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Buzzkill: Will America's Bees Survive?

(Source: Discover Magazine

Kim Raff

Commercial beekeeper Darren Cox stands among some of his hives in a bee yard in the rich Cache Valley north of Salt Lake City. Bees have been dying at faster rates than normal, as a host of ailments weaken colonies. Photo taken by Kim Raff

Despite all the years, and all the troubles, Darren Cox still likes to put on his bee suit.

A big, block-shaped man in his 50s, Cox sports a bowlish blond haircut and serious demeanor. But when he slips into his protective gear, his netted hat in hand, he offers a rare smile. “Time to get out there,” he says.

It’s a summer day in Cache Valley, an agricultural center set among the mountains of northern Utah. The skyline, composed of peaks popping with shimmering green, speaks resoundingly of life, vibrant and fertile. Several years ago, Cox and his wife built a beautiful house here, so high up that eagles soared within feet of the living room windows. But for Cox, a commercial beekeeper fighting for his livelihood, these days even his Valhalla strikes a sour note.

“When we first got here,” Cox tells me, “there was so much wildlife. Fox and deer. Every bird you can imagine. You don’t see wildlife like you did anymore. Where’d it all go?”

Cox keeps his “livestock” in so-called bee yards placed throughout the area. Today he’ll visit them, winding through deep valleys, up tall mountains and into one of the most perplexing questions in science: What is killing our honeybees — and can we stop it?

Wild and domestic bees are both in deep trouble. Colony losses among commercial beekeepers reach 30, 40, even 50 percent or more annually, a pace that threatens the beekeeping and agricultural industries — and everyone who eats. Bees pollinate some $30 billion in U.S. crops each year, including most fruits and leafy greens, playing a critical role in human health.

A worker bee gathers nectar from a purple coneflower. Scientists are trying to figure out which factors — viruses, pesticides or a combination — weaken bees’ immune systems. Photo taken by: Alex Wild

The trouble started about 10 years ago, when beekeepers around the world began reporting a mysterious phenomenon: Bees that had been healthy simply disappeared, leaving no dead bodies for study. The crisis was called colony collapse disorder (CCD). And as scientific wisdom has it, the CCD crisis is over. Bees no longer just “disappear.” Instead, they die at far faster rates than normal as a host of other ailments, such as deformed wing virus and deadly pathogens, exact a toll.

Cox’s bees don’t produce the same honey yields they did before. Queen bees struggle to survive even a third of their normal life spans, leaving beekeepers in a constant battle to replace them. According to Cox and other beekeepers, classic CCD is back, too.

In the summer of 2015, Cox showed me several hives that bore the standard signs: healthy brood; good stores of pollen and nectar, or “bee food,” and little else; a few straggling workers, maybe 10 percent of the population he had last week; and a big queen, running around her now-empty castle like a mom, knowing that without her stable of workers she’ll be unable to feed her babies.

“Our bees are manifesting a bunch of different symptoms,” Cox says as he kicks a beat-up Ford flatbed truck into gear. “Bees are dying, but what people are missing is that bees are also weakening.”

http://discovermagazine.com/2017/march/buzzkill

The map below shows the results of an annual survey of beekeepers and their bee colony losses. The chart tracks winter losses in the U.S. in the past decade, as well as annual losses since 2010-2011. The Bee Informed Partnership, a research consortium based at the University of Maryland, tracks mortality rates, rather than overall population, to get a more accurate sense of colony turnover year to year.  Alison Mackey/Discover after Bee Informed

As president of American Honey Producers, a trade association for beekeepers, Cox hears this from numerous members. In honeybee years, we are many generations on from the inception of the crisis, and bees themselves seem different, weaker. “They don’t have as much vigor,” says Cox.

For Cox and other beekeepers, the long, reasoned march of science looks more like a slow hair-pull, in which a difficult scientific problem is rendered almost impossible to resolve by the toxic influences of politics and money.

Enlightenment and Paradox

In the early years of the bee crisis, beekeepers looked to science as their savior. “We believed that government, the media and, most importantly, scientists were focused,” says Cox. “If a solution to this problem existed, we figured it would be found and acted on.”

Ten years on, however, beekeepers have grown frustrated because the field seems stuck in the fact-gathering stage.

The reasons for overall bee declines are broadly understood: diminished bee habitat; the Varroa destructor, a nasty parasitic mite; viruses and pathogens; and agricultural chemicals, including pesticides, fungicides and insect growth regulators (IGRs). But the problem of declining bee health might actually be getting worse, largely because the factor of agricultural chemicals lies at the nexus of science, finance and politics. Much of the controversy, and concern, has centered around a particular class of neonicotinoid pesticides (neonic for short), which yield billions in revenue for chemical-makers.

The resulting conflict is best framed, reports E.G. Vallianatos, a scientist retired from the Environmental Protection Agency, by what he calls the “Rachel Carson paradox.” Carson’s 1962 book, Silent Spring, documented the pernicious effects of agricultural chemicals and served as a rallying point for the modern environmental movement. But more than 50 years later, Vallianatos expresses disappointment. “Everyone acts like the book was responsible for a new dawn,” says Vallianatos. “But did anyone actually read it?”

http://discovermagazine.com/2017/march/buzzkill

Bees born with deformed wing virus emerge with crumpled, misshapen wings and die within days. The virus is one of several closely associated with Varroa infestations.
Bee Informed Partnership

Carson’s argument was fundamental: Because pests and weeds quickly develop resistance, chemical pesticides create a kind of arms race. We apply increasingly toxic concoctions in greater amounts, and bugs and weeds evolve and rally.

Time has proven her right. Today we pump roughly 2.5 times more chemical pesticides, fungicides and herbicides into the environment than we did when Silent Spring was published. But the number of regulatory labs has decreased, leaving more chemical inputs in the environment and far fewer scientists to study them.

The standard rebuttal is that modern pesticides are better targeted toward pests. But this doesn’t capture the plight of the bee, or government regulators. One of the most important papers in the field of bee declines, co-authored by then-USDA scientist Jeffrey Pettis in 2010, drew comb and wax samples from beehives in 23 U.S. states, finding an average of six different pesticides in each and as many as 39.

Numerous scientists I interviewed — from entomologist John Tooker at Penn State University, to Galen Dively and prominent entomologist Dennis vanEngelsdorp at the University of Maryland, to Pettis and others — said the number of chemicals in our environment is so vast that assessing all of their possible interactions is virtually impossible.

“Just think back to your chemistry classes,” Susan Kegley, a chemist and CEO of the environmental consulting firm Pesticide Research Institute, told me. “You combine three chemicals and nothing happens, but if you introduce them in a different order, you get a big reaction. So as a scientist working on this problem of bee declines, you have to choose which pesticides, how much and the order of introduction. Then you have to acknowledge everything you might be missing if you’d changed even one of these variables, however slightly.”

Scientists are doing what science does best: isolating specific interactions of chemical and bee in the lab while understanding they might miss important synergies among other variables. Thus far, the scrutiny has settled on one particular class of pesticide, yielding significant results. But in a development that shows just how politics creep into science, the data hasn’t ruled the day. The result has been gridlock.

A Complicated Picture

The confidence beekeepers once felt that the crisis would be resolved peaked in 2009 at Apimondia, the largest international gathering of beekeepers.

Two of the world’s most respected entomologists — Pettis, then research leader at the USDA’s Beltsville Bee Laboratory, and vanEngelsdorp, then at Penn State — there revealed the early results of an experiment they’d just completed.

In a conversation included in the documentary The Strange Disappearance of the Bees, both scientists appeared visibly excited. They had looked into the danger that a widely used class of pesticides, neonicotinoids, might pose to bees. 

http://discovermagazine.com/2017/march/buzzkill

Dozens of dead worker bees lie headfirst in a hive. High mortality rates still affect bee colonies around the U.S. Photo taken by Alex Wild

“We’re finding that virus levels are much higher in CCD bees,” vanEngelsdorp says in the film, “but since we are not finding a consistent virus or a consistent pathogen, that implies that something else is happening underneath it. Something is breaking down their immune system, or somehow challenging them so that they are more susceptible to disease.”

The pair fed neonics to bees, then exposed that group and a neonic-free control group to Nosema, a common gut pathogen in the honeybee. The bees fed neonics proved more susceptible to Nosema. And the effect was consistent even when bees received neonics in amounts too small to be detected in their system. “The only reason we knew the bees had exposure [to neonicotinoid pesticides],” says vanEngelsdorp, “is because we exposed them.”

Beekeepers rejoiced. “They really sounded like they found something big,” says Dave Hackenberg, a central Pennsylvania beekeeper. “They were like, ‘This is it.’ ”

“We really felt confident,” says Bret Adee, co-owner of Adee Honey Farms in South Dakota. “These were the guys everyone would listen to, and now we were going to get something done.” But nothing happened.

(44 percent of colonies were lost in 2015-2016.)

A confirming study surfaced quickly; a French team of scientists actually beat vanEngelsdorp and Pettis into print. But neonics remained in wide use. The deluge beekeepers expected — of scientists, nailing down the problem, of regulatory agencies, rushing to act — never materialized. And today, the neonic lies right at the heart of that Rachel Carson paradox.

Neonics are what’s known as a systemic insecticide, meaning they spread throughout the tissue, pollen and nectar of the treated plant. Companies, including Bayer and Syngenta, create varying formulas of neonics, which can be applied to seeds or growing crops. The neonic entered broad use in the U.S. in the late 1990s and quickly became ubiquitous, used on millions of acres of corn, cotton, soybeans, canola and more, accounting for about $2.5 billion in sales.

Jay Vroom, CEO and spokesman at CropLife America, a trade partnership of seed and pesticide manufacturers, says studies measuring the effect of neonics on bees in field conditions “consistently demonstrate no negative effects.”

Scientists say the picture is complicated. Regulatory agencies devote most of their energy to answering two questions: How much of a given chemical is required to kill a non-target insect outright, and how likely is it that beneficial species will encounter a dose that big? Sublethal effects are treated as less urgent, yet neonics subject bees to a variety of sublethal effects with long-term, fatal consequences.

Neonics have been demonstrated to impair the honeybee’s foraging capabilities, memory and navigation systems, undermining their ability to survive and aid their hive. In one study, led by French scientist Mickaël Henry, researchers tagged honeybees with GPS trackers and released them. Some bees received a dose of neonic equal to real-world exposures while the controls received no neonics. The bees fed pesticide proved two to three times more likely to die without returning to the hive and sharing their food.

Such deaths can add up. Honeybee colonies can total tens of thousands of bees, enough to withstand natural cyclical losses. But foraging bees last only a few weeks at best. Early deaths force premature worker bees out to forage, leading to a weaker colony of weaker bees.

To keep reading more go to: Discover Magazine // Buzzkill 

How Heat from the Sun Can Keep Us All Cool

(Source: Scientific American & Nature)

At Hotel Star Sapphire in Dawei, Myanmar, guests sip from coconuts in cool, air-conditioned comfort as the steamy tropical night rolls on. Seven thousand kilometers to the west, in dry Khartoum, Sudan, patients rest in a United Nations Hospital, cocooned from the baking desert heat.

In both buildings, the pleasant conditions come courtesy of air-conditioning units that rely in part on dark glass tubes that turn sunlight into cooling power. These aren’t the familiar solar panels that harvest light to make electricity. Instead, they harness heat from the Sun to chill buildings through a neat bit of thermodynamic sleight of hand. Researchers and some energy experts say that this form of cooling — known as solar thermal — could help to slake the growing global demand for fuel to run energy-hungry air conditioning. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that by 2100, the need for electricity to power cooling will have surged to more than 30 times what it was in 2000.

Photo Credit: Slimdandy Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Hopeful that solar-thermal technology is nearing a crucial turning point, research groups are showing off their systems at a growing number of hotels, shopping centres and other buildings across the world. Today, there are some 1,200 installations — more than 10 times the total from a decade ago. Companies that produce solar-thermal chillers say that they use 30–90% less electricity than the conventional air conditioners that operate in most buildings, depending on the type and size of the installation. And researchers are working to make the systems more efficient and cheaper to build.

But the technology faces daunting hurdles, and some experts doubt that it will ever be more than niche in a world that each year adds 100 million conventional air conditioners, which rely on compressors powered by electricity. Solar-thermal chillers are just too expensive, typically costing about five times more than conventional ones, says Daniel Mugnier, an engineer with the solar-technologies company Tecsol in Perpignan, France. Although the price is dropping, the technology lacks the subsidies and investment it needs to make it more competitive, he says.

That is a pity, he adds, because thermal systems have several advantages. They could lower peak demand on the electrical grid, reducing blackouts and the need to tap dirtier energy sources. They are also silent, and typically use environmentally friendly refrigerants — a point that took on new importance in October, when more than 170 countries agreed to phase out the hydrofluorocarbon chemicals used in most air conditioners and refrigerators. And solar heat is available in large quantities just where demand for cooling is highest. “It’s almost like a marriage made in heaven,” says Christos Markides, a solar researcher at Imperial College London.

ALL IN THE PHASE

The key to air conditioning is evaporation: the cooling occurs when a liquid absorbs energy from its surroundings and changes phase to evaporate as a gas. That’s how perspiration cools our bodies and it also happens in nearly every air conditioner, from small window units to the 8-meter-long giants used to chill large buildings in Qatar.

In modern electrical air conditioners, a liquid refrigerant is forced through a small nozzle into a large chamber. That causes its pressure to plummet, so it evaporates rapidly and removes heat from the indoor air. The gaseous refrigerant then travels to another chamber, where a mechanical compressor powered by electricity squeezes the gas to drive up its temperature further. That hot, gaseous refrigerant then passes through a condenser — often a coil of thin tubing — where it changes back into a liquid and expels heat outdoors. The liquid refrigerant is then squirted back into the evaporation chamber and the cycle repeats.

The gas-squeezing step is needed because to shed heat outdoors efficiently, the refrigerant must be very hot before it goes through the condenser, explains Colin Chia, co-founder of the Singaporean company Ecoline, which developed Hotel Star Sapphire’s air-conditioning system. In electrical units, this is done mechanically. But there is another way — simply using heat.

One of the oldest air conditioners to be built on this principle burned wood to supply the heat and was introduced at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1878. It was “a marvellous old machine”, says Christian Holter, chief executive of SOLID, a company in Graz, Austria, that specializes in large-scale solar-thermal cooling and heating systems. Called absorption chillers, the devices use heat from the Sun to boil the refrigerant out of a solution — typically water from a salt solution, or ammonia gas from water. Then the gaseous refrigerant goes through condensation and evaporation stages similar to those in compression systems.

Two Ways To Chill Diagram: Credit: Nature, Jan. 31 2017, doi: 10.1038/542023a

Compression dominates the market because “it is easy to buy, plug and start”, says Holter. But as far back as the 1980s, growing concern over the ozone-depleting refrigerants used in compression air conditioners revived interest in thermal systems. They never caught on, however, because they could not compete with those powered by cheap electricity and because their heat source — burning biomass or natural gas — is difficult to manage.

Heat from the Sun doesn’t have those problems. In modern solar-thermal systems, special collecting tubes or plates absorb energy from the Sun’s rays and then transfer that heat to an absorption chiller. So far, SOLID has installed large-scale systems in 18 schools, offices and warehouses in 10 countries. One of these, the world’s largest solar-thermal cooling system so far, has since 2014 been chilling a high school in Arizona, where air conditioning typically makes up a significant fraction of an annual electricity bill.

Academic researchers and companies are also trying to improve performance in other ways. Most absorption chillers, including SOLID’s, heat the refrigerants to around 80 °C. If the temperature could be raised to 120–170 °C, then more refrigerant would evaporate and circulate as gas in the system at the same time, making the unit more efficient.

That means the solar collector must concentrate the Sun’s heat more effectively. Some specialized collectors can follow the Sun and achieve temperatures of up to 400 °C, but they are expensive. To develop a cheaper alternative, a team led by engineer Roland Winston at the University of California, Merced, is improving the design of the collecting tubes. The team’s tubes contain a special metallic piece that transfers heat rapidly to a glycol fluid in an inner copper pipe.

Winston’s team also puts curved sheets of reflective material under the outer tubes, which helps them gather solar energy as the Sun moves through the sky. The system can heat the glycol to 200 °C and is now being tested with different chillers.

Other teams are leaving absorption chillers behind and building entirely new systems. A group led by Stephen White at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Newcastle, Australia, has developed a desiccant-wheel system that since June 2016 has been cooling a shopping centre in Ballarat, Victoria. First, ambient air passes through a slowly rotating wheel containing a material that adsorbs moisture, leaving the air hot and dry. This dry air moves into a chamber where it causes water to evaporate, thereby lowering the temperature. The chilled, moist air is used to cool air from the building that runs through a separate conduit. That moist air is then expelled outside, and solar heat is used to dry the moisture-adsorbing material in the wheel.

Fresh approaches are in order because absorption chillers are expensive and complicated to build, says Mike Dennis, a private solar consultant in Canberra. “They don’t make any sense,” he says. It is easier to use photovoltaic panels to turn sunlight into electricity, which can then run standard compression air conditioners. Falling prices for photovoltaics are making that kind of system increasingly attractive.

Photovoltaics now benefit from economies of scale, as well as from massive government subsidies and investments that solar-thermal technologies do not have, says Mugnier. “My fear is that the competition is unfair.”

Another approach is to create a hybrid: a conventional electrical compression machine that uses heat from the Sun to help the energy-guzzling compressor. Ecoline’s air-conditioning system at Hotel Star Sapphire is an example.

To create the system, Chia inserted a U-shaped loop of copper into each solar collector tube and then linked up the copper pipes into a long ribbon. Glycol inside the pipes quickly transfers heat from the tubes to a glycol tank. Another set of copper pipes containing refrigerant snakes through the tank, heating up the refrigerant. The refrigerant then passes through a compressor. It turns into a gas much more easily than in a standard system because it’s already piping hot.

The company has installed more than 1,000 air-conditioning units in 6 countries and, in mid-2018, will be air conditioning a dormitory at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University. In side-by-side tests, Ecoline says, its air conditioner delivered 35% energy savings compared with a standard high-efficiency air conditioner. The hybrid systems cost 15% more to install but are cheaper to run and recoup the extra expense in 2 years, based on electricity prices in Singapore, says Chia.

Proponents are confident that costs would drop significantly if the market for solar thermal expanded. Winston’s postdoc Lun Jiang notes that in the 1990s, evacuated tubes used for solar water heating cost more than US$100 per meter, but they now cost just $2–3 because of mass production driven by widespread use of the systems in China.

Others say that thermal technologies can access waste heat that photovoltaics, which collect only light, cannot. They could mop up energy that concentrates in hot cities, industrial plants and data centres. In fact, Ecoline is now working with a data-centre management company in Indonesia to cool facilities using its own waste heat.

That kind of approach makes good thermal sense, says Chia. “The hotter the better.”

U.S. Lists a Bumble Bee Species as Endangered for First Time

(Source: Scientific American)

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/u-s-lists-a-bumble-bee-species-as-endangered-for-first-time/

Photo Credit Wikimedia

The rusty patched bumble bee, a prized but vanishing pollinator once familiar to much of North America, was listed on Tuesday as an endangered species, becoming the first wild bee in the continental United States to gain such federal protection.

One of several species facing sharp declines, the bumble bee known to scientists as Bombus affinis has plunged nearly 90 percent in abundance and distribution since the late 1990s, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The agency listed the insect after determining it to be in danger of extinction across all or portions of its range, attributing its decline to a mix of factors, including disease, pesticides, climate change and habitat loss.

Named for the conspicuous reddish blotch on its abdomen, the rusty patched bumble bee once flourished across 28 states, primarily in the upper Midwest and Northeast -- from South Dakota to Connecticut -- and in the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

 

Today, only a few small, scattered populations remain in 13 states and Ontario, the Fish and Wildlife Service said.
The agency in September listed seven varieties of yellow-faced, or masked, bees in Hawaii as endangered. But Bombus affinis is the first bumble bee species to given that status, and the first wild bee of any kind to be listed in the Lower 48 states.

Bumble bees, as distinguished from domesticated honey bees, are essential pollinators of wildflowers and about a third of all U.S. crops, from blueberries to tomatoes, according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, which petitioned the government for protection of the insect.

Pollination services furnished by various insects in the United States, mostly by bees, have been valued at an estimated $3 billion each year.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature ranks the rusty patched as one of 47 species of native U.S. and Canadian bumble bees, more than a quarter of which face a risk of extinction.
Government scientists point to a certain class of pesticides called neonicotinoids -- widely used on crops, lawns, gardens and forests -- as posing a particular threat to bees because they are absorbed into a plant's entire system, including leaf tissue, nectar and pollen.

Bumble bee populations may be especially vulnerable to pesticides applied early in the year because for one month an entire colony depends on the success of a solitary queen that emerges from winter dormancy, the wildlife service said.

Listing under the Endangered Species Act generally restricts activities known to harm the creature in question and requires the government to prepare a recovery plan. It also raises awareness and helps focus conservation planning for the imperiled species.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Congress approves deal to keep government open, fight Zika

(Source: USAToday)

WASHINGTON — Congress approved a stop-gap spending deal Wednesday to avert a government shutdown and provide $1.1 billion in long-awaited aid to combat the Zika virus.

The House voted 342-85 to pass the legislation, which will keep the government funded through Dec. 9 and give lawmakers time to work out a long-term spending bill for the fiscal 2017 year that begins Saturday. The Senate approved the bill by a vote of 72-26 earlier in the day, clearing the way for Congress to leave town until after the Nov. 8 election.

The White House issued a statement Wednesday saying that it supports the compromise bill, which President Obama is poised to sign into law no later than Friday.

Without congressional action, federal agencies would have run out of money to operate at midnight Friday, forcing a costly and politically unpopular shutdown just weeks before the election.

"This is an acceptable compromise," said Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee. "Is it perfect? No. Is it necessary? Absolutely...I look forward to keeping the government open."

Democrats had demanded that any funding deal include money to help replace the water system in Flint, Mich., where thousands of children have been poisoned by the city's lead-contaminated water supply and residents have been forced to bathe in bottled water. Most Democrats, along with a dozen Republicans, defeated efforts Tuesday to pass a government funding bill that did not include Flint aid.

However, Democrats agreed to drop their demand Wednesday after receiving assurances from Republican leaders in the Senate and House that Flint will receive money after the election in a sweeping water bill called the Water Resources Development Act.

"I'm convinced that there is going to be help for Flint," said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., after conferring with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

The Senate-passed version of that bill includes $220 million to replace Flint's water system. The House voted 399-25 on Wednesday to approve its own bill, including an amendment by Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., to provide $170 million for Flint. Negotiators from the House and Senate will work out a final bill in November or December. Senators and House members would then vote on the compromise.

"I made it clear (to House leaders) that I was very serious about defending the Senate position...and ensuring that Flint funding remains in the bill," McConnell said.

Michigan Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, both Democrats, voted against the compromise spending bill Wednesday, saying it's unfair that Flint residents have to wait longer for help than other disaster victims. The bill provides $500 million in immediate aid to flood victims in Louisiana, West Virginia and Maryland.

"My position on the government funding bill remains the same: I will vote no on any (bill) that does not treat communities equally," Stabenow said. "It is wrong to ask families in Flint to wait at the back of the line again."

The controversy over Flint was the last major stumbling block to an agreement to keep the government open.

An earlier dispute between Republicans and Democrats over Zika funding was resolved last week when Republicans agreed to provide $1.1 billion to combat the virus without "poison pill" provisions that would have prevented Planned Parenthood clinics in Puerto Rico from receiving federal funds and waived environmental laws governing the use of pesticides. Zika is spread by mosquitoes and through sexual contact.

President Obama has been calling on Congress since February to approve Zika funding. He had sought $1.9 billion.

The bill approved Wednesday includes full 2017 funding of more than $82 billion for military construction and veterans programs and about $7 million over the next 10 weeks to begin paying for new programs approved by Congress to fight heroin addiction and prescription painkiller abuse.

Mikulski said Democrats were not able to convince Republicans to remove a provision that blocks a Securities and Exchange Commission regulation from taking effect. The proposed rule would have required corporations to disclose their political campaign contributions in their annual financial reports to stockholders.

"Americans are fed up with dark money dominating our elections, and the least we can do about it is require public companies to give an accounting to their own shareholders about how much they’re spending on campaigns," said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who voted against the funding bill because of the provision.

 

Latex Glove Production Require Tight Control of Humidity and Temperature

(Source: Rotronic)

Designed by Freepik

Latex gloves in general

Natural rubber, also called India rubber or caoutchouc, consists of polymers of the organic compound isoprene, minor impurities of other organic compounds and water. It is harvested mainly in the form of the latex from certain trees. The latex is then refined into rubber ready for commercial processing.

Around 25 million tons of rubber is produced each year, of which 42 percent is natural rubber. Common products manufactured with high end latex include surgeons' gloves, condoms, balloons and other relatively high-value products. Given natural rubber’s physical limitations, the process of vulcanization is used to enhance its resistance, elasticity and durability.

 

Vulcanization

The process of vulcanization was a key advancement in the manufacture of rubber products. During the vulcanization process, latex film is heated where the combination of sulfur, accelerator and heat causes cross-linking of the rubber, providing strength and elasticity to the film. Varying the amount of sulfur and the temperature during vulcanization affects the overall durability of the rubber product.

Why the need to measure humidity and temperature?

Given the water content in natural rubber, failing to carefully regulate both the temperature and humidity of the drying process will result in the soft coagulated rubber becoming blistered or porous. When this happens the surface cracks and deforms.

To prevent this damage occur- ring, the drying process must be consistent and well controlled. Besides maintaining an even temperature with sufficient air circulation within the dryer, the humidity of the air in the dryer must be high enough to prevent the formation of a dry skin on the surface of the rubber before the moisture deeper within the rubber is driven off.

This eliminates any internal stress buildup caused by uneven drying, with less stress-induced cracking thereby reducing product leak test failures. The end result is that higher quality gloves are manufactured with increased production yield.

It is important to note that leak tests are integral to the manufacturing process for latex gloves. Med- ical grade gloves are subjected to more rigorous testing. To ensure the gloves are of the highest quality, manufacturers test them using defined standards from the American Society for Testing and Materials (ATSM). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates these standards.

 

St. Louis and Israel ag tech connection grows stronger

(Source: St. Louis Public Radio)

This article brought to you by St. Louis Public Radio, click the source link above to listen to the interviews!

screen-shot-2016-11-11-at-1-49-28-pmTwo years ago BioSTL set out to put St. Louis on Israel’s radar.

The non-profit, founded in 2001, helped develop the support system for St. Louis bioscience startups. Then, a few years ago, president and CEO Donn Rubin started hearing that Israeli startups were expanding into other U.S. cities.

“I looked a little more deeply into that and realized that St. Louis and Israel have some real shared strengths and areas where we excel,” Rubin said. “Both St. Louis and Israel are leaders world-wide in plant science or ag tech.”

So in 2014 he decided to launch an initiative to attract Israeli startups to put their U.S. headquarters in St. Louis.

What became GlobalSTL far exceeded Rubin’s initial expectations. Within days of the team’s first trip, the ag startup Kaiima announced it would put a presence in St. Louis.

“That blew me away and gave me much more confidence that our story can really resonate when we have the opportunity to tell it,” he said.

Since then, three more Israeli ag tech startups have expanded into the city. St. Louis Public Radio’s Maria Altman recently accompanied a St. Louis delegation to Israel, where she had the chance to speak with officials with all four startups.

Kaiima Bio-Agritech is a genetics and breeding technology company.  Vice president of business development Doron Faibish said St. Louis’ ecosystem of biotech scientists, universities, Monsanto and other industry, as well as the Danforth Plant Science Center made St. Louis attractive.

“The second thing was the great support we saw from BioSTL and from additional organizations, including the Jewish community in St. Louis,” Faibish said. “So all the puzzle pieces fell pretty well for us.”

Kaiima currently has four employees in St. Louis, including the head of the company’s breeding program. Faibish said they expect that number to remain steady over the next year.

“Probably by end of next season we’ll be at a decision point. And we believe at that point we will grow,” he said.

Evogene is a genomics company with more than 100 employees. It’s also a partner of Monsanto, and CEO Ofer Haviv said because of that, they were very familiar with St. Louis.

“Probably this is one of the reasons we decided to open our first site in the U.S. in St. Louis, because we know the area, it’s close to Monsanto, but more than this, this area is a hub for agriculture,” he said.

Haviv said at first he was nervous about the expansion into St. Louis, but he’s been pleased with the employees they’ve recruited and the support system for startups.

Today Evogene has 10 employees locally. Haviv said they’re looking at expanding their activities in the U.S. and that could mean more employees in St. Louis.

“I can easily see how it could increase to 20, maybe more in the next few years,” he said.

Forrest Innovations is a biotech startup that uses Ribonucleic Acid Interference (RNAi) technology to address two major areas: disease vectoring mosquitoes and “Citrus Greening,” a bacterial disease that’s devastating the orange industry.

Shaul Ilan, Forrest Innovation’s vice president of business development, said while the startup could have put a presence in Florida, it made more sense to be in an ag tech center such as St. Louis.

“We’ve found a very open community, very advanced and one of top two places for ag tech in the United States, the second only being Davis, California," Ilan said.

Roy Borochov, who is the site lead in the U.S., said he visited several other places before St. Louis was chosen.

“St. Louis gives you a value for money that’s much bigger than any other place, but it’s not only money. The quality of the people is amazing," he said. "The ecosystem in St. Louis is very embracing; helping you in every step you make, assisting everywhere they can.”

Currently Forrest Innovations has three employees based at the Danforth Plant Science Center’s BRDG Park in St. Louis.

NRGene is a genomic big data company that develops advanced computational tools and algorithmic models to help both seed companies and animal breeders.

CEO Gil Ronen said the Midwest was a destination for NRGene from the beginning because the startup was focused on field crops, but St. Louis stood out.

“There are very big companies, there are leading technology companies in agro; farmers, field stations, everything is happening in St. Louis,” Ronen said. “It was a very natural choice for us.”

NRGene is the most recent startup to expand into St. Louis, opening a space here in April. The startup has one full-time employee in St. Louis, but Ronen said they expect to hire four more by the end of the year. All the current positions are in sales, but Ronen said as the startup lands more projects they will need more technical personnel.

“We also expect major deals that will happen soon, and we’ll need technical people and the R&D people…” he said. “We expect to grow from project to project and from customer to customer.” 

St. Louis Public Radio's Maria Altman accompanied an ag tech delegation from St. Louis to both Ireland and Israel. Her trip was funded by donations from the Silk Foundation and the Jewish Federation of St. Louis.

Darwin Chambers Goes Green with Solar Panels

(Source: Original Article)

Darwin Chambers Company hsolar-panelsas recently completed a rooftop solar panel project installed by Microgrid Energy. Having unsurpassed expertise, Microgrid Energy has become a leader in todays solar energy world, serving the St. Louis area as well as nationwide.

With this addition of solar panels Darwin Chambers Company has gone green. 255 solar panels helps offset approximately 80% of Darwin Chambers annual electricity usage, as well as about 149,820 pounds of CO₂. All of the solar panels installed produce approximately 98,553 kWh in year 1. On an average day Darwin Chambers Company saves 5 trees, over 100 kg of CO₂, as well as over 700 miles not driven.

 

 

 

 

 

Lab Mice are Freezing Their Asses Off- and That's Screwing Science

(Source: Gizmodo)

Most science labs maintain a temperature far below levels preferred by mice, and it’s taking a toll on their health. New research suggests these chilly mice are skewing science results across a wide range of research areas—and the problem is far worse than anyone realized.

A new paper in Trends in Cancer by researchers from the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo shows that environmental factors are impacting the basic biology of mice, in ways that are influencing the outcomes of experiments. The authors also point to serious discrepancies in other research areas, such as cardiovascular disease and obesity. These results may explain why so much irreproducibility exists in mouse studies, and why mice often make for unreliable test subjects.

Most labs maintain a temperature between 68 and 78ºF (20-26ºC), which, if you’re a mouse, is bloody cold. Mice like it considerably warmer, around the 86-90ºF (30-32ºC) mark. It’s not that scientists are being unnecessarily cruel—it’s simply not practical for researchers, who often wear gloves and masks when working with animals‚ to work in such stuffy conditions. It also helps keep the smell down.

“Mouse models are invaluable and irreplaceable in preclinical research.”

According to guidelines by the US National Research Council, mice should be housed within the 68 to 78ºF range and given access to nesting material. Unfortunately, these chilly conditions cause their heart rate and metabolism to change, and they consume more food to compensate.

“Mice are able to survive under a wide variety of temperatures, but they are able to move around and alter their environment for their thermal comfort, such as building elaborate and warm nests,” study co-author Bonnie L. Hylander told Gizmodo. “Also, mice are able to nest in large numbers which assists in conserving warmth. Mice in cages are certainly able to maintain health and body temperature, but it takes more energy for them to do so.”

Hylander’s team, along with others, has found that this extra energy usage is influencing the outcome of experiments. These mice must divert energy towards heat production, weakening their immune systems. That’s a problem if you’re a researcher trying to track a mouse’s ability to fight off a disease.

Hylander’s own cancer research showed that the anti-tumor immune response of the mice, along with their response to chemotherapy and radiation, were all affected by housing temperature. In 2013, these same researchers discovered that mice are better at fighting cancer when they’re cozy and warm.

The researchers decided to investigate the growing body of research on mouse housing temperatures in other fields—and they found similar results.

Research areas that have reported discrepancies when mice are housed under standard temperatures (the numbers correspond to citation number in the study). Image: Trends in Cancer.

The team’s review contains not only their own work on cancer, but summarized reviews of the work done by several other investigators in other areas. “Some of the examples in which more significant differences were observed include models of cardiovascular function and obesity, in addition to our work on tumor growth,” Hylander told Gizmodo.

Compounding the problem is that housing temperatures vary between institutes, which may also cause differences in outcomes, and is likely a further source of irreproducibility.

Often, experimental treatments that work fine in one population of mice fail to work in another. These “simplified” models aren’t so simple. Factors that contribute to the irreproducibility problem include food, bedding, exposure to light, and exposure (or lack of exposure) to mice of the opposite sex—even the scientists’ gender.

This is a significant problem given how reliant scientists are on mice for their medical experiments, but the researchers say all’s not lost.

“Right now, it would be important for researchers to be aware of the potential for data skewing and they should report the room temperature at which their mouse experiments were done,” Hylander said. “If it becomes apparent that room temperature is a source of variability in experimental outcomes, then researchers and journals will most likely ask for experiments to be conducted at different temperatures and the outcomes compared.”

Researchers could also keep mice in incubators, and track these results as a unique and separate sample pool. Some labs might even want to just raise the temperature.

“Mouse models are invaluable and irreplaceable in preclinical research,” Hylander said. “But people are always interested in how to improve them.”


Know More than your Boss

(Source: Original Article)

Preface: The goal of the Know More Than Your Boss series of papers is to provide an education
in the intricacies of environmental chamber operation and performance. There is some subjectivity
based on our experience as a manufacturer and servicer of environmental chambers.

Humidification

Do you need humidification?

Everyone knows that to go from 4°C @ 85%RH to 21°C @ 45% you have to remove water molecules from the air (dehumidify), right? Truth is you actually have to add water vapor to (humidify) the air. How can that be? I mean, you ARE going from 85% to 45%. So why does this not make sense?

capture

It has to do with the “RH” behind the humidity level. RH stands for relative humidity. At each temperature, there is an absolute amount of water vapor that air can carry (termed water vapor capacity). At 4°C, the absolute greatest amount of water the air can carry is roughly 5 grams per kg of air. At 21°C, that same kg of air can carry roughly 16 grams of water. At an even higher temperature like 37°C, the air can carry up to 40 or so grams of water. If any water vapor is introduced to these temperatures in excess of these amounts, you have water forming (or condensing) in the chamber because it can’t hold any more water.

So how do we math this out? This is pretty serious math, so hold on to your bootstraps! Actually, I know this subject doesn’t really keep you up at night. I also know that the last thing you want is to do math and rely on your calculation. So, might I suggest we use a shortcut? That shortcut is a term called “dewpoint”. The dewpoint is the water vapor capacity of the air at a given temperature, hence the reason for the preceding paragraph.

That’s right. Dewpoint is the temperature at which, below that temperature, condensation or “dew” forms. In the preceding paragraph with the 21°C air temperature and 16 grams of water/kg of air…that equals 100% RH. It also equals a 21°C dewpoint. If we sealed that box of air and lowered the temperature, condensation would form. If we raised the temperature, the RH would go down. Regardless, the sealed box would have a 21°C dewpoint. If you raise and lower the temperature of the box a 100 times, water would condense below 21°C and evaporate above it.

So I like really quick math. I hope you do too. My suggestion is to not do the math, but rely on the many dewpoint calculators and apps available. Go to www.dpcalc.org (Shown on top right) or my favorite is the Dew Point Calc app by Unlikely Reality Software (Shown on bottom right). It’s free and lacks any advertisements.

capture2

So back to the hard math…enter in your first temperature and humidity (4°C at 85%RH). This gives a dewpoint of 1.7°C. Then enter the second temperature and humidity (21°C at 45%RH) and you’ll get 8.6°C. Since 1.7°C is less than 8.6°C, you need to add water vapor, or humidity, to go from a lower dewpoint to a higher dewpoint and vice versa.

So how do we relate this to the lab? Think about the air in which the environmental chamber is located. If the unit is in the lab, that air is typically kept at 21°C and about 35%RH. That would have a corresponding dewpoint of 5°C. Then calculate your dewpoint of your environmental chamber setpoints and compare. If the chamber dewpoint is higher, you need humidification. If it is lower, you’ll need dehumidification. If it’s within 15°C or so, you may need both.

Methods of Humidification

The three most common methods of introducing humidification into an environmental chamber are ultrasonic, sprayer, and steam. Each has benefits in certain applications.

Ultrasonic humidification is a more recent development in humidification technologies. Essentially, a disc or plate (piezoelectric transducer) is vibrated at a frequency that vaporizes water into micro-sized droplets. The process consumes about 50 watts an hour and generates a cool mist. Of the quantity of personal humidifiers sold, this technology makes up the majority – and for good reason. This type of humidifier isn’t choosy about water quality. Tap water, deionized, or even well water can be used. Since it generates a mist only when electricity is applied, moisture levels can be precisely added. The negatives of using this technology also mimic the positives. Since it can use any quality of water, it vaporizes the water with any contaminants. It also doesn’t heat the water reservoir so periodic cleaning and/or UV light might be required to inhibit microbial growth. Additionally, the piezoelectric transducer has a limited life and must be replaced at scheduled times. Finally, most transducers need cool down times and shouldn’t run at 100% duty cycles. In summary, ultrasonic humidification is optimal for environmental chambers needing precise humidity control at moderate temperatures. It will require maintenance to keep them running well, but make up for some of that cost with electrical efficiency.

capture3

Sprayer systems take water under pressure and spray the water through a small orifice. This can add more water into a chamber faster than the other two widely used methods. A perfect application would be a plant growth chamber with a high humidity level and high turnover of air. In this type of chamber, exact humidity levels aren’t necessary and very hard to maintain. Steam generators sized appropriately would consume a lot of electricity. Ultrasonic generators would have to be replaced often. The downsides to this humidification method are that water quality affects long-term performance (mineral build-up may clog sprayer), and that it isn’t appropriate for precise humidification. No matter how high a quality sprayer head is used, a certain amount of water isn’t atomized and leads to water evaporating after the call for humidification. In the general sprayer area, there will often be microbial growth due to the constant supply of liquid water

Steam Generators operate in a way distinctly different than the other two. Typically, water is put in contact with a hot metal and steam is created. This humidification system is very well suited for high heat environments. The heat from the steam generator adds to the heat of the chamber. Usually, microbial growth is non-existent in the “boiler” section. Steam generators do have quite a few downsides and the marketplace is limiting their use in less than ideal situations. Our opinion is that any well insulated environmental chamber below 50°C probably isn’t an ideal situation for a steam boiler. At these lower temperatures, the boiler causes the temperature inside the environmental chamber to rise necessitating the need for refrigeration when it otherwise might not. The electrical efficiency of a boiler and a refrigeration unit running can often be 2900 watts vs. an ultrasonic system running at 360 watts (for a 30cft chamber running at 40°C). Another downside is that steam provides a warm moist air source that does two bad things at moderate temperatures. The first is that it adds a pulsing heat and humidity source to worsen uniformity data. Less intuitively, that warm moist air is collected on a cold evaporator causing microbial growth. Evaporators are typically aluminum finned copper pipes that aren’t really conducive to getting 100% clean. Therefore, cleaning these chambers is often extensive.

Finally, the steam unit does have a lifetime that is shortened by high mineral content water - more so than the other technologies. Replacing a steam unit is typically not user serviceable.

Summary

In summary, the type of humidification is often decided by the set-point of your chamber. Steam generators are relatively good for high heat applications. Sprayer-type units are good for humidifying large rooms with high air turnovers. Ultrasonic humidification is a decent choice when these situations don’t apply

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