Sunday, March 25, 2007

Silent Spring?

There's been a flurry of recent media coverage, in which scientists and beekeepers have been sounding the alarm over a mystery malady that appears to be killing bees in at least 22 states throughout the country, as well as Canada.

Dubbed "colony collapse disorder," or CCD, it's been blamed for a dramatic decline in bee populations, with some commercial beekeepers reporting declines in their colonies anywhere from 50-90 percent, according to the Working Group on CCD, a recently established research group at Penn State University.

Millions of bees have simply vanished. In most cases, all that's left in the hives are the doomed offspring. But dead bees are nowhere to be found -- neither in nor anywhere close to the hives.

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As the end of the ancient calendar (2012) draws near, one may wonder how much time man has left on this planet. Is there a possible connection between genetic engineering and diseases in bees? If so, our fate is sealed. Since November, the US has seen a decline in bee populations so dramatic ( "colony collapse disorder," or CCD ) it eclipses all previous incidences of mass mortality. It's like the "bee version" of HIV/AIDS. Beekeepers on the east coast complain they've lost more than 70 percent of their stock since late last year, while the west coast has seen a decline of up to 60 percent.

In an article in its business section in late February, the New York Times calculated the damage US agriculture would suffer if bees died out. Experts at Cornell University in upstate New York have estimated the value bees generate -- by pollinating fruit and vegetable plants, almond trees and animal feed like clover -- at more than $14 billion.

No one knows what's causing CCD, which is marked by a disappearance from colonies of adult bees, but virtually no buildup of the dead, according to a description of the disease on the Working Group on CCD website. Scientists are surprised that bees and other insects usually leave the abandoned hives untouched. Nearby bee populations or parasites would normally raid the honey and pollen stores of colonies that have died for other reasons, such as excessive winter cold.

Some experts believe that the large-scale use of genetically modified plants in the US could be a factor. The consequences for agriculture and the economy could be enormous.

Ian Gilfillan reacts to a report by Greenspeace that genetically modified maize may be toxic, “Since maize is a staple diet in South Africa, especially for poor communities, it’s long been a concern that South Africa’s poor has been experimented on in this way, as in most countries, GMO foods are niche foods, not a staple.”

At the moment, the question is when, as in what year--- 2008, 9, 10 , 11 --- will "Silent Spring" appear. Beekeepers in the weeks to come will be monitoring their hives to see what happens as spring arrives.

See Also: Silent Spring study guide, including 87 pages of chapter summaries, essays, quotes, and more.
The CBS Report That Helped 'Silent Spring' Be Heard

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  1. Genetically modified crops have helped cause a "complete breakdown" in farming systems in India, an authoritative new study suggests.
    The study threatens to deal a fatal blow to probably the most powerful argument left in the biotech industry's armoury, that it can help to bring prosperity to the Third World.

    Professor Glenn Davis Stone, professor of anthropology and environmental studies at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, has spent more than 40 weeks on the ground in the biotech industry's prime Developing World showcase, the Warangal district of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

    The industry claims that local farmers have adopted GM cotton faster than any other agriculture technology in history. It argued at the prestigious Biovision conference in Lyon this month that the rapid spread proves that the technology is working for farmers.

    Professor Stone's study, published in the February issue of the journal Current Anthropology, demolishes this argument. Extensive interviews with the farmers proved that they are plumping for the GM seeds because they are new, hyped and locally fashionable, without having time to see if they produce better crops.

    "There is a rapidity of change that farmers just can't keep up with," he says. "They aren't able to digest new technologies as they come along."

    He adds that the rapid uptake "reflects the complete breakdown in the cotton cultivation system".

  2. Now scientists create a sheep that's 15% human...
    Scientists have created the world's first human-sheep chimera - which has the body of a sheep and half-human organs.

    The sheep have 15 per cent human cells and 85 per cent animal cells - and their evolution brings the prospect of animal organs being transplanted into humans one step closer.

    Professor Esmail Zanjani, of the University of Nevada, has spent seven years and £5million perfecting the technique, which involves injecting adult human cells into a sheep's foetus.


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