Thursday, 31 May 2018
A study with mice has demonstrated that the sensations of 'sweet' and 'bitter' are processed in the insular cortex of the brain which is connected to other neural areas, including the amygdala, where they are interpreted as 'nice' and 'nasty', respectively (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/may/30/desire-for-sugar-eliminated-in-mice-by-rewiring-brains). The authors suggest that sweet is interpreted as nice because the foods with this characteristic are high in calories. Using genetically-modified mice, they were able to photo-stimulate the responses without the mice ingesting anything (causing subjects to avoid rooms when the bitter sensation was triggered via the amygdala but to seek them out when the sweet alternative was selected). The mice also showed markedly increased ingestion of neutral water when the sweet area was stimulated. They suggest that it may be possible to re-programme phenomena like sugar craving, helping people to reduce their intake of this material.
A fossil, Megachirella wachtleri, from the Dolomites appears to be a lizard-like animal that gave rise to all the squamates (lizards, snakes and worm lizards) of modern times. What is remarkable is that the fossil is from Triassic rocks lain down some 75 million years before the great extinction event that took out the dinosaurs and many other land and marine organisms (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/may/30/worlds-oldest-lizard-fossil-forces-rethink-of-reptile-family-tree). Prior to this study that combines fossil skeletal anatomy and DNA studies, it was assumed that the squamates evolved after the extinction event. It now appears that their characteristics (being generally small and, perhaps, in some cases, devoted to burrowing) meant they were in a position to survive the conditions of the extinction event. In that respect, their history is not too different from the mammals who also evolved in the time of the dinosaurs but flourished after their extinction.
Wednesday, 30 May 2018
Tuesday, 29 May 2018
Monday, 28 May 2018
More items out in Loughor. Yellow corydalis (Corydalis lutea); Sulphur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta); Bramble (Rubus fructicosa) and Tower mustard (Arabis glabra) were all in bloom. Many day-flying Silver Y moths (Autographa gamma) zoomed around vegetation and a tattered Comma butterfly (Polygonia c-album) basked. Flea beetle (Phyllotrecta sp) larvae got to work on leaves.
A suggestion by the Minister for the Environment that England (the issue is devolved in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales) might get more National Parks after a review of existing provision (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/27/england-may-get-more-national-parks-after-protected-areas-review) needs to be unpicked a little. It sounds like a nice response to the burgeoning increase in the human population and the recorded declines in a range of important wildlife habitats but, I suspect, a) the review will take little account of the destructive effects of human activity within some existing parks; b) the possibility of 'green belt' being taken for home building will still be on the table and c) little cash or incentive will be available to move people out of any newly designated areas. Nice mood music?
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/28/return-of-the-bison-herd-makes-surprising-comeback-on-dutch-coast). Their actual location is (atypically for the species) an area of dunes and ponds. The people involved in the programme believe that they have demonstrated that European bison are not an exclusively forest species. The herd seem popular with tourists who are asked not to approach them too closely and the animals feed successfully on the scrub vegetation. I suspect that the area will turn out to have a relatively small carrying capacity for this species and there might well eventually be problems with damage to the environment by these powerful animals. Still, nice to see them back. Tot zeins!
Sunday, 27 May 2018
There seems to be serious concern that some soft British fruit might well go unpicked because of difficulties in obtaining the usual seasonal migrant workers from the continent (https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/may/27/uk-farmers-strawberries-migrant-workers-crisis). If this occurs on a large scale, it would result in farmers ceasing to grow such crops and the country having to import yet more fruit. This is likely to increase the 'carbon footprint' of foods we are actively trying to encourage people to eat to benefit their health.
Under pressure from changes in public opinion about the environmental dangers of plastic waste (Blue Planet 2?), the UK Government has made a lot of positive noises about their enthusiasm for (eventual) reduction. There are now suggestions that they should at least follow the imminent EU legislation banning single use plastics in drinking straws, stirrers, plastic cutlery and cotton buds et cetera (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/27/britain-follow-european-ban-single-use-plastic). They might be quickly eliminated from the Houses of Parliament but everything else in the country seems to be manana!
The suggestion that the UK relaxes the EU embargo on American chlorinated chicken post-Brexit has not been greeted with universal enthusiasm. A laboratory study has now found that such washing (put in place to counter the inferior hygiene of US poultry) does not eliminate bacterial infections with Listeria and Salmonella (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/may/26/chicken-health-fear-chlorine-washing-fails-bacteria-tests-brexit-salmonella-listeria). Although the meat could be rendered safe by thorough cooking, it does raise the strong possibility of cross-contamination by the raw chicken. Chlorine treatment also seems pretty ineffective in cleaning up vegetables like spinach.
Saturday, 26 May 2018
More activity amongst the local flowers. Long-headed poppy (Papaver dubium) in bloom in Bynea. In Penclacwydd, the Hemlock water dropwort (Oenanthe crocata); Southern marsh orchid (Dactylorhiza praetermissa) and Wayfaring tree (Viburnum lantana) were flowering. In that location, the Common froghopper (Philaenus spumarius) operated their individual spittoons.
Researchers have reportedly found fossilised dandruff in association with the remains of small, carnivorous, feathered dinosaurs (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/may/25/oldest-known-case-of-dandruff-found-in-125-million-year-old-dinosaur). They suspect that the presence of feathers forced such reptiles to modify their normal skin shedding in one piece, replacing it by losing small, localised items of skin (i.e. dandruff). Modern birds also produce dandruff but in a form that facilities cooling of the body (probably more energetically-demanding in modern birds due to their much longer flights, than in microraptors and the earliest birds).
Friday, 25 May 2018
There is reportedly a technique termed 'neuro-marketing' that aims to take over the brains of children and other susceptible groups, twisting their preferences, in attempts to sell them junk foods (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/may/25/food-firms-may-face-litigation-over-neuromarketing-to-hijack-brains). A consequence, is that some sections of the medical profession, who are seriously concerned about the effects of obesity, are considering bringing court cases against the perpetrators on the grounds that they are causing wilful damage to their clients.
There is a claim that the giant meteor strike that eliminated the dinosaurs also wiped out the flying birds that had evolved from one of their branches (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/24/birds-had-to-relearn-flight-after-meteor-that-wiped-out-dinosaurs). This left only flightless, emu-like species that presumably scavenged in the debris until the forests regrew and re-assuming flight became of utility again.
A UN spokeswoman on biodiversity has claimed that humans, by continuing to cause mass extinctions (just like a giant meteor hit), 'ri...
A combination of night rain and day-time sun has resulted in more Bynea blooms. The Southern marsh orchid ( Dactylorhiza praetermissa...
The fuss about allegedly suspect data emanating from the East Anglia University Climatic Research Unit and the 'theft' of emails fr...
Workers in Montreal have shown that adding boiling water to a single plastic tea-bag releases almost 15 billion micro and nano particles ...