Edible Vaccines are Taking a Bite Out of Diseases 

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Scientist are currently developing a new cost-effective and easy to administer vaccination through genetically modified foods. These edible vaccines will aid in delivering lifesaving vaccines to developing countries where traditional medical care is not readily available.

Known more formally as “Biopharming”, these edible vaccines are created by introducing the desired gene into the DNA of select fruits and
vegetables. Scientists begin altering the plant’s genes as seeds allowing scientists to grow entire farms of edible vaccines. As the plant grows the cells produce whatever protein is needed for the chosen vaccine. Once the plant is ingested immunization begins, causing the body to produce the necessary antibodies to fight disease.

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Though regulations and stipulations regarding the widespread application of biopharmed produce are still impeding upon high levels of extensive research, the field of biotechnology has continued to make significant strides in raising consumer awareness around the real world implications that accompany this technology, particularly in developing countries. The mortality rates in third world countries are largely dictated by deaths caused by vaccinated infectious diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis, neither of which are endemic in developed countries such as the United States. The implementation of biopharmed produce, if effectively grown and distributed, would dramatically cut the costs of disease prevention in countries like India, which spends approximately half of its total health budget on malaria control.

Scientists have found the best results in modifying the seeds of bananas, tobacco, and potatoes. Tobacco was found to be the most effective in terms of how the modified seeds grew and how it limited the amount of 22_07-edible_vaccinecontamination of other plants when being grown. Potatoes were also found to be effective but only if eaten raw. When scientists tested the efficiency of a cooked potato, they found that a lot of the proteins that were added through genetic modification had been destroyed. Although for most people, the banana has the most appeal because it is a very sweet and easy to eat fruit. Also, it can be transported easily and is extremely cheap to produce at ten cents a dose.

A video about bananas as a vessel for vital antibiotics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SNqY_vMVPw0

Just as any emerging technology the transgenic plant vaccines went through a human trial run where 14 adults were given either 100 grams of a transgenic potato, 50 grams of transgenic potato, or 50 grams of a normal potato. Each of these potato samples contained a range of 3.7 to 15.7 g of LT-B. This is a protein that induces the inflammatory response in humans. These potatoes were eaten raw because if they are cooked the protein injected into them would leave the potato. After the test was done ten of the eleven people that ingested the transgenic potatoes developed immunoglobulin G (IgG), which is a type of antibody. This is produced during the immune response when LT-B is activated. This test opened a whole new path to delivering vaccines to people in a cheap and effective way.

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Dr. Charles Arntzen

One of the newest developments in edible vaccinations came during the recent Ebola outbreak. With much of modern medicine, including the Ebola vaccination, being accessible only to the rich, scientists in the U.S wanted to find a vaccine for the developing world. Professor Charles Arntzen of Arizona State University believed that plants could be the answer. His team began researching and discovered that tobacco plants were ideal for housing the much needed Ebola vaccine, ZMapp. Like other edible vaccines, the desired antibodies are produced by fusing their genes to the genes of the tobacco plant. The tobacco is then injected with an artificial virus, stimulating antibody production. Though revolutionary in the fight against Ebola, the tobacco vaccine does have its complications. The outbreak required a large quantity of vaccinations which, with edible vaccines, is hard to develop in a short amount of time.

For now edible vaccines are still in development, but as time goes on and research continues they are becoming a viable option as an easy, inexpensive alternative to traditional vaccines.

Written by: Kelsey McGregor, Michelle Carter, Sarah Wilton, Phillip Hall

Drought Deadlock in California

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California is experiencing a record breaking year in terms of its water sources; however, the supply is at a record low. California has now entered its fourth year of scorching heat and disappearing water. This devastating drought is resulting in the loss of jobs and farmland across the state of California. The citizens of California have begun to conserve water in an attempt to find a solution to this drought.

After one of California’s wettest centuries, the state enters dire straits as the drought drags on for a fourth year of record high temperatures and scant precipitation with many looking for answers as to why this may be 5happening. Aside from 2014 being California’s warmest for the past 119 years, farmers seek even more water as the scalding temperatures and lack of precipitation sap the moisture from their fields forcing them to scramble for more water. There is much debate regarding the cause of this drought, but many are pointing fingers to the world’s changing climate. Whatever rainfall the state needs, is being deflected by a high pressure pattern, a “resilient ridge”, which is blocking storms and pushing them to other regions such as Alaska. The state’s snow-pack accounts for nearly one third of the its supply, but due to the warmer conditions, the snow-pack is melting earlier and snow then turns into light rain causing the soil to dry out faster. The California state government has been blamed for not focusing on their water supply enough, but now they search hastily for sources to balance the water table before time runs out.

According to the United States Drought Monitor, more than 80% of the state is in extreme drought. This drought has caused many issues in the area and will continue to hurt the state as the problem continues. The lack of water means farmers dependent on water to farm are harmed, and are 4therefore losing money, almost $810 million while their fields lay vacant.  Agricultural jobs are being lost due to this inactivity. If these farmers attempt to grow crops, they pump water from the ground, which is also very expensive. For farmers that are successful in growing crops, the prices for their items have greatly increased because of the challenges of production.  California produces much of the country’s fruits and vegetables, thus the increase in their prices nationwide. Aside from the food industry, there are other major effects of the drought. The concerns of drilling to collect more water from the ground have increased in Central Valley because of the risk of land subsidence, the sinking of the ground (A video found at this link describes this phenomena further). With the weather getting hotter and drier, there is also increased risk of wildfires. The state and federal governments are sending immense amounts of money to aid the state. Additionally, the decline in surface water flow means that there will be more issues with hydropower production, navigation, and habitat for aquatic species.

However, many solutions have been proposed to resolve California’s ever-shrinking supply of water. The most prevalent of them is using drills to dig wells for groundwater. This has been used in California for decades and is 8often used by farmers to keep crops growing during dry seasons. However, the increased use of wells is depleting aquifers of water before they can be replenished. This damages the ecosystem, so, ironically, this makes water a somewhat, nonrenewable resource. This also causes rapid subsidence in the land above groundwater, which can damage infrastructure and increase flood risk (See this video from ABC News). Additionally, a billion dollar desalination plant in San Diego will provide safe water for 300,000 people. Despite consuming lots of energy and releasing waste products such as carbon dioxide and brine, Australia used desalination plants and their drought was ended. However, the UAE has developed solar desalination plants that would be cheaper and greener. Companies in California have developed similar systems. Another way to decrease our water usage is to grow different types of crops. Nearly half of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables consumed in the US are grown in California. By changing our diet to plants that can better grow with less water, we may be able to more efficiently produce food.

As California’s drought continues to cause problems in its fourth year, California jobs and farmland as well as the rest of America are feeling the effects. This catastrophe is not man-made; however, we can aid in resolving the water crisis by doing our part. We can help by changing our habits and wasting less water. California’s landscape depends on the choices we make as a nation.

Written by: Noelle Greenwood, Nick Ges, Owen Baylosis,and Kayla Blatman

Can Farmers Keep Up with the Increasing Population?

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It is estimated that only 1 in 6 farmers are under the age of 35. The average age of a working farmer is estimated to be 59.5 years old. The majority of these farmers are people who have grown up on farms and have experienced the changing economy. The farmer’s position has been declining in status because many people have no interest in this field. This may be because of the higher paying jobs that are offered. With these higher paying jobs, workers have little incentive to go into this field. And while America currently is able to provide food for its people, in the near future, there will be massive food shortages as a result of the retirement of the older farmers and the lack of fresh, young workers. If more new farmers are not introduced to this field there will be a significant shortage of food. In approximately in 35 years the population will be much larger and if this issue is not resolved, there will be starvation throughout the United States of America.

However, there is a possibility that new technologies will emerge that will increase agricultural production immensely such as “smart farming” or the reliance on machines to assist in production. Additionally, the government could help new agricultural producers get started, as this is a difficult task to complete.  For example, the government could lower taxes on new farm land for farmers who are just starting out, because the high cost may deter potential farmers from the beginning of their involvement in this industry. In fact, the government has created programs like the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) already. This program trains and educates young farmers and ranchers to be successful in the field of agriculture. The goal of the program is to “enhance food security by providing beginning farmer and rancher producers and their families in the U.S. with the knowledge, skills and tools needed to make informed decisions for their operations, and enhance their sustainability.” Also, the government offers grants to help start up young farmers because this job is essential for our country’s success.

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Another solution is to simply introduce the younger generation to farming. It may be that they just do not have proper exposure to the benefits of agriculture. With summer programs and classes related to agriculture, this will be more likely. For instance, schools should offer classes pertaining to this field like farming technology, to interest students to pursing this job career. Summer programs like the Governor’s School of Agriculture at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University can also introduce this field to our youth in America. Residents of the United States of America are encouraged to help come up with ways to establish a connection between the children of America and agriculture. If any of our readers are able to think of ways to do this, please leave a comment below.

Remember to check weekly for updates on this or related issues.  We look forward to your feedback!!

Written by: Lily Buysse, Sarah Acolatse

Nuclear Waste in Your Back Yard

In Nye County, Nevada, an area about 80 miles from Las Vegas, lies the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository, the designated site for disposal and storage of spent nuclear fuel and potentially radioactive waste. Although the Yucca Mountain territory was selected and approved, after DCFdecades of research, for its dry, isolated and geologically stable attributes, this project has received opposition from almost all of the neighboring communities, which is largely due to misrepresentation and man-made myths.

The fear of nuclear power plants persists to such an extent that nuclear energy continues to only account for 20% of the United States’ energy and 14% of worldwide energy, but it is unclear whether this trepidation is justified. Nuclear power shows great promise for combatting the energy crisis; for one thing, it is sustainable. Uranium is incredibly abundant and if countries invested in research to develop more efficient generators the uranium supply could last over 2,500 years. France in particular has been incredibly successful with nuclear energy usage; it obtains over 80% of its national energy in this manner.

The downside is that nuclear reactors produce potentially harmful radioactive waste. Nuclear technologies emit nuclear radiation that, if not properly contained, can be detrimental to ecosystems and the environment. Although there are a considerable amount of restrictions and regulations on how waste is disposed, accidents can happen. For example, the Three Mile Island incident in 1979 occurred despite having several layers of defense. In this incident, human error led to a severe core meltdown. It was estimated that that over two million people received radiation of about 1 milligrams over the background dosage.

Another specific nuclear waste disaster was the Mayak case in the Southern Urals, located in Russia during the Cold War. This nuclear waste storage site, which is tightly administered and fortified by the Soviet Union, blew up in the midst of the war and caused a series of detrimental VSDVconsequences to the people surrounding the disaster site, such as hydrocephalus, a condition that involves mutations in the physical build of individuals. Additionally, runoff from the disaster entered water streams and rivers in the area, later taking a dangerous toll on the environment and water quality.

In spite of these disasters, there is evidence to believe that nuclear power plants are not as dangerous as people make them out to be. The U.S. Bureau of Labor reports that a person working as a grocery store clerk is more likely to be injured on the job than a person working at a nuclear power plant. In addition, the Nuclear Energy Institute claims that it is physically impossible for another disaster like Cherynobyl to happen with existing nuclear reactors. In the past 50 years, with over 3,500 reactors in operation, there have been no observed detrimental health effects which can be linked to radiation, even in neighboring villages.

In conclusion, the subject of nuclear energy is an ever-developing and expanding industry with an unclear future. Although the toll of select historical nuclear waste disasters is felt upon by the neighboring areas in a myriad of ways, research has been conducted and innovations have been made to prevent such instances from occurring again. That being said, humans still have a protracted path to fully understanding and applying nuclear energy; such is the case with the Yucca Mountain Waste Repository, as the project lacks a backup plan. The prospective results of nuclear energy and its waste shine brightly and are bound to improve as science and society progresses.

Written by: Jasmeen Dhillon, Kayce Baker, Tuba Chai, Abby McShane