Despite robot efficiency, human skills still matter at work

Despite robot efficiency, human skills still matter at work
By Caroline Monahan

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Artificial intelligence is approaching critical mass at the office, but humans are still likely to be necessary, according to a new study by executive development firm, Future Workplace, in partnership with Oracle.

Future Workplace found an 18% jump over last year in the number of workers who use AI in some facet of their jobs, representing more than half of those surveyed.

Reuters spoke with Dan Schawbel, the research director at Future Workplace and bestselling author of “Back to Human,” about the study’s key findings and the future of work.

Q: You found that 64% of people trust a robot more than their manager. What can robots do better than managers and what can managers do better than robots?

A: What managers can do better are soft skills: understanding employees’ feelings, coaching employees, creating a work culture – things that are hard to measure, but affect someone’s workday.

The things robots can do better are hard skills: providing unbiased information, maintaining work schedules, problem solving and maintaining a budget.

Q: Is AI advancing to take over soft skills?

A: Right now, we’re not seeing that. I think the future of work is that human resources is going to be managing the human workforce, whereas information technology is going to be managing the robot workforce. There is no doubt that humans and robots will be working side by side.

Q: Are we properly preparing the next generation to work alongside AI?

A: I think technology is making people more antisocial as they grow up because they’re getting it earlier. Yet the demand right now is for a lot of hard skills that are going to be automated. So eventually, when the hard skills are automated and the soft skills are more in demand, the next generation is in big trouble.

Q: Which countries are using AI the most?

A: India and China, and then Singapore. The countries that are gaining more power and prominence in the world are using AI at work.

Q: If AI does all the easy tasks, will managers be mentally drained with only difficult tasks left to do?

A: I think it’s very possible. I always do tasks that require the most thought in the beginning of my day. After 5 or 6 o’clock, I’m exhausted mentally. But if administrative tasks are automated, potentially, the work day becomes consolidated.

That would free us to do more personal things. We have to see if our workday gets shorter if AI eliminates those tasks. If it doesn’t, the burnout culture will increase dramatically.

Q: Seventy percent of your survey respondents were concerned about AI collecting data on them at work. Is that concern legitimate?

A: Yes. You’re seeing more and more technology vendors enabling companies to monitor employees’ use of their computers.

If we collect data on employees in the workplace and make the employees suffer consequences for not being focused for eight hours a day, that’s going to be a huge problem. No one can focus for that long. It’s going to accelerate our burnout epidemic.

Q: How is AI changing hiring practices?

A: One example is Unilever. The first half of their entry-level recruiting process is really AI-centric. You do a video interview and the AI collects data on you and matches it against successful employees. That lowers the pool of candidates. Then candidates spend a day at Unilever doing interviews, and a percentage get a job offer. That’s machines and humans working side-by-side.

(Editing by Beth Pinsker and Bernadette Baum)

Trump and Brexit give momentum to EU defense push

European Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska arrives to a meeting of European Union defence ministers at the EU Council in Brussels, Belgium May 18, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Vidal

By Gabriela Baczynska and Robin Emmott

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union’s executive is ready to increase support for the bloc’s first ever defense research program, offering more funds to develop new military hardware in its earliest stages after years of government cuts, a top EU official said.

Following a 90-million-euro pilot investment from the EU’s common budget in 2017-2019, the European Commission is proposing 500 million euros ($563 million) for the 2019-2020 period that could rise to 1.5 billion euros a year from 2021, Industry Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska told Reuters.

“European citizens see security as the number one thing that Europe should provide to them, so it’s time to propose this,” Bienkowska said in an interview.

With Britain, one of EU’s leading military powers, leaving the bloc, ideas for common EU defense are gathering pace in the wake of Islamic attacks in Western Europe. Europeans are also worried about U.S. commitment to NATO under President Donald Trump.

Under the proposal unveiled on Wednesday, at least three firms and two member states would have to submit a joint project to be eligible for financing from the EU budget.

If agreed by governments and the European Parliament, the EU budget would put up 20 percent of the costs of developing prototypes, Bienkowska said.

“The prototype phase is the riskiest one and it is very important to have incentives from the European budget to prepare common projects,” she added.

A European drone is often cited as an example of how EU funding can help get projects underway. Bienkowska said she also hoped to see cyber projects from smaller firms and innovative startups.

She said she wants negotiations and legislative work between the Commission, member states and the European Parliament to finalize by the end of 2018.

BREXIT FACTOR

The EU’s political capital Brussels hopes it can turn the tables on Brexit – an unprecedented setback in 60 years of European integration – by moving ahead with closer defense and security cooperation, which London had long blocked.

The EU, where most governments are also NATO allies, have also come under increased pressure from Trump, who last month scolded the Europeans for failing to spend enough on their own defense.

Though Bienkowska said work on promoting more security and defense cooperation in the EU has started two years ago, she admitted Europe’s unease about Trump gives it additional momentum: “All developments in the United States will make our cooperation (in Europe) stronger.”

“We will work more closely in the European Union, what we want to achieve is to have a stronger European defense and a stronger NATO.”

Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and its subsequent backing for militias fighting Kiev troops in the industrial east of the former Soviet republic also add to the bloc’s security concerns.

The EU estimates it loses up to a 100 billion euros a year on duplication, leaving it with far fewer capabilities than the United States. Years of defense cuts have worsened the issue as national governments jealously protect their own firms.

Europe has 37 types of armored personal carriers and 12 types of tanker aircraft compared to nine and four respectively in the United States, according to EU analysis.

“Up until now, member states were doing things completely separately, without any cooperation. I want to appeal to the member states to think about common projects, because the money will be there,” Bienkowska said.

For the future, Bienkowska is mulling a common European defense bond for joint purchases from 2021, though she said no decisions had yet been taken.

Italy is a proponent of issuing joint EU debt, as well as exempting various types of spending from budget deficit limits. Germany, on the other hand, which is the bloc’s largest economy and key power, is opposed to both these approaches. ($1 = 0.8887 euros)

(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)

Scientists to test whether Zika can kill brain cancer cells

FILE PHOTO - Genetically modified male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are pictured at Oxitec factory in Piracicaba, Brazil, October 26, 2016. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) – Scientists in Britain plan to harness the Zika virus to try to kill brain tumor cells in experiments that they say could lead to new ways to fight an aggressive type of cancer.

The research will focus on glioblastoma, the most common form of brain cancer, which has a five-year survival rate of barely 5 percent.

Zika causes severe disability in babies by attacking developing stem cells in the brain – but in adults, whose brains are fully formed, it often causes no more than mild flu-like symptoms.

In glioblastoma, the cancer cells are similar to those in the developing brain, suggesting that the virus could be used to target them while sparing normal adult brain tissue.

Experts say existing treatments have to be given at low doses to avoid damaging healthy tissue.

Researchers led by Harry Bulstrode at Cambridge University will use tumor cells in the lab and in mice to assess Zika’s potential.

The mosquito-borne virus has spread to more than 60 countries and territories in a global outbreak that was first identified in Brazil in 2015.

“Zika virus infection in babies and children is a major global health concern, and the focus has been to discover more about the virus to find new possible treatments,” Bulstrode said in a statement.

“We’re taking a different approach, and want to use these new insights to see if the virus can be unleashed against one of the hardest-to-treat cancers …

“We hope to show that the Zika virus can slow down brain tumor growth in tests in the lab,” Bulstrode added. “If we can learn lessons from Zika’s ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and target brain stem cells selectively, we could be holding the key to future treatments.”

(Editing by Louise Ireland and Kevin Liffey)

Oddities in WannaCry ransomware puzzle cybersecurity researchers

Cables and computers are seen inside a data centre at an office in the heart of the financial district in London, Britain May 15, 2017. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

By Jeremy Wagstaff

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – The WannaCry malware that spread to more than 100 countries in a few hours is throwing up several surprises for cybersecurity researchers, including how it gained its initial foothold, how it spread so fast and why the hackers are not making much money from it.

Some researchers have found evidence they say could link North Korea with the attack, but others are more cautious, saying that the first step is shedding light on even the most basic questions about the malware itself.

For one thing, said IBM Security’s Caleb Barlow, researchers are still unsure exactly how the malware spread in the first place. Most cybersecurity companies have blamed phishing e-mails – e-mails containing malicious attachments or links to files – that download the ransomware.

That’s how most ransomware finds its way onto victims’ computers.

The problem in the WannaCry case is that despite digging through the company’s database of more than 1 billion e-mails dating back to March 1, Barlow’s team could find none linked to the attack.

“Once one victim inside a network is infected it propagates,” Boston-based Barlow said in a phone interview, describing a vulnerability in Microsoft Windows that allows the worm to move from one computer to another.

The NSA used the Microsoft flaw to build a hacking tool codenamed EternalBlue that ended up in the hands of a mysterious group called the Shadow Brokers, which then published that and other such tools online.

But the puzzle is how the first person in each network was infected with the worm. “It’s statistically very unusual that we’d scan and find no indicators,” Barlow said.

Other researchers agree. “Right now there is no clear indication of the first compromise for WannaCry,” said Budiman Tsjin of RSA Security, a part of Dell.

Knowing how malware infects and spreads is key to being able to stop existing attacks and anticipate new ones. “How the hell did this get on there, and could this be repeatedly used again?” said Barlow.

PALTRY RANSOM

Some cybersecurity companies, however, say they’ve found a few samples of the phishing e-mails. FireEye said it was aware customers had used its reports to successfully identify some associated with the attack.

But the company agrees that the malware relied less on phishing e-mails than other attacks. Once a certain number of infections was established, it was able to use the Microsoft vulnerability to propagate without their help.

There are other surprises, that suggest this is not an ordinary ransomware attack.

Only paltry sums were collected by the hackers, according to available evidence, mostly in the bitcoin cryptocurrency.

There were only three bitcoin wallets and the campaign has far earned only $50,000 or so, despite the widespread infections. Barlow said that single payments in some other ransomware cases were more than that, depending on the victim.

Jonathan Levin of Chainalysis, which monitors bitcoin payments, said there were other differences compared to most ransomware campaigns: for instance the lack of sophisticated methods used in previous cases to convince victims to pay up. In the past, this has included hot lines in various languages.

And so far, Levin said, the bitcoin that had been paid into the attackers’ wallets remained there – compared to another campaign, known as Locky, which made $15 million while regularly emptying the bitcoin wallets.

“They really aren’t set up well to handle their bitcoin payments,” Levin said.

The lack of sophistication may bolster those cybersecurity researchers who say they have found evidence that could link North Korea to the attack.

A senior researcher from South Korea’s Hauri Labs, Simon Choi, said on Tuesday the reclusive state had been developing and testing ransomware programs only since August. In one case, the hackers demanded bitcoin in exchange for client information they had stolen from a South Korean shopping mall.

Choi, who has done extensive research into North Korea’s hacking capabilities, said his findings matched those of Symantec and Kaspersky Lab, who say some code in an earlier version of the WannaCry software had also appeared in programs used by the Lazarus Group, identified by some researchers as a North Korea-run hacking operation.

The Lazarus hackers have however been more brazen in their pursuit of financial gain than others, and have been blamed for the theft of $81 million from the Bangladesh central bank, according to some cybersecurity firms. The United States accused it of being behind a cyber attack on Sony Pictures in 2014.

Whoever is found to be behind the attack, said Marin Ivezic, a cybersecurity partner at PwC in Hong Kong, the way the hackers used freely available tools so effectively may be what makes this campaign more worrying.

By bundling a tool farmed from the leaked NSA files with their own ransomware, “they achieved better distribution than anything they could have achieved in a traditional way” he said.

“EternalBlue (the hacking tool) has now demonstrated the ROI (return on investment) of the right sort of worm and this will become the focus of research for cybercriminals,” Ivezic said.

(Additional reporting Ju-Min Park in Seoul, Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

U.S.-UK alliance targets the world’s deadliest superbugs

MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) bacteria strain is seen in a petri dish containing agar jelly for bacterial culture in a microbiological laboratory in Berlin March 1, 2008. MRSA is a drug-resistant "superbug", which can cause deadly infections. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) – Eleven biotech companies and research teams in Britain and the United States were awarded up to $48 million in funding on Thursday to speed development of new antibiotics powerful enough to take on the world’s deadliest superbugs.

The range of antimicrobial medicines able to kill the growing number of drug-resistant infections is dwindling and health experts warn that within a generation the death toll from such “superbug” infections could reach 10 billion.

Announcing its first funding, a new U.S.-U.K. alliance known as CARB-X, short for Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria Biopharmaceutical Accelerator, said it would invest an initial $24 million in 11 biotech companies pursing various projects to develop antibiotics and diagnostic. Another $24 million will be given in staged payments over three years as projects progress.

Added to private funds from the companies, the CARB-X funding could lead to an investment of more than $75 million in projects that show success, it said in a statement. Britain’s Wellcome Trust global health charity is committing 125 million pounds ($155.5 million) over five years.

Public health specialists have been warning for years that the world is facing an urgent global health threat from antibiotic-resistant superbug bacteria and that the pipeline of novel therapies to treat them is precariously thin.

Drug-resistant infections kill 700,000 people a year worldwide, and the last new antibiotic class to be approved for market was discovered in 1984.

With CARB-X funds, three of the 11 projects are working on potential new classes of antibiotics, while four are exploring new ways of targeting and killing bacteria.

Tim Jinks, head of drug resistant infection at the Wellcome Trust, said antibiotic resistance is already “a huge global health challenge” and is getting worse. “Without effective drugs, doctors cannot treat patients,” he said in a statement.

Kevin Outterson, CARB-X’s executive director and a professor of law at Boston University in the United States, added: “By accelerating promising research, it is our hope that we can speed up the delivery of new effective antibacterials, vaccines, devices and rapid diagnostics to patients who need them.”

(Editing by Alexander Smith)

Zika causes infertility, lasting harm to testes in mice: U.S. study

n aedes aegypti mosquito is pictured on a leaf in San Jose, Costa Rica

By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) – A study of mice infected with Zika showed the virus caused lasting damage to key cells in the male reproductive system, resulting in shrunken testicles, lower levels of sex hormones and reduced fertility, U.S. researchers said on Monday.

So far, the findings are only in mice, but the result is worrisome enough to warrant further study because of possible implications for people, said Dr. Michael Diamond of Washington University in St. Louis, whose research was published in the journal Nature.

“It has to be corroborated,” Diamond, a professor of pathology, immunology and molecular microbiology, said in a telephone interview.

Much of the global effort to fight Zika has focused on protecting pregnant women from infection because of the grave implications for their unborn children.

Zika infections in pregnant women have been shown to cause microcephaly, a severe birth defect in which the head and brain are undersized, as well as other brain abnormalities.

Previous studies have shown that Zika can remain in semen for as long as six months. But little is known about whether prolonged exposure to the virus in the testes can cause harm.

To study this, Diamond and colleagues injected male mice with Zika. After a week, the researchers recovered infectious virus from the testes and sperm, and they found evidence of viral genes in certain cells of the testes. But overall, the testes appeared normal compared with other lab mice.

After three weeks, however, the differences were stark. The testes in the Zika-infected mice had shrunk to a tenth of their normal size, and the internal structure was destroyed.

“We saw significant evidence of destruction of the seminiferous tubules, which are important for generating new sperm,” Diamond said.

The researchers also found that Zika infects and kills Sertoli cells, which maintain the barrier between the bloodstream and the testes and foster sperm growth. Sertoli cells do not regenerate.

That raises the specter of long-lasting damage.

“The virus is infecting a site which doesn’t really renew if it gets damaged. That is the problem,” Diamond said.

Tests of testicular function showed sperm counts, sex hormones and fertility had dropped. Infected mice were four times less likely to impregnate a healthy female mouse than healthy males.

“This is the only virus I know of that causes such severe symptoms of infertility,” added Dr. Kelle Moley, a fertility specialist at Washington University and a study co-author.

There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika.

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Will Dunham)

Zika vaccine race spurred by crisis and profit potential

Research scientist Dan Galperin works in the research laboratory at Protein Sciences Inc. where they are working on developing a vaccine for the Zika virus i

By Bill Berkrot

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The race to find protection against the Zika virus is fueled by something often missing from tropical disease research: the potential for big profit.

The prospect of a blockbuster vaccine against a mosquito-borne virus has accelerated the pace of development and attracted the interest of big drugmakers, including Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline Plc and Takeda Pharmaceuticals.

Although Zika infections are mild or asymptomatic in most people, demand for a vaccine is expected to be strong because it can cause devastating birth defects, pharmaceutical executives and disease experts said.

The most lucrative market is seen in travelers seeking inoculation against the virus that has moved rapidly across the Americas and is the only mosquito-borne disease also spread through sex.

“It scares people,” said Scott Weaver, a virologist with the University of Texas and chairman of the Zika task force for the Global Virus Network. “Europeans and Americans can pay a pretty high price for these kinds of vaccines.”

A vaccine could come to market in as little as two years. Even if the current outbreaks in Latin America and the Caribbean burn out by that time, people living in those regions are expected to want protection against a return of Zika.

Tens of millions of travelers from United States and other wealthy nations, including people on business trips with corporate-sponsored health coverage, are expected to get vaccines before visiting areas where Zika is circulating.

“If you consider just a portion of the U.S. traveler population, we can conservatively envision a Zika market opportunity exceeding $1 billion” a year, said Joseph Kim, chief executive of Inovio Pharmaceuticals, a Pennsylvania company that is farthest along in the development path with human testing of a vaccine candidate underway in hard hit Puerto Rico.

Drugmakers and disease experts also envision the vaccine becoming standard care for girls before puberty to guard against birth defects in future pregnancies. Boys also could be candidates to protect eventual sexual partners.

“Hopefully a vaccine can be developed that’s sold for a low cost in endemic areas,” Weaver said.

ZIKA’S DIFFERENCE

Blockbuster sales for vaccines against mosquito-borne viruses are unheard of. Sanofi’s dengue vaccine, approved in nine countries, is generating near-blockbuster expectations, the biggest in the market by far. Analysts forecast annual sales for Dengvaxia reaching about $900 million by 2020, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Efforts to find a malaria vaccine are purely philanthropic. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has contributed significantly to GSK’s decades-long effort to produce a vaccine for children in Africa. Development is ongoing, and GSK expects no profit.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) developed a potential vaccine for West Nile virus, but it failed to find a commercial partner because the virus did not inspire enough public alarm to generate big sales. West Nile leads to serious complications in less than 1 percent of people infected.

In February, the World Health Organization declared a global public health emergency because of Zika’s apparent link to microcephaly, a birth defect marked by small heads and serious developmental problems. That, and evidence of other severe fetal brain abnormalities linked to Zika, have galvanized efforts to speed vaccine development.

The NIH is negotiating with companies to produce Zika vaccines but has its own pilot plant that can make enough for early clinical testing, which began with its first candidate in August.

“We’re not dependent on a company until you prove it works and then you need somebody to manufacture millions of doses,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

The first NIH candidate is a DNA vaccine containing no actual virus, in which genetically engineered cells produce an antigen that triggers an immune response, similar to the West Nile vaccine. By early 2017, the agency expects to be able to decide whether to begin enrolling thousands of patients in an efficacy study, or move on to the next candidate.

The size of the Zika outbreak may help development efforts. If it remains widespread, it will be easier to tell if a vaccine is effective.

“If the infections die down, then it’s going to take much longer to find out if it works,” Fauci said.

A second NIH candidate contains inactivated viral material, while a third utilizes attenuated, or weakened, live virus.

DNA-based candidates are most likely to prove safe, but they typically require multiple doses to work. Vaccines that contain live virus are considered most effective with one dose, but have a far higher safety hurdle, particularly if they are intended for pregnant women, and so they take longer to get to market.

INDUSTRY PILES IN

Inovio’s DNA vaccine is injected along with a brief low voltage electronic pulse that induces cell membranes to open, making them more receptive, in theory, to accepting the vaccine’s genetic material.

Privately-held Protein Sciences Corp built its Zika vaccine using technology similar to its already approved Flublok flu vaccine. The drugmaker has partnerships with companies in Argentina, Brazil, Japan and Mexico and plans to seek funding from Brazil and the NIH. It expects to start human trials by January.

Chief Executive Manon Cox estimated the cost of developing and securing approval for a vaccine could be as high as $1 billion. Without government funding, “that product has got to have a market of a few billion dollars,” she said.

With the help of $43 million in initial funding from the U.S. government, France’s Sanofi is developing a candidate using live attenuated virus. The company is not as far along as some other efforts, but it aims to start human trials next year and is confident it can catch up.

“We’ve got technologies, infrastructure, experience dealing with regulators in this field. All of that gives us a jumpstart,” said Nick Jackson, head of research for Sanofi’s vaccine unit.

Another French vaccine maker, Valneva SE, generated an inactivated Zika vaccine candidate using the same process as its already approved Japanese encephalitis vaccine.

GSK is working with NIAID on a new type of vaccine technology. Japan’s Takeda also secured U.S. government funding to help develop a vaccine using killed Zika virus and plans to begin human testing in the second half of 2017.

“If there is a huge need,” said Dr. Rajeev Venkayya, president of Takeda’s global vaccine unit, “there will be a business model that works.”

(Reporting by Bill Berkrot; Editing by Michele Gershberg and Lisa Girion)

U.S. fights Zika mosquitoes with limited arsenal

Zika virus kit

By Julie Steenhuysen

(Reuters) – Over Wynwood, the Miami neighborhood where Zika gained a foothold in the continental United States, low flying planes have been spraying naled, a tightly controlled pesticide often used as a last resort. It appears to be working, killing at least 90 percent of the target mosquitoes.

Across the Biscayne Bay in Miami Beach, wind and high-rise buildings make aerial spraying challenging. So, the effort in the popular tourist destination has focused on ground-sprayed pyrethroids – pesticides that are safer but don’t always work.

The arrival in Florida of Zika, a virus that can cause a crippling birth defect known as microcephaly, has drawn into focus the limitations of the U.S. mosquito control arsenal.

Larvicides reduce future populations relatively safely. But for use against the mature mosquitoes that spread disease, only two classes of pesticides are approved. Each has drawbacks.

Organophosphates, such as naled, are effective. But there are strict controls to limit risk. Pyrethroids are safer but have been used so much that mosquitoes, in many places, are immune.

“That’s really the weak link in much of the United States,” said Michael Doyle, director of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District. “We’re kind of caught off guard.”

DENGUE PREVIEW

Doyle led a 2009 effort against a dengue outbreak in South Florida, the first in the United States in nearly a century. Authorities threw everything they had at the Aedes aegypti, the same mosquito that carries Zika: backpack fogging, door-to-door yard inspections looking for watery breeding sites and larvicide spraying.

Still, 88 people were infected before the virus was brought under control more than two years later, and there continue to be sporadic cases in Florida.

The outbreak highlighted gaps in the mosquito control arsenal that remain, according to pesticide makers, abatement officials and entomologists. Few companies make pesticides for use in public health outbreaks, a niche market that is expensive to get into, has a limited upside and varies season to season.

Safety testing a new pesticide can cost up to $250 million and take 10 years, said Karen Larson, vice president of regulatory affairs at privately held Clarke Mosquito.

As long as a product remains on the market, companies must continue testing for unforeseen side effects, an expense that some makers have blamed for decisions to abandon products.

“There’s not a lot of profit,” Larson said.

Sales of the Dibrome brand of naled have been estimated at $12 million a year. By comparison, total crop pesticide sales for some companies can exceed $500 million in a single quarter.

Bayer, Dow Chemical, BASF and other agricultural pesticide makers “are not interested in going after a $20 million or $30 million a year market,” said William A. Kuser, investor relations director at Dibrome maker American Vanguard Corp.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved several new pesticides in recent years. But it has received few requests for using them against mosquitoes, said Jim Jones, Assistant Administrator for the agency’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.

“Although it’s of critical importance, the amount one can sell is small and it’s variable, which makes it difficult for business planning,” Jones said. “You can go many years without having much of a market at all, then suddenly, whether it’s because of a nuisance outbreak of mosquitoes or something like West Nile or Zika, the market grows significantly.”

Abatement authorities have pressed for help with the cost of developing mosquito control pesticides. The 1996 U.S. Food Quality Protection Act includes a provision for subsidies to defray the expense of safety testing, but Congress has never funded it.

RISK AND RESISTANCE

At least 49 cases of locally transmitted Zika infections have been reported in Florida, most in Wynwood and Miami Beach. Most people have no symptoms or mild illness.

Because of the microcephaly link, efforts are focused on preventing infection among pregnant women.

In Wynwood, the campaign began with pyrethroids, synthetic versions of a chemical derived from chrysanthemums. Amid signs of resistance, authorities switched to naled.

Developed as nerve agents, organophosphates, at high doses, can cause nausea, convulsions and death. They can be toxic to wildlife, including bees. The EPA considers naled safe at permitted ultra-low concentrations, and it is sprayed annually over 16 million acres in the United States.

But it is banned in Europe, where the risk is seen as unacceptable. In the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, where Zika is widespread, the governor prohibited naled amid protests over safety concerns.

Although naled killed more than 90 percent of mosquitoes in traps set in Wynwood, the Aedes aegypti’s resilience remains a concern.

“This is truly the cockroach of mosquitoes,” said Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

DROPPING PESTICIDES

CDC entomologist Janet McAllister said pyrethroid resistance typically is limited by the mosquito’s small range. When resistance to one pyrethroid develops, another often works.

Still, she said, “we would love to see additional classes of insecticides available because, even in places that may have an effective tool today, that doesn’t mean it is going to last down the road.”

The EPA can fast-track its evaluation of new pesticides and expand the use of old ones. In response to Zika, it expedited new uses for pesticide-treated bed nets and mosquito traps.

Still, development of pesticides is painstaking. Even if the EPA speeds up its evaluation, required safety data can take years to collect. And the expense of ongoing safety testing has prompted companies to drop products.

Bayer CropScience, for example, told distributors it dropped the pyrethroid resmethrin in 2012, rather than do additional testing. Clarke Mosquito gave up temephos, a larvicide, six years ago, because of costs, Larson said.

That decision led to stockpiling in southwest Florida, said Wayne Gale, director of the Lee County Mosquito Control District.

“We purchased just about every bit,” he said.

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Michele Gershberg and Lisa Girion)

U.S. researcher contracts Zika during experiement

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are seen at the Laboratory of Entomology and Ecology of the Dengue Branch of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in San Juan

(Reuters) – A United States laboratory researcher was back at work after contracting the Zika virus by pricking herself with a needle during an experiment last month, broadcaster ABC News said on Thursday.

There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika, which is a close cousin of diseases such as dengue and chikungunya, and causes mild fever, rash and red eyes. An estimated 80 percent of those infected have no symptoms.

The unidentified researcher at the University of Pittsburgh pricked herself on May 23 and showed symptoms on June 1, returning to work five days later when she no longer had a fever, ABC News said, citing a statement from the school.

School officials were not immediately available for comment.

The incident was the fourth confirmed case of the Zika virus in Allegheny County, its health department said, without giving details of the accident.

“Despite this rare incident, there is still no current risk of contracting Zika from mosquitos in Allegheny County,” department director Karen Hacker said in a statement.

U.S. health officials have concluded that Zika infections in pregnant women can cause microcephaly, a birth defect marked by small head size that can lead to severe developmental problems in babies.

The World Health Organization has said there is strong scientific consensus that Zika can also cause Guillain-Barre, a rare neurological syndrome that causes temporary paralysis in adults.

The connection between Zika and microcephaly first came to light last fall in Brazil, which has now confirmed more than 1,400 cases of microcephaly that it considers to be related to Zika infections in the mothers.

To reduce the chance of virus transmission, the Pittsburgh researcher is using insect repellent to avoid mosquito bites, besides wearing garments with long sleeves and trousers, ABC News added.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

U.S. targets spying threat on campus with proposed research clampdown

A man walks through Killian Court at MIT in Cambridge

By Julia Edwards

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Leading U.S. universities are pushing back against a proposed State Department rule that would bar foreign students from more research projects and classes involving information seen as vital to national security.

The proposal by the administration of President Barack Obama reflects growing worries in Washington over a rise in intellectual property theft from foreign adversaries such as China.

Research related to defense technology such as munitions, nuclear engineering and satellite technology would be particularly affected by the rule, which is still in the proposal process and has not been widely reported.

Defense contractors such as Northrop Grumman, Boeing and Lockheed Martin regularly sponsor university research, but did not respond to requests for comment.

The new rule, which largely applies to company-sponsored research, threatens to shrink the pool of research opportunities available for U.S. colleges, which have grown strongly in popularity among high-paying foreign students in recent years.

Some top U.S. schools do not accept any research grants that restrict participation by foreign citizens because it runs counter to their policies of academic freedom and non-discrimination.

In a letter to the State Department, Stanford University said it joined The Association of American Universities (AAU), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Pennsylvania in criticizing the rule, citing “disastrous consequences.” The AAU represents 62 leading research institutions, including Harvard, Duke University, and the University of Chicago.

The universities say the rule would tip the balance too far in favor of national security against academic freedom.

“We wouldn’t be able to perform the same basic foundational research that we do,” said Stanford’s director of export compliance Steve Eisner. “Stanford has a policy of conducting research openly regardless of citizenship. We’re not going to tell our Chinese students that they can’t participate.”

No current cases of industrial espionage involve university research, though government officials told Reuters they suspect university faculty are violating loosely defined research rules.

A 2011 FBI report said “foreign adversaries and competitors take advantage” of the openness of information on college campuses and a small percentage of students, researchers and foreign professors are “working at the behest of another government.”

There were just under 1 million foreign students at U.S. colleges in the 2014-2015 school year, 31 percent of whom were Chinese, according to the Institute of International Education. That has grown from fewer than 100,000 in the 1960s when the United States began regulating their access to research.

In 2015, the number of intellectual property cases investigated by the FBI rose 53 percent from the previous year.

The FBI says China is the main culprit. It has accused Chinese nationals of attempting to export technology from the United States, including genetically modified corn seed and sensitive military information stored on Boeing computers.

The Department of Justice said in a statement that “we know that some foreign spies and criminals target students and faculty alike to steal valuable technology and intellectual property.” It added it was working with universities and laboratories to raise awareness of the threat.

A spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hong Lei, said the United States should be improving cooperation with China instead of adding restrictions on foreign students.

“China’s scientific and technological developments have been achieved through the hard struggle of the Chinese people,” Lei said at a ministry briefing on Thursday.

SHRINKING RESEARCH CHOICES The proposed rule comes as universities face shrinking federal funding for research, forcing many to rely more on industry-sponsored projects.

State Department officials told Reuters they are aware of universities’ opposition to the rule, but have received no complaints or advice from companies that sponsor university research.

Experts in counterterrorism and counter nuclear proliferation told the State Department tighter restrictions on research access are necessary because universities are “a soft target,” said Tony Dearth, director of defense trade controls licensing at the State Department.

In the first case of its kind, University of Tennessee electrical engineering professor John Reese Roth was convicted in 2008 of exporting “defense articles” without a license, and of wire fraud and conspiracy and sentenced to four years.

Roth used foreign students in research on plasma-based flight-control devices for drone aircraft under a U.S. Air Force contract. He let two foreign students illegally gain access to sensitive information and export it to China, said the FBI.

The proposed rule would expand the definition of research classified as “technical” to any project that undergoes a pre-publication review by a private sponsor.

Unlike less-sensitive “fundamental” research, technical research is regulated in a variety of ways including a requirement that foreign students must apply for a license. Students from China, Iran and North Korea are usually denied licenses, said university officials.

The State Department argues that if a company wants to take a second look at research because it may be sensitive to its economic interests, foreign student involvement should be regulated.

Stanford told the State Department in a public letter that the new rule would affect a broad portion of industry-backed research because universities “routinely” allow sponsors to review results for up to 90 days.

Colleges that object to the government’s foreign-student restrictions have long avoided technical research and focused solely on projects classed as fundamental. The new rule would force them to either loosen their policies or give up defense-related research.

Schools with fundamental research-only policies are already in the minority. A Reuters survey of the top 35 research universities, ranked by R&D expenditures, found only 11 were still adhering to such a position.

Federal funding for research still dwarfs business funding, but the two are trending in opposite directions.

Over 2011-2014, federal funds for university research fell to $37.9 billion from $40.8 billion, according to the National Science Foundation. Over the same period, industry-sponsored university research grew to $5.9 billion from $4.9 billion.

“As federal funds have become scarcer and the competition has increased, I think we see a lot of universities expanding their partnerships with industry,” said Bob Hardy, director of intellectual property management at the Council on Government Relations, an association of research universities.

(Reporting by Julia Edwards; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Stuart Grudgings)