Ploughing On Regardless

Imagine a wonderful world, a planet on which there was no threat of climate breakdown, no loss of freshwater, no antibiotic resistance, no obesity crisis, no terrorism, no war. Surely, then, we would be out of major danger? Sorry. Even if everything else were miraculously fixed, we’re knackered if we don’t address an issue considered so marginal and irrelevant that you can go for months without seeing it in a newspaper.

It’s literally and – it seems – metaphorically, beneath us. To judge by its absence from the media, most journalists consider it unworthy of consideration. But all human life depends on it. We knew this long ago, but somehow it has been forgotten. As a Sanscrit text written in around 1500 BC noted, “Upon this handful of soil our survival depends. Husband it and it will grow our food, our fuel, and our shelter and surround us with beauty. Abuse it and the soil will collapse and die, taking humanity with it”.

The issue hasn’t changed, but we have. Landowners around the world are now engaged in an orgy of soil destruction – so intense that, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, the world, on average, has just 60 more years of growing crops. Even in Britain, which is spared the tropical downpours that so quickly strip exposed soil from the land, Farmers’ Weekly reports that we have “only 100 harvests left”.

Read more

The Roots of Netanyahu’s Electoral Victory: Colonial Expansion and Fascist Ideology

Netanyahu

It is always a meritorious deed to get hold of a Palestinian’s possessions” The code of Jewish Law revised and updated by Benjamin Netanyahu

            Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election makes him the longest serving prime minister in Israel’s history.  His 20% margin of victory (30 Knesset seats to 24 for his nearest opponent) underlines the mass base of his consolidation of power.

            Most critical commentators cite Netanyahu’s racist pronouncements; his rejection of any two state solution and his overt appeal for a mass Jewish voter turnout to counteract the ‘droves of Arab voters’ for his electoral victories.

            There is no question that the majority of Israeli Jewish leaders and parties support Netanyahu’s racist pronouncements and ‘no-state’ solution and joined him in a coalition government.  But the larger issue is the positive mass response to Netanyahu’s call to action.  Nearly three quarters of the electorateturned out (73%) to elect him.  Moreover, Netanyahu has been elected prime minister for four terms:  between 1996-99 and more recently 2009-20.

            What is more, the opposition has not differed from the Netanyahu coalition regime’s Judeo-centric policies and pronouncements.  In other words, ‘racist’ ideology per se is not what drives the Israeli majority to repeatedly support Netanyahu.

Jewish-centered racism is an integral and accepted part of Israel’s political culture.

Social Colonialism and Netanyahu’s Popularity

Read more

Study Links Widely Used Pesticides to Antibiotic Resistance

Pesticides

This has not been a good week for glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup and other herbicides. On Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that it had classified glyphosate, the United States’ most widely-used pesticide, as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

Now, the chemical has another strike against it. A study published today by the American Society of Microbiology’s journal mBio has linked glyphosate and two other widely-used herbicides–2,4-D and dicamba–to one of the most pressing public health crises of our time: antibiotic resistance.

This study found that exposure to these herbicides in their commercial forms changed the way bacteria responded to a number of antibiotics, including ampicillin,ciprofloxacin, and tetracycline–drugs widely used to treat a range of deadly diseases.

Dicamba, 2,4-D, and glyphosate have been in use for decades, so why have their antibacterial-resistance effects not been documented before? As the study’s lead author, Jack Heinemann, professor of genetics at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, explains, when pesticides are tested for adverse effects, “it’s the lethal toxicity that people focus on.” In other words, how much of the chemical will kill an organism.

“What makes our study different, is that it is looking at a sub-lethal effect,” says Heinemann. “The effect we see requires that the bacteria stay alive.”

Read more

De-Extinction: Harvard Researchers Have Brought Back The Woolly Mammoth

woolly mammoth

In the film Jurassic Park scientists spliced the DNA of extinct dinosaurs with modern animals to bring them back to life. The idea that we could bring an extinct species back to life is fantastical and normally reserved for Hollywood fiction, but a new experiment by researchers at Harvard University has reportedly succeeded in mimicking the process used in the blockbuster movie.

According to Popular Science, the DNA of the Woolly Mammoth, which went extinct over 4,000 years ago, has been spliced with that of the Asian elephant. “We now have functioning elephant cells with mammoth DNA in them,” says Harvard genetics professor George Church.

Geneticist George Church’s lab at Harvard University successfully copied genes from frozen woolly mammoths and pasted them into the genome of an Asian elephant.

Using a DNA editing tool called CRISPR, the scientists spliced genes for the mammoths’ small ears, subcutaneous fat, and hair length and color into the DNA of elephant skin cells. The tissue cultures represent the first time woolly mammoth genes have been functional since the species went extinct around 4,000 years ago.

The work is part of an effort to bring extinct species back from the dead, a process called “de-extinction”. The recent breakthrough shows that one proposed de-extinction method–which involves splicing genes from extinct animals into the genomes of their living relatives–just might work.

Read more