Make Chiangmai Mail | your Homepage | Bookmark

Chiangmai 's First English Language Newspaper

Pattaya Blatt | Pattaya Mail | Pattaya Mail TV

 

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Update September 2017


Home
Thailand News
World News
World Sports
Arts - Entertainment - Lifestyles
Book Review
Health & Wellbeing
Odds & Ends
Science & Nature
Technology
Update by Natrakorn Paewsoongnern
 
 
 
Science & Nature
 

Update September 30, 2017

DNA lab techniques now under fire

In this April 15, 2014 file photo, a criminalist trainee prepares sample bone fragments for DNA testing at the training lab in the Office of Chief Medical Examiner in New York. A technique for analyzing DNA evidence developed by the laboratory has come under fire amid questions about its reliability. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)

Colleen Long

New York (AP) - Two techniques for analyzing DNA evidence that were once considered cutting edge are now under fire amid questions about their reliability, and criminal defense attorneys in New York have asked a state agency to investigate the renowned lab that once used both methods.

The New York City medical examiner’s lab developed one of the techniques and became a leader in sophisticated DNA examinations partly because of its work identifying the remains of 9/11 victims.

Both techniques have been phased out in favor of new technology. But the lab says it’s used its forensic statistical tool developed in-house in 1,350 cases over the past six years and used what’s called low copy number analysis in about 3,450 cases over the past 11 years. Once New York was the only lab in the country that used the latter method.

Attorneys for the Legal Aid Society and Federal Defenders of New York asked the New York State inspector general’s office to investigate in a Sept. 1 letter.

Legal Aid Society attorney Julie Fry said low copy number analysis is “like making a copy of a copy of a copy. Eventually it’s going to be faded.”

“And with FST, it’s a computer program. We don’t have access to the code - and we can’t tell if it’s accurate or not. We don’t know what’s in the black box,” she said.

The groups say the medical examiner’s office recognized there were problems and quietly corrected them without notifying anyone of potential wrong matches. The lawyers also say they believe the lab manipulated data while testing the low copy number technique, and made false statements on methodology to the Commission on Forensic Sciences, which oversees labs in the state.

“The consequences of dishonest work are severe, innocent people may be wrongly convicted, and people guilty of serious crimes may go free,” the attorneys wrote.

The letter was first reported by The New York Times and  ProPublica. 

Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Barbara Sampson wrote in a post published Wednesday on the website Medium that the two methods were discarded to meet changing FBI requirements and to reflect new, better science, and were not phased out because of inaccurate results.

“Each technique has been intensively reviewed and approved for use in casework by the state-established oversight agency, including a panel of distinguished scientific experts, the DNA subcommittee of the New York State Commission on Forensic Science,” she wrote.

The medical examiner’s office operates independently from prosecutors or defense attorneys and the forensic lab does work for both sides. The lab is the largest DNA crime lab in North America. It tests about 40,000 items a year in criminal cases including murder, rape, assault and weapons possessions.

The forensic statistical tool, or FST, relies on computer software and calculates the likelihood that a suspect’s DNA is present in a mixture of substances found at a crime scene.

Low copy number analysis tests for trace DNA amounts by amplifying the sample.

Many prosecutors and forensic experts hail the two techniques as powerful tools that can help close cases. But critics, including the FBI, argue they are inconclusive and unreliable. There is no clear case law on the merits of the science.

In 2015, Brooklyn state Supreme Court judge Mark Dwyer tossed a sample collected through the low copy number method.

“If the experts in the DNA field cannot agree on the weight to be given to evidence produced by high sensitivity analysis, it would make no sense to throw such evidence before a lay jury,” he said.

But earlier, a judge in Queens found the method scientifically sound. Some defendants argue they were wrongly convicted because the DNA analysis was flawed. In other cases, the DNA analysis has helped exonerate defendants.

Both methods were approved by the state’s Commission on Forensic Sciences and the DNA Subcommittee, made up of geneticists and scientists who review protocols. A spokesman for the commission said the agency has received the letter from the defense attorneys, but could not comment yet on whether an investigation would be launched.


Update September 23, 2017

Seeding the future? ‘Ark’ preserves rare, threatened plants

In this Aug. 31, 2017 photo, Bill Brumback, director of conservation at the New England Wild Flower Society, opens the “seed ark,” a freezer filled with seeds collected for safekeeping from rare and endangered plants in the region. (AP Photo/Bob Salsberg)

Bob Salsberg

Framingham, Mass. (AP) - An ordinary-looking freezer in a sturdy cinderblock shed at a suburban Boston botanical garden holds what might be New England’s most important seed catalog.

Inside the freezer in Framingham are tightly sealed packages containing an estimated 6 million seeds from hundreds of plant species, bearing obscure or hard-to-pronounce names like potentilla robbinsiana. They are rare varieties of plant life native to the region - in some cases found nowhere else in the world - and are in grave danger of vanishing from the landscape.

The “seed ark,” as it’s playfully dubbed by the New England Wild Flower Society, is not unlike Noah’s biblical vessel in its quest to preserve from calamity a rich diversity of life. In this case it’s not animals marching two by two but vegetation threatened by any number of things, including natural disasters, climate change, unchecked development or simply being trampled afoot by unsuspecting hikers.

The society’s 2015 survey of more than 3,500 known plant species determined that 22 percent were rare, in decline, endangered or perhaps already extinct.

“Plants have always been second-class citizens when it comes to conservation,” said Bill Brumback, the organization’s conservation director who for three decades has supervised the collection and storage of rare seeds in New England. “Animals are much more, shall we say, charismatic. Plants don’t get the same protections under the federal endangered species act.”

Teams of staffers and volunteers scour some of the region’s most remote areas in search of plants like Jesup’s milk-vetch, a species so rare it grows in just three tiny clusters along the Connecticut River.

Once gathered, seeds are first brought to a facility in western Massachusetts and dried to 20 to 30 percent of relative humidity, said Brumback, explaining that the drying process assures that liquid inside cells won’t expand and crack when exposed to low temperatures.

The seeds are then brought to Framingham, sealed in foil envelopes and frozen at -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit), keeping them viable for decades or even centuries, depending on the individual species.

“If we have the seed bank we have the genetic material to restore (the plants) and put them back on the landscape,” as a hedge against extinction, said Debbi Edelstein, the society’s executive director.

The “ark” is housed in a structure built to withstand many ravages of time. But already some seeds have been pulled from cold storage to help repopulate dying species.

An oft-cited example is potentilla robbinsiana, also known as Robbins’ cinquefoil, a small yellow-flowered plant found only near the top of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, New England’s highest peak. When hiking trails threatened to destroy the plant, the society worked with Appalachian Mountain Club and other groups on a plan that restored Robbins’ cinquefoil to the point it no longer was considered an endangered species.

Rare seed programs aren’t unique to New England. Similar seed banks exist in several other U.S. locations, including the Chicago Botanic Garden and the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont, California.

Conservation efforts have assumed new urgency as scientists worry about the uncertain impacts of global climate change, Edelstein said. The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, she said, has established an ambitious goal of banking 75 percent of the world’s rare seeds by 2020.

In the U.S., private conservation groups are shouldering the burden in part because the U.S. is the only major nation that never ratified the little-known 1992 treaty, though American officials over the years have voiced support for its objectives.

Preserving plant life is a worthy undertaking on many levels, Brumback said. Even the rarest of plants can be vital to ecosystems. Some could yet yield medicines or other products useful to mankind.

“These are species on Earth that deserve to live as much as we do,” Brumback said.

He added: “If you lost one plant species is the world going to stop? No it’s not. But if you lose enough plant species and enough biological diversity, we don’t know what the effects are going to be.”


Update September 16, 2017

Scientists say warming makes storms, like Harvey, wetter

Volunteer rescue boats make their way into a flooded subdivision to rescue stranded residents as floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey rise Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, in Spring, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Seth Borenstein

Washington (AP) - By the time the rain stops, Harvey will have dumped about 1 million gallons of water for every man, woman and child in southeastern Texas - a soggy, record-breaking glimpse of the wet and wild future global warming could bring, scientists say.

While scientists are quick to say climate change didn’t cause Harvey and that they haven’t determined yet whether the storm was made worse by global warming, they do note that warmer air and water mean wetter and possibly more intense hurricanes in the future.

“This is the kind of thing we are going to get more of,” said Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer. “This storm should serve as warning.”

There’s a scientifically accepted method for determining if some wild weather event has the fingerprints of man-made climate change, and it involves intricate calculations. Those could take weeks or months to complete, and then even longer to be checked by other scientists.

In general, though, climate scientists agree that future storms will dump much more rain than the same size storms did in the past.

That’s because warmer air holds more water. With every degree Fahrenheit, the atmosphere can hold and then dump an additional 4 percent of water (7 percent for every degree Celsius), several scientists say.

Global warming also means warmer seas, and warm water is what fuels hurricanes.

When Harvey moved toward Texas, water in the Gulf of Mexico was nearly 2 degrees (1 degree Celsius) warmer than normal, said Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters. Hurricanes need at least 79 degrees F (26 C) as fuel, and water at least that warm ran more than 300 feet (100 meters) deep in the Gulf, according to University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy.

Several studies show that the top 1 percent of the strongest downpours are already happening much more frequently. Also, calculations done Monday by MIT meteorology professor Kerry Emanuel show that the drenching received by Rockport, Texas, used to be maybe a once-in-1,800-years event for that city, but with warmer air holding more water and changes in storm steering currents since 2010, it is now a once-every-300-years event.

There’s a lot of debate among climate scientists over what role, if any, global warming may have played in causing Harvey to stall over Texas, which was a huge factor in the catastrophic flooding. If the hurricane had moved on like a normal storm, it wouldn’t have dumped as much rain in any one spot.

Harvey stalled because it was sandwiched between two high-pressure fronts that pushed it in opposite directions, and those fronts were stuck.

Oppenheimer and some others theorize that there’s a connection between melting sea ice in the Arctic and changes in the jet stream and the weather patterns that make these “blocking fronts” more common. Others, like Masters, contend it’s too early to say.

University of Washington atmospheric scientist Cliff Mass said climate change is simply not powerful enough to create off-the-chart events like Harvey’s rainfall.

“You really can’t pin global warming on something this extreme. It has to be natural variability,” Mass said. “It may juice it up slightly but not create this phenomenal anomaly.”

“We’re breaking one record after another with this thing,” Mass said.

Parts of the Houston region have broken the nearly 40-year-old U.S. record for the heaviest rainfall from a tropical system - 48 inches (120 centimeters), set by Tropical Storm Amelia in 1978 in Texas, several meteorologists say.

Already 15 trillion gallons (57 trillion liters) of rain have fallen on a large area, and an additional 5 trillion or 6 trillion gallons were forecast, meteorologist Ryan Maue of WeatherBell Analytics calculates. That’s enough water to fill all the NFL and Division 1 college football stadiums more than 100 times over.


Update September 9, 2017

Vanishing kelp: Warm ocean takes toll on undersea forests

In this June 15, 2017, photo, a string of ducks paddle past a warning flag over research divers, out to collecting samples of a red shrub-like seaweed, in the waters off Appledore Island, Maine. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Michael Casey

Appledore Island, Maine (AP) - When diving in the Gulf of Maine a few years back, Jennifer Dijkstra expected to be swimming through a flowing kelp forest that had long served as a nursery and food for juvenile fish and lobster.

But Dijkstra, a University of New Hampshire marine biologist, saw only a patchy seafloor before her. The sugar kelp had declined dramatically and been replaced by invasive, shrub-like seaweed that looked like a giant shag rug.

“I remember going to some dive sites and honestly being shocked at how few kelp blades we saw,” she said.

The Gulf of Maine, stretching from Cape Cod to Nova Scotia, is the latest in a growing list of global hotspots losing their kelp, including hundreds of miles in the Mediterranean Sea, off southern Japan and Australia, and parts of the California coast.

Among the world’s most diverse marine ecosystems, kelp forests are found on all continental coastlines except for Antarctica and provide critical food and shelter to myriad fish and other creatures. Kelp also is critical to coastal economies, providing billions of dollars in tourism and fishing.

The likely culprit, according to several scientific studies, is warming oceans from climate change, coupled with the arrival of invasive species. In Maine, the invaders are other seaweeds. In Australia, the Mediterranean and Japan, tropical fish are feasting on the kelp.

Most kelp are replaced by small, tightly packed, bushy seaweeds that collect sediment and prevent kelp from growing back, said the University of Western Australia’s Thomas Wernberg.

“Collectively these changes are part of a recent and increasing global trend of flattening of the world’s kelp forests,” said Wernberg, co-author of a 2016 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which found that 38 percent of kelp forest declined over the past 50 years in regions that had data.

Kelp losses on Australia’s Great Southern Reef threaten tourism and fishing industries worth $10 billion. Die-offs contributed to a 60 percent drop in species richness in the Mediterranean and were blamed for the collapse of the abalone fishery in Japan.

“You are losing habitat. You are losing food. You are losing shoreline protection,” said University of Massachusetts Boston’s Jarrett Byrnes, who leads a working group on kelp and climate change. “They provide real value to humans.”

The Pacific Coast from northern California to the Oregon border is one place that suffered dramatic kelp loss, according to Cynthia Catton, a research associate at the Bodega Marine Laboratory at the University of California, Davis. Since 2014, aerial surveys have shown that bull kelp declined by over 90 percent, something Catton blamed on a marine heat wave along with a rapid increase in kelp-eating sea urchins.

Without the kelp to eat, Northern California’s abalone fishery has been harmed.

“It’s pretty devastating to the ecosystem as a whole,” Catton said. “It’s like a redwood forest that has been completely clear-cut. If you lose the trees, you don’t have a forest.”

Kelp is incredibly resilient and has been known to bounce back from storms and heat waves.

But in Maine, it has struggled to recover following an explosion of voracious sea urchins in the 1980s that wiped out many kelp beds. Now, it must survive in waters that are warming faster than the vast majority of the world’s oceans - most likely forcing kelp to migrate northward or into deeper waters.

“What the future holds is more complicated,” Byrnes said. “If the Gulf of Maine warms sufficiently, we know kelp will have a hard time holding on.”

On their dives around Maine’s Appledore Island, a craggy island off New Hampshire that’s home to nesting seagulls, Dijkstra and colleague Larry Harris have witnessed dramatic changes.

Their study, published by the Journal of Ecology in April, examined photos of seaweed populations and dive logs going back 30 years in the Gulf of Maine. They found introduced species from as far away as Asia, such as the filamentous red seaweed, had increased by as much 90 percent and were covering 50 to 90 percent of the gulf’s seafloor.

They are seeing far fewer ocean pout, wolf eel and pollock that once were commonplace in these kelp beds. But they also are finding that the half-dozen invasive seaweeds replacing kelp are harboring up to three times more tiny shrimp, snails and other invertebrates.

“We’re not really sure how this new seascape will affect higher species in the food web, especially commercially important ones like fish, crabs and lobster,” said Dijkstra, following a dive in which bags of invasive seaweed were collected and the invertebrates painstakingly counted. “What we do think is that fish are using these seascapes differently.”


SpaceX unveils sleek, white spacesuit for astronaut travel

This undated image made available by Elon Musk on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017 shows a new spacesuit from his company SpaceX. It’s designed for its crewed flights planned for 2018. (SpaceX via AP)

Marcia Dunn

Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP) - SpaceX has unveiled a sleek white spacesuit for astronauts on its crewed flights coming up next year.

Chief executive Elon Musk made the big reveal via Instagram on Wednesday. He says it’s not him in the new suit, rather a SpaceX engineer.

SpaceX is developing a crew version of its Dragon cargo capsule for NASA astronauts. Boeing is also working to get U.S. astronauts flying again from home soil. Boeing is going blue for spacesuits for its Starliner capsules.

U.S. astronauts last rocketed away from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in 2011. They’ve since been riding Russian rockets to get to the International Space Station.

Musk says the new SpaceX suit has been tested on Earth - and works. He says it was incredibly hard to balance aesthetics and function.


2016 weather report: Extreme and anything but normal

A fisherman drives a boat during then-Secretary of State John Kerry’s tour of the Jakobshavn Glacier and the Ilulissat Icefjord, located near the Arctic Circle in Ilulissat, Greenland. A new U.S. report says last year’s weather was far more extreme or record breaking than anything approaching normal. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, Pool, File)

Seth Borenstein

Washington (AP) - Last year’s global weather was far more extreme or record-breaking than anything approaching normal, according to a new report.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Thursday released its annual checkup of the Earth, highlighting numerous records including hottest year, highest sea level, and lowest sea ice in the Arctic and Antarctica.

The 299-page report, written by scientists around the world and published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, shows that 2016 was “very extreme and it is a cause for concern,” said co-editor Jessica Blunden, a NOAA climate scientist.

Researchers called it a clear signal of human-caused climate change. A record large El Nino, the warming of the central Pacific that changes weather worldwide, was also a big factor in last year’s wild weather.

“2016 will be forever etched in my brain as the year we crossed a new threshold of climate change - one that gave us a grim glimpse into our future,” said Georgia Tech climate scientist Kim Cobb, who had no role in the report.

Scientists examined dozens of key climate measures and found:

- At any given time, nearly one-eighth of the world’s land mass was in severe drought. That’s far higher than normal and “one of the worst years for drought,” said report co-author Robert Dunn of the United Kingdom Met Office.

- Extreme weather was everywhere. Giant downpours were up. Heat waves struck all over the globe, including a nasty one in India. Extreme weather contributed to a gigantic wildfire in Canada.

- Global sea level rose another quarter of an inch (3.4 millimeters) for the sixth straight year of record high sea levels.

- There were 93 tropical cyclones across the globe, 13 percent more than normal. That included Hurricane Matthew that killed about 1,000 people in Haiti.

- The world’s glaciers shrank - for the 37th year in a row - by an average of about 3 feet (1 meter).

- Greenland’s ice sheet in 2016 lost 341 billion tons of ice (310 billion metric tons). It has lost 4400 billion tons (4000 billion metric tons of ice since 2002.

“2016 was a year in the Arctic like we’ve never seen before,” said NOAA Arctic research chief Jeremy Mathis, who called it “a clear and more pronounced signal of warming than in any other year on record.”

Many of the findings have been previously released, including that 2016 was the hottest year on record for the third consecutive year. A separate study based on modeling and weather patterns shows three hot years in a row is close to impossible to be a natural coincidence.

The odds of three years in a row setting heat records without man-made global warming is only 0.7 percent, compared to 30 to 50 percent with greenhouse gases according to a separate study published Thursday in the Geophysical Research Letters.

NOAA report co-editor Deke Arndt said the only notable normal global measure in 2016 was snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere.


Researchers in Cambodia find nest of rare riverine bird

In this undated photo provided by Wildlife Conservation Society, a Masked Finfoot sits on a nest in Preah Vihear Province, Cambodia. (Wildlife Conservation Society via AP)

Phnom Penh, Cambodia (AP) - Wildlife researchers in Cambodia have found a breeding location for the masked finfoot, one of the world’s most endangered birds, raising hopes of its continuing survival.

The New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society said Thursday its scientists, along with conservationists from Cambodia’s Environment Ministry and residents along the Memay River in the Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary, discovered the only confirmed breeding location in Cambodia for the very rare species.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature has placed the bird on its red list of globally endangered species because its worldwide population of less than 1,000 is declining at an alarming rate. It is found only in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Poaching and cutting down the trees where the bird lives are causing the population decline, said Eng Mengey, a communications officer at the Wildlife Conservation Society.

The Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary is one of several in Cambodia’s Preah Vihear province that are home to many endangered bird species, including the critically endangered giant ibis and white-shouldered ibis, the Wildlife Conservation Society said.

“This finding provides further evidence that the Northern Plains of Cambodia is an important biodiversity hotspot and critical area for conserving breeding habitat for globally threatened water birds,” Alistair Mould, a technical adviser for the society, said in a statement.
 


DAILY UPDATE

|

Back to Main Page

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

DNA lab techniques now under fire


Seeding the future? ‘Ark’ preserves rare, threatened plants


Scientists say warming makes storms, like Harvey, wetter


Vanishing kelp: Warm ocean takes toll on undersea forests

SpaceX unveils sleek, white spacesuit for astronaut travel


2016 weather report: Extreme and anything but normal

Researchers in Cambodia find nest of rare riverine bird

 



Chiangmai Mail Publishing Co. Ltd.
189/22 Moo 5, T. Sansai Noi, A. Sansai, Chiang Mai 50210
THAILAND
Tel. 053 852 557, Fax. 053 014 195
Editor: 087 184 8508
E-mail: [email protected]
www.chiangmai-mail.com
Administration: [email protected]
Website & Newsletter Advertising: [email protected]

Copyright © 2004 Chiangmai Mail. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.