Thursday, 17 August 2017

Pat Bateson


I have just noted the obituary of Sir Patrick Bateson 1938-2017 (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/aug/14/sir-patrick-bateson-obituary). I met him at a conference in Sitges (Spain) in 1982. He was an excellent scientist, a natural communicator and an all-round good guy.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Seeing the Changes 1231







Mixtures of rain and sun. In Loughor, more fungi appeared (possibly Blackening brittlegill Russula nigicans). Hairy tare (Vicia hirsuta) bloomed in Bynea, where clouds of Small white butterflies (Pieris rapae) appeared. Visited, in Loughor by a Sloe carpet moth (Aleucis distinctata).

Sunday, 13 August 2017

The Great Welsh Bee-knap?


There's rustling and there's rustling! A mass abduction of Honey bees has been reported (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/aug/11/rustler-steals-40000-bees-britains-biggest-hive-heist-anglesey) along with a note that the value of a Honey bee brood with a queen has recently quadrupled to about £200 (bee keeping is getting more popular but bees are not thriving). The event occurred in Rhydwyn on Anglesey and presumably involved someone knowledgeable and equipped for the 'sting'. I would be surprised, however, if this event genuinely qualifies (as reported) as Britain's biggest hive heist. Occasionally (as in the above picture) broods become available for free.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Bullshit?


Interesting news that a 'bullshit detector' is being developed to enable journalists to rapidly check for actual fake news, including fake, fakes (https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/aug/08/fake-news-full-fact-software-immune-system-journalism-soros-omidyar). The trouble is that there are masses of bullshit generators (including some journalists). In addition, it appears that people are often only too willing to believe fake news if it fits with their preconceptions, even in the face of masses of evidence suggesting their beliefs are erroneous (remember the anti-expert dialogue of recent times). I suspect that the identities of the 2 benefactors financing development of the detector software, will generate more fake news in certain circles.

Re-Cycling


There is news of the eventual reaction of a 12,500 bicycle garage under Utrecht Rail station (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/07/worlds-biggest-bike-parking-garage-utrecht-netherlands). Although this will become the largest facility in the world, Dutch cycle organisations are already claiming it is inadequate. Reportedly, around 43% of journeys under 7.5 km in the Netherlands are by bike. It (along with the very substantial network of cycle lanes, pedestrianised areas and protections of people on 2 wheels) makes UK provision for cyclists look paltry. Increasing cycling in UK cities would eventually improve our shameful air quality but there would have to be a sea change here.

Seeing the Changes 1230


Visited in Loughor by a Canary-shouldered thorn (Ennomos alniaria).

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Another Snake in the Grass


Professor Fritz of Germany has identified a new species of Grass snake, the Barred grass snake (Natrix helvetica) which is distinct from the Common or Eastern grass snake (Natrix natrix) in the UK (www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-40853286). The new species has stronger dark markings on a grey background and lacks the distinctive yellow 'collar' of its cousin (as shown above). There are, apparently, reproductive barriers between the two species in areas where their ranges overlap (which is why they can be classed as species rather than local variants). This brings the number of UK species of snake to 4. 

Seeing the Changes 1229


Lots of Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) is in flower between Swansea and Blackpill.

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In Loughor, visited by a Lime speck pug moth (Eupithecia centaurea).

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Devilish Hot and Bothered?


There has been a great deal of press interest about the early August heat-wave (with temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius) around the Mediterranean area with potential (and actual) mortalities, especially of older and younger folk (www.severe-weather.eu/med/follow-up-on-the-heat-wave-wednesday-august-2nd-2017/). In addition to its effects on human health, the event dubbed by the press 'Lucifer', has been linked to wild fires, agricultural losses, water shortages and environmental destruction. Many meteorologists reportedly believe that such 'exceptional' events in Southern Europe will become common features of the summer, perhaps making some areas 'unlivable'. At the same time, climate change also featured in an extremely scary article in the National Geographic (www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2017/07/antarctica-sea-level-rise-climate-change/), suggesting that the melting of the Antarctic Larsen-C ice shelf is merely the beginning of an 'unstoppable' loss of the polar ice cap (perhaps leading to a greater than 5 metre increase in sea-level).  A bad deal for the USA (and the rest of the planet)?

Friday, 4 August 2017

A Right Carry-on?


Disturbing news that at least 10 Northern right whales have been found dead over a very short period of time off the Canadian coast (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/aug/03/right-whales-10-dead-canada-endangered-species). As there is a world population of only circa 500, this represents a serious loss for the species. No one appears to have a clear idea of the reasons for the mortality but collisions with shipping, entanglement in snow crab fishing gear and poisoning by ingesting toxic algae have all been suggested as possibilities. The sooner scientists can get answers, the better the chances of conserving this critical species!

Seeing the Changes 1227







In Bynea, there were prolific displays of Slippery Jack fungus (Suillus luteus) and lots of sloe berries, fruit of Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa). In Loughor, Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna); Bramble (Rubus fruticosa); alien Snowberry (Symphoricarpus alba) and Bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara) were all in fruit

Editing Ourselves?


There is intense interest surrounding a first study outside China, demonstrating that the widely-available CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing tool can be successfully used to remove a faulty gene from early human embryos (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/aug/02/deadly-gene-mutations-removed-from-human-embryos-in-landmark-study). The study essentially replaced a faulty gene (resulting in an often fatal condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy where the muscles of the heart are excessively thickened) carried by the sperm of a donor with the code for the condition by a regular sequence. The 'corrected' embryos were not implanted as this was basically an attempt to establish, in principle, that the technique can be used to correct inherited diseases in our species. The study offers considerable hope but, naturally, raises a number of concerns. The first issue is that the technique could be used to create 'designer babies' with parents choosing the physical (and mental?) characteristics of their offspring. That might well be banned in many countries but good luck with stopping very wealthy folk from using the services of medics world-wide! Another problem is that genetic diversity enables humans to deal with changing environmental circumstances and some genes that appear faulty under current circumstances might have benefits elsewhere (I appreciate that it is difficult to think of any benefits for the genes linked to, for example, Huntington's chorea or Muscular Dystrophy). A third area at issue might well concern the technique being applied to our companion and domesticated animals where bans are not likely to be enforced.

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Hurricane Ophelia also blew a Green lacewing ( Chrysopa 7-punctata ) into my house.