Despite heavy competition, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen emerged as obnoxious billionaire of the week, amid reports that his 300-foot luxury yacht destroyed 14,000 square feet of protected coral reef near the Cayman Islands.
According to the Cayman News Service, the anchor chain of Allen’s yacht, the MV Tatoosh, caused “extensive damage” to the reef earlier this month. The incident comes just five months after Allen announced that he would provide funds for research to “stabilize and restore coral reefs” through his Seattle-based company, Vulcan.
A spokesman for Vulcan said Wednesday that the boat’s mooring position was “explicitly directed” by the local port authority and that Allen was not on board at the time. It added that Vulcan and the ship’s crew had immediately moved the ship from the affected area and were “actively and cooperatively working with local authorities to determine the details of what happened.”
Well, OK…but still, bad billionaire! Coral is precious. Fat Cats should be more careful.
A report released this week by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) showed a link between a major class of pesticides and harm to honeybees, but only when used on certain types of crops. The report showed that pesticides known as neonicotinoids posed a significant risk to honeybees when used on cotton plants and citrus trees but not when used on other big crops like corn and tobacco.
Both the pesticide manufacturer and anti-pesticide advocates were unhappy with the report, which failed to make a clear case for either continued use of neonicotinoids or an outright ban.
Neonicotinoids, chemicals that work on insects’ central nervous systems, have been the subject of intense debate in Europe, where several countries have enacted full or partial bans on their use. Despite this, most scientific bee experts agree that neonicotinoids alone are not to blame for the problem of dwindling bee populations, although they may be a factor in some cases.
Entomologist May Berenbaum of the University of Illinois noted that the health of honeybees, agriculture’s top pollinator, is a complex puzzle that includes climate, food for bees, parasites, disease and the way different pesticides and fungicides interact. “People would like a nice simple story with a guy in a black hat as the bad guy, but it’s complicated.”
Our science kitteh, on the other hand, seems to have identified a villain. Oh, dear.
Scientists, journalists and policy-makers gathered in Washington, DC this week for the International Summit on Human Gene Editing at the National Academies of Science. The meeting, which NAS co-hosted with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the U.K.’s Royal Society, was billed as a global discussion of “the scientific, ethical, and governance issues associated with human gene-editing research.” In particular, the summit focused on the implications of the emergence of CRISPR, a new gene-editing technique which is cheaper, more versatile and more precise than any currently in use.
This topic is a little complex for cats, so we’ll let the experts help out. Ed Yong, in The Atlantic, outlines the basics of the technique and what scientists are working on to make it even better, while Tina Saey writes in Science News about the significant safety and ethical issues and the guidelines in place for further development.
While scientists work on the fancy new stuff, cats will continue to use their traditional techniques for editing your jeans – shedding, clawing and nomming.
This week, the US Food and Drug Administration approved its first genetically modified animal, the AquAdvantage salmon, as safe to eat. The FDA found that the GM salmon are “as safe to eat as any non-genetically engineered Atlantic salmon, and also as nutritious.” It will not require that stores label the salmon as genetically modified, although they may still do so.
The AquAdvantage salmon, created in 1989, is similar to the Atlantic salmon, but is modified so that it carries a growth hormone found in the Chinook salmon and a segment of DNA taken from the pout fish, which boost its growth. As a result, the AquAdvantage salmon grows much faster than normal Atlantic salmon, reaching a market-ready size in about half the time. Bigger fish faster? Our science cats give this genetic tweak two paws up.
The Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded this week to Arthur McDonald and Takaaki Kajita for their work with neutrinos.
The two were honored for their contributions to experiments demonstrating that subatomic particles called neutrinos change identities. The neutrinos transform themselves among three types: electron-type, muon-type and tau-type.
The transformation requires that neutrinos have mass, dispelling the long-held notion that they were massless. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awards the Nobels, said the discovery “has changed our understanding of the innermost workings of matter.”
This is super impressive and, more importantly, gives us an excuse to re-run this awesome lolcat.