Elections give Keystone a filibuster-proof majority

Elections give Keystone a filibuster-proof majority

Pipeline is pictured. | AP Photo

The Keystone debate has dragged on for six years. | AP Photo

Republicans will command a filibuster-proof Senate majority in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline after Tuesday’s election victories — and they could be within striking distance of assembling a veto-proof bloc for the project, increasing their leverage over President Barack Obama.

“I think first order of business is to pass it out of House, Senate, and then finally force the president to make a decision on it,” a GOP aide said Tuesday night, adding that “the contrast will be crystal clear” if Obama rejects a pipeline that counts support from more than 6 in 10 Americans in public polls.

“Only then do I think we would rework strategy to secure veto-proof,” the Republican aide said.

Here’s how the math would work: Before Tuesday’s elections, pipeline advocates could count on a solid 57 votes in the Senate, including a dozen Democrats who have previously co-sponsored or expressed support for binding pro-Keystone legislation. Tuesday’s victories by Republican Senate candidates Cory Gardner in Colorado, Shelley Moore Capito in West Virginia, Mike Rounds in South Dakota and Joni Ernst in Iowa bring that total to 61.

And if Republicans are feeling ambitious, they could try to pull in four Democrats who previously supported a nonbinding resolution on Keystone during the 2013 budget debate: Chris Coons and Tom Carper of Delaware, Bill Nelson of Florida and Michael Bennet of Colorado. That gets them to 65.

Going beyond that, in hopes of getting a veto-proof 67, would depend on how willing Republican leaders are to add sweeteners to a pipeline bill — and avoid divisive riders on issues like offshore drilling.

But the GOP is banking on not needing to worry about a veto. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus predicted Tuesday that a GOP-controlled Senate will send a Keystone bill to President Barack Obama as its second order of business, “and I actually think the president will sign the bill.”

Under the Democratic-led Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has kept almost all pro-Keystone legislation off the floor, including a bill that embattled Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Mary Landrieu (D-La.) had championed this summer while scrambling to hold onto her oil-state seat.

Now the dynamic will be different.

The Keystone debate has dragged on for six years since developer TransCanada first sought a U.S. permit, with the administration finding ways to postpone its decision past the 2012 and then the 2014 elections. The project is now expected to cost the company $8 billion, up from an original estimate of $5.4 billion.

Environmentalists are already planning a new effort to emphasize the fierce opposition that the pipeline inspires among Obama’s liberal base, which would view approval of Keystone as a betrayal of the president’s promises to confront climate change. The Republican takeover on Capitol Hill could prove a boon to their cause by re-firing enthusiasm among the green grassroots.

“President Obama can’t approve the most massive oil infrastructure project in modern history, while claiming to be a climate champion,” May Boeve, executive director of the green group 350.org, said in a statement Tuesday night. “We know the Republicans are going to make Keystone a priority, but this isn’t their call.”

Environmentalists also took solace in incomplete election returns showing one of Keystone’s biggest supporters in the House, Nebraska Republican Rep. Lee Terry, trailing his Democratic challenger early Wednesday.

The White House earlier this year delayed its call on Keystone, which would ship 700,000-plus barrels of heavy Canadian crude to Gulf Coast refineries, until the Nebraska Supreme Court rules on a challenge to the constitutionality of a state law that gave its GOP governor power to approve a new route for the pipeline. That court decision is expected late this year or early next year.

Bruce Braley: Running Clean in the Heartland

Posted: 10/06/2014 11:15 am EDT Updated: 10/06/2014 12:59 pm EDT

“Shut down the federal EPA.” If you are an Iowan who likes dirty air, dirty water and unlimited quantities of harmful pollution, you are in luck. There is a Senate candidate in your home state who you are going to love: Joni Ernst.

Besides proposing to shut down the EPA, Ernst is Dirty Denier$ who has claimed that “global temperature shifts are a result of long-term cyclical patterns rather than the result of man-made activities.” She believes the Clean Water Act is a “business-damaging” law, though Iowans know it is essential for protecting rivers and streams — you know the exact waterbodies that water Iowa’s crops and feed many in our nation. If Ernst had her way, factory farms would be able to release unlimited quantities of nitrates, which can cause cancer and miscarriages, into Iowa’s water supply.

Luckily for Iowa voters, there is another candidate who is Running Clean. Congressman Bruce Braley has been a strong supporter of clean energy, clean water and action on climate change. Braley understands that “climate disruption is real” and that “Reducing our carbon output is not only necessary for the health of the planet, it’s an opportunity to continue to improve the health of the Iowa economy.” Braley has been especially focused on Iowa’s strong wind energy and biofuel industries. He has sponsored legislation to improve worker training in clean energy jobs, to extend wind energy tax credits and to end Big Oil tax breaks in favor of clean energy investment. Braley also understands how important clean water is to our families and Iowa’s agricultural community.

It’s no surprise who the oil billionaire Koch Brothers are supporting in this contest. Americans for Prosperity, which receives substantial funding from the Kochs, spent $688,805 on pro-Ernst television ads between June and mid-September. Ernst credits the Koch brothers, not Iowans with her career in politics. Don’t believe us? Listen here.

Iowa voters need to know the truth about Joni Ernst. She is an extremist when it comes to environmental protection. Mainstream Iowa voters value the land and water that are essential to their way of life. If they want to see those resources protected, they will remember that Bruce Braley is the only candidate who is Running Clean.

Can Interfaith Climate Action Be the Harbinger Of Noah’s Dove?

Posted: 09/19/2014 1:11 pm EDT Updated: 45 minutes ago
In Genesis chapter 8, we read that when the dove returned to Noah with an olive leaf in its mouth, Noah knew that the waters had receded, and that the world had been saved from destruction. This change in climate represented a movement toward life, to salvation and a new start for earth’s population.

Today, however, climate changes mean just the opposite. Today, they are indications that we’re destroying our world with rising seas that are devastating coastal communities and severe weather that is jeopardizing food crops and human health. We see it all around us. The Audubon Society reported earlier this month that 314 bird species alone are at risk from global warming, with 126 of them classified as climate endangered. In the past century, the average temperature increased by 1.4 degrees, with the years 2000-2010 marking the warmest ever recorded, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Glaciers are disappearing — I saw that firsthand when I visited Alaska a few years ago, kayaking on the Inside Passage.

The seas are rising, the temperature becoming warmer and weather patterns so unpredictable that summers and winters are blending together, becoming less definable. Meanwhile, we continue to emit an increasing number of carbon particles, infiltrating and polluting our air — exacerbating in particular asthma in children in urban areas.

Yet too many of our leaders continue to ignore or, worse, deny that human behavior is harming our environment — hurting today’s children and future generations. Witness the recent failures to come up with strong action at the Climate Change conferences at Warsaw in 2013 and Doha, Qatar in 2012. Rather than listen to the chorus of environmental experts and scientific proof, political leaders instead take their cues from biased voices that argue that regulations set to help the environment will hurt the economy.

Economic growth, however, needn’t be slowed by strong environmental measures. Countries can be both environmentally and business friendly. Just look to Denmark, the most climate-friendly country in the world, according to the United Nations Climate Change Performance Index 2013, as it concurrently places as Europe’s third most economically competitive country, according to the World Economic Forum. Sweden, which ranks as the top economically competitive country, is the No. 2 climate-friendly country.

Political and civic reasoning will not win the day. The added, supportive voice of the religious community is indispensable if we are to effect policy changes. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sets to convene the Climate Summit 2014 on Sept. 23, bringing together hundreds of heads of state and government leaders, we in the faith community are raising our voices, joining together, and vowing to make the world safe from the ravages of climate change.

Ahead of next week’s climate summit, faith communities are coming together for the People’s Climate March, World Council of Churches and Religions for Peace’s Interfaith Summit on Climate Change, Religions for the Earth at Union Theological Seminary, prayer events across the US and an OurVoices.net gathering at the UN Church Center.

Those of us participating in these numerous efforts come from different places theologically, but when it comes to the stewardship of our planet, we recognize our moral obligation to speak in one multi-faith voice that transcends our other differences.

Transcending differences at times seems impossible. Yet, we need only look to the Middle East and the complicated struggle between Israelis and Palestinians over a tiny piece of land to see that when it comes to the environment, it is possible to work together to seek solutions. Friends of the Earth Middle East and the Arava Institute are organizations that bring different religions and different nationalities together to tackle the climate and environmental problems of that region. If people will join hands there, we should be able to bring people together all across the planet.

If environmentalists and religious communities in one of the world’s most disputed regions can overcome differences and come together to care for the environment, certainly those of us in the rest of the world can join together to protect our environment and children and change the course of history.

When Sunday’s marchers demand that world leaders heed the cries of those of us who want the world to continue to prosper, our shouts will come in a plethora of languages and from a myriad of spiritual traditions. Let us, this week and in the future, raise our voices in whichever languages we can and ask that the Maker of the Universe hear us and help us find the solution that will keep this planet whole and fertile. Let us act as the dove at the end of the Noah story, as messengers from the sky, whose words move history and humanity from inaction and disaster to a rainbow of security and holiness.

New Satellite Maps Show World’s Major Ice Caps Melting at Unprecedented Rate

New Satellite Maps Show World’s Major Ice Caps Melting at Unprecedented Rate

German researchers have established the height of the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps with greater precision than ever before. And the new maps they have produced show that the ice is melting at an unprecedented rate.

Surface water flows down into a ‘moulin’ shaft in the Greenland ice cap. Photo credit: NASA via Wikimedia Commons

The maps, produced with a satellite-mounted instrument, have elevation accuracies to within a few metres. Since Greenland’s ice cap is more than 2,000 metres thick on average, and the Antarctic bedrock supports 61 percent of the planet’s fresh water, this means that scientists can make more accurate assessments of annual melting.

Dr Veit Helm and other glaciologists at the Alfred Wegener Institute’s Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, Germany, report in the journal The Cryosphere that, between them, the two ice sheets are now losing ice at the unprecedented rate of 500 cubic kilometers a year.

Big picture

The measurements used to make the maps were taken by an instrument aboard the European Space Agency’s orbiting satellite CryoSat-2. The satellite gets closer to the poles—to 88° latitude—than any previous mission and traverses almost 16 million sq km of ice, adding an area of ice the size of Spain to the big picture of change and loss in the frozen world.

CryoSat-2’s radar altimeter transmitted 7.5 million measurements of Greenland and 61 million of Antarctica during 2012, enabling glaciologists to work with a set of consistent measurements from a single instrument.

Over a three-year period, the researchers collected 200 million measurements in Antarctica and more than 14 million in Greenland. They were able to study how the ice sheets changed by comparing the data with measurements made by NASA’s ICESat mission.

More complex

Greenland’s volume of ice is being reduced at the rate of 375 cubic km a year. In Antarctica, the picture is more complex as the West Antarctic ice sheet is losing ice rapidly, but is growing in volume in East Antarctica.

Overall, the southern continent—98 percent of which is covered with ice and snow—is losing 125 cubic km a year. These are the highest rates observed since researchers started making satellite observations 20 years ago.

“Since 2009, the volume loss in Greenland has increased by a factor of about two, and the West Antarctic ice sheet by a factor of three,” said Angelika Humbert, one of the report’s authors.

BP Found Guilty of ‘Gross Negligence’ and ‘Willful Misconduct’ in 2010 Gulf Oil Disaster

BP Found Guilty of ‘Gross Negligence’ and ‘Willful Misconduct’ in 2010 Gulf Oil Disaster

Anastasia Pantsios | September 4, 2014 2:37 pm

Today a federal judge in New Orleans found BP guilty of “gross negligence” and “willful misconduct” in the April 20, 2010 explosion of an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. The oil spill that resulted from the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig was the largest in U.S. history, spewing oil for more than three months. It killed 11 people and continues to have environmental impacts to this day on beaches, wetlands, wildlife, fisheries and a host of businesses in five states.
A sign on the home of a front lawn in Grand Isle, Louisiana on the Gulf Coast. Photo credit: ShutterstockA sign on the home of a front lawn in Grand Isle, Louisiana on the Gulf Coast. Photo credit: Shutterstock

A sign on the home of a front lawn in Grand Isle, Louisiana on the Gulf Coast. Photo credit: Shutterstock

According to Bloomberg, BP could face a fine as high as $18 billion. Plaintiffs included the federal government, the five Gulf of Mexico states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, banks, restaurants and fishermen, among others.

This comes on the heels of the news Tuesday that Halliburton, contracted by BP to cement the oil well, had reached a $1.1 settlement with the businesses, citizens and governments impacted by the spill. But Halliburton was a bit player in BP’s disaster scenario. Continue reading

Honey Bees and Colony Collapse Disorder

Honey Bees and Colony Collapse Disorder

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Latest news about CCD:
Report on the National Stakeholders Conference on Honey Bee Health.
2013/2014 Survey Reports Fewer Winter Honey Bee Losses

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is a serious problem threatening the health of honey bees and the economic stability of commercial beekeeping and pollination operations in the United States. Despite a number of claims in the general and scientific media, a cause or causes of CCD have not been identified by researchers.

The Agricultural Research Service (ARS), USDA’s internal research agency, is leading several efforts into possible CCD causes and striving to enhance overall honey bee health by improving bee management practices, as well as studying honey bee diseases and parasites and how best to control them. In addition, a number of other Federal agencies and State departments of agriculture, universities, and private companies are conducting studies to seek the cause or causes of CCD.


CCD HistoryIn October 2006, some beekeepers began reporting losses of 30-90 percent of their hives. While colony losses are not unexpected, especially over the winter, this magnitude of losses was unusually high.

The main symptom of CCD is very low or no adult honey bees present in the hive but with a live queen and no dead honey bee bodies present. Often there is still honey in the hive, and immature bees (brood) are present. Varroa mites, a virus-transmitting parasite of honey bees, have frequently been found in hives hit by CCD.

This is not the first time that beekeepers are being faced with unexplained losses. The scientific literature has several mentions of honey bee disappearances—in the 1880s, the 1920s, and the 1960s. While the descriptions sound similar to CCD, there is no way to know for sure if those problems were caused by the same agents as CCD.

There have also been unusual colony losses before. In 1903, in the Cache Valley in Utah, 2000 colonies were lost to an unknown “disappearing disease” after a “hard winter and a cold spring.” More recently, in 1995-96, Pennsylvania beekeepers lost 53 percent of their colonies without a specific identifiable cause. Link to CCD Action Plan.

In June 2007, ARS and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), USDA’s extramural research grants agency, co-chaired a workshop of scientists and stakeholders to develop a Colony Collapse Disorder Action Plan. This plan identified areas where more information was needed and developed a research priority list for additional research projects related to finding the cause/causes of CCD.

Why Should the Public Care About What Happens to Honey Bees? A honey bee, with pollen attached to its hind leg, pollinating a watermelon flower.Bee pollination is responsible for more than $15 billion in increased crop value each year. About one mouthful in three in our diet directly or indirectly benefits from honey bee pollination. Commercial production of many specialty crops like almonds and other tree nuts, berries, fruits and vegetables depend on pollination by honey bees. These are the foods that give our diet diversity, flavor, and nutrition.

Honey bees are not native to the New World; they came from Europe with the first settlers. There are native pollinators in the United States, but honey bees are more prolific and easier to manage on a commercial level for pollination of a wide variety of crops. Almonds, for example, are completely dependent on honey bees for pollination. In California, the almond industry requires the use of 1.4 million colonies of honey bees, approximately 60 percent of all managed honey bee colonies in the United States.

U.S. Honey Bee LossesThe total number of managed honey bee colonies has decreased from 5 million in the 1940s to only 2.5 million today. At the same time, the call for hives to provide pollination services has continued to increase. This means honey bee colonies are being transported over longer distances than ever before.

Varroa mites in a honey comb cell.Declines in honey bee colony health were exacerbated in the 1980s with the arrival of new pathogens and pests. The arrival of Varroa and tracheal mites into the United States during the 1990s created additional stresses on honey bees.

Colony losses from CCD are a very serious problem for beekeepers. Annual losses from the winter of 2006-2011 averaged about 33 percent each year, with a third of these losses attributed to CCD by beekeepers. The winter of 2011-2012 was an exception, when total losses dropped to 22 percent.

A 1-year drop is too short a time period to count as definitive improvement in honey bee colony survivorship. At least 2 to 3 years of consistently lower loss percentages is necessary before it is possible to be sure that CCD is on the decline.

The decrease in colony losses could be due to a number of different factors, among them:

  1. The 2011-2012 winter was unusually warm and could have contributed to higher colony survival rates, although there is no scientific research connecting warmer winter weather and CCD. January 2012 ranks as the fourth warmest January in U.S. history, according to NOAA.
  2. Research from ARS and other institutions has provided new management recommendations that beekeepers have begun to adopt. For example, it is now recommended that beekeepers feed honey bees more protein during times of nectar shortage such as during times of drought or in the winter. As part of this, ARS has developed a new bee diet, Megabee, now available to beekeepers. The feeding of supplemental nutrients may help to decrease winter colony losses.
  3. Some diseases are naturally cyclical, and CCD could be at the point where its cause/causes have passed their peak. Or it is possible that colonies that survive could be developing a natural resistance to overcome the unknown cause/causes of CCD. Unfortunately, there is no scientific proof for either of these at this time.

If losses continue at the 33 percent level, it could threaten the economic viability of the bee pollination industry. Honey bees would not disappear entirely, but the cost of honey bee pollination services would rise, and those increased costs would ultimately be passed on to consumers through higher food costs. Now is the time for research into the cause and treatment of CCD before CCD becomes an agricultural crisis.

Latest ARS news about CCD:

Survey Reports Latest Honey Bee Losses
Winter 2012/2013
May 2012
May 2011
April 2010

A comprehensive and sensitive analytical survey was done for the presence of 200 pesticides in bee, comb, and pollen samples from 23 states. No specific pattern of pesticide residues emerged that correlates with honey bee deaths  March 2010

Pathogen Loads Higher in Bee Colonies Suffering from Colony Collapse Disorder August 2009

Research DirectionsScientists are looking in four general categories for the cause/causes of CCD:A honey bee being inoculated with Nosema to determine bee infection rates and immune responses.

  1. Pathogens: Among others, scientists are considering Nosema (a pathogenic gut fungi), Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus, and possibly unknown pathogens as possible culprits in CCD. ARS research has indicated that no one pathogen of any class directly correlates with the majority of CCD incidents. Rather, a higher total pathogen load of viruses and bacteria correlates more directly with CCD than any one specific pathogen.
  2. Parasites: Varroa mites are often found in honey bee colonies that are affected by CCD. It is not known if the Varroa mites are directly involved or if the viruses that Varroa mites transmit (similar to the way mosquitoes transmit the malaria virus) are a factor in causing CCD.
  3. Management stressors: Among the management stressors that are possible contributors to CCD are poor nutrition due to apiary overcrowding and increased migratory stress brought on by the honey bees being transported to multiple locations across the country.
  4. Environmental stressors: Such stressors include the impact of pollen/nectar scarcity, lack of diversity in nectar/pollen, availability of only pollen/nectar with low nutritional value, and limited access to water or access only to contaminated water. Stressors also include accidental or intentional exposure to pesticides at lethal or sub-lethal levels.

A survey of honey bee colonies revealed no consistent pattern in pesticide levels between healthy and CCD-affected colonies when pollen, bees, and beeswax were tested for the presence of 170 pesticides. The most commonly found pesticide in that study was coumaphos, which is used to treat honey bees for Varroa mites.

The pesticide class neonicotinoids (clothianidin, thiamethoxam, and imidacloprid) has been accused of being the cause of CCD. The neonicotinoids were developed in the mid-1990s in large part because they showed reduced toxicity to honey bees, compared with previously used organophosphate and carbamate insecticides.

In 2008, Germany revoked the registration of the neonicotinoid clothianidin for use on seed corn after an incident that resulted in the die-off of hundreds of nearby honey bees colonies. Investigation into the incident revealed that the die-off was caused by a combination of factors, including the failure to use a polymer seed coating known as a “sticker”: weather conditions that resulted in late planting of corn while nearby canola crops were in bloom, attracting honey bees; use of a particular type of air-driven equipment used to sow the seeds, which blew clothianidin-laden dust off the seeds and into the air as the seeds were ejected from the machine into the ground; dry and windy conditions at the time of planting, which blew the dust into the nearby canola fields where honey bees were foraging; and a higher application rate than had been authorized was used to treat for a severe root worm infestation.

Several studies that reported a negative impact on honey bees by neonicotinoids relied on large, unrealistic doses and gave bees no other choice for pollen, and therefore did not reflect risk to honey bees under real world conditions. Nor have the studies demonstrated a direct connection or correlation to CCD.

ARS entomologist Jay Evans inspects a comb of honey bees.There have been scientific findings that imply that neonicotinoids have sublethal effects on honey bees at approved doses and exposures. ARS scientists and other researchers are looking into whether such sublethal effects may correlate with CCD or other bee health problems and whether they could be a contributing cause of CCD.

ARS held a workshop with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in early 2010 to discuss how potential sublethal effects could be documented summarized in Pesticide Risk Assessment for Pollinators: Summary of a SETAC Pellston Workshop.

ARS researchers also have been analyzing samples from healthy and CCD-struck colonies and applying a variety of stressors from the four categories of possible causes to colonies in hopes of provoking a colony response that duplicates CCD.

While a number of potential causes have been championed by a variety of researchers and interest groups, none of them have stood up to detailed scrutiny. Every time a claim is made of finding a “smoking gun,” further investigation has not been able to make the leap from a correlation to cause-and-effect. Other times, not even a scientific correlation has been demonstrated in the study claiming to have found “the cause” of CCD.

Researchers have concluded that no one factor is the cause of CCD. Most likely, CCD is caused by multiple factors. It is not possible to know at this time if all CCD incidents are due to the same set of factors or if the factors follow the same sequence in every case.

Two honey bees on a comb.One explanation for CCD being studied is that a perfect storm of environmental stresses may unexpectedly weaken colonies, leading to collapse when the colonies are exposed to the additional stress of a pathogen, parasite, and/or pesticide. Stress, in general, compromises the immune system of bees (and other social insects) and may disrupt their social system, making colonies more susceptible to disease.

Studies are being conducted by ARS scientists and collaborators to look at the combined impact of two or more factors on honey bees—most recently the impact of exposure to the neonicotinoid imidacloprid and Nosema. While the dual exposure indicated some sublethal effects on individual honey bees, the overall health of the colony did not show an adverse effect.

Cell Phones and CCDDespite a great deal of attention having been paid to the idea, neither cell phones nor cell phone towers have been shown to have any connection to CCD or poor honey bee health.

Originally, the idea was provoked by the media making a connection between CCD and a very small study done in Germany. But that study looked at whether a particular type of base station for cordless phones could affect honey bee homing systems. However, despite all the attention that this study has received, the base station has nothing to do with CCD. Stefan Kimmel, the researcher who conducted the study and wrote the paper, e-mailed The Associated Press to say that there is “no link between our tiny little study and the CCD-phenomenon … Anything else said or written is a lie.”

In addition, apiaries are often located in rural areas, where cell phone coverage can be spotty. This makes cell phones or cell towers unlikely culprits.

Best Recommendation for BeekeepersSince little is known for sure about the cause(s) of CCD, mitigation must be based on improving general honey bee health and habitat and countering known mortality factors by using best management practices. This includes supplemental feeding in times of nectar/pollen scarcity.

Best Recommendations for the PublicHoney bee flies to a flower.The best action the public can take to improve honey bee survival is not to use pesticides indiscriminately. In particular, the public should avoid applying pesticides during mid-day hours, when honey bees are most likely to be out foraging for nectar and pollen on flowering plants.

In addition, the public can plant pollinator-friendly plants—plants that are good sources of nectar and pollen such as red clover, foxglove, bee balm, joe-pye weed, and other native plants. (For more information, visit www.nappc.org.)

University of Illinois studying bee venom as cancer treatment

University of Illinois studying bee venom as cancer treatment

Another reason to love bees: they might be able to help us fight cancer.

While venom isn’t usually known as a friendly thing, new research shows that venom from bees, snakes and scorpions could potentially be used to fight certain forms of cancer. While you wouldn’t go and inject someone with a dose of venom, which could have lethal effects, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that if they isolated specific proteins in the venom, these could be used in a safe way to block tumor growth.

“We have safely used venom toxins in tiny nanometer-sized particles to treat breast cancer and melanoma cells in the laboratory,” study author Dipanjan Pan of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said in a statement. “These particles, which are camouflaged from the immune system, take the toxin directly to the cancer cells, sparing normal tissue.”

Previous studies have shown the potential power of venom, but because of the potentially very dangerous side effects of venom injection – damage to nerve cells, for example – hat power couldn’t be properly harnessed. That’s what makes this new research so exciting.

The toxins in question are peptide toxins. The researchers made a synthetic version in the lab, then injected it into the tiny nanoparticles. “The peptide toxins we made are so tightly packed within the nanoparticle that they don’t leach out when exposed to the bloodstream and cause side effects,” Pan said.

Bee on flower image via Shutterstock.

New Studies Confirm Pesticide Exposure Major Contributor to Declining Honey Bee Populations

New Studies Confirm Pesticide Exposure Major Contributor to Declining Honey Bee Populations

Beyond Pesticides

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and University of Maryland have found that low levels of pesticide exposure from crop pollination make honey bees more susceptible to the deadly gut parasite Nosema ceranae, contributing to declines in bee populations.

The study’s findings, released July 24 in the journal PLoSONE, expand on a recent report released by the USDA that found parasites, disease, genetics, poor nutrition and pesticide exposure as synergistic factors in the observable nationwide honey bee decline, but focused on technological stopgap measures without questioning the sustainability of widespread systemic neonicotinoid pesticide use. Adding urgency to USDA’s research, another study released July 22 in the Proceedings from the National Academy of Sciences shows that pollinator losses can have a detrimental effects on plant reproduction. Continue reading

Scientists Discover Two Fatal Diseases Capable of Transmitting From Honey Bees to Bumblebees

Scientists Discover Two Fatal Diseases Capable of Transmitting From Honey Bees to Bumblebees

Beyond Pesticides | February 21, 2014 2:09 pm | Comments
A new study published in the journal Nature investigating two infectious diseases—deformed wing virus (DWV) and the fungal parasite Nosema ceranea—finds that they could be spreading from honey bees to bumblebees, dramatically shortening the lifespan of the wild bumblebees. The study gives credence to recent research demonstrating that pesticide use compromises immune system functioning, dramatically raising their susceptibility to diseases.
Furthering the severity of these two diseases is the fact that while honey bee hives have tens of thousands of workers, bumblebee hives have only one hundred at most. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

The studyDisease Associations Between Honeybees and Bumblebees as a Threat to Wild Pollinators, suggests that managed, highly-dense populations of honey bees, are breeding grounds for pathogens which may then be transmitted to bumblebee populations. But unlike honey bees, infected bumblebees are much more affected by the disease, with their lives shortened by six full days.

“To put it into context, in the field a bumblebee worker lives 21 days,” said co-author Mark Brown, PhD., of Royal Holloway, University of London. “For every bee that has this virus, you’re losing about a third or a quarter of all the food it would bring back to the nest to help the nest grow.” Additionally, while honey bee hives have tens of thousands of workers, bumblebee hives have only one hundred at most.

The study, underlines the importance of threatened wild pollinators—including bumblebees—which are estimated to provide $3 billion in pollination services to crops such as tomato, blueberry, melon, soybean, cucumber, squash, apple, peach and bell pepper in the U.S.

Previous studies have demonstrated that bumblebees can carry DWV, but none had mapped the distribution of infected and healthy honey bee and bumblebee populations. Researchers here discovered that roughly one-third of honey bees collected are infected with DWV and 11 percent of bumblebees carry the virus. By mapping out the distribution of disease presence, researchers found significant overlap, which suggest disease transmission between the two pollinator species.

“A geographical patterning provides us with the information that transmission is occurring among these animals—they are sharing parasite strains,” said Dr. Brown. The infection could likely be spread when bumblebees forage on flowers already visited by infected honey bees, or by raiding competitors interested in stealing nectar. “We cannot say it definitively, but because of the epidemiology, the most likely explanation is that the honeybees are acting as the source of the virus for the bumblebees,” said Dr. Brown.

The research adds to a body of knowledge demonstrating the range of threats that native and managed pollinators face. Underlying these threats is the persistent use of pesticides which weakens pollinator immunes systems making them more susceptible to parasites, pathogens and diseases. One study on pesticides in honey bee hives, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that honey bees exposed to a typical fungicide were more than three times more likely to become infected when exposed to the parasite Nosema, compared to control bees which were not fed contaminated pollen.

Researchers here are particularly interested in further investigating the role of neonicotinoid pesticides, which are implicated as a driving cause of colony collapse disorder. “If bumblebees were exposed to neonicotinoids and had the same effect, you would expect the bumblebee viral load to be going through the roof. This is something we are hoping to test later,” said Dr. Brown.


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