EXPANDING ABORTION ACCESS.
Mexico’s Supreme Court has declared federal criminal penalties for abortion unconstitutional, asserting that such laws infringe on women’s rights. This landmark decision mandates the federal public health service and all federal health institutions to provide abortion services upon request. The Information Group for Chosen Reproduction (GIRE) emphasized that no woman, pregnant individual, or health worker will face punishment for abortion. However, 20 Mexican states still criminalize abortion, necessitating further legal actions to eliminate all penalties. The ruling was celebrated widely, with Mexico’s National Institute for Women labeling it a significant stride towards gender equality. Sen. Olga Sánchez Cordero supported the decision, urging the Congress to enact relevant legislation. Conversely, some, like Irma Barrientos of the Civil Association for the Rights of the Conceived, opposed the ruling, vowing to continue their fight against broadened abortion access. The court’s decision follows its previous ruling two years ago that decriminalized abortion in a northern state. While the current ruling doesn’t guarantee immediate access to abortion for all Mexican women, it obligates federal agencies to offer the service. However, challenges remain, especially in conservative regions. This move aligns with the broader “green wave” trend in Latin America, where countries are increasingly liberalizing abortion laws, contrasting with tightening restrictions in parts of the U.S. (Associated Press)
AMERICAN ABORTIONS ON THE RISE.
Legal abortions in the U.S. likely increased in the first half of 2023 compared to 2020, according to an analysis by the Guttmacher Institute. This rise is attributed to patients from states with abortion bans traveling to states with more lenient laws and the growing accessibility of abortion pills via telemedicine. The Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision last year allowed over a dozen states to ban or limit abortions. Consequently, many women crossed state lines for the procedure. States bordering those with total abortion bans, such as Illinois, saw significant increases in abortions. In contrast, states like Arizona, Georgia, and Indiana, which implemented abortion restrictions, witnessed a decline. The data does not imply that state bans haven’t affected access; traveling for an abortion can be challenging, and some women can’t leave their state. The report doesn’t account for abortions outside the formal healthcare system, like pills ordered online. Large states like California and New York had the highest abortion numbers. The data aligns with statistics from WeCount, a pro-abortion rights group. As more restrictions are anticipated later this year, the landscape of abortion access in the U.S. is expected to evolve further. (New York Times)
FBI COLLECTING CITIZEN’S DNA.
The FBI has collected 21.7 million DNA profiles, approximately 7% of the U.S. population. The Bureau is seeking to nearly double its $56.7 million DNA catalog budget by adding $53.1 million for fiscal year 2024. This increase will support the processing of the rising number of DNA samples collected by the Department of Homeland Security. FBI Director Christopher Wray stated that the FBI gathers around 90,000 samples monthly, a figure expected to rise to 120,000. The surge in DNA collection is attributed to a Trump-era policy requiring DNA collection from detained migrants. The FBI’s DNA database began in 1990, evolving into the national Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) by 1998. Initially, DNA was collected from convicted criminals, but now, in 28 states, DNA can be taken from felony arrestees, even if not convicted. The rapid expansion of this database has raised concerns among civil liberties advocates about potential abuses and privacy violations. (The Intercept)
UK RETURNS TO EU PROGRAM.
UK scientists can now reapply for funding from the European Union’s €95-billion Horizon Europe research-funding program, following a late-night agreement. This decision comes after UK researchers were excluded due to disputes over the Northern Ireland segment of the Brexit deal. Starting 1 January 2024, UK-based scientists will have full participation in Horizon Europe. The scientific community in the UK and mainland Europe has welcomed this news, with many expressing relief after the prolonged delay in reaching an agreement. Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, a neuroscientist at the University of Cambridge, described it as “brilliant news.” However, some, like John Hardy from University College London, believe that the delay has caused irreversible damage. The recent deal ensures the UK’s associate membership in Horizon Europe until the program concludes in 2027. Additionally, the UK will rejoin the Earth-observation program, Copernicus, but will not be part of Europe’s nuclear-fusion project, choosing to pursue its direction. (Nature)
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OPEN ACCESS DEAL.
German science organizations have reached an open-access publishing agreement with publishing giant Elsevier. This deal permits German academics to publish open-access articles in Elsevier’s journals at reduced fees and grants their institutions access to Elsevier’s full range of titles without additional charges. Project DEAL, a consortium of German universities and science funders, initiated this agreement, aiming for a “publish and read” model where publishers are compensated based on the number of articles published and provide access to all their journals. While Project DEAL successfully negotiated similar agreements with other major publishers like Wiley and Springer Nature, talks with Elsevier were challenging. Under the new agreement, institutions gain online access to most of Elsevier’s over 2600 publications. They will also pay open-access publishing fees for each article linked to their institution. The fees range from €2550 to €6450 per article, with some discounts for specific journals. Project DEAL estimates that the total annual payments to Elsevier will be between €30 million and €35 million, approximately 40% less than what German institutions paid in 2016. The deal is seen as a significant step towards making a majority of Germany’s publications open access. (Science)
RETHINKING BIRD EVOLUTION.
Around 150 million years ago, a small bird-like dinosaur named Fujianvenator prodigiosus became trapped in a swamp in present-day southeastern China. Its fossil, discovered in 2022, is one of the earliest bird-like dinosaurs from the Jurassic period. Mark Loewen, a palaeontologist, remarked on the creature’s unusual features, including its long legs and potential inability to fly. This discovery challenges the traditional narrative of bird evolution. While many believe the first bird was the 150-million-year-old Archaeopteryx, this find suggests that by its time, dinosaurs had already evolved into various bird forms. The fossil of Fujianvenator lacks a complete head and tail, but its body exhibits traits seen in other bird-like dinosaurs. However, its structure doesn’t seem adapted for flight. Its elongated hind legs suggest it might have been a skilled runner or possibly adapted for wading in swamps. The discovery site also revealed other swamp-dwelling creatures. The fossil’s location in Fujian province was unexpected, as no dinosaurs had been previously found there. The rarity of such fossils makes Fujianvenator significant in understanding early bird evolution. Bhart-Anjan Bhullar, a palaeontologist, emphasized the vast undiscovered diversity of these ancient creatures. (Nature)
ANCIENT HUMAN SPHERES?
Scientists have long been puzzled by the presence of nearly 600 plum-sized stone balls, known as “spheroids,” found at a 1.4-million-year-old site in northern Israel. While some believed these were byproducts of other tasks, a new study suggests they were intentionally crafted, possibly for the appreciation of symmetry. Researchers at the Computational Archaeology Laboratory of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem developed a 3D analysis software to study these spheroids. Their findings indicate that these stone balls were intentionally made, showcasing the ancient toolmakers’ ability to conceptualize a sphere and craft it with precision. The stones’ rough surfaces and near-perfect spherical shapes further support this theory. While this study highlights the early toolmakers’ appreciation for symmetry and beauty, the exact purpose of these spheroids remains unknown. Some experts remain skeptical, suggesting further analysis is needed, especially on older spheroids found in Africa. (Science)
ACROSS THE ATLANTIC IN A HAMSTER WHEEL.
Last month, as Hurricane Franklin approached the Eastern U.S., the Coast Guard discovered a man, Reza Baluchi, 51, from Florida, attempting to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a buoyant human-sized hamster wheel. Baluchi intended to travel over 4,000 miles to London in this homemade vessel, which the Coast Guard deemed unsafe. Having made similar attempts since 2014, Baluchi threatened to end his life if his mission was interrupted. On Aug. 29, he was persuaded to abandon his journey and was later charged in Miami for obstruction of boarding and violating the Captain of the Port Order. Initially spotted off the coast of Tybee Island, Ga., Baluchi couldn’t produce registration documents for his vessel. When approached, he threatened self-harm with a knife and later claimed to have a bomb, which he admitted was fake. After two days, officers managed to get him ashore in Miami Beach. This voyage marked Baluchi’s fourth attempt to travel the ocean in a homemade device. In 2021, he had tried to journey from Florida to New York but stopped after 25 miles. Baluchi, a former professional cyclist from Iran, stated his oceanic endeavors aimed to raise funds for charity. He was released on a $250,000 bond with conditions restricting oceanic ventures. (New York Times)
Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.
WORDS: The Biology Guy.
IMAGE CREDIT: Karolina Grabowska.