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Science

A half-inch-long moth that devours kale, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts may not inspire the same fear as a Zika-carrying mosquito, but the two insects have something in common. Both are being genetically tweaked by UK-based biotech firm Oxitec. Last year, the company made news when it proposed a Florida-based trial[1] of a self-destructive mosquito—designed to stop the spread of Zika virus in native Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Now, Oxitec wants to test a genetically modified version of the male diamondback moth to mate with—and eventually destroy—a pest that damages $5 billion worth of cruciferous crops[2] every year worldwide. Like the mosquito, the moth passed laboratory and greenhouse trials and now must pass approval in a open field test. But while the mosquito had to wind its way through the FDA, Oxitec’s moth faces a different set of regulatory hurdles at the USDA. Officials at that agency are currently reviewing whether to allow Cornell University and Oxitec to release tens of thousands of GM moths into a 10-acre site in New York. For decades, agricultural researchers have battled insect pests that are growing resistant to chemical pesticides. The diamondback moth has a short reproductive cycle and lays a lot of eggs, which speeds up the development of resistance. “It is able to select for resistance for a wide variety of toxins,” says University of Georgia entomologist David Riley. “If I had to pick a poster child for resistance worldwide, this would be in my top 10.” Already, the diamondback moth has become resistant to 95 different chemical compounds. That’s a huge problem for growers in southern states like Georgia and Florida, where up to 15 generations of veggie-munching larvae are born every year on constantly rotating crop fields. Diamondback moth larvae chow down.OxitecIn the past, scientists have released sterile male insects—zapped with gamete-bursting radiation—to help crash the population of pests like the New World screwworm[3] (which infected livestock and people) or the onion maggot. But this would be the first GM sterile pest control effort. Oxitec scientists made two tweaks to their moth. The first is the killer. “Our diamondback moth carries…
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Yesterday I found out my baby is a boy and I haven't really stopped crying since. The last five months, I've been convinced I was carrying a girl. I wanted a girl, and not because I wanted to dress her in pink, or play Cinderella, but because I know how to be a mother to a girl. For all of the mysteries of pregnancy and parenthood, all of the anxieties I have about screwing my baby up, the one thing I felt confident about was raising a girl. I planned to teach her how to garden, how to be fearless in the dirt, how to challenge gender roles the world had waiting for her, how to find her own voice faster than I did. I planned to introduce her to witchcraft, the beautiful magic of sisterhood, and break down the lessons she would be fed about female competitiveness. I had dreams of sparing her from the young life of fat-shame and self-doubt I'd been crippled by. I knew I could teach her how to fight, how to dismantle the patriarchy, because these are things I'm so proud of myself for learning, and things I am passionate about helping other women learn. Initially, I thought having a girl would be much more difficult: watching her get cat-called, exposing her to self-defense against the dangers of the world, seeing her wrestle with sexism...but I know how to navigate all of that. It's terrifying, but I understand how to guide another woman through those choppy waters with compassion and humor. Then, with one ultrasound, every ounce of my confidence vanished.   How the heck am I going to be a mother to a boy?   Before you start saying, "Oh, but you can teach a boy all those things" I want to stop that train of thought. As a 36-year-old woman, I have spent the last 30 years or so teaching men. I've spent most of my life re-shaping myself around the desires, impulses, and privilege of men--and most of you have, too. Yes, I can, and will, raise my son to be…
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If you’re an environmentally conscious consumer, you probably own more than a few devices bedazzled with an Energy Star logo. Every laptop or dryer or refrigerator that meets the logo’s energy efficiency expectations—established by a program within the Environmental Protection Agency—gives you a tiny planet-saving dopamine spike. But that program could soon lose its federal sponsorship. Yesterday, energy industry wire service E&E News revealed that a draft EPA budget[1] (leaked by an unnamed source) calls for shuttering the program. Energy Star’s responsibility could be transferred to an outside group—possibly run by an inter-industry consortium. Tech companies would definitely score by controlling the specs behind the stamp, which eco-conscious consumers flock to as a sign of quality. Wait, what’s that you say about conflict of interest? Insiders say the industry has been policing its environmental impact for a few years already, and things are going just fine. Energy Star debuted in 1992, and the first products to earn the label were computers and desktop monitors. But the program has has grown far beyond consumer tech. The EPA and Department of Energy have developed standards (all optional) for refrigerators, HVAC units, swimming pool pumps, entire homes, and just about anything else that taps sufficient amps. And as more products in an industry meet its standards, Energy Star responds by raising the bar—triggering more innovations in efficiency. “The program’s managers typically want to improve the program so it covers about 25 percent of a market,” says Jennifer Amann[2], a program director at the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy. Computers are already on version 6.1 of their Energy Star specifications. Overall, that system has worked pretty well. On an individual level, buying an Energy Star compliant piece of tech probably won’t shave more than a few dollars a year from your energy bill. But at the scales that people use personal electronics—TVs, laptops, smart phones, routers, etc—the savings are huge. And the Energy Star brand does wonders for the companies selling their devices: In 2015, a Consortium for Energy Efficiency survey showed that brand recognition was around 90 percent[3] in 2015; over…
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1. Clean and Clear Drainage Ditches Thanks, winter! You left behind leaves, debris, and other nasty souvenirs for us to remember you by! To help get your yard looking spring-fresh, gather in drainage areas over the cold months. Spring rains are coming, and they will need enough runoff for the robust drainage. As well, your beautiful new baby seedlings likely do best in well drained soil, so you need to get the dampness in check. Be sure to fill out your compost bin by adding the organic materials you clean out, including dead leaves, branches, and roots. Not only are early spring compost piles typically short on carbon-rich materials, but this will keep you from dumping too much trash. 2. Weed, Mulch, Rinse, Repeat Take advantage of the dormant growing season by plucking weeds now, when the roots are shallow and unsettled. Winter rains have loosened soil, meaning weeds won't have a deep enough bed to be a problem. Once you've cleared the beds, cover bare spots with ground cover or mulch to help control new weed growth (and also to start keeping soil nice and toasty!) Shoot for 3-4 inches of mulch, or consider using black plastic garden sheeting to destroy the emerging weeds. As an added bonus? If you flip that sheet once a week or so, you'll have a harvest of slugs previously hiding in the dirt! Bug control AND weed control, all in one! 3. Give Raised Beds, Fencing and Trellises some TLCNot only do drizzly winters cause havoc on your drainage ditches, but they can put a strain on raised beds. Rotting, mildew, warping, Soggy winter soil puts a strain on raised beds which can lead to giving away at the most inopportune times. Do some quick repairs by digging around the back of the soil and plant new stakes on the inside of the sideboards. Fluff the sideboards up, fasten, and move onto the next one. Trellises and fencing are best dealt with in early spring, since there is less growth to work around and fewer freshly planted roots to disturb. Setting new fenceposts…
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Every day, 22 people in America die while waiting for an organ transplant. But when scientists can grow replacement livers or kidneys or pancreases inside of animal hosts, medicine’s organ shortage may end. That’s the hope anyway—and this week there’s more reason to hope than ever that it might become reality. The key to producing human organs in other animals is the chimera, a mixture of cells from more than one species growing together as a single animal. For decades, researchers have struggled to coax Petri dishes of stem cells into functional, three-dimensional tissues and organs, hampered by technical challenges and political stonewalling. Now, two milestone papers have taken two big steps toward solving the chimeric riddle. Will you be ordering up a homo-porcine gallbladder on Amazon this time next year? No. No, definitely not. But researchers have done two things they’ve never done before: 1. Combine two large, distantly-related species into one embryo. And 2. Use organs from one species grown in another to actually treat disease. At the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, biologists Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte and Jun Wu spent four years injecting different forms of adult human stem cells—derived from skin or blood cells and reprogrammed to act like naive, stem cells—into 1,500 pig embryos. They wanted to figure out which ones could survive into the first few weeks of life. The cells that worked the best, they report today in Cell,[1] were “intermediate” pluripotent stem cells, somewhere between a blank slate and a stem cell primed to start developing into different tissues. These cells became the first human colonizers of the pig body: Around 20 days in, fluorescent tagging showed one living human cell nestled within every 100,000 or so pig cells. “This was a real tour de force,” says Daniel Garry, a cardiologist who leads a chimera project at the University of Minnesota. “What separates them from all the rest of us who do this work is the large number of animals they showed this in.” Izpisua Belmonte and Wu also successfully created human/cow chimeras at the blastocyst stage—a few days following…
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John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth and, later, the oldest human to leave the planet, died on December 8, 2016. He was 95 years old. In 1962, Glenn became the face of American technological triumph. NASA rocketed him upward in a vessel that looked more like a spotlight bulb than a space capsule, not sure that he would make it back. But they knew they had to try, and that this was the time. While evolved humans now think of space exploration as an international, uniting endeavor, Glenn took flight in a nationalistic, cold-warring time in US history. The Soviet Union had launched Sputnik five years before, in 1957. Its loudspeaker-broadcasted beep echoed through the halls of schools across America and the living rooms of citizens who just wanted their country to also go to space. That same year, the Soviet space agency sent up a dog-stronaut, and soon, humans Yuri Gagarin and Gherman S. Titov had pushed beyond Earth’s atmosphere. The United States—anxious, excited, threatened, jealous—was stuck on Earth, with no voyages under its belt. And then came John Glenn, a little ol’ guy from the Midwest, who strapped himself into the Friendship 7 capsule, sat still while fire and fuel combatted gravity, and said goodbye to Earth for a few hours. The “Hello, welcome back” that he received was one for a national hero, who had shown Americans that Americans didn’t have to be stuck on this planet, and they no longer had to feel afraid of being left behind. Slide: 1 / of 12. Caption: NASA Slide: 2 / of 12. Caption: NASA Slide: 3 / of 12. Caption: NASA Slide: 4 / of 12. Caption: NASA Slide: 5 / of 12. Caption: NASA Slide: 6 / of 12. Caption: NASA Advertisement Slide: 7 / of 12. Caption: NASA Slide: 8 / of 12. Caption: NASA Slide: 9 / of 12. Caption: NASA Slide: 10 / of 12. Caption: NASA Slide: 11 / of 12. Caption: NASA Slide: 12 / of 12. Caption: NASA Advertisement Slide: 1 / of 12 Caption: NASA Slide: 2 /…
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Filming nature documentaries is a singular pursuit—often terrible conditions, lots of things biting you, and lots of waiting for your subject to show up. And it doesn’t get much more challenging than tracking snow leopards in the Kashmir mountains. This is one of the most elusive cats on Earth, living in one of the most inhospitable environments on Earth. So to capture a snow leopard for David Attenborough’s new series Planet Earth II, the crew had to combine patience, luck, and a whole lot of fancy tech. They deployed camera traps along the mountain passes, capturing (ever-so-briefly) their prize walking past. Eventually, they captured more than they could have ever hoped for using a camera loaded with a good-ol’ giant lens: the first sighting of snow leopards mating in the wild. You can see it all above in glorious 360 degrees (click and drag to look around), from the pursuit to the payoff. And hey, bonus: nothing will bite you in the process. (This is the second of six behind-the-scenes 360-degree videos we’ll be publishing from the series. Check back in this thread for more as the BBC releases them.) Go Back to Top. Skip To: Start of Article.[1] References^ Go Back to Top. Skip To: Start of Article. (www.wired.com)...
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Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s announcement in September that they will pour $3 billion[1] into research, mainly at elite universities in California, with expressed interest to “cure all disease” within a century, was an endearing move from new money billionaires who have pledged to devote their phenomenal wealth to supporting biomedical research. Sean Parker, another Facebook cofounder, in April promised $250 million[2], and Oracle cofounder Larry Ellison promised $200 million[3], to cancer centers. Eli Broad and Ted Stanley have contributed more than $1.4 billion in private wealth to fund the nonprofit Broad Institute research center and its associated Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research. (I worked at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, which is affiliated with the Broad, for three years.) But despite even the best intentions, the injection of private money into science is creating power alliances and disrupting the longstanding public research-funding model. If there is a modern koan, it is the unquestioned belief that more data and money can solve most of our problems. A year ago, I was at the National Academy of Sciences listening to a talk by Eric Lander, director of the Broad Institute. He described a large study[4] on schizophrenia involving more than 100,000 patients, which found that the strongest single genetic variant could increase a person’s risk of developing schizophrenia from 1 percent in the general population to 1.25 percent—hardly useful. We know that genetic variants that predict psychiatric disorders number into the thousands, each adding small effects, and they are beguilingly straddled over the entire genome. We know that small epigenetic changes are also associated with psychiatric disorders, and that these can change throughout a lifetime, and are highly dynamic. The recent claims that we would “cure all disease” sounded a lot like the White House’s “cancer moonshot,” which proposed to “end cancer as we know it.” Still rates of cancer incidence continue to rise, because cancer and schizophrenia and so many other human diseases are very intractable, for reasons that include their diverse origins. Robust public funding of science in the US began in the 1940s. The spoils of publicly funded research…
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A spaceship is preparing to land on Mars when the crew notices that one of the thrusters isn’t firing. There is, as they say, a problem. But there’s no use telling Houston—by the time a distress message reaches home more than 30 million miles away, either the astronauts on board will be space dust or humanity will have become an interplanetary species. That’s the premise of National Geographic’s new series, Mars, which mixes documentary and speculation to tell the parallel stories of two groups: the fictional future explorers who will make that first journey, and the pioneers of today—scientists, astronauts, and strategists—who are blazing the trail. In the premier episode, for example, that white-knuckle landing scene is spliced with a look at Elon Musk’s SpaceX as engineers test a real retropropulsion landing system. Every piece of tech in the show was designed to accurately reflect the current scientific vision of how we’ll get to Mars[1]—and to avoid the gaffes that have undermined recent films and invited the wrath of astrophysicist/space ombudsman Neil deGrasse Tyson. As executive producer Ron Howard puts it, “It’s not sci-fi!” (Indeed, President Obama has outlined a vision to send humans into Mars’ orbit by the mid-2030s.) Here’s how Mars envisions our red future. The Crew The Mission The six astronauts in Mars travel to their new home in a rocket called the Daedalus, and their ship is based on science that’s more than simply plausible—it’s coming, and fast. “This is technology that will probably be tested in the next five years,” executive producer Justin Wilkes says. The spacecraft is heavily inspired by SpaceX, but it also borrows design elements from NASA, Boeing, and even the Russian space program. “Other films say ‘Let’s make it look cool,’” production designer Sophie Becher says. “We asked, ‘How’s this going to function? Where are they going to use the bathroom?’” Slide: 1 / of 7 . Caption: Caption: The view from the top of the mid-deck ladder that leads to the main corridor of the Daedalus.National Geographic Channels/Robert Viglasky Slide: 2 / of 7 . Caption: Caption: The main corridor.National…
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