Discovery of giant sulfur-powered shipworm — Eeoough!

❝ Our world seems to grow smaller by the day as biodiversity rapidly dwindles, but Mother Earth still has a surprise or two up her sleeve. An international team of researchers were the first to investigate a never before studied species — a giant, black, mud dwelling, worm-like animal. The odd animal doesn’t seem to eat much, instead it gets its energy from a form of sulfur. The findings, led by scientists at the University of Utah, Northeastern University, University of the Philippines, Sultan Kudarat State University and Drexel University, will be published online in the…Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

❝ People have known about the existence of the creature for centuries. The three- to five-foot long, tusk-like shells that encase the animal were first documented in the 18th century. “The shells are fairly common,” begins lead investigator Daniel Distel, Ph.D., a research professor and director of the Ocean Genome Legacy Center at Northeastern University, “But we have never had access to the animal living inside.”

The animal’s preferred habitat was unclear, but the research team benefitted from a bit of serendipity when one of their collaborators shared a documentary that aired on Philippine television. The video showed the bizarre creatures planted, like carrots, in the mud of a shallow lagoon. Following this lead, the scientists set up an expedition and found live specimens of Kuphus polythalamia.

❝ With a live giant shipworm finally in hand, the research team huddled around Distel as he carefully washed the sticky mud caked to the outside of the giant shipworm shell and tapped off the outer cap, revealing the creature living inside.

Not exactly destined to replace linguine with clams. But, RTFA for an interesting tale of science and search.

Unsustainable practices are destroying whole ecosystems – finfish species disappearing


Mangrove red snapperDaniela Dirscher/WaterFrame

Fifty-nine finfish species have ‘disappeared’ from fishermen’s catches in the world’s most species rich and vulnerable marine region…

In the largest study of its kind, experts from Newcastle University, UK, have highlighted the impact that uncontrolled fishing in particular is having on coral reefs.

Drawing on the knowledge of local fishermen in the Philippines, the team were able to build a picture of how finfish populations have declined over the last 65 years.

Recording 59 species that were once common and have now disappeared from catches, the team highlighted five finfish that are now fighting for survival — the green bumphead parrotfish, the humphead wrasse, the African pompano, the giant grouper and the mangrove red snapper. Publishing their findings this week in the science journal PLOS ONE, the report coincides with Endangered Species Day and highlights the “urgent need for action”.

Lead scientist Nick Polunin, Professor or Environmental Science at Newcastle University, explains: “Most of us still think that nature is unlimited in the oceans.”…”But our coral reefs are good sentinels of global ocean change, and like the canary in the coal mine, they’re telling us there’s not much time left for action.

“These losses we’ve recorded in the Philippines are reflective of unsustainable exploitation affecting this exceptionally species rich ecosystem and region but they mirror what is happening in ecosystems around the globe.

The researchers hope this evidence will provoke action by politicians in charge of legislatures around the world. Regulation and management practices need to be instituted to protect a global food sources from death by overuse and abuse.

More than evidence is needed to move most elected officials.

Electric tuk-tuk from Terra Motors hopes to clean up in Southeast Asia

Auto rickshaws, also known as tuk-tuks, three-wheelers or by numerous other names, are a common sight on the streets of many Asian cities. An evolution of the traditional pulled or cycle rickshaw, the gasoline-powered vehicles, which are used as taxis, are a major source of pollution in many Asian cities. Japan’s Terra Motors hopes to capitalize on efforts to cut tuk-tuk pollution with its new electric three-wheeler aimed at emerging Southeast Asia markets.

Although they are generally powered by high polluting two-stroke engines, a number of governments in Southeast Asia are forcing changes in an effort to improve the air quality in major cities. Some are forcing a switch to CNG or LPG fuel, while others are banning two-stroke engines in favor of four-stroke engines. The Philippines government is embracing locally emission-free electric powered tuk-tuks, with plans to introduce some 100,000 such vehicles by 2016.

Terra Motors is aiming for a slice of this pie with its electric three-wheeler, alongside the wider goal of becoming the world’s biggest seller of electric tuk-tuks within the next two years. Likely strengthening the company’s bid, Terra Motors will produce the vehicles in the Philippines.

I want one.

Actually, the critter I want is designed to be an enclosed tandem for about the same price — $6300. Wouldn’t work as a cab; but, it would surely get me forth and back from town for a lot less than my old pickup truck.

Philippine top court defies Catholic Church – Backs birth control

The Supreme Court in the Philippines has approved a birth control law, in a defeat for the Catholic Church…The law requires government health centres to distribute free condoms and contraceptive pills.

The court had deferred implementation after the law’s passage in December 2012 after church groups questioned its constitutionality.

Supporters of the law cheered as the court found that most of the provisions were constitutional.

The government of President Benigno Aquino defied years of church pressure by passing the bill…It says the law will help the poor, who often cannot afford birth control, and combat the country’s high rates of maternal mortality.

The provisions will make virtually all forms of contraception freely available at public health clinics…Sex education will also be compulsory in schools and public health workers will be required to receive family planning training…There will also be medical care for women who have had illegal abortions.

The Philippines is about 80% Catholic, and with a population approaching 100 million, has one of the highest birth rates in Asia.

The church fought fiercely against the bill, denouncing it as evil and a threat to life. It denounced politicians who supported it, including President Aquino.

While most of the world’s candyass media keeps the focus of their attention on the nice guy with the big ring in Rome – throughout the rest of the world, especially developing nations, the Catholic Church continues with the iron fist in the velvet glove. Fully committed to the suppression of women and reproductive freedom, the church is satisfied with tying society to the ignorance of 14th Century minds.

Typhoon Haiyan


Click to enlargeKaren L Nyberg/NASA/AP

Typhoon Haiyan is photographed by the astronaut Karen Nyberg aboard the international space station. Current guesses at the number of dead in and near Leyte are at 10,000.

Any help, any charity you donate to that is active in trying to help these folks can use whatever you can give. I’d suggest the Red Cross as a place to start. But, it’s up to you. Between CCTV and Al Jazeera, the scenes of disaster are truly national in scope. Wherever you live in the West, your networks will start to catch up with what has happened in the Philippines.

Golden Rice – Lifesaver? No matter – pitchforks and torches!

golden rice
Plant biotechnologist Dr. Swapan Datta at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines

One bright morning this month, 400 protesters smashed down the high fences surrounding a field in the Bicol region of the Philippines and uprooted the genetically modified rice plants growing inside.

Had the plants survived long enough to flower, they would have betrayed a distinctly yellow tint in the otherwise white part of the grain. That is because the rice is endowed with a gene from corn and another from a bacterium, making it the only variety in existence to produce beta carotene, the source of vitamin A. Its developers call it “Golden Rice.”

The concerns voiced by the participants in the Aug. 8 act of vandalism — that Golden Rice could pose unforeseen risks to human health and the environment, that it would ultimately profit big agrochemical companies — are a familiar refrain in the long-running controversy over the merits of genetically engineered crops. They are driving the desire among some Americans for mandatory “G.M.O.” labels on food with ingredients made from crops whose DNA has been altered in a laboratory. And they have motivated similar attacks on trials of other genetically modified crops in recent years: grapes designed to fight off a deadly virus in France, wheat designed to have a lower glycemic index in Australia, sugar beets in Oregon designed to tolerate a herbicide, to name a few…

But Golden Rice, which appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in 2000 before it was quite ready for prime time, is unlike any of the genetically engineered crops in wide use today, designed to either withstand herbicides sold by Monsanto and other chemical companies or resist insect attacks, with benefits for farmers but not directly for consumers…

Not owned by any company, Golden Rice is being developed by a nonprofit group called the International Rice Research Institute with the aim of providing a new source of vitamin A to people both in the Philippines, where most households get most of their calories from rice, and eventually in many other places in a world where rice is eaten every day by half the population. Lack of the vital nutrient causes blindness in a quarter-million to a half-million children each year. It affects millions of people in Asia and Africa and so weakens the immune system that some two million die each year of diseases they would otherwise survive.

The destruction of the field trial, and the reasons given for it, touched a nerve among scientists around the world, spurring them to counter assertions of the technology’s health and environmental risks. On a petition supporting Golden Rice circulated among scientists and signed by several thousand, many vented a simmering frustration with activist organizations like Greenpeace, which they see as playing on misplaced fears of genetic engineering in both the developing and the developed worlds. Some took to other channels to convey to American foodies and Filipino farmers alike the broad scientific consensus that G.M.O.’s are not intrinsically more risky than other crops and can be reliably tested.

At stake, they say, is not just the future of biofortified rice but also a rational means to evaluate a technology whose potential to improve nutrition in developing countries, and developed ones, may otherwise go unrealized.

RTFA. Especially if you are unused to wandering the world of scientific abstracts and peer-reviewed journals. Unfortunately, though my peers and friends in dissent from status quo politics often can rely on well-informed sources footnoted by left-wing journalists on issues ranging from war to peace – questions of advances in food crops are crippled by an anti-science bias worthy of any 19th Century Luddite.

Anti GMO foot soldiers deny that identity, of course. In truth, it’s the exact quality common to middle class radicals who rely on as little reading and research on their own as any Tea Party bigot.

Golden rice is open source. Corporate agribusiness makes no special profit from the crop. Aside from anything else, the product adds Vitamin D to the diet of most of the 3rd World.

I’m embarrassed by some stalwarts who say they’re on my side in the confrontation of workingclass needs versus the class of profiteers who control our world. I spent 2 years reading, defining my own understanding of climate change. Years before the IPCC Report and Al Gore. It was worth the debate, worth learning. I’ve done the same with genetics, though admittedly easier for knowing scientists active in microbiology for decades.

I still don’t recommend relying on priests, politicians or pundits.

A Golden Rice opportunity

Finally, after 12 years of delay caused by opponents of genetically modified (GM) foods, so-called “golden rice” with vitamin A will be grown in the Philippines. Over those 12 years, about eight million children worldwide died from vitamin A deficiency. Are anti-GM advocates not partly responsible?

Golden rice is the most prominent example in the global controversy over GM foods, which pits a technology with some risks but incredible potential against the resistance of feel-good campaigning. Three billion people depend on rice as their staple food, with 10% at risk for vitamin A deficiency, which, according to the World Health Organization, causes 250,000-500,000 children to go blind each year. Of these, half die within a year. A study from the British medical journal The Lancet estimates that, in total, vitamin A deficiency kills 668,000 children under the age of five each year.

Yet, despite the cost in human lives, anti-GM campaigners – from Greenpeace to Naomi Klein – have derided efforts to use golden rice to avoid vitamin A deficiency…

The New York Times Magazinereported in 2001 that one would need to “eat 15 pounds of cooked golden rice a day” to get enough vitamin A. What was an exaggeration then is demonstrably wrong now. Two recent studies in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition show that just 50 grams (roughly two ounces) of golden rice can provide 60% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A. They show that golden rice is even better than spinach in providing vitamin A to children…

To be sure, handing out vitamin pills or adding vitamin A to staple products can make a difference. But it is not a sustainable solution to vitamin A deficiency. And, while it is cost-effective, recent published estimates indicate that golden rice is much more so.

Supplementation programs costs $4,300 for every life they save in India, whereas fortification programs cost about $2,700 for each life saved. Both are great deals. But golden rice would cost just $100 for every life saved from vitamin A deficiency…

Finally, it is often claimed that GM crops simply mean costlier seeds and less money for farmers. But farmers have a choice. More than five million cotton farmers in India have flocked to GM cotton, because it yields higher net incomes. Yes, the seeds are more expensive, but the rise in production offsets the additional cost.

Of course, no technology is without flaws, so regulatory oversight is useful [necessary]. But it is worth maintaining some perspective. In 2010, the European Commission, after considering 25 years of GM-organisms (GMOs) research, concluded that “there is, as of today, no scientific evidence associating GMOs with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants and organisms.”

Opposition to GM foods as one of many basic scientific solutions to food as scarce goods is no more rational than opposition to vaccination as one of many solutions to disease. The sad part of the equation is the number of well-meaning individuals who are willing to oppose the products of science based upon their fear of science and unfounded, unscientific so-called studies. Studies, I must say, which function like “creation science”, e.g., here’s the result we’re looking for – what can we do to get that result?

Well-meaning folks who gladly count themselves among progressives and other classes of human-oriented politics confound my sensibilities when they wander off into the realm of noble savage science. All them happy villagers are supposed to be better off with a lifespan of 38 years instead of 68 – or 78.