Herbal Viagra actually contains the real thing



































IF IT looks too good to be true, it probably is. Several "herbal remedies" for erectile dysfunction sold online actually contain the active ingredient from Viagra.












Michael Lamb at Arcadia University in Glenside, Pennsylvania, and colleagues purchased 10 popular "natural" uplifting remedies on the internet and tested them for the presence of sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra. They found the compound, or a similar synthetic drug, in seven of the 10 products – cause for concern because it can be dangerous for people with some medical conditions.












Lamb's work was presented last week at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences meeting in Washington DC.












This article appeared in print under the headline "Herbal Viagra gets a synthetic boost"


















































If you would like to reuse any content from New Scientist, either in print or online, please contact the syndication department first for permission. New Scientist does not own rights to photos, but there are a variety of licensing options available for use of articles and graphics we own the copyright to.




































All comments should respect the New Scientist House Rules. If you think a particular comment breaks these rules then please use the "Report" link in that comment to report it to us.


If you are having a technical problem posting a comment, please contact technical support.








Read More..

Kerry in Egypt to press for political consensus






CAIRO: US Secretary of State John Kerry was in Cairo on Saturday to push for a way out of Egypt's violence-wracked political impasse, underlining the need for a consensus to overcome a crippling economic crisis.

As Kerry arrived from Turkey, protesters torched a police station in the canal city of Port Said which is entering its third week of civil disobedience, reflecting the size of the task facing the secretary of state in Egypt, which has been rocked by months of unrest.

Kerry is due to hold talks with Islamist President Mohamed Morsi during the visit, which saw him sit with political parties and civil society groups.

In a meeting with Egyptian business leaders, Kerry stressed the importance of a US$4.8-billion IMF loan, which is partly conditioned on a measure of agreement between Egypt's divided factions.

"It is paramount, essential, urgent that the Egyptian economy gets stronger, that it gets back on its feet," Kerry said. "It is clear to us that the IMF arrangement needs to be reached. So we need to give the marketplace the confidence."

He also met Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi, who said he was "very satisfied" with the meeting, before evening talks with his Egyptian counterpart Mohammed Kamel Amr.

Outside the foreign ministry, dozens of protesters burned pictures of Kerry as they chanted against perceived US support for Morsi. The opposition criticises Washington for urging it to reconsider a boycott of upcoming parliamentary elections.

The top US diplomat met former Arab League chief Amr Mussa and spoke with Mohamed ElBaradei by telephone. ElBaradei and Hamdeen Sabahi from the opposition coalition National Salvation Front (NSF) had refused to meet Kerry in person.

All three are leading figures in the NSF, a coalition of liberal and leftist parties opposed to Morsi, which has announced a boycott of elections that begin in April.

Egypt has been deeply divided since Morsi, elected in June as part of the transition that followed Hosni Mubarak's ouster in early 2011, issued a decree in November expanding his powers and paving the way for the adoption of an Islamist-drafted constitution.

Morsi rescinded the decree under intense pressure, but the political turmoil has fuelled weeks of unrest and clashes that have left dozens dead, with protesters denouncing the president for failing to address political and economic concerns.

During his visit, Kerry will stress the "importance of building consensus," a State Department official said, after the NSF call for an election boycott.

He would emphasise that "if they want to engage, if they want to ensure that their views are taken into account, the only way to do that is to participate," the official said.

"They can't sit aside and just assume that somehow by magic all of this is going to happen. They have got to participate."

A political consensus would pave the way for the crucial loan from the International Monetary Fund, which in turn will unlock several pledges of aid for Egypt's battered economy.

Egyptian officials have said they will continue talks with the IMF on the loan, which has been delayed amid political unrest and might possibly be signed after a parliament is in place in July.

Morsi has called for staggered parliamentary elections to start on April 22. The NSF, which groups mainly liberal and leftist parties and movements, said it would boycott the polls, expressing doubts over their transparency.

The opposition, less organised than the Muslim Brotherhood, insists that the president appoint a new government before the election. The presidency says the new parliament should have the right to appoint the cabinet.

Meanwhile, in Port Said, the interior ministry said 500 protesters threw stones and petrol bombs at the police station, setting it on fire, and then blocked fire engines from approaching the site of the blaze.

The official MENA news agency said protesters also stormed a police building in the Nile Delta city of Mansura, where overnight clashes left one person dead and dozens injured.

- AFP/jc



Read More..

Man slain on way to dialysis treatment: police

WGN-TV: Man fatally shot while waiting for ride to dialysis treatment.









A 72-year-old man was shot and killed in his gangway on the Far South Side early Saturday morning as he left a home for dialysis treatment.


The man's grandson was inside and heard the shots that killed his grandfather, who was identified by family and the Cook County medical examiner's office as William Strickland, of the 400 block of East 95th Street.


The man was shot about 3:30 a.m. and pronounced dead about 4 a.m., according to authorities.








The motive appears to be robbery, police said, but detectives are still investigating.


Detectives remained at the scene, across from Chicago State University, into the morning.


Police taped off the northeast corner of 95th Street and Eberhart Avenue, surrounding the two houses between which the man was killed.


Neighbors said Strickland had lived in the neighborhood for more than 30 years. He was described as friendly and willing to lend a helping hand, neighbors and friends said.


"He was just there for us," said Theolene Shears, 84, who has lived in the area since 1965. "He was a very nice neighbor. We couldn't ask for a better neighbor."


Shears said she was inside her home when she heard the shots.


"All I heard was three shots. Bang, bang, bang," she said.


Strickland, who went to dialysis three times a week, had been undergoing treatment for about five years, Shears said.


"He seemed to be very happy about it. The way he talked it was like a little social club," Shears said, adding that he eased her own concerns about potentially having to receive treatment.


He preferred to go early on Saturdays to get it out of the way, she said.


Strickland leaves behind a daughter, three grandchildren and a pet Chihuahua, said Shears.


"He was a good man," said Joshua Miles, 14, a friend of the family "He would help you out if you needed help."


"He always kept you laughing," he said.


pnickeas@tribune.com
Twitter: @peternickeas


nnix@tribune.com
Twitter: @nsnix87.com





Read More..

We Didn’t Domesticate Dogs. They Domesticated Us.


In the story of how the dog came in from the cold and onto our sofas, we tend to give ourselves a little too much credit. The most common assumption is that some hunter-gatherer with a soft spot for cuteness found some wolf puppies and adopted them. Over time, these tamed wolves would have shown their prowess at hunting, so humans kept them around the campfire until they evolved into dogs. (See "How to Build a Dog.")

But when we look back at our relationship with wolves throughout history, this doesn't really make sense. For one thing, the wolf was domesticated at a time when modern humans were not very tolerant of carnivorous competitors. In fact, after modern humans arrived in Europe around 43,000 years ago, they pretty much wiped out every large carnivore that existed, including saber-toothed cats and giant hyenas. The fossil record doesn't reveal whether these large carnivores starved to death because modern humans took most of the meat or whether humans picked them off on purpose. Either way, most of the Ice Age bestiary went extinct.

The hunting hypothesis, that humans used wolves to hunt, doesn't hold up either. Humans were already successful hunters without wolves, more successful than every other large carnivore. Wolves eat a lot of meat, as much as one deer per ten wolves every day-a lot for humans to feed or compete against. And anyone who has seen wolves in a feeding frenzy knows that wolves don't like to share.

Humans have a long history of eradicating wolves, rather than trying to adopt them. Over the last few centuries, almost every culture has hunted wolves to extinction. The first written record of the wolf's persecution was in the sixth century B.C. when Solon of Athens offered a bounty for every wolf killed. The last wolf was killed in England in the 16th century under the order of Henry VII. In Scotland, the forested landscape made wolves more difficult to kill. In response, the Scots burned the forests. North American wolves were not much better off. By 1930, there was not a wolf left in the 48 contiguous states of America.  (See "Wolf Wars.")

If this is a snapshot of our behavior toward wolves over the centuries, it presents one of the most perplexing problems: How was this misunderstood creature tolerated by humans long enough to evolve into the domestic dog?

The short version is that we often think of evolution as being the survival of the fittest, where the strong and the dominant survive and the soft and weak perish. But essentially, far from the survival of the leanest and meanest, the success of dogs comes down to survival of the friendliest.

Most likely, it was wolves that approached us, not the other way around, probably while they were scavenging around garbage dumps on the edge of human settlements. The wolves that were bold but aggressive would have been killed by humans, and so only the ones that were bold and friendly would have been tolerated.

Friendliness caused strange things to happen in the wolves. They started to look different. Domestication gave them splotchy coats, floppy ears, wagging tails. In only several generations, these friendly wolves would have become very distinctive from their more aggressive relatives. But the changes did not just affect their looks. Changes also happened to their psychology. These protodogs evolved the ability to read human gestures.

As dog owners, we take for granted that we can point to a ball or toy and our dog will bound off to get it. But the ability of dogs to read human gestures is remarkable. Even our closest relatives-chimpanzees and bonobos-can't read our gestures as readily as dogs can. Dogs are remarkably similar to human infants in the way they pay attention to us. This ability accounts for the extraordinary communication we have with our dogs. Some dogs are so attuned to their owners that they can read a gesture as subtle as a change in eye direction.

With this new ability, these protodogs were worth knowing. People who had dogs during a hunt would likely have had an advantage over those who didn't. Even today, tribes in Nicaragua depend on dogs to detect prey. Moose hunters in alpine regions bring home 56 percent more prey when they are accompanied by dogs. In the Congo, hunters believe they would starve without their dogs.

Dogs would also have served as a warning system, barking at hostile strangers from neighboring tribes. They could have defended their humans from predators.

And finally, though this is not a pleasant thought, when times were tough, dogs could have served as an emergency food supply. Thousands of years before refrigeration and with no crops to store, hunter-gatherers had no food reserves until the domestication of dogs. In tough times, dogs that were the least efficient hunters might have been sacrificed to save the group or the best hunting dogs. Once humans realized the usefulness of keeping dogs as an emergency food supply, it was not a huge jump to realize plants could be used in a similar way.

So, far from a benign human adopting a wolf puppy, it is more likely that a population of wolves adopted us. As the advantages of dog ownership became clear, we were as strongly affected by our relationship with them as they have been by their relationship with us. Dogs may even have been the catalyst for our civilization.

Dr. Brian Hare is the director of the Duke Canine Cognition Center and Vanessa Woods is a research scientist at Duke University. This essay is adapted from their new book, The Genius of Dogs, published by Dutton. To play science-based games to find the genius in your dog, visit www.dognition.com.


Read More..

Rescuers Search for Man as Fla. Sinkhole Grows












Rescuers early Saturday morning returned to the site where a sinkhole swallowed a Florida man in his bedroom after the home's foundation collapsed.


Jeff Bush was in his bedroom when a sinkhole opened up and trapped him underneath his home at 11 p.m. Thursday night.


While the sinkhole was initially estimated to be 15 feet deep on Thursday night, the chasm has continued to grow. Officials now estimate it measures 30 feet across and up to 100 feet deep.


MORE: How Sinkholes Can Develop


Rescue operations were halted Friday night after it became too dangerous to approach the home.


Bill Bracken, an engineer with Hillsborough County Urban Search and Rescue team said that the house "should have collapsed by now, so it's amazing that it hasn't."


RELATED: Florida Man Swallowed by Sinkhole: Conditions Too Unstable to Approach








Florida Man Believed Dead After Falling into Sinkhole Watch Video









Florida Sinkhole Swallows House, Man Trapped Inside Watch Video









Sinkhole Victim's Brother: 'I Know in My Heart He's Dead' Watch Video





Using ground penetrating radar, rescuers have found a large amount of water beneath the house, making conditions even more dangerous for them to continue the search for Bush.


"I'm being told it's seriously unstable, so that's the dilemma," said Hillsborough County administrator Mike Merrell. "A dilemma that is very painful to them and for everyone."


Hillsborough County lies in what is known as Florida's "Sinkhole Alley." Over 500 sinkholes have been reported in the area since 1954, according to the state's environmental agency.


The Tampa-area home was condemned, leaving Bush's family unable to go back inside to gather their belongings. As a result, the Hillsborough County Fire Rescue set up a relief fund for Bush's family in light of the tragedy.


Officials evacuated the two houses adjacent to Bush's and are considering further evacuations, the Associated Press reported.


Meanwhile, Bush's brother, Jeremy Bush, is still reeling from Thursday night.


Jeremy Bush had to be rescued by a first responder after jumping into the hole in an attempt to rescue his brother when the home's concrete floor collapsed, but said he couldn't find him.


"I just started digging and started digging and started digging, and the cops showed up and pulled me out of the hole and told me the floor's still falling in," he said.


"These are everyday working people, they're good people," said Deputy Douglas Duvall of the Hillsborough County sheriff's office, "And this was so unexpected, and they're still, you know, probably facing the reality that this is happening."



Read More..

Mars trip to use astronaut poo as radiation shield








































The man and woman aboard the Inspiration Mars mission set to fly-by the Red Planet in 2018Movie Camera will face cramped conditions, muscle atrophy and potential boredom. But their greatest health risk comes from exposure to the radiation from cosmic rays. The solution? Line the spacecraft's walls with water, food and their own faeces.













"It's a little queasy sounding, but there's no place for that material to go, and it makes great radiation shielding," says Taber MacCallum, a member of the team funded by multimillionaire Dennis Tito, who announced the audacious plan earlier this week.












McCallum told New Scientist that solid and liquid human waste products would get put into bags and used as a radiation shield – as well as being dehydrated so that any water can be recycled for drinking. "Dehydrate them as much as possible, because we need to get the water back," he said. "Those solid waste products get put into a bag, put right back against the wall."












Food too, could be used as a shield, he said. "Food is going to be stored all around the walls of the spacecraft, because food is good radiation shielding," he said. This wouldn't be dangerous as the food would merely be blocking the radiation, it wouldn't become a radioactive source.











Water 1 – Metals 0













The details of Inspiration Mars's plans have yet to be clarified, but the team has said it will be using "state-of-the-art technologies derived from NASA and the International Space Station".











One idea that is already under consideration by the agency's Innovative Advanced Concepts programme, which funds research into futuristic space technology, is a project called Water Walls, which combines life-support and waste-processing systems with radiation shielding.













Water has long been suggested as a shielding material for interplanetary space missions. "Water is better than metals for protection," says Marco Durante of the Technical University of Darmstadt in Germany. That's because nuclei are the things that block cosmic rays, and water molecules, made of three small atoms, contain more nuclei per volume than a metal.












Water shielding also has another benefit – you can drink it. Such dual use is essential aboard a spacecraft, where space is at a premium. Applying this rationale, the Water Walls concept involves polyethylene bags that use osmosis to process clean drinking water from urine and faeces.











Sights and smells













Lining the walls of a spacecraft with layers of these bags creates a 40-centimetre-thick liquid shield. All of the bags would initially be filled with drinking water. The crew would then fill other bags with waste during the trip to Mars and swap them out for the now-empty water bags.












The osmosis-based processing is much simpler than the automated life-support systems aboard the International Space Station, making it less likely to fail during the long ride to Mars.











However, there are problems to be ironed out. The urine-to-water processing bags were tested in orbit on the last ever flight of the space shuttle in 2011 and found to be 50 per cent less efficient in microgravity than in ground-based tests.













Besides testing that the various bags work properly, the Water Walls team points out the more basic worry of dealing with the residual sights and smells. MacCallum made a similar point about the system to be used on Inspiration Mars: "Hopefully they're not clear bags," he said.











Solar danger













Not all bags need be equally unpleasant, though. The Water Walls concept also includes bags that scrub carbon dioxide from air, regulate temperature and grow algae for food – although NASA hasn't yet taken those to space.











Inspiration Mars also plans to have an external water tank and the aluminium skin of the spacecraft itself for extra protection. This kind of shielding should keep astronauts safe from lower energy cosmic rays, says Ruth Bamford of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Didcot, UK, who is working on creating magnetic "deflector shields" for spacecraft.













Organic material or aluminium is no defence against the burst of particles that occasionally spew out from the sun during a solar storm, however. "For this, putting three metres of concrete may not be enough to protect the astronauts," says Bamford. Inspiration Mars say they should be able to keep the upper rocket stage of their launch vehicle attached to the spacecraft for the whole of the trip, and point that towards the sun in the event of a flare.




















































If you would like to reuse any content from New Scientist, either in print or online, please contact the syndication department first for permission. New Scientist does not own rights to photos, but there are a variety of licensing options available for use of articles and graphics we own the copyright to.




































All comments should respect the New Scientist House Rules. If you think a particular comment breaks these rules then please use the "Report" link in that comment to report it to us.


If you are having a technical problem posting a comment, please contact technical support.








Read More..

Obama blames Republicans for "dumb" cuts






WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama on Friday blamed Republican refusal to compromise on deficit cutting for "dumb" and "unnecessary" spending cuts about to slam into the fragile US economy.

The arbitrary and automatic $85 billion dollar cuts, known as the "sequester" will begin later Friday, in a self-inflicted wound brought about by deep ideological polarization between the president and his foes in Congress.

"I am not a dictator. I'm the president," Obama said, warning he could not force his Republican foes to "do the right thing", which he sees as raising revenues to combine with targeted spending cuts in a deal to cut the deficit.

"These cuts will hurt our economy, will cost us jobs and to set it right both sides need to be able to compromise," Obama said.

Appearing irritated after meeting top congressional leaders including Republican House speaker John Boehner and top Republican Mitch McConnell, Obama denied blame in the showdown.

"If Mitch McConnell or John Boehner say, we need to go to catch a plane, I can't have Secret Service block the doorway, right?" he said, when asked why talks on averting sequestration had broken up.

"I'm presenting a fair deal. The fact that they don't take it means that I should somehow, you know, do a Jedi mind meld with these folks and convince them to do what's right?"

Boehner emerged from the talks with the president to tersely signal to reporters that Republicans would not budge on Obama's key demand for a deal which be partly based on raising extra tax revenues.

"Let's make it clear that the president got his tax hikes on January 1. This discussion about revenue in my view is over," Boehner said, alluding to the outcome of the so-called 'fiscal cliff' showdown late last year.

"It is about taking on the spending problem in Washington."

Obama was bound by law to initiate the automatic, indiscriminate cuts, which could wound the already fragile economy, cost a million jobs and harm military readiness, by 11.59 pm in the absence of an deficit cutting agreement.

The hit to military and domestic spending was never supposed to happen, but was rather a device seen as so punishing that rival lawmakers would be forced to find a better compromise to cut the deficit.

But such is the dysfunction in gridlocked Washington that neither side tried very hard to get a deal.

The drama instead evolved into the latest philosophical standoff over the size, role and financing of government between Obama, who won re-election vowing to protect the middle class, and fiscally conservative Republicans.

Obama, in effect extending the campaign that won him re-election in November, has mounted a fierce public relations offensive designed to maximize his leverage by pouring blame on Republicans for the cuts.

He acknowledged Friday that the impact of the cuts would not be immediate, but would nevertheless hurt middle class Americans in a "slow grind" squeeze which he said could cost more than half a point of economic growth.

"So every time that we get a piece of economic news over the next month, next two months, next six months, as long as the sequester's in place, we'll know that economic news could have been better if Congress had not failed to act."

Republicans accuse Obama of inflating the impact of the sequester and of using scare tactics, and believe he has painted himself into a political corner.

Although the cuts trim significant amounts from domestic and defense spending, they do not touch entitlements -- social programs like Medicare health care for the elderly and pension schemes.

Many budget experts believe that only cuts to those programs will be able to restore the prospect of long-term fiscal stability.

Obama says he is ready to make painful choices on such funding, but says he will not allow Republicans to preserve tax breaks for the rich and saddle the most needy with the bill for tackling the deficit.

Republicans simply say that Obama is not serious about cutting spending, and is unwilling to take on his own party, which views entitlement programs as an almost sacred trust.

The White House warns that the indiscriminate cuts are written into law in such a way that their impact cannot be alleviated.

It says 800,000 civilian employees of the Defense Department will go on a mandatory furlough one day a week and the navy will trim voyages. The deployment of a second aircraft carrier to the Gulf has been canceled.

About 70,000 children less than five years old will be cut from the Head Start preschool program, resulting in the elimination of 14,000 teaching positions. Services for special needs kids will also take a hit.

Authorities warn that average wait times for passengers at US immigration will increase by 30-50 percent and may exceed four hours during peak times.

-AFP/ac



Read More..

Fiscal talks fail, U.S. stumbles toward steep cuts









The U.S. government stumbled headlong on Friday toward wide-ranging spending cuts that threaten to hinder the economic recovery, after President Barack Obama and congressional leaders failed to find an alternative budget plan.

The cuts, locked in during a bout of deficit-reduction fever in 2011, can only be halted by agreement between Congress and the White House.






A deal proved elusive in talks at the White House on Friday, meaning that government agencies will now begin to hack a total of $85 billion from their budgets between Saturday and October 1. Financial markets in New York shrugged off the stalemate in Washington.

Democrats predict these cuts could soon cause air traffic delays, furloughs for hundreds of thousands of federal employees and disruption to education and law enforcement.

The full brunt of the automatic cuts will be borne over seven months, and Congress can stop them at any time if the two parties agree on how to do so.

But Obama was resigned to budgets shrinking.

"Even with these cuts in place, folks all across this country will work hard to make sure that we keep the recovery going, but Washington sure isn't making it easy," he said after meeting Republican and Democratic congressional leaders.

Given the absence of a deal, Obama is required by midnight to issue an order to federal agencies to reduce their budgets in a process known as "sequestration." The White House budget office must send a report to Congress detailing the spending cuts.

The Dow Jones Industrials were up 45 points after midday, recovering from earlier losses on encouraging manufacturing data.

FURLOUGHS LOOM

In coming days, federal agencies are likely to issue 30-day notices to workers who will be furloughed.

"Not everyone will feel the pain of these cuts right away. The pain though will be real. Beginning this week, many middle class families will have their lives disrupted in significant ways," Obama told journalists in the White House.

"We will get through this. This is not going to be an apocalypse," he said.

Democrats insist that the solution include bringing in additional revenue through closing what they call tax loopholes that largely benefit the wealthy and U.S. corporations. Republicans reject this approach.

"The discussion about revenue, in my view, is over. It's about taking on the spending problem," House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner said on leaving the meeting.

Moving to head off a new budget crisis later this month, Boehner said the Republican-led House would move a "continuing resolution" to fund government through the rest of the fiscal year. "I'm hopeful that we won't have to deal with the threat of a government shutdown," he said.

The International Monetary Fund warns that the cuts could slow U.S. economic growth by at least 0.5 of a percentage point this year, hitting the global economy.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office predicts 750,000 jobs could be lost in 2013 and federal employees throughout the country are looking to trim their own costs.

"The kids won't go to the dentist, the kids might not go to the doctor, we won't be spending money in local restaurants, local movie theaters," said Paul O'Connor, president of the Metal Trades Council, which represents some 2,500 workers at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine.

In the absence of any deal at all, the Pentagon will be forced to slice 13 percent of its budget between now and September 30. Most non-defense programs, from NASA space exploration to federally backed education and law enforcement, face a 9 percent reduction.

Both sides still hope the other will either be blamed by voters for the cuts or cave in before the worst effects predicted by Democrats come into effect.

No matter how Obama and Congress resolve the 2013 battle, this round of automatic spending cuts is only one of a decade's worth of annual cuts totaling $1.2 trillion mandated by the sequestration law.



Read More..

Stinkbug Threat Has Farmers Worried


Part of our weekly "In Focus" series—stepping back, looking closer.

Maryland farmer Nathan Milburn recalls his first encounter.

It was before dawn one morning in summer 2010, and he was at a gas station near his farm, fueling up for the day. Glancing at the light above the pump, something caught his eye.

"Thousands of something," Milburn remembers.

Though he'd never actually seen a brown marmorated stinkbug, Milburn knew exactly what he was looking at. He'd heard the stories.

This was a swarm of them—the invasive bugs from Asia that had been devouring local crops.

"My heart sank to my stomach," Milburn says.

Nearly three years later, the Asian stinkbug, commonly called the brown marmorated stinkbug, has become a serious threat to many mid-Atlantic farmers' livelihoods.

The bugs have also become a nuisance to many Americans who simply have warm homes—favored retreats of the bugs during cold months, when they go into a dormant state known as overwintering.

The worst summer for the bugs so far in the U.S. was 2010, but 2013 could be shaping up to be another bad year. Scientists estimate that 60 percent more stinkbugs are hunkered down indoors and in the natural landscape now than they were at this time last year in the mid-Atlantic region.

Once temperatures begin to rise, they'll head outside in search of mates and food. This is what farmers are dreading, as the Asian stinkbug is notorious for gorging on more than a half dozen North American crops, from peaches to peppers.

Intruder Alert

The first stinkbugs probably arrived in the U.S. by hitching a ride with a shipment of imported products from Asia in the late 1990s. Not long after that, they were spotted in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Since then, they've been identified in 39 other states. Effective monitoring tools are being developed to help researchers detect regional patterns.

There are two main reasons to fear this invader, whose popular name comes from the pungent odor it releases when squashed. It can be distinguished from the native stinkbug by white stripes on its antennae and a mottled appearance on its abdomen. (The native stinkbug can also cause damage but its population number is too low for it to have a significant impact.)

For one thing, Asian stinkbugs have an insatiable appetite for fruits and vegetables, latching onto them with a needlelike probe before breaking down their flesh and sucking out juice until all that's left is a mangled mess.

Peaches, apples, peppers, soybeans, tomatoes, and grapes are among their favorite crops, said Tracy Leskey, a research entomologist leading a USDA-funded team dedicated to stinkbug management. She adds that in 2010, the insects caused $37 million in damage just to apple crops in the mid-Atlantic region.

Another fear factor: Although the stinkbug has some natural predators in the U.S., those predators can't keep up with the size of the stinkbug population, giving it the almost completely unchecked freedom to eat, reproduce, and flourish.

Almost completely unchecked. Leskey and her team have found that stinkbugs are attracted to blue, black, and white light, and to certain pheromones. Pheromone lures have been used with some success in stinkbug traps, but the method hasn't yet been evaluated for catching the bugs in large numbers.

So Milburn—who is on the stakeholders' advisory panel of Leskey's USDA-funded team—and other farmers have had to resort to using some chemical agents to protect against stinkbug sabotage.

It's a solution that Milburn isn't happy about. "We have to be careful—this is people's food. My family eats our apples, too," he says. "We have to engage and defeat with an environmentally safe and economically feasible solution."

Damage Control

Research Entomologist Kim Hoelmer agrees but knows that foregoing pesticides in the face of the stinkbug threat is easier said than done.

Hoelmer works on the USDA stinkbug management team's biological control program. For the past eight years, he's been monitoring the spread of the brown marmorated stinkbug with an eye toward containing it.

"We first looked to see if native natural enemies were going to provide sufficient levels of control," he says. "Once we decided that wasn't going to happen, we began to evaluate Asian natural enemies to help out."

Enter Trissolcus, a tiny, parasitic wasp from Asia that thrives on destroying brown marmorated stinkbugs and in its natural habitat has kept them from becoming the extreme pests they are in the U.S.

When a female wasp happens upon a cluster of stinkbug eggs, she will lay her own eggs inside them. As the larval wasp develops, it feeds on its host—the stinkbug egg—until there's nothing left. Most insects have natural enemies that prey upon or parasitize them in this way, said Hoelmer, calling it "part of the balance of nature."

In a quarantine lab in Newark, Delaware, Hoelmer has been evaluating the pros and cons of allowing Trissolcus out into the open in the U.S. It's certainly a cost-effective approach.

"Once introduced, the wasps will spread and reproduce all by themselves without the need to continually reintroduce them," he says.

And these wasps will not hurt humans. "Entomologists already know from extensive research worldwide that Trissolcus wasps only attack and develop in stinkbug eggs," Hoelmer says. "There is no possibility of them biting or stinging animals or humans or feeding on plants or otherwise becoming a pest themselves."

But there is a potential downside: the chance the wasp could go after one or more of North America's native stinkbugs and other insects.

"We do not want to cause harm to nontarget species," Hoelmer says. "That's why the host range of the Asian Trissolcus is being studied in the Newark laboratory before a request is made to release it."

Ultimately, the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service will decide whether or not to introduce the wasp. If it does, the new natural enemy could be let loose as early as next year.

Do you have stinkbugs in your area? Have they invaded your home this winter? Or your garden last summer? How do you combat them? Share your sightings and stories in the comments.


Read More..

Obama, Congress Fail to Avert Sequester Cuts












President Obama and congressional leaders today failed to reach a breakthrough to avert a sweeping package of automatic spending cuts, setting into motion $85 billion of across-the-board belt-tightening that neither had wanted to see.


Obama met for just over an hour at the White House today with Republican leaders House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Democratic allies, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Vice President Joe Biden.


But the parties emerged from their first face-to-face meeting of the year resigned to see the cuts take hold at midnight.


"This is not a win for anybody," Obama lamented in a statement to reporters after the meeting. "This is a loss for the American people."


READ MORE: 6 Questions (and Answers) About the Sequester


Officials have said the spending reductions immediately take effect Saturday but that the pain from reduced government services and furloughs of tens of thousands of federal employees would be felt gradually in the weeks ahead.


Federal agencies, including Homeland Security, the Pentagon, Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Education, have all prepared to notify employees that they will have to take one unpaid day off per week through the end of the year.








Sequestration Deadline: Obama Meets With Leaders Watch Video











Sequester Countdown: The Reality of Budget Cuts Watch Video





The staffing trims could slow many government services, including airport screenings, air traffic control, and law enforcement investigations and prosecutions. Spending on education programs and health services for low-income families will also get clipped.


"It is absolutely true that this is not going to precipitate the crisis" that would have been caused by the so-called fiscal cliff, Obama said. "But people are going to be hurt. The economy will not grow as quickly as it would have. Unemployment will not go down as quickly as it would have. And there are lives behind that. And it's real."


The sticking point in the debate over the automatic cuts -- known as sequester -- has remained the same between the parties for more than a year since the cuts were first proposed: whether to include more new tax revenue in a broad deficit reduction plan.


The White House insists there must be higher tax revenue, through elimination of tax loopholes and deductions that benefit wealthier Americans and corporations. Republicans seek an approach of spending cuts only, with an emphasis on entitlement programs. It's a deep divide that both sides have proven unable to bridge.


"This discussion about revenue, in my view, is over," Boehner told reporters after the meeting. "It's about taking on the spending problem here in Washington."


Boehner: No New Taxes to Avert Sequester


Boehner says any elimination of tax loopholes or deductions should be part of a broader tax code overhaul aimed at lowering rates overall, not to offset spending cuts in the sequester.


Obama countered today that he's willing to "take on the problem where it exists, on entitlements, and do some things that my own party doesn't like."


But he says Republicans must be willing to eliminate some tax loopholes as part of a deal.


"They refuse to budge on closing a single wasteful loophole to help reduce the deficit," Obama said. "We can and must replace these cuts with a more balanced approach that asks something from everybody."


Can anything more be done by either side to reach a middle ground?


The president today claimed he's done all he can. "I am not a dictator, I'm the president," Obama said.






Read More..