Monday, 31 December 2018

Outliers?

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 (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/dec/31/conservation-push-yields-results-for-uk-sea-life-but-challenges-remain-plastic-pollution#img-1) 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' (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/dec/18/richard-bransons-virgin-galactic-space-flights-criticised-as-dangerous-dead-end-tech) 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 (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/dec/20/great-pacific-garbage-patch-20m-cleanup-fails-to-collect-plastic). 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. 

Domino

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 (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/dec/20/risks-of-domino-effect-of-tipping-points-greater-than-thought-study-says). 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 (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/dec/19/houseplant-rabbit-dna-reduce-air-pollution-study-devils-ivy). 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 (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/dec/18/blind-amphibian-named-after-trumps-climate-change-stance). This Canary shouldered thorn moth would be, I feel, a pretty good candidate.

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Cheesey

A survey has suggested that up to 2.2m kg of cheese will be thrown away in the UK over the Christmas period (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/dec/16/cheese-uk-waste-mountain-christmas-borough-market). 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 (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/dec/17/chickens-freezing-to-death-and-boiled-alive-failings-in-us-slaughterhouses-exposed) 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 (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/dec/13/neurosurgery-could-spread-protein-linked-to-alzheimers-study-finds). 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 (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/dec/14/first-dutch-bananas-could-help-tackle-fungal-threat). 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 (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/dec/15/un-climate-change-talks-postpone-contentious-issues-with-draft-agreement). 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' (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/dec/13/global-heating-more-accurate-to-describe-risks-to-planet-says-key-scientist). 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 (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/dec/10/tread-softly-because-you-tread-on-23bn-tonnes-of-micro-organisms). 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 (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/dec/06/meat-idioms-peta-vegan-alternatives). 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 (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/dec/07/worlds-oldest-bird-lays-egg-wisdom-albatross). 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 (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/dec/08/airlines-ignoring-efficient-planes-carbon-targets-tui-airways-atmosfair-index-virgin-atlantic). 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 (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/dec/04/royal-jelly-research-could-propel-cure-for-alzheimers-claim-scientists). 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 (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/dec/05/brutal-news-global-carbon-emissions-jump-to-all-time-high-in-2018). 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 (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/dec/04/scientists-develop-10-minute-universal-cancer-test). 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 (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/04/french-government-to-suspend-fuel-tax-increase-say-reports). 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 (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/dec/03/we-are-last-generation-that-can-stop-climate-change-un-summit) and St David (Attenborough) is suggesting that civilisation itself is at risk, speaking at a coal mine supported meeting in Poland (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/dec/03/david-attenborough-collapse-civilisation-on-horizon-un-climate-summit). 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

He-Man

A Chinese scientist, called He, has reportedly produced female gene-edited twins in contravention of even the relatively lax laws in China (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/nov/29/work-on-gene-edited-babies-blatant-violation-of-the-law-says-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 (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/09/dan-barber-20-years-from-now-youll-be-eating-fast-food-crickets). 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 (https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/dec/02/killing-of-swan-family-in-kent-brings-calls-for-airgun-regulation). 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 (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/28/climate-change-already-a-health-emergency-say-experts). 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.

Seeing the Changes 1354

Not much change at Crymlyn burrows but Heather ( Calluna vulgaris ) was displaying well and spotted a first Speckled wood ( Pararge ae...