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Texas Requests 'Emergency Use' of Restricted Herbicide to Kill Superweeds

Texas Requests 'Emergency Use' of Restricted Herbicide to Kill Superweeds

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is requesting comments on a petition filed by the Texas Department of Agriculture to permit emergency use of the hazardous herbicide propazine to kill herbicide resistant weeds infesting Texas cotton. Calling the resistant weeds an emergency, Texas requested to use hundreds of thousands of pounds of the toxic chemical on up to 3 million acres of cotton.

Glyphosate resistant Palmer amaranth, also known as pigweed, flanks a conventional upland cotton crop in Georgia. Photo credit:
Cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) Response to Pendimethalin Formulation, Timing, and Method of Application via Creative Commons

“This request clearly demonstrates that herbicide-resistant crops—by generating an epidemic of resistant weeds—lead directly to increased use of hazardous chemicals,” said Bill Freese, a science policy analyst at Center for Food Safety. “EPA should reject this request.”

Propazine is a possible human carcinogen and a "restricted use pesticide"—the EPA’s category for particularly hazardous agricultural chemicals. The EPA has found that propazine, like atrazine, is an endocrine disruptor (disrupts the hormonal system) and that when fed to pregnant rats, it causes birth defects in their young. Propazine is persistent, requiring years to break down, and is detected in both ground and surface waters. The European Union has banned propazine due to its toxicity.

Granting the emergency request to use propazine to kill glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth—also known as pigweed—would lead to a 10-fold increase in the use of the toxic herbicide, from just 20,000-50,000 pounds in 2010 and 2011 to 280,000 pounds per year.

“Herbicide-resistant crops lead to increased herbicide use and this is just the beginning,” added Freese. “Monsanto, Dow Chemical and the other pesticide-seed giants have developed a host of genetically engineered crops that will trigger a huge spike in the use of toxic weed-killers. This is hazardous to farmers, to consumers and to the environment.”

“USDA and EPA need to do their job of protecting American citizens and agriculture by rejecting this request. They should also stop these companies’ from introducing more pesticide-promoting, genetically engineered crops,” said Freese.

Glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth is one of 14 glyphosate-resistant weed species that have been generated by intensive use of glyphosate with Monsanto’s Roundup Ready crops, which are genetically engineered to withstand repeated dousing with the herbicide. Texas' 3 million acres of cotton represents about one-quarter of the U.S.' annual production.

 

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

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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