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Florida Set to Release a Billion Genetically Modified Mosquitoes in “Nightmare” Experiment

What could possibly go wrong?

Jake Johnson

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Environmentalists and Florida residents voiced concern and outrage Monday as state government officials and the biotechnology giant Oxitec announced plans to move ahead this week with a pilot project that involves releasing up to a billion genetically engineered mosquitoes in Monroe County over a two-year period.

Presented by local authorities as an effort to control the population of Aedes aegypti—a mosquito species that can carry both the dengue and yellow fever virus—critics warn that the effort’s supposed benefits and its potential negative consequences have not been sufficiently studied.

Responding to news that the first boxes of genetically modified mosquitos are set to be placed in six locations in Monroe County this week, Friends of the Earth noted in a press release that “scientists have raised concerns that GE mosquitoes could create hybrid wild mosquitoes which could worsen the spread of mosquito-borne diseases and could be more resistant to insecticides than the original wild mosquitoes.”

Dana Perls, food and technology program manager at Friends of the Earth, called on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—which approved the project last May—to “halt this live experiment immediately.”

“This is a dark moment in history,” said Perls. “The release of genetically engineered mosquitoes puts Floridians, the environment, and endangered species at risk in the midst of a pandemic. This release is about maximizing Oxitec’s profits, not about the pressing need to address mosquito-borne diseases.”

The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District and Oxitec said late last week that “less than 12,000 mosquitoes are expected to emerge each week” in Monroe Country over a duration of around three months, the initial phase of the experiment.

The stated goal of the project is for Oxitec’s genetically altered, non-biting male mosquitos to mate with the local biting female population, producing female offspring that die in the larval stage before they can spread disease.

As the Miami Herald explained earlier this year: “A ‘death mechanism’ designed into mosquitoes is meant to ensure no viable female offspring will result from the mating, according to Oxitec. The male offspring will pass on the ‘self-limiting gene’ to half of their offspring, said company spokesman Ross Bethell.”

While Oxitec’s CEO claims “strong public support” from Florida Keys communities, the project has sparked protests and pushback from local residents since the proposal was first floated.

“My family’s bodies, blood, and private property are being used in this trial without human safety studies or my consent,” Mara Daly, a resident and local business owner in Key Largo, Florida, said in a statement Monday.

Barry Wray, executive director of the Florida Keys Environmental Coalition, added that the “EPA has set the lowest possible bar for approving genetically engineered insects and has opened Pandora’s Box for future experiments that will slide through with little investigation.”

“Everyone should be writing the White House to stop this release until there are regulations and standards that truly protect us,” Wray said.

Republished from CommonDreams.org under Creative Commons

Environment

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

Elias Marat

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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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Animals

Heat Wave Kills Over 1 BILLION Sea Creatures on Canada West Coast, Experts Say

Elias Marat

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Researchers in Canada are reporting that over 1 billion marine animals on Canada’s Pacific coast are likely to have died in last week’s record-shattering heat wave, showing how ecosystems not accustomed to such high temperatures are especially vulnerable to changing conditions.

The deadly “heat dome” that settled over British Columbia and the U.S. Pacific Northwest for five days is believed to have killed at least 500 people in Canada, and pushed temperatures to extreme temperatures of 104F (40C), sparking wildfires that are burning across the Canadian province.

Multiple experts are now saying that the heat wave also took a horrifying toll on marine life, leaving “postapocalyptic” scenes in its wake.

Marine biologist Christopher Harley of the University of British Columbia knew, when he saw the harrowing weather forecasts, that when the tide dropped the sweltering conditions would absolutely fry the mussels, barnacles and sea stars that were exposed.

When the heatwave actually struck, he was devastated by the stench of decay and the vast death toll sustained by the local ecosystem.

“The shore doesn’t usually crunch when you walk on it,” he told The Guardian. “But there were so many empty mussel shells lying everywhere that you just couldn’t avoid stepping on dead animals while walking around.”

Mussels and barnacles can typical deal with harsh temperatures as high as 113F for a few hours – but any more than that is simply not survivable.

Harley told the New York Times that the loss of mussels likely reaches into the hundreds of millions.

However, when factoring in the death of other marine animals that once lived on the shore and resided on the mussel beds – such as hermit crabs and their crustacean relatives, worms, sea cucumbers and other creatures – the number could quite easily exceed one billion.

“It just feels like one of those postapocalyptic movies,” Harley said.

Harley’s colleagues have also reported on dead sea anemones, rock fish and oysters in the region.

In neighboring Alberta, a massive number of fish also washed up on the shores, likely due to the heat wave.

Fortunately, mussels are able to regenerate over about two years. Starfish and clams, however, live for decades and reproduce much more slowly.

The domino effect of such a vast loss of marine life could be felt on other animals in the ecosystem such as sea ducks, a migratory bird that feeds on mussels in the winter before migrating to the Arctic.

The horrific loss shows that the pace of warming climate conditions is likely outstripping the ability of creatures simply to survive – a prospect that makes Harley feel saddened, but he is still trying to find hope.

“A lot of species are not going to be able to keep up with the pace of change,” he said. “Ecosystems are going to change in ways that are really difficult to predict. We don’t know where the tipping points are.”

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Environment

“Eye of Fire” Blaze In Gulf of Mexico Literally Shows the Ocean Caught on Fire

Elias Marat

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A massive ring of fire exploded onto the surface of the Gulf of Mexico on Friday, creating apocalyptic imagery that enveloped social media with unbelievable imagery of the “eye of fire.”

The harrowing “fire in the sea” came following a gas leak in an underwater pipeline near a drilling platform that was owned by Mexican state-owned oil company PEMEX.

The blaze, which resembled a lava flow from a volcano took some five hours to fully contain, and was extinguished by 10:45 a.m., reports USA Today.

In footage from the scene, a hellish orange glow can be seen beneath the churning ocean as boats sprayed streams of water in hopes to put out the blaze.

One video, which seems to depict footage out of a disaster movie, has accumulated over 21 million views at the time of this writing.

User Dave Anthony said: “Never in your life forget the time humans caught the ocean on fire and then tried to put it out by spraying water on it.”

While journalist Christopher Bouzy tweeted: “I am not sure how spraying water on a fire that is literally in the ocean is going to help put it out. I need someone to make it make sense for me.”

Company workers resorted to using nitrogen to subdue the blaze.

Fortunately, there were no injuries resulting from the disaster – although it is too early to gauge the impact on the local environment.

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