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Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life
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A rare yellow penguin has been photographed for what is believed to be the first time.

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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

The numbers of migratory freshwater fish such as salmon have declined 76 percent since 1970. Mike Bons / 500px / Getty Images

The latest warning of the Earth's mounting extinction crisis is coming from its lakes and rivers.

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stocknroll / Getty Images

More and more Americans are retrofitting their bathrooms with high-end bidets, allowing them to enjoy cleanliness and hygiene without creating as much paper waste. Not all bidets are created equal, however, and before deciding on a particular brand, it's important to do your homework. Take a look at our comprehensive Toto bidet review, and our reviews of Tushy and Omigo, to learn more about all of their options.

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Elizabeth Ann is a black-footed ferret and the first endangered species in the U.S. to be cloned. USFWS Mountain-Prairie / Flickr

In a remarkable first, scientists have cloned a U.S. endangered species.

The clone in question is a black-footed ferret named Elizabeth Ann, and her lineage could bring much needed genetic diversity to the imperiled species.

"[I]t was a commitment to seeing this species survive that has led to the successful birth of Elizabeth Ann," Ryan Phelan, the executive director of biotechnology conservation nonprofit Revive and Restore, said in a Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) press release. "To see her now thriving ushers in a new era for her species and for conservation-dependent species everywhere. She is a win for biodiversity and for genetic rescue."

 

Elizabeth Ann's birth was a joint effort from FWS, Revive and Restore, ViaGen Pets and Equine, San Diego Zoo Global and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. She arrived on Dec. 10, with the birth first announced on Thursday.

The history of the black-footed ferret makes her birth an especially important milestone. The species once lived throughout the U.S. West, FWS recovery coordinator Pete Gober told The New York Times. But their numbers dwindled as their primary prey, prairie dogs, also declined due to habitat loss, poison and disease. At one point, scientists believed the black-footed ferret to be extinct.

"We thought they were gone," Gober told The New York Times.

That changed in 1981, when a ranch dog named Shep dragged one back to his owners' home in Wyoming. However, disease wiped out much of the newly discovered ranch population. The FWS captured 18 ferrets for a breeding program, but all of the ferrets they have bred and released since have come from just seven parents.

That's where Elizabeth Ann fits in. She is a clone of Willa, one of the last wild-caught black-footed ferrets whose genes were never passed on, according to FWS. However, they were preserved by the San Diego Zoo Global's Frozen Zoo in 1988, making Elizabeth Ann's birth possible.

"With these cloning techniques, you can basically freeze time and regenerate those cells," Gober told The Associated Press.

Scientists determined that her genome had triple the unique variations of the current ferret population, meaning that Elizabeth Ann's descendants could play a role in boosting the species' genetic health, according to FWS.

That won't happen right away, The New York Times reported. First, Elizabeth Ann will be joined by other Willa clones, as well as clones of a male named Studbook Number 2. The clones will breed, while their offspring will be interbred with wild ferrets. Scientists need to make sure that none of the mitochondrial DNA from the clones' surrogate mother, a domestic ferret, is passed on.


Cloning, which involves copying the genes of one plant or animal to make a new one, is emerging as a conservation strategy for imperiled species. Viagen, a Texas-based company that helped clone Willa, also cloned a Przewalski's wild horse last summer, The Associated Press reported. The Przewalski is a Mongolian horse species whose population of around 2,000 is descended from only 12 animals.

Cloning could also recover extinct animals. Ben Novak, Revive and Restore's lead scientist, wants to bring back the passenger pigeon, and the nonprofit is also looking into cloning a wooly mammoth. Some conservationists argue that these efforts take funding away from protecting existing species, The New York Times reported. But Novak argued that the genetic technology required for both de-extinction and conservation is the same.

The FWS also noted that it is not abandoning more traditional conservation efforts.

"Successful genetic cloning does not diminish the importance of addressing habitat-based threats to the species or the Service's focus on addressing habitat conservation and management to recover black-footed ferrets," Noreen Walsh, director of the Service's Mountain-Prairie region, said in the press release.

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Whale sharks have unique spot patterns behind their gills that allow them to be individually identified using NASA pattern recognition technology. Tiffany Duong / Ocean Rebels

The oceans and space are two of the last frontiers of discovery. It is only fitting, then, that technology originally designed to help map stars imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope has now been adapted to match spot patterns on the world's largest fish, the whale shark, to help save it.

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A South Korean woman looks at a view of Seoul shrouded by fine dust during a polluted day on March 06, 2019 in Seoul, South Korea. Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images

By Brett Wilkins

As the United Nations on Thursday released a report on the triple emergency of the climate crisis, the destruction of wildlife and habitats, and deadly pollution, the head of the world body sounded the alarm on what he called humanity's "senseless and suicidal war on nature."

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Switching en masse to a plant-based diet is essential to protect wildlife habitats and prevent the loss of numerous species, a new report concludes. Milan Krasula / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Johnny Wood

Switching en masse to a plant-based diet is essential to protect wildlife habitats and prevent the loss of numerous species currently facing extinction, according to a new report.

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Fresh cassava at a market in Bangkok, Thailand. Busakorn Pongparnit / Moment / Getty Images

By Sean Fleming

What thrives in poor soil, can tolerate rising temperatures and is brimming with calories?

The cassava – sometimes referred to as "the Rambo root." This plant could potentially help alleviate world hunger, provide economically viable agriculture and even put an end to soil erosion, according to research published in the journal Conservation Science and Practice.

Also known as yuca (but distinct from the ornamental yucca plant) the root of the cassava is a staple of many Caribbean and South American meals – and it will thrive in conditions too difficult for many other plants.

A Gateway Crop

"Evidence suggests (cassava) could potentially revive degraded land and make it productive anew, generating numerous positive socioeconomic and environmental impacts with proper crop management," said Maria Eliza Villarino, the report's lead author and a researcher at the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), in the science publication, PhysOrg.

An estimated 40% of land in Colombia suffers from degradation, according to the alliance. It, therefore, "serves as a good testing ground for exploring the different possibilities that farming cassava could lead to."

The cassava could become a gateway crop, helping farmers bring once unproductive land back into use. Soil that has been revived could then be used to grow commercial crops like coffee or chocolate, corn or soy.

But Cassava Mustn't Tread the Same Path as Soy

The global market for soy is estimated at around $150 billion, and around 80% of all soy production comes from the U.S., Brazil and Argentina. Making space for soy farms has resulted in significant deforestation in parts of the Amazon rainforest, with the WWF estimating that "an area roughly the size of California" was lost to deforestation around the world between 2004 and 2017.

"We acknowledge that scaling up production of any commodity risks an increase in deforestation and biodiversity loss, and we need to do more research," Augusto Castro Nunez, a land-use and climate specialist at the alliance, said in the PhysOrg article. "But what we know is that we need something new; what has been done to prevent deforestation is not working, and this is something new."

Reposted with permission from World Economic Forum.

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Wild rice growing in Kathio State Park, Minnesota. Brett Whaley / CC BY-NC 2.0

By Tara Lohan

For 10,000 years we've relied on domesticated plants for our staple foods. But it's the wild relatives of those crops that are becoming increasingly important to our future food supply.

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EON's biofuel power station in Lockerbie Scotland with timber supplies. Ashley Cooper / Construction Photography / Avalon / Getty Images

By Andrea Germanos

A group of more than 500 international scientists on Thursday urged world leaders to end policies that prop up the burning of trees for energy because it poses "a double climate problem" that threatens forests' biodiversity and efforts to stem the planet's ecological emergency.

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Reticulated giraffes in Buffalo Springs National Reserve, Kenya. James Warwick / The Image Bank / Getty Images

A giraffe's life is a hard one, crowded by humans, stressed by habitat fragmentation and threatened by poaching. But for females, friends could make it better and longer, a recent study finds.

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Scientist and seal, under the Antarctic ice. McMurdo Oceanographic Observatory, CC BY-ND

By Lisa Munger

I'm sitting on the edge of a hole drilled through 15 feet of Antarctic sea ice, about to descend into the frigid ocean of the southernmost dive site in the world. I wear nearly 100 pounds of gear – a drysuit and gloves, multiple layers of insulation, scuba tank and regulators, lights, equipment, fins and over 40 pounds of lead to counteract all that added buoyancy.

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A diver looks at the coral reefs of the Society Islands in French Polynesia on May 9, 2019 in Moorea, French Polynesia. Alexis Rosenfeld / Getty Images

Coral reef ecosystems are threatened, researchers have warned. Warming oceans, pollution and overfishing are a few reasons why.

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