Podcast: Guardian’s glyphosate hysteria debunked; Intensive farming and pandemics; Where did dogs come from?


here’s probably minute quantities of weedkiller in your urine. Should you panic? No. Will technological advances in farming reduce or amplify the risk of another pandemic? A new study offers some helpful insights. Finally, we’re getting closer to pinning down the evolutionary origins of modern dogs.

Join geneticist Kevin Folta and GLP contributor Cameron English on episode 178 of Science Facts and Fallacies as they break down these latest news stories:

A recent study found that 80 percent of people have detectable levels of glyphosate in their urine. The result set off a media firestorm, led by Guardian contributor Carey Gillam, a longtime critic of the widely used weedkiller. News reports emphasize just how “disturbing” the study’s result was, but none of the media coverage appropriately contextualized the data. Should we really be worried that small quantities of glyphosate show up in our urine?

Environmental groups routinely assert that “industrial” farming could unleash another pandemic by committing additional land to agriculture and herding domesticated animals in confined spaces. This combination, viruses say, boosts our exposure to exotic animals and the harbor and encourages their spread among animals we raise for food production. While this threat is real, it has been exaggerated as part of an effort to oppose technological advances in farming. In fact, it is those innovations that will help us prevent the next pandemic.

It’s well known that dogs are descended from gray wolves, though their ancestry is much more complicated that we thought, according to research just published in Nature. The authors examined 72 genomes from ancient wolves going back 100,000 years and compared these with genomes of the dog breeds we keep as pets today. Conclusion: dogs are most similar to ancient Siberian wolves, but they are likely descended from two different wild populations, one from Asia and the other from Europe.

The results suggest that humans domesticated dogs before the advent of agriculture, but an important question have yet to be answered. “We still can’t tell whether there were two independent domestication events followed by merging of those two populations, or if there was just a single domestication process, followed by mixing from wild wolves,” Dr Anders Bergström, first author of the research at the Francis Crick Institute, told The Guardian. Future research will have to pin down the geographical origins of modern dogs, he added.

Kevin M. Folta is a professor, keynote speaker and podcast host. Follow Professor Folta on Twitter @kevinfolta

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