Popular weed killer impairs insect immune systems, raising malaria risk

Unexpected new findings from researchers at Johns Hopkins University are indicating the world’s most commonly used herbicide appears to weaken the immune systems of insects. One experiment with mosquitos known to spread malaria suggests the chemical can increase the insect’s susceptibility to parasitic infection, possibly increasing risk of human disease transmission.

Glyphosate is a weed-killer that has been in wide agricultural use since the 1970s. It kills plants by disrupting a crucial metabolic process called the shikimate pathway. The pathway is only present in plants, so for many years glyphosate was thought to be an ideal herbicide – harmless to everything but plants.

Over recent years, however, concerns have been raised over the chemical’s effect on the surrounding environment and humans. Austria and Vietnam were two of the first countries to outright ban the herbicide, while several others are undergoing a staged phase-out of its use over the coming years.

The effects of glyphosate on insects is still a source of much debate. Studies have found the herbicide can disrupt gut bacteria in insects, and this can lead to behavioral or physiological changes. A new study is suggesting glyphosate could impair immunity in insects, and this may lead to damaging consequences for human health.

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Mobile Phone Radiation Causes Decline of Insect Population, Says Study

Germany’s Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) collaborated with two non-government organizations (NGO) and a group from Germany and Luxembourg to analyze 190 scientific studies. Only 83 studies were deemed scientifically relevant, and 72 of these showed that radiation has a negative effect on flies, bees, and wasps.

Electromagnetic radiation has caused a reduction in the ability of insects to navigate because radiation causes a disturbance on the magnetic fields and damage to the genetic material of larvae.

Radiation from mobile phones and Wi-Fi has also made insects absorb more calcium ions because it has opened the calcium channels in certain cells. According to the study, this triggers a biochemical chain reaction on the insects, disrupting their circadian rhythms and immune system function.

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The Pentagon is training an army of bomb-sniffing cyborg locusts.

Tired: a plague of locusts

Wired: a legion of cybernetically-enhanced locusts trained by the US military to sniff bombs

That’s the new goal, according to Stars & Stripes magazine:

Navy-funded researchers have discovered that a locust’s sensitive “horns” can distinguish between the scents of TNT and other explosives — a development that one day could herald the deployment of bomb-sniffing, electronically augmented bug swarms.

The research by a team from Washington University in St. Louis, published this month in the science journal “Biosensors and Biolectronics: X,” is the first proof of concept for a system that aims to tap into the antennae and brainpower of garden-variety bugs to create an advanced bomb-detection sensor.

The work is funded by two Office of Naval Research grants totaling more than $1.1 million, and biomedical engineering professor Barani Raman believes it has the potential to produce a biorobotic sniffer that would be leaps ahead of entirely man-made “electronic noses.”

In the Washington University study, which is available to read online, the locusts were able to distinguish between the smells of common explosive chemicals such as TNT, DNT, RDX, PETN and ammonium nitrate — all in less than a second. Which is, admittedly, pretty impressive.

Insects like locusts also offer benefits over, say, bomb-sniffing dogs, in that they already tend to swarm together, and don’t require a lot of food and care. There’s also less of an ethical concern — no one cares if you attach sensors and cameras to a bug, but even military dogs still inspire a certain protective instinct in their human companions that could discourage such technological enhancements (or the experimentation required to figure out how to use them best).

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