Drug Waste Flushed Into World's Freshwater Ecosystems to Rise 65% by 2050
It's no surprise that chemicals can get flushed into our water supply from the pills we take. But as the world's population grows, the rampant consumption of pharmaceuticals has become an emerging threat to the world's freshwater ecosystems, researchers said.
The research, presented at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly on Tuesday, warns that if no action is taken to mitigate the flow, the amount of drug waste entering waterways such as rivers and lakes could increase by 65 percent by 2050, endangering fish and other species' health.
Francesco Bregoli, a postdoctoral researcher at the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education in the Netherlands, and his international co-hort developed a model showing global "hotspots" of water with high concentrations of pharmaceuticals.
To do this, the researchers analyzed the global consumption of diclofenac, a common painkiller used by millions across the globe, and its occurrence in freshwaters.
Francesco Bregoli et al.
Diclofenac has been identified as an environmental threat by the European Union and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Its use as a livestock drug has been linked to the collapse of vulture populations in South Asia. Scientists have also observed the anti-inflammatory drug bioaccumulating in fish in the Great Lakes, but its impact is unclear.
According to the AFP's report on the new study, more than 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles) of rivers around the world have concentrations of diclofenac above the EU "watch list" limit of 100 nanograms a liter.
In the U.S., only half of the prescription drugs in sewage are removed by treatment plants. Contamination levels are higher in Latin American, African and Asian countries, where wastewater is not widely treated and filtering drugs can be technologically unavailable or expensive.
Francesco Bregoli et al.
The research team's model can also be applied to the presence and spread of other drugs besides diclofenac.
"Diclofenac emissions are similar to any of thousands of pharmaceuticals and personal care products," Bregoli explained.
The scientists suggested feasible mitigation strategies on consumption reduction, sewer connection and improvements of water treatment technology. However, Bregoli noted that improved water treatment will not be enough to solve the growing problem.
"We found out that technological improvements alone will not even be enough to recover from the current concentration levels," he said. "If a substantial consumption reduction is not implemented, a large part of the global river ecosystems will not be sufficiently secured."
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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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