New Study May Lead To Chlamydia Vaccine, Thanks To Koalas

While fewer than 40% of sexually active women are tested for chlamydia, even fewer koalas are tested for the STD, which seems irrelevant, except when you consider that they’re absolutely lousy with it. According to a recent report from The Telegraph, nearly 70% of koalas are carrying chlamydia, causing major health risks and fatalities for the populations in Queensland and New South Wales. Usually associated with infertility in females, two Queensland scientists have discovered how chlamydia damages male koalas’ sperm DNA. This study will help to contribute to science’s understanding of human sexual health, as well.

Professor Ken Beagley, of QUT Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, explained the basic results of the study, which tested how chlamydia effects the sexual health and fertility of male koalas.

“Looking across populations, between 40 and as high as 70 per cent of koalas will be carrying chlamydia somewhere in their body. Damage to sperm DNA has certainly been demonstrated in males with chlamydial infections and a history of chlamydial infections is associated with reduced fertility. For males, if they’ve got it in the testes that’s causing degradation of their sperm so they can’t breed as successfully. But it’s still understudied and there’s a lot of debate.”

The team spent seven years developing a chlamydia vaccine for the koalas. “We have a vaccine we think is effective. We’ve run a number of trials on captive koalas and are currently immunising some wild koala populations,” Beagley added. One of his team members, Stephen Johnston, is hoping to find the right way to catch the disease before it starts.

“Based on our findings in the koala, we are attempting to develop methods whereby we can either treat the whole animal or the semen sample before natural mating.”

This could mean big strides in developing a version of the vaccine that would be effective on human chlamydia. The team’s research will be presented by Professor Beagley in Adelaide at a conference some time this week.

Missouri City Faces E. Coli Scare in Water System

For one small Missouri city, chlorine has become a bigger problem than they ever could have imagined.

According to The Missourian, it all started when the Missouri Department of Natural Resources found traces of the e. coli bacteria in the water supply of Washington, MO. The city immediately installed chlorine injection pumps at all nine city wells.

Upon installing these chlorine pumps, residents began noticing that their water tasted a little “off,” and the city began exploring ways to balance the chlorine levels in their new pumps.

“We’re trying to tweak the system to minimize the chlorine taste in the water,” City Administrator Jim Briggs told council members Monday night.

The chlorine levels in the water system need to be exactly right to protect the health of Washington citizens, and for reasons more important than taste. When heated, chlorine releases a vapor that can lead to serious health effects, including breathing problems, headaches, and even cancer.

While attempting to rectify the situation, the city issued a “boil water order” for all homes and businesses. Some locals did not get this memo, wasting money on bottled water to last them until the problem was fixed.

Many residents are asking for reimbursement from the city for this bottled water, having been unaware of the “boil water order” and finding it a poor and unrealistic solution to the chlorine problem, especially in the long-run.

The Missourian also reported that the Washington Board of Public Works urged the city council to appeal the mandated chlorination of their water system until they conducted an independent review of the water supply.

Board President Kurt Voss is urging the city to fix the problem as soon as possible.

“I think it’s awful,” he said. “It’s like I walk into a swimming pool every morning. You might as well just dump chlorine on me.”

The city council unanimously voted against an appeal, with Briggs noting that it was “very unlikely” they would win in a circuit court.

If there is a silver lining, Briggs says there have only been 38 reports of a chlorine taste or odor in the water and 59 reports of rusty water in homes.

“Actually I thought we would’ve had more than that,” Briggs told the council.

Nobody is reported to have contracted E. coli and the city feels lucky they noticed the problem as early as they did.

Hopefully, Washington, MO can find that perfect balance between clean water and “walking into a swimming pool every morning.”

Study: Almost 14% of Our Coastline is Now Covered in Concrete

As of 2015, almost 14% of U.S. shoreline is covered in concrete.

Researchers working with data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that up to 22,842 kilometers of the country’s coast is “armored” with concrete barriers and seawalls, and that includes ocean, bay, and tidal river shorelines. Concrete installations can easily last up to 50 years, and the scientists say that unless trends change, they expect the amount of new concrete on our coasts to at least double this century.

One of the lead researchers behind the new study was Rachel K. Gittman of Nahant, Maryland. She and her fellow scientists concluded:

“The demand for coastal defense strategies against storms and sea-level rise (SLR) has increased with population growth and development along coastlines. Shoreline hardening, a common defense strategy that includes the use of seawalls and bulkheads, is resulting in a ‘coastal squeeze’ on estuarine habitats.”

That confirms findings from other scientists and environmentalists in the Chesapeake Bay region. In the National Wildlife Foundation’s report on “Sea-Level Rise and Coastal Habitats of the Chesapeake Bay,” scientists found that such seawalls and dikes posed a serious threat to local marine life habitats. If sea levels rise in the 21st century, as most scientists agree that they will, then concrete barriers and seawalls can prevent coastal habitats from naturally migrating inland with rising tides.

The NWF wrote, “We may be able to preserve habitats in some areas by restoring natural replenishment of sediments, for example, by removing seawalls…or reconsidering the use of river dams.”

Communities looking for an alternative to artificial, armored sea walls can encourage the replenishment of natural “living barriers,” which include vegetation planting or offshore breakwaters. But that might be a hard sell for developers in the South Atlantic and Gulf States, where the bulk of new concrete seawalls are installed. Although living barriers might benefit marine habitats, the effectiveness of living barriers in protecting human habitats has not been extensively studied.

Researchers Create Composite That Converts Engine Heat to Electricity in Cars

Being able to harvest engine heat from cars and redirect it into charging batteries or powering supplementary systems is likely the best way to improve efficiency in next-generation hybrid cars, according to a team of scientists from the University of Manchester.

As reported Aug. 4, about 70% of the energy that cars currently generate through fuel consumption is lost to heat. A thermoelectric material — one that can generate an electrical current from heat — would therefore allow cars to become much more efficient. Already, hybrid vehicles are much more efficient than gas-powered cars (which allows owners to recoup their investments, given that hybrid vehicles cost 15-20% more, on average).

Previously, most of the thermoelectric materials available were highly toxic and only worked at temperatures higher than those produced by cars. But the team’s new research has found that adding graphene to a composite material would allow cars to convert heat to usable electricity and reduce global carbon emissions from vehicles.

“Our findings show that … introducing a small amount of graphene to the base material can reduce the thermal operating window to room temperature, which offers a huge range of potential for applications,” lead researcher Ian Kinloch told

The composite still doesn’t allow for total heat capture, he said, but it’s a start. “The new material will convert 3-5% of the heat into electricity. That is not much but, given that the average vehicle loses roughly 70% of the energy supplied to it by its fuel to waste heat and friction, recovering even a small percentage of this with thermoelectric technology would be worthwhile,” he explained.

The team’s findings have been published in the journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces.

Fuel efficiency is becoming increasingly important in hybrid and completely gas-powered cars alike, especially as the government has imposed new efficiency goals on the auto industry. By 2015, any manufacturers selling vehicles on the U.S. market will have to achieve an average fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon.

Interestingly enough, however, consumers don’t seem to be willing to pay more for higher-efficiency vehicles, according to recent comments from Forrest McConnell, last year’s president of the National Automobile Dealers Association.

But an executive for electric car maker Tesla says that’s a short-sighted view. Diarmuid O’Connell, vice president of business development, recently commented at an auto event in northern Michigan that automakers need to be focused on attaining even higher efficiency than the government is mandating.

“We’re living in a time of cheap gasoline, but this is probably an ephemeral event,” he cautioned.

Droughts Affecting Trees Ability To Absorb Harmful Gases

New research shows that trees that are affected by droughts take two to four years to recover, hindering their ability to absorb harmful carbon dioxide from the air. The data concludes that areas with frequent droughts will see higher amounts of harmful chemicals such as carbon dioxide in the surrounding atmosphere.

Until recently, scientists assumed trees and other plant life would be able to quickly recover after a drought. The new study, which was conducted by Northern Arizona University researchers, shows that these assumptions are incorrect. By examining tree ring data, the researchers found that many trees take a while to return to their normal growing pattern after a long drought.

Trees are the longest-living organisms on Earth. Each year, trees are responsible for absorbing about one quarter of the carbon dioxide that is emitted by humans. When a tree’s growth is stunted, it loses much of its ability to photosynthesize, limiting the tree’s ability to store the harmful gas.

“This really matters because future droughts are expected to increase in frequency and severity due to climate change,” says William Anderegg in a study by Princeton University. Anderegg goes on to say that the frequent droughts can make it impossible for trees to recover, greatly limiting their ability to absorb the increasing amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The study was done on trees in a semi-arid ecosystem, which is only one type of tree. More research is being planned for other species of trees, such as trees found in tropical areas. However, Anderegg predicts that droughts will also have lasting effects on these types of trees as well.

Scientists suggest that the effect that droughts have on tree recovery can reduce the amount of carbon storage capacity in certain ecosystems by over 1.6 metric gigatons over the next century. This information has not yet been factored into current climate model predictions, suggesting that global warming researchers may have underestimated the severity of climate change in the future.

A New Species Of Cockroach Might Be Heading For Florida

Environmental scientist Marc Minno was looking through some paperwork at his office in Live Oak, Florida, when a small bug fell out of a folder he was holding. Upon further examination of the bug, Minno discovered it was actually a cockroach. However, this bug was not the typical solid brown color of Florida’s native cockroach species.

The cockroach Minno discovered had black wings with hints of yellow around the edges, and an orange-red body. Having never seen this type of cockroach in Southern Florida, Minno did some research on the bug and found it to be a pale-bordered field cockroach, originally found in Central America, Texas, and the Caribbean.

In his research, Minno found that the species was relatively new to Florida, and the United States as a whole. Many new species find their way to Florida every year, such as the Burmese python or the Argentine tegu lizards. Yet some of the species that arrive on Florida’s shores are categorized as invasive, and can threaten the local ecosystem by attacking the native species.

After his initial research, Minno donated the roach to the Florida State Collection of Arthropods, where extensive research will be done to find out more about the species. While there is no current indication that the bug will be harmful to Florida’s ecosystem, cockroaches are known to spread nearly 33 different kinds of germs. Currently, there is not much known about this species, its behaviors, or what it eats.

Minno believes that more of these roaches will begin to appear in Florida due to changes in the climate, which have caused other species such as butterflies to alter their migration patterns. He believes that the appearance of the pale-bordered field cockroach is due to similar reasons, and will continue as climate change continues to push their migration patterns to the North.

Bison Hate Selfies: Attacks in Yellowstone are on the Rise

In the last year, according to an estimate from Yahoo!, people took more than 880 billion photos — and it’s a pretty sure bet that a lot of these photos were selfies.

After all, what’s better than taking a good ‘ol vacation selfie, particularly when you’re somewhere as beautiful as Yellowstone Park?

The national landmark spans three states, from Wyoming to Montana to Idaho, and boasts over 3,000 square feet of natural wonders such as geysers, mountains, and valleys.

For a snap-happy tourist, the place is practically teeming with Instagram-worthy shots.

But if you see a bison, you might want to think twice about getting too up-close and personal for a photo op.

One Mississippi woman learned this the hard way. After spotting a pack of bison in the park, the 43-year-old woman snapped a selfie of her and her daughter with the bison in the background.

When most people don’t like a photo of themselves, they just ask you to delete the photo.

Unfortunately, the bison responded by attacking the woman, overtaking her and flinging her into the air.

According to the Washington Post, the woman was hospitalized and is currently being treated for minor injuries.

The Washington Post reports that this recent incident brings the tally up to the fifth bison attack in Yellowstone Park this year.

Earlier in June, an Australian man turned his back on a bison to take a photo of himself and the massive beast, and the animal charged. Although he was flung into the air, the man managed to come out of the ordeal relatively unscathed.

Another incident occurred in May, when a Taiwanese exchange student turned her back to take a group photo with nearby bison as the backdrop. The bison, which was six feet away from her, ultimately attacked, piercing the poor girl in the buttocks.

While the bison attacks are clearly an issue, the solution is simple. Tourists need to keep their distance from the massive creatures. Park rangers at Yellowstone recommend remaining at least 25 yards away from bison at all times.

Nature Valley Thinks Granola Will Save the Children

According to a recent viral video campaign, technology is all but consuming America’s youth. In the video, three generations of people were interviewed, and asked what their favorite childhood activities were. Twinkling, whimsical piano plays as the older generations recount their wholesome childhood hijinks of building forts, fishing in the creek, and dodging black bears. Ah, youth.

Predictably, the youngest generations’ answers aren’t as wispy and romantic as their elders’. Rather, the children seem to be terrifyingly attached to the digital world, reporting that they use their phones and tablets up to five hours each day. With a naive smile on her face, one little girl reports, “I would die without my tablet.”

At the end of the video, the parents watch the children answer with shock, expressing their grief for a generation lost to the mind numbing evils of technology. As screen turns dark, Nature Valley asks us to “rediscover nature”, presumably with a shockingly green foil wrapped granola bar in hand.

In some ways, Nature Valley is onto something. With a third of all children in the U.S. considered overweight, childhood obesity is now considered an epidemic in America. This is attributed to not getting enough physical activity, and a diet filled with processed, sugar-filled foods.

Sure, children could stand to get outside more and fill the daily recommended 60 minutes of activity. And of course everyone in America can stand to cut refined sugars and carbohydrates from their diet. It just seems a little counter-intuitive when these recommendations come from a company whose “all natural” products are teeming with high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, and high maltose malt syrups–three ingredients that definitely aren’t natural.

In fact, studies show that these highly processed ingredients contribute to childhood obesity, and lead to a myriad of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. Talk about a lost generation, huh?

Illinois Farmers See Destroyed Crops After Rains and Tornadoes This Summer

Farmers in Illinois may be forced to make claims on their farmer’s insurance policies after the season’s severe weather and extreme rains have damaged crops.

Tornadoes and other disasters have destroyed nearly half of the state’s corn crops as of this July, meaning they rate from fair to very poor. The same goes for more than half of the soybean crops in Illinois.

Emerson Nafziger, a crop specialist with the University of Illinois Extension, explained that the problem can be blamed on the rain. “Water has stood on the crop and really destroyed its chance to produce any crop in lots of places,” he told WQAD 8.

The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service reports that more than 40% of the state’s soil has excess moisture. Soybeans are only blooming at a rate of 56%, 10 points below last year’s numbers.

“This is going to be one of those years when people are going to be very grateful for crop insurance and happy they have it,” Nafziger said. He regularly sees farmers come to the university to get advice on growing during heavy rains.

But it’s not only the crops themselves that have been harmed. Approximately 97% of the nation’s 2.2 million farms are family owned, and that goes for the farmers in Illinois, too.

Now many families have to decide whether to rebuild after rains have destroyed crops and winds have taken houses, barns, and other outbuildings.

“How much does it make sense to rebuild?” Wendell Shauman asked after the destruction of his family’s century-old farm in Kirkwood. “Where do you put it? So, we’re sitting down and having those discussions. Just what do you do?”

Meanwhile, Illinois officials are still seeking federal disaster relief for the inclement weather and damage done to farms in the form of low-interest loans.

Snow Drought Has Dire Effects for the Pacific Northwest

As California enters its fourth year of extreme drought, it might be easy to forget that the state’s neighbors to the north may be facing a similar concern.

Typically, the states of the Pacific Northwest — Oregon, Washington and even Alaska — rely on winter snowpack to provide a steady source of water throughout the warmer months. However, this year’s snowpack melted away far ahead of schedule.

The result? A so-called “snow drought” whose consequences could be dire for the region’s economy.

According to the Seattle Times, this past winter’s exceedingly warm temperatures have been the primary cause of this devastating loss of snowpack. From December through February, Pacific Northwest temperatures averaged 5.6 degrees Fahrenheit higher than winter temperatures from 1970 through 1999.

As a result, Washington’s snowpack was a meager 9% of its normal size by May. In Oregon, the Detroit Lake is now 60 feet below its average for this time of year, while fish die by the hundreds in the Willamette River due to heat stress. The National Weather Service reported that Alaska received only 25.1 inches of snow this winter, compared with its normal 74.5 inches.

“Without that snow, the soils are dryer and the water isn’t filtering down into the streams,” Julie Koeberle, a hydrologist with the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service, told the Oregonian.

While winter storms result in an astounding $2.3 billion in insured losses throughout the country every year, this snow is what drives agriculture throughout the region all year long. In Washington state’s Yakima basin, for example, snowpack is responsible for feeding a river that sustains $2 billion in crops each year. Already, farmers in this area are counting their losses.

“This corn is trying to come up, but it should be twice as high,” said Yakima County farmer Andre Curfman as he walked through a ragged field of undernourished crops. “It will recover some, but won’t reach its full potential. This is getting ugly fast.”

Scientists largely attribute the snow drought to global climate change, spurred on by the rapid expansion of fossil fuels. According to recent research from the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group, warm winters like this year’s could become commonplace by 2050 if fossil fuel use remains constant. However, if the world works to slow its use of fossil fuels, this could be pushed back to 2080.

“I talk about this year as a dress rehearsal for the future,” Guillaume Mauger, a UW climate researcher, explained. “If you look at precipitation, it was just like any other year. But the temperature was far above what we’ve seen in the 20th century — and that’s exactly what we expect of climate change.”