Monthly Archives: March 2015

Post anecdotal leads on lab visit here

Matt Wu–Anecdotal Lead

What do a dartboard, an African mask, and electric bug zapper have in common? They can all be found in the Kitron-Prokopec lab of Emory University.

Located in Emory University’s Math and Science Center, the Kitron-Prokopec lab is one of the nation’s leading environmental science labs and studies emerging diseases and environmental risk factors.

A native of Minnesota, Andrea Lund, has a master’s degree in global epidemiology and is the lab manager of the group. Wearing a vibrant red scarf, sweater, and jeans, you would never guess that her current research involves the transmission of a deadly disease, West Nile Virus (WNV).

Moreover, her work is very important to a certain group of people: the residents of Atlanta.

Prior to her involvement, the old Atlanta sewer system discharged high volumes of sewage and rainwater into creeks whenever it rained. This discharge or combined sewage overflow (CSO) provided the essential nutrients for mosquitoes to rapidly grow and reproduce. It gave rise to high numbers of Culex quinquefasciatus, an urban mosquito and known carrier of the disease.

As rain is a common occurrence in Atlanta, the sewage overflows therefore put the citizens at risk for contracting West Nile Virus. However after Lund and her group treated the sewage discharges, mosquito levels were greatly reduced and people were much less likely to get the disease.

West Nile Virus is a vector-borne disease that is transmitted between birds and mosquitoes, and sometimes humans. Left unchecked, it can lead to encephalitis or swelling of the brain and symptoms such as seizures, stroke, and brain hemorrhages.

Before 1999, West Nile Virus existed only in the temperate and tropical parts of the world.

Fast forward to 2015 and this disease has spread across the entire continental U.S. “No matter what, you’re going to get bitten,” explains Lund regarding when mosquitoes are present.




Anecdotal Lead

Anecdotal Lead:


“Atlanta is a city within a forest,” Andrea Lund, the manager of the Emory Vector Ecology Lab explains. This makes Atlanta the perfect home for wildlife and birds and mosquitoes are the main pools for West Nile Virus.


The slow hum of the Caron insect growth chamber rumples peacefully in the background, growing who knows what. Andrea, who holds an MPH from Rollins School of Public Health, sits comfortably in a rolling chair as she explains the concerns of West Nile Virus.


Sunlight streams in from the big windows lining both sides of the lab. “West Nile Virus is a scary disease, it can get into your brain and cause death or permanent damage,” she discusses. The lab focuses on mosquito collection and WNV testing.


Nut Grafs:


Due to massive fines, the old Atlanta sewer system was transitioned to a newer model. After the system got fixed, the lab monitored these mosquitos’ reservoirs.


There was a dramatic drop in the mosquito counts. The lab continues to monitor these creeks, where the mosquitoes breed. However, they are moving on to new projects.


Post WaterHub blogs here

Matt Wu

The world’s drinking water supply is running out. In just 15 years, we will need 40 percent more water than is available.

Emory University is tackling the water crisis head-on, both locally and globally. Emory is lessening the waste of drinking water through the utilization of water reclamation and the new WaterHub plant located just off of Eagle Row.

Mother Nature is the star. Instead of harmful chemicals, WaterHub harnesses the power of natural biological systems to obtain clean water.

This plant process extends the life cycle of used water by turning waste into a valuable resource. Reclaimed water, while not consumed in the U.S., can be distributed for tasks that do not require drinking water, such as plumbing and plant irrigation.

Water reclamation also cuts down on pollution since less energy is used to transport drinking water from distant places such as the Chattahoochee River, metro-Atlanta’s main water source. The use of nearby sources lowers the carbon footprint because water does not have to travel far.

As the first major water reclamation site in North America, Emory is the pioneer in major water recycling efforts. A difficulty in being first is Emory can’t model Harvard, Johns Hopkins, or other prominent institutions. However, WaterHub offers the university a novel and sustainable way forward.

The process begins when you flush the toilet, sending wastewater into the sewer line and back to Emory’s primary treatment system.

The primary treatment system uses reactors made of BioQuartz, a synthetic material, which acts as a surface where bacteria can grow. Live bacteria then have the job of converting unwanted compounds to harmless ones. They also minimize toxic hydrogen sulfide formation, which is deadly like cyanide or carbon monoxide.

The process of humans using bacteria for positive gains has actually been around for some time. If you’ve eaten yogurt, then you’ve benefitted from bacteria. Special bacteria turn milk into the healthy breakfast alternative!

After primary treatment, the water is transported to a greenhouse and lower sites, located just off of Eagle Row. These facilities have hydroponics, which are plants grown without soil.

“The magic is in the (plant) roots,” says Corey Hagemann, Emory’s WaterHub project manager. These roots provide optimal growth surfaces for bacteria, which complete the process of converting nitrates into nitrogen gas.

This process of combining hydroponics and live bacteria cultures is natural and self-sustaining. The healthy environment created here allows for the emergence of new species

Harmless snails thrive alongside the roots and bacteria since they have everything to survive. Hagemann compares the environment to diners at the Golden Corral where, “if you have air and chicken wings, then you have happy people.” The snails are evidently very happy.


(pictured on left, Corey Hagemann holding a snail found living on the hydroponic plant roots)

Before the water can be reused, two more phases of the treatment process must occur. The first involves settling and eliminating unwanted solids from thewater. At this point, bacteria are present in the water so some live cultures are saved and recycled back into the initial steps, which utilize them.

The rest of the water is subject to cleaning out through small amounts of chlorine and ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV is high intensity radiation, the same type of radiation that causes sunburn. It can kill microorganisms and damages DNA to prevent potential growth.

Finally, the reclaimed water can be used for non-potable (non-drinkable) tasks like washing clothes or stored for a later time.

It’s only a matter of time before reclaimed water becomes popular and is widely used!

Post healthy human habitat blogs here

Matt Wu

Santa Monica: Making Healthy Living Easy

If you’re looking for a change of pace from your sedentary lifestyle, look no further. Welcome to Santa Monica. Located in sunny Southern California just outside of Los Angeles, Santa Monica offers everything you need to begin your new healthy and active lifestyle.

According to Howard Frumkin’s TedTalk, “Healthy Human Habitats,” a healthy community is one that allows humans to thrive.

A healthy community can grow in many different ways. It comes through regular social interaction, routine physical activity, accessibility to nature, and the lack of a drive-thru culture (yes, finally for once, not having something is good). Thriving communities also have regular community engagement and large sidewalks for walking.

In today’s fast paced lifestyle, it’s easy to get lost in the grind and delay becoming physically active.

The longer we do, the more our health is jeopardized. An inactive lifestyle puts us at a greater risk for heart disease, the leading cause of death for both men and women in America.

Santa Monica combines healthy living with the essentials. In this city, it’s easy to do.

Everyone has to eat. We would all love to go to a sit-down restaurant but most of us simply don’t have the time to do so. So what would most opt for in a time crunch? Probably fast food–the type that’s quick, cheap, greasy, and made even before you ordered.

Instead of flocking to fast food joints, residents gravitate towards the growing culture of food trucks, a healthy alternative. During lunch hour, local food trucks park near businesses. This eliminates the need for employees to potentially drive to a fast food restaurant.

People walk to browse the selection of food-trucks and converse with vendors to find out about daily specials. What could have been a greasy lunch now became an opportunity to exercise and eat something wholesome.

There are no food deserts in Santa Monica. Instead, there are many farmer’s markets scattered in the city that occur all throughout the week. Local farmers and growers bring their produce and goods to allow the public to buy the current season’s best products.

Live music performers also showcase their talents for entertainment, which adds to the experience. The farmer’s market strengthens the community by bringing people together and promoting healthy social interaction.

After all of this eating, it should be time to hit the gym…or not. In Santa Monica, workout spots can be found everywhere. The cliffs overlooking Pacific Coast Highway and the crashing waves of Malibu are a popular place to do yoga under the sunshine. The Santa Monica Mountains offer scenic hiking trails with varying difficulties and levels of adventure.

Frumkin emphasizes that reconnecting with nature is a great way to unwind from everyday stresses. Studies have shown that being in a nature-oriented environment lowers tension and can increase happiness. Spending regular time in nature has also shown to increase the value in community and the appreciation of others.

If moving to Santa Monica is out of the question, then at least you know what to look for and do in your hometown. The lifestyle change to being healthy and active may not be easy or fast, but once it happens, you’ll be glad you did.

Post final op-eds here

Matt Wu

Food versus Fuel: A Pointless Fight Right Now

Government subsidies that boost ethanol production need to stay—at least for now.

Politicians wrangle over whether to use corn for food or fuel. One faction says ethanol production from corn pays a green dividend because the fuel burns cleaner than gasoline. The other side says turning corn into fuel raises food prices and the danger of starvation.

Let’s call a ceasefire. Food and fuel are complex issues and intertwined. We need more understanding and clarity to find the way forward and proper solutions.

While the pro-food argument appears logical, it overlooks one key factor. Oil prices complicate the situation and its role in rising food prices.

According to a study by the World Bank in 2013 on long-term drivers of food prices, oil prices are positively correlated with rising food prices. This means that as oil prices continue to rise, so will food prices.

The price of oil is highly variable. Because oil and food prices are linked, the price of food is therefore also highly variable. Kimberly Amadeo, an economic analyst and business planner for major international corporations, explains that three major factors go into setting the price of oil.

The first factor relates to traders who use certain criteria to bid and buy oil at an agreed upon price. Although the same criteria are used, the variables themselves are dynamic: output of oil, accessibility to oil supplies, and oil demand.

The second factor involves the Organization of Petroleum Exporting (OPEC). In order to keep oil exportation profitable for all countries, this organization sets the amount of oil that can be sold in a given time. Even though rising food prices/conflict affect everyone, countries are interested in immediate economic gain; therefore higher oil prices and profit trump lower food costs.

The third factor considers oil projected demand and use. The U.S. Energy Information Administration, which gathers data of national oil use, has shown that oil use is rising and will continue to do so. With a limited available oil supply, current oil spending practices are making the cost of oil rise, and consequently the cost of food.

Even though pro-food advocates incorrectly blame ethanol for rising food prices, international developments and natural disasters are actually the ones to blame. Without warning, these events can sharply lower the supply of oil and cause oil prices to skyrocket.

Outside of the control of both food and fuel supporters alike, world crises can strike. In 2012, Iran had a nuclear weapons scare so the U.S. and E.U. placed financial sanctions on the country. This greatly limited the worldwide supply of oil and the effects were tremendous. Gasoline prices rose to nearly four dollars per gallon and higher transportation costs caused food prices to soar.

Mother Nature is also unpredictable and relentless. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina violently struck the U.S. Gulf Coast causing major damage and displaced some 400,000 people. Hurricane Katrina also destroyed numerous oil refineries, affecting 19% of U.S. oil production and gas prices rose to five dollars per gallon.

It is apparent that the price of oil is very variable and as it continues to rise, it will also drive up the cost of food.

The pro-food position seems reasonable, but there is no direct evidence that ethanol production is linked to climbing food prices.

In 2012, rising food prices prompted a big push by pro-food advocates to stop ethanol production (under the Renewable Fuel Standard program) in the U.S. However, after examining 500 scenarios involving corn, food, and fuel-prices, 89% of them were not negatively impacted by the RFS and ethanol production continued.

Furthering the disconnection between corn-ethanol production and food prices are the annual rates of corn use and food inflation. If ethanol production was truly the culprit for worsening food prices, then the two rates would be similar, but it is not the case. The rate of food inflation more than doubles the rate of corn use for ethanol. There is therefore no causal relationship between ethanol production and food inflation.

Although ethanol has been speculated to worsen the food epidemic, it may do just the opposite. Because ethanol production relies on corn, farmers grow more of the crop than if it was only grown for food alone. The more plentiful supply of corn, according to the UK Department of Environment and Rural Affairs, may stabilize food supplies and thus lower the cost of food.

The process that determines the price of food is not simple. While oil strongly affects the price of food, it is not the sole driving force. Many other factors go into the price of corn flakes on the supermarket shelf.

As the world continues to advance and become more affluent, people change their preferences. For example, they may begin to prefer regularly consuming meat over grains, instead of as an infrequent occurrence. This shift in demand changes what farmers produce and their new output puts the food economy and prices into flux.

The exact formula for determining the price of food is very complex. The time and effort spent on deciding how corn should be used is better spent on discussing ways to prevent real issues like global warming. Therefore, further quarreling in the food versus food debate is pointless until new evidence from research is found.


Works Cited

Amadeo, Kimberly. “Why Are Food Prices Rising?” 24 Nov. 2014. Web. 17 Feb. 2015. <>.

Amadeo, Kimberly. “What Factors Determine Oil Prices?” How Are Oil Prices Determined? 1 Feb. 2015. Web. 17 Feb. 2015. <>.

Baffes, John, and Allen Dennis. “Long-term Drivers of Food Prices.” WorldBank. 6 May 2013. Web. 2 Mar. 2015.

“Corn, Ethanol, and Food Prices.” National Corn Growers Association. 3 Feb. 2014. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.

“USDA ERS – Food Dollar Series: Documentation.” USDA ERS – Food Dollar Series: Documentation. 24 May 2014. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.