Tag Archives: International Atomic Energy Agency

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Nuclear Science: Mapping Out Red Tide

Seafood lovers could one day find their plates dry thanks to climate change. Findings reported on by the Marine Stewardship Council indicate that increasing greenhouse gas emissions absorbed by our world’s ocean are causing them to heat up and become more acidic. These changes threaten the very habitats that fish and other marine organisms like shellfish need to survive.

Coral habitat destruction, rising sea levels and red tides are just a few examples of ocean degradation due to climate change. Red tide or colonies of harmful algae blooms (HABs) is nothing new to coastal communities. This phenomenon has been documented for centuries, however it is only recently that researchers are investigating how changes to our ocean environment could be impacting this coastal occurrence.

This is where nuclear science comes in.​ Scientists with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Environmental Laboratories in Monaco are using a nuclear technique known as receptor binding assay (RBA) to help better detect and map these harmful algae bloom outbreaks (HABs) to help protect human populations.

RBA works like this. In each sample, toxins and radiotracers or radioactive isotopes compete to bind to receptors or cells within the sample. How the isotopes behave tells scientists how much toxicity is present in the sample.

Red tides are transported by wind and ocean currents and are usually found close to the shoreline.  Ocean warming due to the absorption of greenhouse gases brought about by climate change has resulted in these toxic blooms become more frequent and more severe.

As the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pointed out, “recent research suggests that the impacts of climate change may promote the growth and dominance of harmful algal blooms through a variety of mechanisms including warmer water temperatures, changes in salinity, increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, changes in rainfall patterns, intensifying of coastal upwelling and sea level rise.”

Red Tide outbreaks can be devastating to the aquaculture economies of developed and developing countries alike. A red tide outbreak that affected Luzon Island, Philippines in 2006 which had adverse impacts on the nearly 12,000 families that rely on shellfish to make their living.  When these toxic plants enter the food web they can kill off large numbers of fish and marine life. The US National Library Institutes of Medicine and Health discovered high levels of toxins in dead manatees and dolphins following a red tide outbreak.

However, the impacts of red tide are not limited to marine life. HABs can also cause illnesses in humans, mainly affecting the nervous system. Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) is a potentially fatal condition that occurs when people consume shellfish that contain red tide toxins. Ingesting infected shellfish can impact the nervous system and cause dizziness or difficulty swallowing. In extreme cases, it can lead to death.

While science may not be able to stop red tide outbreaks, a method known as receptor binding assay (RBA) can help to better detect and map out these harmful algae bloom outbreaks, taking a step towards health protection of both marine environments and human populations.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in partnership with International Oceanographic Commission of ​UNESCO is working with approximately 40 countries is transferring the knowledge of nuclear technology to stop the effects of red tides on human population, making seafood safer thanks to nuclear science.

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Nuclear Science: Preventing Future Ebola Outbreaks

West Africa experienced the largest Ebola outbreak in history in 2014. It claimed over ten thousand lives and impacted the entire countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. In June 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared an end to Ebola and months later, in April of this year, Liberia removed its temporary Ebola treatment facility only for Africa to announce another outbreak just a month later.

Contagious and often deadly, the Ebola virus or hemorrhagic fever can be transmitted from animal to human and through human-to-human contact. Between 2-21 days after infection, a patient will experience symptoms that resemble a flu (fever, sore throat, headaches). As the virus continues to damage the immune system and organs, internal and even external bleeding can occur. Death rates for the disease can be as high as 90%.

The 2014 outbreak closed many schools in the region that remained locked for almost an entire year. Close to twenty thousand children lost their families, or were left without one or both parents, according to information reported on by UNICEF.

To prevent a repeat of the deadly Ebola 2014 outbreak, a team of scientists with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are using nuclear science and technology to be able to effectively diagnose such viruses.

“We demonstrated our ability to respond quickly to emergencies such as the Ebola and Zika viruses, supplying affected countries with simple nuclear-derived kits so they could detect the diseases quickly and accurately in the field,” said IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano in his speech in late May at the International Conference on Technical Cooperation.

Early and rapid detection helps to limit the spread of such diseases. There are nuclear-derived techniques that scientists can use to help identify Ebola such as polymerase chain reaction technology (PCR) which examines the DNA of cells. Researchers in the Democratic Republic of Congo are hunting  fruit bats in the hopes that they might hold answers on Ebola, specifically, how the virus jumps from bats to other animals or how it causes outbreaks. And it’s not just researchers in the Congo. As pointed out by the IAEA, veterinarians in Africa are working in partnership with the agency to help prevent the spread of Ebola.

“Around 75% of human diseases originate from animals, which is why it is so important to stop them at the animal level. Nuclear-derived technology helps us do this,” according to Abel Wade, Director, National Veterinary Laboratory (LANAVET), Yaounde, Cameroon.

As was witnessed during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, quick and effective diagnoses is key to preventing large-scale transmission and infection. The most recent outbreak in the Congo was declared under control only a month after it was discovered.

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Nuclear Science and Your Java

Most of us can’t live without our morning cup of java. According to the International Coffee Organization (ICO), almost 9 million bags of coffee are exported globally every month. Our caffeine addiction is rising at a growth rate of just under 2 per cent annually; making our morning pick me up big business.

But a disease known as coffee leaf rust could take the zap out of your coffee cup. Coffee leaf rust or Hemileia Vastatrix is a fungus that attacks the leaves of coffee crops. First documented in the late 1800s, coffee leaf rust can cause enormous economic damage to coffee production.  As has been widely reported, Sri Lanka was forced to give up coffee production thanks to a damaging outbreak of coffee leaf rust in the 1860s.

Credit: Krutar/Shutterstock

In 2013, Guatemala was one in a series of countries to declare a national agriculture emergency following an outbreak of the organism which destroyed about 70 per cent of coffee crops in the area. The impacts of this disease are profound. Over the last four years, countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have lost approximately one billion dollars in revenue.

The coffee leaf rust organism works by attacking the leaves on coffee plants, leaving behind a yellow-orange coloured looking lesion or spot on the bottom of the leaf. These rust-like lesions reduce a plants ability to conduct photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert sunlight and water to produce oxygen, sugar and carbon dioxide. Reducing photosynthesis, or a plants ability to feed itself, results in lower coffee yields thanks to smaller berry and vegetative growth. Long term impacts of the infection include death of the shoots and roots of the plants, thereby reducing the amount of coffee production overall.

Nuclear science is fighting back against coffee leaf rust.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in conjunction with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and other partners are hoping for a nuclear solution. They are attempting to breed plants that are resistant to the deadly fungus. A team of experts gathered in early October with the goal of producing resistant coffee plants through a nuclear technique called plant mutation breeding.

Plant mutation breeding works like this. Small doses of radiation are used to alter the DNA or genetic make-up of a plant, making them more resilient to disease and pests such as coffee leaf rust.

“Plant mutation breeding is a fast way to develop improved crops with new and useful traits,” said Stephan Nielen, FAO/IAEA geneticist in charge of the training. “The method also offers a widely accepted, economical and environmentally sustainable approach to protect yield and ensure adequate quantities of pesticide-free crops.”

The work being done in the labs is critical. Climate change is already taking its toll in coffee producing areas.  More heat and rainfall has equaled larger outbreaks of pests and diseases like coffee leaf rust, threatening the livelihood of an estimated 120 million people, often the world’s poorest, who rely on coffee income. An increase in temperatures and precipitation has provided a perfect breeding ground for this deadly disease. The problem has become so severe that in 2010, countries teamed up to form an initiative coffee and climate, a response to climate change and its impacts on the coffee industry. They are looking to help more than 70,000 farmers respond to climate change.

The work being done in labs with the IAEA will also provide another tool for the coffee industry, providing more genetically diverse, resistant plants, helping the environment and those who rely on it for their livelihood.

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Nuclear Helping in the Fight Against Ebola

By Erin Polka
Communications Officer
Canadian Nuclear Association

A nuclear-derived technology which allows for early detection of the Ebola virus has been developed by the IAEA and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.

The technology, known as Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR), can detect Ebola within a few hours, compared to other technologies which take several days.

RT-PCR will be made available to Sierra Leone, following a UN Security Council appeal, and support is expected to extend to Liberia and Guinea as well.

Early diagnosis of Ebola can significantly increase victims’ chances of survival, while limiting the spread of the disease by isolating victims and treating them earlier.

The full story is available on the IAEA website.

Environment

Nuclear is the No. 3 Contributor to Climate Change Mitigation: The Economist

By Romeo St-Martin
Communications Officer
Canadian Nuclear Association

Ahead of the September 23 UN meeting of world leaders to discuss climate change, The Economist magazine decided to do something they claim has never been attempted before.

The magazine has compiled a list of the top 20 climate change mitigation measures put in place globally.

Not surprising, nuclear power ranked third overall and was credited for reducing 2.2 billion tonnes of C02 annually, behind the Montreal Protocol and hydro power. Nuclear’s climate change mitigation was estimated to be four times greater than all non-hydro renewable energy sources combined.

To slash or to trim

“According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, nuclear power avoided the production of 2.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2010—that is, emissions would have been 2.2 billion tonnes higher if the same amount of electricity had been produced by non-nuclear plants,” The Economist reported.

It added that the high rate at which new wind and solar capacity is being built will eat into this lead of nuclear and hydro “but it will take some time to overturn it.”

You can read the full Economist article here.