"Our World" theme
week on "Our World" ... One country's approach to delivering quality
and value in health care ... higher food prices and a hungry world ... and
changes in the oceans that could threaten coastal ecosystems ...
HOLZER: "Recently there's been evidence that
ocean acidification is happening. And that can be very harmful to biological
life of all different types."
stories, a conversation with a prize-winning biochemist, and more. I'm Art
Chimes. Welcome to VOA's science and technology magazine, "Our
findings about Africa's climate
say they have the first evidence that climate in Africa is influenced by
conditions in the northern hemisphere, a finding that contradicts the main
theory about climate in the subtropics. As VOA's Jessica Berman reports,
scientists say the discovery, which was announced on Thursday, will help them
make future climate predictions.
BERMAN: Climatologists have long debated what forces
make countries in the tropics hot and humid and those in the northern
hemisphere relatively warm and mild.
Cohen is a professor of geosciences at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
COHEN: "The tropics are the heat engine of our
planet, if you will. And so it's really important for understanding climate
history, and it also gives us a background for understanding and evaluating the
kinds of climate changes that we're seeing around the world today."
BERMAN: In a study published this week in Science,
researchers offer the first solid evidence that the climate in tropical Africa
is influenced by conditions in the northern latitudes, not by solar radiation
patterns along the equator as is generally believed.
base their conclusion on an analysis of a 60,000-year-old sediment core
extracted from the bottom of Lake Tanganyika in the East African Rift Valley,
which borders Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, and Zambia.
found evidence in the long core sample, including leaf wax, which traces Africa's
climate to the northern hemisphere.
Tierney is with the department of geological sciences at Brown University in
Rhode Island and lead author of the study.
says there are indications within the core sample that climate conditions in Africa
alternated dramatically over tens of thousands of years.
TIERNEY: "In the past we see these very abrupt
changes from conditions that are arid to conditions that are quite wet. And
these changes can happen within several hundreds of years. That's very fast on
the geologic scheme of things."
BERMAN: In modern times, Tierney says it appears
most of the influence on Africa's climate comes from forces in and around the
TIERNEY: "Most of the rain that falls over Lake
Tanganyika today, that water that came from the Indian Ocean, it was evaporated
in the western Indian Ocean and transported by winds to the lake."
BERMAN: Experts say the study, which involves
ancient climate records, does not address the impact of global warming.
the records could offer a template against which to measure global warming,
according to Andy Cohen, a study co-author.
COHEN: "It allows us then to say how big are
the changes that are occurring now in comparison to those natural changes that
occurred before people were pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere."
BERMAN: Researchers are conducting similar long core
studies of Lake Malawi in the Rift Valley to confirm their findings. Jessica
Berman, VOA News, Washington, DC.
researcher Joseph DeRisi wins Heinz Award
University of California scientist who invented a way of rapidly identifying
viruses that cause disease has been awarded the prestigious Heinz Award for
professor Joseph DeRisi was this week named winner of the prize.
his lab in San Francisco, researchers are exploring new ways to attack malaria.
DeRisi and his colleagues developed the ViroChip, a small glass slide with a
microarray of 22,000 sequences of DNA - the molecular chains of amino acids that
carry an organism's hereditary code. It helped DeRisi identify the virus that
causes SARS, among other microbes.
the Heinz Foundation noted, he did not patent the ViroChip, so the technology
is now in the public domain - free for other scientists to use.
was also the recipient, four years ago, of a MacArthur fellowship, the
so-called "genius grant."
reached Dr. DeRisi by phone shortly after the award was announced.
Q: Well first, congratulations on winning the
Heinz award. How did you find out?
DeRISI: I received a call from Teresa Heinz, and I
was absolutely surprised and thrilled.
Q: What got you interested in your field to
DeRISI: Well, I did my PhD in biochemistry at
Stanford University, and there I worked on model organisms like yeast. And you
can learn a lot by studying a model organism. When I came to University of
California-San Francisco, I really wanted to turn my attention to something
that might have direct impact on human health or veterinary health, or basically
anything that I could do to turn technology that I had developed into something
Q: One of the things that you've been working a
lot on is malaria. Why is that important to you
DeRISI: When I came to University of California-San
Francisco to work on infectious disease, I looked around to different options,
and malaria was particularly interesting and fascinating to me. It's amazing
that after 100 years of study of this little parasite, we've not been able to
effectively control it. So I thought that I could bring new technology and new
approaches to the study of this parasite in a way that might be able to help
us, either create a new therapeutic or prevention strategy.
Q: So what's the approach that you lab has been
DeRISI: First of all, we're trying to develop new
drugs that work against malaria, because frankly that's where all the success
against malaria has been over the last 400 years or so. The other area is to
understand more about the parasite, how it interacts with our immune system,
and how it actually goes about its business of creating infection. We're also
trying to think up novel, interesting, nonconventional or radical approaches to
malaria as well.
Q: One of the things you're perhaps best known
for is the ViroChip. Can you explain what that is and how it's used?
DeRISI: Sure. The ViroChip is a DNA microarray. That
is, a very small, solid substrate — a piece of glass, a microscope slide — that
contains thousands of pieces of different DNA, representing all viruses that we
know about today. As you may know, many human diseases, even some cancers, are
associated with viruses. And so, surveying the way viruses that have been
discovered in the past, I came to the conclusion that I could use my technology
that I developed as a graduate student — DNA microarray technology — to create
a chip that would simultaneously screen for all viruses ever discovered, and
furthermore have the built-in capability of discovering new viruses. And with
this chip we can take essentially any human sample, put it on the chip, figure
out what viruses are in there. It's a very quick, easy assay.
Q: I was looking at your lab's website and the
first thing I see is a couple of bird pictures, which I actually did not
expect. How does bird disease fit into the work you're doing?
DeRISI: Well, the virus chip that we created is
useful for almost any disease, whether it be a plant disease, a bird disease, a
human disease or whatnot. And so, we were contacted some time ago by several veterinarians
who said, you know there's a disease that's been killing exotic birds — parrots,
cockatiels, cockatoos, so on — for a long time now, for 40 years. And we've
been banging our heads against this disease and not been able to cure it. And
why is it a problem? This disease, called PDD [Proventricular Dilatation
Disease], has been affecting large aviaries, zoos, and conservation efforts
across the world. And essentially they're powerless to stop this disease, which
just makes the birds waste away until they die. And so, we took tissue samples
from birds that had died of PDD, put them on the virus chip, and we were able
to discover a brand new virus, which we believe is the cause of this disease.
DeRisi is this year's winner of the Heinz Award for Technology, which is worth
a quarter-million dollars.
hospitals seen as models of efficiency
in the U.S., we spend more per person on health care than any other country. We
have lots of great hospitals and doctors, but many Americans think we could do
a lot better, considering how much we're paying. So American academics are
looking around the world for ideas about how to make health care more
affordable. Health reporter Rose Hoban has more.
HOBAN: One of the biggest problems facing the U. S.
health care system is money. Services cost a lot, and many people don't have
the money or insurance to pay for the health care they need. So, American
academics are looking around the world for ideas about how to make health care
affordable. Some professors from Duke University in North Carolina think
they've found some examples that work in India.
Schulman is a physician and a professor of business at Duke. He went to India
to study their health care system. He says the health care market there is
fiercely competitive, and a new class of hospitals has emerged in the past two
decades to serve the rapidly expanding middle class.
SCHULMAN: "Most of the hospitals that we looked
at had very, very high-volume, so their are surgeons are really very
HOBAN: Schulman says care provided in the Indian
hospitals was of consistently high quality, and doctors were paid incentives to
do good work.
SCHULMAN: "Where they need to make investments to
make the operating rooms the best that they could be, they made the investment.
But where they needed to make investments to make the rooms look a little nicer,
they saved money in order to save the patient money.."
HOBAN: Few people in India have health insurance,
and most medical care is paid for out of pocket. Schulman says that means
patients need to know what they'll need to pay — this is unlike the U S system,
where insurance companies negotiate prices directly with hospitals. This is
also unlike the system in many European countries, where the government pays
the bills. But Schulman says in India, patients are conscious of cost and of
getting a good value.
SCHULMAN: "If the hospital tells you your service
is going to be a certain amount, then complications that arise as a result of
surgery in some cases are even eaten by the hospital, financially. So, there's
a financial incentive for the hospitals to deliver high-quality service. There
is moreover a custodial reason that they feel that when they make a contract
with someone to offer a service, they're bound to deliver that service at that
HOBAN: Schulman also says Indian doctors and nurses
are extremely proud of their health care system — and of how sophisticated it's
paper is published in the journal Health Affairs. I'm Rose Hoban.
information and health news on WebMD.com
again for our Website of the Week, when we showcase interesting and innovative
week, we're featuring one of the top medical information sites on the Web.
SMITH: "On WebMD, we have both medical news
and general health information. We actually have a WebMD news center. In
addition we have an expansive medical library with everything from videos and
tools to features and a complete reference library."
Michael Smith is the Chief Medical Editor at WebMD.com, where you can keep up
with the latest medical research, learn about specific diseases and conditions,
and even try to diagnose a problem through the "symptom checker"
feature. And everything is reviewed by experts.
SMITH: "So every piece of content on our site
actually goes through a doctor's eyes. A board-certified physician will look at
the content, make sure it's up to date, accurate, and doesn't have anything
misleading that might be misconstrued by a lay audience."
the site's many other features are almost 200 message boards on subjects
ranging from allergies to yoga.
SMITH: "The message boards allow you not only
to communicate with others living with your condition, but it also allows you
to post questions for health experts, either physicians or nurses, a wide
variety of health professionals, even nutritionists in the diet and nutrition
area, to actually post questions to them, ask a specific question, and get a
are also special sections for men, women, and children's health issues,
nutritional advice, and much more.
health information is only a click away at WebMD.com, or get the link to this
and more than 200 other Websites of the Week from our site, voanews.com/ourworld.
MUSIC: Horace Silver — "Doctor Jazz"
listening on VOA's science and technology magazine, Our World. I'm Art Chimes
hunger amidst rising food prices
the annual National Food Policy Conference in Washington this week, some of the
country's leading food and development experts gathered to discuss new
strategies for reducing global hunger in a time of high food prices. Véronique
LaCapra was there and has this report.
LaCAPRA: Worldwide, the demand for food is
LARSEN: "We have a world population that's
growing by more than 70 million people each year."
LaCAPRA: Janet Larsen is the Director of Research at
the Earth Policy Institute, an environmental research organization that focuses
on sustainable development.
LARSEN: "Around the world there are four
billion people trying to move up the food chain, consuming more grain-intensive
livestock products. And then we have as we've heard a lot about today, the
growing diversion of food to fuel, to run our growing automobile fleets."
LaCAPRA: And global food production has not been
keeping pace with increased demand.
LARSEN: "In 7 of the last 8 years, the world
has consumed more grain than we have produced."
LaCAPRA: Ann Tutwiler, the managing director for
Trade and Development at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, says
inadequate investment in agriculture is a major reason why today, food demand
is outstripping supply:
TUTWILER: "Developing country governments and aid
agencies around the world have been putting less money into agriculture.
Spending on farming as a share of public spending fell by half between 1980 and
2004. While official development assistance has almost doubled in the last five
years, the agricultural share of that official development assistance has
fallen from about 20 to 15 percent."
LaCAPRA: With demand already exceeding production,
the recent spike in food prices has been a disaster for the world's poor. David
Beckmann, president of the hunger relief organization Bread for the World, says
that the impact has been most severe in 35 low-income countries that depend
heavily on imports for food.
BECKMANN: "Many of them are sub-Saharan African
countries. Those 35 countries are spending $60 billion more on food imports
this year, than they did in 2006."
LaCAPRA: The World Bank estimates that the surge in
food prices could push a hundred million more people deeper into poverty.
according to Janet Larsen, environmental problems will exacerbate the crisis.
LARSEN: "We're looking at a future of water
shortages. About 70 percent of all the water that's used around the world goes
to irrigate crops. Irrigation has tripled since 1950, but we've tripled our
irrigation by over-pumping underground water resources, diverting rivers so
that they no longer make it to the sea."
LaCAPRA: To address the food crisis in the short
term, says David Beckmann, wealthy nations like the United States need to
increase food aid funding.
BECKMANN: "But we also need to use those dollars
better. When we appropriate money for food aid that can be purchased locally,
we get about twice as much help for hungry people with every dollar."
LaCAPRA: Daniel Gustafson of the United Nation's Food
and Agriculture Organization agrees:
GUSTAFSON: "We know from long experience that cash
or additional income that is spent within let's say sort of the village
economy, has a much larger impact and a much larger multiplier effect when that
money circulates among what other people in that village economy are selling
rather than what they're buying in from the outside."
LaCAPRA: Gustafson says that rural economies also
benefit if agricultural inputs, like fertilizer and seeds, can be purchased on
the local market.
addition, says Gustafson, programs that provide cash to small farmers can help
them break out of the cycle of poverty and hunger.
GUFSTAFSON: "A big issue for most — almost all
smallholder farmers is this liquidity problem of not having cash at the right
time. You can't get credit, you can't get it at the right time, you end up
selling off your goats or your livestock and so on, and you end up actually
through periodic crises getting worse and worse and worse. So if you have a
little bit of extra cash you can not only make it over those difficult periods
but you can in fact invest some of that in productive assets."
LaCAPRA: The experts stressed that to address the
global food crisis in the long term, low-income countries will need more
funding for agricultural development. For Our World, I'm Véronique LaCapra.
CO2 could endanger fragile coastal waters
today: carbon dioxide, or CO2, is probably the best-known greenhouse gas. But
CO2 isn't just something that causes global warming in the atmosphere. Half of
all CO2 from human activity is stored in the world's oceans, where it increases
the oceans' acidity. As Ann Dornfeld reports, that acidification is threatening
fragile coastal areas.
DORNFELD: If you've ever wondered why sparkling water
tastes tangy, instead of just bubbly, it's because of carbonic acid. That's
what's produced when carbon dioxide is added to water. Some of the CO2 in the
world's oceans is natural, from things like decaying algae. But the oceans also
soak up CO2 produced by cars and factories. Once CO2 is absorbed into the
ocean, it sinks to the coldest, deepest water for long-term storage.
oceanographers at Oregon State University are monitoring the chemical
composition of the Pacific Ocean to see where the carbon is being stored. On a research
vessel several miles off the coast, they lower a series of bottles down to the
ocean floor on a winch.
have expected that upwellings would eventually bring some of that CO2 to the
coastal zones that are home to a huge array of marine life. They thought it
would take a century or more. But a recent study, published in the journal Science,
found acidic water fewer than 32 km. off the Pacific Coast.
student Rachel Holzer says that's alarming.
HOLZER: "The ocean is normally at a very stable
pH. It is a buffered system, which means it is not very easy for the pH to
change. But recently there's been evidence that ocean acidification is
happening, meaning that the pH is dropping. And that can be very harmful to
biological life of all different types."
DORNFELD: Corrosive water can dissolve the calcium
carbonate shells of barnacles, mussels, oysters, and clams. Coral reefs are
also calcium carbonate. So are a lot of planktonic species, including
terrapods. Those make up about half of the diet of young salmon.
Hales co-authored the latest study. He's an Associate Professor of Chemical
Oceanography at Oregon State University.
HALES: "The question is how are these
organisms going to respond, you know? Do their shells dissolve, do they just
not grow as quickly? If their shells are negatively impacted, are the organisms
themselves negatively impacted? And if the organisms are negatively impacted,
how does that cascade through the food web?"
DORNFELD: Hales says stopping ocean acidification
would be extremely difficult, if not impossible.
HALES: "There are people who have talked about
going out in the ocean and spraying sodium carbonate pellets into the water,
which would dissolve and neutralize some of the carbonic acid. That's one idea that's been proposed. It's
really, really speculative that that would work."
DORNFELD: What's more, Hales says the process of
hauling all of that ocean antacid out to sea and dispersing it could produce as
much CO2 as it would neutralize.
"It is depressing. We wish things
weren't this way and moving sort of irreversibly towards worse conditions. But
we also know that the oceans do have a lot of ability to adapt. And what we
don't know yet is exactly how this is gonna play out."
One thing scientists do know is that
the acidification has just begun. The corrosive water they found right off the
Pacific Coast was from carbon dioxide released about 50 years ago. And over the
last half century, CO2 production has only increased.
Environment Report, I'm Ann Dornfeld.
for the Environment Report comes from the Joyce Foundation, the George Gund
Foundation, and the Americana Foundation. You can contact them at
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