Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Energy Efficient Homes Are Also Asthma Causing Homes

The UK government have for some time been supporting (by deed and funding) the construction and renovation of our homes so that they meet very strict energy efficiency requirements. As a direct consequence insulation has been lavishly funded while there has been little or no emphasis on introducing fresh air into properties i.e. via ventilation - presumably because ventilation can cause heat loss and thus lead to higher energy consumption.
Unfortunately this one-eyed thinking has led to a housing stock that has insufficient ventilation in many cases, leading to the accumulation of moisture and other gases e.g. carbon dioxide. The UK based Institute for Specialist Surveyors and Engineers has for some years now been advocating the introduction of heat-saving mechanical ventilation to help improve ventilation while minimising costs to energy efficiency.

A new paper (summarised here in the Sunday Times) has looked at asthma rates in a range of energy efficient housing and concludes that higher rates of asthma correlates with higher energy efficiency rating - a clear indication that greater consideration needs to be given by the UK government to supporting the installation of ventilation alongside insulation rather than insulation alone.

The ISSE alongside the Institute of Buildings and Health are to take this up with government ministers and senior officials of the UK construction Industry in the very near future.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Allergy to Christmas Tree's Is Not Only Caused By Moulds

Some years ago and more recently in the media it has been noted that small studies on mould found on live Christmas tree's brought into the home for the festive period suggest that the amount of moulds on the tree slowly increased over the days it spends in your home. We recommended at the time that as a result it would be best if people who are sensitive to moulds remove these trees after 7 - 10 days before the amount of mould growing on the trees built up too much.

This year we have noticed a paper documenting a much larger study from 1970 on this subject - quoting the summary below:

A history of respiratory or other allergic symptoms during the Christmas season is occasionally obtained from allergic patients and can be related to exposure to conifers at home or in school.   
Incidence and mechanism of production of these symptoms were studied. Of 1657 allergic patients, respiratory and skin allergies to conifers occurred in 7%. This seasonal syndrome includes sneezing, wheezing and transitory skin rashes. The majority of patients develop their disease within 24 hours, but 15% experience symptoms after several days delay. 
Mould and pollen studies were carried out in 10 test sites before, during and after tree placement in the home. Scrapings from pine and spruce bark yielded Urge numbers of Penicillium, Epicoccum and Alternaria, but these failed to become airborne. No significant alteration was discovered in the airborne fungi in houses when trees were present. Pollen studies showed release into air of weed, grass and tree pollens while Christmas trees were in the house. Oleoresins of the tree balsam are thought to be the most likely cause of the symptoms designated as Christmas tree allergy.
It seems therefore that allergies caused by Christmas trees may also be caused by several other factors other than moulds, though it remains important to be aware of moulds especially when moving or otherwise disturbing the trees

Friday, 19 December 2014

Turn Plastics into Food - Using Fungi!

Microbiologists and two designers have come up with a device dubbed the Fungi Mutarium, which is capable of turning biodegradable plastic into -- hold your breath -- edible mushrooms!

The Fungi Mutarium is the brainchild of Livin, an Austrian design studio, and Utrecht University, which aimed to create a device that could break down man-made trash and at the same time grow tasty edibles.

The experiment is a prototype that deploys fungi to break down plastic and grow edible fungal biomass or mushrooms. The device uses cups that are made of agar, which is an algae-based gelatin. The cups hold the fungus, which is used to digest the plastic which, in turn, has been sterilized by dousing it in UV light. Once the plastic has been digested, the agar cups and the content inside it become digestible. The process usually takes several months for the fungi to decompose all the plastic.

 With the device, the team aimed to create a single solution that would address a host of issues ranging from pollution to food waste. "We were both really inspired about the idea that something digests plastic but then still creates edible biomass,"said Katharina Unger, who is one of the designers.

 Unger also reveals that the harvested pods have a mild taste; the fungi that is used is from the root of two of the most popular mushrooms around: oyster and split gill. "It starts off being very neutral, but it can also get a bit nutty and spicy in taste. It really depends on the strain, actually," the research found. However, the team asserts that the "neutral" taste is what makes the pods versatile in nature.

The Fungi Mutarium faces a few hurdles before it can make its way to consumers. A major drawback is that it takes several months for the plastic to break down. The product is still in its research phase and while the Fungi Mutarium has mass usage potential, it seems there is room for improvement. Unger, however, is optimistic. "We know that there's potential to speed up this process simply by optimizing the processes around it: temperature, humidity, the perfect microclimate for this fungi to colonize the plastic material," says Unger. The team is currently looking for more funding so that they can continue to work on improving the Fungi Mutarium.

Original article by Anu Passary

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Environmentally Friendly Nanotechnology using Fungi

Nanotechnology is a rapidly developing science and a number of methods are now available for producing nanoparticles. However, some of these methods employ high energy requirements, low material conversions and the use of hazardous chemicals. Hence, there is a growing need to develop eco-friendly nanoparticle synthesis methods.
Biosynthetic methods such as those that employ plant extracts or microorganisms have emerged as viable alternatives to physical and chemical synthetic procedures.

Fungi (including Aspergillus) are emerging as a prime candidate to produce nanoparticles in a far less environmentally damaging ways. This development is great news as nanotechnology is already proving to be of great use in advancing medical techniques for diagnosis and treatment, allowing for efficient drug delivery in places that have always been difficult to reach - a simple topical application of nano-drug on the skin for example is effective at getting the drug travelling deep through tissue to its target - in the past chemical solvents have had to be used for similar purposes and patients have had to tolerate toxic side effects.

Original article by Stuart Milne

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Chocolate Frosty Pod Rot = World Shortage of Chocolate!

Originally reported by Jennifer Frazer in the Scientific American Journal:
For a long time frosty pod rot was relatively confined to Colombia, Ecuador, and western Venezuela in northwest South America. Since the 1950s, it has spread throughout South and Central America, reaching Panama in 1956, Costa Rica in 1978, Nicaragua in 1980, Peru  in 1988, Honduras in 1997, Guatemala in 2002, Belize in 2004, and Mexico in 2005. It can cause growers to abandon entire cacao plantations, as losses in infected groves can near 100%
Frosty pod rot, along with its close relative witch’s broom of cacao, together have devastated cacao-farming regions in these countries, and “are responsible for the plummet in tropical American cocoa production,” according to a 2005 article in Mycologia. That sounds bad. At least one scientist, according to the authors of the Mycologia article, believes that M. roreri is “still in an invasive phase … and is poised to devastate already crippled production in Bolivia and Brazil, once it arrives in those countries.” Apparently, that is still true in 2013, as the poster that I discovered this pathogen on stated that frosty pod rot is still a “serious threat” to cacao plantations in Bolivia and Brazil, and even West Africa.

Changes in the climate of the areas that grow the world's supplies of chocolate (probably caused by Global Warming) are hitting the crop production and on top of that bad news the stress caused by dryer conditions and changes to the local flora & fauna are stimulating the growth of diseases of the cocao plant, particularly the fungal disease Frosty Pod Rot and other fungal infections.

This provides further evidence of the direct impact fungal diseases have on world economies - and of course to our enjoyment of the crops affected. Shortage of cocao pods will drive the price of chocolate up even further.

A further consequence of this fungal disease is that producers will eventually abandon old, infected growing areas and clear more patches of rainforest on which to grow more. Naturally the destruction of the rainforest will eventually have an impact of global warming! Are we getting into a never ending cycle of destruction??

Monday, 8 December 2014

Welcome Research Funding: Change of Approach

Refreshing our funding framework
Jeremy Farrar has announced a refreshed funding framework. The most significant changes include a clearer distinction between strategic and responsive funding, a major new scheme for collaborative research by teams, seed funding to support the generation of new ideas, more opportunities for the research leaders of the future and the merging of our New Investigator and Senior Investigator Awards.

Register for our webinar
, which will outline what the key changes mean in the context of our science portfolio, on 12 December at 11.00 GMT. This webinar will be of interest to researchers working in biomedical science and public health who are based in the UK, Republic of Ireland or in low- and middle-income countries. Find out more.

Damp Causes Mould Problems and Fire Hazard!

Reported during particularly wet weather in Montana, USA by Emily Glunk, MSU Extension Forage Specialist:

Following the large amounts of rain received throughout Montana in recent days, MSU Extension has received reports of heating and molding of hay bales that have been stacked and stored outside. Problems following heating and water damage of hay include spontaneous hay fires; quality loss of rained-on hay, especially if it continues to sit in water; and molding.
Spontaneous hay fires usually occur within six weeks of baling, however when external moisture such as heavy rain is added, issues can arise outside of that timeframe. Increases in bale moisture increase microbial activity, with heat as a by-product. It is typical to see temperatures peaking 3 to 7 days post-rainfall, but should return to normal by 60 days. This will depend on factors such as relative humidity, bale density, and amount of rainfall received. The longer it takes for the bale temperature to return to normal, the more likely for a fire or significant damage will occur to the hay.
Beyond possible spontaneous combustion, there are other quality losses associated with rained-on hay, especially hay that continues to sit in water. When hay begins to heat due to additional moisture, some of the proteins become unavailable for digestion due to binding with fiber. Unfortunately, this will still show up as crude protein on a standard lab test, and so may not exactly represent the amount of protein available to the animal.
Another well-known effect of rained-on hay is molding. Mold, and especially the mycotoxins that some molds produce, can be harmful to animals and humans alike. Horses are the most susceptible, with ingestion of moldy hay potentially resulting in respiratory and digestive issues. Ruminants aren’t as sensitive to moldy hay, but can experience negative effects such as abortions or aspergillosis. Additionally, there is a condition known as “farmer’s lung” that can occur in humans due to fungus growing in lung tissue after fungal spores have been inhaled.
MSU Extension forage specialist Emily Glunk has prepared an information sheet to answer questions and mitigate damage. Visit www.msuextension.org for more information.
In addition, MSU Extension plant pathologist Mary Burrows has prepared an Ag Alert for those with concerns about un-harvested winter wheat, spring wheat and barley that may be susceptible to grain sprouting in the head due to the large quantities of rain. Resources are available through MSU Extension at www.msuextension.org.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

World AIDS Day: Global Action Fund for Fungal Infections requests WHO includes Itraconazole on EML

Yesterday (Dec 1st) was World AIDS Day and the pioneering health charity GAFFI  lobbied the WHO to include Itraconazole on the Essential Medicines List (EML), this would help hundreds of thousands of AIDS and HIV positive patients worldwide.
GAFFI’s application to  the WHO, was in collaboration with the International Foundation for Dermatology and pinpointed key fungal diseases with AIDS, for which itraconazole is crucial.
Itraconazole is used for the treatment of many fungal infections and is ~70% effective for fluconazole - resistant oral thrush, and is the treatment of choice for eosinophilic folliculitis, a debilitating, itchy rash associated with HIV infection.
Also Patients with Talaromyces marneffei infection (previously called penicilliosis) and which is common in SE Asia, also respond really well to itraconazole, as do those with coccidioidomycosis and paracoccidioidomycosis in the Americas.
Numerous skin fungal infections in adults and children with HIV infection are treated with the drug, griseofulvin, which remains on the EML- but is often ineffective compared to itraconazole.
Itraconazole tablets

Dr David Denning, President of GAFFI and Professor of Infectious Disease in Global Health at The University of Manchester explained: “Every two years WHO calls for revision to the EML, and the deadline is today - World AIDS Day (December 1st). It is remarkable that such a workhorse antifungal such as itraconazole, which has been available since 1991, has not been included on the EML previously. Registered in most countries, itraconazole will provide the first effective oral antifungal for mould infections and endemic mycoses such as histoplasmosis.”

Professor Rod Hay of the International Foundation for Dermatology stated: “Itraconazole is a highly effective oral antifungal for many skin, hair and nail fungal infections. These are more problematic in HIV infected people, and so the inclusion of itraconazole on the EML will benefit huge numbers of adults and children with these infections."
The availability and cost of itraconazole in most countries is shown here and demonstrates the gaps in access to antifungal treatments. Itraconazole is available and approved in most countries, but not all, notably Senegal, Algeria, Afghanistan, Barbados, and Eritrea. It is registered in Dominican Republic, Iraq, Nepal and Ukraine, but not available.

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