When civil war broke out in Syria, scientists scrambled to save a seed bank

A weekly roundup of the best in science journalism, doodled.

May 12, 2015

This piece in Wired, about how Syrian scientists saved a seed bank from their country’s civil war, is fascinating. It’s moving to know there are people so devoted to tending to these resources for human food that when war broke out, they focused on safekeeping those important genetic packages. Some varieties of wheat found at this seed bank date back thousands of years, to nearly the dawn of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent.

Maryn McKenna breaks down a scary new study that found that hog farmers in Iowa are six times more likely to carry some strain of drug-resistant staph. McKenna illuminates how difficult it is to get sufficient data about the relationship between antibiotic use in agriculture and superbug infections in humans. The study does, however, show an association between being in recent contact with swine and testing positive for resistant bacteria—and that, McKenna writes, “is a useful thing to know.”

Motherboard reports that the dirtiest megacity in the world is my home sweet home, New York. The Big Apple produces more waste and consumes more energy than other mega-metropolises like Tokyo, Moscow, Mexico City, or Kolkata. I checked in with NRDC Urban Solutions expert Melissa Wright, who says “New York’s apartment and office buildings offer up a huge opportunity to reduce the impact of urban living—they make up more than 70 percent of NYC’s carbon footprint.” Since three out five humans will live in a megacity in the future, we better get started on some city-level sustainability solutions.

A study published in Nature Climate Change last week finds that limiting power-plant pollution would bring immediate health benefits, possibly even preventing as many as 3,500 premature deaths by 2020. Industry has already pushed back, calling the research an “academic exercise” (as if that’s a bad thing). In reply, one of the study’s authors tells Christian Science Monitor, “It is an academic exercise—a sophisticated and a detailed one.”


onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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