Discovered: Energy self-sufficiency could be just 18 years away; mutant amphibians spotted in Oregon; cow pee linked to antibiotic resistance; more plants won't curb carbon emissions.
U.S. energy independence comes into view. Presidents have been talking about how to sever our ties to insidious foreign oil for decades with no real feasible plan for making promises of energy independence a reality. But now that pipe-dream might actually be attainable, and as soon as 2030, according to the latest report from the International Energy Agency. Right now, the U.S. gets about 60 percent of its crude oil through imports, which is actually the lowest figure since 1995. Much of this rise in domestic oil comes from tapping shale reserves. And natural gas nets are up due to hydraulic fracturing. "The foundations of the global energy systems are shifting," says the IEA's chief economist Faith Bitol. Still, none of this addresses the question of what we'll do when the oil wells and natural gas reserves run dry. [Scientific American]
There are eight—count 'em, eight—legs on this frog. In a discovery that's somehow even more freakish than Blinky the three-eyed fish from The Simpsons, University of Colorado-Boulder ecologist Pieter Johnson found an eight-legged frog in an Oregon pond. Johnson has been studying amphibian malformations since 1996, discovering mutant creatures in 17 states so far. Environmental changes in frog habitats have been making them more vulnerable to infection, which means we're likely to see more of these octo-limbed freaks. The Ribeiroia ondatrae flatworm causes the extra legs, making cysts break out in young tadpoles that result in development problems. These multi-limbed creatures have trouble fending off predators and finding food for themselves, which worries Johnson because amphibians are, he says, "the most threatened group of vertebrates on the planet." [High Country News]
Could cow pee be spreading antibiotic resistance? Antibiotic resistance is one of the our most looming health concerns, with MRSA infections and certain strains of tuberculosis now immune to the drugs we've previously thrown at them. One theory about where this resistance comes from has to do with livestock, which are pumped with 80 percent of all antibiotics in the United States (they have to be overmedicated like this since industrial meat production pens animals so close together, often in unsanitary conditions). As the effects of antibiotics wear off in livestock, we may become more resistant to antibiotics too. Washington State University researcher Murugan Subbiah and colleagues have now discovered that cow urine can help spread antibiotic resistance by killing normal strains of E. coli while leaving drug resistant forms of the bacteria unharmed. [Discover]
We can't just plant a bunch of trees to reduce carbon emissions. We have too much carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere, but plants absorb carbon dioxide, so why don't we just plant a bunch of them to offset the emissions? Nice try, but it won't work, according to researchers from the American Meteorological Society and the University of California, Berkeley. They've found that plants and soils actually release more carbon dioxide as their climates warm. "We have been counting on plants and soils to soak up and store much of the carbon we're releasing when we burn fossil fuels," says co-author Paul Higgins of this vicious feedback loop. "Our results suggest the opposite possibility. Plants and soils could react to warming by releasing additional carbon dioxide, increasing greenhouse gas concentrations and leading to even more climate warming." [American Meteorological Society]