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Showing posts from January 18, 2017

Indigenous trees at risk of disappearing in central Africa (downtoearth)

Forest maintenance is lagging in central Africa—home to world’s second largest rainforest—and this will have an adverse effect on the region’s indigenous tree species. A new research published conducted by Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech - Université de Liège and the Royal Museum for Central Africa and published in journal elife points out threat to multiple tree species.

The research puts removal of humans from forests at the heart of the problem. Analysing changes in the region since around 1850, it says, that the population of rainforest’s light-demanding trees started diminishing after colonials pushed people out of forests and towards roads and rivers.

The study focuses on four light-demanding species of the rainforest—T. scleroxylon, E. suaveolens, Macaranga spp., Myrianthus/Musanga type and E. guineensis. The researchers say that before the mid-19th century, many people lived in the forest and their activities created clearings that turned the forest into a relatively patchy landscape.…

New drought in Ethiopia puts recovery at risk (downtoearth)

New drought across swathes of southern Ethiopia is likely to jeopardise the country’s restoration of food security after the worst agricultural seasons in decades, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization.

While humanitarian efforts have sharply reduced the number of hungry during the worst drought in 50 years, the legacy of last year’s El Niño, along with low rainfall during a critical season, poses renewed risks, especially for pastoral communities. These communities face forage shortfalls and water scarcity in southern regions. (view video)

Effective and timely action has reduced the number of people who will need food aid in 2017 to 5.6 million, down from almost twice as much last August, according to the newly released Humanitarian Requirements Document (HRD). However, food security in 120 districts has worsened since July, while 86 districts are entering their third year (since December 2015) of top-priority emergency status.

While northern and western Ethiopia bore t…

India gets new weather prediction model for better forecasts (downtoearth)

A new, advanced weather prediction model was made operational on January 16 by the Ministry of Earth Science for more accurate forecasts.

The very high resolution (12 km) global deterministic weather prediction model has been on trial since September 2016. The model, as per the ministry, has shown significant improvements in skill of daily weather forecasts.

The new model replaces an earlier version which was responsible for predicting the path and intensity of Vardah cyclone and the North Indian cold wave. While the previous model had a horizontal resolution of 25 km, its successor has been upgraded to 12 km resolution.

The ministry’s Ensemble Prediction System (EPS) will also be upgraded from 25 km resolution to 12 km. The EPS helps overcome the uncertainties in forecasts. It involves the generation of multiple forecasts using slightly varying initial conditions. The EPS also help generate probabilistic forecasts and quantify the uncertainties.

 State of weather forecast in India

T…

Exxon's Rex Tillerson and the rise of Big Oil in American politics(downtoearth)

How Big Oil Bought the White House and Tried to Steal the Country” is the subtitle of a book that tells the story of a presidential election in which a candidate allowed money from big oil companies to help him win office and then rewarded them with plum appointments in his cabinet.

With President-elect Donald Trump picking former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, one might think the book is an early exposé of the presidential election of 2016.

Instead, it’s from “The Teapot Dome Scandal,” a book that tells the story of a corruption scandal that rocked the term of President Warren G. Harding’s administration in the 1920s.

In the context of Tillerson’s controversial appointment, history is a useful guide to understand the rising political power of Big Oil over the past century, a subject I’ve studied and written about. And with Tillerson, the political influence of the energy sector has reached a high point, particularly because it strikes the president-elect and oth…

Health-care data is ailing (hindu,)

Data pertaining to health care in India, evidence shows, is significantly compromised in terms of its quality, its periodicity and coverage. In addition, “there is a visible discrepancy between the type of information available and what is required by health planners, medical scientists and researchers,” says a recent paper by the Health Team of the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP), New Delhi.

It has been well recognised and acknowledged by the government officials that data collection system in India needs to be completely revamped as different data sources lead to different conclusions. So if you want to know the proportion of births that were delivered by caesarian section in a private health facility of Andhra Pradesh, National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-4 will say it is 57 per cent but the Health Information System of the National Rural Health Mission 2015-16 pegs it at around 42 per cent.

Data gaps


In an issue brief published by the Observer Research Fou…

Living near heavy traffic increases risks of dementia TH06-INDIA-TRAFFIC (hindu)

WHO estimates the number of people with dementia in 2015 at 47.5 million, a number that is rising as life expectancy increases

People who live near roads laden with heavy traffic face a higher risk of developing dementia than those living further away, possibly because pollutants get into their brains via the blood stream, according to researchers in Canada.

A study in The Lancet medical journal found that people who lived within 50 metres of high-traffic roads had a seven per cent higher chance of developing dementia compared to those who lived more than 300 metres away from busy roadways.

“Air pollutants can get into the blood stream and lead to inflammation, which is linked with cardiovascular disease and possibly other conditions such as diabetes. This study suggests air pollutants that can get into the brain via the blood stream can lead to neurological problems,” said Ray Copes, an environmental and occupational health expert at Public Health Ontario (PHO) who conducted the stu…

Indian scientists’ novel approach to diagnose retinal diseases(hindu)

The tool helps in early detection of diabetic macular edema

Early diagnosis of certain eye diseases and studying the early progression of the diseases has now become possible, thanks to the work carried out by a team of researchers from three institutes — IISER, Kolkata, L.V. Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad, and BARC, Visakhapatnam. The researchers used the retinal data captured by a well-established imaging method in ophthalmology (optical coherence tomography or OCT) and applied an algorithm based on a statistical biomarker tool for early detection of diabetic macular edema. The results were published in the Journal of Biomedical Optics.

Disease progression


Early diagnosis of eye diseases and quantification of disease progression has been a challenge. For instance, the human retina has 10 layers and subtle morphological changes in these layers do not lead to a change in thickness that can be detected by OCT imaging. But OCT images do contain data on subtle refractive index variatio…

Indian pepper may be a cancer fighter(hindu)

The Indian long pepper, widely popular for spicing up food, may soon be used as a potential cancer treatment drug, according to a new study.

The Indian long pepper contains a chemical that could stop your body from producing an enzyme that is commonly found in tumours in large numbers, according to the study in Journal of Biological Chemistry.

UT Southwestern Medical Enter scientists have uncovered the chemical process behind anti-cancer properties of a spicy Indian pepper plant called the long pepper, whose suspected medicinal properties date back thousands of years. The secret lies in a chemical called Piperlongumine (PL), which has shown activity against many cancers including prostate, breast, lung, colon, lymphoma, leukaemia, primary brain tumours and gastric cancer.

Detoxification enzyme

Using X-ray crystallography, researchers were able to create molecular structures that show how the chemical is transformed after being ingested. PL converts to hPL, an active drug that silence…

Poor fungal infection diagnosis may up antibiotic resistance (hindu)

Paying closer attention to underlying fungal infections is necessary to reduce drug resistance, researchers say.

Poor diagnosis worldwide of fungal disease causes doctors to over-prescribe antibiotics, increasing harmful resistance to antimicrobial drugs, a new study has warned.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health. It is linked to 23,000 deaths per year, researchers said.

Paying closer attention to underlying fungal infections is necessary to reduce drug resistance, they said.

“If we are trying to deliver globally on a comprehensive plan to prevent antimicrobial resistance, and we are treating blindly for fungal infections that we do not know are present with antibiotics, then we may inadvertently be creating greater antibiotic resistance,” said lead author David Perlin, from Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in the U.S.

Inexpensive, rapid diagnostic tests are available for important fungal infections, but…

India now an associate member of CERN(the hindu)

The step will enhance participation of young Indian scientists and engineers in various CERN projects

India on Monday became an associate member of CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, after the government completed internal approval procedures on the agreement it signed in November last year.

On November 21, Sekhar Basu, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and Secretary of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), and Fabiola Gianotti, CERN Director-General, signed an agreement to admit India to CERN as an associate member. But India had to “notify CERN of its final approval for the agreement to enter into force” and become an associate member, which it did on Monday.

“Becoming associate member of CERN will enhance participation of young scientists and engineers in various CERN projects and bring back knowledge for deployment in the domestic programmes. It will also provide opportunities to Indian industries to participate directly in CERN projects,” Dr. Basu had …

A wake-up call(Hindu)

A flurry of videos has emerged in the social media in recent days showing jawans of both the paramilitary forces and the Army complaining against a host of issues from diet to colonial-era practices. While these are disciplinary breaches, they are a good reason to initiate a detailed study into the internal health of our security establishment. The present lot of videos began early last week when BSF constable Tej Bahadur Yadav posted a series of them complaining about burnt parathas and watery lentil curryserved along the Line of Control. It was almost as if he was opening the floodgates. From the Army, Lance Naik Yagya Pratap Singh of 42 Infantry Brigade expressed his grievances against the sahayak system. He alleged that professional soldiers were being forced to wash clothes, polish boots and walk dogs for senior officers, and that he was being victimised with court martial proceedings for complaining against the practice. Nursing Assistant Naik Ram Bhagat of the Army complained i…

In the nick of time(Hindu)

The Goods and Services Tax Council has made some breakthroughs on outstanding negotiables that were holding up the introduction of the indirect tax regime. A compromise has been reached between the Centre and the States on the formula for administrative control over taxpayers under the GST, which will subsume myriad existing State and Central levies on commercial activity. By giving up on its formula to split such control by assuming the authority to levy GST on all services entities and manufacturing firms with ₹1.5 crore or more annual turnover, the Centre has shown a willingness to meet the States more than halfway. The new control-sharing system appears simpler to administer. Now, 90 per cent of all GST assessees with a turnover of up to ₹1.5 crore will come under the watch of the States and 10 per cent under that of the Centre, with both getting to assess half of the firms with a turnover over ₹1.5 crore. More important, it gives States, many of which had claimed at recent GST C…