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 →
The influence of climate change on the spread of infectious diseases is a topic that generates intense debate, mostly because these effects depend on a variety of intertwined, variable factors – wealth of nations, healthcare infrastructure, availability of vaccines and drugs as well as ability to control vectors such as mosquitoes, ticks, snails, and others. Vector control is, indeed, one of the most important measures included in the existing global strategy to fight infectious diseases. Continue reading →
Extinction is, sometimes, merely a life stage. The resurrection of extinct species is not only possible with modern science, but it is also helpful to study evolutionary changes that occur because of natural events or anthropogenic stressors. As long as their dormant propagules are preserved in permafrost, soils or sediments, species can be brought back to life—sometimes. Resurrection ecology allows researchers to identify various stages of evolution by comparing extinct, resurrected species with their living descendants. Continue reading →
In a land of pristine rivers and uncontaminated wilderness, the indigenous people of Bristol Bay have shared bountiful catches of salmon for thousands of years. However, the Pebble Mine—something that has been defined as just an idea—could be changing their way of life. An assessment released last month by the EPA shows the extent of the potential impact that the development of the mine could have on indigenous people and their land. Continue reading →
For the past few years, Parkinson’s disease and its association with exposure to pesticides has been the topic of a hot debate – one after the other, studies have shown a clear epidemiologic link between disease development and pesticide exposure without, however, identifying any related mechanism of action. Finally, in January 2013, results published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences pointed out a mechanism of action for the fungicidebenomyl, a persistent pesticide that is still present in the environment despite having been banned by the U.S. in 2001. Now, results from a new study published in the current issue (February 4, 2014) of the journal Neurology show that several additional pesticides may be involved in the development of Parkinson’s disease, with a mechanism similar to that described for benomyl. Continue reading →