Another Bee Study Finds CCD is Likely Due to Combination of Factors Including Pesticides
Posted on August 10, 2013 Comments (2)
Abstract of open access science paper funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Crop Pollination Exposes Honey Bees to Pesticides Which Alters Their Susceptibility to the Gut Pathogen Nosema ceranae:
We collected pollen from bee hives in seven major crops to determine 1) what types of pesticides bees are exposed to when rented for pollination of various crops and 2) how field-relevant pesticide blends affect bees’ susceptibility to the gut parasite Nosema ceranae. Our samples represent pollen collected by foragers for use by the colony, and do not necessarily indicate foragers’ roles as pollinators. In blueberry, cranberry, cucumber, pumpkin and watermelon bees collected pollen almost exclusively from weeds and wildflowers during our sampling.
Thus more attention must be paid to how honey bees are exposed to pesticides outside of the field in which they are placed. We detected 35 different pesticides in the sampled pollen, and found high fungicide loads. The insecticides esfenvalerate and phosmet were at a concentration higher than their median lethal dose in at least one pollen sample. While fungicides are typically seen as fairly safe for honey bees, we found an increased probability of Nosema infection in bees that consumed pollen with a higher fungicide load.
Our results highlight a need for research on sub-lethal effects of fungicides and other chemicals that bees placed in an agricultural setting are exposed to.
The attempts to discover the main causes of bee colony deaths and find solutions continues to prove difficult years after the problems became major. The complex interaction of many variables makes it difficult. And special interest groups pushing pesticides and the like, which have seemed to be major contributors to the problem for years, make it even more difficult (by preventing restrictions on potentially damaging pesticide use).
The challenges in determining what is killing bees are similar to the challenges of discovering what practices are damaging human health. The success of studying complex biological interactions (to discover threats to human health) is extremely limited. I am concerned we are far too caviler about using large numbers of interventions (drugs, pesticides, massive antibiotics use in factory farms, pollution…).
Related: Europe Bans Certain Pesticides, USA Just Keeps Looking, Bees Keep Dying – Germany Bans Chemicals Linked to Bee Deaths (2008) – Virus Found to be One Likely Factor in Bee Colony Colapse Disorder (2007) – Study of the Colony Collapse Disorder Continues as Bee Colonies Continue to Disappear
Hyperloop – Fast Transportation Using a Better Engineering Solution Than We Do Now
Posted on August 7, 2013 Comments (2)
Elon Musk (the engineer and entrepreneur behind Tesla electric cars and before that he helped create PayPal) has a very cool idea of how to provide fast long distance transportation (faster than a plane). Essentially it is a big version of pneumatic tubes that used to be used to send small packages around a building, as seen in the movie – Brazil Details are scheduled to be released August 12th.
- The crossing of other right-of-ways, like roads and railways, will be a breeze.
- Rivers and other terrain obstacles will only be a 10th the problem of rail construction.
- Hyperloop can avoid tunnels completely by having more flexible choices of right-of-way.
- An elevated right-of-way opens up new route options, like leasing farmer’s fields using contracts similar to what wind-power companies sign.
- That could be paid for by leasing Hyperloop’s right-of-way to communications companies for fiber optic cables, cell phone towers, etc.
- …and let’s not forget the solar power that a couple of square miles of surface area can generate!
Travelers ride in pods magnetically accelerated and decelerated into the main tube (like a rail gun) where the air circulates at speed. The air between pods acts as a cushion, preventing crashes, while more air injected through perforations in the tube levitates the pods and reduces friction, much as it might on an air hockey table.
Elon Musk has some very good ideas but what really sets him apart is turning them into functioning enterprises. Great ideas are wonderful but a huge number never go anywhere. Those people that can actually get ideas into the marketplace are the people that provide a much greater standard of living for all of us. And many of them are engineers.
Update: link to his blog post announcement.
More examples of cool extreme engineering: Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel – Transferring Train Passengers Without Stopping – transatlantic tunnel – Webcast on Machine That Bores Subway Tunnels
Go Slow with Genetically Modified Food
Posted on August 3, 2013 Comments (1)
My thoughts on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO), specifically GM foods, basically boil down to:
- messing with genes could create problems
- we tend to (and especially those seeking to gain an advantage tend to – even if “we” overall wouldn’t the people in the position to take aggressive measures do) ignore risks until the problems are created (often huge costs at that point)
- I think we should reduce risk and therefore make it hard to justify using GMO techniques
- I agree occasionally we should do so, like it seems with oranges and bananas.
- I agree the practice can be explained in a way that makes it seem like there is no (or nearly no) risk, I don’t trust we will always refrain from stepping into an area where there is a very bad result
Basically I would suggest being very cautious with GMO. I like science and technology but I think we often implement things poorly. I think we are not being cautious enough now, and should reduce the use of GMO to critical needs to society (patents on the practices need to be carefully studied and perhaps not permitted – the whole patent system is so broken now that it should be questioned at every turn).
Antibiotic misuse and massive overuse is an obvious example. We have doctors practicing completely unjustified misuse of antibiotics and harming society and we have factory farms massively overusing antibiotics causing society harm.
The way we casually use drugs is another example of our failure to sensibly manage risks, in my opinion. This of course is greatly pushed by those making money on getting us to use more drugs – drug companies and doctors paid by those companies. The right drugs are wonderful. But powerful drugs almost always have powerful side effects (at least in a significant number of people) and those risks are multiplied the more we take (due to interactions, weakness created by one being overwhelmed by the next etc.). We should be much more cautious but again we show evidence of failing to act cautiously which adds to my concern for using GMO.
I love antibiotics, but the way we are using them is endangering millions of lives (that is a bad thing). I don’t trust us to use science wisely and safely. We need to more consciously put barriers in place to provent us creating massively problems.
3d Printers Can Already Save Consumers Money
Posted on July 31, 2013 Comments (2)
I first wrote about 3d printing at home here, on the Curious Cat Engineering blog, in 2007. Revolutionary technology normally takes quite a while to actually gain mainstream viability. I am impressed how quickly 3d printing has moved and am getting more convinced we are underestimating the impact. The quality of the printing is improving amazingly quickly.
As is so often the case these day, our broken patent system is delaying innovation in our society. For 3d printing there is a good argument the delays due to the innovation crippling way that system is operating today will be avoided as critical 3d patents expire in 2014. Patents can aid society but the current system is not, instead it is causing society great harm and delaying us being able to use new innovations.
“For the average American consumer, 3D printing is ready for showtime,” said Associate Professor Joshua Pearce, Michigan Technological University.
3D printers deposit multiple layers of plastic or other materials to make almost anything, from toys to tools to kitchen gadgets. Free designs that direct the printers are available by the tens of thousands on websites like Thingiverse (a wonderful site). Visitors can download designs to make their own products using open-source 3D printers, like the RepRap, which you build yourself from printed parts, or those that come in a box ready to print, from companies like Type-A Machines.
3D printers have been the purview of a relative few aficionados, but that is changing fast, Pearce said. The reason is financial: the typical family can already save a great deal of money by making things with a 3D printer instead of buying them off the shelf.
In the study, Pearce and his team chose 20 common household items listed on Thingiverse. Then they used Google Shopping to determine the maximum and minimum cost of buying those 20 items online, shipping charges not included.
Next, they calculated the cost of making them with 3D printers. The conclusion: it would cost the typical consumer from $312 to $1,944 to buy those 20 things compared to $18 to make them in a weekend.
Open-source 3D printers for home use have price tags ranging from about $350 to $2,000. Making the very conservative assumption a family would only make 20 items a year, Pearce’s group calculated that the printers would pay for themselves quickly, in a few months to a few years.
The group chose relatively inexpensive items for their study: cellphone accessories, a garlic press, a showerhead, a spoon holder, and the like. 3D printers can save consumers even more money on high-end items like customized orthotics and photographic equipment.
Learn About Biology Online
Posted on July 27, 2013 Comments (10)
Very cool site for learning about biology. I have tried the courses offered by Coursera but they are too structured for my taste. I want to be able to learn at my pace and dip into the areas I find interesting. Coursera is more like a real course, that has weekly assignments and the like.
Survivebio is a resources that matches my desires exactly. You can go and learn about whatever topics you desire, when you desire. The site offers webcasts, games, flashcards, chapter outlines, practice tests and a forum to discuss the ideas.
In this webcast, Paul Andersen discusses the specifics of phylogenetics. The evolutionary relationships of organisms are discovered through both morphological and molecular data.
The aim of the SurviveBio web site is to aid AP (and college) biology students. But it is also a great resource to learn about biology if you are interested in that topic. Hopefully they will add more webcasts. The site uses webcasts from Bozeman Science which has a huge number of very good videos on biology and also, chemistry, physics, earth science, statistics, anatomy and physiology.
Medical Study Findings too Often Fail to Provide Us Useful Knowledge
Posted on July 24, 2013 Comments (1)
There are big problems with medical research, as we have posted about many times in the past. A very significant part of the problem is health care research is very hard. There are all sorts of interactions that make conclusive results much more difficult than other areas.
But failures in our practices also play a big role. Just poor statistical literacy is part of the problem (especially related to things like interactions, variability, correlation that isn’t evidence of causation…). Large incentives that encourage biased research results are a huge problem.
This array suggested a bigger, underlying dysfunction, and Ioannidis thought he knew what it was. “The studies were biased,” he says. “Sometimes they were overtly biased. Sometimes it was difficult to see the bias, but it was there.” Researchers headed into their studies wanting certain results—and, lo and behold, they were getting them. We think of the scientific process as being objective, rigorous, and even ruthless in separating out what is true from what we merely wish to be true, but in fact it’s easy to manipulate results, even unintentionally or unconsciously. “At every step in the process, there is room to distort results, a way to make a stronger claim or to select what is going to be concluded,” says Ioannidis. “There is an intellectual conflict of interest that pressures researchers to find whatever it is that is most likely to get them funded.”
Another problem is that medical research often doesn’t get the normal scientific inquiry check of confirmation research by other scientists.
Home Engineering: Automatic Screen Door Closer
Posted on July 21, 2013 Comments (1)
A simple solution to a common problem. Using a small pulley, some nylon string and a bottle of sand to create an automatic sliding patio door. It is wonderful to see how creative people can find solutions to improve our lifestyles. Don’t just accept limitation, find ways to make things better.
Exercise Reduces Anxiety While Also Promoting the Growth of New Neurons
Posted on July 18, 2013 Comments (6)
From an evolutionary standpoint, the research also shows that the brain can be extremely adaptive and tailor its own processes to an organism’s lifestyle or surroundings, Gould said. A higher likelihood of anxious behavior may have an adaptive advantage for less physically fit creatures. Anxiety often manifests itself in avoidant behavior and avoiding potentially dangerous situations would increase the likelihood of survival, particularly for those less capable of responding with a “fight or flight” reaction, she said.
The anxiety-reducing effect of exercise was canceled out when the researchers blocked the GABA receptor that calms neuron activity in the ventral hippocampus.
Interesting research (with mice) that explores how exercise makes us more resilient to stress. I know for me, exercise seems to help relieve stress.
Related: Feed your Newborn Neurons – New Neurons are Needed for New Memories – Regular Aerobic Exercise for a Faster Brain (2007) – Inactivity Leads to 5.3 Million Early Deaths a Year – How Aerobic Exercise Suppresses Appetite
Tropical Lizards Can Solve Novel Problems and Remember the Solutions
Posted on July 15, 2013 Comments (0)
The lizards solved the problem in three fewer attempts than birds need to flip the correct cap and pass the test, Leal said. Birds usually get up to six chances a day, but lizards only get one chance per day because they eat less. In other words, if a lizard makes a mistake, it has to remember how to correct it until the next day
Leal’s experiment “clearly demonstrates” that when faced with a situation the lizards had never experienced, most of them were able to devise a way to solve the problem. Their ability to “unlearn” a behavior, a skill that some mammalian species have difficulty in, is the mark of a cognitively advanced animal, said Jonathan Losos, a biologist at Harvard who was not involved in the study.
To see if the lizards could reverse this association, Leal next placed the worm under the other cap. At first, all the lizards bumped or bit the formerly lucrative blue cap. But after a few mistakes, two of the lizards figured out the trick. “We named these two Plato and Socrates,” Leal said.
It is very cool to see what scientists keep learning about animals.
Science Explained: Momentum For String of Metal Beads
Posted on July 11, 2013 Comments (0)
Fun video with an explanation of the physics behind what might seem like the surprising action shown in the video.
Scientific Inquiry Process Finds That Komodo Dragons Don’t have a Toxic Bite After All
Posted on July 7, 2013 Comments (1)
This articles is another showing the scientific inquiry process at work. Scientists draw conclusions based on the data they have and experiments they do. Then scientists (sometimes the same people that did the original work) seek to confirm or refute the initial conclusions (based on new evidence or just repeating a similar experiment) and may seek to extend those conclusions.
Sometimes the scientists conclude the initial understanding was incorrect, such as with Komodo Dragon’s: Here Be Dragons: The Mythic Bite of the Komodo
It’s a truly fascinating way for an animal to feed — well, truly fascinating in that it’s not true at all.