Archive for July, 2010

Lake Lansing Park North

July 22, 2010 2 comments

Park North Trail

I love going to parks. I am an avid camper, and I have traveled to several national parks around the country. All of that started with Lake Lansing Park North.

I grew up roughly 100 yards from the entrance to Park North. I have walked my dogs there, played tag, and hide and go seek. I learned to cross-country ski, and play basketball there among many other things. Park North is a lovely series of trails that played a large part in my childhood and needed a wikipedia page.


Zebra Mussels vs the Great Lakes

July 15, 2010 3 comments

In 1988 a small unique looking mussel was discovered in Lake St. Claire by Detroit. This seemingly innocuous discovery would slowly rewrite the ecological face of the Great Lakes over the next twenty years as it gradually took over in a Darwinian struggle.

Spread of zebra mussels

Zebra mussels come from Eastern Europe, originally in the Caspian and Black Seas. Scientists speculate that mussel larvae latched onto transatlantic ships and were carried over in the ballast water. Female mussels lay between 30,000 and 10,000 eggs a year, making them virtually impossible to eradicate once introduced to an ecosystem.

From 1988 on the mussels have slowly invaded every one of the Great Lakes, and from there spread to the Illinois, the Mississippi, and the St. Lawrence rivers. Zebra mussels latch on to everything from industrial piping, to boats and docks, and even to other wildlife. The Center of Invasive Species Research estimates that the US spends roughly $500 million a year to control the zebra mussel population in the Great Lakes area. The state of Michigan has attempted to poison the mussels through chemicals, introduce natural predators of the zebra mussel, and dry them out through water draw downs in reservoirs and aqueducts. Unfortunately, they are still spreading and slowly pushing out competing species. According to Sea Grant Michigan, zebra mussels have appeared in 255 inland lakes and 17 rivers in Michigan.

Lake Lansing

Zebra mussels aren’t the only invasive species to threaten the Great Lakes. Asian carp are a large species of fish that can grow up to 100 pounds. The carp were brought to the US to keep algae populations down on fish farms in the south. They have quickly traveled up the Mississippi, and despite efforts to keep them out of the Great Lakes, the species has been found in Lake Michigan.

Michigan’s fishing industry brings in around $7 billion a year according to Senator Debbie Stabenow. Asian carp pose a potentially devastating threat to that industry. Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox has unsuccessfully sued the Supreme Court twice to close the locks on the Chicago waterways, and is considering a third effort.

Both the carp and the zebra mussels are not entirely without benefits. Asian carp are known to be a delicacy, if difficult to cook, and zebra mussels tend to leave infested waters far clearer than before they arrived. The mussels absorb most of the nutrients in the water, allowing sunlight to reach the bottom and new species of plants to thrive. Stabenow and Cox say it is not worth the cost.

Read more…

The Warrior Gene

July 12, 2010 4 comments

Recently NPR reported a story on the advancing research behind monoamine oxidase-A, also known as the “warrior gene”.  The gene controls the levels of MAOA in the body. Those possessing  a specific form of MAOA have been linked with a predisposition to engage in, and commit violent acts.

In 2006 it was uncovered that Maori tribesmen from New Zealand often carry the gene. The New Zealand researchers claimed that roughly 60 per cent of Maori men appear to carry the necessary variant of the gene, while only 30 per cent of European men seem to carry it. The potentially racist implications of the discovery ignited a large controversy over the application of this research both at home and abroad. In the United States, as research continued and brain scans grew more accurate, the debate is beginning to shift into the justice system.

The Science Daily is reporting that a Florida State University study has discovered young men that carry the “warrior gene” have a greater tendency to join gangs, and to be one of the more dangerous members of that gang. A study done by King’s College in London mirrors thos results. The BBC reported that 12 per cent of the 442 young men in the study have the “warrior gene”, and that group committed 44 per cent of the violent crimes.

According to NPR reporter Barbara Hagerty, approximately 1,200 combined cases in civil and criminal courts in the US have admitted gene evidence on MAOA for consideration. While the general trend is that neuroscience studies are not admitted, there have been exceptions.

The end result of the increasing use of a not guilty by reasons of mental disease or insanity defense leads to a scary place for the justice system. Much of the US legal system is based on retributive punishment. People deserve the punishment they receive for their crimes against the community. What happens if science is able to prove that they are not actually responsible for their crimes?

Some experts are wary about the potential for MAOA to force the US to rethink is justice system. During NPR’s interview with Dr. Kent Kiehl, a neuroscience expert at the University of New Mexico, a youth treatment program in Wisconsin run by Michael Caldwell has been able to work around the “warrior gene” to some extent. Kiehl reports that Caldwell has been able to reduce violent recidivism by a rate of over 50 per cent. If MAOA can be worked around and overcome, then some responsibility will continue to rest with individual who commits the act.