Best of our wild blogs: 13 Feb 12

Feb 16/17 Tours
from a.t.Bukit Brown. Heritage. Habitat. History.

CNY Day 3: Tanah Merah
from wonderful creation and wild shores of singapore

Snaked trysts
from The annotated budak

Random Gallery - The Lemon Emigrant
from Butterflies of Singapore

Stunning sunset with critters of St. John's Island
from Peiyan.Photography

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Powerful painkiller from cobra venom

NUS researchers develop painkiller 20 times stronger than morphine
David Ee Straits Times 13 Feb 13;

JUST one bite from a king cobra kills a fully grown man in hours.

But the snake's lethal venom could one day kill pain in humans instead.

Researchers at the National University of Singapore have made a powerful painkiller from it - 20 times more potent than morphine.

Its strength means it could be particularly effective for dealing with neuropathic pain, which is often caused by nerve damage and can be difficult to treat.

Crucially, said the team, laboratory tests have so far shown that it causes no side effects, even at 2,000 times the effective dose.

This is unlike other painkillers in use today, said lead researcher Kini Manjunatha. For instance, using morphine can cause problems ranging from constipation to addiction.

Even common painkillers such as aspirin can cause gastric pains.

The new drug is expected to be tested in clinical trials here from next year, with the aim of marketing it by 2016 or 2017.

Professor Kini - whose fascination with snakes began as a child back in India, where he heard of villagers dying from their bites - explained the paradoxical allure of the reptiles' venom.

"Proteins in snake venom are very similar in structure to human proteins, yet ours are not toxic."

Snake bites may kill up to 100,000 people each year, he said, yet all forms of their venom potentially have life-saving properties.

Captopril, a drug used to treat high blood pressure, was developed using the poison from vipers.

And British scientists have discovered that snake venom can transform back into harmless molecules.

This could pave the way for the development of new drugs to treat diseases such as cancer and diabetes.

The Singapore university's research started in 2003 and has cost $3 million to date, funded internally and by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research.

Prof Kini and his team painstakingly screened king cobra venom imported from commercial snake farms in the region until they identified the lone venom protein with painkilling properties.

They then isolated the specific portion of the protein involved in the process. Not doing so may mean it remains toxic.

Their research found king cobra venom could also help treat high blood pressure and dangerous blood clots.

"We know perhaps only 1 per cent of the benefits of snake venom," said Prof Kini. "It's a very exciting challenge."

Remarking on the Chinese Year of the Snake, he said: "It's nice that the animal I've been fascinated with all my life gets the spotlight once every 12 years."

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WWF urges Indonesian pulp producer APRIL to immediately stop pulping tropical forests

WWF 12 Feb 13;

JAKARTA – Following the announcement by Asia Pulp & Paper that it has stopped all clearance of Indonesian forests, WWF is now calling on its competitor Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) to stop pulping tropical rainforest.

“APRIL is now the single largest converter of natural forest among Indonesia’s pulp producers,” said Nazir Foead, Conservation Director of WWF-Indonesia. “We urge the company to immediately change their unsustainable business model and stop draining our peat soils and converting our forests”.

The Sumatran NGO coalition Eyes on the Forest reported that APRIL has become the Province of Riau’s largest agent of deforestation, cutting at least 140,000 ha of tropical forest, mostly located on peat soils, between 2008 and 2011. APRIL was thus responsible for almost 1/3 of all tropical forest loss in Riau during that period.

APRIL’s public commitments to sustainable and natural forest fiber free operations after 2009 has been greenwashing. APRIL in Riau knowingly pulped natural forest wood from concessions inside areas that were designated for protection according to national regulations. The company’s operations caused serious conflict with local communities especially because of the loss of traditionally owned forests and land, and degradation of natural resources.

Two thirds of the company’s supplying concessions in Riau are located on peat soils whose deforestation, drainage and associated decomposition are leading to constant green house gas emissions.

“Despite being in business for 17 years and having access to concessions covering 10% of Riau’s landmass, the company still relies on pulping tropical forests,” said Nazir Foead. “After their devastating deforestation of Riau in Sumatra, the company now appears to be developing their next epicenter of deforestation on the island of Borneo.”

“WWF calls on APRIL to stop pulping tropical forests, solve social conflicts and restore the forests and peatlands it has destroyed,” said Aditya Bayunanda, GFTN and pulp & paper manager of WWF Indonesia, “and calls on companies to avoid being associated with the business practices of APRIL and its associated companies.”

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Ozone Hole Shrinks to Record Low

Stephanie Pappas Yahoo News 13 Feb 13;

Good news from Antarctica: The hole in the ozone layer is shrinking, new measurements reveal.

Ozone is a molecule made of three oxygen atoms. It's relatively highly concentrated in a particular layer of the stratosphere about 12 miles to 19 miles (20 to 30 kilometers) above Earth's surface. This ozone layer prevents ultraviolet light from reaching Earth's surface — a good thing, given that UV light causes sunburn and skin cancer.

Ever since the early 1980s, though, a hole in this layer has developed over Antarctica during September to November, decreasing ozone concentration by as much as 70 percent. The cause is human-produced chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were once heavily used in aerosols and refrigeration.

By international agreement, CFCs have been phased out of use. The policy has real effects, new satellite observations reveal. In 2012, the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica was smaller than it has ever been in the last 10 years.

The new observations, announced by the European Space Agency (ESA) on Feb. 8, come from Europe's Met Op weather satellite, which has an instrument specifically designed to sense ozone concentrations. The findings suggest that the phase-out of CFCs is working, the ESA reports.

Antarctica is particularly vulnerable to ozone-depleting substances, because high winds cause a vortex of cold air to circulate over the continent. In the resulting frigid temperatures, CFCs are especially effective at depleting ozone. The result is that people in the Southern Hemisphere are at increased risk of exposure from UV radiation.

CFCs persist in the atmosphere for a long time, so it may take until the middle of the century for ozone concentrations to rebound to 1960s levels, the ESA reports. However, the hole in the ozone over Antarctica should completely close in the next few decades.

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