Archive for the ‘Da Brayn’ Category

During a panel discussion on Tuesday, April 7 NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan had some exciting news:

“I think we’re going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth within a decade, and I think we’re going to have definitive evidence within 20 to 30 years,” Stofan said.

However, Stofan and the team of panelists were less sure about exactly where humankind will discover the first signs of alien life.

“I think we’re one generation away in our solar system, whether it’s on an icy moon or on Mars, and one generation [away] on a planet around a nearby star,” said another panelist member and associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate John Grunsfeld.

Last month, Business Insider spoke with NASA astrobiologist Chris McKay about where he thought humankind would first find signs of alien life in our solar system. Surprisingly, the most likely place is not nearby or on any surface.

We need to start looking underground, according to McKay.

“Things are better below the surface,” says McKay, who is a senior scientist with NASA’s Planetary Systems Branch. She investigates where else life could exist in our solar system.

Unfortunately, designing and dispatching a lander that can dig deep beneath a planet’s surface is incredibly difficult and expensive. The only places scientists have drilled, collected, and examined samples beneath the surface is on the moon and Mars.

One place where we wouldn’t need to dig and drill is on Saturn’s tiny moon, Enceladus. It harbors a massive ocean underneath a thick layer of ice on its surface. Two different teams of scientists found compelling evidence there that indicates active volcanoes line the tiny moon’s seafloor.

McKay is excited about the prospect of Enceladus for another reason though. “Enceladus is most likely to give us an answer soonest,” he said. “The reason is Enceladus has a plume coming into space.”

In 2005, the Cassini spacecraft flew by Enceladus and spotted plumes of water vapor and other materials gushing out of its surface. If there’s life in the solar system, the first place we’re likely to find it is inside of those plumes, McKay said.

Sadly, Cassini is not equipped with the right instruments to detect signs of life in these plumes. And right now, NASA has no plans to dispatch another probe to Saturn or its moons anytime soon. That’s not stopping McKay and others from discussing what they’d look for there if they had the chance.

“I’d suggest that the best molecules to measure are amino acids, the building blocks of proteins,” McKay said during a live webcast hosted by The Kavli Foundation in January. “Life on Earth has made specific choices in amino acids. It uses a set of just 20 amino acids to build proteins, and those amino acids are all left-handed.”

Left-handed amino acids are chemically identical (meaning they have all the same atoms in the same amounts) to right-handed animo acids. The difference is that they are structured in a way so they’re mirror images of one another, just like how your right and left hands are the same shape but don’t line up when you put one on top of the other.

One of the outstanding mysteries in astrobiology is why RNA and DNA is only constructed from proteins built by left-handed amino acids. Regardless of why or how, this fact will come in handy during potential future studies of Enceladus.

“If Chris were to find amino acids in the plumes of Enceladus, the challenge becomes determining whether they are the products of a biological process,” Steven Benner, president of the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in Florida, said during the webcast. “If he were to find that they’re all the same hand, that would be convincing, because that’s what makes the protein evolvable.”

For McKay, the excitement of the hunt is not just about discovering whether aliens exist. It’s discovering unique alien life that is completely different from life on Earth, which might be quite a bit harder since the building blocks of life are so complex.

“In my mind that’s the real question. Not, ‘Is there life on these other worlds?’ but ‘iI there a second genesis of life on these other worlds?'” McKay told Business Insider. “That’s a subtlety that’s not obvious until you think about it.”

A second-genesis of alien life could, in theory, have a completely different biomolecular structure from life on Earth. Right now, scientists debate whether or not life on Earth originated on another celestial object, like Mars, that then hitched a ride to Earth inside of a meteorite.

That is not a stretch to imagine, researchers say, since Mars was covered with liquid water around the same time that life is believed to have begun on Earth. If we do find evidence of life on Mars and it has the same DNA as us, then it’s probably our cousins, McKay told Business Insider.

If we want to find truly unique alien life, then we’ll have to travel farther than next door.

“As we go from Mars to Europa to Enceladus to Titan, as the worlds get farther away from Earth the conditions get less and less like Earth,” McKay said. “We’re more likely to find life that’s not related to us the farther out we go.”

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/where-were-most-likely-to-find-alien-life-in-the-space-2015-4#ixzz3Wlha9IoQ

Thanks to Da Brayn

The technology is reminiscent of the deflector shields popularized in the world of ‘Star Trek.’

There are several technologies from the world of “Star Trek” that perhaps seem forever relegated to science fiction: transporters, warp drives, universal translators, etc. But if Boeing has its way, you won’t find deflector shields on that list. The multinational corporation has been granted a patent for a real life force field-like defense system that is reminiscent of the Trekkie tech most famous for keeping Enterprise safe from phaser blasts and photon torpedoes, reports CNN.

The patent, originally filed in 2012, calls the technology a “method and system for shockwave attenuation via electromagnetic arc.” Though not exactly the same thing as featured in “Star Trek,” the concept isn’t that far off from its fictional counterpart. Basically, the system is designed to create a shell of ionized air — a plasma field, essentially — between the shockwave of an oncoming blast and the object being protected.

According to the patent, it works “by heating a selected region of the first fluid medium rapidly to create a second, transient medium that intercepts the shockwave and attenuates its energy density before it reaches a protected asset.”

The protective arc of air can be superheated using a laser. In theory, such a plasma field should dissipate any shockwave that comes into contact with it, though its effectiveness has yet to be proven in practice. The device would also include sensors that can detect an oncoming blast before it makes impact, so that it wouldn’t have to be turned on at all times. It would only activate when needed, kind of like how a vehicle’s airbag is only triggered by an impact.

Boeing’s force field would not protect against shrapnel or flying projectiles — it is only designed to guard against a shockwave — so it isn’t an all-encompassing shield. But if it works, it will still offer improved protection against dangers commonly met on modern battlefields.

“Explosive devices are being used increasingly in asymmetric warfare to cause damage and destruction to equipment and loss of life. The majority of the damage caused by explosive devices results from shrapnel and shock waves,” reads the patent.

So the world of “Star Trek” may not be so far off after all. Maybe next, we’ll have subspace communications and Vulcan mind melds. The line between science and science fiction is becoming increasingly blurred indeed.

Read more: http://www.mnn.com/green-tech/research-innovations/stories/boeing-granted-patent-for-worlds-first-real-life-force-field#ixzz3VoQfqOyA

Thanks to Kebmodee and Da Brayn for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

A laser weapon made by Lockheed Martin can stop a small truck dead in its tracks from more than a mile (1.6 kilometers) away, the company announced this week.

The laser system, called ATHENA (short for Advanced Test High Energy Asset), is designed to protect military forces and key infrastructure, Lockheed Martin representatives said. During a recent field test, the laser managed to burn through and disable a small truck’s engine.

The truck was not driving normally; it was on a platform with the engine and drivetrain running, Lockheed Martin representatives said. The milestone is the highest power ever documented by a laser weapon of its type, according to the company. Lockheed is expected to conduct additional tests of ATHENA.

“Fiber-optic lasers are revolutionizing directed energy systems,” Keoki Jackson, Lockheed Martin’s chief technology officer, said in a statement. “This test represents the next step to providing lightweight and rugged laser-weapon systems for military aircraft, helicopters, ships and trucks.”

The ATHENA system could be a boon for the military because the laser can stop ground-based adversaries from interfering with operations long before they reach the front lines, company representatives said.

The laser weapon is based on a similar system called Area Defense Anti-Munitions (also developed by Lockheed Martin), which focuses on airborne threats. The 30-kilowatt Accelerated Laser Demonstration Initiative — the laser in ATHENA itself — was also made by Lockheed.

The recent test was the first time that such a laser was tested in the field, the company said. The Accelerated Laser Demonstration Initiative is a multifiber laser created through a technique called spectral beam combining. Essentially, the system takes multiple lasers and mashes them into one. Lockheed representatives said this beam “provides greater efficiency and lethality than multiple individual 10-kilowatt lasers used in other systems.”

Last year, Lockheed also highlighted laser defense capabilities in a demonstration test between two boats that were located about 1 mile apart. The vessels, described as “military-grade,” were stopped less than 30 seconds after the laser burned through the boat’s rubber hull.

http://www.livescience.com/50064-laser-weapon-stops-truck.html

Thanks to Da Brayn for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.


Taking a simultaneously imaginative and rigidly scientific view, Cornell chemical engineers and astronomers offer a template for life that could thrive in a harsh, cold world – specifically Titan, the giant moon of Saturn. A planetary body awash with seas not of water, but of liquid methane, Titan could harbour methane-based, oxygen-free cells that metabolise, reproduce and do everything life on Earth does.

Their theorised cell membrane, composed of small organic nitrogen compounds and capable of functioning in liquid methane temperatures of 292 degrees below zero, was published in Science Advances, 27th February. The work is led by chemical molecular dynamics expert Paulette Clancy, the Samuel W. and Diane M. Bodman Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, with first author James Stevenson, a graduate student in chemical engineering. The paper’s co-author is Jonathan Lunine, the David C. Duncan Professor in the Physical Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Astronomy.
Lunine is an expert on Saturn’s moons and an interdisciplinary scientist on the Cassini-Huygens mission that discovered methane-ethane seas on Titan. Intrigued by the possibilities of methane-based life on Titan, and armed with a grant from the Templeton Foundation to study non-aqueous life, Lunine sought assistance about a year ago from Cornell faculty with expertise in chemical modeling. Clancy, who had never met Lunine, offered to help.

“We’re not biologists, and we’re not astronomers, but we had the right tools,” Clancy said. “Perhaps it helped, because we didn’t come in with any preconceptions about what should be in a membrane and what shouldn’t. We just worked with the compounds that we knew were there and asked, ‘If this was your palette, what can you make out of that?’”

On Earth, life is based on the phospholipid bilayer membrane, the strong, permeable, water-based vesicle that houses the organic matter of every cell. A vesicle made from such a membrane is called a liposome. Thus, many astronomers seek extraterrestrial life in what’s called the circumstellar habitable zone, the narrow band around the Sun in which liquid water can exist. But what if cells weren’t based on water, but on methane, which has a much lower freezing point?

The engineers named their theorised cell membrane an “azotosome,” “azote” being the French word for nitrogen. “Liposome” comes from the Greek “lipos” and “soma” to mean “lipid body;” by analogy, “azotosome” means “nitrogen body.”

The azotosome is made from nitrogen, carbon and hydrogen molecules known to exist in the cryogenic seas of Titan, but shows the same stability and flexibility that Earth’s analogous liposome does. This came as a surprise to chemists like Clancy and Stevenson, who had never thought about the mechanics of cell stability before; they usually study semiconductors, not cells.

The engineers employed a molecular dynamics method that screened for candidate compounds from methane for self-assembly into membrane-like structures. The most promising compound they found is an acrylonitrile azotosome, which showed good stability, a strong barrier to decomposition, and a flexibility similar to that of phospholipid membranes on Earth. Acrylonitrile – a colourless, poisonous, liquid organic compound used in the manufacture of acrylic fibres, resins and thermoplastics – is present in Titan’s atmosphere.

Excited by the initial proof of concept, Clancy said the next step is to try and demonstrate how these cells would behave in the methane environment – what might be the analogue to reproduction and metabolism in oxygen-free, methane-based cells.

Lunine looks forward to the long-term prospect of testing these ideas on Titan itself, as he put it, by “someday sending a probe to float on the seas of this amazing moon and directly sampling the organics.”

Stevenson said he was in part inspired by science fiction writer Isaac Asimov, who wrote about the concept of non-water-based life in a 1962 essay, “Not as We Know It.”

Said Stevenson: “Ours is the first concrete blueprint of life not as we know it.”

http://astronomynow.com/2015/03/01/life-not-as-we-know-it-possible-on-saturns-moon-titan/

Thanks to Da Brayn for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

When zoologist Ivan Sazima went for a walk in the park in southeastern Brazil on a warm September day in 2013, he was hoping to find noteworthy animal behavior to study.

But he did not expect to witness lizard necrophilia. Right in front of him, he saw a male reptile trying to court and mate with a dead female of the same species, Salvator merianae, commonly known as the black-and-white tegu.

“I felt a sense of wonder, because I did not observe this behavior in lizards before, only in frogs,” said Sazima, of the Zoology Museum of the University of Campinas in São Paulo.

Necrophilia occurs in other lizard species, but it’s the first documented instance in black-and-white tegus, one of the most common lizards in South America.

Sazima watched the male lizard flick his tongue at the deceased female—a common courtship behavior—and try to mate with her for about five minutes. Then a group of geese showed up, causing the confused suitor to flee.

The scientist returned to the same spot the next afternoon. By that time, the corpse was bloated and had begun to rot and smell.

But even the stench did not discourage another male black-and-white tegu from attempting to have sex with the dead body—this time for nearly an hour.

During this time, the new male embraced the dead female and bit her head, another courtship behavior. He rested on her body from time to time, taking breaks from the exhausting sexual activity, before finally flicking his tongue on the corpse and leaving, according to the study, published in January in the journal Herpetology Notes.

Sazima’s encounter adds to several reported instances of necrophilia in the animal world.

Henrique Caldeira Costa of the Federal University of Minas Gerais, in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, reported necrophilia in male green ameiva lizards in Brazil in 2010. The female had likely been hit by a vehicle on the road, he wrote in the journal Herpetology Notes.

In another incident, Kamelia Algiers, a biologist at Ventura College in California, described a necrophiliac long-nosed leopard lizard in Nevada, in the western United States.

The animal attempted to copulate with a roadkill female, whose “intestines were sticking out, and there were ants crawling all over it,” said Algiers, who described the event in 2005 in Herpetological Review.

What’s more, mating with the dead isn’t restricted to reptiles and amphibians: Ducks, penguins, sea lions, pigeons, and even ground squirrels have also been caught in the grisly act.

Why Mate With the Dead?

So, what exactly draws some male lizards to female corpses? Despite many scientific observations, “necrophilia in lizards is still poorly understood,” said Costa, who wasn’t involved in the new tegu research.

But as for those amorous black-and-white tegus, the Zoology Museum’s Sazima has a theory: The males may have been simply fooled into thinking the female was alive.

For one, the dead female lizard was still warm: Though dead, her body temperature was probably close to that of the ambient air. And her pheromones, likely still detectable on her body after death, may have allured the male admirers.

Federal University’s Costa agrees this is a valid theory, and suspects that the female’s high body temperature and pheromones might have explained the lizard necrophiliac he described in 2010.

Interestingly, necrophilia seems to be beneficial for at least one species: a small frog in Amazonian Brazil called Rhinella proboscidea.

A 2013 study showed that R. proboscidea males can extract eggs from dead sexual partners and fertilize them, a process called “functional necrophilia.”

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/02/150227-necrophilia-lizards-animals-mating-sex-science-brazil/?google_editors_picks=true

Thanks to Da Brayn for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

by Johann Hari
Author of ‘Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs’

It is now one hundred years since drugs were first banned — and all through this long century of waging war on drugs, we have been told a story about addiction by our teachers and by our governments. This story is so deeply ingrained in our minds that we take it for granted. It seems obvious. It seems manifestly true. Until I set off three and a half years ago on a 30,000-mile journey for my new book, Chasing The Scream: The First And Last Days of the War on Drugs, to figure out what is really driving the drug war, I believed it too. But what I learned on the road is that almost everything we have been told about addiction is wrong — and there is a very different story waiting for us, if only we are ready to hear it.

If we truly absorb this new story, we will have to change a lot more than the drug war. We will have to change ourselves.

I learned it from an extraordinary mixture of people I met on my travels. From the surviving friends of Billie Holiday, who helped me to learn how the founder of the war on drugs stalked and helped to kill her. From a Jewish doctor who was smuggled out of the Budapest ghetto as a baby, only to unlock the secrets of addiction as a grown man. From a transsexual crack dealer in Brooklyn who was conceived when his mother, a crack-addict, was raped by his father, an NYPD officer. From a man who was kept at the bottom of a well for two years by a torturing dictatorship, only to emerge to be elected President of Uruguay and to begin the last days of the war on drugs.

I had a quite personal reason to set out for these answers. One of my earliest memories as a kid is trying to wake up one of my relatives, and not being able to. Ever since then, I have been turning over the essential mystery of addiction in my mind — what causes some people to become fixated on a drug or a behavior until they can’t stop? How do we help those people to come back to us? As I got older, another of my close relatives developed a cocaine addiction, and I fell into a relationship with a heroin addict. I guess addiction felt like home to me.

If you had asked me what causes drug addiction at the start, I would have looked at you as if you were an idiot, and said: “Drugs. Duh.” It’s not difficult to grasp. I thought I had seen it in my own life. We can all explain it. Imagine if you and I and the next twenty people to pass us on the street take a really potent drug for twenty days. There are strong chemical hooks in these drugs, so if we stopped on day twenty-one, our bodies would need the chemical. We would have a ferocious craving. We would be addicted. That’s what addiction means.

One of the ways this theory was first established is through rat experiments — ones that were injected into the American psyche in the 1980s, in a famous advert by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. You may remember it. The experiment is simple. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself.

The advert explains: “Only one drug is so addictive, nine out of ten laboratory rats will use it. And use it. And use it. Until dead. It’s called cocaine. And it can do the same thing to you.”

But in the 1970s, a professor of Psychology in Vancouver called Bruce Alexander noticed something odd about this experiment. The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently? So Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat about town could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, will happen then?

In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn’t know what was in them. But what happened next was startling.

The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.

At first, I thought this was merely a quirk of rats, until I discovered that there was — at the same time as the Rat Park experiment — a helpful human equivalent taking place. It was called the Vietnam War. Time magazine reported using heroin was “as common as chewing gum” among U.S. soldiers, and there is solid evidence to back this up: some 20 percent of U.S. soldiers had become addicted to heroin there, according to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Many people were understandably terrified; they believed a huge number of addicts were about to head home when the war ended.

But in fact some 95 percent of the addicted soldiers — according to the same study — simply stopped. Very few had rehab. They shifted from a terrifying cage back to a pleasant one, so didn’t want the drug any more.

Professor Alexander argues this discovery is a profound challenge both to the right-wing view that addiction is a moral failing caused by too much hedonistic partying, and the liberal view that addiction is a disease taking place in a chemically hijacked brain. In fact, he argues, addiction is an adaptation. It’s not you. It’s your cage.

After the first phase of Rat Park, Professor Alexander then took this test further. He reran the early experiments, where the rats were left alone, and became compulsive users of the drug. He let them use for fifty-seven days — if anything can hook you, it’s that. Then he took them out of isolation, and placed them in Rat Park. He wanted to know, if you fall into that state of addiction, is your brain hijacked, so you can’t recover? Do the drugs take you over? What happened is — again — striking. The rats seemed to have a few twitches of withdrawal, but they soon stopped their heavy use, and went back to having a normal life. The good cage saved them. (The full references to all the studies I am discussing are in the book.)

When I first learned about this, I was puzzled. How can this be? This new theory is such a radical assault on what we have been told that it felt like it could not be true. But the more scientists I interviewed, and the more I looked at their studies, the more I discovered things that don’t seem to make sense — unless you take account of this new approach.

Here’s one example of an experiment that is happening all around you, and may well happen to you one day. If you get run over today and you break your hip, you will probably be given diamorphine, the medical name for heroin. In the hospital around you, there will be plenty of people also given heroin for long periods, for pain relief. The heroin you will get from the doctor will have a much higher purity and potency than the heroin being used by street-addicts, who have to buy from criminals who adulterate it. So if the old theory of addiction is right — it’s the drugs that cause it; they make your body need them — then it’s obvious what should happen. Loads of people should leave the hospital and try to score smack on the streets to meet their habit.

But here’s the strange thing: It virtually never happens. As the Canadian doctor Gabor Mate was the first to explain to me, medical users just stop, despite months of use. The same drug, used for the same length of time, turns street-users into desperate addicts and leaves medical patients unaffected.

If you still believe — as I used to — that addiction is caused by chemical hooks, this makes no sense. But if you believe Bruce Alexander’s theory, the picture falls into place. The street-addict is like the rats in the first cage, isolated, alone, with only one source of solace to turn to. The medical patient is like the rats in the second cage. She is going home to a life where she is surrounded by the people she loves. The drug is the same, but the environment is different.

This gives us an insight that goes much deeper than the need to understand addicts. Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It’s how we get our satisfaction. If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find — the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding.’ A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.

So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.

When I learned all this, I found it slowly persuading me, but I still couldn’t shake off a nagging doubt. Are these scientists saying chemical hooks make no difference? It was explained to me — you can become addicted to gambling, and nobody thinks you inject a pack of cards into your veins. You can have all the addiction, and none of the chemical hooks. I went to a Gamblers’ Anonymous meeting in Las Vegas (with the permission of everyone present, who knew I was there to observe) and they were as plainly addicted as the cocaine and heroin addicts I have known in my life. Yet there are no chemical hooks on a craps table.

But still, surely, I asked, there is some role for the chemicals? It turns out there is an experiment which gives us the answer to this in quite precise terms, which I learned about in Richard DeGrandpre’s book The Cult of Pharmacology.

Everyone agrees cigarette smoking is one of the most addictive processes around. The chemical hooks in tobacco come from a drug inside it called nicotine. So when nicotine patches were developed in the early 1990s, there was a huge surge of optimism — cigarette smokers could get all of their chemical hooks, without the other filthy (and deadly) effects of cigarette smoking. They would be freed.

But the Office of the Surgeon General has found that just 17.7 percent of cigarette smokers are able to stop using nicotine patches. That’s not nothing. If the chemicals drive 17.7 percent of addiction, as this shows, that’s still millions of lives ruined globally. But what it reveals again is that the story we have been taught about The Cause of Addiction lying with chemical hooks is, in fact, real, but only a minor part of a much bigger picture.

This has huge implications for the one-hundred-year-old war on drugs. This massive war — which, as I saw, kills people from the malls of Mexico to the streets of Liverpool — is based on the claim that we need to physically eradicate a whole array of chemicals because they hijack people’s brains and cause addiction. But if drugs aren’t the driver of addiction — if, in fact, it is disconnection that drives addiction — then this makes no sense.

Ironically, the war on drugs actually increases all those larger drivers of addiction. For example, I went to a prison in Arizona — ‘Tent City’ — where inmates are detained in tiny stone isolation cages (‘The Hole’) for weeks and weeks on end to punish them for drug use. It is as close to a human recreation of the cages that guaranteed deadly addiction in rats as I can imagine. And when those prisoners get out, they will be unemployable because of their criminal record — guaranteeing they with be cut off even more. I watched this playing out in the human stories I met across the world.

There is an alternative. You can build a system that is designed to help drug addicts to reconnect with the world — and so leave behind their addictions.

This isn’t theoretical. It is happening. I have seen it. Nearly fifteen years ago, Portugal had one of the worst drug problems in Europe, with 1 percent of the population addicted to heroin. They had tried a drug war, and the problem just kept getting worse. So they decided to do something radically different. They resolved to decriminalize all drugs, and transfer all the money they used to spend on arresting and jailing drug addicts, and spend it instead on reconnecting them — to their own feelings, and to the wider society. The most crucial step is to get them secure housing, and subsidized jobs so they have a purpose in life, and something to get out of bed for. I watched as they are helped, in warm and welcoming clinics, to learn how to reconnect with their feelings, after years of trauma and stunning them into silence with drugs.

One example I learned about was a group of addicts who were given a loan to set up a removals firm. Suddenly, they were a group, all bonded to each other, and to the society, and responsible for each other’s care.

The results of all this are now in. An independent study by the British Journal of Criminology found that since total decriminalization, addiction has fallen, and injecting drug use is down by 50 percent. I’ll repeat that: injecting drug use is down by 50 percent. Decriminalization has been such a manifest success that very few people in Portugal want to go back to the old system. The main campaigner against the decriminalization back in 2000 was Joao Figueira, the country’s top drug cop. He offered all the dire warnings that we would expect from the Daily Mail or Fox News. But when we sat together in Lisbon, he told me that everything he predicted had not come to pass — and he now hopes the whole world will follow Portugal’s example.

This isn’t only relevant to the addicts I love. It is relevant to all of us, because it forces us to think differently about ourselves. Human beings are bonding animals. We need to connect and love. The wisest sentence of the twentieth century was E.M. Forster’s — “only connect.” But we have created an environment and a culture that cut us off from connection, or offer only the parody of it offered by the Internet. The rise of addiction is a symptom of a deeper sickness in the way we live — constantly directing our gaze towards the next shiny object we should buy, rather than the human beings all around us.

The writer George Monbiot has called this “the age of loneliness.” We have created human societies where it is easier for people to become cut off from all human connections than ever before. Bruce Alexander — the creator of Rat Park — told me that for too long, we have talked exclusively about individual recovery from addiction. We need now to talk about social recovery — how we all recover, together, from the sickness of isolation that is sinking on us like a thick fog.

But this new evidence isn’t just a challenge to us politically. It doesn’t just force us to change our minds. It forces us to change our hearts.

Loving an addict is really hard. When I looked at the addicts I love, it was always tempting to follow the tough love advice doled out by reality shows like Intervention — tell the addict to shape up, or cut them off. Their message is that an addict who won’t stop should be shunned. It’s the logic of the drug war, imported into our private lives. But in fact, I learned, that will only deepen their addiction — and you may lose them altogether. I came home determined to tie the addicts in my life closer to me than ever — to let them know I love them unconditionally, whether they stop, or whether they can’t.

When I returned from my long journey, I looked at my ex-boyfriend, in withdrawal, trembling on my spare bed, and I thought about him differently. For a century now, we have been singing war songs about addicts. It occurred to me as I wiped his brow, we should have been singing love songs to them all along.

The full story of Johann Hari’s journey — told through the stories of the people he met — can be read in Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, published by Bloomsbury. The book has been praised by everyone from Elton John to Glenn Greenwald to Naomi Klein. You can buy it at all good bookstores and read more at http://www.chasingthescream.com.

Johann Hari will be talking about his book at 7pm at Politics and Prose in Washington DC on the 29th of January, at lunchtime at the 92nd Street Y in New York City on the 30th January, and in the evening at Red Emma’s in Baltimore on the 4th February.

Thanks to Da Brayn for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/johann-hari/the-real-cause-of-addicti_b_6506936.html

By Ann Lukits

A soil sample from a national park in eastern Canada has produced a compound that appears to reverse antibiotic resistance in dangerous bacteria.

Scientists at McMaster University in Ontario discovered that the compound almost instantly turned off a gene in several harmful bacteria that makes them highly resistant to treatment with a class of antibiotics used to fight so-called superbug infections. The compound, called aspergillomarasmine A, or AMA, was extracted from a common fungus found in soil and mold.

Antibiotic resistance is a growing public-health threat. Common germs such as Escherichia coli, or E. coli, are becoming harder to treat because they increasingly don’t respond to antibiotics. Some two million people in the U.S. are infected each year by antibiotic-resistant bacteria and 23,000 die as a result, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The World Health Organization has called antibiotic resistance a threat to global public health.

The Canadian team was able to disarm a gene—New Delhi Metallo-beta-Lactamase-1, or NDM-1—that has become “public enemy No. 1” since its discovery in 2009, says Gerard Wright, director of McMaster’s Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research and lead researcher on the study. The report appears on the cover of this week’s issue of the journal Nature.

“Discovery of a fungus capable of rendering these multidrug-resistant organisms incapable of further infection is huge,” says Irena Kenneley, a microbiologist and infectious disease specialist at Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University. “The availability of more treatment options will ultimately save many more lives,” says Dr. Kenneley, who wasn’t involved in the McMaster research.

The McMaster team plans further experiments to determine the safety and effective dosage of AMA. It could take as long as a decade to complete clinical trials on people with superbug infections, Dr. Wright says.

The researchers found that AMA, extracted from a strain of Aspergillus versicolor and combined with a carbapenem antibiotic, inactivated the NDM-1 gene in three drug-resistant superbugs—Enterobacteriaceae, a group of bacteria that includes E. coli; Acenitobacter, which can cause pneumonia and blood infections; and Pseudomonas, which often infect patients in hospitals and nursing homes. The NDM-1 gene encodes an enzyme that helps bacteria become resistant to antibiotics and that requires zinc to survive. AMA works by removing zinc from the enzyme, freeing the antibiotic to do its job, Dr. Wright says. Although AMA was only tested on carbapenem-resistant bacteria, he expects the compound would have a similar effect when combined with other antibiotics.

AMA was first identified in the 1960s in connection with leaf wilt in plants and later investigated as a potential drug for treating high blood pressure. The compound turned up in Dr. Wright’s lab a few years ago during a random screening of organisms derived from 10,000 soil samples stored at McMaster. The sample that produced AMA was collected by one of Dr. Wright’s graduate students during a visit to a Nova Scotia park. It was the only sample of 500 tested that inhibited NDM-1 in cell cultures.

“It was a lucky hit,” says Dr. Wright. “It tells us that going back to those environmental organisms, where we got antibiotics in the first place, is a really good idea.”

The McMaster team developed a purified form of AMA for experiments on mice injected with a lethal form of drug-resistant pneumonia. Treatment with either AMA or a carbapenem antibiotic alone proved ineffective. But combining the substances resulted in more than 95% of the mice still being alive after five days. The combination was also tested on 229 cell cultures from human patients infected with resistant superbugs. The treatment resensitized 88% of the samples to carbapenem.

Still, bacteria could someday find a way to outwit AMA. “I can’t imagine anything we could make where resistance would never be an issue,” he says. “At the end of the day, this is evolution and you can’t fight evolution.”

Thanks to Da Brayn for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

http://m.us.wsj.com/articles/new-weapon-in-fight-against-superbugs-1404175658?mobile=y