disturbing the land

Recent outbreaks of Ebola, SARS, and other zoonotic infectious diseases that transmit from animals to humans have made the relationship between human disease and environmental management an especially hot topic.

In East Africa, community ecologist Hillary Young’s fieldwork has examined the direct impacts of human disturbance on landscape and wildlife, as well as a variety of factors affecting infectious disease risk.

Young posits that rodent-borne pathogens are likely to demonstrate the links between conservation and human health. In three recently published papers, she takes separate approaches to addressing the question of what human disturbance is doing to human health.

“I ask this overarching question in a variety of ways,” says Young, an assistant professor in University of California, Santa Barbara’s department of ecology, evolution and marine biology.

“All three papers try to come at that question from different directions, and acknowledge that there is no single answer.

“We can disturb environments in myriad different ways, with diverse and cascading impacts across taxa—thus affecting disease risk in diverse and indirect ways,” she adds.

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US jails are warehouses of sick, poor and low-risk people

US Jails

Jail is not supposed to be where you put the mentally ill or those too poor to pay bail. Nor is it supposed to be where African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asians go for crimes that don’t land white people behind bars. But that is what they are increasingly becoming.

The primary purpose of jails, unlike prisons, is to be a temporary holding space where those who are a danger to the public or are a flight risk can await court proceedings. But they now hold many who are neither. Too often, jails are warehouses of low-risk individuals who are too poor to post bail or too sick for existing community resources to manage.

Many jails today are being asked to do the job of mental health institutions, even though they lack the resources and expertise to treat people suffering from mental illness or substance abuse. Research shows that serious mental illness affects an estimated 14.5% of men in jails and 31% of women – rates that are three to six times higher than in the general population.

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Doctors write millions of prescriptions a year for drugs to calm people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. But research suggests that non-drug approaches actually work better, and carry far fewer risks.

A new study is the result of two decades’ worth of research on drugs like antipsychotics and antidepressants, and non-drug approaches that help caregivers address behavioral issues in dementia patients.

The findings recommend that non-drug approaches that focus on training spouses, adult children, or staff in nursing homes and assisted living facilities should be the first choice for treating symptoms such as irritability, agitation, depression, anxiety, sleep problems, aggression, apathy, and delusions.


To address this, researchers created DICE (Describe, Investigate, Evaluate, and Create), a framework that doctors and caregivers can use to make the most of what’s already known. The framework is tailored to each person with dementia and can be adapted as symptoms change.

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DNA may predict when and how we’re going to die


Washington, Mar. 02 (ANI): The DNA strands on the end of chromosomes may help predict when people are going to die.

BYU biologist Jonathan Alder stated that, DNA end caps, called telomeres, are the great predictors of life expectancy: the shorter your telomeres, the shorter your lifespan.

But that’s not the only thing these fascinating strands of DNA predict. Shorter telomeres also indicate a greater chance for bone marrow failure, liver disease, skin disease and lung disease.

Alder was currently studying the gene mutations that cause people to have unnaturally short telomeres. Recent research he coauthored with collaborators at Johns Hopkins University found those mutations are connected to both pulmonary fibrosis and emphysema.

Telomeres are the protective tip of our chromosomes, kind of like the plastic cap on the end of a shoelace. Each time a cell divides and replicates, the DNA at the end of telomeres shorten. Since cell division happens throughout life, telomeres get shorter and shorter as we age.

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