Scientists Make ‘Critical’ Find on Honeybees, Herbicide

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Animals don’t seem to be harmed by the world’s most widely used weedkiller, but bees apparently don’t fall under that protective umbrella. “This is really critical,“ one entomologist tells Science of a new study showing the digestive system of honeybees (and possibly other bees as well) may be adversely affected by glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup. Until now, the herbicide had been thought “innocuous” to animals because it targets an enzyme only plants and microorganisms produce. Now, however, it seems glyphosate also messes with the gut microbiome—the bacteria found in creatures’ intestines that protects against “opportunistic pathogens”—which can ultimately make bees more vulnerable to infection, per the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

To test the herbicide’s effects, biologist Nancy Moran’s team fed 2,000 bees a sugar syrup, some laced with glyphosate. The bees that ingested the glyphosate mixture ended up with significantly lower levels of the gut bacteria Snodgrassella alvi. In later tests, just 12% of the glyphosate bees survived infection by an invasive bacteria; 47% of the non-herbicide-eating bees lived. The Guardian, meanwhile, cites previous research that found glyphosate seemed to have detrimental effects on honeybee larvae survival and on bees’ cognitive functioning. Moran notes the S. alvi bacteria spits out a chemical that may be a fighter against other, invasive bacteria; it may also offer a protective shield by lining the gut wall. Per the Guardian, a Monsanto rep insists: “Claims that glyphosate has a negative impact on honeybees are simply not true.“

His $1M Math Solution Isn’t Going Over Well

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Michael Atiyah is an acclaimed mathematician who has won some of the top prizes in his field, and he now claims to have cracked a 159-year-old problem called the Riemann hypothesis. If he’s right, Atiyah wins even more acclaim—plus a $1 million prize. But before the bubbly is cracked, the 89-year-old has to convince fellow mathematicians of his feat, and they sound very skeptical. The details:

  • The announcement: In a speech in Germany Monday, the retired University of Edinburgh mathematician said he had found a “simple proof” of the problem. “Nobody believes any proof of the Riemann hypothesis because it is so difficult,“ he said, per Live Science. “Nobody has proved it, so why should anybody prove it now? Unless, of course, you have a totally new idea.” Atiyah says he does.
  • The actual problem: The hypothesis, put forth by mathematician Bernhard Riemann in 1859, involves the distribution of prime numbers—hence its nickname of “the riddle of the primes.“ Riemann thought he figured out a pattern, and his formula works for the first 10 trillion solutions. Impressive, but that still means it’s “unsolved,“ per the Clay Mathematics Institute, which gets into the mathematical nitty gritty. Anyone who can prove the hypothesis to infinity will collect a $1 million Millennium Prize award from the institute.
  • Hang on: “What (Atiyah) showed in the presentation is very unlikely to be anything like a proof of the Riemann hypothesis as we know it,” Jørgen Veisdal of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology tells Science. “It is simply too vague and unspecific.” But Veisdal said he has to study the written proof in order to be sure.
  • Similar note: New Scientist also talks to mathematicians and describes the reaction as one of “cautious skepticism.“ Few would comment publicly, perhaps out of fear of offending Atiyah.
  • Spotty record: Atiyah won the Fields Medal in 1966 and another top math award, the Abel Prize, in 2004, but Science notes that he’s had a spottier record in retirement. He announced in 2016 that he’d solved another famous math problem, but his proof eventually fizzled. The same thing happened the following year with another famous problem.
  • 2-year rule: Atiyah is aware of the skepticism and fine with it. “People will complain and grumble, but that’s because they’re resistant to the idea that an old man might have come up with an entirely new method,“ he says. Nor was he taking full credit: He says his proof his based on the work of mathematicians John von Neumann and Friedrich Hirzebruch. To collect the $1 million prize, Atiyah needs to have his proof published in a reputable math journal and have it be widely accepted two years after publication.
  • Simpler answer: Perhaps it’s 42?

Once Thought Great Idea, Artificial Tire Reefs Now Leaking Toxins

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Divers in France are removing what was considered a great idea in the 1970s and 1980s: an artificial reef made up of thousands of old tires. More than 25,000 tires were sunk off the coast of the French Riviera to create a habitat for marine life, but fish avoided the area and the tires were found to be leaking toxic chemicals, the BBC reports. “Grouper fish, conger eels, and sea bream swim around them, but no species really got used to it,“ Denis Genovese, head of an association of local fishermen, tells AFP. Tire manufacturer Michelin is partially funding the operation. Similar projects are being reversed in other parts of the world, including Florida, where storms have dislodged many of the 2 million tires dropped in bundles off the coast of Fort Lauderdale in the 1970s.

They Spent Millions on a Hat That Could Be Worth Nothing

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It could be a $6.5 million hat—but it might also not be. WBEZ reports that the crown jewel of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum’s collection, Lincoln’s stovepipe hat, one of just three thought to still exist, may not have belonged to the 16th president after all. Two reports obtained by the station found insufficient evidence to tie it to Lincoln. One was a 2013 report penned by top curators with the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and Chicago History Museum who sought to establish its historical provenance: The Springfield, Ill., museum had maintained that Lincoln gave the hat to an Illinois farmer in 1858, though a century later a descendant said the hat was given in 1861 during a visit to DC. The report found “the current documentation is insufficient” to support either story and suggested the museum “soften its claims” or even try to return the hat.

It was acquired in 2007 as part of a mammoth $25 million purchase of Lincoln items by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation, which runs separately from the museum. The foundation in 2014 asked the FBI to see if DNA analysis could establish a tie to Lincoln. It relied on DNA from Lincoln’s hair and blood-spattered items from his assassination but found a “limited quantity of remaining DNA data” in the hat; most of what it recovered “was consistent with being contemporary DNA from an individual who had recently handled the item.“ The story gets thornier: Alan Lowe—the museum’s executive director since July 2016, per the Chicago Sun-Times—only recently learned about the reports, a timeline that he called “unacceptable” in a letter to the foundation. The foundation itself is mired in financial troubles tied to its 2007 buy, which currently has it $9.7 million in debt.

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