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Leading Cancer Experts: 2,4-D Weed-Killer Is 'Possibly Carcinogenic to Humans'

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Leading Cancer Experts: 2,4-D Weed-Killer Is 'Possibly Carcinogenic to Humans'

The decision by an organization of the world’s leading cancer experts to classify the herbicide 2,4-D as a possible carcinogen underscores the risk posed by the U.S. government’s recent approval of 2,4-D for use on genetically engineered, or GMO, crops.

“Since the federal government has failed to curb the overreliance of glyphosate and 2,4-D, mandatory GMO labeling is essential so that consumers can know whether they are buying GMO foods that rely heavily on these toxic herbicides.”
Photo credit: Shutterstock

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a branch of the World Health Organization, said 2,4-D is “possibly carcinogenic to humans” because there is "strong evidence that 2,4-D induces oxidative stress that can operate in humans and moderate evidence that 2,4-D causes immunosuppression, based on in-vivo and in-vitro studies."

“We have known for decades that 2,4-D is harmful to the environment and human health, especially for the farmers and farm workers applying these chemicals to crops,” said Mary Ellen Kustin, senior policy analyst for the Environmental Working Group. “Now that farmers are planting 2,4-D-tolerant GMO crops, this herbicide is slated to explode in use much the way glyphosate did with the first generation of GMO crops. And we know from experience—and basic biology—that weeds will soon grow resistant to these herbicides, making GMO crop growers only more dependent on the next chemical fix.”

2,4-D is one of the two active ingredients in Enlist Duo, a toxic weed-killing cocktail marketed by Dow AgroSciences, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently approved for use in 15 states. The other herbicide in Enlist Duo is glyphosate, which the international cancer agency had previously classified as “probably carcinogenic.” Exposure to both chemicals has separately been linked to non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

When the EPA approved Enlist Duo for use on GMO crops, the agency did not consider the effects the two harmful defoliants may have on human health when mixed together.

Like glyphosate, 2,4-D has been linked to other human health dangers as well. Exposure to 2,4-D has also been associated with a higher risk of Parkinson’s disease, immune system problems and hypothyroidism.

“Because of the approval of Enlist Duo for use on GMO crops, we expect the use of 2,4-D to increase up to seven-fold by the end of the decade,” said Kustin. “Since the federal government has failed to curb the overreliance of glyphosate and 2,4-D, mandatory GMO labeling is essential so that consumers can know whether they are buying GMO foods that rely heavily on these toxic herbicides.”

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Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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