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Scientists Race To Research Stonefly Species Threatened By Climate Change

Scientists know very little about a species of stonefly that can only be found in the alpine streams of the Grand Teton Mountain Range: the Lednia tetonica.

It was discovered in 2012. But as climate change slowly melts glaciers and threatens the aquatic insect’s habitat, researchers are trying to learn as much as they can about the species, before it disappears.

Scott Hotaling squats on a rock at the edge of a glacier and mountain

Scott Hotaling looks for stoneflies in a stream under Skillet Glacier. Photo by Taylor Price

On a cold morning at a Grand Teton campground, three scientists prepared to do just that by packing their bags for an expedition.

Scott Hotaling, a post-doctoral scholar in biological sciences at Washington State University, got out of his green Subaru and said, “it’s about 6 am, people are just starting to wake up and we’re heading to the Skillet Glacier later today.”

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Wyoming Public Media

Environmentally-Caused Disease Crisis? Pesticide Damage to DNA Found ‘Programmed’ Into Future Generations

Dr. Paul Winchester, medical director of the Neonatal and Intensive Care Unit at St. Francis Hospital in Indianapolis, investigated the higher numbers of birth defects he noticed in Indiana versus in Colorado. His research zeroed in on the herbicide atrazine, one of the most widely used herbicides in the U.S. and the most commonly detected pesticide in U.S. drinking water.

Michael Skinner portrait.
Michael Skinner

Winchester and several other researchers including Michael Skinner, professor of biology at Washington State University’s Center for Reproductive Biology, conducted a study to see if there was a link between atrazine in drinking water and birth defects.

Studies have found that atrazine is an endocrine disruptor, a substance that can alter the human hormonal system. Atrazine was banned by the European Union because of its persistent groundwater contamination.

In their study, Winchester and his team found that concentrations of atrazine in drinking water were highest in May and June when farmers sprayed their fields with the herbicide. They also found that birth defects peaked during the same months indicating a close correlation.

“We plotted water concentrations and birth defects, and they fit like a hat,” Winchester said.

Their study, which was funded by the Gerber Foundation, was published in 2017 on PLOS One.

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Scientists Study ‘Singing Fish’ for Ways to Improve Human Hearing

Researchers in Washington are studying a fish that nests under rocks and sings at night to attract its mates. They say the ears of these singing fish could teach us how to improve our own hearing.

You know that expression, “Leave no stone unturned?”

Allison Coffin

That’s how Washington State University neuroscientist Allison Coffin goes about catching midshipman fish—at least during mating season.

Standing on the rocky, oyster-covered shoreline of Hood Canal, she rolled over a beach-ball sized rock to reveal a small pool of water just barely covering two fish.

“Oh yeah! Another female,” she said. “And then there’s the male right there.”

Because it’s low tide, some of the fish she and her research partner Joe Sisneros uncovered aren’t in any water at all.

That makes this area prime fishing grounds for the researchers, who say the ears of these fish could teach us how to improve our own hearing.

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Imagining monarch butterflies at the Grotto

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service volunteer corps is planting native flowering plants, most notably milkweed, which is crucial for the survival of monarch butterflies. Monarchs lay their eggs in milkweed, which provides essential nutrition for the larvae. Milkweed has disappeared across the nation—and with it, monarch populations have crashed since the 1990s, down 75 percent or more.

Cheryl SchulzThe situation is especially dire for Western monarchs. Cheryl Schultz, an associate professor at Washington State University in Vancouver, was the lead author of a study that found that compared to the 10 million monarchs that overwintered in coastal California in the 1980s, today there are barely 300,000. That’s a trajectory that points to extinction.

While pesticides, logging, development and climate change probably all play a role, key to the butterfly’s annihilation is the loss of milkweed habitat.

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Catholic Sentinel

Toxins May Affect Epigenetics Through Multiple Generations

We already know that the life experiences of our mothers and fathers can influence the epigenetics in their children. Epigenetics may also be ‘remembered’ through the phenomena known as transgenerational inheritance; so the pesticides your great-granddad may have consumed could actually have influenced your epigenetics.

Michael Skinner portrait.
Michael Skinner

Michael K. Skinner, PhD, a professor in the School of Biological Sciences at Washington State University, looked into this, focusing on a pesticide probably consumed by our great grandparents, DDT. Having already demonstrated that DDT exposure can promote the inheritance of obesity, Skinner and his colleagues looked into this further by analyzing a wide array of epigenetic modifications across the entire genome.

Focusing on the broad changes in epigenetic modifications, Skinner looked at the differential DNA methylation regions (DMRs) and non-coding RNA (ncRNA) to see if such epigenetic marks were altered between mice lineages exposed to DDT and those that were not.

The results show completely different and unique combinations between the generations when compared to control mice, indicating that exposure to DDT can affect the mouse epigenetic signatures.

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What Is Epigenetics