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 (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/oct/25/long-term-space-flight-gives-astronauts-extra-inches-and-back-problems). 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 (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/oct/25/bioinspiration-thrilling-new-science-could-transform-medicine). 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. 

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 (https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/oct/13/gorilla-reported-to-have-escaped-at-london-zoo). 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 (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/oct/12/oldest-fossil-of-birds-voicebox-gives-new-hint-at-soundscape-of-the-cretaceous-syrinx). 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).

Friday, 7 October 2016

Fracking Ridiculous


The over-turning by UK central government of Lancashire Council's rejections of Quadrilla's plans to frack (use horizontal drilling under lands and homes, followed by inserting water plus chemicals to drive out trapped natural gas from shale rocks) seems bad news on several levels (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/oct/06/uk-fracking-given-go-ahead-as-lancashire-council-rejection-is-overturned). It a) is likely to cause considerable local disturbance whilst in operation (remediation is something quite different); b) results in a strong possibility environmental changes (to water courses et cetera); c) is unlikely to be helpful in terms of visitor attractions to the region; d) makes alleviating the UK contribution to the release of climate-change associated gases much harder and e) does nothing to encourage the use of low carbon energy-generating alternatives. I am personally dubious about the claimed financial savings for the UK and postulated job creation. The UK is rather different from the USA in size and population distribution. I also find it more than a little strange that this decision is taken by a government that has just expressed apparent concerns about communities developing feelings that their local wishes are over-ridden by elites.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Chips Off the Old Block?


There is a slightly disturbing report that an in vitro fertilisation technique, called intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection or ICSI (where the egg is injected with the father's sperm before being implanted), results in boy children with the fertility problems of their fathers (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/oct/06/boys-conceived-through-ivf-technique-have-lower-than-average-fertility). It seems that such boys (at least in the first generation) have reduced sperm quality and quantity compared to 'normal' boys. One of the factors that might be involved in quality issues is sperm capacitation (maturation of the sperm and its accompanying fluids, enabling the gamete to penetrate the membranes around the egg in the process of fertilisation). Some authorities have suggested that ICSI is only putting off the problem to the next generation.

Water, Water, Everywhere


There is an interesting article on a developing obsession with water in the Western world (https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/oct/06/liquid-assets-how-business-bottled-water-went-mad). This reveals that waters can cost up to £30 per bottle and can be a) totally deionized (I would think this rather tasteless), b) full of added (by hand or from rocks) specific chemicals; c) taken from inside coconuts (make your own hole); d) be by-products of maple syrup manufacture; e) be squeezed from melons; f) have factors claimed to cure cellulitis or g) have a formulation apparently making hydration more efficient (drink a bit more of the cheaper stuff?). Apparently, the best water is obtained from snared icebergs allowed to thaw at room temperature (application of heat reportedly spoils the product). IT'S WATER, FOR GOODNESS SAKE! We need clean and uncontaminated supplies (not something that everyone on this planet gets) but water is water (taste variations are down to mineral or gas content).  There seems to be lots of wastage involved in bottling (in glass or plastic) the material, advertising it and putting fancy labels on it. There seems to be something a bit obscene going on here.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Seeing the Changes 1121


On the Bynea cycle track in Autumn is not a good place for a Common shrew (Sorex araneus).

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Seeing the Changes 1120



A mega-wet day and, in Bynea, Waxcaps (Hygrocybe sp) proliferated and Knot grass moth (Aranicta rumicis) larvae splashed through the puddles.

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...