Ebola “Family” Over 16 Million Years Old

Ebola "Family" Over 16 Million Years Old
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The Ebola Virus and the related Marburgvirus have been diverging for over 16 million years, according to a recent study by the University of Buffalo. Although filoviruses were once thought to date back only 10,000 years, new research using more reliable dating methods has shown that the origins of the virus go much deeper than the beginnings of large-scale human agriculture.

“An understanding of the timescale of evolution is critical for comparative virology but remains elusive for many RNA viruses,” wrote the authors of the report.

Experts had at one time believed that filoviruses came about around 10,000 years ago, and coincided with the rise in human agriculture.

According to the research of Professor Derek Taylor and others at the University of Buffalo, the viruses date back to the Miocene Epoch–16 to 23 million years ago.

Read more: Ebola Genome Sequencing Being Undertaken by Harvard Team to Discover Weaknesses in Virus Genome, Which Has Already Mutated Hundreds of Times 

“Filoviruses are far more ancient than previously thought,” said Taylor. “These things have been interacting with mammals for a long time–several million years.”

The science of measuring the age of diseases is still developing. Previous dating relied on mutation rates.

“Age estimates based on mutation rates can severely underestimate divergences for ancient viral genes that are evolving under strong purifying selection,” the researchers wrote in their report.

“Paleoviral dating, however, can provide minimum age estimates for ancient divergence, but few orthologous paleoviruses are known within clades of extant viruses.”

“For example, ebolaviruses and marburgviruses are well-studied mammalian pathogens, but their comparative biology is difficult to interpret because the existing estimates of divergence are controversial.”

The researchers looked at the paloviral elements of two genes in the ebolavirus family, and found that ebolavirus diverged from marburgvirus in the early Miocene.

The scientists searched within the viral genes in rodents preserved through fossilization.

“These rodents have billions of base pairs in their genomes, so the odds of a viral gene inserting itself at the same position in different species at different times are very small,” Taylor said. “It’s likely that the insertion was present in the common ancestor of these rodents.”

The knowledge may help scientists create better vaccines for Ebola victims. It could also help create programs that better identify emerging pathogens by providing insight into which host species serve the virus as “reseviors” for related pathogens.

“When they first started looking for reservoirs for Ebola, they were crashing through the rainforest, looking at everything–mammals, insects, other organisms,” said Taylor. The more we know about the evolution of filovirus-host interactions, the more we can learn about who the players might be in the system.”

By Andrew Stern

Photo: NIAID

China: Renewable Energy Goal Missed for First Time

China: Renewable Energy Goal Missed for First Time
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China has cut forecasts for offshore wind power installations by 60 percent–the nation had projected 5,000 megawatts of capacity by 2015 and 30,000 megawatts by 2020, but has reassessed its ambitions. China now aims to install approximately 2,000 megawatts of capacity by 2015 and 10,000 by 2020.

“The pace and scale of offshore wind are full of changes,” said Li Ping, an official from the National Energy Administration (NEA), the organization responsible for the figures.

China is being “more cautious” in its plans to install offshore wind because the enterprise is “more risky and costly,” according to honorary chairman of the Chinese Wind Energy Association, Shi Pengfei.

The 30,000 megawatts projected for 2020 would have been enough to supply 32 million homes. The current goal is less than one-third of that.

The policy adjustment will be the first time China has missed a renewable energy goal. The change will also set back the $15 billion wind power industry

The estimates are preliminary, according to Li, who spoke at a conference in Beijing Thursday.

China Renewable Energy Goal Missed for First TimeCurrently, China has over 439 megawatts of offshore wind power. The nation may install a further 500 megawatts next year and 1,000 in 2016, according to sources.

China recently expanded its wind energy so rapidly that the power infrastructure was unable to match production–approximately 12 percent of onshore wind turbines were not connected to the grid last year, and another 11 percent were idle because transmission lines were insufficient to the available load. China is slowing things down somewhat, as is reflected in the NEA preliminary estimates.

By Andy Stern

Photo: Dylan Passmore

Russia Building Europe’s Largest Prison – Kresty-2

Russia Building Europe's Largest Prison
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Russia will open Europe’s largest prison in 2016. The detention center, known as Kresty-2, will replace one of Russia’s most notorious jails–the 120-year-old Kresty prison, in which Soviet-era dissidents such as Leon Trotsky were held. The first five facilities of the new facility were commissioned Friday.

“It will be the most modern prison in Russia and the biggest in Europe,” said Gennady Kornienko, head of Russia’s prison service.

The facility will be located in a suburb of St Petersberg, Russia’s secont largest city, and will cost 12 billion rubles to build.

Russia Building Europe's Largest PrisonKornienko said that the prison would hold 4,000 inmates. The prison will also have over 150 visiting rooms, four large courtrooms, and elevators–a first in Russia.

Kresty-2 inmates will have 7 square meters of living space, which meets European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) standards.

Currently, the largest prison in Europe is France’s Fleury-Merogis, which houses 3,800 inmates.

By Andy Stern

WHO Update on Ebola: “The situation is worse than it was 12 days ago–It’s entrenched”

WHO Update on Ebola The situation is worse than it was 12 days ago--It's entrenched
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WHO officials provided an update Friday on the progress of the Ebola epidemic gripping West Africa and outpacing all efforts to control it. The WHO warned that without immediate, concerted action Ebola could become a global pandemic on the scale of HIV, and added that the current response was only half of what it needed to be.

“The situation is worse than it was 12 days ago. It’s entrenched in the capitals. Seventy percent of the [infected] people are definitely dying from this disease and it is accelerating in almost all settings,” said Bruce Aylward, assistant director general of the World Health Organization.

Aylward offered three numbers: 70, 70 and 60. To control Ebola, 70 percent of Ebola-victim burials must be conducted safely, 70 percent of those infected must be in treatment, and within 60 days.

“The virus is moving on virus time; we’re moving on bureaucracy or program time,” commented Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “The virus is actually picking up the pace. Even as we add resources, we get farther behind.”

Ebola cases are doubling every three weeks in West Africa, and global health officials are watching closely the “reproduction number” of the virus. This number estimates the number of people, on average, who will contract the virus from each person already stricken. The current number is estimated to be 1.5 to two. In order for the epidemic to decline, the number must be below one.

“The speed at which things are moving on the ground, it’s hard for people to get their minds around. People don’t understand the concept of exponential growth,” said Frieden. “Exponential growth in the context of three weeks means, ‘If I know that X needs to be done, and I work my butt off and get it done in three weeks, it’s now half as good as it needs to be.'”

“Maybe we can bring [the reproduction number] from two to 1.2 or 1.3, which would indicate that the number of new cases will be dramatically reduced, and that will give you time,” commented Gerardo Chowell, a mathematical epidemiologist at Arizona State University, who worked on the current reproduction number estimate. “Even modest gains in lowering the number could give health officials and the military a better chance of controlling the epidemic,” considered Chowell.

To date, over 4,000 people have died in West Africa out of 8,000 reported cases. The current assumption regarding the numbers is that they are significantly underreported, and that for every four known cases, six more go unreported.

By Andrew Stern

World Has In Fact Not Begun Deleveraging Crisis-Linked Borrowing, ICMBS Warns

World Has In Fact Not Begun Deleveraging Crisis-Linked Borrowing, ICMBS Warns World Has In Fact Not Begun Deleveraging Crisis-Linked Borrowing, ICMBS Warns World Has In Fact Not Begun Deleveraging Crisis-Linked Borrowing, ICMBS Warns World Has In Fact Not Begun Deleveraging Crisis-Linked Borrowing, ICMBS Warns World Has In Fact Not Begun Deleveraging Crisis-Linked Borrowing, ICMBS Warns World Has In Fact Not Begun Deleveraging Crisis-Linked Borrowing, ICMBS Warns World Has In Fact Not Begun Deleveraging Crisis-Linked Borrowing, ICMBS Warns
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The world has not yet begun to deleverage its crisis-linked borrowing, a recent report by the International Centre for Monetary and Banking Studies (ICMBS) found. Despite currently prevailing popular opinion that the global economy is deleveraging, the world is in fact not reducing the burden of its debts, according to the organization’s research; in fact, public sector debt in rich countries and private debt in emerging markets–notably China–have not stopped rising, and this may cause a new economic crisis.

“Contrary to widely held beliefs, the world has not yet begun to delever and the global debt to GDP ratio is still growing, breaking new highs,” said the report.

The document, the 16th annual Geneva Report, titled “Deleveraging? What deleveraging?,” was commissioned by the ICMBS and written by a panel of senior economists, and was published on the Centre for Economic Policy Research website.

The total burden of world debt–private and public–has reached 215 percent of national income. For perspective, the whole world would need to consume nothing while continuing current levels of production for two years in order to pay back the world debt.

That burden was only 160 percent of national income in 2001, and under 200 percent in 2009.

World Has In Fact Not Begun Deleveraging Crisis-Linked Borrowing, ICMBS Warns

The report notes that debt growth was primarily in the private sector of the developed world before the financial crisis. After the crisis, Western governments accepted a lot of debt, which reduced the burden on the private sector.

Meanwhile, developing countries like China increased debt when they saw that Western economies would not be able to sustain the rapid growth, the report found.

The report characterized the combination of record debt and slowing growth as a “poisonous combination” that pointed toward further economic crisis.

The report stressed economies with high debts and persistently slow growth–such as the eurozone periphery in southern Europe and China–as economies that were most concerning.

An author of the report, Luigi Buttiglione, compared China to past miracle economies. “Over my career I have seen many so-called miracle economies – Italy in the 1960s, Japan, the Asian tigers, Ireland, Spain and now perhaps China–and they all ended after a build-up of debt.”

The report suggested a possible model that may explain the current existence of debt bubbles: innovation tends to increase productivity–therefore growth. Market participants become more optimistic and credit is easier to obtain, leading to more loans. Loans are often tied to a project and show up as more growth, which further nurtures optimism and increases loans, even if the underlying productivity gains have run their course.

The authors of the report concluded that in order to avoid another crash, interest rates across the world will have to stay low for a “very, very long” time to enable households, companies and governments to alleviate their debts.

The report was published a week before the International Monetary Fund’s annual meeting in Washington and concerns that the US Federal Reserve will raise interest rates within the year.

By Andrew Stern

IBM Develops New Brainlike Chip, 180,000x More Efficient Than Modern CPUs

IBM Develops New Brainlike Chip 2
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The new chip developed by IBM has 4096 cores, 1 million programmable neurons, and 5.4 billion transistors, heralding what some are calling a new era in computing.

The chip, called TrueNorth, is the most advanced neuromorphic (brain-like) chip created, and is incredibly efficient.

The chip consumes only 72 milliwatts at maximum load–equivalent to 400 billion synaptic operations per second per watt. The chip is therefore around 180,000 times more efficient than a modern CPU, and almost 800 times more efficient than other cutting-edge neuromorphic approaches.

IBM Develops New Brainlike Chip 2

Spokespeople for IBM commented on the TrueNorth chip, “One of the key problems with developing a new chip based on a novel architecture is that you also have to create developer tools and software that actually make efficient use of those thousands of cores and billions of synapses. Fortunately, IBM’s already got that covered: Last year it released a specialized programming language (Corelet) and simulator (Compass) that let you program and test your neuromorphic programs before running them on actual hardware.”

“Ultimately, the main purpose of the SyNAPSE project is to take existing systems that simulate the functionality of the brain in software — such as deep neural networks — and run them on hardware that was specifically designed for the task. As you may already know, dedicated hardware tends to orders of magnitude more efficient than simulating/emulating the hardware in software on a general-purpose CPU. This is why IBM is touting some utterly incredible efficiency figures for TrueNorth. For neural networks with high spike rates and a large number of active synapses, TrueNorth can deliver 400 billion synaptic operations per second (SOPS) per watt. When running the exact same neural network, a general-purpose CPU is 176,000 times less energy efficient, while a state-of-the-art multiprocessor neuromorphic system (48 chips, each with 18 cores) is 769 times less efficient. While it’s not directly comparable, the world’s most efficient supercomputer only manages around 4.5 billion FLOPS per watt.

IBM Develops New Brainlike Chip 2

“I don’t think IBM is actually getting back into the consumer electronics market (though that would be amusing). Rather, this is just a concept of the kind of thing the TrueNorth chip might one day enable.”

A technical reserach paper was published in Science today, titled “A million spiking-neuron integrated circuit with a scalable communication network and interface.”

By Andy Stern

Ferguson Shooting Police Tapes Released by Hacktivists Anonymous [recording]

ferguson shooting
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Hours after hacktivist group Anonymous threatened to release the name of the officer involved in the Ferguson, Missouri police shooting, the group released the St. Louis Police dispatch recordings from the shooting.

The group claimed to have the name of the shooter already, but had not been yet able to verify the identity. Anonymous said that they needed a witness or a second leaked source to confirm before releasing the name.

Eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was shot dead Saturdat by a police officer while Brown was walking from a convenience store with a friend. Brown’s friend reported that the officer ordered the two youths to the sidewalk and threatened Brown before shooting. Police have said that Brown tried to hit the officer and take the officer’s gun.

Although St Louis police initially said they would release the name of the officer involved, they later said that they would not release the name due to online threats made against the officer and the department.

Anonymous posted a demand Sunday on Youtube, calling for legislation to “set strict national standards for police conduct and misbehavior,” otherwise Anonymous would release emails and personal information of the department and “take every web-based asset of your department and government offline.”

Representatives of Anonymous released the home address and telephone information of St Louis Police Chief Jon Belman Tuesday, and a Twitter account linked to Anonymous threatened to release information about the chief’s daughter if the chief did not release the officer’s name.

Anonymous: Audio Tapes (St. Louis Dispatch) – talk of the Mike Brown shooting begins at 11:25

By Andy Stern

Facebook Beats Conservative Lawyer in Lawsuit Over Facebook Page Encouraging Muslims to Kill Jews


The DC Appeals Court sided with Facebook and founder Mark Zuckerberg Friday in a case over several pages on Facebook, such as “Third Palestinian Intifada,” which called for Muslims to rise up and kill Jews. The ruling was based on the protections given to all Americans using the internet under a section of a 1996 law.

Three years ago, Klayman saw the Facebook page “Third Palestinian Intifada,” of which there were 360,000 members, as well as three similar, smaller pages, and complained to Facebook because the pages called for Muslims to rise up and kill Jews. After receiving a letter from Israel’s Minister for Public Diplomacy as well as from Klayman, Facebook removed the pages, but not fast enough, according to Klayman, who filed suit against Facebook and Zuckerberg. Klayman alleged that the delay of “many days” constituted intentional assulat and negligence.

Mark Zuckerberg

The district court which heard the suit found for Facebook and Zuckerberg on the basis of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) (1996), Section 230. Klayman appealed the decision, and Friday the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit upheld the decision of the district court.

“In enacting the Communications Decency Act,” wrote the court in its decision, “Congress found that the Internet and related computer services ‘represent an extraordinary advance in the availability of educational and informational resources,’ and ‘offer a forum for a true diversity of political discourse, unique opportunities for cultural development, and myriad avenues for

intellectual activity.”

The court concluded that Facebook and Zuckerberg–internet providers under Section 230–could not be held responsible for any content on their site(s), no matter how egregious it may seem to another user. “Facebook is not responsible for the actions, content, information, or data of third parties,” the court found.

“Congress accordingly made it the ‘policy of the United States’ to ‘promote the continued development of the Internet,'” the court continued, “and ‘to preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the Internet and other interactive computer services, unfettered by Federal or State regulation[.]’”

The Communications Decency Act (CDA) was passed in 1996. It was in part an effort by the US Congress to regulate internet pornography, but in 1997 the US Supreme Court unanimously struck the “community standards” provision of the CDA in Reno v. ACLU because the provisions violated the First Amendment guarantee to freedom of speech.

Another part of the CDA, however, has been strengthened by court decisions over the years. Section 230 protects operators of internet services–such as Facebook–from being construed as publishers. Section 230 protects social media sites, ISPs and users by making them not liable for words posted on their sites by other people (except  regarding federal criminal liability and intellectual property). The section reads, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” Providers are even protected if they fail to take action after receiving notifications that harmful or offensive content exists on their sites.

Section 230 is considered a main protection of free speech online. Last year, after 47 state attorneys general signed a letter to Congress requesting the civil immunity in Section 230 be removed, the ACLU wrote, “Section 230 is directly responsible for the free, messy, uncensored, and often brilliant culture of online speech. By prohibiting most state civil or criminal liability for something somebody else writes or posts, it created the single most important legal protection that exists for websites, bloggers, and other internet users… If Section 230 is stripped of its protections, it wouldn’t take long for the vibrant culture of free speech to disappear from the web.”

By Andy Stern




Universal Typeless Blood Substitute Being Developed at University of Essex

A team of scientists at Essex University with a goal of providing an artificial blood substitute to hospitals and disaster areas around the world–and overcome the barriers that have stumped 25 years and $3 billion of global scientific and business investment–have made progress with a recent $2.5 million funding boon.Universal Type-less Blood Substitute Being Developed at University of Essex 2

Overcoming several of blood storage’s perpetual problems, the new blood is hoped to be stored at room temperature, last up to two years, and be available to all patients, regardless of blood type. Donated blood operations are also fraught with concerns about decreasing active donors worldwide and the challenges of distribution to locations where there is need, as well as purity and efficacy concerns.

The Heam02 project  is working on creating an artificial hemoglobin-based oxygen carrier (HBOC). Hemoglobin is the key protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen around our bodies. The protein is protected in the body by the red cell, and previous attempts to make HBOCs have failed because the artificial hemoglobins could not survive outside their protective natural environment.

Heam02’s HBOC is detoxified by the body’s own defenses. HaemO2 is engineering recombinant hemoglobin variants with enhanced electron transfer pathways, and the variants will be better able to detoxify the reactive high oxidation state iron and free radicals produced in extracellular haemoglobin under conditions of oxidative stress. 

Universal Type-less Blood Substitute Being Developed at University of Essex 3“It means we could overcome some of the inherent problems with transfusions as there would be no need for blood group typing and a longer shelf life means you are able to stockpile the supplies necessary for major disasters. It also offers the opportunity for routine transfusion support in ambulances or at remote inaccessible locations,” explained Essex’s Professor Chris Cooper, a biochemist and blood substitute expert.

Professor Cooper commented on the $2.5 Medical Research Council-funded Essex project, which was leaving US attempts by the wayside. “This is an exciting time for artificial blood research in Britain. This funding allows our team to take to first step on the road to bridging the gap between top class research and the commercialization of a product.”

By Andy Stern


University of Essex

Physicists Say Light Can Be Converted Into Matter Within a Year, and the Race to Complete the Experiment Is On

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By smashing massless photons together, light can be converted into matter, according to physicists at London’s Imperial College, and the race to conduct the experiment is on–and should be carried out within the year. Until now, the idea of converting E into mc2 had been considered practically impossible.

“The race to carry out and complete the experiment is on,” said Imperial College London’s Oliver Pike. The experiment is now possible because physicists are able increase the number of photons to massive levels (billions of times the level of normal visible light) in order to achieve collisions in a photon-photon collider. The tiny size of photons was until recently a near-impossible obstacle to the experiment.

The proposed means of achieving massive photon levels is a photon-photon collider in a vacuum hohlraum. The apparatus consists of a high-powered laser, which bombards a slab of gold, producing a high-intensity gamma ray (photons) a hallow space (“hohlraum”) in which is accumulated a thick field of photons produced by another laser. The gamma ray bombards the hohlraum. Out of the other end of the hohlraum some electrons and positrons will fly, according to the English physicists. A shorter, more technical phrasing of the process is that a gamma-ray beam is fired into the high-temperature radiation field of a laser-heated hohlraum.

The theory of converting light into matter and matter into light dates back to 1930, when theoretical physicist Paul Dirac considered that an electron and its antimatter counterpart (a positron) could be annihilated (combined) to produce two photons. Four years later, physicists Gregory Breit and John Wheeler suggested that the reverse could also be true.

“It’s breathtaking to think that things we thought are not connected, can in fact be converted to each other: matter and energy, particles and light. Would we be able in the future to convert energy into time and vice versa?” said John Adams Institute, Oxford Director Andrei Seryi of the John Adams Institute on the matter.

Many laboratories around the world have the equipment necessary to perform the experimental photon-photon collisions, the English physicists say, and the experiment is expected to be conducted within the year.

By Andy Stern

Nature Photonics