News Article | January 20, 2016
Overgrown shrubs thwack the sides of a pick-up truck as it bounces along a dirt road through a forest in western Virginia. On the drive, ecologist Ty Lindberg calls out the names of the invasive species crowding either side of the path. There is mile-a-minute weed, which spreads with alarming speed. A flowering annual called Asian stiltgrass carpets the ground and stifles native plants. And a particularly prickly species of rose tears at the clothes of anybody who ventures too close. “My field techs don't enjoy that one,” Lindberg says. Farther along, he stops the car at a break in the brush and picks his way through the undergrowth towards a set of plastic and aluminium stakes poking out of the ground. They mark out a 40-by-40-metre plot, one of dozens scattered throughout 1,300 hectares of forest and pasture near the town of Front Royal. From April to October, field technicians spend their days cataloguing the location, diameter and height of nearly every tree in the plot, collecting fallen leaves out of a trap and archiving pressings from invasive plants. Their main goal is to measure the ecosystem's metabolism, especially how much biomass it generates each year. At other plots, technicians trap rodents and draw blood samples to test for diseases, including those that could spread to humans. The staff collects and stores ticks and beetles, and takes soil samples to study the bacteria underfoot. Higher up in the hills, a 50-metre-tall metal tower juts above the trees, loaded with long booms holding sensors that monitor air temperature, wind speed and solar radiation at multiple altitudes. When the tower has its final instrument package installed in 2016, it will watch the forest breathe by monitoring how carbon dioxide and water vapour concentrations rise and fall. This site is one of more than 80 planned for the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), a US$434-million project to build a biological observatory that spans the United States. Its goals are grand. If all goes well, it will document the effects that climate change and land use have on ecosystems and provide scientists with a nearly real-time measure of the country's ecological vital signs. Many of the sites will operate for three decades, whereas others will be packed up and relocated periodically in response to environmental changes. And the data collected will be freely available to all through an online portal. Lindberg, who manages three NEON sites in Virginia and Maryland, says that the long-term record generated by NEON could transform ecology by helping scientists to answer questions ranging from how invasive species are altering the landscape to how quickly infectious diseases are spreading through ecosystems. The network, he says, “is really an instrument”. Ecologists call it their first foray into big science — a massive project that rivals the scale of big-budget physics facilities such as particle colliders or telescopes (see 'Sentry posts'). But ecologists have not had an easy journey into the world of big science. During its five-year construction phase, NEON has encountered a series of high-profile problems that have raised concerns about the programme, which is funded entirely by the US National Science Foundation (NSF). In June 2015, the network came under fire from the NSF and Congress after NEON, Inc. — the non-profit organization that manages the project — reported that it was running $80 million over budget. Amid revelations that the company had spent federal money on parties, Congress levied charges of mismanagement and convened hearings with officials from NEON and the NSF. Events came to a climax in December, when the NSF decided to take NEON, Inc. off the project, citing a lack of confidence in the company after years of delays and questions about accounting irregularities. The agency will now seek another operator to complete construction and take over the project's management. One of the toughest tasks will be winning the support of ecologists; some researchers felt alienated during the project's planning phase and have been critical of the way the observatory network is turning out. Still, many ecologists are eager to get their hands on NEON's data and are already thinking about how to incorporate it into their studies. Ultimately, the science that they produce will determine whether the project succeeds or fails. “You build out NEON and in 30 years you're going to have unprecedented data on how ecosystems are changing,” says Peter Groffman, an ecosystem ecologist at the City University of New York. “It's very exciting and very much the next logical evolution of long-term studies.” The debates about NEON reach back to its early evolution, when it took shape in a manner very different from a major physics project. Scott Collins, an ecologist at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, was the first NSF programme director for NEON back in 2000. Collins says that the idea for a large ecological observatory sprang from NSF staff who were seeking ways for biologists to get a slice of the agency's big-science money: the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction budget. “That put us on a very different footing from the start because this was not something that the community and vocal ecologists had wanted,” Collins says. Although researchers did not dream up the project, they quickly embraced the idea and took the lead in moulding NEON's design during workshops. At these meetings, attendees were encouraged to dream big, says Katherine Gross, the director of Michigan State University's W. K. Kellogg Biological Station in Hickory Corners and the current chair of the NSF's biological-sciences advisory committee. During six workshops between 2000 and 2002, ecologists developed a plan for a flexible network of observatories and experimental centres spread across at least ten sites. But scientists disagreed over whether the NSF should specify research themes for each site or allow ecologists to choose their own focus. In its 2002 budget request to Congress, the NSF asked for $12 million to develop and build two prototype NEON sites, largely based on the reports from the workshops. But Congress denied the request, citing a lack of information about the project and an insufficient estimate of its costs. At the time, the best model that US ecologists had for NEON was the Long Term Ecological Research network, a group of investigators in the United States who study the ecology of a particular spot for five or more years with sets of measurements specialized to each site. The leaders of NEON, however, eventually settled on a one-size-fits-all approach, with standard protocols and instruments that could be deployed across the entire network to study pressing issues, including changes to biodiversity and climate change. And instead of having principal investigators propose individual observatories, an expert panel recommended that the NSF develop NEON as a nationwide network managed by one entity. Encouraged by Congress to continue refining its idea of NEON, the NSF issued a call for proposals in early 2004. A $6-million grant to design NEON went to several members of the American Institute of Biological Sciences in Reston, Virginia, a non-profit organization that had been involved in the project's earlier planning. A little more than a year later, in December 2005, the lead designers created NEON, Inc. Over the next several years, the structure of NEON took shape. The network split the country into 20 domains, each with several sites outfitted with instruments and collection protocols. But when it came to choosing where to build sites and how best to make measurements, some ecologists objected to the choices and felt that their expertise had been ignored. Gene Kelly, a soil scientist at Colorado State University in Fort Collins — and now the interim chief executive of NEON, Inc. — says that the emphasis on measuring the same quantities everywhere meant that NEON had to sacrifice having the optimal protocol for every spot. “The only way to really handle it was to standardize it, but in doing that you lose a little,” he says. Kelly says that many ecologists, including him, stopped following the progress of the project closely after these decisions were made, partly because NEON, Inc. stopped asking for input. Despite the loss of some engagement from the ecological community, the NSF approved NEON's final design in 2009, and Congress authorized the money for construction in July 2011. The network would spread 17,000 sensors measuring hundreds of variables — from soil moisture to stream pH — across nearly 100 sites. And at each site, technicians would collect a suite of biological samples, including genomic data from many organisms and whole specimens of insects and small mammals. The result would be a standard set of ecological data that would allow scientists to compare and watch for changes in ecosystems and to produce ecological forecasts. Concerns about the company's accounting and the NSF's oversight cropped up almost immediately after construction began in 2012. A review that year found that NEON's books were a mess: auditors questioned more than one-third of the total construction cost — $154 million — and determined that NEON, Inc. did not provide enough information to support its proposed budget. Later audits and investigations unearthed questionable spending by NEON management, including $25,000 for a party and $3,000 for T-shirts. Also, the company moved to a new office and paid nearly $500,000 for time left on the old lease. After the audits, the NSF's inspector-general urged the agency to keep a closer eye on the project. Despite the accounting problems, the NSF and NEON, Inc. forged ahead with construction — and ran straight into delays. Some could have been predicted, such as the difficulty of obtaining permits to build observation towers in cities. Others were simply bad luck. At the site in western Virginia, a tree fell over and destroyed a collection of atmospheric instruments. A bear damaged fibre-optic data lines running to soil-monitoring instruments near the Virginia site's tower. And concerns about the health of a pregnant cheetah at a nearby conservation facility forced NEON, Inc. to abandon plans to use a helicopter to hoist the topmost sections of the instrument tower into place. Instead, construction staff raised the final sections by hand. The delays put NEON behind schedule and over budget. In June 2015, the company told the NSF that it would take an extra $80 million on top of the $434-million budget to complete construction. With Congress already concerned about the NSF's stewardship, the agency demanded that the project be downsized to stay within its budget. It told NEON, Inc. to cull the number of sites from 95 to 81, cancel construction of its stream experiments and give up some of its embedded sensors. NEON, Inc. then fired its chief executive last September and appointed Kelly to serve as an interim. But the company sealed its fate in December when it submitted an updated budget that again had extra costs and delays. The NSF decided to look for a new company to manage the project. Whoever takes over will step into a difficult role, as many ecologists remain disconnected from the project. Yet there are still big hopes for NEON in the research community. “I think it's good for scientific communities to dream big and say, 'OK this will be our unifying project',” says Ash Ballantyne, a bioclimatologist at the University of Montana in Missoula. “It's analogous to our LHC.” Interest is growing as money starts to flow towards individual researchers. In August, the NSF awarded $4.8 million in grants to investigators and workshop organizers who are interested in using NEON data. Ballantyne received $300,000 to study the effects of drought, fire and insect infestations on the carbon cycle. He plans to investigate how drought or other disturbances predispose trees to a beetle outbreak or fires. Jim Clark, an ecologist and statistician at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, won a grant to build more-sophisticated ecological models. “We've always modelled on a species-by-species basis,” Clark says. “If there's 100 species, someone has fitted 100 different models and just added them together.” This ignores the interactions between species, he says, and NEON data on species abundance could help to fit and train joint models for how species respond to ecosystem changes collectively. Frank Davis, an environmental scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, says that he plans to use NEON's airborne observations to study tree cover at various scales, from a few centimetres to several kilometres. Many ecologists are not accustomed to thinking at the large scale that NEON covers, Davis says. “Ultimately, I think NEON will be ready for ecologists,” he says. “But will ecologists be ready for NEON?” Some are gaining valuable experience thinking at global scales by running their own distributed networks. The Global Lakes Ecological Observatory Network began in 2005 and ties together groups around the world that monitor human effects on lake ecosystems. The Nutrient Network, or NutNet, links researchers on six continents who perform a standard set of experiments looking at how plant production in grasslands is limited by phosphorus and nitrogen — two by-products of fossil-fuel combustion. Other networks are springing up to study plant populations and drought. These projects are smaller in scope than NEON, which gives researchers more control over the work. With only a handful of voices deciding how to conduct experiments or take data, projects such as NutNet can maintain a tight focus on the science. “It's very hard for NEON to do this because the entire ecological community has a say,” says Elizabeth Borer, an ecologist at the University of Minnesota in St Paul and a member of NutNet. Ecologists are still struggling to learn how to manage large projects, says Nikki Thurgate, an ecologist at the University of Adelaide in Australia and leader of international engagement for the Terrestrial Ecological Research Network — a smaller, Australian cousin of NEON. But if ecology is to forecast the problems that arise from climate change and loss of biodiversity around the world, it will need the data from large-scale networks. And one of the challenges is to keep the community engaged and informed while they wait for a grand scientific instrument to be built. “You can't pop up continent-wide environmental monitoring and have data in a couple of years,” Thurgate says. “It's just not that simple.” NEON's early struggles may fade when data start to arrive in the next few years from sites such as the one that Lindberg manages in western Virginia. On a cold day late last year, Lindberg — who still has his job for the time being — stood below the nearly finished observation tower rising high above the surrounding forest. In a nearby shed, dozens of boxes held sensors and electronics to be installed on the tower. Despite the work that remains here and at other sites around the country, Lindberg still thinks that the project can be successful — as long as researchers embrace it. “It's a scaffolding,” he says. “But this thing doesn't work unless scientists use it.”
News Article | February 15, 2017
Climate-driven disturbances are having profound impacts on coastal ecosystems, with many crucial habitat-forming species in sharp decline. However, among these degraded biomes, examples of resilience are emerging. Writing in BioScience, Jennifer O'Leary, a California Sea Grant Marine Biologist based at Polytechnic State University, and her colleagues describe these recoveries and highlight the possible implications for ecosystem-sparing management. To gain insight into disturbed coastal habitats, the authors surveyed 97 marine experts about their observations of climate-induced perturbations, including extreme storms, temperature changes, and ocean acidification. Eighty percent of those who had witnessed climate extremes also identified evidence of habitat resistance or rapid recovery. According to O'Leary and her colleagues, the survey results indicated that "bright spots of ecosystem resilience are surprisingly common across six major coastal marine ecosystems." In some cases, resilience was marked by striking recoveries. In one bleaching event in Western Australia, up to 90% of live coral was lost as a result of severe bleaching. Despite reaching a low of 9% unbleached area, the healthy reef surface recovered to 44% within 12 years. According to the survey of experts, the factors enabling resiliency were varied, but areas of remnant tridimensional habitat and high connectivity were the most frequently cited contributors. Sound management practices were also considered important, particularly the control of additional human stressors. The authors hope that by elucidating the causes of resilience, they can "uncover local conditions and processes that may allow ecosystems to maintain their structure and function and continue providing ecosystem services to humans." They argue that if marine protected areas "are spaced appropriately given the reproductive output and dispersal potential of species," it may be possible to mitigate the damage caused by climate disturbance events. Nevertheless, O'Leary and her colleagues caution that local bright spots do "not contradict the overwhelming evidence that climatic impacts present a major stressor to coastal ecosystems," although they do provide "optimism that we can indeed identify and manage for conditions that facilitate resilience to climatic stress." BioScience, published monthly by Oxford Journals, is the journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS). BioScience is a forum for integrating the life sciences that publishes commentary and peer-reviewed articles. The journal has been published since 1964. AIBS is an organization for professional scientific societies and organizations, and individuals, involved with biology. AIBS provides decision-makers with high-quality, vetted information for the advancement of biology and society. Follow BioScience on Twitter @BioScienceAIBS. Oxford Journals is a division of Oxford University Press. Oxford Journals publishes well over 300 academic and research journals covering a broad range of subject areas, two-thirds of which are published in collaboration with learned societies and other international organizations. The division been publishing journals for more than a century, and as part of the world's oldest and largest university press, has more than 500 years of publishing expertise behind it. Follow Oxford Journals on Twitter @OxfordJournals
News Article | March 2, 2017
Seven scientific societies are speaking out against President Donald Trump's executive order targeting the contentious Clean Water Rule. Representing more than 200,000 members total, the Society of Wetland Scientists, Ecological Society of America, American Institute of Biological Scientists, American Fisheries Society, Society for Ecological Restoration, Society for Freshwater Science and Phycological Society of America wrote a letter to Trump arguing in favor of the regulation. "As non-profit organizations, we support and foster sound science, education, restoration and management of wetlands and other aquatic resources," the letter says, adding that the regulation was written "using the best available science." Finalized by the Obama administration in May 2015, the Clean Water Rule, also known as the Waters of the U.S. rule, or WOTUS, caught the ire of farmers, land developers and energy companies. The law was stayed in a federal court following multiple legal challenges, including one brought by now-U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt when he was Oklahoma attorney general. On Tuesday, President Trump signed an executive order directing EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to review and possibly rescind or replace the regulation (E&E News PM, Feb. 28). The letter from the societies accompanies an amicus brief they filed in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to support a brief filed by the Obama administration defending the regulation earlier this year. That case has been stayed pending a Supreme Court review of whether it has jurisdiction over the regulation (Greenwire, Jan. 13). In their letter, the organizations describe the ecological importance of wetlands, which can remove otherwise harmful nutrient pollution from water, as well as the benefits wetlands provide to humans. "They store water, and thus are a source of water during times of drought," the letter says. "Many wetlands soak up runoff and floodwaters, which reduces peak flood-flows and avoids costly flood damage." Reprinted from Greenwire with permission from E&E News. Copyright 2017. E&E provides essential news for energy and environment professionals at www.eenews.net
News Article | March 3, 2017
GULFPORT, FL, March 03, 2017-- In response to President Trump's executive order targeting the Clean Water Rule, seven scientific organizations have issued a joint letter in support of protecting the nation's aquatic resources. The letter endorsed a brief filed in the Sixth Circuit in January by Stetson law professor Royal Gardner and Foreman Biodiversity Fellow Erin Okuno on behalf of water and wetland scientists in support of the Clean Water Rule."The Clean Water Rule reflects scientific reality. We need to protect streams and wetlands to protect larger, navigable waters," said Professor Gardner, director of the Institute for Biodiversity Law and Policy at Stetson University.Stetson University's Dr. Kirsten Work and Dr. Benjamin Tanner were among the scientists for whom the brief was filed. Professor Steph Tai of the University of Wisconsin was a co-author of the brief.In their letter, the Society of Wetland Scientists, Ecological Society of America, American Institute of Biological Scientists, American Fisheries Society, Society for Ecological Restoration, Society for Freshwater Science and Phycological Society of America emphasized the brief's "use of sound science to explain the urgent need for the Clean Water Rule."Stetson's Institute for Biodiversity Law and Policy is the winner of the American Bar Association 2016 Distinguished Achievement in Environmental Law and Policy Award. The Institute serves as an interdisciplinary focal point for education, research and service activities related to global, regional and local biodiversity issues.Editor's Note:Download the brief here: http://stetson.edu/law/amicicuriae Download the letter here: http://sws.org/images/sws_documents/SocietiesLetterSupportWOTUSAmiciC ... tTrump.pdf About Stetson University College of LawStetson University College of Law, Florida's first law school, has prepared lawyers and leaders since 1900. Today, Stetson leads the nation in blending legal doctrine with practical training, evidenced by its top-ranked programs in advocacy and legal writing. Through our academically rigorous curriculum and commitment to social responsibility, Stetson lawyers are ethical advocates ready to succeed in the legal profession.
News Article | March 2, 2017
The Trump administration’s proposal to cut the Environmental Protection Agency is looking dramatic indeed. The plans call for laying off thousands of staff, eliminating entire programs and making deep cuts to the agency’s research office, the Office of Research and Development (ORD), according to recent reporting by The Washington Post. That’s not to say all of this will happen — or that any of it will. Congress makes the final decisions on funding the government. But it’s a stunning proposal to researchers familiar with the workings of the EPA. “I think a deep cut would be devastating to the nation’s capacity to do environmental health and ecosystem research,” said Jonathan Samet, a former chair of the agency’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee who is now a professor of medicine at the University of Southern California. Samet and two other former EPA science officials — Thomas A. Burke, who served as the agency’s science adviser and headed up ORD under President Barack Obama, and Bernard Goldstein, who was EPA’s assistant administrator for research and development under President Ronald Reagan — went even further in a commentary published Wednesday, calling on President Trump to change course and stand up for the agency and science. “Evidence-based decision making on the environment should not be abandoned,” the two scientists write in a timely essay in the New England Journal of Medicine. “Reasoned action and acknowledgment of scientific truth are fundamental to democracy, public health, and economic growth. Scientific evidence does not change when the administration changes.” The researchers now all hold academic posts. They describe the EPA’s Office of Research and Development as the “preeminent environmental research organization, a cornerstone of our global leadership in environmental science, and a key player in the training of environmental health scientists.” The ORD had a budget of $521 million in 2015 with a staff of 1,755. And the Post reported Wednesday that the administration is considering a proposal to cut this office by “up to 42 percent.” There are many reasons that would be devastating, Samet said in an interview. One of them is that when environmental crises happen, like the Flint, Mich., or Deepwater Horizon disasters, you need a science infrastructure that’s ready to move. In these crises “that demand research and environmental surveillance and quickly trying to assess the toxicity of agents, the nation needs the capacity that ORD has,” Samet said. Samet and his co-authors aren’t the only academic scientists standing up for the EPA right now. Others are reacting to the first of many expected environmental rollbacks — Trump’s executive order this week directing the agency to rescind the “Waters of the U.S.” rule, which sweeps many smaller waterways under the protections of the Clean Water Act. Seven presidents of scientific organizations representing more than 200,000 members have signed a letter opposing the first of many expected environmental rollbacks: Trump’s executive order this week directing the agency to rescind the “Waters of the U.S.” rule, which would protect many small waterways. The researchers argued the rule was based on solid science when it comes to the understanding of the importance of wetlands and how they relate to larger bodies of water. The scientific societies weighing in are the Society of Wetland Scientists, the American Fisheries Society, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the Ecological Society of America, the Phycological Society of America, the Society for Ecological Restoration, and the Society for Freshwater Science. The more Trump and his administration propose environmental rollbacks and cuts to environmental or other science funding, the more researchers can be expected to speak out. Thousands are expected to march on Washington, and around the globe, on April 22 — Earth Day.
News Article | November 22, 2016
NEW YORK, NY, November 22, 2016-- Dr. Henry Pan has been included in Marquis Who's Who. As in all Marquis Who's Who biographical volumes, individuals profiled are selected on the basis of current reference value. Factors such as position, noteworthy accomplishments, visibility, and prominence in a field are all taken into account during the selection process.Dr. Pan arrived in the United States in 1969 upon completion of a Bachelor of Science degree in genetics from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, to pursue graduate studies at the University of Hawaii with the late Professor Louis Casarett, a world renowned inhalation toxicologist. Dr. Pan graduated with a Master of Science in toxicology and later a Ph.D. in molecular pharmacology from the University of Hawaii. While at the University, he was both a research and teaching assistant. Following his graduate degrees, Dr. Pan entered medical school and graduated in 1979 from the University of Hong Kong, School of Medicine. Upon graduation, Dr. Pan entered the field as a medical officer at Queen Mary Hospital from 1979 to 1981, and was a tenured assistant professor of medicine and clinical pharmacology at the University of Hong Kong from 1981 to 1985.Dr. Pan returned to the United States in 1983 as a fellow in clinical pharmacology and a visiting professor of medicine at Stanford University, School of Medicine. This marked the beginning of an impressive three decades of field work in research, administrative, directorial, and chief operating roles in executive positions. Ten years' worth of healthcare and medicinal knowledge and extensive research skills developed both in the classroom and the hospital opened the doors to a myriad of opportunities. Dr. Pan has been the vice president of clinical research and development at the Bristol Myers Squibb Company; the executive vice president of drug development and medical affairs at the DuPont Merck Pharmaceutical Company; the president and CEO of MDS Pharmaceutical Services; chief executive officer of Vennworks RTP; the executive vice president and chief medical officer of Neurocrine Biosciences Inc.; and the executive vice president and chief scientific and medical officer of Prometheus Laboratories Inc., among other positions. His current positions include the chief executive officer of Renascions Inc. and Renascions Biopharma Inc., and the chief executive of Pan Consulting Associates LLC, where he provides consulting services to North American, European, and Asian biopharmaceutical companies.Dr. Pan has been inducted as a fellow in multiple prestigious organizations: the American College of Cardiology, the American College of Clinical Pharmacology, the American Heart Association, the American Society of Angiology, the Institute of Biological and Clinical Investigation, the Academy of Medicine of New Jersey, and the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine of the Royal College of Physicians in the UK. He has served on the board of 15 companies and was the chairman of the biopharmaceutical division of the Society of Chinese Bioscientists in America, one of the largest minority science organizations in the United States.For his contributions to the medical field, Dr. Pan has been included in the 47th through 50th, 52nd through 57th, 59th through 61st, 63rd, and the 67th through 70th editions of Who's Who in America; the 2nd through 6th editions of Who's Who in Medicine and Healthcare; the 1st through 6th editions of Who's Who in Science and Engineering; the 23rd through 28th editions of Who's Who in the East; the 16th through 25th editions of Who's Who in the World; and the 4th edition of Who's Who of Emerging Leaders in America.About Marquis Who's Who :Since 1899, when A. N. Marquis printed the First Edition of Who's Who in America , Marquis Who's Who has chronicled the lives of the most accomplished individuals and innovators from every significant field of endeavor, including politics, business, medicine, law, education, art, religion and entertainment. Today, Who's Who in America remains an essential biographical source for thousands of researchers, journalists, librarians and executive search firms around the world. Marquis now publishes many Who's Who titles, including Who's Who in America , Who's Who in the World , Who's Who in American Law , Who's Who in Medicine and Healthcare , Who's Who in Science and Engineering , and Who's Who in Asia . Marquis publications may be visited at the official Marquis Who's Who website at www.marquiswhoswho.com
News Article | September 13, 2016
Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Jill Stein all answered promptly and in some detail, Gary Johnson, the Libertarian, did not. Along with its partners in this effort -- a coalition of 56 leading U.S. science, medicine and engineering organizations representing more than 10 million people -- ScienceDebate.org not only calls on U.S. presidential candidates to address the 20 questions, but also encourages journalists, debate moderators and voters to press the candidates on them. "These 2- issues have at least as profound an impact on voters' lives as those more frequently covered by journalists, including candidates' views on economic policy, foreign policy, and faith and values," said ScienceDebate.org chair Shawn Otto. This view is supported by a 2015 national poll commissioned by ScienceDebate.org and Research!America which revealed that a large majority of Americans (87 percent) want candidates for President and Congress to have a basic understanding of the science informing public policy. The consortium crowd-sourced and refined hundreds of suggestions, then submitted the questions to the four campaigns along with an invitation to the candidates to discuss them on television, preferably in a live science debate (or forum) organized by the group. "Ideally, the people seeking to govern a first-world country would have a basic understanding of everything from sustainable energy to environmental threats to evidence-based medicine," observed the Des Moines Register in a recent editorial. "They would talk about these things... Imagine if the public -- and debate moderators -- pressured presidential candidates to talk about the country's electrical grid or emerging disease threats instead of abortion and transgender bathrooms. Political discourse would be smarter. And the individuals who seek the highest office in the land might learn a few things, too." The list of organizations supporting the 20 Questions project (see below) is a Who's Who of the American science enterprise. To support ScienceDebate's effort to raise awareness of the vital role science plays in modern life, visit ScienceDebate.org. Other supporters and signatories include over 20 Nobel prizewinners, major actors, university presidents, tech leaders, hospitals and hospital leaders, journalists, science activists, and dozens of other science, health, medicine, and engineering advocates from across the nation. **ScienceDebate.org *American Association for the Advancement of Science American Association of Geographers *American Chemical Society American Fisheries Society American Geophysical Union *American Geosciences Institute *American Institute of Biological Sciences American Institute of Professional Geologists American Rock Mechanics Association American Society for Engineering Education American Society of Agronomy American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists American Society of Mammalogists American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering Association for Women Geoscientists Association of Ecosystem Research Centers Automation Federation *Biophysical Society Botanical Society of America Carnegie Institution for Science Conservation Lands Foundation Crop Science Society of America Duke University Ecological Society of America Geological Society of America *IEEE-USA International Committee Monitoring Assisted Reproductive Technologies Materials Research Society NACE International, The Worldwide Corrosion Authority *National Academy of Engineering *National Academy of Medicine *National Academy of Sciences National Cave and Karst Research Institute *National Center for Science Education National Ground Water Association Natural Science Collections Alliance Northeastern University Organization of Biological Field Stations Paleontological Society *Research!America Scientific American magazine Seismological Society of America *Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society Society for Science & the Public Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections Society of Fire Protection Engineers Society of Wetland Scientists Society of Women Engineers Soil Science Society of America SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry Tufts University *Union of Concerned Scientists University City Science Center *U.S. Council on Competitiveness The Wildlife Society World Endometriosis Research Foundation America *Supplied experts to the questions development process **Lead organizer The consortium's list of 20 questions are available online at ScienceDebate.org/20answers.
News Article | October 29, 2016
A new study has confirmed for the first time that interbreeding between chimpanzees and bonobos happened in the ancient past. These two apes, found in tropical Africa are considered the closest relatives of mankind. This means the earlier concepts of strict genetic demarcation between the two are blurring. It is believed that Chimpanzees and bonobos are diversified descendants of a common ancestor, separated some 2 million years ago. The study also busted the myth that gene flow between the two species was impossible as the Congo River was a big physical barrier for them. The new finding adds to the repertoire of other theories that include gene mixing between Neanderthals and humans. Published in the journal Science, the findings asserted that one percent of chimpanzee genomes are indeed bonobos-derived. The study was conducted by scientists at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and offers a significant contribution to conservation efforts. It examined the whole genome sequences of 75 chimpanzees and bonobos belonging to 10 different African countries in which 40 were new-born chimpanzees from known geographies. The analysis established a clear linkage between genetic sequence of chimpanzees and their geographic origin. The emphasis on segregating individual chimpanzees based on their country of origin will be a boost in returning captured chimps to their right places of origin The leader of the study, Tomàs Marquès-Bonet from the Institute of Biological Evolution (University Pompeu Fabra and CSIC), Barcelona expressed that the study was unique. He claimed it was the first study to reveal ancient gene flow process among the living species, which are closest to human evolution. "It implies that successful breeding between close species might have been actually widespread in the ancestors of humans and living apes." Chris Tyler-Smith, from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said the largest analysis of chimpanzee genomes can precisely detect a wild chimpanzee's actual home. That will certainly aid in the release of illegally captured chimpanzees and in sending them back to the right place. As an endangered species, Chimpanzees and bonobos are facing threats of illegal capture and confinement despite protection by law . Reflecting on the study's contribution to conservation efforts, Chris Tyler-Smith, from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said the analysis of chimpanzee genomes would go a long way in locating precisely from where a chimpanzee has come. It may be recalled that chimpanzees are an endangered species and in many places, they are illegally captured and confined. The genome analysis will come handy in releasing the chimps to their right habitat and in acting against predators by using the key evidence. Yali Xue of the Sanger Institute said central and eastern chimpanzees share more genetic material with bonobos compared to other subspecies of chimpanzees. Meanwhile, studies on the peer relation of chimps have thrown up interesting features, according to a report in Tech Times. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | October 27, 2016
For the first time, scientists have revealed ancient gene mixing between chimpanzees and bonobos, mankind's closest relatives, showing parallels with Neanderthal mixing in human ancestry. Published today in the journal Science, the study from scientists at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and their international collaborators showed that 1% of chimpanzee genomes are derived from bonobos. The study also showed that genomics could help reveal the country of origin of individual chimpanzees, which has strong implications for chimpanzee conservation. Chimpanzees and bonobos are great apes found only in tropical Africa. They are endangered species and are supposedly fully protected by law, yet many chimpanzees and bonobos are captured and held illegally. To aid the conservation effort, researchers analysed the whole genome sequences of 75 chimpanzees and bonobos, from 10 African countries, and crucially included 40 new wild-born chimpanzees from known geographic locations. They discovered that there was a strong link between the genetic sequence of a chimpanzee, and their geographic origin. Dr Chris Tyler Smith, from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said: "This is the largest analysis of chimpanzee genomes to date and shows that genetics can be used to locate quite precisely where in the wild a chimpanzee comes from. This can aid the release of illegally captured chimpanzees back into the right place in the wild and provide key evidence for action against the captors." Chimpanzees and bonobos are the closest living relatives of human beings. They diverged from a common ancestor between 1.5 and 2 million years ago and live in different areas of tropical Africa. Until now, it was thought that gene flow between the species would have been impossible, as they were physically separated by the Congo River. The study confirmed a main separation between chimpanzees and bonobos approximately 1.5 million years ago, and the presence of four chimpanzee subspecies in different regions. However, the researchers also found there were two additional gene flow events between the chimpanzee and bonobo populations, indicating that at least some individuals found their way across the river. Dr Yali Xue, from the Sanger Institute, said: "We found that central and eastern chimpanzees share significantly more genetic material with bonobos than the other chimpanzee subspecies. These chimpanzees have at least 1% of their genomes derived from bonobos. This shows that there wasn't a clean separation, but that the initial divergence was followed by occasional episodes of mixing between the species. The study also included researchers from Spain, Copenhagen Zoo and the University of Cambridge and showed that there have been at least two phases of secondary contact, 200-550 thousand years ago and around 150 thousand years ago, mirroring what is believed to have happened during the last 100 thousand years of the evolution of humans. Dr Tomàs Marquès-Bonet, leader of the study from the Institute of Biological Evolution (University Pompeu Fabra and CSIC), Barcelona, said: "This is the first study to reveal that ancient gene flow events happened amongst the living species closest to humans - the bonobos and chimpanzees. It implies that successful breeding between close species might have been actually widespread in the ancestors of humans and living apes." The Institute of Evolutionary Biology (IBE) is a joint center between Pompeu Fabra University (UPF) and the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), and was created in 2008 in Barcelona. IBE researchers study the processes and mechanisms that generate biodiversity, including fields like genetics and molecular evolution, population biology, biology of complex systems and the recovery of ancient DNA. https:/ The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute is one of the world's leading genome centres. Through its ability to conduct research at scale, it is able to engage in bold and long-term exploratory projects that are designed to influence and empower medical science globally. Institute research findings, generated through its own research programmes and through its leading role in international consortia, are being used to develop new diagnostics and treatments for human disease. http://www. Wellcome exists to improve health for everyone by helping great ideas to thrive. We're a global charitable foundation, both politically and financially independent. We support scientists and researchers, take on big problems, fuel imaginations and spark debate. http://www.
News Article | October 13, 2016
Watching millions of neurons in the brain interacting with each other is the ultimate dream of neuroscientists. A new imaging method now makes it possible to observe the activation of large neural circuits, currently up to the size of a small-animal brain, in real time and three dimensions. Researchers at the Helmholtz Zentrum München and the Technical University of Munich have recently reported on their new findings in Nature's journal Light: Science & Applications. Nowadays it is well recognized that most brain functions may not be comprehended through inspection of single neurons. To advance meaningfully, neuroscientists need the ability to monitor the activity of millions of neurons, both individually and collectively. However, such observations were so far not possible due to the limited penetration depth of optical microscopy techniques into a living brain. A team headed by Prof. Dr. Daniel Razansky, a group leader at the Institute of Biological and Molecular Imaging (IBMI), Helmholtz Zentrum München, and Professor of Molecular Imaging Engineering at the Technical University of Munich, has now found a way to address this challenge. The new method is based on the so-called optoacoustics, which allows non-invasive interrogation of living tissues at centimeter scale depths. "We discovered that optoacoustics can be made sensitive to the differences in calcium ion concentrations** resulting from neural activity and devised a rapid functional optoacoustic neuro-tomography (FONT) system that can simultaneously record signals from a very large number of neurons", said Dr. Xosé Luis Deán-Ben, first author of the study. Experiments performed by the scientists in brains of adult zebrafish (Danio rerio) expressing genetically encoded calcium indicator GCaMP5G demonstrated, for the first time, the fundamental ability to directly track neural dynamics using optoacoustics while overcoming the longstanding penetration barrier of optical imaging in opaque brains. The technique was also able to trace neural activity during unrestrained motion of the animals. "So far we demonstrated real-time analysis on whole brains of adult animals with roughly 2x3x4 millimeter dimensions (approximately 24 mm3)," says the study's leader Razansky. State-of-the-art optical microscopy methods are currently limited to volumes well below a cubic millimeter when it comes to imaging of fast neural activity, according to the researchers. In addition, their FONT method is already capable of visualizing volumes of more than 1000 cubic millimeters with temporal resolution of 10 milliseconds. Large-scale observation of neural activity is the key to understanding how the brain works, both under normal and diseased conditions. "Thanks to our method, one can now capture fast activity of millions of neurons simultaneously. Parallel neural networks with the social media: in the past, we were able to read along when someone (in this case, a nerve cell) placed a message with a neighbor. Now we can also see how this message spreads like wildfire," explains Razansky. "This new imaging tool is expected not only to significantly promote our knowledge on brain function and its pathophysiology but also accelerate development of novel therapies targeting neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders," he concludes.