Editorial

Honey bee colonies fall by nearly 12% globally

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160803103740_1_540x360The number of honey bee colonies fell by nearly 12% last winter, an international study involving the University of Strathclyde indicates.

Beekeepers in 29 countries reported that, out of nearly 400,000 colonies they managed, 11.9% had failed to survive the winter.

Cases of colonies perishing after problems occurred with their queen were higher than expected.

The UK and Spain were worst affected, compared with the previous year, when other areas of Europe were hardest hit.

The preliminary findings were made through a study by honey bee research association COLOSS, based in the Institute of Bee Health at the University of Bern.

Dr Alison Gray, of Strathclyde’s Department of Mathematics & Statistics, a partner in the study, said: “These loss rates vary considerably between countries. In this year’s survey the highest losses were found in Ireland and Northern Ireland, followed by Wales and Spain.

“The pattern of loss rates differs from last year, when higher mortality and loss rates were found in central Europe and countries to the east. This year the higher loss rates tend to be in the west and northern countries, although Spain had high rates of loss in both years.

“All the loss rates quoted here include losses due to unresolvable queen problems after winter, as well as colonies that died over winter for various reasons. Losses due to queen problems were unexpectedly high in some countries and this will be a matter of further investigation.

“The crucial role of honey bees in crop pollination means that maintaining colony numbers is of great importance to agriculture, the economy and food security. Honey bees also pollinate many flowering plants and trees important for other wildlife, and so have a vital role in maintaining the natural environment and biodiversity.

“Our research with COLOSS studies the levels of colony losses and potential drivers of colony decline, including management practices, pests and diseases and environmental factors.”

The study found that the spring and early summer months of 2015, from March to July, were cold in Norway, Scotland, Sweden, Denmark and Ireland, with mean temperatures ranging from 12.8 — 14.4 °C. This may have had negative effects on colony development, resulting in both relatively high numbers of dead colonies and unsolvable queen problems after winter.

Recycling carbon dioxide

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160803140144_1_540x360Turning carbon dioxide into stored energy sounds like science fiction: researchers have long tried to find simple ways to convert this greenhouse gas into fuels and other useful chemicals. Now, a group of researchers led by Professor Ted Sargent of the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering have found a more efficient way, through the wonders of nanoengineering.

Drs. Min Liu and Yuanjie Pang, along with a team of graduate students and post-doctoral fellows in U of T Engineering, have developed a technique powered by renewable energies such as solar or wind. The catalyst takes climate-warming carbon-dioxide (CO2) and converts it to carbon-monoxide (CO), a useful building block for carbon-based chemical fuels, such as methanol, ethanol and diesel.

“CO2 reduction is an important challenge due to inertness of the molecule,” says Liu. “We were looking for the best way to both address mounting global energy needs and help the environment,” adds Pang. “If we take CO2 from industrial flue emissions or from the atmosphere, and use it as a reagent for fuels, which provide long-term storage for green energy, we’re killing two birds with one stone.”

The team’s solution is sharp: they start by fabricating extremely small gold “nanoneedles” — the tip of each needle is 10,000 times smaller than a human hair. “The nanoneedles act like lightning rods for catalyzing the reaction,” says Liu.

When they applied a small electrical bias to the array of nanoneedles, they produced a high electric field at the sharp tips of the needles. This helps attract CO2, speeding up the reduction to CO, with a rate faster than any catalyst previously reported. This represents a breakthrough in selectivity and efficiency which brings CO2 reduction closer to the realm of commercial electrolysers. The team is now working on the next step: skipping the CO and producing more conventional fuels directly.

Their work is published in the journal Nature.

“The field of water-splitting for energy storage has seen rapid advances, especially in the intensity with which these reactions can be performed on a heterogeneous catalyst at low overpotential — now, analogous breakthroughs in the rate of CO2 reduction using renewable electricity are urgently needed,” says Michael Graetzel, a professor of physical chemistry at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and a world leader in this field. “The University of Toronto team’s breakthrough was achieved using a new concept of field-induced reagent concentration.”

“Solving global energy challenges needs solutions that cut across many fields,” says Sargent. “This work not only provides a new solution to a longstanding problem of CO2 reduction, but opens possibilities for storage of alternative energies such as solar and wind.”

Human nose holds novel antibiotic effective against multiresistant pathogens

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A potential lifesaver lies unrecognized in the human body: Scientists at the University of Tübingen and the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) have discovered that Staphylococcus lugdunensis which colonizes in the human nose produces a previously unknown antibiotic. As tests on mice have shown, the substance which has been named Lugdunin is able to combat multiresistant pathogens, where many classic antibiotics have become ineffective.

nfections caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria — like the pathogen Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) which colonizes on human skin — are among the leading causes of death worldwide. The natural habitat of harmful Staphylococcus bacteria is the human nasal cavity. In their experiments, Dr. Bernhard Krismer, Alexander Zipperer and Professor Andreas Peschel from the Interfaculty Institute for Microbiology and Infection Medicine Tübingen (IMIT) observed that Staphylococcus aureus is rarely found when Staphylococcus lugdunensis is present in the nose.

“Normally antibiotics are formed only by soil bacteria and fungi,” says Professor Andreas Peschel. “The notion that human microflora may also be a source of antimicrobial agents is a new discovery.” In future studies, scientists will examine whether Lugdunin could actually be used in therapy. One potential use is introducing harmless Lugdunin-forming bacteria to patients at risk from MRSA as a preventative measure.

Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry at the University of Tübingen closely examined the structure of Lugdunin and discovered that it consists of a previously unknown ring structure of protein blocks and thus establishes a new class of materials.

Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem for physicians. “There are estimates which suggests that more people will die from resistant bacteria in the coming decades than cancer,” says Dr. Bernhard Krismer. “The improper use of antibiotics strengthens this alarming development” he continues. As many of the pathogens are part of human microflora on skin and mucous membranes, they cannot be avoided. Particularly for patients with serious underlying illnesses and weakened immune systems they represent a high risk — these patients are easy prey for the pathogens. Now the findings made by scientists at the University of Tübingen open up new ways to develop sustainable strategies for infection prevention and to find new antibiotics — also in the human body.

Florida investigation links four recent Zika cases to local mosquito-borne virus transmission

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160729132057_1_540x360The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been informed by the State of Florida that Zika virus infections in four people were likely caused by bites of local Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. The cases are likely the first known occurrence of local mosquito-borne Zika virus transmission in the continental United States. CDC is closely coordinating with Florida officials who are leading the ongoing investigations, and at the state’s request, sent a CDC medical epidemiologist to provide additional assistance.

State officials have responded rapidly with mosquito control measures and a community-wide search for additional Zika cases. Under the current situation, there are no plans for limiting travel to the area.

“All the evidence we have seen indicates that this is mosquito-borne transmission that occurred several weeks ago in several blocks in Miami,” said Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., director of the CDC. “We continue to recommend that everyone in areas where Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are present — and especially pregnant women — take steps to avoid mosquito bites. We will continue to support Florida’s efforts to investigate and respond to Zika and will reassess the situation and our recommendations on a daily basis.”

Zika virus spreads to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito (Ae. aegypti and Ae. albopictus), but can also be spread during sex by a person infected with Zika to their partner. Most people infected with Zika won’t have symptoms, but for those who do, the illness is usually mild. However, Zika infection during pregnancy can cause a serious birth defect of the brain called microcephaly and other severe fetal birth defects.

“We have been working with state and local governments to prepare for the likelihood of local mosquito-borne Zika virus transmission in the continental United States and Hawaii,” said Lyle Petersen, M.D., M.P.H., incident manager for CDC’s Zika virus response. “We anticipate that there may be additional cases of ‘homegrown’ Zika in the coming weeks. Our top priority is to protect pregnant women from the potentially devastating harm caused by Zika.”

CDC has been working with state, local, and territorial health officials to prepare for locally transmitted Zika infection in the United States. Officials from Florida participated in all these activities, and their experience in responding to mosquito-borne diseases similar to Zika, including dengue and chikungunya, has helped guide their current investigations. To date, CDC has provided Florida more than $8 million in Zika-specific funding and about $27 million in emergency preparedness funding that can be used for Zika response efforts.

Because we are in mosquito season, CDC continues to encourage everyone, especially pregnant women and women planning to become pregnant, to protect themselves from mosquito bites. Remember to use an insect repellent registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, use or repair screens on windows and doors, use air conditioning when available, and remove standing water where mosquitoes can lay eggs.

We continue to learn about Zika virus, and we are working hard to find out more about these cases. Here is what we do know:

Zika is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito (Ae. aegypti and Ae. albopictus).

A pregnant woman can pass Zika virus to her fetus during pregnancy or during birth.

Zika virus infection can cause microcephaly and other severe fetal brain defects, and is associated with other adverse pregnancy outcomes.

A person who is infected with Zika virus can pass it to sex partners.

Many people infected with Zika virus won’t have symptoms or will only have mild symptoms.

No vaccines or treatments are currently available to treat or prevent Zika infections.

As of July 27, 2016, 1,658 cases of Zika have been reported to CDC in the continental United States and Hawaii; none of these were the result of local spread by mosquitoes. These cases include 15 believed to be the result of sexual transmission and one that was the result of a laboratory exposure. This number does not include the four Florida cases likely caused by local transmission.

A new leaf: Scientists turn carbon dioxide back into fuel

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160730154602_1_540x360As scientists and policymakers around the world try to combat the increasing rate of climate change, they have focused on the chief culprit: carbon dioxide.

Produced by the burning of fossil fuels in power plants and car engines, carbon dioxide continues to accumulate in the atmosphere, warming the planet. But trees and other plants do slowly capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, converting it to sugars that store energy.

In a new study from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Illinois at Chicago, researchers have found a similar way to convert carbon dioxide into a usable energy source using sunlight.

One of the chief challenges of sequestering carbon dioxide is that it is relatively chemically unreactive. “On its own, it is quite difficult to convert carbon dioxide into something else,” said Argonne chemist Larry Curtiss, an author of the study.

To make carbon dioxide into something that could be a usable fuel, Curtiss and his colleagues needed to find a catalyst — a particular compound that could make carbon dioxide react more readily. When converting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into a sugar, plants use an organic catalyst called an enzyme; the researchers used a metal compound called tungsten diselenide, which they fashioned into nanosized flakes to maximize the surface area and to expose its reactive edges.

While plants use their catalysts to make sugar, the Argonne researchers used theirs to convert carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide. Although carbon monoxide is also a greenhouse gas, it is much more reactive than carbon dioxide and scientists already have ways of converting carbon monoxide into usable fuel, such as methanol. “Making fuel from carbon monoxide means travelling ‘downhill’ energetically, while trying to create it directly from carbon dioxide means needing to go ‘uphill,'” said Argonne physicist Peter Zapol, another author of the study.

Although the reaction to transform carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide is different from anything found in nature, it requires the same basic inputs as photosynthesis. “In photosynthesis, trees need energy from light, water and carbon dioxide in order to make their fuel; in our experiment, the ingredients are the same, but the product is different,” said Curtiss.

The setup for the reaction is sufficiently similar to nature that the research team was able to construct an “artificial leaf” that could complete the entire three-step reaction pathway. In the first step, incoming photons — packets of light — are converted to pairs of negatively-charged electrons and corresponding positively-charged “holes” that then separate from each other. In the second step, the holes react with water molecules, creating protons and oxygen molecules. Finally, the protons, electrons and carbon dioxide all react together to create carbon monoxide and water.

“We burn so many different kinds of hydrocarbons — like coal, oil or gasoline — that finding an economical way to make chemical fuels more reusable with the help of sunlight might have a big impact,” Zapol said.

Towards this goal, the study also showed that the reaction occurs with minimal lost energy — the reaction is very efficient. “The less efficient a reaction is, the higher the energy cost to recycle carbon dioxide, so having an efficient reaction is crucial,” Zapol said.

According to Curtiss, the tungsten diselenide catalyst is also quite durable, lasting for more than 100 hours — a high bar for catalysts to meet.

The study, “Nanostructured transition metal dichalcogenide electrocatalysts for CO2 reduction in ionic liquid. Much of the experimental work was performed at the University of Illinois at Chicago, while the computational work was performed at Argonne.

Kashmir, Challenge & Opportunity for Modi Govt

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mufti-modiSuddenly a challenge has been deliberately thrown against Modi government in the form of artificial mass rebellion in Kashmir Valley. If PM Narendra Modi is successful in exposing the plotters of ‘rebellion’ backed by Pakistan and able to establish dialogue with genuine leadership of Kashmiri Muslim leaders than he will have unhindered rule for next three years, his remaining part of present terms. The conspirators will be deactivated for a long time. PM Modi must turn this challenge in to an opportunity.
Kashmir problem is about 70 year old complex issue. It can’t be solved easily or in short time. It has international bearing and is deeply connected with ‘secular’ politics of India. The coverage of secular English media and statements of all India secular political leaders clearly establishes synergy in the Kashmir agitators and Secular leaders.
The trouble in Kashmir is limited to only Valley area which is very small part of Kashmir State and has predominantly Muslim population. Some parts of Kashmir are still in the possession of China and Pakistan. Ladakh and Jammu areas of Kashmir state  are quite large and are predominantly Buddhist and Hindu respectively.
Communal’ image of RSS and BJP (earlier Jan Sangh) has been crafted by congress and Leftists. This image is only weapon in the hands of Anti-BJP and Anti-Modi forces in country and abroad. These anti-forces are worried that the way Modi government is functioning the Muslim masses and their votes will go out of their clutches if PM Modi is allowed to concentrate on development. These forces are stalling many news things the government wants to introduce by creating hurdles in Rajya Sabha. Along with this they are continuously raising ‘communal’ issues to corner BJP government which is working for all round development of the country.
The crux of the problem is that the RSS and BJP are not able to articulate their views about apprehensions in the minds of people, Hindus as well as Muslims, created by sustained and well crafted propaganda by its political enemies. This ‘Secular’ propaganda has been so powerful that many members and sympathisers of RSS and BJP consider these organisations as Anti-Muslim.
In general there is no ‘ Anti’ feelings in Hindus and Muslims against each other but Muslims are behind radicalised and Hindus are being increasingly concerned about incidents within and outside the country.
The present ‘politically organised rebellion’ in the Kashmir Valley will ultimately stop but BJP and the Modi government must use the present situation there in exposing ‘secular vote bank politics’, Pak hand in organising violence in Kashmir, as well as establishing meaningful dialogue with genuine leadership of minorities specially Muslims in the country. This will help in solving Kashmir as well as other issues related to minorities and will ultimately help in faster development of the country.