Saturday, 24 February 2018

Enough to Make You Turn Veggie?


It's somewhat worrying to read that nearly two thirds of meat plants in England, Northern Ireland and Wales have been in breach of safety regulations following Food Safety Agency inspections (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/23/fear-of-uk-meat-scandal-as-data-shows-hygiene-breaches-at-most-plants). This amounts to 16 major failings (a mixture of temperature control problems, potential cross-contamination and traceability issues) a week. This might mean that we have to worry about the safety of 'fresh' meat products and we still can't be certain that the 'beef' isn't horse flesh. Reportedly, four different UK companies have now withdrawn meat they would normally be supplying to pub and restaurant chains. It is useful that the breaches are being identified (rather than remaining hidden) but some authorities have suggested that the financial support of food safety inspections is under considerable pressure in the UK. Perhaps chlorine-washed chicken and hormonally-treated beef are not the only areas of concern for British meat-eaters?

Friday, 23 February 2018

Worldwide Swap Shop?


There has been on interesting development in the Seychelles where $22m of national debt (largely owed to European countries) has been exchanged by The Nature Conservancy (who purchased the debt at a 'knock-down' price) for the creation of 2 enormous additional marine parks (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/feb/22/debt-for-dolphins-seychelles-create-huge-new-marine-parks-in-world-first-finance-scheme). The corals in the area had been suffering from bleaching and there was growing evidence of over-fishing endangering stocks of marine animals (including dolphins). Basically, 15% of the Seychelles waters are to become protected marine parks with 7,400,000 hectare area around Aldabra and a 13,400,000 hectare location around Mahe. This seems to be a win-win situation for most folk as the planet gets important conservation areas, the locals can forget servicing the debt as well as getting improvements that might well aid tourism and the Europeans get some of their money back. The only groups that seem worried about the development are people with livelihoods in fishing (but experience suggests the parks could restock the fish in accessible areas). It actually seems good news to me and might well be fruitfully copied elsewhere!

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Kept on Ice


Scientists from the British Antarctic Survey are apparently rushing to the site of the calving of the A68 iceberg to examine an ecosystem that has been hidden under the ice for more than 120,000 years (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/feb/20/scientists-race-to-explore-antarctic-marine-life-revealed-by-giant-iceberg). The iceberg is reportedly 4 times the size of London and is detaching from the Larsen C ice shelf. It will be interesting to see what organisms have managed to live (and evolve?) in such a hostile environment but the magnitude of changes in sea ice in the Antarctic is somewhat worrying.

Demented Drinkers?


It is not unreasonable to suspect that there might well be a strong impact of heavy alcohol ingestion on the risk of developing vascular dementia and/or Alzheimer's disease. A study, based on a French national hospital database, collected between 2008 and 2013, on more than a million patients diagnosed with dementia (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/feb/20/chronic-heavy-drinking-leads-to-serious-risk-of-dementia-study-warns) has suggested that more than one third of the 50+k patients with early onset dementia were heavy drinkers. This is, of course, a correlation rather than absolutely establishing causation but the connection might even be stronger, as getting accurate levels of alcohol ingestion from people is notoriously difficult (family members as well as principals are likely to routinely under-report alcohol intake). Sadly, the article concludes a) that periods of abstinence do not repair the neural damage induced by heavy drinking and b) there may be no real 'safe' level of alcohol intake.

Seeing the Changes 1252


A male Early moth (Theria primaria) made an appearance in Loughor.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Irritatingly Resilient Old Fogies


'Superagers' are old folk who show remarkably preserved cognitive functions when in their 80s and older (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/feb/19/scientists-unravel-secrets-of-superagers). Such individuals cope well with the stresses of life and are generally more extrovert and less neurotic than the general population. It is only a correlation at the present time, but a US post-mortem study of the brains of 10 superagers has revealed that this organ has a much higher proportion of special Von Economo neurons (also found in the brains of long-lived mammals like the elephant) than their contemporaries (or even much younger people). This is especially so in an area, called the anterior cingulate, that is implicated in attention and working memory. Their cognitive thinning rate is also remarkably reduced. Other studies suggest that superagers can evidence protein plaque in their brains without accompanying dementia and even smoke and drink without obvious negative consequences. It seems that such folk 'got lucky' in genetic roulette.   

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Which Half and Who Will Decide?


An article in the UK press asks the bold question "should we give up half the planet to other species?" (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/feb/18/should-we-give-half-planet-earth-wildlife-nature-reserve). Certainly, anthropogenic effects are having catastrophic effects on wildlife throughout the entire globe and the idea of 'giving up' 50% of the Earth to become a gigantic nature reserve is superficially attractive. Presumably, we are talking here about half of the planet's entire surface, as both terrestrial and marine habitats are in need of some TLC. It might be superficially a nice idea to people currently living a fairly comfortable and sheltered existence but I can't see the suggestion having any real currency because a) it would require the approval and cooperation (with compensation?) of all the peoples on the planet; b) where the protected (human-free?) areas would be located would have to be decided (by experts?); c) humans and animals are unlikely to stay in 'their' locations (it doesn't even work for current small scale reserves); d) people currently exploit animals and plants for gain in many ways (eating them, using them as 'medicines', providing decoration and generating 'pets) and e) we already know that human influences (e.g. plastics and  'greenhouse gases') spread over the entire planet from current concentrations of our species. It looks to me as if we are stuck with the current mechanisms for conservation with all their inherent inadequacies and lack of scope!

Enough to Make You Turn Veggie?

It's somewhat worrying to read that nearly two thirds of meat plants in England, Northern Ireland and Wales have been in breach of...