A Fistful of Seeds

i-358b9447415647c819df917edd076bb1-seedbuzz.jpgOn Casaubon’s Book, Sharon Astyk raises her hackles at the sight of Monsanto, a company which over the last century has churned out artificial sweeteners, sulfuric acid, myriad plastics, herbicides such as DDT, the pernicious defoliant Agent Orange, bovine growth hormone, PCBs, and other chemical wonders. Since their first genetic modification of a plant cell in 1982, Monsanto has shifted increasingly to biotechnology, and now control 90% of the world’s seed genetics. Balking against this growing monopoly on our food crops, Astyk advises “Seeds are powerful. Get some good ones, save them and plant them.” On Tomorrow’s Table, Pamela Ronald reports that China has “approved release of the world’s first genetically engineered rice,” and that by 2015 the number of engineered crops will quadruple as Asian and Latin American countries engender global competition for Monsanto’s seedy interests. Finally, lest we deny them the right of reply, Mathew C. Nisbet presents the company in their own words on Framing Science. To wit, “Monsanto’s advanced seeds not only significantly increase crop yields, they use fewer key sources—like land and fuel—to do it. That’s a win-win for people, and the earth itself.”

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Virus Season

i-64eb9e49f15b0c13bf0ab3a6b5c821a6-bugbuzz.jpgAs we shiver in the northern hemisphere, holiday cheer isn’t the only thing in the air—there are also flu, cold, and other contenders just waiting to hit a mucous membrane. Revere questions H1N1 terminology on Effect Measure, citing “10,000 deaths, 47 million infections and over 200,000 hospitalizations” caused by the virus, with the “heart of flu season” still to come. On The White Coat Underground, PalMD reports more CDC data, revealing a “death rate from influenza in American Indians/Native Alaskans” that is almost four times the rate of other ethnicities. Rhinovira are also out in force these days, but if you haven’t heard, don’t reach for the Zicam nasal spray—unless you want to lose your sense of smell. Scicurious on Neurotopia shows us a clear-cut study on Zicam which demonstrates that it causes serious and possibly irreversible damage to olfactory tissue. But fret not, snifflers, there are other ways to combat your cold—although Janet D. Stemwedel on Adventures in Ethics and Science admits, “cramming the spout into my nostril was kind of uncomfortable.”

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Going to Pot?

i-4011e68a37a3ecbf2d129afb9d236954-potbuzz.jpgWith medical marijuana now legal in thirteen states, and President Obama’s Attorney General advising Feds not to waste resources on users in compliance with state law, the tide of tetrahydrocannabinol seems to be on the rise. On The Scientific Activist, Nick Anthis reports that the American Medical Association has recently altered its view of the drug, calling for a revised federal classification and more research into its potential medical benefits. PalMD for one will wait and see, writing that “the available clinical data do not give a doctor a clear way to evaluate the risk/benefit ratio of pot.” DrugMonkey shows us a slew of graphs, revealing that “a majority of US respondents” support the outright legalization of marijuana while systematically refuting the legality of other Schedule I substances. DrugMonkey reminds us that all drugs, including alcohol, have differing potentials for harm and dependency, and compares the attitudes and usage trends of different US demographics.

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Star Light, Star Bright…

i-b2b7f90a2f2d0e437ed36de5c9e0891e-starbuzz.jpgOn Aardvarchaeology, Martin Rundkvist tells us that the Geminid meteor shower is peaking tonight, so if you’ve got any wishes on the back burner, now’s your chance to make them. Of course these shooting “stars” are really bits of extinct comet 3200 Phaethon’s “sandy exhaust trail” burning up in the atmosphere—if you prefer some main sequence hydrogen-fusing affairs, head over to Greg Laden’s Blog to learn about Alcor and Mizar. This binary star system in the constellation Ursa Major has been known since antiquity, but—surprise!—Mizar is actually four stars, and Alcor is now known to be two, meaning that there are a total of six stars linked together in an “orgy of gravitational interaction.” If that’s still not big enough for you, revisit the galactic potpourri of Hubble’s Ultra Deep Field on Starts With A Bang!, where Ethan Siegel explains the optical implications of imaging from infrared wavelengths. And in another post, Siegel recommends we get our hands dirty at Galaxy Zoo, a website where anyone can help astronomers classify galactic collisions by matching up real images from a telescope to computer simulations.

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Food for Thought

i-eb16704199f38067335eef1c139ca54b-foodthoughtbuzz.jpg‘Tis the season, time for many of us to eat as much as we swore we wouldn’t. But before you cozy up beside the fire with a pound of chocolates and a quart of egg nog, see if these articles won’t sate your appetite. First, on Casaubon’s Book, Sharon Astyk cites a recent statistic that America wastes 40% of its food supply, and offers practical ways for us to improve our eating efficiency. Then on The World’s Fair, Benjamin Cohen says that for sustainable eating to really take off, we must “reduce costs by reconfiguring price structures based on local economies.” On Tomorrow’s Table, Pamela Ronald pans the poor excuse for fruitcake that’s sold at the supermarket, and tells us how to make the real thing. And on Tetrapod Zoology, Darren Naish shows us the dire consequences of biting off more than you can chew—again, and again, and again. Finally, visit Ed Yong for your RDI of Not Exactly Rocket Science, where he suggests that the proper nutrient balance can promote both longevity and fecundity, characteristics which typically demonstrate an inverse relationship.

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Copenhagen Update

i-a38820751c136ebdbb57a877dddcad5d-cope2buzz.jpgTensions are mounting in Copenhagen over the so-called “Danish text,” a draft agreement that would allow developed countries such as the United States and China to emit nearly twice as much carbon per capita as “third world” or developing countries. Meanwhile, scrappy island nation Tuvalu stood up for a stricter resolution, only to be scolded by the economies-that-be. Eric Michael Johnson on The Primate Diaries writes that the Danish text would “effectively stifle the growth of poor nations while allowing wealthy nations to continue their disproportionate levels of carbon pollution.” In a separate post, Johnson criticizes those who “dismiss out of hand any concerns that the developing nations might have. The next fifty years could very well be extraordinarily harsh ones for the Global South.” On Casaubon’s Book, Sharon Astyk wonders why regulation of this agreement would fall to the World Bank, “an institution that [poor nations] have profound and deeply relevant reasons to distrust?” If you need to cool off, head over to A Few Things Ill Considered, where Coby points us to “a fabulous boil down approach to the climate debate.”

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Another SciBling Saying Goodbye

Benjamin Cohen of The World’s Fair tells us he’s “moving on to Blogger Emeritus status.”

I am ending my tenure here at The World’s Fair, the blog Dave and I started back in June 2006. I’ll finish up and sign off for good by the end of the month. Between now and then, I’ll be posting my top ten favorites from these past three years.

David Ng will continue blogging on The World’s Fair, who Cohen suggests will announce a new co-author for the blog. So read the best of Cohen’s posts before he goes, say goodbye, and stay tuned.