Water SecurityThere are 326 million trillion gallons of water on planet earth. However, only 1% of that is clean and accessible. This means there is enough water for everyone on the planet and more. Nonetheless, 1 in 5 children still do not have basic water security.

Lack of Water Security Hurts the Poor Most

Globally, 80 countries harbor children living in regions considered to have low water security. The poorest children are the most likely to live in these regions. Of the top ten most affected countries, nine are in the poorest continent on earth: Africa. A staggering 58% of children in Eastern and Southern Africa face a difficult path to get water on a daily basis. In some regions, families have to travel for up to 30 minutes to get water at all. Consequently, the lack of water security increases the risk of dehydration and takes time away from families who could be working. The risk for water deprivation is also increased, which is lethal. Furthermore, impoverished children face another issue related to poor water security.

An Infectious Problem

In regions with poor water security, bacteria and viruses often contaminate the water. Water contamination leads to diarrheal illness, taking more children’s lives than many of the most common causes for death. It is the second leading cause of death for children worldwide. The illness causes the person affected to lose so much fluid that they die from dehydration. In total diarrheal infections take the lives of 525,000 children each year.

The Water Packet

Water security is a concerning problem that industry giant P&G has been tackling one liter at a time. In 2004, P&G initiated its Children’s Safe Drinking Water program, a revolutionary initiative based around a simple yet effective invention called a purifier of water packet. Created by company scientists, it has the ability to transform 10 liters of dirty water into crystal clear drinking water in thirty minutes. First, the four-gram packet is placed in dirty water and then the whole container is stirred thoroughly. During the stirring, any particles in the water group together into thick clusters. Then the stirring ceases and the particles are allowed time to settle at the bottom. Throughout the whole process, the packet disinfects the water from contaminants. Lastly, the water is run through a cloth which catches the remaining particles and all that is left is drinkable water.

Brittaney Stapleton, Volunteer Relations Coordinator at Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical garden informed The Borgen Project about her time at a P&G event where she was shown a demonstration of the packet. She said that during the event the attendees were taken to a beautiful piece of land with a murky brown reservoir of water. “I wouldn’t have touched that water with a ten-foot pole,” she remembered. “So they opened the packet and I don’t remember exactly how long they had to do it but they just stirred with a big stick and after a period of time, the water was crystal clear. There was no debris. It was crystal clear and it looked like something you would see in a Brita filter. Just clear.”

Looking Towards the Future

Throughout the lifetime of the program, a total of 18 billion liters of water have been purified, with P&G planning on purifying billions more in the future.

Brittaney added that they geared the demonstration towards showing people how easy it is to change lives. “It made you feel that much better to know even if you could only give a little bit it’s making a huge impactful difference. It doesn’t matter. You don’t have to be a millionaire, you can be just middle of the road and you can still help.”

– Cole Izquierdo
Photo: Flickr

Antibiotic Resistance in Bacteria
A few of the major issues in attempting to combat bacteria is how quickly they adapt, evolve relative to large organisms, and develop antibiotic resistance.

Bacteria are able to replicate on a much greater magnitude than macro-organisms — E. Coli only takes 23 minutes to replicate — and they can adapt functional changes in a very short period of time.

For example, scientists at Harvard Medical School conducted an experiment where they grew E. Coli bacteria in a petri dish that consisted of increasingly strong concentrations of antibiotics. After eleven days, E. Coli strains emerged that could resist antibiotic concentrations that were a thousand times greater than the amount necessary to initially kill them.

As antibiotics have become more prevalent over the past century, bacteria have been evolving at a rate faster than we can keep up with. About 700,000 people are estimated to have died of infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria last year.

If people do not take action against this problem, by the year 2050 we could have 10 million deaths a year due to resistant strains, meaning that resistant bacteria would be taking more lives than cancer.

A U.N. meeting was called on September 14 to discuss this issue. One factor contributing to the rise of resistant strains is the overuse of antibiotics in humans. Antibiotics tend to be overprescribed or simply used when they are not needed.

It is estimated that less than half the antibiotics people take are actually necessary. Unnecessarily using antibiotics contributes to the rise of resistant bacteria without achieving anything beneficial.

The overuse of antibiotics is seen even more often in the treatment of animals. According to the Huffington Post, over two-thirds of antibiotics used in the U.S. is used to treat livestock. Unnecessary antibiotic use in agriculture leads to resistant bacteria strains in humans as well.

Fortunately, action has been and will continue to be taken to reduce the rise of strains of bacteria that show antibiotic resistance. For example, the development of fish vaccines meant that antibiotics no longer had to be used in Norwegian salmon farming. Over the past six years, the Netherlands has reduced their animal antibiotic use by 56 percent.

Additionally, avoiding infection initially will reduce the need for antibiotics. Hospitals could make it a policy to discharge babies sooner before they have time to be exposed to potentially infectious diseases.

Educating mothers on the important role of breastfeeding in building up babies’ immune systems could also contribute to preventing the onset of infection.

According to the World Health Organization, even those of us living among the general populace can take action on this issue. We can practice better hygiene to prevent infections.

We should also be careful not to use antibiotics unless specifically prescribed by health professionals and make sure that we take the full course of antibiotics once they are prescribed to us.

Edmond Kim

Photo: Flickr

A Bacteria Makes Mosquitoes Resistant to Malaria

BBC journalist, James Gallagher, reports that researchers have found a strain of Wolbachia bacteria that can infect mosquitoes and make them resistant to the malaria parasite. Malaria is spread by the insects so it is hoped that giving mosquitoes malaria immunity could reduce human cases. Experts said this was a first, distant prospect for malaria control.

Malaria is a major global disease. The World Health Organization estimates that 220 million people are infected and 660,000 die  annually.

Research in Australia has shown that a different strain of the Wolbachia bacterium can prevent the spread of dengue fever by mosquitoes. That research is more advanced and has been shown to work in large trials in the wild. Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the US, said this study was a proof of concept that the same could be done for malaria:

“If you can get it to survive and proliferate in the environment of mosquitoes in malaria-stricken areas, this could conceivably have an important impact on the control of malaria…I think the potential for this is very important. The implementation will be the challenge.”

Commenting on the study, Professor David Conway, of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, cautioned that it was in just one species, Anopheles stephensi, which carries malaria in the Middle East and South Asia. Anopheles gambiae, in Africa, is a bigger problem.

One of the researchers, Dr Zhiyong Xi, told the BBC: “We have done only one strain. If we target Anopheles gambiae we would need to apply the same technique again.” He added that if it could be shown to work then “the Wolbachia tool can complement currently available tools”, such as mosquito nets and medication.

– Maria Caluag

Source: BBC
Photo: Purdue

Energy Independence Through Genetically Modified BacteriaIn a concerted effort to find a realistic solution to the energy independence problem plaguing the globe, huge amounts of research funding have been invested in finding alternative forms of energy. Of several promising methods put forward thus far, none have had the potential both for energy independence and sustainability than that of butanol production through bacteria.

Swedish researchers at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm recently conducted a study that utilized genetically modified bacteria to produce butanol, a hydrocarbon that could be utilized as an effective fossil fuel. The bacterium – known as Cyanobacteria – was altered using DNA recombination technology to change its metabolic properties to produce butanol instead of its usual algae dependent byproduct. Furthermore, once various environmental challenges are worked out, the industrial production of the bacterium produced fuel is expected to commence in less than a decade. In regards to the energy independence gleaned from such a process, a researcher remarked that “Fuel based on Cyanobacteria requires very little ground space to be prepared. And the availability of raw materials- sunlight, carbon dioxide, and seawater- is in principle infinite.”

This exciting new frontier in genetically engineered bacteria has almost universal applications and can be harnessed to produce an important alternative to the energy-intensive ethanol fuel production. This is great news for the future of energy independence both at home and abroad and shows how much quantitative results can be gleaned from greater scientific funding.

– Brian Turner

Source Science Daily