"Our World" theme
week on "Our World" ... The health benefits of shutting down dirty
power plants ... different weight-loss diets compared ... and farmers weigh the
value of using genetically modified crops.
"And so, it was something
where some of our members would get the benefit, but everybody faced potential
risk of having customers say, 'we don't want this in wheat.'"
better yields vs. consumer resistance...a new drug to attack a stubborn
infection, and more. I'm Art Chimes. Welcome to VOA's science and technology
magazine, "Our World."
and Chinese researchers have found that shutting down an old, dirty, coal-fired
power plant can reduce air pollution and significantly improve cognitive
developmentthe ability to think — in
PERERA:"This study compares children who were
exposed in-utero to pollution from coal-fired power plants with children who
were not so exposed, and it demonstrates the benefits of closing the plant on
children's development measured at age two."
Perera of Columbia University led the research team, which took advantage of a
decision by Chinese officials to close down a power plant in the city of
Tongliang, in Chongqing Municipality.
PERERA:"This power plant was shut down because
the Chinese government had ordered the closure of old, small, polluting power
plants that burned coals, and this one was on the list."
coal-burning facility was a major source of chemicals called polycyclic
aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs. Earlier research has identified PAHs as toxic
materials that can cause a variety of developmental defects in young children.
evaluate the impact of PAHs, the researchers compared two groups of children.
One group was born in 2002, before the power plant closed; the second group was
born in 2005, after it shut down.
the babies were two years old they were tested using the standard Gesell test
of child development. And the group born after the coal-burning plant shut down
scored higher, particularly in a measure of motor skills.
says previous studies demonstrated that the pollutants could be harmful. But
the researchers here were able to clearly demonstrate the benefits of reducing
pollution with compelling before-and-after data.
PERERA:"This study was unique in that it
allowed us to show the benefits of removing such a polluting source and to
demonstrate that the children in the second group actually fared better in
terms of developmental tests, particularly in the area of motor function."
has been closing older, dirtier coal-burning power plants. But with oil prices
in record territory, coal remains a dominant fuel for generating electricity
around the world. The newest, high-tech plants do have pollution controls, but
many older plants remain in operation. As the demand for electricity continues
to increase, Dr. Frederica Perera says her research sounds a note of caution
... and, at the same time, demonstrates the benefits of cutting emissions from
PERERA:"These findings do have relevance for
environmental health and energy policy worldwide since these are pollutants
that are extremely widespread from fossil fuel burning, particularly from coal,
so they are a positive message both for China and the rest of the world."
Perera's paper appeared this week in Environmental Health Perspectives.
The journal is published by the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health
U.S. Senate Wednesday passed a bill to triple U.S. spending on a program to
combat AIDS and other diseases. On Tuesday, lawmakers and AIDS experts gathered
to reflect on the successes and challenges facing PEPFAR, which is currently a
$3 billion a year program, plus the larger fight against HIV/AIDS. Eric Libby
has our report.
LIBBY:Unlike other diseases such as smallpox and
polio, HIV/AIDS is a chronic disease. Those infected with HIV may not show
symptoms of AIDS for years, allowing this killer to infiltrate a population.
Senator John Kerry, one of several speakers invited to assess the global war on
AIDS, outlined the magnitude of the crisis with some grim statistics.
KERRY:"You've got 12 million kids who have
lost one or both parents [to AIDS]. Some 30 percent of the world's orphans
today are AIDS-related orphans. The fact is that 33 million people worldwide
are still infected with HIV, and more than 2.1 million people died of AIDS last
year, more than 2.5 million will be infected this year."
LIBBY:Despite these challenges, Kerry highlighted
some of the progress made by programs like PEPFAR.
KERRY:"The good side of the story is that
we've got a program that can assist 10 million people, including five million
AIDS orphans, hopefully prevent seven million people from being infected
provide and help provide anti-retrovirals to two million people. That's a big
LIBBY:Part of PEPFAR's funding supports scientific
research. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and
Infectious Diseases, points out that there are now more FDA-approved drugs
against HIV than all other antiviral drugs combined. A study released two
months ago identified more than 30 new protein targets for anti-retroviral
therapy. At the Capitol Hill forum, Fauci described a new technology that will
FAUCI:"So some of the things that we have
available are now being tested in the field, such as the collection and
shipping of samples with dried blood spots — something unimaginable years ago.
Five years from now when we have even more people on therapy we are going to
want to monitor them for resistance, we want to monitor them for viral load. We
can't do it by these very complicated technologies, it has got be simple enough
to apply in the field and that's where it's going right now."
LIBBY:Fauci said a vaccine is still a long time
away, and past failures have revealed there is still much scientists do not
know about HIV/AIDS.
PEPFAR holds much promise and enjoys wide political support, it has been
criticized for how it allocates some of its resources, and for its promotion of
sexual abstinence as a way to slow the spread of AIDS. The congressional debate
over PEPFAR's renewal is forcing both critics and supporters of the program to
evaluate not only how important it has been in the battles against AIDS so far,
but how important it will be in the battles still to come. This is Eric Libby
nutrition is important for people with AIDS, or actually, pretty much everyone.
study in this week's New England Journal of Medicine evaluates the
health effects of three of the most popular diets to combat overweight and
obesity.VOA's Jessica Berman reports
that obesity has reached epidemic proportions globally and is a risk factor for
illness and death.
BERMAN:According to the World Health Organization,
1.6 billion adults are overweight or obese, putting them at risk for heart
disease, diabetes and cancer.That
number is expected to soar to 2.3 billion by 2015, owing to fast food and
agree that getting the weight off can be life saving, but an international team
of researchers wanted to find out the long-term health effects of three of the
most popular diet plans.
compared the standard calorie-reduction diet, the Mediterranean diet that is
high in olive oil and grains, and the popular high-protein diet in a group of
322 middle-aged, moderately obese individuals.
found those on the high-protein diet lost the most weight at 4.7 kilograms and
kept it off, followed by those on the Mediterranean diet at 4.4 kilograms.Those on the calorie-reduction diet lost the
least amount of weight, 2.9 kilos.
important, according to study lead author Iris Shai of Ben Gurion University of
the Negev, were the cholesterol levels.
says the high protein dieters, who were not calorie restricted, had a 20
percent reduction in their total cholesterol levels compared to a 12 percent
reduction among low calorie dieters, whose plans included carbohydrates.
says that could be important for a dieter with high cholesterol who has to lose
SHAI:"So maybe the message here is that
carbohydrates must be much more risky than we thought and omitting them
benefits obese patients."
BERMAN:Among diabetic participants, researchers
found the Mediterranean diet did a better job in maintaining blood glucose
Cheskin runs a diet and nutrition program at Johns Hopkins University in
Baltimore, Maryland. For now, Cheskin cautions against reading too much into
CHESKIN:"Even though we have studies such as
this one that we are discussing today suggesting that you can lose weight
better on a low carbohydrate diet, we have the evidence from many people in
non-Western countries that a low fat, relatively high carbohydrate diet results
in good weight control."
BERMAN:Meanwhile, Shai believes the results of her
study in the New England Journalsuggest that people need to work with
their doctors to tailor a weight loss reduction plan to their particular
medical needs. Jessica Berman, VOA News, Washington.
again for our Website of the Week, when we showcase interesting and innovative
time, it's an animal website that shows what can happen when one person shares
his knowledge and passion with the Internet community.
HUFFMAN:"The Ultimate Ungulate website is
designed to be a resource for all the world's hoofed mammals, which are
Huffman is the creator of UltimateUngulate.com. It features great photos and
in-depth information about a group of animals whose scientific name may be
unfamiliar, but whose members may be living right nearby.
HUFFMAN:"Ungulates include really common
animals like cows and goats, things like deer, horses. But also rhinoceroses
and various antelopes and giraffes. They're all considered ungulates."
fact, there are some 250 species of ungulates, and the Ultimate Ungulate
website is full of deeply-researched (and fully-referenced) information about
these often-overlooked animals ... just what you would expect from a trained
HUFFMAN:"There's a section on taxonomy and
classification, basically where that animal fits into the general scheme of
life on earth. There's a description of that animal, including sizes. There's a
section on reproduction. Ecology and behavior. And then a bit on habitat and
distribution: where you can find the animal in the world."
Huffman has taken his interest — and his camera — on the road. He has
photographed ungulates in Africa and in zoos around North America, so the
website has lots of unique images. In fact, he says one of the reasons he
started the website was because there was so little material available about
more at UltimateUngulate.com, or get the link to this and more than 200 other
Websites of the Week from oursite, voanews.com/ourworld.
MUSIC: The High Llamas — "The Goat"
VOA's science and technology magazine, Our World. I'm Art Chimes in Washington.
predict that climate change will bring warmer temperatures, more severe storms,
and rising sea levels.
also expected to be more tropical disease, as tropical areas expand.
new research published this week projects a health-related product of global
warming that we hadn't thought about:
increase in kidney stones. Hydrologist Tom Brikowski of the University of Texas
in Dallas led the research team.
BRIKOWSKI:"And I believe we've shown pretty
sufficiently that certainly there's a significant effect, enough to make a big
difference in costs. And of course this is one of the more painful diseases
that are not fatal that are out there. So it's going to have a pretty
significant impact on the population as well."
and his urologist colleagues looked at the link between mean annual temperature
and kidney stones. They found that in the United States, the number of people
with kidney stones could increase 30 percent in some areas, resulting in some
two million more cases a year by 2050.
why do kidney stones increase in warmer temperatures? Brikowski explains that
kidney stones result when salts and minerals, usually calcium, solidify, or
precipitate, out of urine. That often happens when the urine is highly
concentrated. That's common when it's warm and you lose more water from your
body by perspiration than you would otherwise, and probably don't drink enough
fluids to replace it.
BRIKOWSKI:"So most likely what's going on is,
people lose additional water through perspiration and if they fail to replace
that water, then their urine volume goes down, concentration of salts goes up,
and the risk of forming kidney stones increases.
study was an effort to quantify the increase in kidney stone disease in the
United States. Even in the U.S., information on the number of people affected
is a little sketchy because many people don't need to see a doctor. The data in
other countries is even harder to come by. But Brikowski says as other areas
get warmer, the risk is likely to increase when mean annual temperatures top 13
BRIKOWSKI:"It seems pretty clear that this same
kind of phenomenon will take place in southern Europe, Balkan countries,
southeastern Europe, South Asia in particular, and probably will have a greater
effect just because medical care is a little more limited and more costly in
terms of GDPs of each of these countries, so a little bit of morbidity will
take place there.
meaning illness. Tom Brikowski's study was published this week in the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
the history of antibiotics, there has been a steady arms race between humans
and bacteria. We design a drug that kills them, they develop resistance to it,
and we look for another drug. Now, the microbes are fighting back with
resistance to multiple antibiotics. Scientists at a university in New York City
say they may have a new "magic bullet" ... at least for now.
TEXT:Alexander Tomasz of Rockefeller University
says we should be especially concerned about MRSA or multi-drug resistant Staphylococcus
TOMASZ:"The mortality by MRSA infections is
surprisingly high. And also this bacteria that were formerly called the
hospital bug — you acquired them when you went to a hospital — now these same
bugs showed up in the community."
TEXT:Tomasz and colleagues found that a new
antibiotic called Ceftobiprole annihilated colonies of MRSA. Like penicillin — one of the first and still one of the most widely used antibiotic agents — Ceftobiprole binds enzymes crucial to making bacterial cell walls, ultimately
killing the bacteria. After widespread use of penicillin, the Staph bacteria
developed enzymes less likely to attach penicillin, becoming resistant to the
drug. Ceftobiprole manages to elude the bacteria's resistance and bind the
enzymes once again.
Tomasz says that Ceftobiprole proved effective even against cells that were
already highly resistant to powerful antibiotics.
TOMASZ:"A small population — let's say ten
thousand out of ten billion cells — would be really highly resistant. These may
be the hotbed from which a newer wave of resistance would come forward against
Ceftobiprole. So we deliberately went after these subpopulations and tested the
Ceftobiprole and to our delight they were wiped out. So that particular
resource which the bugs already seem to have put into reserve, they don't
TEXT:Although Tomasz is excited about this new
potential weapon against MRSA, he cautions that bacteria are true survivors and
capable of finding a way around any drug-even Ceftobiprole. So the war against Staphylococcus
research, to be published in the August 2008 issue of the journal Antimicrobial
Agents and Chemotherapyand available online now. I'm Faith Lapidus.
prices are rising around the world. You've probably seen that where you shop.
Basic commodities are especially hard hit: vegetable oils, grains, dairy
products and rice. Fuel costs are one big factor. Weather is another,
responsible for lower exports from some big grain-exporting countries,
including Canada and Australia.
modified wheat could help expand supply, but here in the United States, it's a
complex and controversial issue. Julie Grant has our report.
GRANT:Nearly every major U.S. crop is grown with
genetically modified seeds — corn, soybeans, cotton.
companies take genes from other organisms and put them into corn and soybean
seeds. This alters the behavior of crops. One of the most-used alters crops to
withstand herbicides. So, when an herbicide is sprayed, it kills the weeds, but
the crops survive.
wheat producers said thank you, but no, to those genetically altered seeds.
Coppock is chief of the National Wheat Growers Association. He says a lot of
wheat farmers didn't need the genetically altered traits being offered.
weeds just aren't a big problem in some types of wheat.
second, Coppock says wheat growers were worried about the export market in
Europe and Japan. In those countries, they call genetically altered crops
COPPOCK:"And so, it was something where some of
our members would get the benefit, but everybody faced potential risk of having
customers say, 'we don't want this in wheat.'"
GRANT:Since the farmers didn't want it, Coppock
says Monsanto and the other big seed companies dropped research into biotech
wheat. That was five years ago. Coppock says turning down biotech has since
proven to be a bad move for wheat growers.
the big biotech companies don't do as much research on how to improve wheat,
including breeding drought resistant varieties. Drought in Australia and Canada
is part of the reason there's a wheat shortage now, making prices higher.
COPPOCK:"And so the conclusion that the
industry basically has come to is, we have to do something to change the
competitiveness equation or wheat will end up being a minor crop."
GRANT:And that could mean wheat shortages in the
wheat farmers are re-considering the genetically modified seed question. They
think asking for new biotech wheat strains might kick start research on wheat.
say something needs to be done.
Sanders is with the American Bakers Association.
SANDERS:"When wheat prices go up 173 percent in
one year, it certainly effects how bakers can do business. And how smaller
bakers, in particular, if they can keep their doors open."
rising wheat prices are being passed on to consumers.
bakers aren't convinced biotech seeds will lower wheat prices. They're more
concerned about how their customers will respond to the idea of genetically
in the bread aisle at this Ohio supermarket have mixed views.
3:"I don't know, it just doesn't
sound good. I mean, I don't mind paying a little bit more for bread. Everything
else is more expensive now too."
4:"If it would keep prices down,
I'd probably actually go with genetically altered wheat."
GRANT:You might not realize it, but you're already
eating lots of genetically modified foods.
U.S. government says they're safe, so they're not labeled.
people in many other countries are more aware and a lot more concerned about
Gurian Sherman is a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists. If
American wheat goes biotech, he says farmers will probably lose their export
SHERMAN:"They can go elsewhere and they will go
elsewhere. They really are trying to avoid it for any kind of human food
GRANT:Even if wheat growers can persuade Monsanto
and the others to start researching genetically modified wheat, it will take at
least five to ten years before anything is in the field.
then, farmers say, climate change may make some places so dry that people will
need biotech wheat whether they like it or not.
The Environment Report, I'm Julie Grant.
for the Environment Report comes from the Joyce Foundation, the George Gund
Foundation, and the Americana Foundation. You can get in touch with them at
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our show for this week. If you'd like to get in touch, email us at
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Voice of America
Washington, DC 20237 USA
Rob Sivak edited the show. Eva Nenicka is the technical
director. Our story on a new antibiotic was written by Eric Libby. And this is
Art Chimes, inviting you to join us online at voanews.com/ourworld or on your
radio next Saturday and Sunday as we check out the latest in science and
technology ... in Our World.