US government labs plan biohazard-safety sweep

Nature Newsblog - Fri, 2014-08-29 11:13

The discovery of smallpox in a refrigerator at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, on 9 July has apparently sparked some soul searching in the US government. On 27 August, the NIH designated September as National Biosafety Stewardship Month, encouraging researchers to take inventory of their freezers for potentially dangerous agents such as pathogens and toxins, and review their biosafety protocols. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) did the same in a memo released to the public on 28 August, suggesting “a government-wide ‘safety stand-down,’” and “strongly urging” both federal agencies and independent labs to complete these steps within the month.

Although the OSTP does not have the regulatory power to enforce inspections, documents obtained exclusively by Nature show that some government agencies are already starting strict surveillance of their labs. In July, the NIH began scouring its own facilities for any misplaced hazards. Its rigorous strategy, obtained through public-records request, requires laboratories at all of its campuses — whether they work with infectious diseases or not — to survey their vials and boxes for potentially dangerous pathogens, venoms, toxins and other agents.  The scientific directors of each NIH institute have until 30 September to submit affidavits confirming that this has been completed by the laboratories in their institutes.

The protocols for this comprehensive sweep describe steps that the laboratory directors must take “including, but not limited to: a) randomly choosing several containers in the inventoried repository and confirming that their contents are as expected; b) if feasible, visually inspecting the contents of a substantial number of containers in the repository to be sure they hold vials of the expected type.” Anything unlabelled must be thrown away, and labs are instructed to pay specific attention not only to pathogens, but also to other hazardous materials such as poisons, venoms and explosive materials.

For extremely large collections with more than 10 million vials, such as the tissue sample repositories managed by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), researchers will not need to evaluate every single sample. Instead, they can apply a  statistical algorithm to determine how many are likely to be misidentified. The NCI’s algorithm, for instance, would require examining 10,000 out of 10 million samples and matching them to existing electronic records of the inventory, and then extrapolating the rate of mismatches to the entire sample collection.

Other government agencies that work with infectious diseases are also beginning laboratory sweeps. In testimony to Congress on 16 July, Thomas Frieden, director of the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) promised a sweeping inventory of all CDC labs at the wake of a pair of incidents in which scientists were exposed to anthrax, and accidentally shipped flu virus to another lab.

On 25 August, the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) sent out a memo to its staff announcing that it would be complying with a “government-wide safety stand-down” while the agency makes sure that none of its labs have unregistered dangerous biological agents or toxins and reviews its security practices. VA scientists have until 24 September to submit affidavits that they have complied with this order.

Carrie Wolinetz, the associate vice-president for federal relations at the Association of American Universities in Washington DC, says that a number of scientists were initially concerned about that the vaguely worded VA requirement meant that research would be suspended for an unspecified amount of time. She sent out a memo to universities on 26 August, clarifying that the OSTP would not be enforcing any mandates.  “It’s saying just take a day to take a look through your freezer,” she says. “It’s a good opportunity to do some reflection on what’s in your lab without it being burdensome or regulatory.”

But the lack of regulatory power is what worries epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts. “Overall the White House memo is encouraging as the first, small step in a comprehensive approach to biosafety and biosecurity, but it will have little effect unless many other changes are put in place, which remain unspecified at this time,” he wrote in an e-mail to Nature.

Lipsitch is particularly concerned about regulation of experiments that make pathogens such as influenza virus more dangerous, and incidents such as those at the CDC. “The three incidents with [dangerous pathogens] in federal labs that spurred this action are among hundreds that happen each year in US laboratories,” Lipsitch writes. “Given the magnitude of the response that these three incidents have provoked, it is unsupportable to keep secret the details of [these] incidents in general. The poorly justified ‘security’ reason for keeping such incidents secret cannot outweigh the need to understand and learn from them.”

Categories: General, News

Danish museum discovers unique gift from Charles Darwin

Science Daily: New Species - Fri, 2014-08-29 08:39
The Natural History Museum of Denmark recently discovered a unique gift from one of the greatest-ever scientists. In 1854, Charles Darwin – father of the theory of evolution – sent a gift to his Danish colleague Japetus Steenstrup, director of the Royal Museum of Natural History. Until very recently, no one at the museum knew that it possessed a piece of scientific history of this caliber. Just a few weeks ago, the head of exhibitions was studying the correspondence between Steenstrup and Darwin as part of her search for objects to include in an upcoming exhibition. She started to suspect a treasure lay hidden somewhere, and soon a hunt was launched among the museum’s 14 million objects.
Categories: General, Science Daily

Small molecule acts as on-off switch for nature's antibiotic factory

Biology News - Thu, 2014-08-28 18:58

The soil bacteria Streptomyces form filamentous branches that extend into the air to create spiraling towers of spores. Scientists have identified the developmental on-off switch for Streptomyces, a group of soil microbes that produce more than two-thirds of the world's naturally derived antibiotic medicines.

Categories: Biology News, General

Ebola vaccine trials fast-tracked by international consortium

Biology News - Thu, 2014-08-28 18:58

A candidate Ebola vaccine could be given to healthy volunteers in the UK, The Gambia and Mali as early as September, as part of an series of safety trials of potential vaccines aimed at preventing the disease that has killed more than 1,400 people in the current outbreak in West Africa.

Categories: Biology News, General

Genomic sequencing reveals mutations, insights into 2014 Ebola outbreak

Biology News - Thu, 2014-08-28 18:58

In response to an ongoing, unprecedented outbreak of Ebola virus disease (EVD) in West Africa, a team of researchers from the Broad Institute and Harvard University, in collaboration with the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and Sanitation and researchers across institutions and continents, has rapidly sequenced and analyzed more than 99 Ebola virus genomes. Their findings could have important implications for rapid field diagnostic tests. The team reports its results online in the journal Science.

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New book list, August 20, 2014

Ernst Mayr Library Blog - Thu, 2014-08-21 11:15

Birds and climate change: impacts and conservation responses.
By James W. Pearce-Higgins, Rhys E. Green. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. HOLLIS# 014117392
QL698.95.P43 2014

Climate change adaptation in Africa: an historical ecology.
By Gufu Oba. Abingdon, Oxon; New York, NY: Routledge, 2014. HOLLIS# 014117419
SF55.H67 O43 2014

Coastal conservation.
Edited by Brooke Maslo and Julie L. Lockwood, Rutgers University, New Jersey, USA. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. HOLLIS# 014117424
QH541.5.C65 C5485 2014

Collaborative partnerships in transboundary wildlife management: a review of southern African experiences.
By Solomon Mombeshora. Harare, Zimbabwe: Regional Office for Southern Africa, IUCN, The World Conservation Union, 2005. HOLLIS# 010205332
SK575.S55 M66 2005

Endangered elephants: past, present, and future: Symposium on Human-Elephant Relationships and Conflicts, Sri Lanka, September 2003.
Editor, Jayantha Jayewardene. Rajagiriya: Biodiversity and Elephant Conservation Trust, 2004. HOLLIS# 010296666
QL737.P98 S98 2004

Fish chemosenses.
Editors, Klaus Reutter, B.G. Kapoor. Enfield, NH: Science Publishers, c2005. HOLLIS# 009795725
QL639.1.F5524 2005

Foundations of fisheries science.
Edited by Greg G. Sass, Micheal S. Allen; section edited by Robert Arlinghaus [and four others]. Bethesda, Maryland: American Fisheries Society, 2014. HOLLIS# 014122140
SH328.F68 2014

Handbook of Western Australian birds. Volume 2: Passerines (Blue-winged Pitta to Goldfinch).
By R.E. Johnstone and G.M. Storr, edited by Deborah Louise Taylor. Perth, W.A.: Western Australian Museum, 1998- . HOLLIS# 007975815
QL693.J655 1998 v. 2

Handbook on the economics of ecosystem services and biodiversity.
Edited by Paulo A.L.D. Nunes, Pushpam Kumar, Tom Dedeurwaerdere. Cheltenham, UK; Northampton, MA, USA: Edward Elgar, [2014]. HOLLIS# 014122147
QH541.15.E25 H25 2014

Indian birds.
By R. K. Gaur. New Delhi: Brijbasi Printers, 1994. HOLLIS# 010296659
QL691.I4 G38 1994

Inseklopedie van Suider-Afrika.
By Erik Holm. Pretoria: LAPA Uitgewers, 2008. HOLLIS# 012041994
QL485.S6 H65 2008

Mamíferos de España.
[By] Juan Carlos Blanco; prólogo de Miguel Delibes de Castro. 1. ed. Barcelona: Planeta, 1998. HOLLIS# 008190988
QL728.S7 B485 1998 v. 1-2

Quantitative genetics in the wild.
Edited by Anne Charmantier, Dany Garant, Loeske E.B. Kruuk. 1st ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. HOLLIS# 014122167
QH432.Q36 2014

Rare and endangered plants and animals of Gujarat, February 2003: as part of the Project Conservation of Rare and Endangered Biodiversity of Gujarat.
Vadodara: Gujarat Ecology Society, 2003. HOLLIS# 010296691
QK86.I4 R37 2003

Salmonid spawning habitat in rivers: physical controls, biological responses, and approaches to remediation.
Edited by David A. Sear and Paul DeVries. Bethesda, Md.: American Fisheries Society, 2008. HOLLIS# 012316469
SH167.S18 S3 2008

Shark nursery grounds of the Gulf of Mexico and the East Coast waters of the United States.
Edited by Camilla T. McCandless, Nancy E. Kohler, and Harold L. Pratt, Jr. Bethesda, Md.: American Fisheries Society, 2007. HOLLIS# 012514564
QL638.9.S4537 2007

Spezielle Zoologie. [Teil. 1], Einzeller und wirbellose Tiere.
[Editors], Wilfried Westheide und Reinhard RiegerEinzeller und wirbellose Tiere3rd ed. Berlin; Heidelberg :Springer Spektrum, 2013. HOLLIS# 014137379
QL362.E36 2013 [Teil 1]

Teleosts: evolutionary development, diversity and behavioral ecology.
Skylar Carone, editor. Hauppauge, New York: Nova Science Publisher’s, Inc., [2014]. HOLLIS# 014122188
QL618.2.T45 2014

Wetland conservation in Sri Lanka: proceedings of the National Symposium on Wetland Conservation and Management: June 19th and 20th, 2003, IUCN-The World Conservation Union, Sri Lanka Country Office.

Colombo: IUCN, Sri Lanka, c2004. HOLLIS# 010296670
QH77.S72 N37 2003

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