The Much-Loathed Monsanto Name Is About to Die
By Dan Nosowitz
The public seems to loathe Monsanto. A recent poll ranked the company among the 20 most hated in America (nearly every other name on the list is a consumer-facing company the public deals with regularly, like health insurers, telecoms, and airlines) and entire marches are organized against them. As German corporation Bayer AG folds Monsanto into its portfolio, Bayer is making what is probably a shrewd business choice: killing the Monsanto name.
In a press release, Bayer announced the decision: "Bayer will remain the company name. Monsanto will no longer be a company name. The acquired products will retain their brand names and become part of the Bayer portfolio." In other words, you'll no longer find Monsanto-brand Roundup in your Home Depot; it'll be Bayer-branded Roundup. (That is if Roundup continues to be sold.)
Monsanto has become synonymous with the agrochemical industry and a perceived disregard for human, public, and environmental health. There are plenty of other companies in the field at around the same size—Syngenta, Dow, BASF—but Monsanto's success in the United States, along with what seems like a pathological need to blunder in public relations, makes it a figurehead. In its past, Monsanto produced Agent Orange and DDT. In more recent history, the company blamed farmers for dicamba drift, ran ads promoting bioengineered foods that were widely interpreted as condescending and arrogant, and sued hundreds of small farmers for seed saving, among many other public relations disasters.
The Monsanto name is poison. (This is a fun bit of irony, as much of what Monsanto sells is literally poison; this is not a judgment—pesticides poison pests.)
Whether the erasure of the Monsanto name will help Monsanto products is not really our concern; Bayer is a corporation worth tens of billions of dollars and we don't particularly care what happens to its stockholders. What's more interesting is whether the general public, which is highly aware of Monsanto but not particularly aware of the movements of agribusiness corporations, will associate Monsanto with Bayer. "Monsanto" reads as "evil" to many Americans. "Bayer"? That might just read as "aspirin." (Bayer was the first mass-market seller of aspirin, back in the 19th century.)
Products like Roundup might forever be associated with Monsanto, no matter what the brand name is. But future products from Bayer's Monsanto division? Maybe not. A protest sign excoriating Monsanto is easily understood by all. One yelling at Bayer AG might not have that effect, at least not yet.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.
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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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