Thursday, June 26, 2014

Resilience: The new development buzzword in the era of climate change

Haile Gebrselassie, shown celebrating after winning a gold medal in the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, rose from poverty in rural Ethiopia to become an international hero. (Photo by Darren England/AllSport.)

By Carol Clark

Haile Gebrselassie, the former Olympic long-distance runner, grew up poor in Ethiopia. He was one of ten children of a farmer, and developed his athleticism by running 20-miles, round-trip, from his rural home to school each day.

Now 41, Gebrselassie was a featured speaker at the 2020 Conference on Building Resilience for Food and Nutrition Security, held in Addis Ababa last month.

“We had just enough land,” Gebrselassie recalled of his subsistence childhood. The population of Ethiopia has since grown, the country is rapidly urbanizing, and the size of family farms are getting smaller. “On top of that, nowadays there are many other problems,” he said. “My province used to have very nice and cool weather, but the temperature has risen.”

Droughts and other extreme weather events are more frequent, and yet, Gebrselassie is returning to his roots, investing his earnings as an international sports star into an Ethiopian coffee plantation. “I’m doing the same thing I did before, that is farming,” he said in his address. “I’m planting coffee. It’s a better farm, a better way, a modern way.”

Anthropologist Peter Little and long-distance runner Haile Gebrselassie at the conference in Addis Ababa.

“His personal experience of not just getting through a life of poverty, but becoming a holder of 23 world records and two gold medals in the Olympics, is a powerful story of resilience,” says Peter Little, an Emory anthropologist who was also a plenary speaker at the conference.

Little, who has been researching pastoralist communities in the Horn of Africa for three decades, gave a talk about the resilience of these nomadic herders over millennia, and how they face unique challenges today due to climate change, conflict, and loss of land. Pastoralists have managed to weather these new shocks and develop new markets. “A billion dollars in live animals and animal products are exported each year from the Horn of Africa,” Little noted in his talk. He added that pastoralism may evolve into new forms, but it will continue to remain a viable enterprise.

The tri-annual development conference is sponsored by the International Food Policy Research Institute, which is based in Washington, D.C., and part of an agriculture research network funded by governments, private businesses, foundations and the World Bank. Heads of state, academics, and representatives of non-governmental agencies and major corporations were among the 800 invited guests at the event.

“A lot of different actors from the international community are interested in issues of poverty eradication. They are searching for new ideas and new ways of doing development work,” Little says. “The conversation is moving away from the focus on crises, to looking at how to build and promote resilience, especially in terms of drought and other natural shocks.”

Watch Peter Little's conference keynote in the video below:

The Horn of Africa “could be the poster child for the effects of climate change,” he says. The region suffered a major drought and famine in 2011, killing an estimated 70,000 to 100,000 people.

While many presentations at the conference considered the effects of that disaster, the discussions also reflected optimism for the future of the region and for the continent as a whole. “Africa is coming up as a major player in the 21st century, whether you believe it or not,” Little says. About 200 million to 300 million Africans are expected to enter the middle class during the next 10 to 15 years.

“Despite massive problems of poverty and conflict,” Little says, “a growing middle class is making things happen, and a lot of people are focusing on the enormous potential of Africa.”

Climate change, from the hooves up
What we can learn from African pastoralists

Childhood memories: How stories make us who we are

Thinking back: As children acquire more ability with language, and a fuller sense of time and place, they can start to hold onto complex autobiographical memories.

Britt Peterson writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education about how the work of Emory psychologists Patricia Bauer and Robyn Fivush “has been crucial in understanding the highly philosophical mysteries of autobiographical memory: How our stories become our selves.”

An excerpt from the article:

“Patricia Bauer’s earliest memory comes from when she was just under 4. Her family had moved into a house with a concrete patio that was a few inches up from the lawn, and she rode her tricycle right off it. ‘Traumatic, right?’ she told me. “Everything before that is a blank—as it is for everyone. As Bauer said, ‘You can look at pictures of yourself as an infant, you can hear family stories about how you behaved as an infant, but you don’t know yourself as an infant. … And that’s kind of a little disturbing, when you think about it.’

“We’ve taken for granted since the late 19th century that people don’t have a working memory before about 3 years of age. Freud thought that some memories were formed, but that ‘the remarkable amnesia of childhood, … the forgetting which veils our earliest youth from us and makes us strangers to it,’ was caused by repression. … The general theory on what came to be known as ‘childhood amnesia’ was that very young children were, as Bauer put it to me, ‘a turnip that sat in a car seat.'

“Her early work in memory helped challenge the ‘turnip in a car seat’ paradigm. It turned out the problem was language, not memory: When Bauer developed nonverbal tests of recall—using a new toy to demonstrate a sequence of tasks, then testing over time to see how that knowledge endured—she was able to show that children as young as a year were forming memories, even if they couldn’t yet describe them.”

Read the whole article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.


Psychologists document the age our earliest memories fade
Stories your parents should have told you

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

In Emory's Math Circle, bubbles are square and equations are cool

This summer, math graduate student Sarah Trebat-Leder is working with elementary-age children at the Children’s Museum of Atlanta (above) and with advanced college undergraduates on the Emory campus. And during the school year, she organizes the Emory Math Circle for middle school and high school students. (Photos by Tony Benner, Emory Photo/Video.)

By Carol Clark

Each June and July, the Emory math department gathers a hive of brilliant minds from around the country for Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU), a National Science Foundation initiative. The 13 participants at Emory this summer have come from Brown, Harvard, Indiana University, Princeton, Stanford, the University of Georgia and Yale. Number theorist Ken Ono heads up the Emory REU. He and the other instructors charge the group with problems relating to elliptic curves and Galois representations, mock modular and quantum modular forms, additive number theory and distribution of primes.

“This is one of the top REUs in the country, because of the research you get to do here,” says Sarah Trebat-Leder, an Emory NSF Graduate Fellow, who is an instructor for the group this summer.

Trebat-Leder, who graduated from Princeton in 2013, came to two of the Emory REU summer programs herself as an undergraduate. “I learned how to be a mathematician,” she says of the experience. “How to read technical math papers, how to give talks, how to write math and how to go about doing research.”

Ono put her to work on extending the findings of a major discovery in the area of partitions that he had just published with colleagues. “My first REU project was generalizing this major paper that a lot of people in the math world cared about,” Trebat-Leder says. “I had taken a lot of classes, but I had never worked on a problem that no one had solved. Ken is a great mentor because he knows how to develop projects that are accessible to students and yet important to math.”

Ever seen a square bubble? Emory graduate students are giving kids a new view of math, aiming to spark wonder and a desire to learn more.

Trebat-Leder is also devoted to making math accessible and inspiring, for everyone from young kids to adults. Her career goal is to become a college professor focused on teaching and community outreach. 

In January, Trebat-Leder launched the Emory Math Circle. The free program draws students from Atlanta middle schools and high schools to campus on Saturdays for challenging and fun math enrichment sessions led by Emory graduate students. This summer, in addition to teaching for the REU, she is spending several Saturday afternoons at the Children’s Museum of Atlanta alongside other Emory graduate students, including Amanda Clemm, a co-organizer of the Math Circle. They are immersing young children in math and physics through a hands-on activity they call “3D Boxes and Bubbles."

Trebat-Leder reshapes math education.
“Who doesn’t like bubbles?” says Trebat-Leder, explaining the activity’s appeal.

First the kids build a variety of geometric structures out of ZomeTools, interlocking plastic balls and tubes. Then they use the structures to create soap bubbles in crazy shapes: Squares, cubes, spirals, wormholes and parabolas.

While the kids are busy making bubbles, the graduate students are asking them questions about what they think is happening. The reason an odd-shaped bubble forms in the middle of a 3D geometic shape? "The bubble mix is kind of lazy," Trebat-Leder explains. "It wants to connect up without having to stretch a lot and it takes less stretch for it to connect in the middle than to stretch to the outside."

The idea is to strip out complex jargon and give kids glimpses into math and physics that help them to think both logically and creatively.

It’s a far different approach than multiplication drills.

Amanda Clemm is among the Emory graduate students who are volunteering their time to give kids positive early experiences with math.

“I was getting my hair cut the other day, and the hair dresser asked what I do. I told her and she said, ‘I hated math!’” Trebat-Leder says. “I get that reaction everywhere. Everyone is always telling me about their bad experiences with math. I’d like to change that, but it takes time.”

Trebat-Leder, who grew up in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, loved teaching even as a child. “It’s in my blood,” she says. By the time she was 11, she had earned her black belt in karate and was leading a karate class herself.

She also had an affinity for math. After her sophomore year in high school, she went to a summer math camp offered by Hampshire College in Massachusetts. “I spent six weeks doing nothing but math all day, and I got a strong sense of what it was all about,” Trebat-Leder says. “I love math because it’s both logical and creative. In science, you have a hypothesis and conduct an experiment that can strongly support your hypothesis. But math is more precise. You can actually prove something and be sure that it is true.”

During her Princeton undergraduate years, Trebat-Leder participated in a Boston University summer program called PROMYS, or Program in Mathematics for Young Scientists. PROMYS immerses both high school students and teachers in the creative aspects of math and original research.

CBS46 News

Trebat-Leder drew on all her varied experiences to launch the Emory Math Circle. More than a dozen Emory graduate students responded to her call to lead the free math enrichment sessions on Saturday afternoons, and about 30 middle school and high school students attended throughout the spring semester.

Math Circle is not free tutoring for students who are struggling in their classes, Trebat-Leder stresses. “We’re looking for kids who really want to be here and who enjoy our sessions,” she says. “Our aim is to get the students excited about math and let them see how interesting it can be by exposing them to things they don’t learn in school.”

The middle-school level sessions might introduce the students to graph theory by showing how it can be used to model Facebook networks or to play “Cops and Robbers,” a game that explores how many policemen you need to catch a criminal in different scenarios. Another popular game in the Math Circle requires students to keep four colors from touching one another. “The four-color theorem was one of the really deep problems in combinatorics,” Trebat-Leder says. “It took a lot of computers and people to prove it. But it’s also super visual and it doesn’t require a lot of technical language and symbols to convey.”

Kids grasp the idea of math hidden in shapes.
The students that attended the Math Circle sessions last spring came from a range of races and about half were girls, Trebat-Leder says. She notes that girls were the first- and second-place winners of a problem-solving contest organized for the Math Circle middle school students.

“The kids get to learn some really cool math and see what it’s like to actually discuss it themselves and not have it lectured to them,” Trebat-Leder says. “It’s really beneficial to have graduate students, who have studied a lot of math and understand it deeply, interact with kids.”

She cites an article she read recently comparing math to art. “If art classes consisted of just reproducing other people’s paintings, than the experience wouldn’t be nearly as fun or creative,” Trebat-Leder says. “And yet, that’s the way most schools teach math.”

She hopes to keep expanding her influence as an educator, and come up with more ways to improve the math experience of kids. “I think schools are emphasizing the wrong things in an era when computers drive a lot of the work,” she says. “We’re still having kids spend a lot of time practicing long division when we should be focusing more on concepts. Technology has changed so much, and I think that what we’re teaching should be adapting to that.”

The math of card tricks, games and gambling
How culture shaped a mathematician

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

From baseball to dogs and the field of his dreams

Having a ball: Brian Hare with his dog Tasmania. Hare began researching dogs as an undergraduate at Emory and went on to found the Canine Cognition Center at Duke University. (Photo by Nick Pironio.)

By Paige Parvin, Emory Magazine

As an Emory undergraduate in the 1990s, Brian Hare led and published a study showing that dogs can follow a human hand pointing—something that chimpanzees, longtime stars of cognitive research, were much less capable of doing.

It all started when Hare didn’t make the baseball team.

An Atlanta native, Hare attended the Lovett School, where he claims he was “not a particularly good student.” But he did get the chance to intern at Zoo Atlanta, working with drills, baboon-like primates who evolved to have dramatically colorful rear ends so their companions could follow them in the jungle.

So when he arrived at Emory (which his mother and uncle also attended), “I was already really excited about animal behavior and studying primates,” Hare says.

He was also really excited about baseball—what he calls his first love. When he wasn’t allowed to try out for the Emory team because he was three minutes late to practice, it was a crushing blow. “But it was actually the hugest favor anyone ever did for me,” Hare says. “Because it gave me a year to think about it, and meanwhile I took classes with professors like Frans de Waal and discovered that I really loved psychology and evolutionary anthropology and studying primate behavior and cognition. I was hooked.”

In his sophomore year, Hare met Michael Tomasello, then a professor of psychology. That connection was a game changer. Tomasello immediately recognized Hare’s spark, and kindled it by encouraging him to participate in serious research. Hare was blown away.

“We had one conversation, and he said, here’s an idea we’ve been thinking about for a research project. What do you think?” Hare says. “And I was like, what? Did he just ask me what I think? This is the coolest guy I have ever met in my life. Right from the beginning, I was part of the team.”

At the same time, Hare had a choice to make about another team—the Emory baseball team, which was holding fall tryouts again. “I was this eighteen-, nineteen-year-old, starting to realize what science is really all about,” he says. “I was like, wait, you want to study animals to better understand people? I didn’t even know people did that. I had a new love. So the calculation was this—I could try out for baseball, maybe sit on the bench, or I could work with Mike Tomasello and do what I actually thought might be my dream. I could play science like I thought I was going to play baseball. So that’s what I did. I played science like other people play sports.”

Hare’s next breakthrough moment came when he started studying dogs.

Read the whole article in Emory Magazine.

What is your dog thinking? Brain scans unleash canine secrets
How dogs love us

Monday, June 23, 2014

The case of the golden crabs: Cracking mysteries of how fisheries stay afloat

The golden crab was recognized as a distinct species, Chaceon fenneri, in 1984. (Photo by South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council.)

By Carol Clark

The golden crab is a treasure hidden as deep as 2,000 feet under the sea off the Atlantic coast of Florida and the eastern Gulf of Mexico. This obscure, slow-growing crustacean inhabits cold waters of the continental slope, often 100 miles offshore, below the strong, warm currents of the Gulf Stream.

Only a few Florida fishermen hold the rights to harvest golden crabs, and they’ve mostly earned it through their own grit, guts and ingenuity.

“It’s a small but really complex fishery,” says Tracy Yandle, an associate professor in Emory’s Department of Environmental Sciences, who studies issues around the regulation of the fishing industry and the governance of natural resources.

The Florida golden crab fishery serves as a case study for how fishermen can not only survive what the sea throws at them, but navigate through business and bureaucratic hurdles. Yandle, along with Scott Crosson and Brent Stoffle from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), published a study of the fishery’s renegotiation of property rights in the International Journal of the Commons.

Yandle notes that a crew of crabbers from Alaska came down to the Gulf of Mexico to try their hand at golden crabs but left without making a profit – much to the delight of the Florida fishermen. “Their lines got tangled, they lost their traps, and they went home,” Yandle says. “You have to have a lot of technical skill and experience in that area because the Gulf Stream moves your gear everywhere.”

Even if you can keep track of your miles-long line of traps, you’ve got to grapple the cable by towing for it with a hook, then haul the traps up through hundreds of feet of water. “You’re pulling up cold water crabs through the fast-moving, warm waters of the Gulf Stream,” Yandle says. “You’ve got to get the crabs through that as fast as you can if you want them to survive.”

After getting the crabs onto your deck alive, it’s important to keep them that way. The crabbers developed refrigerated circulating seawater systems onboard “to quickly chill the harvested crabs back down to the cold temperatures of their native habitat on the deep ocean floor,” the researchers note in their paper. “This practically eliminated the previous severe mortality rate of up to 80 percent six days after harvest” making the fishery more economically viable by allowing it to expand to new markets. 

Aboard a crab boat in 1983, the early days of the fishery. (Photo courtesy Bill Whipple.)

The golden crab was not on anyone’s radar until 1976 when an unmanned research submersible dove down to the continental slope and captured footage of them clinging to boulders near coral reefs. In 1984 the golden crab was recognized as a distinct species and given the name Chaceon fenneri.
Meanwhile, crabbers had started experimenting with traps and specialized techniques to harvest the crabs from their habitat of a rocky, deep-water seabed.

Despite the abundance of the crabs, their economic potential was slow to develop. One problem is the crab’s shell, a golden-beige color, does not change to a bright red, like other crabs, when they are finished cooking. “The crabbers had a devil of a time with restaurants that would keep boiling the crabs until they turned to rubber, waiting for them to turn red,” Yandle says.

Over 25 years, however, the golden crab fishery, currently consisting of only seven participants owning 11 permits, evolved into an economically viable niche market. “The people involved are really smart,” Yandle says. “Fishing may seem like a simple thing, but making a living at it is not simple at all. It involves layers and layers of details.”

The golden crab fishery is regulated by the National Marine Fisheries Service’s South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council. Yandle serves on the Scientific and Statistical Committee of the council, which advises the council as it makes decisions based on economic and ecological factors. “It’s a great opportunity to have an influence on policy,” Yandle says. “What I bring to the table is expertise on the social-science side of the fishing industry. If you don’t have that aspect of the story, then you don’t fully understand a fishery.”

Individual transferable quotas, or ITQs, are one method the council uses to help fisheries develop sustainable management. ITQs give individual fishing permit holders the flexibility to sell all, or part of their catching rights to another individual or entity – as long as the set quota for the permit is not exceeded.

Yandle studied a fishery in New Zealand where an ITQ system worked well, giving permit holders more options. “Some chose to sell their catching rights and re-outfit their boats to go into the commercial charter business,” she says. “Another used the money from his catching rights set up a café in town.”

“Fishing may seem like a simple thing, but making a living at it is not simple at all," Yandle says. (Photo courtesy Bill Whipple.)

The golden crab fishery, however, is regulated not by ITQs, but by dividing the Florida Gulf coast into three zones. Permit holders are restricted to a single area, a system similar to what is known as TURF, or territorial user rights fisheries.

When some of the golden crab fleet from Fort Lauderdale pushed for switching to an ITQ system a few years ago, members of the fleet from other areas strongly protested. Yandle flew down to Florida to attend public hearings on the issue.

The Fort Lauderdale fleet tended to be specialized. “All they do is golden crab fishing and they wanted to lock in their portion of their catch through the ITQ system and perhaps grow their business by expanding their crabbing efforts,” Yandle explains.

Members of the fleet based out of other parts of Florida, however, tended to be generalists. “In Key West they would spend part of the year fishing for lobster or shrimping,” Yandle says. “If the spiny lobster stocks went down, they could hit golden crab harder. They had a diverse portfolio and they valued that.”

In the end, the generalists won and the zone system stayed intact. “It was fascinating to watch these small-scale stakeholders stand up in this very public way and fight for what they wanted,” Yandle says. “They took it very seriously.”

The proponents for the zone system made a case for how they had deep knowledge of the currents and coral reefs of their areas, and had developed organic systems of communication with permit holders within the area. “It was a great example of how small, social groups are able to do real, community-based, informal regulation of themselves,” Yandle says.

Delving into the nuances of the golden crab fishery “was an eye opener,” she adds, which could have implications for other fisheries around the country weighing ITQs versus other systems. “It really does matter how you craft laws and regulations because they do have profound influences on behaviors, both good and bad.”

Yandle says she will continue to follow developments in the Florida golden crab fishery. As she and her NOAA colleagues note in their paper, “the current divergence in business plans between the crabbers in the different fishing zones has the potential to cause disruption in the coming years,” particularly if the fleetwide quota is exceeded. “The simplest solution to this dilemma,” they add, “would be to build upon the success of the zone system by dividing the fleetwide quota between the different fisher zones, creating a true TURF – provided the council can find zone allocations acceptable to the different groups of crabbers.”

Fishing for a living comes with a catch
The ripple effect of a Nobel in economics

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Chikungunya virus spreads in Americas, enters U.S. via travelers

The aggressive tiger mosquito, distinguished by its white stripes, can spread chikungunya virus. This mosquito is native to Southeast Asia but has invaded other parts of the world in recent decades, including much of the United States. (Photo by James Gathany/CDC.)

By Carol Clark

As chikungunya virus moves into the Americas for the first time, causing a major outbreak throughout the Caribbean and parts of Central and South America, U.S. health officials are monitoring cases in travelers returning from the affected areas. Imported cases of the mosquito-borne virus have been confirmed in more than a dozen U.S. states, and that number is expected to keep growing.

“Early response is essential,” says Gonzalo Vazquez-Prokopec, a disease ecologist in Emory’s Department of Environmental Sciences who studies how mosquito-borne pathogens move through urban populations. “We need to prepare the country to try to avoid what we suffered with the introduction of West Nile virus 10 years ago.”

Vazquez-Prokopec and Uriel Kitron, chair of Emory’s Department of Environmental Sciences, have been studying the patterns of vector-borne disease epidemics for years and are currently working with public health officials in other parts of the Americas and Africa on chikungunya control efforts.

Kitron will be a featured speaker at a meeting of the NSF-sponsored Urban Climate Institute, hosted by Georgia Tech July 9-10. His talk is titled "Changing Urban Climate and Mosquito-borne Diseases."

The World Health Organization reported the first local transmission of chikungunya in the Western Hemisphere in December of 2013, on the island of Saint Martin. Local transmissions means that mosquitoes in the area have been infected with the virus and are spreading it to people by biting them. Since then, more than 150,000 cases of local transmission have been identified in 17 countries or territories in the Caribbean, Central and South America, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Puerto Rico is the only U.S. territory or state that has identified a case of local transmission, the CDC reports.

Chikungunya is rarely fatal but the symptoms can be severe and debilitating, including headache, fever, joint and muscle pain, and joint swelling or rash. While most patients recover within a week, in some people the joint pain can persist for months. Newborns, older adults and people with existing medical conditions are at higher risk for the more severe forms of chikungunya.

The foot of a chikungunya patient in the Philippines shows the characteristic swelling and rash. (Photo by Nsaa.)

There is no vaccine to prevent the disease or medicine to treat infections. The only way to avoid infection is to prevent mosquito bites by using repellent, window/door screens, and reducing the number of mosquitoes by emptying standing water from containers.

The virus is primarily spread to people by two types of day-time biting mosquitoes: Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus. While the former is not common in Georgia, the Aedes albopictus, or Asian tiger mosquito, is pervasive. It is that tiny, infuriating, white-striped pest that crashes countless backyard barbecues, and turns many a relaxing summer session in a hammock into a bloody battle.

“They are like the cockroaches of mosquitoes,” Vazquez-Prokopec says, “perfectly adapted to living in urban areas in close proximity to humans. A house is like a microhabitat for both these species, which can breed in the little bit of water collected beneath an indoor flowerpot.”

The tiger mosquito bites not just people but a range of animals, including squirrels, dogs, deer and birds. The Aedes aegypti, however, which thrives in tropical climates like the Caribbean, feeds solely on human blood.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito is the primary spreader of chikungunya in the current outbreak in the tropical region of the Americas. This mosquito species is an especially efficient spreader of human disease since it only feeds on human blood. (Photo by Muhammed Mahdi Karim.)

“No one has immunity to chikungunya in in the Americas, causing it to spread like a fire and create a real problem for public health,” Vazquez-Prokopec says, noting that in poorer countries fewer homes have air-conditioning, or even window screens, to keep mosquitoes at bay.

Once a mosquito become infected, by taking a blood meal from an infected person, the mosquito can then spread the virus if it bites another person.

“The way the virus is propagating, we expect local transmission of chikungunya to make it to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula as early as this summer,” Vazquez-Prokopec says. “It’s just a matter of time.”

He is currently coordinating a chikungunya rapid-response effort for the Yucatan Peninusula. The effort involves health officials from the three states making up the peninsula (Yucatan, Campeche and Quintana Roo) as well as researchers from local universities. “We want to use our experience researching mosquito-borne disease propagation to help the local authorities try to predict when and where the virus will move,” Vazquez-Prokopec says. “There are two ways of attacking a fire: You try to contain the fire and you also look at where the fire is likely headed to create a buffer to help extinguish it. We know we are in front of a major challenge,” he adds, “but we hope our approach can reduce the chances of a major outbreak occurring in the peninsula.”

Brazil, which reports the highest number of dengue fever cases in the Americas, is another likely destination for serious outbreaks of chikungunya virus, adds Kitron. He is currently in Salvador, Brazil, a city where dengue is highly endemic, collaborating on an entomological study of Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, which are also vectors for dengue.

Chikungunya virus has long been endemic in Africa and parts of Asia. More recent outbreaks have occurred in Europe and countries in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

Sewer upgrade flushes West Nile virus vector from Atlanta stream
Dengue study to focus on asymptomatic carriers

Monday, June 9, 2014

Anatomy of an economic meltdown

The 2007-2008 crisis wasn't due to "immoral, greedy bankers who created toxic assets for which they got inflated ratings and sold to stupid investors," Gorton said. "If banker greed causes crises, we'd have one every week." (Photo by Wilford Harewood.)

By Leslie King, Emory Report

What caused the financial crisis that began in 2007, that time of cutbacks, job losses and housing foreclosures? And how can another crisis be prevented?

Yale professor Gary Gorton discussed causes and effects of recessions in a workshop on financial and monetary history held May 21 at Goizueta Business School.

Gorton came to national attention in September 2010 when then-U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, testifying before a national commission on the fiscal crisis, referenced Gorton's work as recommended reading for understanding the crisis.

One small factor that set off the panic in 2007 was the news media, Gorton said.

"The press didn't really do a very good job of explaining what was happening. But it's hard to blame them. They called economists and economists had no idea. If you call the experts and the experts don't know, how are you supposed to know? And the press — they're never going to get it right because the people who know aren't going to talk and the people who talk don't know," he explained.

"And in Congress, these people have nine million things they have to be experts on; they can't be experts on everything. In a lot of ways, it was a failure of the economics profession to explain things apparently in a way that the public could understand and that will lead to good policy."

Read more of Gorton's analysis in Emory Report.

Gorton recommends Franklin Roosevelt's first radio address, in March 1933, to learn some of the mechanics behind both the Great Recession and the 2007-2008 crisis. Click on the YouTube video below to listen: 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Crushing myths, pinning down facts about insects

What does an adult luna moth eat? Nothing, because it has no mouth. These short-lived insects are among those that students collected and are displaying in the halls of the biology department, along with posters on the interesting characteristics of 12 different insect orders.

By Carol Clark

“The first day, I flinched,” says Emily Fu of the Emory Maymester course “Insect Biology.” She recalls feeling queasy as the professor, Jaap de Roode, showed a series of close-up images of creepy crawlers.

“I was seriously considering dropping the class. But as we learned more about them, and how awesome they are, I actually started to appreciate them,” says Fu, a junior majoring in biology and psychology. “Insects are really complex and much smarter than most people realize.”

Fu and the 11 other undergraduates in the class created a buzz in the biology department recently when they unveiled dozens of pinned and mounted specimens they collected during four field trips. The students also displayed scientific posters they created for insect orders that particularly intrigued them, wowing guests at the reception with their newfound knowledge.

Add crunch to your lunch: As the human population burgeons to 9 billion, insects are looking like the future of food, according to a recent

The female large blue butterfly, for instance, has evolved to hang out around ant nests. The butterfly lays eggs that hatch into caterpillars that look like, and smell like, an ant larva. “Some ants are tricked into taking care of the butterfly larvae,” Fu says, adding that the ants will even fight to protect the butterfly babies from parasitic wasps that try to lay their eggs inside them. When the ants attack one of these egg-laying wasps, however, the wasp releases a pheromone that drives the ants into a frenzy. The ants end up attacking and killing each other instead.

“A lot of crazy stuff is going on in the insect world,” muses Tufayel Ahmed, a senior majoring in biology.

A snack table was laid out with nacho-cheese Doritos, mealworm beetle larvae seasoned with Mexican spices and salt-and-vinegar crickets.

“The crickets are a bit stale,” warns Wilson Hunt, a junior majoring in biology whose poster was entitled “Orthoptera as Food.” While they may not be fresh, he adds encouragingly, they contain 60 percent protein, versus only 18 percent in a burger.

In addition to new culinary experiences, the reception gave guests a leg-up on vocabulary.

“Every bug is an insect, but not every insect is a bug,” says Alycia Patton, a senior majoring in biology. She explains that the forewings of true bugs, one branch of an evolutionary tree, are thick and leathery where they attach near the body and thin and membranous near the tips. Another defining feature: Mouth parts that can pierce the tissue of a plant or another insect.

Patton traces her love of entomology back to her childhood. She enjoys finding unexpected beauty in the tiniest of insects, like the vivid colors of the candy-striped leafhopper.

But she reserves her highest praise for the homely mole cricket. “Its front legs have little scoops on them so that it can dig tunnels,” Patton says. “The males build the tunnels in a way that amplifies its mating calls. It creates its own sound system.”

Maura Sare, a junior majoring in biology and environmental sciences, overcame an aversion to touching insects during the class field trips. “Most insects aren’t going to bite you,” she says, and many have evolved much more interesting ways of protecting themselves.

Take the stick insect. “If a predator grabs one of its legs, it can just detach it and get away,” Sare says. And they have fantastic camouflage, she adds. “We actually don’t have any examples of stick insects here today. We couldn’t find any.”

Stone Mountain was the site of one of the class collecting trips.

Alexander Heaven appreciates saturniids, including the large, lime-green luna moth, “because they’re pretty,” and because that beauty is ephemeral. “An adult luna moth doesn’t have a mouth, so it can’t eat,” Heaven says. “When they emerge from the cocoon, they have about five days to find a mate before they just fade away.”

Heaven, a sophomore majoring in environmental sciences, is also a big fan of the praying mantis. “During mating, the female mantis will cannibalize the male,” he says. “She’ll turn around and rip his face off. That’s awesome. They’re just really great predators, the best at what they do.”

Biology major Kevin Flood points to a pinned example of another great predator, the robber fly. It looks like a bee, but that’s a trick of mimicry designed to lure real bees near so the robber fly can eat them, Flood says. “See that needle-like thing coming out of its mouth? It wraps its legs around the bee, sticks the needle in, liquefies the bee’s insides and then sucks them up like a straw.”

As if bees didn’t have enough to worry about.

Head first: Biology post-doc Daniel Kueh dropped by the reception and learned that crickets are like potato chips. It's hard to stop at just one.

Pesticides and pathogens have been linked to a rise in colony collapse disorder, which is causing mass disappearances in honeybees. The issue is under intensive study due the importance of these insects, says Nikki Mehran, a senior majoring in biology.

“I was surprised to learn how many food crops that honeybees pollinate,” she says. “One-third of our diet would be missing if all bees suddenly disappeared.”

Mehran says the fieldwork was her favorite part of the class. “We got to go to Stone Mountain and I’d never been there,” she says. “After coming out of finals and being trapped inside, it felt good to get out in nature. I had a great time.”

The “Insect Biology” class was launched this spring by Jaap de Roode, an evolutionary biologist whose lab is one of only a handful in the world focused on monarch butterflies. “More than half of all animal species are insects, and they are extremely important for many things, from health to ecology,” he says.

De Roode hopes to develop the class to include a field trip to the Ecuadorian Amazon. Meanwhile, he says, the insects that the students collected and the posters they made will be on display near introductory biology classes “so other students can learn and be inspired by this work.”

Credits: Luna moth by Shawn Hanrahan; insect snacks and Daniel Hueh photos by Carol Clark; Alycia Patton photo by Malia Escobar; field trip photo by Jaap de Roode.

Lack of respect for insects bugs a biologist
Monarch butterflies use drugs
What aphids can teach us about immunity