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Scientists Are About To Release Millions of Genetically Modified Mosquitos in Florida and Texas

This already historic and unprecedented summer could mark yet another outlandish first: scientists plan to release genetically modified mosquitos.

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(TMU) – This already historic and unprecedented summer could mark yet another outlandish first: scientists plan to release genetically modified mosquitos in Florida and Texas. An attempt at disease control via genetic engineering, the scientists argue their efforts will, over time, greatly reduce the number of next-generation mosquitos.

Helmed by the company Oxitec, which acquired an experimental use permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the plan calls for the release of millions of gene-hacked mosquitos every week for the next two years.

By introducing sterile breeds of the mosquito species, Aedes aegypti (called OX5034 by Oxitec), scientists believe they can interrupt the birth of female offspring and eventually destroy the entire wild population, thereby preventing the transmission of diseases like dengue, chikungunya, yellow fever and Zika viruses.

As a widespread vector for disease transmission, mosquitos are one of the deadliest creatures in the world and have long been a prime candidate for such genetic engineering.

Hundreds of millions of people around the world contract mosquito-borne illnesses every year with fatal consequences. In 2017, the transmission of malaria alone represented 435,000 deaths.

Florida’s government website notes that Floridians are vulnerable to contracting “West Nile virus disease, Eastern equine encephalitis, and St. Louis encephalitis.” Local Texas government officials add the chikungunya virus to the list of parasitic threats wrought by mosquitos.

“Genetic engineering offers an unprecedented opportunity for humans to reshape the fundamental structure of the biological world,” scientists wrote in The Conversation.

However, a wide coalition of biologists, geneticists, and bioethicists, have expressed concerns over the current EPA’s ability to oversee and regulate the deployment of the GM mosquitos.

They point to the failure of a similar experiment in Brazil, where the release of these Frankenstein insects yielded unintended consequences, namely the creation of “super-resilient genetic hybrids.”

Oxitec scientists themselves noted the unpredictability of their work in this new field of research, writing, “…as new advances in genetic decoding and gene editing emerge with speed and enthusiasm, the ecological systems they could alter remain enormously complex and understudied.”

public forum addressing the company’s permit application receiving overwhelmingly negative responses, indicating citizens of Florida and Texas are not altogether comfortable with the idea.

To address the conflict, the Institute for Sustainability, Energy and Environment at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign organized a Critical Conversation, which gathered expertise and risk assessment observations from academic, government and nonprofit institutions.

Their recommendations included: 1) a government-funded open-source registry/database for GM organisms, 2) third-party analysis to track the gene flow between GM and wild mosquitoes…[and their] ecological competitors,” and 3) “regulatory and funding support for an external advisory committee to review…[and] diverse expertise and local community representation.”

Alarmed at the lack of regulatory oversight by the EPA, experts say allbiologicalethical and social considerations” must be assessed, noting that new mosquito proteins could also cause allergy problems in some people.

Animals

As Marine Life Flees the Equator, Global Mass Extinction is Imminent: Scientists

Elias Marat

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The waters surrounding the equator are one of the most biodiverse areas in the globe, with the tropical area rich in marine life including rare sea turtles, whale sharks, manta rays, and other creatures.

However, rampant rises in temperate have led to a mass exodus of marine species from the sensitive region – with grave implications for life on earth.

While ecologists have long seen the thriving biodiversity of equatorial species holding constant in the past few centuries, a new study by Australian researchers published in The Conversation has found that warming global temperatures are now hitting the equator hard, potentially leading to an unprecedented mass extinction event.

The researchers from the Universities of Auckland, Queensland, and the Sunshine Coast found that as waters surrounding the equator continue to heat up, the ecosystem is being disrupted and forcing species to flee toward the cooler water of the South and North Pole.

The massive changes in marine ecosystems that this entails will have a grave impact not only on ocean life – essentially becoming invasive species in their new homes –  but also on the human livelihoods that depend on it.

“When the same thing happened 252 million years ago, 90 percent of all marine species died,” the researchers wrote.

To see where marine life is headed, the researchers tracked the distribution of about 49,000 different species to see what their trajectory was. The global distribution of ocean life typically resembles a bell curve, with far fewer species near the poles and more near the equator.

However, the vast alteration of the curve is already in motion as creatures flee to the poles, according to a study they published in the journal PNAS.

These changes augur major disruptions to global ecosystem as marine life scrambles in a chaotic fight for food, space, and resources – with a mass die-off and extinction of creatures likely resulting.

The research underscores the dire need for human societies to control rampant climate change before the biodiversity and ecological health of the planet is pushed past the point of no return.

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Environment

Japan Says Dumping Fukushima Radioactive Water in Pacific Ocean is Now “Unavoidable”

Elias Marat

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While Japan last month marked the 10th anniversary of the devastating 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami with solemn ceremonies, the government has also been stressing the successes of its recovery efforts in the country’s northeast.

In truth, however, the country is still coping with the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, which has already cost Japan trillions of yen and whose exclusion zone will require up to 40 more years to fully rehabilitate.

And with contaminated water continuing to build up at the ruined Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says that the government must finally begin dumping it into the Pacific Ocean.

With nuclear waste and fuel rods still contaminating the area, over one million tons of radioactive waste water continue to seep from the facility, according to The Japan Times, forcing authorities into what Suga describes as the “unavoidable” position of having to dump the water.

Officials claim that the water would be purified to the maximum extent possible, but environmentalist groups like Greenpeace warn that the water contains hazardous material that could damage human DNA and the health of marine life.

Fishers also fear that consumers will refuse to buy fish caught in contaminated waters, worsening their plight amid a restriction of imports from Fukushima prefecture imposed by 15 countries and regions.

Regardless, authorities argue they must deal with the cards that have been dealt.

“What to do with the [treated] water is a task that the government can no longer put off without setting a policy,” Japanese trade minister Hiroshi Kajiyama said on Wednesday.

Suga is expected to formally decide on the course of action by next Tuesday. If he proceeds, authorities will dilute tritium to 2.5 percent of the maximum concentration allowed by the country before it is dumped.

But while Japanese officials say that the water will be safe, it remains an open question whether people will trust their word.

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Environment

Crowds Flock to Lava-Spewing Volcanoes in Italy, Iceland and Guatemala to Get Closer View

Elias Marat

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The year 2021 has so far been a particularly active time for volcanic eruptions. In February and March, three spectacular volcanic eruptions have occurred: the Fagradalsfjall volcano in Iceland, Mount Etna in Italy and Pacaya in Guatemala.

In each case, the eruptions have drawn large crowds of curious onlookers and sightseers.

In vivid video captured at Fagradalsfjall volcano on April 1, lava can be seen being spewed as amazed onlookers can be heard in the background. According to local reports, tens of thousands of people have been drawn to the area to view the eruption.

Iceland’s authorities are not anticipating evacuations due to the mile-and-a-half distance from the nearest road.

“We are monitoring the situation closely and as of now it is not considered a threat to surrounding towns,” said Iceland Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir. “We ask people to keep away from the immediate area and stay safe.”

Italy and Guatemala have also experienced a few volcanic eruptions this year.

On March 7, Sicilian villages were showered with ash and lava stone following the eruption of Mount Etna, which began its highly active phase in February.

The Pacaya volcano lying 30 miles south of the Guatemalan capital has also been extremely active since February.

Pacaya’s peak typically attracts tourists, but hikes are temporarily on hold due to the uptick in activity. Pacaya has a clear view of the nearby Volcano of Fire, whose lava flows in a 2018 eruption killed at least 110 people and left rougly 200 missing.

While volcano tourism provides a steady source of income for villages like nearby San Francisco de Sales, locals must balance this with the need to ensure their long-term safety.

So far, however, Pacaya has not yet injured locals.

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