What the advances in CRISPR are telling us about the US biology strategy

How comfortable do you feel knowing that there is no group coordinating a national biology strategy in the US, and that a single for-profit company holds a critical mass of intellectual property rights to the future of genomic editing?

Crispr can be used to engineer agricultural products like wheat, rice, and animals to withstand the effects of climate change. Seeds can be engineered to produce far greater yields in tiny spaces, while animals can be edited to create triple their usual muscle mass. This could dramatically change global agricultural trade and cause widespread geopolitical destabilization. Or, with advance planning, this technology could help the US forge new alliances.

Without a plan, the US is left with the existing democratic instruments of change: patents, regulation, legislation, and lawsuits. And society is trusting our lawmakers, political appointees, and agency heads to apply those instruments to biological technologies that could literally change the future of humanity.

Concerned? Want to know more? Read about it here!

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Congress has a science problem. We can help!

The White House and Congress have lost their way when it comes to science. The congressional committees that craft legislation on these matters do not even have formal designated science advisers. That’s a big problem.  Instead of seeing science as a threat, officials should recognize it as an invaluable tool for improving legislation.

To educate members about the best available research, both the House and Senate science committees should create independent groups of impartial researchers and policy specialists to advise them on science and technology issues, including those related to energy, genetically modified foods, and clean air and water. (Industry representatives would still have a voice, but they would counsel the committees separately). Congress used to have a body of this kind—the widely respected Office of Technology Assessment (OTA). The OTA was an office of Congress: it served members and committees, and a bipartisan board of senators and representatives oversaw it. Until 1995, the OTA created reports on scientific issues ranging from alternative fuels to cancer and presented Congress with options it could pursue to reach different goals. Then the Republican-controlled Congress axed its funding during budget cuts. Many have advocated for the OTA’s return, including Scientific American. Last year Representative Bill Foster of Illinois introduced a resolution calling for its revival.

Whether it comes from a resurrected OTA, a new, dedicated advisory panel or some other body, independent, evidence-based advice on scientific matters would provide a strong counterbalance to the opinions of special interests. Science would get a voice, no matter who was in power. This voice could not force members of Congress to accept scientific truth over alternative “facts.” But at least it would give them the opportunity to do so.*

*This is all an excerpt from here. Want to know more? Read more.

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If it Swims Like a Duck and Quacks Like a Duck Could Be a Hybrid of Two Duck Species

A duck is a duck, right? Well, yes, but when one duck mates with a duck of another species, there’s the risk that one of the original species could cease to exist. And then that duck is a duck no more.

This is not philosophical, as much as it is based on very real study that assesses the rate at which mallard and Mottled Ducks are combining into a hybrid species in the US. And whether or not this is a bad thing?

Read more here!

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If This Wasp Stings You, ‘Just Lie Down and Start Screaming’

No kidding, the quote in this title is in a peer reviewed published paper. The tarantula wasp lives in the US, and apparently it’s sting is so painful it will end your happiness for the near future.

“There are some vivid descriptions of people getting stung by these things,” says invertebrate biologist Ben Hutchins of Texas Parks and Wildlife, “and their recommendation—and this was actually in a peer-reviewed journal—was to just lie down and start screaming, because few if any people could maintain verbal and physical coordination after getting stung by one of these things. You’re likely to just run off and hurt yourself. So just lie down and start yelling.”

Want to know more about these interesting critters, including that they are on the rise in the Souther US? Read about their increase here.

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That looks like a tall glass of NOPE!

Your butt is glowing: the most beautiful deathtrap of the glow worm

Glowworms (found primarily in New Zealand and Australia) live on the ceilings of caves and spin threads of silk covered with a sticky mucus. They cause these strings to glow, but triggering a chemical reaction with their butts. Which is kind of awesome.
After 6 to 12 months of eating whatever they can ensnare, the larvae transform into adults, which lack mouths and never eat. Their only job, in the final few days of their lives, is to mate and create the next generation of glowing-bottomed, trap making juveniles.Finally:

“And if you give them good vibrations, they’ll, er, get the excitations. There are some tours in New Zealand, Merritt tells me, where guides will deliberately hit the water or cave walls with an inflated inner tube; in response, the field of living stars will double in brightness. Merritt can achieve the same effect in his lab by pressing a vibrating cellphone against the aquarium where his captive glowworms live. “They really brighten up intensively if they detect vibration,” he says. “I’m not sure of the function.””

Want to know more? Read about it here!

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Birds Beware: Of the Praying Mantis?

“Tom Vaughan, a photographer then living in Colorado’s Mancos Valley, kept a hummingbird feeder outside his house. One morning, he stepped through the portico door and noticed a black-chinned hummingbird dangling from the side of the red plastic feeder like a stray Christmas ornament.

At first, Mr. Vaughan thought he knew what was going on. “I’d previously seen a hummingbird in a state of torpor,” he said, “when it was hanging straight down by its feet, regenerating its batteries, before dropping down and flying off.”

On closer inspection, Mr. Vaughan saw that the hummingbird was hanging not by its feet but by its head. And forget about jumping its batteries: the bird was in the grip of a three-inch-long green praying mantis.

The mantis was clinging with its back legs to the rim of the feeder, holding its feathered catch in its powerful, seemingly reverent front legs, and methodically chewing through the hummingbird’s skull to get at the nutritious brain tissue within.

“It was staring at me as it fed,” Mr. Vaughan said. “Of course, I took a picture of it.” Startled by the clicking shutter, the mantis dropped its partially decapitated meal, crawled under the feeder — and began menacing two hummingbirds on the other side.”

Curious? Read more here. It’s disturbing. You’ve been warned.

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LGBTQ+ issues in STEM diversity: Diverse science = better science

Why does this matter? Because, to stay competitive in the world economy, America needs more scientists and engineers—and evidence shows that diversity may lead to better science.

Evidence suggests that diverse teams encourage more innovation and creativity, and may lead to better science. A 2014 article in Scientific American on “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter” notes that “simply interacting with individuals who are different forces group members to prepare better, to anticipate alternative viewpoints, and to expect that reaching consensus will take effort.”

And yet, the lack of data on LGBTQ+ careers in science leads to a silence that is discouraging from those same groups we are trying to incorporate.

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