotine addiction among youth, opening up a whole new market for tobacco.”—Lauren Dutra, postdoctoral fellow at the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education.“You’ve got two camps here: an abstinence-only camp that thinks anything related to tobacco should be outlawed, and those of us who say abstinence has failed, and that we have to take advantage of every opportunity with a reasonable prospect for harm reduction.”—Richard Carmona, former U.S. Surgeon General, now board member of e-cigarette maker NJOY.“Consumers are led to believe that e-cigarettes are a safe alternative to cigarettes, despite the fact that they are addictive, and there is no regulatory oversight …

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Nanoscale optical switch breaks miniaturization barrier

An ultra-fast and ultra-small optical switch has been invented that could advance the day when photons replace electrons in the innards of consumer products ranging from cell phones to automobiles.The new optical device can turn on and off trillions of times per second. It consists of individual switches that are only one five-hundredths the width of a human hair (200 nanometers) in diameter. This size is much smaller than the current generation of optical switches and it easily breaks one of the major technical barriers to the spread of electronic devices that detect and control light: miniaturizing the size of ultrafast optical switches.The new device was developed by a team of scientists from Vanderbilt University, University of Alabama-Birmingham, and Los Alamos National Laboratory and is described in the Mar. 12 issue of the journal Nano Letters.The ultrafast switch is made out of an artificial material engineered to have properties that are not found in nature. In this case, the “metamaterial” consists of nanoscale particles of vanadium dioxide (VO2) — a crystalline solid that can rapidly switch back and forth between an opaque, metallic phase and a transparent, semiconducting phase — which are deposited on a glass substrate and coated with a “nanomesh” of tiny gold nanoparticles.The scientists report that bathing these gilded nanoparticles with brief pulses from an ultrafast laser generates hot electrons in the gold nanomesh that jump into the vanadium dioxide and cause it to undergo its phase change in a few trillionths of a second.”We had previously triggered this transition in vanadium dioxide nanoparticles directly with lasers and we wanted to see if we could do it with electrons as well,” said Richard Haglund, Stevenson Professor of Physics at Vanderbilt, who led the study. “Not only does it work, but the injection of hot electrons from the gold nanoparticles also triggers the transformation with one fifth to one tenth as much energy input required by shining the laser directly on the bare VO2.”Both industry and government are investing heavily in efforts to integrate optics and electronics, because it is generally considered to be the next step in the evolution of information and communications technology. Intel, Hewlett-Packard and IBM have been building chips with increasing optical functionality for the last five years that operate at gigahertz speeds, one thousandth that of the VO2 switch.”Vanadium dioxide switches have a number of characteristics that make them ideal for optoelectronics applications,” said Haglund. In addition to their fast speed and small size, they:• Are completely compatible with current integrated circuit technology, both silicon-based chips and the new “high-K dielectric” materials that the semiconductor industry is developing to continue the miniaturization process that has been a major aspect of microelectronics technology development;• Operate in the visible and near-infrared region of the spectrum that is optimal for telecommunications applications;• Generate an amount of heat per operation that is low enough so that the switches can be packed tightly enough to make practical devices: about ten trillionths of a calorie (100 femtojoules) per bit.”Vanadium dioxide’s amazing properties have been known for more than half a century. At Vanderbilt, we have been studying VO2 nanoparticles for the last ten years, but the material has been remarkably successfully at resisting theoretical explanations,” said Haglund. “It is only in the last few years that intensive computational studies have illuminated the physics that underlies its semiconductor-to-metal transition.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Vanderbilt University. …

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Ambitious new pollution targets needed to protect Lake Erie from massive ‘dead zone’

Reducing the size of the Lake Erie “dead zone” to acceptable levels will require cutting nutrient pollution nearly in half in coming decades, at a time when climate change is expected to make such reductions more difficult.That’s one of the main conclusions of a comprehensive new study that documents recent trends in Lake Erie’s health. It offers science-based guidance to policymakers seeking to reduce the size of toxic algae blooms and oxygen-starved regions called hypoxic zones, or dead zones — two related water-quality problems that have seen a resurgence in the lake since the mid-1990s.The report from the multi-institution EcoFore-Lake Erie project states that a 46 percent reduction in the amount, or load, of phosphorus pollution would be needed to shrink Lake Erie’s Central Basin hypoxic zone to a size last seen in the mid-1990s — a time that coincided with the recovery of several recreational and commercial fisheries in the lake’s west and central basins.Phosphorus is a nutrient used in crop fertilizers. Excess phosphorus washes off croplands during rainstorms and flows downstream in rivers that feed the Great Lakes. Once in the lakes, phosphorus can trigger algae blooms. When the algae die and sink to the lake bottom, oxygen-consuming bacteria feed on them and create hypoxic zones in the process. Many fish shun these oxygen-starved waters, which significantly reduce the amount of suitable habitat available to the fish.The study, accepted for publication in a forthcoming edition of the Journal of Great Lakes Research, calls for Central Basin phosphorus reductions considerably higher than other recent recommendations, including a proposal issued last year by the Ohio Lake Erie Phosphorus Task Force aimed at avoiding Western Basin toxic algae blooms. The new report is a synthesis of the major findings from the EcoFore-Lake Erie project, created in 2005 and supported by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research.”The new target is very ambitious but is achievable if the region agrees to adopt agricultural practices that help reduce the amount of phosphorus-bearing fertilizer washing off fields,” said aquatic ecologist Donald Scavia, director of the University of Michigan’s Graham Sustainability Institute and EcoFore-Lake Erie principal investigator. “We believe this EcoFore synthesis report provides important input to the U.S. and Canadian teams charged with setting new phosphorus load targets for Lake Erie.”The EcoFore recommendations are aimed at policymakers who will update the binational Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. …

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Entomologists update definitions to tackle resistance to biotech crops, pesticides

Resistance to pesticides has now been recorded in nearly a thousand pest species, including more than 500 insects, 218 weeds, and 190 fungi that attack plants. The recorded cases of resistance in insects, mites and other arthropods, which include resistance to multiple pesticides per species, more than doubled from 5,141 in 1990 to 11,254 in 2013. A first step in tackling this growing global problem is establishing a common vocabulary, because the current jumble of terms fosters confusion among scientists in academia, industry and government. To address this issue, five entomologists from the University of Arizona and Michigan State University updated definitions for 50 key terms related to resistance in a new article in the Journal of Economic Entomology.”The lack of a modern glossary for resistance was recently brought to our attention by an initiative of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) seeking input on definitions of terms about resistance,” said Dr. Mark Whalon, one of the co-authors from Michigan State University, who directs the online Arthropod Pesticide Resistance Database and who also serves as the Entomological Society of America’s Liaison to the EPA Office of Pesticide Programs. “We provide a list of 50 key resistance terms and definitions aimed at facilitating understanding and management of resistance.”The authors favor definitions that promote proactive detection and management of resistance, such as resistance defined as “a genetically based decrease in susceptibility to a pesticide.” They contrast this with an alternative definition used by some industry scientists that requires “repeated failure of a product to achieve the expected level of control,” which generally occurs only after it’s too late to respond most effectively.The stakes are especially high for defining and managing insect resistance to corn and cotton plants genetically engineered to produce proteins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). These proteins kill some key pests, but are not toxic to people, wildlife, or even most insects. Organic growers have used Bt toxins in sprays for decades, and conventional farmers have widely adopted transgenic Bt crops since 1996. In 2013, Bt corn and Bt cotton were planted on 187 million acres worldwide and accounted for 75% of all cotton and 76% of all corn grown in the U.S.Recognizing that resistance is not “all or none” and that intermediate levels of resistance can have a continuum of effects on pest control, the authors describe five categories of field-evolved resistance and use them to classify 13 cases of resistance to five Bt toxins in transgenic corn and cotton based on monitoring data from five continents for nine major pest species.Emerging resistance of the western corn rootworm to Bt corn exemplifies the urgent need for well-defined resistance terms. …

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Livestock can produce food that is better for people, planet

With one in seven humans undernourished, and with the challenges of population growth and climate change, the need for efficient food production has never been greater. Eight strategies to cut the environmental and economic costs of keeping livestock, such as cows, goats and sheep, while boosting the quantity and quality of the food produced have been outlined by an international team of scientists.The strategies to make ruminant — cud-chewing — livestock a more sustainable part of the food supply, led by academics at the University of Bristol’s School of Veterinary Sciences, are outlined in a Comment piece in Nature this week.The eight strategies include:Feed animals less human food. Livestock consume an estimated one-third or more of the world’s cereal grain, which some advocate would be better used to feed people directly. Some of this could indeed be avoided by capitalising on ruminants’ ability to digest food that humans cannot eat, such as hay, silage and high-fibre crop residues. Raise regionally appropriate animals. Working to boost yields from local breeds makes more sense in the long term than importing poorly adapted breeds that are successful elsewhere. European and North American Holstein dairy cows can produce 30 litres of milk a day. Thousands of these animals have been exported to Asia and Africa in an attempt to alleviate malnutrition. But exposed to hot climates, tropical diseases and sub-optimal housing, the cows produce much less milk, and the costs of feed and husbandry far exceed those of native breeds. Farmers, therefore, should be encouraged to keep and improve livestock adapted to local conditions. …

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Sterile flies save food crops, millions of dollars in eradication efforts

Irradiated, sterile flies dropped over seaports and agricultural areas to mate with unsuspecting females save food crops and millions of dollars in prevented infestations and the ensuing eradication efforts. But blasting these secret-suitor insects with radiation via electron beams, X-rays or gamma-rays, tends to make them weaker than typical males — and not so appealing to females as possible mates.What sterile-insect operations need, says University of Florida insect physiologist Daniel Hahn, is the insect world’s version of George Clooney: 52 years old, gray-haired and still dazzling the ladies.Hahn, an associate professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, and his former postdoctoral associate, Giancarlo Lpez-Martnez, now an assistant professor at New Mexico State University, describe in research publications this month and last, that sterilizing insects in a low-oxygen environment helps create suitors who more closely resemble the suave Clooney than do those sterilized in a normal-oxygen environment.”Our males (insects) are not only more sexually competitive, they are maintaining their sexual competitiveness and their virility, into old age,” Hahn said, “and that has the potential to make them much better biological control agents.”The sterile insect technique, or SIT, has been used for decades and is considered a much preferable alternative to spraying pesticides over urban or suburban areas near major ports. In this biological control method, large numbers of sterile, male insects are released to compete with wild males for the attention of invasive wild females.A female duped into accepting a sterile male would then find herself without offspring, thus trimming the population and its threat to the state’s important agricultural crops. The technique has been used effectively against the Mediterranean fruit fly, called the Medfly, and the cattle-infesting screw-worm fly, among others.Florida spends roughly $6 million a year using SIT to prevent Mediterranean fruit fly infestations, while California spends about $17 million a year. Because of the inherent dangers in importing even one Mediterranean fruit fly into the state, in their recent studies, Lpez-Martnez and Hahn investigated the physiological effects of applying low-oxygen treatments prior to and during irradiation sterilization on two other plant pests: the Caribbean fruit fly and the invasive cactus moth.The “low-oxygen effect” has been known for decades, but the physiological basis for it had never been rigorously tested or analyzed, Hahn said. They suspected, and found, that under the low-oxygen conditions, the insects’ cells would produce antioxidants that can help better protect them from the off-target radiation damage.Some operations that rear and sterilize insects, such as one in Guatemala that produces many of the sterile medflies dropped over Florida’s major ports roughly every seven days, do employ low-oxygen conditions, called hypoxia or anoxia. But many others don’t, he said, including those who rear and sterilize the cactus moth.The reseachers found using a low-oxygen environment during sterilization boosted the sterile males’ longevity as well as their ability to attract and successfully mate. They found that the positive effects of low-oxygen treatments even extended into their ‘old age’ — in the insects’ case, about 30 days under cushy laboratory conditions.Treatments that both improve the sexual performance of sterile males and maintain high performance longer in older males can substantially increase the effectiveness and decrease the economic costs of SIT programs, Hahn said.The January paper was published by PLoS One, and the February paper in the Journal of Economic Entomology. Hahn and Lpez-Martnez were joined as authors of that paper by James Carpenter of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Tifton, Ga., and Stephen Hight of the USDA-ARS at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee.

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NASA scientists find evidence of water in meteorite, reviving debate over life on Mars

A team of scientists at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., has found evidence of past water movement throughout a Martian meteorite, reviving debate in the scientific community over life on Mars.In 1996, a group of scientists at Johnson led by David McKay, Everett Gibson and Kathie Thomas-Keprta published an article in Science announcing the discovery of biogenic evidence in the Allan Hills 84001(ALH84001) meteorite. In this new study, Gibson and his colleagues focused on structures deep within a 30-pound (13.7-kilogram) Martian meteorite known as Yamato 000593 (Y000593). The team reports that newly discovered different structures and compositional features within the larger Yamato meteorite suggest biological processes might have been at work on Mars hundreds of millions of years ago.The team’s findings have been published in the February issue of the journal Astrobiology. The lead author, Lauren White, is based at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Co-authors are Gibson, Thomas-Keprta, Simon Clemett and McKay, all based at Johnson. McKay, who led the team that studied the ALH84001 meteorite, died a year ago.”While robotic missions to Mars continue to shed light on the planet’s history, the only samples from Mars available for study on Earth are Martian meteorites,” said White. “On Earth, we can utilize multiple analytical techniques to take a more in-depth look into meteorites and shed light on the history of Mars. These samples offer clues to the past habitability of this planet. As more Martian meteorites are discovered, continued research focusing on these samples collectively will offer deeper insight into attributes which are indigenous to ancient Mars. Furthermore, as these meteorite studies are compared to present day robotic observations on Mars, the mysteries of the planet’s seemingly wetter past will be revealed.”Analyses found that the rock was formed about 1.3 billion years ago from a lava flow on Mars. …

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Food production in northeastern U.S. may need to change if climate does

If significant climate change occurs in the United States it may be necessary to change where certain foods are produced in order to meet consumer demand. In a paper published online this week in the journal Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, researchers at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University provide an overview of current farmland use and food production in the Northeastern U.S., identifying potential vulnerabilities of the 12-state region.Led by Tim Griffin, Ph.D., associate professor and director of the Agriculture, Food and Environment program at the Friedman School, the authors evaluated the degree to which the Northeast can satisfy the food needs of its residents, a concept known as regional self-reliance. Their results are based on calculations of regional agricultural land use and production between 2001 and 2010. In that time, over 100 crops were harvested and livestock production involved all six major species. The authors’ estimates also include fish and shellfish.”Food production in the United States is concentrated in certain areas, but it is important to explore the ability of all regions to produce food. This is certainly the case in the Northeast, which has both a high population density and a declining agricultural land base,” Griffin said. “For example, most of the country’s pork products come from Iowa and North Carolina, and most of the lettuce is grown in California’s Salinas Valley. Looking ahead, there is the potential for climate change to disrupt food production in those key areas. If irrigation in the Central Valley of California was reduced due to climate change, could other regions make up for that drop in production? And what is the capacity of the Northeast region to produce more?”Griffin and colleagues noted substantial diversity in the Northeast food system, for crops in particular. …

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