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Barack Obama is officially now a parasite (it's an honor)

Posted by admin Sep 09 2016 No Comments »

WASHINGTON (AP) — It’s no Nobel Peace Prize, but Barack Obama has a new honor to brag about. Scientists have named a parasite after him — and there’s no worming out of it.

Meet Baracktrema obamai, a tiny parasitic flatworm that lives in turtles’ blood. A new study officially names the 2-inch, hair-thin creature after Obama.

Thomas Platt, the newly retired biology professor at Saint Mary’s College in Indiana who chose the name, says it’s an honor, not an insult. Really.

Platt, who discovered and named the flatworm to crown his career before retiring, has more than 30 new species to his credit. In the past, he’s named them after his father-in-law, his doctorate adviser “and other people I have a great deal of respect for. This is clearly something in my small way done to honor our president,” Platt said Thursday.

Platt, who is a distant relative of the president, says people pay thousands of dollars for the privilege of having a species named after them.

Parasites, which live in and get nutrients from host animals, get a bad rap. Platt says this one reminds him of the president: “It’s long. It’s thin. And it’s cool as hell.”

Platt says Baracktrema obamai “are phenomenally incredibly resilient organisms.”

“I hold them in awe and with phenomenal respect,” Platt says.

The worm is related, distantly, to a parasite that can cause a devastating disease in humans, but it causes no harm to turtles, Platt says.

Parasites are cool, crucial to life and all around us, says Rutgers biologist Michael Sukhedo, editor of the Journal of Parasitology, where the study appears. About 7 out of 10 animals on Earth are parasites, he says.

Naming a new species — especially in the final paper of a career — “is a big decision,” Sukhedo says.

Obama already has a spider, a fish and even an extinct lizard named after him.

Although names are usually bestowed as an honor, Sukhedo admits once or twice parasites have been named as a tool of revenge — something Platt says isn’t the case here. One time, Sukhedo says, a biologist named an entire group of parasites after her ex-husband: microphallus.

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Online:

The Journal of Parasitology: http://www.journalofparasitology.org/doi/full/10.1645/15-893

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This story has been changed to correct to extinct lizard, not extinct dinosaur.

At Lake Tahoe, Obama links conservation to climate change

Posted by admin Sep 02 2016 No Comments »

STATELINE, Nev. (AP) — Standing beneath the forest-green peaks of the Sierra Nevada, President Barack Obama drew a connection Wednesday between conservation efforts and stopping global warming, describing the two environmental challenges as inseparably linked.

Obama used the first stop on a two-day conservation tour to try to showcase how federal and local governments can effectively team up to address a local environmental concern like iconic Lake Tahoe, which straddles California and Nevada. Obama told a sunbaked crowd of several thousand in a small lakeside town that “our conservation effort is more critical, more urgent than ever.”

“When we protect our lands, it helps us protect the climate of the future,” Obama said, joined by Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada, California Gov. Jerry Brown and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

Reid, who leaves office next year and invited Obama to attend the summit’s 20th anniversary, said thanks to nearly $2 billion in spending since 1997, Lake Tahoe is now “more pristine than it has been in decades.” And Brown, hailing the bipartisan support the lake restoration has enjoyed, called it proof that “beauty transcends politics.”

Twenty-two miles long and 12 miles wide, picturesque Lake Tahoe would cover all of California with more than a foot of water if it were emptied. A major tourist attraction along with the area’s casinos and ski resorts, the lake has been a major source of concern for environmentalists for decades, as underwater visibility began sharply receding.

Scientists believe an array of factors such as storm-water runoff, car traffic and nearby construction have fueled the loss of clarity in the alpine lake, leading to major investments over the last 20 years by Congress, private groups, local authorities and the states of California and Nevada. The latest threat to the lake — warming temperatures that have altered the underwater physics — dovetails with Obama’s emphasis on how America’s most treasured natural wonders are already suffering the consequences of climate change.

Unveiling modest new steps to preserve the lake and its region, the White House said the Interior Department would spend nearly $30 million on wildfire prevention in the area, while other agencies would work on storm-water management, algae monitoring and geothermal energy exploration.

In a veiled swipe at Republicans, Obama mocked those who have questioned whether climate change is occurring or whether humans are to blame.

“You don’t have to be a scientist,” Obama said. “You have to read or listen to scientists to know that the overwhelming body of science shows us that climate change is caused by human activity.”

Obama’s brief stop along the Nevada-California border came at the start of an 11-day international tour that will take the president to Asia for his final time as president. Throughout the trip, Obama is hoping to elevate issues of climate change and conservation as he works to lock in his environmental legacy.

From Lake Tahoe, Obama was headed to even lusher terrain in Honolulu, where he planned a speech to leaders of island nations in the Pacific Ocean. The setting provides Obama a chance to emphasize a theme he’s returned to frequently in his climate campaign: that remote islands are the most vulnerable to rising sea levels and should help lead the fight to slow global warming.

To that end, Obama planned an unusual presidential visit Thursday to Midway Atoll, a speck of land halfway between Asia and North America where Obama recently expanded a marine monument. Then the president heads to China for the Group of 20 major economies summit and a meeting with China’s president. Environmental groups have been pushing Obama and Xi to use the visit to formally enter their nations into the sweeping global climate deal struck in Paris last year.

Before returning to Washington, Obama also was to become the first sitting president to visit Laos.

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Associated Press writer Scott Sonner contributed to this report.

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Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP

South African vineyard's duck parade doubles as pest control

Posted by admin Aug 19 2016 No Comments »

STELLENBOSCH, South Africa (AP) — The quacking is soft at first amid the vineyards that roll for miles in this South African wine-making town.

But then the duck handlers whistle and wave their white flags, and the noise reaches a crescendo. All 1,071 ducks huddle at the gate that separates them from the vineyards.

It’s time to go to work, and the daily duck parade is about to start.

This wine farm is winning praise from environmentalists for using Indian runner ducks instead of chemicals to eradicate pests like snails and bugs from its vineyards.

The duck parade is also a colorful affair that attracts tourists.

John Faure, whose family had owned the Vergenoegd wine estate since 1820, imported six Indian runner ducks in 1984 to control pests in his garden. He then started breeding them and, as the workforce grew, so did their job description.

The estate, which was recently sold to a German owner, continues to use the ducks for pest control although it is much more expensive than pesticides, said the vineyard’s social media manager David Badenhorst. The ducks cost an average of $2,300, while more conventional methods would cost that amount per year, he said. Using the ducks is more sustainable, Badenhorst said.

“If you use conventional pest control, those chemicals are absorbed into the soil, which affects the growth of the vines and kills insects,” he said. “Our ducks go into the vineyards and they eat the snails and snail eggs while fertilizing the soil.”

Duck handler Denzil Matthys has worked with the ducks for the past three years and says he has grown to love the creatures.

“When I started here I used to eat ducks,” he said, “But since I have started working with them, duck is not my favorite thing to eat anymore.”

Zika Warning: Pregnant Women Urged to Avoid Section of Miami

Posted by admin Aug 03 2016 No Comments »

Pregnant women should avoid travel to a small part of Miami-Dade County in Florida where Zika appears to be spreading by mosquitoes, officials said today.

The announcement comes after officials in Florida said that 10 more people in the area appear to have contracted the virus from local mosquitoes, bringing the total number of local infections to 14.

What’s more, tests show that efforts to control mosquitoes in the area aren’t working as well as officials had hoped, said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “This suggests there’s a risk of continued active transmission” of Zika, Frieden said today (Aug. 1) in a news conference. [Zika Virus News: Complete Coverage of the 2016 Outbreak]

Because Zika infection during pregnancy can cause a serious birth defect called microcephaly, in which the child has an abnormally small head and brain, officials are recommending that pregnant women not travel to the area, which is about 1 square mile and is just north of downtown Miami.

The travel advisory appears to be the first time that officials have recommended that a certain group of people not travel to an area within the continental United States, according to Frieden.

The CDC also recommends:

  • Pregnant women who live in the area, and their partners, should make every effort to avoid mosquito bites.
  • Pregnant women who traveled to this area on or after June 15 (when officials suspect is the earliest date a person could have become infected) should speak with their health care providers about being tested for Zika.
  • Pregnant women who live in this area or travel there frequently should be tested for Zika virus in the first and second trimesters of pregnancy.
  • Women who want to become pregnant should wait at least eight weeks after returning from this area before trying to conceive. Men who have symptoms of Zika should wait at least six months before trying for pregnancy with their partner.
  • Pregnant women whose sex partners live in or travel to this area should use condoms or abstain from sex for the duration of pregnancy.
  • Pregnant women who live in parts of the United States where the Aedes mosquitoes (the type of mosquito that carries Zika) are present should take steps to avoid mosquito bites.

All pregnant women in the United States should be assessed for possible exposure to Zika.

News of the first local cases of Zika in Florida came on Friday (July 29), when three men and one woman in the Miami-Dade area were found to be infected with the virus.

Although officials have already taken steps to reduce the population of mosquitoes in the area, surveys of mosquito counts are still showing moderately high levels of the insects, Frieden said. This could be because the mosquitoes are resistant to the type of insecticide that is being used, although more tests are needed to confirm this. In addition, it’s possible that there are still small areas of standing water where mosquitoes can continue to lay eggs, Frieden said.

Of the 10 new Zika cases, six people did not have symptoms, but were identified after officials went door-to-door to collect and test urine samples from residents in the area.

Original article on Live Science.

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Copyright 2016 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Got Cockroach Milk? It's Apparently the New Superfood

Posted by admin Jul 30 2016 No Comments »

Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

People will go to great lengths and try some pretty wild stuff in the name of health and life longevity, but the latest so-called “superfood” feels like it’s taking the concept a little too far. Enter Cockroach Milk.

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Before we completely lose you and the very though of cockroaches in your cereal milk haunts your dreams, let’s get down to the scientific basics. Researchers at the Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine (inStem) in Bangalore, India found that cockroaches contain protein crystals that could provide protein supplements for the very humans they antagonize.

According to Time, the scientists discovered that just one milk crystal is extremely high in calories and boasts three times more energy than that of dairy milk.

In an interview with the Times of India, one of the study’s lead authors, Sanchari Banerjee, said, “The crystals are like a complete food–they have proteins, fats, and sugars. If you looki into the protein sequences, they have all the essential amino acids.”

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The hope is that these crystals can be incorporated into supplements, with the idea that they can be added to protein drinks in the future.

Still grossed out? We feel you. Just remember you’d never actually lay eyes on a cockroach in your beverage, and those precious crystals would be secured in an environment far from the very place that beverage is made. Still, this one is probably going to take some time to warm up to in terms of health crazes. And of course, we’d have to wait to see what doctors around the globe have to say about this before we adopt it.

Nectartini? This Little Lemur Has a Taste for Alcohol

Posted by admin Jul 26 2016 No Comments »

Researchers have found that a species of nocturnal lemur sips on fermented nectar, and this little creature prefers its drinks strong.

In fact, the new study suggests that the taste for alcohol may be more widespread in the primate lineage than scientists previously thought, and may be linked to genetic factors that shaped the diets of early humans. [8 Humanlike Behaviors of Primates]

Scientists had already discovered a gene mutation in both humans and African great apes that enables the speedy digestion of alcohol; this was likely an adaptation that evolved to accommodate fermented foods in our ancestors’ diets.

Now, researchers have investigated another species, called the aye-aye, that bears the same mutation, known as A294V.

Probing for nectar

In the new study, the researchers wanted to investigate whether alcohol was part of the aye-ayes’ regular diet. Aye-ayes are nocturnal lemurs native to Madagascar. They’re known for their exceptionally elongated finger that they use to find and extract beetle larvae from wood.

But aye-ayes also use this finger to probe for nectar in a plant called the traveler’s tree, also native to Madagascar. Previous observations of aye-ayes showed that they spend as much as 20 percent of their feeding time during the rainy season searching for and devouring the liquid treat.

The authors of the new study suggested that a portion of the nectar that aye-ayes consume may be fermented, which would mean that the aye-ayes are imbibing alcohol seasonally, and in notable quantities. 

To find out whether aye-ayes do, in fact, have a taste for alcohol, the researchers tested two of the long-fingered primates at the Duke Lemur Center in North Carolina. They offered the aye-ayes servings of tap water alongside sucrose solutions with varying amounts of ethanol (alcohol). This simulated the alcohol content that aye-ayes might encounter in fermented nectar — no more than 5 percent.

The scientists discovered that the aye-ayes could tell the difference between the quantities of alcohol in the solutions. Moreover, the primates showed a distinct preference for the solution that had the highest concentration of alcohol: They probed the containers after they emptied them, hoping to detect one more tasty drop.

Only in it for the sugar

But the aye-ayes weren’t out to get hammered, according to study co-author Nathaniel Dominy, a professor of anthropology and biological sciences at Dartmouth College.

Rather, for the aye-ayes, alcohol is simply a better source of energy, Dominy said.

“For aye-ayes and other primates, the main advantage of any fermented food is that it has more calories than the equivalent unfermented food,” Dominy told Live Science in an email. “Gram for gram, alcohol has about twice the calories as sugar.”

The study’s findings show that, in primates, there is likely a link between the presence of the A294V gene mutation, which allows for faster alcohol digestion, and an affinity for alcohol’s taste, the researchers said in the study.

And because humans share the A294V mutation with chimpanzees and gorillas, our last common ancestor must have carried this mutation as well, Dominy said. That means the genetic makeup for appreciating alcohol was in place before the modern human lineage emerged, he added.

“This ape ancestor lived about 10 million years ago,” Dominy told Live Science. “It stands to reason that fermented foods were a part of its diet, and that is why the A294V mutation conferred a selective advantage.”

“So, we humans were adapted to consume alcohol long before we ever figured out how to make it on purpose,” he said.

The findings were published online July 20 in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

Original article on Live Science.

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Copyright 2016 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.