Democrats Compete Over Strong Stance on Climate Action at #DemDebate
Unlike the first two GOP debates, where climate change and other pressing environmental issues were barely mentioned, the first Democratic debate last night in Las Vegas, Nevada, mentioned climate change many times.
“Climate change received significant attention throughout tonight’s debate,” said Brant Olson, campaign director of ClimateTruth.org. “Unlike at the last Republican debate, four out of five of the Democratic candidates addressed the issue right off the bat in their opening statements, clearly prioritizing the need for climate action."
Eric Holthaus of Slate notes what a change it is from the past two presidential campaigns. The candidates were "practically begging to talk about climate change." Sanders even called it "a moral issue. The scientists are telling us that we need to move extremely boldly. The future of the planet is at stake.”
It did not go unnoticed by those on Twitter how much earlier climate change was brought up at the Democratic debate than the first two Republican ones. Unlike most of the Republican candidates, all of the Democratic candidates accept climate science.
When asked by moderator Anderson Cooper what the biggest threat facing the nation is, both Gov. Martin O'Malley and Sen. Sanders listed climate change. O'Malley said it causes "a cascade of threats."
"Senator Sanders rightly identified climate change as a pressing national security threat and also spoke to the funding received by Republican climate deniers from fossil fuel interests—a key obstacle to federal action," said Olson.
O'Malley mentioned multiple times that we need to move to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, pledging that his first day in office he would issue an executive order to make the transition. He knocked the so-called "all of the above strategy" embraced by President Obama and others. "We did not land a man on the moon with an all-of-the-above strategy," O'Malley said. "We can get there as a nation, but it's going to require presidential leadership." Earlier this summer, he rolled out a plan to show how we can make the transition to entirely clean energy in the coming decades.
O'Malley accused Clinton of taking a long time to come out against the Keystone XL pipeline, but Clinton said, "I never took a position on Keystone until I took a position on Keystone." She maintained she was "on the forefront of climate change starting in 2009 when President Obama and I crashed a meeting with the Chinese and got them to sign up to the first international agreement to combat climate change that they'd ever joined.” Many on Twitter mocked Clinton for the comment, quipping that acting on climate change in 2009 does not put her on the forefront.
Further, Holthaus at Slate points out she is bragging about what was actually a diplomatic failure:
Clinton staked her climate record on what’s widely perceived to have been one of the biggest diplomatic failures in recent history—the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009. After years of anticipation, the meeting of world leaders ended in disarray, with Obama and his aides famously wandering around the convention center, looking for the leaders of China, India, Brazil and other key nations. The toothless deal struck at the last minute was called a “grudging accord” by The New York Times the next day. Yes, Obama—and Clinton, then his secretary of state—were instrumental to that deal, but it’s hardly something Hillary should be proud of.
Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia was the only candidate who had a more measured climate stance. He supports an all-of-the-above energy strategy. He's pro-coal, pro-offshore drilling and pro-Keystone XL pipeline. Another of the lesser known candidates, former Governor of Rhode Island Lincoln Chafee didn't have much of a chance to talk about climate issues (or much of a chance to talk, period), though he briefly mentioned his support for climate action. But he did have one chance towards the end of the debate to tout his climate credentials. Anderson Cooper pointed out that the candidates have all made enemies over the course of their political careers. So, he wanted to know which enemy they were most proud of. Chafee said he was most proud of making an enemy out of the coal lobby.
There are still five more debates scheduled for the Democrats and climate change is sure to be brought up more in depth. Some though, such as Tom Steyer of NextGen Climate, believe we still need to devote an entire debate to climate change and renewable energy.
“Tonight’s Democratic presidential debate demonstrated the need for another debate dedicated entirely to climate change and clean energy," said Steyer. "The Democratic presidential candidates recognized the threat of climate change and the benefits of building a clean energy economy. But one question simply isn’t enough time to discuss our greatest challenge—we must add a debate exclusively focused on climate change solutions and clean energy.”
In contrast to these candidates, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee tweeted this during the debate:
Actually, climate change has, in fact, been shown to kill more people than terrorism. With the exception of Lindsey Graham and George Pataki, the Republican candidates "have either remained silent, provided false economic arguments for inaction or denied the existence of human-induced climate change entirely," said Olson of ClimateTruth.org.
“When it comes to tackling the climate crisis, the contrast between the candidates in this debate and the Republican field is stunningly clear," said Sierra Club Political Director Khalid Pitts. "We saw candidates who were not afraid to stand up to the fossil fuel industry by embracing American leadership to secure a significant climate agreement in Paris and move toward a 100 percent clean energy economy. Meanwhile, we've only heard the same tired excuses and denial from Republican candidates who have spent more time addressing the agenda of the Koch Brothers than the demands of the American people.”
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From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
How A. Latus Differs From its Parents.<p>Elucidating the identity of closely related fungal pathogens and how they differ from each other in infection-relevant characteristics is a key step toward reducing the burden of fungal disease. For example, we found that <em>A. latus</em> was three times more resistant than <em>A. nidulans</em>, the species it was originally identified as using microscopy-based methods, to one of the most common antifungal drugs, <a href="https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00520" target="_blank">caspofungin</a>. This result provides a clear example of the potential importance of accurate identification of the <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogen causing an infection.</p><p>We also examined how <em>A. latus</em> and <em>A. nidulans</em> interact with cells from our immune system. We found that immune cells were less efficient at combating <em>A. latus</em> compared to <em>A. nidulans</em>, suggesting the hybrid fungus may be trickier for our immune systems to identify and destroy.</p><p>In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our quest to understand <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogens is becoming more urgent. Growing evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/myc.13096" target="_blank">a fraction of COVID-19 patients are also infected with <em>Aspergillus</em>.</a> More worrying is that these <a href="https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.201603" target="_blank">secondary <em>Aspergillus</em> infections</a> can worsen the clinical outcomes for those infected with the novel coronavirus. That being said, we stress that little is known about <em>Aspergillus</em> infections in COVID-19 patients due to a lack of systematic testing, and none of the infections identified so far appear to have been caused by hybrids.</p><p>So, when it comes to hybrids, some are fantastic (the minotaur), some are helpful (the mule) and some are dangerous (<em>Aspergillus latus</em>). Understanding more about the biology of <em>Aspergillus latus</em> may help in our understanding of how microbial pathogens arise and how to best prevent and combat their infections.</p>
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