Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Herpes to the Rescue?


A recent study has claimed that injecting aggressive skin cancers with modified herpes virus (the agent causing cold cores) can reduce their rate of growth or even destroy them (http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/may/26/skin-cancer-patients-successfully-treated-with-herpes-based-drug). This appears to be a nice example of adapting the 'talents' of one agent for another purpose (it's a bit like using antibiotics- chemicals produced by fungi allowing them to out-compete bacteria, to counter human infections).

Monday, 25 May 2015

Seeing the Changes 967










In Loughor, Columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris) was in flower. In Bynea, White clover (Trifolium repens); Field rose (Rosa arvensis); Hemlock water dropwort (Oenanthe crocata); Thrift (Armeria maritima); Bramble (Rubus fructicosus) and Southern marsh orchid (Dactylorhiza praetermissa) were blooming. Here, the Common froghopper nymph (Philaenus spumarius) was frog spitting and a Phylobius pomaceus beetle lurked.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Fastest UK Invader?


The Harlequin beetle (Harmonia axyridis) has apparently been declared the UK's fastest invading species (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/may/20/harlequin-ladybirds-declared-uks-fastest-invading-species). It has also been referred to as 'cannibalistic' and a danger to several resident species of ladybird. I admit it's fast but its speed of invasion is only known because it is easy to see and has been monitored by people over the whole country (others may have been faster without our noting them). There is nothing unusual about insects being cannibalistic and eating another species (if we are talking ladybirds) doesn't count.

Rocket Falls to Earth?


It has been reported that a UK astronaut is advocating sending seeds of the rocket salad (I wonder if the name had any effect on this choice?) into space so that, on their return to Earth, they can be sent to large numbers of schools for children to determine whether the 'experience' had any effect on plant growth (http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/32801767). I'm sure that the intentions are educational and might well stimulate an interest in space science but the premise seems a little odd. It is well-established that plants growing under weightless conditions in space have difficulties with up and down but the pupils would be growing the seeds (along side 'regular' rocket seeds) under the full effects of gravity. I am uncertain what such a study might show (unless there is potential damage that results from travelling into space and back).

Boy Pain?


There is an interesting animal study in which human material was incorporated into mice, suggesting that the commonly-used and apparently safe pain-reliever, paracetamol, can, if taken as prolonged high doses in pregnancy, cause problems in male foetuses (http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/may/20/paracetamol-use-pregnancy-male-foetus-testosterone-study). It seems to suppress the normal early surge of testosterone that 'masculinizes' those babies. It reportedly can increase the incidences of cryptorchidism where the testes fail to descend. The range of materials that impact on human reproduction seem to be ever increasing.

Only a Shell Company?


It seems (albeit belatedly) a move in the right direction that the Head of Royal Dutch Shell is admitting to concerns about the link between the burning of hydrochemical fuels and climate change (http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/may/22/shell-boss-endorses-warnings-about-fossil-fuels-and-climate-change). This does, however, sit a little oddly with the group's enthusiastic plans for oil extraction in Alaska. They may not have noted it but their scallop symbol is also under threat as the released carbon dioxide is increasing ocean acidification, a process that could have devastating effects on all shelled inhabitants of our seas and the organisms that rely on them. Still, I don't suppose there will be too many executives around to worry about bonuses if the average world temperature goes up by 4 degrees Celsius! 

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Seeing the Changes 966




Pencilled cranesbill (Geranium versicolor) was blooming in Loughor. In Bynea, spotted a Snipe fly (Rhagio scolopacea) and a bird that didn't get to fly.

Monkey Business: It's Not Just Art That Gets Stolen


A report has come in that 7 Golden lion tamarins and 10 Silver marmosets have been stolen from Beauval Zoo near Paris (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/12/monkeys-stolen-from-french-zoo-are-extremely-rare-and-fragile). These primates (actually the property of the Brazilian Government) are rare and have 'special dietary needs'. The thieves were, no doubt, attracted by the reported going rate for tamarins on the black-market said to be between £3,600 and £7200. These acts further endanger already seriously endangered animals.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Processed to Death?


There is a suggestion that the falling prices of processed foods in a number of countries (reportedly, an ice-cream in the UK has reduced in price by 50% between 1980 and 2012 as fresh fruit and vegetables have tripled their costs) have had a major impact on the 'obesity epidemic' that is afflicting populations (http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/may/11/falling-price-processed-foods-obesity-crisis-tax). It is suggested that around 3.5k deaths a year in the UK are diet-related (apparently twice as many as die on the roads).A similar pattern is said to be becoming clear in many established and 'newly rich' countries across the globe. Experts have suggested that 'unhealthy foods' should attract additional taxes that could be used to reduce the costs of the (not especially helpfully expressed) 5 a day helpings of fresh stuff but I wouldn't hold my breath. As a professor at King's College London noted, we have trillions of symbiotic bacteria in our guts ('We never eat alone' as he puts it) and processed foods do not supply the materials for those bacteria to produce vitamins and other helpful chemicals in our large intestines.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Seeing the Changes 965




More plants in bloom. In Loughor, Cultivated apple (Malus domesticus) was blossoming. In Bynea, Changing forgetmenot (Myosotis discolor) and Elder (Sambucus nigra) were in flower.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Old Birds


There is a recent report (http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2015/150428/ncomms7987/full/ncomms7987.html) of a very early fossil of an ornithuromorpha bird from fossil measures in China. These, clearly flighted birds, were around in the early Cretaceous period, making them at least 5 million years older than previous frequent flyers. The legs of the fossil suggest that the species was a type of wader that rooted in sediment. So, birds were contemporaries of dinosaurs but their delicate structure (bones and feathers) presumably made them less prone to fossilisation.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Seeing the Changes 964





In Bynea, noted Birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus comiculatus) in flower and a Phyllobius pomaceus beetle on nettle. In Loughor, there was a face-off between a mining bee and a picture-winged fly. There were also lots of Common green shield bugs (Palomena prasina).

The Stars Are Going Out


The West coast of the USA is experiencing another outbreak of a densovirus-associated starfish wasting disease that reduces victims to putrifying blobs of jelly sans arms (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/may/03/starfish-sea-star-deaths-west-coast). There have been outbreaks in the past but this seems to be a very patchy event, hitting local populations and leaving others alone for a while. The outbreak is thought to be linked to local warming of sea temperatures but some of the outbreaks are reportedly in the coolest locations. The disease also seems to be unrelated to pollution events. One thing is certain, namely that removal of these mollusc-eating predators presents a challenge to marine ecosystems.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Seeing the Changes 963



Black medick (Medicago lupulina) was flowering in Bynea and the Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) was out in Swansea.

Deja Vu?


There are further reports of plans to 'reintroduce' the Eurasian lynx back into the UK after an absence of more than a thousand years (http://www.lynxuk.org/). The organisation involved proposes to do this on certain major estates in Scotland and the East of England and claim apparently impressive public support for the project. Given what has happened with the reintroduction of Polish beavers in Scotland, there is, of course, no absolute guarantee that the animals will remain in areas where they are placed. I can see benefits to having a relatively big predator that is apparently non-dangerous to humans (but not necessarily their domestic species?) in place in some UK environments but the basic question is whether reintroductions should be entirely driven by the fact that the species was once present here. How far back should one go? After all, elephant, hippopotamus and rhinoceros were once found on these shores but the environments have changed immensely since these times.

A Bridge Too Far?


'Green' groups have suggested (http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/may/02/green-groups-condemn-glencore-involvement-in-garden-bridge) that the involvement of mining groups in the £175m Thames Garden Bridge project is an example of 'greenwash' (allowing an environmentally problematic organisation to get a make-over by donating cash and materials). I appreciate that the initial intention of the project was to create a memorial for Princess Diana (having said that, there are already some in place) but I do find something a bit odd about a bridge that serves only a minimal transport function (in one sense, it's not much of a 'crossing') and can be closed to the public, to facilitate corporate events. I suspect, however, that there is no way this type of project can be funded without the involvement of mega-bucks from corporations. Perhaps the money could be better spent on restoring damaged buildings in Kathmandu?

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Wake Up and Smell the Absence?


People (including Starbucks) have worried for several years about the potential effects of climate change on coffee crops. There is now a report suggesting that the popular Arabica coffee bean will be decimated in many of its current locations by the effects of global warming (http://www.ibtimes.com/climate-change-effects-coffee-production-how-hotter-weather-killing-global-arabica-1905151). This is especially the case in areas where the plants cannot be moved to a higher altitude. There is now speculation that the only way of maintaining production of this bean might involve genetic modification to produce coffee plants resistant to the effects of elevated temperature and restricted water supply.

A Song Unheard?

There is a somewhat odd finding that highly toxic Pumpkin toadlets from Brazil apparently cannot hear their own mating calls ( https://w...