'Vaccine Against HIV Closer To Reality', Say Researchers

Melbourne: In a significant progress towards the development of a vaccine against HIV, scientists have developed a new approach to help the immune system actively fight the virus in the body.

For the first time, researchers showed that a combined approach - using a common cold virus to introduce a vaccine into the body, as well as an injection of a DNA-based vaccine - may help protect against HIV in the gut and bodily cavities.

"With sexual activity being one of the primary methods of HIV transmission, it is necessary to try to protect those parts of the body that are most likely to encounter the virus first," said Branka Grubor-Bauk, from the University of Adelaide in Australia.

"A possible reason why previous HIV vaccine trials have not been successful is because of this lack of a front-line protection," Mr Grubor-Bauk said.

The laboratory studies, conducted so far in mice represent an important step forward in attempts to introduce a first line of defence against HIV at the site of infection.

"In mice, we delivered a rhinovirus (or common cold virus) inside the nose, and this virus had been altered to include HIV proteins," Mr Grubor-Bauk said.

"At the same time, the mice also received an injection into the skin containing a DNA-based vaccine. This approach resulted in very specific responses in the immune system," she said.

"This vaccine approach encompasses two different arms of the immune system: white blood cells that attack the HIV virus, and specific antibodies that recognise and shut down HIV-positive cells," she added.

"There is an element of HIV known as Tat that helps the virus to replicate quite rapidly," said Eric Gowans, professor at University of Adelaide.

The antibodies inhibit the Tat effect, preventing HIV from replicating itself, Mr Gowans added.

"Overall, we found that infection was considerably reduced in the mice we studied," he said.

The study appears in the journal Scientific Reports.

'Back to the Future' inspires solar nanotech-powered clothing

Marty McFly's self-lacing Nikes in Back to the Future Part II inspired a UCF scientist who has developed filaments that harvest and store the sun's energy -- and can be woven into textiles.

The breakthrough would essentially turn jackets and other clothing into wearable, solar-powered batteries that never need to be plugged in. It could one day revolutionize wearable technology, helping everyone from soldiers who now carry heavy loads of batteries to a texting-addicted teen who could charge his smartphone by simply slipping it in a pocket.

"That movie was the motivation," Associate Professor Jayan Thomas, a nanotechnology scientist at the University of Central Florida's NanoScience Technology Center, said of the film released in 1989. "If you can develop self-charging clothes or textiles, you can realize those cinematic fantasies -- that's the cool thing."

The research was published Nov. 11 in the academic journal Nature Communications.

Thomas already has been lauded for earlier ground-breaking research. Last year, he received an R&D 100 Award -- given to the top inventions of the year worldwide -- for his development of a cable that can not only transmit energy like a normal cable but also store energy like a battery. He's also working on semi-transparent solar cells that can be applied to windows, allowing some light to pass through while also harvesting solar power.

His new work builds on that research.

"The idea came to me: We make energy-storage devices and we make solar cells in the labs. Why not combine these two devices together?" Thomas said.

Thomas, who holds joint appointments in the College of Optics & Photonics and the Department of Materials Science & Engineering, set out to do just that.

Taking it further, he envisioned technology that could enable wearable tech. His research team developed filaments in the form of copper ribbons that are thin, flexible and lightweight. The ribbons have a solar cell on one side and energy-storing layers on the other.

Though more comfortable with advanced nanotechnology, Thomas and his team then bought a small, tabletop loom. After another UCF scientists taught them to use it, they wove the ribbons into a square of yarn.

The proof-of-concept shows that the filaments could be laced throughout jackets or other outwear to harvest and store energy to power phones, personal health sensors and other tech gadgets. It's an advancement that overcomes the main shortcoming of solar cells: The energy they produce must flow into the power grid or be stored in a battery that limits their portability.

"A major application could be with our military," Thomas said. "When you think about our soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan, they're walking in the sun. Some of them are carrying more than 30 pounds of batteries on their bodies. It is hard for the military to deliver batteries to these soldiers in this hostile environment. A garment like this can harvest and store energy at the same time if sunlight is available."

There are a host of other potential uses, including electric cars that could generate and store energy whenever they're in the sun.

"That's the future. What we've done is demonstrate that it can be made," Thomas said. "It's going to be very useful for the general public and the military and many other applications."

November’s supermoon will be bigger than it has been since 1948

November’s full moon is special. Not only is it a supermoon — which appears larger than a “regular” full moon — it will be the closest such moon to Earth since January 1948. We won’t see the full moon this close again until Nov. 25, 2034, according to NASA.

In the middle of November, we savor the splendor of a full moon. With any luck, this awe-inspiring moon will lure people outside to breathe the crisp air of the autumnal night sky, spark people to hold hands and spur interest in relishing the heavens.

The moon officially becomes full on Monday at 8:52 a.m. — it won’t be visible on the East Coast at the exact moment of fullness, but it will on the West Coast.

Since the moon’s orbit around Earth is an elliptical shape, there are times when our lunar companion is closest to Earth. This is called perigee. This month, the perigee occurs Nov. 14 at about 6 a.m. — within two hours of the moon becoming officially full — making this fun event an extra-super, perigee full moon.

Astrologer Richard Nolle defined a supermoon in 1979, but the term has really taken off in the past few years. Sometimes it seems as if every moon is a supermoon. Nolle said that a supermoon is a new or full moon that occurs when the moon is within 90 percent of its closest approach to Earth in a given orbit.

The distance between Earth and the moon can range from 221,208 miles at its closest possible point to 252,898 miles at its farthest. That’s a difference of nearly 32,000 miles. This month, it gets close at 221,524 miles between Earth and the moon — just 316 miles from its nearest possible location.

The supermoon isn’t just a fun sight for photographers and skywatchers — it has an actual impact on the coastline. Every year from November through February, the highest tides — called “king tides” — sweep onto the shores during full moons. This is due to the combination of gravity from the moon and sun being the closest to Earth as they will be all year. The tides get even higher during “supermoons” simply because the moon is closer to Earth.

On Sunday afternoon, the nearly-full moon rises at 4:43 p.m. in Washington, while the sun sets at 4:55 p.m. The following morning, the moon sets at 6:36 a.m. — so if you scoot out of bed around 5 a.m., you’ll see the moon low in the western sky plump and full. The full moon rises Monday evening at 5:30 p.m., so look for it close to the eastern horizon.

For any location in the United States or abroad, the Naval Observatory provides rise and set times for the moon and sun.

In October, NASA said that “the perigee full moon can be as much as 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter than an apogee full moon.” The NASA team goes on to explain, “Hanging high overhead with no reference points to provide a sense of scale, one full moon looks much like any other.”

In other words, for the human eye, it is difficult to perceive the difference between a supermoon and any other.

The next perigee full moon occurs Dec. 14 — the third such moon in an October-November-December lunar trifecta. After that, there will be a perigee full moon on Jan. 1-2, 2018 — when the moon and the Earth will be 221,559 miles apart.

FIHAV 2016 Exhibits Farmacuba Export Products

Havana, Nov 4 (Prensa Latina) Farmacuba has been exhibiting export products in the context of the 34th Havana International Fair, FIHAV 2016, the largest commercial event in Cuba and the Caribbean, which ends today in Havana.

One of the products is immunomodulator Biomoduline T, a medicine with an animal origin, composed of specific Thymus fractions, the head of the Farmacuba's marketing group, Nely Cubillas, told Prensa Latina.

The medicine, produced by the National Center of Bio-Preparations (BioCen), is very useful for slowing down some aging processes, the official of the exporting and importing Cuban company of pharmaceutical products, said.

The other products, produced by the Placental Histotherapy Center, range from hair conditioners, polyactive shampoo, dermotrophic cream, bioactive dermal soap, to epidermal photoprotective gel, she stated.

Cubillas stressed that the Farmacuba export portfolio is composed of about 350 products covering generic drugs such as analgesics, anesthetic antipyretics, antiallergics, anticonvulsants, disinfectants, antineoplastics, among others.

  • Published in Cuba

First International Convention on Science, Technology and Innovation

The challenges of Social Sciences in the current context of change is one of the main subjects of discussion at the First International Convention on Science, Technology and Innovation.

The event, which began on Monday, October 31st, at the Conference Center in Havana, will feature teacher, Marta Muñoz, from the Latin American Social Sciences Institute, among the speakers.

Brazilian specialist Carlos Horta, of the Federal University of Minas Gerais, will present a participatory research paper on the Social and Solidarity Economy.

The 14th International Congress of Information, INFO 2016, another of the events being held at the convention, will also include presentations and lectures by specialists from Austria, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Argentina and Cuba.

More than 1,000 delegates from several countries are involved in the First International Convention on Science, Technology and Innovation, which ends tomorrow. The event comprises a comprehensive scientific program with 10 events, 750 papers and a exhibition fair.

The event is sponsored by the Cuban Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment.

  • Published in Cuba

CO2 levels mark 'new era' in the world's changing climate

Levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have surged past an important threshold and may not dip below it for "many generations".

The 400 parts per million benchmark was broken globally for the first time in recorded history in 2015.

But according to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), 2016 will likely be the first full year to exceed the mark.

The high levels can be partly attributed to a strong El Niño event.

Gas spike

While human emissions of CO2 remained fairly static between 2014 and 2015, the onset of a strong El Niño weather phenomenon caused a spike in levels of the gas in the atmosphere.

That's because the drought conditions in tropical regions produced by El Niño meant that vegetation was less able to absorb CO2. There were also extra emissions from fires, sparked by the drier conditions.

In its annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, the World Meteorological Organisation says the conditions helped push the growth in the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere above the average for the last ten years.

At the atmospheric monitoring station in Mauna Loa, Hawaii, levels of CO2 broke through 400 parts per million (ppm), meaning 400 molecules of CO2 for every one million molecules in the atmosphere.

The last time CO2 was regularly above 400ppm was three to five million years ago, say experts.

Prior to 1800 atmospheric levels were around 280ppm, according to the US National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration (Noaa).

The WMO says that the rise through the 400ppm barrier has persisted and it's likely that 2016 will be the first full year when the measurements show CO2 above that benchmark, and "hence for many generations".

While the El Niño factor has now disappeared, the human impact on climate change has not, the WMO argues.

"The year 2015 ushered in a new era of optimism and climate action with the Paris climate change agreement," said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

  http://ichef-1.bbci.co.uk/news/624/cpsprodpb/7D3D/production/_92016023_mlo_600.jpgThe air sampling station at Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii which recorded CO2 levels going through 400ppm / NOAA

"But it will also make history as marking a new era of climate change reality with record high greenhouse gas concentrations."

The report also details the growth in other greenhouse gases, including methane and nitrous oxide.

In 2015, levels of methane were 2.5 times greater than in the pre-industrial era, while nitrous oxide was 1.2 times above the historic measure.

The study also points to the impact of these increased concentrations of warming gases on the world's climate.

Between 1990 and 2015 there was a 37% increase in radiative forcing or warming effect, caused by a build up of these substances, from industrial, agricultural and domestic activities.

While welcoming new initiatives like the global agreement to phase out HFC gases agreed recently in Rwanda, the WMO argues that nations must retain their focus on cutting CO2.

"Without tackling CO2 emissions, we cannot tackle climate change and keep temperature increases to below 2 degrees C above the pre-industrial era," said Petteri Taalas.

"It is therefore of the utmost importance that the Paris Agreement does indeed enter into force well ahead of schedule on 4 November and that we fast-track its implementation."

Around 200 nations who signed the Paris climate agreement will meet in Morocco in November to decide on the next steps forward.

Culex mosquitoes do not transmit zika virus, study finds

A Biosecurity Research Institute study has found important results in the fight against Zika virus: Culex mosquitoes do not appear to transmit Zika virus.

Researchers at Kansas State University's Biosecurity Research Institute studied Culex species mosquitoes from across the country, including Vero Beach in Florida, which is near Miami-Dade County where mosquitoes are spreading Zika virus.

The research, "Culex species mosquitoes and Zika virus," appears in the journal Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases and involves researchers from Rutgers University, the University of Florida and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The findings are important for controlling Zika virus in Florida and preventing its spread to other parts of the country, said Dana Vanlandingham, lead author and assistant professor of virology in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

"It's very important to know that Culex mosquitoes are not able to transmit Zika," Vanlandingham said. "It enables people to target their control strategies so that they aren't wasting time and effort on a mosquito that isn't transmitting Zika virus."

It is the first Zika virus research publication from the Biosecurity Research Institute. Before this study, Culex mosquitoes' role in Zika virus was unclear. By studying Culex mosquitoes over a period of time, the researchers found that Zika virus did not multiply and instead disappeared in the species.

"This is great news," said Stephen Higgs, co-author and director of the Biosecurity Research Institute. "We can check this particular group of mosquitoes off the list here in the U.S. and focus efforts of control on the mosquitoes that we know can infect, like Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified Aedes aegypti, or yellow fever mosquito, and Aedes albopictus, or Asian tiger mosquito, as two species that transmit Zika virus. Both mosquitoes are widely distributed in the U.S. and are present in Kansas.

Culex mosquitoes are brown mosquitoes, while Aedes aegypti are black and Aedes albopictus are black and white. Culex mosquitoes transmit West Nile virus and Japanese encephalitis and live outside. Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus can live in and around houses in plant trays, spare containers or gutters.

"We need to know which mosquitoes to target and which mosquitoes not to target because mosquitoes live in different environments," said Vanlandingham, whose research focuses on zoonotic viruses -- such as Japanese encephalitis and chikungunya. "Some mosquitoes are found outside and some are more in people's homes. You need to know this in order to target your efforts."

Both Vanlandingham and Higgs emphasize the importance of personal responsibility in stopping the spread of Zika virus. Homeowners can get rid of small pools of water where mosquitoes breed and should use mosquito repellent as personal protection.

While a startup fund from the university's College of Veterinary Medicine provided funding for this Biosecurity Research Institute study, there is still a need for additional national funding to support research that stops Zika virus, said Higgs, who also has studied chikungunya, a mosquito-borne virus that has a similar transmission cycle to that of Zika virus.

"We thought that this research is so important with what is going on that we were able to use startup funding," Higgs said. "This research is basic research because we don't know some of the most fundamental information about mosquitoes. Applied research -- such as vaccines and diagnostics -- are obviously very important, but there is a need for funding basic research as well."

Scientists may have just solved a riddle about Antarctica — and you’re not going to like the answer

It’s one of the great — and unresolved — debates of Antarctic science.

In 1984, a team of researchers from Ohio State University reported on a surprising fossil find: More than a mile above sea level, in Antarctica’s freezing and far inland Transantarctic mountain range, fossilized deposits of tiny marine organisms called diatoms were found in rock layers dated to the Pliocene era, some 2 to 5 million years ago. But how did they get all the way up there? Diatoms, ubiquitous marine microorganisms whose tiny shells coat the ocean floor when they die, don’t show up in high mountain rocks unless something rather dramatic happened long ago to get them there.

So began the debate over this rock formation, dubbed the “Sirius Group” after Mount Sirius, one of the range’s many peaks. It was between the “dynamicists”— who argued that the enormous ice sheet of East Antarctica had dramatically collapsed in the Pliocene, bringing the ocean far closer in to the Transantarctic range, and that subsequent upthrusts of the Earth and re-advances of glaciers had then delivered the diatoms from the seafloor to great heights — and the so-called “stabilists.” To the contrary, these scientists argued, the ice sheet had stayed intact, but powerful winds had swept the diatoms all the way from the distant sea surface into the mountains.

“It became very much split into two camps,” remembers Reed Scherer, an Antarctic researcher at Northern Illinois University. “It got really nasty.” Some researchers even tried to resolve matters by suggesting that a meteorite, and subsequent cataclysms, could account for the odd fossil locations.

But the decades have given way to new research tools and new perspectives. And Scherer has now paired up with two researchers behind what is arguably the hottest (and most troubling) new computer simulation of how Antarctica’s ice behaves in order to revisit the tale of those pesky diatoms. Their solution, published Tuesday in Nature Communications, isn’t good news — for it suggests that large parts of East Antarctica can indeed collapse in conditions not too dissimilar from those we’re creating today with all of our greenhouse gas emissions.

If we steer the Earth back to those Pliocene-type conditions — when sea levels are believed to have been radically higher around the globe — oddly located diatoms will be the least of our problems.

The new study is co-authored by Rob DeConto of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and David Pollard of Penn State University, who recently published a new ice sheet model of Antarctica that predicts the ice continent can raise sea levels by nearly a meter on its own during this century. They reached this result by adding several new dynamic ice collapse processes to glacial models that, in the past, had been slow to melt East Antarctica even in quite warm conditions — simultaneously lending weight to the views of the stabilists in the debate over the Sirius fossils, while also seeming to suggest that we needn’t worry about truly radical sea-level rise from Antarctica.

The result is that in the Pliocene — and especially the mid-Pliocene warm period, when atmospheric carbon dioxide was at about the level where it is now, 400 parts per million, but global temperatures were 1 or 2 degrees warmer than at present — the model not only collapses the entirety of West Antarctica (driving some 10 feet of global sea-level rise) but also shows the oceans eating substantially into key parts of East Antarctica. In particular, the multi-kilometer thick ice that currently fills the extremely deep Aurora and Wilkes basins of the eastern ice sheet retreats inland for hundreds of miles — which would have driven global seas to a much higher level than caused by a West Antarctic collapse alone.

Here’s a figure from the study, showing as much:

Not only is this the world we could be headed to if global warming continues, but it’s a world that can throw diatoms up into the Transantarctic Mountains, the new study argues. Here’s how that would work.

At first, in the wake of ice retreats in the Aurora and Wilkes basins, what would be left behind are ocean bays filled with life — and many, many diatoms. But Scherer and his colleagues do not believe that winds simply scooped them out of the water and hurled them to the mountains — living, wet diatoms suspended in water would have been too heavy to travel so far, Scherer says.

So instead, the study postulates another development. After a few thousand years of seas filled with happy diatoms, dying and lining the ocean floor in front of the remnant glaciers of the Wilkes and Aurora basins, the once submerged Earth would slowly rebound in some spots (a process sometimes called “isostatic uplift” or “postglacial rebound”). This would create an archipelago of islands, new landmasses free to rise to the surface now that so much ice has sloughed off their backs.

These islands, then, were the source of the diatoms, the study postulates.

The computer model “did show the ice retreated along the margins of East Antarctica, and isostatic uplift would then expose these areas that become new seaways, and with it would have been highly productive for plankton,” says Scherer. “So you would have been accumulating massive numbers of diatoms across this new basin, and with the loss of the ice, the land flexed upward, became exposed to winds, and the wind carried them to the mountains.”

Scherer notes that his new scenario doesn’t really proclaim either the dynamicists or the stabilists the victors. His view is clearly reliant on a substantial amount of dynamics, but it also doesn’t show the East Antarctica ice retreated nearly as far back as earlier proposals. Nor does it use glacial processes to move the deposited diatoms. Rather, it borrows the stabilist idea of wind-blown transport, albeit only after ice has retreated and land has risen in its wake.

Commenting on this new compromise proposal Monday, one Antarctic researcher praised the work as representing an advance on old ways of thinking. “The paper is a great example of how much [paleo]climate modelling has improved in the last decade[s], particularly in the last few years,” said Simone Galeotti, an Antarctic researcher at the Università degli Studi di Urbino in Italy, by email.

The research also earned praise from David Harwood, one of the original ‘dynamicists’ and now a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“This paper’s integration of climate, ice sheet, and atmospheric models provides interesting new perspective on potential source regions for the Antarctic, marine Pliocene diatoms present in glacial sediments of the Transantarctic Mountains, from interior basins of East Antarctica,” said Harwood in an emailed statement. “Their origin from deglaciated, exposed, rebounded marine basin floors in the Aurora and Wilkes basins is plausible, and the new model-derived wind patterns support their trajectory toward the [Transantarctic Mountains].”

But beyond solving the riddle of the Sirius deposits in the Transantarctic Mountains, the new study speaks to the present moment. After all, the warm Pliocene, with its much higher seas, is one of the key past eras that scientists regularly look to for an analogue for where we are currently driving the planet with our greenhouse gases.

And thus, the new work suggests that if we keep pushing the system, we’ll not only have to worry about the loss of Greenland’s and West Antarctica’s ice, but also major losses from the biggest ice sheet of them all, East Antarctica.

Scherer, DeConto, and Pollard also have a fourth author on the study, the noted Penn State glaciologist Richard Alley, who has become more and more outspoken of late about his concerns that the world’s great ice sheets could be unstable. In a media statement accompanying the study’s release, Alley had this to say:

This is another piece of a jigsaw puzzle that the community is rapidly putting together, and which appears to show that the ice sheets are more sensitive to warming than we had hoped. If humans continue to warm the climate, we are likely to commit to large and perhaps rapid sea-level rise that could be very costly. No one piece of the puzzle shows this, but as they fit together, the picture is becoming clearer.

In other words, solving this key scientific problem from Antarctica’s past turns out to immediately raise major concerns about its future.

“We have now reached a point where atmospheric CO2 levels are as high as that during the Pliocene, 400 ppm, when geological evidence and new model results suggest substantial retreat of the EAIS [East Antarctic Ice Sheet] margin into interior basins. These perspectives bear fundamentally on predictions of future EAIS behavior,” said Harwood by email.

Granted, on a scientific and individual level, there’s also the satisfaction of finally being able to unify quite a lot of information into an explanation that fits the data and also matches our growing present day understanding of Antarctic vulnerability.

“Personally, I find the story rather cathartic, because it does explain the observations, I think, in a much better way than had been done before,” says Scherer.

 

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