Tag Archives: nuclear science

CNA2017

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.

CNA2017

Nuclear Science Meeting Sustainability

As the global population continues to swell and pressures on natural resources escalate, thanks in part to increased demand and climate change; governments, industry and academia are looking to science for solutions.

“Nuclear power can bring health and prosperity to the 1.1 billion people in the world who currently do not have access to electricity,” stated World Nuclear Association Director General Agneta Rising at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) 60th Annual General Conference in Vienna, Austria.

Courtesy: Tanapakorntungmana/Shutterstock

In the fall of 2015, the global community met at the United Nations in New York and agreed to seventeen sustainable development goals (SDGs).  The goals; ambitious and universal, seek to end poverty; provide access to affordable, clean energy; make communities more resilient and combat climate change. Investments in SDGs have the ability to make noticeable improvements to the health, environment and economics for both developing and developed countries.

The commitment to realize the achievement of SDGs by 2030 requires nuclear.  Nuclear science and technology meet nine of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, making investments in these sectors critical components to a prosperous tomorrow.

In Spain, where nuclear power supplies about 20 per cent of the grid, a combination of factors including premiums placed on renewable energy has resulted in sky-high electrical bills as prices rose by almost 60 percent in the six years from 2006-2012. The result of the increase is that millions of people, especially those on fixed incomes, have been left in the dark.  Reliability and economics are key to improving the living conditions of people all over the world and the United Nation’s goals will hope to close the gap between energy security and the economics of electricity.

At the same time, energy choices must not further damage the environment with high carbon emissions.

The sector responsible for the greatest amount of emissions is electricity and heat production.  The fast and effective decarbonizing of this sector will require heavy investments in all low-carbon technologies. The Union of Concerned Scientists, amongst many others, has voiced that “limiting the worst effects of climate change may also require other low or no-carbon energy sources, including nuclear power.”

As a low emitter, nuclear power produces virtually no greenhouse gas emissions or air pollutants and avoids an estimated 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide yearly. At the same time, nuclear power has the ability to meet the increasing energy demands of an expanding population in a sustainable, clean way.

Moving towards a successful 2030 may be challenging but one thing is clear, in order to get there nuclear power must be part of the solution.

CNA2017

Nuclear Science: Mapping Out Alzheimer’s

Canadian women over 65 are at the greatest risk for developing dementia and that number is drastically rising. It is predicted that the number of Canadians living with dementia will almost double, affecting one million people by 2030. In the United States, a person is diagnosed with dementia every 66 seconds.

A large aging population and rising dementia rates are placing tremendous strains on an already stressed health care system, particularly long-term care facilities. Across the country, wait lists for long-term care varies from province to province but wait times in excess of a year are not unheard of. An overwhelming care demand coupled with a shortage of beds has meant many seniors are forced to stay at home longer.

Early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is an important step in planning for both patients and their families. A step that is closer to reality thanks to nuclear science and the stable isotope labeling kinetics (SILK) technique.

Inside your brain’s nerve cells are tau proteins. These proteins work to stabilize other proteins in the brain known as microtubules. These microtubules are responsible for cell structure and movement.  New findings from the  Washington University’s School of Medicine in St. Louis this past spring reveal the importance of tau proteins in early Alzheimer’s progression.

“Tau is abundant in the brain’s nerve cells, where it stabilizes the scaffold-like microtubules that play a critical role in transporting cargo within cells. But in Alzheimer’s disease as well as other “tauopathies,” such as progressive supranuclear palsy and frontotemporal dementia, clumps of tau protein are abnormally deposited in nerve cells in tangles.”

In order to assess the health and levels of tau protein a patient is given a stable isotope of amino acids and then through a positron emission tomography (PET) scan, the amount of labeled tau produced in the brain is measured. Knowing how much tau is produced, researchers can then calculate how fast the protein is produced and cleared away by the brain.

Research has shown brains that are prone to dementia tend to have a buildup of dysfunctional proteins and have a harder time clearing the excess proteins away compared to brains of healthy patients. While it’s not a cure, this discovery could lead to new hope for patients and their families.

“Usually we can only diagnose patients later in the disease process, when brain function already is diminished,” according to senior author Beau M. Ances, MD, PhD, an associate professor of neurology.  “We want to develop ways to make an earlier diagnosis and then design trials to test drugs against amyloid buildup and against tau buildup. While we currently cannot prevent or cure Alzheimer’s disease, delaying the onset of symptoms by 10-15 years would make a huge difference to our patients, to their families and caregivers, and to the global economy.”

In addition to their work on tau proteins, the school was recently awarded $4.3 million dollars from the Alzheimer’s Association to expand an international clinical trial which will attempt to identify drugs that can slow down or prevent Alzheimer’s in patients who are genetically predisposed but are symptom free. Working towards a cure and improving the lives of patients around the world, thanks in part to nuclear science.