Monday, 25 February 2013
http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2013/feb/24/scientists-attacked-over-junk-dna-claim?INTCMP=SRCH). The people, from the Encode Project, who advocated the view that junk DNA is actually important (largely in terms of providing information important to our understanding of disease susceptibility), were a much-cited and well-funded team. Their attackers, featuring Dan Grauer of Houston Texas, charge the Encode team with a lack of understanding of Evolutionary Biology and use of unconvincing statistics. Grauer reportedly goes so far as to state this is "not the work of scientists. This is the work of badly trained technicians". I think the basic bone of contention lies between theoretical biology and technocrats. Weirdly, both groups are likely to increase their scientific standing (at least in the short to medium term) by having an acrimonious debate.
Tuesday, 19 February 2013
Monday, 18 February 2013
Sunday, 17 February 2013
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/feb/16/trump-golf-links-coastline?INTCMP=SRCH). The creation of the first course appears to represent the triumph of commerce over conservation and the proposal for another course to the south of that is also linked to 'exclusive' housing developments. I must admit to being generally unenthusiastic about the creating of golf courses in relatively pristine natural locations (I support Mark Twain who described a game of golf as being 'a good walk spoiled'). The hoped for developments seem to be difficult to afford (given the amount of land space in the a crowded UK) 'gardenification' of the remaining 'natural' environment for the benefit of relatively few people. What's to stop rich folk converting the whole of Scotland into a theme park for other rich folk?
http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2013/feb/16/mussels-sticking-power-surgery?INTCMP=SRCH). The adhesive is produced by the mussel in seawater (i.e. 'the wet'), unlike virtually all the glues we currently use, and apparently can be used to repair holes in foetal membranes of surrounding the baby in the womb. This just emphasizes just how many products there remain to find (often before it's too late and the species has become extinct).
Saturday, 16 February 2013
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/feb/14/horsemeat-scandal-bute-food-chain?INTCMP=SRCH). The whole exercise now seems like a game of 'pass the parcel' with governments, agencies, supermarket chains, meat processing plants and abattoirs all dashing to blame other countries and their meat-producing activities. Perhaps the basic conclusion is that the drive to generate cheap food (when you are basically dealing with an expensive ingredient like 'beef') has gone too far. If it is cheap, it's possibly compromised. The sad thing (as has been said repeatedly) is that it is the poor who are likely to suffer most.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/feb/15/secret-funding-climate-sceptics-not-restricted-us?INTCMP=SRCH) and my initial response was shock/horror. It certainly makes evaluating the evidence for and against studies on a phenomenon difficult enough for professionals and next to impossible for the general public. On reflection, however, I cannot deny that the funding of science by governments and even charities is clearly influenced by opinion and politics (sometimes involving the scientists themselves). I suppose that the most concerning aspects of the report are the claimed size of the funding pot, the clear 'black-balling' of certain organisations with respect to the possibility of their receiving cash and the apparent commercial interests of the donors. Evidence-led planning for human populations becomes very difficult in such circumstances.
Friday, 15 February 2013
http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2013/feb/14/anxiety-drug-rivers-changes-fish-behaviour?INTCMP=SRCH). Researchers claimed to have found that elevated river levels (presumably by being secreted in human urine) of oxazepam (an anxiolytic drug generally prescribed to counter human anxiety) can be linked to increased 'boldness' in some fish species (notably Perch). The most obvious conclusion is that the drug changes the behaviour of the fish, making them (like humans) less anxious. The possibilities appear to remain, however, that bolder fish are simply able to tolerate higher levels of water pollution or that the fish require more food to tolerate the more demanding conditions and so have to be bolder. It would be interesting to determine whether other fish, like territorial male Sticklebacks, showed changed behaviour in response to adding oxazepam to their water.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/feb/14/fox-cull-not-answer-say-friends-foes?INTCMP=SRCH). Even 'pest controllers' with licences to shoot foxes stress that there are relatively few locations in cities where the activity can be legally and safely carried out (shooting is banned, for example, in close proximity to roads). The people consulted have also stressed that it is likely that there would be little uniform public support for a cull (it might well be actively resisted) and have confirmed that removing foxes from one area would be followed by animals moving in from the surrounding environs. They also appear to advocate the suggestions I made that waste food disposal as well as blocking easy access to gardens and associated out buildings would be more effective ameliorating activities. My comment about the apparently very different official response to attacks on humans by dogs is supported by a timely report from the Environment Select Committee (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/feb/15/action-on-dangerous-dogs-woefully-inadequate?INTCMP=SRCH).
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/feb/15/reptile-species-face-extinction?INTCMP=SRCH) where it appears that 20 percent of the world's existing reptiles are facing extinction.Some species are more critical than others with half of the freshwater turtles being at imminent risk and many lizards (especially anolids) are threatened by deforestation followed by agriculture.So habitat loss appears at the root of the disappearances. All this represents real losses as reptiles are an important group of organisms with the ability to thrive on a much lower calorie intake than a mammal or bird of similar body weight. You could argue that, when ambient temperatures are relatively high and stable, they are more efficient than the warm-blooded vertebrates.
Monday, 11 February 2013
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-21399709). The four-week old child reportedly had a finger bitten off (re-attached in hospital) by a fox that entered the home in Bromley. This event has led to calls for a 'cull' on the foxes (a very difficult thing to do humanely, even by trapping, with no guarantee that removing animals from one area would not cause others to move into the 'vacated' territories). Some experts have pointed out that a) fox attacks are incredibly rare, especially in comparison to dog attacks (that can also be much more dangerous). Yet people rarely call for a cull of dogs; b) the problem may be exacerbated by the pretty messy fashion we often 'dispose' of human food waste, attracting foxes to human habitations and c) there must have been access to the house, for the fox to gain entry. The urban fox lives, by using its intelligence and attributes, to largely scavenge for food. The animal probably can obtain more food in cities than in the countryside (hunting is much less efficient in a costs versus benefits sense), which will increase their numbers and change their behaviour. The reaction to this sad event seems to be a marked over-reaction by many of the concerned. We do tend to take things terribly personally and appear surprised when a wild animal 'dares' to do something to one of our kind (probably by accident?).
Saturday, 9 February 2013
Sunday, 3 February 2013
Saturday, 2 February 2013
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/feb/01/thousands-seabirds-harmed-oil-uk-coast?INTCMP=SRCH) is probably related to the illegal washing out of the tanks of some ship at sea. This is a relatively cheap thing for tanker owners to do but is, of course, completely illegal. The oiling (the material is not a typical crude or fuel oil) event could not occur at a worse time of the year so far as the effected species are concerned. Using modern forensic methods and the time frame, it may be possible to identify the culprits. Bringing them to book is another thing entirely.
Friday, 1 February 2013
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/feb/01/british-moths-calamitous-decline?INTCMP=SRCH) with at least 3 species becoming extinct and the popular Garden tiger (Arctia caja) showing a profound decrease. The changes are presumably related to modifications of the weather patterns as this alters the growth of plants on which the larvae feed, possible nectar sources that some adults used to 'refuel' and their abilities to fly. Some species e.g. the illustrated Jersey tiger (Euplagia quadripunctaria) have actually increased their range.
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