Dutch Afghan war veterans’ health problems

Burn pit in Afghanistan, photo Dutch Ministry of Defence

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Within two weeks, 110 soldiers have already reported that they have become ill through so-called burn pits or are worried about them. Burn pits are pits that were used to burn waste in mission areas in Afghanistan.

There was unrest among soldiers sent out after colleagues reported health complaints that might be related to those burn pits. Initially, Minister Bijleveld [of war, sorry I am supposed to say Defense] said that no one had reported to the Ministry of Defense, but later it turned out that soldiers had indeed expressed their concerns, eg, to military physicians. These, however, were not considered official reports.

Bijleveld then set up a hotline that started on 4 February. In the meantime 110 people have registered there. If the reports give reason to do so, the minister wants to independently investigate the health complaints, and will let the House of Representatives know. She wants to make a decision in April.


In the burn pits, waste was burned in the open air. Soldiers claim that they have contracted cancer or other diseases as a result of the harmful substances released.

In her letter, Bijleveld writes that it is not uncommon to process waste in this way in mission areas. Often it is the only way to get rid of waste. The local population also does it.

In George W Bush’s ‘new’ Afghanistan, very many people are hungry and poor. They have no money to get rid of waste in more environmentally and medically sound ways. They as well may be suffering from the diseases caused by burn pits.

See also here.


Great white shark genome decoded

This 18 February 2019 video says about itself:

Scientists claim SHARK DNA could contain the secret to longer life in humans

Great white sharks may prove unlikely saviours of human lives thanks to their huge and extraordinary genome, scientists have discovered. The first “map” of the creature’s DNA has uncovered a plethora of mutations that protect against cancer and other age-related diseases, as well as enhanced wound healing.

Experts believe understanding more about the way the great white has evolved to keep its genome stable and resist disease could lead to new life-preserving human treatments. Study co-leader Dr Mahmood Shivji, director of the Save Our Seas Foundation Shark Research Centre at Nova Southeastern University in Florida, US, said: “Genome instability is a very important issue in many serious human diseases. “Now we find that nature has developed clever strategies to maintain the stability of genomes in these large-bodied, long-lived sharks. “There’s still tons to be learned from these evolutionary marvels, including information that will potentially be useful to fight cancer and age-related diseases, and improve wound healing treatments in humans, as we uncover how these animals do it.” Cracking the great white genetic code also revealed the large size of the apex predator’s genome. It contains an estimated 4.63 billion “base pairs”, the chemical units of DNA, making it one-and-a-half times bigger than its human counterpart.

From Nova Southeastern University in the USA:

Great white shark genome decoded

Huge genome reveals sequence adaptations in key wound healing and genome stability genes tied to cancer protection

February 18, 2019

Summary: In a major scientific step to understand the biology of this iconic apex predator and sharks in general, the entire genome of the white shark has now been decoded in detail.

The great white shark is one of the most recognized marine creatures on Earth, generating widespread public fascination and media attention, including spawning one of the most successful movies in Hollywood history. This shark possesses notable characteristics, including its massive size (up to 20 feet and 7,000 pounds) and diving to nearly 4,000 foot depths. Great whites are also a big conservation concern given their relatively low numbers in the world’s oceans.

In a major scientific step to understand the biology of this iconic apex predator and sharks in general, the entire genome of the white shark has now been decoded in detail.

A team led by scientists from Nova Southeastern University’s (NSU) Save Our Seas Foundation Shark Research Center and Guy Harvey Research Institute (GHRI), Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, and Monterey Bay Aquarium, completed the white shark genome and compared it to genomes from a variety of other vertebrates, including the giant whale shark and humans.

The findings are reported in the ‘Latest Articles’ section of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Decoding the white shark’s genome revealed not only its huge size — one-and-a-half times the size of the human genome — but also a plethora of genetic changes that could be behind the evolutionary success of large-bodied and long-lived sharks.

The researchers found striking occurrences of specific DNA sequence changes indicating molecular adaptation (also known as positive selection) in numerous genes with important roles in maintaining genome stability ¬¬- the genetic defense mechanisms that counteract the accumulation of damage to a species’ DNA, thereby preserving the integrity of the genome.

These adaptive sequence changes were found in genes intimately tied to DNA repair, DNA damage response, and DNA damage tolerance, among other genes. The opposite phenomenon, genome instability, which results from accumulated DNA damage, is well known to predispose humans to numerous cancers and age-related diseases.

“Not only were there a surprisingly high number of genome stability genes that contained these adaptive changes, but there was also an enrichment of several of these genes, highlighting the importance of this genetic fine-tuning in the white shark,” said Mahmood Shivji, Ph.D., director of NSU’s Save Our Seas Foundation Shark Research Center and GHRI. Shivji co-led the study with Michael Stanhope, Ph.D., of Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Also notable was that the white shark genome contained a very high number of “jumping genes” or transposons, and in this case a specific type, known as LINEs. In fact this is one of the highest proportions of LINEs (nearly 30%) discovered in vertebrates so far.

“These LINEs are known to cause genome instability by creating double stranded breaks in DNA,” said Stanhope. “It’s plausible that this proliferation of LINEs in the white shark genome could represent a strong selective agent for the evolution of efficient DNA repair mechanisms, and is reflected in the positive selection and enrichment of so many genome stability genes.”

The international research team, which also included scientists from California State University, Monterey Bay, Clemson University, University of Porto, Portugal, and the Theodosius Dobzhansky Center for Genome Bioinformatics, Russia, also found that many of the same genome stability genes in the white shark were also under positive selection and enriched in the huge-bodied, long-lived whale shark.

The discovery that the whale shark also had these key genome stability adaptations was significant because theoretically, the risk of developing cancer should increase with both the number of cells (large bodies) and an organism’s lifespan — there is statistical support for a positive relationship of body size and cancer risk within a species. Interestingly, this does not tend to hold up across species.

Contrary to expectations, very large-bodied animals do not get cancer more often than humans, suggesting they have evolved superior cancer-protective abilities. The genetic innovations discovered in genome stability genes in the white and whale shark could be adaptations facilitating the evolution of their large bodies and long lifespans.

“Decoding the white shark genome is providing science with a new set of keys to unlock lingering mysteries about these feared and misunderstood predators — why sharks have thrived for some 500 million years, longer than almost any vertebrate on earth” said Dr. Salvador Jorgensen, a Senior Research Scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, who co-authored the study.

But the innovations did not end there.

The shark genomes revealed other intriguing evolutionary adaptations in genes linked to wound healing pathways. Sharks are known for their impressively rapid wound healing.

“We found positive selection and gene content enrichments involving several genes tied to some of the most fundamental pathways in wound healing, including in a key blood clotting gene,” said Stanhope. “These adaptations involving wound healing genes may underlie the vaunted ability of sharks to heal efficiently from even large wounds.”

The researchers say they have just explored the “tip of the iceberg” with respect to the white shark genome.

“Genome instability is a very important issue in many serious human diseases; now we find that nature has developed clever strategies to maintain the stability of genomes in these large-bodied, long-lived sharks,” said Shivji. “There’s still tons to be learned from these evolutionary marvels, including information that will potentially be useful to fight cancer and age-related diseases, and improve wound healing treatments in humans, as we uncover how these animals do it.”

Decoding the white shark genome will also assist with the conservation of this and related sharks, many of which have rapidly declining populations due to overfishing,” said Steven O’Brien, a conservation geneticist at NSU, who co-conceived this study. “The genome data will be a great asset for understanding white shark population dynamics to better conserve this amazing species that has captured the imagination of so many.”

This research was funded by NSU’s Save Our Seas Foundation, the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, the Hai Stiftung/Shark Foundation, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and in-kind support from Illumina, Inc., and Dovetail Genomics.

Dutch pro-climate student strikes, 21 February

This 7 February 2019 video is about the big pro-climate march, mainly by secondary school students, in The Hague, the Netherlands.

This tweet from the Netherlands is about students striking against the government’s lack of climate policy on Thursday 21 February.

Climate change could increase foodborne illness by energizing flies. Livelier flies could land on more food, leaving Campylobacter behind in their tiny footsteps. By Susan Milius, 9:00am, February 14, 2019.

Dinosaur age malaria mosquitoes discovered

Priscoculex burmanicus, a newly identified genus and species of anopheline mosquito, preserved in amber. Credit: George Poinar Jr.

From Oregon State University in the USA:

Mosquitoes that carry malaria may have been doing so 100 million years ago

February 11, 2019

The anopheline mosquitoes that carry malaria were present 100 million years ago, new research shows, potentially shedding fresh light on the history of a disease that continues to kill more than 400,000 people annually.

“Mosquitoes could have been vectoring malaria at that time, but it’s still an open question,” said the study’s corresponding author, George Poinar Jr. of Oregon State University’s College of Science. “Back then anopheline mosquitoes were probably biting birds, small mammals and reptiles since they still feed on those groups today.”

In amber from Myanmar that dates to the mid-Cretaceous Period, Poinar and co-authors described a new genus and species of mosquito, which was named Priscoculex burmanicus. Various characteristics, including those related to wing veins, proboscis, antennae and abdomen indicate that Priscoculex is an early lineage of the anopheline mosquitoes.

“This discovery provides evidence that anophelines were radiating — diversifying from ancestral species — on the ancient megacontinent of Gondwana because it is now thought that Myanmar amber fossils originated on Gondwana,” said Poinar, an international expert in using plant and animal life forms preserved in amber to learn more about the biology and ecology of the distant past.

Findings were published in Historical Biology.

Most malaria, especially the species that infect humans and other primates, is caused primarily by one genus of protozoa, Plasmodium, and spread mainly by anopheline mosquitoes. Ancestral forms of the disease may literally have determined animal survival and evolution, according to Poinar.

In a previous work, he suggested that the origins of malaria, which today can infect animals ranging from humans and other mammals to birds and reptiles, may have first appeared in an insect such as a biting midge that was found to be vectoring a type of malaria some 100 million years ago. Now he can include mosquitoes as possible malaria vectors that existed at the same time.

In a 2007 book, “What Bugged the Dinosaurs? Insects, Disease and Death in the Cretaceous,” Poinar and his wife, Roberta, showed insect vectors from the Cretaceous with pathogens that could have contributed to the widespread extinction of the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago.

“There were catastrophic events that happened around that time, such as asteroid impacts, climatic changes and lava flows,” the Poinars’ wrote. “But it’s still clear that dinosaurs declined and slowly became extinct over thousands of years, which suggests other issues must also have been at work. Insects, microbial pathogens such as malaria, and other vertebrate diseases were just emerging around that time.”

Scientists have long debated about how and when malaria evolved, said Poinar, who was the first to discover malaria in a 15- to 20-million-year-old fossil mosquito from the New World, in what is now the Dominican Republic.

It was the first fossil record of Plasmodium malaria, one type of which is now the strain that infects and kills humans.

Understanding the ancient history of malaria, Poinar said, might offer clues on how its modern-day life cycle evolved and how to interrupt its transmission. Since the sexual reproductive stage of malaria only occurs in the insect vectors, Poinar considers the vectors to be the primary hosts of the malarial pathogen, rather than the vertebrates they infect.

The first human recording of malaria was in China in 2,700 B.C., and some researchers say it may have resulted in the fall of the Roman Empire. In 2017 there were 219 million cases of malaria worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Immunity rarely occurs naturally and the search for a vaccine has not yet been successful.

Australia’s right-wing anti-refugee government’s defeat

This 11 February 2019 video says about itself:

Government on verge of historic defeat | Nine News Australia

The Morrison Government appears set for a historic defeat on a bill which would release asylum seekers from off-shore detention on medical advice. The Prime Minister says Labor’s support of the bill proves it is a threat to border security.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Historical defeat of Australian government on asylum legislation

The Australian government has suffered a historic defeat in the House of Commons. For the first time in 78 years, the opposition has defeated the government in an important vote.

The House of Commons voted on a law that provides asylum seekers in detention camps on two islands in the Pacific with improved access to medical assistance. The law would make it easier for them to be transferred to the Australian mainland for treatment.

The minority [right-wing] government of Prime Minister Morrison, which pursues a harsh anti-immigration policy, is fiercely opposed to the amendment of the law. …

Since 2013, Australia refuses to accept migrants who come to the country with boats. The refugees are sent to detention centers on the islands of Nauru and Manus in the Pacific Ocean. The Australian government says it wants to discourage the practices of human smugglers in Asia.

However, in practice the Australian government works hand in glove with human smugglers in attacking refugees, paying the people smugglers with Australian taxpayers’ money.

There have been protests against the detention camps for years, because the conditions are very bad. Doctors say that the medical facilities are not sufficient and the United Nations has called the situation in the camps inhuman.

Final decision

The new law would make it easier for migrants who are stuck in the camps to get medical help on the Australian mainland. In the old situation, the Minister of Home Affairs determined who was eligible; [in the new law] a medical committee would make the final decision.

In recent years, some 500 people have been transferred to Australia for medical reasons.


The Senate will vote on the amendment later this week. It is expected that a majority of parliamentarians there will also support the adjustment.

Prime Minister Morrison has already said that he does not intend to resign if the law would be finally passed. Elections were already planned for this spring.

The federal Liberal-National Coalition government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison suffered a blow on Tuesday, when it lost a vote on legislation amending the Migration Act in the House of Representatives. The Senate passed the laws the following day: here.

Red Cross against nuclear weapons

This 11 February 2019 video from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says about itself:

Let’s decide the future of nuclear weapons before they decide ours.

Help us send a signal to States worldwide – sign the treaty, protect our future: here.

Translated from Sittard-Geleen Nieuws in the Netherlands today:

The Red Cross conducts action against nuclear weapons on a global scale this Monday. The organization wants the Netherlands to, eg, sign the United Nations nuclear weapons ban.

That was adopted in July 2017 by the United Nations with the consent of 122 countries. The Netherlands was the only NATO country to abstain from voting, the other member states voted against. The treaty has now been ratified by seventy countries.

With a penetrating video, the Red Cross wants to raise awareness of the terrible consequences that an attack with nuclear weapons will cause. In the film the question is central: if a nuclear bomb would fall here, would you want to survive that disaster or would you rather die?

A nuclear weapon attack has far-reaching consequences, the Red Cross wants to make clear. The heat, shock waves and radiation can cause many victims, post disaster assistance is virtually impossible and the consequences for the health of the survivors will remain noticeable for generations.

In addition, the aid organization points out the large amounts of soot that will come into the atmosphere as a result of such an attack. This would result in less sunlight on earth, which could lead to falling temperatures, failed harvests and hunger.

The chance of an attack appears to have increased in recent years, partly because both the United States and Russia have withdrawn from the treaty that bans nuclear weapons for medium distances.

Scotland’s bomb: six times more powerful than Hiroshima. The Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament looks forward to 2019 as another year of campaigning to rid our country and our world of the scourge of nuclear weapons, writes ARTHUR WEST.