Oldest known cheese found in Egyptian tomb – from Smithsonian

A look inside the ancient Egyptian tomb containing really old cheese

By Katherine J. Wu

Last month, archaeologists cracked open a tomb excavated in Alexandria, Egypt, revealing three skeletons bathing in an crimson pool of sludgy sewage. In response, tens of thousands around the world immediately petitioned for the right to sip from the freshly uncorked casket of amontillado (a sherry wine). (Spoiler: It hasn’t worked out.) But fear not, coffin connoisseurs: There’s a new artisanal artifact in town—the world’s oldest solid cheese, over 3,000 years in the making.

The tomb of Ptahmes, mayor of Memphis, the ancient capital of Egypt during the 13th century BC, contains quite the trove of treasures. First uncovered in 1885, the site was then lost to time for over a century. But between 2013 and 2014, Cairo University archaeologists rooting around the grave stumbled across a few broken jars with puzzling contents. One had remnants of a solid, whitish mass, as well as a canvas fabric the researchers speculate may have covered the jar when it was whole—perhaps to preserve its contents.

To unveil the nature of the mysterious mass, the researchers, led by Enrico Greco, a chemical scientist at the University of Catania in Italy, dissolved the substance and analyzed its contents.

The cheese

The lump still contained a few recognizable bits of proteins, including casein from both cow milk and either sheep or goat milk. Since the cloth covering wouldn’t have kept a liquid from spilling out, the researchers reasoned that they were probably dealing with a solid dairy product, rather than, say, an old bottle of very spoiled milk.

Normally, an unidentified cheesy object would be confirmed with an analysis of its fats, Greco said in an interview with Ruth Schuster at Haaretz. But “aggressive” environmental disturbances, including several floodings from the nearby Nile and heavy rainfall, may have contaminated the gravesite with foreign chemicals. This kind of contamination likely destroyed most of the fats in the jarred substance over the course the last 3,200 or so years it endured in the tomb.

Traces of dairy have been found on artifacts as old as 7,000 years, constituting sufficient evidence for ancient cheesemaking, but this is the first sizable hunk of the tasty concoction to be found in any kind of preserved state.

The cheese was far from alone in this jar, however. The team was unsurprised to find traces of bacterial proteins in the knob of decayed cheese as well; after all, microbes are an essential part of fermenting dairy. But the microscopic critters that had blossomed upon this cheese weren’t the friendly Lactobacillus species that give Swiss and Emmental cheese their pleasantly nutty tang—or anything else you’d want near your food. That is, unless you have a bit of a death wish.

It turns out this antique cheese had a blood- (and milk-) curdling secret: a possible infestation of Brucella melitensis, a species of bacteria that causes the infectious disease brucellosis, which comes with a whole set of kicky symptoms including fever, sweating and muscle pain. Unsurprisingly, eating or drinking unpasteurized or raw dairy products is one of the most common ways to contract Brucella.

But matching bits of proteins to actual foods and living creatures is a bit like guessing the title of a book based on just a couple sentence fragments. Sometimes the words are distinct enough to make the connection; other times, they’re so ubiquitous that they could belong to just about any piece of writing. The researchers’ findings are somewhere in the middle: They think that this is some highly overmatured cheese—the Brucella is somewhat more dubiousIf confirmed, though, this could be the oldest evidence yet that Brucella plagued ancient populations. Until now, brucellosis has only been identified in human remains dating back to 750 BC.

Even if it wasn’t Brucella, though, only so many microbes carry the particular protein the researchers identified. One of the other options, Coxiella burnetii, is also no walk in the park: This bacterium causes Q fever and also naturally infects a similar subset of livestock, resulting in similarly unpleasant ailments in humans. Based on their protein work, the researchers believe Coxiella is a far less likely suspect, but say that further confirmation is necessary.

In any case, with a hefty dose of decontamination, maybe this prehistoric cheese could pair well with a glass of ancient wine. And if given the opportunity, the people will likely make an understandable stink for the chance.

Link to story

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Virulent Newcastle Disease response by the numbers

The Virulent Newcastle Disease (VND) project in Southern California is now in its fourth month. The disease has been detected at a total of 117 properties in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside and Ventura Counties.

Key numbers as of August 29, 2018

96,880 – Number of properties surveyed

2,679 – Number of properties placed under quarantine

397 – Number of properties released from quarantine

671 – Combined number of farmers markets, feed stores, pet stores, egg vendors and private veterinary practices visited by VND outreach teams

Zero – Number of VND detections at commercial poultry operations

40 – Number of commercial operations in Southern California conducting surveillance testing

176 – Number of state and federal personnel working on this incident

As this project continues, bird owners everywhere, but especially in Southern California, are urged to practice strict biosecurity measures. In Southern California these include:

  1. Don’t move birds
  2. Don’t bring new birds to the property
  3. Don’t let people with birds come into contact with your birds.

VND mostly travels through the movement of  infected poultry or on the hands and feet of people that came into contact with infected poultry or their droppings.

Bird owners urged to  report sick birds to CDFA’s Sick Bird Hotline, 866-922-2473.

Please visit CDFA’s VND web page for more information.





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Hydrogen Fuel Testing: Secretary Ross at CDFA’s Measurement Standards office in Anaheim

California Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross is in Southern California today to check in on the department’s various projects, including a visit to the Anaheim office of CDFA’s Division of Measurement Standards where staff conducts hydrogen fuel testing to detect contaminants like water and sulphur, among others.

Secretary Ross (L) learns about hydrogen fuel testing today at CDFA’s Division of Measurement Standards (DMS) facility in Anaheim.

The device shown is called the Hydrogen Quality Sampling Apparatus (HQSA), and it takes liter-sized samples from California’s 36 hydrogen fuel stations. The samples are tested for contaminants like water and sulphur, among others.

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California releases new climate change assessment

From a California Natural Resources Agency News Release

Warning that two-thirds of Southern California’s beaches could completely disappear and the average area burned by wildfires could nearly double by 2100, the State of California has released California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment, which details new science on the devastating impacts of climate change and provides planning tools to support the state’s response.

“In California, facts and science still matter,” said Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. “These findings are profoundly serious and will continue to guide us as we confront the apocalyptic threat of irreversible climate change.”

The compilation of original climate research includes 44 technical reports and 13 summary reports on climate change impacts to help ready the state for a future punctuated by severe wildfires, more frequent and longer droughts, rising sea levels, increased flooding, coastal erosion and extreme heat events. The peer-reviewed research translates global models into scaled-down, regionally relevant reports to fill information gaps and support decisions at the local, regional and state levels.

For agriculture, the report notes that many of California’s important crops, including fruit and nut trees, are particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts like changing  temperature regimes and water-induced stress. Adaptive decision-making and technological advancement may maintain the viability of California agriculture. However, studies show that viability of the sector overall may be at the expense of agricultural jobs and the dairy sector, and this report points out that additional research is needed on potential yield changes of crops under changing climate conditions, to provide growers the crops varieties that can thrive under warmer and drier conditions, and tools they can use to identify and implement adaptation options. Sustainably managing groundwater resources remains a crucial priority.

California has completed three prior Climate Change Assessments. Since the release of California’s Third Climate Change Assessment in 2012, the state has experienced several of the most extreme natural events in its recorded history, including a severe five-year drought, an unprecedented tree mortality crisis, damaging floods driven by atmospheric rivers, and increasingly large and destructive wildfires.

The Fourth Assessment suggests these events will worsen in the future. Among the key findings:

  • Wildfire: Climate change will make forests more susceptible to extreme wildfires. By the year 2100, if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, one study found that the average area burned by wildfires would increase 77 percent and the frequency of extreme wildfires burning more than 25,000 acres would increase by nearly 50 percent. In the areas that have the highest fire risk, the cost of wildfire insurance is estimated to rise by 18 percent by 2055. Additionally, the percentage of property insured in California would decrease.
  • Sea-Level Rise: Under mid to high sea-level rise scenarios, up to 67 percent of Southern California beaches may completely erode by 2100 without large-scale human interventions. Statewide damages could reach nearly $17.9 billion from inundation of residential and commercial buildings if sea-level rise reaches 20 inches, which is within range of mid-century projections. A 100-year coastal flood, on top of this level of sea-level rise, would almost double the cost of damages. Updated modeling can help local planners analyze vulnerabilities in their area.
  • Energy: Higher temperatures will increase annual electricity demand for homes, primarily for use of air conditioning units. High demand is projected in inland regions and Southern California. More moderate increases are projected in cooler coastal areas. Increases in peak hourly demand during the hot months of the year could be more pronounced. This is a critical finding for California’s electric system, because generating capacity must match peak electricity demand.
  • Extreme Heat Events and Impacts on Public Health: Heat-related illnesses and deaths are projected to worsen drastically throughout the state. By mid-century, the Central Valley is projected to experience heat waves that average two weeks longer than those today, and the hot spells could occur four to 10 times more often in the Northern Sierra region. A new California Heat Assessment Tool (CHAT) could support public health departments as they work to reduce heat-related deaths and illnesses.

The latest reports also detail the unique and disproportionate climate threats to vulnerable communities and tribal communities, with a focus on working collaboratively with these communities on research and solutions for resilience.

In addition, a report set for release in early September will highlight how California can better integrate climate impacts in design processes for critical infrastructure. The report by a working group established by AB 2800 (Quirk) of 2016 reflects the expertise of multiple scientific and engineering disciplines to help design and construct infrastructure to withstand higher temperatures, more frequent and intense storms, drought, wildfires and sea-level rise.

To access Fourth Assessment technical reports, summary reports, online tools, climate projects and data, and other resources and information developed as part of California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment, please visit www.ClimateAssessment.ca.gov.

California is a global leader in using, investing in, and advancing research to set proactive climate change policy. Its climate change assessments provide the scientific foundation for understanding climate-related vulnerability and how Californians may respond. The Climate Change Assessments directly inform State policies, plans, programs, and guidance to promote effective and integrated action to safeguard California from climate change.

California – which is playing a world-leading role in building strong coalitions of partners committed to curbing carbon pollution in both the United States and around the globe – will convene the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco next month. At the Summit, representatives from subnational governments, businesses and civil society will showcase the surge of climate action around the world, and make the case that even more must be done.

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Industrial Hemp to be evaluated as low-desert crop – from the Imperial Valley Press

Industrial hemp plants

Note – CDFA has established the California Industrial Hemp Program, in accordance with state statute, and is working to develop a registration process, fee structure, regulations, and other administrative details as necessary to provide for the commercial production of industrial hemp. This work is ongoing. 

By Oli Bachie,  University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Agronomy Advisor for Imperial, Riverside and San Diego counties.


Hemp, Cannabis sativa L., is a dioecious annual plant that has not been grown legally in California for many years due to regulatory restrictions.  In recent years, the restrictions have been loosened and many industry groups have shown research interest with industrial hemp. A 2015 federal law removed hemp from the list of controlled substances as long as its tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content did not exceed 0.3 percent.

State Senate Bill 566 (the California Industrial Hemp Farming Act), defines industrial hemp as a fiber or oilseed crop, or both, that is limited to the non-psychoactive types of the plant and the seed produced, having no more than 0.3 percent THC contained in the dried flowering tops.

The bill emphasizes that industrial hemp be grown only if it is on the list of approved seed cultivars and would require the Department of Food and Agriculture to determine the methodology and procedure by which the list of approved seed cultivars may be amended, as specified.

Industrial hemp is a versatile fiber crop and is known to produce food, fuel, feed, fiber for textiles, bio-composite plastics and other advanced manufacturing materials, oils for industrial and cosmetic purposes, and pharmaceuticals, with more than 25,000 linked products.

In terms of resource requirements for production, at least one study suggested that it is possible to produce three times the amount of hemp fiber as cotton from the same amount of land with lower impact in terms of water, energy and the ecological footprint. Hemp is considered to consume 66 percent to 76 percent less water than cotton. It is heat-tolerant and produces excellent fiber.

The University of California Cooperative Extension-Imperial County intends to conduct research on industrial hemp at the UC Desert Research and Extension Center. The objectives of our trials are to test adaptability and potential yield of some selected cultivars. The outcome of our research will help to identify cultivars that may withstand heat, high temperatures and other environmental conditions of the low desert.

We will evaluate seed and fiber (straw) yield and productivity, strictly following the guidelines specified by the U.S. Farm Bill (Agricultural Act). According to this bill, industrial hemp must be grown or cultivated for research purposes conducted under an agriculture pilot program or academic research with a THC concentration of no more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.

If levels exceed this value, the trials should be destroyed. In summary, our trial(s) will confirm if industrial hemp can withstand the dry and hot weather and be productive under mostly long photoperiod seasons of the low desert. Seasonally repeated trials will identify the best planting dates, adaptability and suitability of hemp varieties for California’s low desert environment.

Note: This is not an endorsement of hemp production by growers or any other interested party in the low desert. This is to simply state that the university will soon be conducting industrial hemp adaptability and yield potential under the low desert environment. We encourage growers and the farm community to share their concerns on our intended trial(s) with the UCCE Imperial County.

Link to Imperial Valley Press

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CDFA opens new Border Inspection Station near Nevada border

CDFA opened a new Border Inspection Station this morning on I-15 at Mountain Pass, about four miles south of the California-Nevada border and 40 miles south of Las Vegas. This station replaces the one at Yermo, approximately 100 miles southwest of the new location. The Mountain Pass station is part of a Joint Point of Entry along with the California Highway Patrol’s Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Facility. Learn more about CDFA’s Border Inspection Stations.

Watch this video about CDFA’s Border Inspection Stations.

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Report details Ag’s substantial contribution to NE California economy – from CSU Chico

From a CSU Chico News Release

The Agribusiness Institute (ABI) at California State University, Chico has released a report detailing agriculture’s contributions to the regional economy of Northeastern California. The report based on 2016 data shows that despite a continued decrease in commodity prices from a high in 2014, agriculture continues to be a driving force in job creation and economic activity within the region.

One in five jobs and $.16 of every dollar created by the Northeastern California economy was tied to agriculture in 2016, according to The Contribution of Agriculture to Northeastern California’s Economy in 2016, written by ABI Director Eric Houk, a professor of agricultural business in the College of Agriculture. The report covers economic activity in Butte, Colusa, Glenn, Lassen, Modoc, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Sutter, Tehama, Trinity and Yuba Counties.

The 13 counties in the study area produced $3.9 billion worth of agricultural products in 2016, which was down 5.2 percent from the previous year and 13.3 percent lower than 2014 due to decreased global commodity prices. Despite the decline of the two prior years, agricultural production in the region was up 38 percent from 2007.

The full report is available online at www.csuchico.edu/ag/about/agribusiness-institute.shtml

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Virulent Newcastle Disease update

CDFA, the USDA and local government partners continue their work to eradicate a virulent Newcastle disease outbreak in Southern California. There are now 106 cases of the disease that have been detected in backyard birds in California – 80 in San Bernardino County, 11 in Riverside County, 14 in Los Angeles County and one in Ventura County.

A reminder that virulent Newcastle disease is a highly contagious and deadly virus in birds. The virus is found in respiratory discharges and feces. Clinical signs in birds include:

  • sneezing
  • coughing 
  • nasal discharge 
  • green watery diarrhea 
  • depression 
  • neck twisting 
  • circling 
  • muscle tremors 
  • paralysis
  • decreased egg production 
  • swelling around eyes and neck 
  • sudden death

Important Message to Bird Owners in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties

If you own backyard birds, it is imperative that you restrict movement of your flock. Do not bring in any new birds or move out any existing birds. It is essential that good biosecurity measures are set in place for those who own backyard birds. These include simple steps like:

1) Washing hands and scrubbing boots BEFORE and AFTER entering poultry areas

2) Cleaning and disinfecting tires and equipment before moving them off the property

3) Instituting a 30-day isolation/quarantine of birds in your flock in which you have noticed symptoms, AND PLEASE CALL THE STATE BIRD HOTLINE, 866-922-2473.

Click here for Additional bird owner information.

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Climate change: hotter weather turbocharges US West Wildfires – from Associated Press via ABC News

By Seth Borenstein, Associated Press science writer

As temperatures rise in the U.S. West, so do the flames.

The years with the most acres burned by wildfires have some of the hottest temperatures, an Associated Press analysis of fire and weather data found. As human-caused climate change has warmed the world over the past 35 years, the land consumed by flames has more than doubled.

Experts say the way global warming worsens wildfires comes down to the basic dynamics of fire. Fires need ignition, oxygen and fuel. And what’s really changed is fuel — the trees, brush and other plants that go up in flames.

“Hotter, drier weather means our fuels are drier, so it’s easier for fires to start and spread and burn more intensely,” said University of Alberta fire scientist Mike Flannigan.

It’s simple, he said: “The warmer it is, the more fire we see.”

Federal fire and weather data show higher air temperatures are turbocharging fire season.

The five hottest Aprils to Septembers out West produced years that on average burned more than 13,500 square miles (35,000 square kilometers), according to data at the National Interagency Fire Center and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration .

That’s triple the average for the five coldest Aprils to Septembers.

The Western summer so far is more than 3 degrees Fahrenheit (1.7 degrees Celsius) warmer than the 20th century average. California in July logged its hottest month in 124 years of record-keeping.

The five years with the most acres burned since 1983 averaged 63.4 degrees from April to September. That’s 1.2 degrees warmer than average and 2.4 degrees hotter than the years with the least acres burned, AP’s data analysis shows.

In California, the five years with the most acres burned (not including this year) average 2.1 degrees warmer than the five years with the least acres burned.

A degree or two may seem like not much, but it is crucial for fuel. The hotter it is, the more water evaporates from plants. When fuel dries faster, fires spread more and burn more intensely, experts said.

For every 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit that the air warms, it needs 15 percent more rain to make up for the drying of the fuel, Flannigan said.

Fuel moisture levels in California and Oregon are flirting with record dry levels, NOAA western regional climate center director Tim Brown said.

And low humidity is “the key driver of wildfire spread,” according to University of Colorado fire scientist Jennifer Balch who says the Western U.S. soon will start to see wildfires of 1 million acres (1,562 square miles).

Veteran Colorado hotshot firefighter Mike Sugaski used to consider 10,000-acre (16-square-mile) fires big, now he fights ones 10 times that or more.

“You kind of keep saying, ‘How can they get much worse?’ But they do,” Sugaski said.

The number of U.S. wildfires hasn’t changed much over the last few decades, but the area consumed has soared.

“The year 2000 seemed to be some kind of turning point,” said Randy Eardley, the fire center’s chief spokesman.

From 1983 to 1999, the United States didn’t reach 10,000 square miles burned annually. Since then, 10 years have had more than 10,000 square miles burned, including 2017, 2015 and 2006 when more than 15,000 square miles burned.

Some people who reject mainstream climate science point to statistics that seem to show far more acres burned in the 1930s and 1940s. But Eardley said statistics before 1983 are not reliable because fires “may be double-counted, tripled-counted or more.”

Nationally, more than 8,900 square miles (23,050 kilometers) have burned this year, about 28 percent more than the 10-year average as of mid-August. California is having one of its worst years.

Scientists generally avoid blaming global warming for specific extreme events without extensive analysis, but scientists have done those extensive examinations on wildfire.

John Abatzgolou of the University of Idaho looked at forest fires and dry conditions in the Western United States from 1979 to 2015 and compared that to computer simulations of what would be expected with no human-caused climate change. He concluded that global warming had a role in an extra 16,200 square miles (42,000 square kilometers) of forests burning since 1984.

A study of the 2015 Alaska fire season — the second biggest on record — did a similar simulation analysis, concluding that climate change from the burning of coal, oil and gas increased the risk of the fire season being that severe by 34 to 60 percent.

One 2015 study said globally fire seasons are about 18.7 percent longer since 1979. Another study that year says climate change is increasing extreme wildfire risk in California where wildfires already are year-round.

Also, drought and bark beetles have killed 129 million trees in California since 2016, creating more fuel.

Link to story

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New detections of West Nile Virus in California horses

A dangerous disease, west Nile virus, has returned to California this summer.  Last week, four horses were diagnosed with the disease – two in Sacramento County and one each in Kern and Placer counties. Two of the horses have been euthanized due to the severity of neurologic signs, and the other two are alive and receiving veterinary care.

Horse owners are reminded to have their animals vaccinated to make sure they are maximizing protection against the disease. And once vaccinations occur, horse owners should be checking regularly with their veterinarians to make sure they stay current.

Californians can also do their part to prevent the disease by managing mosquitoes that carry west Nile virus. Eliminate standing water and work to limit mosquito access to horses by stabling during active mosquito feeding times (typically dusk to dawn), and by utilizing fly sheets, masks or permethrin-based mosquito repellents.

It’s important to remember that mosquitoes become infected with the virus when they feed on infected birds.  Horses are a dead-end host and do not spread the virus to other horses or humans. For more information on west Nile virus, please visit this link.

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