Archive | May, 2015

The Importance of Keeping Water Resources Clean

Malibu CreekAs long as humans have walked this planet, water has shaped our lives: growing our crops, generating power and sustaining life. With water resources scarce, it’s never been more important to keep those resources clean; and clean water is essential for hygiene, recreation and hydration.

Oceans – With beaches littered with paper, plastic and cans, we place millions of birds, fish and marine mammals in danger. Sea turtles, for example, eat piece of plastic wrap thinking its jellyfish. People and animals can be hurt by broken glass and made sick by toxic chemicals.

With the problems caused by nutrient enrichment and toxic contaminants, pollution has contributed to beach closures, fish kills and fish advisories that are also impacting our economic and environmental interests. Illnesses caused by contamination of water systems include diarrhea, hepatitis A, meningitis, and ulcers, to name a few.

Freshwater lakes, rivers and streams – Less than 1% of the earth’s water is accessible freshwater, including groundwater and surface water. In the U.S. alone, over 44 billion gallons of clean water are treated and delivered each day from rivers and lakes, with the average American using 80-100 gallons of water a day. With available freshwater being contaminated with sulfuric acid, fertilizer and gasoline, the limited supply continues to dwindle, as the human population of the world increases. Precipitation might clean surfaces of contaminants, but those contaminants then gets carried into rivers, lakes, streams, groundwater and even oceans.

Groundwater – Groundwater supplies between 25% and 40% of our drinking water, feeding water that flows into streams, lakes and reservoirs. Groundwater pollution can be very expensive to clean up, while depleting out supply of drinkable water.

Surface water – Most people in the U.S. get drinking water from surface water, with a third of the population obtaining water from headwater streams. Protection of these headwater streams are also important because they feed into larger systems of surface water.

According to the United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), 2 million tons of sewage and other effluent drains into the world’s water, with more people dying from unsafe water than violence and war; and 90% of the 30,000 deaths a week from unsafe water are children under 5. According to UNDESA, eutrophication due to agricultural runoff (pesticides, chemical fertilizer) and the burning of fossil fuels, in addition to sewage and industrial effluents, is the most prevalent water quality problem on Earth. According to the EPA, 40% of all waterways in the U.S. don’t even meet national water quality standards. And the untreated sewage leaking into our waterways can cost upwards of over $50 to clean-up.

The scarcity of a vital resource like clean water, due to over-use, climate and pollution, has increased concerns about water quality and quantity. A greater awareness of the importance of clean water for all plants and animals, with increased demands for food and energy, should help remind us how to better care for our resources for a healthy people and healthy environment.

 

Yucca: A History of Benefits

Yucca

Yucca Plant

Yucca is an evergreen plant in the agave family identifiable by its narrow, pointed leaves. The roots, leaves and fruit of yucca plants were historically used by Native Americans for a wide variety of purposes, and still prove useful today.

Soap: By pounding the dry roots of the Yucca plant and whisking them with cold water to create a lather, Native Americans were able to create a soap used to clean hair and clothes.

Rope: Native Americans found a use for the fibrous leaves of the Yucca plant, soaking them in water, separating the fibers and then twisting them together to weave cords that can be used for belts, sandals, fishing nets and baskets.

Food: The Yucca roots have long been a source of carbohydrate rich food for Native American people. The Yucca fruit, with a taste similar to that of a potato, could be baked or even chopped and fried like French fries. Even the leaves, if boiled, and also the flower, if picked at the right time, could also be eaten. Latin American cooking often uses Yucca in stews and soups. Yucca is also one of the ingredients in Shasta root beer, used to give it a thick, foamy head.

Yucca

Yucca Plant

Medicine: The Yucca fruit have been used by Native Americans for a variety of purposes such as laxatives and the treatment of hair infested with vermin. Native Americans also benefited from Yucca’s anti-inflammatory properties in the treatment of arthritis. Chemicals in the plant make it extremely useful in the treatment of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, stomach and liver disorders, poor circulation and even cancer. The antioxidant properties of the Yucca root also make it helpful in the prevention of cardiovascular disease.

Applied to the skin, it can be used for sprains, joint pain and sores. Native Americans even used Yucca to treat hair loss and dandruff. Studies have also shown that Yucca extract may have anti-fungal benefits as well as protection against UV induced skin damage.

With such diverse benefits, Yucca has proven nothing short of extraordinary, not just to Native-Americans in the past but to anyone today who values the many health benefits of the natural world.

 

Male to Female Population Changing Parasites

Sacculina

Sacculina

Gender is a very strange and odd thing in our current age. What used to be a concrete is now a fluid sense of identity that is defined by the individual and not society. This is a new phenomena to us humans but, nature has always held this fluid identity when it comes to gender in a plethora of ways. Simple examples of this are animals such as the black spotted angelfish in which there can only be one dominant male. When the male dies the largest of the females will become the new male until that one dies and the process repeats itself. Among all of the organisms that do this there are two that alter other organisms genders instead of themselves.

The first of the two is called Sacculina and it is a small barnacle that parasitizes crabs. The female larva of Sacculina will find a joint on the crab and then molts into a kentrogon which is a soft bodied form. Once in this form it will inject itself into the crab while it molts its shell. The parasite develops inside the crab until it appears as a medium sized sac on the bottom of the crab. Invasion of the crab by the Sacculina results in two major changes. The first is that the crab is no longer capable of molting and therefore cannot get any bigger or regrow any missing claws. This comes as a result of the parasite siphoning away the crabs nutrients for itself. The second change is that Sacculina starts drastically altering the crabs hormones. For female crabs it makes them behave as if they are pregnant but for males its a bit of a different story. The change in hormones sterilizes the males and alters the crabs body makeup to resemble that of the female. In addition the infected crabs will care for the Sacculina’s eggs once it lays them, even distributing them into the ocean as it would its own eggs.

Wolbachia

Wolbachia

The second of the two and true king of gender bending is the bacteria known as Wolbachia. Wolbachia infects a variety of arthropods with a high majority being insects. Wolbachia is a very special parasite in that in some cases it has become more symbiotic than parasitic but, before that lets see what it does to its hosts gender. Wolbachia alters gender and controls reproduction through four major pathways. The first two effect the larva of the host species by making male larva more likely to die before maturity and by making male larva more likely to be born female or sterile. This makes it so males of the host are scarce, especially fertile ones. So one might ask how in the world is this organism going to reproduce now? Well luckily Wolbachia figured that one out through a process called parthenogenesis. Parthenogenesis is a process of asexual reproduction that creates embryos without fertilization. Last but not least is kind of a fail safe to make sure that even if a male manages to make it through it can’t do anything to change the fate of its species. This fail safe is called cytoplasmic incompatibility and it makes it so even if an infected male manages to survive and stay fertile it will be unable to reproduce with any uninfected organisms and organisms with a different strain of wolbachia, thus giving wolbachia a sort of monopoly on the genus of that species. Now this doesn’t exactly harm the organism per se, as the reproductive control it enacts isn’t really a negative thing to the organism. In fact in some cases Wolbachia actually provides benefits to its host. It has been shown that infection with the parasite has resulted in increased viral resistance to a variety of viruses that infect their hosts. In addition Wolbachia also increases the number of offspring the host has and in some cases even provides chemicals for metabolic processes. For example, without Wolbachia the common fruit fly would be unable to metabolize iron.