News Article | May 5, 2017
Male jumping spiders will try to mate with any female, but that lack of discretion could cost them their lives, says a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researcher. In a newly published study, UF/IFAS entomologist Lisa Taylor and her team documented the courting techniques of jumping spiders. They found that male spiders spend much time and energy — including singing and dancing — trying to mate with potential females, even when these females are the wrong species. “We think that one reason these displays have evolved in male jumping spiders is to compensate for the fact that they can’t tell females of closely related species apart,” Taylor said. “Males run around courting everything that looks remotely like a female, and they place themselves at a very high risk of cannibalism from hungry females of the wrong species who have no interest in mating with them.” For the study, scientists searched for spiders along the shores of a river in Phoenix, Arizona. When they found one, they watched and recorded everything it did, using a voice recorder. If it was a male, they monitored how many other females he encountered, which species and whether or not he tried to court them. If it was a female, they recorded how many males and which species tried to court her. They also documented whether males were attacked or eaten by females. Taylor thinks that a male’s colorful courtship dance allows him to identify himself to a female from a safe distance. These displays likely allow females to tell the males of different species apart. Then females can decide what action to take while the male is still a safe distance away. “This study provides some new insight into the age-old question of why males go to such ridiculous lengths to impress females,” Taylor said. In jumping spiders, the answer might be that these colorful displays let males identify themselves to females without being eaten, she said. The females of many species look a lot alike, and males don’t seem to have a good way to tell them apart. But the males of most jumping spider species look different from one another, so females make the decisions. The male strategy seems to be to court anything that looks remotely like a female and hope for the best, Taylor said. Jumping spiders are commonly found in residential backyards, and most people don’t even know they’re there, Taylor said, much less that the male spiders are singing and dancing. “People might be interested to know that their yard is teeming with confused, but adorable, male jumping spiders that are running around singing and dancing for every female in sight and that these males spiders are pretty clueless about how to find the right species of female,” she said. The study is published in the online journal PLOS ONE.
News Article | March 21, 2016
A new species of butterfly could provide clues about Alaska's geological history and its changing climate, according to a University of Florida researcher. Research by lepidopterist Andrew Warren suggests that the newly discovered Tanana Arctic butterfly evolved from the offspring of two related butterfly species, the Chryxus Arctic and the White-veined Arctic. He thinks all three species lived in the Beringia region before the last ice age, reported The Daily News-Miner (http://bit.ly/1pyeusq ). Scientists have been seeing the Tanana Arctic butterfly for more than 60 years, but its similarity to the Chryxus Arctic led them to believe it was the same species. Warren noticed its distinct characteristics as senior collections manager at the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. The Tanana Arctic has white specks on the underside of its penny-colored wings, giving it a "frosted" appearance, and it is larger and darker than the other species. It also has a unique DNA sequence that is very similar to that in nearby populations of White-veined Arctics, said Warren, leading to the hypothesis that the new species is a hybrid. More field research is needed to find out whether the Tanana Arctic also exists further east into the Yukon. Arctic butterflies live in environments that are too cold and extreme for most other butterflies and can survive in part thanks to a natural antifreeze their bodies produce. "Once we sequence the genome, we'll be able to say whether any special traits helped the butterfly survive in harsh environments," said Warren. He plans to return to Alaska and look for the butterfly next year. Warren wants to collect new specimens in order to fully sequence the genome, which could reveal the species' history and show whether it's truly a hybrid. The Tanana Arctic lives in spruce and aspen forests in the Tanana-Yukon River Basin. Because butterflies react quickly to climate change, the new species could serve as an early warning indicator for the remote region. "This butterfly has apparently lived in the Tanana River valley for so long that if it ever moves out, we'll be able to say 'Wow, there are some changes happening,'" Warren said. "This is a region where the permafrost is already melting and the climate is changing."
News Article | March 20, 2016
FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) — A new species of butterfly could provide clues about Alaska's geological history and its changing climate, according to a University of Florida researcher. Research by lepidopterist Andrew Warren suggests that the newly discovered Tanana Arctic butterfly evolved from the offspring of two related butterfly species, the Chryxus Arctic and the White-veined Arctic. He thinks all three species lived in the Beringia region before the last ice age, reported The Daily News-Miner (http://bit.ly/1pyeusq ). Scientists have been seeing the Tanana Arctic butterfly for more than 60 years, but its similarity to the Chryxus Arctic led them to believe it was the same species. Warren noticed its distinct characteristics as senior collections manager at the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. The Tanana Arctic has white specks on the underside of its penny-colored wings, giving it a "frosted" appearance, and it is larger and darker than the other species. It also has a unique DNA sequence that is very similar to that in nearby populations of White-veined Arctics, said Warren, leading to the hypothesis that the new species is a hybrid. More field research is needed to find out whether the Tanana Arctic also exists further east into the Yukon. Arctic butterflies live in environments that are too cold and extreme for most other butterflies and can survive in part thanks to a natural antifreeze their bodies produce. "Once we sequence the genome, we'll be able to say whether any special traits helped the butterfly survive in harsh environments," said Warren. He plans to return to Alaska and look for the butterfly next year. Warren wants to collect new specimens in order to fully sequence the genome, which could reveal the species' history and show whether it's truly a hybrid. The Tanana Arctic lives in spruce and aspen forests in the Tanana-Yukon River Basin. Because butterflies react quickly to climate change, the new species could serve as an early warning indicator for the remote region. "This butterfly has apparently lived in the Tanana River valley for so long that if it ever moves out, we'll be able to say 'Wow, there are some changes happening,'" Warren said. "This is a region where the permafrost is already melting and the climate is changing."
News Article | October 30, 2015
Thanks to the meth wars, cold medicine's effective ingredient isn't When the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 passed, pharmacies moved all cold-medicine with the actually-works ingredient pseudoephedrine, only available on request and with a copy of your ID. In its place, the pharmacy shelves were restocked with phenylephrine, which was alleged to work just as well. It doesn't work at all. Researchers have long been suspicious of the efficacy of phenylephrine, but studies were mixed. Now, thanks to a University of Florida study published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice, whe know that phenylephrine is useless at the doses allowed over the counter; and may not work even at higher doses. The study of 539 adults lasted one week and failed to find a dose of phenylephrine within the 10 mg to 40 mg range that was more effective than a placebo in relieving nasal congestion. The approved Food and Drug Administration (FDA) dose is 10 mg every four hours for “temporary relief of nasal congestion.” Consequently, the UF researchers are asking the FDA to remove oral phenylephrine from the market. “We think the evidence supports that phenylephrine’s status as a safe and effective over-the-counter product should be changed,” said Randy Hatton, Pharm.D., a clinical professor of pharmacotherapy and translational research. “We are looking out for the consumer, and he or she needs to know that science says that oral phenylephrine does not work for the majority of people.” The Popular Over-The-Counter Cold Medicine That Science Says Doesn't Work [David DiSalvo/Forbes]
News Article | October 23, 2015
From wet chemistry to computer simulations, this year's Materials Processing Center-Center for Materials Science and Engineering Summer Scholars are engaged in MIT research projects targeting stronger materials, more efficient drug delivery, and catalysts for biofuel production. "I'm really interested in putting the molecular pieces together to make a functional drug delivery mechanism," says Hope College chemistry major Lisa Savagian, who is working this summer in the lab of Paula T. Hammond, the David H. Koch Professor in Engineering and head of the Department of Chemical Engineering. Her project involves synthesizing layer-by-layer films with gold nanorods that release a drug when exposed to near infrared light. Alexander Constable, a Pennsylvania State University junior majoring in materials science and engineering, is studying aligned-carbon nanotube carbon matrix nanocomposites in associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics Brian L. Wardle's lab. Constable will use X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy to characterize chemical bonds. "We are hoping to get a better understanding of the cross-linking behavior and microstructure of carbon nanotubes in pyrolytic carbon," Constable says. "Specifically, we want to understand these properties as we increase the volume fraction of carbon nanotubes, hopefully yielding a significantly harder and tougher carbon-based composite material for aerospace applications." Katharine Greco is working under chemical engineering Assistant Professor Willliam A. Tisdale on hybrid semiconductor nanocrystals. She will be growing quantum dots with a cadmium selenide core, a cadmium sulfide inner shell, and a zinc sulfide outer shell, then characterizing them using X-ray diffraction and transmission electron microscopy. "My goal for the summer is to accurately model the structure of these dots based on the characterization data. This is important because the interactions between the core and shell change the photoluminescence and thermal conductivity properties of the nanocrystals," says Greco, who just completed her junior year at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The long-term goal of the project is develop synthesis techniques to tune the properties of quantum dots so the same nanocrystals can be used for applications such as LEDs and solar cells. Rowan University chemistry and physics major Olivia Fiebig is working in assistant professor of chemical engineering Bradley Olsen's lab on how the microscopic structure of elastin-like polypeptide sequences in block copolymers affects the macroscopic properties of thermoresponsive protein hydrogels. Her project will determine the effect of amino acid substitution on macroscopic behavior. She is learning how to grow E. coli cells and extract proteins to make the hydrogels. "It's definitely new for me and a good experience," Fiebig says. Stephen Gibbs is working in chemical engineering Professor Michael S. Strano's lab to understand chemically driven, nanotube-guided thermopower waves. Gibbs, a University of Florida chemical engineering major, explains that applying fuel along a carbon nanotube fiber and initiating a reaction on one end, creates a reaction front, or "thermopower wave," which results in a voltage along the fiber that exceeds values predicted by thermoelectric models. This technology might provide strong pulse energy signals from nanoscale devices. Nathan Zhao, who studies physics and mathematics at Columbia University, is investigating inherent stability of nanocrystalline composites in associate professor of materials science and engineering Michael J. Demkowicz's group. Copper-niobium multilayered metals are of particular interest because of their high strength and resistance to radiation damage. Zhao will simulate properties at metal-to-metal interfaces using phase-field and Cahn-Hilliard equation methods. Rutgers University materials science and engineering major Zhenni Lin is working in David H. Koch Professor of Engineering Michael J. Cima's lab on synthesizing and characterizing solid-state magnetic resonance imaging contrast agents. These biocompatible solid-state contrast agents can be used to measure pH internally. Lin's work will include characterizing the contrast agent through time-domain nuclear magnetic resonance, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy. Other Summer Scholars and their lab affiliations are: Bartholomeus Machielse in the lab of Juejun (JJ) Hu in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering; Jonah Sengupta in the lab of Karl Berggren in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science; Jahzeel Rosado Vega in the lab of Markus J. Buehler in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering; Mariely Caraballo Santa in the lab of Ronald G. Ballinger in the departments of Nuclear Science and Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering; and Lena Barrett in the lab of Yuriy Román in the Department of Chemical Engineering. The 12 college interns were selected from among 156 applicants for the program run jointly by the Materials Processing Center and the Center for Materials Science and Engineering. Students chose their projects from among 21 faculty presentations after three days of presentations and lab tours June 8-10. The program runs through Aug. 8. Machielse, a University of Pennsylvania physics student, will be contributing to Hu's mid-infrared spectrometer work. Sengupta, who studies electrical engineering at the University of Maryland, will work with postdoc Amir Tavakkoli on using mechanical vibration to control self-assembly of block copolymer thin films. This work will require both thermal annealing and solvent annealing while at the same time using controlled vibration. A mechanical engineering major at the University of Turabo, Rosado Vega will study wave propagation in spider webs using simulation of proteins. Caraballo Santa, who also studies mechanical engineering at the University of Turabo, will learn how to model naval submarine shafts. Her work is part of a project to double the time between inspections for submarine rotor shafts. Barrett, a Lehigh University chemical engineering and business information systems double major, will be running one-pot batch reactions with beta-structured Lewis acid catalysts and altering various parameters to determine optimal reaction conditions for the production of neopentyl glycol, an industrially important intermediate. "Ultimately, we would like to uncover a more economical method to run this reaction," Barrett says. The Materials Processing Center and the Center for Materials Science and Engineering sponsor the nine-week summer research internships through the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates, which is supported under the NSF Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers program (grant number DMR-1419807). Summer Scholars will present their research results at a poster session on Wednesday, Aug. 5.
News Article | December 15, 2016
Tom Wheeler, the former telecom industry lobbyist who became an unlikely internet hero by spearheading the Federal Communications Commission's landmark net neutrality policy, announced plans on Thursday to step down from the agency in January. During the FCC's monthly meeting, the 70-year-old Wheeler said that serving at the agency has been "the greatest honor of my professional life." Wheeler said he plans to step down on Jan. 20, the day that President-elect Donald Trump is set to be inaugurated. "It has been a privilege to work with my fellow Commissioners to help protect consumers, strengthen public safety and cybersecurity, and ensure fast, fair and open networks for all Americans," Wheeler said. He thanked his staff, his wife, Carol, and President Obama, who appointed him to become the nation's top telecommunications regulator in 2013. By stepping down, Wheeler is likely to leave the FCC with a 2-1 Republican majority, following the GOP-controlled Senate's refusal to reconfirm his Democratic colleague, Jessica Rosenworcel. That sets the stage for a rollback of many of Wheeler's pro-consumer reforms under the Trump administration, including the FCC's policy safeguarding net neutrality, the principle that all internet content should be equally accessible. Trump's FCC transition team has already signaled its intention to take a much more industry-friendly stance toward telecom regulation. One of Trump's FCC advisors has even suggested dismantling most of the agency's pro-competition and consumer-protection functions, leaving the agency to act merely as an overseer of the nation's radio spectrum licenses. When Wheeler was tapped by President Obama to lead the FCC in 2013, many public interest advocates were skeptical, if not downright hostile, toward his appointment, because of his lengthy background as a top lobbyist for the cable industry, from 1979 to 1984, and the wireless industry, from 1992 to 2004. More than two dozen public interest groups wrote a letter to Obama expressing alarm about a candidate "who was the head of not one but two major industry lobbying groups." The fact that Wheeler had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Obama's two presidential campaigns also raised the hackles of many public interest advocates. But over the next three years, Wheeler won over the public interest community, and infuriated his former clients in the cable and wireless industries, by successfully spearheading the most pro-consumer telecom policy reforms in a generation, including the agency's landmark policy protecting net neutrality, and agency rules protecting consumers from broadband industry privacy abuses. "Tom Wheeler has been—by far—the best FCC Chairman in the 45 years I have practiced communications law," said Andrew Schwartzman, Benton Senior Counselor at the Public Interest Communications Law Project at Georgetown University Law Center's Institute for Public Representation. "He has been willing to take risks and expend political capital to advance his agenda," Schwartzman added. "And, unlike some predecessors, he hasn't been afraid to confront Congress and powerful business interests when they stood in the way." Indeed, Wheeler became a bête noire for industry-friendly Republican members of Congress, who repeatedly branded him as an "unelected bureaucrat" who overstepped his regulatory authority. At one point during a heated 2015 Capitol Hill hearing, Louie Gohmert, the outspoken Texas Republican, accused Wheeler of "playing God with the internet." During his three years as FCC Chairman, Wheeler made promoting competition in the cable and wireless industries his top priority, as he frequently reminded audiences around the with country with his signature mantra: "Competition, competition, competition." The centerpiece of Wheeler's agenda was his successful push to protect net neutrality by reclassifying internet service providers as "common carriers" under Title II of the Communications Act, requiring them to treat all internet content equally, and barring them from favoring certain internet services over others or discriminating against rivals. For more than a decade, open internet advocates had fought for such a policy shift, which they argued was necessary to ensure that the internet remains an open and level playing field for innovation, economic growth, and free speech. After more than a year of vigorous debate, including some 4 million public comments, the agency successfully passed its net neutrality policy in February 2015, despite ferocious opposition from the telecom industry, which argued that the rules amounted to an egregious regulatory overreach. "Wheeler didn't come into this job as a net neutrality champion, but he will be remembered first and foremost for his leadership on that crucial issue and for the standing ovations he earned on the day of the FCC's historic vote," Craig Aaron, president and CEO of DC-based public interest group Free Press, said in a statement. Wheeler's commitment to industry competition was also evident in the FCC's April 2015 decision to block Comcast's proposed $45 billion merger with Time Warner Cable, a tie-up that was fiercely opposed by public interest advocates. In a statement at the time, Wheeler said the deal would have "posed an unacceptable risk to competition and innovation." The agency's rejection of the merger was widely viewed as a strong rebuke of Wheeler's former lobbying clients in the cable industry. "When President Obama appointed Tom Wheeler Chairman, many people voiced open suspicion of a man who had led two major industry trade associations," Harold Feld, Senior Vice President at DC-based digital rights group Public Knowledge, said in a statement. "But rather than be the lapdog of industry some feared, or hoped for, Tom Wheeler proved himself to be the most ferocious watchdog for consumers and competition in nearly two decades." Wheeler also earned praise from public interest groups by pushing through an ambitious plan to expand the FCC's Lifeline program to help millions of low-income people afford broadband internet access. Consumer groups praised the move as a key step toward closing the nation's persistent "digital divide." Anti-FCC Republicans in Congress, however, opposed the move, and repeatedly tried to undermine the expansion. With Trump preparing to nominate a new FCC chairman, the Lifeline reform, along with the agency's policies protecting net neutrality and safeguarding consumer privacy, are now in serious jeopardy. Trump's FCC advisors are staunch opponents of net neutrality, and the agency's two Republican commissioners, who will now assume a 2-1 majority at the agency, have made no secret of their desire to dismantle the legal basis underpinning the FCC's open internet protections. Under a Trump administration, the GOP-controlled FCC is likely to dramatically scale back the agency's ambitions, consistent with the anti-regulatory, "small-government" philosophy often espoused by Republicans. One of Trump's FCC advisors, Mark Jamison, a University of Florida professor and Visiting Fellow at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, has even gone so far as to propose essentially abolishing the FCC except for its most basic radio spectrum licensing function. "Under a Republican-led Presidency/Congress, ISPs are likely to see the biggest benefits, assuming an easing of regulations," according to Angelo Zino, a Wall Street telecom analyst at S&P Capital IQ. "This group includes wireless companies like Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint, as well as cable companies such as Comcast; and other broadband providers." Public interest groups are already preparing to mount a vigorous campaign to defend Wheeler's legacy. "Unfortunately, the next administration has promised to undermine and overturn the major accomplishments of the Wheeler FCC," said Craig Aaron of Free Press. "We thank Tom Wheeler for his public service. And we promise to fight any attempts to attack the best policies advanced during his tenure." During a press conference following Thursday's meeting, Wheeler took a not-so-subtle shot at Trump's FCC transition team, as well as future Republican FCC officials who might seek to strip away pro-consumer regulations in the service of a supposedly "free-market" ideology. "Those who chant that government is the problem are wrong, and their chant is dangerous," Wheeler said. "Government isn't some faceless 'them,' it is us. It is 'We The People,' who govern ourselves. Government is where we come together to collectively address common challenges."
News Article | March 1, 2017
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) today announced $1.8 million in available funding to research new, environmentally friendly pesticides and innovative tools and strategies to replace an older treatment, methyl bromide. Funding is made through NIFA's Methyl Bromide Transition Program. "These policy changes were based on sound science in the interest of public health," said NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy. "The next step is more research to find practical, safe alternatives and educate stakeholders on best practices." The pesticide methyl bromide is being phased out worldwide under an international treaty to protect the Earth's ozone layer by phasing out ozone-depleting chemicals. Methyl bromide has been used for over 50 years for a range of pest management purposes from farming to storage, shipment and quarantine. The Methyl Bromide Transition (MBT) program helps to discover and implement practical and safer pest management alternatives. Projects may focus on integrated research and extension activities or extension-only projects that promote the adoption of new pest management practices. Eligible applicants include colleges and universities, including Hispanic-serving Agricultural Colleges and Universities (HSACUs), and research foundations maintained by eligible colleges or universities. The deadline for applications is April 25, 2017. Since 2000, NIFA has invested more than $40 million through MBT. Previously funded projects include a University of Florida project that evaluated the economic impact of the methyl bromide ban on the Florida tomato industry. A Michigan State University project addressed the unique challenges of the northern U.S. growing region by developing a transition plan to help growers, farmers and other stakeholders adapt. A research and extension project at the University of Florida investigates the potential of Ethanedinitrile as an effective and sustainable alternative for soil fumigation of vegetable specialty crops, tomatoes and watermelon. At the University of California, Santa Cruz, a research and extension project will improve the reliability of anaerobic soil disinfestation (ASD) as an alternative method of controlling soil pests in strawberry and apple production. The project will provide growers with guides to adapt ASD for their individual farms. NIFA invests in and advances innovative and transformative initiatives to solve societal challenges and ensure the long-term viability of agriculture. NIFA's integrated research, education and extension programs support the best and brightest scientists and extension personnel whose work results in user-inspired, groundbreaking discoveries that combat childhood obesity, improve and sustain rural economic growth, address water availability issues, increase food production, find new sources of energy, mitigate climate variability and ensure food safety. To learn more about NIFA's impact on agricultural science, visit http://www. , sign up for email updates or follow us on Twitter @usda_NIFA, #NIFAimpacts. USDA is an equal opportunity lender, provider and employer.
News Article | November 23, 2016
Under President Donald Trump, the US government's policy protecting net neutrality, the principle that all internet content should be equally accessible to consumers, is likely to be rolled back, according to tech policy experts. But that shift, as important as it would be, may be just the beginning of the changes in store for the Federal Communications Commission under Trump's administration. In fact, the nation's top communications regulator itself may look very different than it does today. Like, very different. As in, practically non-existent. That was the prospect raised recently by one of the two men that Trump has selected to advise him on FCC matters ahead of the billionaire mogul's January inauguration. In an October blog post for the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) tech policy website, Mark Jamison, a University of Florida professor and Visiting Fellow at the conservative think-tank, floated the idea of essentially abolishing the FCC except for its most basic radio spectrum licensing function. Under such a scenario, the FCC would no longer protect internet openness, promote cable and wireless competition, ensure broadband privacy protections, rein in exploitative prison phone costs, or encourage deployment of internet access around the country, especially in low-income, rural and underserved communities. All of these functions are either unnecessary, or could be farmed out to other federal agencies or the states, according to Jamison. "Telecommunications network providers and ISPs are rarely, if ever, monopolies," Jamison asserted. "If there are instances where there are monopolies, it would seem overkill to have an entire federal agency dedicated to ex ante regulation of their services. A well-functioning Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in conjunction with state authorities, can handle consumer protection and anticompetitive conduct issues." "The only FCC activity that would seem to warrant having an independent agency is the licensing of radio spectrum," he added. "Thus, at the end of the day, we don't need the FCC, but we still need an independent agency." It sounds drastic, but such a move would be consistent with the small-government, anti-regulatory philosophy championed by AEI and other so-called "free market" groups—a philosophy that appears to be ascendent judging by the advisors that Trump has assembled as he prepares to assume the presidency. "I'm not sure that Trump will want to dismantle the very regulatory agency that will allow him to browbeat the media." On the other hand, it's not at all clear that Jamison's plan will be met with wholehearted favor by President Trump, according to Harold Feld, Senior Vice President at DC-based digital rights group Public Knowledge. "This is a radical conservative agenda that is utterly out of the mainstream," Feld told Motherboard. "Besides, I'm not sure that Trump will want to dismantle the very regulatory agency that will allow him to browbeat the media." Jamison is an arch-conservative telecom wonk who was previously a regulatory policy official at wireless giant Sprint, and he has railed in the past against proposals to expand broadband access to low-income and underserved communities, claiming such plans would be a "waste" of resources that would harm the economy. Jamison's partner advising Trump on the FCC transition is Jeffrey Eisenach, a right-wing economist who is also affiliated with AEI, where he directs the group's Center for Internet, Communications, and Technology Policy. Eisenach has done consulting work for broadband titan Verizon and is vehemently opposed to the FCC's strong net neutrality rules. The FCC's net neutrality policy, which is enshrined in the agency's landmark 2015 Open Internet order, prohibits internet service providers like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T from blocking or discriminating against rival content. In practice, this means that these broadband giants can't slow content and services from the likes of Netflix or Skype, which directly compete with them in the video and communications markets. Public interest groups say that net neutrality is necessary to maintain the internet as an open platform for free speech, economic growth, and civic empowerment. But the nation's largest broadband companies and their Republican allies in Congress argue that the FCC's rules amount to a government overreach, and they've been trying to kill the policy ever since it was enacted. With a Trump-led Republican FCC takeover in sight, they may soon succeed. Already, Trump's election victory has essentially halted the current FCC's work on major issues. Last week, the agency abruptly deleted the most important items from its monthly meeting agenda, after Republican lawmakers warned FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to avoid working on "partisan, or otherwise controversial items that the new Congress and new Administration will have an interest in reviewing." As a practical matter, that means the remaining big-ticket items on Wheeler's pro-consumer agenda, including a plan to break the cable industry's stranglehold on the video "set-top box" market, and a measure to rein in broadband costs for schools, libraries and hospitals, are now dead. Open internet advocates reacted with alarm to Jamison's proposal to abolish most of the FCC. "Such a proposal is dripping with irony, given that the dominant ISPs consistently rank among the most hated companies by consumers, ripping off their subscribers in numerous creative ways," Lauren Weinstein, a veteran tech policy expert and net neutrality advocate, told Motherboard. "One of the few checks on their abuses has been the FCC." "Reducing the FCC's authority in this context would be a sure path toward the rich getting richer and subscribers being shafted even worse than they are today," Weinstein added.
News Article | February 23, 2017
A man who was bodyboarding in a restricted water area suffered a fatal shark attack on Reunion Island. The man, identified as Alexandre Naussance, 26, was with friends in the mouth of the Mat River when he was attacked by a shark on the northwest coast of the Indian Ocean Island, UPI reported Tuesday. The report said fishermen had warned the bodyboarders that sharks were active in the area, and bodyboarding had been banned. Naussance died after the shark severed his femoral artery, an official said. “The thigh wound caused blood to pour out of the man, as those he was bodyboarding with desperately tried to save him,” the police official said. Reunion is known for its beautiful coral reefs and beaches and for its surfing. It has also been a hotspot for deadly shark activity. The the bodyboarder attack marks the 20th shark attack off of the island since 2011, BBC News reported. Eight of those attacks were fatal. Water activity has been banned in many areas of the island, measures have been taken to staunch shark activity in recent years, including shark nets. “This accident happened even though swimming and other water sports are forbidden in this area,” a local government office said in a statement. Reunion Island has a reputation for being one of the most shark-ridden areas in the world. In 2016 alone, there were 81 shark attacks around the world, four of which were fatal, according to a University of Florida shark attack rates chart. One of the most active years for attacks was 2015, which saw 98 attacks around the world, six of which were fatal.
News Article | February 4, 2016
In the global rush to find a way to stop the spread of the Zika virus, a new player has emerged — a genetically modified mosquito whose developers claim it could be a game-changer. But while initial reports of the mosquito’s effectiveness at halting the disease seem promising, the GM bug is still quite a new item in the global arsenal of anti-mosquito weapons — and there are a number of factors that could determine whether it will really succeed. The mosquito, a product of the British biotechnology company Oxitec, is designed to reduce populations of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes — the species best known for carrying dengue fever, chikungunya, yellow fever and now Zika virus — using a relatively simple concept. Oxitec has introduced a “self destruct” gene into its mosquitoes that causes new generations of the bugs to die before they reach adulthood. Releasing batches of the modified insects and allowing them to mate with wild Aedes aegypti can knock out new generations and reduce mosquito populations. The Oxitec mosquito has made it to field trials in several countries already, but the biggest ongoing project has taken place in Brazil, the epicenter of the current Zika crisis. Brazil is the first country in which the GM mosquito has made it out of field trials and been permitted for limited use as a control method. It’s currently deployed in the city of Piracicaba in what’s called the “Friendly Aedes aegypti” project, and is awaiting government safety approval for use throughout the country, according to Oxitec CEO Hadyn Parry. The Oxitec mosquito has been the subject of numerous headlines in recent weeks — first, for its novelty as a disease control agent, but more recently as the subject of a conspiracy theory suggesting that the release of the GM bug in Brazil somehow helped cause the current Zika crisis. Experts have largely dismissed that theory, however, and focused on the GM insect’s potential to help stop the spread of the disease instead. [How mosquitoes with ‘self-destruct’ genes could save us from Zika virus] Reports from Oxitec on the success of its field trials have been glowing so far — the company claims that the GM bug has reduced Aedes aegypti populations by upwards of 90 percent in its trials. And according to Parry, models have suggested that these reductions lower mosquito populations below the threshold required for effective disease transmission (although he cautions that this information is based on models alone and not field studies). “Certainly people seem to be very happy with the results so far,” he told The Washington Post. So, for all appearances, the GM bug could be a major new contender in the fight against Zika and other mosquito-borne diseases. However, there are a few other points to consider that may affect the ways and locations in which the bug is used in the future. The consequences of knocking out Aedes aegypti One notable concern is whether there are any negative side effects associated with eliminating Aedes aegypti populations in the wild. Some experts believe that such an outcome would leave an ecological hole, so to speak, that another species would eventually move in and fill. “If you really suppress Aedes aegypti, an ecological equivalent is going to fill that background — most likely Aedes albopictus,” said Phil Lounibos, a University of Florida entomologist and mosquito expert. Aedes albopictus, more commonly known as the Asian tiger mosquito, is another species of mosquito found in many of the same locations as Aedes aegypti. This species possesses the ability to transmit some of the same diseases commonly carried by Aedes aegypti, including dengue fever, although it’s not considered the primary vector in most cases and it’s still unclear how effectively it can transmit Zika virus, if at all. So while more research is needed on the effectiveness of Aedes albopictus at transmitting certain diseases, there is the hypothetical possibility that it could rise up and take Aedes aegypti’s place as a vector. In that case, “the alternative could be that [Oxitec] will need to have a GM Aedes albopictus to suppress that,” Lounibos said. In fact, Oxitec is already working on a genetically modified Aedes albopictus — however, it’s still in the early stages of testing and far behind the GM Aedes aegypti in terms of when it might emerge as a commercially viable product. In any case, Parry emphasized that Aedes aegypti is still considered the primary vector in the spread of the most troublesome diseases, including dengue fever and Zika virus. “So in the very worst case, where you find that you eliminated Aedes aegypti in an area and the Aedes albopictus went up, then you would actually be replacing a very dangerous vector with a far less effective one,” Parry said. Stacking up against other mosquito controls Of course, ecological concerns also arise with more conventional forms of mosquito control, such as pesticides, which are also designed to reduce insect populations as much as possible. And pesticide use can have spotty success as a control method, Lounibos noted, because it’s so difficult to effectively target adult mosquitoes and their larvae with pesticide sprays. So that’s a point earned for the GM mosquito, which requires fewer tactical considerations in comparison. But there are other contenders, too. An Australian research project known as the Eliminate Dengue program has turned to a different kind of altered mosquito with great success, Lounibos said. The project’s researchers have infected their Aedes aegypti mosquitoes with a bacterium called Wolbachia, which is naturally found in other insects, although typically not in mosquitoes. The bacterium — which can then be passed down to new generations in the insect’s eggs — is known to reduce mosquitoes’ ability to become infected with dengue fever, which then prevents them from transmitting the virus to humans. Theoretically, it could have a similar effect on Zika. The benefit of this tactic is that it doesn’t actually kill off mosquito populations — it just renders them less effective at spreading disease. So the ecological concerns associated with removing an entire species from an ecosystem become irrelevant, Lounibos said. The first tests of the Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes began in Australia in 2011, but the Eliminate Dengue program has begun limited field trials in Vietnam, Indonesia, Colombia and Brazil. Between the two modified bugs, the Oxitec mosquito is still ahead in Brazil in terms of how far it’s gotten in the approval process and how much press it’s received. It’s also still unclear how effective the Wolbachia mosquitoes will be at reducing Zika transmission, although they’ve shown success when it comes to dengue. One additional hurdle that the Oxitec mosquito may face when scoping out new locations for field trials in the future, however, is its status as a genetically modified organism. “One of the benefits of the Aussie technique to eliminate dengue is that the Wolbachia is a naturally occurring bacterium that is not regarded as GM,” Lounibos said. In most places where field trials have been conducted so far, the insect’s GM status hasn’t seemed to be much of a problem for public opinion. However, it has received some pushback in the U.S. — notably, in the Florida Keys, where Oxitec has proposed a field trial. Many of these fears have centered on whether the insect’s genetic modifications make it safe for the environment and safe for any humans that may potentially be bitten by a modified bug. However, Lounibos — who is based in Florida — said, “I don’t think most of the fear about the GM mosquito has a good scientific or logical basis.” Such fears may also be a luxury that U.S. communities — unlike those living in other, tropical countries — can afford, given that dengue outbreaks are sporadic and Zika reports so far have been few, isolated and travel-related. “What we’ve found is that where you have the disease present — and I mean dengue or chikungunya or Zika — where you’ve got the disease, then people very rapidly take to our solution, because they don’t like the disease, they don’t like mosquitoes,” Parry said. “They’re very keen that someone’s working on a way of getting rid of the mosquito and reducing disease.” And while he acknowledged that anti-GMO camps are not likely to change their minds easily, he also said that such groups tend to represent small percentages of their communities. A bigger hurdle to the GM mosquito’s success as a global tool might be simply the bureaucratic hoops it’s required to jump through to receive regulatory approval. In any country where the GM mosquito might be useful, government approval is required — first for field testing, and then later for regular use. That said, Parry pointed out that once approval is gained in one or two countries, other governments might be willing to fast-track the mosquito’s approval in their countries using existing data. In any case, how these situations play out will proceed on a country-by-country basis and a concrete timeline can’t necessarily be predicted. For now, if its success as a disease control agent grows in Brazil, Lounibos predicts that the GM mosquito will continue to gain global popularity and status. In the meantime, conversations about the pros and cons of different control methods will almost certainly grow more pressing as the Zika virus continues to spread in the Americas. Which control method wins out remains to be seen — but Parry is optimistic about the future of the Oxitec mosquito. The company has made recent plans to expand its project in Brazil, and he expects to see its success continue. “There’s not a single country, there’s not a single team, that has actually managed to [fully] control this mosquito today in terms of an open environment,” Parry said. “And I think what we offer is a way of doing that.”