Archive for March, 2013

Pigeons, mammoths, thylacines: Back in action?

Something big is on the loose.

The idea of extinct animals, like the wooly mammoth and Tasmanian tiger, running around in backyards tomorrow is something both researchers and the public have rolled their eyes at for decades.

But things are changing and scientists now believe a full-on “de-extinction movement” is on its way and it’s likely to occur sooner than later.

Thylacines dissapeared in the 1930s. Photo from www.mnh.si.edu.

Thylacines dissapeared in the 1930s. Photo from http://www.mnh.si.edu.

The Revive & Restore project, which sparked out of the Stewart Brand’s California-based non-profit Long Now Foundation, is taking the lead to bring back one individual animal: The passenger pigeon. Meanwhile, they are also helping in other efforts to bring back other extinct animals, such as European aurochs, Pyrenean ibexes, American chestnut trees, Tasmanian tigers and wooly mammoths.

There is specific criteria that is heavily examined as researchers continue sequencing the DNA: would the species be desirable? Is it practical? What would it be like to “re-wild” the species?

Geneticists, conservation biologists and environmentalists are all working with the project to ensure all perspectives are acknowledged.

Why is this something that is happening right now? According to an EMagazine article, the purpose of the de-extinction movement is “to preserve biodiversity and genetic diversity, undo harm that humans have caused in the past, restore diminished ecosystems and advance the science of preventing extinctions.”

New techniques in cloning frozen mammals may allow scientists to bring back the mammoth. Photo from http://bit.ly/eGnCFO.

New techniques in cloning frozen mammals may allow scientists to bring back the mammoth. Photo from http://bit.ly/eGnCFO.

Stewart Brand, the founder of Whole Earth catalog, expected criticism. His response is that “it’s our job to try to fix ‘the hole in nature’ we created. It’s our fault that some of these crucial species have been completely wiped out, so we should dedicate our energy to bringing them back. It may take generations, but we will get the wooly mammoth back.”

Hendrik Poinar, a molecular evolutionary geneticist and biological anthropologist at the Ancient DNA Centre at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, said that people might be interested in doing this because humans have the ability and always want to push the boundaries of what is possible simply for the sake of innovation.

Advertisements

Leave a comment »

Sweet Carolina waters: too sweet from Splenda?

Sucralose, more commonly known as Splenda, is sweetening the coastal waterways in North Carolina.

The chemical makeup of a sucralose atom.

The chemical makeup of a sucralose atom.

The University of North Carolina in Wilmington did a study on the waters and discovered all of their samples had a pollutant in it. According to NaturalNews.com, that pollutant was later confirmed as sucralose, an ingredient used in many sweeteners.

Sucralose has been considered calorie-free – something many Americans are interested in. The only reason it is considered to not have any calories is because it  goes straight through the body. Only 10 percent is actually metabolized.

For more than 20 years, sucralose has been mixed in American foods and drinks. But many people do not know all of the risks that they could face by consuming it:

  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Runny nose
  • Coughing
  • Skin irritation
  • Itchy eye
  • Hives
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Vision changes
  • Migraines

The researchers quickly confirmed that no wildlife had been harmed on the coast and that it didn’t look like this would be a problem.

A study on the North Carolina coast has detected levels of sucralose in all of the samples. Photo from Fodors.com

A study on the North Carolina coast has detected levels of sucralose in all of the samples. Photo from Fodors.com

But based off what sucralose can do to a human, there may be side affects that were not detected, since this news only broke this morning.

In studies, rats that were given sucralose became much more obese. Their body also killed off good intestinal bacteria. There has not been enough time to determine these side effects aren’t happening in the coastal waters.

It is unknown where the sucralose is coming from.

Leave a comment »

A lion’s share: humans’ taste for the exotic

Most of meat people eat comes from pigs, cows, birds or fish. Almost all of these animals are herbivores. People rarely consume carnivores, and when they do, it’s almost never a mammal.

A lion-meat patty is shown at Il Vinaio Restaurant in Mesa, Arizona, in a 2010 picture. Photograph by Matt York, AP

A lion-meat patty is shown at Il Vinaio Restaurant in Mesa, Arizona, in a 2010 picture. Photograph by Matt York, AP

However, some restaurants are serving something a little different. One of the meals on the menu is a lion-meat patty.

Illinois State Representative Luis Arroyo wants to ban lion meat from the state with his Lion Meat Act. This would make it illegal for any person to breed, own, import or export a lion to later kill them for food.

He believes there are at least two places in Illinois where people can purchase this kind of meat.

In a National Geographic article, the owner of Czimer’s Game and Sea Foods Inc., Richard Czimer, said he thinks Arroyo is discriminating against people who are interested in trying new types of food. He said last year he only purchased a couple lions for their meat, where as hundreds of thousands of cattle are killed every day.

However, based on studies, eating carnivore meat is not necessarily good for humans. Big cats eat a wide range of animals, so they could easily pick up diseases and parasites that could later be passed on to a human consumer.

Not only are many big cat species declining in numbers, but many are concerned that if this becomes a regular item on menus, the black market for big-cat parts could skyrocket.

Allowing lion meat to become a popular dish could increase the demand for lions in the black market. Photo from animals.nationalgeographic.com

Allowing lion meat to become a popular dish could increase the demand for lions in the black market.
Photo from animals.nationalgeographic.com.

Other exotic meats on menus around the world include iguanas, black bear, llama, camel, emu, yak and snapping turtle. These are not endangered creatures and it is legal to buy them for meat.

But, some humans do have a taste for endangered animals, like the great apes in West and Central Africa, the surgeon fish, freshwater turtles and tortoises in Asia, Asiatic black bears, tigers, marine turtles and some whales.

Leave a comment »

For katydids, green is the seasons’ surviving color

According to the latest print edition of National Geographic, colorful katydids are having a tough time. While Kermit the Frog may have believed it wasn’t easy being green, any katydid that is not green is in for some serious trouble.

Katydids are born with a range of color, but usually only the green ones survive to become adults. Photo from National Geographic.

Katydids are born with a range of color, but usually only the green ones survive to become adults. Photo from National Geographic.

These insects, first discovered in the 1770s in North America and the tropics, have changed through evolution, mutations or a mixture of both. While the species was known to be strictly green – good for hiding from predators in the forest – a fraction were discovered in brighter and more noticeable colors of the rainbow, like pink, orange and yellow. The pink ones were so rare, they weren’t even discovered until 1887, almost 100 years after its green siblings were found.

Scientists at the Osaka Prefecture University said it is probably a genetics change and not an environmental factor.

At the New Orleans’ Audubon Insectarium, researchers discovered katydids were born with a wide spectrum of colors. The reason why pink, orange and yellow ones are so rare is because they usually do not survive long after they are born. They are easy targets for predators.

The conclusion of the study was that katydids’ dominant trait for color is pink. However, those with the recessive gene, which keeps them green from birth, survive longer because of their color.

Comments (3) »

US, Russia unite to save polar bears, proposal rejected at CITIES

The United States and Russia came together in Bangkok at the 16th Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITIES) to discuss the future of Earth’s polar bear population, according to The New York Times.

The countries proposed to ban international trade in polar bear parts, such as claws, fangs and fur. However, the proposal was rejecting by Canada, Greenland and Norway.

Polar bears could benefit greatly from reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, which lead to the melting of sea ice. Photo from IStockphoto.

Polar bears could benefit greatly from reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, which lead to the melting of sea ice. Photo from IStockphoto.

The European Union, in hopes of creating a compromise, tried to offer a system where the trade would be regulated with an export quota and tagging system, but this was also rejected.

According to the article, this rejection highlights “the difficulties of reaching a global consensus on protecting many kinds of endangered wildlife.”

The convention also questioned if the bears’ endangered status should be upgraded to the highest level of protection, according to Environmental News Network. Others wanted similar changes for species of sharks, manta rays and freshwater sawfish. This is still under consideration.

Polar bears are suffering under many conditions: shrinking habitats, closer interactions with civilizations, grizzlies moving farther north and increasing polar bear hide prices.

A similar proposal was made in 2010. At that time, Russia and Norway voted against the United States. Now that Russia has reversed its stance, Canada is the only country to allow polar bear products to be exported into the country. Their defense is that the Inuit communities rely on polar bears for food and trade – both necessary for survival.

The government has helped polar bears before, but around 100 bears are still illegally killed each year. Their life span is shrinking and interactions between human and bear are becoming more common.

Polar bears’ status as an endangered species is still unknown and should be announced within the next few days.

Leave a comment »

Factory leak in China reveals toxins, suspicious activity

 

From China Water Risk

Click for more information.

According to The New York Times, there is something wrong with the water in the industrial city of Handan, China. First, the dead fish appeared. Then, a suspicious factory upstream didn’t pick up their phones.

Officials confirmed pollutants had started streaming out of a fertilizer factory in Changzhi, a city upstream of Handan, Dec. 28. People did not report the spill for a full five days and for the past two months, the public has not heard many updates on the water quality. Over one million people had drank from this water, unaware of its toxins.

On Feb. 20, after examining the water, the results were announced to the public: the water contained 39 tons of aniline, which can be toxic if consumed, inhaled or touched. While 30 tons of the chemical was contained in a reservoir, the remaining amount leaked into the Zhuozhang River.

Northern China, which often struggles with environmental degradation, is starting to question how the Communist Party responds to environmental disasters and threats. While 39 people have been punished for the crime, the company continues to move forward in its work. Fines against companies found polluting the water usually hover between $8,000 and $80,000 – not a detrimental amount to pay for a major factory.

A woman carries clothes in buckets after washing them in a canal next to the Zhang He River near Handan, Hebei Province, China. Photo by Adam Dean for The New York Times.

A woman carries clothes in buckets after washing them in a canal next to the Zhang He River near Handan. Photo by Adam Dean for The New York Times.

A report by Greenpeace East Asia on the spill read, “There is a history of clashes between heavily water-consuming coal-to-chemical factories and citizens downstream who are trying to compete for water to drink.”

The amount of water this factory, among others of its size, use each hour is around the same amount that 300,000,000 people use in one year.

In 2011, after an examination of 200 cities, over half were found with water rated as “fairly poor to extremely poor.” With numbers like these, officials are being persuaded to turn a steady and aggressive eye on traditional factories.

Leave a comment »