Forgotten Nazi pesticide rediscovered — it was safer than DDT
For decades, Americans sprayed the notorious pesticide DDT all over their homes and fields. But it turns out we may have known about — and ignored — a safer alternative used by the Nazi regime.
- DDT, or dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, was an extremely popular pesticide during World War II up until the '70s, when it was banned.
- DDT was believed to be extremely safe, but it turns out this was only due to enthusiasm for the pesticide drummed up by its efficacy during World War II.
- Researchers have uncovered a far more effective pesticide that Allied forces wound up ignoring, in part because of its association with the German forces.
When DDT, or dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, first came into use as a commercial pesticide, it was hailed as "magic," a "miracle," as part of "the world of tomorrow." As crystals of DDT come into contact with their intended arthropod targets, they open up their neurons' sodium ion channels, forcing the neurons to fire uncontrollably and leading to spasms and eventual death. In many ways, DDT was a magical pesticide — unlike others, pests didn't have to eat it, they just had to come into contact with it; it kept working long after it had been applied; and it seemed harmless to humans and many other beneficial insects.
But nobody uses DDT anymore because it is very much not harmless to humans and other beneficial insects. It's incredibly toxic, and during World War II and the few years after it was applied liberally throughout American homes with no understanding of its overall environmental effects.
DDT's half-life ranges from 22 days to 30 years — that long-lasting effect that seemed to be a boon at first turned out instead to be a curse. Agricultural runoff ensured that DDT found its way into the bodies off a variety of fish, where it accumulated and then passed on to predators feeding on the fish. It broke down the eggshells of bird species, making it more difficult for them to reproduce. Because of this, the bald eagle was in serious risk of extinction prior to the 1972 ban of DDT. In humans, DDT lowers semen quality, makes spontaneous abortions more likely, and increases developing children's risk for autism.
Rediscovering a forgotten pesticide
A monofluoro analog of DDT, as seen through an optical microscope. Solid fluoridated forms of DDT killed insects more quickly than did DDT.
Xiaolong Zhu and Jingxiang Yang, NYU Department of Chemistry
Of course, DDT hadn't been universally accepted as a harmless wonder pesticide, but the general public was generally enthusiastic about its use. In part, this was because of its incredible efficacy in World War II.
Wars bring thousands of soldiers into close contact and forces unhygienic conditions. Malaria and typhus epidemics frequently lasted long after conflicts ended. In World War I's Eastern Front alone, for instance, typhus infected an estimated 30 million. During the war, 1.5 million soldiers would also become infected with malaria. Strategists were eager to jump on any solution that could be used to hold off the lice and mosquitoes that formed the war's deadliest fighting force.
So, despite potential environmental concerns, the short-term benefits of a pesticide made it a strategic necessity. Furthermore, DDT's costs were more acceptable during wartime, where casualties were expected and where the risk posed by pest-borne diseases were far higher than the risk posed by a toxic pesticide. Both sides knew this. However, the Germans didn't use DDT. Instead, they used fluorinated DDT, or DFDT.
But after the war, DFDT was relegated to the history books as an understudied, presumably less effective form of DDT. That is, until researchers from New York University stumbled across the forgotten chemical during their studies of crystallized insecticides.
"We set out to study the growth of crystals in a little-known insecticide and uncovered its surprising history, including the impact of World War II on the choice of DDT — and not DFDT — as a primary insecticide in the 20th century," said Bart Kahr, study co-author, in a statement.
Kahr and colleagues were surprised to discover that DFDT appeared to function more effectively than DDT, killing mosquitos up to four times faster. "Speed thwarts the development of resistance," said study co-author Michael Ward. "Insecticide crystals kill mosquitoes when they are absorbed through the pads of their feet. Effective compounds kill insects quickly, possibly before they are able to reproduce."
Not only does a faster-acting compound mean that mosquitos and other pests are less likely to reproduce and develop resistance, but it also means that less material needs to be used, potentially mitigating the environmental concerns that led to DDT's eventual ban.
Why the Allies forgot about DFDT
After World War II, Allied forces were skeptical of the German's claims regarding DFDT's faster action and reduced lethality to mammals. One particularly dismissive report read, "The German claims as to the superior insecticidal action of their [DFDT], in comparison to DDT, are not clearly supported by their meager and inadequate tests against houseflies." Selling DFDT to the public, too, would have been a difficult task. As World War II drew to a close, news was trickling in about how another German-made pesticide called Zyklon B was being used.
Thus, DDT became the pesticide of the 20th century, even despite Paul Müller, the chemist who discovered DDT's pesticidal capabilities, advocating for the use of DFDT in his 1948 Nobel Prize speech. While more research is needed to truly quantify DFDT's environmental impact, one can't help but wonder if the decades of environmental degradation wrought by DDT could have been avoided had we taken a closer look at its alternative.
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Credit: Gunawan/Nature magazine
Students who think the world is just cheat less, but they need to experience justice to feel that way.
- Students in German and Turkish universities who believed the world is just cheated less than their pessimistic peers.
- The tendency to think the world is just is related to the occurence of experiences of justice.
- The findings may prove useful in helping students adjust to college life.
The world is just? That’s news to a lot of people.<p>The study is the most recent addition to a long line of work focusing on the belief in justice, our behavior, and our reactions to evidence that might suggest injustice occasionally occurs. This study focuses on a personal belief in a just world, (PBJW) rather than a general belief in a just world (GBJW). The difference between them must be highlighted.</p><p>GBJW is the stance that justice prevails all over the world and that people tend to get what they deserve. PBJW is more focused on the individual's social environment and their belief that they tend to be treated justly. While several studies show PBJW correlates with a higher sense of well-being and a variety of other positive effects, a high GBJW is associated with less life satisfaction, negative behavior, and callousness towards the suffering of <a href="https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007%2F978-1-4939-3216-0" target="_blank">others</a>. This study controlled for GBJW, and focused on PBJW as much as possible. </p><p>To assure that culture was not a factor, the study included students at universities in both Germany and Turkey. </p><p>The researchers gave students at the four participating universities a series of questionnaires that asked if they ever cheated in class, if they perceived the world to be just, if they though that justice always prevailed everywhere, their tendencies towards socially appropriate behavior, their life satisfaction, and if they felt like they were treated justly by their teachers and fellow students. </p><p>The answers were statistically analyzed for relationships. While some of the connections seem trivially true, others were surprising. <strong></strong></p><p>PBJW turned out to only be an indirect predictor of if a student was likely to cheat. Both a belief in a just world and a lower likelihood of cheating were mediated by the justice experiences of the students, with more of these positive experiences lowering the rate of cheating and improving their belief in justice. This was also associated with higher levels of life satisfaction. </p><p>These effects existed across all demographics in both countries. </p>
What does this mean? Is a belief in justice a self-fulfilling prophecy?<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/6oMv-azHNCA" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p>In a way, it seems to be. People who have reason to think the world is just to them tend to interpret events in a way to sustain that belief and behave in a just manner. In a larger sense, the take away from this study is that experiences of justice, both from peers and instructors, is vital to student's wellbeing and understanding that the rules that exist about cheating are part of a larger, legitimate, system. </p><p>The researchers, citing previous studies on the perception of justice, note that "justice experiences (1) signal that university students are esteemed members of their social group, which in turn conveys feelings of belonging and social inclusion and (2) motivate them to accept and observe university rules and norms. These cognitive processes may thus strengthen their well-being and decrease the likelihood that they cheat."</p><p>The authors also suggest that if you want people (not only students) to act justly; consider treating them with "civility, respect, and dignity."</p><p>Sometimes, all it can take to help somebody act virtuously is to treat them well. Likewise, people treated harshly can rarely find reason to play by rules that don't protect them. The findings of this study will certainly add to the literature on how we perceive justice in the world around us, but might also help us remember that there are real consequences to our actions which can be much larger than we imagine. <strong></strong></p>
This could change how researchers approach vaccine development.
- The reason children suffer less from the novel coronavirus has remained mysterious.
- Researchers identified a cytokine, IL-17A, which appears to protect children from the ravages of COVID-19.
- This cytokine response could change how researchers approach vaccine development.
A member of staff wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) takes a child's temperature at the Harris Academy's Shortland's school on June 04, 2020 in London, England.
Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images<p>Experts don't want to place kids at the back of the line, regardless of how strong their immune systems appear. At least one company, Moderna, <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/coronavirus-vaccine-for-kids-moderna-plans-pediatric-trial-2020-9" target="_blank">hopes to begin testing</a> vaccines in pediatric volunteers by year's end.</p><p>Innate immune response is especially high during childhood (compared to adaptive immunity). This makes evolutionary sense: nature wants an animal to survive until its ready to procreate. Turns out the children in the study possessed high levels of cytokines that boost their immune response. The biggest impact is made by IL-17A, which appears to protect the youngest cohort from the ravages of the coronavirus. </p><p>While both age groups produced antibodies to fight off the infamous spike protein, adults that produce neutralizing antibodies actually suffer a <em>worse</em> fate. Herold says this "over-vigorous adaptive immune response" might promote inflammation, triggering acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). </p><p>This matters for vaccine development. As Herold says, </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Our adult COVID-19 patients who fared poorly had high levels of neutralizing antibodies, suggesting that convalescent plasma—which is rich in neutralizing antibodies—may not help adults who have already developed signs of ARDS. By contrast, therapies that boost innate immune responses early in the course of the disease may be especially beneficial."</p><p>Herold says current vaccine trials are focused on boosting neutralizing-antibody levels. With this new information, researchers may want to work on vaccines that boost the innate immune response instead. </p><p>With <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/science/coronavirus-vaccine-tracker.html" target="_blank">at least 55 vaccine trials</a> underway, every piece of data matters. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
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