Houston superbug problem has been lurking for years, say researchers

May 18, 2017 by  
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Houston has a superbug problem, and it’s been lurking for years. A particularly virulent strain of Klebsiella pneumoniae , a bacteria that’s resistant to a broad spectrum of antibiotics, has a firm foothold on the Texan city, according to new research published in mBio , an online journal published by the American Society for Microbiology . Using genome sequencing, scientists from the Houston Methodist Research Institute found clone type 307 was responsible for more than one-third of resistant K. pneumoniae infections in their system. “Finding the otherwise uncommon strain in our city was a very surprising discovery,” James M. Musser, senior author of the study and chair of the Department of Pathology and Genomic Medicine at the Houston Methodist Research Institute and Houston Methodist Hospital, said in a statement. “Because K. pneumoniae is a common and important cause of human infections, we urgently need to identify potential vaccine targets or other new treatments, and develop new and rapid diagnostic techniques.” K. pneumoniae usually resides in the human intestines, where it doesn’t cause disease. When it migrates to other parts of the body, however, the bacteria can trigger infections such as pneumonia, meningitis, or blood septicity. Related: Student discovers a way to destroy superbug bacteria without antibiotics Musser’s team worked with researchers at Argonne National Laboratory and University of Chicago to analyze the genomes of 1,777 K. pneumoniae strains that caused infections in patients at Houston Methodist between September 2011 and May 2015. Clone type 307 emerged as the most abundant strain. But although the organism has been documented in regions of Europe, Africa, Asia, and South America, the study marks the first time it’s been singled out for causing such a broad number of infections in one city. Why this strain is so common in Houston is still a mystery, Musser said. “The faster we can successfully identify which antibiotics this strain is sensitive to, the faster a treating physician can target the appropriate therapy to these ill patients,” said S. Wesley Long, primary author of the study and associate director of the Clinical Microbiology Laboratory at Houston Methodist Hospital. “Our discoveries also give us the tools to begin to understand how the germ is spreading throughout the Houston area.” Earlier this year, an elderly woman in Nevada died from a K. pneumoniae infection after failing to respond to all 26 antibiotics used in the United States. There’s no approved vaccine for the superbug, but scientists are working on it. “Fortunately, the strain 307 identified in our study remains susceptible to certain antibiotics that can be used to successfully treat infected patients,” said Long. + American Society for Microbiology Via CBS News Photos by Unsplash

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Colossal landforms discovered under Antarctic ice sheet are 5X bigger than any on Earth

May 10, 2017 by  
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Colossal landforms recently found beneath the Antarctic ice sheet have surprised scientists. An international team found these eskers, or ridges of land similar to those left behind by ancient ice sheets , with satellite images and radar data – and it turns out they are far bigger than anything else like it on Earth. Some are as large as the Eiffel Tower and they might be contributing to Antarctic ice shelf thinning. The ancient Scandinavian Ice Sheet of the Pleistocene epoch was one of the biggest glacial masses of that time, and left behind eskers for us to see. The ice sheet was around 9,800 feet thick, but for thousands of years landforms under the sheet mitigated precipitation and evaporation so ice would continue to cycle through the ocean, according to ScienceAlert. Related: World’s most massive canyon may be hidden beneath Antarctic ice Now scientists have uncovered evidence of the landforms beneath the Antarctic ice sheet. But these subglacial features are a staggering five times larger than the eskers left behind we can see today. The scale of the eskers is shocking but they may also hold implications for the stability of the ice sheet. The Université libre de Bruxelles explained the “oversized sediment ridges actively shape the ice hundreds of kilometers downstream, by carving deep incisions at the bottom of the ice.” These gashes open up weak spots that are more susceptible to damage from warm ocean water. Researchers once thought ice shelves thinned only once they hit the ocean, but this new discovery means instability could impact the ice sheet even while it’s still on land. ScienceAlert pointed out we might not be able to halt the Antarctic ice sheet thinning, but a better understanding of the process could help us understand what will happen as the sheet thins. Nature Communications published the team’s research online yesterday. Scientists from institutions in Belgium, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Norway contributed to the study. Via ScienceAlert and Université libre de Bruxelles Images via Wikimedia Commons ( 1 , 2 )

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Colossal landforms discovered under Antarctic ice sheet are 5X bigger than any on Earth

Low-cost solar absorber could supercharge solar power plants

April 6, 2017 by  
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One of the major challenges in developing solar panels has been creating photovoltaic cells which can absorb as much solar energy as possible – without overheating to the point that they begin to simply radiate energy back into the atmosphere. In the past, this has meant that commercially available solar cells only manage to convert about 30 percent of sunlight they absorb into energy. Researchers from Purdue University may have found a way to overcome this issue by modifying regular silicon wafers to more efficiently absorb the energy at higher temperatures than ever before. The new study, published in the journal Applied Physics Letters , outlines how silicon wafers can be coated with thin films of tantalum and silicon nitride to enhance their ability to absorb sunlight. The modified surface is then able to selectively absorb photons within a certain range on the light spectrum, while reflecting those that cannot be used. Related: Flexible new solar panel is almost 80% lighter than traditional panels The resulting solar cells can withstand temperatures up to 535 degrees Celsius without any performance or stability issues, converting a staggering 50 percent of sunlight into useable energy. This research has some interesting applications – for instance, the same film could be painted on the surface of mirrored parabolic troughs used in concentrated solar plants in order to make them even more efficient. While the film isn’t yet ready for any kind of commercial application, the authors of the study hope it will inspire others to try a similar experimental approach to enhancing solar absorption. Via Phsy.org Images via Purdue University and Shutterstock

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European electricity sector pledges no new coal plants after 2020

April 6, 2017 by  
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In another sign that the world is rapidly moving away from coal , the European electricity sector just announced a commitment to not invest in new coal-fired power plants after 2020. Every European Union country signed onto the initiative except for Poland and Greece. The Union of the Electricity Industry, otherwise known as Eurelectric , which represents 3,500 utilities with a combined value of over €200 billion, reiterated its commitment to decarbonize the EU economy in line with targets set in the Paris climate agreement . Europe’s power sector is aiming to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. “The power sector is determined to lead the energy transition and back our commitment to the low carbon economy with concrete action,” said Eurelectric President and CEO of the Portuguese energy group EDP, António Mexia. “With power supply becoming increasingly clean, electric technologies are an obvious choice for replacing fossil fuel based systems for instance in the transport sector to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” Related: China calls America selfish amid Trump attempt to revive coal Coal is already in decline as Europe continues making massive investments in renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Last year, European coal emissions fell by an impressive 11 percent , according to an analysis published by the European Commission. The decrease of coal emissions is part of a long-term trend — since 2010, European coal’s generation emissions fell by 16 percent and overall power sector emissions fell by 19 percent. Across the Atlantic, US President Donald Trump has pledged to revive coal. However, US utilities, similar to their European counterparts, are moving away from coal in favor of natural gas and renewables. News agency Reuters contacted 32 utilities and the vast majority said that Trump’s actions would not impact their investments away from coal. “I’m not going to build new coal plants in today’s environment,” Ben Fowke, CEO of Xcel Energy, told Reuters. “And if I’m not going to build new ones, eventually there won’t be any.” Via The Guardian Images via Flickr 1 , 2

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Stickbulb’s new Boom LED lamp is made of reclaimed wood from NYC water tanks

April 6, 2017 by  
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Almost five years have passed since New York-based design firm Rux Design unveiled their revolutionary StickBulb lighting system , which was inspired by destroyed buildings. Now, the innovative designers are back with a new, bolder LED lamp called Boom that’s made out of reclaimed Redwood from dismantled NYC water tanks. Rux’s new Boom lamps were officially unveiled this week at the Milan Furniture Fair . The series follows up on the designer’s quest to repurpose materials from architectural destruction. Boom is made of reclaimed wood taken from dismantled NYC water tanks. Years of exposure to the harsh NYC climate on one side and water on the other has given the wood a rich, unique coloring. Related: 15 brilliant green lamps for a brighter future The reclaimed wood pieces are shaped to fit linear LED bulbs that are then connected to an elegant brass core. The lighted sticks shoot out at different lengths and emit light from different directions, creating a sense of “exploding light.” According to Stickbulb Co-Founder and RUX Founder Russell Greenberg, the team’s lighting systems take a revolutionary approach to green design : “Our fixtures are literally born from the destruction of architecture. We celebrate this energy and history in the form and function of our designs.” Boom debuted in a temporary exhibit at Archiproducts Milano on April 4th during Milan Design Week . + Stickbulb + Rux Design

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Trump properties rank among worst polluters in NYC

April 3, 2017 by  
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Nobody expected President Donald Trump , a man who once declared climate change a “hoax” by the Chinese government, to be a champion of the environment. Indeed, with proposed budget cuts to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a plan to reverse his predecessor’s pro-planet policies, the opposite  has been true. So it should come as a surprise to no one that properties owned by Trump, as well as his consigliere son-in-law Jared Kusher , rate among the least energy-efficient in New York City, according to a new report by ALIGN , a coalition of labor and community organizations with an environmental bent. Trump International Hotel on Columbus Circle and Trump SoHo, the analysis found, use more energy than 70 to 79 percent of large hotels in the city, respectively. Even more egregious, Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue uses more energy than 93 percent of the city’s largest residential complexes. The Mayfair, a hotel-to-condo conversion owned by the Trumps, uses more energy than 98 percent of comparable multifamily buildings. The Kushner family–owned tower at 666 Fifth Avenue , living up to its numerically ominous address, uses more energy than 85 percent of large office buildings, the study noted. Related: Jared Kushner’s 666 tower by Zaha Hadid gets reimagined as the Eye of Sauron “Those folks are the biggest polluters of our city—we need to take them on and actually make sure that they reduce their emissions,” Maritza Silva-Farrell, executive director of ALIGN, told the Daily News . The bulk of the city’s carbon footprint stems from heating, cooling, and powering its soaring skyscrapers. While New York City has voluntary programs designed to reduce its emissions, Silva-Farrell thinks it’s time to administer mandatory rules. “We think that it is really important to require these kinds of owners to reduce their emissions and create clean air for our communities,” she said. “We believe that’s the only way they will do it.” Via the Daily News Photos by jcwillia1 and Michael Vadon

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Coca-Cola beverages are poisonous, Nigerian judge rules

April 3, 2017 by  
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Coca-Cola drinks clearly aren’t healthy – but one Nigerian judge recently ruled them poisonous. The lawsuit over Coca-Cola beverages made in a Nigerian factory said the sugary drinks had levels of sunset yellow food dye and benzoic acid, both carcinogens , that were too high and could be harmful when combined with vitamin C. Coca-Cola claims there’s no scientific basis for the ruling. European authorities flagged Coca-Cola products including Fanta Orange, Fanta Lemon, Fanta Pineapple, Sprite, Coca-Cola, and soda water for the two carcinogens, according to the lawsuit filed by businessman Emmanuel Fijabi Adebo against the Nigerian Bottling Company (NBC) and the National Agency For Food and Drug Administration (NAFDAC). He says he was unable to sell Fanta and Sprite purchased from NBC due to the findings. Related: Artist boils down sugary drinks into sickly suckers that highlight the dangers of junk food Judge Adedayo Oyebanji said NBC must put written warnings on Sprite and Fanta bottles. The judge also said NAFDAC did not properly warn consumers of the perils of mixing vitamin C with benzoic acid and sunset yellow, and awarded them costs of two million Naira, or around $6,350. Coca-Cola, unsurprisingly, didn’t agree with the ruling. They told MUNCHIES, “Recent claims that The Coca-Cola Company’s Fanta and Sprite beverages are unfit for consumption when combined with vitamin C are inaccurate and unsupported by science . All our products are safe and strictly adhere to regulations in the countries where they are sold while complying with our Company’s stringent global safety and quality standards.” They mentioned a Medium post by Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Health addressing the issue. The post said Coca-Cola products made in Nigeria are safe to consume, and mentioned benzoic acid acts as a preservative to avoid growth of microorganisms which can thrive in the Nigerian climate. Via MUNCHIES Images via Wikimedia Commons and Pixabay

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Dead Sea salt reveals drought on a scale never recorded – and it could happen again

March 29, 2017 by  
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Thick layers of Dead Sea salt found 1,000 feet below the sea bed holds clues to our planet’s past – and a warning. The salt reveals during warm periods in Earth’s history, the region – the Dead Sea is bordered by Palestine, Jordan, and Israel – suffered from drought with no known precedent. The salt, scrutinized by an international team of researchers led by Yael Kiro of Columbia University , doesn’t just offer a history lesson, but a caution climate change could seriously dry the region again in the future. Crystalline salt from beneath the Dead Sea reveals 120,000 and 10,000 years ago, rainfall in the area was a fifth of modern levels. These dry periods were naturally caused. But human-caused climate change today could potentially dry the region – which is already struggling – more than we realized. Right now the Middle East’s fresh water per capita availability is 10 times less than the world average, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Related: Dramatic Video Captures Rebirth of the River Zin in Israel’s Negev Desert Back in 2010, scientists drilled 1,500 feet into the Dead Sea bed’s deepest part. They obtained a cross-section that provided 200,000 years of climate history in the area. Alternating layers of salt and mud showed dry and wet times. Only recently, however, did scientists analyze the core in great detail. The region suffered from what Columbia University called epic dry periods. Kiro said in a statement, “All the observations show this region is one of those most affected by modern climate change, and it’s predicted to get dryer. What we showed is that even under natural conditions, it can become much drier than predicted by any of our models.” The journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters published the research in an early online edition . Six other scientists from institutions in Israel and Spain also contributed to the study. Via The Guardian and Columbia University Images via Wikimedia Commons ( 1 , 2 )

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Dead Sea salt reveals drought on a scale never recorded – and it could happen again

Michigan to replace thousands of Flint water lines in settlement

March 29, 2017 by  
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A judge approved a settlement with the state of Michigan today that will come as welcome news to thousands of residents: at least 18,000 homes in Flint will have their toxic water pipes replaced over the next three years. The state has committed $87 million to identify and replace any service lines containing lead or galvanized steel by 2020. The settlement marks the end of a lawsuit filed last year by Concerned Pastors for Social Action , the Natural Resources Defense Council , the American Civil Liberties Union and a resident of Flint, targeted at both city and state officials. Flint Mayor Karen Weaver has praised the agreement. The $87 million used to replace the pipes will come from a variety of sources. The Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act, which was passed by Congress last year, will provide up to $20 million in funds, with the state matching another $20 million. The state must also hold an extra $10 million in reserve, in case the repairs end up being more expensive than anticipated. The state will also cover the $895,000 the plaintiffs ran up in litigation costs. Related: 1,700 Flint residents sue the EPA over tainted water In the meantime , residents will have to either pick up bottled water from designated locations in the city, or they’ll have to install water filters on their taps. Though the filters have been shown to render the city’s water safe for human consumption, many residents are nervous and distrustful of anything that comes out of their taps (and with good reason). The lawsuit had asked that bottled water be delivered door to door throughout the city until pipe replacement was complete, but the judge shot down that request. Via Reuters Images via Pixabay and Paul Hudson

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Over 700 North American bee species are heading towards extinction

March 6, 2017 by  
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Life without honeybees would be less than sweet – it’d mean a lot fewer fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. But honeybees aren’t the only bees we need to worry about. The future of many Native North American and Hawaiian bee species is also in peril: a new study found that more than half of the region’s native bee species are declining , and nearly one in four native bee species is imperiled and at risk for extinction. Image © Dominik Scythe via Unsplash A new report by the Center for Biological Diversity entitled “Pollinators in Peril: A systematic status review of North American and Hawaiian bees” outlines the importance of these native bee species by valuing their financial importance as well as their ability to help ecosystems thrive. As fruit-pollinators, native bee species are worth more than three billion dollars, yet their work pollinating wild flowers and plants is equally important in maintaining diverse and colorful flora. As if the information regarding known declining populations wasn’t cause enough for alarm, the author warned that this study and other bee studies simply don’t have enough data on thousands of native bee species – many of which are found in areas of “great environmental degradation” – to determine if they are at risk. Image © Jenni Peterson via Unsplash Related| This could be the United States’ first endangered bee species The study cites loss of habitat due to agriculture, heavy use of pesticides , climate change, and urbanization as large drivers of the native bee populations’ decline and endangerment. Lead author Kelsey Kopec said, “It’s a quiet but staggering crisis unfolding right under our noses that illuminates the unacceptably high cost of our careless addiction to pesticides and monoculture farming.” The report includes case studies of five distinct bee species around the country that are in great peril, including the wild sweet potato bee, which is the only known species in the world in its genus, and the sunflower leafcutting bee, which is the largest and most distinctive leafcutting bee on the continent. While a casual eye might be tempted to group these bee species together, their unique habits and contributions to varied ecosystems highlight their individual importance and fragility. Via Time Lead image © Jenna Lee via Unsplash

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