April 29, 2013 12:20 pm
In 2010 alone, malaria infected 219 million people, largely in tropical regions in Africa, South and Central America, Asia and the Philippines. That year, the disease, caused by a parasite carried by mosquitos, killed 660,000 people. Objectively, that’s a high number of deaths, but compared to the number of infections, it’s relatively low. Right now, powerful anti-malarial medication protects those millions of infected people. But, says the BBC, a new strain of the parasite has been found in Cambodia that resists the leading class of anti-malarial drugs.
The new strain, first identified in 2008, is resistant to artemisinin, a “frontline drug in the fight against malaria,” the BBC writes. Since it was first discovered, the resistant version of malaria has spread around Southeast Asia. Health organizations are working hard to contain the spread of the drug-resistant variety: if the drugs are rendered ineffective, the consequences could be dire for millions of people.
This isn’t the first anti-malarial to be rendered useless, either. “The history of antimalarial medicine,” says the Mayo Clinic, “has been marked by a constant struggle between evolving drug-resistant parasites and the search for new drug formulations.”
Modern political history is already intertwined with the history of anti-malarial medications, and if drug-resistant strains of malaria continue to spread, they could prompt far-reaching changes. The advent of the first anti-malarial, says Glencoe World History, enabled European imperialism into tropical regions worldwide.
“Before 1850, the fear of disease was a major factor in keeping Europeans from moving into Africa. Especially frightening was malaria, an often fatal disease spread by parasites. …By 1850, European doctors had learned how to treat malaria with quinine, a drug that greatly reduced the death rate from the disease. Quinine is a bitter drug obtained from the bark of the cinchona tree, which is native to the slopes of the Andes in South America.”
Cinchona trees were transplanted from South America to India, and a steady supply of the drug enabled Europeans to move across Africa.
“By the beginning of the twentieth century, more than 90 percent of African lands were under the control of the European powers. A drug found in the bark of Latin American trees, which were then grown in Asia, had been used by Europeans to make possible their conquest of Africa.”
Since then, multiple generations of anti-malarial medication have come and gone (and researchers are still announcing promising new leads). But any time a drug-resistant strain like the one in Cambodia develops, it’s worth keeping an eye on.
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April 26, 2013 9:15 am
California authorities are trying to crack down on smugglers shipping fish bladders across the border. That’s right, fish bladders are a thing that people smuggle.
In fact, they’re worth a ton of money. One bladder from the Totoaba macdonaldi fish can garner $5,000 in the United States and over $10,000 in Asia. The bladders are mainly used in Chinese food, like soups. Often the fish are simply stripped of their bladders and left on the beach, meat and all, since the traders don’t care about the meat, and being caught with it would be a liability.
Now, we’re not talking about the same kind of bladder that a human has. The prized organ on the totoaba isn’t full of urine. It’s the fish’s swim bladder, an organ that fills with gas to change the buoyancy of the fish, allowing it to ascend and descend in the water.
From the outside, the Totoaba macdonaldi isn’t a particularly striking fish. They’re big, weighing up to 220 pounds and getting up to 6.5 feet long. The species is endangered throughout its range, which spans the California coast, says NOAA, mostly because of fishing for this prized bladder. And the Chinese species of the same fish was eaten to extinction, which is why suppliers are turning to the U.S. population.
Scientific American reports that trade in U.S. totoaba bladders is heating up:
In the latest case that led to criminal charges, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer inspecting a car at the Calexico-Mexicali port of entry, about 130 miles east of San Diego, found 27 totoaba bladders hidden under floor mats in the back seat of a car, U.S. prosecutors said in a statement.
Jason Xie, 49, of Sacramento was accused of taking delivery of 169 bladders on March 30 in a hotel parking lot in Calexico, about 120 miles east of San Diego. Xie told investigators he was paid $1,500 to $1,800 for each of 100 bladders in February.
Anthony Sanchez Bueno, 34, of Imperial was charged with the same crime after authorities said he drove the 169 bladders across the downtown Calexico border crossing in three coolers. He told investigators he was to be paid $700.
Song Zhen, 73, was accused of storing 214 dried totoaba bladders in his Calexico home.
“These were rooms that didn’t have furnishings,” U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said. “In every room, fish bladders were dried out over cardboard and papers.”
The bladders found in Zhen’s house could be worth over $3.6 million on the black market.
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April 25, 2013 2:42 pm
When Dutch explorers first arrived in Australia in 1606, they found they’d been beaten to it. But where did these indigenous Australians come from themselves? LiveScience:
Even the indigenous, or aboriginal, population in 1788 is a bit of a mystery, with estimates of the population ranging from 250,000 to 1.2 million. Further back, the story of Australia’s human population is shrouded, though gene studies suggest a relatively large founder population would have been necessary to result in the genetic diversity seen today.
Now, new research indicates that between 1,000 to 3,000 people originally made the trek some 50,000 years ago. And rather some chance encounter with the continent down under, researchers think that the original migrants set out to deliberately colonize Australia.
To arrive at the new discovery, researchers used nearly 5,000 radiocarbon isotopes from 1,750 ancient cooking, burial and settlement sites around the contient to reconstruct the past migration events. ScienceNOW explains what they found:
Relying on the radiocarbon-date database, Williams worked out the rates at which the population changed over time. Then he back-calculated from the aboriginal population at the time of the first European settlement in 1788. He found that for the aboriginal population to reach the estimated 770,000 to 1.2 million at the time of settlement (it’s roughly 460,000 today), the founding population that arrived in Australia roughly 45,000 years ago must have been between 1000 and 3000 people.
In other words, the researcher told ScienceNOW, Australia’s original migrants weren’t just a family or two who got shipwrecked on the continent.
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April 23, 2013 1:15 pm
In South Africa, lion bones are selling for around $165 per kilo (2.2 pounds). That’s about $5,000 for a full skeleton. The skull is worth another $1,100, according to the Guardian.
Over the past several months, officials in South Africa have noticed a steady increase in the number of permits they’re issuing for export of lion bones from certified trophy dealers. Such establishments breed lions for the express purpose of allowing wealthy tourists to engage in a controlled lion hunt. After killing the animal, if the patron does not want its body or bones, the breeders can then turn a large profit by stripping the lion down and selling its parts to Chinese and Southeast Asian dealers. The Guardian explains:
In 2012 more than 600 lions were killed by trophy hunters. The most recent official figures date from 2009, certifying export of 92 carcasses to Laos and Vietnam. At about that time breeders started digging up the lion bones they had buried here and there, for lack of an outlet.
In China, Vietnam and some other Southeast Asian nations, lion bones serve as a stand-in for tiger bones. Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine believe the bones help with allergies, cramps, ulcers, stomach aches, malaria and a host of other ailments. As with many other purported traditional Chinese medicine “cures,” tiger bones ground into a powder and mixed with wind is also said to boost a man’s sexual prowess.
Despite the lack of scientific proof this potion is very popular, so with tiger bones increasingly scarce, vendors are replacing them with the remains of lions. Traders soon realised that South Africa could be a promising source. It is home to 4,000 to 5,000 captive lions, with a further 2,000 roaming freely in protected reserves such as the Kruger national park. Furthermore such trade is perfectly legal.
But just because trade in legally-sourced lion bones is given the green light from the South African government does not mean illicit activities are not underway. One investigator told the Guardian that he estimates that the legal market only contributes half of the lion bones currently leaving the country. That means poaching is responsible for the rest.
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April 23, 2013 10:30 am
When she was three, Shakuntala Devi’s father noticed that she could memorize the numbers on cards and figure out card tricks. A trapeze artist, Devi’s father brought his daughter to the crowds to wow them with her amazing brain. By age six, Devi was calculating huge numbers in her head to impress visitors. But by the time she reached adulthood, Devi’s mental math would wow not just circus-goers, but computers and mathematicians all over the world.
In 1977, Devi faced off against a computer in a speed calculation race. She won twice. First, by calculating the cube root of 188,132,517. (It’s 573.) The second time, she beat the computer even more impressively. It took Devi 50 seconds to think of the 23rd root of a 201 digit number (91674867692003915809866092758538016248310668014430862240712651642793465704086709659 3279205767480806790022783016354924852380335745316935111903596577547340075681688305 620821016129132845564805780158806771, if you want to work it out for yourself in your head). The computer—a UNIVAC 1108—took a full thirty seconds longer. In 1980, she multiplied 7,686,369,774,870 by 2,465,099,745,779 in 28 seconds.
All this complex math earned Devi the nickname “human computer.” She left behind several books, including Figuring the Joy of Numbers, that teach her methods, but her techniques for simplifying math were never really picked up by mainstream schools. Her phenomenal calculation skills could also help her tell the day for any date in the last century, and Devi was, in her personal life, quite interested in dates. She doled out astrology predictions and wrote a book called Astrology for You. When asked where she got her human computer-like gifts, Devi answered “God’s gift. A divine quality.”
Devi passed away from respiratory problems at a hospital in Bangalore. She was 83.
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