A dog’s life: fitness trackers help put fat pets on a diet
By ADAM PEMBLE
Monday, August 20
PRAGUE (AP) — When Czech entrepreneur Robert Hasek began jogging with his dog, Darwin, the three-mile runs were making the bull terrier sick with fatigue.
Hasek was surprised, thinking his dog led a healthy lifestyle. To solve the mystery, he strapped a Fitbit to Darwin and discovered he was actually only active in his presence. Otherwise, Hasek says, “he is lying, sleeping and doing nothing. He’s lazy!”
The businessman sensed an opportunity and developed one of the world’s first dog fitness trackers. His product is part of a growing industry of gadgets for pets that includes GPS trackers, automatic feeders, ball throwing machines for dogs to fetch, and self-cleaning litter boxes for cats.
People in the U.S. will spend $72.1 billion this year on pet products and care, up 3.6 percent on the year in an industry that has grown steadily since the mid-90’s, according to the American Pet Products Association. Worldwide spending in 2017 was $109 billion dollars, according to Euromonitor International.
Hasek first sought funding on Kickstarter and then reached out to private investors. He moved to San Francisco for three months, tracked down Czech manufacturers and a customer service subcontractor.
Two years later, production and sales of the Actijoy fitness trackers have begun, with one unit costing about $300. On top of the GPS tracking device that a variety of pet collars already offer, it tracks the intensity of the dog’s activity and comes with a internet-connected bowl that monitors food and water consumption.
It faces competition from a range of products, from the more basic fitness monitors to more advanced technologies. The Wagz, for example, is also able to record and stream HD video from the collar. It sells for $495 apiece.
That may be a lot for a collar, but some pet owners are willing to splurge. Among them are Millennials who put off having kids or decided against having any and have the extra income to spend, says Harrison Forbes, a dog trainer and pet products expert.
“Pet tech has been a hugely explosive part of the industry the past five or six years,” he said while attending the Superzoo industry conference on pet products in Las Vegas. Technology for pets has tended to follow innovations that were meant for humans and this is an example of that, he says.
Actijoy’s COO, Jana Rosenfelderova, says they are marketing these collars not only to people who have overweight pets, but also to those who want to avoid health problems in the first place. Monitoring water consumption, for example, can reveal if a pet is drinking unusually large amounts, a sign of kidney problems or diabetes.
“Our (ideal) customer is a dog owner that wants to prevent,” she says.
Genetically modified mosquitoes may be best weapon for curbing disease transmission
August 20, 2018
Professor of Entomology and Disease Epidemiology, Pennsylvania State University
Jason Rasgon receives funding from the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation
Pennsylvania State University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Mosquitoes are some of the most deadly creatures on the planet. They carry viruses, bacteria and parasites, which they transmit through bites, infecting some 700 million people and killing more than 1 million each year.
With international travel, migration and climate change, these infections are no longer confined to tropical and subtropical developing countries. Pathogens such as West Nile virus and Zika virus have caused significant outbreaks in the United States and its territories that are likely to continue, with new invasive pathogens being discovered all the time. Currently, control of these diseases is mostly limited to broad-spectrum insecticide sprays, which can harm both humans and non-target animals and insects. What if there was a way to control these devastating diseases without the environmental problems of widespread insecticide use?
Aedes aegypti mosquito larvae swim in a container at the Florida Mosquito Control District Office in Marathon, Fla. A study released in May 2017 suggests Zika began spreading in Florida mosquitoes about three months before infections showed up in the Miami area in the summer of 2016, and the virus likely was carried in by travelers from the Caribbean. Wilfredo Lee / AP Photo
Genetically modifying mosquitoes to prevent disease may sound like science fiction, but the technology has advanced in recent years to the point where this is no longer a scenario relegated to late-night movies. In fact, it’s not even a new idea; scientists were talking about modifying insect populations to control diseases as early as the 1940s. Today, genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes, developed during the past several decades of research in university laboratories, are being used to combat mosquito-borne pathogens – including viruses such as dengue and Zika – in many locations around the globe, including the United States. Progress is also being made to use GM mosquitoes to combat malaria, the most devastating mosquito-borne disease, although field releases for malaria control have not yet taken place.
I have been working on GM mosquitoes, both as a lab tool and to combat disease, for over 20 years. During that time, I have personally witnessed the technology go from theoretical, to seeing it used in the field. I’ve seen older techniques that were inefficient, random and slow pave the way for new methods like CRISPR, which enables efficient, rapid and precise editing of mosquito genomes, and ReMOT Control which eliminates the requirement for injecting materials into mosquito embryos. These new technologies make GM mosquitoes for disease control not a question of “if,” but rather a question of “where” and “when.”
Don’t worry, these genetic changes only affect the mosquitoes – they are not transmitted to people when the mosquito bites them.
Ways to use genetically modified mosquitoes
A worker sprays anti-mosquito fog in an attempt to control dengue fever at a neighborhood in Jakarta, Indonesia. Highly populated areas in the country are often hit with severe outbreaks of the mosquito-borne disease especially during the annual rainy season due to poor health services and unsanitary living conditions. Achmad Ibrahim / AP Photo
There are two alternative methods currently used to control mosquito-borne diseases using GM mosquitoes. The first is “population replacement” in which a mosquito population biologically able to transmit pathogens is “replaced” by one that is unable to transmit pathogens. This approach generally relies on a concept known as “gene drive” to spread the anti-pathogen genes. In gene drive, a genetic trait – a gene or group of genes – relies on a quirk on inheritance to spread to more than half of a mosquito’s offspring, boosting the frequency of the trait in the population.
The second approach is called “population suppression.” This strategy reduces mosquito populations so that there are fewer mosquitoes to pass on the pathogen.
While the concept of gene drive in mosquitoes is many decades old, the gene-editing technique CRISPR has finally made it possible to easily engineer it in the laboratory. However, CRISPR-based gene drives have not yet been deployed in nature, mostly because they are still a new technology that lacks a firm international regulatory framework, but also due to problems related to the evolution of resistance in mosquito populations that will stop the gene from spreading.
It may not be immediately obvious, but the gene in “gene drive” need not be a gene at all – it can be a microbe. All organisms exist not just with their own genomes, but also with the genomes of all their associated microbes – the “hologenome.” Spread of a microbial genome through a population by inheritance can also be thought of as gene drive. By this definition, the first gene drive that has been deployed in mosquito populations for disease control is a bacterial symbiont known as Wolbachia. Wolbachia is a bacterium that infects up to 70 percent of all known insect species, where it hijacks the insect reproduction to spread itself through the population.
Thus, the Wolbachia itself (with its genome of approximately 1,500 genes) acts as the genetic trait that is driven into the population. When Wolbachia is transferred into a previously uninfected mosquito, it often makes the mosquito more resistant to infection with pathogen that can cause disease in humans, such as multiple viruses (including dengue and Zika viruses) and malaria parasites.
A bacterium that fights disease
Resident Annick Sternberg, left, releases Wolbachia-infected male mosquitoes, as Bill Petrie, director of Miami-Dade County Mosquito Control, center, looks on in South Miami, Fla., Feb. 8, 2018. Thousands of bacteria-infected mosquitoes are flying near Miami to test a new way to suppress insect populations that carry Zika and other viruses. At right is Patrick Kelly, field operations manager for Mosquito Mate. Lynne Sladky/AP Photo
In the last eight years, researchers have taken Wolbachia present in fruit flies and transferred that bacteria into mosquitoes that transmit dengue virus. Those modified insects were then released in a dozen countries to control the disease. Although marketed as a “non-GM strategy,” artificially infecting mosquitoes with Wolbachia clearly falls under the GM umbrella, as over 1,500 genes (the entire bacterial genome) have been transferred from the original fruit fly host into the mosquitoes.
Preliminary dengue control results from these releases in Australia have been promising. However, control of the disease in other release areas with higher disease risk, such as South America and Asia, still needs to be determined, particularly as some studies have demonstrated that Wolbachia can sometimes increase pathogen infection in mosquitoes rather than suppress it.
GM mosquitoes that eliminate mosquitoes
Estimated range of the dengue and Zika virus carrying mosquito species in the United States, Aedes aegypti, blue, and Aedes albopictus, red. States and territories where both species have been collected are purple. All U.S. states and territories except Alaska are at risk for West Nile virus. Jason Rasgon, CC BY-ND
The best current example of population suppression is the release of genetically modified sterile mosquitoes. This is a modern spin on the decades-old Sterile Insect Technique (SIT), where sterile male insects are released into natural populations to mate with the wild females, reducing the mosquito population. But, rather than crudely sterilizing mosquitoes with radiation or chemicals, clever genetic engineering is now used to sterilize them instead. The company Oxitec has engineered mosquitoes with a gene that is lethal to females but not to males, which do not bite or transmit disease. Thousands of these transgenic males are released into nature, where they mate with the wild females in the population. The genetic modification is inherited by the offspring of these matings; female offspring die, while male offspring, which carry the gene, survive and continue passing the trait to further generations. With fewer and fewer females the mosquito population is drastically suppressed. Oxitec has conducted releases in the Grand Caymans, Malaysia, Brazil, and Florida.
There has been some opposition to these sterile mosquito releases, particularly in Florida. For example, in 2016, an Oxitec trial in the Florida Keys was met with some local resistance. However, unlike gene drive strategies, release of sterile mosquitoes (genetically modified or not) has about the smallest environmental footprint and highest safety of any disease control strategy; certainly safer than broad-spectrum insecticide sprays. It is highly targeted, and thus if it works, will only result in elimination of the target mosquito species, which in this case (Aedes aegypti) is a highly invasive and non-native mosquito in Florida.
In addition to gene drive, Wolbachia bacteria have also been used for population suppression. Males infected with the bacteria are released into a mosquito population that is either not infected, or infected with a different Wolbachia strain, which leads to “incompatible” or sterile matings. This strategy again has a long history, and was first used to suppress mosquito populations in the 1960s before people even knew that Wolbachia was causing certain populations of mosquitoes to be sterile when mated with one another. In current times, Wolbachia-sterilized males have been released in multiple countries including Australia and the U.S., in California and Florida, to control dengue virus.
In an increasingly interconnected world, and with the added problems of global climate change, pathogens are not likely to stay confined to the developing world, but will be an increasing issue for the U.S. as well. With the evolution of insecticide resistance in mosquitoes a certainty, GM technology has the potential to reduce the burden of mosquito-borne diseases across the globe, without the environmental and health risks associated with harmful pesticide use.
Don’t be afraid if it sounds like science fiction; it may just save your life.
Three reasons the US is not ready for the next pandemic
August 20, 2018
Christine Crudo Blackburn
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs, Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University
Director of the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs and Executive Professor, Texas A&M University
Gerald W. Parker
Associate Dean For Global One Health, College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences; and Director, Pandemic and Biosecurity Policy Program, Scowcroft Institute for International Affairs, Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University
Andrew S. Natsios I sit on the board of directors and own shares in Canadian-based Fio Corporation, a high tech startup which works in developing countries in remote diagnoses of malaria, HIV/AIDS, and other infectious diseases.
Christine Crudo Blackburn and Gerald W. Parker do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Texas A&M University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
One hundred years after the Great Influenza pandemic of 1918, global health leadership stands at a crossroads. The United States continues to expand its policy of isolationism at a time when international cooperation in health could not be more important. The state of pandemic preparedness and the necessary steps for protecting the people throughout the world was the topic of The Scowcroft Institute for International Affairs’ 2nd Annual White Paper.
As pandemic policy scholars, with two of us spending the majority of our career in the federal government, we believe that it is essential to prepare the country and the world for the next pandemic. It is not a matter of if, but when, the next disease will sweep the world with deadly and costly consequences.
There are many topic areas that national leaders must address to create better preparedness and response capabilities, but we believe three are most urgent. These include targeting the resistance to antimicrobial agents that has come about because of overuse and misuse of antibiotics; ensuring continuity of supply chains; and improving and strengthening leadership.
Overuse of a wonder drug
Prior to Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin, even the smallest scratch could be deadly. Its discovery, however, helped contribute to the perception that man had conquered disease, despite Fleming’s warning that “the thoughtless person playing with penicillin treatment is morally responsible for the death of a man who succumbs to infection with the penicillin resistant organism.” Now, 70 years later, society is quickly reaching the precipice of that reality.
The problem of antibiotic overuse and misuses is extensive. In fact, in the United States, 80 percent of all antibiotic use occurs in the agricultural sector and the majority of this use is nontherapeutic, meaning it is not medically necessary. Misuse of antibiotics also occurs frequently in the human health sector, however. The Review on Antimicrobial Resistance estimated that if changes are not made, the world could witness 10 million deaths annually due to antimicrobial resistant infections.
To help prevent this public health threat from reaching that level of crisis with potential catastrophic implications, we recommend four actions.
First, an increase of investment needs to be made by the federal government and the private sector into research, development and production of new antimicrobials. In 2014, WHO also called for greater investment in discovering new antimicrobials, but in the last 50 years, only one new class of antibiotics has been discovered.
Second, governments throughout the world need to create stronger internationally harmonized regulatory systems for agriculture production and veterinary use of antimicrobials. For example, in the United States, antibiotics cannot be purchased without a prescription from either a medical doctor or a veterinarian (for the agricultural sector). But many countries in the developing world have no oversight for animal or human use of antibiotics. In some places, particularly African countries, many antibiotics can be purchased over the counter.
You may already have experienced the third recommendation, if your doctor has sent you home from an appointment without an antibiotic prescription because your illness was viral. Health care providers and consumers need to decrease misuse and overuse of antimicrobials in human health by only prescribing antibiotics in cases of bacterial infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidelines for this, including recommendations for patients.
Last, governments throughout the world need to understand that fighting antimicrobial resistance requires a collaboration between animal health, human health and environmental health. This idea, known as One Health, works to bring together researchers and professionals from these three areas to address disease-related challenges. While these actions require monetary and time investments, they are essential. Without taking these actions society may find itself in a post-antibiotic world. This world, as former Director-General of the World Health Organization Margaret Chan explained in 2012, means “the end of modern medicine as we know it. Things as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee would once again kill.”
Will global supply chains collapse?
Modern society is able to function and flourish in large part because of the global supply chains transporting parts, equipment and supplies with speed, efficiency and just-in-time delivery, which allows business to keep carrying costs low because they can order what they need and have it shipped quickly, or “just in time.” Global supply chains, which consist of production specialization through comparative advantage, has enabled great economic development, but their just-in-time structure also leaves them exceedingly vulnerable. Components of the critical medical infrastructure, such as components essential to running life support machines or insulin for diabetics, are always in transit.
This means that even a localized disease could deprive people of needed medical supplies. For example, if an epidemic hits a town in Asia where N95 masks, which are used to protect people from hazardous substances, are manufactured, there may no longer be any N95 masks to be shipped to the United States or elsewhere. The United States experienced supply chain breakdown when Hurricane Maria caused a disruption in the supply of small bag IV saline. A manufacturer in Puerto Rico that produces nearly half of all the saline utilized in the U.S. had to halt production because of the hurricane.
This interconnectedness of the global economy and the expansiveness of medical supply chains means that a disruption anywhere along the line could spell disaster worldwide. To help prevent such a disaster, the federal government needs to understand the United States’ critical supply chains. The federal government and private sector should be aware of likely points of breakdown.
Once there is understanding, the U.S. must implement new policies that enable private sector innovation to diversify production and transportation where possible. Diversification of production and transportation means that there is not just one production source for critical supplies. Thus, a disruption in one geographical location would not cripple the entire supply chain.
Centralized, involved leadership
Diseases do not respect borders, and for this reason, pandemics are a global threat. Therefore, the U.S. must address the threat of pandemics in cooperation with all other nations and with multilateral institutions such as the World Health Organization, the U.N. Security Council, UNICEF and more. We believe that investment in global health security, such as the establishment of a permanent fund for influenza preparedness and response, and remaining engaged with the international community to prevent an outbreak from becoming a pandemic is the best way to protect the American people.
Additionally, we believe that the U.S. should commit to pandemic preparedness by creating a position of authority within the White House that transcends administrations and elevates pandemics as existential threats to a national security priority. There is a need to have decision-making authority and oversight vested at the highest levels of government.
In the midst of a pandemic, decisions must be made quickly. Quick decision-making can often be hindered by the absence of high-level leadership. The need for high-level leadership, coordination and a new strategy are essential to mitigate the threat of pandemics, but these fundamental pandemic preparedness gaps persist.
The next great pandemic is coming. The true question is: Will we be ready when it does? Right now, that answer is no, because the country lacks the sufficient safeguards we have outlined. But if the United States chooses to elevate the issue of pandemic preparedness and biosecurity as a national security priority, we could be. Outbreaks are inevitable, but pandemics are not if we take action now.