SciTech Briefs

Drug trafficking and deforestation

Researchers at Ohio State University have found evidence that drug trafficking is causing deforestation in remote areas of Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and other countries in Central America. The group of researchers, led by associate professor of geography Kendra McSweeney, recently published their findings in Science. In response to the anti-trafficking efforts of the United States, especially in Mexico, drug traffickers have begun to move south into Central America, cutting down precious forest land to make secret landing strips and roads. The researchers found that the amount of deforestation in Honduras quadrupled during the same time period in which cocaine movements in the country were at a peak.

Source: Science Daily

New York wants to banish mute swans

Most invasive species — nonindigenous species that hurt the habitats into which they have been introduced — are unappealing and disliked by the public. However, while mute swans are a beautiful species, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has declared them an invasive species and aims to eliminate the state’s 2,200 swans by 2025. While they contribute to the pretty scenery of New York, these European swans also attack other waterfowl and people, get in the way of passenger jets, and destroy the natural habitats of ducks and geese that are native to the country. The planned elimination has spurred a war between environmental conservationists and animal-rights activists.

Source: The New York Times

Faster method of creating stem cells

Researchers at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, Japan and at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School in Boston, have developed a new technique for creating stem cells. The method, which has only been tried on mice, involves turning cells in the body into stem cells by bathing them in an acidic solution for half an hour. While previous methods of creating stem cells were arguably unethical — such as destroying human embryos — or required genetic changes in cells, this method creates stem cells by subjecting specialized cells to stress. The created stem cells were injected into early mice embryos which later reproduced successfully.

Source: The New York Times

Neanderthal DNA in disease genes

Many recent studies have suggested that early human species interbred, causing DNA from archaic humans to exist in people today. Now, Sriram Sankararaman and David Reich of the Harvard Medical School have analyzed how Neanderthal DNA affected Homo sapiens in the past and how it affects modern humans today. They discovered that Neanderthal DNA is found most frequently in genes associated with keratin, the protein found in skin and hair. However, they also found that Neanderthal DNA was prevalent in genes associated with diseases such as Crohn’s disease, type 2 diabetes, and lupus.

Source: Scientific American