Thomas R. O'Donnell

Run, run reindeer: Climate change, other factors sap herd

In University research on December 21, 2016 at 2:27 pm
Reindeer on the run in Norway.

Reindeer on the run in Norway. Photo credit: zetson Running via photopin (license).

It was inevitable, given the timing, that Andrey Petrov’s latest research would get some unusual treatment.

At the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco last week, Petrov presented a report showing that one of the world’s largest reindeer herds is contracting. After reaching a peak population of around a million in 2000, the pack has fallen to around 600,000 in the Taimyr Peninsula, its home territory and one Russia’s northernmost parts.

With Christmas just days away, some websites relayed the news with a tongue-in-cheek approach.

At Gizmodo, the headline was “400,000 Reindeer Vanish in Ongoing War on Christmas.”

LiveScience introduced its piece with “Santa’s Reindeer Feel the Heat as Numbers Shrink Worldwide.” The lead goes on with “Santa Claus better stock up on reindeer, because he may have trouble scrounging up replacements in the not-too-distant future, new research suggests,” before continuing with a serious and thorough report.

The BBC, meanwhile, played it straight.

I’ll admit: the Christmas time peg is one reason I’m also jumping on this study. But there are serious reasons and ramifications for the worldwide reindeer decline.

Too many tubes: Iowa medical study finds most blood specimens wasted

In University research on November 14, 2016 at 7:45 am
With one full tube already in hand, a healthcare worker draws a second blood specimen. It may never get lab testing.

With one full tube already in hand, a healthcare worker draws a second blood specimen. It may never get lab testing. Credit: Lori Greig via photopin (license).

We’ve all experienced it: Waiting in the doctor’s office, hospital room or ER, perhaps in a flimsy, colorfully printed gown with your backside hanging out, for the friendly phlebotomist or nurse to come in with a rubber strap, a needle and a rack of tubes, each perhaps the size of your little finger.

The usual procedure, deftly performed in an efficient ballet: wrap the band around a bicep, have the patient flex until the vein bulges, swab the area and put in the needle.

If you’re lucky, the phlebotomist will stop at filling one tube. But often they suck out a second, a third, or more, until you’re sure you’ll be drained dry. Each tube has its own colored cap, designating the laboratory test for which it’s destined.

Unpleasant, but necessary, right? It’s all about finding out what’s wrong and how to fix it. Those extra tubes could provide the vital clues to a cure.

But what if they don’t? A study out last week from University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC) had surprising findings about the fate of those blood-filled tubes.

Does planting GMOs increase pesticide use? It depends…

In University research on November 2, 2016 at 7:35 am
A common Iowa sight: a rig spreading herbicide on glyphosate-tolerant soybeans.

A common Iowa sight: a rig spreading herbicide on glyphosate-tolerant soybeans. Photo credit: clisenberg John Deere 4730 via photopin (license).

A year or so ago I was listening to a candidate (who will remain unnamed) for a federal office (that will remain unnamed). This candidate sounded reasonable and I agreed with most of what I heard – except for a call to label products made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

I challenged this assertion. There is no evidence, despite extensive testing, that consuming GMOs poses a health hazard. Labeling would feed unfounded fears.

Another person turned to me and said that may be so, but planting GMO crops that resist specific weed-killers and insects encouraged farmers to overuse pesticides, putting the environment at risk.

It only occurred to me later to ask: How would labeling fix that?

And in any case, recent research out of Iowa, Kansas, and Michigan state universities and the University of Virginia suggests the GMO-pesticide connection may be more complicated than we think. In some cases, planting genetically engineered (GE) crops may lead to more pesticide use, but in other cases it leads to less. And when a pesticide’s environmental impact is taken into consideration, the picture gets even cloudier.

Mary Murphy

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