Month: December 2019

Toiling for a toilet

first_imgA pit stop to change attitudes Ramlal Baghel, a resident of Pirda village in Janjgir-Champa district, with his grandson. Interviews with villagers and lower-level government officials across Malkharoda block, where the Baghels and some 1,40,000 people live across 108 villages, revealed a botched rollout of the Swachh Bharat Mission. | Photo Credit: K.R. Deepak  But in mid-December, a visit to 28 villages in Janjgir-Champa, considered the district in Chhattisgarh with the most migrant brick labourers, revealed that SBM had become a means to a different end. Interviews with over 100 people and lower level government officials across Malkharoda block, where the Baghels and some 1,40,000 people live across 108 villages, revealed an utterly botched rollout. Systemic coercion had induced rampant debt. No one would take responsibility. This seemingly benevolent sanitation scheme meant to make women safer and prevent diseases had instead perpetuated migratory forced labour.Opening the door to coercionTravelling around Malkharoda, the coercion appears widespread. In every village, the administrators had threatened to revoke the families’ ration cards — their most essential entitlement — if they didn’t build toilets. In all but one village, guards were stationed on the roads at night to shame women who were out to relieve themselves; women said the guards blew whistles, knocked over the water jugs, and one man said they assaulted people. In at least one village, the poorest people were told their mud kutcha houses would be razed if they didn’t comply. And in a handful of villages, fines ranging from ₹50 to ₹1,000 were instated for anyone caught out in the bush.Also Read  In Malkharoda village, the dhaba owner said that the Janpath chief executive officer, Vinay Kumar Soni, beyond threatening to shutter her restaurant if she didn’t get the toilet built, had threatened to take photos of her relieving herself and post them on the Internet. Perhaps this was just an easy, empty threat. But the next day in Runpota village, a young man named Digeshwar Baragi said the village secretary had actually taken his photo while he was out relieving himself and circulated it among other village secretaries on WhatsApp.“I found it very humiliating,” said Baragi, a bandana tied around his forehead. “And I told him ‘I don’t have any money, how do you expect me to get [the toilet] made?’ But he wasn’t bothered and said if I don’t get it built fast, he was going to circulate it on the Internet as well. They’ve done it among my friends too. And the girls.” Baragi had taken out a ₹20,000 loan at 3% interest, and the toilet still wasn’t finished.These coercive tactics, beyond being outright illegal, are all degrading distortions of perhaps the biggest lesson learned from decades of rural sanitation work across the globe: simply building people toilets doesn’t mean they’ll use them. More crucial and challenging is inducing communal behavioural change. Since the 1990s, the prevailing technique that’s been used in India and much of the developing world is called Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS). In short, CLTS advocates introducing the feeling of shame and disgust to a community through a series of “triggering” activities in order to induce the abandonment of open defecation.Under SBM, the Indian government suggests (and earmarks funds so that) each panchayat train an “army of ‘foot soldiers’” under the command of a “motivator” to trigger villages into abandoning open defecation. If you only followed the government’s highly active and curated @swachhbharat Twitter account, triggering across the country looks like a pleasant affair: photos of villagers actively participating in defecation area mapping exercise; smiling women and children leading awareness marches.Also Read On June 15, 2016, just off a train ride 1,000 miles south from a brick kiln in Punjab, Ramlal Baghel, along with his three sons and their wives, arrived home to their village in rural Chhattisgarh, fatigued and disappointed. Five months of gruelling 15-hour days had netted the family just ₹26,000. The earnings would have barely been enough to sustain the family until the kilns reopened in September — let alone chip away at the growing debt.So far it was a familiar story. Now in his 60s, tall and thin, with deep-set eyes and a peppered beard, Ramlal is one of a million-or-so Chhattisgarhis compelled by debt, local unemployment, and interest-free “advances” to migrate to notoriously exploitative kilns across India’s northern rim. But as the Baghels settled in at home for the rainy season, a notice arrived ordering each family in the village to construct a toilet as part of a national government sanitation scheme. Non-compliance would incur huge fines and suspended entitlements.“Whatever I made at the brick kiln, it went towards making the toilet,” said Ramlal. He pointed to the small dirt courtyard at a latrine the size of a small closet. It had a fresh yellow coat of paint, corrugated tin roof, PVC door, and squat pan toilet inside. It was clean, new and deceivingly innocent-looking. Most of rural India still opts for open defecation: NSS report What numbers tell us about Open Defecation in India  And while the majority of triggering likely stays within the ethical bounds of CLTS guidelines, Malkharoda is not the first place where it hasn’t. Coercive techniques have been documented at CLTS programmes in Indonesia and Bangladesh, and in India, at least in the southern State of Karnataka, but likely in other States as well. In an online sourcebook of practical SBM campaign ideas written for administrators, a cautionary note under the sub-header “reflect on ethical issues” admits to a dozen coercive tactics and outright human rights abuses that “have occurred in some campaigns”.Digging into debt bondageNonetheless, the coercion had accomplished its goal in Malkharoda. Everyone seemed to have a toilet. The entire block was officially declared ODF in mid-2016. The problem now was that beyond the ethical implications, everyone was in debt.  In Amlidih, the sarpanch gave out materials initially, but then stopped without explanation. “We were waiting,” said Balash Prasad Chandra, “expecting him to give [materials] to us as well.” Instead, he said the local panchayat held a meeting and told everyone to build the toilets themselves, and fast, or else their ration cards would be cancelled.The timing couldn’t have been worse. Chandra was in the midst of building his family a house and owed a shopkeeper for materials he had taken on credit. Now, to pay for the toilet too, he had to sell off his paddy stocks, pawn his wife’s jewellery, and take out a ₹45,000 loan at 3% interest. “I spent the entire season’s income on this toilet,” he said. “Whatever we make on this year’s harvest, I’m going to have to spend to get her jewellery back.”Still, Chandra had it better than some. He owned some land, and worked as the local confectioner, taking sweets orders for weddings that brought in a few thousand rupees per month — an income that’s kept him away from the kilns. But the vast majority of lower caste people in Janjgir possess little to no land nor specialised skills. Most work as field hands but describe employment as a day-to-day crapshoot. Across the block, people said they had pawned or sold their wives’ jewellery, land if they had any, and taken high interest loans from wealthy landowners which would take years to pay back.But even worse, in Bade Sipat, where about 90% of the 3,300-person village migrates out to kilns, a street vendor named Visham Kurana made it clear that the debt was perpetuating their migration. “Whatever money they had made at the kilns [this past season], they’ve spent to make this toilet,” Kurana said. “So again to run their families, they have taken loans at high interest” — ₹50,000 at 5% on average — “and some have even taken money from the jamadars [middlemen] who take them to the brick kilns, so now they have to work like bonded labourers.”Still, the price tag was confounding. For one, the government and UNICEF consider the ₹12,000 “incentive” allocated per household sufficient to construct a long-lasting toilet. (In Chhattisgarh and other States this “incentive” was in fact a ‘reimbursement’ since it was being disbursed after the entire village or block went ODF.) Gramalaya, an NGO that’s been building toilets in India for decades, claims it can build a child-friendly community bathroom — with 10 latrines, washing stations, and murals — for about ₹30,000.For another, even though the SBM guidelines recommend individual households construct their own toilets to “promote ownership”, many sarpanches had built the toilets in their village; and when they did, each unit had cost around the quoted ₹12,000. Why were poor villagers, many already in significant debt like Ramlal, spending two to three times as much on a toilet they didn’t want in the first place?Blame and stigmaWhen I put this question to a handful of lower level administrators around the block, they offered a few theories to explain the discrepancy, all of which held villagers responsible. The first — expressed by Pirda’s sarpanch and an MNREGA employment assistant officer from Nawapara-D — simply held that villagers were lying about the high construction expense.The second theory — expressed by Shivanti Lakshmibai Johan, the sarpanch of Ghoghri, among others — held that villagers were willingly spending extra. She had constructed toilets in 80% of the village for the allotted ₹12,000 each. But there had been a minority of villagers who had spent extra to make their own toilets “bigger and better”, with tiles, painted walls, and stylised doors. Surely there were villagers who spent more to deck-out their toilets, perhaps some irresponsibly. But predominantly, the toilets constructed by villagers looked pretty much identical to those constructed by the sarpanch, at least outwardly in size and material.In Khurgatti, the de facto sarpanch Kishur Kumar Ajay at first echoed Johan. But upon seeing a photo of a toilet that a villager had spent upwards of ₹30,000 to construct, he conceded it looked almost identical to the toilets he had constructed for ₹12,000. He pivoted to a more technical theory about pit design. In his village, he had used the government-encouraged twin-leach pit technology. Villagers constructing their own toilets were digging one single deep pit, he said, which hiked the raw material and labour cost.According to the SBM guidelines though, “Care shall be taken to ensure that these toilets are not over-designed and over-constructed. I.e. building extra large pits which are not required, to keep them affordable…States have to ensure through effective communication that such tendencies are restricted.” Ajay shook his head upon hearing the passage. “It’s actually totally the villagers’ responsibility what kind of designs they have used. We’ve conducted enough programmes to educate them on how to keep the cost at ₹12,000.” He continued, “Their thought might be that whatever resources they have, they can just pawn for now and make a good toilet instead of re-channelling the pits again and again.”This theory seemed plausible: for a blend of religious, cultural, and habitual reasons, villagers were already apprehensive about placing their waste so close to their homes. Requesting they also manage that waste every couple of years — by clearing the filled pit and rerouting the pipe — seemed like a steep sell. Steeper still by a government many distrusted to begin with. We did come across villagers who had opted for one single deep pit. But we also came across at least an equal number of villagers who had opted for two deep pits, usually seven to eight feet deep. The “technicalities” of waste management didn’t seem to be above the heads of villagers, as Ajay claimed.Furthermore, this third theory rested on the premise that sufficient ‘Information, Education, and Communication Activities’ were conducted prior to construction. But beyond an initial women’s march in June, the opposite was true: the very problem seemed to be the rollout itself. In a number of villages, people said their sarpanch hadn’t provided them with any designs. In no village was a “menu” of design options provided as required by the scheme.And in the villages where the sarpanch had thoroughly explained a design, most people said they had been sceptical it would last.Specifically, everyone was worried about the recommended three-to-four foot pit depth. In Kurda, a group of women resting under an overhang said the sarpanch had told them to dig two pits — three feet by three feet. But when they voiced concern that such shallow pits would fill in a year or two, they were rebuffed and told to build it themselves if they didn’t like the design. Outside an auto parts shop in Devgaon, a migrant brick labourer named Mahesh said that even though his sarpanch had offered to construct a toilet for him, he had taken out a loan to build it himself with a deeper pit. When asked what he would say to someone who criticised such a decision as financially irresponsible, he said: “We thought that if we had to make a toilet and it has to last in our house for such a long time, it’s better to take a loan and make it into something that lasts for 10 to 20 years than to continuously invest in it for many years to come.”People were trying not to get stuck with a toilet they believed either would require perennial maintenance, or be permanently out-of-order within a year or two. They were thinking ahead, trying to anticipate future expenses and protect the sanctity of their homes. The high interest loans were less foolish investments than coerced, practical ones.But why was the government hell bent on such a rapid rollout? A clue exists in a speech Chhattisgarh’s Chief Minister Raman Singh gave on July 2, 2016, at a national SBM conclave in Raipur. According to a press release, he announced that Chhattisgarh will become ODF by the end of 2018 — almost a year ahead of the countrywide target. To hit that early deadline, Mr. Singh said the State government would give “preference” to ODF blocks in other schemes. Similarly, Bathora’s sarpanch said Janjgir’s district collector and other administrators had promised they would get individual projects for his village if it became the first village to go ODF in the district. Yet, almost a year later, he had received no favours. Only after dozens of sarpanches protested had reimbursement funds begun to trickle out. But villagers who constructed their own toilets still hadn’t received anything.In Kurda, a woman named Katra Bai admitted she felt safer going to the bathroom in her house, but that new debt had caused so much stress in her marriage that her husband was beating her now. “They were all over us to get it done as fast as possible and threatening us with bad consequences, and now that it’s made, where is the money?” she said. “Although it’s just [₹]12,000, it’s something, some hope.” On the ground nearby, her children were hunched over homework assignments, scribbling away. She was determined to keep them in school, but without the compensation, the kilns were looming.(Reporting for this piece was facilitated by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, with supplementary funding from the University of Michigan)  While sanitation schemes in India date back to the British Raj, Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) is the latest and by far most ambitious iteration. Launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the end of 2014, the ₹9,000 crore scheme aims to achieve an Open Defecation-Free (ODF) India by constructing 12 million rural household toilets across the country before October 2, 2019 — to coincide with Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary.Also Readlast_img read more

10-year-old rape victim delivers baby, put under observation

first_imgA 10-year-old girl, who was allegedly raped repeatedly by her uncle, delivered a girl child at a local government hospital here on Thursday, said a senior doctor.Dr. Dasari Harish, chairperson of the committee that was constituted for the care of the rape victim, told The Hindu, “A baby girl was delivered through a C-section on Thursday morning. The surgery began at 9 a.m. and was over by 10.45 a.m. The surgery was uneventful though it was a high risk pregnancy,” said Dr. Harish.“The newborn girl child is stable but under observation at the neo-natal ICU as she is slightly underweight at 2.2 kg. The mother is stable,” he added.The Supreme Court had on July 28 turned down the rape victim’s abortion plea; at the time, she was 32 weeks pregnant.Her pregnancy was discovered when she complained of a stomach ache last month and was taken to the hospital, where it was found that she was around 30 weeks pregnant.On the request of the parents, the victim has not been told about the delivery of the child.Her father has urged the hospital management to hand over the baby for adoption.last_img read more

A ₹105 crore Made in India jewellery suite

first_imgWell-known diamond jewellery designer Nirav Modi has designed a jewellery set priced at ₹105 crore (over $16 million). Studded with specially-procured rubies from the Mogak mines in Myanmar and fine-cut diamonds from across the world, the set is believed to be one of the costliest ever made in India.The Gem and Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC), however, does not keep individual jewellery piece data and declined to comment.It took five years to source the rubies for this set called the Mogok Ruby Suite, which comprises a necklace, a pair of earrings and a bracelet. It took two years for Mr. Modi and his team to manufacture this at the company’s facility in Mumbai.“It was completed just two months back. It has been designed by me and manufactured here at our facility at Kurla in Mumbai. It is completely made in India,” Nirav Modi, founder and creative director Nirav Modi chain of diamond jewellery retail stores and Chairman of Firestar International said.Global marketFirestar International is the parent of Nirav Modi chain, which has stores in key markets across the globe. Asked whether the set has been ordered by some customer, Mr. Modi said, “I have created this over a period of time and based on my own imagination. We will find a buyer.” The set has 27 Mogak rubies weighing 71.11 carats and is made of finest of diamonds of D, E, F colour weighing 128.56 carats.Incidentally, Mr. Modi is the first jewellery designer from India whose creation had been auctioned at Christie’s.In 2010, when Mr. Modi started his first private salon, he wanted to introduce it through a big bang unveiling. “We had developed a Hero piece. Christie’s came to know about it and urged me to put it on auction and it fetched ₹16 crore then. It had a base price of ₹12 crore and witnessed aggressive bidding.”Mr. Modi said every single piece of jewellery sold at the stores were designed by him. The price starts from ₹2 lakh onwards. The ₹105 crore set is the costliest one ever produced by him.Mr. Modi, who set up its first retail store at Defence Colony, New Delhi in 2014, has now 15 stores, including three in India.last_img read more

AAP wants Punjab budget session extended

first_imgUnhappy over a shorter budget session of the Punjab Assembly that is slated to start from March 20, the Aam Aadmi Party has asked the Speaker to extend it to at least 15 sittings.In a letter to the Speaker, AAP leader Kanwar Sandhu has pointed out that usually the State budget sessions have between nine and 15 sittings.Endorsed by Mr. Khaira“The session falls woefully short of even the earlier sessions,” said Mr. Sandhu in the letter, which has been endorsed by the Leader of the Opposition, Sukhpal Singh Khaira.Pressing to extend the session to the second week of April, Mr. Sandhu said, “As the Speaker, you are the House custodian and the duration of the session is your, and not the government’s, prerogative. The Government could give you a list of the business that it seeks to bring forward. As the Speaker, you could ask each of the Opposition parties for their list of the business before taking the final call on the number of sittings the House would have.” Pointing out that Punjab was today facing a severe crisis forcing the people to head for foreign countries, Mr. Sandhu said, “Future generations would not forgive us for neglecting the vital issues plaguing the State. These can be addressed only through discussion and debate and not by pushing them under the carpet. Punjab has not only been let down by its bureaucracy but also looted by its political masters. The only hope lies in the parliamentary institutions like the Vidhan Sabha, which needs to debate the vital issues plaguing the State.”last_img read more

House adjourned after MESMA row

first_imgThe Shiv Sena forced eight adjournments in the Assembly on Wednesday, demanding that the State scrap the decision to bring anganwadi workers under the Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act (MESMA).Sena MLAs said the “draconian” decision would ban anganwadi workers from going on strike. “Over 94,000 anganwadi workers are paid a meagre honorarium and work in stressful conditions. The government’s decision must be revoked,” said Sena MLA Sunil Prabhu. Backing the demand, NCP leader Ajit Pawar said, “How can these employees be put under MESMA? We will not let this happen.” Sena MLAs gathered in protest in front of Speaker Haribhau Bagde, forcing him to adjourn the House repeatedly. Speaking to reporters, Leader of Opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil said the Congress opposed the government’s decision, but asked, “Do [the Shiv Sena] have the strength to oppose the decision in the Cabinet?”As the House regrouped, Women and Child Welfare Minister Pankaja Munde reiterated the government’s stand, saying, “Around 125 children died during the last strike of anganwadi workers. We cannot let this happen again, and hence the decision will stay,” she said. Mr. Prabhu said anganwadi workers are not government employees and cannot be brought under MESMA. Sena MLAs continue to protest, with Dnyanraj Chougule lifting the Speaker’s mace. The protest continued even as discussion on budgetary allocation began. Presiding officer Yogesh Sagar put the budgetary demands to vote amid the chaos, and they were passed without discussion. NCP and Congress leaders repeatedly asked for permission to speak, but Mr. Sagar adjourned the House for a day.last_img read more

29 girls raped in Bihar shelter

first_imgA day after the police said that 16 out of the 44 girls at a State-run shelter in Muzaffarpur had been sexually assaulted, the medical test results of 13 more girls have confirmed rape. A total of 42 girls had been sent for medical examination, and so far, in the cases of all the 29 girls whose reports are available, “sexual contact” has been confirmed, the police said. The medical reports of 13 more girls are still awaited. Two girls were not sent for a medical examination as they were unwell.“Out of the 44 girls from the Muzaffarpur shelter home, 42 were medically examined and their reports now show 29 of them had had sexual contact. The remaining two girls were not well, so they could not be sent for a medical test,” State Director General of Police K.S. Dwivedi told journalists in Patna. Mr Dwivedi also added that there was no need for a CBI inquiry as “he was satisfied with the investigation being conducted by the police department.”He further said that 10 of the 11 accused had been arrested and sent to jail while “one Dilip Verma is still absconding”. When asked why a test identification parade had not been done as yet, Mr. Dwivedi said that it would be done if required. He also said that no girl was missing from the shelter home. “Four girls were reported missing from the shelter home from December 2013 to 2018. Of these, three have been reported dead, while one had married and was living in Muzaffarpur,” Mr. Dwivedi said.Accusing the Nitish Kumar-led NDA government of protecting the main accused, Brajesh Thakur, the Opposition parties protested inside and in front of the State legislature on Tuesday, demanding a “High Court-monitored CBI inquiry into the case”. An aggressive opposition led by the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) disrupted the proceedings in the Bihar Assembly and the legislative council.last_img read more

Strike for 7th Pay Commission continues as talks fail

first_imgThe Maharashtra government employees agitating for the implementation of the Seventh Pay Commission decided to continue their three-day strike on the second day after meetings with senior officials failed to bring consensus. Maharashtra Rajya Sarkari Karmachari Sanghtana, the State government union that called the strike has, however, directed medical staff to join work from Thursday, following the explosion at the BPCL refinery in Chembur, Mumbai.Maharashtra Rajya Sarkari Karmachari Sanghtana General secretary, Avinash Daund, in a press conference on Wednesday night, said that the union met with Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar and then with Chief Secretary D.K. Jain. “We demanded a time-bound program to fulfil our demands. Since they gave us no concrete answer, we have decided to continue the strike,” he said. “We were told that State does not have enough money to fulfill our demands but we are not asking the government to pay us at once.”Political supportSeveral political parties expressed support for the employees.Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray said that the government should focus on solving their problems instead of threatening them with disciplinary action.State Congress president Ashok Chavan, said that continuous agitations from different groups are due to a lack of communication between the government and stakeholders. Nationalist Congress Party State president Jayant Patil said,“The government is promising to implement the Seventh Pay Commission from January. This is to win the elections that may be held in March-April.”The employees’ other demands are raising the retirement age from 58 to 60 years, a five-day work week, continuing the old pension scheme and a two-year child care leave for women employees.last_img read more

Odisha to give another ₹5 crore to Kerala flood relief

first_imgThe Odisha government on Sunday announced an additional assistance of ₹5 crore for Kerala from the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund (CMRF), besides 500 tonnes of polythene sheets for the flood-hit population.“People of Odisha stand by the flood-affected people of Kerala at this hour of severe distress. Odisha knows what a natural calamity of this magnitude means to the common man,” said Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, expressing deep condolences for the lives lost.The State government had earlier sanctioned ₹5 crore for Kerala. Polythene sheets worth about ₹8 crore will be shortly sent to Kerala.Odisha has sent as many as 244 fire service personnel trained in rescue operations, along with 65 rescue boats and other equipment.Mr. Patnaik also directed the Special Relief Commissioner (SRC) of Odisha to remain in touch with the authorities and extend help to all Odias stranded in Kerala. The SRC has sent a list of 187 Odias and their phone numbers to his Kerala counterpart Shyamal Kumar Das.The State Labour Department has already rushed officials to Kerala to ensure the safety of Odia labourers affected by the floods.last_img read more

Chamoli District Magistrate sets example, admits son to Anganwadi centre

first_imgChamoli District Magistrate Swati S. Bhadoria has set an example for others to follow by admitting her nearly two-year-old son in an Anganwadi centre at Gopeshwar village instead of an expensive city school. The factor that motivated her to make the choice was to help her son grow up in an atmosphere which encourages sharing, she said.“Anganwadi centres have all the facilities and a holistic environment which is good for the growth of a child,” the Chamoli DM said expressing happiness at her decision.“Education, fun and food go hand in hand at these centres. My son is feeling very good there along with the rest of the children,” she said. Another reason behind her decision may have been her feeling that the general attitude towards Anganwadi centres should change, Ms. Bhadoria said.“My son had food with his classmates and was visibly happy when he returned home,” said the Chamoli DM whose husband Nitin Bhadoria too is an IAS officer currently posted as Almora’s District Magistrate.“Tuesday was Abhyuday’s first day here and he had khichdi with the rest of the children,” said Manju Bhatt, a volunteer at the Anganwadi centre.last_img read more

IndiGo flight makes emergency landing at Kolkata airport

first_imgOver 130 passengers onboard an IndiGo flight from Jaipur to Kolkata faced a life-threatening situation when the plane’s cockpit and cabin were engulfed in smoke, forcing it to make an emergency landing at its destination airport. No passengers were injured in the incident. The government has tasked the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) to probe the incident. IndiGo has also been asked to conduct a detailed technical inspection and submit a preliminary report, according to a DGCA official.“The IndiGo aircraft VT ITR was about 45 miles off Kolkata when smoke engulfed the aircraft. The pilot issued May Day call and sought an emergency landing at Kolkata airport,” a source said.The Airbus A320 Neo plane was then steered towards an isolation bay at the airport, following which a chute was deployed to evacuate some passengers and others deplaned with the help of a ladder, according to IndiGo in a statement.last_img read more

At least twelve injured in Guwahati grenade blast

first_imgAt least 12 people, including two Seema Shashastra Bal personnel, were injured in a grenade blast near a police checkpoint on Guwahati’s upscale Zoo Road on May 15 evening.Eyewitnesses claimed the grenade was lobbed around 7:45 pm from an SUV that sped past the checkpoint near a shopping mall. The attack happened hours after Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal reviewed the law and order situation and asked the police to checkcriminal activities.”Twelve injured people have been admitted at the Guwahati Medical College Hospital and two private hospitals. They have received treatment and their condition of most of them is stable,” Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said. The two injured security personnel have been identified as Amulya Ratan Mahato and Ramesh Lal.The police said a manhunt has been launched to nab the culprits involved. “We will spare no effort to find out who is behind the blast,” City Police Commissioner Deepak Kumar said. “We are trying to find out if the of three United Liberation Front of Asom cadres in (eastern Assam’s) Tinsukia district earlier in the day has any connection to this blast,” Director General of Police Kuladhar Saikia told The Hindu from the spot. Police had intensified checking of vehicles and suspected people following intelligence inputs about the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom planning to carry out a subversive mission. Local TV channels claimed the outfit’s military chief Paresh Baruah called up to claim responsibility for the grenade attack.last_img read more

Namibia Gets Top Grade as Base for Major Gamma Ray Telescope

first_imgA patch of bushy land in southern Namibia has been singled out as the best candidate to host a major part of the world’s largest gamma ray telescope. Scientists meeting in Warsaw last week ranked the Namibian site as the best of five options for the southern array of the Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA), which will be comprised of two observatories, one on each side of the equator. Meanwhile, four sites competing for the CTA’s northern array all earned equal ratings.Cosmic gamma rays are believed to be produced by violent astrophysical events such as supernovas. They can’t be observed directly from Earth because they are blocked by the atmosphere, but Cherenkov telescopes spot them by detecting the flash of light caused by their collision with atoms in the upper atmosphere.The CTA, expected to cost $270 million and be fully operational in 2019, would be 10 times as powerful as current Cherenkov instruments. It will focus on resolving two mysteries: the origins of cosmic rays, and the nature of the dark matter that physicists believe constitutes 85% of all matter in the universe. The 120-telescope project will have two parts: a southern array with 100 instruments distributed over 10 square kilometers and a northern array with 20 instruments spread over 1 square kilometer. Six nations are bidding to host the arrays, with the United States, Mexico, and Spain competing for the northern site, and Argentina, Chile, and Namibia for the southern.Sign up for our daily newsletterGet more great content like this delivered right to you!Country *AfghanistanAland IslandsAlbaniaAlgeriaAndorraAngolaAnguillaAntarcticaAntigua and BarbudaArgentinaArmeniaArubaAustraliaAustriaAzerbaijanBahamasBahrainBangladeshBarbadosBelarusBelgiumBelizeBeninBermudaBhutanBolivia, Plurinational State ofBonaire, Sint Eustatius and SabaBosnia and HerzegovinaBotswanaBouvet IslandBrazilBritish Indian Ocean TerritoryBrunei DarussalamBulgariaBurkina FasoBurundiCambodiaCameroonCanadaCape VerdeCayman IslandsCentral African RepublicChadChileChinaChristmas IslandCocos (Keeling) IslandsColombiaComorosCongoCongo, The Democratic Republic of theCook IslandsCosta RicaCote D’IvoireCroatiaCubaCuraçaoCyprusCzech RepublicDenmarkDjiboutiDominicaDominican RepublicEcuadorEgyptEl SalvadorEquatorial GuineaEritreaEstoniaEthiopiaFalkland Islands (Malvinas)Faroe IslandsFijiFinlandFranceFrench GuianaFrench PolynesiaFrench Southern TerritoriesGabonGambiaGeorgiaGermanyGhanaGibraltarGreeceGreenlandGrenadaGuadeloupeGuatemalaGuernseyGuineaGuinea-BissauGuyanaHaitiHeard Island and Mcdonald IslandsHoly See (Vatican City State)HondurasHong KongHungaryIcelandIndiaIndonesiaIran, Islamic Republic ofIraqIrelandIsle of ManIsraelItalyJamaicaJapanJerseyJordanKazakhstanKenyaKiribatiKorea, Democratic People’s Republic ofKorea, Republic ofKuwaitKyrgyzstanLao People’s Democratic RepublicLatviaLebanonLesothoLiberiaLibyan Arab JamahiriyaLiechtensteinLithuaniaLuxembourgMacaoMacedonia, The Former Yugoslav Republic ofMadagascarMalawiMalaysiaMaldivesMaliMaltaMartiniqueMauritaniaMauritiusMayotteMexicoMoldova, Republic ofMonacoMongoliaMontenegroMontserratMoroccoMozambiqueMyanmarNamibiaNauruNepalNetherlandsNew CaledoniaNew ZealandNicaraguaNigerNigeriaNiueNorfolk IslandNorwayOmanPakistanPalestinianPanamaPapua New GuineaParaguayPeruPhilippinesPitcairnPolandPortugalQatarReunionRomaniaRussian FederationRWANDASaint Barthélemy Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da CunhaSaint Kitts and NevisSaint LuciaSaint Martin (French part)Saint Pierre and MiquelonSaint Vincent and the GrenadinesSamoaSan MarinoSao Tome and PrincipeSaudi ArabiaSenegalSerbiaSeychellesSierra LeoneSingaporeSint Maarten (Dutch part)SlovakiaSloveniaSolomon IslandsSomaliaSouth AfricaSouth Georgia and the South Sandwich IslandsSouth SudanSpainSri LankaSudanSurinameSvalbard and Jan MayenSwazilandSwedenSwitzerlandSyrian Arab RepublicTaiwanTajikistanTanzania, United Republic ofThailandTimor-LesteTogoTokelauTongaTrinidad and TobagoTunisiaTurkeyTurkmenistanTurks and Caicos IslandsTuvaluUgandaUkraineUnited Arab EmiratesUnited KingdomUnited StatesUruguayUzbekistanVanuatuVenezuela, Bolivarian Republic ofVietnamVirgin Islands, BritishWallis and FutunaWestern SaharaYemenZambiaZimbabweI also wish to receive emails from AAAS/Science and Science advertisers, including information on products, services and special offers which may include but are not limited to news, careers information & upcoming events.Required fields are included by an asterisk(*)In Warsaw, scientists representing the 27-country CTA Consortium met to analyze and rank nine candidate sites. The group considered a wide range of issues, including data on weather, magnetic fields, and accessibility. The goal was “to quantify the sites [based] on their scientific potential and on … site risks or costs,” says Rene Ong, an astrophysicist at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a member of the U.S. site-bid team.For the southern observatory, Namibia’s Aar site received the highest score. It sits on a privately owned farm more than 1600 meters above sea level in southern Namibia, some 120 kilometers west of the city of Luderitz. Namibia already hosts the world’s largest Cherenkov telescope array, known as the High Energy Stereoscopic System (H.E.S.S.).A site in Chile and the H.E.S.S. site in Namibia finished second. Two sites in Argentina (El Leoncito and San Antonio de los Cobres) were third and fourth, respectively.For the northern array, Spain’s Teide site was considered the front-runner prior to the meeting. But all four candidates, including two sites in Arizona and one at Mexico’s San Pedro Mártir observatory, ended up with equal scores.Mexico’s candidate, however, may have to be eliminated. Temperature data suggest it gets too cold on some nights for CTA instruments, but scientists are now evaluating whether the instruments might be able to withstand colder temperatures.The Warsaw meeting isn’t the last word on the issue. The rankings will be forwarded to a 15-nation funding panel that will make the final siting choice. A decision is expected by the end of December, with final approval for the project expected by the end of 2014. First science could start in 2017, with a goal of having the CTA fully operational 2 years later.last_img read more

Earth More Sensitive to Increasing Greenhouse Gas Than Thought

first_imgEarth’s climate may warm considerably more than expected in response to a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide, a new study of a broad range of climate models hints. The reason, the scientists say, is that simulations that now show only a moderate amount of warming don’t accurately depict the amount of cloud formation in the lower atmosphere, thus cooling the climate more than real-world data suggest will actually occur. If true, warming of the planet will fall toward the high end of the range offered in every expert climate assessment of the past 3 decades.Carbon dioxide is a so-called greenhouse gas: The more of it there is in the atmosphere, the more heat is trapped there and the higher the global average temperature climbs. Scientists have long debated how sensitive Earth’s climate is to this planet-warming trace gas. Specifically, they ask, how much will worldwide temperatures rise if the level of CO2 becomes double that seen in the era before human activity began spewing the gas into the atmosphere?Current models and a range of observations suggest that Earth will warm somewhere between 1.5° and 4.5°C once carbon dioxide levels are twice the preindustrial concentration of about 280 parts per million and the climate system adjusts, says Steven Sherwood, an atmospheric scientist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. That’s a wide range, he notes—a range that hasn’t narrowed since the first computer simulations of climate debuted in the 1970s. Broad analyses have hinted that a model’s climate sensitivity depends, in large part, on how the model estimates cloud formation at low altitude, he adds. If a simulation produces generous amounts of low-level clouds, more sunlight is reflected back into space, and Earth, on the whole, is cooler than it would have been without the clouds.Sign up for our daily newsletterGet more great content like this delivered right to you!Country *AfghanistanAland IslandsAlbaniaAlgeriaAndorraAngolaAnguillaAntarcticaAntigua and BarbudaArgentinaArmeniaArubaAustraliaAustriaAzerbaijanBahamasBahrainBangladeshBarbadosBelarusBelgiumBelizeBeninBermudaBhutanBolivia, Plurinational State ofBonaire, Sint Eustatius and SabaBosnia and HerzegovinaBotswanaBouvet IslandBrazilBritish Indian Ocean TerritoryBrunei DarussalamBulgariaBurkina FasoBurundiCambodiaCameroonCanadaCape VerdeCayman IslandsCentral African RepublicChadChileChinaChristmas IslandCocos (Keeling) IslandsColombiaComorosCongoCongo, The Democratic Republic of theCook IslandsCosta RicaCote D’IvoireCroatiaCubaCuraçaoCyprusCzech RepublicDenmarkDjiboutiDominicaDominican RepublicEcuadorEgyptEl SalvadorEquatorial GuineaEritreaEstoniaEthiopiaFalkland Islands (Malvinas)Faroe IslandsFijiFinlandFranceFrench GuianaFrench PolynesiaFrench Southern TerritoriesGabonGambiaGeorgiaGermanyGhanaGibraltarGreeceGreenlandGrenadaGuadeloupeGuatemalaGuernseyGuineaGuinea-BissauGuyanaHaitiHeard Island and Mcdonald IslandsHoly See (Vatican City State)HondurasHong KongHungaryIcelandIndiaIndonesiaIran, Islamic Republic ofIraqIrelandIsle of ManIsraelItalyJamaicaJapanJerseyJordanKazakhstanKenyaKiribatiKorea, Democratic People’s Republic ofKorea, Republic ofKuwaitKyrgyzstanLao People’s Democratic RepublicLatviaLebanonLesothoLiberiaLibyan Arab JamahiriyaLiechtensteinLithuaniaLuxembourgMacaoMacedonia, The Former Yugoslav Republic ofMadagascarMalawiMalaysiaMaldivesMaliMaltaMartiniqueMauritaniaMauritiusMayotteMexicoMoldova, Republic ofMonacoMongoliaMontenegroMontserratMoroccoMozambiqueMyanmarNamibiaNauruNepalNetherlandsNew CaledoniaNew ZealandNicaraguaNigerNigeriaNiueNorfolk IslandNorwayOmanPakistanPalestinianPanamaPapua New GuineaParaguayPeruPhilippinesPitcairnPolandPortugalQatarReunionRomaniaRussian FederationRWANDASaint Barthélemy Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da CunhaSaint Kitts and NevisSaint LuciaSaint Martin (French part)Saint Pierre and MiquelonSaint Vincent and the GrenadinesSamoaSan MarinoSao Tome and PrincipeSaudi ArabiaSenegalSerbiaSeychellesSierra LeoneSingaporeSint Maarten (Dutch part)SlovakiaSloveniaSolomon IslandsSomaliaSouth AfricaSouth Georgia and the South Sandwich IslandsSouth SudanSpainSri LankaSudanSurinameSvalbard and Jan MayenSwazilandSwedenSwitzerlandSyrian Arab RepublicTaiwanTajikistanTanzania, United Republic ofThailandTimor-LesteTogoTokelauTongaTrinidad and TobagoTunisiaTurkeyTurkmenistanTurks and Caicos IslandsTuvaluUgandaUkraineUnited Arab EmiratesUnited KingdomUnited StatesUruguayUzbekistanVanuatuVenezuela, Bolivarian Republic ofVietnamVirgin Islands, BritishWallis and FutunaWestern SaharaYemenZambiaZimbabweI also wish to receive emails from AAAS/Science and Science advertisers, including information on products, services and special offers which may include but are not limited to news, careers information & upcoming events.Required fields are included by an asterisk(*)In an attempt to narrow the range of climate sensitivity, Sherwood and his colleagues analyzed the results from 43 different climate models. Specifically, they looked at how the simulations represented mixing in the lowest few kilometers of the atmosphere, where many clouds form, as climate gets warmer. Then, they compared model results with data gathered worldwide.The team found that on the whole, the global climate models with low climate sensitivity—all 15 of those in which global average temperature rose less than 3°C for each doubling of CO2—produced far too many low-altitude clouds. “These [low-sensitivity] models are doing it all wrong,” Sherwood says. On the whole, he and his colleagues say, increased convection in the lowest portion of the atmosphere will tend to dry out the air there, making cloud formation less likely. That, in turn, suggests that the low-sensitivity models shouldn’t be trusted, and that Earth will most likely warm more than 3°C for each doubling of CO2, the researchers report in today’s issue of Nature.The team’s results suggest that about half the variation in climate sensitivity is explained by differences in how the models depict mixing in the lower atmosphere, climate scientists Hideo Shiogama and Tomoo Ogura of the National Institute for Environmental Studies in Tsukuba, Japan, comment in the same issue of Nature. The rest of the variation can’t yet be explained, they note, but important factors could include how the models simulate overall changes in the amounts of sea ice or of high-level clouds.Because the team’s analysis of the climate models focuses on the processes incorporated into those simulations, “it’s pretty credible,” says Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, who also was not involved in the new work. However, he notes, previous studies have indicated that climate sensitivity below 3°C can’t be ruled out. Therefore, the new analysis simply makes low values of climate sensitivity less likely but not altogether out of the question.“This new study is just one bit of information, but I believe it pushes the likely climate sensitivity closer to where it’s always been, up around 3°C,” Schmidt adds. “It’s always difficult to predict the future, we’re always limited by what we don’t know.”last_img read more

Embattled Stem Cell Researcher Apologizes but Defends Her Work

first_img Kyodo On the defense. “STAP cells exist!” said Obokata, shown here during a January press conference, today in Osaka. TOKYO—In her first appearance before the press since her claims of an astounding breakthrough in stem cell research started unraveling, Haruko Obokata, of the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, Japan, apologized for the trouble she has caused her employer, her colleagues, and the scientific community. But she also firmly maintained that STAP cells, the new type of stem cells she claims to have developed, exist, and said she will not retract the two Nature papers reporting her finding.“I sincerely apologize to RIKEN, my co-authors, and to many others for the trouble I caused through my insufficient experience and carelessness,” Obokata said with a deep bow at the beginning of the press conference, which was held in Osaka. But “STAP cells exist!” she defiantly declared in response to a question. She also pledged to “go anywhere” to help any interested scientist reproduce her results.Obokata last faced the press when she and colleagues at RIKEN and other institutions in Japan and at Harvard Medical School in Boston published a research article and a letter online in Nature on 29 January. The 30-year-old was lionized in Japan for her unexpected breakthrough, a method to create stem cells that she called “stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency,” or STAP. It works by subjecting mature cells to a brief acid bath and then tweaking culture conditions. But soon there were reports of doctored images and plagiarism, and to date, no one has reported replicating the first step in creating STAP cells. One co-author has called for the papers to be retracted.Sign up for our daily newsletterGet more great content like this delivered right to you!Country *AfghanistanAland IslandsAlbaniaAlgeriaAndorraAngolaAnguillaAntarcticaAntigua and BarbudaArgentinaArmeniaArubaAustraliaAustriaAzerbaijanBahamasBahrainBangladeshBarbadosBelarusBelgiumBelizeBeninBermudaBhutanBolivia, Plurinational State ofBonaire, Sint Eustatius and SabaBosnia and HerzegovinaBotswanaBouvet IslandBrazilBritish Indian Ocean TerritoryBrunei DarussalamBulgariaBurkina FasoBurundiCambodiaCameroonCanadaCape VerdeCayman IslandsCentral African RepublicChadChileChinaChristmas IslandCocos (Keeling) IslandsColombiaComorosCongoCongo, The Democratic Republic of theCook IslandsCosta RicaCote D’IvoireCroatiaCubaCuraçaoCyprusCzech RepublicDenmarkDjiboutiDominicaDominican RepublicEcuadorEgyptEl SalvadorEquatorial GuineaEritreaEstoniaEthiopiaFalkland Islands (Malvinas)Faroe IslandsFijiFinlandFranceFrench GuianaFrench PolynesiaFrench Southern TerritoriesGabonGambiaGeorgiaGermanyGhanaGibraltarGreeceGreenlandGrenadaGuadeloupeGuatemalaGuernseyGuineaGuinea-BissauGuyanaHaitiHeard Island and Mcdonald IslandsHoly See (Vatican City State)HondurasHong KongHungaryIcelandIndiaIndonesiaIran, Islamic Republic ofIraqIrelandIsle of ManIsraelItalyJamaicaJapanJerseyJordanKazakhstanKenyaKiribatiKorea, Democratic People’s Republic ofKorea, Republic ofKuwaitKyrgyzstanLao People’s Democratic RepublicLatviaLebanonLesothoLiberiaLibyan Arab JamahiriyaLiechtensteinLithuaniaLuxembourgMacaoMacedonia, The Former Yugoslav Republic ofMadagascarMalawiMalaysiaMaldivesMaliMaltaMartiniqueMauritaniaMauritiusMayotteMexicoMoldova, Republic ofMonacoMongoliaMontenegroMontserratMoroccoMozambiqueMyanmarNamibiaNauruNepalNetherlandsNew CaledoniaNew ZealandNicaraguaNigerNigeriaNiueNorfolk IslandNorwayOmanPakistanPalestinianPanamaPapua New GuineaParaguayPeruPhilippinesPitcairnPolandPortugalQatarReunionRomaniaRussian FederationRWANDASaint Barthélemy Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da CunhaSaint Kitts and NevisSaint LuciaSaint Martin (French part)Saint Pierre and MiquelonSaint Vincent and the GrenadinesSamoaSan MarinoSao Tome and PrincipeSaudi ArabiaSenegalSerbiaSeychellesSierra LeoneSingaporeSint Maarten (Dutch part)SlovakiaSloveniaSolomon IslandsSomaliaSouth AfricaSouth Georgia and the South Sandwich IslandsSouth SudanSpainSri LankaSudanSurinameSvalbard and Jan MayenSwazilandSwedenSwitzerlandSyrian Arab RepublicTaiwanTajikistanTanzania, United Republic ofThailandTimor-LesteTogoTokelauTongaTrinidad and TobagoTunisiaTurkeyTurkmenistanTurks and Caicos IslandsTuvaluUgandaUkraineUnited Arab EmiratesUnited KingdomUnited StatesUruguayUzbekistanVanuatuVenezuela, Bolivarian Republic ofVietnamVirgin Islands, BritishWallis and FutunaWestern SaharaYemenZambiaZimbabweI also wish to receive emails from AAAS/Science and Science advertisers, including information on products, services and special offers which may include but are not limited to news, careers information & upcoming events.Required fields are included by an asterisk(*)A RIKEN investigating committee announced on 1 April that it had found two instances of research misconduct. RIKEN President Ryoji Noyori said at the time that Obokata would be given a chance to appeal before a disciplinary committee would be convened. Obokata’s lawyers filed the appeal with RIKEN yesterday.At the press conference, Kazuhiko Murotani, one of her attorneys, elaborated on Obokata’s previous claims that there was no intent to deceive, and that the problems in the papers do not affect the results. He did reveal a few new details. For instance, Obokata had previously admitted to using images from her doctoral thesis in the Nature papers by mistake; Murotani explained today that the images did not come directly from the thesis, but rather resulted from a mix-up of PowerPoint slides.He also parsed the meaning of the term “fabrication,” claiming it describes cases where an image is made up completely from scratch and intended to deceive. That’s not what happened in Obokata’s case, where images were inadvertently mixed up, he said. He said the investigating committee had rushed to a conclusion without giving Obokata sufficient opportunity to present her side of the story. Obokata, through her lawyers, is asking RIKEN to reinvestigate the matter and reconsider the judgment.RIKEN released a statement confirming receipt of the appeal and saying the institute “will give due consideration to the appeal in accordance with our regulations.”Obokata answered most of the questions herself during a Q&A session that stretched the press conference to a bit over 2.5 hours. Among other things, she said that she has at least four or five lab notebooks containing the details of her experiments, not the two notebooks the investigating committee mentioned in its report; unfortunately, they are scattered among the various labs she has worked in.She apologized several times for the errors in the papers, but also repeatedly expressed her faith in her findings. She claimed she has created STAP cells more than 200 times; retracting the Nature papers would indicate that the STAP phenomenon is not real, she added. “If I can continue in research, I want to work to realize the hopes of STAP cells as quickly as possible,” she said.In a related development, at a press conference on Monday, Hitoshi Niwa, a RIKEN senior scientist and a co-author of the papers, outlined how a RIKEN team will try to replicate every step of the experiments reported in the two papers, from the stressing of the cells and the creation of STAP stem cells to testing their pluripotency. He said he expects the effort to take a full year but promised to release interim reports on progress.last_img read more

Top stories: An Ebola emergency, Earth’s tiny saviors, and Rosetta makes history

first_imgHow two U.S. patients changed the debate about using untested Ebola drugsEbola has already sickened 1779 people and killed 961 in four West African countries, and the World Health Organization has declared the escalating outbreak an international emergency. But until last week, there appeared to be little hope that any experimental drugs or vaccines might be used to control the infection. Now, the cases of two U.S. Ebola patients who were treated with an experimental antibody cocktail have suddenly upset that international consensus.Ancient worms may have saved EarthSign up for our daily newsletterGet more great content like this delivered right to you!Country *AfghanistanAland IslandsAlbaniaAlgeriaAndorraAngolaAnguillaAntarcticaAntigua and BarbudaArgentinaArmeniaArubaAustraliaAustriaAzerbaijanBahamasBahrainBangladeshBarbadosBelarusBelgiumBelizeBeninBermudaBhutanBolivia, Plurinational State ofBonaire, Sint Eustatius and SabaBosnia and HerzegovinaBotswanaBouvet IslandBrazilBritish Indian Ocean TerritoryBrunei DarussalamBulgariaBurkina FasoBurundiCambodiaCameroonCanadaCape VerdeCayman IslandsCentral African RepublicChadChileChinaChristmas IslandCocos (Keeling) IslandsColombiaComorosCongoCongo, The Democratic Republic of theCook IslandsCosta RicaCote D’IvoireCroatiaCubaCuraçaoCyprusCzech RepublicDenmarkDjiboutiDominicaDominican RepublicEcuadorEgyptEl SalvadorEquatorial GuineaEritreaEstoniaEthiopiaFalkland Islands (Malvinas)Faroe IslandsFijiFinlandFranceFrench GuianaFrench PolynesiaFrench Southern TerritoriesGabonGambiaGeorgiaGermanyGhanaGibraltarGreeceGreenlandGrenadaGuadeloupeGuatemalaGuernseyGuineaGuinea-BissauGuyanaHaitiHeard Island and Mcdonald IslandsHoly See (Vatican City State)HondurasHong KongHungaryIcelandIndiaIndonesiaIran, Islamic Republic ofIraqIrelandIsle of ManIsraelItalyJamaicaJapanJerseyJordanKazakhstanKenyaKiribatiKorea, Democratic People’s Republic ofKorea, Republic ofKuwaitKyrgyzstanLao People’s Democratic RepublicLatviaLebanonLesothoLiberiaLibyan Arab JamahiriyaLiechtensteinLithuaniaLuxembourgMacaoMacedonia, The Former Yugoslav Republic ofMadagascarMalawiMalaysiaMaldivesMaliMaltaMartiniqueMauritaniaMauritiusMayotteMexicoMoldova, Republic ofMonacoMongoliaMontenegroMontserratMoroccoMozambiqueMyanmarNamibiaNauruNepalNetherlandsNew CaledoniaNew ZealandNicaraguaNigerNigeriaNiueNorfolk IslandNorwayOmanPakistanPalestinianPanamaPapua New GuineaParaguayPeruPhilippinesPitcairnPolandPortugalQatarReunionRomaniaRussian FederationRWANDASaint Barthélemy Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da CunhaSaint Kitts and NevisSaint LuciaSaint Martin (French part)Saint Pierre and MiquelonSaint Vincent and the GrenadinesSamoaSan MarinoSao Tome and PrincipeSaudi ArabiaSenegalSerbiaSeychellesSierra LeoneSingaporeSint Maarten (Dutch part)SlovakiaSloveniaSolomon IslandsSomaliaSouth AfricaSouth Georgia and the South Sandwich IslandsSouth SudanSpainSri LankaSudanSurinameSvalbard and Jan MayenSwazilandSwedenSwitzerlandSyrian Arab RepublicTaiwanTajikistanTanzania, United Republic ofThailandTimor-LesteTogoTokelauTongaTrinidad and TobagoTunisiaTurkeyTurkmenistanTurks and Caicos IslandsTuvaluUgandaUkraineUnited Arab EmiratesUnited KingdomUnited StatesUruguayUzbekistanVanuatuVenezuela, Bolivarian Republic ofVietnamVirgin Islands, BritishWallis and FutunaWestern SaharaYemenZambiaZimbabweI also wish to receive emails from AAAS/Science and Science advertisers, including information on products, services and special offers which may include but are not limited to news, careers information & upcoming events.Required fields are included by an asterisk(*)You can credit your existence to tiny wormlike creatures that lived 500 million years ago, a new study suggests. By tunneling through the sea floor, these creatures altered our planet’s chemistry and kept oxygen concentrations at just the right level to allow animals and other complex life to evolve. The finding may help answer an enduring mystery of Earth’s past.After 10-year chase, Rosetta spacecraft catches its cometOn 6 August, the Rosetta spacecraft made history. After a 10-year chase through the solar system, the probe finally arrived at the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, making it the first spacecraft ever to rendezvous with a comet. The mission, perhaps the most ambitious one ever undertaken by the European Space Agency, will now join the comet as it begins a lap around the sun, heats up, and releases stores of ice in a cloud of dust and gas.Nose swab detects fatal brain diseaseThe early signs of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease—a rare, incurable brain disorder best known for its connection to mad cow disease—are difficult to interpret. By the time memory failure, blindness, and coma set in, death is usually imminent. Now, researchers report that a simple nasal swab may help doctors detect the disease much sooner—and more accurately.How fat grizzly bears stay diabetes-freeEvery fall, grizzly bears pack on the pounds in preparation for their winter hibernation. In humans, such extreme weight gain would likely lead to diabetes or other metabolic diseases, but the bears manage to stay healthy year after year. Their ability to remain diabetes-free, researchers have now discovered, can be chalked up to the shutting down of a protein found in fat cells. The discovery could lead to new diabetes drugs that turn off the same pathway in humans.Senior RIKEN scientist involved in stem cell scandal commits suicideYoshiki Sasai, a noted stem cell scientist at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology who co-authored two controversial and later retracted papers that reported a simple way of reprogramming mature cells, was confirmed dead on 5 August, an apparent suicide. Sasai was facing disciplinary measures and a damaged reputation in the wake of the scandal surrounding the papers.last_img read more

Plant releases its pollen in the full moon

first_imgFull moons are often thought to be a catalyst for romance. Something about that dim white light in the dark sky has for centuries inspired humans to compose sonatas, paint pictures, and explore the cosmos. But it seems we’re far from being the only organisms inspired by the moon’s beauty. A new study, published online today in Biology Letters, suggests that a small scrubby shrub called Ephedra foeminea releases its pollen only when the moon is full.Found on cliffs, ravines, and bare rocks from Italy to Yemen, Ephedra is a gymnosperm, meaning, like pine trees, it houses its reproductive structures within cones. Some varieties depend on wind to spread its pollen around, but others form pollen drops to attract flies and moths. What scientists didn’t know was precisely when—or how—insect pollination took place.The realization that E. foeminea waits for the full moon came almost by accident. In the summer of 2014, Stockholm University botanist Catarina Rydin and her team traveled to the Balkans to study why some lineages of the plant had switched from wind to insect pollination. But they arrived too early in the summer and couldn’t find any actively pollinating plants. Looking over past records and other literature, Rydin realized that many pictures of the plant’s pollen-laden droplets oozing out from their tiny cones were beautifully lit by moonlight. “I am not sure why, but all of a sudden we experienced a eureka moment!” she says.Sign up for our daily newsletterGet more great content like this delivered right to you!Country *AfghanistanAland IslandsAlbaniaAlgeriaAndorraAngolaAnguillaAntarcticaAntigua and BarbudaArgentinaArmeniaArubaAustraliaAustriaAzerbaijanBahamasBahrainBangladeshBarbadosBelarusBelgiumBelizeBeninBermudaBhutanBolivia, Plurinational State ofBonaire, Sint Eustatius and SabaBosnia and HerzegovinaBotswanaBouvet IslandBrazilBritish Indian Ocean TerritoryBrunei DarussalamBulgariaBurkina FasoBurundiCambodiaCameroonCanadaCape VerdeCayman IslandsCentral African RepublicChadChileChinaChristmas IslandCocos (Keeling) IslandsColombiaComorosCongoCongo, The Democratic Republic of theCook IslandsCosta RicaCote D’IvoireCroatiaCubaCuraçaoCyprusCzech RepublicDenmarkDjiboutiDominicaDominican RepublicEcuadorEgyptEl SalvadorEquatorial GuineaEritreaEstoniaEthiopiaFalkland Islands (Malvinas)Faroe IslandsFijiFinlandFranceFrench GuianaFrench PolynesiaFrench Southern TerritoriesGabonGambiaGeorgiaGermanyGhanaGibraltarGreeceGreenlandGrenadaGuadeloupeGuatemalaGuernseyGuineaGuinea-BissauGuyanaHaitiHeard Island and Mcdonald IslandsHoly See (Vatican City State)HondurasHong KongHungaryIcelandIndiaIndonesiaIran, Islamic Republic ofIraqIrelandIsle of ManIsraelItalyJamaicaJapanJerseyJordanKazakhstanKenyaKiribatiKorea, Democratic People’s Republic ofKorea, Republic ofKuwaitKyrgyzstanLao People’s Democratic RepublicLatviaLebanonLesothoLiberiaLibyan Arab JamahiriyaLiechtensteinLithuaniaLuxembourgMacaoMacedonia, The Former Yugoslav Republic ofMadagascarMalawiMalaysiaMaldivesMaliMaltaMartiniqueMauritaniaMauritiusMayotteMexicoMoldova, Republic ofMonacoMongoliaMontenegroMontserratMoroccoMozambiqueMyanmarNamibiaNauruNepalNetherlandsNew CaledoniaNew ZealandNicaraguaNigerNigeriaNiueNorfolk IslandNorwayOmanPakistanPalestinianPanamaPapua New GuineaParaguayPeruPhilippinesPitcairnPolandPortugalQatarReunionRomaniaRussian FederationRWANDASaint Barthélemy Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da CunhaSaint Kitts and NevisSaint LuciaSaint Martin (French part)Saint Pierre and MiquelonSaint Vincent and the GrenadinesSamoaSan MarinoSao Tome and PrincipeSaudi ArabiaSenegalSerbiaSeychellesSierra LeoneSingaporeSint Maarten (Dutch part)SlovakiaSloveniaSolomon IslandsSomaliaSouth AfricaSouth Georgia and the South Sandwich IslandsSouth SudanSpainSri LankaSudanSurinameSvalbard and Jan MayenSwazilandSwedenSwitzerlandSyrian Arab RepublicTaiwanTajikistanTanzania, United Republic ofThailandTimor-LesteTogoTokelauTongaTrinidad and TobagoTunisiaTurkeyTurkmenistanTurks and Caicos IslandsTuvaluUgandaUkraineUnited Arab EmiratesUnited KingdomUnited StatesUruguayUzbekistanVanuatuVenezuela, Bolivarian Republic ofVietnamVirgin Islands, BritishWallis and FutunaWestern SaharaYemenZambiaZimbabweI also wish to receive emails from AAAS/Science and Science advertisers, including information on products, services and special offers which may include but are not limited to news, careers information & upcoming events.Required fields are included by an asterisk(*)Just a few weeks later, on the night of a full moon, E. foeminea shrubs in the study area began to release drops of pollen-rich fluid. The sugary liquid is especially attractive to a host of nocturnal flies and moths, many of which are known to navigate using the polarized light from the moon. Rydin and her team thus speculate that Ephedra evolved to release its pollen when the moon was brightest so that its pollinators could be as efficient as possible. “It’s an interesting study. I think that there’s a clear correlation there,” said Chris Cutler, an entomologist at Dalhousie University, Halifax, in Canada.The researchers then went back to analyze historical data on E. foeminea’s pollination periods in previous years and compared them with lunar cycles from the same year. After controlling for fluctuations in temperature and precipitation, the team found that 2014 was not an anomaly: The shrub appeared to be consistently entering its weeklong pollination phase on the night of the full moon in July. To further bolster their theory, the team looked at species of Ephedra that are pollinated by wind and discovered that these close relatives did not appear to sync their pollination phases with the lunar cycle.It seems odd that a plant would forego pollination opportunities while waiting for the moon to reach its maximum size, and indeed, full-moon pollination has garnered justified skepticism before. But Rydin points out that the cost of producing pollen is high enough that Ephedra might conserve energy for the July full moon, which stays in the sky longer than partial moons. “We think it is all about maximizing the efficiency, not only regarding the preciseness of pollinator navigation and attraction to the cones, but also in terms of number of efficient dark hours. Only at full moon do the insects have a moon to navigate by during the entire night.”How the plants sense the full moon remains a mystery, but Rydin’s early guess is that they are actually aware of the minute differences in tidal force that the moon exerts on Earth. The moon’s orbit is elliptical, meaning that at some points it’s closer to our planet than others, causing its gravitational pull to fluctuate ever so slightly. How the plants might perceive such miniscule forces is unknown, but Rydin hopes to get a chance to investigate further. Likewise, an investigation into the insect species might help shore up the findings. “I think what’s needed next is to find what the insect fauna is in those habitats and if they have cyclic activity with full moons. That’s the missing link so far with the paper,” Cutler says.The other possibility is that Ephedra is detecting the moonlight itself. But this theory presents its own challenging questions. How does the plant differentiate between moonlight from an almost full and a truly full moon? What happens if it’s cloudy on the night of the full moon in July? Oddly enough, the second question is hard to answer using historic data because the weather in Ephedra’s distribution region is so mild, and cloudy summer nights are so rare.Whatever the case, the result is spectacular: Amid the moon’s cool glow, thousands upon thousands of silvery droplets coalesce on Ephedra’s cones to reflect the moonlight into the compound eyes of passing insects, signaling the start of a weeklong feast for the arthropods and another mating season for E. foeminea.*Correction, 2 April, 1:07 p.m.: An earlier version of this article stated that Ephedra was a flowering plant, when, in fact, it is a gymnosperm.last_img read more

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