science


Shipping CratesAccording to a new study just released in the current issue of Science, “over half a million shipments of wildlife containing >1.48 billion live animals have been imported by the United States since 2000…[and] the majority (92%) of imports were designated for commercial purposes, largely the pet trade.” Most of these imports were fish and species of coral, although all major groups of animals were imported.

That is a lot of animals; roughly 4.8 animals per person in the Unites States (estimated population in US is 304,000,000 according to Google)! Unfortunately, this study also found that a large number of these shipments did not contain the proper information to determine what exactly was being imported. According to this study, almost a third of the shipments were only labeled generically, using labels like “marine fish” or “live invertebrate.” This may be cause for concern, considering most of the imported animals were from wild populations in places like Southeast Asia, which has a high threshold of emerging diseases, which may be transmissible between animals and humans.

The authors of this study, including scientists from the Wildlife Trust, Brown University, Pacific Lutheran University, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Global Invasive Species Programme, suggest that new measures are needed to decrease the risk of new pathogen introduction and to protect not only people, but also local animals and the health of our ecosystem. Unfortunately, there is currently no national strategy, legislative authority, or funding devoted to oversight of the live wildlife trade to implement any changes, but this study recommends much more strict record keeping of imported animals, third-party surveillance of imports and testing of pathogens in imported animals, and better public education about the dangers of diseases that may be brought in to the country.

The CDC’s “Healthy Pets, Healthy People” Web site advises pet owners about zoonotic diseases associated with some wildlife, but not only do pet owners need to be more aware of what they are bringing into their homes. Pet stores, veterinarians, and animal advocates should also be more educated on the risks of imported wildlife and how possible diseases may effect their businesses.

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Duckweed may help clean up the planet!

Wouldn’t it be great to get rid of animal (and maybe even human) waste in an eco-friendly way while also producing energy to run our cars? This scenario may be closer than we think. Researchers at North Carolina State University presented data at the annual conference of the Institute of Biological Engineering in Santa Carla, Calif last month that may bring us closer to this goal.

A tiny aquatic plant, called duckweed, was used to clean up animal waste stored in “lagoons” on hog farms. Growing this plant on wastewater produces five to six times more starch per acre than corn and captures nutrients that would otherwise pollute the environment. The fast-growing, high-starch duckweed can then be converted into ethanol, just as is currently being done with corn.

This is good news for those who have been arguing against the environmental friendliness of using corn as a bio-fuel. Concerns with using corn in this capacity include land competition for food crops, groundwater depletion, soil erosion, algae blooms, and the formation of “dead zones” in waterways inundated with pesticide and fertilizer runoff. The use of duckweed may convent some, if not all, of these problems. Indeed, duckweed may even reduce the nutrient (fertilizer) load on farms.

Dr. Jay Cheng, a professor of biological and agricultural engineering at North Carolina State University, and Dr. Anne-Marie Stomp, associate professor of forestry at North Carolina State University, are planning on continuing their research by establishing a pilot-scale project to help establish a large-scale system for growing duckweed on animal wastewater, and then harvesting and drying the duckweed for ethanol production. Let’s just hope they can keep the duckweed from contaminating natural bodies of water!

adapted from a news release by North Carolina State University on EurekAlert!

bh-logoHi everyone! Again, sorry for the long delay in posting…I have recently been up to my eyeballs in work! I have also started posting on the Science and Technology Community BrightHub.com. Check out some of my recent posts regarding allergies and look for my new articles about what’s going on in cancer research. I will be working on posting here more often as well! In fact, I may try to post a new entry today!

Sorry it’s been so long since I posted anything on my blog! I have been busy with grad school stuff. I was also working on an online science magazine that came out in the beginning of November.  Check it out at http://www.students.emory.edu/sciencewriters/inscripto.php Another issue is due out in Feb.

I will start posting stories again here soon.

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