Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Promoting Protein

Nutritionists have cast doubt on the benefits of lines of 'protein enhanced' foods being offered for sale at enhanced prices (https://www.theguardian.com/lifestyle/2016/dec/26/protein-hype-shoppers-flushing-money-down-the toilet-say-experts). They point out that even 'gym bunnies' get more than enough protein by eating a balanced diet with some meat and eggs et cetera. The body removes any excess so you don't really need to add protein (sometimes from whey or even mealworms) to standard foods. It could even be problematic for kidney and liver function and certainly is yet a further wasteful strain on the environment. It does seem as if some food manufacturers will use people's poor understanding of nutrition to sell them things they don't need.

Top Cat?

It is claimed that the only possibility of 'saving' the Scottish wildcat involves captive breeding of 'pure lines' from zoo populations followed by release programmes (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/dec/26/hopes-for-saving-scottish-wildcat-rest-on-captive-breeding-plan). A main problem is the fact that this species readily breeds with domesticated cats producing a less 'wild' animal. This would, of course, only be a viable option if all feral domesticated cats in the area were neutered or destroyed. I can understand the enthusiasm for attempting to maintain 'the beast' but, given urbanisation, it could be argued that hybrids might actually do better by being less wary of humans.

Monday, 26 December 2016

Legs 11+

There is an interesting account of the development of bionic exoskeleton 'legs' to aid walking in people with mobility problems as a result of ageing or spinal/ muscle damage (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/dec/25/bionic-legs-and-smart-slacks-exoskeletons-that-could-enhance-us-all). I don't think it is generally appreciated that life in a wheel chair can damage one's health by increasing body weight along with the incidence of type 2 diabetes as well as being associated with pressure sores et cetera. Being able to assume an upright posture also appears to have mental benefits. Having said all that, I think it unlikely that more than a small percentage of needy folk are likely to benefit from these developments. You have to be relatively well-off to afford the technology and the devices appear currently dependent on a relatively benign environment.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

All Flights Suspended?

Sad news (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-38405889) that the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust centre at Llanelli has had to close (at least until the New Year but probably longer) as a wild bird infected with the H5N8 strain of bird 'flu has been discovered there. The strain is a danger to stocks of domestic chickens and turkeys (currently banished to the great indoors). The strain is also, of course, a danger to both visiting birds and the stocks of flightless exotics held at the centre. Such events can also be devastating to the financial viability of locations such as this (timing could not be much worse).

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Monday, 12 December 2016

Amber Gambler

There has been an interesting addition to information on the likely evolution feathers with the discovery in a piece of amber bought from a Chinese market of a fossilised tail of what is thought to be a juvenile member of a tiny non-avian (not bird) theropod (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/dec/08/dinosaur-tail-trapped-in-amber-offers-insights-into-feather-evolution). Theropods were the group to which velociraptors and Tryannosaurus rex belonged. The fossil tail  appears to be almost 100 million years old and was clearly that of a dinosaur as the bones were not fused (as in birds). The preserved feathers (modified scales) already had prominent barbs and barbules but only a relatively small central shaft (rachis). This confirms that feathers probably served other functions (possibly thermoregulation, display or leaping to catch insects) before they became utilised for flight in the birds.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Seeing the Changes 1129

Winter heliotrope (Petasites fragrans) attempted to follow the sun in Loughor.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Home on the Range?

The recent suggestion to UK poultry keepers that they move their birds inside to reduce the risk of exposure to Bird 'flu from infected wild birds raises some interesting questions (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/dec/07/bird-flu-warning-keepers-told-to-keep-poultry-iside). There is no doubt that the disease has caused havoc with populations of farmed birds in a range of European countries and that this is an appropriate response to the threat. I find it strange, however, that some of the flocks are apparently still referred to as 'free range'.

Caesarianing the Opportunity?

There has been recent debate about whether the use of Caesarian sectioning might produce a change in human morphology as it allows women with relatively narrow pelvises to give birth, potentially passing on this property to succeeding generations (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/dec/07/caesarian--sections-mother-blaming-small_pelvises). It does not seem to me to be very likely that this will have a major effect as not all such sections are to enable the relatively large-headed baby to pass through the pelvic opening (cosmetic and emergency factors may also be involved). I also suspect that inheritance of a narrow pelvis is not down to a simple gene/ combination of genes (and, pretty obviously, the baby has 2 parents). One might also mention that any medical correction (e.g. Glasses or contact lenses for myopia) would improve the possibility of passing on these features to the next generation but we don't generally agonise about this. In general, diversity is biologically useful.

Cutting Down Lofty

News that the Giraffe has now been placed on the red list as being in danger of extinction (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/dec/08/giraffe-red-list-vulnerable-species-extinction). There has being a 40% reduction in the numbers of such animals in the wild largely as consequences of habitat destruction and local wars. It seems likely that climate change will lead to even more marked declines in the numbers of this animal (along with many more organisms?).

Mining the Virus?

It has been reported that mines in Canada, USA and other countries are hot-spots for the transmission of Covid-19 ( https://www.theguardi...