Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Blood Supply Critically Low...Please Roll up your sleeve Canada

Canadian Blood Services is urging Canadians to make a donation as the country's blood supply is "critically low."
Fewer donations over the past few months have created the lowest blood supply since 2008. All blood types are required, but especially types A and O.
The blood agency would like to have a five- to eight-day supply of blood on hold. Currently, the supply is down to three days.
Canadian Blood Services is worried it won't be able to meet hospital orders, which could result in elective surgeries being postponed or cancelled, said spokeswoman Susan Matsumoto.
The main reason for the low inventory is donors simply not showing up for appointments, she said.
"I think if you make an appointment, it's a commitment and you need to be there," said Christina Hadden, who has given blood 98 times.
To meet hospital demands, Canadian Blood Services regularly collects 17,000 units of blood per week.
Please give blood Canadian friends.... My family sees the problem first hand because my grandson needs regular transfusions. We give all we can but it is fast becoming a crisis in Canada.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Press Conference of the Future...Bloggers and Tweeters

Complex Organic Molecule Discovered in Interstellar Space...Supports Theory of Life Elsewhere

Alma telescope

Scientists have found the beginnings of life-bearing chemistry at the centre of the galaxy. Iso-propyl cyanide has been detected in a star-forming cloud 27,000 light-years from Earth. Its branched carbon structure is closer to the complex organic molecules of life than any previous finding from interstellar space.
The discovery suggests the building blocks of life may be widespread throughout our galaxy. Various organic molecules have previously been discovered in interstellar space, but i-propyl cyanide is the first with a branched carbon backbone. The branched structure is important as it shows that interstellar space could be the origin of more complex branched molecules, such as amino acids, that are necessary for life on Earth.
Dr Arnaud Belloche from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy is lead author of the research, which appears in the journal Science.
"Amino acids on Earth are the building blocks of proteins, and proteins are very important for life as we know it. The question in the background is: is there life somewhere else in the galaxy?"

The molecule was detected in a giant gas cloud called Sagittarius B2, an active region of ongoing star formation in the centre of the Milky Way. As stars are born in the cloud they heat up microscopic dust grains. Chemical reactions on the surface of the dust allow complex molecules like i-propyl cyanide to form. The molecules emit radiation that was detected as radio waves by twenty 12m telescopes at the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (Alma) in Chile. Each molecule produces a different "spectral fingerprint" of frequencies.
"The game consists in matching these frequencies… to molecules that have been characterized in the laboratory," explained Dr Belloche.
"Our goal is to search for new complex organic molecules in the interstellar medium."
Previously discovered molecules in the Sagittarius B2 cloud include vinyl alcohol and ethyl formate, the chemical that gives raspberries their flavour and rum its smell. But i-propyl cyanide is the largest and most complex organic molecule found to date - and the only one to share the branched atomic backbone of amino acids.
"The idea is to know whether the elements that are necessary for life to occur… can be found in other places in our galaxy."

Alma graphic

Prof Matt Griffin, head of the school of physics and astronomy at Cardiff University, commented on the discovery.
"It's clearly very high-quality data - a very emphatic detection with multiple spectral signatures all seen together."
Prof Griffin added that the quantity of i-propyl cyanide detected is significant.

Molecule model
The molecule i-propyl cyanide has a branched backbone of carbon atoms
"There seems to be quite a lot of it, which would indicate that this more complex organic structure is possibly very common, maybe even the norm, when it comes to simple organic molecules in space.
"It's a step closer to discovering molecules that can be regarded as the building blocks or the precursors… of amino acids."
The hope is that amino acids will eventually be detected outside our Solar System. "That's what everyone would like to see," said Prof Griffin. "If amino acids are widespread throughout the galaxy, life may be also. "
"So far we do not have the sensitivity to detect the signals from [amino acids]… in the interstellar medium," explained Dr Belloche. "The interstellar chemistry seems to be able to form these amino acids but at the moment we lack the evidence. Alma in the future may be able to do that, once the full capabilities are available."
Prof Griffin agreed this could be the first of many further discoveries from the "fantastically sensitive and powerful" Alma facility.

For my NASA Junior Scientists: Jonny, Chris, Sha and Sheryl

First Ebola case diagnosed in the US

Tom Frieden, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, confirms the US case

The first case of the deadly Ebola virus diagnosed on US soil has been confirmed in Dallas, Texas.
Officials at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital say the unidentified patient is being kept in isolation.
The man is thought to have contracted the virus in Liberia before travelling to the US nearly two weeks ago.
More than 3,000 people have already died of Ebola in West Africa and a small number of US aid workers have recovered after being flown to the US.
"An individual travelling from Liberia has been diagnosed with Ebola in the United States," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Thomas Frieden told reporters on Tuesday.
According to Mr Frieden, the unnamed patient left Liberia on 19 September and arrived in the US the next day to visit relatives, without displaying any symptoms of the virus.

Aid worker Nancy Writebol  
Aid worker Nancy Writebol was flown to Atlanta in early August

Aid worker Nancy Writebol
A month after returning to the US, Ms Writebol was well enough to speak to reporters

Symptoms of the virus became apparent on 24 September, and on 28 September he was admitted to a Texas hospital and put in isolation. A hospital official told reporters on Tuesday the facility already had procedures in place to deal with any such potential cases.
Preliminary information indicates the unnamed patient was not involved in treating Ebola-infected patients while in Liberia.

Health officials are working to identify all people who came into contact with the unnamed patient while he was infectious. Those people will then be monitored for 21 days to see if an Ebola-related fever develops.
According to Mr Frieden, it is possible a family member who came in direct contact with the patient may develop Ebola in the coming weeks.

Health workers in protective suits look at an ambulance upon its arrival at Island Hospital in Monrovia on 30 September 2014 
More than 3,000 people have already died in West Africa

Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital
Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital says it was prepared for this

But "the bottom line here is I have no doubt that we will control this importation, this case of Ebola, so it does not spread widely in this country," he added. "We will stop it here."

The World Health Organization (WHO) says more than 3,000 people have died of the virus so far, mostly in Liberia. Earlier on Tuesday, the CDC said the Ebola virus seemed to be contained in Nigeria and Senegal, with no new cases reported there for almost a month. It is the world's most deadly outbreak of the virus since it was first documented.

Ebola virus disease
Ebola virus

  • Symptoms include high fever, bleeding and central nervous system damage
  • Spread by body fluids, such as blood and saliva
  • Fatality rate can reach 90% - but current outbreak has mortality rate of about 70%
  • Incubation period is two to 21 days
  • There is no proven vaccine or cure
  • Supportive care such as rehydrating patients who have diarrhea and vomiting can help recovery
  • Fruit bats, a delicacy for some West Africans, are considered to be virus's natural host

Monday, September 29, 2014

Global Loss of Species Stands at 50% in the Last Forty Years

Tiger in the wild. File photo
In Nepal, habitat loss and hunting have reduced tigers from 100,000 a century ago to just 3,000

The global loss of species is even worse than previously thought, the London Zoological Society (ZSL) says in its new Living Planet Index.
The report suggests populations have halved in 40 years, as new methodology gives more alarming results than in a report two years ago. The report says populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish have declined by an average of 52%.
Populations of freshwater species have suffered an even worse fall of 76%. Compiling a global average of species decline involves tricky statistics, often comparing disparate data sets.

An elephant and calf walk along the grasslands in Kenya. File photo

The Living Planet Index tracks more than 10,000 vertebrate species populations from 1970 to 2010

The team at the zoological society say they've improved their methodology since their last report two years ago - but the results are even more alarming. Then they estimated that wildlife was down "only" around 30%. Whatever the numbers, it seems clear that wildlife is continuing to be driven out by human activity.
The society's report, in conjunction with the pressure group WWF, says humans are cutting down trees more quickly than they can re-grow, harvesting more fish than the oceans can re-stock, pumping water from rivers and aquifers faster than rainfall can replenish them, and emitting more carbon than oceans and forests can absorb.
It catalogues areas of severe impact - in Ghana, the lion population in one reserve is down 90% in 40 years. In West Africa, forest felling has restricted forest elephants to 6-7% of their historic range.
In Nepal, habitat loss and hunting have reduced tigers from 100,000 a century ago to just 3,000.
In the UK, the government promised to halt wildlife decline - but bird numbers continue to fall.

The index tracks more than 10,000 vertebrate species populations from 1970 to 2010. It reveals a continued decline in these populations. The global trend is not slowing down.
The report shows that the biggest recorded threat to biodiversity comes from the combined impacts of habitat loss and degradation, driven by what WWF calls unsustainable human consumption.
The report notes that the impacts of climate change are becoming of increasing concern - although the effect of climate change on species until now has been disputed in certain quarters. But environmental scientists do not lie and neither does their research. Time to wake up and smell the mass extinction coffee, folks.

The World Wildlife Federation points to conservation efforts to save species such as:

  • The Gorilla Conservation Program in Rwanda, promoting gorilla tourism
  • The scheme to give small-scale farmers incentive to move away from slash and burn agriculture in Acre, Brazil.
Other countries have implemented programs to preserve native species, but so far, they are too few and far between to have impact on the losses.

Previously, the Living Planet Index was calculated using the average decline in all of the species populations measured. The new weighted methodology analyzes the data to provide what ZSL says is a much more accurate calculation of the collective status of populations in all species and regions.
A ZSL spokesman explained: "For example, if most measurements in a particular region are of bird populations, but the greatest actual number of vertebrates in the region are fish, then it is necessary to give a greater weight to measurements of fish populations if we are to have an accurate picture of the rate of population decline for species in that region.
"Different weights are applied to different regions, and between marine, terrestrial and freshwater environments. We are simply being more sophisticated with the way we use the data."
"Applying the new method to the 2008 dataset we find that things were considerably worse than what we thought at that time. It is clear that we are seeing a significant long-term trend in declining species populations."
Consider the food chain of our planet and see it as a totem pole with us at the top. All the species below us, and which support us, are declining at a frightening rate. As each one becomes extinct we drop a level. And when we reach the bottom of the pole, we too, disappear.

Hong Kong Protesters...Ignore Warning

Protests in Hong Kong are continuing after tens of thousands of people defied calls for them to dismantle their camps and return home. Demonstrations grew after police tried to disperse crowds using batons and tear gas in the early hours of Monday morning. Riot police later withdrew. The pro-democracy protesters are angry at China for limiting their choice in Hong Kong's 2017 leadership elections. China has warned other countries not to support the "illegal rallies".
The protesters - a mix of students and members of the Occupy Central civil disobedience movement - want Beijing to abandon its plans to vet candidates for the post of chief executive in the 2017 polls.
They want a free choice of candidates. Until now the territory's chief executive has essentially been selected under a pro-Beijing mechanism.

On Monday, the British government called for the right to protest to be protected and for protesters to exercise their right within the law. That call was echoed by the US, with White House spokesman Josh Earnest calling on Hong Kong's authorities to show restraint.
"The United States supports universal suffrage in Hong Kong in accordance with the Basic Law and we support the aspirations of the Hong Kong people," Mr Earnest told reporters.
Map showing location of Hong Kong protests
A protester shouts slogans in the Central district of Hong Kong - 29 September 2014
The protesters are calling on Beijing to grant them fully democratic elections in 2017
Protesters rest on the side of a street in the Central district in Hong Kong - 29 September 2014
Correspondents said the demonstrators were tired after several days of protests but remained defiant
Police officers stand near a large group of pro-democracy protesters in the Wan Chai area of Hong Kong - 29 September 2014
The police force stood off of protesters on Monday night after being criticized for their actions on Sunday

As night fell, cheers rippled through the crowd. Many office workers joined the protesters or stood on bridges watching the remarkable scenes. The only jeering  occurred when protesters held up a huge portrait of Chief Executive CY Leung and carried it through the crowd.For the demonstrators he is now Public Enemy Number One and they have called on him to resign.
Many other people in Hong Kong are not on the streets and think the protesters are pushing their luck with Beijing. They also fear that growing protests could lead to instability, and the possible flight of capital.
Dozens of protesters were arrested overnight on Sunday amid angry scenes that saw riot police fire tear gas into large crowds. Cheung Tak-keung, assistant commissioner of police for operations, insisted police had used the "bare minimum force". He said 41 people, including 12 police officers, had been injured since protests broke out.
The Hong Kong government urged protesters to stay calm and leave peacefully but crowds remained camped out around the government complex on Monday night. Thousands of people blocked a major road across the bay in Mongkok, on the Kowloon peninsula, while another large crowd brought the busy shopping district of Causeway Bay, east of central Hong Kong, to a standstill.

Schools in the Wan Chai, Central and Western districts were closed on Monday and will remain shut on Tuesday, according to the Hong Kong Education Bureau. The city remains heavily disrupted, with several major thoroughfares blocked. Tensions escalated on Sunday when Occupy Central threw its weight behind student-led protests, bringing forward a mass civil disobedience campaign due to start on Wednesday.
The movement called on CY Leung, the current chief executive, to step down, saying "only this will make it possible to re-launch the political reform process and create a space in which the crisis can be defused".

Chinese media have blamed "radical opposition forces" for stirring up trouble. Analysts say Communist Party leaders in Beijing are worried that calls for democracy could spread to cities on the mainland.
Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" formula that guarantees liberties not seen on the mainland, including freedom of speech and the right to protest.

Hong Kong democracy timeline

  • 1997: Hong Kong, a former British colony, is handed back to China under an 1984 agreement giving it "a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs" for 50 years

  • 2004: China rules that its approval must be sought for changes to Hong Kong's election laws

  • June-July 2014: Pro-democracy activists hold an unofficial referendum on political reform and a large rally. This is followed by protests by pro-Beijing activists

  • 31 August 2014: China says it will allow direct elections in 2017, but voters will only be able to choose from a list of pre-approved candidates. Activists stage protests

  • 22 September 2014: Student groups launch a week-long boycott of classes in protest

  • 2017: Direct elections for chief executive due to take place

  • 2047: Expiry of current agreements 

Thursday, September 25, 2014