; Phantoms and Monsters: Pulse of the Paranormal

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Just the Facts?: Asian Carp Poison Pill -- 'Ghost Baby' Survived -- O.J. Not Guilty!

Scientists developing poison pill for Asian carp

Biologist Jon Amberg has spent the last two years obsessed with fish guts, laboring over a singular challenge: Develop a poison pill that will kill Asian carp and leave other fish unscathed.

Voracious and freakishly resilient, the fish has left a trail of destruction on its decades-long migration up the Mississippi River and into Illinois, seemingly undeterred by the ordinary ammo of invasive species warfare.

Now, designer drugs and engineered poisons, often called "bio-bullets," have become increasingly popular among scientists trying to create sniper-shot solutions to unyielding problems, from malignant pests in rivers and fields to tumors in human bodies.

"If you look at Asian carp as being kind of like a cancer, we're in essence developing a drug to be able to target it without killing the 'cells' around it," said Amberg, who works for the U.S. Geological Survey in La Crosse, Wis.

Akin to chemotherapy, attempts chemically to control Asian carp today would require dumping thousands of gallons of pesticide into waterways, possibly harming other aquatic life.

By contrast, an Asian carp bio-bullet would theoretically deliver toxins specifically to silver and big head carp in a digestible micro-size particle, about the width of a human hair. Built to mimic food, the pill would then break apart in the carp's intestine, releasing its lethal load and killing the fish.

If it works, Amberg and his colleagues foresee an arsenal of similarly elegant weapons designed to control the many invasive species that have wreaked havoc in the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Basin. Preliminary work has already begun on zebra mussels as well as on fish eggs, which they think may be susceptible to electricity and nano-size silver that would be about a thousand times smaller than the Asian carp micro-particle.

Some experts, however, have questioned whether the targeted strategies will really work.

Environmental groups that have lobbied for physical separation of the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River see it as a red herring, a distraction from a permanent solution to the invasive species problem.

Other scientists have also wondered if the reconfigured toxins might result in unintended environmental consequences. Nano-size silver particles, for instance, have been shown to harm a range of species in laboratory experiments, according to Andrew Maynard, director of the Risk Science Center at the University of Michigan.

"From a technology perspective, this is very inspiring," Maynard said. "But if you are releasing new particles into the environment, there are certain questions that you need to ask: What do they do? Where do they end up? How long do they last?"

Amberg's colleague, Mark Gaikowski, got the idea for an Asian carp poison pill in 2009, after watching a presentation by the company Advanced BioNutrition Corp. about a particle it had created to carry vaccines into salmon.

Perhaps, Gaikowski thought, instead of aiding fish, that same technology could be used to kill Asian carp.

Native to the Yangtze River in China, Asian carp were first found in the Mississippi in the late 1970s after escaping catfish ponds and government fish hatcheries. Since then, the large fish has made itself at home, decimating native fish populations and commercial fishing hubs in Illinois while drifting ever closer to the Great Lakes.

Netting, fishing and electrocution have done little to shrink their numbers - a fact that has even left the scientists tasked with eliminating the carp begrudgingly impressed.

"They are, by far, the most interesting species I have ever worked with," Amberg said. "Their resilience is incredible."

Yet Amberg saw promise in a deadly pill that could work as a kind of miniature Trojan horse, allowing scientists to sneak a toxin into more Asian carp than they had ever been able to reach.

In 2010, Amberg and his colleagues began working with Advanced BioNutrition to develop a strategy using the fish's own digestive system.

They wanted to build a particle that would break apart inside Asian carp, but would remain intact if eaten by other fish. To do that, they had to first find something unique in the bowels of the invasive species that could trigger the poison release.

Amberg pondered whether the carp's stomach acid might work, but after slicing into dozens of different species of fish bowels and searching the gooey contents he realized most were too similar. He then focused solely on digestive enzymes, which are proteins that process food, wondering whether those could be used to dismantle the pill.

Two years and hundreds of tests later, Amberg said he and his colleagues have finally found a couple of carp enzymes they think might work. But they must first pursue a host of outstanding questions, including whether those key enzymes will change based on the carp's diet.

Some scientists remain skeptical of the entire enterprise.

Jennifer Sass, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that she is not convinced that the pill would target only carp, because of the similarities in animal digestive systems.

"(It) seems like a lot of scientific arrogance," she said.

Rebecca Klaper, a scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who studies the impact of contaminants on freshwater species, also questioned how the particle might behave differently when moved from lab to river. She wondered, for example, whether micro-organisms in the environment could tear apart the pill's coating, dispersing the toxin into the water.

"Once you start putting stuff into the environment it is sort of a black box where you don't know what is going to happen," Klaper said.

Amberg and his team hope to answer some of those questions in the coming months when they start testing the particle in river water. Subsequent studies may include analyzing the impact on birds that eat the dead carp and whether bottom-feeding fish could be affected if the micro-particles settle in riverbeds.

Still, they acknowledged that once in the environment, it is possible the pill may affect other fish. The goal, they said, is for it to kill far fewer species than would currently be affected by a standard poison dump.

In the meantime, they are continuing work on similar particles for invasive mussels as well as for Asian carp eggs, which would ideally allow them to attack the problem before it hatches.

For the first time, Amberg said, there is a feeling that the scientists may finally be on the offensive in the fight against Asian carp. But he described their position as somewhat delicate.

"It is like you are walking on thin ice," Amberg said. "You want to make sure that next step is going to be on something really solid before you start to put your foot on it." - kentucky


Venice sinking faster than previously thought

We've long known that the city of Venice is slowly sinking into its own watery grave. While city officials thought they had halted Venice's descent, it turns out that the city is still sinking — and five times faster than originally believed.

While some coastal regions of the world are concerned with rising sea levels, Venice has an additional problem: the city is settling. Centuries of building has caused the ground underneath to compact, and pumping groundwater from beneath the city may have also contributed to the city's diminishing stature. But it appears that natural causes are likely to blame as well. The Adriatic tectonic plate subducts nearby, lowering the city's elevation. After groundwater pumping was ceased in a bid to stabilize the ground, studies in the 2000s reported that the city was no longer sinking.

However, a recent report from Scripps Institution of Oceanography has found that the city is still sinking, and more quickly than was originally reported:

"Venice appears to be continuing to subside, at a rate of about 2 millimeters (.07 inches) a year," said Yehuda Bock, a research geodesist with Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, and the lead author of the new research paper on the city's downward drift. "It's a small effect, but it's important," he added. Given that sea level is rising in the Venetian lagoon, also at 2 millimeters per year, the slight subsidence doubles the rate at which the heights of surrounding waters are increasing relative to the elevation of the city, he noted. In the next 20 years, if Venice and its immediate surroundings subsided steadily at the current rate, researchers would expect the land to sink up to 80 millimeters (3.2 inches) in that period of time, relative to the sea.

Although the changes have been small, Venice has experienced a noticeable increase in flooding. Scripps notes that, in addition to the flood barriers Venice has already erected, officials will have to find a way to combat the region's soil compaction. - oi9


Baby born without blood...and survived!

Oliva, now six months, was born completely white because she had such a low count of haemoglobin - the chemical which carries oxygen in red blood cells - that it could not officially be classed as 'blood'.

She was given less than two hours to live but survived thanks to emergency transfusions which transformed her into a glowing healthy pink colour.

Mother Louise Bearman, 31, a barrister's clerk, told of her shock at giving birth to a "ghost white" baby whose condition was so rare she will now feature in medical text books.

She said: "Olivia was my first baby, so I didn't really know what to expect - but I certainly didn't think she'd be that colour.

"I'll never forget what the doctors notes said - 'white and floppy'.

"There were some complications before the birth, which was incredibly scarry.

"Then when Olivia came out so white we didn't know what was going on.

"It was such a relief when the doctors explained what was happening, and it was quite amazing when they put the blood in her and she slowly turned this amazing pink colour.

"She's such a lovely baby, it means everything having her at home now."

Louise and her greengrocer partner Paul Norton, 36, of Witham, Essex, first noticed something was wrong when they didn't feel Olivia kicking for three days.

They went to Broomfield Hospital, in Chelmsford, and when nurses failed to spot any movement after a 15 minute scan doctors ordered an emergency caesarean.

Olivia was born six weeks early at 8.20pm on Saturday September 10, weighing 5lbs 3oz with her heartbeat dipping dangerously low.

Haemoglobin is the protein which gives blood its characteristic red colour and ability to carry oxygen around the body.

When Olivia was born she had haemoglobin levels of just three out of a normal level of 18, which meant the plasma in her blood could not be classified as proper blood.

The newborn was rushed to the hospital's special care baby unit where she was monitored for two weeks and had her strength and colour restored with two blood transfusions.

Neonatal nurse Sharon Pilgrim, yesterday (Mon) said in 20 years in the job she had never heard of such low haemoglobin levels.

She said: "It was a miracle she survived. She was incredibly pale when born and had difficulties breathing.

"There was no sign of blood loss prior to the caesarean or during the operation.

"It was only when we carried out further tests on Louise that we discovered the baby had lost blood directly into her mum's blood circulation."

Louise added: "The hospital staff were amazing and called Olivia the 'miracle baby' and said if I hadn't come in she would not have survived.

"Doctors still don't know why it happened, it is one of those freak things.

"I want mums to realise how important a baby's movement is in checking they are healthy. You have to trust your maternal instinct." - telegraph


Investigator: 'O.J. Is Innocent And I Can Prove It'

It's often said that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. But you can add "rehashing of the O.J. Simpson case" to that list -- at least for the last 18 years

So it should come as no surprise that a new book has been published about the 1994 murders of Simpson's ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman.

In 1995, a California jury acquitted O.J. Simpson of the killings. A civil lawsuit, later filed by the victims' families, resulted in a 1997 judgment finding Simpson liable for the deaths and ordering him to pay $33.5 million in damages.

The latest installment in the Simpson library is not another "If I Did It," in which the former gridiron great speculated on how he might have killed his former wife. Instead, the new book points the finger of guilt away from Simpson and lays the blame on his son, Jason Simpson.

"Everything we have in the book is documented. It is not theory or hypothesis. It is fact," renowned private investigator William C. Dear told The Huffington Post about his book, O.J. is Innocent and I Can Prove It: The Shocking Truth about the Murders of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman

Dear's 576-page "true account," according to Amazon.com, hit the shelves today, retailing at $18 for the hardcover edition.

In the investigation into the murders of Brown and Goldman, Jason Simpson was never considered a suspect or a person of interest. The 41-year-old lives in Miami, where he reportedly works as a chef. HuffPost was unable to reach Simpson for comment Monday because his phone had been disconnected.

But Dear said he has spent nearly two decades looking into the case and assembled a mountain of circumstantial evidence, which, he said, suggests that O.J. Simpson had nothing to do with the murders of Brown and Goldman.

"I flew out two weeks after the murders," he said. "I climbed over the back gate and walked the walkway to the front door, and that's when I realized O.J. could not have done it. But he was there. He was either there at the time or there afterwards [and] became part of the crime."

In his book, Dear claims that he has the knife used in the murders, along with photos and other evidence that suggest the true killer was Jason Simpson, O.J.'s son with his first wife.

"When I tell you we have the weapon -- we found the weapon in Jason's storage facility that he failed to make payments on. We know he carried it -- his initials were carved in the leather sheath," Dear said.

"We have emails from his former roommates that were in college with him. We have our suspect's diaries. We have his forged time card, and we have the vehicle he was driving on the night of the murders," said Dear.

The private investigator also claims to have photos of Jason Simpson wearing the knit cap that was found at the murder scene.

But why? Why would Jason Simpson kill Brown and Goldman?

During O.J. Simpson's trial, prosecutors alleged that the defendant was obsessed with his ex-wife, that he was prone to jealous rages and that he would stalk her.

Dear contends that Jason Simpson has his own demons and suffers from "intermittent rage disorder."

"Our suspect at the time was 5'11" and 235 pounds," Dear said. "He was 24 years old, and he was on probation for assaulting his previous employer with a knife. In addition to that, he's had three attempted suicides and has been in a psychiatric unit."

On the day of the murders -- June 12, 1994 -- O.J. Simpson and Nicole Brown attended a dance recital for their daughter. Dear alleges that Jason Simpson was working as a chef in a Beverly Hills restaurant and had put together a special meal for the family. Brown, however, did not attend.

"You're dealing with a young man who just weeks prior had checked into a hospital where he said he was out of his medication and was about to rage," Dear said. "I have no doubt he had no intention of killing her, but [he] confronted her and, as a result, something happened."

Dear said the diaries he obtained, which were allegedly written by Jason Simpson, refer to the young man's obsession with knives and the problems he was purportedly dealing with.

One entry allegedly reads, "It's the year of the knife for me. I cut away my problems with a knife. Anybody touches my friends -- I will kill them. I'm also tired of being Dr. Jekyll [and] Mr. Hyde."

O.J. Simpson was unavailable for comment at the Lovelock Correctional Center in Lovelock, Nev., where he is serving a 33-year prison sentence. In 2008, he was found guilty of armed robbery and kidnapping for taking sports memorabilia from a dealer at gunpoint.

While the book's bombshell claims have not been proved -- authorities in California have yet to comment on them -- Dear insisted he can back up every allegation.

"I have been inducted into the Police Officer Hall of Fame as a private investigator, so my credentials are not [that of] some idiot guy just throwing it out there. My reputation is important to me. I would not say any of this without a great deal of backup," Dear said.

Dear also contended that he has managed to convince others that his theory has merit.

"I recently did a speech in front of 533 law enforcement investigators and prosecutors," he said. "The first statement I made was 'How many of you believe O.J. was guilty?' and everyone raised their hand. When [my speech] was over, I asked the same thing and only three people voted guilty. So when you get law enforcement and all these people to take that position, that's a pretty strong position." - THP

O.J. is Innocent and I Can Prove It: The Shocking Truth about the Murders of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman