Yellow-Faced Bees Added to Endangered Species List

Seven different types of bees native to Hawaii have now been added to the endangered species list. This is the first time bees have been placed on this list. They are now to be protected under the rules of the Endangered Species Act. “These are the first bees to be federally protected under the act, so in a way this is a threshold moment,” said Xerces Society‘s Matthew Shepherd. The conservation group first petitioned the federal government to protect yellow-faced bees in 2009. The seven bee species are among the 60 types of bees in the genus Hylaeus. The bees are named “yellow-faced” for the golden mark between the males’ eyes.

photo credit: Oakschmied Honey

Many people forget that bees are a crucial part of the food industry. Close to seventy percent of crops that are used today require pollination to develop fruits, nuts, and seeds. It is estimated that those crops account for one trillion dollars in annual sales of agriculture products around the globe. Examples of common crops depending on bee pollination include broccoli, blueberry, cherry, apple, and cucumbers. It is the opinion of experts that the eradication of bees would cause a massive ecological disaster.

While the change only protects the yellow-faced bees, the global bee population has declined rapidly in recent years due to habitat loss, non-native bee populations, competing invasive species, pesticides, wildfires, and loss of genetic diversity. Fifty-nine insect species are known to have vanished in our modern time, however, thousands are estimated to have disappeared. In the United States, 160 insect species are presumed to be extinct or missing.

A Yellow-Faced Bee, isn’t he adorable?

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s ruling does not designate any “critical habitats,” a move that requires federal agencies to protect important characteristics of the designated areas. The government also has not yet developed a “recovery plan” for how the agency will manage and protect the yellow-faced bees.

Despite the mounting threats, 11 new native species have been found in Hawaii in the last 15 years. Six of those species were from Oahu, the island most heavily impacted by development, Karl Magnacca, a senior researcher at the University of Hawaii, said in a fact sheet.

The rule, which goes into effect at the end of the month, also gives the endangered designation to 39 plant species found on the islands and to three other creatures native to Hawaii — the band-rumped storm-petrel Oceanodroma castro, the orangeblack Hawaiian damselfly Megalagrion xanthomelas, and the anchialine pool shrimp Procaris hawaiana.

America’s Circulatory System: Amazing Map of U.S. River Basins

America the beautiful was just given a cartographic makeover by Imgur user Fejetlenfej. The map depicts US river basins in different colors. It gives the United States the appearance of having veins. The results were stunning.

Fejetlenfej is also known as Robert Szucs. Szucs is a geographer and GIS analyst. He created the map using open source QGIS software. Szucs used the Strahler stream classification, where bigger streams and rivers are indicated with bolder lines. He used a rainbow of different colors to indicate different river basins.

Via Imgur user Fejetlenfej

Each network of rivers and streams is depicted with a different color. The most remarkable being the Mississippi river network in pink, the next being the Colorado river network in yellow.

The images shed a new light on the majestic beauty of the United States. It is interesting to see the expansive reach of these river basins. It gives heart and life to the network of rivers and streams.

A river is water in its loveliest form; rivers have life and sound and movement and infinity of variation, rivers are veins of the earth through which the lifeblood returns to the heart” –Roderick Haig-Brown

High resolution prints are available for purchase on Etsy in the GrasshopperGeography shop. Szucs states on his Etsy shop profile that he has “a lifelong passion for beautiful maps.” A print this amazing will likely make a great gift idea for teachers and geography enthusiasts alike.

What do you think of these maps? Comment with your thoughts.

Bayer Will Soon Sell You Cancer and the Drugs to Treat It

In a bid that is expected to face intense scrutiny from regulators in both the United States and in Germany, German pharmaceutical manufacturer Bayer announced last week that it had secured a deal to take over the world’s fifth largest agrochemical manufacturer, Monsanto.

Income By Segment Chart Found on Bayer’s Website. Click Chart For Original.

While it is true that Bayer already manufactures agrochemicals similar to those manufactured by Monsanto, the company’s holdings in pharmaceutical and healthcare products far exceed their holdings in agrochemical manufacturing. By their own account, the company reports on their website that their pharmaceutical holdings accounted for 49% of their total sales by market segment in 2015. That’s over double the amount brought in by their agrochemical investments in the same year.

Most people know Bayer as the original manufacturer of Asprin, and that is where the company got it’s start. But when you dig a little deeper you find that the company also manufactures everything from Aleve to food supplements, vitamins, birth control pills, acne medications, and yes – even drugs relating to oncology – or, in layman terms, the treatment of cancer.

You don’t have to take my word for it though, because even their own website lists three major drugs used widely in the treatment of cancer patients: Nexavar, which is used to treat kidney, liver, and thyroid cancer; Stivarga, which is used to treat colorectal and gastrointestinal cancer; and Xofigo, which is used to treat bone cancer. So as you can clearly see, this is a company that has a major financial interest in the treatment of cancer.

Monsanto on the other hand, has spent the last hundred years manufacturing everything from synthetic sweeteners to household weed killer. Initially they got their start manufacturing food additives such as saccharine and vanillin. Saccharine is an artificial sweetener 300 times more potent than raw sugar, it’s used mostly as a cheap alternative to sugar in drinks, candies, and cookies. Vanillin is an alternative to vanilla extract, commonly used to reduce production costs.

Saccharine made headlines in the 1970s when it was discovered in numerous studies that its consumption had a direct correlation with the diagnosis of urinary bladder cancer in lab rats. By 1977, Congress had begun mandating that all food products containing saccharine bear the following product warning: “Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin, which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals.” After years of research and lobbying, the labeling requirement was eventually lifted in 2000 after it was found that the mechanism in lab rats that caused cancer from saccharine does not exist in humans.

Label on product containing saccharine pre-year 2000.

While Monsanto’s manufacturing of food additives and their arguable links to cancer is definitely concerning, the company has manufactured products that in fact were positively linked to cancer and have since been banned. Several of those products caused massive loss of human life to cancer.

For most of the early part of the 19th century, Monsanto was the leading manufacturer of polychlorinated biphenyls. In the 1960s and 70s, PCBs were found to be potent carcinogens and were implicated in reproductive, developmental and immune system disorders. According to thousands of pages of released Monsanto documents, they knew about the PCB dangers from early on, but decided to conceal what they knew. One Monsanto memo explains their justification: “We can’t afford to lose one dollar of business.”

It wasn’t until after World War II that Monsanto began championing the use of pesticides in agriculture. This is when they began manufacturing the herbicide 2,4,5-T, which contains dioxin. During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military initiated an herbicidal warfare program using a mixture of 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D. This combined agent was known as Agent Orange and had very high concentrations of dioxin.

Professor Nguyen Thi Ngoc Phuong, at Tu Du Obstetrics and Gynecology Hospital is pictured with a group of handicapped children, most of them victims of Agent Orange. Ho Chi Minh City, 2004. Photo: Alexis Duclos

Monsanto was one of the two largest manufacturers of Agent Orange, which has since been linked to cancer and birth defects. According to the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 4.8 million Vietnamese people were exposed to Agent Orange, resulting in 400,000 deaths and disabilities, plus 500,000 children born with birth defects, leading to calls for Monsanto to be prosecuted for war crimes. Internal Monsanto memos show that Monsanto knew of the problems of dioxin contamination of Agent Orange when it sold it to the U.S. government for use in Vietnam.

Their more recent investments in the research and manufacture of genetically modified organisms are also cause for concern. A GMO (as they are known), is any organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. Recent studies have shown possible links between GMOs and everything from cancer to gluten intolerance.

A quick glance at the Monsanto website indicates that they manufacture over 2,000 seed varieties for different industries, and a deeper dig into some of the companies they own shows exactly what kinds of genetically modified foods we’re talking about. Their Seminis company manufactures everyday table vegetables such as beans, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, onions, and tomatoes. Their De Ruiter brand manufactures tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and cucumbers.

Monsanto has made quite the name for themselves in recent years with their lobbying and even lawsuits against efforts to ban or label GMO products.

Also raising eyebrows is their manufacture of the glyphosate molecule, the primary chemical in the household weedkiller called RoundUp. In 2015, the World Health Organization declared glyphosate to be a probable carginogen. But that hasn’t prohibited it’s sale widely in every home improvement store in America. Nor has it led Monsanto to stop the sale of it’s “RoundUp Ready Soybeans and Corn”. In fact, in recent years the company has made massive new investments into the research of a number of other RoundUp Resistant crops such as canola, alfalfa, and sorghum; many of which end up in products that we consume on a daily basis.

While all of this is reasonable cause for concern, there are a number of other reasons to be concerned about the marriage of Bayer and Monsanto. Chief among them, the 2010 appointment of a new Deputy Commissioner of Food at the FDA by the name of Michael R. Taylor. As if having many highly paid lobbyists in Washington wasn’t good enough, the 2010 appointment of Taylor among the highest ranks of the FDA has solidified Monsanto’s firm grip on power within the agency – which, as it’s name implies, is the nation’s leading watchdog over all food and drugs that are released for public consumption.

If allowed to proceed, the pending $66 Billion merger of Bayer and Monsanto will consolidate the leading producer of cancer causing chemicals into the hands of the 13th largest cancer drug manufacturer in the world. The combined company would have regulatory approval for the manufacture of products that both cause and cure cancer. To call this a conflict of interest would be an understatement. In essence, Bayer will soon sell you cancer as well as the drugs to treat it.

Extraterrestrial Source May Be Responsible for SETI Signal

Could it be time to start practicing your best Janeway? Maybe so as SETI researchers in Russia are reporting a strong spike in radio signals that seem to orginate from the direction of a sunlike star in the constellation Hercules. The signal appears to fit the profile for an “intentional transmission from an extraterrestrial source.” However, it could very well be a microlensing event in which the star’s gravitational field focused stray signals coming from much farther away.

“There could, of course, be other planets still undetected in this system,”

In any case, the event is interesting enough to merit discussion by specialists in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI – including Centauri Dreams’ Paul Gilster, who brought the case into the public eye.

At least two groups are aiming to track Hercules this week. The SETI Institute is using the Allen Telescope Array in northern California, while METI International is looking to the Boquete Optical SETI Observatory in Panama.

Gilster reports that the signal was detected more than a year ago, on May 15, 2015, by the RATAN-600 radio telescope in Zelenchukskaya. That facility is in the Russian republic of Karachay-Cherkessia, not far from the Georgian border.

The apparent source of the signal is interesting for a couple of reasons: It’s a sunlike star, about 95 light-years away from Earth, and it’s already known to have at least one “warm Neptune” planet called HD 164595 b. “There could, of course, be other planets still undetected in this system,” Gilster says.

There are a few different possibilities as to what this signal is. First, and most likely, it could be completely unrelated to alien life. Second, it could be an “isotropic” beacon — a powerful signal blasted out in all directions, one that would likely require that the civilization can harness all of the power of its host star. And third, it could be a targeted beacon — directly aimed at Earth, by a civilization that does not necessarily have that harnessing power, but is potentially aware of the presence of another civilization that has the capacity to understand such a beacon.

At this point, we all will just have to sit and wait to find out if we are indeed alone out here in the vastness of space.

Beyond the Kuiper belt: Possible Ninth Planet May Exist

Avert your eyes from your textbooks, children. There may be another planet in our solar system and this time it might actually fit NASA’s requirement for “planet status.” 

Two astronomers from Caltech have compiled strong evidence of the planet’s orbit. A professor of planetary astronomy, Michael Brown, and colleague Konstantin Batygin were skeptical at first but after observing unusual orbits in the scattered disc region of the Kuiper belt, a field of icy debris beyond Neptune, simulations and calculations suggest that these unusual orbits are being influenced by something big, likely a planet. The pair initially set out to disprove the hypothesized planet’s existence and were surprised by what they discovered.

Credit: Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC)

The proposed planet is nicknamed “Planet 9,” It is believed to have five to ten times the mass of Earth. It is also said to have 5,000 times the mass of Pluto and its orbit is estimated to take 10,000 to 20,000 Earth years to revolve around the sun.

Recent evidence also suggests that this theoretical massive object could be altering the Solar System’s natural orbit. It may be the cause of the clustering of objects and how they orbit around the sun. The object may also be causing our Solar system to “wobble.”

Telescopes on two continents are searching for the object. It’s distance is thought to be 20 times further than Neptune, which is currently the farthest planet in the solar system. It is believed it would be comparable in size to the gas giant planets. With an estimated diameter being 2 to 4 times greater than earth. Despite its size, it will still be difficult to locate at such a distance.

Researchers are still very excited about the prospect of another planet. Though Nasa’s director of planetary science cautions that there could be other explanations to the unusual orbits and wobble to the solar system. He quoted Carl Sagan in his caution by stating “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

Brown speculates that the planet would be an ice giant, similar in composition to Neptune and Uranus. “An object four times bigger than Earth that’s located at 1,000 AU (astronomical unit) would have a magnitude of about +25 on astronomers’ brightness scale

At an annual meeting in Pasadena, Brown spoke to the Division for Planetary Science of the American Astronomical Society. Brown said.

“We have so many different lines of evidence that there’s a massive planet out there that if there’s not a massive planet out there, then it has to be that there was one there yesterday that has disappeared. It is really very hard for me to think of how the solar system could be doing all the things it’s doing out there without there being a massive planet.

“There are a lot of people looking, and we are trying as hard as we can to tell people where to look,” Brown said. “We want it to be found.”

NASA believes there’s not enough evidence just yet. Still, the hypothesis is exciting for stargazers of all ages. Astronomers, keep looking up and working hard. Make it so.

Updated: November 2, 2016.

Is Resurrection a Possible Answer to Death? A New Artificial Intelligence Company Says Yes

Soon the time may come when, for those who can’t let it go, being frozen and reborn could become an option.

HUMAI is a robotics/medical research company building technology to extend, enhance, and restore human life. Founded by self-described serial entrepreneur Josh Bocanegra, HUMAI’s website boasts the goal of transplanting your brain into an elegantly designed bionic body that uses a brain-computer interface to communicate with the sensory organs and limbs of your new bionic body. In essence, your brain will be able to move on after the death of your organic body. By freezing human brains for extended periods of time using cryonics – a deep-freezing technology that uses extremely low temperatures – before implanting them into artificial bodies, HUMAI hopes to extend and enhance human life.

The Cryonics Institute describes this process as “a visionary concept that holds out the promise of a second chance at life – with renewed health, vitality and youth. By cooling a recently deceased person to liquid nitrogen temperatures in order to keep the body preserved indefinitely, the recently deceased will be able to cheat death in their frozen state.” Though this process is often seen as a leap of faith by those who choose this as an end-of-life option, its popularity is growing among those who do not wish to have their life’s works and accomplishments come to an end once their last breath has been taken.

The first step behind HUMAI’s goal is to launch “Project Soul”, which will create an artificial replica of a deceased person; followed by what is being called “Project Atom & Eve” – creating a bionic body that functions with a human brain, according to a recent interview Bocanegra made with Buzzfeed.

Though this plan is not intended to come to fruition until around 2045 and has been deemed impossible by such groups as the Society for Artificial Intelligence and Simulation of Behavior, Bocanegra remains confident that this concept will one day make resurrection a possibility. Despite the ethical and philosophical debates that will inevitably come with this progression, it does raise one interesting question. Can our brains simply be implanted into a new host much like adding an old SIM card to a new phone?