Colony Collapse Disorder and the Giant Animal Hall of Fame

• Since 2006, large numbers of honeybees have died for no apparent reason. Bees are valued, of course, as producers of honey, but their greater importance is their role in pollinating many of the planet’s crops. They pollinate about $15 billion dollars worth of crops in the U.S. alone. This loss of bees has been called “colony collapse disorder,” or CCD. Evidence has been accumulating that CCD occurs when the bees’ resistance to opportunistic infections by fungi or parasitic insects is lowered. But why this loss of resistance? Within the past few months new research indicates that certain insecticides, called neonicotinoids, may be compromising the health of bees, even at very low doses. It probably is not coincidence that soon after these pesticides began to be used worldwide, beekeepers saw the first signs of CCD. The neonicotinoids affect the nervous system of insects, and in the case of bees, studies showed that after exposure to the pesticide, worker bees leave the hive and become lost, as if their “memories” are affected. France, Germany, and Slovenia, are now restricting the use of neonicotinoids because of their apparent effect on bees. If it can be shown conclusively that this class of pesticides does affect bees, it is important that our government acts swiftly to curtail their use. (Henry et al, Science, Mar. 29, 2012; The Economist, Mar. 31, 2012).

• According to the Smithsonian’s “Giant Animal Hall of Fame,” the following beasts may be beyond our imagination.

The Largest Herbivorous DinosaurArgenetinosaurus is estimated to have been 100 feet long and weigh over 73 tons.

The Largest Flying Bird – About six million years ago Argentavis magnificens had a wingspan of 23 feet. How it became airborne is debatable, but it appeared to be mainly a glider (like a vulture or condor).

The Largest Arthropod – Called the “sea scorpion,” Jaekelopterus rhenaniae was about eight feet long. Today the horseshoe crab is its closest living relative.

The Largest Crocodile – During the dinosaur period (about 80 million years ago), there was a 40-foot long crocodile that laid in wait and ambushed and ate dinosaurs. (Smithsonian, April, 2012)

• Don’t get your hopes up, but a research lab at the Stanford University School of Medicine just received a $20 million grant from a California institute to continue its studies on a cancer therapy that may shrink many kinds of human tumors. All cells of our body have a surface protein called CD47, a molecule that tells our immune system “not to eat me” when immune cells and their antibodies cruise around looking for “foreign” material to ingest and remove from the body. Cancer cells appear to have an excess of this protein on their surfaces, and the Stanford researchers developed an antibody that specifically seeks out cancer cells that display an excess of CD47. Preliminary results with mice indicate that treatment with the Stanford antibody causes the shrinkage or destruction of many kinds of human tumor cells injected into mice. It would be a miracle if researchers could find “one drug to shrink tumors,” but this study provides a glimmer of hope. (ScienceNOW, Mar. 26, 2012)

• Scientists remind us that over the past 250 years carbon dioxide levels increased from 280 parts per million volume (ppmv) to nearly 393 ppmv today. This rate of increase, driven by human fossil fuel combustion and deforestation, is an order of magnitude faster than has occurred for millions of years. (Doney, 2009, Ann. Review of Marine Science, 1:169)