A small city in Iowa is devoting 1,000 acres of land to America’s vanishing bees

By Sarah Fecht

You’ve probably heard the news that our nation’s bees are in trouble. Pollinators have been disappearing for decades, and the population crash could threaten the global food supply. Now, a small city in Iowa has decided to do something about it.

This spring, Cedar Rapids (population: 130,000) will seed 188 acres with native prairie grasses and wildflowers. The city’s plan is to eventually create 1,000 acres of bee paradise by planting these pollinator-friendly foodstuffs.

Scientists think the pollinator crisis is caused by a variety of factors, including pesticides, pathogens, and climate change. Meanwhile, with farms, parking lots, mowed lawns, and other human developments replacing wildflower fields, bees have been losing habitat and their food supply. While many of the drivers behind bee population decline remain mysterious, the people of Cedar Rapids hope to at least give pollinators places to perch and plants to feed on.

The 1,000 Acre Pollinator Initiative (http://www.cedar-rapids.org/residents/parks_and_recreation/pollinator_and_natural_resources_initiatives.php#Acre) grew out of a partnership with the Monarch Research Project(MRP), whose goal is to restore monarch butterfly populations. It was Cedar Rapids Park Superintendent Daniel Gibbins who proposed converting 1,000 acres into pollinator habitat over five years. So far, the project has secured $180,000 in funding from the state and the MRP.

“With the agricultural boom around 100 years ago, about 99.9 percent of all the native habitat of Iowa has been lost,” says Gibbins, who is spearheading the project. “When you convert it back to what was originally native Iowa, you’re going to help a lot more than just native pollinators. You’re helping birds, amphibians, reptiles, mammals—everything that’s native here relies on native vegetation.”

Prairie revival

Cedar Rapids has developed a special mix of grasses and wildflowers to help restore that native habitat. The seed mix includes 39 species of wildflowers, and 7 species of native prairie grasses. While bees and butterflies are mostly attracted to the flowers, the hardy prairie grasses will prevent weeds and invasive species from moving in and choking out the flowers.

Gibbins and his team have catalogued all the unused public land where they could potentially plant the flowers and grasses. The list includes not only the rarely frequented corners of parks, golf courses, and the local airport, but also sewage ditches, water retention basins, and roadway right-of-ways, totaling nearly 500 acres. Cedar Rapids is working with other cities within the county to reach its 1,000-acre target.

Before they can seed the land with the special pollinator plant mix, Gibbins’ crew has to “knock back the undesirable vegetation.” That means mowing down, burning off, or in some cases applying herbicide to get rid of grass, weeds, and invasive species. They’ll lay down the special seed mixture in the spring and fall.

“You can’t just seed them and walk away,” says Gibbins. Although the pollinator habitat will be lower maintenance than a green turf that needs to be mown every week, the prairie grasses will require some care, including mowing once a year or burning every few years.

Everyone can help

You don’t need to have 1,000 spare acres to help bees and butterflies. Even devoting a few square feet of your garden—or even a few small planters—to wildflowers native to your area could make a difference, says Gibbins.

“When creating pollinator gardens, the most important thing is to have a big diversity of wildflowers and heirloom crops that bloom in the spring, summer, and fall,” says Stephen Buchmann, a pollination ecologist at the University of Arizona and author of The Reason for Flowers. (Buchmann isn’t involved in the 1,000 Acre Initiative.)

Buchmann recommends against using herbicides or insecticides, or, if necessary, applying them at night when bees aren’t active. Providing nesting sites for certain bee species can help, too.

“People think they’ll just plant the wildflowers and the bees will come,” he says. “And that’s true in some cases, but the smaller the bee is, the less far it can fly. Some can only fly a few hundred meters.”

Some species nest in hard substrates, like the bare ground (bees hate mulch, says Buchmann), or in holes that you can drill in adobe or earthen bricks. Others nestle in sand pits or dead wood that’s been tunneled through by beetles. And it helps to have mud and water on the premises. The Xerces Society has a handy how-to guide on creating homes for bees.

The 1,000 Acre Pollinator Initiative is still looking into funding for the next four years, and they don’t expect to see huge jumps in the number of pollinators immediately. But Cedar Rapids is confident it will help, and they hope the project will serve as a model for the rest of the country.

And if enough local businesses and private landowners get involved, there’s no reason to stop at 1,000 acres, says Gibbins. “There’s a big push to extend this initiative up to maybe 10,000 acres in Linn County.”


An Iowa City’s football player’s Pokémon Go game ends with four police guns pointed at his face

By Cindy Boren

Faith Ekakitie, a defensive end for the University of Iowa, described in harrowing detail an encounter he had with police as he played Pokémon Go in an Iowa City park last week. This story, sobering as it is, ended not in tragedy but with Ekakitie thanking police.

“Today was the first time I’ve truly feared my life,” the 23-year-old senior wrote Wednesday on Facebook, “and I have the media to thank for that.”

The 6-foot-3, 290-pounder wrote that he was “happy to be alive” after five police officers stopped him and pointed four guns at him because he fit the description of a man who had just robbed a bank. At a time when police shootings of black men are under scrutiny, Ekakitie described the encounter from his perspective and tried to look at it through the eyes of police, too.

“My pockets were checked, my backpack was opened up and searched carefully, and I was asked to lift up my shirt while they searched my waistband,” Ekakitie wrote. “Not once did they identify themselves to me as Iowa City Police officers, but with four gun barrels staring me in the face, I wouldn’t dare question the authority of the men and woman in front of me. This is what happened from my point of view.

“From the police officers’ point of view, all they knew was that a bank had just been robbed less than ten minutes ago. The suspect was a large black male, wearing all black, with something on top of his head and the suspect is armed. As they drive past an Iowa City park that was less than 3 minutes away from the bank that was just robbed, they notice a large black man, dressed in all black, with black goggles on his head. They quickly move to action and identify themselves as the Iowa City police and ask me to turn around and place my hands up. I do not comply, they ask again, and again no response from me. So they all draw their guns and begin to slowly approach the suspect.”

Ekakitie wrote that he did not immediately respond to officers because he was wearing headphones and they approached him from behind. He was, he realized, in a situation in which “things can go south very quickly.” He wrote:

In this situation, what the media would fail to let people know is that the suspect had his headphones in the entire time the Police Officers approached him initially. The suspect had actually just pulled up to the park because he was playing a newly popular Game called Pokemon Go. The suspect didn’t realize that there were four cops behind him because his music was blaring in his ears. The suspect had reached into his pockets, for something which was his phone, but for all the cops could have known, he was reaching for a gun. The suspect could very well become another statistic on this day. I am not one to usually rant on Facebook or anywhere else, but with all of the crazy things that have been happening in our world these past couple of weeks it is hard to stay silent. I am thankful to be alive, and I do now realize, that it very well could have been me, a friend of mine, my brother, your cousin, your nephew etc. Misunderstandings happen all the time and just like that things can go south very quickly. It is extremely sad that our society has brainwashed us all to the point where we can’t feel safe being approached by the police officers in our respective communities. Not all police officers are out to get you, but at the same time, not all people who fit a criminal profile are criminals.

Jorey Bailey, a sergeant with the Iowa City police, told the Des Moines Register that the armed robbery had occurred less than a block from the park and that, because Ekakitie matched the description of a large black man in black clothes and did not respond, it was “reasonable” that officers drew their guns. He told ESPN that the officers were in uniform, not undercover, and told SB Nation on Sunday that more information would be forthcoming in the next few days. An Iowa spokesperson confirmed for ESPN that the Facebook account and its contents were Ekakitie’s.

“I don’t think race played a factor in this, nor does it in circumstances like this because of the detailed description, the location given by the person and the short time span in which this all occurred,” Bailey said.

Ekakitie urged people to be aware of their surroundings and to “unlearn some of the prejudiced that we have learned about each other.”

I would like the thank the Iowa City Police department for handling a sensitive situation very professionally. I would also urge people to be more aware of their surroundings because clearly I wasn’t. Lastly, I would urge us all to at least to attempt to unlearn some of the prejudices that we have learned about each other and now plague our minds and our society. I am convinced that in the same way that we learned these prejudices, we can also unlearn them.


A cystic fibrosis mystery solved – University of Iowa scientists identify protein that causes problems for CF lungs

New research from the University of Iowa answers a question that has vexed cystic fibrosis (CF) researchers for almost 25 years: Why don’t mice with CF gene mutations develop the life-threatening lung disease that affects most people with CF?

The research team, led by Michael Welsh, discovered an answer to this long-standing scientific puzzle, and in doing so, identified a proton pump that could be a target for new CF therapies. They published their results Jan. 29 in the journal Science.

“Since the first CF mouse was reported in 1992, I have been asked hundreds of times, ‘Why don’t CF mice have respiratory host-defense defects and develop lung infections?’” says Welsh, who is a professor of internal medicine, molecular physiology, and biophysics; a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator; and director of the Pappajohn Biomedical Institute at the UI.

In answering this question, Viral Shah, first author on the study and a student in the Medical Scientist Training Program at the UI Carver College of Medicine, homed in on the thin layer of liquid that covers the mice’s airways, i.e., the tracheal and bronchial passages. Shah and his colleagues studied the liquid’s acidity, the importance of which was revealed in earlier UI studies using pigs with CF. That work showed that the CF pigs had an abnormally acidic airway liquid, and that increased acidity impaired the ability of their airways to fight off infection.

Shah explains that, normally, two opposing processes control airway acidity. The cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) channel secretes bicarbonate, a base. That process is countered by the secretion of protons—an acid. The balance tightly controls the acidity of liquid in the airways.

In people, pigs, and mice with CF, the CFTR channel is lost, stopping the flow of bicarbonate into the airways. When that happens in people and pigs, their airway liquid becomes more acidic, reducing their ability to fight infection. But in mice, the airway liquid does not become more acidic, and they are not prone to infection. That fact led the scientists to ask what secretes acid into the airways of people and pigs that is missing in the mice. They discovered that a proton pump called ATP12A is responsible.

Shah and his colleagues made the discovery by comparing airway tissue from humans, pigs, and mice. The scientists showed that blocking ATP12A in airway tissue from pigs and humans with CF reduces the acidity of their airway liquid and restores their airways’ defenses against infection. Conversely, putting the ATP12A proton pump into the airways of CF mice increases the acidity of the liquid and predisposes the CF mice to bacterial infections.

“This discovery helps us understand the cause of lung disease in people with CF. It may also identify ATP12A as a new therapeutic target,” Shah says. “We wonder if blocking ATP12A in people with CF could halt the progression of lung disease.”

Shah adds that targeting ATP12A could potentially be helpful for all forms of CF, regardless of a patient’s CFTR mutation, because ATP12A is independent of CFTR.

The CF pig model was developed in 2008 by Welsh and his research team at the UI, with colleagues from the University of Missouri. The CF pig closely mimics human CF disease, including the lung problems absent from CF mice, and has proven very useful in advancing our understanding of CF lung problems.

In addition to Shah and Welsh, the research team on the Science study included David Meyerholz, Xiao-Xiao Tang, Leah Reznikov, Mahmoud Abou Alaiwa, Sarah Ernst, Philip Karp, Christine Wohlford-Lenane, Kristopher Heilmann, Mariah Leidinger, Patrick Allen, Joseph Zabner, Paul McCray, Lynda Ostedgaard, David Stoltz, and Christoph Randak.

The research was funded in part by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust.


Why some believe the Iowa caucuses have hijacked democracy


The armies of the media are gathering in the American heartland. With each new poll come shrieks of joy, or panic. When Monday night finally arrives, this first test of the candidates will be treated as an immeasurably consequential event, honored by column-miles of type and pixels, and uncountable hours of analysis—almost all of which will conceal the cold, hard reality: The Iowa caucuses have become a blight on American politics.

For 40 years, a state with an otherwise admirable civic life has been the scene of a quadrennial exercise that is the antithesis of a rational, accessible democratic process. By any measure—participation and representativeness, to mention two—it fails the most basic test of what you would want in an exercise that so dominates the attention and resources of campaigns and the media.

Iowa looks nothing like the rest of the nation, and its wintry, time-consuming caucuses make participation difficult, if not impossible, for much of the citizenry—especially those with limited economic means. The Democratic caucuses in particular take two of the core principles of a free system—the secret ballot and one-person-one-vote—and throw them away.

Indeed, if you look beyond the color and the pageantry, beyond the county fairs and butter cows, and appreciate the real workings and impact of the caucuses, you realize that Iowa is neither a useful bellwether or an important test for candidates. Moreover, there are baleful consequences of the inflated status of Iowa: It distorts the political process and leads to bad public policy.

Iowa survives and flourishes as a political ritual for the same reason that bad people remain in power and bad policies remain in place: those who benefit from it can make the cost of challenging it too high. If there is no hope of unseating the caucuses from their privileged perch, it’s at least worth understanding how we got here—and at what cost.

Iowa isn’t an immutable fact of American political life. It began its rise to outsize importance only a few decades ago, through mere happenstance. In 1968, opponents of the Vietnam War, looking to mount challenges to the policy and to President Lyndon Johnson, discovered in state after state that they were effectively shut out of the process of choosing delegates. Primaries were few, and in many states, delegates had been chosen months before, with little or no public notice. In the wake of the tumultuous, divisive Chicago Democratic National Convention, a commission was formed to propose ways of opening up the process. Many states chose the primary route; Iowa chose a different path.

For decades, Iowa parties had used a multistage caucus process to choose the state’s national convention delegates; part of a system that was also designed to let party members debate and discuss party platforms and other matters. After 1968, with national mandates requiring greater representation, Iowa Democrats changed their calendar to provide more time between each stage. Since the 1972 caucus was scheduled for May 20, that meant the first stage—precinct caucuses—had to be held four months earlier, on January 24. There was no intent to turn these caucuses into a major event on the presidential nominating calendar, but that’s what happened. Suddenly, Iowa was first. And one campaign was quick to see the possibilities.

In 1972, George McGovern, the long-shot antiwar candidate for president, was looking for a way to demonstrate that he had more support than the national polls suggested (3 percent according to a January 1972 Gallup poll). Rallying antiwar Democrats, McGovern managed to win a bit less than a quarter of Iowa’s “delegate equivalents” (a number designed to reflect a candidate’s strength at the next stage of the process, one that still sows confusion four decades later), finishing behind Ed Muskie and “Uncommitted.” Following McGovern’s eventual nomination victory, the potential power of the caucuses drew the attention of the next long-shot contender—and that’s where everything changed.

In the 1976 cycle, the cash-strapped, much-mocked campaign of Jimmy Carter targeted Iowa as the place to demonstrate early, surprising support—and it paid off when Carter won a straw poll at the Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner in Ames. The next day, R.W. “Johnny” Apple, the star political reporter of the New York Times, filed a story headlined “Carter Appears to Hold a Solid Lead in Iowa.” On caucus night, Carter won more “delegate equivalents” than any other candidate at the caucuses. Though he actually finished second, behind “Uncommitted,” he instantly turned from “Jimmy Who?” into the front-runner.

In the decades since, potential candidates have signaled their intentions by visiting Iowa at the pre-larval stage of the election calendar. Rep. Dick Gephardt, a 1988 contender, made his first visit on March 25, 1985—barely two months after Ronald Reagan’s second inaugural. This year’s current Iowa leader, Ted Cruz, made his first trip to Iowa more than two years ago, in August 2013, seven months after taking his seat as a freshman in the U.S. Senate. And unlike in the Carter-era experience, the media are now there to detect the first, faint signs of campaign activity.

For its part, while Iowa did not set out to make itself the 800-pound gorilla of presidential politics, it quickly embraced the benefits—financial, political and otherwise. This is fully understandable. What Iowan wouldn’t want the perks that come from being first? Local party officials are courted for months; local reporters are showcased in and on national media. Tens of millions of dollars pour into local radio and TV stations, hotels, restaurants, car rental offices and retail outlets, always happy to supply foul-weather gear to clueless operatives and media types who seek to navigate the elements in unlined trench coats and loafers. While the defensiveness can be grating, it’s no more so than a Kentuckian’s insistence that coal is a healthy fuel, or a New York hedge-fund big shot embracing the “carried interest” rule. It usually comes with a suggestion that critics of the caucus are contemptuous of smaller “fly-over states,” though they do not explain why the same smaller, fly-over state gets to be first every time.

Well, you might ask, what’s wrong with Iowa as the starting point of the process? It’s a state with a high literacy rate, an exceptionally high turnout rate in general elections, an un-gerrymandered congressional map, and a reputation for clean government. Its population of 3 million-plus and its location put it more or less in the middle of the country by size and site. Doesn’t it make sense to have a venue that doesn’t require millions of dollars’ worth of campaign contributions to be competitive?

To begin with, there’s the uncomfortable fact that Iowa is not really a representative state. The most obvious is demographic: It is 94 percent white, 2.8 percent black and 5.5 percent Hispanic, making it one of the five whitest states in the nation. It’s also the fourth oldest state in the union. This is one reason why a victory by Bernie Sanders in Iowa and then in New Hampshire—another very, very white state—may signal much less about the state of the Democratic Party race than first appears. As longtime Democratic operative Joe Trippi notes, “After Iowa and New Hampshire, the Democratic Primary race the rest of the way is an electorate that is 54 percent white and 46 percent minority.” Thus, a victory in Iowa (and New Hampshire) is about as unreflective a measure of Democratic sentiment as imaginable.

When it comes to the Republican side, Iowa is similarly out of phase. Some 57 percent of GOP caucus-goers consider themselves “evangelicals,” higher than any non-Southern or border state. That goes a long way toward explaining why the Rev. Pat Robertson finished ahead of the sitting vice president of the United States in 1988, why ordained minister Mike Huckabee beat Mitt Romney in 2008, and why Rick Santorum narrowly bested Romney four years ago—all candidates with scant national appeal.

Demographics, however, are the least of it. It’s the process and the timing of the caucuses—particularly the Democrats’ process—that demonstrates why this is so unsuited to the outsize role it has assumed. Together, those two factors combine in a toxic blend.

Adherents of the caucuses extol their open, freewheeling nature, where civic-minded Iowans join with each other in a celebration of democracy. But the central fact about the Iowa caucuses is that they inherently, inevitably, lead to very low turnout. Back in 2008, the last time both parties had contests, the coverage, particularly on the Democratic side, centered on Barack Obama’s ability to draw first-time participants, with much talk about the record-breaking number of participants.

And, after years of focus on Iowa, after a historic effort by the Obama campaign to draw new participants to the caucuses and a major push by evangelicals on the Republican side for Huckabee, what were the numbers? According to Thomas Patterson of the Kennedy School of Government, the combined two-party turnout amounted to just 16.3 percent of the eligible electorate. While the turnout of 350,000 was widely touted as a record-breaking showing, a Harvard Kennedy School study put that figure in context. “In percentage terms, Iowa’s turnout was hardly earthshaking—only 1 in 6 of the eligible adults participated. The Democratic winner, Barack Obama, received the votes of just 4 percent of Iowa’s eligible voters. Mike Huckabee, the Republican victor, attracted the support of a mere 2 percent of Iowa adults,” the study said. By contrast, take a look at the other massively covered early contest: The combined turnout in New Hampshire, the first primary state, was 51.9 percent.

This should surprise no one. In New Hampshire, as in any primary state, the polls are open from morning until night. You can vote on your way to work, on your lunch break, on your way to pick the kids up at school, on or way home from work; and the process will take about 10 minutes. In Iowa, you must attend in person, at night; a night that is usually freezing, if not blanketed in snow, with roads that would make the Michelin tire man quake. If you’re working the night shift—as a firefighter, waitress, nurse, maintenance worker—or if you’re a single parent of limited means, you are effectively shut out of the process. (There are no absentee ballots in a caucus). You must show up and sit through either a half hour of speeches, or—if you’re a Democrat—a process that takes hours. Why is the turnout so low, compared to a primary? Because the people of Iowa are not damned fools. They calculate the cost-benefit ratio, and the overwhelming majority of eligible participants stay home.

After all that attention, all the ads, all the visits, all the massive focus on Iowa, the actual participation rate is, or should be, an embarrassment to both parties. When it comes to the actual process of the caucuses, however, the two parties diverge sharply; and that divergence makes the Democratic Party look particularly bad.

The Republican Party from the outset recognized that the traditional purpose of the caucuses—attending to party matters—had become completely overshadowed by the presidential campaign. So it decided that the caucuses would begin with a straw poll; after listening to speeches on behalf of the candidates, attendees would scribble the name of their favorite on a piece of power, and the results would be phoned into state headquarters. It was sloppy—to this day, there are those who insist that Reagan in fact got more votes than George H.W. Bush in 1980—but it’s how we know that Huckabee outpolled Romney in 2008 by 40,481votes to Romney’s 29,949.

But the Democrats? Ah, nothing so simple, thank you. If you ask anyone, even the most esteemed Iowa expert, how many votes Obama got in 2008, that expert cannot tell you. Nobody can tell you, because the Iowa Democrats don’t count votes. Instead, they break out into candidate support groups. If the chair determines that a candidate does not have 15 percent of the caucus, that candidate is “not viable.” His or her supporters can either leave, or join another candidate’s group, whose backers importune the “non-viables” with offers of food, drink, a slot at the next convention or a bushel of corn. (A recent episode of “The Good Wife” had a colorful rendering of the process.) When the evening ends, the candidates are allotted “state delegate equivalents”—an estimation of how much strength they will have at later stages in the process. That’s why the only numbers you will find in the records of 2008 reveal that Obama got 37.58 percent of “state delegate equivalents,” John Edwards got 29.75 percent and Hillary Clinton got 29.47 percent. Did Clinton actually get fewer “votes” than Edwards, thus consigning her to third place with its attendant shame? No one knows.

Those who’ve studied this ritual are at pains to explain why the Democrats have chosen this bizarre method.

“The Democratic caucuses were never intended to be elections or straw polls,” says Hugh Winebrenner, a Drake University professor who aroused the ire of his fellow Iowans with a 1987 book that concluded that “the public interest is not well-served” by the caucuses. Winebrenner explains today: “Their purpose was to develop platform issues, select precinct officials, and select delegates to the county conventions. When the caucuses emerged as the first nominating event, the Democratic Party had to come up with ‘results,’ but they did not want to turn the event into a straw poll, so they came up with the ‘delegate equivalent’ as an outcome.” Put less kindly, Iowa Democrats lack the Republican Party’s candor in recognizing that the caucus process is not equal to the demands of presidential politics.

For anyone who persists in the Democratic caucuses seriously, three aspects of the process deserve particular scrutiny. First, it does not measure the actual level of support from living, breathing Democrats. If Martin O’Malley somehow managed to win the support of 14 percent of Iowa Democrats at every precinct caucus, he would still remain below the threshold and wind up with, literally, zero “state delegate equivalents.” Second, imagine a caucus that’s been allocated eight delegates. Under the rules, a candidate garnering 85 percent of that caucus’ participants would get all eight delegates. So if, say, 100 people show up and 86 of them back Clinton, she’d get all the delegates. But suppose she’s generating a wave of enthusiasm, and 500 people show up and most of them support her.

That’s a huge difference, but it wouldn’t change the results in the least: Unlike the GOP, there’s no individual head count. If you think this is merely hypothetical, take a look at last week’s POLITICO piece by Gabriel Debenedetti that lays out how Sanders’ huge support in college towns may do him less good than the numbers suggest, because their individual votes won’t be tabulated.

Third, it’s true many caucus-goers find the whole process of standing up for a candidate and beseeching others to join them “exciting and fun,” in the words of one academic study of the process. There are others, however, who might not want to let their political views be known to their boss, or their shop steward, or their overbearing brother-in-law, or the banker who holds their mortgage. Every genuinely free society in the world has solved this problem with a secret ballot. Today, it would be hard to find any political theorist who did not recognize the potentially chilling effect of requiring someone to publicly declare his or her political choice. If you’re an Iowa Democrat, though, you have no choice: Speak up or stay home.

OK, so the Democratic caucuses are a mathematically bizarre, anti-democratic exercise. But surely the Republican caucuses have some value?

Not so fast. For the Democrats, Iowa has had clear political consequences. John Kerry’s first-place finish in 2004 re-righted his campaign, and put him on a path to virtually unbroken primary success. (Howard Dean’s infamous “scream” happened late that night, after his collapse into third place and after he had begun cratering in New Hampshire.) In 2008, Obama’s victory shattered any notion of Clinton’s inevitability. As for the Republicans … here’s the truth that dare not speak its name: The Iowa caucuses have never had had any serious impact on the ultimate outcome.

In 1980, George H.W. Bush’s win over Reagan in Iowa was followed by a Reagan landslide in New Hampshire and then his nomination. In 1988, Bob Dole beat Bush in Iowa—before going down to defeat in New Hampshire and the subsequent nomination. In 2000, George W. Bush’s caucus win in Iowa was eclipsed by John McCain’s New Hampshire win; it took an ugly Bush victory in South Carolina to reset his campaign. And in the past two elections? Those were won by Huckabee and Rick Santorum, candidates whose victories served to demonstrate the outsize power of evangelicals in Iowa, and little more.

This year, however, may reverse the political polarities. Given Clinton’s strength in minority communities, a Sanders win in Iowa—and New Hampshire—may not produce much down the primary road, other than hysteria in some Democratic circles. As Trippi noted, her strength among minorities means that she could well become the second Democrat to lose both early contests and prevail—and the second Clinton as well. As for the Republicans, there may be an analogy to what happened in 2008 with Democrats. The most significant impact of Obama’s victory was that he showed that a black candidate could win in a virtually all-white state.

This year, the remaining skepticism about Donald Trump centers on his supporters: Will they show up? The fact that they will wait for hours in freezing weather to attend his rallies is not necessarily decisive; the question is whether they are also voters. If they turn out in Iowa, a state where logistics and the weather make participation a burden—and if they demonstrate that their intensity equals the evangelical fervor of Cruz’ supporters—that will very likely inspire Trump voters in the primary states, where participation is far less burdensome.

However February’s caucuses change the historical pattern,there is one thing that will not change: The Iowa caucuses will continue to remain the first, deeply flawed stop on the presidential campaign trail. The state could solve its quadrennial weather problem by moving the caucuses to, say, April. But then it wouldn’t be first. It could change to a primary. But then it wouldn’t be first. (Bill Gardner, who has been New Hampshire secretary of state since Daniel Webster was defending Dartmouth College, has in past cycles cheerfully announced he would move his primary to the preceding year to preserve its position.) And being first is worth tens of millions of dollars and the far more significant political benefit to Iowans of being courted for years by potential presidents. Back in 2007, Joe Biden—who did not fare well in Iowa—observed tartly: “This isn’t a caucus—it’s an industry.”

Iowa will retain its privileged position because neither major political party wants the headache of battling for a calendar change, and risking losing the state’s six competitive electoral votes. It will remain a process that persuades potential presidents to bend the knee to corn-based ethanol. (The New York Times suggests this may be changing, but Cruz, despite modifying his opposition by calling for a five-year phaseout, still faces the hostility from Gov. Terry Branstad, who wants him defeated solely on the ethanol issue. Hillary Clinton, who in 2002 called the subsidy “an astonishing new anti-consumer government mandate,” now cheerfully embraces it.) Most important, the Iowa caucuses will continue to be celebrated as a colorful, all-American exercise in democracy—an exercise that in fact is a lot closer to a political Potemkin village.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/01/how-iowa-hijacked-our-democracy-213557#ixzz3z2MteXJL

Liver hormone discovered to drive sugar consumption

A recent study has shown that fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21), a liver-generated hormone, suppresses the FGF21 is produced in response to high carbohydrate levels, in which it enters the bloodstream and signals the brain to suppress the preference for sweets. Matthew Potthoff, assistant professor of pharmacology in the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, noted that this is the “first liver-derived hormone that regulates sugar intake specifically.”consumption of simple sugars.

Earlier studies have shown how some hormones affect appetite. However, these do not regulate any specific macronutrient (eg, carbohydrate, protein, fat) and are produced in organs other than the liver. FGF21 has been known to boost insulin sensitivity but the new findings “can help people who might not be able to sense when they’ve had enough sugar, which may contribute to diabetes,” said Lucas BonDurant, a doctoral student and co-first author in the study.

Researchers used genetically-engineered mouse models and pharmacological approaches to study FGF21 in regulating sugar cravings. Normal mice were injected with FGF21 and were given a choice between a normal diet and a sugar-enriched diet. These mice did not completely stop eating sugar but consumed 7 times less than normal. The team also looked at mice that either did not produce FGF21 at all or overproduced FGF21 (>500 times more than normal mice). When presented with the same two diets as the normal mice, researchers saw that the mice that didn’t produce FGF21 all consumed more sugar whereas the mice that overproduced FGF21 consumed less sugar.

Study findings support the conclusion that FGF21 decreased appetite and sugar intake. It did not, however, decrease intake of all sugars (eg, sucrose, fructose, glucose) nor did it affect the intake of complex carboydrates. The new data may help patients who are obese or have diabetes, researchers noted. More studies are needed to see if other hormones exist to regulate appetite for specific macronutrients comparable to the effects of FGF21 on carbohydrate intake.


The Stanford band made everybody furious at the Rose Bowl for the third time in four years

In 2013, Stanford went to the Rose Bowl, and their band made people upset.

In 2014, Stanford went to the Rose Bowl, and their band made people upset.

In 2016, Stanford went to the Rose Bowl to play the Iowa Hawkeyes, and guess what happened at halftime when the Hawks were down 35-0….

They played sinks and skateboards:

They brought out a cow:


They didn’t explain what the cow was — it just kinda walked around — but Iowa people sure hated it and booed.

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

This already prescribed drug may also effectively treat patients infected with Ebola.

by Jennifer Brown

The recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa has claimed more than 11,300 lives—a stark reminder of the lack of effective options for treating or preventing the disease.

Progress has been made on developing vaccines, but there is still a need for antiviral therapies to protect health care workers and local populations in the event of future outbreaks.

Now, a new study suggests that gamma interferon, an FDA-approved drug, may have potential as an antiviral therapy to prevent Ebola infection when given either before or after exposure to the virus.

The findings, published in the journal PLOS Pathogens, show that gamma interferon, given up to 24 hours after exposure, inhibits Ebola infection in mice and completely protects the animals from death.

Ebola infection appears to be a stepwise process. First, the virus targets and infects macrophages or dendritic cells, two types of immune system cells found in the liver, spleen, and lymph nodes. Ebola then replicates in those cells. Following this initial infection, which happens at day 3 or 4 in non-human primates, Ebola virus is released into the blood and infects a plethora of other different cell populations.

“It goes from an early stage with a very targeted infection of only these few cell types, to everything being infected,” says Wendy Maury, professor of microbiology at the University of Iowa.

“We think what’s happening with gamma interferon is that it’s targeting macrophages and blocking the infection of those initial cell targets so you don’t get the second round of infection.”

The University of Iowa does not have a specializing BioSafety Level 4 (BSL4) lab that is required for experiment using Ebola virus, so the researchers made their initial findings using a surrogate virus, which targets and infects the same cells as Ebola, but does not cause the disease.

This Ebola lookalike—a sheep in wolf’s clothing—consists of a less dangerous vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) that expresses Ebola glycoproteins on its surface.

All of the results found using the surrogate virus were then repeated using mouse-adapted Ebola virus in the BSL4 lab of Maury’s longtime collaborator Robert Davey at Texas Biomedical Institute in San Antonio, Texas.

Gamma interferon inhibits the virus’s ability to infect human and mouse macrophages, in part by blocking virus replication in the cells. Pre-treating mice with interferon gamma 24 hours before exposure protects the animals from infection and death. The researchers were surprised to find that treatment up to 24 hours after what would have been a lethal exposure also completely protected the animals from death, and they could no longer detect any Ebola virus in the mouse’s cells.

The findings suggest that interferon gamma may be useful both as a prophylaxis and post-exposure treatment against Ebola. The team still has to determine how late gamma interferon can be given to the mice and still prevent infection. However, the results suggest a window of time after exposure when gamma interferon may be an effective antiviral therapy.

“My guess is that if you delay the gamma interferon too much, you miss this window of opportunity to block the infection in macrophage cells and the gamma interferon can no longer provide protection,” Maury says.

Maury and colleagues investigated how gamma interferon might be helping the cells fight off the Ebola virus. They identified that the expression of more than 160 genes in human macrophages is stimulated by gamma interferon. Introduction of some of these genes into cells was sufficient to prevent Ebola infection.

“This mechanistic information might suggest more precise drug targets rather than the broad effects, including adverse side-effects, that are produced by gamma-interferon,” she says.

Gamma interferon is already approved by the FDA to treat chronic granulomatous disease (an immune disease) and severe malignant osteopetrosis.

In addition to moving the studies into larger animal models, Maury next plans to study the ability of gamma interferon to inhibit Ebola infection in conjunction with other developing antivirals.

“Right now, there are no FDA-approved antiviral therapies for Ebola, but there are some being developed that target virus entry,” she says. “We know that gamma interferon blocks replication but not entry into cells. So combining an entry inhibitor with gamma interferon may allow us to reduce amount of gamma interferon needed and target two different steps in the virus’s life cycle, which has been shown in HIV to be critically important for controlling the virus.”



No votes cast in small-town Iowa school board race

An Iowa farmer who was running unopposed for his local school board failed to earn any votes — not even his own — but he’ll probably still get the job.

Randy Richardson, 42, didn’t find time to vote for himself between his full-time maintenance job at a bean processing plant in Riceville and his chores on his farm near McIntire, The Des Moines Register reported (http://dmreg.co/1KuptW7 ).

Richardson was recruited to run by school staff, and though he said he’s “run paper thin the way it is,” he agreed because he has two kids in the district.

Neighbor Jessie Miller said there wasn’t any key issue to drive her to vote in the school board race.

“I would’ve voted for him!” she said. “He’s an awesome guy.”

Riceville is a farming community of around 500 residents near the Minnesota border. The school board district Richardson was running for is also home to a number of Amish and Mennonite farmers who typically don’t vote.

There are only 122 registered voters who could have voted for Richardson. Across the entire school district, only 36 people voted in the Sept. 8 election.

School board president Karl Fox, who also farms, said the timing of last week’s vote was unfortunate because it’s a busy time of year for fieldwork.

Fox said farmers have a hard time sacrificing a day of nice weather at this time of year, and many people in the area have to drive 50 miles or more to get to work each day.

“It’s hard to get the general public to remember when to vote for president,” Fox said.

But Richardson will likely still get the job on the Riceville School Board because the board probably will appoint him to fill the seat he was running for, Fox said.

New research shows that high salt diet suppresses weight gain in mice on a high fat diet

Dr. Justin Grobe, PhD

Dr. Michael Lutter, MD PhD

In a study that seems to defy conventional dietary wisdom, University of Iowa scientists have found that adding high salt to a high-fat diet actually prevents weight gain in mice.

As exciting as this may sound to fast food lovers, the researchers caution that very high levels of dietary salt are associated with increased risk for cardiovascular disease in humans. Rather than suggest that a high salt diet is suddenly a good thing, the researchers say these findings really point to the profound effect non-caloric dietary nutrients can have on energy balance and weight gain.

“People focus on how much fat or sugar is in the food they eat, but [in our experiments] something that has nothing to do with caloric content – sodium – has an even bigger effect on weight gain,” say Justin Grobe, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacology at the UI Carver College of Medicine and co-senior author of the study, which was published in the journal Scientific Reports on June 11.

The UI team started the study with the hypothesis that fat and salt, both being tasty to humans, would act together to increase food consumption and promote weight gain. They tested the idea by feeding groups of mice different diets: normal chow or high-fat chow with varying levels of salt (0.25 to 4 percent). To their surprise, the mice on the high-fat diet with the lowest salt gained the most weight, about 15 grams over 16 weeks, while animals on the high-fat, highest salt diet had low weight gain that was similar to the chow-fed mice, about 5 grams.

“We found out that our ‘french fry’ hypothesis was perfectly wrong,” says Grobe, who also is a member of the Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center at the UI and a Fellow of the American Heart Association. “The findings also suggest that public health efforts to continue lowering sodium intake may have unexpected and unintended consequences.”

To investigate why the high salt prevented weight gain, the researchers examined four key factors that influence energy balance in animals. On the energy input side, they ruled out changes in feeding behavior – all the mice ate the same amount of calories regardless of the salt content in their diet. On the energy output side, there was no difference in resting metabolism or physical activity between the mice on different diets. In contrast, varying levels of salt had a significant effect on digestive efficiency – the amount of fat from the diet that is absorbed by the body.

“Our study shows that not all calories are created equal,” says Michael Lutter, MD, PhD, co-senior study author and UI assistant professor of psychiatry. “Our findings, in conjunction with other studies, are showing that there is a wide range of dietary efficiency, or absorption of calories, in the populations, and that may contribute to resistance or sensitivity to weight gain.”

“This suppression of weight gain with increased sodium was due entirely to a reduced efficiency of the digestive tract to extract calories from the food that was consumed,” explains Grobe.

It’s possible that this finding explains the well-known digestive ill effects of certain fast foods that are high in both fat and salt, he adds.

Through his research on hypertension, Grobe knew that salt levels affect the activity of an enzyme called renin, which is a component in the renin- angiotensin system, a hormone system commonly targeted clinically to treat various cardiovascular diseases. The new study shows that angiotensin mediates the control of digestive efficiency by dietary sodium.

The clinical usefulness of reducing digestive efficiency for treating obesity has been proven by the drug orlistat, which is sold over-the-counter as Alli. The discovery that modulating the renin-angiotensin system also reduces digestive efficiency may lead to the developments of new anti-obesity treatments.

Lutter, who also is an eating disorders specialist with UI Health Care, notes that another big implication of the findings is that we are just starting to understand complex interactions between nutrients and how they affect calorie absorption, and it is important for scientists investigating the health effects of diet to analyze diets that are more complex than those currently used in animal experiments and more accurately reflect normal eating behavior.

“Most importantly, these findings support continued and nuanced discussions of public policies regarding dietary nutrient recommendations,” Grobe adds.


NewLink Genetics in Ames, Iowa is closing in on human trials for Ebola vaccine

The biotech company NewLink Genetics in Ames, Iowa is closing in on human trials for an Ebola vaccine.

“From the laboratory to moving these first human trials has moved faster than I’ve ever seen anything move before in my professional career,” said Charles Link, CEO of NewLink Genetics.

Link said they are just a few days away from human testing. During Phase 1 of testing, healthy volunteers will be given the vaccine. Researchers will test to see how safe the vaccine is and what dosage is necessary for an immune reaction.

“With a dangerous virus, you don’t ever use the dangerous virus. You basically use a little snippet of it,” said Link.

Link said that snippet is a surface protein you get from Ebola and assures us there is no Ebola is in the vaccine.

“If you get an immune reaction to the surface protein an then it sees the real Ebola, it will attack it,” said Link.

Once those tests are complete, the company will move into Phase 2 where tests focus on how effective and useful the vaccine is. Those tests will be done in West Africa.

Link said he’s hoping it’ll take less than a year, but there’s no real way of telling when the vaccine will be ready for distribution until test results start coming in.

“We want to shorten the process as much as humanely possible within the bounds of safety and the ethics that’s required to conduct these sorts of studies in healthy volunteers,” said Link.

The Phase 1 of the tests will be conducted at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease and the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Ames Company Close to Ebola Vaccine Trials