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Australia must lead the world on nature restoration through ambitious interpretation of international law

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Friday, March 22, 2024

Sundry Photography, ShutterstockAustralia has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to halt and reverse biodiversity loss through ambitious law and policy reform. The federal government is currently rewriting our national environmental laws and updating the overarching Strategy for Nature. The updated strategy will include, among other things, goals for the restoration of degraded areas. Part of the impetus for this reform is the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. This 2022 United Nations treaty was signed by almost 200 countries committing to address the biodiversity crisis. It includes a pledge to achieve 30% of degraded land, water, coastal and marine ecosystems “under effective restoration” by 2030. But as we argue in our new correspondence in Nature Ecology and Evolution, this restoration target is wide open to interpretation at the domestic level. Some responses could be very ambitious, while others would barely shift us from the status quo. Australia has an opportunity to lead here. We can show the world how to restore land and water for the benefit of all. The United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15) ended in Montreal, Canada, on December 19, 2022 with a landmark agreement to guide global action on nature through to 2030. Read more: 5 things we need to see in Australia's new nature laws Interpreting the 30% restoration target The global framework contains 23 targets, to be “initiated immediately and completed by 2030”. The restoration target obliges countries to: Ensure that by 2030 at least 30% of areas of degraded terrestrial, inland water, and marine and coastal ecosystems are under effective restoration, in order to enhance biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services, ecological integrity and connectivity. At first glance, this 30% restoration target sounds like a huge and important step towards reversing biodiversity loss. But the devil is in the detail, and almost every word of this target is open to interpretation. For example, the term “degraded” can be interpreted in various ways. A country may interpret it to include only areas that have seen a drastic decline in biodiversity, such as those that have been totally cleared. But if a country interprets it more broadly as areas that have experienced any decline in biodiversity, this translates to a much larger area for restoration. The wording also refers to 30% of areas of “degraded terrestrial, inland water, and marine and coastal ecosystems”. Crucially, it does not say effort must be spread evenly across these different ecosystems. This may lead countries to focus on areas where restoration is easier or cheaper. Given the complexities involved in marine and coastal restoration, there is a risk countries may focus their efforts on land while continuing to neglect freshwater, marine or coastal ecosystems. The phrase “under effective restoration” also has a range of possible meanings. Does “effective” simply mean in a better state than it was before restoration began? Or does it mean bringing the ecosystem back to an approximation of its natural state – prior to interference from development or other harm? How the term “effective” restoration is defined at a national scale will drastically influence reports of “success” and make it difficult to compare results between countries. The United Nations is honouring the planet’s most ambitious, successful, and inspiring examples of large-scale ecosystem restoration. Scaling up Australia has signed the framework and is currently considering how to implement it domestically. If Australia does decide to interpret the restoration target broadly and commit to restoring larger areas of land and water through more ambitious standards, there will be other issues to contend with. For example, one study identified a lack of funding and complex legal requirements as barriers to upscaling restoration in marine and coastal areas. In particular, having to apply for numerous government permits for restoration can slow progress and lead people to scale back their plans. To meet the 30% target, the government will need to reconsider how to fund restoration and streamline legal processes. Remember, much of the heavy lifting is currently done by non-government organisations such as The Nature Conservancy, Australian Wildlife Conservancy, Bush Heritage Australia and Trust for Nature. Read more: The new major players in conservation? NGOs thrive while national parks struggle Leading by example Ultimately, we argue countries should have discretion over how and where to implement restoration based on their individual circumstances. But we also think the global framework could be supplemented by standardised terminology and metrics to allow genuine comparison of countries’ progress towards the global targets. Closer to home, our analysis has some important lessons for Australia as the federal government contemplates the fate of our national environmental laws and biodiversity strategy. Australia’s most recent State of the Environment Report painted a bleak picture of biodiversity decline, highlighting an urgent need to upscale restoration of our land and water. Australia has an opportunity to take a leading role in this area and reverse our legacy of biodiversity loss. Interpreting the 30% restoration target broadly and ambitiously would set us on a path towards achieving meaningful outcomes for biodiversity and make Australia a world leader in restoration. Read more: We've committed to protect 30% of Australia's land by 2030. Here's how we could actually do it Justine Bell-James receives funding from the Australian Research Council and the National Environmental Science Program. She is a Director of the National Environmental Law Association.

Australia committed to restore 30% of degraded ecosystems by 2030 when we signed the global biodiversity framework. But what does that really mean? It’s open to interpretation. So let’s be ambitious.

Sundry Photography, Shutterstock

Australia has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to halt and reverse biodiversity loss through ambitious law and policy reform.

The federal government is currently rewriting our national environmental laws and updating the overarching Strategy for Nature. The updated strategy will include, among other things, goals for the restoration of degraded areas.

Part of the impetus for this reform is the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. This 2022 United Nations treaty was signed by almost 200 countries committing to address the biodiversity crisis. It includes a pledge to achieve 30% of degraded land, water, coastal and marine ecosystems “under effective restoration” by 2030.

But as we argue in our new correspondence in Nature Ecology and Evolution, this restoration target is wide open to interpretation at the domestic level. Some responses could be very ambitious, while others would barely shift us from the status quo. Australia has an opportunity to lead here. We can show the world how to restore land and water for the benefit of all.

The United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15) ended in Montreal, Canada, on December 19, 2022 with a landmark agreement to guide global action on nature through to 2030.

Read more: 5 things we need to see in Australia's new nature laws


Interpreting the 30% restoration target

The global framework contains 23 targets, to be “initiated immediately and completed by 2030”.

The restoration target obliges countries to:

Ensure that by 2030 at least 30% of areas of degraded terrestrial, inland water, and marine and coastal ecosystems are under effective restoration, in order to enhance biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services, ecological integrity and connectivity.

At first glance, this 30% restoration target sounds like a huge and important step towards reversing biodiversity loss. But the devil is in the detail, and almost every word of this target is open to interpretation.

For example, the term “degraded” can be interpreted in various ways. A country may interpret it to include only areas that have seen a drastic decline in biodiversity, such as those that have been totally cleared.

But if a country interprets it more broadly as areas that have experienced any decline in biodiversity, this translates to a much larger area for restoration.

The wording also refers to 30% of areas of “degraded terrestrial, inland water, and marine and coastal ecosystems”. Crucially, it does not say effort must be spread evenly across these different ecosystems. This may lead countries to focus on areas where restoration is easier or cheaper. Given the complexities involved in marine and coastal restoration, there is a risk countries may focus their efforts on land while continuing to neglect freshwater, marine or coastal ecosystems.

The phrase “under effective restoration” also has a range of possible meanings. Does “effective” simply mean in a better state than it was before restoration began? Or does it mean bringing the ecosystem back to an approximation of its natural state – prior to interference from development or other harm?

How the term “effective” restoration is defined at a national scale will drastically influence reports of “success” and make it difficult to compare results between countries.

The United Nations is honouring the planet’s most ambitious, successful, and inspiring examples of large-scale ecosystem restoration.

Scaling up

Australia has signed the framework and is currently considering how to implement it domestically. If Australia does decide to interpret the restoration target broadly and commit to restoring larger areas of land and water through more ambitious standards, there will be other issues to contend with.

For example, one study identified a lack of funding and complex legal requirements as barriers to upscaling restoration in marine and coastal areas. In particular, having to apply for numerous government permits for restoration can slow progress and lead people to scale back their plans.

To meet the 30% target, the government will need to reconsider how to fund restoration and streamline legal processes. Remember, much of the heavy lifting is currently done by non-government organisations such as The Nature Conservancy, Australian Wildlife Conservancy, Bush Heritage Australia and Trust for Nature.


Read more: The new major players in conservation? NGOs thrive while national parks struggle


Leading by example

Ultimately, we argue countries should have discretion over how and where to implement restoration based on their individual circumstances. But we also think the global framework could be supplemented by standardised terminology and metrics to allow genuine comparison of countries’ progress towards the global targets.

Closer to home, our analysis has some important lessons for Australia as the federal government contemplates the fate of our national environmental laws and biodiversity strategy. Australia’s most recent State of the Environment Report painted a bleak picture of biodiversity decline, highlighting an urgent need to upscale restoration of our land and water.

Australia has an opportunity to take a leading role in this area and reverse our legacy of biodiversity loss. Interpreting the 30% restoration target broadly and ambitiously would set us on a path towards achieving meaningful outcomes for biodiversity and make Australia a world leader in restoration.


Read more: We've committed to protect 30% of Australia's land by 2030. Here's how we could actually do it


The Conversation

Justine Bell-James receives funding from the Australian Research Council and the National Environmental Science Program. She is a Director of the National Environmental Law Association.

Read the full story here.
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This Biologist Panned a “Mosquito Eradicator” Product. Its Maker Bit Back.

In 2019, Colin Purrington, an evolutionary biologist, was scrolling through the internet when he came across something that would change his life. Purrington, 57, who left a professor position at Swarthmore College in 2011 to spend more time with his family, dabbles these days: He snaps nature photography, gives presentations at the local farmer’s market, […]

In 2019, Colin Purrington, an evolutionary biologist, was scrolling through the internet when he came across something that would change his life. Purrington, 57, who left a professor position at Swarthmore College in 2011 to spend more time with his family, dabbles these days: He snaps nature photography, gives presentations at the local farmer’s market, and occasionally reviews products for his personal blog. On that fateful day in 2019, a new product had caught his eye: The Spartan Mosquito Eradicator, a roughly foot-long black and orange tube with a Corinthian helmet emblazoned on the side, its plumes replaced by mosquito wings. Inside was a mixture of sugar, yeast, and salt. “I was intrigued, given that it said that it could kill 95 percent of mosquitoes,” Purrington recalled in an interview with Undark. The claims seemed too good to be true, he thought, so he decided to try it out. After purchasing two tubes for about $25, Purrington hung them in his yard in Pennsylvania and checked them, he says, more than a 100 times over the summer. But he didn’t see much happen, a fact that compelled him to write a nearly 4,000-word review on his personal website. To say it was a pan is an understatement. “The Spartan Mosquito Eradicator is unlikely to kill a single mosquito unless it falls from the tree and lands on one,” Purrington wrote. He called some of the company’s claims “idiotic.” He also laid out a lengthy case that the company had misled regulators about the efficacy of its product, lied to customers, and broken some laws—and encouraged readers to contact regulators and file complaints. “My attorneys were the same ones that sued Rolling Stone and won, so they are pretty good at that.” A tube of baking ingredients might not seem like much to get worked up about. But mosquito control isn’t exactly low stakes: The insects are considered the deadliest animals on the planet. In the US they are known to carry West Nile virus and, occasionally, other diseases. In tropical regions, they can deliver dengue fever, yellow fever, chikungunya, and malaria—the last of which, in 2022, accounted for 608,000 deaths globally, mostly among small children. As climate change pushes the boundaries of the warm, wet regions where many insect species thrive, mosquito-borne illnesses are expected to spread and even worsen. Even where mosquitoes are a mere nuisance, killing or repelling them is a lucrative business. AC2T, Inc., the company that sells Spartan products and also does business as Spartan Mosquito, sold a reported 4.5 million of its Eradicator boxes by the end of 2019. At one point, the company even sponsored a NASCAR racer. And AC2T is just one of many in a sizeable global market: According to market research, mosquito control products—that is, products that aim to kill the pest—may be worth $1.4 billion worldwide by 2027. The mosquito repellant market, where products are designed to drive the insects away rather than kill them, is already worth billions. In the US, those markets are flooded both with products that are effective, and products that simply are not—many of which, due to their mild ingredients, receive minimal oversight from the Environmental Protection Agency. “The implications for human health are not good,” said Immo Hansen, a biologist and mosquito researcher at New Mexico State University. “People might actually think they are protected when they are not.” (Hansen independently tests mosquito products but has not vetted any of Spartan’s wares.) This environment allows products like the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator to thrive. But AC2T, which is based in Mississippi, may be unique in the lengths it has taken to bring its products to market in the US. According to documents obtained through records requests to the EPA and more than a dozen state agricultural departments—some obtained directly by Undark, and others shared by Purrington—representatives from the company have leaned on their political connections to push past regulatory requirements. In an interview in March 2024, Jeremy Hirsch, 46, a co-founder of AC2T, called some of the steps in those regulatory requirements “bureaucratic BS.” Hirsch, a former sandwich shop worker and Army veteran who, by his account, is a self-taught expert in volatile organic compounds and mosquito ecology and behavior, met his co-founder, Christopher Bonner, when they worked together at Bonner Analytical Testing Company, a family-run chemical analytics company. The Spartan Mosquito Eradicator, originally manufactured in a garage, and the more recent Spartan Mosquito Pro Tech. Hannah Yoon/Undark According to AC2T, its new director as of April is Josey Hood, who described herself as Hirsch’s ex-wife and said that Hirsch no longer speaks for the company. But in interviews with Hirsch predating that transition, he described ambitious plans for the company he co-founded. AC2T sold its first Spartan Mosquito Eradicator in Mississippi in 2017 and, not long after, sought to go global. In 2018, according to correspondence from AC2T, the company planned to expand to 54 countries; in 2020, it announced a pilot project to test its products in West Africa, where malaria is a leading cause of death. “Yes ma’am, there were tons of plans,” Hirsch told Undark. If not for the legal challenges, he said, “I’d be all over the place by now.” Indeed, Purrington’s efforts did not go unnoticed. Months after his initial review went live, AC2T filed a defamation lawsuit against the former professor. “My attorneys were the same ones that sued Rolling Stone and won, so they are pretty good at that,” Hirsch said. “And they said all you need is seven specific things that he said that you can prove he knew otherwise at the time he said it, was blatantly false. And we had 13 things.” The company’s own commissioned research indicated that Purrington was right—that the product did not work as suggested. Nevertheless, they pressed ahead. Throughout the lawsuit, the biologist continued his very public—and, to some observers, quixotic—quest to expose what he saw as the company’s misdeeds. He authored more than a dozen blog posts, created an expansive timeline on AC2T’s history, made countless posts on social media, and sent a deluge of emails to the EPA, the Federal Trade Commission, state health departments, Amazon.com, and pesticide managers in the agricultural departments of all 50 states. Soon after the defamation case began, lawyers filed a class action lawsuit against AC2T, which represented plaintiffs who said they had bought a product that did not work; that case reached a preliminary settlement in 2023 for a maximum of $3.6 million and, pending the court’s final decision, may eventually take some of the company’s products off the market. “If you interviewed anyone who followed me on Twitter, they’d roll their eyes and say Purrington, yeah, he just can’t stop posting about these companies,” he said. But he was upset that Spartan had been eyeing the West African market. “No one was going to stop them from getting a foothold in malarial regions,” he said. “And they were going to make a killing.” Humans have cooked up all sorts of ways to battle mosquitos: We spray them with pesticides and larvicides, drain the stagnant water in which they need to breed, zap them, kill them with fish, and even deploy genetically altered mosquitoes to help bring down populations. Some state and national governments, especially in tropical areas, maintain entire divisions devoted to waging systematic campaigns against the insects. At the individual level, health officials urge people to use proven, EPA-registered repellents, to wear long sleeves and pants, and to avoid going outdoors when mosquitoes are most active. Some of these approaches are easy for anyone to do without much or any government oversight. Others are regulated, including the production of pesticides, which are mainly the responsibility of the EPA under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, or FIFRA. “I think there are some companies that do take advantage of not having to do EPA registrations.” But within the world of pesticides, there is a murky category: Those that are exempt from EPA registration because their ingredients are considered generally safe to use. These “minimum risk” ingredients, as they are called, include essential oils, putrid eggs, certain salts, and more. “EPA has kind of washed their hands” of such products, said Daniel Markowski, the technical adviser for the American Mosquito Control Association. Some exempt products can in fact kill insects, said Jerome Goddard, a medical entomologist at Mississippi State University. But the products only work if “they get on the bug. They kill on contact,” he said. The problem, Goddard said, is that the active ingredients in these unregulated products often don’t stick around in the environment long enough to be effective. Another issue: “Some of these manufacturers make exorbitant claims that just aren’t true.” (Goddard declined to speak on the record about AC2T or its products.) Companies that want to sell EPA-exempt repellents or pesticides still need to register with individual states—though in some, the oversight is fairly cursory: Regulators simply make sure that the ingredients on a product’s label are indeed on the minimum risk list, that it follows the basic rules outlined by the law, and that it doesn’t include any outrageous claims about how well it works, including big claims related to human health. Others require data proving that the products work, including Mississippi, AC2T’s home state. The exempt products—often called 25(b)s, for the section of FIFRA under which they fall—are notoriously difficult for state regulators to evaluate. In emails obtained by Undark, Denise Clanton, a former branch director at the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, Bureau of Plant Industry, complained to colleagues in other states about the difficulty of enforcing those laws. “We have such a difficult job with these 25b products when it comes to questionable claims because we have such small amounts of guidance in certain areas,” she wrote. Spartan Mosquito even sponsored a NASCAR racer. Chris Graythen/Getty Images Many experts, including representatives from the American Mosquito Control Association, the Association of American Pesticide Control Officials, and individual state officials, say that this system is broken—creating a glut of exempt products with wildly varying effectiveness and inconsistent oversight. “The 25(b) regulation is tricky for states,” said Sarah Caffery, the pesticide product registration manager for the Office of Indiana State Chemist. “It creates a lot more resource needs from states to ensure they are reviewed at the highest level needed.” “I think there are some companies that do take advantage of not having to do EPA registrations,” she added. Regulators have cracked down on some of these products. For instance, in 2015, the Federal Trade Commission charged a company with making false claims about a wristband that contained mint oil, which supposedly warded off mosquitoes; the company settled with the agency the next year for $300,000. In 2018, the FTC settled with a New Jersey business for claiming that its perfumes and candles could repel Zika-carrying mosquitoes. And while the American Mosquito Control Association doesn’t take a stance on specific products, it generally advises the public to stick with those that are EPA-approved. (Hirsch described the American Mosquito Control Association as a “neurotoxin lobby group.”) In 2021, the EPA announced that it was considering a change to 25(b) products, perhaps by streamlining the registration process or amending current exemptions, prompting dozens of public responses. To date, the agency has not publicly disclosed how or whether the regulations will change, and there is no official deadline as to when its review will be complete. It is against this backdrop that the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator landed. In 2016, Jeremy Hirsch was working at a sandwich shop called Which Wich Superior in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Around that time, as he recalled in an interview with Undark, he got the idea to make a product to control mosquitoes when he saw his then-pregnant wife readying to spray down one of their children with insect repellent and thought to himself: “There has got to be an easier way.” “I started reading a lot online, just everything I could about mosquitoes in general,” said Hirsch. “How long they live, you know. What they’re attracted to. How their important systems work, like muscular and neuro systems, et cetera.” First, he made a spray to put on, say, the yard to keep mosquitoes at bay. The spray contained boric acid—a pesticide widely used to kill ants, roaches, and other pests. “Turns out it kills everything, kind of indiscriminately,” he said. Then he tried stuffing boric acid and other ingredients into black socks and black painted water bottles, the color of which may attract the insects. These too, he said, killed any insect that came into contact with them. After some more experimentation—and some consultations with Chris Bonner, who had previously worked with Hirsch during the latter’s stint at his family’s chemical company—Hirsch came up with the black and orange tubes for the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator. Later in 2016, the two men formed AC2T, named, Hirsch said, for the first initials of their respective children, and started manufacturing the product in a garage. Purrington pours the powder from a Spartan Mosquito Pro Tech tube, which contains sugar, yeast, and boric acid. Experts have raised concerns that the combination of yeast and sugar, used to lure the mosquitos, may not work as intended. Hannah Yoon/Undark Purrington hangs a Spartan tube in his backyard. He is the only scientist not affiliated with AC2T that Undark was able to find who has tested the Spartan Pro Tech in the wild. His conclusion is that it does not work. Hannah Yoon/Undark At the time, the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator contained sugar, yeast, and boric acid. Users could add warm water to the product’s tube, prompting the yeast to activate and chomp some of the sugar to emit carbon dioxide (mosquitoes are attracted to the CO2 in a person’s breath). The mosquitoes would then enter the tube through one of several tiny holes to feed on the remaining sweet liquid inside—females eat blood when they need protein to lay their eggs, but both females and males also regularly eat sugary nectar—while also ingesting the boric acid. The product, the company claimed, would kill mosquitoes at a rate of 95 percent. AC2T was soon peddling its product to local officials. In late September 2016, for instance, Joseph “Jody” Waits, a Lamar county administrator and family friend of Bonner’s, invited AC2T to hang the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator in a Mississippi neighborhood that had a case of Zika. The county’s mosquito control unit had “fogged the area” for four days, according to internal documents—including, according to an interview with Waits, the area in which AC2T hung its products. The number of mosquitoes subsequently dropped. AC2T later called the occurrence a “case study,” claiming it was the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator that had succeeded in wiping out the local mosquitoes. The company also suggested in advertising materials that their work was endorsed by the state’s health department, which the latter denied. The advertisement drew a warning from the Mississippi Attorney General. (Lamar County eventually purchased 500 Spartan Mosquito Eradicators.) By 2017, AC2T was selling its boric-acid-based product locally. And in early April 2017, Hirsch promoted the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator to the Hattiesburg City Council, for possible use in the city. “The poison levels in there—it’s a poison called boron, or borax,” he told the officials. “We’re to the point now, and we should be able to finalize this in the coming weeks, where there is zero poison in it whatsoever.” (Both boric acid and the household cleaner borax are compounds that contain boron, but they’re not interchangeable.) Hirsch had been looking to drop boric acid from the product because the pesticide falls under EPA regulation—and AC2T had not gone through the required registration. Hirsch argues to this day that his original product had less boric acid than lipstick, silly putty, and other common products. “It seemed innocuous to us,” he told Undark. He also insists that, at the time, AC2T had repeatedly asked the agency for guidance on whether boric acid required registration, without response. An email dated April 10, 2017, from the EPA’s Region 4, which oversees Mississippi, however, clarifies to Hirsch: “Regarding your product, based on what you’ve described, it would be considered a ‘pesticide’ according to the Federal Insecticide, Rodenticide and Fungicide Act (FIFRA).” Without federal approval for its boric acid product, the company swapped the ingredient for table salt, maintained its claim that the new product would kill 95 percent of mosquitoes, and applied for a 25(b) registration in Mississippi and a handful of other states. As proof that the product worked, the company sent Mississippi regulators a 15-page paper with Hirsch as the sole author, sponsor, study director, and test subject. Clanton, the state employee responsible for approving pesticides for sale, granted the registration, although, in a later email to a fellow pesticide regulator in Maine, she said she had not wanted to do so but that “the call was out of my hands.” (When reached by phone, Clanton said: “I do not want to talk about that product” and hung up.) In this 2019 video, Jeremy Hirsch, co-founder of Spartan Mosquito, describes one of his products for a local news station. Scientific evidence puts AC2T’s claims about its salt-based formulation into question—including research by independent scientists that the company hired to investigate whether its tubes actually worked. One of those scientists is Donald Yee, a mosquito ecologist at the University of Southern Mississippi. Yee would not speak directly about AC2T or its employees. “As you may know they are very litigious, and have been ‘hostile’ to me in the past,” he wrote in an email to Undark. But in legal filings related to the class action suit against AC2T, Yee has recounted some of his experiences working with the company: After he disclosed his research findings, which showed that the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator did not work, Hirsch engaged in what Yee’s attorneys described in a legal brief as “bullying tactics.” “I stormed out last time and said fine, Mississippi will look like the dummies who allow the product to be sold and manufactured here.” Yee did speak to Undark in generalities about the ingredients within such a device. In a phone interview, he noted that the combination was unlikely to kill mosquitoes for several reasons: The amount of CO2 produced by a small bit of yeast isn’t enough to draw swarms of mosquitoes; the sugar water wouldn’t be more attractive than the numerous nearby blooms from gardens and wild plants; the salt, which is a major component of human blood, wasn’t lethal. Some scientists, including Purrington, also say that mosquitoes cannot fit through the holes in AC2T’s products, a claim that the company has disputed. Another scientist who tested the product, Rui-De Xue, the director of the Anastasia Mosquito Control District in Florida, declined an interview request. “Sorry I cannot discuss with you about this product,” he wrote to Undark by email, noting that he was “tired of the lawsuit and cost.” Both Yee and Xue have, however, published relevant peer-reviewed research. In a study published in 2020, Yee teamed up with scientists across five separate labs to determine whether or not table salt could kill mosquitoes; it did not, and the findings were consistent across nine mosquito species that bite humans, including several that spread disease. And in early 2021, Xue, along with several colleagues, published the results of tests of AC2T’s salt-based product on one mosquito species. “Both laboratory and field components of our study show that the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator is not effective in reducing abundance,” the researchers concluded. Unpublished research performed upon AC2T’s request also suggested that the product would not work. An October 2019 report from Hirsch’s former employer, Bonner Analytical—completed about two months before AC2T sued Purrington for defamation—examined the CO2 that the yeast in the Eradicator emitted. The company concluded: “Based on all of our available research our product never produces enough CO2 to meet the burden of proof for mosquito attraction.” In a March 2024 phone call with Undark, which lasted more than an hour, Hirsch defended the company’s products. “No one in their right mind would say, well, mosquitoes aren’t attracted to stagnant water,” he said, responding to claims that the product’s yeasty liquid does not attract mosquitos. And in a two-hour follow-up interview in early June, Hirsch stressed that any test on just one element of the product—including the Bonner CO2 findings—isn’t enough to prove that the product doesn’t work: “Things don’t happen in a vacuum. You’re addressing one out of the 10 things that attract mosquitoes to that device, ok?” In regards to whether any test could ever definitely prove the efficacy of any mosquito product—including his—he said in an earlier interview: “If they go away, does that mean that it works? I don’t know.” By the end of 2018, Spartan was available for sale in at least 47 states, and the company was growing so quickly that it moved to a 63,000-square-foot production facility in Laurel, Mississippi. But emails suggest that the company had already begun encountering headwinds, as state officials grew wary of the Eradicator—often following email alerts from Purrington—as well as a new product from AC2T called Sock-It-Skeeter, which contained the same salt-based ingredients. (Hood, the company’s current director, told Undark that the Sock-It-Skeeter never made it to market.) Regulators began pulling back on registrations, some citing the lack of efficacy data, and others citing inconsistencies and false health-related claims on the respective 25(b) labels. At the same time, state records and interviews indicate, AC2T representatives were appealing to elected officials for help. In at least three states, lawmakers stepped in to defend the company, urging regulatory agencies to give AC2T special consideration or questioning their decisions. In 2018 in Maine, for instance, when the state pesticide registrar at the time, Mary Tomlinson, was facing a months-long backlog of 25(b) products needing review, a sales manager at AC2T “contacted a legislator here to get it pushed up to the front, who then contacted our commissioner,” she wrote in an email to Clanton, the Mississippi official. (Tomlinson declined an interview request.) The pressure campaign echoed what Clanton seems to have experienced in Mississippi. “I was told from above to approve,” she said in another email from 2018. In a June 2019 email, she told colleagues in other states that she had been told to “expedite a review” for Sock-It-Skeeter. “I am having to prove myself over and over due to the political push from these people,” she wrote. And in a message from November 2019, Clanton vented to Caffery in Indiana about the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator and the Sock-It-Skeeter. “Every time I mention issues with those two products, I get ‘that look’ like drop it. So, I give up,” she wrote. “I stormed out last time and said fine, Mississippi will look like the dummies who allow the product to be sold and manufactured here. More importantly, I look like the dummy bc I’m the registration person which makes me even more angry.” (Although Undark interviewed Caffery, she declined to speak about her experiences with AC2T on the record.) A written statement from Robert Graves, the Mississippi Special Assistant Attorney General, said in part that the states agricultural department “has complied with all the requirements” for registering the Spartan Mosquito products. The agency did not respond to specific questions from Undark regarding pressure from ACT2T, stating: “we are simply unable to continue to devote our limited resources to your investigation.” Even as the company faced pushback, it prepared to launch a new product—again seeking help from elected officials. In 2018, documents suggest that the company was readying a product that would use boric acid instead of salt. According to documents obtained through a records request, a letter from Christopher Spence, then the chief financial officer at Spartan Mosquito, to Scott Pruitt, then head of the EPA, asked for a waiver to get the product fast-tracked for federal approval. Spence wrote a similar letter to Mississippi Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, who had previously served as the state’s Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce. “I took all the technology and everything we learned…I handed it to the president of Togo and said: Do with it what you will.” Should the company be able to legally add boric acid to their product, the letters claimed, they would be able to kill every single species of mosquito on the planet, including those that spread disease. The letter also noted that it had escalated its concerns with pesticide registration all the way up to the White House, referring to an attached letter from Trump in support of the company. (The Trump letter itself has not been released. Hirsch declined to share the letter, but told Undark that it said, in reference to regulators: “Good luck with everything, and just keep talking to them.”) Around this time, the company began considering overseas markets, too. In the letters to Pruitt and Hyde-Smith, AC2T noted plans to enter 54 countries. In 2019, Hirsch was attending social events with then-Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant and the American Chamber of Commerce-Ghana; in 2020, Hirsch was working with officials in Togo, in West Africa, where malaria is the leading cause of death, to test AC2T’s product. “We are so pleased to partner with Spartan Mosquito to promote effective new mosquito-control solutions in Togo,” the Minister of Health and Public Hygiene Professor Moustafa Mijiyawa said in a press release. (Mijiyawa did not respond to a request for an interview, nor did Tinah Atcha-Oubou, the coordinator for Togo’s National Malaria Control Program.) According to Hirsch, in Togo, he was initially giving his products and other expertise away for free: “I took all the technology and everything we learned, I put it in a book, and I handed it to the president of Togo and said: Do with it what you will.” Whether a boric acid-based product like the Spartan Pro Tech would work any better than salt-based ones is unclear. On one hand, boric acid is a known pesticide and, if ingested, it will kill a mosquito. Xue and many other experts have published research on toxic baits that contain both sugar and boric acid, and found that, at least in highly controlled laboratory settings, the combination is lethal to at least some species. Field studies on mosquito baits that are laced with boric acid have had mixed results. But the concerns that experts have raised over the yeast and sugar combination, which are used in the Pro Tech to lure and feed the mosquitoes, respectively, remain relevant. While experts do use CO2 as a mosquito lure, it typically requires pounds of dry ice, which dissipates entirely overnight, several experts told Undark. By comparison, the Spartan products contain about a teaspoon of yeast, and the company claims that the product will last for 90 days. The company’s own report from Bonner Analytical noted that the previous product, the Spartan Mosquito Eradicator, did not contain enough yeast for a lure; the amount of yeast in both products appear to be roughly the same, according to reports submitted to the EPA. The EPA approved registration of the Spartan Mosquito Pro Tech in March 2020. In an email message to Purrington later that year, Erik Kraft, an EPA scientist who, at the time, was in charge of boric acid products, wrote: “In the case of Spartan Mosquito Pro Tech, EPA reviewed studies on the product’s acute toxicity, product chemistry and efficacy and found these data to be acceptable and therefore registered the product.” A review of the scientific data submitted in support of the Spartan Pro Tech shows that an independent research company performed lab tests which, in line with the broader scientific literature, confirm that when mosquitoes eat boric acid, they die. Field tests were performed by Bonner Analytical Testing Company, the chemical analysis company where Chris Bonner, the co-founder of AC2T is employed, and the analysis report was co-authored by Chris; his father Michael Bonner; and Hirsch. “I spent four years in the Pennsylvania courts” and was “tired of paying fucking lawyers.” The report only briefly describes several field tests and has scant methodological information or analysis. In response to queries about Spartan Pro Tech efficacy data, Jeffrey Landis, an EPA spokesperson, wrote via email: “A comprehensive review was completed on the study reports submitted in support of the Spartan Pro Tech application. The review team determined that the conditions under which those studies were conducted were adequate to assure the quality, validity, and integrity of the data.”    The EPA did not review any documents related to the CO2 produced by the Spartan Pro Tech. “Attractancy claims, which would have been supported in part by acceptable CO2 data, are not included on the EPA-approved label; therefore, no data were required for those specific claims,” Landis wrote via email. Undark was unable to find any scientist who isn’t affiliated with AC2T who has tested the Spartan Pro Tech in the wild—aside from Purrington. On Purrington’s website, his withering review provides his own answer as to whether it works: “No.” Pending the outcome of the class action settlement agreement, the company may have to halt sales of both products, at least in the United States. According to the proposed settlement agreement, which reads, in part, that it is “the product of extensive, arms-length, and vigorously contested settlement discussions,” AC2T will be prohibited from selling the salt-based Spartan Mosquito Eradicator. To sell the boric-acid-based Spartan Mosquito Pro Tech, meanwhile, the company would have 18 months to conduct additional research proving that it works. Speaking prior to Hood’s takeover as the new director of the company, Hirsch suggested that wouldn’t be a problem: “We run hundreds of tests a year. We aren’t going to stop doing what we’re doing.” In a subsequent email, Hood noted that AC2T runs product tests several times a year, not hundreds. The company did not respond to multiple requests to share data from of any of those tests with Undark. Due at least in part to AC2T’s legal woes, which Hirsch said cost him $7 million and pushed him out of his job, the company is not making any moves into the international market. Any mention of AC2T’s expansion into West Africa—or elsewhere outside of the US—has quietly disappeared from the company’s website and literature, and a separate website for a related nonprofit, the Innovative Mosquito Control Incorporated, is also gone. For his part, Hirsch insists that the many actions against AC2T are part of a wider effort by the mosquito control industry to push a small competitor out of the market. As for the company’s own hopes for the future, Hood stressed to Undark: “We plan to continue to manufacture and sell to our customers. We believe in our product. We’ve hit some stumbles just as any young companies do, but we are optimistic for the future.” Indeed, the future of AC2T in the US is far from clear. Emails among state and federal employees, as well as other documents, suggest that the EPA could be investigating the company. (Both the EPA and the Federal Trade Commission declined to respond to questions about any potential investigations.) Earlier this year, attorneys representing AC2T in the class action suit dropped the company as a client, citing a failure to pay their legal bills. The legal team representing AC2T in its defamation suit against Purrington had done the same. (Hirsch told Undark: “I spent four years in the Pennsylvania courts” and was “tired of paying fucking lawyers.” Hood told Undark that she thought the lawsuit was without merit, and that as the new director of the company, she decided “not to pursue the case.”) In mid-March, the judge dismissed the defamation case against Purrington with prejudice. Purrington says he spent more than $90,000 preparing for trial—money he’s trying to recoup, at least in part, in a lawsuit against AC2T, which he filed on May 14, 2024. But when he reflects more broadly on his ordeal, the scientist’s irritations reach well beyond the company. “I’m mad that they sued me,” Purrington said. “But I’m just kind of disappointed at the rest of the world for not caring as much as I do.”

Quantum Teleportation Just Got Real: Achieving 90% Fidelity Amidst Noise

Scientists have advanced quantum teleportation by mitigating noise interference through a novel method involving hybrid entanglement, achieving close to 90% fidelity in teleporting quantum states,...

High-fidelity quantum teleportation has been achieved by research team using a new hybrid entanglement technique that counters environmental noise, with a success rate nearing 90%. Credit: SciTechDaily.comScientists have advanced quantum teleportation by mitigating noise interference through a novel method involving hybrid entanglement, achieving close to 90% fidelity in teleporting quantum states, which could significantly enhance secure quantum communication.A research team led by Academician Guangcan Guo from the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), in collaboration with the research team at the University of Turku, Finland, successfully overcame environmental noise to achieve high-fidelity quantum teleportation by utilizing multipartite hybrid entanglement. Their findings were published recently in the journal Science Advances.Overcoming Challenges in Quantum TeleportationQuantum teleportation serves as a crucial protocol in quantum communication, enabling the remote transmission of unknown quantum states through the utilization of quantum entanglement. However, due to the fragile nature of quantum entanglement, quantum teleportation is highly susceptible to noise. Achieving high-fidelity quantum teleportation in noisy environments has been a pressing challenge. Stages of noisy quantum teleportation. Credit: ZHAO-DI LIU et al.Advancements in Quantum Noise ManagementPreviously, to address the decoherence issue of open quantum systems in a noisy environment, the research team devised a comprehensive method for regulating photon polarization and frequency, leveraging sophisticated optical path design and programmable spatial light modulators. This approach enabled them to create a fully controllable phase decoherence quantum simulator and achieve quantum teleportation that surpasses noise, utilizing nonlocal memory effects.New Techniques in Quantum TeleportationHowever, nonlocal memory effects require stringent quantum resources such as environmental entanglement, which are not generally attainable. Building on these results, the current work presents a more versatile quantum teleportation technique that effectively mitigates environmental noise.Employing the fully controllable phase decoherence quantum simulator, the researchers introduced specific phase modulations into the environment to prepare a dual-photon polarization-frequency hybrid entangled initial state. Subsequently, these photons were distributed to two separate user terminals, where each underwent decoherence evolution.Conclusion and ImplicationsUltimately, through classical communication, the researchers executed suitable unitary operations on the retrieved quantum bits to restore the transmitted quantum state, achieving a measured fidelity approaching 90%. The polarization states never violated Bell’s inequality, indicating quantum teleportation based on hidden quantum nonlocality.This method offers a new way to overcome environmental noise, distinct from conventional techniques such as dynamic decoupling and decoherence-free subspaces, and enhances the understanding of quantum nonlocality.Reference: “Overcoming noise in quantum teleportation with multipartite hybrid entanglement” by Zhao-Di Liu, Olli Siltanen, Tom Kuusela, Rui-Heng Miao, Chen-Xi Ning, Chuan-Feng Li, Guang-Can Guo and Jyrki Piilo, 1 May 2024, Science Advances.DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.adj3435

Do Scientists Make Good Presidents?

Following Mexico’s election of a woman with a scientific pedigree, Nature reviewed the legacy of well-known politicians with backgrounds in science and engineering.

This week, Mexico elected its first female president, Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo — a politician with a background in physics and environmental engineering. Despite her scientific pedigree, not all researchers are confident that she will have their interests at heart, given that her mentor and predecessor, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, cut science budgets and had a sometimes antagonistic relationship with the Mexican science community.Speculation now abounds about whether Sheinbaum Pardo will prioritize evidence-based decision-making.To get a view of what might come, Nature talked to historians and policy experts about how five other scientists-turned-world-leaders fared in office, and whether their backgrounds in science were a benefit — or a detriment.On supporting science journalismIf you're enjoying this article, consider supporting our award-winning journalism by subscribing. By purchasing a subscription you are helping to ensure the future of impactful stories about the discoveries and ideas shaping our world today.Some say science expertise is a double-edged sword. Researchers “know very well how to gather information from various actors in society”, says Sayaka Oki, a historian of science at the University of Tokyo. But at the same time, if they rely too much on their own intellect instead of listening to constituents, they can get “trapped in their own self-righteousness”, she adds.Herbert Hoover, US president, 1929–33Herbert Hoover studied geology in the 1890s at the then-fledgling Stanford University in California, and went on to earn a fortune as an international mining consultant. While living in London at the outset of the First World War, he achieved fame setting up a food-relief programme for German-occupied Belgium. Later, he was invited by Woodrow Wilson, US president at the time, to manage US food supplies for the remainder of the conflict.Hoover became US Secretary of Commerce in 1921 and quickly solidified his reputation as an able technocrat. But that same technocratic bias might also have blinded him to the larger social, cultural and political concerns that arose as the country stumbled into the Great Depression, says David Cole, president of the Science History Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. That recession, the worst in US history, began shortly after Hoover, a member of the Republican party, was elected president in 1929.Many of the government measures to create jobs and bring the country out of the depression were actually started under Hoover, Cole says. But he wasn’t able to sell his vision to the public, and voters ousted him after a single term. “Hoover worked himself almost to death trying to engineer the country out of the depression, but he was politically tone deaf,” Cole adds.Margaret Thatcher, UK prime minister, 1979–90Margaret Thatcher, who trained as a chemist, is probably one of the best-known and most divisive prime ministers that Britain has had. During her chemistry studies at the University of Oxford, UK, she spent a year investigating the structure of an antibiotic in the laboratory of Nobel prizewinning chemist Dorothy Hodgkin. Thatcher went on to work as a research chemist at a plastics company, and then at a food company, before quitting research for a life in politics.She led the United Kingdom’s right-wing Conservative party to electoral victory in 1979, following a wave of trade union strikes in which more than 4 million workers demanded pay rises higher than they were being offered. During her 11-year premiership, Thatcher privatized state-owned industries and public services — including water, gas and electricity — and cut spending on health care, education and housing. The funding cuts, along with surging unemployment, damaged her popularity. But her reputation got a boost in 1982, thanks to a UK victory against Argentina in a war over ownership of the Falkland Islands.Throughout her time in office, Thatcher did not seem to apply much of her scientific training to political leadership, says John Muellbauer , an economist at the University of Oxford. “She was a conviction politician, so she led by ideology and simple beliefs rather than evidence-driven policy,” Muellbauer says.A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, president of India, 2002–07Even before becoming president, Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen (A. P. J.) Abdul Kalam was a nationally recognized figure. As an aerospace scientist at the Indian Space Research Organisation, he oversaw the development of India’s first home-grown satellite launch vehicle, which in 1980 thrust the Rohini Satellite 1 into low-Earth orbit. “He did marvellous work,” says Venni Krishna, a science-policy researcher at the University of New South Wales, in Sydney, Australia. Kalam later moved to India’s Defence Research & Development Organisation, where he headed the country’s strategic ballistic missiles programme.In 2002, Kalam was elected India’s 11th president, with support from both the ruling and the opposition parties. The role of president in India is largely ceremonial — the prime minister is head of government — but Indian presidents have the power to reject bills passed by parliament. Kalam’s election was “hugely inspiring”, especially for young scientists, says Rohini Godbole, a particle physicist at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore.Kalam belonged to a generation of scientists who rose to prominence in an India that had become newly independent of British colonial rule. He had a vision of using home-grown science and technology to propel the country’s development, and injected “confidence in the scientific systems”, Godbole says.Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, 2005–21Trained as a quantum chemist, Angela Merkel was the first woman to become chancellor of Germany, when she was elected in 2005. By the time she left office as leader of the centre-right Christian Democrats, 16 years later, she had become Germany’s second-longest-serving head of government.Merkel obtained a PhD in quantum chemistry in 1986, studying reaction dynamics at the Academy of Sciences in Berlin–Adlershof, in what was then East Germany. As a political leader, she was known for her pragmatism in dealing with issues ranging from the European debt crisis to the phaseout of nuclear energy in Germany to the COVID-19 pandemic, says political scientist Matt Qvortrup at Coventry University, UK. “The way she approached political questions was by using a sort of scientific testing, seeing what theories might work and being willing to falsify them,” he says.Overall, her background in science “was definitely a virtue”, says Qvortrup, and it probably influenced her ability to work collaboratively. Her focus was on policy — how to solve a problem — rather than on politics, which is more about how to win an argument, he says, adding that as a result, she had high approval ratings among people in Germany.Yukio Hatoyama, prime minister of Japan, 2009–10Yukio Hatoyama’s time as the head of Japan’s government was short-lived, which some researchers attribute partly to an idealism that many scientists possess. Hatoyama, a leftist, was too “pure” and theoretical in his reasoning, says Oki at the University of Tokyo.Hatoyama received a PhD in industrial engineering from Stanford University. He worked as a researcher in applied probability, first at the Tokyo Institute of Technology and then at Senshu University in Tokyo, before launching his political career. Coming from a family of politicians, he was part of “a political genealogy”, says Yasushi Sato, who studies science policy at Niigata University in Japan.In September 2009, Hatoyama became Japan’s 93rd prime minister, following an election victory by his Democratic Party of Japan. The party immediately set to work cutting government spending, including funds for science programmes. But pushback from the scientific community preserved key projects, including a synchrotron radiation facility.Only eight months after taking office, Hatoyama resigned, having failed to fulfil his campaign pledge of relocating a controversial US military base from the island of Okinawa. Instead, he had agreed to move the base to a less crowded location on the island, which angered locals. Oki says public discourse at the time labelled Hatoyama as “naive” and lacking an understanding of the world.The upshot?Scientists who have succeeded in leading their countries tend to think first and foremost like politicians, says Mike Lubell, a physicist at the City College of New York, who tracks federal science-policy issues. With regard to Sheinbaum Pardo, he recommends that she draw on her scientific knowledge, but not depend on it. “Science is not the be-all and end-all in politics.”Many of Sheinbaum Pardo’s critics, including some scientists, worry about Mexican democracy, arguing that she has become too close to the increasingly powerful political machine built by her predecessor. “If I were advising her,” Lubell says, “I would say that making sure that Mexican democracy thrives is going to be essential to Mexico’s ability to advance in science and technology.”This article is reproduced with permission and was first published on June 6, 2024.

Unveiling the Molecular Mechanisms Behind PTSD and Depression: Latest Findings

Study reveals molecular distinctions and similarities in PTSD and depression, highlighting potential therapeutic targets and biomarkers. A comprehensive examination of multiple biological processes is essential...

Researchers from McLean Hospital and collaborating institutions have discovered shared and distinct molecular changes in brain regions, genomic layers, cell types, and blood of individuals with PTSD and MDD, offering new insights for therapeutic and diagnostic advancements. Credit: SciTechDailyStudy reveals molecular distinctions and similarities in PTSD and depression, highlighting potential therapeutic targets and biomarkers.A comprehensive examination of multiple biological processes is essential for understanding the development of stress-related disorders. Recent research conducted by scientists at McLean Hospital, along with collaborators from The University of Texas at Austin and Lieber Institute for Brain Development, has revealed both shared and unique molecular changes in brain regions, genomic layers, cell types, and blood among individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depressive disorder (MDD). These findings, published in Science, could pave the way for innovative treatments and biomarkers.The Complexity of PTSD Explored“PTSD is a complex pathological condition. We had to extract information across multiple brain regions and molecular processes to capture the biological networks at play,” explained lead author Nikolaos P. Daskalakis, MD, PhD. Stress-related disorders develop over time, stemming from epigenetic modifications caused by the interplay between genetic susceptibility and traumatic stress exposure. Although previous research has identified factors such as hormonal, immune, methylomic, and transcriptomic influences, the limited availability of postmortem brain tissues from PTSD patients has hindered a comprehensive understanding of these brain-based molecular changes.Multi-omics Approach to Studying PTSD and Depression“Our primary goals for this study were to interpret and integrate differential gene and protein expression, epigenetic alterations and pathway activity across our postmortem brain cohorts in PTSD, depression and neurotypical controls,” said senior author Kerry Ressler, MD, PhD, chief scientific officer and director of Division of Depression and Anxiety Disorders and Neurobiology of Fear Laboratory at McLean Hospital, and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “We essentially combined circuit biology with powerful multi-omics tools to delve into the molecular pathology behind these disorders.”For this, the team analyzed multi-omic data from 231 PTSD, MDD, and neurotypical control subjects, along with 114 individuals from replication cohorts for differences in three brain regions — the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), hippocampal dentate gyrus (DG) and central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA). They also performed single-nucleus RNA sequencing (snRNA-seq) of 118 PFC samples to study cell-type-specific patterns and evaluated blood-based proteins in more than 50,000 UK Biobank participants to isolate key biomarkers associated with stress-related disorders. Finally, the overlap of these key brain-based disease process genes was compared with genome-wide association studies (GWAS)-based risk genes to identify PTSD and MDD risk.Molecular Variations and Disease MechanismsIndividuals with PTSD and MDD shared altered gene expression and exons in the mPFC but differed in the localization of epigenetic changes. Further analysis revealed that a history of childhood trauma and suicide were strong drivers of molecular variations in both disorders. The authors noted that MDD disease signals were more strongly associated with male-specific results, suggesting that sex differences may underlie disease risk.Top disease-associated genes and pathways across regions, omics, and/or traits implicated biological processes in both neuronal and non-neuronal cells. These included molecular regulators and transcription factors, and pathways involved in immune function, metabolism, mitochondria function, and stress hormone signaling.Implications for Diagnostic and Therapeutic Advances“Understanding why some people develop PTSD and depression and others don’t is a major challenge,” said investigator Charles B. Nemeroff, M.D., PhD, chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Dell Medical School of UT Austin. “We found that the brains of people with these disorders have molecular differences, especially in the prefrontal cortex. These changes seem to affect things like our immune system, how our nerves work, and even how our stress hormones behave.”The genetic components of the work built on a study published last month by researchers including Ressler and Daskalakis in Nature Genetics, in which they identified 95 locations, or loci in the genome (including 80 new) associated with PTSD. Their multi-omic analyses found 43 potential causal genes for the disorder.The researchers now could reveal only limited overlap between the top genes and those implicated in GWAS studies, underscoring the gap in current understanding between disease risk and underlying disease processes. In contrast, they discovered greater correlations between brain multi-omics and blood markers.“Our findings support the development of brain-informed blood biomarkers for real-time profiling,” said Daskalakis.Ressler added, “These biomarkers could help overcome current challenges in obtaining brain biopsies for advancing new treatments.”Future DirectionsLimitations of the study include the inherent biases in postmortem brain research, including population selection, clinical assessment, comorbidities, and end-of-life state. The authors also caution that they did not fully characterize all cell subtypes and cell states and that future studies are required to understand contrasting molecular signals across omics or brain regions.The team plans on using this database as groundwork for future analysis of how genetic factors interact with environmental variables to create downstream disease effects.“Learning more about the molecular basis of these conditions, PTSD and MDD, in the brain paves the way for discoveries that will lead to more effective therapeutic and diagnostic tools. This work was possible because of the brain donations to the Lieber Institute Brain Repository from families whose loved ones died of these conditions,” said Joel Kleinman, MD, PhD, associate director of Clinical Sciences at the Lieber Institute for Brain Development. “We hope our research will one day bring relief to individuals who struggle with these disorders and their loved ones.”For more on this research, see New Molecular Insights Into PTSD and Depression.Reference: “Systems biology dissection of PTSD and MDD across brain regions, cell types, and blood” by Nikolaos P. Daskalakis, Artemis Iatrou, Chris Chatzinakos, Aarti Jajoo, Clara Snijders, Dennis Wylie, Christopher P. DiPietro, Ioulia Tsatsani, Chia-Yen Chen, Cameron D. Pernia, Marina Soliva-Estruch, Dhivya Arasappan, Rahul A. Bharadwaj, Leonardo Collado-Torres, Stefan Wuchty, Victor E. Alvarez, Eric B. Dammer, Amy Deep-Soboslay, Duc M. Duong, Nick Eagles, Bertrand R. Huber, Louise Huuki, Vincent L. Holstein, Mark W. Logue, Justina F. Lugenbühl, Adam X. Maihofer, Mark W. Miller, Caroline M. Nievergelt, Geo Pertea, Deanna Ross, Mohammad S. E. Sendi, Benjamin B. Sun, Ran Tao, James Tooke, Erika J. Wolf, Zane Zeier, PTSD Working Group of Psychiatric Genomics Consortium**, Sabina Berretta, Frances A. Champagne, Thomas Hyde, Nicholas T. Seyfried, Joo Heon Shin, Daniel R. Weinberger, Charles B. Nemeroff, Joel E. Kleinman and Kerry J. Ressler, 24 May 2024, Science.DOI: 10.1126/science.adh3707Disclosures: Nikolaos P. Daskalakis is on the scientific advisory boards for BioVie Inc., Circular Genomics, Inc., and Feel Therapeutics, Inc.; Daniel R. Weinberger is on the advisory boards of Pasithea Therapeutics and Sage Therapeutics for unrelated work; Duc M. Duong is a cofounder of ARC Proteomics, and cofounder and paid consultant of Emtherapro Inc.; Chia-Yen Chen is an employee of Biogen Inc.; Mohammad S. E Sendi receives consulting fees for unrelated work from Niji Corp, Benjamin B. Sun is an employee and stockholder of Biogen Inc.; Kerry J. Ressler has received consulting income from Alkermes and sponsored research support from Brainsway and Takeda, and is on the scientific advisory boards for Janssen, Verily, and Resilience Therapeutics for unrelated work.Funding: This work was supported by grants from NIMH, the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, Stichting Universitas / the Bontius Foundation, the Dutch Research Council (NWO) fund, and McLean Hospital.

Only 10% of native plants can be bought as seed – a big problem for nature repair. Here’s how we can make plantings more diverse

The need to restore native vegetation is clear, but we can’t properly repair nature without good, diverse supplies of native seeds.

Rachael GallagherMore than 52 million hectares of land across Australia is degraded. Degraded land lacks biodiversity and the natural balance of healthy ecosystems, making it unfit for wildlife or cultivation. This means we are losing the benefits that healthy ecosystems provide for nature and people. To counter this threat, Australia signed the Global Biodiversity Framework in 2022, pledging to ensure 30% of degraded ecosystems are “under effective restoration” by 2030. That’s roughly 15.6 million hectares of land across the nation. To kick-start ecosystem recovery, governments, environmental managers and landholders often plant a diverse mix of native species on degraded land. The crucial word here is diverse. Planting a wide variety of species makes ecosystems more resilent, laying the foundation of a healthy environment for wildlife. But effective biodiverse plantings require large quantities of diverse native seed. Amounts range from 600 to 20,000 seeds per square metre. The problem is we don’t have enough seeds from Australia’s endemic plants – species found only in this country (often with very limited distributions). Our new research shows both the quantity and diversity of native seed available for restoration are limited across the country. Only 10% of our native species are readily available for sale as seed. Multiply this supply-and-demand issue on the scale needed to meet Australia’s ambitious goals for nature repair, and the seed shortages, are clearly critical. Our research identifies gaps in the seed supply chain. We have developed a new method to optimise the biodiversity of plantings from these limited supplies. We also recommend ways to strengthen the seed supply chain. The seeds from Australian flora are as varied as the plants they produce. Paige Lieurance How well does supply match the need for diversity? Our research explores two urgent questions: Does the present supply of seed for restoration in Australia reflect the diversity of ecosystems where nature repair is intended? Using seed that is readily available, can we achieve the diverse plantings that underpin resilient ecosystems? We started by making an inventory of seeds from 32 commercial suppliers across Australia. We worked out what percentage of species can be bought immediately as seed across six major vegetation types, such as our eucalypt woodlands and rainforests. We then compared the diversity of species available as seed to the total species diversity of each vegetation type. Using this information, we developed a framework to maximise the different types of plant species (their “functional diversity”) used in seed mixes, taking into account supply constraints. The aim is to achieve a diverse mix of species with different plant traits – such as height, seed or leaf variety – from the available seed supply. Seed supply is missing many ‘little guys’ Overall, only about 10% of Australia’s plant species, or 2,992 species, can be bought as seed. Of course, volunteers or contractors can directly collect seeds for more species out in the bush for restoration projects – if they have permits to do so. Even so, the 10% we found for immediate purchase indicates serious shortfalls in the diversity of our national supply. When seed was available, it was more often for trees and shrubs. The seeds of ecologically important understorey species were often not available. These missing “little guys” are mainly herbs and grasses. They are the source of most of the plant diversity in some of our most degraded ecosystems, such as grassy woodlands. We also looked at changes in the stock from individual suppliers. As suppliers added more species to their list of offerings, the diversity tended to increase for trees and shrubs. These woody plants include species such as Acacia and Eucalyptus. The increase in woody species’ seeds effectively “diluted” the contribution to diversity of herb and grass species, such as kangaroo grass, flannel flower and flax lily, that make up the understorey. The overall seed mix becomes less representative of the balance of species in native vegetation. This shift in supply likely reflects the monumental demand for seeds from trees and shrubs. These woody species are favoured for projects focused on reforestation and carbon farming. Seedlings ready to go in the ground at a restoration project near Mt Annan, New South Wales. Samantha Andres How can we improve seed supply? We show careful planning can make diverse plantings achievable from available seed stocks. It’s still worrying, though, that the seeds of almost 90% of our native plants are missing. And, of the available 10%, the quantities in stock may not scratch the surface of what is needed to restore large areas of diverse vegetation. This finding has serious implications for ecosystems where most of the diversity is in the understorey. One example is the critically endangered Cumberland Plain Woodland west of Sydney. In ecosystems like this, restoration is being proposed to offset development impacts. To restore vegetation that provides good habitat for wildlife and resembles the natural bush we love, we need to get cracking on improving our national seed supply. We highlight the need for better policy and planning to support Australia’s native seed sector. After delving into the constraints of seed supply, we recommend ways to improve supply by strengthening collaboration along all stages of the supply chain. That includes everyone from financiers to collectors to bush regenerators across the country. We suggest increasing financial support to expand seed supply systems, particularly for small-scale suppliers. Expanding seed production areas, such as “seed orchards”, across the nation will help to bring more diverse and difficult-to-store seed on the market. It will also avoid compromising wild plant populations due to over-harvesting. Good guidance on how to maximise a broad suite of different plant types with a wide range of traits might help avoid some of the consequences of poor seed supply. Selections from current limited supplies can be optimised to generate more diverse seed mixes for restoration. Still, this takes lots of planning. It may be beyond the reach of the average landholder engaging in nature repair. Ultimately, we need greater investment to improve the seed supply chain in an ethical and ecologically sustainable way. Only then will we have the tools to attempt to reinstate degraded ecosystems. Joe Atkinson received funding from the Capital Landkeepers Trust and the Ecological Society of Australia for related work. He does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond his postdoctoral position.Rachael Gallagher receives funding from the Australian Research Council Linkage scheme for work related to this article. She does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond her academic appointment.Samantha Ellen Andres does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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