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Aruba Embraces the Rights of Nature and a Human Right to a Clean Environment

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Monday, March 25, 2024

A draft constitutional amendment would make the Carribean nation the second country in the world to recognize that nature has the right to exist.By Katie SurmaAruba’s government is moving to enshrine twin environmental rights in its constitution that would recognize that nature has inherent rights and also affirm a human right to a “clean, healthy and sustainable environment,” aligning the country’s government with a growing environmental movement that recognizes humans are interdependent with the natural world. 

Aruba’s government is moving to enshrine twin environmental rights in its constitution that would recognize that nature has inherent rights and also affirm a human right to a “clean, healthy and sustainable environment,” aligning the country’s government with a growing environmental movement that recognizes humans are interdependent with the natural world.  Ursell Arends, Aruba’s minister […]

A draft constitutional amendment would make the Carribean nation the second country in the world to recognize that nature has the right to exist.

By Katie Surma

Aruba’s government is moving to enshrine twin environmental rights in its constitution that would recognize that nature has inherent rights and also affirm a human right to a “clean, healthy and sustainable environment,” aligning the country’s government with a growing environmental movement that recognizes humans are interdependent with the natural world. 

Read the full story here.
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Find a hidden wildflower paradise at Camassia Natural Area in West Linn

The small nature preserve is a rainbow of color in the spring.

It doesn’t look like much at first – a small, gravel parking area at the end of a neighborhood street in West Linn, a couple of signs in the trees – but soon the splendor of Camassia comes alive.Officially known as the Camassia Natural Area, a 26-acre nature preserve is home to more than 300 plant species, including wildflowers that bloom in April and May and turn the grassy plateau into a colorful display.Managed by international environmental nonprofit The Nature Conservancy, the Camassia preserve is tucked away in plain sight, bordered by Interstate 205, West Linn High School and quiet neighborhood streets. If you didn’t frequent the area, or didn’t know to look for it, you might never find it.Walking distance from downtown Oregon City, the preserve can also be counted as one among many easily accessible outdoor attractions in the area, alongside the McLoughlin Promenade, Newell Creek Canyon Nature Park and Mary S. Young Park.And though Camassia is nice any time of year, there’s nothing like the spring.Shortspur seablush wildflowers bloom at Camassia Nature Preserve.Jamie Hale/The OregonianA boardwalk trail through a boggy forest is found on a side trail.Jamie Hale/The OregonianTrillium wildflowers bloom in the shade of a conifer.Jamie Hale/The OregonianA fawn lily blooms in a wooded area on a side trail.Jamie Hale/The OregonianA hazy view of Mount Hood is found on a viewpoint at the edge of the preserve.Jamie Hale/The OregonianOn a recent visit in the middle of April, the meadows and forests of the preserve were a rainbow of wildflowers. Pretty white trillium flowers and fawn lilies bloomed in the shade of conifers. Purple camas lilies and pink sea blush flowers filled the grassy meadows. Yellow blooming Oregon grape filled the spaces in between, beside giant blue-eyed Mary, little yellow violets and many delicate white blossoms.A half-mile one-way loop trail circles the preserve, running on boardwalks, dirt trails and rocky paths. Several short offshoot trails lead to other corners of the natural area, leading to the high school, other neighborhood entrances and neighboring Wilderness Park. It’s worth exploring them all, if only for a short distance.You could tour the whole place in a matter of minutes, but you’re better off taking it slow, observing the many different species and the lovely, intricate ecosystem that they call home.To find the Camassia Natural Area, take Oregon 43 south from Portland for 10 miles to West Linn. Turn right onto West A Street, then go right onto Willamette Falls Drive. In .2 miles, turn right onto Sunset Avenue, and in .1 miles turn right onto Walnut Street. The parking area is at the end of the street. If full, find a place to safely park being mindful and respectful of the neighbors.--Jamie Hale covers travel and the outdoors and co-hosts the Peak Northwest podcast. Reach him at 503-294-4077, jhale@oregonian.com or @HaleJamesB.Our journalism needs your support. Subscribe today to OregonLive.com.

World faces ‘deathly silence’ of nature as wildlife disappears, warn experts

Loss of intensity and diversity of noises in ecosystems reflects an alarming decline in healthy biodiversity, say sound ecologistsRead more: No birdsong, no water in the creek, no beating wings: how a haven for nature fell silentSounds of the natural world are rapidly falling silent and will become “acoustic fossils” without urgent action to halt environmental destruction, international experts have warned.As technology develops, sound has become an increasingly important way of measuring the health and biodiversity of ecosystems: our forests, soils and oceans all produce their own acoustic signatures. Scientists who use ecoacoustics to measure habitats and species say that quiet is falling across thousands of habitats, as the planet witnesses extraordinary losses in the density and variety of species. Disappearing or losing volume along with them are many familiar sounds: the morning calls of birds, rustle of mammals through undergrowth and summer hum of insects. Continue reading...

Sounds of the natural world are rapidly falling silent and will become “acoustic fossils” without urgent action to halt environmental destruction, international experts have warned.As technology develops, sound has become an increasingly important way of measuring the health and biodiversity of ecosystems: our forests, soils and oceans all produce their own acoustic signatures. Scientists who use ecoacoustics to measure habitats and species say that quiet is falling across thousands of habitats, as the planet witnesses extraordinary losses in the density and variety of species. Disappearing or losing volume along with them are many familiar sounds: the morning calls of birds, rustle of mammals through undergrowth and summer hum of insects.Today, tuning into some ecosystems reveals a “deathly silence”, said Prof Steve Simpson from the University of Bristol. “It is that race against time – we’ve only just discovered that they make such sounds, and yet we hear the sound disappearing.”“The changes are profound. And they are happening everywhere,” said US soundscape recordist Bernie Krause, who has taken more than 5,000 hours of recordings from seven continents over the past 55 years. He estimates that 70% of his archive is from habitats that no longer exist.Prof Bryan Pijanowski from Purdue University in the US has been listening to natural sounds for 40 years and taken recordings from virtually all of the world’s main types of ecosystems.He said: “The sounds of the past that have been recorded and saved represent the sounds of species that might no longer be here – so that’s all we’ve got. The recordings that many of us have [are] of places that no longer exist, and we don’t even know what those species are. In that sense they are already acoustic fossils.”Burned trees at Lassen Volcanic national park, California, August 2023. More intense wildfires are destroying ecosystems. Photograph: Andri Tambunan/The GuardianNumerous studies are now documenting how natural soundscapes are changing, being disrupted and falling silent. A 2021 study in the journal Nature of 200,000 sites across North America and Europe found “pervasive loss of acoustic diversity and intensity of soundscapes across both continents over the past 25 years, driven by changes in species richness and abundance”. The authors added: “One of the fundamental pathways through which humans engage with nature is in chronic decline with potentially widespread implications for human health and wellbeing.”The shift in ecosystem sound is happening in the air, the forests, the soil, and even under the water. During the cold war, the US navy used underwater surveillance systems to track Soviet submarines – and found they struggled to do so near coral reefs due to all the sounds reefs produced. It wasn’t until 1990 that civilian scientists could listen to this classified data.“Whenever we went to a healthy reef it blew our minds – the cacophony of sounds we heard,” said Simpson, who has been monitoring coral reefs using hydrophones for more than 20 years. “A healthy reef was a carnival of sound.”At the outset of his research, noise pollution from motorboats was his main concern, but 2015 and 2016 brought significant bleaching events, which resulted in 80% mortality of corals. “They cooked the reef,” he said. More than half of the world’s coral reef cover has now been lost since 1950. If global heating reaches 2C, more than 99% of coral reefs are expected to start dying.The result of these bleaching events is a “deathly silence”, said Simpson. “We swam around those reefs crying into our masks.”Mass coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef. Photograph: Brett Monroe Garner/Getty Images“These sounds and silences speak back to us like in a mirror,” said Hildegard Westerkamp, a Canadian sound ecologist who has been recording soundscapes for half a century, during which time wildlife populations have experienced average declines of almost 70%.She started working on the World Soundscape Project in 1973 with the intention of documenting disappearing ecosystems. “We proposed to start to listen to the soundscape, to everything, no matter how uncomfortable it may be – how uncomfortable the message.”She said: “The act of listening itself can be both comforting and highly unsettling. But most importantly it tends to connect us to the reality of what we are facing.”Sound data is now being used alongside visual data as a way to monitor conservation efforts and ecosystem health. More sophisticated and cheaper recording equipment – as well as increasing concerns about environmental destruction – are driving the boom in ecoacoustic monitoring.As the sophistication of microphones has increased, scientists are using them to monitor life that would not usually be audible to human ears. Marcus Maeder, an acoustic ecologist and sound artist from Switzerland, has been investigating the noises trees make under stress, pushing a microphone into the bark of a tree to listen to the living tissue. Stress sounds like pulses come from within the cavity, he said.When he first pushed a microphone into the soil of a mountain meadow he discovered it was also alive with noise, “a completely new kingdom of sounds”.Intensively managed agricultural land, often doused with pesticides, sounds very different, Maeder said: “The soil becomes quiet.”Researchers listening to soundscapes in the soil to learn more about its biodiversity. Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The GuardianFor many researchers, disappearing soundscapes are a source of grief as well as of scientific interest. “It’s a sad thing to be doing, but it’s also helping me tell a story about the beauty of nature,” said Pijanowski. “As a scientist I have trouble explaining what biodiversity is, but if I play a recording and say what I’m talking about – these are the voices of this place. We can either work to preserve it or not.“Sound is the most powerful trigger of emotions for humans. Acoustic memories are very strong too. I’m thinking about it as a scientist, but it’s hard not to be emotional.”Find more age of extinction coverage here, and follow biodiversity reporters Phoebe Weston and Patrick Greenfield on X for all the latest news and features

No birdsong, no water in the creek, no beating wings: how a haven for nature fell silent

As the soundscape of the natural world began to disappear over 30 years, one man was listening and recording it allRead more: World faces ‘deathly silence’ of nature as wildlife disappears, warn expertsThe tale starts 30 years ago, when Bernie Krause made his first audio clip in Sugarloaf Ridge state park, 20 minutes’ drive from his house near San Francisco. He chose a spot near an old bigleaf maple. Many people loved this place: there was a creek and a scattering of picnic benches nearby.As a soundscape recordist, Krause had travelled around the world listening to the planet. But in 1993 he turned his attention to what was happening on his doorstep. In his first recording, a stream of chortles, peeps and squeaks erupt from the animals that lived in the rich, scrubby habitat. His sensitive microphones captured the sounds of the creek, creatures rustling through undergrowth, and the songs of the spotted towhee, orange-crowned warbler, house wren and mourning dove. Continue reading...

The tale starts 30 years ago, when Bernie Krause made his first audio clip in Sugarloaf Ridge state park, 20 minutes’ drive from his house near San Francisco. He chose a spot near an old bigleaf maple. Many people loved this place: there was a creek and a scattering of picnic benches nearby.As a soundscape recordist, Krause had travelled around the world listening to the planet. But in 1993 he turned his attention to what was happening on his doorstep. In his first recording, a stream of chortles, peeps and squeaks erupt from the animals that lived in the rich, scrubby habitat. His sensitive microphones captured the sounds of the creek, creatures rustling through undergrowth, and the songs of the spotted towhee, orange-crowned warbler, house wren and mourning dove.Back then, Krause never thought of this as a form of data-gathering. He began recording ecosystem sounds simply because he found them beautiful and relaxing. Krause has ADHD and found no medication would work: “The only thing that relieved the anxiety was being out there and just listening to the soundscapes,” he says.Bernie Krause ‘out there and listening to the soundscapes’ in Sugarloaf Ridge state park. Photograph: Cayce Clifford/The GuardianKrause began recording natural environments because the sounds helped his ADHD symptoms. Photograph: Cayce Clifford/The GuardianInadvertently, he had begun to gather a rich trove of data. Over the next three decades he would return each April to the spot at the bigleaf maple, set his recorder down and wait to hear what it would reveal.But in April last year, Krause played back his recording and was greeted with something he had not heard before: total silence. The recorder had run for its usual hour, but picked up no birdsong, no rush of water over stones, no beating wings. “I’ve got an hour of material with nothing, at the high point of spring,” says Krause. “What’s happening here is just a small indication of what’s happening almost everywhere on an even larger scale.”A rich weave of sound fadesAnimals produce a vast array of sounds: to find mates, protect territories, identify offspring or simply by moving about. But traditionally, ecologists have measured environmental health by looking at habitats rather than listening to them. Krause developed the idea that the sound of healthy ecosystems contained not only the calls of individual animals, but a dense, structured weave of sounds that he called the “biophony”.In 2009, when Krause listened through his archive, he realised a story was emerging: a subtle but noticeable loss in the density and variety of natural sounds.At the same time, he began observing odd things happening in Sugarloaf Ridge park. Leaves on some tree species were unfurling two weeks earlier than documented in historical records. The change in bloom meant migrating birds following the Pacific Flyway were out of sync with sources of food along their route. Winter rain patterns had changed. Then in 2012, exceptional drought conditions started. California had been getting little rain and record hot temperatures, which pushed the parched land into unprecedented territory.By 2014, northern California was experiencing its most serious drought in 1,200 years, and the bird song in Krause’s recording becomes muted.In 2015, the quiet sets in. There is no stream flow or wind in the audio. In 2016, the hush is broken only by the call of a purple finch.“A great silence is spreading over the natural world even as the sound of man is becoming deafening,” Krause wrote in 2012, in his book The Great Animal Orchestra. “The sense of desolation extends beyond mere silence.”Life swept away by fireThen, in 2017, the Tubbs fire struck, the most destructive wildfire in northern California’s modern history.Krause happened to be awake at 2.30am on the October morning when the flames reached his home. He and his wife had to run through a wall of fire surrounding the house. “Except for us, not one single item that we had amassed over the arc of our lives survived,” he says. “As we raced toward the car, a fire tornado seethed with a voice of rage.“That sound haunts us to this day,” he says. “I rarely make it through a night without awakening to frightful sonic nightmares.”Propelled by gusts of 78mph, the fire incinerated entire neighbourhoods. Krause’s cats, Seaweed and Barnacle, died. He lost 70 years of letters, photographs and field journals, in flames so intense they left the refrigerator an unrecognisable puddle of aluminium and steel. His precious recording archive survived, in copies stored elsewhere.The Tubbs fire burned 80% of Sugarloaf Ridge park. John Roney, the park manager, managed to evacuate 50-60 campers as the fire roared towards them.‘It’s a loss, and there’s a longing’: Breck Parkman, a retired senior state parks archaeologist. Photograph: Cayce Clifford/The GuardianThe bigleaf maple survived. It stood up to the fire,” says Breck Parkman, a retired state parks archaeologist. “It lost branches and got partially stunted, but it survived.” But in September 2020, the Glass fire hit: one of nearly 30 wildfires across California that month.“That pretty much finished off what was left of that tree,” says Parkman. He remembers once taking Clint Eastwood to look at it, as well as some botanists trying to establish if it was the biggest maple in the American west - they never confirmed its status. “It didn’t really matter, though. The birds knew the tree was grand. For them, this was the tree of life,” he says.He believes the tree should have lived for a few hundred more years and likens it to an elder at family gatherings who brings wonderful food. One day that person disappears. “It’s a type of sadness – it’s hard to describe,” he says.“It’s a loss, and there’s a longing. I would suspect the birds still miss that tree. I do.”Desirae Harp, an educator at the park and member of the local Mishewal Wappo tribe. Photograph: Cayce Clifford/The GuardianMany forest ecosystems are reliant on fire to decompose dead wood and old leaves but historically these tended to be smaller fires. They did not typically burn the tree canopy, so insects and other animals could take refuge without getting scorched. The larger fires in recent years are much hotter and threaten endangered species that have restricted ranges.Desirae Harp, an educator at the state park and member of the local Mishewal Wappo tribe, says the silence that fell after the fires broke her heart.“Hearing that silence, of all those native plants and animals, is heartbreaking because those are our relatives. I feel like when human beings die we call it genocide. But when we destroy whole ecosystems, we don’t always understand the weight of that.”A silent message to the worldThe spot in Sugarloaf Ridge park where Krause made his recordings. Not only birdsong fell silent but the sound of the creek too. Photograph: Cayce Clifford/The GuardianOne of the most significant environmental books of the 20th century is Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. Published in 1962, it warned that if people did not stop their destruction of nature, especially through the use of pesticides such as DDT, the number of birds and other wild creatures would continue to decline and silence would begin to fall over the natural world.In Krause’s recording from April 2023, not only is the birdsong missing, but there is no water in the creek either. “We’re watching this in our own lifetime, which is startling,” he says.Comparison of 2003 and 2023:In 2019, Krause argued that the climate crisis could be “changing the Earth’s natural acoustic fabric”. He drew an analogy between the natural world and a concert hall: if the heat and moisture of the concert hall changed, so too would the players’ ability to perform.“The same is happening for Earth’s orchestra. New atmospheric conditions are detuning natural sounds,” he wrote. “Only major mitigation actions will help preserve Earth’s beat.”One of the reasons people were first drawn to Sonoma county, where most of the state park lies, was to go fishing, hunting and swim in the creeks. In the 1970s there were many places to swim, says Steven Lee, a research manager at Sonoma Ecology Center. “People don’t swim in the creeks here any more. Why not? Because there’s not enough water.”The biodiversity associated with the streams has also been lost. Chinook salmon and steelhead trout are unable to reach their spawning grounds if there is no water. “It’s definitely drastic,” says Lee, about Krause’s latest recording. “The pessimist in me would say that we’re probably going to see a lot of these declines continue to happen.”Waterways are critical lifelines for wildlife in dry places such as California, with a whole cascade of life depending on them. Droughts mean this lifeblood no longer flows through the landscape.Caitlin Cornwall, a project manager at the Sonoma Ecology Center, says: “There is a direct link between reversing climate change and having more birds in Bernie’s recordings.She calls Sugarloaf “a relatively mid-range example of what happens when you have an extreme drought”.The drought is not the only pressure. Across the state, human activity is cutting into animal food sources and habitats. Wild places are being converted into farmland and urban areas, and invasive species are becoming more common. Some of the songbirds Krause captured in 1993, such as the orange-crowned warbler, are now in widespread decline.In decline: an orange-crowned warbler. Photograph: Minden Pictures/AlamySteven Lee, research manager at Sonoma Ecology Center, says streams are drying up in the park. Photograph: Cayce Clifford/The GuardianMany of the birds captured in Krause’s recordings are migrant species “living on a knife-edge”, says Cornwall. “If a year’s cohorts have died in a particular place, then next year the young – and even the adults – might not come back.” It could take generations for them to recolonise a habitat – assuming they survive elsewhere.Krause, who has been recording ecosystems from Africa to Latin America to Europe, says it is depressing to hear how the places he visits have changed. His personal library contains more than 5,000 hours of recordings, taken over 55 years from all over the world. He estimates that 70% of his archive is from habitats that have now disappeared.“The changes are profound,” he says. “And they are happening everywhere.”“I’ve got to this point in my life now where I just don’t know quite how to handle it, or how to express it, or what to say – yet I’ve got to tell people what I see and what I hear. Actually, I don’t need to say anything – the messages are revealed through the soundscapes.”There have been some optimistic signs at Sugarloaf Ridge. Roney has 40 cameras around the park, which have taken 60,000 photos in the past five years. He says there are hopeful indications, such as black bears and mountain lions moving into the area. Krause is 85 now and says his hearing days are numbered: he is almost totally deaf in his right ear and has some hearing loss in his left. He can no longer hear subtle changes in sound like he used to. “That’s a loss that I quite regret but have learned to live with,” he says.Still, he looks forward to spring and to his next recording in Sugarloaf Ridge. He is hopeful that this year there could be signs of a resurgence. “The stories conveyed through the voices of these critters will tell us all we need to know that’s worthwhile,” he says. “When we finally learn how to listen.”Krause, 85, intends to continue his recordings in the park each spring. Photograph: Cayce Clifford/The GuardianFind more age of extinction coverage here, and follow biodiversity reporters Phoebe Weston and Patrick Greenfield on X for all the latest news and features

These startups are using traces of DNA to spy on nature for good—and profit

In 2010, Noah Wilson-Rich was juggling several jobs while earning his PhD in biology at Tufts University: He taught classes at several nearby universities, and one day a week, tended bar at a cafe in the lobby of the Hult International Business School. On one of his shifts, he overheard customers discussing a competition for entrepreneurs. The next day, he entered, pitching a company that would gather insect health data at beehives. “They were like, ‘The bartender won?’ said Wilson-Rich. “Okay, you all need to respect your service workers.” Two thousand dollars in prize money helped Wilson-Rich launch The Best Bees Company. Now, more than a decade later, Best Bees offers corporate and residential beekeeping services near two dozen U.S. cities. The company also charges up to $450 for a “HoneyDNA” kit, which uses environmental DNA, or eDNA—genetic information deposited by a wide range of organisms in the surrounding environment—to test a hive’s health, or simply provide information about the “terroir” of the honey, said Wilson-Rich. The kit, which the company started selling in 2015, includes a sample bottle and a prepaid envelope; upon receipt, Best Bees sends honey samples out to a lab for sequencing to reveal what plant DNA is found in a hive’s product. The results can indicate whether the bees have been feeding on lavender, or how far they’re traveling from the hive; the company also provides corporate sustainability impact reporting. Best Bees is one of the many companies carving out a niche in a commercial landscape increasingly focused on advertising environmental responsibility, pushed by both customer demand and regulatory requirements. Testing environmental DNA, which allows data to be gathered from the tiny pieces of skin, scales, and slime that species shed as they move through the world, has been framed as a cheap and efficient way to understand a corporation’s impact. As supporters lobby for regulatory acceptance, a group of large consulting companies and eDNA specialists see the tool as a promising way to monitor corporate sustainability, like measuring the success of conservation efforts or the possible effects of a new bridge or parking lot. Experts say eDNA has limitations and drawbacks. So far, it appears that the tool is best used as one tool among a suite of monitoring methods, so it’s unlikely the technology will completely disrupt the environmental consulting industry, which according to The Insight Partners, a market research firm, was valued at more than $34 billion globally in 2020. But eDNA has undoubtedly created new opportunities to gather and monetize data. Meanwhile, both company representatives and researchers say it’s still early days in understanding all its possible capabilities and applications; some, like Wilson-Rich, are devising completely novel ways to sell eDNA services.  “It’s not just science for science’s sake,” said Ryan Kelly, an ecologist and legal scholar at the University of Washington, who works with government agencies on ecosystem management. “We’re making tools that it seems pretty clear can answer questions that haven’t been asked before, or can help people do their jobs better, cheaper, and faster.”  Often, before any huge infrastructure project can be constructed, governments and regulators require companies to prove they aren’t disturbing the natural landscape where the project would be built. The companies running those assessments, some of them large international corporations, have become an industry unto themselves: By 2028, the environmental consulting market is forecast to reach $50 billion in value, according to The Insight Partners. eDNA has the potential to make the work of those companies much easier, and much cheaper.   Traditional environmental monitoring “can be quite a laborious process,” according to Nicole Fahner, executive director at CEGA, an eDNA research and development center, and eDNAtec, a Canadian eDNA company. Such monitoring can require teams of highly trained biologists and ecologists, at times dispersed across sweeping landscapes like deserts and dense forests to set up traps, cameras, and remote sensing equipment. In lakes, streams, or reservoirs, scientists sometimes stick an electrified rod into the water to stun fish, to identify and count them. Surveys may happen multiple times over a series of months. And based on when a species is likely to appear, surveys may be conducted under the cover of night.  Surveys are even more challenging in parts of the deep ocean where some offshore wind and oil prospectors are eyeing projects, Fahner said, because the depths are difficult to reach and some are home to species that have never been identified and cataloged.  To meet regulatory requirements, environmental monitoring consulting is “worth a lot of money as an industry,” said Kelly. “If they could do it in a way that was more efficient and more powerful, they would.” Purveyors of environmental DNA prize its efficiency. eDNA sampling requires fewer people collecting air, dirt, or water in cheap bottles or vials. Much of the work happens back at the lab, where companies extract DNA from samples, sequence it, and then enter the results in a database to identify species matches. eDNA tests can locate a specific species, like an endangered animal or an invasive plant, or provide a picture of an entire ecosystem. And researchers are deploying methods that allow for live sequencing in the field. Today, according to industry experts, the most well-established use of eDNA for species monitoring is tracking of the great crested newt, an amphibian native to Europe and legally protected in the United Kingdom. Traditional surveys to track the newt required four night missions—one in each season—to trap specimens under plastic bottles, with a return in the morning to count them. For the last several years, biodiversity monitoring companies have used environmental DNA instead. Surveyors can scoop up water at any time of day and the DNA isolated can signal if newts are present, saving both time and labor.  “It all comes down to that value proposition: What is the advantage of using eDNA over other methods?” said Andrew Weeks, technical director at EnviroDNA, an Australian eDNA company that Weeks believes was the first to operate in the country. In 2008, Gregg Schumer was working at a highly secure Canadian microbiology lab. His days were spent harvesting animal tissue and testing it for viral DNA from pathogens like Ebola. At the time, a childhood friend was the principal scientist at a consulting company that was tracking the Delta smelt, an endangered fish usually less than three inches long, in California waterways.  “We began talking,” said Schumer, “and realized that my searching for viruses in organ systems was not unlike trying to find a really small fish in a very big system, and that we could use the exact same technique.” Soon, the two started sampling water from the same California rivers they grew up fishing, analyzing the samples for smelt DNA. In 2009, that work gave rise to one of the earliest environmental DNA companies: Genidaqs.  Genidaqs got its first grant soon after eDNA entered academic parlance. In 2008, researchers in France proposed a “novel approach” to detect species from aquatic samples, amplifying short sequences of DNA and matching it to a species of frog. That paper is recognized as the first to recommend eDNA to monitor species, but the general concept has been around for much longer, Schumer said. “The term eDNA, for use in ecological or pathogen-detection applications, in that context, is relatively new,” he said. “But people have been pulling DNA out of the environment ever since they knew that DNA existed.”  The commercial eDNA landscape rose up soon after the French paper was published, with companies like Genidaqs, pronounced genetics, and SPYGEN, a French company that in 2011 rolled out of the lab that produced that original paper.  Many eDNA companies have sprouted from academic labs or research settings, after biologists and geneticists familiar with DNA sequencing saw an opening to use the tool to pull more information from uncontrolled settings like rivers. Most companies are relatively young; only in the past few years, Schumer said, has there been enough interest for a company to exist on eDNA-related business alone.  Large international consulting companies, including Jacobs and Stantec, now also offer environmental DNA services to clients, but sequencing is still largely carried out at a handful of corporate and academic labs. “There’s not very many commercial labs that do environmental DNA work out there, and there’s even fewer that are dedicated towards it,” said Fahner at eDNAtec, founded by a professor at Canada’s University of Guelph in 2015.   Though eDNA services are becoming more in demand, regulations are most advanced in Europe, where England’s acceptance of eDNA tools to monitor great crested newts in 2014 “really changed things,” said Liz Allchin, global principal for biology and ecology at Jacobs. To date, Weeks and Kelly said, England appears to be the only country with a national, regulatory eDNA standard; in this case it provisions how eDNA can be used to monitor a specific species. Elsewhere, the legal landscape for eDNA methods remains a bit of a “wild west,” said Schumer.  There is international interest, though. In Canada, eDNAtec has collaborated with the government on a few projects; the country’s Science Advisory Secretariat has also created a guidance document on using eDNA in decision-making. Finland has a national eDNA strategy and Australia developed a national eDNA reference center. Japan maintains a biodiversity monitoring network that uses eDNA and the Danish Environmental Protection Agency uses the tool to monitor for aquatic invasive species. Beginning in 2016, the U.S. government eDNA working group has convened researchers and officials at least six times to discuss the state of eDNA research and how to integrate the tool into governmental work in areas such as invasive species or pollinator monitoring. Some U.S. agencies, including the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, have used eDNA testing. But no national strategy exists in the U.S., though some academics, including Kelly, have advocated for one.  Wide-ranging governmental acceptance of eDNA would mean a windfall for companies selling these tools. Without it, some companies and researchers are hesitant to estimate the market’s future size.  Meanwhile, companies like Best Bees are experimenting with applications outside of traditional environmental monitoring. Wilson-Rich has consulted on how certain honey producers can verify the origin of their product through the plant DNA it contains and sell it at a premium, similar to Manuka honey, a mainstay at health food stores. Sustainable fishery advocates have proposed monitoring for illegal fishing using eDNA. Biologists and engineers have deployed autonomous submersibles to trawl the ocean floor for eDNA that may lead to new drugs. And on farms, scientists have experimented with using eDNA to test soil health and identify pests.  eDNA data could eventually generate value on its own. Last year, BeZero Carbon, an agency that rates the quality of carbon credits, began testing the use of eDNA as a proxy to gauge ecosystem health by looking for changes in the makeup of microbial communities in response to environmental stressors. Its use “as a tool for capturing ecosystem characteristics,” the agency notes on its website, “could be an important step in the development of nature-based credits.” Biodiversity credits could one day be available to companies that demonstrate an improvement to the natural landscape. That credit market is nascent—and it’s already received criticism—but international interest is growing. By 2030, the biodiversity offsets and credit market could be worth over $160 billion, according to BloombergNEF. Measuring biodiversity is more difficult than other voluntary credit systems, like carbon credits, said BeZero Carbon’s chief science officer Nick Atkinson, because biodiversity is not defined by a single measure. eDNA results can be collected over time, demonstrating how an environment changes. “We need the tools and the techniques to be able to measure biodiversity, and eDNA is one of them,” said Atkinson. “It’s very useful.” Along with excitement, though, there is skepticism. Atkinson is quick to point out that eDNA is no “magic bullet.” As with any set of data, it is open to bias, said Kelly at the University of Washington: “It could be analyzed in a responsible way, or an irresponsible way.” Bioethicists also worry that, without regulation, eDNA could lead to serious privacy concerns if companies are not restricted on how they can use it or whether they’re able to sell the data they collect. The tool has other limitations. Environmental DNA currently can’t be used to determine abundance of a species, for instance. And in certain circumstances, eDNA tests can lead to false positives and negatives—a winged creature may pick up plant or animal DNA in a field and drop it in an unexpected place, like a parking lot, or a fish may swim through an area and leave very little DNA behind. “Usually when you don’t detect something, you can’t say it was absent, you can say it wasn’t detected,” said Fahner. “All tests have a limit.” Instead, eDNA may work best if used as “an early warning system” to guide further research, said Weeks. eDNA can provide a snapshot of a landscape and offer information on a wide area; then, those tests may still need to be followed up with catch surveys or field surveys.  “It’s like a hammer, you can pound a nail with it or you can smash your thumb. So, if it’s used correctly, in the right context, it does provide meaningful data that add value to what’s already being done,” said Schumer at Genidaqs. “That added value, that’s the business.” The challenge now, according to Weeks, is to prove that value without overpromising.  “It’s like any new technology: It’ll go through that innovation adoption curve, where you’ll have early adopters, you’ll have this weight of expectation of what it can provide,” he said. “Eventually, there will be some, probably, level of disillusionment, because it can’t actually supply some of the things that people thought it could.”  “The challenge for us, as people that provide the service in the industry,” he added, “is to make sure that weight of expectation never gets beyond what it really can do.”  This story was originally published on Undark. Read the original article.

In 2010, Noah Wilson-Rich was juggling several jobs while earning his PhD in biology at Tufts University: He taught classes at several nearby universities, and one day a week, tended bar at a cafe in the lobby of the Hult International Business School. On one of his shifts, he overheard customers discussing a competition for entrepreneurs. The next day, he entered, pitching a company that would gather insect health data at beehives. “They were like, ‘The bartender won?’ said Wilson-Rich. “Okay, you all need to respect your service workers.” Two thousand dollars in prize money helped Wilson-Rich launch The Best Bees Company. Now, more than a decade later, Best Bees offers corporate and residential beekeeping services near two dozen U.S. cities. The company also charges up to $450 for a “HoneyDNA” kit, which uses environmental DNA, or eDNA—genetic information deposited by a wide range of organisms in the surrounding environment—to test a hive’s health, or simply provide information about the “terroir” of the honey, said Wilson-Rich. The kit, which the company started selling in 2015, includes a sample bottle and a prepaid envelope; upon receipt, Best Bees sends honey samples out to a lab for sequencing to reveal what plant DNA is found in a hive’s product. The results can indicate whether the bees have been feeding on lavender, or how far they’re traveling from the hive; the company also provides corporate sustainability impact reporting. Best Bees is one of the many companies carving out a niche in a commercial landscape increasingly focused on advertising environmental responsibility, pushed by both customer demand and regulatory requirements. Testing environmental DNA, which allows data to be gathered from the tiny pieces of skin, scales, and slime that species shed as they move through the world, has been framed as a cheap and efficient way to understand a corporation’s impact. As supporters lobby for regulatory acceptance, a group of large consulting companies and eDNA specialists see the tool as a promising way to monitor corporate sustainability, like measuring the success of conservation efforts or the possible effects of a new bridge or parking lot. Experts say eDNA has limitations and drawbacks. So far, it appears that the tool is best used as one tool among a suite of monitoring methods, so it’s unlikely the technology will completely disrupt the environmental consulting industry, which according to The Insight Partners, a market research firm, was valued at more than $34 billion globally in 2020. But eDNA has undoubtedly created new opportunities to gather and monetize data. Meanwhile, both company representatives and researchers say it’s still early days in understanding all its possible capabilities and applications; some, like Wilson-Rich, are devising completely novel ways to sell eDNA services.  “It’s not just science for science’s sake,” said Ryan Kelly, an ecologist and legal scholar at the University of Washington, who works with government agencies on ecosystem management. “We’re making tools that it seems pretty clear can answer questions that haven’t been asked before, or can help people do their jobs better, cheaper, and faster.”  Often, before any huge infrastructure project can be constructed, governments and regulators require companies to prove they aren’t disturbing the natural landscape where the project would be built. The companies running those assessments, some of them large international corporations, have become an industry unto themselves: By 2028, the environmental consulting market is forecast to reach $50 billion in value, according to The Insight Partners. eDNA has the potential to make the work of those companies much easier, and much cheaper.   Traditional environmental monitoring “can be quite a laborious process,” according to Nicole Fahner, executive director at CEGA, an eDNA research and development center, and eDNAtec, a Canadian eDNA company. Such monitoring can require teams of highly trained biologists and ecologists, at times dispersed across sweeping landscapes like deserts and dense forests to set up traps, cameras, and remote sensing equipment. In lakes, streams, or reservoirs, scientists sometimes stick an electrified rod into the water to stun fish, to identify and count them. Surveys may happen multiple times over a series of months. And based on when a species is likely to appear, surveys may be conducted under the cover of night.  Surveys are even more challenging in parts of the deep ocean where some offshore wind and oil prospectors are eyeing projects, Fahner said, because the depths are difficult to reach and some are home to species that have never been identified and cataloged.  To meet regulatory requirements, environmental monitoring consulting is “worth a lot of money as an industry,” said Kelly. “If they could do it in a way that was more efficient and more powerful, they would.” Purveyors of environmental DNA prize its efficiency. eDNA sampling requires fewer people collecting air, dirt, or water in cheap bottles or vials. Much of the work happens back at the lab, where companies extract DNA from samples, sequence it, and then enter the results in a database to identify species matches. eDNA tests can locate a specific species, like an endangered animal or an invasive plant, or provide a picture of an entire ecosystem. And researchers are deploying methods that allow for live sequencing in the field. Today, according to industry experts, the most well-established use of eDNA for species monitoring is tracking of the great crested newt, an amphibian native to Europe and legally protected in the United Kingdom. Traditional surveys to track the newt required four night missions—one in each season—to trap specimens under plastic bottles, with a return in the morning to count them. For the last several years, biodiversity monitoring companies have used environmental DNA instead. Surveyors can scoop up water at any time of day and the DNA isolated can signal if newts are present, saving both time and labor.  “It all comes down to that value proposition: What is the advantage of using eDNA over other methods?” said Andrew Weeks, technical director at EnviroDNA, an Australian eDNA company that Weeks believes was the first to operate in the country. In 2008, Gregg Schumer was working at a highly secure Canadian microbiology lab. His days were spent harvesting animal tissue and testing it for viral DNA from pathogens like Ebola. At the time, a childhood friend was the principal scientist at a consulting company that was tracking the Delta smelt, an endangered fish usually less than three inches long, in California waterways.  “We began talking,” said Schumer, “and realized that my searching for viruses in organ systems was not unlike trying to find a really small fish in a very big system, and that we could use the exact same technique.” Soon, the two started sampling water from the same California rivers they grew up fishing, analyzing the samples for smelt DNA. In 2009, that work gave rise to one of the earliest environmental DNA companies: Genidaqs.  Genidaqs got its first grant soon after eDNA entered academic parlance. In 2008, researchers in France proposed a “novel approach” to detect species from aquatic samples, amplifying short sequences of DNA and matching it to a species of frog. That paper is recognized as the first to recommend eDNA to monitor species, but the general concept has been around for much longer, Schumer said. “The term eDNA, for use in ecological or pathogen-detection applications, in that context, is relatively new,” he said. “But people have been pulling DNA out of the environment ever since they knew that DNA existed.”  The commercial eDNA landscape rose up soon after the French paper was published, with companies like Genidaqs, pronounced genetics, and SPYGEN, a French company that in 2011 rolled out of the lab that produced that original paper.  Many eDNA companies have sprouted from academic labs or research settings, after biologists and geneticists familiar with DNA sequencing saw an opening to use the tool to pull more information from uncontrolled settings like rivers. Most companies are relatively young; only in the past few years, Schumer said, has there been enough interest for a company to exist on eDNA-related business alone.  Large international consulting companies, including Jacobs and Stantec, now also offer environmental DNA services to clients, but sequencing is still largely carried out at a handful of corporate and academic labs. “There’s not very many commercial labs that do environmental DNA work out there, and there’s even fewer that are dedicated towards it,” said Fahner at eDNAtec, founded by a professor at Canada’s University of Guelph in 2015.   Though eDNA services are becoming more in demand, regulations are most advanced in Europe, where England’s acceptance of eDNA tools to monitor great crested newts in 2014 “really changed things,” said Liz Allchin, global principal for biology and ecology at Jacobs. To date, Weeks and Kelly said, England appears to be the only country with a national, regulatory eDNA standard; in this case it provisions how eDNA can be used to monitor a specific species. Elsewhere, the legal landscape for eDNA methods remains a bit of a “wild west,” said Schumer.  There is international interest, though. In Canada, eDNAtec has collaborated with the government on a few projects; the country’s Science Advisory Secretariat has also created a guidance document on using eDNA in decision-making. Finland has a national eDNA strategy and Australia developed a national eDNA reference center. Japan maintains a biodiversity monitoring network that uses eDNA and the Danish Environmental Protection Agency uses the tool to monitor for aquatic invasive species. Beginning in 2016, the U.S. government eDNA working group has convened researchers and officials at least six times to discuss the state of eDNA research and how to integrate the tool into governmental work in areas such as invasive species or pollinator monitoring. Some U.S. agencies, including the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, have used eDNA testing. But no national strategy exists in the U.S., though some academics, including Kelly, have advocated for one.  Wide-ranging governmental acceptance of eDNA would mean a windfall for companies selling these tools. Without it, some companies and researchers are hesitant to estimate the market’s future size.  Meanwhile, companies like Best Bees are experimenting with applications outside of traditional environmental monitoring. Wilson-Rich has consulted on how certain honey producers can verify the origin of their product through the plant DNA it contains and sell it at a premium, similar to Manuka honey, a mainstay at health food stores. Sustainable fishery advocates have proposed monitoring for illegal fishing using eDNA. Biologists and engineers have deployed autonomous submersibles to trawl the ocean floor for eDNA that may lead to new drugs. And on farms, scientists have experimented with using eDNA to test soil health and identify pests.  eDNA data could eventually generate value on its own. Last year, BeZero Carbon, an agency that rates the quality of carbon credits, began testing the use of eDNA as a proxy to gauge ecosystem health by looking for changes in the makeup of microbial communities in response to environmental stressors. Its use “as a tool for capturing ecosystem characteristics,” the agency notes on its website, “could be an important step in the development of nature-based credits.” Biodiversity credits could one day be available to companies that demonstrate an improvement to the natural landscape. That credit market is nascent—and it’s already received criticism—but international interest is growing. By 2030, the biodiversity offsets and credit market could be worth over $160 billion, according to BloombergNEF. Measuring biodiversity is more difficult than other voluntary credit systems, like carbon credits, said BeZero Carbon’s chief science officer Nick Atkinson, because biodiversity is not defined by a single measure. eDNA results can be collected over time, demonstrating how an environment changes. “We need the tools and the techniques to be able to measure biodiversity, and eDNA is one of them,” said Atkinson. “It’s very useful.” Along with excitement, though, there is skepticism. Atkinson is quick to point out that eDNA is no “magic bullet.” As with any set of data, it is open to bias, said Kelly at the University of Washington: “It could be analyzed in a responsible way, or an irresponsible way.” Bioethicists also worry that, without regulation, eDNA could lead to serious privacy concerns if companies are not restricted on how they can use it or whether they’re able to sell the data they collect. The tool has other limitations. Environmental DNA currently can’t be used to determine abundance of a species, for instance. And in certain circumstances, eDNA tests can lead to false positives and negatives—a winged creature may pick up plant or animal DNA in a field and drop it in an unexpected place, like a parking lot, or a fish may swim through an area and leave very little DNA behind. “Usually when you don’t detect something, you can’t say it was absent, you can say it wasn’t detected,” said Fahner. “All tests have a limit.” Instead, eDNA may work best if used as “an early warning system” to guide further research, said Weeks. eDNA can provide a snapshot of a landscape and offer information on a wide area; then, those tests may still need to be followed up with catch surveys or field surveys.  “It’s like a hammer, you can pound a nail with it or you can smash your thumb. So, if it’s used correctly, in the right context, it does provide meaningful data that add value to what’s already being done,” said Schumer at Genidaqs. “That added value, that’s the business.” The challenge now, according to Weeks, is to prove that value without overpromising.  “It’s like any new technology: It’ll go through that innovation adoption curve, where you’ll have early adopters, you’ll have this weight of expectation of what it can provide,” he said. “Eventually, there will be some, probably, level of disillusionment, because it can’t actually supply some of the things that people thought it could.”  “The challenge for us, as people that provide the service in the industry,” he added, “is to make sure that weight of expectation never gets beyond what it really can do.”  This story was originally published on Undark. Read the original article.

New Research Suggests That Cutting Exposure to Common Chemicals Could Slow Aging

Researchers at Nagoya University in Japan have discovered that aldehydes are metabolic byproducts associated with premature aging. Published in Nature Cell Biology, their findings reveal...

Researchers at Nagoya University have linked aldehydes, byproducts from alcohol, pollution, and smoke, to premature aging and DNA damage, proposing potential strategies to mitigate aging effects and highlighting the impact of environmental factors on health.Researchers at Nagoya University in Japan have discovered that aldehydes are metabolic byproducts associated with premature aging. Published in Nature Cell Biology, their findings reveal insights into premature aging diseases and potential strategies to combat aging in healthy individuals such as controlling exposure to aldehyde-inducing substances including alcohol, pollution, and smoke.A person’s health can be harmed by aldehydes. However, the group’s findings suggest these detrimental effects also include aging. The team who made this discovery included Yasuyoshi Oka, Yuka Nakazawa, Mayuko Shimada, and Tomoo Ogi of Nagoya University.“DNA damage is linked with aging phenotypes,” said Oka. “However, for the first time, we propose a relationship between aldehyde-derived DNA damage and premature aging.” Link Between Aldehydes and AgingThe researchers hypothesized that there might be a link between aldehydes and aging since individuals with premature aging disorders, like AMeD syndrome, exhibit inadequate activity of enzymes, like ALDH2, that break down aldehydes.For healthy individuals, ALDH2 is also important in our response to alcohol. When a person drinks wine or beer, the liver metabolizes the alcohol into aldehydes so it can be eliminated from the body. The activity of ALDH2 is important for converting the aldehydes into a non-toxic substance.Histones are crosslinked with DNA (histone-DPC) following formaldehyde exposure, leading to the malfunction of cellular processes such as transcription. Credit: Reiko MatsushitaAldehydes are harmful because they are highly reactive with DNA and proteins. In the body, they form DNA-protein crosslinks (DPCs) that block important enzymes in typical cell proliferation and maintenance processes, causing these processes to malfunction and the patient to age.Focusing on DPCs caused by aldehyde, the scientists used a method called DPC-seq to investigate the link between aldehyde accumulation and DNA damage in premature-aging disease patients. In a series of experiments, the researchers discovered that the TCR complex, VCP/p97, and the proteasome are involved in the removal of formaldehyde-induced DPCs in actively transcribed regions. This was confirmed by a mouse model lacking both aldehyde clearance processes and the TCR pathway that showed worse AMeD syndrome symptoms.These processes are important because they are related to the clearance of aldehydes. It suggests an association between premature aging diseases and aldehyde accumulation.Research Findings and Future DirectionsProfessor Ogi is hopeful about the implications of their findings, stating: “By elucidating the mechanism by which DNA damage heals quickly, we have revealed part of the cause of genetic premature aging.”“Our research opens up new avenues for understanding the underlying mechanisms of premature aging diseases and offers potential targets for therapeutic intervention,” Oka said. “By elucidating the role of aldehydes in DNA damage and aging, we are paving the way for future studies aimed at developing novel treatments and interventions.”He continued: “The development of therapeutic drugs has not progressed because we have not fully understood the causes of AMeD syndrome and Cockayne syndrome. This study suggests that the patient’s pathological condition is related to DPC derived from aldehydes generated within cells. These results are expected to help in the search for compounds that remove aldehydes, thus aiding in the formulation of therapeutic drug candidates.”This research has implications that extend beyond genetic diseases, as their findings suggest that aldehyde-induced DNA damage may play a role in the aging process in healthy individuals too. By pinpointing aldehydes as substances that contribute to aging, this study sheds light on the intricate connection between environmental factors and cellular aging. This may have significant implications for human health and lifespan.Reference: “Endogenous aldehyde-induced DNA–protein crosslinks are resolved by transcription-coupled repair” by Yasuyoshi Oka, Yuka Nakazawa, Mayuko Shimada and Tomoo Ogi, 10 April 2024, Nature Cell Biology.DOI: 10.1038/s41556-024-01401-2

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