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Scientists Just Used a New Method to Completely Wipe Out Mosquitoes on Two Islands

Mosquitoes spread diseases that ultimately kill more than 700,000 people around the world every year.

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Wipe Out Mosquitoes
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(TMU) — According to a study published in the journal Nature this week, scientists have managed to eradicate an entire population of mosquitoes on not one, but two islands in China.

On the surface, this news sounds like something most people with blood coursing through their veins could get behind. But should we mess with the reproductive abilities of a living thing, even if that creature makes us itchy, buzzes in our ears at night, and sometimes spreads disease? And what are the ecological impacts of doing so?

Over the course of almost two years, a group of scientists released upwards of 200 million male Asian tiger mosquitoes—also known as Aedes albopictus—that were specially bred. They were released on the islands of Shazai and Dadaosha south of Guangzho, an area with a high number of dengue fever cases.

Aedes albopictus are capable of transmitting a range of diseases, including Zika and West Nile in addition to dengue fever.

The doomed mosquitoes brought to the two islands first experienced short bursts of gamma radiation and were infected by three species of the parasitic microorganism Wolbachia. The experience rendered them all infertile.

In an effort to make these infertile male mosquitoes as attractive as possible to the native female mosquitoes on Shazai and Dadaosha during the mating season, they were fed an unnatural diet of sugar to make them bigger and stronger. The goal being that the females would mate with the juiced-up males, rending their eggs unviable.

In the end, native mosquitoes vanished. Completely.

Although the scientists did later find a few rogue mosquitoes on the island, genetic analysis revealed they likely did not originate on either island but were brought there by humans. Which begs the question, will a mosquito-free island simply be repopulated by non-native mosquitoes? And if so, what ecological implications may arise?

As the project was launched, locals were skeptical and concerned about the dramatic increase in the number of mosquitoes buzzing around them. Male mosquitoes don’t suck blood, but their presence can be a nuisance.

But by the experiment’s conclusion, recorded bites fell by more than 96% and polls showed that the great majority of islanders supported the project.

A Shazai restaurant owner named Li said:

“In the past there were so many mosquitoes we dared not stay outside in late afternoon. Now mosquitoes can barely be seen, and those few remaining rarely bite.

The technology is a miracle. We used to be skeptics. Now we are fans.”

While the local population seems pleased with the outcome, it is important to consider the ecological impacts of completely eradicating an insect from an entire island, a country, or even an entire continent. While on the surface, most humans can’t seem to come up with a reason that these pests exist, but just because they appear more harmful than useful to us doesn’t mean that is the case for other organisms. While the breeding facility in Guangdong is capable of producing a mind boggling 10 million modified males per week, is that the best course of action?

It turns out, mosquito larvae is important. Fish feed on the larvae and those that survive mature into mosquitoes that serve as prey for numerous species of bird.

At the same time, for humans, mosquitoes are actually the most deadly creatures of all. According to some biologists, it would still be better to wipe the insects out than let them spread deadly diseases that ultimately kill more than 700,000 people around the world every year.

Humanity must decide, do we purposefully wipe out an insect and alter the food chain in order to save ourselves?

By Emma Fiala | Creative Commons | TheMindUnleashed.com

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Animals

Scientists Thrilled by Discovery of Rare, Mammoth 400-Year-Old Coral

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A massive 400-year-old hard coral discovered on the Great Barrier Reef has scientists expressing their sense of surprise and excitement.

Named Muga dambhi by the Manbarra people, the Indigenous group who have traditionally taken care of the land, the “exceptionally large” brown and cream-colored coral is located off the coast of Goolboodi or Orpheus Island in the Great Barrier Reef.

It is believed that the coral was spawned some 421 to 438 years ago, meaning that its age predates the arrival of Captain James Cook and the advent of colonization in Australia, notes the Guardian.

The spectacular coral is about 35 feet wide and over 17 feet high, and is double the size of the nearest coral.

Scientists and members of the community participating in a marine science course discovered the specimen earlier this year.

While not the largest coral in the world, the huge find is of major significance to the local ecosystem, according to Adam Smith, an adjunct professor at James Cook University who wrote the field note on the find.

“It’s like a block of apartments,” Smith said. “It attracts other species. There’s other corals, there’s fish, there’s other animals around that use it for shelter or for feeding, so it’s pretty important for them.”

“It’s a bit like finding a giant redwood tree in the middle of a botanic gardens,” he added.

It is likely that the coral hasn’t been discovered for such a long time due to its location in a relatively remote and unvisited portion of a Marine National Park zone that enjoys a high degree of protection.

“Over the last 20 or 30 years, no one has noticed, or observed, or thought it newsworthy enough to share photos, or document, or do research on this giant coral,” Smith said.

The coral is in remarkable condition, with over 70 percent of its surface covered in live coral, coral rock and microalgae. No disease, bleaching or recently deceased coral has been recorded on the specimen.

“The cumulative impact of almost 100 bleaching events and up to 80 major cyclones over a period of four centuries, plus declining nearshore water quality contextualise the high resilience of this Porites coral,” the field note added.

The specific coral has been given the name Muga dhambi, meaning big coral, out of respect for the Indigenous knowledge, language, and culture of the Manbarra Traditional Owners.

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Greenland Ice Washed Away as Summit Sees Rain for First Time in Recorded History

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For the first time in recorded history, torrential downpours of rain have struck Greenland’s icy summit nearly two miles above sea level.

Greenland, an environmentally sensitive island, is typically known for its majestic ice sheet and snowy climate, but this is fast changing due to a massive melt taking place this summer.

However, the typical snowfall has been replaced in recent years not simply by a few showers, but by heavy rainfall. The torrential downpour last week was so huge, in fact, that it washed away a terrifying amount of ice across some 337,000 square miles of the ice shelf’s surface, reports Earther.

Temperatures at the ice shelf had simultaneously warmed to a significant degree, with the summit reaching 33 degrees Fahrenheit – within a degree above freezing and the third time that the shelf has surpassed freezing temperatures this decade.

The fact that rain is falling on ice rather than snow is also significant because it is melting ice across much of southern Greenland, which already saw huge melting events last month, while hastening rising sea levels that threaten to submerge whole coastal cities and communities.

To make matters worse, any new ice formed by the freezing rainwater will not last long. The ice shelf currently existing on Greenland was formed by the compression of snow over innumerable years, which shines bright white and reflects sunlight away rather than absorbing it, as ice from frozen rain does.

The huge scale of the melt and accompanying rainfall illustrate the growing peril of rapidly warming climate conditions across the globe.

“This event by itself does not have a huge impact, but it’s indicative of the increasing extent, duration, and intensity of melting on Greenland,” wrote Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado. “Like the heat wave in the [U.S. Pacific] northwest, it’s something that’s hard to imagine without the influence of global climate change.”

“Greenland, like the rest of the world, is changing,” Scambos told the Washington Post. “We now see three melting events in a decade in Greenland — and before 1990, that happened about once every 150 years. And now rainfall: in an area where rain never fell.”

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South Korean Toilet Turns Poo Into Green Energy and Pays Its Users Digital Cash

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What if your morning #2 not only powered your stove to cook your eggs, but also allowed you to pay for your coffee and pastry on the way to class?

It seems like an absurd question, but one university in South Korea has invented a toilet that allows human excrement to not only be used for clean power, but also dumps a bit of digital currency into your wallet that can be exchanged for some fruit or cup noodles at the campus canteen, reports Reuters.

The BeeVi toilet – short for Bee-Vision – was designed by urban and environmental engineering professor Cho Jae-weon of the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), and is meant to not only save resources but also reward students for their feces.

The toilet is designed to first deliver your excrement into a special underground tank, reducing water use, before microorganisms break the waste down into methane, a clean source of energy that can power the numerous appliances that dorm life requires.

“If we think out of the box, feces has precious value to make energy and manure,” Cho explained. “I have put this value into ecological circulation.”

The toilet can transform approximately a pound of solid human waste – roughly the average amount people poop per day – into some 50 liters of methane gas, said Cho. That’s about enough to generate half a kilowatt hour of electricity, enough to transport a student throughout campus for some of their school day.

Cho has even devised a special virtual currency for the BeeVi toilet called Ggool, or honey in Korean. Users of the toilet can expect to earn 10 Ggool per day, covering some of the many expenses students rack up on campus every day.

Students have given the new system glowing reviews, and don’t even mind discussing their bodily functions at lunchtime – even expressing their hopes to use their fecal credits to purchase books.

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