High-Resolution Snapshot of Zika Virus Reveals Clues to Fighting It

The microscopic distinctions may explain why dengue sometimes develops into a hemorrhagic fever, while Zika manifests as birth defects, for example, said Michael G. Rossmann, a microbiologist at Purdue University and one of the study’s authors.

“At a lower resolution, many of these viruses just look like matching spherical balls,” said Madhumati Sevvana, the study’s lead author. “Once you zoom in, you start to see the differences in their landscapes.”

The Zika virus is a strong candidate for high-resolution imaging because, compared to other flaviviruses, it is heat-resistant and remains active in varying conditions. That resilience can be detrimental to a feverish patient, but in an imaging lab, it is essential.

“When a virus isn’t stable, it often falls apart on you, and you’re chasing bits and pieces of it instead of the whole thing,” Dr. Rossmann said. “Zika allowed for a homogeneous sample of a flavivirus — and when we understand one a little bit better, we understand them all a bit better.”

The study’s findings likely will not have an immediate impact on disease prevention, according to Kristian G. Andersen, a genomic researcher at the Scripps Research Institute. At present, many promising Zika vaccine candidates cannot be fully tested in humans because of a decline in infections. Bioethicists are conflicted over whether to allow testing in healthy people.

Development of antiviral medicines to treat patients is still in early stages, too.

“Zika has only been under the microscope for the last few years,” said Duane J. Gubler, an emeritus professor of infectious disease at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore. “Yes, this is critical information about the structure that is going to be necessary for therapeutics down the road, but I’d add: Don’t hold your breath.”

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/26/health/zika-virus-image.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Let the Stream Run Through It

BUTTE, Mont. — The first flecks of gold found here in 1864 were along a creek whose meanders, sparkling in the sun, earned it the name Silver Bow. The discovery turned into a full-blown gold rush and in the 1860s, swarms of miners tore at the tiny stream for its riches.

Butte, though, was birthed from the “copper womb,” as one poet wrote, a far richer lode. After thousands of miles of tunnels were dynamited and drilled, a giant open pit copper mine was dug near the headwaters of the creek.

Over the years, the stream was polluted beyond recognition. Mine waste was dumped into it from smoke-belching factories that concentrated ore, and the creek was rerouted and tapped to satisfy industrial demands. A massive flood in 1908 washed tons of waste along the length of the creek. Raw sewage ran into it until the 1960s. Most life in the stream and along its banks was wiped out. Along the banks of the Silver Bow, cattle bones turned an almost neon blue-green from high levels of copper in the water.

“Since I can remember, people have always said, ‘Don’t go near Silver Bow Creek,’” said Ellen Crain, director of the Butte Silver Bow Public Archives, which chronicles the mining history here.

For the last two decades, though, most of Silver Bow Creek has been meticulously rebuilt and restored by removing more than a million cubic yards of tainted soil and rock along most of its stretch, at a cost of about $150 million.

Now just two miles or so of the battered creek is unreclaimed — including a stretch that runs through neighborhoods in this city. In late May, after eight years of court-ordered secrecy surrounding the cleanup, some of the veil was lifted and the Environmental Protection Agency released its plan for finishing it.

A portion will be rerouted, this time to serve ecological goals. But there are no plans to restore the last mile of Silver Bow, running through some neighborhoods. And that has led to more upset in this town of 34,000.

“I want to see a clean, restored and meandering Silver Bow Creek through town,” said Fritz Daily, a former state legislator who once worked in the mines and is now head of the Silver Bow Creek Headwaters Coalition. “We not only want and need a clean, meandering creek, we are entitled to it.”

The mining of what was called “the richest hill on earth” went on for more than a century. The copper pulled from here electrified the nation and provided wartime material, making the Anaconda Copper Company all powerful in Montana, and it did as it wished.

As mining wound down, Anaconda was purchased by the Atlantic Richfield Company. The company soon shuttered the mine, and became saddled with the largest Superfund complex in the United States: toxic sites sprawled across western Montana. They included the giant copper smelter at Anaconda; contaminated soil around the city of Butte; the yawning Berkeley Pit; the 120-mile-long Clark Fork River and Milltown dam — which has since been removed — and Silver Bow, a tributary to the river.

Silver Bow Creek was once 26 or so miles long from its headwaters on the Continental Divide, where a tiny thread of water joined Yankee Doodle and Dixie Creeks, each worked by miners from opposing sides in the Civil War. Some 24 miles of the creek below Butte, all the way to where it flows into the Clark Fork River and on to the Columbia River, have been restored.

It’s far cleaner, but will never be its old self. There are, in the best stretches, some 200 catchable fish per mile, while comparable streams have a thousand per mile.

Nonetheless, Butte loves its reclaimed Silver Bow. On a recent gray spring morning, mallards paddled around in the reclaimed section of stream and small fish, darting like shadows, could be seen. Hiking trails and picnic tables invite visitors.

“If someone had told me 20 years ago I’d be catching trout here, I’d have taken that bet,” said Matt Vincent, a former local government executive and now a consultant who has been working on the cleanup for two decades, as he stood on the bank.

The recently announced plan calls for the portion of Silver Bow that flows through Slag Canyon — whose walls are made of mine waste — to be rerouted into a new channel away from the waste’s toxic soils. The plan also calls for cleaning up hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of buried mine waste along the creek’s route.

It’s a relief for many who feared that the confidential negotiations among the state, the E.P.A. and officials from Atlantic Richfield would leave vast amounts of mine tailings waste, or ore waste, in the ground where it was dumped by mining companies. Many here simply do not trust the science that found that “waste in place” is a safe alternative. In fact, some buried tailings have been leaching contaminated water the color of blue Gatorade into the reclaimed creek. They are to be dug up and taken away in the coming months, to property owned by a mining company here.

But there is still concern that there’s no plan to reclaim the last mile of the little creek. In a state famous for pristine trout streams and the film “A River Runs Through It,” those who support a flowing, babbling last mile see it as a way to transform Butte from being one of the country’s largest Superfund sites, to something more befitting.

Upper Silver Bow, in east central Butte, has a long way to go. It’s a shadow of its former self, dry and rerouted and looking like little more than a undistinguished ditch. Until two years ago, it was officially called the Metro Storm Drain, until Mr. Daily and others won a four-year court battle against the state to have it renamed Silver Bow Creek, so the state would be required to restore it.

What is a new creek worth? The price tag for cleanup is now about $8 million per stream mile.

A clean creek and the tailings removal would help Butte reduce its toxic stigma, Mr. Daily said, and symbolize a new start. At football and other sporting events, Butte teams are taunted by cries of “dirty water,” and it’s difficult to recruit health care professionals to the country’s largest Superfund complex, he added. “There’s still work to do,” he said.

Jon Sesso, the Butte Silver Bow Superfund coordinator, said that even though there is no plan for a new creek, he’s hopeful it will come about in several years, once the nearby tailings are removed. “It’s complicated,” he said. “There’s no headwaters, no water you can count on. It’s flat as a pancake east to west through that corridor, and you can’t change topography,” so a creek may not flow, and there are not headwaters because they are cut off from the creek.

But there is a water source if it can be secured: the Berkeley Pit, the mile-wide hole on the edge of Butte where copper was once mined.

Since Atlantic Richfield turned off the pumps that kept the giant pit dry for mining in 1982, it’s been filling with a witch’s brew of groundwater. In 2016, the pit made headlines when thousands of exhausted migrating snow geese landed on it and died from drinking acidic water.

When a new treatment plant is finished, about seven million gallons of clean water a day will be pumped out from the 50 billion gallons in the pit. It’s hoped it will become the new “headwaters” for the last mile of Silver Bow Creek.

It might work. Because the toxic water in the pit will contaminate the ground water if it continues to fill, water must be pumped out of the pit and treated — in perpetuity — to keep it from reaching that level. Atlantic Richfield has created a fund to maintain the treatment plant forever.

Mr. Daily said that he and others will continue to push for the stream to flow through the heart of Butte. “We’re at a crossroads,” Mr. Daily said. “If cleaning up the creek and waste and the quality of the water in the pit do not happen, this community is going to fail economically, environmentally and socially.”

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/25/science/butte-superfund-silver-bow-creek.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Take a Photo Here – The New York Times

The day after I explored the Roman Forum online, I visited it in person. I was just as interested in the ruins as in confirming my intuition about the organization of the site. And it had been “archaeologized” in just the way I guessed. When you enter the site, coming in through gates at the Colosseum end of the Forum, a path leads you left, then up a flight of stairs, then farther up, to a restricted promontory, for a northwest view toward the Capitoline Hill. Up on the promontory, I could see people taking the photographs they would later post on social media.

A site ought in theory to make possible a large number of vantage points. In reality, only a few points of view account for the majority of photographs made. The visitor to a place like the Roman Forum does not only take a photograph of the Forum; he also takes a photograph for the Forum. His photograph partly serves the narrative chosen by the Forum’s custodians. The visitor is inadvertently mesmerized not only by the site but also by the municipal or museological organization of the experience of the site.

The technological concept of “affordance,” often applied to devices or tools, might be a helpful way for thinking about how such sites can act on us. The term was coined in the 1960s by the perceptual psychologist James J. Gibson and has since been given two related but distinct definitions. One definition, derived from the work of the cognitive scientist Don Norman, is that “affordances provide strong clues to the operations of things.” A drawer handle is for pulling, a bag is for putting things into and a chair is for sitting. Affordances are what let us know an object’s purpose. The other definition comes from the computer scientists Joanna McGrenere and Wayne Ho, who argued that Gibson’s idea of affordance was “an action possibility available in the environment to an individual, independent of the individual’s ability to perceive this possibility.” I think both definitions apply to how tourist spaces act on us: The effects are both intentional “strong clues” and inadvertent “action possibilities.”

Photography on social media, if you know where to look, can astonish with its hypnotic stream of inexact repetitions. We think we are moving through the world, while the whole time the world is pulling us along, telling us where to walk, where to stop, where to take a photo. Why have so many people looked straight down a stairwell at the New Museum and taken a photograph there? Each person who does it feels a frisson of originality but unknowingly reveals something that was latent in the stairwell all along.

The resultant images are rarely individually “great.” What they offer, as a sequence or as a grid, is a fleeting form of poetry: the poignant commonality of our eyes. The world individually mesmerizes us toward reiteration. Our coincident gazes overlay the same sites over and over and over again, as though we were caught up in a slow-motion religious fervor. Through the affordances of terrain, we are alleviated of the burden of originality without always being aware that we are being unoriginal. Take a photo here, the site whispers. It’s yours, but not yours alone.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/27/magazine/take-a-photo-here.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

The Patient Had Pain When He Walked, but There Was a More Telling Change

Facial Changes

Dearborn reassured the man that the tumor wasn’t cancer but an overgrowth of the part of the pituitary gland, at the base of the brain, that makes growth hormone. Something happens to those cells so that they keep reproducing, long after their biggest job (growing) is over. These cells secrete a hormone that instructs connective tissues throughout the body — skin, bone, muscle, tendons — to start growing again. The growth is most obvious in the hands and feet and in the face. Most patients with acromegaly have enlarged jaws and brows. The ears and nose get bigger and broader, and frequently the teeth begin to spread apart. These changes occur so slowly that usually neither the patient nor those who see him regularly notice. In one study, only 13 percent of patients with acromegaly sought care because of observed changes in their face, hands or feet.

If the disease starts before individuals reach puberty, while they are still growing, the result is what is known as pituitary gigantism. André Roussimoff, better known as André the Giant, grew to a height of 7 feet 4 inches and weighed 500 pounds because of his tumor. After puberty, when the long bones of the body are sealed, patients with acromegaly get bigger from soft-tissue enlargement but cannot grow taller.

But growing larger is not the most medically significant consequence of acromegaly. The flood of growth hormone can cause high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis and obesity — all of which this patient had.

“You should see someone about this,” Dearborn said.

Once at home, the patient searched the word online. Seeing page after page of the affected faces, the enormous feet and hands, he recognized himself immediately. And he recalled a comment a high school friend, now a physician, made at their last reunion a few years earlier. He asked the patient if he had a hormone problem. The patient thought he was maybe asking if he used steroids and thought the question was rude. Now that comment made sense. His friend was trying to make sure the patient was seeing a doctor but wasn’t sure how to ask.

A Difficult Conversation

The patient had his hip-replacement surgery — it really did help — and then reached out to the California Center for Pituitary Disorders at the University of California in San Francisco. There he met with a neuroendocrinologist, Dr. Lewis Blevins, and a neurosurgeon, Dr. Sandeep Kunwar. He had pituitary surgery a month later.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/27/magazine/the-patient-had-pain-when-he-walked-but-there-was-a-more-telling-change.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Oumuamua Is a Comet, Really.

Oumuamua, we never knew you.

It came from outer space, zooming through the solar system at 50 miles a second last October trailing mystery and dust: a lazily spinning reddish cigar-shaped rock — a cosmic stogie — named in honor of the Hawaiian-based Pan-Starrs telescope which found it.

It was an interstellar something, but what, exactly? Some astronomers turned radio telescopes on it just in case it was an alien spaceship, but it was silent.

Astronomers had long considered that interstellar debris might invade the solar system from time to time, in the form of icy chunks spit from the rocky disks forming faraway planets, that is to say, as interstellar comets. And they would come in on weird orbits like Oumuamua did.

But Oumuamua never lit up like a comet on its passage past the sun and through our realm, and so astronomers concluded that it was an alien asteroid, a dim, weird oblong rock, not quite like anything in our own system.

Now, however, the same team that discovered Oumuamua has concluded that it was a comet after all. Or as the headline in a news release announcing their paper in Nature said, “Sometimes a cigar-shaped ‘comet’ is just a comet.”

The key to this conclusion comes from an analysis of Oumuamua’s trajectory as measured by a variety of telescopes, including the Hubble Space Telescope, by Marco Micheli of the European Space Agency’s SSA-NEO Coordination Centre, in Frascati, Italy. He was a member of the original team that discovered Oumuamua. Dr. Micheli found that the gravity of the sun and planets was not the only force acting on the little wanderer. Something else was pushing the object away from the sun.

Such “non-gravitational” forces caused by the outgassing of gas and dust are characteristic of comets.

Unlike asteroids, which are mostly rock, comets are sometimes called “dirty snowballs,” conglomerations of various kinds of ices along with rock and dust. When they get close to the sun, these ices vaporize, carrying gas and dust into a cloud around the comet nucleus. The gas shoots up in little geysers or jets, that act like the thrusters on a spacecraft, giving the comet a little kick this way and that.

As Dr. Micheli explained in an email, these jets are typically on the sunward side of the comet. So as a typical comet approaches the sun, the jets cause a braking effect so the comet falls a bit more slowly than it would if only gravity was pulling it toward the sun.

The astronomers only observed Oumuamua on the outward part of its journey, when it was going away from the sun, however. As Dr. Micheli said, “the object is receding from the sun and slowing down, and the outgassing effect acts in the opposite direction, and speeds it up a bit.”

That is exactly what Oumuamua seems to have done, according to Dr. Micheli’s analysis. “Exploring a variety of possible explanations for the detected non-gravitational acceleration, we find out-gassing to be the most physically plausible explanation,” Dr. Micheli and his colleagues write in Nature.

That explanation comes, however, with a caveat, namely that Oumuamua behaves like other comet nuclei we already know and love when it heats up.

Even so, reconciling the observations — particularly the lack of dust or water in vicinity of the suspected comet — suggests that Oumuamua must be a bit different, in its chemical composition and in the sizes of its dust grains, either because of where it came from or what happened to it over the eons along the way to us.

“This work shows that while Oumuamua looks familiar, there are differences that relate to its birth in a solar system far from our own,” Dr. Micheli wrote.

Some of those differences might be the result of its evolution as Oumuamua wandered through interstellar space, said Karen Meech of the University of Hawaii, leader of the team, including Dr. Micheli, that discovered the comet. Another part of it might just be the chemistry of where it came from. If we get more of these, she said, “we could get a look at chemical processes in another solar system.”

And where that was is even more mysterious now than it was before. All these non-gravitational forces will make it harder to figure out where Oumuamua came from and where it is going.

Calling the whole Oumuamua experience “wildly exciting.” Dr. Meech said, “I can’t wait for the next one that comes along.”

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/27/science/oumuamua-comet-asteroid.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

How to Clean Your Filthy, Disgusting Laptop

Start With the Inside

Once you’ve gathered your tools, it’s time to start cleaning the inside of the computer. Tackling that grime on the keyboard may be tempting, but Ms. Kerr said you should start with the less glamorous internals: “Canned air will blow crumbs and cat hair and what-have-you everywhere, so if you’ve already cleaned the screen and bezel, you’ll just end up having to clean them again after you’ve used canned air.” Start by blowing out the dust, then move on to the outside.

Provided you’ve maintained your laptop well, you shouldn’t have to open it up for this step. Just turn off the laptop, unplug the power cable and remove the battery (if it’s easily removable). Grab your compressed air, give it a quick burst away from the laptop to get rid of any condensation, then start blowing air into any cracks and crevices: the keyboard, the vents and even the USB ports. Blow in short bursts, since longer sprays can cause moisture to accumulate inside your computer and can damage the fans by making them spin too fast.

If you’re lucky, you probably won’t see a big change after doing this. The goal is to prevent dust buildup over time, which can cause your laptop to overheat. If there are visible dust bunnies in the vents, you’ve let it go far too long without a cleaning. In that case, you may want to open it up (if you’re comfortable doing so) or take it to a repair shop for an in-depth cleaning. Smokers and pet owners should take special care to clean the inside often, since you’re likely to experience much quicker buildup of dust, smoke, hair and other particulates.

Wipe Down the Outside

Next comes the fun part: making that laptop shine again. “The most critical thing when cleaning a laptop or desktop computer is to apply the cleaning product to the tool you’re using to clean, never ever directly onto the computer,” Ms. Kerr said. So grab your microfiber cloth, pour a few drops of alcohol onto it, wring it out so it isn’t dripping wet, and go to town on the surface. You may want to use cotton swabs and alcohol for the keyboard keys and the small spaces between them. (If there are marks that won’t come off, you can try rubbing them with a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser very lightly, but again, they’re mildly abrasive and this can alter the finish of the surface.)

It may take a few passes to get all that grime off, but once you do, you should notice a dramatic difference. If your laptop is particularly old, you may not be able to get rid of the shine on the keys; some of us may type like the Incredible Hulk and have worn down the top layer of plastic. There’s not much you can do about that.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/26/smarter-living/how-to-clean-your-filthy-disgusting-laptop.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

This Coral Must Die – The New York Times

In a lab in Philadelphia, scientists are studying what it takes to kill “super coral” to understand the impact of human activities on the mysterious reefs of the deep ocean.

June 25, 2018

In a cold room at Temple University, in landlocked Philadelphia, finger-sized fragments of coral bathe in four small tanks of seawater. The white skeletons look dead or bleached — but they’re not. Healthy animals reside within these hard bodies. Some wave their tentacles from holes in the gnarled stems, like flowers at a mermaid’s wedding.

Getting here wasn’t easy. They were clipped from reefs a thousand feet down in the Gulf of Mexico, and then housed inside a special refrigerated van which traveled by ship before an overnight express delivery to the lab. When the van broke down, some stayed in a chilled cattle trough. They were even packed into Mason jars on ice. Not all the jars made it, but the corals did.

Before today, they were kept for nearly a year in another tank designed to mimic the conditions of their home environment. A refrigerated room maintains their water at 46.4 degrees, while pumps deliver carbon dioxide, acidifying the water to levels most other sea creatures won’t tolerate. To prevent stress, the corals are strictly monitored by students who hand-feed them with pipettes, like mamas tending to baby birds.

Alexis Weinnig, a graduate student in the lab who has ushered the corals on their journey, said they’re happy today but happier in their home tank, then apologizes for making them sound so human.

“We get really invested in them,” said Ms. Weinnig. “And then we kill them.”

Humans are pretty good at killing corals. Over the past thirty years, overfishing, pollution and climate change have knocked out about half the shallow-water reefs on the planet.

But much less is known about how humans are influencing reefs in the deep sea, where slow-growing cold-water corals may make up two-thirds of all coral species. Add the threats of offshore drilling and trawling, and deep-sea corals may be just as threatened as shallow-water corals.

The tentacled niblets being studied in this cold room are Lophelia pertusa. These widely abundant “super corals” build huge reefs in cold waters around the world, as deep as 3,280 feet below the surface. They support as much biodiversity as tropical reefs and are home to brittle stars, octopuses, sharks, crabs and fish.

Erik Cordes, a deep-sea ecologist who leads the lab at Temple, has found that Lophelia are better at withstanding industrial and climatic stressors than other deep sea corals, and in some places more than others. Populations in the Gulf of Mexico survive life at the edge of some of the harshest conditions, near natural methane seeps and in slightly warmer temperatures with lower oxygen concentrations and higher acidity levels. They may adapt to changes, too.

But Dr. Cordes and Ms. Weinnig want to know just how much Lophelia can take.

[Like the Science Times page on Facebook. | Sign up for the Science Times newsletter.]

The survivors of today’s death match will be candidates for unprecedented efforts to restore deep-sea environments affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. Their results will also help inform future efforts to conserve vast areas of the deep sea.

“Lophelia is sort of our lab rat,” said Dr. Cordes. It’s charismatic, survives in extreme conditions and yet could die from even the slightest changes.

“Now that we understand something about how it responds to climate change, we want to know how does it respond to oil spills, and how will it respond to future oil spills under climate change?”

The largest marine oil spill in history

When the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, hundreds of millions of gallons of oil and gas gushed from its well nearly 5,000 feet below the surface. About 5 percent of it wound up on the seafloor.

To break down the oil faster, 700,000 gallons of a chemical dispersant were injected right above the wellhead. This industrial detergent, before only used at the surface, broke up the oil — and made it more toxic.

The explosion and its aftermath killed eleven people, shut down fisheries, and decimated coastal and marine ecosystems, including deep water corals, which were found dead or dying miles from the well.

To find out if climatic changes making their way to the deep could break Lophelia’s coping abilities, Ms. Weinnig has been exposing corals to various combinations of stressors — elevated temperature and pH, oil and dispersant — and monitoring the animals’ response and recovery.

In today’s experiment, six different types of Lophelia from the Gulf of Mexico, which are expected to respond differently to the stressors, will face oil, dispersant, and a combination of the two.

Back in the cold room, Ms. Weinnig begins by jotting down the corals’ health scores (all healthy) and noting the normal pH and temperature of the water.

Then she selects fragments of coral from each tank, flash freezing them one by one in a billowing vat of liquid nitrogen kept in the hallway. She’ll do this at every step, which will help her assess the health of the coral in response to changes in their environment over time.

Back in the cold room are three beakers containing seawater mixed with the same oil and dispersant released in the Deepwater Horizon spill. The corals appear translucent until Ms. Weinnig adds them to a set of exposure tanks.

The tank that gets the oil acquires a sheen and highway-esque scent. The dispersant tank clouds up.

She removes the remaining corals from their clean tanks and places them into the exposure tanks and waits.

In twenty-four hours, she will assess the effect of each exposure. Then she will place the remaining corals into recovery tanks with clean water to see how they fare in the days to come — because in the real ocean, some corals can bounce back.

By extracting ribonucleic acid or RNA from the flash-frozen samples, she’ll be able to see what genes are turning on and off and compare differences between the types of coral. This will give her molecular snapshots of the least and most resilient Lophelia strains.

“We’re trying to find what makes it super,” said Dr. Cordes. “You can’t just look at them and tell. They’re not wearing little capes.”

But to see which corals definitely are not super, it only takes a couple hours: In the dispersant exposure tank, a few fragments are already spitting out their guts (or filaments). Some make excess mucus, like humans when they’re sick.

Nothing special seems to be happening in the oil, dispersal, control or combination tanks, which reflects what Ms. Weinnig has been finding throughout these exposure experiments.

She’s found that regardless of temperature or acidity, dispersant makes Lophelia very sick. These corals can recover from exposure after just 24 hours in regular temperatures, but struggle or get worse if temperatures are elevated.

The other stressors, including increased acidity, don’t seem to bother the corals too much, alone or combined. Some corals even seem to investigate the oil with their tentacles. As sick as the corals got in any condition, only two fragments died — and that was in a tank with elevated temperatures and dispersant.

This suggests that while Lophelia may be able to recover from an oil spill and cleanup under current climate conditions, coping with an environmental accident in a warmer ocean of the future may be too much for even this super coral to handle. Less toxic dispersants that exist but aren’t widely used may reduces stress on the corals in the case of a future disaster.

“Most species can handle one stressor or a couple of stressors,” said Dr. Cordes, “but when you really start piling on like that, it makes it tough — just like people.”

The risks of rejection

The next step for the Gulf is restoration — something new in the deep sea.

The lab and its collaborators are considering collecting the Lophelia strain that proves strongest in these experiments from still healthy populations in the wild. They could then propagate it in the lab and transplant it to build new reefs where old ones were lost. Further down the line, using gene editing to make stronger corals is also a possibility.

But restoration by super coral is not so simple, said Ruth Gates, a marine ecologist at the Hawaii Institute for Marine Biology. “The reality is we don’t know whether it will work, shallow or deep,” she said.

Dr. Gates’ lab is using assisted evolution to develop corals that can keep up with rapidly warming shallow waters. This restoration approach means finding the strongest individuals and breeding them, but also training them to get used to certain stressors or strengthening the supportive microbes, like algae, living in their tissues.

Every reef ecosystem is a little different: certain problems require corals with certain superpowers. Dr. Gates says restoration of deep-water reefs threatened by drilling will be a challenge, because poorly understood reef ecosystems are difficult and costly to access.

“But it’s all about survival of the fittest in the long run, so leveraging the fittest individuals for this restoration makes sense,” she said. “Will these approaches work? I don’t think we know until we try and assess the evidence.”

Dr. Cordes worries that Lophelia, which takes forever to grow, won’t mature quickly enough or fare well in new habitats. And he is concerned that taking even a few corals from healthy reefs during the transplantation process may cause more harm than good.

If those reefs suffer and the transplants don’t grow elsewhere, then “the total net could be less than what you started with,” he said.

If scientists decide to go this route, he adds, restoration will start with small pilot studies before embarking on anything large-scale.

But where offshore drilling is poised to expand or start for the first time, this research may help prevent damage by encouraging operators to establish or move rigs away from reefs to avoid potential impacts. Far enough away, and even accidents won’t have an effect — on the corals or their many inhabitants, said Dr. Cordes.

It won’t happen in the Gulf, where deep-sea reefs are so abundant that drawing boundaries around them would shut down an industry on which too many people rely. But Dr. Cordes and others are advocating trying the approach elsewhere, even if it’s difficult to change policy.

That these long-lived, charismatic animals command attention at the surface gives him hope.

“There’s some sort of inherent sense of the fact that they should be protected,” Dr. Cordes said. “These are also in the deep water. They’re doing a lot of the same things the shallow-water reefs are doing, so we should be protecting these too.”

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/25/science/coral-reefs-oil-spills.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Is It Getting Harder to Care for Poor Patients?

We’ve been unable — or unwilling — to include social factors in how we support and pay doctors.

CreditStuart Bradford

In my more exasperated moments of residency, I must admit I was envious not only of what my supervising doctors knew, but also who they treated.

Residents in our clinic, doctors in training just out of medical school, generally picked up patients they cared for in the hospital — with lots of medical problems, little medical care and often without a place to stay. The attending physicians who supervised us, it seemed, built their patient panels handing out business cards in luxury suites at Patriots games. Over time, as we transferred patients from one graduating resident to the next, our panels came to embody the city’s deepest and most recalcitrant social challenges.

This was, of course, good training, if only in the art of seeing patients with six conditions on 12 medications in 15 minutes. But what strained our abilities was not our patients’ medical complexity, but their social problems: They were poorer, less educated, more isolated, from rougher neighborhoods. We quickly learned that while it’s hard to dose insulin, it’s harder still for a patient who speaks no English, has no refrigerator and regularly has his medications stolen.

This dynamic is not unique to my clinic, nor to residents versus attendings. Across the country, some doctors, hospitals and clinics care for a disproportionate share of disadvantaged patients. But we’ve been largely unable — or unwilling — to consider social disparities among patients in how we support and pay doctors.

A growing recognition that social factors influence health outcomes has coincided with a policy push to hold medical providers more accountable for the care they deliver. These “value-based” payment models try to measure quality, outcomes and costs — and reward or penalize providers based on their performance. They generally adjust for patients’ medical problems, but not social ones.

While most experts agree that value-based purchasing is a better way to pay doctors, it also has the potential to worsen health disparities by discouraging providers to care for vulnerable populations. If I’m paid for how many stents I put in or how many patients I see, it doesn’t really matter if my patients live on the street or can’t read the instructions on a pill bottle. But if I’m paid based on how well their blood pressure is controlled and how frequently they’re admitted to the hospital, those things start to matter quite a bit.

“This is something that feels intuitive to clinicians but not always to policymakers,” said Dr. Karen Joynt Maddox, assistant professor at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “In general, policymakers have accepted that you need to take medical risk into account. Social risk has been much more controversial, but it contributes just as much, if not more, to health outcomes.”

Many providers are rightly concerned that caring for disadvantaged patients may penalize them for factors outside their control — and unfairly affect their bottom line. Under all of Medicare’s value-based purchasing programs, for example, providers who treat more socially complex patients suffer higher penalties. And patients with more social risk factors have worse outcomes regardless of who they see.

“Many of these payment models are predicated on making fair comparisons across providers,” Dr. Joynt Maddox told me. “Some are literally a zero-sum game. They rank everyone, then separate winners and losers. Failure to take social risk into account can have real negative consequences for clinicians and for patients.”

Doctors who care for disadvantaged populations need more resources to produce comparable health outcomes, but they’re less likely to have them. Their patients are often uninsured or on Medicaid, which pays considerably less than Medicare or private insurance. They may also have a harder time getting their patients access to needed services, like subspecialty care, diagnostic imaging and nonemergency hospital admission.

There’s some indication that payers are starting to consider adjusting for social risk. For example, in 2016 the Massachusetts Medicaid program started incorporating social factors like disability, poverty and homelessness into how it pays clinicians. Last year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services began adjusting Medicare Advantage plan ratings for differences in the proportion of their beneficiaries who are dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid — a proxy for low-income. And the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recently released a report on how social risk factors could be incorporated into provider payment more broadly. We might, for example, stratify public report cards for doctors and hospitals based on the socioeconomic characteristics of patients they serve, or adjust bonus payments for those who take on more disadvantaged patients.

But whatever model we might end up adopting, selecting the right types of measures will be important. It probably doesn’t make sense to adjust for social risk when assessing whether a patient got aspirin for a heart attack or the right antibiotics for an infection, but it does when measuring how well a patient’s diabetes or blood pressure is controlled over time. Clinicians could also be rewarded for improvements in care — compared to similar providers or compared to their own prior performance — instead of for meeting absolute thresholds.

Paying doctors to do better — instead of to do more — is essential for a higher-value health system. But if not done carefully, we risk leaving some patients behind. Better care for those who’ve been dealt a bad hand will mean making sure doctors aren’t playing against a stacked deck.

Dhruv Khullar, M.D., M.P.P. (@DhruvKhullar) is a physician at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, a researcher at the Weill Cornell Department of Healthcare Policy and Research, and director of policy dissemination at the Physicians Foundation Center for Physician Practice and Leadership.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/26/well/is-it-getting-harder-to-care-for-poor-patients.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

China Extends Lead as Most Prolific Supercomputer Maker

The new list confirmed that the current fastest machine resides in the United States. This month, the Department of Energy announced that its new supercomputer, called Summit, had achieved speeds well ahead of the previous leader, the Sunway TaihuLight at a Chinese supercomputing center in Wuxi. Summit, built by IBM in a partnership with Nvidia, is at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

Depei Qian, a top supercomputer researcher in China, marvels at the progress his nation has made in the past decade — “beyond our expectations,” he said.

A point of particular pride: The Sunway TaihuLight machine uses homegrown microprocessors. “That used to be a weakness,” said Mr. Qian, a computer science professor at both Sun Yat-sen University and Beihang University.

But while China has made impressive strides, Mr. Qian said the country still lagged in certain advanced hardware technologies and, especially, in software. “Software is a tough issue for us,” he said. “That will take longer.”

Software is a challenge for supercomputing engineers in general. Supercomputers are increasingly being programmed to process vast amounts of data with artificial intelligence software. So data-handling speeds in software applications often become more important than raw calculating speed, which has been the traditional yardstick of supercomputer performance.

The 500 list is based on the machines’ speed of mathematical calculation. But another benchmark — codeveloped by Mr. Dongarra of the University of Tennessee — measures data-handling speed in applications. Summit tops that list as well, while the Sunway machine ranks sixth.

But China is also catching up in software development, supercomputer experts said. “The flagship centers in China today are surprisingly similar to ours,” said Rick Stevens, an associate director of the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois.

China’s overarching policy, Mr. Stevens said, is “to play the long game in technology, and supercomputers are just one part of that.”

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/25/technology/china-supercomputers.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Building a Table for All: The Ascent of Queer Food Culture

Big Gay Supper Club beckons guests out of the city to Megan Jo Collum and Jess Emrich’s property in New Milford, Conn., for homespun barbecues, potlucks and performances. And Babetown, a roving party for queer women, as well as trans and nonbinary people, sold out its first dinner in September 2016 in 48 hours. It is run by Alex Koones, 29, whom Ms. Alpern, of Queer Soup Night, credits with being one of the first to ignite the current dinner party craze.

On a recent Monday night, Ms. Alpern could be found greeting Bill Clark and Libby Willis at their monthly “queer industry night,” Family Meal. As owners of the self-described “very, very gay” MeMe’s Diner in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, Mr. Clark, 30, and Ms. Willis, 27, have become linchpins of the L.G.B.T.Q.-centric New York food community since opening in November 2017 (Cuties, a rainbow-fronted coffee shop with a community tab program and monthly “Queers, Coffee & Donuts” sidewalk cookouts, is a hub for those in Los Angeles).

“We’re big fans of MeMe’s,” said Jarry’s Mr. Volger. “That was one of the first times we saw articulated what it meant to be sort of a queer restaurant.”

Mr. Volger, too, was at MeMe’s Diner’s party, and as the room began to swell and guests began to double-fist vegan peanut soft serve and Rainbow Kiss cocktails, the elusive concept of a “queer restaurant” began to crystallize. It wasn’t about a particular type of cuisine (despite the rainbow sprinkles dusting the ice cream). It wasn’t about symbology or décor. It was about the people in the room: industry insiders and outsiders who had largely felt, at one point or another, marginalized by a world that they had begun to reclaim, meal by meal.

“If you essentially don’t have a seat at the table,” Lalito’s Mr. Gonzalez said, “just build your own table.”

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/21/dining/queer-food-culture.html?partner=rss&emc=rss