Saturday, 27 August 2016

Milk of Human Kindness?


Studies have suggested that oligosaccharides (short chain sugars) in human and cow's milk reduce the viability of a meningitis-causing agent (Neisseria meningitidis) in in vitro studies (www.ncbi.nim.nih.gov/pubmed/16177210).  Some people have suggested that the sugars (contained in the milk of about 50% of humans) encourage 'friendly bacteria' that compete with the disease agent. This has already led to the sugars being sold as dietary supplements online.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Seeing the Changes 1111




Heavy rain at night, so Little japanese umbrellas (Coprinus plicatus) unfurled in Loughor. With the afternoon sunshine, Rampling fumatory (Fumaria capreolata) bloomed in Bynea.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Birder's Bonus 171



Bird activity around Mumbles Lifeboat. A rather knackered Gannet (Sula bassana) rested and 2 Rock pipits (Anthus spinoletta petrosus) busily worked the sea edge.                                                                          

Monday, 22 August 2016

Tangled Up in Blue


It's funny how we ancient academics have to be reminded about changes in technology 'downstream'. I used to mark GCSEs (in the olden days, when they were merely GCEs) and was frequently appalled by the writing (as well as being amused by occasional statements e.g. "In the earthworm, the number of segments increases towards the anus") . There is now a report suggesting a new problem for markers (https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/aug/22/exam-markers-complain-about-students-blue-ink-scribbles). Candidates are now always instructed to complete their papers in black biro or black ink so that the scripts can be scanned before being sent to examiners for them to use their computers in marking. Apparently, some students ignore the instruction and use blue or green ink, which doesn't scan at all well. An indistinct scan, combined with poor hand writing is very difficult to interpret and could jeopardise the mark.

Seeing the Changes 1110


Such a wet summer in Loughor, that the only highlight is an increase in slug varieties. Here, a Shield slug (Testacella scutelum) does its mini-banana impersonation.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Honeyed Words?


Not many people seem impressed by the final form of the UK government 'sugar tax' legislation intended to help counter childhood obesity and all its attendant health consequences (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/aug/18/childhood-obesity-strategy-not-even-an-e-for-effort). Everyone recognises that obesity is associated with type 2 diabetes and a range of other problems (including tooth decay) in later life but the government appears to have axed key suggestions that the 'food' producers have found problematic. The 'sugar tax' only appears to apply to fizzy drinks and replacement of sweeteners by glucose, honey and some other 'natural' elements still boosts calorie intake. I have already aired my doubts on marketing many 'sports drinks' as performance-improving aids. Reducing the sugar content of other foods (including pasta sauces, bread and ketchup) now seems likely to be an optional aspiration rather than mandatory requirement. Perhaps worse of all is the backing away from the committee  recommendation to prohibit the directing of advertising of unhealthy foods to young children (I appreciate that this is difficult given the range of social media but children a) often have no idea of the consequences of consumption as well as being prone to peer pressures and b) can exert considerable 'pester power' on even the most enlightened parent). I can't really see the sugar tax improving exercise levels- it's not likely to fund the repurchase of sold-off school playing fields or to increase the use of leisure centres/swimming pools that are either a) too expensive for some parents or b) in danger of being closed due to financial restrictions. All this is in stark contrast to the GB performance at the Rio Olympics- I bet our athlete's dietary intake is better looked after than that of our children!

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Woodn't It be Luvverly?


Interesting news that the use of annual tree rings (dendrochronology) to determine dates of archeological events can be made more precise (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/aug/17/traces-of-sun-storms-locked-in-tree-rings-could-confirm-ancient-historical-dates-astrochronology). A Japanese worker has found that solar storms (often reasonably well-documented) can lead to a 20-fold increase in Carbon14 in the associated ring (the age of rings-only living in their year- is generally estimated by looking at the ratio of Carbon12 to Carbon14). These 'outliers' would facilitate a more accurate recalibration of the age of rings in ancient wood sections.