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The Complexity Matters blog features the Thursday Complexity Post as well as other complexity inspired news items.

 

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Paying Tuition by Degrees

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, March 3, 2016

Should College Tuition be Based on What a Student Studies?

A growing number of elected officials want to lure more students into STEM fields with economic incentives—tuition breaks or subsidies for students studying science, technology, engineering and math. And that could mean punishing humanities majors, and diminishing humanities departments.

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin recently declared that students majoring in French literature shouldn’t get any public funding for their college education. A New York Times story by Patricia Cohen quotes Bevin as saying people are free to study French literature, but “they’re not going to get subsidized by the taxpayers like engineers will be.”

North Carolina Governor Patrick McCrory says he doesn’t want any public subsidies for “gender studies.” Presidential candidate Senator Marco Rubio has called for more welders and fewer philosophers, and questioned the value of student loans “to study, you know…Roman history? Are there any Romans here?”

Florida Governor Rick Scott has scoffed at anthropology, and a Florida state senator complained about degrees in psychology and political science  “that don’t mean much.” A Florida task force has recommended that public universities charge more for “non-strategic majors,” such as history and English.   

Cohen reports at least 15 states are offering some type of bonuses for certain high demand STEM degrees that are perceived as aligned with job market needs. 

A Hechinger report story by John Marcus says between 2007 and 2012, four year institutions across the country have been dropping liberal arts courses and reducing the number of departments offering art history, English, languages, literature, religion and music.  The Academy of Arts and Sciences reports humanities degrees have declined in recent years, and that the share of bachelor’s degrees in humanities disciplines in 2013, a little over 10 percent, was less than one third of the share of degrees awarded in the natural, social and behavioral sciences that year.

Tuition manipulation by major isn’t new, though before 1980 it was almost unknown. In earlier experiments, students whose majors suggested higher incomes after graduation were charged more.  Kevin Stange from the University of Michigan studied  50 universities that charged higher fees between 2000 and 2008 for nursing, engineering and business majors, on the theory that those degrees had higher economic value.  Degrees in engineering and business dropped within three years of the new price differentials, though nursing degrees gained slightly. Dr. Stange concluded price differential doesn’t seem to be a path for changing the composition of the work force. A Cornell study found that 29 percent of public colleges had differential tuition rates in 2010-11, though some increased costs were the result of lab costs or public funding cuts.

Should higher education emphasize to enriching lives and the quality of citizenship or the demands of the job market? While conservative commentators and officials have been most vocal questioning the value of liberal arts studies, the Times story notes Obama administration has contributed to the debate by proposing that the nation’s 7,000 colleges and universities should compile data on earnings of graduates in all majors they offer in addition to statistics on graduation rates and student debt. Some studies indicate a newly minted engineer might start out at $65.000 a year, about $20,000 more than a new humanities graduate.

Academics in the humanities have pushed back, noting surveys show that businesses want critical thinking, creativity, empathy and collaborative capacities in their employees. The Military Academy at West Point continues to emphasize humanities. The Times story quotes Jeffrey N. Peters, who teaches French literature at the University of Kentucky, as saying students like Governor Bevin, who graduated from the Liberal Arts university Washington and Lee with a Bachelor’s degree in Japanese and East Asian studies, draw on  experiences with language, literature and culture  to begin successful careers in business, international relations and public service. Contributors to the PlosOne Neuroanthropology blog touted the value of anthropology in engineering, business, science, and health care, a field in which Rick Scott experienced economic success before becoming governor.    

 

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Invisible Leaders Emerge from Complex Networks

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Friday, February 19, 2016

Networks of Echoes”

 Vice President Chester A. Arthur was an undistinguished politician when the assassination of President James Garfield propelled him into the nation’s highest office.  He didn’t know Julia Sand, a young woman who wrote him 32 letters urging compassion, nobility, and adherence to the best in his own nature. But Arthur read the letters, kept them, and some historians think they may have helped him rise above a tawdry past to become a respected leader.      

We’re always had invisible leaders—people who stay in shadow while influencing what happens on stage.  Julia Sand remains little known, and her letters weren’t discovered until 1958. Advocates and ideologues often pursue goals effectively behind the scenes. And as Bruce West and colleagues note, literature is filled with invisible leaders, some of whom were up to no good.  Lady Macbeth goaded her husband into regicide, and Iago’s malevolent insinuations make Othello distrust his wife.  

Bruce West, physicist and senior scientist of mathematics and information science at the U.S. Army Research Office, with colleagues Malgorzata Turalska and Paolo Grigolini, explore the scientific and human consequences of the way information travels through different kinds of networks and the interconnectedness of human and physical networks. Their book Network of Echoes, Imitation, Innovation and Invisible Leaders examines how influence, cooperation, leadership and decisions emerge from interacting elements of networks.  

When people are free to do what they want, the authors write, they imitate each other, but not perfectly.  They do it with uneven variations, and the authors hypothesize that those distortions create an echo response that is a fundamental mode of human behavior. The networks of echoes are the tenuous structures people create through their imperfect imitations of each other, they write, and this imperfect duplication generates a new kind of leadership, one in which leaders are invisible. People who become hubs in networks aren’t always superstars, but their large number of connections signify their capacity as leaders. They might be back room decision makers, the authors write, or protagonists in conspiracies, and “even when they are not identified they are postulated because society doesn’t believe the person out front is the real leader.”

“The thesis of this book and the result of our research is that being a leader is often not voluntary and that the leadership role is always transient,” they write. “Leaders emerge within a complex network, guide its behavior for varying lengths of time and then are silently replaced by other equally invisible leaders.”

Complex networks share four properties, according to the authors: emergence, nonlinearity, uncertainty and adaptation—they grow and evolve in unanticipated ways. The authors also call for a fractal view of human sciences. They have developed a decision making model, which takes those properties into account.  In addition to investigating the emergent properties of networks, the model is useful to analyze how we collect and organize data into patterns to form decisions.

The authors say scientists need knowledge of  the dynamics of complex adaptive networks and the consequences of decisions made by citizens, politicians and soldiers.  The Army’s new network-centric warfare—in which platforms of trucks and tanks are replaced by  a networked military of computers and intelligence gathering social webs—make it vital to understand decision making by networked individuals and groups.  

The author’s research suggests complex networks have intrinsic universal features that are characterized by complexity and independent of the type of network. Phase transition has a fundamental role in the emergent properties of networks. The influence of committed minorities can impact global opinion and change network dynamics. Information can be transferred among complex networks.  And real world events do not conform to simple statistical models.

This book is not hammock reading. You have to sit up straight, put your feet flat on the floor and take notes.   If you’re a scientist you may need to brush up. If you’re not a scientist you will have to skip some parts. But the effort is worthwhile, and the authors cite intriguing reader-friendly examples from literature and life.   

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Odds of Death by Meteorite? Infinitesimal

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Friday, February 12, 2016

 

“Someone Always Wins the Lottery, but it Probably Won’t be You”

What are the chances of being hit by an asteroid? What is the likelihood of any solid object plunging from outer space and landing on our heads?  

The Wall Street Journal and other news outlets informed us a man in the southern India state of Tamil Nadu suffered fatal injuries February 6 when a meteorite smashed to the ground with explosive force, leaving a four-foot deep crater at the campus of Bharathidasan Engineering College.  Authorities in India reported the man died after being struck by flying debris, and three others were injured. The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) said there was no record in modern times of anyone being killed by a meteorite.  Four days later, experts doubted the hole in the ground and the death and injuries had been caused by a meteorite.

What was it? A meteoroid is a small particle from an asteroid or a comet that travels around the sun. When a meteoroid enters the earth’s atmosphere, it burns up and is often seen as the light phenomena we know as a shooting star.  A meteorite is a meteoroid that survived entry into the atmosphere and falls to the earth.  And that’s not all that’s up there.

Derek Sears, a NASA meteorite and asteroid expert, suggested the thing that hit the Indian college might have been an object falling from an aircraft  passing overhead.  According to Discovery.com. other experts think  it might have been a bit of space junk that entered the earth’s atmosphere  without completely burning. The U.S. National Research Council estimates that 5,400 tons of man-made rubbish in space have landed back on earth in the last 40 years and there haven’t been report of injuries.

The NRC’s report Defending Planet Earth: Near Object Surveys and Hazard Mitigation Strategies says about 100 tons of very small objects, mostly in the form of dust, fall to earth every day.   A meteor  about 30 meters across smashed in sparsely populated Siberia in 1908, flattening a forest.  The NRC estimates a one in 200 chance per year of an impact of that magnitude hitting somewhere on earth.  In 2013,  meteor fragments  exploded over Russia’s Ural Mountains, damaging thousands of buildings and injuring hundreds of people. Russian scientists said the meteor was several yards in diameter and weighed about 10 metric tons. Scientists believe a very large asteroid landed on earth and wiped out dinosaurs about 66 million years ago.

NASA’s Near Earth Objects program is tracking more than 837 objects that are more than one kilometer across. (One Kilometer is equal to 0.6214 miles.) A collision between earth and an object with a diameter of more than 3 kilometers (1.86 miles) would be considered catastrophic, scientists say, and that is expected to happen every few million years.

Scientists say the odds of any individuals being hit are really very low. NASA figures an individual would be a target of about one square meter in area, and the earth has a surface area of about 400,000,0000 square  kilometers.  Assuming objects can land anywhere, there would mean a chance of one in 20,000,000,000,000 (that’s 20 trillion) of any particular square meter being hit.

Of course, there’s more than one way to figure odds. Science blogger and author Phil Plait, writing in Discover Magazine, notes we’re more likely to get killed by a meteorite than hit by one, because damage from explosive debris is more likely than direct impact from outer space. He also explains astronomer Alan Harris has calculated that a person’s lifetime odds of being killed by asteroid impact are about one in 700,000. 

“We’re lousy at understanding  low probability events,” Plait writes. “One in 700,000 is a ridiculously low probability but it’s hard to grasp.  As a comparison you’re more likely to die in a fireworks accident. …that’s  a slightly higher chance than being killed by a terrorist. Despite propaganda to the contrary, the odds of any given person being killed by a terrorist attack are incredibly low. While terrorists attacks in the long run are a near certainty, the odds of you getting killed are very low. It’s like the lottery. Someone wins every time, eventually, but chances are it won’t be you.” .

 

 

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Deadly Danger on the Wings of a Pest

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Monday, February 8, 2016

Impact of Pathogen Reaches Beyond Health and Medicine

 
Zika won't be the last health crisis, says infectious disease expert Michael Osterholm, and we need to develop a comprehensive plan to combat microbial disasters instead of scrambling for multiple piecemeal short-term responses to confront the latest threat.
 
Dr. Osterholm, a professor and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, says in a New York Times essay that lessons from recent disease outbreaks-including Ebola and MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome)-should help us be better prepared to fight deadly pathogens.
 
Zika, the virus passed to humans by mosquito bites, has been linked to deformities in thousands of infants born to infected mothers in Brazil and Central America. The babies have small heads and brain abnormalities. In an unprecedented public health directive, El Salvador has advised women not to get pregnant for two years. Zika has changed Red Cross blood collection practices and ignited new debates about abortion. While some infected adults suffer only mild symptoms, Zika can lead to Guillain-Barre syndrome, a dangerous autoimmune disorder that can cause paralysis.    
 
WHO has declared Zika a global health emergency. The CDC has warned pregnant women not to travel to mosquito prone areas. Though Zika was identified about 70 years ago, no vaccine is expected in the near future and researchers still have many questions about the disease. The virus has been found in human blood and urine. A few cases of sexual transmission, caused by the Zika virus in semen, have been discovered, though scientists don't know how long it lives in semen. The ebola virus has been discovered in semen months after the patient's recovery from the illness. The main Zika vector, though, is the Aedes aegypti mosquito, a wily, hard-to-kill enemy Dr. Osterholm describes as "the Norway rat of mosquitoes." It has evolved to live in close contact with humans and the trash humans create. It can lay eggs in a few drops of water in a bottle cap.
 
Dr. Osterholm writes that the habitat for Aeges aegypti breeding has increased dramatically over the last 40 years, with a world-wide explosion of plastic and rubber solid waste and non-biodegradable containers that collect water where mosquito eggs hatch. He says Aedes egypti has never been more numerous or lived in more locations. It is ubiquitous in warm and tropical regions and is present in 12 U.S. south eastern states. Aedes egypti's close cousin, known as the Asian Tiger mosquito, common in 30 states on the Eastern seaboard and Great Lakes region, isn't a significant factor in Zika spread, Dr. Osterholm writes, but if it becomes a more effective Zika transmitter, high risk will exist for a U.S. outbreak. Dr. Osterholm says we have to clean up our trash.

Some scientists have suggested a return to the banned pesticide DDT. Another controversial approach involves release of more mosquitoes-genetically modified males developed by the British biotech company Oxitec that have a gene designed to kill their offspring after they mate in the wild. (Male Aedes egypti don't bite people.) This could also blunt the spread of dengue and chikungunya, viral diseases that have no cure and are spreading quickly around the world.

More than 70 million Oxitec mosquitoes have been released in field trials in the Cayman Islands, Malaysia, Brazil and, most recently, Panama, all of which have struggled with dengue. Regulatory agencies in those countries approved the release of the mosquitoes, and last year Oxitec received approval from Brazil to release its mosquitoes commercially. But some critics fear the modified mosquitoes may actually foster disease spread. The Scientific American has been tracking Zika since the fall of 2015. Read the Scientific American Special Report on Zika.

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Self-Organized and Self-Managed: The Future of Work?

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Holacracy May Be Teal 

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh wants the structure of his business to be more like a city and less like a conventional top-down command and control bureaucratic organization.

In a FastCompany story by Gregory Ferenstein,  Hsieh (pronounced shay)  says that self-organized, self managed entities such as cities have resilience to stand the test of time, while command and control structures do not.  He notes research has shown when a city doubles in size, it’s economic productivity, rises dramatically and the productivity of its individual inhabitants increases too.  Companies that grow aren’t always so lucky, and bigger is not always better.  

Hsieh asserts that self-managed self-organized structures are the future of work and that they are they are the only structures that can get better as they get bigger.  Zappos is an online shoe and clothing company now owned by Amazon that produces more than $2 billion in revenue annually. Hsieh says when the company reached 1,500 employees, “We just felt like things were moving slower than when we were 150 people.  I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault, it’s just a by-product of normal hierarchical structure and processes.”  In early 2014 he introduced sweeping changes with a management system called “Holacracy” that abolishes bosses and replaces them with overlapping networks of self-managed teams.

As described in another FastCompany story by Rebecca Greenfield, Holacracy doesn’t mean a flat organization. People and work are organized around circles within circles, and people have roles so that some team members have autonomy over their domains. Teams convene “tactical meetings” to get their work done. Authority is distributed throughout the whole organization, and roles can change as needed because the structure is very fluid. Without bureaucratic bottlenecks, the idea goes, decisions are made faster and more innovation is generated. While roles carry authority, no one has a title, and it turns out some people don’t like giving up their titles.    

Zappos encouraged its dissatisfied employees to take a generous severance package and leave, and the New York Times reported that 18 percent—or 260 people—did so. Hsieh was undaunted. He told FastCompany a 20 percent turnover is not unusual in his business, and anyway, his goal has been to maximize highly committed employees who are enthusiastic about the culture.  

Holacracy was invented in 2007 by Brian Robertson, a former programmer who thought he had designed a better way to work together. It has been adopted by companies around the world—including Medium, the alt-publishing platform from Twitter cofounder Ev Williams, and the David Allen Company, the productivity consultants.

In an interview with Dan Pontifract of Forbes, Hsieh explained his management thinking has been influenced by “Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness,” by Frederick Laloux, a Belgian business scholar and former management consultant for McKinsey & Co. Tracing the evolution of organizations, Laoux borrowed a descriptive system devised by the philosopher Ken Wilbur using sequences of ultraviolet light, from infrared to ultraviolet, to identify different stages. In this scheme, primitive human organizations that relied on violent force were red, and the most evolved organizations, where there is effort to nurture the whole person and the whole organization, are teal. In house at Zappos, Holacracy is called teal. Reaction to Laloux’s book has been mixed.  New York Times business writer Tony Schwartz called it “the most important and inspiring book I’ve ever read.”   According to the Forbes story, Dave Snowden called it “trivial.”

 

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Learn Nuances of Leadership: Read Fiction

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Read Business Scholarship and Theory Too

The reading lists of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett make fascinating reading. Both are avid readers. According to a Fast Company story by Stephanie Vozza, Buffett spends 80 percent of his day reading, and Gates reads for an hour a night before going to bed.

Gates 2015 favorites, which he shares on his blog, include The Road to Character by David Brooks, and Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck. He introduces his selections by explaining that he enjoys books about how things work. Buffett shares his favorites, many of which deal with multiple aspects of economics and investing, in his annual letter to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway.

Ajit Singh, partner at the venture capital firm Artiman Ventures and consulting professor in the School of Medicine at Stanford University, told Fast Company reading 50 to 60 books a year helps him be a better communicator. "Leadership requires storytelling; the story can be the vision of the company, or an acquisition plan, or an impending layoff," he says. "Telling a compelling story and listening with empathy have contributed much to my skills as a leader."

Mark Zuckerberg, whose goal last year was to read a book every two weeks, started a Year of Books page on Facebook that works as a book club where he and followers discuss books and invite authors to participate by webcasts.  

Some scholars urge business leaders keep to fiction in their reading repertoire.  Joseph Badaracco, the John Shad Professor of Business Ethics at Harvard Business School, says the multidimensional nature of great works of literature can open people’s minds to perspectives and experiences that differ from their own, and enhance their own self understanding. “Literature givers students a much more realistic view of what’s involved in leading” than many business books on leadership, Badaracco said in a Harvard Gazette article. “Literature lets you see leaders and others from the inside. You share the sense of what they are thinking and feeling.  In real life, you’re usually at some distance sand things are prepared, polished. With literature you can see the whole messy collection of things that happen inside our heads.” He says literature presents historical, ethical and emotional subtleties that aren’t always visible in the real world.

Dr. Badaracco teaches a Harvard course on literature and leadership, and in his book, Questions of Character: Illuminating the Heart of Leadership Through Literature,  he says leaders can develop their understanding of complex issues as they reflect on struggles of fictional characters. One piece on his reading list, for  instance, is “Blessed Assurance¨ by Allan Gurganus, in which a young man struggles with his conscience as he wants to be a good person and good professional and at the same time he is misleading poor people about insurance he sells. Dr. Badaracco had his students study A Man for All Seasons, in which Thomas  More struggles to balance his conscience, his faith and the safety of his family. He suggests Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Sharer to explore the meaning of responsibility. 

The 2,500 year old play Antigone by Sophocles has the heroine, who believes deeply in family values and honor, at odds with the king, who wants to promote the stability of the state and peace after along civil war. Dr. Badaracco says that basic conflict is instructive, as is the chorus, which seems to waver from one perspective to another in trying to make sense. The higher one gets in an organization, he said in an HBR blog, the more difficult, complex, grey areas a leader will have to confront.  

Dr. Badaracco says he has been surprised by how often his students over the years have rated Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro as a books they valued greatly. It’s about a British butler who serves high ranking English officials between 1920 and 1930 and struggles with his disappointments and his own high standards. Perhaps, Dr. Badaracco observes, his young American students are wondering about the fate of their own high standards and their own potential responses to disappointment. 

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Leading Organizations to Health- Register Now!

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Dear Plexus Friends and Associates,

In a time when healthcare is facing such extraordinary change from every possible direction, you know the tremendous value a complexity perspective brings to leaders of organizational change. By reminding them of the self-organizing nature of human interaction it helps them let go of unrealistic and counterproductive expectations of control and turn instead to curiosity and experimentation. It fosters mindfulness of here-and-now of interpersonal process -- how patterns of thinking and patterns of interacting are being created in each moment and what actions might lead to the emergence of new patterns. And it calls attention to the constraints that might be operative, shaping the possibility space for what kinds of self-organizing patterns are more or less likely to emerge.

You also know from your experience that there’s a big difference between having a useful conceptual perspective and putting that knowledge to work. Effective organizational change requires a deep knowledge of human motivation and behavior, advanced facilitation and communication skills and, underlying all that, an authentic and courageous personal presence to be able to hold the emotional tension of change and help others do likewise.

With co-sponsorship from the Plexus Institute and the University of Rochester, my colleague Diane Rawlins and I conduct an institute on leading organizational change called Leading Organizations to Health that explores and integrates all of these dimensions. It combines complexity with positive psychology, adaptive leadership and other frameworks to offer a uniquely powerful and effective approach to leading change. We’ve recently published an article that describes the program and an outcomes assessment. Our next cohort begins in late April; we’d love to have you join us. Help yourself put your valuable understanding of complexity to its most effective use.

For more information and online registration, please visit www.lohweb.com or contact me (asuchman@rchcweb.com).  Wishing you a bright new year of meaning, joy and emergent possibilities!

Tony Suchman
Relationship Centered Health Care 

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Rural TB Outbreak Fueled by Distrust

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Wednesday, January 20, 2016

 

Decades of Distrust Linger, Impairing Health Effort

 

In the last two years 20 people in the small city of Marion, Alabama , population 3,600, have been diagnosed with active TB cases. Three people have died, and many more have symptoms of the disease.  Healthy authorities initiated screening efforts to identify those who need treatment and halt an expanding outbreak, but long time distrust of the medical and health professions is hampering the effort. People are reluctant to cooperate or disclose information about their health or their contacts.  In part, the distrust stems from the notorious Tuskegee experiments by the U.S. Public Health in which 600 black men with syphilis were deliberately left untreated.    Read the New York Times story  by Alan Blinder. 

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Complex Northerly Expansion of Tropical Diseases

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Tropical Diseases Emerging in New Places

The northward progression of many tropical diseases is not just because of the hotter weather that comes with climate change. Multiple interacting biological, social, and technological forces are playing a role.    

Scientists say disease-carrying mosquitoes and ticks once most populous in hot equatorial zones are are expanding their range into new northerly areas. The list of alarming bug-born illnesses that have traveled along with people and warming weather includes Lyme disease, West Nile virus,  Chagas, dengue,  chikungunya and Zika,  a disease gaining new attention as a possible cause of thousands of  deformed  babies in Brazil.     

Scientific American story by Dina Fine Maron reports that nearly 3,000 Brazilian babies were born in 2015 with microcephaly—an incurable condition in which the head and brain are abnormally small and the children tend to have serious cognitive and neurological disabilities as they grow.   There were only 147 cases of the abnormality in   Brazil in 2014.

A New York Times story by Donald McNeil Jr., explains that virologists say Zika is a certainly a factor in microcepahly though it may not be the sole cause; if a mother has previously been infected with dengue,  a related virus, it may be the two viruses together that trigger the prenatal devastation.  Zika, first identified in 1947 in Uganda, has not been extensively studied because there haven ‘t been large outbreaks until recently.  Zika was not found in the northern hemisphere, except for Easter Island, 2,200 miles off the coast of Chile, until last spring. Now, the Times story says, it circulates in 14 Latin American and Caribbean countries and Puerto Rico. 

Zika us carried by the Aedes aegypti  mosquito, the same biting pest that carries yellow fever and dengue.  Florida had two dengue outbreaks in 2013, which were halted with aggressive mosquito control measures.  To date, the aegypti mosquito hasn’t been found much farther north than Washington D.C. and Kentucky.  Epidemiologists say potential spread of Zika in the U.S. will depend on whether the Asian tiger mosquito, a cold-tolerant variety found as far north as New York and Chicago, carries the disease as efficiently as aegypti.

Throughout history human travel has spread some diseases and modern air travel increases the potential.  Some scientists think Zika arrived in Brazil with the influx of tourists for the 2014 World Cup, or it could have arrived with French Polynesian paddlers who participated in a canoe race in Rio de Janeiro. The first Lymes cases in New York in 1999, came from a strain identical to an Israeli strain, McNeil reports, so virologists believe it likely that the disease arrived by airplane in the blood of someone on board. By 2005, West Nile had reached the Pacific Northwest.

Lyme disease is spread by ticks, which carry more than 30 viral and bacterial diseases. The tick population has been advancing northward for more than a decade, and a growing number of tick borne diseases are being found in nearly all regions in the U.S.  Ticks are second only to mosquitos as pest-carried vectors of disease. As temperatures rise, scientists say, mosquitoes can multiply rapidly, potentially enhancing their collective ability to transmit diseases. Further, weather extremes have an impact on populations. Increased precipitation increased rain in some areas expands mosquitoes breeding locations, and droughts, like those that recently afflicted parts of Brazil, encourages people to save water in containers, providing additional mosquito habitats.

As Maria Diuk-Wasser, a scholar with expertise in entomology, zoology and parasitology at Columbia, reminds us, “The mosquito is exquisitely adapted to human hosts, living in close proximity to humans and feeding repeatedly.”

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Brain Networks Linked to Human Intelligence

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Newly Discovered Gene Networks Impact Intelligence

Scientists at Imperial College London have identified two networks of genes in the human brain that appear to govern memory, attention, processing speed and reasoning—the cognitive functions that combine in intelligence.

Complex traits such as intelligence are influenced by large groups of genes working together, according to Dr. Michael Johnson, a neurologist at Imperial College, rather “like a football team made up of players in different positions.” Dr. Johnson is deputy head of the Centre for Clinical Translation in the college’s Division of Brain Sciences.  In a paper published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, he and an international team of scientists describe the gene clusters they discovered. A story on the Imperial College website describes the discovery as the first of its kind, and one that could lead to treatment and amelioration of neurodevelopmental disorders and the cognitive impairments associated with them.

The newly identified gene networks, called MI and M3, appear to be under the control of master regulator switches. The researchers hope to identify the switches and explore whether they can be therapeutically manipulated.  The M1 network has more than 1,100 genes, according to a story in sci-news.com, and the M3 network has more than 150 genes. An NIH paper explains that at least a third of the approximately 20,000 different genes that make up the human genome are expressed, or turned on, in the brain. The brain has a higher proportion of expressed genes than any other part of the body.

“What’s exciting about this is that the genes we have found are likely to share a common regulator, which means that potentially we can manipulate a whole set of genes whose activity is linked to human intelligence,” Dr. Johnson said published interviews. “Our research suggests it might be possible to work with these genes to modify intelligence, but that is only a theoretical possibility at the moment. We have just taken a first step along that road.”

The researchers examined samples of human brains from patients who had undergone neurosurgery for epilepsy. They looked at thousands of genes expressed in the brain, and combined the those observations with genetic information from healthy people who had taken IQ tests, and information from people who had such neurological conditions as autism spectrum disorders and cognitive disabilities.  Using multiple computational analyses they were able to identify the gene networks that influence healthy cognitive abilities and begin to get some clues about how the genes interact.

 

Interestingly, Dr. Johnson reported the researchers found that some genes can be both helpful and harmful: Some of the genes that influence working intelligence in healthy people are the same genes that cause seizure disorders and cognitive impairments when they are mutated. The researchers believe use of large genomic datasets can be used to help uncover new aspects of human brain function in both health and disease or disorder, and new treatment possibilities

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