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.








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UN in Syria talks offer, warns against war crimes






DAMASCUS: The UN chief and his Syria envoy said Saturday they are prepared to broker peace talks between the regime and opposition, as Damascus ally Iran said Bashar al-Assad would stand again for president in 2014.

A joint statement by Ban Ki-moon and Lakhdar Brahimi said the UN would "be prepared to facilitate a dialogue between a strong and representative delegation from the opposition and a credible and empowered delegation from the Syrian government."

They met after both sides in Syria had indicated a "willingness to engage in dialogue," the UN said.

"Both expressed deep frustration at the failure of the international community to act with unity to end the conflict which has left over 70,000 dead and resulted in a massive human displacement within and outside of the Syrian borders," the statement said.

They also warned that both the regime and opposition fighters "have become increasingly reckless with human life" and said perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity must be brought to justice.

In Tehran on Saturday, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Assad will take part in next year's presidential election and that it is up to the Syrian people to choose their own leader.

He spoke during a visit by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem for talks on the nearly two-year conflict.

At a joint news conference, Salehi said "in the next election, President Assad, like others, will take part, and the Syrian people will elect whomever they want."

The "official position of Iran is that... Assad will remain legitimate president until the next... election" in 2014.

Assad, who took over as president in 2000 following the death of his father Hafez, has repeatedly rejected opposition, Western and Arab calls to step down.

A new constitution adopted in February 2012 stipulates that he can run for the presidency twice from 2014, which means he could stay at the helm until 2028 if re-elected.

Salehi also backed a call by Damascus for talks with the armed opposition, calling the initiative a "positive step," but reiterated that Assad's regime has "no choice" but to keep fighting rebels.

"We believe that the crisis has no military solution and only a Syrian political one," he said.

Muallem condemned the announcement by US Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday that Washington would provide US$60 million in "non-lethal" assistance to support Syria's political opposition.

"When the US (says it has) allocated US$60 million to the opposition and this opposition is killing people, I don't understand this initiative... Are there any weapons that do not kill people? Who are you kidding?" Muallem asked.

He repeated calls for pressure to be exerted on Turkey and Qatar, among the main supporters of the rebels alongside Western countries.

Damascus has repeatedly blamed foreign-backed "terrorists" for the violence, using the term to refer both to rebels and peaceful opponents ever since the outbreak of a popular revolt against Assad in March 2011.

On the ground, the army said on Saturday it seized control of a key road linking the central province of Hama to Aleppo international airport, the scene of fierce battles since mid-February.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said this was significant because it will allow new troop deployments and supplies to reach the area surrounding the airport and nearby Nayrab military airbase.

Fierce clashes also raged in the northern city of Raqa between rebels and troops, killing at least 26 fighters -- 16 rebels and 10 soldiers, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.

The Britain-based Observatory and activists said military helicopters strafed rebels in some parts of Raqa, which Abdel Rahman said was home to about 800,000 people displaced by violence elsewhere in Syria.

At least 133 people were killed nationwide on Saturday, the Observatory said.

They included two Palestinians hanged by rebels from trees at Yarmuk refugee camp in Damascus on suspicion of aiding the regime, the Observatory said. The two were suspected of pinpointing rebel targets for regime forces.

The Israeli military said mortar rounds believed to have been fired from Syria hit the southern Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Saturday without causing damage or casualties.

The Observatory said there had been clashes in the Quneitra area, with two rebels and an unknown number of soldiers killed.

- AFP/jc



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Trutanich struggling in bid to keep his city attorney post









With large numbers of Los Angeles voters yet to make up their minds, a new poll shows that first-term City Atty. Carmen Trutanich is struggling to stay afloat as Tuesday's primary election approaches.


Trutanich is in a statistical dead heat for second place with private attorney Greg Smith. Former lawmaker Mike Feuer enjoys a slight edge over both as the three candidates battle to advance to an expected May runoff.


Feuer, who served on the City Council and then in the state Assembly representing the city's Westside, was the choice of 23.8% of those surveyed for the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy/L.A. Times Los Angeles City Primary Poll, while 16.4% favored Trutanich, who won the office in a 2009 upset. Smith, a first-time candidate who has pumped more than $800,000 of his personal wealth into the race, was preferred by 15.2%.





But the poll has a margin of sampling error of 4.4 percentage points in either direction. Furthermore, 40% of those surveyed said they hadn't decided on a candidate.


"Feuer maintains a small advantage," said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. But, he added, Smith's television and radio advertising and incumbent Trutanich's name ID "could change that," particularly with so many undecided voters.


Just 4.7% of respondents favor a fourth candidate on the ballot, private attorney Noel Weiss. Weiss, who also ran for the post in 2009, has not had the money to mount a viable campaign.


The bipartisan telephone survey canvassed 500 likely voters in the city from Feb. 24 through 27. It was conducted jointly by the Benenson Strategy Group, a Democratic firm, and M4 Strategies, a Republican company.


Earlier independent surveys by other organizations showed that Trutanich had started the race with a lead. But he got into the contest late — after failing to make the runoff in his bid for county district attorney last year — and has not been able to match the campaign treasuries of Feuer and Smith, both earlier entrants in the contest. The blunt-spoken Trutanich, who has tangled publicly with the mayor and City Council, has also alienated some of his past supporters with his style and his decision to run for D.A. despite his 2009 campaign promise to serve two full terms at City Hall before seeking another post.


"To the extent that voters know about the candidates, this race is a referendum on Carmen Trutanich," Schnur said.


In the survey, Trutanich did somewhat better than Feuer and Smith among Latinos: 22.8% of voters in that group said they would vote for the incumbent, compared with 17.8% for Feuer and 12.7% for Smith. Feuer fared best among whites — 26.1% favored him, while Trutanich and Smith were backed by 16.7% and 16.4%, respectively.


Feuer also fared better with female voters (25%) than either Trutanich (13%) or Smith (14%). A Democrat, Feuer also did best among voters who identified with that party — 32% preferred him to Smith, another Democrat, who was chosen by 11%; while 15% favored Trutanich, a former Republican who is currently unaffiliated with a party. Among Republicans, who make up about one-fifth of the city's voters, Trutanich and Smith tied with 23% apiece, while 8% preferred Feuer.


jean.merl@latimes.com





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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.


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Chad says soldiers in Mali kill al Qaeda's Belmokhtar


N'DJAMENA (Reuters) - Chadian soldiers in Mali have killed Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the al Qaeda commander behind a bloody mass hostage-taking at an Algerian gas plant in January, Chad's military said on Saturday.


His death would be a major blow to Islamist rebels in northern Mali who have been pushed into their mountain strongholds by French and African forces.


"On Saturday, March 2, at noon, Chadian armed forces operating in northern Mali completely destroyed a terrorist base (...) The toll included several dead terrorists, including their leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar," Chadian armed forces spokesman General Zacharia Gobongue said in a statement read on national television.


Belmokhtar claimed responsibility for the seizure of dozens of foreign hostages at the In Amenas gas plant in Algeria in January in which more than 60 people were killed.


The report of his death comes days after Chad's President Idriss Deby said soldiers in Mali had killed another leading al Qaeda commander in the Sahara, Adelhamid Abou Zeid.


French officials said they could not confirm the killing of either Abou Zeid or Belmokhtar.


Chad is among several African nations that have contributed forces to a French-led military intervention in Mali aimed at ridding its vast northern desert of Islamist rebels who seized it nearly a year ago following a coup in the capital.


Western and regional nations are worried that al Qaeda will seek to use the zone as a launchpad for international attacks and strengthen ties with homegrown African Islamist groups like al Shabaab in Somalia and Boko Haram in Nigeria.


In a speech on Friday, French President Francois Hollande said the operation in Mali was in its final stage.


"Terrorist groups have taken refuge and are hiding in an especially difficult zone," he said. "Information is out there. I don't have to confirm it because we must reach the end of the operation."


A U.S. official and a Western diplomat, however, said the reports about Abou Zeid's death appeared to be credible.


(Additional reporting by John Irish in Dakar; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Jason Webb)



Read More..

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.








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Al-Qaeda's top leader in Mali killed in fighting






PARIS: Al-Qaeda's top commander in Mali has been killed, Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno said Friday, in what would be one of the most significant blows to the rebels in the seven-week French-led intervention against Islamist insurgents.

Several newspapers in Abou Zeid's native Algeria had reported his death and Washington had described the reports as "very credible".

Deby said Abou Zeid, the Mali-based operative in Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), was killed in deadly fighting between Chadian troops and Islamist fighters on February 22.

"On February 22, we lost several soldiers in the Ifogha mountains after destroying the jihadists' base. This was the first time there was a direct confrontation with the jihadists," he said.

"Our soldiers killed two jihadist chiefs including Abou Zeid," said Deby, whose elite forces are among the best desert troops on the continent and have played a key role in the offensive to liberate northern Mali.

Algeria's independent Ennahar TV reported earlier this week that Abou Zeid was killed in northern Mali along with 40 other Islamist militants.

In Washington, a US official speaking on condition of anonymity said reports of his death seemed "very credible" and that if Abou Zeid was indeed slain "it would be a significant blow to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb."

French officials have so far reacted with caution, with President Francois Hollande saying Friday: "Reports are circulating, it is not up to me to confirm them."

The killing of Abou Zeid, a ruthless militant linked with kidnappings and executions of Westerners, would be a major success for French forces, who intervened in Mali in mid-January to help oust Islamist rebels then in control of the north.

Algeria's El Khabar newspaper reported Friday that authorities there had carried out DNA tests to try to confirm Abou Zeid's death.

"The security services are comparing DNA taken from two close relatives of Abou Zeid with samples taken from the remains of a body supplied by French forces", it said.

French and west African troops have been hunting down rebels they dislodged from northern Mali's main cities following a lightning advance against the Islamists.

Abou Zeid, 46, whose real name is Mohamed Ghedir, was often seen in the cities of Timbuktu and Gao after the Islamists took control of northern Mali last year and sparked fears the region could become a haven for extremists.

An Algerian born near the border with Libya, Abou Zeid was a former smuggler who embraced radical Islam in the 1990s and became one of AQIM's key leaders.

He was suspected of being behind a series of brutal kidnappings in several countries, including of British national Edwin Dyer, who was abducted in Niger and executed in 2009, and of 78-year-old French aid worker Michel Germaneau, who was executed in 2010.

Abou Zeid was believed to be holding a number of Western hostages, including four French citizens kidnapped in Niger in 2010.

He was thought to have about 200 seasoned fighters under his command, mainly Algerians, Mauritanians and Malians, who were well-equipped and highly mobile.

An Algiers court last year sentenced Abou Zeid in absentia to life in prison for having formed an international armed group involved in the kidnapping of foreigners. Five other members of his family were jailed for 10 years each.

He was seen as a true religious fanatic and more uncompromising than some other leaders of north African armed Islamist groups, such as Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the mastermind of January's attack on an Algerian natural-gas facility that left 37 foreign hostages dead.

On the ground in Mali Friday, Malian troops arrested about 50 people near Gao on an island in the Niger river that was used as a hideout by armed Islamists, military sources told AFP.

-AFP/ac



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Population growth is threat to other species, poll respondents say









Nearly two-thirds of American voters believe that human population growth is driving other animal species to extinction and that if the situation gets worse, society has a "moral responsibility to address the problem," according to new national public opinion poll.


A slightly lower percentage of those polled — 59% — believes that population growth is an important environmental issue and 54% believe that stabilizing the population will help protect the environment.


The survey was conducted on behalf of the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, which unlike other environmental groups has targeted population growth as part of its campaign to save wildlife species from extinction.





The center has handed out more than half a million condoms at music concerts, farmers markets, churches and college campuses with labels featuring drawings of endangered species and playful, even humorous, messages such as, "Wrap with care, save the polar bear."


The organization hired a polling firm to show other environmental groups that their fears about alienating the public by bringing up population matters are overblown, said Kieran Suckling, the center's executive director. When the center broke the near-silence on population growth with its condom campaign, other environmental leaders "reacted with a mix of worry and horror that we were going to experience a huge backlash and drag them into it," he said.


Instead, Suckling said the campaign has swelled its membership — now about 500,000 — and donations and energized 5,000 volunteers who pass out prophylactics. He said a common response is, "Thank God, someone is talking about this critical issue."


The poll results, he said, show such views are mainstream.


In the survey, the pollsters explained that the world population hit 7 billion last year and is projected to reach 10 billion by the end of the century. Given those facts, 50% of people reached by telephone said they think the world population is growing too fast, while 38% said population growth was on the right pace and 4% thought it was growing too slowly. About 8% were not sure.


Sixty-one percent of respondents expressed concerned about disappearing wildlife. Depending how the question was phrased, 57% to 64% of respondents said population growth was having an adverse effect. If widespread wildlife extinctions were unavoidable without slowing human population growth, 60% agreed that society has a moral responsibility to address the problem.


Respondents didn't make as clear a connection between population and climate change, reflecting the decades-old debate over population growth versus consumption. Although 57% of respondents agreed that population growth is making climate change worse, only 46% said they think having more people will make it harder to solve, and 34% said the number of people will make no difference.


Asked about natural resources, 48% said they think the average American consumes too much. The view split sharply along party lines, with 62% of Democrats saying the average American consumes too much, compared with 29% of Republicans. Independents fell in the middle at 49%.


The survey of 657 registered voters was conducted Feb. 22-24 by Public Policy Polling, a Raleigh, N.C., firm that takes the pulse of voters for Democratic candidates and Democratic-leaning clients. It has a margin of error of 3.9%.


ken.weiss@latimes.com





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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.


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Mystery ring of radiation briefly encircled Earth









































What were you doing last September? The charged particles that dance around Earth were busy. Unbeknown to most earthlings, a previously unseen ring of radiation encircled our planet for nearly the whole month – before being destroyed by a powerful interplanetary shock wave.












We already knew that two, persistent belts of charged particles, called the Van Allen radiation belts, encircle Earth. The discovery of a third, middle ring by NASA's twin Van Allen probes, launched in August 2012, suggests that these belts, which have puzzled scientists for over 50 years, are even stranger than we thought. Working out what caused the third ring to develop could help protect spacecraft from damaging doses of radiation.












Charged particles get trapped by Earth's magnetic field into two distinct regions, forming the belts. The inner belt, which extends from an altitude of 1600 to 12,900 kilometres, is fairly stable. But the outer belt, spanning altitudes ranging from 19,000 to 40,000 kilometres, can vary wildly. Over the course of minutes or hours, its electrons can be accelerated to close to the speed of light, and it can grow to 100 times its usual size.











Mystery acceleration













No one is sure what causes these "acceleration events", although it seems to have something to do with solar activity interacting with the Earths' magnetic field.












"That's one of the key things the probes are in place to understand," says Dan Baker of the University of Colorado, Boulder. "How does this cosmic accelerator, operating just a few thousand miles above our head, accelerate electrons to such extraordinarily high energies?"












When the Van Allen probes started taking data on 1 September 2012, one of these mysterious events was already under way. "We came in the middle of the movie there," Baker says. But otherwise, he says, "What we expected was what we saw when we first turned on: two distinct belts, separated."












That changed a day later when, to the team's surprise, an extra ring developed between the inner and outer ones. "We watched it develop right before our eyes," Baker says. The new, middle ring was relatively narrow, and its electrons had energies between 4 and 7.5 megaelectronvolts - about the same as in the outer Van Allen belt during an acceleration event.












Although the outer ring displayed its characteristic inconstancy, the new middle ring barely budged for nearly four weeks. Then a shock wave, probably linked to a burst of solar activity, wiped it out in less than an hour on 1 October.











Spacecraft malfunctions













It's not clear where the middle ring came from, Baker says, although it was probably related to the acceleration event. The electrons could have been stripped from the outer Van Allen belt, funnelled back towards the Earth and got trapped in the middle on the way, or they could have been energised from closer to Earth and shot up to higher altitudes.











Figuring out what happened could be important to protecting spacecraft from radiation damage, says Yuri Shprits of the University of California in Los Angeles, who was not involved in the observations but is crafting a theoretical explanation that he hopes to publish soon. "It truly presents us with a very important question, and very important puzzles," he says.













There were no specific spacecraft malfunctions during September that can be directly linked to the new belt, says Shprits. However satellite operators will want to know if such belts are common and if they pose more of a risk.












With no other examples of a transient belt caught so far, it's too soon to answer all those questions, Baker says. "We only have one in captivity," he says. "We're still trying to figure out exactly how it works."












Journal reference: Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1233518


















































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.


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