By Carol Pucci, Yasmeen Wafai and Zeb Larson
Share a meal in a local household. Eatwith.com and Mealsharing.com connect travelers with people in host countries who love to entertain. Prices vary. Eight other guests and I recently paid $49 each, staying past midnight sharing food, wine, and conversation in the home of a French journalist covering the yellow vest protests in Paris. Saigon Hotpot sets up meals in university students' homes as well as city and street food tours in Ho Chi Minh City.
Trade off hosting. More than 2,000 households in 48 states and 50 countries participate in the Affordable Travel Club, a Washington state-based hospitality exchange group for people over 40. Hosts offer an extra bedroom, breakfast, and an hour of their time to acquaint travelers with the area. Members pay a gratuity of $15 (single) or $20 (double) per night to defray costs, but most hosts open their homes for the experience of meeting new people rather than the income.
Walk and talk. Spend time with a Global Greeter volunteer who likes sharing what they love most about their hometown. Greeters act not as guides, but as new friends in destinations all over the world. I recently hung out with Valerie, 42, a volunteer in Lyon, France, wandering through the city's network of underground passages and visiting her favorite places, such as sampling oysters and white wine at a Sunday market. The service is free, although visitors are welcome to make an online donation to the Greeters network. — Carol Pucci
Lodge locally. Sleep where your dollars make a difference by staying in independently owned hotels, small inns, and homestays rather than internationally owned chain hotels. Look for hotels that partner with nonprofit organizations to train and employ disadvantaged youth. The Responsible Travel Guide Cambodia led me to Robam Inn in Siem Reap, whose owners returned to start the business after taking refuge in Canada during the Khmer Rouge regime.
Spend intentionally. Eat and shop at places dedicated to fair trade. Consult listings on the World Fair Trade Organization's website. Explore beyond tourist areas where small entrepreneurs can't always afford the high rents. This is how I found Belil, an art gallery and cafe in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico, selling textiles made by a women's weaving cooperative.
Tour responsibly. Use local, independent guides. University students working for tips often guide tours listed on freetour.com, a website that offers group walks in dozens of cities worldwide. Global Exchange, a San Francisco-based human rights organization, sponsors "Reality Tours" focused on relationship-building and promoting local economies. An upcoming trip to Palestine will include homestays with farmers during the fall olive harvest and visits with fair trade cooperatives on the West Bank. — Carol Pucci
Visit a national park — but take the train. Help decrease vehicle traffic at these parks and support the struggling Amtrak, which offers trips to places like Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Canyon and Glacier National Park. You could travel roundtrip to the Grand Canyon, stay two nights in a hotel and two nights onboard, with breakfast and dinner included. Or maybe a trip to Glacier aboard historic Empire Builder with three nights in a hotel and a tour of the park. More than 100 packages are available.
Do some citizen science. If you're out and about in nature, you can plug into a ton of projects, such as a BioBlitz using the iNaturalist app. It's a cool exercise that lets you record as many plant and animal species as possible in a designated area and time, while contributing useful data for science and conservation. A green tree frog in Texas and a wapiti in Alaska are just two of the more than 206,000 species documented so far. Or you can measure light pollution and send your data to web app Globe at Night.
Build a trail in Washington state. Washington Trails Association offers a volunteer vacations program where you can escape for eight days with a group of fellow volunteers to help maintain trails. Trails are important to our environment because they help limit potentially negative impacts on natural areas. Food and tools are provided, and camping options are available as well, including car and backcountry. You'll have time to relax and explore on your own. Options include Kalaloch Beach on the Olympic Peninsula, Lake Chelan in the Central Cascades, and Deception Pass State Park on the Puget Sound. — Yasmeen Wafai
Making the Road is a Chicago-based group that uses travel seminars to educate U.S. participants about the liberation movements and histories of southern Africa. The tours are led by long-time civil rights and labor activist Prexy Nesbitt, who was closely involved with the liberation movements in Mozambique, Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Travelers meet labor leaders, artists, politicians, and intellectuals to educate themselves about the shared issues that southern Africans and Americans face, such as racism, labor struggles, and militarism.
DeTour exists to change the image of Hawai'i as a tourist playground, a perception that ignores its occupation and oppression by the U.S. military and its treatment of Native Hawaiians. DeTours' decolonizing tourist experience encourages visitors to support Hawaiians' wish for sovereignty. Stops include areas polluted by the military and sites important to Polynesian and ancient Hawaiian history—all to show a side of Hawai'i out of the shadows of U.S. imperialism.
Veterans for Peace was formed in 1985 by U.S. veterans to increase public awareness of the causes and costs of war and to oppose militarism and arms proliferation. The nonprofit has hundreds of chapters worldwide, including one in Vietnam composed of former servicemen who live there and organize annual tours across the country. The tours are designed to show damage left by the war in Vietnam and to raise funds for ongoing work, such as ordnance removal and support for victims of Agent Orange. — Zeb Larson
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By Jacob L. Steenwyk and Antonis Rokas
From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
How A. Latus Differs From its Parents.<p>Elucidating the identity of closely related fungal pathogens and how they differ from each other in infection-relevant characteristics is a key step toward reducing the burden of fungal disease. For example, we found that <em>A. latus</em> was three times more resistant than <em>A. nidulans</em>, the species it was originally identified as using microscopy-based methods, to one of the most common antifungal drugs, <a href="https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00520" target="_blank">caspofungin</a>. This result provides a clear example of the potential importance of accurate identification of the <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogen causing an infection.</p><p>We also examined how <em>A. latus</em> and <em>A. nidulans</em> interact with cells from our immune system. We found that immune cells were less efficient at combating <em>A. latus</em> compared to <em>A. nidulans</em>, suggesting the hybrid fungus may be trickier for our immune systems to identify and destroy.</p><p>In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our quest to understand <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogens is becoming more urgent. Growing evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/myc.13096" target="_blank">a fraction of COVID-19 patients are also infected with <em>Aspergillus</em>.</a> More worrying is that these <a href="https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.201603" target="_blank">secondary <em>Aspergillus</em> infections</a> can worsen the clinical outcomes for those infected with the novel coronavirus. That being said, we stress that little is known about <em>Aspergillus</em> infections in COVID-19 patients due to a lack of systematic testing, and none of the infections identified so far appear to have been caused by hybrids.</p><p>So, when it comes to hybrids, some are fantastic (the minotaur), some are helpful (the mule) and some are dangerous (<em>Aspergillus latus</em>). Understanding more about the biology of <em>Aspergillus latus</em> may help in our understanding of how microbial pathogens arise and how to best prevent and combat their infections.</p>
This Saturday, June 6, marks National Trails Day, an annual celebration of the remarkable recreational, scenic and hiking trails that crisscross parks nationwide. The event, which started in 1993, honors the National Trail System and calls for volunteers to help with trail maintenance in parks across the country.
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By John Letzing
This past Wednesday, when some previously hard-hit countries were able to register daily COVID-19 infections in the single digits, the Navajo Nation – a 71,000 square-kilometer (27,000-square-mile) expanse of the western US – reported 54 new cases of what's referred to locally as "Dikos Ntsaaígíí-19."
The Navajo Nation covers the corners of three different states. Google Maps
Growing Contribution<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM3NDY5Ny9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NjM4MTgyM30.IuQTKQs1stvYYKD6vaVTrqAyoBsUG0BhDvlhxsyKwPA/img.png?width=980" id="02a05" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2841f82b1785df5d5ed7bf64d3bb882b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
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World Environment Day: A Time to Consider the Planet We’ll Return To, and Decide How to Care for It Going Forward
It's a different kind of World Environment Day this year. In prior years, it might have been enough to plant a tree, spend some extra time in the garden, or teach kids the importance of recycling. This year we have heavier tasks at hand. It's been months since we've been able to spend sufficient time outside, and as we lustfully watch the beauty of a new spring through our kitchen's glass windows, we have to decide how we'll interact with the natural world on our release, and how we can prevent, or be equipped to handle, future threats against our wellbeing.
Scuba divers around the world are holding their metaphorical breath to see if a coronavirus infection affects the ability to dive.
DAN medical experts explained the difference between normal lungs, on the left, and "very serious lungs caused by COVID-19," on the right. Matias Nochetto / Divers Alert Network (DAN)
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