Tuesday, 18 July 2017
Saturday, 15 July 2017
Thursday, 13 July 2017
A Harvard team have successfully encoded, using the 4 bases, an old cine sequence of a galloping horse into the DNA of a bacterium and replayed it (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/jul/12/scientists-pioneer-a-new-revolution-in-biology-by-embeding-film-on-dna). This may sound like a gimmick but the intention is to demonstrate that one can produce molecular recorders that could be used to establish what is going on in the organs of the body or to monitor environmental changes. If humans manage to extinct themselves, it would be interesting to see what alien explorers make of such data.
Wednesday, 12 July 2017
Tuesday, 11 July 2017
it's looking bad for biodiversity and the survival of ecosystems on the planet as the 6th mass extinction is reportedly well underway (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/10/earths-sixth-mass-extinction-event-already-underway-scientists-warn). Scientists have recorded that billions of regional and local populations have been lost and, of the mega species studied, around half have lost 80% or more of their range. The authors suggest that human over-population and activities (the Anthropocene era?) accounts for most of this event. In spite of this, many people seem to view the losses as an unfortunate side-effect (perhaps reducing the content matter of a new series of Life on Earth) rather than a real challenge to the viability of the planet's life in its present form (i suspect the bacteria will still be around so we wouldn't be starting from scratch).
A US study seems to have established that there is a direct link between a chemical produced to plants in response to grazing insects and cannibalism in caterpillars (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/10/when-very-hungry-caterpillars-turn-into-very-hungry-cannibals). The study was carried out using tomato plants and armyworm caterpillars. Plants sprayed with the chemical (methyl jasmonate) retained more of their leaves and a higher incidence of cannibalism. Methyl jasmonate apparently makes the plant less palatable but whether the chemical or hunger makes the caterpillars eat each other is debatable. Either way, the plant would benefit by reducing the feeding insects.
It must be a bit disconcerting to awake to a crunching noise and to find yourself dragged about 12 feet from your sleeping bag (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jul/10/us-teenager-survives-bear-attack-after-waking-to-animal-crunching-on-his-head). This happened in Colorado to a US teenager who survived the event and drove off the Black bear in question. Bears are opportunistic omnivores and, I suspect, that the teenager was viewed as a potential carcass in a bag. Nothing personal!
Sunday, 9 July 2017
Saturday, 8 July 2017
Wednesday, 5 July 2017
Friday, 30 June 2017
Given the post about the enormous world-wide production of plastic bottles, it is heartening to read of a potential use for at least the 1.5 litre variety (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/30/house-tateh-built-sand-filled-recycled-waste-plastic-bottles-western-sahara-). It also reminded me of the UK greenhouse shown above that also uses old water bottles. An engineer called Tateh has utilised sand-filled plastic bottles to construct rounded (wind resistant) houses in a refugee camp in Algeria. The houses are painted white to reflect the Western Saharan heat and the material is reportedly more durable than traditional sun-dried bricks (there are occasional floods as well as the wind erosion). As it takes 6000 bottles to build a house, a rough calculation reveals that the world generates sufficient plastic bottles per minute to construct more than 150 such dwellings in desert locations. These houses could also have an associated greenhouse (also rounded?) and one could also probably produce viable structures in some sea-side locations.
A definitive study carried out extensively in Germany, Hungary and the UK seems to have established that neonicotinoid pesticides seriously damage both Honey bee and wild bee colonies (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/29/pesticides-damage-survival-of-bee-colonies-landmark-study-shows). The pesticides are popular with some farmers, especially being used to coat the seeds of rape, preventing attack by insects (it is not used in the way in Germany allowing comparisons to be made). The trouble is that bees are amongst our most important pollinators and their decline will have detrimental effects on many other crops (especially fruit). Although neonicotinoids are banned on certain crops in the EU, UK farmers have obtained a 'temporary' lifting of the ban in parts of this country. I suspect that there will be moves by 'farming interests' to lift the ban permanently when the UK leaves the EU. The claim that oil seed rape (amongst its many uses) is 'an important source of biodiesel' sounds to me more like a Double Whammy than an argument in favour of using these pesticides!
Thursday, 29 June 2017
The world appears to have gone plastic bottle crazy, largely driven by a bottled water obsession (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/28/a-million-a minute-worlds-plastic-bottle-binge-as-dangerous-as-climate-change). So many, non-returnable plastic bottles (estimated as a million per minute on a world-wide basis), utilise lots of the oil reserves, are generally difficult to biodegrade and are now filling environments (from the highest mountains to the deepest seas) with rubbish. I am a strong supporter of effective hydration (as high-speed shuffler, I would be) but I cannot believe (as apparently some of my students do) that they are endangering their health in a 45 minute lecture, if they lack a water bottle. Mostly people buy vastly over-priced water when the mains stuff is perfectly good enough. Perhaps a deposit-return system would be helpful?
Wednesday, 28 June 2017
Tuesday, 27 June 2017
Sunday, 25 June 2017
Saturday, 24 June 2017
The WWF has apparently warned that a quarter of England's rivers are now at serious risk of running dry at some points in the year (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/24/quarter-england-rivers-risk-running-dry-finds-wwf). The effects on river life such as aquatic plants, insects and fish are obvious but such events would also be serious for Water voles, otters and birds (like the Dipper Cinclus cinclus shown above).
Friday, 23 June 2017
Thursday, 22 June 2017
Wednesday, 21 June 2017
At Swansea University Singleton campus, Hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium); Enchanter's nightshade (Circaea lutetiana) and Monkey flower (Mimulus guttatus) were in bloom. On the beach opposite, Tutsan (Hypericum androsaemum); Lady's bedstraw (Galium verum); the hips of Burnet rose (Rosa pimpinelifolia); Stone bramble (Rubus saxatilis); Sea stock (Matthiola sinuata); Sea bindweed (Calystegia soldanella); Common broomrape (Orobanche minor) and Rest-harrow (Ononis repens) all made appearances.
In Loughor, masses of black flies were emerging from a hedge. In conditions also attracted green lacewings ( Chrysoperla carnea ) to ...
A combination of night rain and day-time sun has resulted in more Bynea blooms. The Southern marsh orchid ( Dactylorhiza praetermissa...
A study ( https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/feb/01/special-spit-is-the-secret-of-uniquely-sticky-frog-tongues-study-reveals ) has...
It is always sad to hear of problems occurring at places you have used for teaching and the outbreak of h5n8 avian influenza at Abbot...