Multi-City Roadshow to Bring Anti-Fracking Message to Ohioans
As the spring heats up, so does the opposition in Ohio to fracking, the controversial drilling method for natural gas that is spreading across the state despite mounting protests and scientific uncertainty. On Saturday, May 12, Don’t Frack Ohio organizers hit the road to bring increased attention to the damage fracking is causing in the state and to build momentum for the largest action against fracking in the country’s history, scheduled for June 17 in Columbus.
The roadshow will visit nine cities, where organizers will meet with community members to discuss the impacts of fracking on Ohio, offer training on how to design strategic actions that move local campaigns against fracking forward, and to recruit for the June 17 event.
WHAT: Don’t Frack Ohio Spring Roadshow. Don’t Frack Ohio is calling for a ban on fracking in the state.
WHEN: May 12-20
WHERE: Dates are set and some locations are still to be determined. Check with Ohio organizer Danny Berchenko for specifics.
May 12—Cincinnati, OH (10-1 p.m.)
May 13—Athens, OH (2-5 p.m.)
May 14—Youngstown, OH (6-9 p.m.)
May 15—Canton, OH (6-9 p.m.)
May 16—Ashtabula, OH (6-9 p.m.)
May 17—Cleveland, OH (6-9 p.m.)
May 18—Mansfield, OH (6-9 p.m.)
May 19—Oberlin, OH (2-5 p.m.)
May 20—Columbus, OH (2-5 p.m.)
WHY: Gov. Kasich has made fracking the centerpiece of his state energy plan despite the myriad problems associated with the drilling technique. Those include:
Earthquakes–On Dec. 31, 2011, a magnitude 4.0 quake struck Youngstown, Ohio—typically not a hot bed of noticeable seismic activity. The quake triggered shaking reportedly felt as as far away as Buffalo, N.Y., and Toronto. It was the strongest of 11 earthquakes that have struck the region since March of 2011.
Fracking injects large quantities of pressurized fluids, and with this drillers can break up the rock, releasing the gas for extraction. One way to dispose of the waste fluids from the process is to inject them back into porous rock formations deep underground. But if pressurized fluids find their way into faults, the fluids can act like a hydraulic jack, separating locked sections enough to allow them to slip and cause earthquakes.
In April 2012, the U.S. Geological Survey issued a paper at the Seismological Society of America that said that “a remarkable increase in the rate of [magnitude 3.0] and greater earthquakes is currently in progress” in the U.S. midcontinent.
Climate change—Without a price on carbon pollution, cheap gas displaces as much low-carbon electricity as it does high-carbon coal. Numerous studies have shown how harvesting natural gas also results in methane leaks that could be doing significant damage to the climate. A new study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that methane leakage from drilling, and especially fracking, has been underestimated and could exceed 2.4 percent. This amount erases the climate benefits that natural gas could offer.
Public health—Much is still to be learned about how fracking affects public health. A three year study released in 2012 by the Colorado School of Public Health found that fracking is exposing people who live near the wells to known toxic hydrocarbons, such as xylene, ethylbenzene and toluene, chemicals known to cause respiratory and neurological problems.
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By Jacob L. Steenwyk and Antonis Rokas
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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