One species of yellow-faced bee – Hylaeus anthracinus Source: https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/742/20457882510_82baaa3e83_b.jpg
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 please, 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.
Did you know that you can see exactly what astronauts see aboard NASA’s International Space Station 24-hours a day, 365 days a year?!
It’s true! The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has a 24-hour live YouTube feed showing what the crew of the International Space Station can see outside of their space station. It is an amazing experience to see Earth from the perspective of the brave men and women orbiting the Earth at over 17,150 miles per hour (27,600 km/h)!
While seeing Earth from this perspective can be thought-provoking, even life changing, few of us know the purpose of the International Space Station!
What Is the International Space Station?
International Space Station. Source: NASA
The International Space Station (ISS) is a large spacecraft capable of supporting up to six crew members that orbits around the Earth, making a full trip around Earth every 90 minutes! The ISS was launched and placed into orbit in 1998 with its first crew members arriving on November 2, 2000.
Astronauts and cosmonauts perform a wide variety of experiments in and out of the ISS’s unique science laboratory to learn more about how humans can live and work in space.
Why is the International Space Station Important?
The ISS has allowed humans to have an ongoing presence in space since late-2000, allowing crew members to do special research that could not be done anywhere else! Scientists also study what happens to the body when people live in microgravity for a long time. (The condition of being weightless, or of the near absence of gravity.) NASA and its partners have also learned how to keep a spacecraft working well. All of these lessons will be important for future space exploration.
The lessons NASA learns from the ISS will allow humans to travel farther into space than ever before! This will enable scientists to better understand our solar system, how our planets formed, and come even closer to discovering life outside of Earth!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.