The European Food Safety Authority has released a scientific report on the deadly E. coli outbreak that has sickened more than 3,500 people and killed at least 44 in the last seven weeks, and the news is grim: the apparent source of the contamination, a shipment of fenugreek seeds from Egypt, has been scattered all across the continent, making recall tricky and new outbreaks likely until the seed packets reach their expiration date in three years. Maryn McKenna of Superbug expertly breaks down the report in all its chilling detail:
What’s the News: A massive outbreak of E. coli is spreading through Europe, with 17 people dead in the last two weeks and 1,500 people sickened in Germany alone, where the outbreak began. Authorities are still trying to figure out where the outbreak originated and how it can be treated.
What happens when evolutionary biology disagrees with archeology? If you’re thinking “scientific headache,” you’re right. New research suggests that Europeans first regularly used fire no earlier than 400,000 years ago—an assertion that, if true, leaves evolutionary anthropologists in a lurch because this date isn’t linked to the substantial physiological changes we’d expect with the advent of cooked food.
The majority of archeologists think that early humans’ control of fire is tied to their migration out of Africa. After all, how else would the first Europeans cope with the freezing winters?
Based on archeological evidence, we know that early humans first arrived in southern Europe over a million years ago, and—based on the Happisburgh site —reached England around 800,000 years ago. So the problem with the new 400,000 year-old date is that it means that hominids suffered through hundreds of thousands of years of cold winter unaided by fire. And according to evolutionary biologists, this new date clashes with the idea that cooked food aided the evolutionary enlargement of the human brain.
The 400,000-Year-Old Evidence
If past is prelude, then the volcanic eruption in Iceland whose plume of ash has grounded almost 300 flights across Europe may not only affect air travel in the coming days, it may also have a lingering impact on Europe’s weather. Experts are looking back to the aftereffects of a previous eruption–when the Laki volcano in Southern Iceland exploded more than 200 years ago. That explosion had catastrophic consequences for weather, agriculture and transport across the northern hemisphere – and helped trigger the French revolution [The Guardian].
The Laki volcanic fissure erupted over a eight month period between June 1783 and February 1784. Within Iceland, the lava and poisonous clouds of gas ushered in a time known as the “Mist Hardships”: farmland was ruined, livestock died in vast numbers, and the resultant famine killed almost a quarter of the population.
The eruption’s impact wasn’t confined to Iceland alone. Dust and sulfur particles thrown up by the explosion were carried as a haze across Northern Europe, clouding the skies in Norway, the Netherlands, the British Isles, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. In conjunction with another volcanic eruption and an unusually strong El Nino weather pattern, the Laki eruption is thought to have contributed to extreme weather across Europe for the next several years.
After 12 years of refusing to let any new genetically modified food crops take root in the European Union, the EU has finally given the go-ahead to an engineered potato. However, the GM potatoes won’t end up in French pomme frites or German potato dumplings, as they’ve been approved only for industrial or animal feed purposes. Regulators say the high-starch spuds will likely be used by paper and textile companies.
The Amflora potato was created by the German chemical company BASF and will be cultivated this year on a commercial scale of 250 hectares in the Czech Republic, Sweden, and Germany. Before Amflora, only one other GMO had been approved for cultivation in the EU — Monsanto’s MON810 maize, in 1998 — in spite of repeated findings from the European Food Safety Authority that such products did not pose health risks [Financial Times]. And even though that GM maize variety was officially approved by the EU, a number of European countries have banned its cultivation.
You know all about the Greeks and Egyptians, and perhaps even the Hittites and Olmec. But a new exhibit featuring dazzling remains of a sophisticated yet largely unknown culture that predates them all has arrived on American soil. New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World has opened “The Lost World of Old Europe: The Danube Valley, 5000-3500 B.C.”
The people showed remarkable advancement for their time. They mastered large-scale copper smelting, the new technology of the age. Their graves held an impressive array of exquisite headdresses and necklaces and, in one cemetery, the earliest major assemblage of gold artifacts to be found anywhere in the world [The New York Times].
By examining half a million tiny differences in the genomes of Europeans, researchers can determine with surprising accuracy where on the continent each person comes from, easily distinguishing the Irish from the English, for example. Two new studies reveal that our DNA contains a sort of global positioning system, which researchers can use to pinpoint where in the world both we and our relatives came from [ScienceNOW Daily News].
The findings surprised geneticists by showing that despite centuries of immigration and intermarriage throughout Europe, genetic differences between Europeans are almost entirely related to where they were born. This, however, does not mean that the citizens of each European nation represent miniature races. “The genetic diversity in Europe is very low. There isn’t really much,” says Manfred Kayser [New Scientist], author of one of the studies.