Despite Kidney Disease Link, Sri Lanka Places Monsanto Herbicide Ban on Hold
Given its size and scope, when Monsanto pushes back, it usually gets what it wants.
That's why organizations like Food Democracy Now! want people to divest from the seed giant and it's also why Sri Lanka is postponing its ban of the active ingredient in the company's top-selling herbicide, Roundup.
Less than a month ago a Sri Lankan minister told reporters that glyphosate would be immediately removed from the country's marketplace because it was the main cause of a kidney disease epidemic. Suddenly, the country isn't so sure about that.
"There is no evidence that glyphosate complexes effectively with arsenic, cadmium, or other nephrotoxic metals,” Thomas Helscher, director of corporate affairs at Monsanto, told the Center for Public Integrity. “Glyphosate is actually a relatively poor chelator for heavy metals when compared to pharmacological chelation agents.”
A previous Sri Lankan study by the World Health Organization detected glyphosate and cadmium, along with other pesticides and heavy metals, in kidney patients’ urine and in areas impacted by the disease, which also include Central America and India. Initially, Sri Lanka's government believed scientist Dr. Channa Jayasumana's theory that glyphosate bonds with toxic metals in the environment like cadmium and arsenic to create compounds consumed in food and water that do not break down until reaching the kidney.
But now, the government has received complaints from Monsanto, other agrochemical producers and Sri Lankan officials like Registrar of Pesticides, Dr. Anura Wijesekara, all of which have led to halting the ban. Additionally, Director General of Agriculture Dr. Rohan Wijekoon told The Island that the Pesticides Technical Committee has requested a meeting with President Mahinda Rajapaksa about the "far-reaching repercussions" of the ban.
“It is an interesting hypothesis, but we don’t have any evidence for it,” Wijesekara told the Center for Public Integrity. “[The ban] will affect the tea plantations and also the [rice] paddy cultivation drastically.”
A European glyphosate task force also continues suggesting there is no true link to the kidney disease.
Still, an average of 13 people per day had been dying of kidney failure in Sri Lanka prior to Jayasumana's study. The kidney disease was prevalent in at least 89 agrarian divisions in Sri Lanka.
“Glyphosate acts as a carrier or a vector of these heavy metals to the kidney,” Jayasumana said.
A 2012 Monsanto study suggested that glyphosate a less potent chelator for heavy metals like calcium, manganese and iron than other plant compounds, but U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist Paul Capel begs to differ.
“As far as I know, there are no other common herbicides that would have this same sort of strength of interactions with metals,” he said.
He added that glyphosate was also likely to bond with cadmium. However, Jayasumana’s data that could link glyphosate to cadmium or arsenic have yet to published, though preliminary tests of well water consumed by Sri Lankan kidney patients found glyphosate with high levels of calcium and other metals.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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