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Disease ecologist investigates ‘stealthy’ pathogen in Iraq

Funded through a $3 million grant awarded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) of the U.S. Department of Defense, associate professor Jeff Foster of…

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Funded through a $3 million grant awarded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) of the U.S. Department of Defense, associate professor Jeff Foster of Northern Arizona University’s Pathogen and Microbiome Institute recently launched a new effort to study one of the most important infectious diseases in humans and livestock in Iraq.

Credit: Northern Arizona University

Funded through a $3 million grant awarded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) of the U.S. Department of Defense, associate professor Jeff Foster of Northern Arizona University’s Pathogen and Microbiome Institute recently launched a new effort to study one of the most important infectious diseases in humans and livestock in Iraq.

Although the disease was eradicated long ago in the U.S., Canada and parts of Western Europe, brucellosis—caused by the highly infectious bacteria Brucella—remains among the leading communicable diseases worldwide, infecting an estimated 500,000 people and millions of animals each year, including cattle, pigs, sheep, goats and camels. As in many other developing regions, the disease poses a substantial public health burden In the Middle East, resulting in long-term illness in humans and significant economic loss in livestock production.

“The disease is highly prevalent in Iraq and across the region, where animals are extremely valuable to farmers and local economies,” Foster said. “Although livestock can be cured, it takes weeks and sometimes months of antibiotic treatment, which is not economically feasible. The animals become infertile because of the disease, causing a devastating loss of production. Farmers can’t afford to slaughter animals with brucellosis. It causes problems when they try to sell meat and dairy products that have Brucella—and then it puts people at risk for infection.”

Because the disease is widespread, difficult to effectively control, and highly infectious, some Brucella are  classified as Category B bioterrorism agents by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Foster believes brucellosis poses a more significant risk than all the other diseases on the bioterrorism list combined, including anthrax, plague and tularemia, simply because it is so common worldwide.

Team will work with collaborators across Iraq

Foster, whose research focuses on pathogen evolution and disease ecology in wildlife, chiefly bats and birds, is the principal investigator on the three-year project, “Phylogeography of Brucellosis in Iraq.” He will collaborate with Talima Pearson, associate research professor in NAU’s Department of Biological Sciences, and an Iraqi graduate student from the University of Kufa who will join the team at NAU’s Flagstaff campus.

Other collaborators at the University of Kufa as well as Anna Gibson and Jason Farlow from contractor SciLore LLC will work with veterinarians and physicians at select farms, clinics and health agencies in country, collecting samples and conducting genomic sequencing. The DNA testing will help the scientists understand how infected livestock transmit the disease to people and to each other and how to control the disease in both human and animal populations.

“I’m really excited for this work in Iraq,” Foster said. “One of the keys to a successful project is finding really good collaborators to work with. That’s what happened here. I’m excited by the disease, I’m excited by the Iraqi and U.S. collaborators. It’s a really important disease, and it’s worth this type of investment by the government. One of DTRA’s goals is to help researchers in countries like Iraq by providing training and assist with research on infectious diseases—mostly focusing on the scary ones like brucellosis,” Foster said.

The team will train researchers on the latest techniques in microbiological and epidemiological research, biosafety and genomic analyses as well as tracking the pathogen, which Foster calls a ‘stealthy’ pathogen. “It’s a pretty cool bug,” he said. “There are particular cells in the body that attack pathogens, and in the case of Brucella, it gets inside the cells that are sent to attack it, so other immune cells can’t find it.”

Approach based on ‘One Health’ concept

The team hypothesizes that the incidence of brucellosis in Iraq is underreported. They also believe that the strains of the pathogen are genetically heterogeneous, but with distinct, detectable lineages. By sequencing Brucella DNA, they will utilize genomic epidemiology to better understand its prevalence, risk factors, genetic diversity, geographic distribution and transmission.

“Our approach is framed by the ‘One Health’ concept to monitor and control public health threats,” Foster said. “One Health is the idea that human health is inextricably linked to animal health and environmental health, and that we can’t treat humans in isolation because our health is interconnected to the health of our animals and the environment. COVID-19 is a great example. We now think of it as a human disease, but it actually originated in wildlife. And if we better understood how the disease was circulating in animals and the environment, we may have known a lot more about how it could potentially affect humans.”

To understand One Health connections among humans, animals and their shared environment, the researchers will use high-resolution genetic subtyping of Brucella samples collected from human and animal populations, including nomadic populations, as well as dairy products from commercial and private farms in Iraq. Their overall objective is to strengthen biosurveillance of brucellosis in human and animal populations in Iraq.

“Ultimately,” Foster said, “we want to develop interdisciplinary in-country epidemiological capacity within Iraq that is self-sustaining.”

Foster is also working on another study of brucellosis in Georgia, Turkey and Azerbaijan, and will use a very similar approach with this project in Iraq, building on the findings of his previous research.

About Northern Arizona University

Founded in 1899, Northern Arizona University is a higher-research institution providing exceptional educational opportunities and outcomes in Arizona and beyond. NAU delivers a student-centered experience to its nearly 30,000 students in Flagstaff, statewide and online through rigorous academic programs in a supportive, inclusive and diverse environment. As a community-engaged engine of opportunity, NAU powers social impact and economic mobility for the students and communities it serves. The university’s longstanding history of educating and partnering with diverse students and communities throughout Arizona is enhanced by its recent designation as a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI). Dedicated, world-renowned faculty and staff help ensure students achieve academic excellence, experience personal growth, have meaningful research and experiential learning opportunities and are positioned for personal and professional success. Located on the Colorado Plateau, in one of the highest-ranked college towns in the country, the NAU Flagstaff Mountain Campus is truly a jewel of the Southwest.

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High fossil fuel prices mean UK cannot delay transition to low emissions steel

Steelmaking with green hydrogen is now a less expensive prospect relative to alternatives.

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Norenko Andrey/Shutterstock

Steel is essential for making many of the technologies that will end fossil fuel combustion, including electric vehicles, wind turbines and solar panels. Unfortunately, to produce a lot of steel, manufacturers need to burn a lot of fossil fuel.

Steel production accounted for 2% of the UK’s emissions in 2019 and ranks second for energy consumption among the country’s heavy industries. Roughly two-thirds of this energy comes from coal.

The blast furnaces of steelworks burn a special type called coking coal (which is converted to a hard and porous fuel known as coke) at temperatures of up to 2,000°C, producing large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO₂) – around 1.8 tonnes for each tonne of steel. This method accounted for 82% of steel production in the UK in 2021, and 71% of all steel made worldwide that year.

While coal-based steelmaking can be decarbonised to an extent by capturing the CO₂, there has to be a suitable storage site nearby or sufficient demand for using that CO₂ in other industries. This is not the case for the blast furnaces in Port Talbot, Wales, which account for half of UK steel production.

Coking coal prices have more than doubled since the beginning of the pandemic and the invasion of Ukraine has disrupted supplies. In 2021, the UK imported 39% of its coking coal from Russia, with almost all of the rest coming from the US and Australia.

Another option is to use natural gas, another fossil fuel. But since 2020, gas prices have also risen considerably. These recent fuel cost hikes demand a reassessment of how steel is made.

A metallurgical plant at night with chimneys belching smoke.
High coal prices make coal-based steelmaking less attractive for producers. ArtEvent ET/Shutterstock

Steelmaking with green hydrogen (hydrogen that has been split from water using electricity generated by renewables or nuclear power) removes fossil fuels from the process altogether. As a result, it could be insulated from increases in fossil fuel prices and carbon taxes, all of which have made steelmaking with fossil fuels more expensive in recent years.

The UK steel industry is currently given a free allocation of emissions allowances, which significantly lowers the effective carbon price paid by steel producers. Our recent research shows that, if this exemption were phased out gradually, steelmaking with green hydrogen produced using wind and solar electricity would in fact be cheaper than all other options.

Green steel

Hydrogen can convert iron ore to a pure form known as sponge iron through a process known as direct reduction. This involves heating hydrogen to between 800 and 1,000°C which reacts with the oxygen in iron ore to leave pure iron and water vapour, with no carbon emissions. The sponge iron is then processed in an electric arc furnace to produce steel.

Electric arc furnaces can also recycle scrap metal, and while the UK has no direct reduction furnaces, it already has five electric arc furnaces that recycle scrap to provide 18% of the nation’s steel. If renewable electricity powered these furnaces and was used to generate the hydrogen that fuels the production of sponge iron, then total emissions from the steel industry could be zero.

A suspended cylinder spewing molten metal.
Electric arc furnaces cut out fossil fuels, but are still expensive to run. D.Alimkin/Shutterstock

The EU and UK have both committed to ending imports of Russian coal in 2022, and large producers such as Tata Steel and ArcelorMittal have already stopped using Russian commodities in their supply chains.

While high gas and electricity prices are making some industries revert to burning coal, our findings show that green hydrogen offers a cheaper alternative to steelmakers. At recent fossil fuel prices, we estimate that direct reduction steelmaking with green hydrogen could be roughly 15% cheaper than the cheapest coal-based option (including carbon capture and storage) over a typical 25-year project lifetime.

Steelmaking with green hydrogen and electric arc furnaces uses lots of electricity. So, in a recent paper, we looked at reducing industrial electricity bills by removing green levies (which raise funds to spur the deployment of renewable technology and support vulnerable customers) and energy network maintenance costs and moving them to general taxation instead.

This would put the UK’s steel industry on an equal footing with France’s and Germany’s. We found that price parity could be achieved by increasing the average income tax bill by around 68p, rising to around £5.50 if UK steel production switched entirely to direct reduction with green hydrogen.

The UK government is considering exempting industries that consume a lot of energy from paying green levies. But soaring fossil fuel prices have hiked wholesale electricity costs so much that removing them and network maintenance fees will not significantly affect bills.

Instead, steelmakers and other heavy industries could access cheap renewable electricity directly in a green power pool.

The UK cannot afford to keep coal-based steelmaking in its decarbonisation strategy and must ensure the steel industry is ready to transition to using green hydrogen fuel instead.


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Clare Richardson-Barlow is a non-resident fellow at the National Bureau of Asian Research.

Andrew Pimm and Pepa Ambrosio-Albala do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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What Is Helicopter Money? Definition, Examples & Applications

What Is Helicopter Money?What’s a surefire way to encourage spending, and thus, spur growth? How about dropping money from the sky? As far-stretched…

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Former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke describes helicopter money as a “money-financed tax cut.”

Public DomainPictures from Pexels; Canva

What Is Helicopter Money?

What’s a surefire way to encourage spending, and thus, spur growth? How about dropping money from the sky?

As far-stretched as this idea seems, it actually has credence in schools of economic thought, particularly during times of recession or supply shocks. Helicopter money policies inject large sums into the monetary supply either through increased spending, direct cash stimulus, or a tax cut.

This policy has two goals in mind:

1. Expand the supply of money, which improves liquidity

2. Spur economic growth

Economists consider helicopter money to be an option oflast resort, after other measures, such as lowering interest rates or quantitative easing, have either failed to lift an economy out of recession or because interest rates are already as low as they can get. This conundrum is known as a liquidity trap, when the economy is at a standstill because people are hoarding their savings instead of spending.

Since the practice of helicopter money also tends to foster inflation, it typically works best during periods of deflation, when prices, along with overall monetary supply, contract without a corresponding decrease in economic output. One relevant example is the Great Depression. Bank runs resulted in a reduction in both the monetary supply as well as in the overall prices of goods and services.

It takes a whole lot to lift an economy from such dire straits, and in such cases, helicopter money can be a viable option.

Example of Helicopter Money: The COVID-19 Recession

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the stock market crashed, and GDP nosedived, thrusting the economy into recession. While the Federal Reserve slashed interest rates and instituted a new round of quantitative easing measures, the U.S. government responded with helicopter money.

  • Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES), the Trump administration authorized two rounds of direct-to-taxpayer stimulus payments, of $1200 and $600 per person, in 2020.
  • In addition, as part of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), payroll loans were offered to thousands of small businesses—and many were quickly forgiven. The Federal Reserve also provided increased liquidity to banks so that they could offer loans to businesses to help them stay afloat.

Who Coined the Term Helicopter Money?

In a 1969 paper entitled “The Optimum Quantity of Money,” economist Milton Friedman coined the term “helicopter drop” as a method to increase monetary policy during times of economic stress. He wrote:

“Let us suppose now that one day a helicopter flies over [the] community and drops an additional $1,000 in bills from the sky, which is, of course, hastily collected by members of the community. Let us suppose further that everyone is convinced that this is a unique event which will never be repeated.”

The point was that the easiest way to lift an economy out of troubled times would be to give its population a direct injection of money. This would both expand the monetary supply and as well as increase the disposable income of the populace, resulting in greater consumer spending and increased economic output.

Who Made the Concept of Helicopter Money Popular?

In the 1990s, Japan was facing a deflationary crisis. Its central bank had implemented crippling rate hikes to calm its housing bubble—to disastrous economic effects.

In a 2002 speech to the National Economists Club, then-Fed Governor Ben Bernanke proposed that Japan’s central bank could have re-started the country’s economy through fiscal programs:

“A broad-based tax cut, for example, accommodated by a program of open-market purchases to alleviate any tendency for interest rates to increase, would almost certainly be an effective stimulant to consumption and hence to prices. Even if households decided not to increase consumption but instead re-balanced their portfolios by using their extra cash to acquire real and financial assets, the resulting increase in asset values would lower the cost of capital and improve the balance sheet positions of potential borrowers. A money-financed tax cut is essentially equivalent to Milton Friedman's famous "helicopter drop" of money”

However, critics interpreted Bernanke’s words as his way of authorizing indiscriminate money printing, and the moniker “Helicopter Ben” took hold.

Bernanke would go on to chair the Federal Reserve from 2006–2014, and many of his theories were put into practice during the Financial Crisis of 2007–2008 and subsequent Great Recession. In fact, President Barack Obama credited Bernanke’s leadership during the crisis with averting a second Great Depression.

Helicopter Money vs. Quantitative Easing

While helicopter money and quantitative easing are both monetary policy tools, and both increase the monetary supply, they actually have different effects on a central bank’s balance sheet.

Through quantitative easing, a central bank buys trillions of dollars’ worth of long-term securities, such as Treasury securities, corporate bonds, mortgage-backed securities, or even stocks. This increases its reserves and expands its balance sheet. These purchases are also reversible, meaning the central bank can swap out its assets if it chooses.

Helicopter money, on the other hand, involves fiscal stimulus: distributing money to the public. It has no impact on a central bank’s balance sheet. The practice of helicopter money is irreversible, which means it is permanent—and cannot be undone.

In effect, helicopter money is less a long-term economic solution than it is a “one-time” or short-term operation.

Pros of Helicopter Money

In a 2016 blog post written for the think-tank Brookings Institution, Bernanke admitted that his helicopter money reference gave him some bad PR. In fact, he said that their media relations officer, Dave Skidmore, had warned Bernanke against using the term, saying “It’s just not the sort of thing a central banker says.”

But Bernanke insisted, and the moniker stuck.

To this day, Bernanke continues to believe in the practice of helicopter money as a tool the Fed could use in response to a slowdown in the economy. His successor at the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen, agreed, stating that helicopter money “is something that one might legitimately consider.”

Other central bankers support the concept, particularly in Europe, which suffered from debt crises that mired its economy throughout the 2000s, igniting deflationary pressures like low demand and weak lending, and made recovery exceedingly difficult.

Cons of Helicopter Money

The biggest drawback of helicopter money is the inflation it tends to ignite. And since inflation is notoriously difficult to manage, once the inflationary fires have been stoked, what’s to prevent them from growing out of control—and fostering hyperinflation? That’s what happened in countries like Argentina and Venezuela, when their central banks printed money and gave it to their governments, who in turn gave it to the people. Inflation surged.

Helicopter money also leads to weakened currencies, because as more and more money is printed, its value decreases significantly. It could also deter currency traders from making long-term investments if the practice is prolonged.

Clearly, helicopter money is not a practice a central bank should undertake lightly.

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Arsenal’s $55.9M Loss An Improvement Over Previous Fiscal Year

Arsenal took a heavy loss but saw reasons for optimism.
The post Arsenal’s $55.9M Loss An Improvement Over Previous Fiscal Year appeared first on Front…

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As a team in transition, Arsenal saw some losses in its last`fiscal year — but also saw signs of hope.

The Premier League team took an operating loss of $55.9 million in the fiscal year ending May 2022.

  • That figure was a significant improvement on last year’s $131.9 million loss.
  • The team saved around $39 million in wages compared to the previous year.
  • But broadcasting revenue dropped from $225 million to $178 million.

Arsenal benefitted from the lifting of pandemic restrictions, with matchday revenue rising by around $51.6 million to $453.7 million.

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Streak Snapped

The club failed to qualify for any European competitions in the 2020-21 season for the first time since 1994-95, which led to heavy spending on player contracts. 

“This investment recognises that the Club has not been where it wanted to be in terms of on-field competitiveness and that, as a minimum, qualification for UEFA competition needed to be regained, as a prerequisite to re-establishing a self-sufficient financial base,” the club wrote.

Arsenal credited owners Kroenke Sports & Entertainment for its willingness to invest in the team.

The move has borne fruit this season with Arsenal’s return to the Europa League, the second-tier competition to the UEFA Champions League. The team has already earned $8.4 million for its appearance there, with total potential earnings up to $22.1 million.

The post Arsenal’s $55.9M Loss An Improvement Over Previous Fiscal Year appeared first on Front Office Sports.

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