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In Just 2 Years, Scientists Have Effectively Wiped Out Mosquitoes On 2 Chinese Islands

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In Just 2 Years, Scientists Have Effectively Wiped Out Mosquitoes On 2 Chinese Islands
Photo Credit: Nature

A population of the world’s most invasive mosquito species was almost completely wiped out by an experiment on two islands in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, according to a new study.

The mosquito species, known as the Asian tiger (Aedes albopictus), is a carrier of dangerous infectious diseases including Zika, dengue, and chikungunya, which affect millions of people worldwide. The insect is also notoriously difficult to control.

Over the past four decades alone, this wily blood-sucker has spread from its original home in Asia to every other continent on Earth, excluding Antarctica. With only limited vaccines and drug treatments for the diseases that it transmits, the mosquito’s impact on public health has been disproportionate to its tiny size.

An exciting field test of an innovative mosquito control technique shows we have the potential to change all of that. By combining two existing methods, scientists reduced Asian tiger mosquito populations by up to 94% on two river islands in China. In some cases, not a single viable egg was found for up to 13 weeks.

In a recent review of the work, Peter Armbruster, a mosquito ecologist at Georgetown University, said the results were “remarkable” and that they demonstrate the “potential of a potent new tool in the fight against mosquito-borne infectious disease.”

The two-pronged approach includes a dose of radiation, which sterilises the mosquitoes, and a bacterial strain from the Wolbachia genus, which prevents the mosquito eggs from hatching. Together, when these two methods are applied to lab-grown mosquitoes, they appear to work much more effectively than on their own.

Current radiation-based techniques work by releasing sterile male insects into the environment so that they breed with females (who only mate once), decreasing the overall size of their population. The problem is, irradiation tends to make these males less competitive sexually and also more likely to die.

Other methods that use bacteria to reduce offspring are less harmful to the individual mosquito, but they only work if the lab-grown male is infected and not the wild female. If both the male and female have the bacterial infection, they’ll have no issue producing healthy offspring, making it a delicate balancing act.

As you can imagine, sifting through male and female insects in the lab is painstaking business, and even when scientists go to all this effort, the accidental release of Wolbachia-infected females happens about 0.3% of the time, undermining the entire mission.

The new solution, therefore, rears Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes in the lab and then subjects them to low levels of radiation, effectively sterilising any included females while leaving the males still able to reproduce.

Not only does this sound great in theory, it also appears to work in practice. By getting rid of the need for sex testing, the team could produce and release large numbers of these lab-grown mosquitoes – around two hundred million in total – in a city with the highest dengue transmission rate in China.

After two years, their findings demonstrate a nearly 97% decline in mosquito bites suffered by locals on the two islands. Plus, each year, the average number of wild-type adult females caught per trap dropped by 83-94%, with none detected for up to 6 weeks.

The few mosquitoes that remain on the island probably migrated from outside the study area, the authors say. And while this suggests that the region won’t be mosquito-free for long, if the technique can be implemented on a larger scale, it could create a place free from Asian tiger mosquitoes and the deadly diseases that they carry.

“Our study predicts that the overall future costs of a fully operational intervention using this environmentally friendly approach will be around US$108 per hectare annually,” says Zhiyong Xi, a microbiologist and molecular genetics professor at Michigan State University, “which seems cost-effective in comparison with other mosquito control strategies.”

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Environment

Dozens Of ‘Extinct’ Creatures Found Alive In ‘Lost City’ Deep Within Rainforest

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Dozens Of ‘Extinct’ Creatures Found Alive In ‘Lost City’ Deep Within Rainforest
Photo Credit: www.hdimagesdownload.com

Elias Marat, The Mind Unleashed

A specialized team of conservation scientists has found what appears to be a hidden oasis deep in the rainforest of Honduras that’s teeming with dozens of rare and endangered creatures.

The remote settlement, known as the “Lost City of the Monkey God” or “White City” and located in the Mosquitia rainforest, is a stunning example of the biodiversity that was once common across the tropics and rainforests in the region. The rainforest is home to hundreds of species of bats, butterflies and reptiles, the Independent reports.

The “ecological SWAT team” from Conservation International’s Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) conducted their three-week expedition in 2017 after ancient ruins were discovered in the rainforest, which remains one of the least-explored areas of the region. Their full report on the expedition and its dizzying array of findings was only published this week.

The report details how the pristine ecosystem is filled with a number of rare and unique species, including those previously believed to be extinct.

This has included the False Tree Coral Snake, the pale-faced bat, and a tiger beetle which many had thought was already extinct. 22 species were also recorded whose presence in Honduras had previously been unknown, including the endangered Great Green Macaw and a live-bearing fish that scientists have only now discovered.

In total, scientists documented 198 species of birds, 94 butterfly species, 40 of small mammals, 56 amphibian and reptile species, and 30 species of large mammals—including jaguars, ocelots and pumas—not to mention a huge variety of plants, fish, rodents and insects.

Trond Larsen, the director of RAP, expressed that his team was “shocked” by their major find. In a press release, Larsen noted:

“The ‘White City’ is one of the few areas remaining in Central America where ecological and evolutionary processes remain intact.”

The conservationist added that the diversity of the area’s wildlife makes it a very high priority for future conservation efforts. Larsen said:

“One of the main reasons we found such high species richness and abundance of threatened and wide-ranging species (e.g., peccaries) is that the forests around the White City remain pristine, unlike much of the region.

This makes the area a high conservation priority for maintaining the broader landscape connectivity that is essential for the long-term persistence of biodiversity through Central America.”

The White City has long been sought after by explorers searching for what is believed to be the home to an ancient civilization that inhabited the area during the pre-Columbian era.

The area, which is largely undeveloped, has faced threats from illegal economic activities such as deforestation due to cattle ranching, in spite of efforts by Honduras’ president in 2005 to extend official protection to the “lost city.”

Larsen said:

“And these are areas with no road networks, no logistics or infrastructure to let people get in or let guards in, so it’s very hard to stop what’s happening.

In many cases, this illegal activity is being driven tangentially by drug trafficking, so it’s driven by powerful people with money. That’s the primary threat to the integrity of the forest of the area.”

Another member of the RAP SWAT team, John Polisar, noted the importance of ensuring strong protection that would allow the treasure-trove of rare creatures to thrive:

“We have been doing field work in the indigenous territories of La Moskitia for 14 years, and this site stood out as being simply gorgeous.

Because of its presently intact forests and fauna the area is of exceptionally high conservation value. It merits energetic and vigilant protection so its beauty and wildlife persist into the future.”

This article (Dozens of ‘Extinct’ Creatures Found Alive in ‘Lost City’ Deep Within Rainforest) was originally published at The Mind Unleashed and is re-posted here under Creative Commons.

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Environment

Here Comes Hemp: Congress Votes To Unleash A Billion-Dollar Industry

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Photo Credit: Getty

Phillip Smith, Drug Reporter

The Senate on Tuesday and the House on Wednesday gave final approval to the massive 2018 Farm Bill, including a provision that will end an eight-decade ban on industrial hemp, that non-psychoactive but extremely useful member of the cannabis family. President Trump is expected to sign the bill into law.

Even though you could smoke a hemp joint the size of a telephone pole and get nothing more than a cough and a headache, for decades the DEA has refused to recognize any distinction between hemp and marijuana that gets you high. That meant that American farmers could not legally produce hemp for a hemp products industry worth $820 million last year and expected to break the billion-dollar mark this year.

That’s right: Thanks to a federal court case brought against the DEA more than a decade ago, farmers in countries where hemp is legal can export it to the U.S., and companies in the U.S. can turn that hemp into a variety of products ranging from foods to clothing to auto body parts to building materials and beyond, but U.S. farmers can’t grow it. That’s about to change.

For too long, the outrageous and outdated ban on growing hemp has hamstrung farmers in Oregon and across the country,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR). “Hemp products are made in America, sold in America, and consumed in America. Now, hemp will be able to be legally grown in America, to the economic benefit of consumers and farmers in Oregon and nationwide.”

Wyden and fellow Oregonian Sen. Jeff Merkley (D) teamed up with Kentucky Republican Sens. Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell to sponsor the bill and guide it through Congress. McConnell’s role as Senate Majority Leader certainly didn’t hurt the bill’s prospects.

As well as guiding the bill forward, McConnell took to the Senate floor on various occasions to support it. In his statement on the passage of the farm bill, he touted “the new opportunities available with the full legalization of industrial hemp.”

Finally we are recognizing industrial hemp for the agricultural product it is,” Merkley said. “This is a cash crop that hasn’t been allowed to meet its full economic potential because of outdated restrictions. When I visited a hemp farm mid-harvest, I saw first-hand the enormous potential of this diverse crop under the limited 2014 farm bill. This full legalization provides economic opportunity for farmers across rural Oregon and rural America—good for jobs, good for our communities, and just good common sense.”

The bill defines hemp as cannabis with 0.3 percent THC or less by dry weight and removes it from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Regulatory authority over hemp moves from the DEA to the Agriculture Department. The definition of hemp in the bill includes all parts of the plant and specifically lists cannabinoids, including CBD, that are removed from control of the CSA. The bill also includes funding and authorization for research and authorizes crop insurance for hemp farmers.

The inclusion of CBD has the potential of greatly expanding the size of the legal hemp industry. Hemp-based CBD wellness products—a category that didn’t exist five years ago—already account for nearly a quarter of the domestic hemp market, and the Hemp Business Journal predicts they will account for nearly $650 million worth of sales by 2022, becoming the single largest sector of the hemp market.

It’s been more than 40 years since Jack Herer ignited the marijuana movement’s interest in hemp with The Emperor Wears No Clothes: Hemp and the Marijuana Conspiracy. Herer is long gone—he died at age 70 in 2010—but the movement he launched has now reached the promised land. The single most ridiculously unjustifiable aspect of federal marijuana prohibition has been killed; now it’s time to finish the job by ending federal marijuana prohibition.

About the Author

Phillip Smith writes for Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute, and where this article was originally featured.

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Environment

Rare Wave-Like Clouds Over Virginia Mountain Look Like Van Gogh’s Famous ‘Starry Night’

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Rare Wave-Like Clouds Over Virginia Mountain Look Like Van Gogh's Famous 'Starry Night'
Photo Credit: Yahoo

Eric Althoff, Yahoo

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 9: Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh at Moma on March 9, 2016 in New York, New York. (Photo by Santi Visalli/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY – MARCH 9: Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh at Moma on March 9, 2016 in New York, New York. (Photo by Santi Visalli/Getty Images)

It was indeed a starry, starry night for Virginia photographer Amy Hunter, who managed to capture the night-time celestial phenomenon known as Kelvin-Helmholtz waves, wherein specific atmospheric conditions create clouds that appear in wave-like patterns in the sky.

Hunter’s photograph was taken over Smith Mountain in the southwestern region of Virginia on Tuesday. She sent the photograph on to her local news affiliate, which immediately responded that the sight is indeed “very rare.”

Kelvin-Helmholtz waves occur when the higher layer of air moves at a faster speed than the lower-level air. Accordingly, the higher layer “scoops” the top of a lower cloud layer, thereby creating the wave-like shapes that appear similar to the crests of ocean waves. Their appearance often signals turbulent air, which can be a hurdle for aircraft in the area.

KDKA meteorologist Ray Petelin explained that Kelvin-Helmholtz waves form when two layers of air are moving against one another at different speeds, which results in the crest-like clouds called a “shear,” which occurs most often during windy conditions such as those that topped Smith Mountain Wednesday.

Velocity shear occurs when winds are traveling at different speeds at different heights in the atmosphere,” he said earlier this summer. “In the case of these cloud patterns, the winds are moving faster at the top of the cloud than the winds at the bottom of the cloud, just like how waves are created on water.”

The phenomenon is named for 19th century meteorologists Lord Kelvin and Hermann von Helmholtz, who explained the physics behind the cloud formations as part of their research into vortex dynamics.

The unusual weather occurrence has rarely been captured on film, but perhaps its most famous representation in any medium was in the 1889 painting “Starry Night” by Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh painted the post-impressionist image while committed to the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum near Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in the South of France. Continuing to generate art during his commitment was thought to initially help with Van Gogh’s fits and depression, but he soon relapsed, and the work took on another darker dimension, with the color blue taking over the color palette as his mental state deteriorated.

Starry Night” hangs at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. According to MoMa, at that late stage in his life, Van Gogh’s style had been informed by other artists he met in France, including pointillist Georges Seurat, as the Impressionism period came to its end. “Post-Impressionism,” MoMa says, came to define a period in which artists used “bold colours and expressive, often symbolic images,” such as those wave-like clouds Van Gogh captured on “Starry Night,” arguably his most famous canvas.

Van Gogh died on July 29, 1890, barely a year after completing the work.

This article (Rare Wave-Like Clouds Over Virginia Mountain Look Like Van Gogh’s Famous ‘Starry Night’) was originally published at Yahoo and is re-posted here under Creative Commons.

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Animal World

Pregnant, Starving Orangutan Clings To Final Tree As Bulldozers Destroy Her Rainforest Home

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Pregnant, Starving Orangutan Clings to Final Tree as Bulldozers Destroy Her Rainforest Home

John Vibes, The Mind Unleashed

As rainforests around the world continue to be destroyed by human societies seeking profits in the lush jungle, wild animal populations who have lived there since time immemorial have seen themselves displaced, often with nowhere to go.

And in Borneo, an island in Southeast Asia’s Malay Archipelago, animal rescue workers filmed the tragic moment when a desperate, heavily pregnant orangutan clung to one of the final trees standing in her formerly pristine rainforest home—right up to the moment when massive bulldozers destroyed what was left of it.

Boon-Mee was so weakened and traumatized that she couldn’t imagine leaving the tree trunk where she found sanctuary as heavy machinery ripped apart what used to be her home.

As a result, she was unable to forage for food to feed herself or her unborn baby, meaning she had nothing to look forward to besides death by starvation.

Across Indonesia, palm oil plantations have laid waste to what used to be the homes of orangutans like Boon-Mee, rendering the primates homeless in their formerly lush, rich homes in places like Borneo and Sumatra.

Every year, apes face slaughter at the hands of humans in the big agriculture industry, either by gun or machete. Such trends are reflected in alarming new figures showing that the orangutan population falls by up to 25 per day.

A century ago there were over 230,000 orangutans in Southeast Asia, according to the World Wildlife Fund. However, that number has now plummeted to 41,000 in Borneo and only 7,500 in Sumatra—the only two places where they can be found.

However, this story has a happy ending, because in this rare case the plantation owners had a heart and reached out to UK-based charity International Animal Rescue (IAR) to seek aid for the expecting mom.

An IAR team backed by local forest officials arrived on the scene after several hours of journeying through a still-smouldering forest that had just been freshly burned. When they finally arrived, they were shocked to find not only Boon-Mee but three other orangutans.

Among the three was Charanya, another mom who had just delivered her baby and was desperate to find food. Kalaya had also apparently just had a baby, and was lactating and semi-conscious—leading the IAR workers to believe that her baby had either died or was kidnapped to be someone’s pet.

Boon-Mee was still alive, but just barely—and was surviving on only tree bark, thus making her too weak to climb down the tree.

Rescuers were forced to eventually shoot her with a tranquilizer before catching her in a net.

IAR official Lis Key said:

“It’s heartbreaking to see the appalling state of these animals as their habitat is razed for the palm oil industry – they were weak from hunger. It’s a small comfort that this time rather than chase them off or kill them, the ­company did the right thing and ­contacted us.”

Palm oil is a vegetable oil that is extracted from the fruits and seeds of the oil palm—also known as the African palm—and is a common additive on supermarket shelves across the globe.

Oil extracted from the fruit of the palm is not only used in foods like instant noodles, yogurt, ice cream, and wine, but is also used in biofuel and a range of household products including laundry detergents, shampoo and cosmetic goods like lipstick.

Roughly 66 million tons of palm oil is produced each year, driving a trend that has seen forests burned and land robbed to make room for plantations, contributing greatly to global deforestation and the displacement of not only rural human populations, but local animal species endemic to the region.

Palm oil production has largely driven orangutans to the brink of extinction, with the species now classified as critically endangered. Bornean orangutan populations have fallen by more than half between 1999 and 2015.

This article (Pregnant, Starving Orangutan Clings To Final Tree As Bulldozers Destroy Her Rainforest Home) was originally published at The Mind Unleashed and is re-posted under Creative Commons.

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