Scientific Social


No, Bees Aren’t Going Extinct

Image result for Hylaeus anthracinus

One species of yellow-faced bee – Hylaeus anthracinus Source:

By Steve Booty

If you’ve been on social media lately, you have probably noticed a steady stream of stories about how bee populations are diminishing at alarming rates and how it’s all Monsanto’s (or any other boogeyman’s) fault. All this, even though the number of bee producing colonies are at a 20 year high. I usually ignore these stories until I came across a story on NPR’s website with the surprisingly click baity title of Bees Added To U.S. Endangered Species List For 1st Time.

My first thought was ‘well, there’s no way THAT’S true.’ So I actually read the article (crazy, I know but pleaseImage result for technically true statements, try this at home) and found that, while annoying, the headline is technically true (which is the best kind of true!). Firstly, bees are NOT on the endangered species list because ‘bees’ aren’t a single species but rather the colloquial name given for about 4,000 different species in North America alone. The word ‘bees’ in the title refers to specific species of bee. However, I doubt the average person actually took the time to read it. Rather, most opt for the “See? I told you so! It was all <insert preferred boogeyman here>’s fault!>.”

It turns out that a total of seven bee species, native to Hawaii, have been given protection under the Endangered Species Act. This is seven species out of the state’s 63 known different species of bee. Islands in general tend to be nichy so even slight changes in environment (by any metric) can have drastic effects. The NPR article also mentions that “11 new native species have been found in the past 15 years.” In other words: it’s not ALL bees (#NotAllBees), just seven out of the 63 on one island chain alone; and, it could be a largely natural (though, not without human influence) process of better adapted species taking over niches of poorly adapted species.

Now, I don’t want to diminish the facts here – any species being pushed to the verge of extinction is (probably) a bad thing, but one has to look at the context. Ask yourself some questions before you come to a conclusion:

  • Does this headline fit the story?
  • How many species of bee are now endangered?
  • Is that a lot?
  • Why is that happening?

There is click bait out there. Remember to be skeptical of headlines until you read the article.

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New Target Discovered for HIV Vaccine

Earlier this week a team led by scientists at the Vaccine Research Center, a part of the  National Institutes of Health (NIH), discovered an area on the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) for a vaccine to target!

HIV works by attacking and killing vital cells within our immune system known as T-helper cells. These cells play an important role in the immune system by supporting other immune system cells that help suppress or regulate immune system responses. T-helper cells also kill cells that have been infected with germs.

Without T-helper cells, many other immune system cells cannot work properly, including B-cells that are responsible for making antibodies. Over time, the number of T-helper cells drops so low that the risk of infection and disease greatly increases, and the symptoms of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) appear.

The new target, called the fusion peptide, is part of HIV that helps the virus fuse with a cell. The fusion peptide has a much simpler structure than other sites on the virus that HIV vaccine scientists have studied.

 The research team first examined the blood of an HIV-infected person to explore its ability to stop the virus from infecting other cells. The blood was good at neutralizing HIV but did not target any of the vulnerable spots on the virus where broadly neutralizing HIV antibodies were known to bind.

The researchers isolated a powerful broadly neutralizing HIV antibodies in the blood that they named VRC34.01, and found that it binds to the fusion peptide and a sugar molecule. The scientists then crystallized the antibody while it was bound to the virus. This allowed them to characterize in atomic-level detail how VRC34.01 attaches to HIV and revealed that the antibody stops the virus from infecting a cell by binding to a key cell-surface molecule!

Researchers also screened the blood of 24 other HIV-infected volunteers and found that blood samples from 10 people targeted a similar binding site as VRC34.01.

The scientists and research team at the Vaccine Research Center are now working to create a vaccine designed to elicit antibodies similar to the VRC34.01 antibody.

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NASA Finds 1,284 New Planets, 9 ‘Potentially Habitable’

On May 10th, NASA announced that their Kepler mission verified 1,284 new exoplanets – the single largest finding of planets to date.

According to NASA’s press release, prior to the launch of NASA’s Kepler space observatory in March of 2009, “[scientists] did not know whether exoplanets were rare or common in the galaxy. Thanks to Kepler and the research community, we now know there could be more planets than stars,” said Paul Hertz, Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters.

Kepler’s job is to study a portion of the Milky Way to search for planets, staring at over 100,000 stars. Kepler is able to discover these planets by detecting decreases in brightness that occur when planets pass in front of, or transit, their stars. A great example of this is when Mercury passed across the Sun earlier this week.

“In the newly-validated batch of planets, nearly 550 could be rocky planets like Earth, based on their size. Nine of these orbit in their sun’s habitable zone, which is the distance from a star where orbiting planets can have surface temperatures that allow liquid water to pool. With the addition of these nine, 21 exoplanets now are known to be members of this exclusive group,” according to NASA’s press release.


Image: NASA/W. Stenzel
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Coffee: Is it Good For You or Bad For You??

It seems like every other week there’s a new study that says coffee is good for us, but then another study comes out that says it’s bad for us.  So which is it?

Well, it turns out the media doesn’t always tell us the whole story (who knew!).  Drinking coffee (in reasonable amounts) is actually good for you!  But what about the studies that say it’s bad for you?

Doctor Aaron Carol explains the evidence.

To The Research!

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LightSail Nye

Watch the Launch of the Planetary Society’s Groundbreaking Light Sail Live!

The Planetary Society, the largest non-governmental space exploration advocacy organization, is launching the prototype of their LightSail into space on an Atlas V rocket later today.  The mission goal is to test the deployment of the satellite’s solar sails.  Full on solar sailing won’t happen until their next mission in 2016!

Coverage of the launch begins at 10:45 am and the launch windows are 11:05 – 11:15 am and 12:42 – 12:52 pm.

You can watch the launch streaming here!

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Science Rules! Bill Nye The Science Guy Is Now On Netflix

This past Sunday, while most of us were watching Game of Thrones or the season finale of Mad Men, Netflix released 31 of the 100 best (and our favorite) mid-90’s educational show – Bill Nye The Science Guy!

By combining a wide range of scientific subjects including ecology, biology, chemistry, space science, and physics with fast-paced action and humor, The Science Guy provides informative lessons that both parents and kids of any age can enjoy.

As fellow science enthusiasts, we strive to achieve just a fraction of what Mr. Nye has, and continues to accomplish.

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Chile, on the Pacific 'Rim of Fire', has the second largest chain of volcanoes in the world after Indonesia [AFP]

BREAKING: Chile’s Calbuco Volcano Erupts (Video)

Chile’s Calbuco volcano has erupted for the first time in more than four decades, sending a thick plume of ash and smoke several kilometres into the sky. Check out the video below to see the volcano in action.

The Calbuco volcano, just one of 90 active volcanos throughout the country, is located in southern Chile in the Los Lagos Region. The last time the Calbuco volcano erupted was in 1972; it has erupted 10 times, including today, since 1837.

According to reports, the area around the volcano is sparsely populated and evacuations are underway.

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