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Sarasota sea life massacre

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According to this story, the red tide currently floating off the coast of Sarasota "has not killed fish or caused respiratory problems on Siesta Public Beach, Sarasota County's biggest tourist beach."

Um, wrong.

There were hundreds, maybe even thousands, of dead fish on that particular beach yesterday -- mostly the ones in the cell-phone pic above, but also some pufferfish (pictured after the jump) and pinfish. About an hour up the road, snook have also been dying, apparently because of an underwater explosion. We think it bears repeating: It's hard out there for a fish.

By the way, the toxin involved in some red tides has a long and storied history involving, among others, Richard Nixon and the CIA. Find out about it here, or after the jump.

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A more insidious aspect of the colourful history of saxitoxin has to be its involvement in covert government operations and in chemical warfare. Saxitoxin is about 1000 times more toxic than a typical synthetic nerve gas such as sarin, and it is perhaps not surprising that in the 1950s, the CIA began experimenting with it, reportedly using it in suicide capsules provided to its agents (notably U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers).

In 1970, President Nixon ordered the CIA to destroy its entire stock of saxitoxin, painstakingly collected over several years, as part of the US commitment in accordance with the United Nations agreement on biological weapons. Nowadays, saxitoxin and ricin are the only two natural toxins classified as Schedule 1 Chemical Warfare Agents. However, in 1975 William Colby, the CIA Director, revealed to Congress that they still possessed over 10 grammes of the material in downtown Washington. Luckily, this supply of saxitoxin was eventually distributed to scientists and medical researchers under the auspices of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

In connection with this, STX, like many other naturally occurring toxins, has been an indispensible tool in medical research. It is a potent and extremely selective sodium-channel blocker, having no effect on potassium or calcium channels, or the flux of chloride ions, or indeed on acetylcholine release (whereas other marine toxins have similarly selective effects on these aspects of nerve function). Saxitoxin has been used for the labelling, characterisation and isolation of various sodium channel components, and this has opened up new avenues for the study of various nervous disorders.

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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science
6 Radiant Facts About Irène Joliot-Curie
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Though her accomplishments are often overshadowed by those of her parents, the elder daughter of Marie and Pierre Curie was a brilliant researcher in her own right.

1. SHE WAS BORN TO, AND FOR, GREATNESS.

A black and white photo of Irene and Marie Curie in the laboratory in 1925.
Irène and Marie in the laboratory, 1925.
Wellcome Images, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

Irène’s birth in Paris in 1897 launched what would become a world-changing scientific dynasty. A restless Marie rejoined her loving husband in the laboratory shortly after the baby’s arrival. Over the next 10 years, the Curies discovered radium and polonium, founded the science of radioactivity, welcomed a second daughter, Eve, and won a Nobel Prize in Physics. The Curies expected their daughters to excel in their education and their work. And excel they did; by 1925, Irène had a doctorate in chemistry and was working in her mother’s laboratory.

2. HER PARENTS' MARRIAGE WAS A MODEL FOR HER OWN.

Like her mother, Irène fell in love in the lab—both with her work and with another scientist. Frédéric Joliot joined the Curie team as an assistant. He and Irène quickly bonded over shared interests in sports, the arts, and human rights. The two began collaborating on research and soon married, equitably combining their names and signing their work Irène and Frédéric Joliot-Curie.

3. SHE AND HER HUSBAND WERE AN UNSTOPPABLE PAIR.

Black and white photo of Irène and Fréderic Joliot-Curie working side by side in their laboratory.
Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Their passion for exploration drove them ever onward into exciting new territory. A decade of experimentation yielded advances in several disciplines. They learned how the thyroid gland absorbs radioiodine and how the body metabolizes radioactive phosphates. They found ways to coax radioactive isotopes from ordinarily non-radioactive materials—a discovery that would eventually enable both nuclear power and atomic weaponry, and one that earned them the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935.

4. THEY FOUGHT FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE.

The humanist principles that initially drew Irène and Frédéric together only deepened as they grew older. Both were proud members of the Socialist Party and the Comité de Vigilance des Intellectuels Antifascistes (Vigilance Committee of Anti-Fascist Intellectuals). They took great pains to keep atomic research out of Nazi hands, sealing and hiding their research as Germany occupied their country, Irène also served as undersecretary of state for scientific research of the Popular Front government.

5. SHE WAS NOT CONTENT WITH THE STATUS QUO.

Irène eventually scaled back her time in the lab to raise her children Hélène and Pierre. But she never slowed down, nor did she stop fighting for equality and freedom for all. Especially active in women’s rights groups, she became a member of the Comité National de l'Union des Femmes Françaises and the World Peace Council.

6. SHE WORKED HERSELF TO DEATH.

Irène’s extraordinary life was a mirror of her mother’s. Tragically, her death was, too. Years of watching radiation poisoning and cancer taking their toll on Marie never dissuaded Irène from her work. In 1956, dying of leukemia, she entered the Curie Hospital, where she followed her mother’s luminous footsteps into the great beyond.

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Live Smarter
You Can Now Order Food Through Facebook
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iStock

After a bit of controversy over its way of aggregating news feeds and some questionable content censoring policies, it’s nice to have Facebook roll out a feature everyone can agree on: allowing you to order food without leaving the social media site.

According to a press release, Facebook says that the company decided to begin offering food delivery options after realizing that many of its users come to the social media hub to rate and discuss local eateries. Rather than hop from Facebook to the restaurant or a delivery service, you’ll be able to stay within the app and select from a menu of food choices. Just click “Order Food” from the Explore menu on a desktop interface or under the “More” option on Android or iOS devices. There, you’ll be presented with options that will accept takeout or delivery orders, as well as businesses participating with services like Delivery.com or EatStreet.

If you need to sign up and create an account with Delivery.com or Jimmy John’s, for example, you can do that without leaving Facebook. The feature is expected to be available nationally, effective immediately.

[h/t Forbes]

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