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Science Policy Around the Web – April 11, 2017

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By: Liz Spehalski, PhD

Source: pixabay

Antibiotic Resistance

KFC to Stop Using Antibiotics in Chicken

Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) has announced that by 2018, all of its “finger-lickin’ good” chicken will be raised without antibiotics, a decision that is being applauded by health experts. KFC, which has the second largest sales of a U.S. chicken chain after Chick-fil-A is giving its poultry suppliers the deadline to stop using antibiotics in their protein. It will join other large chicken serving fast food chains in fighting the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria, following in the footsteps of McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A, and Subway. Corporate factory farms in the U.S. often treat their livestock and poultry with antibiotics to prevent disease and promote growth. Currently, livestock ventures utilize about 70% of the nation’s supply of the antibiotics that are given to patients when infections strike.

Antibiotics and other antimicrobial agents have been used successfully since the 1940s to treat people with infectious diseases, greatly reducing illness and death caused by microorganisms. However, the incidence of antibiotic- resistant bacteria is rising swiftly. According to the CDC, 2 million people become infected with antibiotic resistant bacteria each year, and at least 23,000 die because of these infections. Although resistance is caused simply by the wide usage of antibiotics across the globe, the fact remains that antibiotics are often incorrectly or over-prescribed.

This is a victory for consumer health groups who lobbied KFC to change its policies. “This announcement is a win for anybody who might someday depend on antibiotics to get well or even save their lives — i.e. everybody,” said Matthew Wellington, Program Director for one group’s antibiotics program. “It’s also a welcome step by KFC. The company’s newfound commitment on antibiotics should have lasting effects on the way these life-saving medicines are used in the chicken industry.” These advocates are currently lobbying state legislatures to pass laws that ban the routine use of antibiotics in livestock. (Lisa Baertlein, Business Insider)

Evolutionary Biology

Discovery of Giant Virus Fuels Debate over Fourth Domain of Life

Since their identification in the late 1800s as filterable infectious agents, viruses have long been characterized by their incredibly small size and their reliance on host cells for translation. These features have disqualified viruses as being classified as living organisms. However, with the discovery of the giant Mimivirus in 2003, evolutionary biologists are divided. Mimiviruses are larger than many microorganisms and can contain more than 2500 genes, including genes that implied their ancestors could live outside of a host cell. This discovery prompted some scientists to propose that viruses are descendants of a fourth domain of life alongside bacteria, eukaryotes, and archaea, while other researchers see no need for the fourth domain, asserting that viruses simply steal their genome from hosts.

A study published in Science on April 6 fuels this debate with the discovery of a virus in an Austrian sewage treatment plant that contains a genome with the most cell-like phenotype yet discovered. Klosneuvirus genomes contain genes for 20 amino acids as well as enzymes and other machinery used for protein synthesis. Analysis of these genomes suggests that the translation machinery seemed to have been picked up by one virus from a eukaryotic host cell, supporting the theory that viruses stole their genetic material and are thus not qualified as “life.” However, scientists have not been able to identify the host from which the stolen genes were taken, leaving the debate open since much of the Klosneuviruses’ translation genes do not match that of any other known organism. Further evolutionary work will need to be done to determine if viruses are indeed a fourth domain of life. (Sara Reardon, Nature News)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

April 11, 2017 at 9:24 am

Science Policy Around the Web – February 6, 2015

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By: Courtney Pinard, Ph.D

photo credit: via photopin (license)


U.S. lawmakers want more humane treatment of laboratory animals after an exposé published in The New York Times last month reported numerous cases of maltreatment, suffering, and death of cows, pigs, and other livestock at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, a federally-funded research center in Nebraska. The Times interviewed two dozen current and former center employees, and reviewed thousands of pages of internal records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Scientists at this research center are trying to re-engineer the farm animal to produce more offspring, yield more meat and cost less to raise. As a result of these experiments, 10 million piglets are crushed by their mothers each year, lambs are dying at staggering rates due to sickness, neglect or predation, and cows produced from twinning experiments are born deformed. A key question is: How could the U.S. Agriculture Department fund projects, which cause such massive death and suffering of farm animals? The answer lies in the lack of oversight and incentive for the industry to make a profit. According to the Times examination of 850 of the center’s experimental protocols, most approvals were made by six or fewer staff members of the center and frequently included the lead researchers for the experiment. In addition to a lack of unbiased review committee members, the Agriculture Department does not review experiments proposed by the center. The AWARE Act would expand the Animal Welfare Act to include farm animals and would require closer monitoring and more inspections. (David Grimm, Science Insider; Michael Moss, The New York Times)


Climate Change

This weekend, NASA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) will finally launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Launching more than a decade later than originally planned, the goal of DSCOVR is to provide more accurate data about solar storms and to monitor the planet’s radiation balance. Solar storms strongly influence the local space weather in the Earth’s vicinity and present radiation hazards to spacecraft and astronauts. For scientists interested in Earth’s climate change, however, the more important aspect of the satellite is the National Institute of Standards Advanced Radiometer, which will measure radiation balance – the radiation we receive from our sun minus the radiation we reflect back into space. According to NASA, the earth’s radiative equilibrium changes with natural forces such as volcano eruptions and manmade forces such as air pollution and greenhouse gases. In an article published last year about the launch, NASA’s chief Earth scientist, Ghassem Asrar was confident that the science data from this satellite will be a major breakthrough for Earth science. (Craig Mellow, Air & Space Magazine; David Shultz, Science Insider; Joe Palca, NPR)


NIH – Study Bias

A new lung research survey concludes that fewer than 5% of lung disease studies funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) over the past 2 decades have included participants from racial or ethnic minorities. The study published last month in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, led by physician-scientist Esteban Burchard of the University of California, San Francisco, examined 58,160 respiratory disease studies and found that 4.4% reported that minorities made up 25% or more of the study population. University of Illinois, Chicago, pulmonologist Patricia Finn is concerned about the findings: “The findings are disturbing given that lung diseases disproportionately impact underrepresented minorities”. Concerns from experts about minority representation in clinical research are not new. In 1993, Congress ordered the NIH to recruit more minorities into federally-funded studies. The NIH officials say that the new survey may not fully capture the many efforts made in this regard because not all studies have published results. This conversation about study design begs the question: Why is it so important to look at racial or ethnic groups in clinical studies? One reason is that genetic factors can be linked to condition severity. For example, African American children are 4 times as likely to die of asthma than non-Hispanic white children possibly, in part, because of ancestry. One genetic mutation linked to asthma severity was about 40% more common in African-Americans. A second reason for clinician-scientists to be aware of the importance of health disparities is that the effectiveness of treatments may vary by race or ethnicity. The asthma medication albuterol, for example, is less likely to work in Puerto Ricans and African Americans. Hopefully, it will not take another 20 years before there are major efforts to increase implementation of inclusive studies. (Lindsay Konkel, Science Insider)


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Written by sciencepolicyforall

February 6, 2015 at 9:13 pm