7 deadly diseases due to weather change
7 Climate Change Diseases to Ruin Your Monday
Climate change is creating favorable conditions for several (unpronounceable, gross) diseases.
—By James West
| Mon Aug. 6, 2012 3:00 AM PDT
Cryptococcus gattii, a pathogenic yeast New York Department of Health.
From the known and treatable (Lyme disease) to the unpronounceable and potentially deadly (Cryptococcus gattii), climate change is giving gross diseases a leg up, clearing their way onward to the United States.
Increased rainfall, warmer temperatures, dying reefs, and hotter oceans are handing illnesses that afflict humans—algal, fungal, mosquito-borne, tick-borne—a chance to spread, meaning diseases previously unheard in the US of are now emerging.
George Luber an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the deadly fungal infection C. gattii, once considered limited to places like Papua New Guinea and Australia, "popped out of nowhere" when it first moved to Vancouver Island around the early 2000s. Scientists were alarmed by its readiness to set up shop in a new climate, well outside its comfort zone. If subtropical C. gattii could settle down in just any backyard, what was next? You've got to be prepared, otherwise it will catch you off guard," said Luber, a member of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. "Climate change will drive extreme events leading to the potential for multiple system failures…to upend all of the protections we have in place."
So with that grim warning in mind, Climate Desk has prepared this handy guide to help you identify the nasty critters that could be knocking on your door soon. (A somewhat obvious disclaimer: This is not to be taken as medical advice. If you have symptoms, see a doctor.) 55
A western corn rootworm hunts for a corn root. Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health/Wikimedia Commons
This summer, a severe drought and genetically modified crops are delivering a one-two punch to US crops.
Across the farm country, years of reliance on Monsanto's Roundup Ready corn and soy seeds—engineered for resistance to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide—have given rise to a veritable plague of Roundup-resistant weeds. Meanwhile, Monsanto's other blockbuster genetically modified trait—the toxic gene of the pesticidal bacteria Bt—is also beginning to lose effectiveness, imperiling crops even as they're already bedeviled by drought. Last year, I reported on Bt-resistant western rootworms munching on Bt-engineered corn in isolated counties in Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois.
This summer, resistant rootworms are back like the next installment of a superhero blockbuster movie franchise. In a July 30 post, University of Minnesota extension agents Ken Ostlie and Bruce Potter report they've seen a "major [geographical] expansion" of rootworm damage throughout southern Minnesota, where Monsanto's corn is common. The severe drought, theyadd, has "masked" the problem, because rainstorms typically make rootworm-damaged corn plants fall over, and rainstorms haven't come this year.
Advertise on MotherJones.com
Drought plus a plague of rootworms presents a compounded problem to farmers: The bugs tend to thrive under dry conditions, and the damage their incessant root munching does to plants above ground, like stunting their growth, is "magnified" by lack of water and heat stress, Ostlie and Potter add.
Last week, Minnesota Public Radio reporter Mark Steil filed a report on a workshop on Bt-resistant rootworms at which Potter spoke. Apparently, the entomologist minced no words:
Potter told them [the workshop's 100 attendees] the genetically modified corn is basically backfiring. "Instead of making things easier, we've just made corn rootworm management harder and a heck of a lot more expensive," Potter said.
Here's how Steil describes the interaction between drought and rootworms:
In fields with a rootworm problem, the bug damages the cornstalk's ability to absorb water just when it's needed most. With the roots weakened, the plant can also be more vulnerable to wind.
The Minnesota outbreak isn't the first sighting of rootworms rampaging through Bt corn country this growing season. Back in June, University of Illinois entomologist Michael Gray reported that "The western corn rootworm 'season' is underway at a pace earlier than I have experienced since I began studying this versatile insect as a graduate student in the late 1970s."
"In response to a request by a seed industry representative," Gray writes, he traveled to a county in west-central Illinois county to "verify a report of severe injury to Bt corn that expresses the Cry3Bb1 protein targeted against corn rootworms." When Gray reached the site, he found himself "amazed at the number of western corn rootworm adults in the whorls of plants." He also found "severe" damage at the roots. Gray doesn't name the company that the seed industry rep worked for, but the Cry3Bb1 protein, which is supposed to kill corn rootworms, is owned by Monsanto. To summarize, rootworms were enjoying an all-you-can-eat buffet on the very corn that Monsanto had engineered to kill them.
Puzzlingly, Gray declines to conclude that the spectacle he witnessed means that the ravenous rootworms had developed resistance to Monsanto's seeds.
This does not mean that a resistant western corn rootworm population has been confirmed in Illinois. The registrant of this technology [i.e., Monsanto] has been notified and will conduct some follow-up investigations in these fields. So, at this point, precise reasons for the continuing performance challenges of some Bt hybrids expressing this protein remain elusive. However, producers should remain vigilant and report any performance issues that surface with their Bt hybrids regarding corn rootworm injury this growing season. [Emphasis in original.]
And what's Monsanto's reaction to all of this? Last year, as corn stalks fell over, their roots devastated by the pests, their plight documented in at least one academic paper and confirmed in a blunt EPA report, Monsanto flatly denied the resistance problem. Apparently, it's maintaining that stance. Here's Minnesota Public Radio's Steil:
Monsanto is studying the problem, but so far the company has found no definitive proof that the rootworm has built up resistance to its corn. Company officials say what's being seen in many fields may just be abnormally high rootworm populations that overwhelm even the deadly genetic weapon implanted in their modified corn. In a statement, Monsanto officials said the company collected rootworms from problem fields last summer. The company expects to finalize test results on the bugs this fall. Those results may show whether the rootworms have developed resistance.
While the company peddles such flimflam, its ubiquitous products are making US crops more, not less, vulnerable to drought during the worst dry spell in a generation, at a time when scientists are predicting more-frequent severe weather events as climate change proceeds apace.
plants and weather
title Urbanisation is a "lost opportunity" for people to interact with biodiversity, including bacteria
A lack of exposure to a "natural environment" could be resulting in more urban dwellers developing allergies and asthma, research has suggested.
Finnish scientists say certain bacteria, shown to be beneficial for human health, are found in greater abundance in non-urban surroundings.
The microbiota play an important role in the development and maintenance of the immune system, they add.
The findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"There are microbes everywhere, including in the built environment, but the composition is different between natural environments and human-built areas," explained co-author Ilkka Hanski from the University of Helsinki.
"The microbiota in natural environments is more beneficial for us," he told BBC News.
The team collected samples from 118 teenagers in eastern Finland, and found that those living on farms or near forests had more diverse bacteria on their skin, and also displayed lower allergen sensitivity.
Woman and child (Image: BBC) There is a generation gap when it comes to playing and enjoying the great outdoors, say experts
Continue reading the main story
Does outdoor play help keep the doctor away?
"They are important for us because they promote microbiota… that are important for the normal development and maintenance of the immune system," Dr Hanski observed.
The study also allowed the team to identify one class of bacteria, known as gammaproteobacteria, which had a "special function".
"It demonstrates that there are different functions between different microbes," he said.
One type of gammaproteobacteria , called Acinetobacter, was singled out as being "strongly linked to the development of anti-inflammatory molecules".
Basically, our study showed that the more you had of this particular gammaproteobacteria on your skin then you had a immunological response which is known to suppress inflammatory responses ( to pollen, animals etc)."
Dr Hanski said that there was a tendency for gammaproteobacteria to be more prevalent in vegetative environment, such as forests and agricultural land rather than built-up areas and water bodies.
Continue reading the main story
We know that if you live more near green spaces, and you are from a deprived urban population, you are more likely to be healthier”
Prof Catharine Ward Thompson OPENspace Research Centre
"Urbanisation is a relatively recent phenomenon, and for most of our time we have been interacting in an area that resembles what we now call the natural environment," he said.
"Urbanisation can be seen as a lost opportunity for many people to interact with the natural environment and its biodiversity, including the microbial communities."
While it was not possible to reverse the global trend of urbanisation, he said that there were a number of options.
"Apart from reserving natural areas outside of urban areas, I think it is important to develop city planning that includes green spaces, green belts and green infrastructure," Dr Hanski suggested.
Another recent study also illustrated a link between the lack of green spaces and higher stress levels among people living in urban areas described as deprived.
The study published in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning measured levels of cortisol, a hormone released in response to stress, found in residents' saliva.
"The stress patterns revealed by these cortisol samples were related to the amount of green space around people's homes," explained co-author Catharine Ward Thompson, director of the OPENspace Research Centre, based in Scotland.
Hoverfly on a hawthorn flower Urban green spaces provide a number of ecosystem services, say researchers
Continue reading the main story
Calls to green 'concrete jungle'
"We were actually surprised by the strong relationship between the two," she told BBC News.
rof Ward Thompson said that the study provided an objective measure of stress associated by the lack of green spaces in urban areas.
"We know that if you live near more green spaces, and you are from a deprived urban population, you are more likely to be healthier," she observed.
Researchers from OPENspace have also been involved in another study that looks at the wellbeing of people over the age of 65 and their ability to get out and about.
The Inclusive Design for Getting Outdoors consortium (I'dgo) - involving scientists from the universities of Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt, Salford and Warwick - identified a direct link between the ease of getting outdoors and health and quality of life.
he study, involving 4,350 older people across the UK, found that good walkable access to local shops, services and green spaces doubled the chances of an older person achieving the minimum recommended amount of walking - 2.5 hours each week.
"One of the interesting things from my point of view is how strongly the importance of the natural environment came out in that study," said Prof Ward Thompson, who led the research.
"If you lived within 10 minutes of a park, then you were twice as likely to achieve the recommended minimum amount of physical activity."
However, she added that the study also highlighted that people needed to have confidence in reaching the park or shops before they would leave their homes.
Some of the barriers that would discourage people included uneven pavements, and a lack of seats or public toilets.
The studies are the latest offerings in a growing body of research that looks at the relationship between human health and access to green spaces.
Inhaler (Getty Images) Exposure to certain bacteria can provide anti-inflammatory benefits, the authors say
The concept of "nature deficit disorder " - a phrase coined by Richard Louv, the US author of Last Child in the Wood - has gained traction on both sides of the Atlantic.
In London, child expert Tim Gill published a report in November 2011 that looked at whether children in inner-city London were disconnected from the natural world.
While he acknowledged that "nature deficit disorder" had no clinical basis, he pointed out that his research showed that access to a natural environment formed part of a "balanced diet" in a child's development.
He added that children that had this access tended to fare better than those that did not.
More recently, the National Trust published a report that concluded that UK children were losing contact with nature at a "dramatic" rate, and their health and education were suffering as a result.
Prof Ward Thompson said there was probably an underlying reason why researchers were reaching these sorts of conclusions.
"Some of the theories behind the green space and human health suggest that our whole neuroendocrine system has evolved over millennia to respond positively to environments that are seen as providing what we need to live and thrive," she suggested.
"There is something about the natural environment that is biologically part of our system. In a way, we are hard-wired to respond to it.
"Ecosystem services - even at a local, urban level - by giving people the opportunity to mentally, as well as physically, engage with the natural environment may just be tuning our bodies back into something, biologically, we have evolved to respond positively to."
New Federal Planting Map Reflects Warming
(WASHINGTON) — The government's colorful map of planting zones is being updated for a warmer 21st century.
The official guide for 80 million gardeners and a staple on seed packets reflects a new reality: The coldest day of the year isn't as cold as it used to be. So some plants that once seemed too vulnerable to cold can now survive farther north. (PHOTOS: The Effects of Global Warming)
It's the first time since 1990 that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has updated the map and much has changed. Nearly entire states, such as Ohio, Nebraska and Texas, are in warmer zones.
The new guide, unveiled Wednesday at the National Arboretum, also uses better weather data and offers more interactive technology.
"It truly does reflect state of the art," said USDA chief scientist Catherine Woteki.
Gardeners can register their zip code into the online map and their zone will pop up. It shows the exact average coldest temperature for each of the 26 zones, even though zones are based on five degree increments.
For example, Des Moines, Iowa, used to be in zone 5a, meaning the lowest temperature on average was between minus 15 and minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Now it's 5b, which has a coldest temperature of 10 to 15 degrees below zero. (LIST: Top 10 Green Trends of 2011)
"People who grow plants are well aware of the fact that temperatures have gotten more mild throughout the year, particularly in the winter time," said Boston University biology professor Richard Primack. "There's a lot of things you can grow now that you couldn't grow before."
He uses the giant fig tree in his suburban Boston yard as an example.
"People don't think of figs as a crop you can grow in the Boston area. You can do it now," he said.
An earlier effort to update the planting map caused a bit of an uproar when the USDA in 2003 decided not to use a map it commissioned that reflected warmer weather. The Arbor Day Foundation later issued its own hardiness guide that had the toastier climate zones. The new federal map is very similar to the one the private plant group adopted six years ago, said Arbor Day Foundation Vice President Woodrow Nelson.
In Des Moines, Jerry Holub, a manager for the Earl May Nursery chain, doesn't think the warmer zone will have much of an impact on gardeners. But he said this may mean residents can even try passion flowers.
"Now you can put them in safely, when you couldn't before," he said.
AP Writer Michael J. Crumb contributed to this report from Des Moines.
Click to add text, images, and other content
Apatosaurus, formerly known as Brontosaurus, produced a lot of wind
Giant dinosaurs could have warmed the planet with their flatulence, say researchers.
British scientists have calculated the methane output of sauropods, including the species known as Brontosaurus.
By scaling up the digestive wind of cows, they estimate that the population of dinosaurs - as a whole - produced 520 million tonnes of gas annually.
They suggest the gas could have been a key factor in the warm climate 150 million years ago.
David Wilkinson from Liverpool John Moore's University, and colleagues from the University of London and the University of Glasgow published their results in the journal Current Biology.
Sauropods, such as Apatosaurus louise (formerly known as Brontosaurus), were super-sized land animals that grazed on vegetation during the Mesozoic Era.
For Dr Wilkinson, it was not the giants that were of interest but the microscopic organisms living inside them.
"The ecology of microbes and their role in the working of our planet are one of my key interests in science," he told BBC Nature.
- Sauropods included some of the largest animals ever to live on land including the gargantuan Argentinosaurus
- Fossil evidence suggests the herbivores lived in herds
- Recognisable features include long necks, long tails and relatively small heads
- David Attenborough explains how vegetarian dinosaurs grew to gigantic siz
Although it's the dinosaur element that captures the popular imagination with this work, actually it is the microbes living in the dinosaurs guts that are making the methane."
Methane is known as a "greenhouse gas" that absorbs infrared radiation from the sun, trapping it in the Earth's atmosphere and leading to increased temperatures.
Previous studies have suggested that the Earth was up to 10C (18F) warmer in the Mesozoic Era.
With the knowledge that livestock emissions currently contribute a significant part to global methane levels, the researchers used existing data to estimate how sauropods could have affected the climate.
Their calculations considered the dinosaurs' estimated total population and used a scale that links biomass to methane output for cattle.
"Cows today produce something like 50-100 [million tonnes] per year. Our best estimate for Sauropods is around 520 [million tonnes]," said Dr Wilkinson.
Current methane emissions amount to around 500 million tonnes a year from a combination of natural sources, such as wild animals, and human activities including dairy and meat production.
Expressing his surprise at the comparative figures, Dr Wilkinson added that dinosaurs were not the sole producers of methane at the time.
"There were other sources of methane in the Mesozoic so total methane level would probably have been much higher than now," he said.
Modern methane producers
- Microbes in the stomachs of "ruminant" species produce methane gas as they break down vegetable matter which is released as flatulence
- Modern "ruminant" animals that chew on plant materials include cows, goats and giraffes
- Methane trapped in the Earth can also be released during drilling for natural gas
Click to add text, images, and other content