EEG Painting

Brain power & EEG painting

"The more clearly you understand yourself and your emotions, the more you become a lover of what it is."- Baruch Spinoza


“Brain power” takes on a literal meaning when it comes to EEG painting, mind-responsive furniture, and the work of Lisa Park. Park combines EEG scanning with speakers and pools of water to visualize her thoughts and emotions. Last year, she exposed her brain patterns to the world with Eunoia, in which she placed five water-filled metal plates atop speakers designed to respond to her real-time brain data. In that project, Park sorted the data into five emotions—sadness, anger, desire, happiness, and hatred, one per plate. But the latest iteration of the project takes the experiment to the next level:

Eunoia II is outfitted with 48 vibration pools, inspired by the 48 emotions philosopher Baruch Spinoza outlined in his book, Ethica, like frustration, excitement, engagement, and meditation. Each speaker vibrates according to Park’s brain wave-interpreting algorithm, which transforms intense signals from Park’s Emotiv EEG headset into intense vibrations in the pools of water. Here, Park is literally putting her inner struggles on display, and the whole show depends on how she deals with her feelings.

“I started working with biosensors especially EEG headset, because I questioned “how can I take this invisible energy and emotions and make it visible?” Park told The Creators Project. “When I am feeling certain emotions (anger, sadness, happiness), I believe that what’s inside me, more than 60% of water in human body, will create vibrations/energy within myself. So, I wanted to create an artwork that represents the inner part of myself.”

Eunoia II metaphorically gives Park’s inner self faculty and visibility, continuing the exploration she began in her first Eunoia performance, tenfold. The Mind Unleashed . org

By Beckett Mufson

Artificial Connection to Nature

Many years ago, humans and nature coexisted in a harmony that has been missing in the present day. We did not live in the technical and sophisticated way we do now. We needed to connect to nature on a much more personal level because it was integrated in our very existence. However, it all changed with the invention of technology. Our scientists developed technology that has revolutionized the way human beings interact with the nature and with each other. For good or for bad, technology is present in virtually every activity that we do; from walking to taking a shower, there is always a technological invention present in front of our eyes. Technology is advancing everyday in such a fast speed that no human being could have imagined. Although such advancements are thought to improve human quality of life, it is without a doubt true that some elements of human interaction with nature have been severely affected. No longer are men or women exposed to nature as their ancestors were. As a result, we start to wonder the extent of which this outrageous advance in technology has entailed a loss of connection with nature. Technology is developed with the objective of facilitating life to human beings. The invention of Internet, robots, cars and phones has been technologies developed to help human have a better and easier life, making them happier and more productive. As Schumacher states in his book “Small is Beautiful,” the primary task of technology is to lighten the burden of work man has to carry in order to stay alive and develop his potential” (Schumacher 157). An example of how technology has made human life easier is the invention of emails. No longer does a person have to wait a week or so to get important mail. It can be sent at any time and delivered within seconds in any part of the world. Although this immediate communication is very effective for business, it has also affected the way human being interact with each other, making communication less personal, faster, and sometimes less effective; these technological advances have changed the very natural characteristics of communications. In other words, we have faster communication, but we are starting to forget how to interact with others in the real world.
Although technology has indeed made human life easier in some areas, it has also complicated human life since it “tends to develop by its own laws and principles, and these are very different from those of human nature or living nature in general” (Schumacher 155). In other words, technology’s development is sometimes incompatible with the laws of nature. Technology does not have a self-limiting point, which is something that nature has. One of the most known examples, a major threat to human existence nowadays, are nuclear weapons. These weapons are the most dangerous weapons on earth. One of these weapons is able to destroy a complete town or city, potentially killing millions of civilians, and jeopardizing the natural environment and lives of future generations through its long-term catastrophic effects. The very existence of these weapons is a risk that is already present just by having them. Although nuclear weapons have only been used twice in warfare—in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945—about 22,000 reportedly remain in our world today and there have been over 2,000 nuclear tests conducted to date (UNODA). Human beings have developed a technology that is capable of destroying the earth within seconds, just by the push of a button. It is hard to believe that something that was created to “improve human life” can also be its major threat. In this case, nuclear technology has become more powerful than nature itself, putting in danger its existence.
Technology has helped industries produce objects at speeds never seen before. In order to satisfy the endless wants of human beings who are part of a consumer society, industries have develop technologies to replace human work, making manufacturing processes faster than ever, and therefore, increasing the number of products. This technique, however, is of great benefit only for those who own industries. Workers are severely affected since their work is not valued. As Schumacher believes, “modern technology has deprived man of the kind of work that he enjoys most, creative, useful work with hands and brains, and given him plenty of work of a fragmented kind, most of which he does not enjoy at all( Schumacher 74).” People do jobs that they do not want to do because the work place has been modified in such a way that working has become an unpleasant task. After all, it is not enjoyable to spend eight hours or more in front of a computer, or to look after a machine. In addition, those jobs that involve any kind of physical work are looked down. As a result, farming, a job which promotes direct contact with nature, is no longer appreciated.

It is not surprising to think, as a result of this switch from jobs involving nature to jobs involving computers, that human beings pay more attention to technology than to nature. After all, they spend more time with technological devices than with nature. This is what has lead to what, in my opinion, is a big problem in our society: we are more concerned about how to fix or enhance a device than how to fix environmental problems. Nowadays, people prefer to find ways of getting extra money to buy air conditioners than to find ways of diminishing our impact in the environment and therefore, not contributing to global warming, which is the term used to describe a gradual increase in the average temperature of the Earth's atmosphere and its oceans, a change that is believed to be permanently changing the Earth’s climate. While many people in the world view the effects of global warming to be more substantial and more rapidly occurring than others do. For example, people in the tropical countries or in the Middle East, the scientific consensus on climatic changes related to global warming is that the average temperature of the Earth has risen between 0.4 and 0.8 °C over the past 100 years (LiveScience). The increased volumes of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases released by the burning of fossil fuels, land clearing, industrial agriculture, and other human activities related with the use of technology, are believed to be the primary sources of the global warming that has occurred over the past 50 years. Due to this lack of exposure to nature, human beings have come up with the idea that nature is not as important as technological advances are, so people get more excited when a new version of iPhone is released than when some area becomes a protected national park.

As discussed before, advancements of technology in manufacturing industries are related to a larger number of goods produced in a shorter time. That is exactly what most companies are trying to get: more products in a shorter time in order to be able to supply the demand of products. As economy theory dictates, “the plans/desires of consumers are embedded in the concept of demand and the plans/desires of producers in the concept of supply” (“Supply and Demand”). If that company is not able to have enough products, they will lose a considerable amount of customers because there is always another company that will have similar products available. For example, people get really mad when an iPhone is released and Apple does not have enough units available. As a result, they might get an Android device instead of the iPhone just because Apple Inc. was not able to produce as many devices as its costumers demanded. This is a clear example of the importance of fulfilling demand and customer satisfaction for giant companies.
Something that these companies do not take into account is, however, that this overproduction of items leads to several environmental issues. Companies are not concerned about the environment; their objective is not to care about the environment but their profit. As a result, they will produce as many items as they can sell without being concerned about the environmental implications of such actions. One of the most dangerous effects of this economic strategy is the overuse of non-renewable resources such as water, oil and other raw materials necessary for the development and production of technological devices, but also vital for human life. The amount of natural resources extracted for the production of goods and services is steadily increasing at around 60 billion tons each year, humans extract and use about 50% more than only 30 years ago (Friends of the Earth Europe 9). However, it is fundamentally important to understand that none of these materials are going to recover from the exploitation. As a result, we are going to run out of such materials at some point.

As can be inferred from Fig 1, the number of natural resources in the globe has increased dramatically, affecting the earth equilibrium in an unprecedented way. In the same way minerals, metals, and fossil fuels are extracted; the over-exploitation also applies for some live species such as fish. “Up to 32 percent of the world's fish stocks are over-exploited, depleted or recovering, they [researchers] warned. Up to half of the world's mangrove forests and a fifth of coral reefs that are fish spawning grounds have been destroyed” as a result of the exportation that takes place in our oceans in order to over supply food (Zelman). Although big food enterprises are the direct responsible of such destruction in the sea, consumers preferences and attitudes are also part of this problem. As Jacqueline Alder, head of UNEP's marine, coastal and freshwater office, said “People don't want to eat the little anchovies anymore when they can eat a nice snapper or grouper – much nicer fish, shows much more of your wealth” (Zelman). If people did not have this preferences, and did not fish was not demanded in such overwhelming quantities, fishing companies would not be destroying such species.
The widely influential and characteristically modern belief of both the desirability and the possibility of indefinite increase in material production and consumption has been and continues to be a powerful driver of human appropriation of the environment, meaning that human beings believe to own nature instead of being part of it. There is no doubt that technology has made human life easier and more productive. However, Has technology really improved human’s lifestyle? Is it really worth having an easier life knowing that your future generations will have to suffer the consequences of your easy life? If we want to change share our quality of life with our children, we need to change our economic system dramatically. Capitalism and all its implications are not the way to go if we want to inherit a healthy planet to our kids. However, in order to achieve this change, we need to start looking for ways to connect with nature as our ancestors did. We are part of nature; if we fight against nature, we are fighting against ourselves.
Works Cited
"Supply and Demand." Enotes.com. Enotes.com, n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2013.
Friends of the Earth Europe. "Overconsumption - Our Use of the World's Natural Resources." Foeeurope.org. Foeeurope, 1 Sept. 2009. Web. 29 Apr. 2013.
LiveScience. "Global Warming: News, Facts, Causes & Effects." LiveScience.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2013.
Schumacher, E. F., and Bill McKibben. Small Is Beautiful: Economics as If People Mattered. New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 2010. Print.
UNODA. "Nuclear Weapons Home." UN News Center. UN, n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2013.
Zelman, Joanna. "World Fish Stock Being Destroyed By Rising Wealth And Subsidies, UNEP Warns." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 24 Jan. 2012. Web. 29 Apr. 2013.

Organics No Better Than Chemical/GMO/Sewage Sludge-Soaked “Food”?

Organic or Natural?

Whenever I peruse the grocery store for food, I am often dumbfounded by the robust use of vague terminology by the food industry. Often conflicted to buy natural or organic food, I have alas done my research to see 1) what is the difference and 2) why should I care.

The Difference

Natural foods is assumed to imply foods that are minimally processed and do not contain manufactured ingredients.
Organic food is certified to not involve modern synthetic inputs such as synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
Organic foods are also not processed using irradiation, industrial solvents, or chemical food additives.

Artificial Flavors ?

What are they?
Flavorings are chemical formulations that mimic the flavors and smells of foods
What are some examples?
fruit flavored drinks, teas and yogurts
What are the health risks?

Controversial - A number of studies have shown a relationship between artificial coloring and hyperactivity. On the other hand, some studies do not show any effect of coloring on children's behavior. (National Institute of Health)

Fun Fact
Castoreum (which is extracted from the anal glands of a beaver) is used to make artificial raspberry flavoring. Yummy!

Call me biased (and I am)...but it would seem to be common sense that regular food, real food -- i.e. food not pruned in a lab, or coated with chemicals, or doused in sewage sludge -- as is so-called "conventional" food -- would be cleaner, stronger, healthier. After all, take the food out of conventional food and all you're left with is a pile of chemicals, toxins, pesticides (poisons), sewage. Want some chemicals for breakfast, Billy? But no. A "ground-breaking" UK study just found that...surprise!...chemical-grown GMO-lovin' food shipped 1500 miles to your plate is just as good as local, organic, as-God-intended-it chow.

Here's Whole Foods Market's response, via Facebook.
We are optimistic that improved support of organic nutrition research -- including the increase of organic research funding in the 2008 Farm Bill, and the work of organizations like The Organic Center -- will show that nutritional advantages are another reason that organic agriculture is better than conventional. Our shoppers choose organic food for many reasons -- to avoid synthetic pesticide residue, because it is often fresher and better tasting, and because organic farmers grow in earth-friendly ways that support the environment. Nutritional quality is one of many potential variables related to the advantages of organic food, but for us, there are already plenty of well-documented reasons to choose organic.The authors of this study examine the abstracts of 50 years of nutritional studies, looking for differences in nutrition between organic and non-organic foods, and conclude that there aren't any major differences. They don't rule out the possibility that there could be nutritional advantages, but acknowledge that none has been demonstrated so far. This isn't a surprising finding, since until very recently, there has been very little governmental or non-profit support of academic nutrition research focused directly on organic agriculture. In general, most nutrition research has not differentiated between organic and conventional crops.

Organic vs Conventional

I'm in London and today's tabloid Daily Express has a headline in type two inches high: "ORGANIC FOOD NO HEALTHIER." The article begins, "Eating organic food in the belief that it is good for your health is a waste of money, new research shows." Really? This surprising statement is based on the conclusions of a lengthy report (pdf) just released from the British Food Standards Agency,Comparison of composition (nutrients and other substances) of organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs: a systematic review of the available literature. This report, done by excellent researchers at the prestigious London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, looked at the results of 162 studies comparing organic to conventionally grown foods for their content of nutrients and other substances. Although it found higher amounts of some nutrients in organic crops, it found higher amounts of others in conventional crops, and no difference in others. On this basis, the report concludes:

There is no good evidence that increased dietary intake, of the nutrients identified in this review to be present in larger amounts in organically than in conventionally produced crops and livestock products, would be of benefit to individuals consuming a normal varied diet, and it is therefore unlikely that these differences in nutrient content are relevant to consumer health.

In a statement accompanying release of the report, the Food Standards Agency says:

The Agency supports consumer choice and is neither pro nor anti organic food. We recognise that there are many reasons why people choose to eat organic, such as animal welfare or environmental concerns. The Agency will continue to give consumers accurate information about their food based on the best available scientific evidence.

Fine, but do animal welfare and environmental concerns not matter? The authors of the report summarize their findings in a paper in theAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The paper concludes:

On the basis of a systematic review of studies of satisfactory quality, there is no evidence of a difference in nutrient quality between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs. The small differences in nutrient content detected are biologically plausible and mostly relate to differences in production methods.

Oh? I thought that's what organic foods were about -- production methods: no antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, irradiation, genetic modification, or sewage sludge. I thought better production methods were the precise point of organic foods.

Read more here, at The Daily Green. Here's a new one just in, via my friend Steve Hoffman, an organic/natural products expert, at The Organic Center:

Letter from the Director

The Organic Center Challenges New Study Results; Defends the Nutritional Superiority of Organic Foods An advance copy of a study appeared yesterday that will be published in the September edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The published paper, "Nutritional Quality of Organic Foods: A Systematic Review," was written by a team led by Alan Dangour at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The study, commissioned by the U.K. Food Standards Agency (FSA), claims that there are no differences in nutritional quality between conventional and organic foods. The Organic Center's chief scientist, Dr. Chuck Benbrook, has written a strong response questioning the methodology and challenging the findings of this study, and we wanted to let you know where you can access it, as you may be responding to media and other inquiries in this regard. Click here to see Dr. Benbrook's full response to this controversial study. According to Dr. Benbrook, the U.K. research team reported finding statistically significant differences between organically and conventionally grown crops in only three of thirteen categories of nutrients. Significant differences cited by the team included nitrogen, which was higher in conventional crops, and phosphorus and titratable acids, both of which were higher in the organic crops. As most scientists regard elevated levels of nitrogen in food as a potential cancer-causing agent, this finding of higher nitrogen in conventional food favors organic crops, as do the other two differences. Despite the fact that these three categories of nutrients favored organic foods, and none favored conventionally grown foods, the London-based team concluded that there are no nutritional differences between organically and conventionally grown crops. However, a team of scientists convened by The Organic Center (TOC) carried out a similar, but more rigorous, review of the same literature. The TOC team analyzed published research just on plant-based foods. Results differ significantly from the more narrow FSA review and are reported in the study "New Evidence Confirms the Nutritional Superiority of Plant-Based Organic Foods," which is freely accessible on the TOC website (https://www.organic-center.org/science.nutri.php?action=view&report_id=126). The TOC findings are similar for some of the nutrients analyzed by the FSA team, but differ significantly for two critical classes of nutrients of great importance in promoting human health -- total polyphenols, and total antioxidant content. The FSA team did not include total antioxidant capacity among the nutrients studied, and it found no differences in the phenolic content in 80 comparisons across 13 studies. For more information, visit https://www.organic-center.org/science.nutri.php?action=view&report_id=157.

Deep oceans deliver $148 bn carbon benefit every year

Report supports shutdown of all high seas fisheries

Media Release | June 5, 2014

Two scientists say fish from the high seas are too valuable to be eaten, because they lessen climate change through the carbon they consume. LONDON, 8 June – Marine biologists have delivered the most radical proposal yet to protect biodiversity and sequester carbon: stop all fishing, they say, on the high seas.

The high seas are the stretches of ocean that nobody owns and nobody claims: they are beyond the 200-mile economic zones patrolled and sometimes disputed by national governments. They are also what climate scientists call a carbon sink, a natural source of carbon removal.

Life in the deep seas absorbs 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and buries half a billion tonnes of carbon on the sea bed every year, according to Rashid Sumaila of the University of British Columbia in Canada and Alex Rogers of the University of Oxford in the UK. The two researchers put the value to humanity of life in the high seas – in terms of its ability to sequester carbon – at $148 billion a year.

Only a hundredth of the fish landed in all the ports in all the world is found on the high seas alone. And around 10 million tonnes of fish are caught by high seas fishing fleets each year, and sold for $16bn.

“Countries around the world are struggling to find cost-effective ways to reduce their carbon emissions. We’ve found that the high seas are a natural system that is doing a good job of it for free,” said Professor Sumaila.

“Keeping fish in the high seas gives us more value than catching them. If we lose the life on the high seas, we’ll have to find another way to reduce emissions at a much higher cost.”

Staying in the depths

But it isn’t just the high seas that sequester carbon. In a second study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, British and Irish researchers argue that deep sea fish remove and stow away more than a million tonnes of carbon dioxide just from waters around the British coasts and the Irish Sea. If this volume were valued as “carbon credits” it would add up to £10mn a year ($16.8mn).

The reasoning goes like this. Deep water fishes don’t rise to the surface, they depend on food that filters down to them from above. At mid water level, there is a huge and diverse ecosystem involving many species that rise to the surface to feed during the night and then sink back down again, and some of this reaches the depths.

Clive Trueman of the University of Southampton and colleagues measured ratios of isotopes of carbon and nitrogen in the tissues of fish caught at depths between 500 and 1800 metres to calculate the original sources of food: more than half of these fish got their energy – their food supply – from fishes that went to the surface. But deep water fish, when they die, stay at depth. Their carbon doesn’t get back into the atmospheric system.

Research like this is done to solve the puzzles of the planetary ecosystem, but also to explore the options open to politicians who will one day have to confront the mounting costs of climate change.

The declaration of the high seas as “off limits” to all fishing sounds utopian, but fisheries scientists have repeatedly argued that present fishing regimes are not sustainable, and that radical steps must be taken.

Fish sanctuaries

Callum Roberts, of the University of York, UK, has been making the case for “marine parks”, or undisturbed ocean and shallow water wildernesses, for more than a decade.

Like pristine tropical rainforests, or protected wetlands and prairies, these would be nurseries and safe zones for rare or otherwise threatened species of plants and animals. But they would also serve as valuable carbon sinks. Either way, humans would benefit because the marine parks would slow global warming and limit climate change.

“The more abundant life is, and the more the seabeds are rich, complex and dominated by filter feeders that extract organic matter from the water, and creatures that bury matter in the mud, the more effective the seas will be as a carbon sink. Overfishing has diminished that benefit wherever it has taken place just at the time when we need it most,” Professor Roberts told Climate News Network.

“I think the carbon sequestration argument is a strong one. The deep sea is probably the biggest carbon sink on the planet by virtue of its enormous size.

“It is incredibly important as a sink, because once carbon is trapped there, it is much harder for it to get re-released into the atmosphere than is the case for carbon sinks on land, like forests or peat bogs.”

Planetary benefits

Protection of fish on the high seas would also be good for fish stocks in the exclusive economic zones nearer the shores, where the global catch is more carefully managed, and where some areas are already protected.

This would benefit all nations where people depend on fishing or fish farming. At the moment, only a small number of nations maintain high seas fleets.

The Global Ocean Commission, which commissioned the high seas study, claims that such a decision would make economic, social and ecological sense: the oceans supply “vital services” to humanity. They provide half of the planet’s oxygen, deliver nourishment for billions of people, and regulate the climate.

To protect the high seas could help offshore fish stocks, but demand for fish is likely to grow in step with population increases, and fish produce at least one sixth of the animal protein that humans consume.

The supply of “wild” fish caught by net or line peaked nearly two decades ago. The World Resources Institute believes that production of farmed fish and shellfish will have to increase by 133% by 2050.

Source: Climate News Network

Big data’s vital role in solving urgent food safety problems

The analysis of large volumes of data collected from fields, warehouses, trucks – and even animals’ stomachs – may be key to preventing widespread hunger in the coming decades.

Agricultural Production Index
The world's population is projected to grow to 9 billion by 2050, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations believes that food production will have to increase by 70% in the next 35 years to prevent widespread hunger.

But the increasing use of farmland for biofuel production means that there is less land available for food, and about half - or two billion tonnes - of the food that is produced is wasted, according to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

Technology and data analysis could help improve the situation.

Cloud farming

Big data analysis can also increase crop yields by helping famers make better decisions about when to plant, manage and harvest their crops.
A US farmer checks the latest hyper-local weather forecast on his tablet computer
For example, the Climate Corporation, a company founded by two ex-Google employees and acquired by agriculture giant Monsanto in 2013, operates a cloud-based farming information system that takes account of weather measurements from 2.5 million locations every day.

It processes that data, along with 150 billion soil observations, to generate 10 trillion weather simulation data points. Using this information, the company claims it can provide US farmers with temperature, rain and wind forecasts for areas as small as one-third of a square mile (about 200 acres), for the forthcoming 24-hour and seven-day periods.

Accessed from a web browser, this information enables farmers to work out when best to spray large areas of farmland, because they can ascertain when the land is dry enough, when the wind speed is low enough to permit spraying, and when there is a long enough time window before the next rainfall to ensure that the spraying is effective.

The system also uses daily weather data from the past few months to provide farmers with yield estimates for their crops in individual fields, and it allows them to explore historical data from the last thirty growing seasons to provide an accurate estimate of the value of fields they may be considering buying.

War on waste

But even if crops, dairy products and meat can be produced more efficiently by making use of big data, it's a major undertaking to get it from the farm or abattoir to the dining room table. That's because most food has to be transported hundreds or even thousands of miles on pallets in containers loaded on to trucks, ships and even aeroplanes, stopping at warehouses and distribution points on the way.

Changes in temperature, humidity and even oxygen levels in the containers can all affect the condition of the food when it arrives at its market destination. About 10% to 15% of food that is transported chilled spoils during transport, according to some industry estimates, costing around $25bn. Food worth billions of dollars is spoiled in transit each year before it ever reaches our plates

Food worth billions of dollars is spoiled in transit each year before it ever reaches our plates

Tech Mahindra, an IT service company based in Bangalore, India, offers a system called Farm-to-Fork which aims to monitor containers centrally, sending alerts out whenever the conditions in a container deviate from their ideal ones.

Sensors in each container measure temperature, humidity and other parameters, communicating over mobile data networks while the containers are in transit, and via wi-fi when they arrive at distribution centres. Global positioning system (GPS) data also keeps a track of where the containers are.

In some circumstances problems can be rectified automatically, according to Mahesh Vasudevanallur, a practice head at the company. For example, if the sensors indicate that oxygen levels in the container have fallen too low, more of the gas can be released from an on-board tank.

If automatic adjustment isn't possible, humans can intervene. "For a ship on the high seas, an alert message goes to a technician to see what action can be taken," Mr Vasudevanallur says. "With a truck, a driver can go to the nearest depot to get things fixed rather than driving on to his final destination."

All this recorded data can be used to improve food transport conditions, he adds.

"Big data scientists can do freshness and nutrition analysis at each part of the value chain to improve food longevity. That will do wonders getting the products to stomachs instead of being wasted."

Bees are dying in droves. Why?

Leading apiarist Dennis vanEngelsdorp looks at the gentle, misunderstood creature’s important place in nature and the mystery behind its alarming disappearance


Dennis vanEngelsdorp is Acting State Apiarist for Pennsylvania's Department of Agriculture, studying colony collapse disorder — the alarming, worldwide disappearance of worker bees and Western honey bees.

Why you should listen

"Imagine if one of every three cows died. The National Guard would be out." It's a grim premise, but a favorite of Dennis vanEngelsdorp, who in 2008 watched the same percentage of bees vanish in North America. A leading apiarist, vanEngelsdorp knows the disturbing consequences of the bee die-off. Colony collapse disorder (its official name) is complex and mysterious, driven by pesticides, toxins and disease, and threatens not only the existence of the insect but also the food they pollinate -- a third of what we eat.

But vanEngelsdorp is not a pessimist, however worrisome the situation. Since finding his love for bees in an undergraduate beekeeping course, he's steadily chewed through new degree programs, becoming an outspoken bee crusader, generating global buzz -- sorry -- for the fascinating critters: their workers' dance, their convenient chronic case of static cling ...

To fight recent losses, he's now advocating urban beekeeping and honeymaking (sadly, illegal in some cities), drive-by-night repopulation programs, and emergency queen bee delivery by express mail (legal -- really).

Pesticide linked to three generations of genetic damage

Pesticide linked to three generations of genetic damage

The Verge
https://www.theverge.com/2014/7/24/5932855/pesticide-linked-to-three-generations-of-genetic-damage
By Russell Brandom on July 24, 2014 02:00 pm

No one's used the pesticide Methoxychlor for more than a decade — but according to a new study, it may be harming people for generations to come. A group of researchers at Washington State University have discovered new effects from the pesticide that reach into a subject's epigenome, affecting children and even grandchildren of the initial subject. That ancestral exposure can contribute to adult onset kidney disease, ovarian disease, and obesity in later generations.

Published today in PLOS ONE, the study is part of the growing field of epigenetics, which studies how the body chooses which genetic code to read and which to ignore. Methoxychlor doesn't alter the genome itself, but after exposing rats to the toxin, researchers discovered the subjects' descendants were more likely to express the harmful genes. The effect was particularly pronounced in the female germ line, indicating Methoxychlor is particularly harmful for the descendants of female subjects.

But beyond a single pesticide, the results suggest that ancestral exposures may be a more powerful factor in a person's health than the medical community had previously realized. "The idea that your ancestors' exposures influence your disease has not been seriously considered in our ideas of how disease develops," says Michael Skinner, a WSU professor who led the research team. "Now we need to start considering that as a factor."

Farm Wars

GM floodgate to open? EU ministers back deal to let nations decide fate of crops

European Union governments have decided to let member states go their own way when it comes to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), allowing EU nations to either ban the crops or grow them as they see fit. The move ends years of legislative deadlock. At a meeting in Luxembourg, EU environment ministers from 26 out of 28 member states put their weight behind a 2010 proposal to give national governments an opt out from rules, making the 28-member bloc a single market for GMOs. Only Belgium and Luxembourg voted against it, although the final decision rests with the European Parliament, which is expected to endorse the plan, Bloomberg Businessweek reports. A political split in Europe between countries in favor of GMOs, such as Britain and Spain, and those firmly against them, including France, has delayed EU-wide permission to grow them. This has prompted complaints from trading partners – such as the US, where GMOs are legal – which are seeking to expand the global bio seed market, which is valued at almost US$16 billion a year. The law will accelerate EU level endorsements for requests from US companies like Monsanto to plant genetically altered crops, which have been cleared as safe by scientists working for the European Commission. “This is a real step forward in unblocking the dysfunctional EU process for approving GM crops, which is currently letting down our farmers and stopping scientific development,” said Owen Paterson, UK secretary of state for the environment.

The Gene Revolution, The Future of Agriculture: Dr. Thierry Vrain

Thierry Vrain retired 10 years ago after a long career as a soil biologist and ended head of a department of molecular biology running his own research program to engineer nematode resistance genes in crops. In his retirement career as a gardener he learned five or six years ago how the soil ecosystem really functions and have been preaching ever since. He find himself with a good knowledge of genetic engineering technologies surrounded by people in fear of being hurt by the food they eat. He found that he cannot ignore them anymore and has joined the campaign to educate consumers about the potential health problems reported in the recent scientific literature.