The Ultimate Summer Pest Gets Modified

As summer for many of you has already kicked off, you’re probably spending more time outside doing fun things; I know I am! However, perhaps like me, you’re adventures in nature include being munched on by mosquitoes. Ahh, the joys of summer!

After an escape into the woods by my house, I was covered in those annoying bites and sat down at my computer to catch up on the news. One article jumped out at me as I sat, scratching away. A team of HHMI researchers have just successfully genetically engineered mosquitoes by altering the way they respond to odors, like the smell of humans and the insect repellent DEET. These new findings pave the way to our understanding why the insect is so attracted to humans, and hopefully how to block that attraction so that they don’t bite us!

Yes, mosquito bites are annoying, so putting an end to the itchy welts would be great, but even more importantly, mosquitoes are disease-vector insects. Thus, in 2007, scientists began researching. They announced to the world later that year that they had completed the full genome sequence of Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that transmits dengue and yellow fever.

A year later, HHMI researchers took the sequence and shifted their focus from Drosophila flies to mosquitoes with the specific goal of genetically engineering the insects. They first looked toward something they found ten years previously in flies: a gene called the orco which affects how some insects interact with smell. They injected a genetic modification tool called zinc-finger nucleases into mosquito embryos, waited for them to mature, identified mutant individuals, and generated the newly mutant strains.

Amazingly enough, these new strains had significantly different reactions to smell! When regular mosquitoes were given a choice between a human and any other animal, they happily buzzed toward the human. But the mosquitoes with orco mutations showed hugely reduced preference for the smell of humans over guinea pigs, even in the presence of carbon dioxide, which is thought to help mosquitoes respond to human scent!

The next step was for the team to test whether the mosquitoes with orco mutations responded differently to DEET. When presented with two human arms (one covered in DEET and the other completely bare) the mosquitoes flew equally toward both arms, which suggested they couldn’t smell the DEET. However, once they landed on the arms, those on the DEET covered arm flew immediately away. This was unheard of data, and the team went back to work.

Today the HHMI team is still at work trying to provide insights into how existing repellants work against mosquiotes, then plan to start brainstorming ideas about what a next-generation, possibly genetic, repellant would look like. Until they figure this out however, we all will have to deal with the pesky insects and their bites.

Summer Fever

Woohoo! School’s out! I know everyone is excited about what they are going to do over the summer. Maybe you’ll go camping with your family or go to the mall with your friends, and some of you guys might get a head start on all that summer homework.

Whatever it is, remember that helping the environment is still a main priority. No matter where you are, you are surrounded by air. Here are a few summer fever + helping the environment tips to keep in mind!

1. Keep hydrated! Instead of buying plastic bottles, get a reusable one!
2. Don’t want to hold onto your wrappers while camping? Don’t throw them on the ground–find a trash can!
3. Travel clean! Instead of taking the car for short distances, try the bike (you don’t need to pay for the gas!). Heck, you could even walk if you wanted to!
4. Going to the mall to meet up with friends? Try carpooling, it’s much more fun.
5. Plan your errands to avoid going around in circles to save gas and time.
6. Recycle all and everything you can! Trying to get rid of all the notes and tests from your classes? Recycle!
7. Improve energy efficiency. Instead of cranking up the AC, buy your own fan. Don’t turn on the lights in the morning and afternoon, there’s plenty of sunlight so pull up those curtains! And don’t forget to turn off and unplug stereos, radios, and televisions when leaving the house.
8. Don’t spend 1 hour in the shower. I repeat: no 1-hour showers! As tempting as it sounds to cool off in the summer, cut down the water usage to about 15 to 25 minutes.
9. For those who are doing summer homework on their computer, make sure to turn off and take off the power supply after work. And try using eBooks and soft copy versions of books before printing hundreds of pages out!
10. Plant a garden (or tree, which ever you prefer).
11. Collect rain water for use in garden and watering plants.
12. Not going anywhere special? Find local communities that are helping out with the environment (it’s a great way to get community service hours too).

 

OnAir says: So what’s your planet-saving list for the summer? Let us know in the comments! And whatever you do, don’t forget to log those AirCreds!

Atlanta’s Best Kept Secret

It’s summertime again, or maybe finals time, if you are like me. Honestly, I am to the point where my brain is feeling simply fried and I absolutely need to unwind, but I also need to study and kind of want to have some summer fun, too. There is only one true solution to all of these problems…. Its about time I shared with you what may be Atlanta’s best park.

Grant Park is absolutely a fairytale. Its ancient trees make it shady and cool when it starts to warm up around here, but you can also always find a sunny spot on its rolling hills, where you can lay out a blanket of a towel and hit the books or catch a nap.

I should also mention that it is generally very empty. It is not eerie, or creepy, like you might find in some smaller parks, but it is peaceful. On some days it is so quiet you can even hear the lions roaring in the nearby zoo. That’s right, I wasn’t kidding when I said fairytale.

The park isn’t trying to “make a buck” on you either. If you want to splash in the park’s pool as the city slowly starts turning into “Hotlanta,” you can do it for free from 1:30 PM until 4:00 PM; prime swimming time.

Not only that, but as many of you many know the famous (or infamous, depending on how you look at it) Peachtree Road Race is rapidly approaching, and if you or a friend/ family member is looking for somewhere to train, don’t hit the gym, hit the park! Grant is very well known among runners for being great for light hill conditioning and varied terrain. Plus, it’s downtown, so you can get used to running in the city, and outdoors.

Of course you are probably busy, but there is no way, especially in the up and coming summer months, that you will be too busy to visit Atlanta’s most underrated park. It is about time for some “you” time, and time you checked out Atlanta’s best kept secret, Grant Park.

 

[Image source]

Go Green–and Go Outside

Summer vacation is ALMOST HERE! Time to run around, roll in the sand at the beach, eat loads of ice cream, go to the park, and picnics…we love picnics.

Or you could be the one barricaded at home with the air-conditioner on, playing video games. And not showing off your tan because you don’t have one.

Air-conditioner = waste of energy. Especially if you can be outside and actually enjoying your summer vacation. So don’t stay cooped up this summer–go green by going out! Here are some suggestions:

  1. Have a picnic. All you need is a cooler (replaces the fridge), sunlight (replaces the light in your kitchen) and sandwiches (replaces the oven/stove). You’re set.
  2. Go tanning at the beach. Why do you need to go to a energy-hogging tanning salon if you can just step outside and get a bronze-y glow? What’s that? You don’t have a beach near you? Just step outside; an hour or two in the sun will get you all the glow you need. But make sure to wear sunscreen with a decent SPF–that’s no joke.
  3. Play sports. You know, instead of going to the gym or working out at home. First off, it’s beautiful outside, so why wouldn’t you want to? Second, being in a gym or at home wastes electricity because of the lights and the equipment. Third, for goodness’ sake, you’re outside. And you’re getting tan. And you’re playing volleyball with your friends. Just go.
  4. Start a garden. This is the perfect weather to do so, and plants help out the environment and produce clean oxygen. And you’ll be outside getting tan. (How many times have I mentioned this now?)

 

Got any more eco-friendly suggestions for summer? Let us know in a comment below.

Photo credit: National Geographic

A Park Themed Vacation

Photo credit: National Geographic

The first half of summer is already over for most people, and the camps and time spent at the pool are starting to become mundane. Now it is about time to take the great family vacation, which can be the best or the worst part of the entire break.

On one hand, you may get to go somewhere new or cool, but on the other hand, you will have to share a room with your whole family for possibly a number of weeks, and you might not really enjoy the activities that your parents pick.

A good idea is to give a little friendly input about the trip. I’m not saying you will get to pick the location, but I bet your parents want you to have a good time on the trip, too. If they didn’t, then they wouldn’t pay the money to bring you along.

Probably one of the best suggestions you can make would be to spend part of your time outdoors. You won’t get cramped into small spaces with your baby brother, and you can pick from thousands of things to do. Each state has its own, very unique features, activities and scenery, but most importantly each state has its own national parks!

National parks are some of this country’s most underestimated sources of not just fun, but of beauty and wonder. The western national parks and forests in the United States will literally take your breath away. Pictures can’t even depict the magnificence of the natural world. Water is so blue it looks unreal. Trees are bigger than thirty houses, and pebbles shine like millions of diamonds.

No matter what state you are in, and no matter where you are in that state, a national park is never more than a car ride away, and is always more fun than anything your parents will think of. This summer, think whitewater kayaking in a river, not White Water rides.

This summer, think park themed, and not theme parks.

OnAir says: Wanna visit a national park, but not sure which one’s closest? Check out the National Park Service’s Find a Park page. Enter your location or just click on the map to find the park closest to you. Now go outside!

Greencation!

This summer, you and your family might be planning to go on a vacation or two. And while your parents will be making most of the decisions and reservations, etc., there are things you can do to help and remind them to have an eco-friendly trip!

If you’re staying at a resort of hotel, look for places that have a low impact on the environment, like campsites and green hotels.

Remember that air travel is a really big offender in the greenhouse gas department, so consider other modes of transportation like the train. If flying is a must, then check out frequent flyer miles so you can also track your carbon footprint. Some companies (like Sustainable Travel International) let you buy credits that put your money towards projects that aim to lower CO2 in the air.

A good thing to remember is to pack light, because carrying heavy luggage uses lots of energy. When out and about in the world, make sure to unplug your phone or laptop chargers when you’re not using them, because this also saves energy.

Wherever you may find yourself this summer, have fun and do what you can to save our planet, little by little.

Made in the Shade

Wow! I can’t believe it- summer is practically here! While school’s winding down, the weather is heating up, especially in Atlanta! In fact, this city has been known to reach temperatures of 110° Fahrenheit and above! So although it will be tempting to stay inside most days, or go everywhere in an air-conditioned car, I’m here to tell you some of the wonderful ways that being green is fun, especially in the summer! I’ve gathered a list of the best ways to stay cool this season, whilst having minimal impact on our environment.

1. Go to the pool! This is an obvious one. Pack your suit and sun block and you’ll be all set. But the hard thing is to find a nice pool that’s membership doesn’t break the bank! A lot of places can be really expensive. My strategy is to find places with public hours or go with friends that have memberships.

2.Hang at the park! It may not sound like a very cooling experience, but think about it- parks are full of trees! Trees provide shade and are good for the air. What’s not to love? Some great parks in my city include Piedmont Park, Grant Park and the brand new Old 4th Ward park.

3. Hydrate. Drink lots of water whatever you may be doing, because it helps regulate body temperature and helps you stay out longer in the heat.

What are some environmentally low impact ways you spend your summer? Think green; no gas, no waste, plenty of exercise.