Thursday, 26 February 2015

Hole in One?


Strange things seem to be happening in Brazil for the 2016 Olympic Games where golf will return as a sport (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/25/rio-2016-occupy-takes-swing-at-olympic-golf-course). A golf course for this event is being created in a section of the protected Marapendi Reserve which is part of Brazil's Atlantic Forest and home to a number of endangered species (butterflies and fish). Golf courses are notorious for the amount of water they consume and this one is calculated to need 5m litres per day in an area where the substance is at a premium. The site has, reportedly, been developed without conducting an environmental impact assessment (the mayor of the region declares that none was needed as the city council approved the decision). It appears that money does more than talk.

Do You Really Get Energized by Sugar Drinks?


There is a recent call by charities to ban the sale of 'energy drinks' to children under 16 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-31623771). This is on the basis of their high sugar content (up to 20 teaspoons of sugar in one can) and their high caffeine dose. This has be linked to diabetes and obesity (as well as tooth decay?). There has been little mention, however, of reactive hypoglycaemia. When people take an acute 'sugar hit', the elevated blood glucose triggers a release of the hormone insulin (designed to convert glucose into stored glycogen). This, more markedly in some people than others, may produce an undershoot in the normal blood sugar values. The brain stores no glucose so would be receiving blood deficient in energy, This has been linked to profound mood changes in healthy humans (and reduced energy). Having blood sugar levels going up and down like a roller-coaster can't be a good idea! Whether a ban could be imposed and whether it could work is another question.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Great Gerbils: A Plague on Their Houses


There is a recent study from Oslo University claiming that plague in Europe was largely introduced by Gerbil fleas rather than those of the maligned Black rat (http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/feb/24/great-gerbils-chief-cause-of-the-great-plague-not-black-rats-study-says). The conclusion is based of the observation that fleas leave their rodents when host numbers decline and plague (which killed almost 30% of Europeans) showed fluctuations in incidence. The fluctuations were, however, not linked to populations of Black rats in Europe but to Great gerbils in Asia. The authors suggested that the fleas on the gerbils in times of host shortage leapt upon human traders using the Silk Route and consequently repeatedly carried plague into Europe. So the Black rat is innocent?

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

The Cure (For Peanut Allergy)?


There is an interesting study from King's College, London demonstrating pretty conclusively that exposing children in early life to peanut butter and other peanut-containing foods, greatly reduces the probability of that individual developing peanut allergy in later life (http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/feb/23/feed-babies-peanuts-reverse-allergy-rise). Peanut allergies (including full-blown anaphylactic shock, a condition that is life-threatening) have been on the rise in recent years and this may be a consequence of parents avoiding anything peanut related in their child's food. Obviously, whole peanuts should not be given to young children as they are a choking hazard but peanut butter (if administered carefully) would seem to be safe enough. The finding is entirely consistent with the view that children develop tolerances for certain foods in early life or even within the womb (this may account to cultural differences in the rates of certain food allergies).

Housey Housey


It is interesting that the Green Party appears to be being a bit populist in promising up to 500,000 new social housing units by 2020 (http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/ho.html). I appreciate that there is a great deal of inequality in the present 'system' and that many people in the UK do feel a powerful 'need' to occupy traditional housing with garden and garage but any such development would have to be very carefully managed. I personally would not favour traditional units being dropped into the landscape on every square foot of 'available' land (especially if our limited natural environment is ear-marked for this role). Agricultural land may also be out as the UK is not even near being capable of growing sufficient food to feed its population. The units would also have to be effectively insulated and heated (suggesting that they would not be 'cheap and cheerful'). Perhaps there is a need to consider alternative modes of accommodation that do not occupy such a large surface area? Although this would not appeal to territorial folk.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Fare Becoming Less Fair?


Somewhat sad news that the total UK sales of Fairtrade foods in the UK has fallen for the first time in the 20 years of the schemes's existence (http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/feb/23/fairtrade-sales-fall-first-time-20-year-existence). This is attributed (by a number of commentators) to the changed buying habits by 'cash-strapped' consumers and the increased frequenting of discounting supermarkets (who are less involved with products receiving the label). Given the claims that things are improving economically, I am not entirely convinced by this argument. Fairtrade is a nice idea but not many people really delve into the backgrounds of individual products. 'Organic' is another 'ethical label' but also seems less powerful as a marketing device currently (I have to say that it is scientifically meaningless as any compound containing carbon is organic so far as chemists are concerned). Might this not be an early sign of what might be called 'ethical fatigue'?

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Seeing the Changes 934



In spite of the night-time temperature in Loughor being below 0, we were visited by a male Winter moth (Operophtera brumata). They must have pretty good anti-freeze!