[audio:http://wamcradio.org/EarthWise/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/EW-03-19-12-Atrazine.mp3|titles=EW 03-19-12 Atrazine]
Atrazine is the second most widely used herbicide in the United States. Last year some 75 million pounds of the weed killer were applied to sugar cane and corn crops, as well as lawns and golf courses. Sales topped a billion dollars. [Read more…] about Can we weed out the truth about atrazine?
[audio:http://wamcradio.org/EarthWise/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/EW-03-14-12-Bird-Importance.mp3|titles=EW 03-14-12 Bird Importance]
Worldwide, bird populations are in decline. Their shrinking numbers are an unfortunate reminder of the negative impact that humans are having on the planet. [Read more…] about Remember the canary in the coal mine?
[audio:http://wamcradio.org/EarthWise/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/EW-02-29-12-Ammonia-.mp3|titles=EW 02-29-12 Ammonia]
More than a century ago, two German chemists discovered how to convert the nitrogen in Earth’s atmosphere to ammonia, which could be used in a variety of products, including fertilizers to increase crop yield. Their work was of little consequence until the 1960s, when mounting global famine sparked the Green Revolution. [Read more…] about Ammonia—a toxic gas that feeds the world
[audio:http://wamcradio.org/EarthWise/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/EW-02-28-12-Maple-Sugar.mp3|titles=EW 02-28-12 Maple Sugar]
It will soon be spring—warmer days and cold nights. Along the back roads of New England states, you can see that the maple sugaring season has begun. [Read more…] about The sap is rising
[audio:http://wamcradio.org/EarthWise/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/EW-02-23-12-Fisheries.mp3|titles=EW 02-23-12 Fisheries]
The ocean looks like it did when we were kids, with waters that seem endless, as they must have appeared to the first explorers of North America. But with an average depth of two miles, the ocean hides its secrets. [Read more…] about The devil in the deep blue sea
[audio:http://wamcradio.org/EarthWise/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/EW-02-14-12-Fish-Pills.mp3|titles=EW 02-14-12 Fish Pills]
We are a nation of pill poppers. From statins to lower cholesterol to antidepressants to lift our mood, more than half of Americans are currently taking a prescription drug. Some twenty percent of us are take three different prescriptions daily. [Read more…] about Here’s the fish, and here are the fish on drugs
[audio:http://wamcradio.org/EarthWise/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/EW-02-08-12-Beef-Production.mp3|titles=EW 02-08-12 Beef Production]
Beef costs consumers about 50% less than it did in the 1970s. While this sounds like good news for those of us that enjoy burgers, these savings come with serious costs to the environment and human health.
[audio:http://wamcradio.org/EarthWise/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/EW-02-06-12-Microbes.mp3|titles=EW 02-06-12 Microbes]
Without microbes, none of these things would be possible.
Microbes are single-celled organisms that include bacteria and fungi. Microbes “breathe” and “eat” — except they aren’t restricted to oxygen like us — and their food includes sugars and starches, as well as rocks and chemicals.
Microbes are everywhere and they make up a large part of the environment. A single teaspoon of garden soil can hold more than a billion microbes. Even extreme places, such as Antarctic ice sheets, are home to flourishing microbial communities.
These tiny powerhouses are essential to healthy soils. Through a process called decomposition, microbes break complex organic substances into smaller units that other plants can more readily absorb.
Dr. Amy Burgin is a soil scientist at the University of Nebraska…
“Microbes do a lot of really good things for us – beer, wine, bread, cheese, all kinds of good stuff, in addition to cleaning out water and keeping us healthy,” says Burgin.
Many microbes produce chemicals that compete with and fight off other microbes. We know these mainly as antibiotics. Penicillin, for example, was first extracted from bread molds.
Transgenic crops, such as Bt corn, are another example of how humans have tapped into microbial chemical warfare.
By borrowing genes’ bacterium that produces a toxin poisonous to insects, plant scientists have create created a strain of genetically modified corn that can ward off insects.
While the merits of genetically modified crop remain hotly debated, one thing is certain —we owe a lot to microbes. Without them, plants wouldn’t grow, food would be scarce, and the world would be overflowing with garbage.
This script was adapted from a column by Amy Burgin that originally ran in the Poughkeepsie Journal. You can access the original article here – http://www.caryinstitute.org/ecofocus_2008-09-14.html.