Florida scientists induce spawning of Atlantic coral in lab for first time

Robie de Guzman   •   August 23, 2019   •   1662

(Courtesy: Florida Aquarium)

Scientists in Florida have artificially induced reproductive spawning of an endangered Atlantic coral species for the first time in an aquarium setting, a breakthrough they say holds great promise in efforts to restore depleted reefs in the wild.

The achievement, announced this week at the Florida Aquarium in Apollo Beach near Tampa, borrowed from lab techniques developed at the London-based Horniman Museum and Gardens and used previously to induce spawning of 18 species of Pacific coral, officials said.

Scientists plan to use their newly acquired expertise to breed new coral colonies that can one day repopulate the beleaguered Florida reef system, one of the largest in the world and one decimated by climate change, pollution and disease in recent decades.

The newly cultivated corals should make for even stronger populations than existing colonies because each individual will be bred with characteristics that may be better able to withstand damage, Keri O’Neil, senior coral scientist at the Florida Aquarium told Reuters.

Inducing corals to release their eggs and sperm in aquarium tanks involves controlling their artificial settings to mimic their natural ocean habitat over the course of a yearlong reproduction cycle.

That means carefully regulating water temperature changes from summer to winter, and using special lighting to imitate sunrise, sunset and even lunar cycles that serve as biological cues for the coral in preparing to spawn.

Collaboration between the Florida and London facilities on the project began in 2017 as the situation facing Florida’s reefs grew more dire because of the spread of a new coral affliction dubbed Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease.

Atlantic pillar coral, which grows in colonies resembling finger- or column-like structures, has been particularly susceptible to the disease and is already classified as virtually extinct in the wild because remaining male and female colonies are too scattered to reproduce.

Corals are a type of marine invertebrate animal, typically living in colonies of tiny sac-like polyps that feed by filtering seawater through a set of tentacles surrounding a central mouth opening.

Corals are sensitive to major changes in water temperature, and the Florida Reef Tract, like other major reefs around the world, has been under pressure from climate change for years as the sea grows steadily warmer. (Reuters)

New York governor proposes ban on flavored e-cigarettes

Robie de Guzman   •   September 10, 2019

A man smokes an electronic cigarette vaporizer, also known as an e-cigarette, in Toronto, August 7, 2015. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed legislation on Monday (September 9) to ban flavored e-cigarettes statewide in an effort to protect young people from the unknown consequences of vaping.

“Common sense says if you don’t know what you’re smoking, don’t smoke it,” Cuomo told reporters at a news conference. “And right now, we don’t know what you’re smoking in a lot of these vaping substances,” he said.

The governor’s announcement comes after a nationwide surge in mysterious, serious lung illnesses possibly related to vaping, which has also been linked to five deaths in the United States.

The decision is of a piece with how vaping is currently being viewed by many on the street in New York.

“You don’t know what the hell you’re smoking,” Brian, a construction worker, told Reuters. “You don’t know what they’re putting in that oil.”

U.S. public health officials on Friday announced that they are investigating about 450 cases of the illness across 33 states and one U.S. territory, including 41 cases in the state of New York. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said they have not linked the illnesses to any specific e-cigarette product or ingredient.

If the proposed legislation were to become law, New York would become the second state to ban flavored e-cigarettes, following Michigan, which passed a ban on Wednesday.

While e-cigarettes are promoted as a product to help smokers cut down or quit, health officials have expressed concerns that many e-cigarette flavors are designed to get a new generation hooked on nicotine.

Many of the reported illnesses involved vaping products, including cannabis products, containing vitamin E acetate, an oil derived from vitamin E that is potentially dangerous if inhaled,

Cuomo, sitting beside New York Commissioner of Health, Dr. Howard Zucker, also announced that the state’s Department of Health was issuing subpoenas to three e-cigarette companies, Honey Cut Labs LLC, Floraplex Terpenes and Mass Terpenes LLC. The Department of Health obtained samples from the three companies and found high levels of vitamin E acetate in their products.

Cuomo said stores that sell e-cigarettes will be required to disclose potential health consequences.

“It’s quite simple: Don’t do it,” Cuomo said. “Don’t do it because we don’t know if it’s safe.” (Reuters)

(Production by: Dan Fastenberg and Hussein al Waaile)

Kremlin confirms alleged U.S. spy worked in president’s office

Robie de Guzman   •   September 10, 2019

The Kremlin said on Tuesday that a former Russian official identified in media reports as a CIA asset inside Russia had worked in Russia’s presidential administration, but did not have direct access to President Vladimir Putin.

U.S. media reported on Monday that U.S. intelligence carried out an operation in 2017 to extract a high-level Russian official and CIA asset.

Russian daily newspaper Kommersant said on Tuesday the official may have been a man called Oleg Smolenkov. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Smolenkov had worked in the Russian presidential administration but had been fired in 2016/17.

He declined to say whether he was an agent or not, but said that U.S. media reports read like “pulp fiction.” (Reuters)

(Production: Tom Balmforth, Dmitry Turlyun)

South Korean military says North Korea fired two projectiles

Robie de Guzman   •   September 10, 2019

Chief of Public Affairs in Joint Chief of Staff (JCS), Kim Joon-Rak

North Korea fired two unidentified projectiles on Tuesday (September 10) morning, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said, hours after a senior diplomat announced Pyongyang would be willing to resume negotiations with the United States later in September.

The “short-range projectiles” were launched from around Kaechon in South Pyongan province at around 7:00 a.m. KST (2200 GMT Monday) towards the east and flew about 330 km (205 miles), according to the JCS.

Tuesday’s launch was the eighth by North Korea since U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met at the heavily militarized border between the two Koreas in June.

The launches came after North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui said on Monday (September 9) Pyongyang was willing to have “comprehensive discussions” with the United States in late September at a time and place to be agreed. (Reuters)

(Production: Dogyun Kim, Minwoo Park)

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