Herbal Viagra actually contains the real thing



































IF IT looks too good to be true, it probably is. Several "herbal remedies" for erectile dysfunction sold online actually contain the active ingredient from Viagra.












Michael Lamb at Arcadia University in Glenside, Pennsylvania, and colleagues purchased 10 popular "natural" uplifting remedies on the internet and tested them for the presence of sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra. They found the compound, or a similar synthetic drug, in seven of the 10 products – cause for concern because it can be dangerous for people with some medical conditions.












Lamb's work was presented last week at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences meeting in Washington DC.












This article appeared in print under the headline "Herbal Viagra gets a synthetic boost"


















































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Kerry in Egypt to press for political consensus






CAIRO: US Secretary of State John Kerry was in Cairo on Saturday to push for a way out of Egypt's violence-wracked political impasse, underlining the need for a consensus to overcome a crippling economic crisis.

As Kerry arrived from Turkey, protesters torched a police station in the canal city of Port Said which is entering its third week of civil disobedience, reflecting the size of the task facing the secretary of state in Egypt, which has been rocked by months of unrest.

Kerry is due to hold talks with Islamist President Mohamed Morsi during the visit, which saw him sit with political parties and civil society groups.

In a meeting with Egyptian business leaders, Kerry stressed the importance of a US$4.8-billion IMF loan, which is partly conditioned on a measure of agreement between Egypt's divided factions.

"It is paramount, essential, urgent that the Egyptian economy gets stronger, that it gets back on its feet," Kerry said. "It is clear to us that the IMF arrangement needs to be reached. So we need to give the marketplace the confidence."

He also met Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi, who said he was "very satisfied" with the meeting, before evening talks with his Egyptian counterpart Mohammed Kamel Amr.

Outside the foreign ministry, dozens of protesters burned pictures of Kerry as they chanted against perceived US support for Morsi. The opposition criticises Washington for urging it to reconsider a boycott of upcoming parliamentary elections.

The top US diplomat met former Arab League chief Amr Mussa and spoke with Mohamed ElBaradei by telephone. ElBaradei and Hamdeen Sabahi from the opposition coalition National Salvation Front (NSF) had refused to meet Kerry in person.

All three are leading figures in the NSF, a coalition of liberal and leftist parties opposed to Morsi, which has announced a boycott of elections that begin in April.

Egypt has been deeply divided since Morsi, elected in June as part of the transition that followed Hosni Mubarak's ouster in early 2011, issued a decree in November expanding his powers and paving the way for the adoption of an Islamist-drafted constitution.

Morsi rescinded the decree under intense pressure, but the political turmoil has fuelled weeks of unrest and clashes that have left dozens dead, with protesters denouncing the president for failing to address political and economic concerns.

During his visit, Kerry will stress the "importance of building consensus," a State Department official said, after the NSF call for an election boycott.

He would emphasise that "if they want to engage, if they want to ensure that their views are taken into account, the only way to do that is to participate," the official said.

"They can't sit aside and just assume that somehow by magic all of this is going to happen. They have got to participate."

A political consensus would pave the way for the crucial loan from the International Monetary Fund, which in turn will unlock several pledges of aid for Egypt's battered economy.

Egyptian officials have said they will continue talks with the IMF on the loan, which has been delayed amid political unrest and might possibly be signed after a parliament is in place in July.

Morsi has called for staggered parliamentary elections to start on April 22. The NSF, which groups mainly liberal and leftist parties and movements, said it would boycott the polls, expressing doubts over their transparency.

The opposition, less organised than the Muslim Brotherhood, insists that the president appoint a new government before the election. The presidency says the new parliament should have the right to appoint the cabinet.

Meanwhile, in Port Said, the interior ministry said 500 protesters threw stones and petrol bombs at the police station, setting it on fire, and then blocked fire engines from approaching the site of the blaze.

The official MENA news agency said protesters also stormed a police building in the Nile Delta city of Mansura, where overnight clashes left one person dead and dozens injured.

- AFP/jc



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Trutanich struggling in bid to keep his city attorney post









With large numbers of Los Angeles voters yet to make up their minds, a new poll shows that first-term City Atty. Carmen Trutanich is struggling to stay afloat as Tuesday's primary election approaches.


Trutanich is in a statistical dead heat for second place with private attorney Greg Smith. Former lawmaker Mike Feuer enjoys a slight edge over both as the three candidates battle to advance to an expected May runoff.


Feuer, who served on the City Council and then in the state Assembly representing the city's Westside, was the choice of 23.8% of those surveyed for the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy/L.A. Times Los Angeles City Primary Poll, while 16.4% favored Trutanich, who won the office in a 2009 upset. Smith, a first-time candidate who has pumped more than $800,000 of his personal wealth into the race, was preferred by 15.2%.





But the poll has a margin of sampling error of 4.4 percentage points in either direction. Furthermore, 40% of those surveyed said they hadn't decided on a candidate.


"Feuer maintains a small advantage," said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. But, he added, Smith's television and radio advertising and incumbent Trutanich's name ID "could change that," particularly with so many undecided voters.


Just 4.7% of respondents favor a fourth candidate on the ballot, private attorney Noel Weiss. Weiss, who also ran for the post in 2009, has not had the money to mount a viable campaign.


The bipartisan telephone survey canvassed 500 likely voters in the city from Feb. 24 through 27. It was conducted jointly by the Benenson Strategy Group, a Democratic firm, and M4 Strategies, a Republican company.


Earlier independent surveys by other organizations showed that Trutanich had started the race with a lead. But he got into the contest late — after failing to make the runoff in his bid for county district attorney last year — and has not been able to match the campaign treasuries of Feuer and Smith, both earlier entrants in the contest. The blunt-spoken Trutanich, who has tangled publicly with the mayor and City Council, has also alienated some of his past supporters with his style and his decision to run for D.A. despite his 2009 campaign promise to serve two full terms at City Hall before seeking another post.


"To the extent that voters know about the candidates, this race is a referendum on Carmen Trutanich," Schnur said.


In the survey, Trutanich did somewhat better than Feuer and Smith among Latinos: 22.8% of voters in that group said they would vote for the incumbent, compared with 17.8% for Feuer and 12.7% for Smith. Feuer fared best among whites — 26.1% favored him, while Trutanich and Smith were backed by 16.7% and 16.4%, respectively.


Feuer also fared better with female voters (25%) than either Trutanich (13%) or Smith (14%). A Democrat, Feuer also did best among voters who identified with that party — 32% preferred him to Smith, another Democrat, who was chosen by 11%; while 15% favored Trutanich, a former Republican who is currently unaffiliated with a party. Among Republicans, who make up about one-fifth of the city's voters, Trutanich and Smith tied with 23% apiece, while 8% preferred Feuer.


jean.merl@latimes.com





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We Didn’t Domesticate Dogs. They Domesticated Us.


In the story of how the dog came in from the cold and onto our sofas, we tend to give ourselves a little too much credit. The most common assumption is that some hunter-gatherer with a soft spot for cuteness found some wolf puppies and adopted them. Over time, these tamed wolves would have shown their prowess at hunting, so humans kept them around the campfire until they evolved into dogs. (See "How to Build a Dog.")

But when we look back at our relationship with wolves throughout history, this doesn't really make sense. For one thing, the wolf was domesticated at a time when modern humans were not very tolerant of carnivorous competitors. In fact, after modern humans arrived in Europe around 43,000 years ago, they pretty much wiped out every large carnivore that existed, including saber-toothed cats and giant hyenas. The fossil record doesn't reveal whether these large carnivores starved to death because modern humans took most of the meat or whether humans picked them off on purpose. Either way, most of the Ice Age bestiary went extinct.

The hunting hypothesis, that humans used wolves to hunt, doesn't hold up either. Humans were already successful hunters without wolves, more successful than every other large carnivore. Wolves eat a lot of meat, as much as one deer per ten wolves every day-a lot for humans to feed or compete against. And anyone who has seen wolves in a feeding frenzy knows that wolves don't like to share.

Humans have a long history of eradicating wolves, rather than trying to adopt them. Over the last few centuries, almost every culture has hunted wolves to extinction. The first written record of the wolf's persecution was in the sixth century B.C. when Solon of Athens offered a bounty for every wolf killed. The last wolf was killed in England in the 16th century under the order of Henry VII. In Scotland, the forested landscape made wolves more difficult to kill. In response, the Scots burned the forests. North American wolves were not much better off. By 1930, there was not a wolf left in the 48 contiguous states of America.  (See "Wolf Wars.")

If this is a snapshot of our behavior toward wolves over the centuries, it presents one of the most perplexing problems: How was this misunderstood creature tolerated by humans long enough to evolve into the domestic dog?

The short version is that we often think of evolution as being the survival of the fittest, where the strong and the dominant survive and the soft and weak perish. But essentially, far from the survival of the leanest and meanest, the success of dogs comes down to survival of the friendliest.

Most likely, it was wolves that approached us, not the other way around, probably while they were scavenging around garbage dumps on the edge of human settlements. The wolves that were bold but aggressive would have been killed by humans, and so only the ones that were bold and friendly would have been tolerated.

Friendliness caused strange things to happen in the wolves. They started to look different. Domestication gave them splotchy coats, floppy ears, wagging tails. In only several generations, these friendly wolves would have become very distinctive from their more aggressive relatives. But the changes did not just affect their looks. Changes also happened to their psychology. These protodogs evolved the ability to read human gestures.

As dog owners, we take for granted that we can point to a ball or toy and our dog will bound off to get it. But the ability of dogs to read human gestures is remarkable. Even our closest relatives-chimpanzees and bonobos-can't read our gestures as readily as dogs can. Dogs are remarkably similar to human infants in the way they pay attention to us. This ability accounts for the extraordinary communication we have with our dogs. Some dogs are so attuned to their owners that they can read a gesture as subtle as a change in eye direction.

With this new ability, these protodogs were worth knowing. People who had dogs during a hunt would likely have had an advantage over those who didn't. Even today, tribes in Nicaragua depend on dogs to detect prey. Moose hunters in alpine regions bring home 56 percent more prey when they are accompanied by dogs. In the Congo, hunters believe they would starve without their dogs.

Dogs would also have served as a warning system, barking at hostile strangers from neighboring tribes. They could have defended their humans from predators.

And finally, though this is not a pleasant thought, when times were tough, dogs could have served as an emergency food supply. Thousands of years before refrigeration and with no crops to store, hunter-gatherers had no food reserves until the domestication of dogs. In tough times, dogs that were the least efficient hunters might have been sacrificed to save the group or the best hunting dogs. Once humans realized the usefulness of keeping dogs as an emergency food supply, it was not a huge jump to realize plants could be used in a similar way.

So, far from a benign human adopting a wolf puppy, it is more likely that a population of wolves adopted us. As the advantages of dog ownership became clear, we were as strongly affected by our relationship with them as they have been by their relationship with us. Dogs may even have been the catalyst for our civilization.

Dr. Brian Hare is the director of the Duke Canine Cognition Center and Vanessa Woods is a research scientist at Duke University. This essay is adapted from their new book, The Genius of Dogs, published by Dutton. To play science-based games to find the genius in your dog, visit www.dognition.com.


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Mars trip to use astronaut poo as radiation shield








































The man and woman aboard the Inspiration Mars mission set to fly-by the Red Planet in 2018Movie Camera will face cramped conditions, muscle atrophy and potential boredom. But their greatest health risk comes from exposure to the radiation from cosmic rays. The solution? Line the spacecraft's walls with water, food and their own faeces.













"It's a little queasy sounding, but there's no place for that material to go, and it makes great radiation shielding," says Taber MacCallum, a member of the team funded by multimillionaire Dennis Tito, who announced the audacious plan earlier this week.












McCallum told New Scientist that solid and liquid human waste products would get put into bags and used as a radiation shield – as well as being dehydrated so that any water can be recycled for drinking. "Dehydrate them as much as possible, because we need to get the water back," he said. "Those solid waste products get put into a bag, put right back against the wall."












Food too, could be used as a shield, he said. "Food is going to be stored all around the walls of the spacecraft, because food is good radiation shielding," he said. This wouldn't be dangerous as the food would merely be blocking the radiation, it wouldn't become a radioactive source.











Water 1 – Metals 0













The details of Inspiration Mars's plans have yet to be clarified, but the team has said it will be using "state-of-the-art technologies derived from NASA and the International Space Station".











One idea that is already under consideration by the agency's Innovative Advanced Concepts programme, which funds research into futuristic space technology, is a project called Water Walls, which combines life-support and waste-processing systems with radiation shielding.













Water has long been suggested as a shielding material for interplanetary space missions. "Water is better than metals for protection," says Marco Durante of the Technical University of Darmstadt in Germany. That's because nuclei are the things that block cosmic rays, and water molecules, made of three small atoms, contain more nuclei per volume than a metal.












Water shielding also has another benefit – you can drink it. Such dual use is essential aboard a spacecraft, where space is at a premium. Applying this rationale, the Water Walls concept involves polyethylene bags that use osmosis to process clean drinking water from urine and faeces.











Sights and smells













Lining the walls of a spacecraft with layers of these bags creates a 40-centimetre-thick liquid shield. All of the bags would initially be filled with drinking water. The crew would then fill other bags with waste during the trip to Mars and swap them out for the now-empty water bags.












The osmosis-based processing is much simpler than the automated life-support systems aboard the International Space Station, making it less likely to fail during the long ride to Mars.











However, there are problems to be ironed out. The urine-to-water processing bags were tested in orbit on the last ever flight of the space shuttle in 2011 and found to be 50 per cent less efficient in microgravity than in ground-based tests.













Besides testing that the various bags work properly, the Water Walls team points out the more basic worry of dealing with the residual sights and smells. MacCallum made a similar point about the system to be used on Inspiration Mars: "Hopefully they're not clear bags," he said.











Solar danger













Not all bags need be equally unpleasant, though. The Water Walls concept also includes bags that scrub carbon dioxide from air, regulate temperature and grow algae for food – although NASA hasn't yet taken those to space.











Inspiration Mars also plans to have an external water tank and the aluminium skin of the spacecraft itself for extra protection. This kind of shielding should keep astronauts safe from lower energy cosmic rays, says Ruth Bamford of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Didcot, UK, who is working on creating magnetic "deflector shields" for spacecraft.













Organic material or aluminium is no defence against the burst of particles that occasionally spew out from the sun during a solar storm, however. "For this, putting three metres of concrete may not be enough to protect the astronauts," says Bamford. Inspiration Mars say they should be able to keep the upper rocket stage of their launch vehicle attached to the spacecraft for the whole of the trip, and point that towards the sun in the event of a flare.




















































If you would like to reuse any content from New Scientist, either in print or online, please contact the syndication department first for permission. New Scientist does not own rights to photos, but there are a variety of licensing options available for use of articles and graphics we own the copyright to.




































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Obama blames Republicans for "dumb" cuts






WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama on Friday blamed Republican refusal to compromise on deficit cutting for "dumb" and "unnecessary" spending cuts about to slam into the fragile US economy.

The arbitrary and automatic $85 billion dollar cuts, known as the "sequester" will begin later Friday, in a self-inflicted wound brought about by deep ideological polarization between the president and his foes in Congress.

"I am not a dictator. I'm the president," Obama said, warning he could not force his Republican foes to "do the right thing", which he sees as raising revenues to combine with targeted spending cuts in a deal to cut the deficit.

"These cuts will hurt our economy, will cost us jobs and to set it right both sides need to be able to compromise," Obama said.

Appearing irritated after meeting top congressional leaders including Republican House speaker John Boehner and top Republican Mitch McConnell, Obama denied blame in the showdown.

"If Mitch McConnell or John Boehner say, we need to go to catch a plane, I can't have Secret Service block the doorway, right?" he said, when asked why talks on averting sequestration had broken up.

"I'm presenting a fair deal. The fact that they don't take it means that I should somehow, you know, do a Jedi mind meld with these folks and convince them to do what's right?"

Boehner emerged from the talks with the president to tersely signal to reporters that Republicans would not budge on Obama's key demand for a deal which be partly based on raising extra tax revenues.

"Let's make it clear that the president got his tax hikes on January 1. This discussion about revenue in my view is over," Boehner said, alluding to the outcome of the so-called 'fiscal cliff' showdown late last year.

"It is about taking on the spending problem in Washington."

Obama was bound by law to initiate the automatic, indiscriminate cuts, which could wound the already fragile economy, cost a million jobs and harm military readiness, by 11.59 pm in the absence of an deficit cutting agreement.

The hit to military and domestic spending was never supposed to happen, but was rather a device seen as so punishing that rival lawmakers would be forced to find a better compromise to cut the deficit.

But such is the dysfunction in gridlocked Washington that neither side tried very hard to get a deal.

The drama instead evolved into the latest philosophical standoff over the size, role and financing of government between Obama, who won re-election vowing to protect the middle class, and fiscally conservative Republicans.

Obama, in effect extending the campaign that won him re-election in November, has mounted a fierce public relations offensive designed to maximize his leverage by pouring blame on Republicans for the cuts.

He acknowledged Friday that the impact of the cuts would not be immediate, but would nevertheless hurt middle class Americans in a "slow grind" squeeze which he said could cost more than half a point of economic growth.

"So every time that we get a piece of economic news over the next month, next two months, next six months, as long as the sequester's in place, we'll know that economic news could have been better if Congress had not failed to act."

Republicans accuse Obama of inflating the impact of the sequester and of using scare tactics, and believe he has painted himself into a political corner.

Although the cuts trim significant amounts from domestic and defense spending, they do not touch entitlements -- social programs like Medicare health care for the elderly and pension schemes.

Many budget experts believe that only cuts to those programs will be able to restore the prospect of long-term fiscal stability.

Obama says he is ready to make painful choices on such funding, but says he will not allow Republicans to preserve tax breaks for the rich and saddle the most needy with the bill for tackling the deficit.

Republicans simply say that Obama is not serious about cutting spending, and is unwilling to take on his own party, which views entitlement programs as an almost sacred trust.

The White House warns that the indiscriminate cuts are written into law in such a way that their impact cannot be alleviated.

It says 800,000 civilian employees of the Defense Department will go on a mandatory furlough one day a week and the navy will trim voyages. The deployment of a second aircraft carrier to the Gulf has been canceled.

About 70,000 children less than five years old will be cut from the Head Start preschool program, resulting in the elimination of 14,000 teaching positions. Services for special needs kids will also take a hit.

Authorities warn that average wait times for passengers at US immigration will increase by 30-50 percent and may exceed four hours during peak times.

-AFP/ac



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Population growth is threat to other species, poll respondents say









Nearly two-thirds of American voters believe that human population growth is driving other animal species to extinction and that if the situation gets worse, society has a "moral responsibility to address the problem," according to new national public opinion poll.


A slightly lower percentage of those polled — 59% — believes that population growth is an important environmental issue and 54% believe that stabilizing the population will help protect the environment.


The survey was conducted on behalf of the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, which unlike other environmental groups has targeted population growth as part of its campaign to save wildlife species from extinction.





The center has handed out more than half a million condoms at music concerts, farmers markets, churches and college campuses with labels featuring drawings of endangered species and playful, even humorous, messages such as, "Wrap with care, save the polar bear."


The organization hired a polling firm to show other environmental groups that their fears about alienating the public by bringing up population matters are overblown, said Kieran Suckling, the center's executive director. When the center broke the near-silence on population growth with its condom campaign, other environmental leaders "reacted with a mix of worry and horror that we were going to experience a huge backlash and drag them into it," he said.


Instead, Suckling said the campaign has swelled its membership — now about 500,000 — and donations and energized 5,000 volunteers who pass out prophylactics. He said a common response is, "Thank God, someone is talking about this critical issue."


The poll results, he said, show such views are mainstream.


In the survey, the pollsters explained that the world population hit 7 billion last year and is projected to reach 10 billion by the end of the century. Given those facts, 50% of people reached by telephone said they think the world population is growing too fast, while 38% said population growth was on the right pace and 4% thought it was growing too slowly. About 8% were not sure.


Sixty-one percent of respondents expressed concerned about disappearing wildlife. Depending how the question was phrased, 57% to 64% of respondents said population growth was having an adverse effect. If widespread wildlife extinctions were unavoidable without slowing human population growth, 60% agreed that society has a moral responsibility to address the problem.


Respondents didn't make as clear a connection between population and climate change, reflecting the decades-old debate over population growth versus consumption. Although 57% of respondents agreed that population growth is making climate change worse, only 46% said they think having more people will make it harder to solve, and 34% said the number of people will make no difference.


Asked about natural resources, 48% said they think the average American consumes too much. The view split sharply along party lines, with 62% of Democrats saying the average American consumes too much, compared with 29% of Republicans. Independents fell in the middle at 49%.


The survey of 657 registered voters was conducted Feb. 22-24 by Public Policy Polling, a Raleigh, N.C., firm that takes the pulse of voters for Democratic candidates and Democratic-leaning clients. It has a margin of error of 3.9%.


ken.weiss@latimes.com





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Stinkbug Threat Has Farmers Worried


Part of our weekly "In Focus" series—stepping back, looking closer.

Maryland farmer Nathan Milburn recalls his first encounter.

It was before dawn one morning in summer 2010, and he was at a gas station near his farm, fueling up for the day. Glancing at the light above the pump, something caught his eye.

"Thousands of something," Milburn remembers.

Though he'd never actually seen a brown marmorated stinkbug, Milburn knew exactly what he was looking at. He'd heard the stories.

This was a swarm of them—the invasive bugs from Asia that had been devouring local crops.

"My heart sank to my stomach," Milburn says.

Nearly three years later, the Asian stinkbug, commonly called the brown marmorated stinkbug, has become a serious threat to many mid-Atlantic farmers' livelihoods.

The bugs have also become a nuisance to many Americans who simply have warm homes—favored retreats of the bugs during cold months, when they go into a dormant state known as overwintering.

The worst summer for the bugs so far in the U.S. was 2010, but 2013 could be shaping up to be another bad year. Scientists estimate that 60 percent more stinkbugs are hunkered down indoors and in the natural landscape now than they were at this time last year in the mid-Atlantic region.

Once temperatures begin to rise, they'll head outside in search of mates and food. This is what farmers are dreading, as the Asian stinkbug is notorious for gorging on more than a half dozen North American crops, from peaches to peppers.

Intruder Alert

The first stinkbugs probably arrived in the U.S. by hitching a ride with a shipment of imported products from Asia in the late 1990s. Not long after that, they were spotted in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Since then, they've been identified in 39 other states. Effective monitoring tools are being developed to help researchers detect regional patterns.

There are two main reasons to fear this invader, whose popular name comes from the pungent odor it releases when squashed. It can be distinguished from the native stinkbug by white stripes on its antennae and a mottled appearance on its abdomen. (The native stinkbug can also cause damage but its population number is too low for it to have a significant impact.)

For one thing, Asian stinkbugs have an insatiable appetite for fruits and vegetables, latching onto them with a needlelike probe before breaking down their flesh and sucking out juice until all that's left is a mangled mess.

Peaches, apples, peppers, soybeans, tomatoes, and grapes are among their favorite crops, said Tracy Leskey, a research entomologist leading a USDA-funded team dedicated to stinkbug management. She adds that in 2010, the insects caused $37 million in damage just to apple crops in the mid-Atlantic region.

Another fear factor: Although the stinkbug has some natural predators in the U.S., those predators can't keep up with the size of the stinkbug population, giving it the almost completely unchecked freedom to eat, reproduce, and flourish.

Almost completely unchecked. Leskey and her team have found that stinkbugs are attracted to blue, black, and white light, and to certain pheromones. Pheromone lures have been used with some success in stinkbug traps, but the method hasn't yet been evaluated for catching the bugs in large numbers.

So Milburn—who is on the stakeholders' advisory panel of Leskey's USDA-funded team—and other farmers have had to resort to using some chemical agents to protect against stinkbug sabotage.

It's a solution that Milburn isn't happy about. "We have to be careful—this is people's food. My family eats our apples, too," he says. "We have to engage and defeat with an environmentally safe and economically feasible solution."

Damage Control

Research Entomologist Kim Hoelmer agrees but knows that foregoing pesticides in the face of the stinkbug threat is easier said than done.

Hoelmer works on the USDA stinkbug management team's biological control program. For the past eight years, he's been monitoring the spread of the brown marmorated stinkbug with an eye toward containing it.

"We first looked to see if native natural enemies were going to provide sufficient levels of control," he says. "Once we decided that wasn't going to happen, we began to evaluate Asian natural enemies to help out."

Enter Trissolcus, a tiny, parasitic wasp from Asia that thrives on destroying brown marmorated stinkbugs and in its natural habitat has kept them from becoming the extreme pests they are in the U.S.

When a female wasp happens upon a cluster of stinkbug eggs, she will lay her own eggs inside them. As the larval wasp develops, it feeds on its host—the stinkbug egg—until there's nothing left. Most insects have natural enemies that prey upon or parasitize them in this way, said Hoelmer, calling it "part of the balance of nature."

In a quarantine lab in Newark, Delaware, Hoelmer has been evaluating the pros and cons of allowing Trissolcus out into the open in the U.S. It's certainly a cost-effective approach.

"Once introduced, the wasps will spread and reproduce all by themselves without the need to continually reintroduce them," he says.

And these wasps will not hurt humans. "Entomologists already know from extensive research worldwide that Trissolcus wasps only attack and develop in stinkbug eggs," Hoelmer says. "There is no possibility of them biting or stinging animals or humans or feeding on plants or otherwise becoming a pest themselves."

But there is a potential downside: the chance the wasp could go after one or more of North America's native stinkbugs and other insects.

"We do not want to cause harm to nontarget species," Hoelmer says. "That's why the host range of the Asian Trissolcus is being studied in the Newark laboratory before a request is made to release it."

Ultimately, the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service will decide whether or not to introduce the wasp. If it does, the new natural enemy could be let loose as early as next year.

Do you have stinkbugs in your area? Have they invaded your home this winter? Or your garden last summer? How do you combat them? Share your sightings and stories in the comments.


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Turkish PM's Zionism comments "objectionable:" Kerry


ANKARA (Reuters) - Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday the United States found a comment by Turkey's prime minister, likening Zionism to crimes against humanity, "objectionable", overshadowing their talks on the crisis in neighboring Syria.


Kerry, on his first trip to a Muslim nation since taking office, met Turkish leaders for talks meant to focus on Syria's civil war and bilateral interests from energy security to counter-terrorism.


But the comment by Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan at a U.N. meeting in Vienna this week, condemned by his Israeli counterpart, the White House and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, has clouded his trip.


"We not only disagree with it, we found it objectionable," Kerry told a news conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, saying he raised the issue directly with Davutoglu and would do so with Erdogan.


Kerry said Turkey and Israel were both key U.S. allies and urged them to restore closer ties.


"Given the many challenges that the neighborhood faces, it is essential that both Turkey and Israel find a way to take steps in order to bring about or to rekindle their historic cooperation," Kerry said.


"I think that's possible but obviously we have to get beyond the kind of rhetoric that we've just seen recently."


Washington needs all the allies it can get as it navigates the political currents of the Middle East, and sees Turkey as the key player in supporting Syria's opposition and planning for the era after President Bashar al-Assad.


But the collapse of Ankara's ties with Israel have undermined U.S. hopes that Turkey could play a role as a broker in the broader region.


Erdogan told the U.N. Alliance of Civilizations meeting in Vienna on Wednesday: "Just as with Zionism, anti-Semitism and fascism, it has become necessary to view Islamophobia as a crime against humanity."


Erdogan's caustic rhetoric on Israel has in the past won applause from conservative supporters at home but raised increasing concern among Western allies.


Ties between Israel and mostly Muslim Turkey have been frosty since 2010, when Israeli marines killed nine Turks in fighting aboard a Palestinian aid ship that tried to breach Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip.


"If we must talk about hostile acts, then Israel's attitude and its brutal killing of nine of our civilian citizens in international waters may be called hostile," Davutoglu said, adding Turkey had always stood against anti-Semitism.


"No single statement carries a price higher than the blood of a person ... If Israel wants to hear positive statements from Turkey it needs to reconsider its attitude both towards us and towards the West Bank," he told the news conference.


Turkey has demanded a formal apology for the 2010 incident, compensation for victims and their families and for the Gaza blockade to be lifted. Israel has voiced "regret" and has offered to pay into what it called a "humanitarian fund" through which casualties and relatives could be compensated.


SUPPORT FOR SYRIAN OPPOSITION


Turkey's relations with the United States have always been prickly, driven more by a mutual need for intelligence than any deep cultural affinity. And Erdogan's populist rhetoric, sometimes at apparent odds with U.S. interests, is aimed partly at a domestic audience wary of Washington's influence.


But the two have strong common interests. Officials said Syria would top the agenda in Kerry's meetings with Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, building on the discussions in Rome between 11 mostly European and Arab nations within the "Friends of Syria" group.


After the Rome meeting, Kerry said on Thursday the United States would for the first time give non-lethal aid to the rebels and more than double support to the civilian opposition, although Western powers stopped short of pledging arms.


"We need to continue the discussion which took place in Rome ... in terms of the main goals there is no daylight between us and the Americans," a senior Turkish official said.


"A broad agreement was reached on supporting the opposition. Now our sides need to sit down and really flesh out what we can do to support them in order to change the balance on the ground," he said.


Turkey has been one of Assad's fiercest critics, hosting a NATO Patriot missile defense system, including two U.S. batteries, to protect against a spillover of violence and leading calls for international intervention.


It has spent more than $600 million sheltering refugees from the conflict that began almost two years ago, housing some 180,000 in camps near the border and tens of thousands more who are staying with relatives or in private accommodation.


Washington has given $385 million in humanitarian aid for Syria but U.S. President Barack Obama has so far refused to give arms, arguing it is difficult to prevent them from falling into the hands of militants who could use them on Western targets.


Turkey, too, has been reluctant to provide weapons, fearing direct intervention could cause the conflict to spill across its borders.


(Additional reporting by Gulsen Solaker; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Michael Roddy)



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Mystery ring of radiation briefly encircled Earth









































What were you doing last September? The charged particles that dance around Earth were busy. Unbeknown to most earthlings, a previously unseen ring of radiation encircled our planet for nearly the whole month – before being destroyed by a powerful interplanetary shock wave.












We already knew that two, persistent belts of charged particles, called the Van Allen radiation belts, encircle Earth. The discovery of a third, middle ring by NASA's twin Van Allen probes, launched in August 2012, suggests that these belts, which have puzzled scientists for over 50 years, are even stranger than we thought. Working out what caused the third ring to develop could help protect spacecraft from damaging doses of radiation.












Charged particles get trapped by Earth's magnetic field into two distinct regions, forming the belts. The inner belt, which extends from an altitude of 1600 to 12,900 kilometres, is fairly stable. But the outer belt, spanning altitudes ranging from 19,000 to 40,000 kilometres, can vary wildly. Over the course of minutes or hours, its electrons can be accelerated to close to the speed of light, and it can grow to 100 times its usual size.











Mystery acceleration













No one is sure what causes these "acceleration events", although it seems to have something to do with solar activity interacting with the Earths' magnetic field.












"That's one of the key things the probes are in place to understand," says Dan Baker of the University of Colorado, Boulder. "How does this cosmic accelerator, operating just a few thousand miles above our head, accelerate electrons to such extraordinarily high energies?"












When the Van Allen probes started taking data on 1 September 2012, one of these mysterious events was already under way. "We came in the middle of the movie there," Baker says. But otherwise, he says, "What we expected was what we saw when we first turned on: two distinct belts, separated."












That changed a day later when, to the team's surprise, an extra ring developed between the inner and outer ones. "We watched it develop right before our eyes," Baker says. The new, middle ring was relatively narrow, and its electrons had energies between 4 and 7.5 megaelectronvolts - about the same as in the outer Van Allen belt during an acceleration event.












Although the outer ring displayed its characteristic inconstancy, the new middle ring barely budged for nearly four weeks. Then a shock wave, probably linked to a burst of solar activity, wiped it out in less than an hour on 1 October.











Spacecraft malfunctions













It's not clear where the middle ring came from, Baker says, although it was probably related to the acceleration event. The electrons could have been stripped from the outer Van Allen belt, funnelled back towards the Earth and got trapped in the middle on the way, or they could have been energised from closer to Earth and shot up to higher altitudes.











Figuring out what happened could be important to protecting spacecraft from radiation damage, says Yuri Shprits of the University of California in Los Angeles, who was not involved in the observations but is crafting a theoretical explanation that he hopes to publish soon. "It truly presents us with a very important question, and very important puzzles," he says.













There were no specific spacecraft malfunctions during September that can be directly linked to the new belt, says Shprits. However satellite operators will want to know if such belts are common and if they pose more of a risk.












With no other examples of a transient belt caught so far, it's too soon to answer all those questions, Baker says. "We only have one in captivity," he says. "We're still trying to figure out exactly how it works."












Journal reference: Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1233518


















































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