NO WINGS OR A PRAYER: The war on mosquitoes continues to escalate far beyond swatting and spraying, with biologists now developing ways to genetically engineer wild mosquito populations — potentially eliminating the need for pesticides, which can also harm people and other animals. In their latest trick, scientists from England and California have figured out a way to breed female mosquitoes that are born without wings, leaving them to die quickly on the ground before they can bite people and spread disease. The researchers managed this by genetically altering males, which mate with normal females and pass on a trait that causes any female offspring to be born wingless; and since only female mosquitoes bite, this could quickly reduce a mosquito population's ability to feed its young. "The technology is completely species specific, as the released males will mate only with females of the same species," the study's lead author said in a statement. "It's far more targeted and environmentally friendly than approaches dependent upon the use of chemical spray insecticides, which leave toxic residue." The technique was designed to slow the spread of dengue fever, but the researchers say it may also help in the fights against malaria, West Nile virus and other mosquito-born diseases. (Sources: Associated Press, Reuters)
COAL COMFORT: Nearly all Republican lawmakers nationwide, along with state leaders in Texas, Alabama and Virginia, are rallying against the EPA's efforts to regulate CO2 emissions, and several coal-state Democrats have also recently joined them. Faced with this rising tide of criticism, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson responded Monday, reassuring her doubters that the Obama administration would phase any new regulations in gradually, avoiding large, sudden expenses for most U.S. businesses. "I share your goals of ensuring economic recovery at this critical time and of addressing greenhouse gas emissions in sensible ways that are consistent with the call for comprehensive energy and climate legislation," Jackson wrote in a letter to eight Democratic senators who have called for a moratorium on EPA regulation of emissions. Those senators, led by West Virginia's John D. Rockefeller IV (pictured), argue that such far-reaching regulation should be handled by elected officials, not bureaucrats — a point Jackson doesn't dispute. Obama administration officials often concede they would prefer congressional action over EPA regulation, but with the Senate climate bill still stalled amid GOP opposition, they say regulating emissions under the existing Clean Air Act is a last resort. (Sources: New York Times, Washington Post)
ENLIGHTENED SHELF INTEREST: Ice shelves are rapidly retreating in the southern Antarctic Peninsula, warns a new report from U.S. Geological Survey researchers, who point to climate change as the leading suspect. Working with the British Antarctic Survey, the USGS showed for the first time that every single ice front in the peninsula's southern section has been melting since 1947, with the most dramatic reductions occurring after 1990. The peninsula is one of the continent's most quickly changing regions since it's farthest from the South Pole, and its melting problem could foreshadow a slushier future for other parts of the vast Antarctic ice sheet. In the meantime, the researchers say the dwindling ice shelves could raise sea levels if temperatures continue to rise, endangering coastal communities and low-lying islands around the world. "The loss of ice shelves is evidence of the effects of global warming," says USGS scientist Jane Ferrigno. "We need to be alert and continually understand and observe how our climate system is changing." (Source: ScienceDaily)
TALKING ELEPHANTS: Elephants communicate in their own "secret" language, according to a team of biologists at San Diego Zoo, where the resident herd exchanges loud trumpet calls, low-frequency rumbles and subtle growls, some of which are too deep for humans to hear. The team spent months monitoring the herd's rumblings, leading them to conclude that the planet's largest land mammals may also be one of its more sophisticated speakers. "What we have found is essentially a sort of secret vocabulary," the project leader tells the London Independent. "Researchers have always thought that elephants were able to exchange a few simple words, but by looking at the structure of these rumbles we're now finding that their vocabulary is actually much larger and more complex than people previously realized." Although elephant calls have been recorded before, this was one of the first studies to carefully compare those calls with elephants' behavior to deduce their exact meaning — the calls can be used for anything from establishing a pecking order to organizing the herd for important life events, such as a mother giving birth. (Source: Independent)
CARP VS. CRAP: Asian carp are causing quite a stir in North America, escaping into the [skipwords]Mississippi[/skipwords] River decades ago, dominating native wildlife and now threatening to wreak havoc in the Great Lakes. But while the voracious eaters have become a menace in the United States — devouring plankton at the base of the food chain, thus starving out other fish species — they're now being used to restore ecosystems back in their home continent. Asian carp can help clarify water by ridding it of algae, making them a valuable tool in cleaning up large algal blooms that often form when agricultural runoff pollutes waterways with manure and fertilizers. Authorities in China are facing a flood of such agricultural pollution as the country's population soars, and recently announced plans to release 20 million algae-eating carp into Taihu Lake, a once-scenic lake that's been besieged by sewage and farm runoff. It's part of a larger plan that began with a release of 10 million green and silver carp last year; one silver carp can eat about 110 pounds of algae in its lifetime, while gaining only about 2 pounds in body weight. (Source: Agence France-Presse)
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Photo (mosquito): ZUMA Press
Photo (Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV): Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images
Photo (ice shelf in Antarctica): NASA/GRACE team/DLR/Ben Holt Sr.
Photo (African elephants): ZUMA Press
Photo (carp being released in Beijing): WENN