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Antibiotic use on crops isn’t being monitored in most countries

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June 23 (UPI) — Though antibiotics have been used for decades to combat bacterial diseases among various crop varieties, including apples and pears, the practice isn’t closely monitored.

New research — published Tuesday in the journal CABI Agriculture and Bioscience — suggests the use of antibiotics on crops is more widespread than previously suspected.

For the study, scientists surveyed how antibiotic usage is tracked in 158 countries. Though more than a quarter of the surveyed countries have developed antibiotic monitoring programs for human use and animal health, just 3 percent currently track antibiotic use on crops.

To get a better sense of how frequently antibiotics are deployed against crop pathogens, researchers analyzed 36,000 records collected at Plantwise plant clinics in 32 countries between 2012 and 2018.

Plantwise is a global program created by CABI, the Center for Agriculture and Bioscience International, to help small-scale and family farmers sustainably combat crop pests and diseases.

The analysis revealed antibiotic applications are recommended for more than 100 crops, sometimes in large amounts and for non-bacterial pathogens. The data showed that in Southeast Asia, an average of 63 tons of streptomycin and 7 tons of tetracycline are sprayed on rice crops each year.

Most application recommendations call for the use of antibiotics against bacteria pathogens. In some places, however, antibiotics are being prescribed for other kinds of crop diseases, for which the treatment will have no effect.

“There is a considerable proportion of crop advisors recommending antibiotics against insect pests — either the advisors are unaware that they will have no impact on insect pests, or they are recommending antibiotics as a preventative measure against bacterial diseases,” Philip Taylor, lead study author and CABI researcher, said in a news release.

Records showed 11 antibiotics — frequently, blended together — are commonly applied to crops on farms throughout the Americas, Eastern Mediterranean, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Rim nations. The ratios in antibiotic mixtures and the recommended amounts varied from country to country, region to region. Researchers found little evidence of antibiotic use on crops in Africa.

“It is very interesting that there are no records from Africa,” Taylor said. “You may suspect that this was due to price, yet that does not appear to be the reason.”

Though the amounts of antibiotics deployed on crops pales in comparison to the amounts used for human and animal health, research suggests bacteria strains developed antibiotic resistance up to 100,000 times faster when exposed to antibiotics in combination with other agricultural chemicals.

Authors of the latest report suggest antibiotic use on crops warrants further study, as it could provide a new avenue for bacteria strains to develop antibiotic resistance in humans.

“Some evidence suggests that crops are a potential vehicle for resistant bacteria to enter the human gut, and is an area where further research is needed,” Taylor said. “It is hoped that the data presented in this paper will increase the debate regarding the use of antibiotics against crop pathogens and that crop production will be included under the one health umbrella.”



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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx touches down on asteroid Bennu to nab sample

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Oct. 20 (UPI) — NASA’s OSIRIS-REx touched down on asteroid Bennu on Tuesday evening in a mission to scoop a sample of rocks and dirt.

The spacecraft — the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer — made soft contact with the asteroid at 6:12 p.m. EDT.

The historic “touch and go” event featured animation displaying OSIRIS-REx’s sample collection activities in real time. It takes time for real images of the touchdown to travel back to the Earth, so they won’t be released to the public until Wednesday.

The craft executed a series of maneuvers over the course of several hours before making soft contact with the surface of the asteroid to collect regolith, or rocks and dirt.

“It will be four and a half hours of anxiousness,” Beth Buck, OSIRIS-REx mission operations manager at Lockheed Martin Space, said in a news conference ahead of the event.

Buck made a comparison to the descent of a spacecraft on Mars, when there is typically “seven minutes of terror.”

The goal is to learn more about the solar system’s history and help “planetary defense” engineers with missions to protect earth from rogue asteroids. Bennu is believed to be a window into the solar system’s past since it’s a pristine, carbon-rich body carrying building blocks of both planets and life.

At around 1:50 p.m. EDT, the spacecraft left orbit around the asteroid before executing a series of burns to position itself over a sampling area nicknamed Nightingale.

Once in position, the craft began its approach to the asteroid at 5:50 p.m. EDT. It then spent about 15 seconds attempting to collect the regolith sample before backing away again.

The area, which is 52 feet in diameter, will make for a more demanding landing than expected, Kenneth Getzandanner, OSIRIS-REx flight dynamics manager at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, said in the news conference.

The original mission called for a landing “zone” about 150% larger than Nightingale, at 82 feet, but that changed because Bennu was more rocky than expected.

The goal was to collect at least 1.7 ounces of fine-grained material, but the spacecraft can carry up to 4.4 pounds, Heather Enos, OSIRIS-REx deputy principal investigator at the University of Arizona said.

“I would love for that capsule to be completely full,” Enos said.

Though early images from the asteroid should hint at whether the mission succeeded, it will take engineers roughly 10 days to compare and analyze the mass before and after the maneuver to actually know how much dirt is inside the OSIRIS-REx.

If it failed, the spacecraft has enough fuel to attempt two more touch downs to collect material.

The spacecraft is expected to return to Earth, with the regolith sample from Bennu, in 2023.



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SpaceX scrubs Starlink launch until Thursday, if weather cooperates

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Oct. 21 (UPI) — Just three days after sending 60 more Starlink satellites into orbit, SpaceX is aiming to launch another batch of broadband satellites into space from Florida.

If the weather cooperates, Thursday’s launch will be SpaceX’s 15th Starlink mission.

Liftoff had been scheduled for 12:29 p.m. EDT Wednesday aboard a Falcon 9 rocket at Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, but controllers scrubbed the launch due to weather and rescheduled for 12:14 p.m. on Thursday.

With a launch Sunday, SpaceX increased the size of their Starlink constellation to nearly 800 satellites. The 15th mission will see another 60-odd satellites join the network.

“The goal of Starlink is to create a network that will help provide Internet services to those who are not yet connected, and to provide reliable and affordable Internet across the globe,” according to the Kennedy Space Center.

Weather for Wednesday’s planned launch had looked so-so and the Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron predicted a 60 percent chance of favorable conditions.

“A mid-level inverted trough and associated easterly wave currently across the Bahamas will meander into the state over the next few days, bringing enhanced moisture, cloud cover, and instability with a higher coverage of showers and storms,” Space Force forecasters wrote.

They said Thursday’s forecast looks quite similar to Wednesday’s.

Earlier this month, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted that Starlink’s constellation was big enough to begin beta-testing the Internet service system in both the United States and southern Canada.

SpaceX has already offered Starlink Internet services to emergency responders in wildfire-stricken areas of Washington State.

Washington’s Hoh tribe is also using the Internet service to provide their members online education and telehealth services.



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Chernobyl-level radiation harms bumblebee reproduction

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Oct. 21 (UPI) — Bees are more sensitive to radiation than scientists thought. Scientists found the reproduction rates of bumblebees declined significantly when exposed to Chernobyl-level radiation.

The research, published Wednesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, suggests radiation in Ukraine’s Chernobyl Exclusion Zone could impair pollination services, triggering wider ecological consequences than previously estimated.

Humans are not allowed to live in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, the disaster area more directly impacted by the 1986 nuclear accident, the worst in history. However, the destroyed nuclear reactors are surrounded by forests that are populated by robust populations of birds, bears, bison, lynx, moose, wolves and more.

Efforts to gauge the effects of radiation contamination on insects have yielded mixed results in the past. While some studies have suggested insects are relatively radiation-resistant, others have demonstrated significant impairment.

When researchers exposed bumblebees in the lab to radiation dose of 100 µGyh-1, an amount approximating exposure inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, reproduction rates among the bees dropped between 30 and 45 percent.

Researchers found a direct correlation between the size of the radiation dose and reproduction rate declines. Lower levels of radiation had a smaller effect, while larger doses yielded greater declines.

Scientists were surprised to find they were able to detect reproductive rate declines at very small levels of radiation exposure.

“Our research provides much needed understanding as to the effects of radiation in highly contaminated areas and this is the first research to underpin the international recommendation for the effects of radiation on bees,” lead study author Katherine Raines, environmental scientist at the University of Stirling in Scotland, said in a news release.



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