Monday, 31 December 2018


It's nice to see reports that marine animals including Short-nosed seahorses and Little terns seem to be thriving in the seas in parts of the UK ( but I am not wholly convinced that sporadic recording of such beasts (perhaps benefiting from conservation programmes) actually reveals a healthy marine environment. In some respects, seeing thriving populations of common species might well be a better indicator of 'health' than increases in the numbers of occasional animals often at the margins of their ranges.

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Seeing the Changes 1385

A slippery ray of sunshine. A Shield slug (Testacella scutulum) appeared in my Loughor garden.

Monday, 24 December 2018

Seeing the Changes 1384

Chistmas eve activity in Loughor with a festive, yellow fungus and a male Winter moth (Operophtera brumata).

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Highroad to Nowhere?

A former astronaut has apparently criticised the Virgin Galactic concept for 'space tourism' as merely 'dangerous dead-end technology' ( pointing out that they are essentially high altitude flights that fall rapidly back to Earth. I am, surprised, however, that no one seems to point out that they would be a prominent addition to greenhouse gas emissions.

Saturday, 22 December 2018

There's a Hole in My Bucket

Ocean Cleanup, a $20m, 600m, solar-powered floating barrier, positioned off San Francisco is not quite working perfectly ( The device is intended to help remove floating plastic in the Pacific between California and Hawaii. Although it scoops up plastic, the material is escaping again. Hopefully, tweaks to the device will make it an effective nemesis for this ubiquitous human waste. 


Scientists have re-assessed the information relating to climate change and have found that many of its consequences are likely to have 'domino' effects, in that they will exacerbate other problematic changes ( This suggests that the current situation is actually much worse than has previously been argued. In deed, the changes currently being advocated may well prove wildly inadequate.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Annual Best Wishes to the Readers

Rabbit to the Rescue?

It has been reported that a modified 'rabbit gene' has been inserted by GM technology into Devil's ivy, a house plant ( The gene enables the plant filter out harmful pollutants such as chloroform and benzene. As I keep telling my students, the gene is not necessarily the exclusive property of the rabbit (many genes are shared by organisms e.g. humans share circa 20% of the genes a yeast has). So the rabbit was, presumably, a convenient source.

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Trumping It

There seems to be a splurge of folk naming critters (not always for entirely flattering reasons) after the current American President ( This Canary shouldered thorn moth would be, I feel, a pretty good candidate.

Tuesday, 18 December 2018


A survey has suggested that up to 2.2m kg of cheese will be thrown away in the UK over the Christmas period ( This is an incredible scale of waste- just because people have become bored with the cheese board.

Chickening Out!

That's one part of a 'great deal' I would rather not have anything to do with. As well as being 'chlorinated' to cover up the low welfare of chickens in some US chicken farms, a recent report ( records that some birds freeze to death or are boiled alive in American slaughterhouses. Cheapness should not, in my view, over-ride humane systems.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

The First Cut is the Deepest?

Scientist have opined, on the basis of animal studies with human growth hormone preparations, that contaminating proteins on surgical instruments may 'seed' the brain, in neurosurgical procedures, with factors implicated in Alzheimer's disease ( Their advice is that surgeons should take more care when sterilising their instruments. I seem to remember, however, that earlier studies with prions (highly resistant proteins implicated in CJD), suggested that there was no such thing as a completely safely re-utilisable (after sterilisation) surgical instrument?

Going Bananas

Interesting news concerning the soil-borne fungal threat to the world's banana crop. A Dutch University has reportedly cultured banana plants on a mixture of coco peat and rock wool thus avoiding soil ( This might be another method of protecting these highly inbred plants.

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Seeing the Changes 1383

It seems an odd time to flower but the Winter heliotrope (Petasites fragrans) is blooming in Loughor.

Brazil Nuts (and Others)?

Somewhat predictably, the UN Climate Change conference in Poland has finished without a completed agreement on how to regulate (or even count) the required reductions in greenhouse gas emissions made by different countries to reduce the chances of global temperature rises above the 'safe' level ( The change in the attitude of the new Brazilian government is particularly problematic (they have even withdrawn their offer to host the next meeting which will now be in Chile). The prognosis continues to be poor.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Getting Warmer?

A Professor from the UK Meteorological Unit has suggested, to the UN Climate Conference in Poland, that we should talk about 'global heating' rather than 'global warming' ( This certainly makes sense in terms of the physics but, I suspect, that 'warming' was used, as the actual magnitude of the change is slight. 'Slight', however, does not mean without substantial consequences for the planet and its surface dwellers.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Living Will?

A 10 year, multi-agency study by the Deep Carbon Observatory has used a combination of 5 km bore holes on land surfaces and undersea drilling sites to study living carbon-based organisms in the Earth's crust ( They estimate that more than 20 billion tons of microorganisms  live below the surface. This is a greater biomass than the planet's current human population, in spite of the region being characterised by intense heat; sparse nutrition and mind-boggling pressures. Some organisms appear to have survived (largely in a state of stasis) buried in situ for millions of years. The scientists speculate as to whether colonisation of life zones of the planet have gone from surface to interior or vice versa. That actually may not matter too much as, I suspect, that life, being opportunistic, will take advantage of vacancies that occur in either location. So, if  humans manage, by their actions, to eliminate much of the life on the surface, some 'deep life' will come to the surface, certainly speeding up the re-population process.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Piggy in the Middle

The recent Peta campaign for replacing 'meat associated' phrases with vegan alternatives is more than a bit naff ( For example, replacing "bringing home the bacon" with "bringing home the bagels", doesn't even make sense to someone unfamiliar with these breads. I am also convinced that the original phrase was not actually referring to 'bringing home' a food product (but achieving the aims?). Slightly odder is the exhortation on their piggy onesie-clan models  to "Love me, don't eat me"! If taken to a conclusion, there would be very few pigs, sheep, cows and goats (only those retained as companion animals or in petting areas of zoos?) to actually love.

Old Bird

A 68 year old Laysan albatross ('Wisdom') has, apparently, successfully avoided all the problems that can be thrown at it, to lay a single egg for the 37th time ( This makes it the oldest known bird to be actively reproducing with her 'long term lover' (actually, albatross pair-bond for life, if at all possible). The pair had to have only 2 chicks survive to breed to essentially replace themselves but, in spite of this, albatross numbers are in rapid decline on a world-wide basis. Wisdom needs to keep going.

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Airily Dismissive?

Most people don't think too much about their carbon footprint when flying off on holiday or a business trip (and, I suspect, even fewer when investing in a commercial space hop which would produce a carbon 7-league bootprint). Given that, one would hope that the suppliers of air flights might take an interest in their plane's greenhouse gas release. Sadly, however, it appears that airlines generally turn their backs on the more fuel-efficient (but more expensive?) aircraft ( As one might predict (given their enthusiasm for commercial space flight), Virgin Atlantic is reportedly one of the worst offenders.

Friday, 7 December 2018

Alzheimer Sting

Scientists at Stanford University have revealed that a major ingredient in Royal jelly (the material that produces new queen Honey bees) is a protein, Royalactin, that activates genes in the exposed bees facilitating the ability of stem cells ('undecided' cells that can produce an array of tissue types) to auto-renew ( They note that there is a similar protein in humans, Regina, with a comparable action. Customers of alternative health shops have postulated for years that Royal jelly is a valuable addition to the human diet and, in deed, there is reasonable evidence that the substance increases longevity in animals from nematode worms to mice. The Stanford group reportedly believe that developing Regina (or variants of the molecule) might have medical applications in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases (including Alzheimer's) as well as wound healing.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Cars, Coal, Climate

In spite of all the talk, 2018 was reportedly the record year for 'greenhouse' carbon emissions (with their now obvious effects on climate change). The main drivers seem to be the increased burning of coal and use of cars ( I can't see any early changes on the horizon.

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Gold Standard?

Workers at Queensland University in Australia have reportedly developed a cheap 10 minute blood test with a 90% chance of demonstrating the presence of cancer cells in the body ( Small amounts of cancer cells with their modified DNA appear in the blood. The cancer cell DNA has a different pattern of methyl groups from that found in normal cells, causing them to respond differently to gold nanoparticles added to the samples. This produces a distinctive difference in the colour of the suspensions with (remaining pink) and without (changing to blue) cancer cells. The test has, thus far, been carried out only on breast, prostate and colorectal sufferers but there is an intention to see what it does in other cancer groups. Although this screen does not tell the tester where the cancer is located or how problematic it is likely to be (these would require more detailed and traditional investigations), as a rapid test, it does seem to be a very promising development. 

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

French Farce?

I don't suppose, given the levels of widely-supported rioting in Paris, there was much else the French Government  could do but to cancel the ecologically-motivated increases in fuel, electricity and gas taxes ( It chimes with a comment by one of the Katowice (Poland and scene of the UN Climate Change conference) coal miners to the effect that those ecologists ought to remember who is doing more for the planet (ecologists or coal miners)! Such attitudes and the political responses to them might well be the planet's epitaph.

Monday, 3 December 2018

Mixed Messages?

The UN is making the point that the current generation is the last that can make the changes needed to avoid catastrophic climate change ( and St David (Attenborough) is suggesting that civilisation itself is at risk, speaking at a coal mine supported meeting in Poland ( In Australia (currently an Environmental bad-boy), enlightened schoolchildren are protesting about climate damaging government policies but, in France, people are rioting partly about increases in fuel prices (a measure designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions). The UK government appears hell-bent on encouraging fracking and the US wants more coal mining and oil extraction even in national parks. As they say "the prognosis doesn't look too good". It seems that people generally know what needs to be done but they would rather that someone else did it at their expense.

Sunday, 2 December 2018


A Chinese scientist, called He, has reportedly produced female gene-edited twins in contravention of even the relatively lax laws in China ( This is a very difficult situation as you can't really put the genie back in the bottle. It looks as if gene editing of humans is here to stay.

It's Just Not Cricket!

There are lots of people predicting that insects will increasingly replace traditional animal sources of protein in our diets ( Certainly, they can be cultured much more quickly than beef, chicken, lamb and pork and are associated with nothing like the same environmental problems. There is not actually much anatomical difference between a locust and a prawn (the former possibly has the cleaner diet) but I still think that people (not withstanding the popularity of "I'm a Celebrity: Get Me Out of Here") will have to be inventive to get the population heavily into insect grub.

'Brave' Kentish 'Hunters'

A pretty horrific story of a family of Mute swans (the pair with 5 cygnets) being slowly massacred in Kent by a person or persons unknown, before being put in plastic bags and thrown into a stream ( Apparently, that county has a very high incidence of airguns being used on wild animals (apparently, even grass-eating birds).There seems to be a good case for regulating the ownership of these weapons.

Climate Change and Health

The World Health Organisation has suggested that the impact of climate change on human health are already with us ( They point out that, not only are we losing food crops in many parts of a warming, sometimes more arid world, but heatwaves are also increasing death-rates in both younger and older citizens (they are more vulnerable). Transmitted human diseases, such as dengue fever, are also spreading to new regions of the planet. They think that we should take the situation seriously.

Friday, 30 November 2018


Even, highly successful (albeit relatively modest) attempts to bring safe cycling to UK cities get attacked by vested interests and their hired lobby groups ( The London Embankment cycle way, used by tens of thousands of cyclists per day and occupying 1 lane of a 4 lane road, is being threatened by a combination of property groups, motorised transport bodies and taxi companies. I would have thought we needed more provision for cyclists in our cities, not less!

Add a Dash of Spider Milk

Scientists in China claim to have identified a jumping spider that produces nutritious 'milk' for its spiderlings ( we normally associate milk production with Mammals, other species, e.g. pigeons, produce 'crop milk'. Consequently, the idea of producing body secretions to give one's offspring a helping start is, perhaps, more widespread than was earlier thought. Some species even donate their bodies to their progeny (they get eaten).

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Elastic Plastic

Record numbers of people reportedly turned up on beaches around the UK to remove masses of washed up plastic ( There was, however, a record amount of plastic and, I suspect, it will not be reducing anytime soon.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Turning Turtle

The weather and geography plays havoc with some animals. More than 200 sea turtles have reportedly washed up (dead or just alive) in the last few days around Cape Cod in Massachusetts ( Apparently, the cold seas result in these cold-blooded animals becoming moribund and geography makes in difficult for them to escape to warmer waters. There have also been a recent mass stranding of whales in a remote area of New Zealand.

Trackside Trees

The rail track providers are being forced to reconsider their plan to decimate the trees that line the rails in many parts of the UK ( The rail folk seem to 'hate' the trees, whose falling autumn leaves can cause delays and storms can blow trees onto the tracks. Having said that, trees are important removers of greenhouse gases (which diesel trains contribute to); provide an effective visual (and even a bit of sound deadening) screen for people living near the tracks; give rail passengers something nice to look at and might even reduce the possibility of landslides. The rail track system (like motorway verges) makes up a surprisingly high area of unbuilt and unfarmed land in the UK. Viva the trees! 

Periwinkles, Predation and Plastics

Yet another illustration of the perils of microplastics,that have now been recorded in a wide range of organisms on land and in the sea! It has been demonstrated that toxic microplastics, added to the seawater block the periwinkle's chemically-mediated attempted escape from predator crabs ( This behavioural change is likely to have a real impact on marine populations and at least raises the question whether these plastics can change human cognition. We are certainly getting doses of them when we eat seafood.

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Life With the Lions

The BBC Dynasties programme on lions in Kenya (with a controversy surrounding a young male poisoned with meat by the locals) contained some interesting footage ( It reminded me of the Masters programme carried out, under my distant supervision, by Dr  Kate Evans before she became @elephantkate, after changing her beast. Her animals (especially the females) also had a complex social life.  It was also remarkable how much of the water obtained by the animals at certain times of the year came from their prey. There were also some interesting associations between social status and their burdens of worm parasites as evidenced by eggs in the faeces (as these had to be collected fresh, there was a fraught risk assessment for the project).

Monday, 26 November 2018

Keeping Up With the Jones

It's always nice to have helped someone get a foot-hold in conservation work so it's warming to read about someone I supervised for both his Masters and PhD. Carl Jones has become renowned for his work in Mauritius (home of the Dodo), saving the Mauritius kestrel, Pink pigeon and Echo parakeet ( He has also gone on to do excellent work on the Rodrigues fody and warbler and received the prestigious Indianopolis prize. Carl is now Chief Scientist at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust with responsibilities for both plants and animals. I agree with Carl that conservation often involves difficult choices (such as killing or removing potential dangers for your focus organism) but I am less convinced by his basic claim that "It's very easy to save a species". The trouble is a) there are so many species (think about the hundreds of thousands of beetle species!), sometimes with conflicting needs; b) the locations for conservation are becoming more and more limited; c) humans don't always support (or are even antagonistic to) conservation efforts; d) money for such exercises is very restricted and e) there are some issues (e.g. plastic pollution and climate change) that are not in the hands of the conservationist.

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Blowing Hot: Blowing Cold

A US Government Report suggests that global warming (climate change) will substantially effect the lives of many US citizens ( and that too little is being done about it. It's just a pity that there are votes to be obtained by ignoring (or even robustly contradicting without any actual evidence) the advice presented. I have frequently noted that that the basic problem is that the time courses for global change and the political cycles have very different periodicities. Short-termism wins every time.

How Far Does Patient Confidentiality Extend?

These are difficult times for medics. There is news that a woman in the UK is to sue a hospital for not informing her that her father had the fatal, neurodegenerative disease of Huntington's chorea ( The hospital doctors presumably did not formally inform the immediate family of the man because of patient confidentiality (but they might have suggested that the man should inform his children as they would have a 50% chance of inheriting this condition which currently has no cure). The woman claims that, had she been informed, she would have had an abortion rather than giving birth to her daughter 8 years ago (as the woman has inherited the condition, also giving her daughter a 50% chance of developing the disease). This is a difficult one (and not, in my view, one for the legal eagles). The situation seems straight forward as described but the availability of gene testing techniques is reportedly revealing odd family secrets and misconceptions (no pun intended). What if the father had not actually conceived his 'daughter' and, because she was informed of his condition, she had an entirely unnecessary abortion? Would hospital be liable for this? I think that medical ethics needs to get on the case and give some clear guidance.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Kippered Humans?

I know I have rabbited on about this for some time but a report suggests that air pollution, world-wide, knocks some 2 years off the life-expectancy of we humans ( That's one 'bonus' that the US President is presumably not thanking the Saudis for (they are reducing the oil price).

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

PPPick-up a Penguin?

Quite a fuss has developed about the Attenborough 'Dynasty series' filming crew in the Antarctic digging an escape route from a ravine for some trapped penguins ( Arguments seem to revolve around the issue of the natural history film maker's code requiring them to not normally interfere with the lives of the animals they are studying (e.g. they would not be expected to intervene, on either side, in a predator versus prey encounter). The camera folk argue (not unreasonably) that no animal was probably directly disadvantaged by digging the escape slope (picking the penguins out of the ravine would have been different). Having said that, it could be the case that some, as yet unarrived, scavengers missed out as a result of the film-makers actions. I suspect, however, that I would have done the same under these circumstances.

Monday, 19 November 2018

Not Exactly Peanuts

Peanut allergies endanger a growing cohort of young people but it appears that possibly life-long immunotherapy by exposing sufferers to increasing doses of medical grade peanut protein is just around the corner ( Having said that, concerns have been raised that the cost might be a further challenge to a cash-strapped NHS as one would have to use a very purified material to get the safe doses needed. The thing is, however, that the allergy can (and does) kill.

'Energy Drinks' and Age of Consent?

I do wish they would stop calling them 'energy drinks' as you might well, using similar criteria, also call sugar cubes 'energy food'. Yes, the drinks contain sugar and glucose (which are actually likely to lower blood sugar levels in the short term by an insulin-mediated process termed 'reactive hypoglycaemia') but many also have high doses of caffeine. There is now a move to limit the age, at which they can be consumed, to 18 rather than 16 ( This is primarily an attempt to stop these drinks producing unruly behavioural changes in school settings. I personally think that more effort ought to be directed to convincing young (and older?) folk that these concoctions are of little benefit rather than attempting to cut off the supply by making the age of legal consumption higher.

Dicing It Up?

The Wombat appears unique in its ability to produce cuboidal faeces. Their function is pretty obvious, as the cubes will not roll away from locations where they are deposited as territorial markers but there has been a question of how the marsupial produces this shape (and, no, they haven't got square anuses!). A study ( has suggested that the last portion of the wombat's intestine (unlike that of e.g. the pig) has sections of periodic stiffness enabling it to generate 2cm cubes. The Hippopotamus also marks its territory with faeces using a 'muck-spreader' approach. If they could generate cuboidal faeces, they might look like bricks!

Czech-Mate for the Tiger?

Yet another illustration of the depths to which some people will stoop for money, is the discovery in the Czech Republic of a criminal conspiracy to deal in pelts and tissues from Tigers, Lions and Cougars desired (and purchased at great expense) by purveyors of Chinese 'Medicine' ( The 'farm' had lots of rotting animal parts in freezer chests lacking the necessary electrical supply as well as strange 'stews' of animal bones and meat. This finding gives the lie to the claim that Europeans would never be involved in such an unsavoury trade.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Plastic Piranhas

I really don't know why people are surprised to find plastic contaminants in the bodies of fresh-water, Amazonian fish ( Given the duration and ubiquitousness of plastic use, I would be astounded if they weren't found in all living things in every location on the planet.

Gulling the Gulls?

The description of Herring gulls as a 'seagull' is a bit of a misnomer as these birds are essentially opportunistic agents in a variety of locations (not always by the sea). The prediction that they might well decline in our cities with improvements in our treatment of human waste is, I feel, a tad optimistic ( Many of our high-rise buildings seem to have characteristics of the elevated, predator free nesting locations that these birds favour and edible rubbish still exists outside treatment areas. I predict that they will still thrive in our cities.

Saturday, 17 November 2018


What is essentially a meta-analysis has strongly suggested that male symptoms of depression and anxiety can be alleviated by treatment with testosterone ( This essentially means that the disturbed mood in males is strongly linked to their endocrine status (so, either depression lowers testosterone or lowered testosterone, as in aging cohorts, tends to elevate depression). Although not currently recommended by NICE, testosterone might be a relatively cheap therapy for some forms of male depression.

Seeing the Changes 1470

Traveller's joy ( Clematis vitalba ) in flower in Loughor.