Discussion 1: Blue Gold
Read the paragraphs below and respond to the questions.
Environmentalists believe that the world is running out of clean drinking water. Over 97% of the world’s water is salt water found in the oceans. Salt water is unsuitable for drinking without expensive desalination. Of the fresh water in the world, most is locked in frozen form in the polar ice caps and glaciers and therefore unavailable. This leaves only a small percentage in groundwater, lakes, and rivers that could be available for drinking, industry, and irrigation. However, some of that water is polluted and unsuitable.
Water has always been the most valuable commodity in the Middle East, even more valuable than oil. But as fresh water becomes limited and the world’s population grows, the lack of sufficient clean water is becoming a worldwide problem.
The combination of increasing demand and dwindling supply has attracted global corporations who want to sell water. Water is being called the “blue gold” of the twenty-first century, and an issue has arisen regarding whether the water industry should be privatized. That is, could water rights be turned over to private companies to deliver clean water and treat wastewater at a profit, similar to the way oil and electricity are handled? Private companies have the resources to upgrade and modernize water delivery and treatment systems, thereby conserving more water. However, opponents of this plan claim that water is a basic human right required for life, not a need to be supplied by the private sector. In addition, a corporation can certainly own the pipelines and treatment facilities, but who owns the rights to the water? For example, North America’s largest underground aquifer, the Ogallala, covers 175,000 square miles under several states in the southern Great Plains. If water becomes a commodity, do we allow water to be taken away from people who cannot pay in order to give it to those who can?
Clovis has water concerns as well. Check out the links below for information and feel free to do your own research to bring into the discussion.
https://www.epa.gov/pfas (Links to an external site.)
https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/drinking-water-health-advisories-pfoa-and-pfos (Links to an external site.)
https://www.kcbd.com/2019/02/25/cannon-air-force-base-water-contamination-shuts-down-clovis-dairy/ (Links to an external site.)
https://abc7amarillo.com/news/local/air-force-responds-to-questions-surrounding-contaminated-water-in-clovis (Links to an external site.)
https://www.cityofclovis.org/?p=6241 (Links to an external site.)
1. Do you agree that the water industry should be privatized? Why or why not?
2. Is access to clean water a “need” or a “right”? If it is a right, who pays for that right?
3. Because water is a shared resource, everyone believes they can use water, but few people feel responsible for conserving it. What can you do to conserve water?
4. Do you think the drinking water in Clovis is safe? Support your answer with evidence. What do you think needs to be done about this situation?
Discussion 2: Stem Cells: It’s What For Dinner Read and do questions 1, 2, 3
In August 2013 beef stem cells used to grow hamburger meat were given a public taste test.
Check out the video here:
And the article that appeared in the New York Times here:
1. What questions and concerns does this (growing hamburger meat in the lab) raise?
* What are the pros?
* What are the cons?
2. What are some experiments that could be designed based on these issues?
*On a microscopic level?
*On a macroscopic level?
3. What type of data would be the most meaningful to you?
4. Would you eat it? Why or why not?
Discussion 3: Gene banks versus privacy invasion
Gene Banks Versus Privacy Invasion
In 1999, the Icelandic parliament passed an act to establish a national gene bank, a large-scale genetic database composed of blood samples from each of its 275,000 citizens. DNA isolated from this blood was to be used as the basis for genetic studies. But lately, privacy concerns have caused Iceland to rethink the project.
Iceland was the first country to create a gene bank, followed by Estonia and then Tonga. Iceland is unique in that it has a fairly homogeneous population in which little immigration occurs, and several natural disasters have contributed to similarities in the population’s gene pool. In addition, the country provides national medical care for its citizens, so it has extensive medical records dating back to 1915. Furthermore, genealogies of many Icelandic families are available for as far back as 500 years.
Concerns arose when Iceland’s parliament decided to sell exclusive rights to all its genetic data and medical and genealogical records to a U.S. company, deCODE Genetics, for the purpose of gene discovery. In turn, deCODE promised to provide any treatments and diagnostic tests developed from this research free of charge to Icelanders for the life of the patient. In a very short time, deCODE signed a $200 million contract with Hoffman LaRoche to search for several common human genetic diseases. So far, several genes have been successfully identified, including a gene linked to osteoarthritis.
Opponents of this agreement felt that it allowed a scientific monopoly on a veritable gold mine of genetic information. But even more seriously, they objected to the gene database on the basis of patient’s rights regarding informed consent and genetic privacy. In the United States, you must give permission to have your samples used for research. In Iceland, everyone would be included in the genetic research unless they “opted out,” although the data were to be encrypted so that no sample could be linked to a particular person. Even though researchers are commonly allowed access to medical databases as long as the data cannot be linked to individual patients, the commercial nature of this data bank and its for-profit research caused some people to feel that individual consent should have been required before the medical records were released to deCODE. In April 2004, Iceland’s Supreme Court ruled that “the 1998 law governing the creation of the database is unconstitutional because it fails to protect personal privacy adequately.”
In addition to gene banks used for scientific and medical purposes and research, the popularity of genetic testing in the private sector is a booming business. Read this article https://www.marketwatch.com/press-release/dna-testing-is-popular-but-many-are-unaware-of-privacy-concerns-2019-01-02 (Links to an external site.)
1. Do you think any for-profit company should have a monopoly or preferred position with regard to genetic databases or medical records? Why or why not?
2. What concerns should the Icelandic citizens now be discussing with their parliament?
3. Should individuals be allowed to “opt-out” of genetic records? How can the rights of children or mentally disabled individuals be protected? Should sensitive information concerning inheritance of a genetic disease be on record? How can privacy be protected while still allowing researchers access to complete genetic data?
4. Have you or would you want to get a genetic test with a private company here in the US to either learn about your families history or possible genetic concerns? What are the major benefits you see in this kind of test (give me at least 3)? What are some major concerns you have with the company having access to your data (give me at least 3)? Do you think the company can protect your data from hackers or that they could be forced to share your data with the government?
Discussion 4: What is science and evolution
What is science and what is not? This video is a good summary of what is science and what is not, which is a helpful place to start the discussion. Michael Shermer is a skeptic, author and speaker. His TED talk is a little older, but he compares, and contrasts evidence verses belief.
Why people believe weird things | Michael Shermer (Links to an external site.) Creationism and Evolution
Evolution is a cornerstone theory in which most of biology assumes the mechanisms of evolution and natural selection are the drivers of life on this planet. Misunderstanding of scientific theories and fallacies in logic, as well as impassioned opinions on both sides have lead to a major clash between science and religion when it comes to teaching about the origins of life on earth. Science must be able to use inference from previous scientific studies to make predictions about future scientific studies or predictions about how life will work in a given set of circumstances. The theory of evolution helps us do that.
Here are some videos with popular scientists discussing some aspects of evolution.
Creationism and Evolution
The week before the start of the new semester would be a busy one for Sandra Maxwell. As one of three biology teachers at Irving Community College in Marshall, Alabama, she would have to meet with the entire science department, get her laboratory ready, and review the new textbooks.
Last year the department had gone through the long, tedious adoption procedure that involved reading and rating over fifteen different books. They had narrowed the fifteen down to three, and the community college board picked from those. Sandra really didn’t care which one they had picked; no matter what, she would have to redo her lessons to fit a new book.
There was even more about her new textbook that Sandra didn’t know. The Alabama State Board of Education had adopted an anti-evolution insert to go in all high school and state college biology texts. The insert stated that evolution is a “controversial theory” accepted by “some scientists.” When Sandra saw the insert, she was upset. Could she teach creationism?
Creationism, broadly speaking, is the view that God (the Judeo-Christian God) created the universe, life, and the various kinds of life. Some creationists have sought to undermine the theory of evolution by claiming, for example, that the earth is only 10,000 years old, not 4.5 billion, and that therefore evolution hasn’t had time to occur. They also have argued that DNA could not have developed on its own without the help of an “intelligent agent”-namely, God.
Ever since State v Scopes, the famous Tennessee “Monkey Trial” in 1925 (dramatized in the 1960 film Inherit the Wind), the biology classroom has been the site of a battle pitting science against religion. In the era of the Scopes trial, American fundamentalists had pressed for, and achieved in some states, the passage of anti-evolution laws. More recently, as reported in Science magazine in 1996, creationists have attempted a new strategy: persuading local school boards to give “equal time” in school curricula to alternative theories such as “scientific creationism.” In several states-Ohio and Georgia being two-legislatures are considering bills that will require biology teachers to present “alternative theories” to evolution.
Sandra Maxwell and her fellow biology teachers were confused and unhappy about the situation. As a teacher, Sandra wasn’t sure what to do.
1. Can science make claims about how life on earth started? Why or why not? Support your position.
2. Some biology teachers are skipping evolution altogether in order to avoid the controversy. Do you think evolution should be left out of the curriculum? Why or why not?
3. Can biologists make predictions using the idea of creationism? Can biologist make prediction using the theory of evolution? Give an example of a testable hypothesis for either.
4. If you were Sandra, what would you do?
Discussion 5: Invasive Species
Killer Seaweed Invades United States
A killer alga has invaded the waters off California. In June 2004, biologists identified a Caulerpa taxifolia mutant as an alien invader in the San Diego area. This alga normally grows in the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea, but it can survive the colder waters of the Pacific Coast, and if not controlled, could spread from California south to Peru.
Where did this killer come from? As innocent as it seems, it was bred for home aquariums, and then was probably dumped into the water system, where it began to reproduce prolifically. The alga is so adaptive that it can overtake the normal flora of an area, outstripping and outcompeting all other living plants. Currently, 10 patches of the killer alga have been sighted off the California coast, and they are being watched closely by the Southern California Caulerpa Action Team.
The U.S. government has placed this strain of C. taxifolia on the noxious weed list, which means that any possible source of contamination of the weed will be highly restricted. Shipments that contain any type of C. taxifolia and pass through an area where the variety is established, or thought to be established, will be refused entry.
1. Do you think this is really that big a deal?
2. Describe another instance in which an introduced species has become a problem for the existing ecosystem – could be in the area in which you live or anywhere else.
Destruction of Coral Reefs
Coral reefs are among the most biologically diverse and productive communities on Earth. Coral reefs tend to be found in warm, clear, and shallow tropical waters worldwide and are typically formed by reef-building corals, which are cnidarians. Aside from being beautiful and giving shelter to many colorful species of fishes, coral reefs help generate economic income from tourism, protect ocean shores from erosion, and may serve as the source of medicines derived from antimicrobial compounds that reef-dwelling organisms produce.
However, coral reefs around the globe are being destroyed for a variety of reasons, most of them linked to human development. Deforestation, for example, causes tons of soil to settle on the top of coral reef. This sediment prevents photosynthesis of symbiotic algae that provide food for the corals. When the algae die, so do the corals, which then turn white. This is called coral “bleaching”, and it has been seen in the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Evidence suggests that climate change is one of the factors that is leading to coral bleaching and death because corals can tolerate only a narrow range of temperatures. As global temperatures rise, so do water temperatures, and corals can die as a result. Global warming also contributes to favorable conditions for various pathogens that can kill corals, such as those similar to pathogens that cause cholera in humans. Increases in aquatic nutrients from fertilizers that wash into the ocean also make corals more susceptible to diseases, which can also kill them.
Scientists estimate that 90% of coral reefs in the Philippines are dead or deteriorating due to human activities such as pollution and, especially, overfishing. Fishing methods that employ dynamite or cyanide to kill or stun the fish for food or the pet trade can easily kill corals. Paleobiologist Jeremy Jackson of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama estimates that we may lose 60% of the world’s corals by the year 2050.
1. What features of coral reefs help explain why they are so biologically important?
2. Considering what is causing the loss of coral reefs, is it possible to save them? How?
Discussion7: Sharks Get a Bad Rap
Sharks Get a Bad Rap
After seeing motion pictures such as Jaws, Deep Blue Sea, and Open Water, many people curb their seaside activities in fear of a vicious shark attack. Indeed, the popular media have depicted the shark as an evil predator of the deep so many times that it takes extra courage to don a snorkel and vest and go to your favorite reef. But despite the shark’s reputation as a terrible killer, only 32 of the approximately 350 shark species have ever been known to attack humans. Sharks attack some 50–75 people each year worldwide, with perhaps 8–12 fatalities—far less than the number of people killed each year by elephants, bees, crocodiles, lightning, or many other natural dangers. Many people lack information about sharks, including their important role in the ocean ecosystem and their many other benefits to humans.
Sharks first appeared about 430 million years ago during the Silurian Period. They are classified in the class Chondrichthyes because their skeleton is made of cartilage. They also have jaws, paired fins, and paired nostrils. Shark habitats can range from shallow coastal areas to deep-water ocean floor habitats and even the open ocean itself. The most important aspect of sharks is their role in the marine ecosystem. As keystone predators, they help control many fish and marine mammal populations, and thus help keep the ecosystem healthy.
In addition, cultures around the world have found that nearly every part of the shark can be used: Its flesh can be eaten; the skin used as leather; the teeth made into jewelry and ornaments; oil extracted from the liver used for high-grade machine oil, vitamin A supplements, and ladies’ cosmetics; and the fins used for shark fin soup and animal treats.
Many parts of the shark have medical value as well. Its cornea has been used in eye surgery (since a shark’s cornea is similar to our own). Shark cartilage can be used to make artificial skin for burn victims. And after a rumor circulated that sharks do not get cancer, it was thought that something in the shark’s system must be a natural tumor suppressor. Thus, cancer researchers have studied sharks to determine why they are resistant to cancer in the hope of applying that information to people someday. In their search, they have settled on cartilage, the substance a shark’s skeleton is made from. Each year, an estimated 100 million sharks are killed for cartilage to be used in health supplements for people seeking alternative cancer cures. As a result, the massive sale of shark cartilage has now exceeded $25 million per year, and certain species have been placed on the international endangered species list.
1. What happens if you remove a keystone predator from a community?
2. Would you try a health supplement made from shark cartilage? Why or why not?
3. If sharks are going to be used/studied, how can they be protected so that their ecosystems remain in balance and they are not driven to extinction?