America's Funniest Animal Rights Organization?

In a recent Action Alert, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals revealed its indignation at, of all things, ABC’s “America’s Funniest
Home Videos.” The PETA Action Alert described examples of alleged
animal cruelty aired on the ABC show. For example

“During one recent show, a monkey who was chained in a back yard
climbed a tree carrying an obviously unwilling kitten. This poor kitten
was crying desperately, and as the monkey dangled the kitten upside
down by the tail, the crying worsened. Finally the monkey is shown sitting
in the tree cuddling the tormented kitten.”

Apparently the monkey didn’t get
PETA’s memo that it’s wrong to carry kittens up trees without the kittens’
permission. Expect PETA to protest the offending monkey any day.

PETA also wants your help keeping
the International Livestock Exposition from “targeting Chicago-area
schoolchildren by offering a field trip” to the Expo April 21-23.
The field trip includes such terrors as “a petting zoo, a cowboy
and horse, a Texas longhorn steer, and a variety of rodeo, dog, and pony
acts.”

PETA is also concerned that the
expo is sponsoring a coloring contest and giving the lucky winner a |horse|.
PETA wonders what a kid in urban Chicago is going to do with a horse.
Apparently PETA is unaware of a newfangled invention called the stable.
Somebody really should fill them in.

Hog Intestines Used to Rebuild Human Knees

James McDonald can walk without
the aid of crutches again thanks to a promising new technology which uses
the intestines of hogs to strengthen weakened human knees. A March 9 Associated
Press story reported that McDonald was the first human being to receive the
still-experimental implant of small-intestinal submucos (SIS), derived
from the small intestines of hogs, into his knee. The intestine replaces
the kneeÂ’s anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).

In animal tests, SIS has shown
an ability to stimulate healing and growth of new blood vessels in damaged
tissue. “ItÂ’s exciting because it seems to have the capacity
to stimulate the bodyÂ’s healing response and to modify itself to
whatever environment itÂ’s being used in,” said Dr. Robert Hunter, who performed the surgery on McDonald.

McDonald and 11 other individuals
are being given the implants in Food and Drug Administration-approved
clinical trials to test their safety and efficacy in human beings. If
the trial prove successful, more comprehensive trials are likely and SIS
could have uses beyond mere knee replacement, including applications in
repairing tendons and ligaments and perhaps even replacing human arteries.

SIS avoids the thorny problem of
potential cross-species disease contamination by using a process which
ensures no individual hog cells are transferred to human beings. Animal rights activists have argued that the risk of spreading diseases through such xenotransplantation is unacceptable.

Researchers Transplant Genetically Modified Heart Cells from Mice into Pigs

Even when someone survives a heart
attack, significant amounts of muscle tissue die, damaging the heart. The
Associated Press recently reported on a technology which someday may allow
such tissue to be regrown.

The March 17 story described experiments
conducted at the Louisiana State University Medical Center by Dr. William
C. Claycomb. Claycomb sucessfully transferred genetically modified heart
cells from mice into the damaged heart of a pig, where the cells survived
and acted like normal heart muscle, although it is unclear if the mouse
cells actually assisted in the working of the pig heart.

Although any use in humans for
this sort of technology is years, if not decades away, the importance of
this experiment is demonstrating that it is at least possible.

“It is a very important advance,”
said Dr. Kenneth R. Chien, a professor of medicine at the University of
California, San Diego. “The work challenges the dogma that it is
not possible to create a cell line that displays the unique features of
an intact heart.”

New Weapons in the War Against Staph Infection

Earlier in this century, staph infection was a significant health risk and cause of death, especially in hospitals where the bacteria thrives. With the introduction of powerful antibiotics, however, doctors gained a powerful tool in the fight against staph which alleviated the threat for the most part.

Unfortunately, in the last few years, new antibiotic resistant strains of staph bacteria have appeared, threatening to make staph a serious problem once again.

But scientists haven’t been sitting idly by while staph has been evolving and adapting. One of the most promising efforts is a possible staph vaccine announced in the April 17 edition of Science.

Developed by researchers at the University of California-Davis, the vaccine spurs the immune system to produce antibodies to RAP, the toxin secreted by staph bacteria. The major advantage to this approach is that since it neutralizes RAP rather than killing the bacteria, the vaccine should avoid encouraging staph to mutate into yet another resistant form. According to UCSD scientist Naomi Balaban, “The bacterium doesn’t realize it’s being jeopardized. No RAP, no toxins, no disease.”

The staph vaccine is still in preliminary
stages, but early research results are promising. Balaban vaccinated a
group of mice and then exposed them, as well as a control group, to a
strain of staph that causes skin lesions. All of the unvaccinated control
mice developed lesions, while only 28 percent of the vaccinated mice did
so. In addition, in those vaccinated mice who did develop skin lesions,
they were on average 76 percent smaller than those found in the unvaccinated
mice.

Whether or not the vaccine will
have similar success combating more severe, systemic forms of staph remains
to be seen.

Lizards and Lyme Disease

Scientists are hoping experiments
with the western fence lizard might yield a treatment for lyme disease,
a tick-borne illness.

According to an Associated Press
report, it has been known for about a decade that the lizards were immune
to the disease even when infested by ticks. Recent research by Dr. Robert
Lane, published in the Journal of Parasitology, suggests the lizard’s
blood possesses a protein that kills the Lyme disease bacteria.

Lane and other researchers are
now attempting to isolate this protein and find out if there is any possible
application for using it to treat lyme disease in human beings.

Good news on the food front

As you might know from reading past
issues of Population News, agricultural production in the United States
and the world has fallen over the past few years, leading some groups
such as WorldWatch Institute to predict we are finally at the beginning
of the end of cheap, abundant food. Critics like myself, however, contend
that such oscillations are temporary and an inherent part of agricultural
markets which correct themselves.

New forecasts by the United States
Department of Agriculture sheds yet more light on the debate, and the
results aren’t good for the gloom-and-doom crowd.

A few weeks ago the USDA announced
that the U.S. soybean crop would set a record, forecasting 1.525 billion
bushels of soybeans would be produced with record exports of 2.9 billion
pounds of soy oil and near-record levels of 7.9 million short tons of
soy meal exported in the coming year.

Now the USDA reports that American
farmers are planting a record 80.8 million acres of corn — the most since
1985 — but only 67 million acres of wheat, the lowest since 1988. The
USDA expects that overall US wheat and corn exports will decline as worldwide
demand for US agricultural exports decline and consequently prices for
wheat, corn and soybeans should decline by 20 to 90 cents a bushel from
last year’s crop.

What exactly is going on here?
Well, don’t you know, it turns out people do respond to market prices
after all. Following the relatively low levels of world production of
corn and soybean the past few years, farmers around the world have apparently
switched large amounts of land to growing corn and soybean. South American
exports of soybean and corn are expected to be a major source cutting
into US exports.

Contrary to a WorldWatch report
that grain prices were headed inevitably up, in fact the opposite has
happened. The cost of a bushel of wheat on the Chicago Board of Trade
recently fell to $2.9850,a 4-1/2 year low. A bushel of corn was up slightly
to $2.4950. Hardly the agricultural disaster predicted by WorldWatch.