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Thursday, March 28,2013

Eco-briefs | 'Chasing Ice' filmmaker to discuss and debut footage at free event

By Boulder Weekly Staff
Photo courtesy of James Balog/Earth Vision Trust
Glacial ice captured by James Balog.

Boulder-based photographer James Balog will discuss his work, which captures the effects of climate change on glaciers around the world, at 7 p.m. on Monday, April 1, at the University of Colorado’s Macky Auditorium.

Since his 2005 National Geographic assignment to photo graph receding glaciers, Balog has traversed the globe, catching glaciers in their vanishing act, documenting ecosystem change and making the award-winning 2012 documentary Chasing Ice.

At Monday’s free event, he’ll debut never-before-seen footage and answer questions in a public interview conducted by arts professor Beth Osnes.

The event, called “A Conversation with James Balog on the Art of Chasing Ice,” is part of CU’s “Inside the Greenhouse” project. Inspired by “Inside the Actors’ Studio,” the project aims to explore how climate change can be conveyed in art forms that resonate with audiences and inspire action.

— Cecelia Gilboy


Australian scientists have successfully created living embryos that are genetically identical to a frog declared extinct in 1983. The species, Rheobatrachus silus, is one of two vanished species known as “platypus frogs.”

Females swallowed their eggs, stopped eating and regurgitated tadpoles weeks later. Using an advanced cloning technique, scientists from the “Lazarus Project” removed cell nuclei from Rheobatrachus silus frog tissues kept in the freezer since the 1970s. They implanted the dead cell nuclei, full of long-gone platypus frog DNA, into fresh eggs from a distant frog relative. Soon, frog embryos were living and dividing and scientists were high-fiving. The results are yet to be published.

While the embryos only survived for a few days, it’s an exciting step towards “de-extincting” plants and animals, scientists say. As amphibian species vanish at rates estimated to be 200 times faster than the overall extinction rate, according to Science Daily, resurrecting some frogs could become increasingly urgent.

But reviving extinct species isn’t without its ethical and technical qualms, so scientists from around the world gathered in Washington, D.C., for a day-long de-extinction discussion hosted by National Geographic on March 15. The Australian scientist responsible for resurrecting the bizarre platypus frog spoke publicly for the first time about the Lazarus Project and his current focus on cloning the extinct Tasmanian tiger.

— Cecelia Gilboy


A bee venom toxin’s anti-HIV properties have long been known to science, but Washington University School of Medicine researchers recently discovered a way to load the toxin onto nano particles, so it can destroy HIV cells without harming other body cells.

That’s a crucial step, they say, towards developing a gel that could prevent the spread of AIDS.

Melittin is the potent toxin found in bee venom that can destroy viruses and even tumor cells by poking holes in the cells’ boundaries.

Until recently, it was unclear how normal body cells could survive a dose of melittin. But because human cells are much bigger than nanoparticles, and HIV cells much smaller, the Washington University researchers added “bumpers” to the nanoparticles they coated in melittin. The bumpers make normal cells bounce off the nanoparticles, while the tiny HIV cells slide between bumpers, approaching the nanoparticle’s toxic coating.

The study, published in Antiviral Therapy, suggests that this approach differs from existing HIV treatments, which target the virus’s ability to replicate. Melittincarrying nanoparticles could be used in a vaginal gel to prevent initial infections, especially in areas where AIDS is rampant. The nanoparticles could also theoretically clear HIV from the bloodstream after an infection.

— Cecelia Gilboy

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