Long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the flowers gone?
Girls have picked them every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?"
The late folksinger and social activist Pete Seeger (1919-2014) sounded many alarms, but a recent article in the New York Times Magazine struck a different but somewhat similar chord: the declining population of insects worldwide.
Brooke Jarvis's piece on "The Insect Apocalypse Is Here," published Nov. 27, should be required reading.
Basically: Where have all the insects gone? What does it mean? Why haven't we noticed? And what are we going to do about it?
Well, butterfly guru/entomologist Art Shapiro, distinguished emeritus professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, has noticed. Shapiro has monitored butterfly population trends on a transect across central California for 46 years and maintains a research website at http://butterfly.ucdavis.edu/. The 10 sites stretch from the Sacramento River Delta through the Sacramento Valley and Sierra Nevada mountains to the high desert of the Western Great Basin. Shapiro visits his sites every two weeks "to record what's out" from spring to fall. The largest and oldest database in North America, it was recently cited by British conservation biologist Chris Thomas in a worldwide study of insect biomass.
In her article, Jarvis related: "In October, an entomologist sent me an email with the subject line, “Holy [expletive]!” and an attachment: a study just out from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that he labeled, “Krefeld comes to Puerto Rico.” (See news article on Krefeld's "Insect Armageddon.")
That entomologist was Art Shapiro.
Pesticides, loss of habitat, diseases, climate change, and human encroachment--and more--are some of the reasons why our global population of insects is dwindling.
Shapiro, who engaged in a 90-minute conversation with author Jarvis (and suggested topics and interviews for the piece), is quoted as having one of the few long-term data sets about insect abundance in the United States.
"In 1972, he began walking transects in the Central Valley and the Sierras, counting butterflies," Jarvis wrote. "He planned to do a study on how short-term weather variations affected butterfly populations. But the longer he sampled, the more valuable his data became, offering a signal through the noise of seasonal ups and downs. 'And so here I am in Year 46,' he said, nearly half a century of spending five days a week, from late spring to the end of autumn, observing butterflies. In that time he has watched overall numbers decline and seen some species that used to be everywhere — even species that 'everyone regarded as a junk species' only a few decades ago — all but disappear. Shapiro believes that Krefeld-level declines are likely to be happening all over the globe. 'But, of course, I don't cover the entire globe,' he added. 'I cover I-80.'"
Jarvis quotes plant ecologist Hans de Kroon of Radboud University, the Netherlands, as characterizing the life of many modern insects as trying to survive from one dwindling oasis to the next but with “a desert in between, and at worst it's a poisonous desert.”
Why should we care? As Jarvis succinctly points out: "Insects are the vital pollinators and recyclers of ecosystems and the base of food webs everywhere."
Now the concern should not only be "Where have all the insects gone?" but "What are we going to do about it?"
It was billed as the second annual Butterfly Summit, hosted last Saturday by Annie's Annuals and Perennials in Richmond.
But a yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, foraging on Anchusa azurea (a member of the borage family), apparently didn't like the focus on butterflies.
Butterfly Summit? How about a Bumble Bee Summit?
For several minutes, we watched this industrious bumble bee zip in and out of the Anchusa. It zig-zagged between a Delphinium Cobalt Dreams and a Linaria triornithophora, Three-Birds Flying.
With her heavy load of orange pollen, she appeared to be bogged down, perhaps too heavy to fly?
We remember National Public Radio running a piece on "Heavy Loads of Pollen May Shift Flight Plans of the Bumble Bee," which aired in August of 2015. NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce drew attention to research by biologist Andrew Mountcastle of Harvard University, work published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"Despite what you may have heard, bumble bees do not defy the laws of physics when they fly," Greenfieldboyce related.
Fact is, they just fly differently than airplanes. "They flap their wings, and their wings bend and twist as they flap them," Mountcastle told her. He said that when bumble bees carry a pollen load, rather than a nectar load, "they are more stable, but less maneuverable in flight."
Bottom line: bumble bees are very good at flying, even when they're loaded with cargo (pollen).
The Hammock lab and the Guodong Zhang lab at the University of Massachusetts published exciting research today (April 30) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that involves hope for patients with obesity-enhanced colon cancer.
Their research showed that inhibiting an enzyme, soluble epoxide hydrolase--discovered in the Hammock lab--may reduce the risk of obesity-enhanced colon cancer and may offer a therapeutic target to block and treat colonic inflammation.
Co-first authors Weicang Wang and Jianan Zhang of the Zhang lab, and Jun Yang of the Hammock lab/UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, noted that 30 percent of Americans are obese, and these individuals have a 30 to 60 percent higher risk of developing colon cancer. It is the third most common cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Colon inflammation is an early symptom of cancer.
“But to date, the mechanisms by which obesity increases cancer risks are not well understood, and there are few effective strategies to prevent obesity-enhanced colon cancer," said Zhang, a former postdoctoral researcher in the Hammock lab and now an assistant professor of food science at UMass where he focuses his research on prevention of colonic inflammation (inflammatory bowel disease) and colon cancer. "Our study showed that soluble epoxide hydrolase and its metabolites are over-expressed in colon of obese mice. In addition, we found that pharmacological inhibition or genetic deletion of soluble epoxide hydrolase (sEH) abolishes obesity-induced inflammation and activation of pro-tumorigenic pathways in colon. These results showed that sEH is an essential enzyme involved in obesity-enhanced colonic inflammation and potentially colon cancer, and pharmacological inhibitors of sEH could be novel agents for prevention of these diseases.”
In the study, the 18-member team investigated the roles of sEH in obesity-induced colonic inflammation, which included using two different sEH inhibitors and a knockout mouse genetically modified not to produce sEH. Results proved similar in all cases.
They further conducted another study in both lean and obese mice with experimentally induced colon inflammation and used molecular analyses to follow a pathway called Wnt. About 90 percent of sporadic colorectal cancers have activating mutations within the Wnt pathway. The team found that obesity increases activation of Wnt signaling in the colon, but it can be abolished by the two different inhibitors and the knockout.
“The sEH inhibitor blocked obesity-induced colon inflammation,” said Hammock. “This worked even for mice on high fat diets.”
“Colon inflammation is highly associated with a variety of diseases and the inflammation often progresses to colon cancer,” Hammock said. “Weicang Wang, Guodong Zhang and co-workers have done a meticulous job investigating the biologically active fats including fatty acid diols that are associated with the inflammation. By blocking the production of these diols they were able to block the inflammation.”
“The study was an exciting discovery from lipidomics technique,” said co-first author Jun Yang. “The consistent results from pharmacologic inhibition and genetic knockout (KO) as well as the signaling pathway mechanistic studies all support sEH as a potential treatment for obesity-induced colon inflammation."
Co-author Jun-Yan Liu is already collecting human samples to extend the study, and Hammock pointed out that they hope that the soluble epoxide hydrolase inhibitor will be in human clinical trials this year.
This work, titled “Lipidomic Profiling Reveals Soluble Epoxide Hydrolase as a Therapeutic Target of Obesity-Induced Colonic Inflammation,” drew grant support from the USDA's National Institute for Food and Agriculture; National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIH/NIEHS); NIEHS Superfund Research Program, and the National Natural Science Foundation of China.
The five UC Davis researchers—Bruce Hammock, Jun Yang, Jia Sun, and Sung Hee Hwang and Debin Wan—are all with the Hammock lab/UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center.
The UMass researchers, in addition to those listed above: Yuxin Wang, Wiepeng Qi, Haixia Yang, and Professor Yeonhwa Park, Department of Food Science, Katherine Sanidad, Food Science and Molecular and Cellular Biology Graduate Program, and Professor Daeyoung Kim of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics.
Hammock, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Inventors, directs two major UC Davis programs; the Superfund Program financed by the National Institute of Environmental Health's National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIH-NIEHS); and the NIH Biotechnology Training Program. He began his career reseaching insect pests but switched to human health issues.
To date, the Hammock laboratory has published almost 900 peer-reviewed papers on the sEH enzyme, discovered while Hammock and Sarjeet Gill (now of UC Riverside) were researching insect developmental biology and green insecticides at UC Berkeley. The work, begun in 1969, led to the discovery that many regulatory molecules are controlled as much by degradation as by biosynthesis, Hammock said. These epoxy fatty acid chemical mediators control blood pressure, fibrosis, immunity, tissue growth, and pain and inflammation.
For many years Gill and Hammock were alone in studying this enzyme but today its importance is well recognized in mammalian biology, with more than 17,000 peer-reviewed papers in the area. Hammock credits the NIEHS for supporting research in this area since the 1970s.
A Davis-based company, EicOsis, has received a large grant from the U.S. National Institutes of Health to move inhibitors to the clinic to treat diabetic neuropathic pain. “We are developing a non-opiate analgesic to treat the chronic pain often associated with diabetes and hope to be in human trials over the next 12 months,” said William Schmidt, vice president of clinical development at EicOsis.
That's Bruce Hammock, distinguished professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology who holds a joint appointment with the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center.
In research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the interdisciplinary team of scientists from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, UC Davis, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, and Harvard Medical School linked a newly discovered class of bacterial enzymes to battling cystic fibrosis.
In analyzing secretions drawn from the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, the scientists discovered that the bacterium perpetuates inflammation by secreting an enzyme called Cif that sabotages the body's ability to make a key molecule called a "pro-resolving lipid mediator" and stop the inflammatory response it started.
The scientific discovery could lead to new therapies that would interrupt or correct the bacterial sabotage, Hammock and Bomberger said.
“This paper is the outcome of an exciting and interdisciplinary project,” said Hammock, who directs the UC Davis Superfund Program financed by the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIH-NIEHS). “It started several years ago with the NIEHS Superfund Program funding both a group at Dartmouth and at UC Davis. A very productive and exciting collaboration resulted in looking at how to mitigate the effects of environmental chemicals on human health. Our collaborative work led to this joint publication which yields exciting hope for cystic fibrosis patients.”
Co-authors of the newly published research include two UC Davis researchers from the Hammock lab, Christophe Morisseau and Jun Yang.
Meanwhile, Bomberger continues to work on the biology of the system while the Dartmouth and Davis groups have developed inhibitors of the action of CIF to stabilize pro-resolving mediators, reduce inflammation, and control periodic flare ups of bacterial infections.
"It will be key to devise a way to remove P. aeruginosa's ability to capitalize on the body's natural inflammatory response, without eliminating that response," said Bomberger. "Inflammation is happening for a reason—to clear infection. We just need it to temper the response when it is not effectively doing its job or is no longer needed."
“We think that this research will lead to a very positive outcome to improve the lives of cystic fibrosis patients,” Hammock said. Some 30,000 Americans have cystic fibrosis.
But they are fleeting butterflies.
For the past 35 years, noted butterfly expert Arthur Shapiro (top right), UC Davis professor of evolution and ecology, has documented the prevalence--or absence--of 159 species twice a month at 10 sites from the Suisun Marsh to the Sierras. His massive database, unprecedented among lepitopterists, is part of his popular butterfly Web site.
Last week his database and the plight of the butterflies received international attention via a paper published by lead author Matt Forister in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The study showed that climate change and land development are taking their toll on butterflies.Forister (lower right) who studied with Shapiro at UC Davis and received his doctorate in ecology from UC Davis in 2004, is now an assistant professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Reno, Nev. (You can watch his Webcast on butterflies given last November at a noonhour seminar in the UC Davis Department of Entomology.)
In many respects, butterflies are to the environment what canaries are to coal mines.
Titled "Compounded Effects of Climate Change and Habitat Alteration Shift Patterns of Butterfly Diversity" and the work of eight authors, the research paper documents the disastrous effects of habitat loss and climate changes.
Shapiro, author of the book, Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions, says what shocks him is the decline of once common species in the flatlands.
Indeed, prospects for some alpine butterflies, including the Small Wood Nympth and Nevada Skipper, he says, look bleak, too. As he told Contra Costa Times reporter Suzanne Bohan, in her Jan. 19th news article:
"There is nowhere to go except heaven."