Insects are dying off — alarmingly fast – Vox

Insects are the most abundant animals on planet Earth. If you were to put them all together into one creepy-crawly mass, they’d outweigh all humanity by a factor of 17.

Insects outweigh all the fish in the oceans and all the livestock munching grass on land. Their abundance, variety (there could be as many as 30 million species), and ubiquity mean insects play a foundational role in food webs and ecosystems: from the bees that pollinate the flowers of food crops like almonds to the termites that recycle dead trees in forests.

Insects are also superlative for another, disturbing reason: They’re vanishing at a rate faster than mammals, fish, amphibians, and reptiles.

“The pace of modern insect extinctions surpasses that of vertebrates by a large margin,” write the authors of an alarming new review in Biological Conservation of the scientific literature on insect populations published in the past 40 years. The state of insect biodiversity, they write, is “dreadful.” And their biomass — the estimated weight of all insects on Earth combined — is dropping by an estimated 2.5 percent every year.

In all, the researchers conclude that as much as 40 percent of all insect species may be endangered over the next several decades. (Caveat: Most of the data was obtained from studies conducted in Europe and North America.) And around 41 percent of all insect species on record have seen population declines in the past decade.

“We estimate the current proportion of insect species in decline … to be twice as high as that of vertebrates, and the pace of local species extinction … eight times higher,” the authors write. “It is evident that we are witnessing the largest [insect] extinction event on Earth since the late Permian and Cretaceous periods.”

Source: Insects are dying off — alarmingly fast – Vox

The NASA Space Treatment That Will Cure Your Seasickness – Condé Nast Traveler

Packing for a two-week trip through the Arctic on a nuclear icebreaking ship sounds like an extraordinary endeavor, but it’s all part of the job for Dr. Joanne Feldman, Assistant Clinical Professor at UCLA’s Department of Emergency Medicine and a polar expedition physician with Quark Expeditions. Dr. Feldman, better known as Dr. Jo, has become an expert in motion sickness treatment through many seasons of braving the high seas on expedition ships to both the Arctic and Antarctic; and her specialty in wilderness emergency medicine and experience as a physician with the U.S. Antarctic Program at Palmer Station primed her for the challenges of experiencing life at the extremes. For the less seasoned on the seas, Dr. Jo is a resource as well as a potentially lifesaving presence. Condé Nast Traveler? spoke with her onboard the ship 50 Years of Victory as it powered through ice near the North Pole:

Source: The NASA Space Treatment That Will Cure Your Seasickness – Condé Nast Traveler

If true, this could be one of the greatest discoveries in human history – U.S. News – Haaretz.com

“I don’t care what people say,” asserts Avi Loeb, chairman of Harvard University’s astronomy department and author of one of the most controversial articles in the realm of science last year (and also one of the most popular in the general media). “It doesn’t matter to me,” he continues. “I say what I think, and if the broad public takes an interest in what I say, that’s a welcome result as far as I’m concerned, but an indirect result. Science isn’t like politics: It is not based on popularity polls.”

Prof. Abraham Loeb, 56, was born in Beit Hanan, a moshav in central Israel, and studied physics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem as part of the Israel Defense Forces’ Talpiot program for recruits who demonstrate outstanding academic ability. Freeman Dyson, the theoretical physicist, and the late astrophysicist John Bahcall admitted Loeb to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, whose past faculty members included Albert Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer. In 2012, Time magazine named Loeb one of the 25 most influential people in the field of space. He has won prizes, written books and published 700 articles in the world’s leading scientific journals. Last October, Loeb and his postdoctoral student Shmuel Bialy, also an Israeli, published an article in the scientific outlet “The Astrophysical Journal Letters,” which seriously raised the possibility that an intelligent species of aliens had sent a spaceship to Earth.

Source: If true, this could be one of the greatest discoveries in human history – U.S. News – Haaretz.com

Earth’s magnetic field is acting up and geologists don’t know why

Something strange is going on at the top of the world. Earth’s north magnetic pole has been skittering away from Canada and towards Siberia, driven by liquid iron sloshing within the planet’s core. The magnetic pole is moving so quickly that it has forced the world’s geomagnetism experts into a rare move.

On 15 January, they are set to update the World Magnetic Model, which describes the planet’s magnetic field and underlies all modern navigation, from the systems that steer ships at sea to Google Maps on smartphones.

The most recent version of the model came out in 2015 and was supposed to last until 2020 — but the magnetic field is changing so rapidly that researchers have to fix the model now. “The error is increasing all the time,” says Arnaud Chulliat, a geomagnetist at the University of Colorado Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) National Centers for Environmental Information.

Source: Earth’s magnetic field is acting up and geologists don’t know why

How Your Gut Bacteria May Be Controlling Your Brain

The gut has made a sudden rise to prominence as an arbiter of overall health. It’s well established that gut bacteria, also known as the microbiome, can influence digestion, allergies and metabolism. But these microbes’ reach may extend much further – into the brain. Conditions including depression and anxiety are now being linked to the digestive system.

The brain may be one of the most complex objects known to humankind, but science has suggested the digestive system is of equal importance, especially when it comes to our emotional health. Your gut is teeming with trillions of bacteria, making up what’s known as the microbiome. Collectively weighing up to two kilograms (heavier than the average brain), the microbiome plays a vital role in your health, breaking down food, supporting immunity and, perhaps surprisingly, affecting mood. Nutritionist Rebecca Pilkington believes keeping the microbiome balanced is the key to optimal physical and mental health. “If your gut is out of whack,” she says, “this can lead to inflammation, believed to be one of the biggest causes of depression.”

Source: How Your Gut Bacteria May Be Controlling Your Brain

2018 midterms: New scientists elected to US House, Senate – Business Insider

We definitely need more scientists and more veterans on Capitol Hill. I found 314 Action a few years ago and enthusiastically support its work.

The faces of Capitol Hill are changing.

When the 116th Congress heads to Washington in January, there will be a record number of women in the ranks — at least 123, according to the news website Axios, including the first Muslim women, the first Somali-American, and the first Native American women.

There will be more scientists too.

On Tuesday, at least eight new science-credentialed candidates were elected: one senator and seven members of the House. Full results are not yet available in Washington state, where a pediatrician is likely to be elected to the House.

The members of the 115th Congress include one physicist, one microbiologist, and one chemist, as well as eight engineers and one mathematician. The medical professions are slightly better represented, with three nurses and 15 doctors.

The new winners will bolster those science ranks. The Democratic candidates who won all ran successful campaigns with the support of a nonprofit political-action committee called 314 Action, which started in 2016 and is dedicated to recruiting, training, and funding scientists and healthcare workers who want to run for political office. (One Republican engineer-turned-businessman won a race in Oklahoma, without support from the PAC.)

“Scientists are essentially problem-solvers,” Shaughnessy Naughton, the president of 314 Action, told Business Insider before the election results came in.

Source: 2018 midterms: New scientists elected to US House, Senate – Business Insider

The Curse of the Honeycrisp Apple – Bloomberg

I’m not sure what the “curse” here is, other than the Honeycrisp apple is in high demand and West Coast orchards are beating out East Coast ones in supplying it. As for the Turners, we love Honeycrisps and always look for them when we go to Costco.

Bite into a Honeycrisp apple and you understand why consumers are willing to pay so much for a piece of fruit: the crunch.

That’s no accident. In the pre-Honeycrisp era, apples had just two textures: “soft and mealy (that nobody liked), and then we had the good apples, the hard, crisp and dense,” said David Bedford, one of the original breeders of the Honeycrisp.

Unlike the vast majority of modern commercial produce, the Honeycrisp apple wasn’t bred to grow, store or ship well. It was bred for taste: crisp, with balanced sweetness and acidity. Though it succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, along the way it became a nightmare for some producers, forcing small Northeastern growers to compete with their massive, climatically advantaged counterparts on the West Coast.

Source: The Curse of the Honeycrisp Apple – Bloomberg

Evacuated after ‘health attacks’ in Cuba and China, diplomats face new ordeals in U.S.

Here’s a frightening, detailed account of what it’s like to become a victim of the mystery sonic/microwave attacks that have plagued our diplomatic corps.

WASHINGTON — Alone in her bed in a sprawling Chinese metropolis, Catherine Werner was jolted awake one night by a pulsing, humming sound. It seemed to be coming from a specific direction.

Perhaps the A.C. unit in her upscale Guangzhou apartment was malfunctioning, the American diplomat thought. But at the same moment, she also noticed intense pressure in her head.

The sounds and sensations returned, night after night, for months. When Werner’s health began declining in late 2017 — vomiting, headaches, loss of balance — she brushed it off at first, thinking China’s polluted air and water were getting to her.

It wasn’t until months later — after her mother, Laura Hughes, grew alarmed, flew in from the U.S. and then got sick, too — that Werner was medevaced from China back to the States. Doctors at the University of Pennsylvania found a vision disorder, a balance disorder and an “organic brain injury” — diagnoses similar to those of 26 U.S. diplomats and spies in Cuba who started hearing strange sounds and falling ill in late 2016.

Source: Evacuated after ‘health attacks’ in Cuba and China, diplomats face new ordeals in U.S.

A San Andreas fault mystery: The ‘slow-moving disaster’ in an area where the Big One is feared – Los Angeles Times

The San Andreas fault begins its dangerous dance through California at the Salton Sea, at a spot that seismologists long have feared could be the epicenter of a massive earthquake.

But in recent months, this desolate location where the North American and Pacific plates rub together has become the focus of intense interest for a type of movement that is less the Big One than the Slow One.

A muddy spring mysteriously has begun to move at a faster pace through dry earth — first 60 feet over a few months, and then 60 feet in a single day, according to Imperial County officials.

There’s no evidence suggesting this is an immediate precursor to a large earthquake, said U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist Ken Hudnut, who visited the moving spring in July. In fact, the area has been seismically quiet in recent months, with relatively few earthquakes.

Hudnut and other experts stress the movement is not seismic activity. But it’s occurring partly as a result of historic earthquake activity that caused cracks, allowing gases produced deep underground to reach the earth’s surface.

The biggest worry is that the slow-moving scientific mystery could become destructive in other ways.

Source: A San Andreas fault mystery: The ‘slow-moving disaster’ in an area where the Big One is feared – Los Angeles Times

Dietary Supplement Could Reduce Some Chronic Symptoms of Gulf War Illness » SPH | Boston University

Nearly one-third of the US military personnel deployed in the 1991 Gulf War continue to suffer from Gulf War Illness (GWI), a set of symptoms including chronic pain, fatigue, and memory impairment. Although the exact biology of GWI remains unknown, previous research suggests it is related to neuroinflammation caused by chemical exposure during the war.

Oleoylethanolamide (OEA), which is commonly used as a weight-loss supplement, could reduce GWI symptoms, according to a new study co-authored by a School of Public Health researcher in collaboration with Roskamp Institute investigators.

Source: Dietary Supplement Could Reduce Some Chronic Symptoms of Gulf War Illness » SPH | Boston University