The Pandora Report

Highlights include Russia quietly upping it’s chem/bio defense spending (*cough* Syria *cough*), the MSP discussing the BWC (breaking news: Cuba has complaints)(no offense Cuba), the bugs in your great great times 100 grandfather’s belly, a new journal article on immune escape and pandemic mortality, annnd how to win a million dollars (math. it’s always math). Happy Friday!

Credit: Al Arabiya News

Russia to Spend $183 million on Chemical, Bio Defense in 2013

Russia, possibly a little nonplussed by Assad’s suddenly revitalized interest in his WMD, is investing 5.6 billion rubles ($183 million) on bolstering their defenses against chemical and biological weapons (FYI: Syria is just over 600 miles south of Russia – for comparison, that’s less than the length of California). Make all the dual-use jokes you want, I think the Russians are on to something.

Ria Novosti –  “MOSCOW, December 11 (RIA Novosti) – Russia will spend over 5.6 billion rubles ($183 million) on improving defense against chemical and biological threats in 2013, a Defense Ministry official said on Tuesday. ‘The overall spend on measures to defend against chemical and biological threats in 2013 will be around 5.65 billion rubles,’ the head of Russia’s Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense (NBCD) department Maj. Gen. Yevgeny Starkov said.”

2012 Meeting of State Parties for the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention Concludes

Stay tuned for the Final Report.

“Thursday morning provided an opportunity for delegates to raise any further issues within the topics allocated to the MSP. The following countries took the floor: on cooperation and assistance: Republic of Korea, Algeria and Iran (national); on science and technology: Chile and the United Kingdom; on national implementation: Algeria, Japan and Chile; and on confidence-building measures: Japan. Most interventions followed up on themes that had been previously raised.”

Too Many Antibiotics? Bacterial Ecology That Lives On Humans Has Changed in Last 100 Years

Apparently the bugs living in our ancestors (of the ancient variety) were more similar to “non-human primates” than to your average American today. Why? Overuse of antibiotics, especially in the last century.

Science Daily – “A University of Oklahoma-led study has demonstrated that ancient DNA can be used to understand ancient human microbiomes. The microbiomes from ancient people have broad reaching implications for understanding recent changes to human health, such as what good bacteria might have been lost as a result of our current abundant use of antibiotics and aseptic practices…’The results support the hypothesis that ancient human gut microbiomes are more similar to those of non-human primates and rural non-western communities than to those of people living a modern lifestyle in the United States,’ says Lewis. ‘From these data, the team concluded that the last 100 years has been a time of major change to the human gut microbiome in cosmopolitan areas.’ ”

The age distribution of mortality due to influenza: pandemic and peri-pandemic

This study evaluates impact of “immune escape” on elderly mortality rates during pandemics, with immune escape here referring to the “stepwise increase in mortality among the oldest elderly.” It’s always interesting to see how pandemics affect specific age populations.

BMC Medicine – “In all influenza pandemics of the 20th century, emergent viruses resembled those that had circulated previously within the lifespan of then-living people. Such individuals were relatively immune to the emergent strain, but this immunity waned with mutation of the emergent virus. An immune subpopulation complicates and may invalidate vaccine trials. Pandemic influenza does not ‘shift’ mortality to younger age groups; rather, the mortality level is reset by the virulence of the emerging virus and is moderated by immunity of past experience. In this study, we found that after immune escape, older age groups showed no further mortality reduction, despite their being the principal target of conventional influenza vaccines. Vaccines incorporating variants of pandemic viruses seem to provide little benefit to those previously immune. If attack rates truly are similar across pandemics, it must be the case that immunity to the pandemic virus does not prevent infection, but only mitigates the consequences.”

Algorithms for Threat Reduction

For those of you so inclined, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, in partnership with the National Science Foundation, has an “Algorithm for Threat Reduction” competition with a $1 million prize.

NSF – “This program solicits proposals from the mathematical sciences community in two main thrust areas: mathematical and statistical techniques for genomics, and mathematical and statistical techniques for the analysis of data from sensor systems.”

In case you missed it:

–  Why Assad Won’t Use His Chemical Weapons Foreign Policy
Syria Warns Opposition May Use WMD Al Arabiya News

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