Environment

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Woolly mammoth

Can Mammoths Save the World from Climate Change?

May 3, 2017

Over the past 20 years, a preserve known as Pleistocene Park has been created in Siberia with the goal of restoring grasslands once home to megafauna like mammoths. The theory behind the park, as described in The Atlantic, is that restoring the wildlife inhabiting it more than 12,000 years ago will create an ecosystem that will slow the thawing of Arctic permafrost, which has more carbon locked in it "than there is in all the planet’s forests and the rest of the atmosphere combined." Two scientists, a father and son named Sergey Zimov and Nikita Zimov, have dedicated their lives to clearing the forests that now cover the Mammoth Steppe by reintroducing species such as musk oxen, wild horses and other large herbivores. However, they need mammoths, "a keystone species on account of their prodigious grazing, their well-digging, and the singular joy they seemed to derive from knocking down trees." The project has inspired geneticist George Church to accelerate his research, which uses the CRISPR genome-editing technology to attempt the creation of a close relative of the mammoth. The article notes, "Nikita and Sergey seemed entirely unbothered by ethical considerations regarding mammoth cloning or geoengineering. They saw no contradiction between their veneration of 'the wild' and their willingness to intervene, radically, in nature." According to Nikita Zimov, “Playing God doesn’t bother me in the least. We are already doing it. Why not do it better?” Read the entire article here

News

Kid holding pro-science sign

600 Marches for Science Held Globally

April 24, 2017

Marches highlighting the importance of science – both its methods and its goals – attracted massive crowds on April 22. The organizers called for the science march after the successful Women's March drew millions on January 21; the protest was a response to ominous signs from the Trump administration regarding its intention to suppress government activities related to climate change, cut research funding, and slash the budgets of federal agencies with a scientific mission. According to the New York Times, the flagship march in Washington drew large crowds (estimated at 40,000), with similar results being reported from across the nation. In St. Paul, a protest at the Capitol drew more than 10,000, and was one of 13 pro-science rallies held in Minnesota. According to the Star Tribune, "Notable events [were held] in London, Paris and Sydney. . . . Chicago, New York and Los Angeles were among the largest U.S. marches, and smaller events took place across the country." 

News

Julie Gerberding

All-star Panel Charts a New Course for Disaster Preparedness

April 17, 2017

Last week, the Consortium hosted the final of three lectures on Emerging Diseases in a Changing Environment, featuring Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, MD, MPH, FACP. Dr. Gerberding is Executive Vice President at Merck and the former Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In her talk, she described what she's learned about emergency preparedness through responses to anthrax, SARS and other biothreats, and proposed steps that should be taken to improve such responses. Dr. Gerberding was joined by Prof. Amy KircherDrPH (Director, Food Protection and Defense Institute) and Prof. Michael T. Osterholm, PhD, MPH (Director, Center for Infectious Disease and Policy). In a lively conversation, they discussed pandemic threats and responses and from the perspectives of their disciplines, ultimately arriving at the importance of advance planning by collaborations such as the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to contain crises before they balloon out of control. A video of the entire event can be viewed here. Videos of the first lecture in the series, "Finches, Dogs, Lions and Zika: An Ecologist Looks at Emerging Disease" by Prof. Andrew Dobson, DPhil, can be viewed here. The second, "Ending the Pandemic Era: Science at the Animal-Human-Environmental Interface" by Jonna Mazet, DVM, MPVM, PhD, can be viewed here

News

Sunfish caught in Sullivan Lake

New Study Shows Trace Amounts of Drugs May Harm Fish

January 12, 2017

"Trace levels of pharmaceuticals and other chemicals may be harming fish in Minnesota rivers and lakes, according to a study released Thursday by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA)," reports Minnesota Public Radio. The new study confirms that such chemicals as antidepressants, insect repellent and the X-ray contrast agent iopamidol are commonly found in the state's rivers. MPCA lead scientist Mark Ferrey asserts, "Chemicals, even at those concentrations, can cause adverse effects in fish and wildlife that we're really just starting now to be able to understand." New developments in genetics allow scientists to examine the effects of this pollution. Prof. Dalma Martinovic-Weigelt of the University of St. Thomas is doing such a study, exposing fathead minnows to contaminated water and tracking the genetic response. Her research has the goal of pinpointing "what you should be worried about. Because there's so much information about these chemicals and their effect." Her study shows changes in minnow genes related to reproduction, growth and tumor formation among fish exposed to the contaminants. The entire MPR article can be found here

News

Ear of corn

GMOs Fail to Deliver Higher Crop Yields, Lower Pesticide Use

November 1, 2016

According to an in-depth article in the New York Times, while "the controversy over genetically modified crops has long focused on largely unsubstantiated fears that they are unsafe to eat. . . the debate has missed a more basic problem — genetic modification in the United States and Canada has not accelerated increases in crop yields or led to an overall reduction in the use of chemical pesticides." This conclusion is drawn from data comparing the two North American countries to Western Europe, where genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have largely been rejected. In fact, during the 20-year period studied, pesticide use increased in the US while in France, the biggest European agriculture producer, it has been reduced. Biotech companies like Monsanto defend their products, saying they can help meet the food needs of an explosively growing global population. However, Michael Owen, a weed scientist at Iowa State University, notes "they still 'haven't found the mythical yield gene.'" Read the entire article here

News

Irene Bueno gathering sediment from a river in Chile

Consortium Scholar Sheds New Light on Fish Farms’ Role in Antibiotic Resistance

September 12, 2016

In 2015, Irene Bueno was awarded a Consortium Research Grant to study aquaculture in southern Chile. Dr. Bueno is a doctor of veterinary medicine who is now pursuing her PhD at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Minnesota, focusing on ecosystem health and emerging problems within the human-wildlife interface. Aquaculture is a major economic activity in Chile, and has been increasingly criticized for the extensive use of antibiotics. Dr. Bueno’s Consortium-funded research illuminates the mechanisms by which antibiotic resistant bacteria (and associated genes) are released from freshwater fish farms into the aquatic ecosystem. An interdisciplinary team led by Dr. Bueno and her advisers, Drs. Randy Singer and Dominic Travis, collaborated with Chilean researchers and governmental officials to sample and analyze antibiotic resistant bacteria in river sediment, wastewater, and to understand the antibiotic use at the farms. Among the project’s outcomes is the development of a model that can be used to assess interventions that mitigate the dissemination of antibiotic resistance from the fish farms into the watershed. Regarding her research, Dr. Bueno notes, “Characterizing the way antibiotic resistant bacteria spreads through this watershed from sources such as fish farms, will help inform decisions related to waste management at the local level. On a broader scale, the data generated will contribute to advancing our knowledge of how antibiotic resistance is disseminated, bringing us a step closer to understanding the potential health consequences for humans, animals, and the ecosystem.” To learn more about our annual Consortium Research Awards, click here

Lecture

Lecture

News

Field of corn

The Unfulfilled Promise of Corn-based Biofuels

July 28, 2016

According to an article in Bloomberg, "More than a decade after conservationists helped persuade Congress to require adding corn-based ethanol and other biofuels to gasoline, some groups regret the resulting agricultural runoff in waterways and conversion of prairies to cropland – improving the odds that lawmakers might seek changes to the program next year." The federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which led to mass production of corn-based ethanol, has proven to be sadly ineffectual; in fact, groups like the Environmental Defense Fund and the National Wildlife Federation have begun to realize that the use and manufacture of biofuels has had "severe, unintended consequences," partly as a result of the way regulatory regimes were implemented. Despite a political divide between legislators from the Corn Belt and others, a revamped RFS appears to be moving forward in the House of Representatives.  

News

Aedes aegypti mosquito that carries Zika virus

Human Role in Proliferation of Zika Mosquito Examined

June 21, 2016

The implacable nature of evolution means attempts to eradicate Aedes aegypti mosquitoes – the species that carries Zika virus and other diseases – are doomed to fail, according to an opinion piece in the LA Times by Prof. Marlene Zuk, PhD, of the College of Biological Sciences. Zuk describes the complex interaction between mosquitoes, humans and ecological systems that have led to emergence of a bug that's been "domesticated" to thrive in urban environments. Michael Osterholm, director of Consortium member the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), is quoted in the article on past, failed efforts to eliminate Aedes aegypti, noting "'evolutionary biology is the gravity' – the force – that underpins the progress and control of Zika."

News

IonE U of Mn globe logo

Registration Open for Challenge of Science Leadership Workshop

June 17, 2016

Consortium member the Institute on the Environment (IonE) will host a three-day workshop, The Challenge of Science Leadership, from August 30 through September 1, 2016 on the St. Paul campus. The course is designed for scientists, academics and professionals working in the environment and sustainability sectors, and will be taught by the UK-based Barefoot Thinking Company. This interactive and practical training will focus on creative and strategic thinking; tools for influencing behavior; and effective strategies for enabling action. The curriculum grows out of Barefoot’s work with the Leopold Leadership Program, Google.org, the VEGA Fellows Leadership and Communication Program in Sweden, the University of Toronto’s Science Leadership Program, and others. Learn more and register here

News

Lakes seen from the air

The Supreme Court Opinion that Rewrote US Water Policy

May 26, 2016

A 2006 opinion by US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy is still reverberating throughout environment regulation circles, having triggered a decade of fevered debate over how to determine which bodies of water are protected by the Clean Water Act of 1972. By positing that a waterway had to be part of a "significant nexus" with a river or wetland to be covered under the act, Kennedy's decision sparked dozens of lawsuits. Ultimately, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corp of Engineers were charged with mapping flows of pollutants through waterways. The resulting 408-page report outlines a "legal shield" that the Obama administration hopes will protect what they've dubbed the Clean Water Rule from incursions by farm groups, developers and others. A discusson of legal and regulatory actions taken since the 2006 decision, as well as an overview of its expected future, can be found in a Politico article here. 

Consortium Faculty

News

Pollution from factory

Innovative Minnesota Law Challenges Coal-fired Power

April 19, 2016

An administrative judge has determined that the costs of climate change, which Minnesota is required to account for when deciding how to generate electricity, have previously been assessed much too cheaply. In her ruling, Judge LauraSue Schlatter mostly agreed with the US government's calculation of the social cost of carbon emissions, ruling that the federal figures are more realistic than those Minnesota had been using. This means the state is likely to face a ten-fold increase in its calculation of climate change costs, which will probably make wind and solar energy significantly cheaper than burning coal. Kevin Lee, the attorney who represented a group of physicians in the case, noted they are "thrilled. . . . It's a huge victory for the environment and for public health in Minnesota." The law requiring the state to account for social costs of pollution was passed in the 1990s, and is unique in the nation. To learn more, listen to the entire Minnesota Public Radio story here

News

Newly-caught fish on a plate

Training Helps Health Care Providers Advise their Patients on Fish Consumption

March 7, 2016

Healthy Fish Choices, an EPA-funded online course, offers training for health care providers and public health workers who want to spread the word about the safest way to consume fish in the face of concerns about the environmental health impacts of toxic chemicals. The research-based curriculum was developed as part of the USDA's 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommend eating fish as a lean, healthy food source but caution that the nutritional benefits of fish consumption must be weighed against the risks of contaminants, particularly mercury. Those who complete the course are eligible for Continuing Medical Education credits. 

News

PhD students who won Dow award

U Students Win Institute on the Environment/Dow Chemical Award

December 14, 2015

A project aimed at developing polyurethane foam that can be recycled has won the Dow Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Award competition held Dec. 3 at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment (IonE) in St. Paul. IonE is a Consortium member center that focuses on discovering solutions to Earth’s most pressing environmental problems through research, leadership development, and global partnerships; the $10,000 award recognizes and rewards students and universities for just that type of work. This year’s winning team consisted of four Ph.D. candidates in the University’s College of Science and Engineering. One of the members, Tessie Panthani, noted: “Polyurethane foams are useful and important materials that are utilized in a range of applications including mattresses, seat cushions and home insulation. Unfortunately, the majority of polyurethane foams are derived from nonrenewable resources, do not degrade in the environment, and have chemical structures that preclude these materials from being recycled by melt reprocessing.” The winning team also includes Alex Mannion, Debbie Schneiderman and Marie Vanderlaan.

News

Yarger Lake

More than Five Years In, Mixed Progress on Clean Water

December 8, 2015

In 2008, Minnesota voters passed the Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment to increase the state's sales tax; a good portion (33%) of the resulting funds is meant to "protect, enhance, and restore water quality in lakes, rivers, and streams." A post on the Minnesota Public Radio website evaluates whether these new resources have had a positive impact. Jeffrey Peterson, director of Consortium member the Water Resources Center (WRC), notes: "The available data. . . are mixed and difficult to summarize." He refers to water quality variations and fluctuations around the state; the time lag between implementation of new practices and measurable results; and the need to expand the number of watersheds being monitored. Peterson took over the top spot at the WRC in August, 2015 after 15 years in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Kansas State University. 

Symposia

Consortium Faculty

Consortium Faculty

Philip Pardey
Philip G. Pardey , PhD
Director, International Science & Technology Practice & Policy
Professor, Department of Applied Economics
Director of Global Research Strategy for the College of Food Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences and the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station

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