The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is asking veterinary drug companies to voluntarily agree to make it illegal to feed healthy animals some antibiotics. If the antibiotic is on the FDA’s list of drugs that are related to drugs used to fight infections in people—including everything from bronchitis to urinary tract infections to Lyme disease to infections after surgeries—then the agency is asking companies to stop their use for fattening up pigs, chickens and other animals people eat.
The move is meant to reduce the amount of antibiotics farmers feed to food animals. “With these changes, there will be fewer approved uses [for animal antibiotics] and the remaining uses will be under tighter control,” Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, said in a conference call for reporters. Scientists have long warned that the constant use of antibiotics in farm animals is a threat to human health, but U.S. agencies haven't taken a lot of official action on the issue.
After talks with industry folks, FDA officials believe companies will comply with the new program. Making the changes this way—voluntarily—is faster than the FDA’s legal process, which would require the agency to evaluate every antibiotic individually, Taylor added.
Critics of the program say it may not make much of a dent in how antibiotics are used on animal farms. “Even if it were observed by the industry, there’s no guarantee that the usage profile for these drugs would change,” Keeve Nachman, who studies food production at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, tells Popular Science. Nachman and other critics worry farmers and farming companies will simply switch from saying the medicines are for making animals grow, to saying they're for preventing illness in animals. For many antibiotics, the dosages for both indications are similar.
Why cut down on antibiotic use? Concern about the rise of antibiotic-resistant microbes is the primary reason. Such microbes can give people diseases that no modern antibiotics are able to cure. One recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report found that 2 million Americans get antibiotic-resistant illnesses every year and 23,000 Americans die from them.
These illnesses evolved recently, after decades of unnecessary antibiotic use among farmers, doctors and patients. On many farms, animals eat low doses of antibiotics mixed into their food, either to make them grow faster or grow more on less food. It's not clear exactly why low-dose antibiotics fatten animals up, although one study done in mice hints that it's got something to do with changes to the animals' gut microbes.
Farmers and farming companies don’t need prescriptions from veterinarians to get drugged feeds; they get them from feed stores. Once inside livestock’s bodies, the medicines kill off most microbes, but leave behind so-called superbugs that are able survive a round of antibiotics. The low doses used to promote growth are especially prone to leaving superbugs behind.
Eventually, the resistant microbes come out of the animals’, uhh, other ends, and from there may spread to crops as fertilizer, get carried around by birds and eventually make it to people. Multiply this by millions of farm animals and years of antibiotic use and you eventually breed large populations of superbugs.Swine Manure Being Applied to Alfalfa Fields Photo by Joann Lamb, USDA
Getting farms to stop using antibiotics unnecessarily would be a major step toward slowing the evolution of superbugs. The argument now is whether the FDA’s new program actually does this.
Critics worry that farms will continue to use antibiotics widely while complying with the FDA's request to the letter. This blog post from National Resources Defense Council lawyer Avinash Kar summarizes that argument. The National Resources Defense Council has sued the FDA over the use of antibiotics in farm animals.
“This is a critical issue because obviously we want the effect to be real and the effect on resistance to be real,” FDA’s Taylor said. The key to addressing the issue, Taylor said, is that when companies agree to the new FDA program, non-growth uses of antibiotics should require the equivalent of a prescription from a veterinarian. “It’s a big shift from the current situation,” in which animal antibiotics are available to farming companies over-the-counter, Taylor said.
Others are not so sure veterinarians will act as good gatekeepers to reduce unnecessary antibiotic use. “It potentially could help, but unless these veterinarians believe these uses are creating a public health problem, they have no incentive to do that,” says Steven Roach, a program director for public health at the Food Animal Concerns Trust, a farm animal welfare organization based in Chicago.
Companies have 90 days to write to the FDA, saying they intend to follow the new program. After that, they’ll have three years to phase in the changes.
Owls are nearly noiseless hunters, swooping down on prey without any warning whoosh. How do they do it?[More]
Conservationists wrestling with the problem of invasive lionfish have suggested that recreationally and commercially harvesting the predatory species for food could put a big dent in its numbers. New findings bolster that view. In one-day derby events in the Florida Keys and Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas, participants caught 1,400 of the fish, reducing local populations of this invasive species by 60 percent. They also enthusiastically ate much of the catch. Stephanie Green, a research fellow at Oregon State University, reported the derby results to the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute (GCFI) in Corpus Christi, Texas, in November.[More]
Wormholes and entanglement--two of science fiction's favorite concepts from modern physics--may in reality be two sides of the same coin, physicists say. The findings may offer a way to solve puzzling mysteries about black holes and perhaps help reconcile theories of gravity and quantum physics, which has been the dream of physicists since the mid–20th century.[More]
Yesterday, Netherlands-based private spaceflight project Mars One announced the companies it hopes will build the technology necessary for the first private mission to Mars. Lockheed Martin and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. were awarded contracts to study and develop concepts for a Mars lander and a data link satellite, respectively, for a 2018 exploratory mission. If that mission is successful, Mars One hopes to begin a human colony on Mars by 2025. The lander, based on Lockheed's successful Phoenix spacecraft, and satellite would each test technologies needed to sustain human life on another planet.
I sat next to two wannabe-Martians at the Mars One press conference in Washington, D.C., on Monday. Leila Zucker, a local ER doctor, and Aaron Hamm, a hotelier who'd flown in from Milwaukee that morning, were among the more than 200,000 applicants for the one-way mission. Zucker and Hamm were excited about the announcement. "This is the first tangible sign that this is going to happen," Zucker said. (Read our interview with another aspiring Martian, Los Angeles-based game designer Katrina Wolfe.)
The mission's timetable has been pushed back by two years. The satellite was originally supposed to launch in 2016, with humans arriving by 2023. Now, Mars One is aiming for a 2025 colonization date.Mars One Colony Concept The goal, if all goes well. Bryan Versteeg and Mars One
These contracts, right now, are the most real part of the project. In the artist's concept above, there's a thin film solar panel, designed to power first the lander and, later, facilities in the Mars colony, but no actual solar panels have been selected yet for the mission. Getting enough drinkable water to the planet is also a challenge, though the Curiosity rover recently discovered that Martian soil contains much more water than previously thought. Mars One launched an Indiegogo campaign to fund the research projects that will be included on the Lockheed lander, including a water extraction project. Another challenge: preventing colonists from going insane.
In addition to crowdfunding, Mars One is looking for other forms of sponsorship. Bas Lansdorp, co-founder and CEO of Mars One, said "Mars One will have most unique video footage in the solar system," and compared the value of that footage to the exclusive broadcast rights from Olympic games. If his projection is correct, and if people are as interested in watching a Martian sunset as they are in feats of athleticism, footage rights alone could more than pay back the cost of the mission. The Lockheed contract is for $250,000, and the SSTL contract is for $82,000.
Of course, this is all assuming that the Curiosity rover doesn't get jealous and wipe out the Mars One lander first:
Mars One Project is delaying the launch of humans to Mars by 2 yrs - and I'm delaying my attack on the Mars One colony by 2 yrs and 1 day.— SarcasticRover (@SarcasticRover) December 11, 2013
Right now, orbital launches are infrequent -- about 70 per year around the world. So if there is, say, a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch scheduled from Cape Canaveral, the FAA decrees the area to be a "special use airspace" and bars plane traffic from the area for hours to accommodate it.Special Use Airspace 45 SW Eastern Range: Special Use Airspace, PPT Presentation by Art Ladd
But Alonso is thinking 5 to 7 years into the future. With space tourism carriers like Virgin Galactic and XCOR planning multiple suborbital flights per day, and orbital flyers like SpaceX, Sierra Nevada, and Bigelow sending people and material into orbit, the skies will be getting crowded. The suborbital “up-and-down” space tourism flights offered by carriers like Virgin Galactic and XCOR may number anywhere from several hundred to multiple thousands a year – from zero today. Airline passengers will be less than thrilled to accept a lengthy delay so a rock star can sing in space or a billionaire can hang out in a "space hotel." Also, airlines lose money from delays, or from re-routing around special-use airspace, requiring extra fuel burn.The Center for Excellence in Space Transportation
So Alonso and other research teams at the FAA’s Center for Excellence in Space Transportation are hard at work crunching numbers and simulating flights, trying to estimate space and air traffic levels in the near future – all to determine how to most equitably divvy up the national airspace. The timing is good for space traffic control, because the FAA is in the midst of a $40 billion transition from the ground-based, radar-based air traffic control system that exists today to a satellite-based system called NextGen. GPS units in planes will update air traffic control once per second, rather than once every several seconds, as radar does. And in the event of a crisis, like an exploding rocket and ensuing cloud of flaming debris, air traffic controllers using NextGen will be able to send electronic re-routing information directly to the plane’s flight management program, rather than requiring instructions to be given verbally over the radio.
”The FAA has been very proactive in dealing with this,” Alonso says. “It’s nice that they are doing something prior to this becoming a problem.”
Alonso and his colleagues have access to NASA's special airspace simulation tool, called FACET.
"It allows us to run back a day in the life of the air-traffic control system," says Alonso.
So Alonso has been running tens of thousands of simulations, taking into account weather variables, air traffic, and frequency of space launches. He models different distributions of flights when there might be a mere one launch a month, or as many as 6 orbital launches per week from different locations like New Mexico, California, Florida, and Colorado. In fact, the FAA has already licensed 8 different locations around the country as spaceports, and is reviewing applications for more. Not all of these spaceport aspirants will survive, but to model the future, Alonso has to create data for each of them.4-D Compact Envelopes Juan Alonso 4-D Compact Envelopes His goal is to carve out pieces of airspace for space vehicles that are compact -- big enough to safely accommodate blast-off, re-entry and any emergency -- but small, so as to affect airplanes as little as possible. He calls the resulting spaces “4-D compact envelopes” – because they account for the 3 dimensions of space throughout the time of the launch. The green geometric shapes represent parts of the airspace where an airplane would risk hitting the rocket or debris with a higher than acceptable risk (the FAA hasn’t decided what this risk threshold would be, but Alonso cites 1 in 1 million as a hypothetical, and he can tweak his models for more or less risk). And though our photo is static, the 4-D compact envelope is dynamic – as the rocket goes farther along its trajectory, excluded airspace from earlier in the flight can be freed up for airplanes again.
Suborbital flights will reach speeds of 2,300 mph, enter space at roughly 62 miles above the surface of the earth, and then glide back down. Making airspace restrictions better correspond to actual launch windows is part of Alonso’s general goal of making the air and space traffic system more dynamic. Blocking out space dynamically will also help in the event of a spacecraft making an emergency landing, or in the worst-case, suffering a catastrophic explosion. In the event of an emergency landing or explosion, mission control could block out more space immediately.
“If it would take 20 minutes for the debris to come down to the area airplanes might be, you can react by re-routing the airplanes around it,” Alonso says.
Alonso also wants to take the extremely short launch windows of orbital flights into account in making the system more dynamic. For example, when the space shuttle would go to the International Space Station, there was a launch opportunity that lasted just 10-15 minutes. If delays caused the crew to miss the launch window, the flight would need to be postponed.
“If you miss the launch window, the Space Station is already above Europe, and you’re never going to catch up with it with the fuel that you’ve got,” says Alonso. “If the window is that short, why would you be reserving the airspace for an hour or two before, and an hour or two after?”
Alonso is optimistic that introducing dynamism into the system, and only creating large areas of restricted airspace in the event of an explosion, will preclude hostile conflict between airliners and spaceliners.
“If we start putting more and more cars on the road, at a certain point we saturate the infrastructure,” Alonso says. “But we believe that for the estimates we’ve been doing, we can manage this conflict relatively effectively.”Suborbital Versus Orbital Suborbital Flight Juan Alonso Air traffic controllers will have time to adjust – commercial orbital flights, which must reach speeds of roughly 17,000 mph to begin circling the Earth, are a ways off from becoming a daily or even monthly occurrence. The first commercial flights that will occur in any significant numbers are the “suborbital” jaunts, like those that Virgin Galactic hopes to offer in 2014. These suborbital flights will reach speeds of “only” 2,300 mph, enter space at roughly 62 miles above the surface of the earth, and then glide back down in large circles after a few minutes.
Alonso finds the air traffic concerns of these craft much less complex. Because they are not trying to rendezvous with the ISS or a particular orbit, they don’t have a tight launch window – in other words, they can be delayed by weather or technical difficulties without needing to cancel the flight. Also, because suborbital flights are ultimately a joyride rather than a flight with a destination, there is also flexibility in whether the pilots head west, north or east. Lastly, so far, the spaceports are in remote locations. Spaceport America in New Mexico, from which Virgin Galactic will launch, is out of the way – in part because it is right near the White Sands Missile Range. These flights will not greatly interrupt airplanes.
“But they’re talking about putting a spaceport a few miles away from Denver International Airport – that may be a different story,” Alonso says.
From Quanta Magazine ( find original story here ).[More]
The Boston Dynamics-built ATLAS is the rescue robot prototype that gets all the attention, but now NASA is getting in on the action, unveiling Valkyrie, a 6-foot 2-inch, 275-pound rescue robot. The 'bot, an entrant in the DARPA Robotics Challenge, a contest designed to find the life-saving robot of tomorrow, will soon undergo a test to see if it can perform tasks like climbing a ladder and using tools.
Why is NASA involved? Because it wants to eventually send robots to Mars ahead of humans, and the DARPA challenge is providing data on how they can do it. Valkyrie itself won't be rocketed to space--it's a terrestrial robot, not built for that kind of travel--but it's a useful starting point for the agency.
Valkyrie uses its three-fingered hands (update: and one thumb) to manipulate objects, and it's loaded with cameras and sensors so it can eventually operate as autonomously as possible. Plus, (and this is an admittedly small detail) the robot actually looks great. If it was trying to save my life, I wouldn't recoil in terror, probably.
How many math lovers live in New York City? It’s a tough count to make, but the Museum of Mathematics made progress at its first anniversary celebration on Thursday, December 5.
With a mission to illuminate the math that permeates our day-to-day lives, the Museum of Mathematics, or MoMath, wasn’t about to waste its birthday on just another party. But by what founder Glen Whitney calls a “cosmic coincidence,” a date just one week before the museum’s December 12 anniversary held some special mathematic significance.[More]
It’s only a matter of time before another country deploys drones against us. Armed with a laser range finder, the Kratos system will fire directed energy weapons at drone sensors to fry their electronics. Unlike ballistics, the weapon strikes nearly instantly, costs less than a dollar per shot, and doesn’t run the risk of stray bullets. After six years of development, the Navy debuts the system in 2014.Array
SAN FRANCISCO -- Scientists affiliated with the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlighted areas for future scientific focus during a presentation at the American Geophysical Union conference here.[More]
You, statistically, have a gamer in your life. If you do, you, overwhelmingly likely, will have to buy some Christmas presents for him or her this year. Maybe, though, you don't know anything about games.
Solution No. 1: just absolutely lose it and buy the first thing you can find from a garage sale and you think maybe it's some kind of sham hand-held Nintendo product that never left Japan but whatever it's, like, December 22 and you're out of ideas. Or, Solution No. 2: stick to smaller stuff you know they'll like because, chances are, if they wanted it they'd already have it.
Here are some such alternatives. (If you still need more ideas, here's last year's list.)
In truth, ducted fans, not jets, propel Martin Aircraft’s creation, but who cares? It’s the jetpack dream made real. With computer-assisted flight controls, an auto- throttle system, a carbon Kevlar roll cage, and a parachute (it can soar to 8,000 feet at 63 miles per hour), the P12 is the first personal-flight device that a sane human might volunteer to fly. And this year, a test pilot stepped onto the frame, strapped on the harness, and did just that.Array
Where did dogs come from? The question is harder to answer than it seems. The problem with much of the research on domestication is that the focus has been on how dogs and wolves interact with humans. Perhaps that’s understandable, since domestication is in part defined by a species’ incorporation into human culture. But to truly understand the mind of a dog, it’s important to investigate within-species social communication too. Is the dog’s propensity to participate in social interactions with humans borne out of pre-existing within-species social communication skills?[More]
Polo star Adolfo Cambiaso helped his team win the Argentine National Open this weekend, scoring nine goals in the 16-11 match. Two of those he scored atop a horse named Show Me—a clone, and the first to ride onto the Argentine pitch, the Calgary Herald reports.
Breeding top horses has always been big business, and now, with advancements in cloning technology, a handful of firms are offering a more surefire way of reproducing the performance of winning animals. Until recently, horses cloned from polo champions were simply too young to compete. The first cloned polo pony was born in 2010 and ponies don't usually ride in matches until they're five years old. With Cambiaso’s team’s win, however, riders and investors now have evidence that the clones themselves can do as well as their originals in a match, Outside magazine reports.
Cloned animals have showed up in a variety of places in the past few years. In 2009, South Korean scientists produced drug-detecting dogs that are clones of a sniffing star. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration ruled in 2008 that meat from cloned animals is safe to eat. Cloned cattle are usually used to breed new cows the old-fashioned way instead of going directly to slaughter, but officials in the U.K. found evidence in 2010 of two cloned cattle ending up in the food chain there. Meanwhile, cloned racehorses aren't popular because the U.S. Jockey Club, with which horses must register to race in North America, bans cloning.
The success of cloned polo ponies isn't guaranteed. Cloned horses are only genetically 98 percent alike to their originals, plus training and nutrition play essential roles in forming the final athlete, National Geographic reports.
Nevertheless, many are betting big on polo clones. In January, long before this weekend game, The Economist reported cloning firms were booked solid with requests, in spite of costing ten times as much as simply buying sperm from a winning stallion. Cambiaso himself, who is collaborating with the company Crestview Genetics, wants eventually to be able to play an entire game on clones of his favorite mounts, Outside reports.
You can see him talking about it in the video below. Don’t miss the slo-mo pastoral shots of a herd of cloned ponies grazing in a golden field:
Scientific American presents House Call Doctor by Quick & Dirty Tips . Scientific American and Quick & Dirty Tips are both Macmillan companies.[More]
Children with a large vocabulary experience more success at school and in the workplace. How much parents talk to their children plays a major role, but new research shows that it is not just the quantity but also the quality of parental input that matters. Helpful gestures and meaningful glances may allow kids to grasp concepts more easily than they otherwise would.[More]
A starship comes tearing through the solar system, its sensors capturing a brief glimpse of the inner planets. A small blue-green world spins while its tiny dark moon gyrates around it. And then all is gone. Left behind for eternity as this interstellar voyager speeds on to the gaping void that is the rest of our Galaxy…
It’s hard not to think of a fantasy like this when watching the footage below. On October 9th 2013 NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter performed an Earth-flyby, grabbing a little bit of momentum from our planet’s orbit and speeding onwards to its 2016 rendezvous with the gas-giant king. During the Earth encounter Juno’s star tracker – a camera designed to help with spacecraft orientation and navigation – caught these noisy and slightly obscure frames. The result? A time-lapse montage of the Earth and Moon in their ancient waltz, and a hint of a world that a real starship might want to visit one day (watch with the sound up).[More]