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Science & Health

Anacondas Born to ‘Virgin Mother’ at Boston Aquarium

Anna, a female green anaconda that has lived most of her life in an all-female enclosure at the New England Aquarium, has given birth.

The anaconda produced 18 snakes in early January. A DNA test has confirmed that the births were a result of a nonsexual reproduction process known as parthenogenesis, or “virgin birth,” according to the aquarium.

Parthenogenesis commonly occurs in the plant world and among animals without a backbone, but is rare among vertebrates. The process has been documented only among lizards, birds, sharks and snakes.

The phenomenon involving Anna is the second known confirmed case of parthenogenesis for a green anaconda. The first was at a British zoo in 2014.

Only two of Anna’s 18 offspring have survived.

Aquarium staff said the young snakes are clones of their mother. Limited genetic sequencing shows complete matches on all the sites tested.

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Science & Health

Scientists: Chile’s Southern Patagonia Ice Field Ruptured by Climate Change 

Chile’s 12,000 square kilometer (4,633 square mile) Southern Patagonia Ice Field split in two and is likely to continue to fracture amid climate change, according to a team of Chilean scientists who were in the region in March.

Gino Casassa, chief of the Snow and Glacier Division of Chile’s DGA water authority, told Reuters increasing temperatures along the Andes Mountains in southern Chile and Argentina have meant less snow and ice to replenish the region’s abundant glaciers.

“What occurred is a fracture as the ice has retreated, Casassa said.

The chunk of ice that split off from the main glacier was estimated at 208 square kilometers (80.3 square miles), a relatively small part of the ice field.

But Casassa said it may be a sign of things to come.

The ice field, he said, is now “split in two, and we’ll likely discover further divisions to the south,” he said.

Two icebergs broke off the Grey Glacier in southern Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park earlier this year, adding to fears that such ruptures are becoming more frequent.


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Economy & business

Trump ‘Honored’ to Provide US Farmers with $16 Billion in Aid 

President Donald Trump says he is “honored” to give U.S. farmers hurt by the trade war with China another $16 billion in aid. 

Flanked by potato growers, ranchers and dairymen in the White House, Trump said Thursday the aid “will help keep our cherished farms thriving and make clear that no country has a veto on America’s economic and national security.”

Trump added that trade has been “very unfair” to the farmers who he says support him politically.

This is the second multibillion-dollar bailout the Trump administration has provided to U.S. farmers who have seen Chinese markets for their products dry up because of tariffs China imposed on U.S. goods to retaliate for U.S. tariffs on Chinese products. The White House gave farmers $12 billion last year.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue says farmers should see the first installment of the new $16 billion in aid in July or August. Perdue said he doubts if the United States and China can reach a trade deal by then.

Most of the money will go to farmers who grow and sell such crops as soybeans, corn, peanuts and wheat. Money will also be set aside to buy excess products from the farmers and send them to schools and food banks.

“I can’t recall a president more concerned about farmer well-being. We are working hard to assess trade damages and this package ensures farmers will not bear the brunt,” Perdue said.

While Trump said Thursday that many farmers told him he is “doing the right thing,” some trade experts call the bailout a political ploy and say farmers are more concerned about winning back the lost Chinese market.

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Science & Health

East Africa Closer to Banning Hydroquinone Skin-Lightening Products

East African countries are set to ban skin-lightening products that contain hydroquinone, a medical agent linked to health problems when used in high concentrations. The East African Legislative Assembly last week passed a resolution calling for a region-wide ban on the manufacturing and importation of products containing hydroquinone.

At a beauty parlor in Arusha, 52-year-old Rose Mselle has been using skin-bleaching products since she was a teenager. She says women like her want to be beautiful

“And in the process of looking for beauty, or for our skin color to shine, we use things that we shouldn’t,” she added.

At a nearby market, 32-year-old clothing vendor Janet Jonijosefu used skin-lightening products that contain hydroquinone, a medical agent used to treat dark spots, for years. She stopped after her skin became fragile.

She said the beauty products containing hydroquinone badly affected her skin. She started developing patches on her face. She went to the doctor and was advised to stop using products containing hydroquinone and instead use aloe vera.

Skin-lightening products often use high concentrations of hydroquinone, which can cause skin problems or become toxic when mixed with other bleaching chemicals.

Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, and South Africa ban or regulate the agent in cosmetics. Tanzania bars imports. 

The East African Legislative Assembly last week passed a resolution on a region-wide ban of hydroquinone’s manufacture and importation.

Suzan Nakawuki, a member of the regional assembly from Uganda, noted that hydroquinone is not only used by women but also men.

“We have seen men bleaching seriously even more than women,” she said. “But it’s becoming a problem. If we don’t regulate it, it is going to become very problematic.”

When used medically, hydroquinone can be an effective treatment for skin discoloration. Some East African lawmakers spoke out against a blanket ban.

Aden Abdikadir, a lawmaker from Kenya, said he is concerned a blanket ban  will cause “serious trade disruption” for cosmetics.

If signed by heads of state, the ban becomes law in all six East African Community states, which include Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.

Critics point out bans on hydroquinone have failed to stop smuggled products from being sold openly. Cosmetics labeled as having hydroquinone are on display at shops in Arusha.

If bans are not backed by enforcement, they will have little effect on the use of the high demand skin-lightening products, despite the risk to health.

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Science & Health

WHO Certifies Algeria, Argentina Free of Malaria

The World Health Organization has certified Algeria and Argentina as malaria-free, following three consecutive years where no new cases of the deadly disease have been reported. 

The malaria parasite, which kills more than 400,000 people each year, was discovered in Algeria in 1880. Most of the victims are children under the age of five in Africa.

The World Health Organization reports Algeria is the second country in Africa to be recognized as malaria-free after Mauritius, which was certified in 1973. Argentina is the second country in South America, after Paraguay, to be declared malaria-free.

A combination of many factors has made the achievements possible, according to WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib.

“It is very good news for Algeria and Argentina, but also for the two continents and globally also,” Chaib told VOA. “It means that malaria can be beaten. But the efforts should continue because we need also to enhance surveillance to be able to detect if any cases of malaria are still present in the country.”

WHO says the two countries eliminated malaria by employing a number of basic, well-proven measures, including insecticide-treated mosquito nets. It says both countries improved surveillance, which enabled them to rapidly identify and treat new cases of malaria. In addition, the two countries provided free diagnosis and treatment within their borders.

In the case of Argentina, WHO says cross-border collaboration with its neighbor Bolivia was critical in combating the disease. It says both countries teamed up to spray more than 22,000 homes in border areas and to conduct widespread malaria testing.

WHO says Algeria’s and Argentina’s unwavering commitment, perseverance and success in combating malaria should serve as a model for other countries.

Both Algeria and Argentina have succeeded in ridding themselves of the deadly malaria parasite without the benefit of a vaccine. Health officials are hopeful this task becomes easier with the recent rollout of the first promising malaria vaccine in Ghana and Malawi.

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Science & Health

Mass Cleanup of Italian Beaches Planned for Weekend

Every year, 8 million tons of waste suffocate beaches and sea beds, says Italy’s environment league, Legambiente. Its Beach Litter report issued this week revealed that more than 80 percent of the waste found on 93 beaches was plastic. 


A mass cleanup is planned next weekend, involving thousands of volunteers on 250 beaches and coastal sites. Legambiente, which organized the effort, also urged the government to approve the Salvamare (Save Our Seas) bill that would allow fishermen to bring to shore any plastic that ends up in their nets, without having to pay for disposal costs.

Greenpeace Italy sounded its alarm this week when a young sperm whale washed ashore on a Sicilian beach with plastic in its stomach. Giorgia Monti, campaign manager for Greenpeace, said five sperm whales had beached in the last five months in Italy. She could not confirm whether plastic was the cause of the death of the last whale found, but said it was very likely.

“The sea is sending us a cry of alarm, a desperate SOS,” Monti said.

Later this month, Greenpeace is launching an effort to monitor plastic pollution levels at sea, with a focus on the west coast of Italy. 


To stem the tide of plastic waste, initiatives have been spearheaded across Italy. Among new technology to combat pollution in many Italian ports are filters called sea-bins, which are active 24 hours and able to capture more than 1.5 kilograms of plastic daily. 


While campaigners say much more needs to be done, some tourist resorts have banned the use of non-recyclable plastic and fine violators. 


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Arts & Entertainment

Cricket Fans in Pakistan Turn to Night Matches in Ramadan

During Ramadan, when many in Muslim-majority Pakistan do not eat or drink during the day, sports enthusiasts turn to night games. For years, amateur cricketers in the capital, Islamabad, used empty roads or local play grounds — any open space with lights — to fulfill their passion. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem shows how informal tournaments are flourishing.

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Arts & Entertainment

Belgian Monks, Israeli Researchers Tackle Ancient Beer-Brewing Traditions

A Belgian abbey is reviving its centuries-old tradition of beer-making after 220 years. The monks at Grimbergen Abbey are using ancient recipes to offer specialty beers in their new microbrewery. Meanwhile, researchers in Israel have made beer with yeast from jars that are thousands of years old. Beer is one of the oldest beverages, but producers are making new and attractive brews. As VOA Zlatica Hoke reports, there is a growing interest in traditional beers and the history of brewing.

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