Category: Science

Insect-resistant maize can increase yields/decrease pesticide use in Mexico


Fall Armyworm

Although maize was originally domesticated in Mexico, the country’s average yield per hectare is 38% below the world’s average. In fact, Mexico imports 30% of its maize from foreign sources to keep up with internal demand.

To combat insect pests, Mexican farmers rely primarily on chemical insecticides. Approximately 3,000 tons of active ingredient are used each year just to manage the fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda), in addition to even more chemicals used to control other pests such as the corn earworm (Helicoverpa zea) and the black cutworm (Agrotis ipsilon). Because of the severity of these pests and the reliance on chemical insecticides, Mexico uses the highest quantity of pesticides per hectare of arable land in North America.

While integrated pest management (IPM) programs — which aim to minimize economic damage and lower environmental and health risks — are widely used in crops such as tomatoes, broccoli, and peppers, IPM is highly uncommon in Mexican maize crops…

The authors found the diversity of growing conditions to be the greatest obstacle for implementing IPM programs for Mexico’s 2 million growers, many of whose fields are only two hectares or less.

Another obstacle, according to the authors, is the lack of insect-resistant maize varieties, such as Bt hybrids. These varieties, which are genetically modified to express proteins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, are grown on 90 percent of maize fields in the U.S., whose yields per hectare are nearly three times greater than Mexican yields.

“According to our estimates, 3,000 tons of organophosphate active ingredient is sold in Mexico each year to control ONLY fall armyworm, ONLY on corn,” said Professor Urbano Nava-Camberos of the Universidad Juárez del Estado de Durango, and one of the co-authors. “In addition, applications are also made to cutworms, corn rootworms, borers, and corn earworms that do not necessarily coincide with the fall armyworm applications. However, all of these insect pests can be effectively controlled with Bt corn and integrated pest management programs.”

“There are a few solutions that can be immediately implemented to diminish the environmental impact of corn pests, including the use of Bt corn,” added another co-author, crop consultant Guadalupe Pellegaud. “Unfortunately, people who oppose the introduction of this technology in Mexico do not seem to realize that a far greater environmental impact is done by applying more than 3,000 tons of insecticide active ingredient each year.”

The full open-access article, “Maize Pests in Mexico and Challenges for the Adoption of Integrated Pest Management Programs“, is available as a freebie. If you can find your way through a website designed by entomologists.

Thanks, Mike

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A year in the life of Earth’s CO2

Concentrations of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere continue to increase. On Monday, NASA released a striking video that visualizes the invisible gas as it travels around the planet over one year.

The simulation shows plumes of carbon dioxide “swirl and shift as winds disperse the greenhouse gas away from its sources,” according to NASA. The video also shows differences in carbon dioxide levels in the Northern and Southern hemispheres, as well as the change in concentrations of carbon dioxide that come with changes in season due to the growth cycle of plants and trees.

Created with an ultra-high-resolution computer model, the visualization is called “Nature Run,” simulating May 2005 to June 2007.

The Nature Run ingests real data on atmospheric conditions and the emission of greenhouse gases and both natural and man-made particulates,” NASA wrote. “The model is then is left to run on its own and simulate the natural behavior of the Earth’s atmosphere.”

Computational analysis is fundamental to growing and understanding modern science. I admit it. I love it.

What a fascinating tool.

Thanks, Mike

Got Triclosan? Have any idea what else you may get?

Using some antibacterial soaps may promote tumor growth, according to a study just published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The findings add to a body of concerns about triclosan, one of the most common antimicrobial chemicals in consumer products from detergents to cosmetics, including links to allergy development in children, and potentially to breast cancer via disruption of hormone signals that may also cause thyroid dysfunction and weight gain.

Triclosan is regulated in many countries, but the U.S. isn’t among them. In 1974 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed a ruling on the safety of triclosan; but, four years later, the agency said that was not possible due to insufficient evidence. In 2010, still with no FDA ruling, the National Resources Defense Council sued the FDA over the matter. Still today there’s no ruling, but the FDA has said that it will commit to something by 2016. The chemical is in an estimated 75 percent of antimicrobial soaps and body washes, though some companies have begun voluntarily phasing it out due to health concerns. Products like Johnson’s baby shampoo and Palmolive no longer contain triclosan.

Still a study in August from the University of California, San Francisco, found that about three-fourths of doctors and nurses had triclosan in their urine, and another study earlier this year found triclosan in the urine of 100 percent of pregnant women tested in Brooklyn. Because triclosan-infused products have been so widely used for many years, exposure to the chemical entirely is unavoidable. It is among the most common chemicals to be detected in streams.

“The result that it led to liver fibrosis was startling to us,” lead researcher Robert Tukey said. The researchers also noted a similar effect in kidneys. Their findings suggest that triclosan does not cause liver tumors by itself, in that it does not mutate DNA. But it does promote tumor formation once a mutation has occurred. Liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma, specifically) is the world’s number-three cause of cancer death.

If non-triclosan-containing soaps are available, use the alternative,” said Paul Blanc, a professor of medicine at UCSF, earlier this year in a press statement. “This is based on the precautionary principle–that is, if you don’t know for certain that something is unsafe, it’s better to err on the side of caution.”

No one is saying triclosan causes cancer. It just promotes an environment that aids the growth of tumors. Whoop-de-doo! Not a big difference for ordinary folks who acquire liver cancer.

Americans have a lifetime exposure to propaganda – called commercials – that say there always is a magic ingredient that cures everything wrong in your life. It may be soap, it may be beer. It may be where you bank, it may be which old white guy will guarantee to keep your political life all snug and unchanging. And it’s mostly bullshit!

There are plenty of reasonable if dull sources for information about health. If you can, try to stay away from the quacks. Try to avoid the folks selling you snake oil. I sometimes feel that any solution that sounds extra easy has to be wrong – or at least less reliable. Anti-bacterial soap is one of those.

Designed to kill off critters instead of the awesome labor of scrubbing them away with soap and hot water – doctors and nurses are as guilty of being misled as the rest of us. The medical-industrial complex – predictably – uses their success at selling crap products to the medical community to sell them to us. We get to see pictures of folks in white starched coats smiling while they endorse mutation-enhancing products.

Keep on rocking in the Free World.

Thanks, Mike

Fracking fluids not any more toxic than common household products

wyoming-jonah-oil-and-gas
Click to enlarge — The Jonah natural gas field in Wyoming

The chemicals found in fracking fluid collected in five states — including Colorado — were no more toxic than common household substances, according to a newly released study by researchers at the University of Colorado.

The study…found that chemicals in the fracking fluid samples also were found in everyday products such as toothpaste, detergent, ice cream and laxatives.

Michael Thurman…said, “At least so far, we’re finding chemicals that are more friendly to the environment,” Thurman said. “The compounds are not the kinds of things we consider toxic.”

The study examined samples from Colorado, Nevada, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Texas. According to the researchers, fracking fluid is comprised mostly of water and sand, but oil and gas companies add a variety of other chemicals such as anti-bacterial agents, corrosion inhibitors and surfactants — chemicals that reduce the surface tension between water and oil…

There have been concerns about the chemicals used by oil and gas companies in fracking. Recent state and federal regulations require companies to disclose what is being used in their fracking fluids, but companies typically use broad chemical categories to describe the actual ingredients to avoid revealing what they consider proprietary information.

The researchers cautioned that individual well operators might use different chemicals based on location, and said there are still other concerns about fracking, including air pollution, the antimicrobial biocides used in fracking fluids, wastewater disposal triggering earthquakes and the large amount of water used.

But Thurman said water pollution from surfactants in fracking fluid may not be as concerning as some people had thought, with the really toxic surfactants, such as endocrine disruptors, not being used in the wells that were tested.

“Not finding those chemicals is really important,” he said.

Thurman said he plans to continue analyzing the surfactants used in fracking and wants to look at more samples to determine if those he identified in the study are in fact used widely. If they are, he said, they could be used as markers to determine if a well or other groundwater source has been contaminated by fracking fluid.

A pleasant surprise. Well drillers are gunshy because of the number of times they’ve been caught and found guilty of environmental degradation. They’ve actually increased the perception of wrongdoing by their secrecy fetish.

I’ve worried less about the process of fracking than most of my enviro peers because I have at least a minimal comprehensions of geology. Looking at aquifers here in Santa Fe County I get lots of chuckles from panic-stricken water dweebs who don’t know what an aquifer really is, how many we have in the region and how thoroughly they are separated. Plus – I admit – I’m a little smug from living at the dead end of the major Ancha aquifer – watching the water table rise because everyone upstream is diligently working at using less water. :)

The most important points Michael Thurman raises remain – and should guide opposition to more oil well-drilling in general – especially air pollution, wastewater disposal triggering earthquakes and the large amount of water used. Methane is going to continue to work its way into the atmosphere from every kind of oil well/oil field on the planet. Most of the industry’s production is from fields with lower standards than the United States. And you might remember that we’re only 6% of the land mass on the planet.

The fight against fossil fuel has to be planet-wide – and dedicated. Not just this election cycle – not just because the Blue Meanie Republicans are obedient pawns of the Oil Patch Boys.

Thanks, Mike

Collateral damage – from Mike’s research: Sioux Nations oppose Keystone XL pipeline.

Did you ever realize how bad a comet smells?

Researchers describe the scent coming off 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko as reminiscent of rotten eggs and a horse stable.

They had outfitted Rosetta with a sort of artificial nose — an instrument called ROSINA — that can analyze gas vapors and replicate smell. Among other trace chemicals, Chury offers a powerful punch of hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, formaldehyde and hydrogen cyanide.

The strong presence of rotten egg (hydrogen sulfide) and horse stable (ammonia) smells are accented by notes of alcohol (methane) and vinegar (sulfur dioxide). In case that wasn’t gross enough, the hyrdogen cyanide and carbon disulfide offer a hint of sugared almonds.

Researchers say it’s the first time they’ve really gotten a good whiff of a comet.

“We’ve never been that close to a comet,” Kathrin Altwegg, the researcher who manages the ROSINA instrument from a lab at the University of Bern in Switzerland…

The comet — which Rosetta tried to anchor to with the exploratory craft called Philae — is 250 million miles from the sun. But it’s getting closer. And that’s bad news for astronomers with a weak stomach.

“The closer the comet gets to the sun, the more of its ice will evaporate, and the gas emissions will get more intense,” Altwegg explained to Deutsche Welle.

Sounds like the next time Earthlings sneak up on a comet and land on it to research its composition – we might include a little gas-powered engine in addition to solar panels to power the research vehicle. Something that runs on horse farts.

[Adapted from an article published just before Philae landed on 67P]

The Impossible Burger interview

Angie Lau & Patrick Brown
Click for the interview [after a brief commercial]

Impossible Foods CEO and Co-Founder Patrick Brown discusses his company’s products which are made entirely from plants, creating a sustainable source of food and why he says his products are made a better way — with Bloomberg’s Angie Lau on “First Up.”

Amazing what computational analysis and genetic engineering are getting ready to make possible. I have a couple of old acquaintances – retired molecular biologists – who probably would like to start all over again.

Climate change includes increasing lightning strikes

lightning-strikes
Click to enlarge

Lightning strikes in the lower 48 U.S. states will increase about 12% for every degree rise in Earth’s average temperature, potentially sparking more wildfires, according to a new study.

The new estimate was based on calculations of convective energy and precipitation from future thunderstorms, and fits three independent data sets chronicling past strikes, according to the study, published online Thursday in the journal Science.

“You need two ingredients to make lightning in a storm,” said the study’s lead investigator, David Romps, a climate scientist at UC Berkeley. “One of those is that you have water in its three phases — vapor, liquid and ice — coexisting in the cloud. And the other is that the storm clouds be rising quickly enough to loft that liquid and ice into the atmosphere and keep it suspended. So we’ve built our proxy around those two ideas.”

Previous formulas were built around predicted cloud heights and did not account for as much of the variance in actual strikes as the new proxy does, according to the study. The new proxy explains about 77% of the variance in strikes.

A 12% rise for every degree Celsius works out to about a 50% rise over this century

It’s only conjecture; but, you would have to think an increase in lightning strikes will forge an equivalent rise in the number of wildfires – lightning causing about half of all wildfires. Not a feature of climate change that anyone in mountain and forest country looks forward to.

Thanks, Mike

First landing on comet — photo history


Rosetta selfie with Comet 67/P in the background

History was made yesterday as a spacecraft the size of a fridge executed the first successful landing on a comet. The European Space Agency confirms that at about 16:00 GMT the unmanned Philae space probe touched down on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko at the landing site known as Agilkia. The comet and spacecraft are 510 million km from Earth, so the news of the landing took 28 minutes and 20 seconds to reach mission control in Darmstadt, Germany.

The day before the landing, the 100 kg Phiale was turned on and its batteries charged for the first time since leaving Earth. There were some initial glitches as the batteries warmed more slowly than anticipated, but the spacecraft soon warmed up to its operational temperature. As the Rosetta mothership carrying Philae maneuvered into position, mission control carried out flight checks on the two spacecraft, sent command updates to Philae that allowed it to navigate autonomously to the landing site, and cleared the landing maneuver after a series of go/no decisions with the lander declared ready for separation at 02:35 GMT.

Despite a transient fault in the cold gas thruster aboard Philae, at 07:35 GMT Rosetta completed its final maneuver and the final permission was given to proceed with landing. At 09:03 Philae separated from Rosetta. During course correction maneuvers, communications with Earth were interrupted from either spacecraft, so they were programmed to operate autonomously…


First photo from Philae lander

…Since its arrival on August 6, the orbiter has been mapping the comet in search of a suitable landing site for the Philae lander.

…The landing…was based on a window where there would be enough sunlight to power the lander, but not so much as to make the comet dangerously active. Meanwhile, the site was chosen based on a balance between the scientific value of the area against the safety of the lander. Agilkia has very little slope, few boulders, and abundant sunlight, yet contains many features of interest.

ESA says that Philae has begun taking panoramic images as part of a two-and-a-half day science mission using its suite of 10 instruments, which could be extended if its solar panels are able to charge its batteries.

Bravo. Kudos to ESA for having the foresight and dedication to basic science and research required to fund and manage this project.

Click through to the article and more than 2 dozen photos from the history of the Rosetta project.

Thanks, Ursarodinia, Mike – GMTA

HL Tau and its planet-forming disk


Click to enlargeALMA/C.Brogan, B.Saxton

ALMA image of young star HL Tau and its planet-forming disk. Notice the multiple rings and gaps. This means planets are now emerging in the disk, and they are in the process of sweeping their orbits clear of dust and gas.

Thanks, Mike, Ursarodinia – GMTA! :)

Stem cell treatment for Parkinson’s moves closer to reality

Click on the graphic
for true size

In a major breakthrough for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, researchers working with laboratory rats show it is possible to make dopamine cells from embryonic stem cells and transplant them into the brain, replacing the cells lost to the disease.

Parkinson’s disease is caused by the gradual loss of dopamine-producing cells in the brain. Dopamine is a brain chemical that, among other things, helps regulate movement and emotional responses.

There are no cures for Parkinson’s disease; there are drugs that ease symptoms, but none that slow it down. Deep brain stimulation can alleviate symptoms of Parkinson’s in certain patients.

Human embryonic stem cells – precursor cells that have the potential to become any cell of the body – are a promising source of new dopamine cells, but they have proved difficult to harness for this purpose.

Now, a breakthrough study from Lund University in Sweden shows it is possible to get human embryonic stem cells to produce a new generation of dopamine cells that behave like native dopamine cells when transplanted into the brains of rats…

The team says the new cells show all the properties and functions of the dopamine neurons that are lost in Parkinson’s disease, and the potentially unlimited supply sourced from stem cell lines opens the door to clinical application…

Study leader Malin Parmar says – “These cells have the same ability as the brain’s normal dopamine cells to not only reach, but also to connect to their target area over longer distances. This has been our goal for some time, and the next step is to produce the same cells under the necessary regulations for human use.”

The team hopes the new cells will be ready for testing in human trials in about 3 years.

Fortunately these researchers don’t have to worry about the direction of their research being interrupted by elections. Scandinavia has their share of idjit parties; but, so far none of those espousing government by Christian Sharia has shown any sign of coming close to legislative dominance.

Anyone who has provided care for someone close, a family member, knows what a debilitating disease Parkinson’s becomes. We can only hope this will be one of those breakthroughs that provides a solid medical answer to despair.

Thanks, Mike