Financial Times - From Thailand to Ecuador: A tale of two shrimp farmers < 5min

Driven to despair by a plague that has laid to waste young shrimps across east Asia, Suraphol Pratuangtham, a seafood farmer in southern Thailand, suspended operations at his ponds for more than three months over the summer. … “This year is the worst for our shrimp production in the past 30 years,” laments Mr Pratuangtham, who is also president of the Thai Marine Shrimp Farmers Association and expects Thailand’s 2013 exports to halve from its peak levels. … The disease, known as early mortality syndrome (EMS), has for more than two years savaged Asia’s shrimp industry, including Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and China. But this year’s plunge in supplies from the region, which accounts for 80 per cent of global production, is the worst yet and led to a sharp rise in global shrimp prices to a 12-year high. … Shrimp is the most traded fish in the international market ahead of salmon and tuna

Nature - The growing global battle against blood-sucking ticks < 5min

Diseases spread by ticks are on the rise around the world, spurred by a combination of factors, including shifting climates and population sprawl into rural areas. Reported cases of Lyme, the most common US tick-borne illness, have nearly tripled in the country since 1992, although some of the increase could be due to heightened awareness. Lyme is also a growing problem in parts of Europe, Mongolia and China. Yet as bad as it is, there are nastier threats on the rise. In parts of Africa, the Middle East, Asia and southern Europe, ticks can spread Crimean–Congo haemorrhagic fever, which is fatal in 40% of cases. And a tick-borne relapsing fever afflicts as many as 1 in 20 residents in parts of Senegal. In the United States, ticks spread at least 16 illnesses, including anaplasmosis, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, all “serious, life-threatening infections”, Beard says. And many are increasing in incidence more quickly than Lyme. In a July 2015 position statement, the Entomological Society of America argued for a national strategy to combat tick-borne diseases. “The recent confluence of environmental, ecological, sociological, and human demographic factors,” it said, “has created a near 'perfect storm' leading to more ticks in more places throughout North America.”

The New York Times - The Looming Threat of Avian Flu 5-15min

It has been a year since the bird flu tore through the Midwest: enough time for decimated farms to cash their indemnity checks and begin buying replacement birds; for the wholesale price of eggs, which doubled, to slide back to normal; for national awareness of the outbreak, the worst animal-disease epidemic in United States history, to dissipate. But among the poultry farmers who endured the flu, and others watching elsewhere in the country, there is a pervasive uneasiness, because after a year of scrutiny, federal and academic scientists still cannot say for sure how their properties became infected. Despite their own efforts to harden their defenses, and new federal plans to help them, it is possible that poultry farmers are not equipped for the flu to return among the United States’ billions of chickens; and that ranchers and pork producers might be equally unprepared if an unfamiliar disease detonated among the country’s 92 million beef and dairy cattle or 68 million pigs. Planning for epidemics, animal or human, is to a large extent based on what a disease did the last time. It is much more difficult to predict what a disease will do next. ... Naturally occurring epidemics might be as dangerous as maliciously introduced ones; and diseases in plants and animals could undermine national security as seriously as human epidemics would. ... A study done in July estimated that the flu cost the United States $2.6 billion in lost sales, almost $400 million in forgone taxes and 15,693 jobs. But as devastating as the losses were to Iowa, Minnesota and other states, their 50 million turkeys and hens represented a small portion of the poultry industry. The largest concentrations of chickens in the United States — Georgia, which raises 1.3 billion broilers a year, and the Delmarva Peninsula, where the broiler business began in the 1920s — lie under another migration route that ducks take over the Americas. If the flu were to land in those areas and spread the way it did in the Midwest, much of the United States poultry industry would be in jeopardy: almost nine billion birds, 90 billion eggs, more than $40 billion in earnings, 1.3 million jobs.

Smithsonian - Kill All the Mosquitoes?! 5-15min

A. gambiae has been called the world’s most dangerous animal, although strictly speaking that applies only to the female of the species, which does the bloodsucking and harms only indirectly. Its bite is a minor nuisance, unless it happens to convey the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, for which it is a primary human vector. Although a huge international effort has cut malaria mortality by about half since 2000, the World Health Organization still estimates there were more than 400,000 fatal cases in 2015, primarily in Africa. Children are particularly susceptible. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation prioritized malaria in its more than $500 million commitment to fight infectious disease in developing countries. ... Humans have been at war with members of the family Culicidae for over a century, since the pioneering epidemiologist Sir Ronald Ross proved the role of Anopheles in malaria and U.S. Army Maj. Walter Reed made a similar discovery about Aedes aegypti and yellow fever. The war has been waged with shovels and insecticides, with mosquito repellent, mosquito traps and mosquito-larvae-eating fish, with bed nets and window screens and rolled-up newspapers. But all of these approaches are self-limiting. Puddles fill up again with rain; insects evolve resistance to pesticides; predators can eat only so much. ... If Crisanti’s approach works, you could, in theory, wipe out an entire species of mosquito. You could wipe out every species of mosquito, although you’d need to do them one at a time, and there are around 3,500 of them, of which only about 100 spread human disease. You might want to stop at fewer than a dozen species in three genera—Anopheles (translation: “useless,” the malaria mosquito), Aedes (translation: “unpleasant,” the principal vector for yellow fever, dengue and Zika) and Culex (translation: “gnat,” responsible for spreading West Nile, St. Louis encephalitis and other viruses).

Reuters - The Uncounted: ‘Superbug’ scourge spreads as U.S. fails to track rising human toll 21min

Fifteen years after the U.S. declared drug-resistant infections to be a grave threat, the crisis is only worsening, a Reuters investigation finds, as government agencies remain unwilling or unable to impose reporting requirements on a healthcare industry that often hides the problem. ... Even when recorded, tens of thousands of deaths from drug-resistant infections – as well as many more infections that sicken but don’t kill people – go uncounted because federal and state agencies are doing a poor job of tracking them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the go-to national public health monitor, and state health departments lack the political, legal and financial wherewithal to impose rigorous surveillance. ... As America learned in the battle against HIV/AIDS, beating back a dangerous infectious disease requires an accurate count that shows where and when infections and deaths are occurring and who is most at risk. Doing so allows public health agencies to quickly allocate money and manpower where they are needed. But the United States hasn’t taken the basic steps needed to track drug-resistant infections.

Bloomberg - Florida’s Feud Over Zika-Fighting GMO Mosquitoes 14min

Oxitec is trying to leverage this mating instinct to help wipe out one particular species of mosquito: Aedes aegypti, carrier and spreader of some of the worst insect-borne diseases known to medicine—dengue, malaria, and Zika. The A. aegypti mosquito has evolved to survive even the most effective pesticides. It can lay 500 eggs in just a bottle cap’s worth of water, and it prefers to bite humans over animals, so it lives in places where no one thinks to spray, like under the couch. ... The idea behind Oxitec’s experiment is that if enough genetically modified male A. aegypti mosquitoes are released into the wild, they’ll track down large numbers of females in those hard-to-find places and mate with them. The eggs that result from any union with an Oxitec mosquito will carry a fatal genetic trait engineered into the father—a “kill switch,” geneticists call it. The next generation of A. aegypti mosquitoes will never survive past the larval stage, never fly, never bite, and never spread disease. No mosquitoes, no Zika. ... Oxitec is far from the first company or research team that’s tried to sterilize an entire insect population. Scientists have been going after A. aegypti in this way since the 1970s, usually by irradiating them. The problem with radiation is that it makes the mosquitoes too weak to get out and breed. The great innovation of the Oxitec method is that it cleverly achieves the same result as sterilization, while leaving mosquitoes able to do what mosquitoes do. ... Oxitec charges about $7.50 per person per year in each area it treats.

Bloomberg - Will a Test for Brain Trauma Protect NFL Players—or End the NFL? 13min

Hrusovksy’s pitch to me is roughly the same as the one he just gave Jeff Miller, the NFL’s senior vice president for health and safety—skittering from drones, to driverless cars, to Tesla, to heart attacks and diabetes. “I’m still addicted to pastries at night,” Hrusovsky says before circling back to his thesis: Quanterix’s machines are on the brink of delivering a revolution in medicine, as scientists use them to detect diseases earlier, target them more precisely, and create breakthrough treatments for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s, to name a few. ... Discovering, for instance, that half its linemen show signs of CTE could starve the league of talent or force changes that make it unrecognizable to fans. And football isn’t alone: CTE presents similarly dire questions for hockey, soccer, and ultimate fighting, among other contact sports. ... The method is a thousand times more sensitive than the Elisa, capable of detecting molecules in concentrations as low as 30,000 per drop—the equivalent, Hrusovsky says, of finding a grain of sand in 2,000 swimming pools.

MIT Technology Review - Google’s Long, Strange Life Span Trip 9min

The company’s mission: to build a Bell Labs of aging research. It hoped to extend the human life span by coming up with a breakthrough as important, and as useful to humanity, as the transistor has been. ... Google’s founders created an academic-biotech hybrid they call an R&D company to follow up on such clues, providing nearly unlimited funding to a group of top researchers. ... despite the hype around its launch—Time magazine asked, “Can Google Solve Death?”—Calico has remained a riddle, a super-secretive company that three years in hasn’t published anything of note, rebuffs journalists, and asks visiting scientists to sign nondisclosure agreements. ... Right now, there’s no proven test for a person’s “biological” age; finding one would be scientifically useful and possibly lucrative. ... For all these diseases, aging is the single biggest risk factor. An 80-year-old is 40 times as likely to die from cancer as someone middle-aged. The risk for Alzheimer’s rises by 600 times. But what if it were possible to postpone all these deaths by treating aging itself? … The experiment will generate millions of readings—for levels of growth hormones and glucose, among other things. Churchill wouldn’t say how much Calico is paying, but simply feeding that many mice could cost $3 million.

Aeon - The bloodstained leveler 12min

The principal sources of inequality have changed over time. Whereas feudal lords exploited downtrodden peasants by force and fiat, the entrepreneurs of early modern Europe relied on capital investment and market exchange to reap profits from commerce and finance. Yet overall outcomes remained the same: from Pharaonic Egypt to the Industrial Revolution, both state power and economic development generally served to widen the gap between rich and poor: both archaic forms of predation and coercion and modern market economies yielded unequal gains. ... Does this mean that history has always moved in the same direction, that inequality has been going up continuously since the dawn of civilisation? A cursory look around us makes it clear that this cannot possibly be true, otherwise there would be no broad middle class or thriving consumer culture, and everything worth having might now be owned by a handful of trillionaires. ... From time to time, it turns out, history has pushed a reset button, driving down inequality in marked, if only temporary fashion. ... every time the gap between rich and poor shrank substantially, it did so because of traumatic, often extremely violent shocks to the established order.

The New Yorker - How Driscoll's Reinvented The Strawberry 19min

In some Asian markets, white fruit is coveted, and Driscoll’s has conducted commercial trials in Hong Kong. But although the company has been breeding whites for fifteen years, it has yet to introduce any to U.S. grocery stores; Americans, accustomed to an aggressive cold chain, typically fear underripe fruit. “I brought these to a wedding, and all the parents were telling their kids not to eat the white ones,” a Joy Maker remarked. Lately, however, Driscoll’s focus groups have shown that millennials, adventurous and open-minded in their eating habits, and easily seduced by novelty, may embrace pale berries. With these consumers, unburdened by preconceived notions of what a white berry should look or taste like, Driscoll’s has a priceless opportunity: the definitional power that comes with first contact. Before that can happen, though, the berries must conform to Driscoll’s aesthetic standards. Stewart held a 21AA176 up to his face and inspected it carefully. ... Driscoll’s, a fourth-generation family business, says that it controls roughly a third of the six-billion-dollar U.S. berry market, including sixty per cent of organic strawberries, forty-six per cent of blackberries, fourteen per cent of blueberries, and just about every raspberry you don’t pick yourself. ... Produce is war, and it is won by having something beautiful-looking to sell at Costco when the competition has only cat-faced uglies. In the eighties, beset by takeover ambitions from Chiquita, Del Monte, and Dole, Driscoll’s embarked on a new vision: all four berries, all year round. ... For the shopper, the only impression that matters is the Driscoll’s name, and the red berries, as uniform as soldiers or paper valentines.