TIME nature

Beachgoers Beware: The Great White Shark Population Is Growing Again

Great White Sharks
Greg Skomal—AP This undated photo provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows a great white shark encountered off the coast of Massachusetts

There are over 2,000 living off the coast of California alone, according to recent studies

New research suggests that the population of great white sharks off both coasts of the U.S. is growing again after years on the decline.

One report ventures that there are over 2,000 great whites living off California — 10 times the amount estimated by a recent Stanford University study. On the other side of the country, scientists haven’t been able to conclude an exact population size, but estimations suggest that the sharks in the Atlantic are rebounding, after a significant drop in the 1970s and 1980s because of commercial shark fishing.

The upswing is likely the result of wildlife-preservation efforts over the past two decades, although conservationists are hesitant to celebrate the news. For one, the great white belongs to a group of aquatic species that typically struggle to recover from sharp declines in population. What’s more, their generally reclusive behavior often requires scientists to rely on guesswork when keeping tabs on them — and a dearth of historical information doesn’t help

“They’re back on the way up, but to be honest, I don’t think any of us know what ‘up’ is,” George Burgess, a Florida-based researcher, told Live Science. “The fact is, we have no real idea what [the population] was before we started screwing around with the environment on both coasts.”

TIME Food

Eat More Gluten: The Diet Fad Must Die

Yum, right? Well, eat up!
Getty Images Yum, right? Well, eat up!

For more than 93% of the world, gluten is perfectly fine. But marketers don't mind a bit if we all think otherwise

If you’ve got a hankering to make some money, now might be a good time to trademark a brand name for gluten-free salt. If they’re all taken, try gluten-free sugar or gluten-free water. And if they’re gone too, well, there’s still gluten-free shoes.

What’s that? None of those things had gluten to begin with? Well neither did Chobani yogurt or Green Giant vegetables or a whole lot of other foods that have nothing at all to do with wheat or rye or barley—where gluten lives—yet shout about that fact all the same in order to catch a ride on the no-gluten train before the latest nonsensical health fad pulls completely out of the station.

Gluten is to this decade what carbohydrates were to the last one and fat was to the ’80s and ’90s: the bête noir, the bad boy, the cause of all that ails you—and the elimination of which can heal you. As has been clear for a long time, and as the Wall Street Journal reports today in a splendid and about-time piece, a whole lot of that is flat-out hooey, a result of trendiness, smart marketing, Internet gossip and too many people who know too little about nutrition saying too many silly things.

Gluten is not entirely without blame in this, and for some people it comes by its nasty rep rightly. Celiac disease—an immune reaction to gluten that damages the small intestine—is a very real thing, affecting between two and three million Americans. Gluten ataxia is a scarier condition that attacks the brain, leading to problems in gait and muscular control. I’ve seen that up close, in a now-8-year-old nephew who exhibited terrifying symptoms at age 2 and today must avoid foods that contain wheat, barley and rye, as well as any pots or utensils that have come in contact with them, at least until he is done growing and his brain is through developing. Another 18 million Americans may have some lesser forms of gluten sensitivity that cause intestinal discomfort but no damage.

So, crunch the numbers and what do we get? Perhaps 1% of Americans definitely need to be gluten-free and another 5.7% ought to be careful. As for the other 93.3% of us. Break out the Parker House rolls.

But that’s not how things are working out. It’s not clear just when talking heads and bloggers caught the gluten fever, but once they started buzzing about how avoiding the stuff can help you lose weight, fight infertility, overcome fatigue, treat diabetes and—again and always—reduce the symptoms of autism, there was no going back. The website Glutenfree.com offers tips on “Preparing Your Gluten-Free Kitchen,” “Going Gluten-Free For the New Year” and, for nutritionists, “Empowering Clients in Their Gluten-Free Lifestyles.” There’s also “The Gluten-Free Guide for Guys,” because…well, who knows why.

But here’s one reason, at least for marketers: gluten-free is big money. As the Journal reports, U.S. sales of products carrying the gluten free label jumped from $11.5 billion to $23 billion in just the past four years. General Mills alone has added 600 such products to its inventory since 2008, when it first marketed its gluten-free line of Chex cereals. But while the manufacturers are getting rich on the craze, consumers might be getting sick. Not only will gluten-free products do you no good if you’re not gluten-sensitive, taking out the offending ingredient requires replacing it with something else for texture or taste. A whole range of products, including spaghetti, pancake mix and potato chips, therefore have less fiber and protein and more sugar and sodium in their gluten-free formulation than in their supposedly less healthy one.

As a representative of the Center for Science in the Public Interest told the Journal: “The gluten-free fad has actually undermined people’s health because now there are gluten-free varieties of all that junk food. Whether your doughnut is gluten-free or not, it’s still a doughnut.”

The anti-gluties will surely tell you they feel better, fitter, more energetic, that their withdrawn child has suddenly blossomed and that their man—following the Guide For Guys—is healthier and happier. But the placebo effect—even the placebo effect by proxy, seeming to see better health in someone else—is a very real thing. Most of the time, however, it has nothing to do with the perceived cause.

Food fads are nothing new, and they do run their course. Eventually, the gluten-free cookbooks will wind up in the same river of pop detritus as the no-carb wines and the fat-free cookies and the crock pots and fondue sets and woks everyone in America seemed to buy at once in 1988 and stopped using sometime around 1989. When that happens, the people with celiac or gluten ataxia or genuine gluten sensitivity will still have to wrestle with their illnesses, while everyone else returns happily to their baguettes—searching for the next big thing to exorcise.

TIME space

NASA’s Curiosity Rover Takes Selfie to Mark First Year on Mars

NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover captures a selfie to mark a full Martian year -- 687 Earth days -- spent exploring the Red Planet.
NASA/JPL NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover captures a selfie to mark a full Martian year -- 687 Earth days -- spent exploring the Red Planet.

NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover will complete its first Martian year on June 24th. The rover took a ‘selfie’ to commemorate its 687-day stay on the Red Planet — Earth days, that is.

Curiosity made some groundbreaking findings in its first “year” on the planet. In Aug. 2012, Curiosity succeeded in its main mission, to determine if Mars ever harbored the environment to support microbial life. The Curiosity rover drilled into the Martian Gale Crater, in the Yellowknife region, finding a former lakebed containing what NASA called “essential elemental ingredients for life.”

This spring, the rover spent its time collecting sandstone samples in Windjana, an area south west of the original Bradbury Landing site. The rover will continue moving south west towards Mount Sharp, its final destination.

TIME social anxiety

This Is the Brain Circuit That Makes You Shy

Using a new light-based technique, scientists trace the nerve network that lights up when mammals meet

What do you do when you want to study something as complicated as what happens deep in the brain when two strangers meet? You develop a completely new way of tracking nerve connections, and then you test it in mice.

That’s what Dr. Karl Deisseroth, a professor of psychiatry and bioengineering at Stanford University, and his colleagues did. “We know social behavior is complicated, but to be able to delve into the brain of freely behaving mammals and to see the signal in real time predicting their social interaction was very exciting,” says Deisseroth, who published his results in the journal Cell.

Brain researchers have long known that certain chemicals known as neurotransmitters soar or drop depending on what we’re doing and how we feel. Based on these observations, drug companies have developed an armada of medications aimed at mimicking these changes to treat everything from depression, hyperactivity and even social anxiety or shyness. But there’s a difference between observing hormone levels rising or falling and identifying a specific circuit — among the millions that occur in the brain — responsible for how we feel and whether we are friendly at a first meeting, say, or a little more reserved. Studying those circuits has been challenging because scientists simply couldn’t get real-time information about which nerves were firing, and where, when certain behaviors, such as a meet and greet, occurred.

(MORE: The Upside of Being an Introvert (and Why Extroverts Are Overrated))

Deisseroth solved that problem. Using optogenetics and fiber photometry, he was able to tag specific nerves in the brain with light-receptor molecules and connect them to ultra-thin fibers that were tied to a switch. Flip the switch on, and the cells were stimulated; turn it off and they quieted down.

Deisseroth and his team hooked up their show to cells that operated on the brain chemical dopamine. When they turned the system on, the cells would release dopamine, and when that happened, the mice showed more interest in investigating newcomers dropped into their cage — they sniffed, they explored and they engaged. When the dopamine activation was turned off, however, the mice made little effort to acknowledge or investigate the intruder.

(MORE: Study: Nearly 1 in 8 Shy Teens May Have Social Phobia)

While manipulating the social interactions of mice is fascinating in itself, Deisseroth sees his findings as being potentially helpful in treating mental illnesses. The fact that he was able to isolate a single circuit that affected something as complex as social behavior suggests that manipulation of deep brain circuits might be a promising way to treat, or modulate behavior in people as well. What if, for example, it became possible to dampen the social aversion that affects some children with autism? If they could interact with people more comfortably, it might be possible to modulate the other symptoms of their developmental disorder. Or what if hyperactivity could be dialed down? Or depression’s darkest moods lightened in the same way?

Deisseroth stresses that we’re far from even speculating how such therapies might be used, but the possibility that deep brain circuits might be tapped to affect behavior is promising. In the meantime, says Deisseroth, “We know these things are complex. The brain is so mysterious, and psychiatry is so mysterious, so our job for a long time will be to deepen understanding of these complex circuits. If that’s the only thing that comes out of this, that would still be great.”

TIME space

Here’s the ‘Magic Island’ That Appeared in Space

coverimg3
NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/University of Arizona/Cornell Titan's methane cycle is strikingly similar to Earth’s hydrologic cycle and the only other one known to include stable bodies of surface liquids, such as this north polar sea Ligeia Mare. The Cassini mission has characterized Titan’s surface liquid inventory and Ligeia Mare is now known to have a mixed composition of methane, ethane, and dissolved nitrogen. The sea appeared quiescent throughout the 90 Kelvin north polar winter, but on July 10th, 2013 transient features were discovered, shown in the red circle. Dynamic phenomena are expected to occur with increased frequency and intensity as the 2017 northern summer solstice approaches and will afford Cassini the opportunity to begin characterizing the nature of energetic processes in these alien seas. The July 10th, 2013 image is overlaid on the April 26th, 2007 image to fill a gap in the upper left corner. All of the images have been modified for aesthetic appeal and are shown in false colour.

Saturn's moon Titan is now known to be dotted with oceans and seas

So China thinks it’s something special for building new islands in disputed waters in the South China Sea? Well back off, Beijing, because Titan’s got you beat. (And relax, we’re not talking about the ICBM that used to go by that name.) We’re talking about the second largest moon in the solar system and one of the niftiest places humans have never been—but our machines have.

Titan belongs to Saturn’s family of moons, and before the arrival of the Cassini spacecraft in the Saturnian system in 2004, scientists had long suspected that like Earth, Titan might be dotted with oceans and seas. Unlike Earth’s oceans, they wouldn’t be filled with liquid water—which would be awfully hard to manage with a surface temperature of -290°F (-180° C)—but liquid methane and ethane. Cassini’s radar mapping has proven that the oceans indeed exist, and they’re every bit as dynamic as the ones on Earth, as confirmed by a new study, just published in Nature Geoscience, announcing the discovery of a new island in Ligeia Mare, Titan’s northern sea. The astronomers describe their discovery drily as a “transient feature,” which is in the nature of scientists. The Internet has dubbed it a “magic island,” which is in the nature of the Internet.

Whatever you call the island, it is thought to be the result of Titan’s approaching summer solstice. The resulting increase in solar heating can lead to waves, bubbling and other kinds of churn that expose previously immersed land masses. Nobody pretends the island is much to see, but the fact that it’s there at all is undeniably cool—and the fact that NASA has a machine on-site to document it is immeasurably cooler.

TIME Environment

We Need to Ditch Our Filthiest Source of Energy: Coal

A Massachusetts Water Resources Authority wind turbine turns beside a 2002 megawatt fossil fuel power plant in Charlestown
Brian Snyder—Reuters A Massachusetts Water Resources Authority wind turbine (R) turns beside a 2002 megawatt fossil fuel power plant in Charlestown, Massachusetts June 2, 2014. The wind turbine powers the MWRA waste water pumping station at that site and the power plant uses natural gas and oil.

Global warming is a terribly complex problem. It’s really a slew of problems: carbon problems and methane problems, electricity problems and fuel problems, sprawl problems and deforestation problems, supply problems and demand problems. We waste too much power, we eat too much meat, we drive too much, we fly too much, we plug in too many gadgets, and we get way too much of our energy from fossil fuels. The expansion of energy options in the developing world, a godsend for billions of people, will further complicate many of those problems.

It can all seem overwhelming. But for the next decade or so, America’s main challenge is relatively simple, because our biggest problem is also our most solvable problem. That problem is coal. It’s our filthiest source of energy, producing one fourth of our emissions and three fourths of our emissions from electricity, despite producing less than 40 percent of our electricity. We need to burn a lot less of it.

This is why President Obama’s new effort to limit carbon emissions at power plants is so important—and, as I wrote last week, so potentially disappointing. Coal provides our best opportunity for major short-term emissions cuts; our coal plants have already slashed generation by 20 percent since 2005, and another 10 percent of the U.S. coal fleet is already scheduled for retirement. But Obama’s Clean Power Plan only envisions a 30 percent overall drop in coal power from 2005 levels by 2030, which would barely move the needle. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy did suggest to me that her agency’s proposed regulations will do much more than than her agency’s forecasts imply, but there’s not much in the Clean Power Plan that would suggest a major crackdown on coal.

Instead, the EPA projects that we would still get more than 30 percent of our power from coal in 2030. That would be a catastrophe. Coal plants emit twice as much carbon as natural gas, and infinitely more carbon than wind, solar, nuclear and other zero-emissions sources of power. They are also public health nightmares, fouling our air with mercury, soot, and other toxics, shrouding cities in smog and triggering asthma attacks among children. And the coal we burn in our power plants—unlike the petroleum we burn in our vehicles—can be easily and inexpensively replaced without changing our behaviors or disrupting our economy.

Carbon math can be daunting. We need to cut emissions 80 percent by 2050 to stop the broiling of the planet. We need to make serious headway much sooner than that to have any chance of success. Unfortunately, we’re nowhere close to ending our addiction to oil for transportation. Farm-grown fuels like corn ethanol are an eco-disaster, and cost-effective advanced biofuels are still years away. Electric vehicles are incredibly exciting, but they’re still a tiny slice of the U.S. auto fleet, and their batteries, although getting cheaper, are not yet mainstream cheap. Obama’s fuel-efficiency standards have helped our cars and trucks guzzle less gasoline, just as his energy efficiency standards have helped our light bulbs and appliances slurp less power, but reducing our demand in a growing economy is a slow and gradual process.

But we already have cleaner and cheaper alternatives to coal for electricity. Over the last several years, a fracking revolution has unlocked a glut of inexpensive natural gas, while a clean power revolution has made renewables cost-competitive, producing 90 percent of the new generating capacity in the first quarter of 2014. Even fossil-fuel-friendly Republican states like Oklahoma and Texas are replacing aging coal plants with wind, while Georgia and Idaho are replacing coal with solar—not to save the earth, but to save ratepayers money. As these clean alternatives get much cheaper, it’s getting much costlier for coal to comply with Obama’s tighter EPA rules on pollution from mercury and particulates, while fledgling technologies that could help coal plants capture and store their carbon underground have remained stubbornly expensive. Meanwhile, new EPA rules are coming on coal ash and ozone. Electric utilities facing multi-billion-dollar decisions about installing new pollution control equipment have to be wondering whether coal has a viable long-term future.

Tougher carbon rules would help persuade them the answer is no and accelerate the transition to clean power. We ought to get the coal challenge out of the way, so the market can start to address new challenges, such as cheaper storage that will help renewables produce the non-stop power that coal provides now. It’s true that much of the developing world is even more reliant on coal than we are, but we can help lead the world away from the dirty stuff. And the global situation is not as hopeless as some suggest. For example, China’s notorious coal boom is slowing dramatically; its annual growth in coal consumption has dropped from 18 percent to 3 percent in a decade, and its leaders are now pushing efficiency, solar and wind.

In the long run, we are going to need all kinds of disruptions to solve our climate problems. We’ll need cleaner cars, greener lifestyles, denser cities, carbon taxes. We’ll need technological breakthroughs and more aggressive deployment of the clean technologies we already have. But coal has already been disrupted. Its only remaining advantages are politics—even the Obama administration feels pressure to show it isn’t fighting a war on coal—and inertia. For executives of utilities with coal plants, the path of least resistance is to maintain the status quo and delay the inevitable day of reckoning. The best thing we can do for the planet is make sure the reckoning happens now.

TIME Design

WATCH: The Science Behind the World’s Biggest Wooden Roller Coaster

Whether you can't get enough of them or can't go near them, roller coasters rely on some pretty nifty tricks of physics and design.

Your brain wants nothing to do with roller coasters—and for a wonderfully simple reason: your brain would very much like you to stay alive. So anything that’s designed to haul you up to the top of a very steep incline, drop you straight down, very fast, and repeat that process over and over again for a minute or two is something that elicits a simple, highly adaptive response in you—which pretty much involves running away.

That, at least, is how it’s supposed to work, but your entire brain isn’t in on the game. There are also thrill-seeking parts, adventurous parts, parts that like the adrenaline and serotonin and endorphin kicks that come from roller coasters. So while millions of people avoid the things, at least as many millions swarm to them, looking for ever bigger, scarier rides and ever bigger, better thrills. This summer they’ll get their wish, thanks to the opening of the appropriately named Goliath roller coaster, the biggest and fastest wooden coaster ever built, which just took its inaugural runs at the Six Flags Great America amusement park in Gurnee, Ill., about 50 miles north of Chicago.

Goliath is destined to be a tourist magnet, a cultural icon—at least until another, even bigger one comes along—and a lot of fun for a lot of people. But it’s also a feat of engineering and basic physics. And if you’re the kind of person who enjoys that sort of thing while hating the idea of actually ever riding on roller coasters—the kind of person I’ll describe as “me,” for example—there’s a lot to like about Goliath.

Modern roller coasters typically come in two varieties, wooden ones and steel ones—known unimaginatively if unavoidably as “woodies” and “steelies”—and coaster lovers debate their merits the way fans of the National and American Leagues debate the designated hitter rule.

Steelie partisans like the corkscrews and loop-the-loops made possible by the coasters’ bent-pipe architecture. Woodie fans prefer the old school clack-clack and the aesthetics of the entire structure. What’s more, plunging into and soaring through all the wooden bracing and strutwork necessary to keep the thing standing increases the sensation of speed because stationary objects that are close to you when you’re moving at high speed seem to whiz past so fast they blur. Steelies leave you more or less moving through open space, and that eliminates the illusion.

Goliath moves at a top speed of 72 mph, achieving that prodigious feat with the aid of a very simple fuel: gravity. As in all roller coasters, its biggest, steepest drop is the first one, because that’s the only way to generate enough energy to propel you through the rest of the ride—which is made up of steadily shallower hills. In the case of Goliath, that first hill is 180′ tall (55m), or about the equivalent of an 18-story building. The drop is an almost-vertical 85 degrees.

As test pilots and astronauts could tell you, such rising, falling, corkscrewing movement creates all manner of g-force effects. Most of the time we live in a familiar one-g environment. Climb to 2 g’s in a moving vehicle of some kind and you feel a force equivalent to twice your body weight. The maximum g’s Goliath achieves is 3.5. Get on the ride weighing 150 lbs., and for at least a few seconds, you’ll experience what it’s like to weigh 525 lbs.

But g forces can go in the other direction, too. With many roller coasters, the forces bottom out at about 0.2 g’s during downward plunges, meaning your 150 lb. one-g weight plummets to 30 lbs. That can give you a feeling of near-weightlessness. It’s also possible to achieve 0 g in a dive, which is how NASA’s famed “vomit comet” aircraft allow astronauts to practice weightlessness. On the Goliath, things go even further, with riders experiencing a force of minus 1 g.

“That means you’d be coming out of your seat,” says Jake Kilcup, a roller coaster designer and the chief operating officer of Rocky Mountain Construction, which designed and built Goliath. To ensure that that doesn’t happen, the Goliath cars are equipped with both lap bars and seat belts.

Though Goliath is made of wood, it does feature two so-called inversions—or half loops that take you to the top of a climb, then deliberately stall and plunge back down the same way. One includes a “raven turn,” or a twist in the track that turns the cars briefly upside down.

Even this much wouldn’t be possible on a wooden coaster if not for what Rocky Mountain calls its “Topper” track technology—a sort of hybrid of wood and metal. Most of the beams in the Goliath superstructure are made of nine laminated layers of southern yellow pine, steam-bent in stretches that call for curves and then kiln-dried. But the track itself also includes hollow metal rails running the entire 3,100 feet (or nearly a full kilometer) of the ride. The cars all have main wheels that sit on the rails as well smaller upstop and guide wheels that lock the cars to the tracks and keep them going where they’re supposed to.

“The Topper track gives a smoother ride than you get on an all-metal track,” says Kilcip, “and makes the overall roller coaster stronger than an all-wooden one.”

All that technology provides a relatively brief ride—just 87 seconds long, which is not atypical for roller coasters. For plenty of people, that’s way too short—which is what Six Flags is banking on to keep the turnstiles spinning. For plenty of other people, it’s precisely 87 seconds too long. And you know what? I’m not—um, I mean, those people aren’t—the slightest bit ashamed to admit that.

TIME Opinion

Jenny McCarthy Doubles Down on Deadly

McCarthy's ad may have been pulled but the images have gone viral
McCarthy's ad may have been pulled but the images have gone viral

The legendary anti-vaxxer becomes an e-cig peddler, once more endangering children

Jenny McCarthy is apparently determined to be present at the birth of every possible bad idea. Let’s pretend–pretend—for a moment that there was anything at all to the dangerous junk McCarthy has been peddling in falsely linking vaccines to autism and a host of other ills. Presumably her goal would be to protect children, to keep them safe and well.

And so what does McCarthy now propose to do with that generation of kids whose welfare she’s ensured? Why, hand them over to the tobacco companies, of course.

In a jaw-dropping bit of make-a-bad-thing-worse reputation management, McCarthy appeared in a cringe-inducing commercial for blu eCigs—which has since been pulled from the company’s website—peddling the increasingly popular product. Shot in what is meant to be a club, McCarthy appears in a skimpy dress with a silent piece of beef-cake by her side, going on about the virtues of e-cigs, including the fact that “I can whip out my blu without scaring that special someone away—know what I’m sayin’?”

But here’s the thing McCarthy isn’t sayin': e-cigs are way, way too young a product for anyone to be able to say with certainty how safe or how dangerous they are. They may well be a gateway out of smoking for some people, a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes. But they may certainly be a gateway in too—particularly for kids.

A study of electronic cigarette advertising from June through November of 2013 by the American Legacy Foundation found that Lorillard Tobacco Company’s blu brand spent more on marketing than “all other brands combined,” and that blu’s advertising was the most commonly viewed by teenagers, “with 73% of 12- to 17-year-olds exposed to blu’s print and TV ads.”

Worse, as my colleague Eliza Gray reported, advertising for e-cigs jumped 256% from 2011 to 2013, and more than 1.78 million middle school kids have tried them. No surprise since “last year 14 million kids saw ads for electronic cigarettes on TV [and] 9.5 million saw them in print.” And with e-cig brands sold in sweet tooth flavors like cherry and vanilla, it’s hard to pretend they’re not being marketed directly to consumers with immature palates—otherwise known as, you know, children.

At this week’s hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, e-cig makers got blowtorched by lawmakers who had already been through the lies and obfuscations from tobacco executives denying their deadly products were addictive, and are now hearing the same dissembling from the new generation of nicotine peddlers. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) was the most blistering, saying, “I’m ashamed of you. I don’t know how you go to sleep at night.”

It’s impossible to say how they do, but Jenny McCarthy, if her own words are an indicator, sleeps like a baby. “Now that I’ve switched to blu I feel better about myself,” she said. As the legendary U.S. Army counsel Joseph Welch might have put it, at long last, Jenny, have you left no sense of decency?

TIME Environment

The White House Wants to Save the Bees

Exchange Busy Beekeeper
Mara Kuhn—AP Beekeeper Alan Clingenpeel shows the inside of a bee hive in his apiary at his home on May 23, 2014 in Pearcy, Ark.

New initiative will combat the decline in pollinators

The White House created a new task force Friday to study and combat the recent precipitous decline in the number of bees in the United States.

The Pollinator Health Task Force will also undertake efforts to increase public awareness of the issue and boost conservation partnerships between the public and private sectors. “Given the breadth, severity, and persistence of pollinator losses, it is critical to expand Federal efforts and take new steps to reverse pollinator losses and help restore populations to healthy levels,” President Barack Obama wrote in a presidential memorandum.

The President’s announcement comes in response to a problem with grave implications for farmers and consumers. At least 90 commercial crops harvested in North America rely on honey bees including nuts, fruits, and vegetables, according to a White House fact sheet. Pollinators also have a profound economic impact: They contribute more than $24 billion dollars to the U.S. economy.

The plan announced on Friday, which includes measures to research the issue and develop pollinator habitats, marks the latest step in the White House’s attempt to address the the decline. The President requested $50 million to combat the program in his 2015 budget proposal.

TIME CDC

Here’s What You Need to Know About the Anthrax Accident

A microscopic picture of spores and vegetative cells of Bacillus anthracis which causes the disease anthrax.
Reuters A microscopic picture of spores and vegetative cells of Bacillus anthracis which causes the disease anthrax.

Researchers handling the deadly bacteria may have been exposed when the bugs were not deactivated properly

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Thursday that 86 of its staff members in Atlanta are being monitored for possible anthrax exposure.

Scientists at the facility routinely study the bioterror agent, which is classified at “Biosafety Level 3,” meaning it can cause fatal infections and is transmitted easily by inhalation.

Bacillus anthracis occurs naturally in soil and can infect wild and domestic animals, who can transmit the bacteria to humans. In the U.S., livestock are routinely vaccinated against anthrax, which keeps the number of domestic outbreaks low. Once inside the body, anthrax produces toxins that can be fatal if left untreated. Because the spores are microscopic and can be mixed into powders or liquids and into the food supply, the biggest threat of anthrax infection may come from bioterrorists. In 2001, spores were sent in the mail to political leaders and members of media, and five of the 22 people who were exposed, including postal service workers, died.

The CDC’s Level 3 facility can only be accessed through a set of double, self-locking doors that prevent air from escaping the lab into the outside environment. All workers must wear gowns, gloves, protective eye equipment and, often, respirators. Any work with the bacteria is done under a “hood,” which protects workers with a clear shield. So how did the workers get exposed?

MORE: Anthrax: A Medical Guide

According to the CDC, proper procedures to “deactivate” the anthrax when leaving the lab were not followed. The workers handling anthrax were properly protected, but they passed the bacteria on to other labs that had lower safety requirements. Several days after the transfer, when the original plates of bacteria were thrown out, technicians noticed that anthrax was still growing on some of them. The building was closed and decontaminated, and officials continue to test air samples for presence of the bacteria.

“CDC believes that other CDC staff, family members and the general public are not at risk of exposure and do not need to take any protective action,” the agency said in a statement.

Intravenous antibiotics can counteract the bacteria, and antitoxins can neutralize the poison. The CDC staff who might have been exposed are currently taking antibiotics and being monitored for symptoms of infection.

CDC leadership is investigating the incident to determine why proper deactivation procedures for the anthrax were not followed.

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