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The Spill: COVID-19 Probe Heats Up

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COVID-19 Probe Heats Up

Where did the COVID-19 virus come from? While scientists thought that it was transferred from bats to humans, some have said that the outbreak could have begun in a science lab in Wuhan, China. President Trump suggested as much last year, but the idea was widely dismissed, even being banned on social media platforms like Facebook. Now, America is beginning an investigation into the possibility of a laboratory malfunction. President Joe Biden calls for a “renewed” look at ground zero for the COVID-19 outbreak, centered at a virology lab in Wuhan. Questions are now being officially asked about whether the virus outbreak was a deliberate act or a simple accident.

The Trump administration released a report in early 2020, stating: “U.S. government has reason to believe that several researchers inside the lab became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both Covid-19 and seasonal illnesses.” That report has come under new scrutiny.

Now, congressional Democrats are proposing bipartisan legislation which would create a commission to investigate America’s handling of the virus. It’s called the “Made in America Emergency Preparedness Act.”

Pennsylvania Representatives Brian Fitzpatrick (Republican) and Conor Lamb (Democrat) are introducing a second bill, dubbed the “Never Again International Outbreak Prevention Act.” If passed, this will deprive China – or any other nation that “intentionally misled the international community on the outbreak” – of its sovereign immunity. Sovereign immunity means a country can’t be sued.

Even the World Health Organization (WHO) is now investigating the origins of the virus.

Brood X Cicadas Make a Rare Appearance

As entomologists warned, newly hatched Brood X Cicadas, which spend 17 years of their lives underground, have appeared in several states to the delight of many and the annoyance of others. Trillions of the species have left their underground lives and are migrating to treetops where they lay their eggs, chirping in a distinctive chorus. Hatchlings then fall from the trees, head underground to suck up sap from tree roots. The next brood will come around in 17-years in 2038.

Scientists are thrilled to be able to study these unique, red-eyed insects; as Professor Michael J. Raupp, entomologist at the University of Maryland, says, “You’re literally seeing tens of thousands of periodical cicadas.”

 

Most cicada species are annual broods, meaning they return each year. Periodical broods only emerge every 13-17 years. They are only found in two other countries besides the United States – India and Fiji. The United States is the home of seven of the nine identified periodical brood cicadas.

There are thought to be as many as 1.3 million cicadas per acre in the main hotspots, including the District of Columbia, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Ohio, and Virginia.

Once cicadas emerge from underground, the females shed their exoskeletons and inflate their wings. After a few days, their new shells harden, and the hunt for a mate is on. The males of the species fly to the treetops and call to their possible mates. The female cicadas return the call when they determine their match by clicking their wings.

If you live in a hotspot, now is the time to witness the Brood X Cicadas. As Raupp advises: “Brood X is one of the most amazing phenomena on planet earth. For millions of Americans, you don’t have to go to Tanzania, you don’t have to go to Botswana – you can go right in your own backyard and have a cicada safari.”

Just When You Think You Have Seen It All

Missouri, of all places, has come to the rescue of a critically endangered tree species. A team of botanists protecting the Karomia gigas says the tree has produced a never-before-seen flower that means they can now cross-pollinate to restore genetic diversity: That is critical to the long-term survival and ability to stave off disease.

The tree is so rare it only grows wild in Kenya and Tanzania, and there is no recognized name for it in English. It is related to oregano, mint, rosemary, and thyme plants but grows to around 80 feet tall. The tree only grows branches at half maturity, when the tree is around 40 feet tall, so scientists believe the flower has never been seen or documented.

Andrew Wyatt, Senior Vice President of Horticulture and Living Collections at the Missouri Botanic Gardens, knows the pressure to succeed in saving this tree is intense:

“As far as survival, we’ve got this one. We can actually make sure it does not go extinct. The idea of actually preserving the species is entirely possible. It’s protected in Tanzania. We have collections in the botanical garden. Once we’ve got enough seed, we hope we can store it [in a freezer] and create a buffer between loss.”

The tree was discovered in 1977 in Kenya and then later in Tanzania. It has wood similar to teak. As Wyatt stated, “Personally, and I know others on my staff feel this way too, it is actually amazing and exhilarating. It is such an honor to use one’s skill to save a species from extinction.”

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