News That Matters

11/03/2023 ---- 18/03/2023

Air pollution may hinder the reproduction of insects and drastically lead to population decline

Fruit flies reproduce through sexual reproduction, which involves the fusion of gametes from male and female fruit flies. Female fruit flies select their mates through the scent of their pheromones. Mating typically involves a brief courtship ritual. The male attempts to convince the female to mate by performing a series of behaviours such as wing vibration, leg tapping, and genital licking. Once the male has successfully mated with the female, he deposits a package of sperm, called a spermatophore, into the female's reproductive tract. After mating, the female fruit fly begins laying eggs on suitable food sources, such as rotting fruit or vegetables. She can lay up to 500 eggs during her lifetime, with each egg developing into a larva that undergoes several moults before pupating and eventually emerging as an adult fruit fly.

Environmental factors, such as temperature, humidity, and nutrient availability, highly influence the reproductive cycle of fruit flies. A recent study published in the journal Nature Communications led by Markus Knader, a researcher of evolutionary neuroethology at the Max Plank Institute, shows that ozone pollution can disrupt the male's ability to emit their characteristic odour (pheromones) therefore posing a threat to how successfully fruit flies and other insects reproduce. Scientists tested nine species of Drosophila fruit flies by exposing half the males from each species to ambient air and half to an atmosphere with ozone levels at 100 parts per billion. Average industrial ozone levels are roughly 40 parts per billion, but regions like India, China or Mexico experience magnitudes as high as 210 parts per billion. They found the males exposed to higher ozone levels started emitting fewer pheromones. As a result, they had trouble attracting female partners. Insect pheromones are based on chains of molecules latched together by two carbon molecules. Still, ozone can break up these carbon bonds and dissolve the pheromone strings. The effect in nature is likely to be amplified, as ozone is just one of many environmental pollutants that can do this.

It is essential to highlight that in the lab, it does not matter whether the male has to wait one or two minutes longer to mate. Still, in the field, there is a lot of selection pressure. The flies must be efficient, so they must give everything to find the female as soon as possible, copulate and fertilise her eggs before a predator kills them. What fruit flies are experiencing could be happening for several other insects, including moths, ants, or pollinators like bees, who not only mate but also communicate and coordinate their colonies and nests with unique pheromone signatures.


The banking system is under intense pressure in the stock market worldwide

At its core, a financial crisis is a sudden and severe disruption in the normal functioning of the financial system. It can be triggered by various factors, from excessive borrowing and risky investments to market bubbles and regulatory failures. Whatever the cause, the impact can be devastating, with millions of people losing their jobs, homes, and savings. The most recent crisis is often called the 2008 global financial crisis. A severe economic downturn started in the United States and quickly spread to other countries. The crisis was triggered by a combination of factors, including the housing bubble, subprime mortgage lending, and the widespread use of complex financial instruments. When the bubble burst and many mortgages began to default, it led to a credit crunch, a severe contraction in lending, and a deep recession. The crisis had far-reaching consequences, including widespread job losses, foreclosures, and a long-lasting impact on the global economy.

The global banking system has weathered many storms over the years, but the next crisis may be just around the corner. As economies worldwide continue to struggle with the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the banking system is hit particularly hard by rising interest rates. Last week, on Friday, March 10, a well-known institution - the Silicon Valley Bank, SVB - collapsed within a few hours. SVB was one of America’s 20 largest commercial banks, with $209 billion in total assets at the end of last year. It is now under the control of the US Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation after it could not pay back customers who withdrew their deposits. The collapse of SVB had a knock-on effect, with the four largest US banks losing more than $50 billion in market value. Bank shares in Asia and Europe also fell sharply on Friday. In an extraordinary action to restore confidence in America’s banking system, the Biden administration on Sunday guaranteed that customers of the failed Silicon Valley Bank will have access to all their money starting Monday. In a related action, the government shut down Signature Bank. Recently, this regional bank has been teetering on the brink of collapse. Signature’s customers will receive a similar deal, ensuring that even uninsured deposits will be returned to them Monday.

Although the prompt action of the US government has reinsured investors to some extent, in recent days, the stock market value of most banks in the US and EU has seen a steep downturn. A bank that is particularly under pressure is Credit Suisse. In 2021, Credit Suisse faced significant financial losses due to its exposure to the collapse of Archegos Capital Management and the Greensill Capital scandal, resulting in a sharp drop in its stock market value. The recent events added further pressure, and the value of the shares dropped by nearly 40% in the last month. Similarly, HSBC has seen a drop of more than 10%, Barclays and UBS about 17%, and Goldman Sachs 18% in the last month. Hopefully, this will not be the beginning of a new global crisis for which new unknown dynamics may be unveiled.


Oscars were assigned last night in Los Angeles

The 95th edition of the Oscar, one of the most highly anticipated events in the entertainment industry, occurred last night, March 12th, in Los Angeles to honour the best movie releases of the year. The most nominated film was "Everything Everywhere All at Once", which won seven awards, including best picture. The manic multiverse fantasy about a fractured family swept up in an interdimensional adventure also saw wins for best actress, best director, best-supporting actor, best supporting actress, best editing and best original screenplay. Michelle Yeoh has become the second woman of colour to win the best actress Oscar following in the footsteps of Halle Berry back in 2002. "For all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibility," she said before adding: "Ladies, don't ever let anyone tell you you are past your prime." Ke Huy Quan was named the best supporting actor for his role in the film, beating out Barry Keoghan and Judd Hirsch. He has become the first Vietnam-born actor to win an Oscar. "Mom, I just won an Oscar!" he said tearfully. "They say stories like this only happen in the movies. I cannot believe this is happening to me." It was the first time multiple Asian actors won Oscars in the same year. Jamie Lee Curtis was also named best supporting actress triumphing over Angela Bassett and Kerry Condon. The price of the best actor went to Brendan Fraser for his lead role in "The Whale", beating out Austin Butler and Colin Farrell. Netflix's German war epic "All Quiet on the Western Front" brought home four awards: international feature film, original score, production design and cinematography.