Science Journalism Program


Contact: Laurel Hamers

508-289-7652, mblnews@mbl.edu

WOODS HOLE, Mass.- In hospitals across the country, doctors guard against casual use of antibiotics: overuse of these powerful drugs encourages the emergence of drug-resistant bacterial strains that pose a public health threat. On our farms, however, it’s a different story. The discovery that antibiotics could improve yields in livestock production was made in 1948, at the start of the antibiotic era, and within a decade the drugs’ administration to farm animals for non-medical purposes had become routine.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Author and independent journalist Maryn McKenna, a senior fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University, will address the use of antibiotics in agriculture—and the tradeoff this practice sets up between public health and the economic benefits of increased farm productivity—in a lecture at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) on Saturday, July 26. McKenna’s talk, “Losing the Miracle: The FDA and the Controversy over Livestock Antibiotics,” will take place at 7:00 PM in the MBL’s Lillie Auditorium, 7 MBL Street, Woods Hole. The event is free and open to the public. Parking is available in the MBL parking lots.

By 1969, the first alarms had been raised that antibiotic-resistant bacteria that developed on farms could spread to human populations through manure, runoff, meat and even farm workers themselves. Consequently, in 1977, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed withdrawing its approvals of penicillin and tetracycline for agricultural use. The agency was persistently stymied in its efforts, and 37 years later, it has finally succeeded in implementing only voluntary controls. While Europe has imposed outright bans on growth promoters and there are country-specific controls on other antibiotic uses, non-therapeutic use of antibiotics remains common in U.S. agriculture. Simultaneously, public health, medical, and even Congressional opposition have risen—and so has the rate of emergence of antibiotic resistance worldwide.

Maryn McKenna

Maryn McKenna

McKenna, winner of the 2013 Byron H. Waksman Award for Excellence in the Public Communication of Life Sciences, primarily writes about public health, global health, and food policy. She was the 2013-2014 Knight Science Journalism Project Fellow at MIT and a finalist for a James Beard Foundation Award. She writes and blogs for numerous national publications, including Wired, Scientific American, and National Geographic’s The Plate, and is also the author of the award-winning popular science books SUPERBUG: The Fatal Menace of MRSA (2010) and Beating Back the Devil: On the Front Lines with the Disease Detectives of the Epidemic Intelligence Service (2004). McKenna is currently writing a book on antibiotic use in agriculture, to be published by National Geographic in 2015.

The Byron H. Waksman Award for Excellence in the Public Communication of Life Sciences is awarded annually by the Waksman Foundation to an institution or individual who demonstrates excellence in the communication of some aspect of life sciences. McKenna’s lecture at the MBL is sponsored by the Waksman Foundation and the MBL’s Logan Science Journalism Program.

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The Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) is dedicated to scientific discovery and improving the human condition through research and education in biology, biomedicine, and environmental science. Founded in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, in 1888, the MBL is a private, nonprofit institution and an affiliate of the University of Chicago.

Karin Klein, an editorial writer at the Los Angeles Times, and Kodi Kozacek, a reporter for Circle of Blue, are getting a good look at the life of ecosystems field scientists at a remote arctic outpost this week. They are observing the action during the short, productive summer season at Toolik Field Station, 350 miles north of Fairbanks, Alaska, through Polar Fellowships awarded by the MBL’s Logan Science Journalism Program.  Kozacek’s first dispatch, “Where the Sun Never Sleeps (And Neither Do the Scientists)” is on the fellowship’s blog, A Toolik Field Journal.

River sampling near Toolik Field Station. Credit: Chris Neill

River sampling near Toolik Field Station. Credit: Chris Neill

Several MBL Ecosystems Center scientists are deeply involved in climate-change research at Toolik through the Arctic Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) grant from the National Science Foundation. Led by MBL Senior Scientist Gaius Shaver, the Arctic LTER is a collaborative, multi-institutional project with the long-term goal of understanding and predicting the effects of environmental change on arctic landscapes. The arctic region has warmed significantly over the past 30 years, and arctic lands and freshwaters are changing in response.

Toolik Field Station was established in 1975 by a group led by MBL Distinguished Scientist John Hobbie and Senior Scientist Bruce Peterson; Shaver joined the fledgling arctic research group a year later. Hobbie recently co-authored Alaska’s Changing Arctic: Ecological Consequences for Tundra, Streams, and Lakes (Oxford University Press, 2014), a synthesis of findings from the Arctic LTER.

Today, Toolik Field Station is operated and managed by the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, with support from the Division of Polar Programs, National Science Foundation.

Toolik Field Station is in the footholds of the Brooks Mountain Range (above) on the North Slope of Alaska. Credit: Chris Neill

Toolik Field Station is in the foothills region of the Brooks Range (above), North Slope of Alaska.                     Credit: Chris Neill

 

 

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By Chris Neill

Logan Science Journalism fellows Codi Kozacek (left), Susan Phillips and Nick Clark help Baltimore Ecosystems Study research assistant Heather Goodman collect water from trash in an abandoned lot in inner Baltimore. Tiny amounts of water in trash serve as breeding habitat for mosquitoes. The BES studies the relationship between income levels, urban habitat and the composition and abundance of urban mosquito communities. Credit: Chris Neill

MBL Logan Science Journalism Environmental fellows Codi Kozacek (left), Susan Phillips and Nick Clark help Baltimore Ecosystems Study research assistant Heather Goodman collect water from trash in an abandoned lot in inner Baltimore. Tiny amounts of water in trash serve as breeding habitat for mosquitoes. The BES studies the relationship between income levels, urban habitat and the composition and abundance of urban mosquito communities. Credit: Chris Neill

In urban West Baltimore, the mosquito Aedes albopictus is an increasing nuisance. Another species, Culex pipiens, is an important vector for West Nile virus. Both species are more common in low-income neighborhoods because they breed in ephemeral standing water created by trash, such as plastic cups and old tires.

Six MBL Logan Science Journalism Program (SJP) Environmental Fellows, led by Baltimore Ecosystems Study (BES) scientist Shannon LaDeau and BES researcher Heather Goodman, sampled larval mosquitoes and surveyed mosquito habitats in two inner-city blocks in West Baltimore last week. Back in the laboratory, they identified mosquito species under dissecting microscopes.

The SJP Environmental Fellows ventured to inner-city Baltimore to participate in one of the world’s largest coordinated studies of urban ecosystems. The BES is one of the National Science Foundation’s 26 Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) projects.

The Baltimore Ecosystems Study examines how the human-built ecosystem of a large U.S. city influences ecological process such as nutrient flows in watersheds and plant species composition along gradients from the inner city to outlying “exurbs,” and how peoples’ attitudes to green space and other ecological features shape the structure of city neighborhoods.

The Environmental Fellows spent two days with BES scientists. They also collected water samples from streams running from the inner city to an outlying area with Peter Groffman, and from storm-water detention ponds managed in different ways by neighborhood associations with Chris Swan.

The Logan Science Journalism Program’s Environmental Hands-On Research Course is led by MBL Ecosystems Center Director Chris Neill and Ecosystems Center Senior Research Assistant Richard McHorney. The Environmental Fellows are joining the SJP Biomedical Fellows at the MBL this week to complete their fellowship in Woods Hole.

Jim Motavalli, one of 12 journalists who recently spent 10 days in Woods Hole and at Hubbard Brook, NH, learning the ropes of ecosystems field science, reflects on his experience here. Jim took part in the Logan Science Journalism Fellowship program, which has been offered at the MBL since 1987.

 

Core sampling at Harvard Forest. Photo by KM Kowalski

An SJP fellow core sampling at Harvard Forest in 2012. Photo by KM Kowalski

 

From Kathiann M. Kowalski

The Environmental Fellows in the MBL’s Logan Science Journalism Program have returned to Woods Hole after two full and exhausting days of field work at the Harvard Forest. Besides being an incredible living laboratory for lots of ecological research, Harvard Forest is a place of great beauty. The view of the hemlock forest canopy was especially breathtaking.

Hemlocks in Harvard Forest. Photo by KM Kowalski

Sadly, Harvard Forest Director David Foster reports, most of the hemlocks there may be dead in as little as ten years. Hemlock wooly adelgid infestation will drastically change the face of the forest.

Closer to ground, our group took carbon dioxide readings from plots at the MBL’s heated soil experiment area. That experiment examines questions related to climate change.

We also took core samples from Black Gum Swamp. We want to see what organic material the sediments contain as we go deeper and further back in time.

Core sampling at Black Gum Swamp, Harvard Forest. Photo by KM Kowalski

Now we’re working with the core samples and data from our field work. We’ve heard the saying that even a bad day in the field beats a good day in the office, and I do miss the beauty and serenity of the majestic hemlocks and the rest of the trees.

On the other hand, it’s also fun trying to sift through the data so we can see what it tells us. And we’re looking forward to preparing our presentations for the end of the week. Now we just need Excel, PowerPoint, and the rest of our computer programs to cooperate.

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