Back in 1999, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) acknowledged that female professors suffered from pervasive, albeit unintentional, discrimination. Charles M. Vest, MIT President at the time, said in the Faculty Newsletter: “I have always believed that contemporary gender discrimination within universities is part reality and part perception. True, but I now understand that reality is by far the greater part of the balance.” The statement introduced an accompanying study unveiling the MIT pattern of discrimination — or, under a more current perspective, gender bias. Continue reading →
The plenitude of environmental changes currently underway is leading scientists to devise new catchwords for communicating novel, unexpected findings. Think of plastiglomerates, a new type of stone made up of melted plastic and other materials that will likely become part of the rock record. Now, we have “jellification” — very recently conceived to describe the process causing goo balls to wash up on the shores of Canadian lakes. Continue reading →
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking – the process of extracting natural gas by injecting wells with mixtures of water, sand, and even toxic chemicals at an extremely high pressure – may contaminate drinking water and affect human health, among other unwanted consequences. Continue reading →
Bees have been declining for years worldwide—this is a well-accepted fact. However, the “why” of this decline is still a matter of debate. Although it is likely that a combination of different factors is contributing to the global bee die-offs, increasing attention is now devoted to the toxic effects of a group of pesticides called neonicotinoids, or neonics for short. They are systemic pesticides—their solubility in water allows them to reach leaves, flowers, roots and stems, even pollen and nectar. One could therefore infer that these pesticides will likely kill not only the insects that farmers want to eliminate, but also pollinators. Continue reading →
During the past few decades, coral reefs—the rainforests of the sea—have been declining at an alarming rate around the world. The threats faced by these extremely diverse and fragile ecosystems are numerous and difficult to control. In addition to weather-related damage, pollution, ocean acidification, coral mining, disease, overfishing and destructive fishing practices, coral reefs are subjected to the negative effects of global warming—increasing sea surface temperatures lead to coral bleaching, a process that makes corals become bone white and often die. A couple of years ago, David Gruber wrote in the New York Times, “It is difficult being a coral reef scientist in 2012. The system we are studying is dwindling—and we feel there is an urgent need to understand the ecosystem while it still has a pulse. Coral reefs are on target to be one of the first major ecosystems to be pushed to an unproductive state.” Continue reading →
We’re all familiar with our impact on the planet – the changes we cause on the chemical composition of the atmosphere through deforestation and burning of fossil fuels, the spread of invasive species caused by the removal of biogeographical barriers, the destruction of coral reefs due to overfishing and ocean acidification, the pollution of oceans and lakes by discarded plastics. The list goes on and on.
BMAA, or beta-N-methylamino-L-alanine, is a potent neurotoxin linked to the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease), Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s. Produced by virtually every known species of cyanobacteria, BMAA increases in concentration as it moves up the food chain—a process known as biomagnification or bioaccumulation—in both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Continue reading →