July 2023 is set to become the hottest month on record globally, according to the World Meteorological Organization and the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. For a record 16 days, temperatures were 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer than pre-industrial times, surpassing the goal set by the Paris climate accord. Intense heatwaves affected three continents – North America, Europe, and Asia – with 128 million Americans under a heat advisory. This record-breaking heat is seen as an indicator of future climate-altering changes, leading to prolonged heat waves, flooding, wildfires, and extreme weather events.
Despite international climate negotiations and pledges, greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. Scientists attribute these records to human-caused climate change and a natural El Nino warming, but note the role of Atlantic ocean warming and loss of sea ice in Antarctica. The average temperature for the first 23 days of July was 16.95 degrees Celsius, considerably higher than the previous record in July 2019. This month’s heat is likely the hottest in about 120,000 years, presenting new survival challenges due to extreme heat. Scientists call for urgent action to reduce emissions and counteract these alarming trends. (Associated Press)
A Senate spending panel has approved a 2% budget increase for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), raising the budget to $47.8 billion for the 2024 fiscal year. This increase is more generous than the corresponding House of Representatives bill proposing a 6% cut in the NIH budget. The Senate bill includes $100 million increases for both mental health and Alzheimer’s research, and a $60 million increase for cancer research. However, it maintains the current funding of $1.5 billion for the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, unlike the House bill which proposed a cut to $500 million. The Senate committee also proposed limiting the terms of directors of NIH’s 27 institutes or centers to two 5-year terms to promote fresh perspectives. The proposed budget still needs approval from the House and Senate, and reconciliation into a final spending measure, which may prove difficult due to disagreements between the two bodies. (Science)
Congress has approved two measures to rescind federal protections for the endangered lesser prairie chicken and northern long-eared bat, whose populations have dramatically dwindled. The lesser prairie chicken, whose numbers have fallen from the millions to around 30,000, and the northern long-eared bat, decimated by a fungal disease called white-nose syndrome, are traditionally under the purview of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. However, the House, predominantly backed by Republicans, voted to reverse these protections, which have already been similarly threatened in the Senate. These moves now await President Joe Biden’s response, who has threatened to veto both resolutions, highlighting the important roles these species play in ecosystem health and the US agriculture economy. Critics, however, argue that these endangered listings restrict private investment and hinder certain industries. Environmentalists, conversely, continue to push for stronger protections for these species. (Associated Press)
A US federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against Kraft Heinz & Co, which accused the company of misleading consumers about the preparation time of its microwavable Velveeta macaroni and cheese. The plaintiff, Amanda Ramirez, had objected to the packaging statement that the macaroni and cheese would be “ready in 3-1/2 minutes,” as it did not include the time to remove the lid, add water, and stir in a cheese sauce pouch. However, Judge Beth Bloom ruled that Ramirez lacked standing to pursue the proposed $5 million class action or compel Kraft Heinz to change its packaging, as she had neither alleged that she could not eat the product nor that it was fundamentally flawed. The judge also noted that Ramirez now understands the 3-1/2 minutes refers only to the microwaving time, which the packaging clarifies. (Reuters)
Researchers have revived prehistoric roundworms from 46,000-year-old Siberian permafrost, according to a study published in PLOS Genetics. The worms survived by entering cryptobiosis, a state of extremely reduced metabolism allowing them to withstand extreme conditions. The roundworms were identified as a previously unknown species, named Panagrolaimus kolymaensis. They were found to be alive, displaying movements, consuming bacteria, and reproducing.
Cryptobiosis halts organisms’ metabolic, reproductive, and developmental processes, allowing for extended survival. Prior instances of long-term survival in cryptobiosis include a Bacillus bacterial spore living in amber for up to 40 million years and a Lotus seed germinating after 1,000 to 1,500 years in an ancient lake. The new species reproduces asexually through parthenogenesis and has three sets of chromosomes, while the sugar trehalose, which protects against dehydration and freezing, seems to be used by these nematodes. Some offspring of the original worms are still thriving.
Studying organisms capable of cryptobiosis could provide insights into preserving human cells. (Smithsonian)
Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.
WORDS: The Biology Guy.
IMAGE CREDIT: Alisdare Hickson.