Thursday, December 30, 2010

Asthma and Bacteria – A Possible Link

Asthma remains a baffling disease that impacts a growing number of individuals, especially children. Asthma is characterized by a constriction and swelling of the airways. The symptoms include the production of mucus and more importantly coughing, wheezing and a shortness of breath. Currently there is no cure for this condition but medications can be used to control it. The severity of this disease varies widely; it can be vary from a nuisance to a life threatening condition.

Recent evidence suggests that there is a strong connection between asthma and the kinds of bacteria that the body ordinarily harbors. Some years ago, Dr. Gary Huffnagle, an immunologist from the University of Michigan, subjected experimental mice to yeast introduced into their intestines; mold spores placed in their noses and an antibiotic drug. These animals began showing signs of asthma and blood tests indicated immune system dysfunction.

In addition, studies have indicated that children raised on farms are much less prone to suffer from diseases of the lung, including asthma, and Dr. William Cookson, a respiratory physician from the Imperial College of London, suggests that exposure to a diverse bacterial environment in childhood may play a protective role. Additionally, children born via the sterile environment of a cesarean section are more prone to suffering from asthma than those that have passed through the birth canal, and children that have had multiple courses of antibiotics are more likely to have asthma than their counterparts.

The relationship between asthma and the bacteria that ordinarily reside within the body is an exceedingly complex one. Yet, it has become clear that children who are stricken by asthma have different bacteria within their bodies and often a less diverse population than non-asthmatic children. The findings of these studies reinforce what has long been suspected regarding asthma,

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Deepwater Horizon Blowout - Existence of Undersea Plumes of Oil

The environmental catastrophe caused by the blowout of the Deepwater Horizon at the Macondo well site resulted in the largest offshore oil spill in history. Although much of the surface oil contamination has been significantly mitigated, there remains an issue regarding the existence of undersea hydrocarbon plumes.

These plumes have been tracked by Dr. Richard Camilli and his colleagues from the department of Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. As a result of the blowout, more than 4 million barrels of oil were released into the Gulf of Mexico. Since the source of the spill was some 1500 meters beneath the surface, this resulted in the formation of undersea plumes of oil. On account of the complex variables that are involved in plume formation – the interplay of gas and oil in multiphase flow and the solubility of each of the constituents in the complex mixture - , it is exceedingly difficult to derive models that can reliably predict the behavior of hydrocarbons under such conditions.

In spite of the daunting problems associated with this catastrophe, the investigators were able to detect and measure the hydrocarbon plumes. They discovered the presence of a continuous plume of oil more than 35 kilometers in length at an approximate depth of 1100 meters. This plume persisted for months without signs of significant biodegradation.

Further studies by other investigators, however, have shown that the presence of the plume stimulated the growth of bacteria that are known to degrade hydrocarbons. The encouraging aspect of their findings is that, “the potential exists for intrinsic bioremediation of the oil plume in the deep-water column without substantial oxygen drawdown.”

The existence of undersea hydrocarbon plumes in the Gulf of Mexico has inspired scientific investigators to study their properties. The results of their work may lead to strategies designed to counter the ill effects of similar human catastrophes should they happen in the future.