Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Put Your Back Into It!

A recent NASA report suggests that the back problems encountered by around 70% of astronauts who have experienced long-term space travel are associated with a wasting of tiny muscles that surround the spine ( The extra 'couple of inches' in height that they return to earth with seem a consequence of a straightening of the spine under reduced gravity and are soon lost. Swelling of the discs between the vertebrae don't appear to be the actual source of their back problems (although they were initially suspected). This suggests that 'manned' flights (obviously long-term) to Mars would be problematic but some experts believe that yoga might help limit the muscle atrophy.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

'New' Bioinspiration?

There is an interesting account of 'biotechnology' scientists taking inspiration from the feet of geckos and nematocysts of jellyfish to solve medical dilemmas such as developing to glue to repair a hole in a beating heart or to make a device to 'collect' persisting cancer cells in passing blood of 'cured' patients ( These are certainly important developments but the idea of finding solutions to human problems in areas of 'pure Biology' is by no means new. Some 40 years ago, I remember sitting through a Swansea lecture by Ernst Chain (a co-recipient of the 1945 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for his work on the purification and mass production of penicillin) who made exactly the same point (that nature often has developed solutions to problems and, if you know where to look, you can sometimes adapt them for medical problems). I think that the 'take home message' is that pure research, rather than being ivory tower activity, often yields greater advances than applied efforts. 

Monday, 24 October 2016

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Seeing the Changes 1123

Autumn at the National Wetlands Centre Wales. Lots of fungi, including a large 'fairy ring', individual Lactarius hysginus) and Shaggy inkcaps (Coprinus comatus) as well as grouped Gymnopilus junonius. Meanwhile, Bullrushes (Typha latifolia) seeded the vicinity, Pampas grass waved and berries glowed. Common darters (Sympetrum striolatum) were still flitting about and a European robin (Erithacus rubecula) posed early for Christmas.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Gorilla Tactics

Much excitement appears to have been generated by the report of a male gorilla at London zoo escaping to an area normally reserved for staff ( The animal seems to have been tranquillised with a dart before being returned to its enclosure but not before members of the public had been locked into buildings (with free tea) as a precautionary measure.The experience cannot have been a happy one for any of the participants (gorilla, staff and visitors) but such events cannot be totally unexpected when dealing with such intelligent beasts with time on their hands.

Honking with Dinosaurs

New evidence from a 66 million year old fossil (Vegavis iaai) from Vega island in the Antarctic confirms that this contemporary of the Cretaceous dinosaurs had the syrinx which enables birds to produce song ( This long-legged, goose-like bird existed at the same time as the mighty reptiles. Their sounds may certainly have punctuated the Cretaceous and the possibly exists that some of the dinosaurs (closely-related to birds) also had a syrinx to generate calls.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Seeing the Changes 1122

Lots of stuff around Broughton on the Gower. In the dunes there were lots of Horse mushrooms (Agaricus arvensis). Many flowers were still in bloom like Red campion (Silene dioica); Rest-harrow (Ononis repens); Meadow buttercup (Ranunculus acris); Moon carrot (Seseli libanotis); Bloody cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum); Common ragwort (Senecio jacobaea); Harebell (Campanula rotunifolia); Traveller's joy (Clematis vitalba) enwhiskered; Sea holly (Eryngium maritimum); Common evening primrose (Oenothera biennis); Cut-leaved cranesbill (Geranium dissectum); Yellow star-thistle (Centaurea solstitialis); Sea spurge (Euphorbia paralias); Marsh hawksbeard (Crepis tectorum) and Stone bramble (Rubus saxatilis). The Stone bramble was also in berry. On the shore there were large, washed-up jellyfish and numerous Sandhoppers (Talitrus saltator).