Ultrasound Kills Red Tides

Dangerous red tides that kill fish and marine mammals and are toxic, even carcinogenic, to humans, might be destroyed using bursts of ultrasound.

Researchers at the U of Hull in the UK experimented with ultrasound on a species of algae that can cause respiratory disease and liver cancer in humans, reports New Scientist.

The team tested three frequencies of ultrasound on Anabaena sphaerica. All worked, though the 1-megahertz band was most effective—probably by bursting the buoyancy cells filled with nitrogen that keep the algae afloat.

Of course, you've got to ask what else the sound might be killing.

In response: The researchers believe ultrasound could be targeted to individual species of algae and the resonant frequency of their buoyancy cells. In theory, this wouldn't damage regular plant cells, which are relatively impervious to pressure waves.

These high frequencies are also absorbed rapidly in water. At 1 megahertz the effective radius is less than 60 feet. That's good in that it limits the affected zone but bad in that it would be a lot of work to cover a big bloom.

The study also doesn't acknowledge—as far as I can tell—the fact that when a whole bunch of algae die and sink to the bottom they fuel a bloom of decomposers who suck up all the available oxygen in the water—turning a red tide into a dead zone.

Hmm.

Still, it might be a way to nip a bloom in the bud. Though we still need to tackle all those annoying onshore factors that grow red tides in the first place, like fertilizer and manure run-off from abusively unsustainable agricultural practices.

The paper's in Applied Acoustics.
 

Sewage Sows Superbugs

Wastewater treatment plants create a hedonistic mating ground for antibiotic-resistant superbugs that are eventually discharged into streams and lakes.

A new study sampled water near five sewage plants around Ann Arbor, Michigan, and found superbugs—bacteria resistant to multiple antibiotics—up to 100 yards downstream from the discharge point in the Huron River. (Next: the researchers are going to look further than 100 yards away.)

While the total number of Acinetobacter bacteria left in the discharge effluent declined dramatically after treatment, the remaining bacteria were significantly more resistant to multiple antibiotics than upstream bacteria.

Ooops.

Some strains resisted as many as seven of eight antibiotics tested.

Twenty or 30 years ago, antibiotics would have killed most of these strains. But multiple antibiotic-resistant bacteria have emerged as a serious global health issue thanks to the overuse and abuse of antibiotics.

The researchers conclude the problem isn't that treatment plants aren't cleaning the water. It's that they aren't equipped to remove antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals entering the treatment plants.

Therefore wastewater treatment becomes a fertile brew for the creation of superbugs. Good bacteria grow and replicate along with the bad and in the confined space they share resistant genetic materials, effectively selecting for multidrug resistance.

Wow. Unintelligent design in action.

Here's my favorite part of the press release about this paper in Science of The Total Environment: "While scientists learn more about so-called superbugs, patients can do their part by not insisting on antibiotics for ailments that antibiotics don't treat, such as a common cold or the flu."

Patient, heal thyself.

How Much Is That Baby in the Window?

Slate has an alarming piece on the sordid truth behind international adoption. As we've noted before, it often isn't so much adopting as kidnapping. From Slate:

Who wants to buy a baby? Certainly not most people who are trying to adopt internationally. And yet too often—without their knowledge—that's what happens with their dollars and euros.
Westerners have been sold a myth that poor countries have millions of healthy abandoned infants and toddlers who need homes. But it's not so. In poor countries, as in rich ones, healthy babies are rarely orphaned or given up except in China, where girls have been abandoned as a result of its draconian one-child policy.

The piece includes a haunting and very descriptive slide show of exactly how the families left behind, usually mothers, suffer. And how the brokers get very, very rich. Makes Malawi's dissing of Madonna make a lot more sense. [Read Meet the Parents: The Dark Side of Overseas Adoption for MoJo's special report on the same subject.]

Video: The Story of Stuff

The inconvenient truth about the Inconvenient Truth approach to green pedagogy is that by the time Gore moves past the gloom to What You Can Do, you're too depressed to do more than clutch the nearest stuffed penguin and click on Animal Planet. Not so Annie Leonard's 20-minute Story of Stuff viral kiddie video, an adorable, doomtastic, animated homage to How We're All Killing the Planet (with cuteness and plastic bottles, mainly).

Watch the video below, then pass it on to a teacher you know along with our Waste Not, Want Not special report on the full story of Stuff.

From NYT:

Blue Whales Reconnect Ancient Paths

The planet’s largest animal may be returning to prewhaling feeding grounds. This according to a new paper in Marine Mammal Science documenting the first known migration of blue whales from California to British Columbia and the Gulf of Alaska since the end of commercial whaling (sort of) in 1965.
 
Researchers have seen blues whales off British Columbia and the Gulf of Alaska 15 times since 1997. Four of the whales have been previously identified off the coast of California—proving at least some whales are pioneering a return to historical migration patterns.

Blue whales were severely overhunted during commercial whaling in the early 1900’s. The International Whaling Commission enacted a worldwide moratorium (sort of) on commercial whaling in 1966. Since then, blue whales off southern California have recovered slightly. Those farther north never have.  
 
No one knows why the whales seem to be spreading northward now. But the ocean is changing and krill—the primary food of blue whales—might be shifting north too.
 
Blue whales are the largest animal ever to live on Earth, reaching 100 feet and perhaps 100 tons—far larger than any of the dinosaurs. They were hunted nearly to extinction globally and are still listed as endangered under the US Endangered Species Act and the IUCN Red List. The global population is estimated at only 5,000 to 12,000 animals today. Perhaps 2,000 of these live off the west coast of the US and Canada.

Too bad Japan, Iceland, Norway, Canada, Greenland, the US, Russia, the Faroe Islands, a few Caribbean island nations, and Indonesia still hunt whales in one way or another: bloodlust watered down with euphemism and anachronism gussied up as science.


 

17-Year Cicadas Arrive Early

Periodical cicadas best known for their 17-year-long life cycle are emerging four years early in several Atlantic states, including North Caroline and Maryland.

The timing of the emergence is determined during the first five years of the underground development of the juvenile cicadas. Gene Kritsky of the College of Mount St. Joseph and his students have been digging up the insects each year to monitor their growth. They found many cicadas growing faster than expected and predicted their early emergence back in 2000.

The year's emergence is the fifth 17-year cicada brood arriving early. Kritsky described the early appearance of Brood I in 1995 in eastern Ohio, predicted the early appearance of Brood X. Brood XIII appeared early in Chicago in 2003 and Brood XIV accelerated in parts of Indiana and Ohio in 2004. This year's acceleration is overlapping with the distribution of Brood II.

Kritsky's paper to be published in the Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science suggests that mild winters affect trees that young cicadas feed upon, messing with the insects' timekeeping.

In other words, this phenomenon might be another biological response to warming global temperatures.

Anyone witnessing cicadas this year is asked to report the sighting on this mapping website.
 

TX Women Paying for Own Rape Kits?

Consider this the Friday edition of the "You Gotta Be Kidding Me" beat: Women in Houston are being forced to pay for processing their own rape kits. So I guess that means that people claiming burglary will have to pay for fingerprint analysis, right? From Click2Houston.com:

Bioelectricity Beats Ethanol

A new study in Science shows the best way to maximize "miles per acre" from biomass is to convert it to electricity, not ethanol.

Compared to ethanol used for internal combustion engines, bioelectricity used for battery-powered vehicles would deliver an average of 80 percent more miles of transportation per acre of crops, while also doubling the greenhouse gas offsets to mitigate climate change.

"It's a relatively obvious question once you ask it, but nobody had really asked it before," says study co-author Chris Field, director of the Department of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institution.

The researchers performed a life-cycle analysis of bioelectricity versus ethanol technologies, taking into account the energy produced and also the energy consumed in each.

Bioelectricity was the clear winner in the transportation-miles-per-acre comparison, regardless of whether the energy was produced from corn or from switchgrass.

A small SUV powered by bioelectricity could travel nearly 14,000 highway miles on the net energy produced from an acre of switchgrass. A comparable internal combustion vehicle could only travel 9,000 miles on the highway.

"The internal combustion engine just isn't very efficient, especially when compared to electric vehicles," says lead author Elliott Campbell of the U of California Merced. "Even the best ethanol-producing technologies with hybrid vehicles aren't enough to overcome this.

While the results of the study clearly favor bioelectricity over ethanol, the researchers caution the issues facing society in choosing an energy strategy are complex.

"We found that converting biomass to electricity rather than ethanol makes the most sense for two policy-relevant issues: transportation and climate," says David Lobell of Stanford's Program on Food Security and the Environment. "But we also need to compare these options for other issues like water consumption, air pollution, and economic costs."
 

Freeze-Dried "Typical Diet:" Yours for $800

Ever wonder whether the nutritional labels on your food are telling the truth? Wonder no more: For just $800, you can order "Typical Diet," two six-ounce bottles of a freeze-dried blend of four days' worth of all your daily recommended fat, protein, calories, vitamins, and minerals, prepared by the US government's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). 

Nutritious and delicious? Maybe not. I'm not sure anyone has ever tasted this concoction (and in fact NIST warns it's not for human consumption"). It's used as a standard against which food manufacturers test the nutritional content of their products. The Guardian points out that fans of Typical Diet might want to check out NIST's other fine food products, which include baby food composite, meat, and a standard issue fish from Lake Superior, methylmercury and all. But the fun doesn't stop there:

Nist offers many kinds of useful and, to the connoisseur, delightful Standard Reference Materials. Its catalogue runs to 145 pages.

Prospective purchasers can peruse page after page of bodily fluids and glops, among them bilirubin, cholesterol and ascorbic acid in frozen human serum. There are other speciality products in dizzying variety: toxic metals in bovine blood, naval brass, domestic sludge and plutonium-242 solution, to name four.

Prices are mostly in the $300-$500 range. There are bargains to be had, including an item called "multi drugs of abuse in urine", on offer at three bottles for $372.

Good news for all you 2012ers out there: Typical Diet doesn't expire till 2016, so you can start stocking up now.  

 

What Color Is the Sky in GOP-land?

How excruciating it is to be a GOP conservative with any minute strand of integrity or intellectual ability? If you want to see Mike Pence (R-Ind) eviscerated by Chris Matthews for refusing to answer a simple question, watch this.

It's painfully obvious that Pence believes in evolution but has been so Limbaugh-ized, he prefers to babble incoherently rather than say "Yes, I believe in evolution." And global warming, and the need for conservation. By the time it was over, poor Pence was blithering on about belonging to the party of Teddy Roosevelt, who started the national park system and hugged pandas daily. Near as I can tell.

Here's a snippet from HuffPo: