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What's That Bug?

The championship Linnaean Team, Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America: (from left) Jéssica Gillung, Brendon Boudinot, and Ralph Washington Jr. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

It's exciting, entertaining and educational to watch the Entomological Society of America's Linnaean Games. Teams of graduate or undergraduate students challenge one another in a college bowl-like competition about entomological facts, trivia and noted...

The championship Linnaean Team, Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America: (from left) Jéssica Gillung, Brendon Boudinot, and Ralph Washington Jr. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The championship Linnaean Team, Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America: (from left) Jéssica Gillung, Brendon Boudinot, and Ralph Washington Jr. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The championship Linnaean Team, Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America: (from left) Jéssica Gillung, Brendon Boudinot, and Ralph Washington Jr. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A Linnaean Games question asked of the UC Davis team: What caste of honey bee has the greatest number of ommatidia? The answer is the drone, the male honey bee. Ommatidia are the subunits of a compound eye. This photo shows a worker bee or female (left) and a drone (right). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A Linnaean Games question asked of the UC Davis team: What caste of honey bee has the greatest number of ommatidia? The answer is the drone, the male honey bee. Ommatidia are the subunits of a compound eye. This photo shows a worker bee or female (left) and a drone (right). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A Linnaean Games question asked of the UC Davis team: What caste of honey bee has the greatest number of ommatidia? The answer is the drone, the male honey bee. Ommatidia are the subunits of a compound eye. This photo shows a worker bee or female (left) and a drone (right). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Friday, May 22, 2015 at 3:49 PM

Safety of GMOs debated online

Using genetic engineering, science has found a way to produce alfalfa with less lignin, a component of the plant that has no nutritional value.
A UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) genomics expert participated in an online debate about GMOs with a Canadian scientist who argued against the ubiquitous use of the technology. The debate can be viewed on The Real News.

Alison Van Eenennaam, UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Animal Sciences at UC Davis, said research has shown that genetically engineered crops do not pose a risk to human health.

"There's a recent review paper where they summarized data from 1,700 different studies, and about half of those are publicly funded. And basically the results of those studies have been that there haven't been any unique risks or hazards associated with the use of this breeding method in the production of crops," she said.

The counter point was offered by Thierry Vrain, a soil biologist and genetic engineer with Agriculture Canada. He focused on the fact that more than 90 percent of the genetically engineered crops now in use were altered to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate. He said this fact results in overuse of the herbicide.

"In terms of specific toxicity of the molecule glyphosate, which has very little acute toxicity - as it is advertised, it is safer than table salt. But in terms of chronic toxicity over time, over weeks and months, it will damage the microbiome and induce all kinds, all kinds of symptoms. In mice, and probably in humans," Vrain said.

Van Eenannaam tried to keep the discussion focused on the safety of GMOs.

"I think the most misunderstood thing is it's a breeding method that can be used to introduce all sorts of crop traits into crops and animals, and we always seem to get discussing the one particular application rather than looking at how it could be used to address many different problems that are associated with agriculture, including things like drought tolerance, disease resistance, biofortification of crops," she said.

Vrain agreed with most of Van Eenennaam's points.

"I agree with you, Alison, that GMOs are not necessarily toxic, et cetera, et cetera," he said. "There's all kinds of benefits, it's a very powerful technology. Used properly, it's probably very beneficial to humanity.

At the end of the debate Vrain reiterated his concern that the preponderance of GMOs are for glyphosate-resistant crops.

Posted on Friday, May 22, 2015 at 3:42 PM

'The Astonishing Ant Man' Jack Longino to Speak at UC Davis

A side view of the new ant species Eurhopalothrix zipacna that Jack Longino discovered in Central America. (Photo by Jack Longino)

John "Jack" Longino knows his ants. "We share the planet with millions of species, and many of them are insects," says Longino, professor and associate chair of biology at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, and the adjunct curator of...

A side view of the new ant species Eurhopalothrix zipacna that Jack Longino discovered in Central America. (Photo by Jack Longino)
A side view of the new ant species Eurhopalothrix zipacna that Jack Longino discovered in Central America. (Photo by Jack Longino)

A side view of the new ant species Eurhopalothrix zipacna that Jack Longino discovered in Central America. (Photo by Jack Longino)

Posted on Thursday, May 21, 2015 at 2:28 PM

Wasp Love!

A European paper wasp, Polistes dominula, foraging for food. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

"Wasp love." You don't hear those two words often, but you'll hear them often from Amy Toth, who's hoping that the hashtag, #wasplove, will draw attention to the wonderful world of wasps. Toth, known for her work on bee and wasp behavior,genomics, and...

A European paper wasp, Polistes dominula, foraging for food. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A European paper wasp, Polistes dominula, foraging for food. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A European paper wasp, Polistes dominula, foraging for food. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Close-up of a European paper wasp. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Close-up of a European paper wasp. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Close-up of a European paper wasp. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Amy Toth with a favorite wasp. (Photo courtesy of Iowa State University)
Amy Toth with a favorite wasp. (Photo courtesy of Iowa State University)

Amy Toth with a favorite wasp. (Photo courtesy of Iowa State University)

Posted on Wednesday, May 20, 2015 at 4:35 PM

Berkeley soda tax panel convenes

Berkeley's one-cent-per-ounce soda tax generated $116,000 its first month.
A nine-member panel of nutrition experts, including a long-time UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) nutrition specialist, convened for the first time this week to make recommendations to the Berkeley City Council about spending the funds raised by the city's soda tax, reported Emily Dugdale in NOSH.

"We're all in a fish bowl built out of a magnifying glass," a Berkeley City Councilmember told the panellists, referring to the national attention and strong community interest in the initiative.

Berkeley taxes sugar-sweetened beverages one cent per ounce. The tax generated $116,000 in its first month of operation.

The UC ANR panelist is Pat Crawford, the senior director of research for the Nutrition Policy Insititute, an organization of experts from throughout the University of California system brought together to share, synthesize, develop and collaborate on nutrition policy research.

In a recent Q&A with the UC Food Observer, Crawford commented on efforts to reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

"We have strong evidence of sugar's contribution to diabetes, heart disease, obesity and dental caries," she said. "Hopefully educational materials for the public, including MyPlate, can begin to include water as the beverage that is first for thirst."

Posted on Wednesday, May 20, 2015 at 4:29 PM

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