Florida ‘Climate Change’ Denial? The Earth Just Experienced the Warmest Winter on Record!

While our “beloved governor” Rick Scott’s climate change term-barring only rivals that of Senator James Inhofe’s infamous climate-denying stunt, in which he held up a snowball on the senate floor (as “proof” that global warming is a hoax) in it’s ridiculousness, both are just, as President Obama described it, disturbing.

They are both extremely narrow-minded, as new data out from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows. Looking beyond Florida and D.C., it turns out, Earth as a whole just lived through its warmest year since record-keeping began in 1880. Sure enough, the world is on fire, with the eastern U.S. as almost the only exception.


Germ-killing Molecules Identified in Alligator Blood

Thick armor and jaws packed full of teeth aren’t the only defenses that alligators and crocodiles have. They also have formidable immune systems and some of the protective molecules that enable this have now been identified. Their discovery in the blood of the American alligator might even pave the way for a new generation of antibiotics.

Crocodilians have existed on Earth for at least 37 million years. Over the course of their evolution, they have developed a very strong defence against infection. “They inflict wounds on each other from which they frequently recover without complications from infection despite the fact that the environments in which they live are less than sterile,” says Barney Bishop of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, co-author of the new study.

American alligators have an enviable innate immune system, the “primitive” first line of defence that is shared by all vertebrates. In 2008, chemists in Louisiana found that blood serum taken from the reptiles destroyed 23 strains of bacteria and depleted reserves of the HIV virus. The germ-killing molecules were identified as enzymes that break down a type of lipid.

Although their results have yet to lead to any new antibiotics, enzymes aren’t the only pathogen-busting molecules that alligators have up their sleeve. Bishop’s group has now identified and isolated peptides known as a CAMPs or cationic antimicrobial peptides.

These molecules are positively charged so the team developed nanoparticles to electrostatically pick them out of the complex mix of proteins in alligator blood plasma.

In total, the group fished out 45 peptides. Of these, they chemically synthesised eight and evaluated their antimicrobial properties. Five killed some of the E.coli bacteria they were presented with, while the other three destroyed most of the E.coli and also showed some activity against bacteria includingPseudomonas aeruginosa, which can cause inflammation and sepsis, andStaphylococcus aureus, which can trigger skin infections, sinusitis and food poisoning. So far, the strains have performed well, says Bishop.

The researchers are now extending their analysis to other members of the crocodilian family including gharials and Siamese crocodiles.

Identifying novel antimicrobial peptides is urgently needed because of the growing problem of antibiotic resistance, says Guangshun Wang at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. “Because of the novelty of the sequences,” he says, “these peptides provide new templates for developing antimicrobials to combat superbugs.”

Scientists determine safest places to be during zombie apocalypse

Where is the best place to be in the event of a zombie apocalypse? It’s a question many have pondered, but now scientists have the answer — and D.C.’s brains don’t fare well when it comes to encroaching flesh-eating undead.

Cornell University researchers built a statistical model to determine what a zombie outbreak would look like and how it would spread through the United States.

The model confirmed what many in the nation’s densely populated regions fear: The key to surviving the zombie apocalypse is to live as far away from a city as possible, reports The Washington Post.

The interactive model the researchers developed shows the D.C. area getting swallowed by zombies within the first 48 hours.

Other, more remote, areas could be spared for days, weeks, months or even years, researchers found.

“It’s bad to be near any big city,” Alex Alemi, a researcher with the project, said to The Washington Post.

He says in a far-removed city, “it would be a situation where you’re watching chaos on television, but where you are everything would remain unchanged.”

The researchers’ model is built on some fundamentals. One is the “bite-to-kill” ratio, which measures how often a person would kill a zombie versus how often a zombie would infect a human. Also, the model assumes that zombies can only travel by foot.

Additionally, the model says transportation breaks down during a zombie event, meaning if you live in D.C. when the outbreak occurs, you can’t get in or out.

“Transportation would likely break down in an outbreak,” Alemi said to The Post.

Alemi contends that there is really no hope in a zombie apocalypse situation and that eventually it would kill us all.

“Zombies are unique and very different than other diseases in that victims of other diseases either get better or succumb to the disease,” Alemi told The Post.

“But zombies are the undead. They don’t get better. And the only way to stop them is for a human to kill the zombie. With other diseases, no matter how many infections you model, the disease is not going to infect every single person. But in the zombie model, you really can turn every single person into a zombie.”

Don’t go packing up to head to a remote area just yet, Alemi says. A rush to underpopulated regions would only make them vulnerable.

Also, he reminds people to not get too carried away with the possibilities of an attack from bloodthirsty undead. The research is a way to apply hard science to a popular, fun topic.

The Cornell researchers will present their findings at the 2015 American Physical Society March Meeting, on Thursday, March 5, in San Antonio, Texas.

Two-Dad Babies Could Soon Be A Reality

For the first time, scientists have shown that it’s possible for two people of the same sex to create a baby, without the need for outside egg or sperm donation. The most obvious benefits would be for homosexual couples who want to have a child together, but the method could also help couples who have been affected by infertility.

The team, from Cambridge University in the UK and Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, built on previous work where baby mice were successfully raised from mouse skin cells that had been converted into what’s known as primordial germ cells – the precursors of egg and sperm cells. It was a real struggle to replicate the process using human biological matter, but now they’ve finally managed to create new human primordial germ cells using skin cells from five human donors and stem cell lines from five human embryos.

“We have succeeded in the first and most important step of this process, which is to show we can make these very early human stem cells in a dish,” lead researcher and professor of physiology and reproduction at Cambridge, Azim Surani, told Lois Rogers at The Sunday Times.

“We have also discovered that one of the things that happens in these germ cells is that epigenetic mutations, the cell mistakes that occur with age, are wiped out. That means the cell is regenerated and reset, so while the rest of the cells in the body have aged and contain genetic mistakes, these ones don’t. We can’t say no mutations are passed on, but mostly it doesn’t happen.”

A pioneer in the field of non-traditional reproduction technology, Surani was also involved in the birth of the first test-tube baby, Louise Brown, in 1978.

The key to their research ended up being a gene called SOX17, which didn’t seem to have any effect on the mouse research, so was largely ignored. But the team finally realised that SOX17 was actually crucial to process of ‘reprogramming’ that the human skin cells had to undergo to become primordial germ cells, and they reported their discovery on Christmas day last year.

Now, they’re confident that the process, which has been described in the journalCell, could be used to make healthy babies in as little as two years’ time. Although Robin Lovell-Badge, head of stem-cell biology and developmental genetics at the National Institute for Medical Research, who was not involved in the work, thinks it’s too soon to be putting a due date on it. “[The stem cell breakthrough] will be important for understanding the causes of infertility and for the treatment of it,” he told Rogers at The Sunday Times. “It is probably a long way off, but it would be a way for people who have had treatment for conditions such as childhood leukaemia, which has left them infertile, to have children of their own.”

Of course, something like this is bound to get caught up in ethical concerns, as did the research that resulted in the birth of a girl using the DNA of three parents. But Surani’s team point out that reproduction is not the only potential use for this technique. He told Ian Sample at The Guardian that because the cells are wiped clean of the genetic mutations they had accumulated as skin cells, they could be used to better understand the changes our cells undergo as we age. “This could tell us how to erase these epigenetic mutations,” he said.“Epigenetics is used to regulate gene expression, but in age-related diseases, these changes can be aberrant and misregulate genes.”

As Lovell-Badge said, it’s much too early to know if this is the medical breakthrough that will change the way we reproduce, but it sure does feel like the not-so-distant future will offer a whole lot more options to the kinds of people who are struggling to have a baby today. And ethical arguments aside, that’s a pretty wonderful thing.