Euromex launched at Pittcon with a stylish booth that was noticeably fresher than some of the competitors. Anchored by the iScope Biological microscope, NexiusZoom stereo and the wonderful new Q Scope handheld digital microscope, the line up looked impressive and caused quite a stir. Overall numbers were down for Pittcon but I am happy to say that we were kept remarkably busy answering queries on Euromex and the show was unquestionably a success.
It marked the launch of the Q Scope handheld digital microscope, which includes five staring models: a 1.3 MP, 2.0MP, 9.0MP, a 500x model and a WiFi model. Beautifully made and with startlingly clear resolution, the quality of the Q Scope combines with low prices to pose a serious threat to established competitors. The 1.3MP model starts at $149.00 and the 9.0MP at just $189! There are a handful of solid stands and we suspect the Q Scope will quickly establish a significant market share.
The iScope also generated excitement and deservedly so……at approximately $1,200 and with optics that match the best available, it is what I call a “door buster”. It will prove irresistible for Life Science customers because it presents a value equation that is almost irresponsible to ignore!
Beyond the products, the show was made more than enjoyable by the two highly professional reps from Euromex: Xavier Puig and Dennis van Baaren. Xavier is Sales Director for Euromex. A road warrior extraordinaire, he is a real professional and has been a significant factor in Euromex’s growth since he joined. He became the Petanque champion one evening! Dennis is a Product Manager with in-depth knowledge of all Euromex products. He has been a terrific support to us in these early days of launching Euromex in the US and is nothing if not credible when he speaks. A huge thank you to both of them for making Pittcon both worthwhile….and enjoyable!
Euromex Microscopes are now available at www.microscope.com.
Microscope.com is delighted to introduce Euromex Microscopes for the first time in the US. Designed and made in Holland, Euromex have all the hallmarks of intelligent design and European craftsmanship combined with superb optics and remarkably affordable pricing. Their value equation is irresistible to high end Life Science Research Labs, High Schools and Universities.
iScope Biological Microscope – Research Quality
For the most demanding Laboratory applications, Euromex offers the iScope Series of biological microscopes. Characterized by first class optics, the iScopes are available in brightfield, brightfield/darkfield or phase configurations with either binocular or trinocular microscope heads. The optics are directly comparable to the Nikon E400 and Olympus CX41. Unlike these competing models, however, iScope includes the highly innovative and proprietary NeoLED™ illuminaton that materially enhances resolution while iScope also sports a premium, rackless mechanical stage plus a clever, cable storage system for more efficient storage.
High end Life Science laboratories need such high quality optics. Now such optics are available at prices that are up to 60% cheaper than ‘Big 4’ prices. At Microscope.com, we are impressed. The value equation is compelling and their timing is perfect. Life Science Laboratories are shopping online in a way that they did not used to do and with the Big 4’s continued reluctance to join the 21st Century on the internet, Euromex has an open market.
NexiusZoom Stereo Microscope
Similarly, Euromex’s NexiusZoom offers the same value equation for Materials Sciences. The NexiusZoom has a 6.7x-45x zoom, also with NeoLED™ technology and with such excellent resolution that the microscope retains its resolution through the full available magnification range of 3.35x-180x. – a remarkable feat given a price tag of just $629.00. You can find the NexiusZoom and other Euromex microscopes online at Microscope.com in a variety of configurations designed for schools, quality inspection and other applications.
Wine can be a catalyst of microscopic and biological tales of fortune, or misfortune, as the case may be. But while you are popping a cork, let me also pop these wine micro-wisdoms. So check the vintage, raise a glass, and let’s see how wine looks under a microscope.
Wine micro-wisdoms #1- It takes two separate steps, with two separate yeasts to make a wine
According to the book Molecular Wine Biology, it’s a two-step process to make a good wine. Step 1 involves the yeast in primary fermentation; saccharomyces yeasts in an aerobic environment. A very specific yeast is used with genetic markers to monitor that ensure development of the wine remains the same from batch to batch. This is where saccharomyces does 70% of her work to make a good wine and occurs within 5-7 days. Yeast and air are both key ingredients to how saccharomyces reproduce at the proper rate.
Picture Source: http://wineserver.ucdavis.edu/industry/enology/winemicro/wineyeast/saccharomyces_cerevisiae.html
The second stage of development, or secondary fermentation, is an anaerobic process and lasts 2-3 weeks. Air exposure must be at a complete minimum for this process to work; as saccharomyces eats all the available sugars and nutrients.
Wine micro-wisdoms #2- Wine’s oldest cellar was found in Armenia
A vintage not likely to be found by collectors, the earliest wine making supplies were found in Armenia and date back to over 6000 years ago. If you can imagine, there were humans 6000 years ago that were already harvesting micro-biology to human will! The wines did have a lot in common with the modern day wines, they used grapes that were nearly identical genetically to wine grapes we use today.
Wine micro-wisdoms #3- Today’s food preservation was a direct result of wine
In 1852, Napoleon III wanted to find a cure for the dreaded “wine diseases”. Wine diseases, particularly wine souring, were making wine unpalatable. The Emperor commissioned Louis Pasteur to find a cause and solution to the unsavory wine problem. Lois Pasteur realized that there were specific micro-biology present in the wines that were affected by wine souring; and therefore created his famous process of applying heat and minimizing exposure to bacteria in the atmosphere now known as pasteurization.
Wine micro-wisdoms #4- Olive oil was used to prevent oxidation
When wine is exposed to oxygen for long periods of time, oxidation occurs. This process occurs as the tannins are oxidized, producing hydrogen peroxide and the ethanol (the actual alcohol part of the wine) is changed into acetaldehyde. Prior to our uses of corks to resolve this issue, the Roman used olive oil as a fix for oxidation in wines. In fact, the oldest known bottle of wine dates back from 325 A.D. and has a large film of olive oil to reduce the wine’s breakdown.
From the earliest known harnessing of microbes for the benefits of humans, to pasteurization, to olive oil, wine plays a pretty interesting role in microscopic and chemical applications today. So if your of age, go ahead and open a bottle, grab a glass, let it breathe and enjoy…….responsibly, of course!
For the past sixteen years, we have witnessed Zeiss, Nikon, Olympus and Leica lose market share as they build beautiful microscopes with glorious optics….. but which few customers can afford. The belief in their brand has, perhaps, created a level of arrogance towards the customer that is more typical of post war manufacturers in the 20th century than 2015. Marvelous microscopes, built by Life Science specialists, but for a limited market. Unsurprisingly, these companies have experienced a degree of turmoil both in their management, manufacturing and distribution models with almost all succumbing to manufacturing in China.
At the same time, the internet has grown to occupy a core part of end user sales. As with all internet sales, the inexorable result has been greater transparency, improved customer knowledge and lower prices. Customers now understand that low prices no longer equal low quality. They understand that the big brand names are simply not necessary for their daily microscopy applications anymore than a Ferrari is needed to drive to work. Nice to have, yes, but not necessary and beyond most customers’ budgets. This change is customer behavior has occurred over the past five years or so. Previously, if we lowered the price on a given microscope, sales would drop. Customers were concerned they were buying low quality. No longer. Amazon has helped. Five years ago, Amazon had minimal sales of microscopes. It is a now a major product segment.
As a result, several lesser known manufacturers who still distribute via traditional resellers will likely go out of business. Their selling proposition is just no longer valid since they offer no better optics than online microscope vendors yet, due to their distribution model, prices are inevitably higher. No amount of fancy industrial design will disguise the similarity in optical quality.
In spite of the above and extraordinary though it may seem, the ‘Big 4’ appear to continue to scoff at internet sales as being for ‘low-end’ microscopes. For example, a customer cannot even see the price of a Zeiss microscope on the Zeiss website unless actually logged on – a 101 internet failing that is akin to stating “No sales, please!” Olympus and Nikon have almost zero online presence and only recently (after persistent emails and calls), did Leica’s VP Sales deign to respond to our approach to become a reseller. His email was somewhat dismissive. Given few of them have any traditional dealers left to protect, their strategy is puzzling.
None of them appear to have studied the Honda business school case study. In summary, Honda entered the US market with a big bike that failed on quality, but a small ‘low-end’ 50cc Supercub was a smash hit, from which foundation Honda went on to achieve 65% of the US market for motorbikes. Humility paid a significant role in their success in enabling them to switch from their original approved, high end strategy. The analogy is not precise but it holds in microscopy. Zeiss, Nikon, Olympus and Leica have already discarded the majority of the market for microscopes. Shortly, they are likely to be squeezed in the more demanding Life Sciences segment that currently, they still dominate.
In the same way that Honda used its success in low end products to work up into higher end bikes, so the trend that drove the Big 4 out of (what they perceive as), the low end of the market is working its way upwards into increasingly more demanding microscopy applications. First to establish the trend was the Consumer. Next schools, colleges and industrial customers, all of whom are increasingly content with standard Chinese optics. Now, at Microscope.com, we are seeing a significant increase in demand for higher quality microscopes from Life Science customers. We are also seeing customers willing to place significantly larger, online orders than before magnitude without any prior contact with us. Think five figures. These are traditional Big 4 customers looking for better value solutions online. They are prepared to pay for good quality optics, but have growing resistance to the accompanying price tags. They understand that online service can be equal if not better to traditional microscope dealers, many of whom are somewhat long in the tooth and/or Mom and Pop shops. They increasingly understand that they do not need an expensive sales engineer to come and set up their microscopes on site…and so on.
The net result? Competition!
Enter Euromex Microscopes. Designed and built in Holland, Euromex have deliberately built competing microscopes that combine superb optics with low prices, up to 60% cheaper than competing products from the Big 4. In other words, customers pay for the oiptics NOT for the brand name. This is precisely the value equation that Microscope.com has championed for the past sixteen years. “Comparable optics, lower prices” and we are delighted to welcome them to the US as their exclusive online distributor. Stunning optics, thoughtful European design, lower prices. It is no wonder that since its founding in 1966, Euromex has become one of the most popular microscope brands in Europe and with a growing presence in Asia and South America.
Good design, common sense and humility go a long way. It’s a shame it’s taken such a long time for this combination to arrive in the US Life Science microscopy market.
Euromex Microscopes will be on sale at Microscope.com in October 2015. Call us toll free on 877-409-3556 to find out more.
No matter if you keep a horse in your back yard or raise large scale livestock, one of the biggest struggles for those with large animals is mortality management. Mortality is a normal part of raising livestock. Even the most cautious and careful animal handler can lose an animal to predator attacks, complication in birthing or just old age.As someone who has spent their life in the livestock industry, there are many complications when it comes to mortality management. In my own case, we were very limited on our ways of handling the remains because of law requirements, high water tables, and the amount of space needed to bury animals; an issue for any sized operation. There is also a public perception issue that living close to the urban interface further reduces options for livestock owners.
Enter Washington State University and their mortality composting program. In 2008, a publication was released giving producers the step-by-step directions for composting mortalities. Unlike burial, it has no affecting on ground water. Washington State University reported that within ten weeks of active composting, only sections of large bone remained from cow carcasses. Furthermore, the amount of heat that was generated from the composting process reduced pathogens extensively. Similar projects are found at Colorado State, Texas A&M, Iowa State, and more.
What’s responsible for the breaking down of such huge amounts of body mass in a matter of weeks? The university has been using a combination of Bacteria, Actinomycetes, Fungi, Protozoa, and rotifers. Not surprising because this is the same list of players that are responsible for the soil systems that we need for life. During the second stage of composting, the thermophilic stage, temperatures can rise as high as 55 degrees Celsius; which can kill most pathogens. The biggest player of this is bacteria found in the family of Bacillus and Thermus.
Cornell University is now working on using the same process to compost wildlife road kill. With over 25,000 wildlife deaths a year as a result of auto collisions, the composting process can allow for easier and faster cleanup while killing most pathogens that can affect human health.
After the decomposition is complete, the remaining compost can be used in agricultural practices as soil amendments to fertilized and develop lands. The compost is devoid of most pathogens, has no smell (thanks to the Actinomycetes) and is high in soil-favored bacteria, protozoa, and fungi.
The biggest challenge? In 1999, the State of New Jersey was faced with a huge problem when a Blue Whale washed up on their shores. Taking quick action, the state worked with the Paleontological Research Institute (PRI) in Ithaca, NY to compost the whale and, several months later, were able to retrieve the skeleton for display. After all, it’s the same process that happens to us on burial.
Editor’s Note: Bacteria are hard to see under a light microscope unless very experienced and using a high quality microscope with excellent resolution. Try the Euromex iScope
Bacteria has been infecting the news lately. From flesh eating bacteria in Florida to the deadly Legionnaires’ Outbreak in New York, it seems as though Bacteria has some pretty bad PR. Bacteria, however, also helps us digest, is a primary ingredient in cheese production, helps with crop management and may be the future of green energy. However, bad bacteria, is what we want to focus on today. The kind that we wish we were killing when we use 99.9% effective hand sanitizer. Science Daily recently posted two articles that have interesting perspectives at how Bacteria affect our bodies and the future for killing bacteria.
First, Ohio State University. The Buckeyes have studied how efficient Bacteria are in attacking our human bodies. An article in Science, in July this year, outlined the deadly patterns of certain bacteria in their war on the human body. The Bacteria in the study attacked certain protein actin causing them to turn toxic to our immune systems. This process has allowed many of the most notorious diseases to spread faster and be harder to cure: Cholera, Septicemia, and similar diseases are affecting the human body by making the proteins “defect” against their own body. According to Johnson et. al in Molecular Biology of the Cell 5th Edition, actin could be the key to muscular diseases, and some functions of the heart. These internal assaults makes it harder for the immune system to combat bacteria because they reduce the level of contact with the immune system. Read more detail in the study at Bacteria Article.
As has been widely publicized, an increasing number of bacteria are becoming antibiotic-resistant, a problem of huge consequences especially in hospitals where bacteria are rife. Researchers at Rice University are working to identify the mutations that lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The hope is by identifying the routes of mutations, they can be counter-acted faster and allow for continued use of certain antibiotics that would otherwise be deemed ineffective. Using a bacteria and antibiotic combination that is rarely combined, Rice researchers were able to predict the Horizontal Gene Transfer that was used by the bacteria to evolve a resistance to certain drugs. Not only was a single bacterium surviving to become resistant; it was able to take its successful genome and transfer it on to other bacteria cells. This increased the rate of observation of resistant bacteria in the samples beyond a simple paternal exchange of genetic information; the bacteria parents were talking to each other.
Such genetic recoding continues as we look how other bacteria (such as the “good” bacteria, Bacillus subtilis) are redesigning their genetics with Programmed cell death (PCD) in bacteria. This PCD pass from the “mother cell” and serves to aid development, advance genetic variations, and decrease unfavorable mutations. These could be good in the case of yeasts as PCD could be favorable to populations; however, unfavorable in other situations. According to the Author: The concept of programmed death in bacteria prompts us to reexamine a broad range of important yet poorly understood phenomena in the life of microbial cells, such as the mechanism of killing by antibiotics, the role of a low mutation rate, death and survival at stationary state, the nature of persistence, and the related issues of population survival and biofilm resilience. These studies only go to show the world of micro biology is far from being fully understood. We are finding more ways daily how bacteria are attacking us, how it is evolving around antibiotics, and even systematically programming their cell deaths themselves along their own genetic patterns.
We can only hope that we can work harder to think big, by studying small.
New analysis of a fossilized plant found in Central Spain and the Pyrenee Mountains indicate that it may be the world’s first known flowering plant. At 125-130 million years old, Montsechia vidalii dates back to the start of the Cretaceous Period when feathered dinosaurs roamed Earth.
Previously, the oldest known flowering plant was Archeafructus sinensis, found in Liaoning province, China and which dates from 125 million years ago. Like Archeafructus sinensis, Montsechia vidalii grew underwater in shallow lakes and appears to have no roots or petals and only one seed per flower. Its leaves formed either in a spiral or opposite one another.
To get to the fossilized plant, study the ancient plant, Dilcher and his team painstakingly dissolved the limestone around more than 1000 fossils on a “drop-by-drop basis”. The resulting plant fragments were then examined under both light microscopes and scanning electron microscopes.
The plant has been known for years. First discovered over 100 years ago, Dilcher reports that it was misdiagnosed because it “possesses no obvious flower parts, such as petals or nectar-producing structures for attracting insects, and lives out its entire life cycle under water.”
This is what makes it interesting. As Dilcher pointed out, at that time animals had not developed any role in dispersing seeds. How the plants were fertilized and reproduced may help us understand and mitigate against the risk of pollinator failure in the modern day. Dilcher thinks the plant had separate male and female flowers. The seeds may have been released straight into the water and then floated away to fertilize another plant.
“We need to understand as much as we can about flowering plant evolution because right now we’re facing a world crisis.” Says Dilcher. Most present-day plants require animal pollinators and of course, bees, which are critical, food crop pollinators are declining in Europe and the US.
“This plant shows us where it all began,” says Dilcher. “If we know more about their evolution, we might come across alternative pollinators that are hidden out of sight today but played a role in the past that we could encourage again.”
- David L. Dilcherd et al. Montsechia, an ancient aquatic angiosperm.PNAS, August 2015 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1509241112
Let’s talk about fungus. Fungus is more than mold in your bathroom, or yeasts in your breads; fungus plays an ever expanding role on global ecosystems and agriculture. Cambridge University released a study this May that shows fungus may reduce water eutrophication and increase crop yields.
Within soils are a myriad of microscopic biology. One family of microscopic organisms, mycorrhizae, is a symbiotic soil fungi that attaches itself to vascular roots of plants all across the world. The mycorrhizae was first recognized in the mid-19th century; however, scientists are still learning how they react with crops and wildland ecology.
Rice plants that were “colonized” with mycorrhizae triggered genetic expressions to change in the rice plants, as a result of which both the root mass and Phosphorus intake increased up to 70%-100%. Why is this important? Because of 16 essential nutrients that are needed for plants, Phosphorus (along with Nitrogen), is one of the most critical and due to its importance, it is characterized as a macro-nutrient. Phosphorus is a component of the photosynthesis proteins and is used by the plant for cell division and new tissue development. In other words – growth.
Phosphorus, however, is one of the most detrimental nutrients to the environment when applied incorrectly. It is mined heavily for agricultural uses and, via run-off, it is one of the leading causes of water pollution. The heavy concentration of nitrogen and phosphorous in run-off causes eutrophication of rivers and lakes and is the leading cause of resulting algae blooms, hypoxia and die-off all affected aquatic life. We have all seen pictures of the thousands of dead fish floating under such conditions.
By creating a more efficient soil system with mycorrhizae, the hope is that less applied phosphorous will be needed with a corresponding slower depletion rate of Phosphorous through mining and less environmental pollution via run-off.
The Cambridge researchers plan to inoculate agricultural land with mycorrhizae with a view to increasing crop efficiency of the top crops such as rice, wheat and corn. The idea is to improve yields with less need for applied phosphorous and ultimately to reduce famine in areas where mycorrhizae have been depleted or where mycorrhizae can be utilized for higher crop efficiency. In particular, mycorrhizae might help sustain crops in arid regions, which is an issue that takes on greater significance with changing global rain patterns.
Not bad for a fungus? A significant contributor toward improved crop yields, a possible solution to marginal areas of agriculture AND an environmental savior for that much-overlooked part of the world….water.
Want to see how mycorrhizae looks in a microscope? Check out this guide on how to identify and view them in stereo microscopes here. You will need a stereo dissecting microscope, which can be found here at Microscope.com.
Learn more about the Cambridge Study on Cambridge’s Website at: http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/fungus-enhances-crop-roots-and-could-be-a-future-bio-fertiliser
We are delighted to report that our Omano OM117L 2-in1 Monocular Microscope has been named TopTenReviews‘ Best Kids’ Microscope for 2015. The OM117L beats out the My First Lab Duoscope due to “Crystal clear views of solid objects and slides alike help this Omano stand out from other kids microscopes.”
The review went on to report:
“If you are hoping to encourage or inspire an interest in science, a quality microscope is a great place to start. Any child older than toddler age will want something better than a plastic toy microscope but you do not want to invest major money in something that will be used, and possibly abused, by your kids. That’s when the best beginner microscope becomes the perfect purchase. Omano OM117L, our Top Ten Reviews Gold Award winner, is an ideal purchase. It is a combination of a dissecting and compound microscope that will give impressive views of the microscopic world, whether a specimen is on a slide or is just something your child picked up off the ground.
It even has pleasing design features like a blue and white color scheme. It may seem like a minor point but our young panelists – who were between 8 and 12 years old –made many comments about appearance during the course of our kids microscope reviews. They appreciate colors and said the very close competitor, the My First Lab Duo-Scope was “old looking” with its beige body color and black dials. Omano’s OM117L is a serious scientific instrument that still makes learning fun.”
In our opinion, TopTenReviews hits the nail on the head when referring to the OM117L as a good choice when you are not sure if your youngster has an abiding interest in science. For any child with a more serious interest, we recommend purchasing the Omano OM118-M3 since it is a full size microscope with better optics and features.
The OM117L is a compound microscope used for viewing slide specimens. However, by the simple expedient of adding a top light, the lower 4x and 10x objectives can be used to view a limited range of macro specimens such as insects, feathers etc. The microscopes includes over 50 pcs of useful accessories and is available from www.microscope.com or Amazon. READ FULL REVIEW HERE: TopTenReviews
One of the great things about selling microscopes is that our customers are so varied and interesting. We just helped subsidize some microscopes for the Brooklyn Urban Garden School or BUGS, which purchased some Omano OMTM-L teaching microscope. BUGS is a new charter school in Brooklyn with an interesting mission to ” focus on real-world problem solving and the exploration of environmental sustainability”. It’s a Middle School alternative to the public school system with a genuinely hands-on, experential approach to learning.
Microscopes fits right into that objective! In this case, the OMTM85-L which is a dual-headed monocular microscope so that two kids or teacher can look at the image at the same time. Unsurprisingly, it has proved an enduringly popular choice for home school and public schools.
Dan Strauss, the Science Coordinator reports that when initially opened, the classroom echoed to cries of “Whoa….check it out”….”That’s so cool” and “I feel like a real scientist”….and that was just looking at the letter ‘E’! Music to a teacher’s ear!
After a long winter and a short summer, I was amazed to see that the new Dino-lite Edge Series of handheld digital microscopes have already been on the market for over nine months. Out of curiosity, I took a look at the sales figures to see how they had done. Equally, to my amazement, the AM4815ZT ranked sixth for total sales of all Dino-Lite sales and third among all industrial models.
In other words, the AM4815ZT, with its new Extended Depth of Field (EDOF) benefit is highly successful. It outsells its sibling Edge series models by a factor of six times!
Originally, the Edge Series models were introduced in response to customer feedback. They all include a greater range of magnification (5x-1140x), even greater image resolution, longer working distance and the least aberration and vignetting of the entire Dino-Lite range.
Two important benefits were also added to individual Edge models:
- On-screen magnification display – AM4515ZT and AM4515ZTL
- Extended depth of field – AM4815ZT and AM4815ZTL
Curiously, in spite of customer feedback regarding on-screen magnification, sales of the AM4515ZT/ZTL have been tepid, at best.
What has become clear is that customers have a genuine need for EDOF. Useful for achieving clear images in a more vertical plane, such as bolts, holes, fabrications among others, the AM4815ZT and AM4815ZTL actually has a small electric motor inside the unit. When activated, the motor rotates the magnification wheel in 11 equal, minute, increments, stopping and capturing an image at each point.
It’s brilliant….and it works!
The only drawback to the Edge Series is that they are not Mac compatible, but given the industrial focus this appears not to be a major issue.
Dino-Lite have suggested that they may introduce the EDOF on more models although we have no information on timing. You can view the product details of the AM4815ZT by clicking here.
Following my last blog post on the Harvard School of Public’s Health study on bees and neonicotinoids, we received a comment from ‘George Citizen’ that leads me to amend my last blog post.
George cited an excellent article by Randy Oliver in which Randy challenges both the underlying assumptions and the manner of the Harvard study. His article forms an object lesson in critical analysis, how to conduct a genuinely professional study as well as shedding more light on the debate round Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
As I constantly tell my kids, “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet. Check your sources, cross- check them and then form your own opinions.”
In this I failed…….”Sorry, kids!”
Over the past few years in our own small way, we have tried to support beekeepers in their continuing fight against colony collapse disorder (CCD). We sponsor microscopy seminars at various beekeeping conferences. We sell a Beekeeper Special microscope package for nosema diagnosis and other hive infections. We have learnt that no one has been able to pinpoint the reason for CCD and that the arguments are many and manifold.
Most of all we have learnt the power of Commerce over Common Sense.
For several years, a suspect in the hunt for the CCD culprit, has been neonicotinoid pesticides. Neonicotinoids are neuro-active insecticides, similar to nicotine. They include acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, nitenpyramnithiazine, thiacloprid and thiamethoxam. Of these, imidacloprid is far the most widely used pesticide throughout the world. Developed by Bayer, it is used in countless different brands and has a truly global impact.
Since 2012, research studies conducted in both Europe and the US have found compelling evidence that neonicotinoids adversely affect bees. The American Bird Society published a review of no less than 200 related research studies and advocate for a ban on neoinsectinoids due to their toxicity to birds and other wildlife. In January, last year, the European Food Safety Authority published a report confirming the toxicity of neonicotinoids and furthermore, that some of the research on which regulatory approval was based, was flawed.
More recently and most compelling, three researchers (Chensheng Lu, Kenneth M. Warchol and Richard A. Callahan at Harvard’s School of Public Health have just published a study that directly links CCD to neoinsectinoids. Their findings point to wards neurological impairment of the exposed bees and conclusive evidence of CCD where the bees disappeared from the hive. Interestingly, they also had one control hive experience CCD from nosema infection, but the bees died in the hive. They did not disappear.
So these pesticides are no longer used, right? Wrong!
Six months ago, in December 2013, the European Community (EC), placed a temporary ban on three neonicotinoids including the most widespread, imidacloprid, for two years. This temporary ban came hot on the heels of a landmark European-wide, EPILOBEE study commissioned by the EC. While the EC requested that pesticide monitoring be part of the study, various member nations argued that this would “not be feasible”. As Professor David Goulson, a biologist at the University of Sussex, commented: “It does seem odd that the EC spent over €3m on a project on bee health and the words pesticide and insecticide are not used once in the document. Odd indeed!
The EPILOBEE report concluded that the UK is suffering one of the worst rates of CCD in Europe. In spite of this state-of-affairs, the UK was one of eight countries that voted against the pesticide ban. The UK has created a draft National Pollinator Strategy of which one of the “priority actions” is gathering evidence to “determine the effects of neonicotinoids on populations of wild and managed pollinators in field conditions”. So far, so good, but wait…….which independent scientist is leading the study? None. Incredibly, the study will be led and paid for by the pesticide manufacturers, two of whom have been exposed for intense behind-the-scenes lobbying. So much for independent research!
And the US? What action is being taken here? Even less! The Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency’s stance is that “The decline in honeybee health is a complex problem caused by a combination of stressors.”
No doubt….but let’s remember three things:
1. Honey bees are the critical catalyst in our food production. We risk losing them through CCD. We risk our entire food chain.
2. The growing body of evidence points to neoinsectinoids as being (at least), one pillar of the causes of CCD.
3. We can actually do something about neoinsectinoids on a global scale. Other elements of the “complex problem” are not easily tackled.
As is often the way on the road to consensus, the evidence is not 100% cast iron, guaranteed, watertight or unanimous, a situation that is easily exploited by intense lobbying by the respective chemical companies.
As a result, commercial interests triumph over the interests of the wider population. Instead of taking rational decisions rooted in Common Sense for the benefit of the entire population, we allow commercial interests to reign supreme.
Churchill is right. Once again, it looks like we will only do the right thing when all other alternatives are exhausted… but by then it may be too late.
Antheraea Polyphemus is one of the larger moths, part of the family Saturniidae or Giant Silk Moths. Common throughout most of the US, Polyphemus lives in a variety of habitats but usually where undergrowth is available for concealment.
Our specimen is at the extreme in terms of size with a wing span just over 51/2 inches. We know it is a male due to its two exquisitely delicate, antennae shaped like ferns. Females have thinner, less showy antennae.
The colorings are also breathtaking. The underside of the wings display a variety of shades of brown, cream and grey, interspersed with ripples of darker and lighter shades in a perfect camouflage for brush. But it is the upper wing surface that are the stars of the show, especially the hind wings. Here, initially hidden from view are two large eyes. Half an inch in diameter, the ‘pupil’ is transparent, ringed with a brown yellow ‘iris’ and surrounded by the black ‘eye shadow’ more typical of owls than moths. And therein lies the rationale for the eyes. An unsuspecting predator such as an American Robin may launch its attack only to be met by the fierce some sight of these two ‘owl eyes’ as the moth extends its wings.
Polyphemus have some other interesting characteristics. They do not eat during their brief lifespan! In fact, they do not even have mouth parts. All their energy is derived from their earlier life form as a caterpillar. Typically, it takes ten days to hatch the egg into a caterpillar and 5-6 weeks to metamorphose into its full size as a moth. Unsurprisingly, given the moth’s inability to eat, the caterpillars eat voraciously.
Finally, Polyphemus are nocturnal so while common in the US, they are not observed as often as butterflies. During the day, they shelter in the undergrowth and are hard to see for all predators.
We were lucky. This one had mated and was at the end of its lifespan. It was barely alive when Danny spotted it and it makes for some beautiful pictures with both a regular camera and under a stereo microscope.
Who hasn’t idled away long summer hours building sand castles on the beach? Most of us have, at some time or other, run those wet buckets of sand back to our castle that rises sometimes lopsidedly, sometimes majestically from the beach. But who ever heard of someone reversing the process and etching castles on a single grain of sand?
Well, artist Vik Muniz and artist/researcher Marcelo Coelho for starters! Muniz is known for creating art that alters perspectives based on context. He creates massive 500 meter long etchings in the earth’s surface. On the ground, they look like trenches. From the air, like drawings in the earth. Now he has reversed the process, creating castles on a single grain of sand.
The process took four years. Muniz would draw a castle and then project it through a special prism. Coehlo, who is also an MIT graduate, would use a Focused Ion Beam to trace each drawing on to each grain of sand. An FIB is more typically used for fixing integrated circuits on microchips. In this instance, Coehlo etched lines a fraction of the width of human hair on to the particle of sand, managing to create crisp images of the castles. That is about 50 nanometers wide or close to the the diffraction limit of visible light, which is why an optical microscope would not work.
Each image requires at least nine scans before it can be printed, following which Muniz turns the concept on its head once again…….by enlarging the final image into four feet,large format photographs.
Muniz picked castles because, “I rely on images that are simple, that you’ve seen a million times… You think you know it but then you have to know it again.” “When someone tells you it’s a grain of sand, there’s a moment where your reality falls apart and you have to reconstruct it. You have to step back and ask what the image is and what it means”, rather like the French when they first looked down from the Eiffel Tower.
“It’s really strange,” said Coelho, “because you’re drawing on to a canvas and you don’t really know what it is and you can’t hold it.”
“I think photography is just re-starting,” said Coelho. “There’s a whole new kind of photography emerging now. A lot of it is happening because of this combination between computers and cameras, and story telling and narratives can emerge as a result.”
I think I’ll stick to the beach, for now.