Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Physick and Life?


I find it difficult to get excited about Paul Davies' 'Demon in the Machine' (this title seems a slight mutation of the traditional Ghost in the Machine idea) book attempt to apply the laws of Physics to an understanding of life (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/jan/26/i-predict-great-revolution-physicists-define-life-paul-davies).  His simple analogy of waving a 'life detector' over a variety of inanimate, animate, semi-animate and recently animate objects doesn't strike me as especially meaningful (even if a 'life detector' responding to a radiated aspect of life existed). Surely, a genetic code and the ability to propagate copies of that code must lie at the root of life? Remember that life can exist in forms where life per se is undetectable for extended periods as in the case of a bacterial endospore. So life is defined by what it might do rather than by what it is. Could the Davies thesis be yet another iteration of the intelligent design attack on NeoDarwinism?

Saturday, 26 January 2019

Changing Flights


The 40th year of the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch (the Birdwatch is presumably the big item rather than, necessarily the garden?) has revealed some interesting changes (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/25/bye-bye-blackbird-rspbs-big-garden-birdwatch-marks-40-years). Numbers of Blackbirds, House sparrows, Song thrush and Starlings have continued downward trends whilst Coal tits, Collared doves, Wood pigeons and Wrens have shown marked increases. The changes might well, in some cases, reflect what people put into bird feeders. Perhaps the species that are attracted to our gardens could, in some cases, deter other species.

Have They Had Their Chips?




It looks like cod is due to have a difficult time as much of I used in the UK originates in the Barent's Sea near the Arctic (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/25/cod-stocks-on-course-to-crash-if-ocean-warming-continues). These cold waters absorb much more carbon dioxide than warmer seas and this results, via the formation of carbonic acid, in acidification. It has been demonstrated that a combination of acidification and increasing temperature greatly increases mortality in cod larvae. The scientists predict that initial warming will increase cod stocks but they will subsequently crash to near zero as the fry fry, as the sea temperature reaches 6 degrees Centigrade.

Friday, 25 January 2019

Seeing the Changes 1389


The Lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) bloomed in Loughor.

The Kids are Allright!


Governments and large companies sometimes seem to treat countering climate change as an optional extra. One has to be impressed that some young people (in schools and colleges) are now strongly making their views on this issue known- including travelling to the Davos 'rich fest'  (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/24/school-strikes-over-climate-change-continue-to-snowball). As they rightly point out, they might well be lumbered with an uninhabitable planet if the 'adults' don't get their act together and become a little less obsessed by 'profits' (you can't spend much when you have destroyed everything).

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Along with the Congratulations on the Birth of Your New Baby?


Apparently, around half of new parents in the UK are targeted with misinformation about vaccinations by the anti-vaxxers (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jan/24/anti-vaxxers-spread-misinformation-on-social-media-report). I'm sure that the inventors of the world wide web didn't expect it to be used for this purpose. Many parents reportedly believe that you can have too many vaccinations (it depends what you are likely to be exposed to).

Mice Driven to the End of the Road?


A technique called 'gene drive' is being advocated for driving feral populations of mice on islands to extinction (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/jan/23/scientists-rewrite-mice-dna-so-genes-can-be-spread-through-species). The modifications to the organism's DNA are such that they rapidly spread through the entire population even when they result in infertility (this is exactly what doesn't happen in normal natural selection). The reason for advocating the method is that it would remove the introduced rodents more effectively than using poisoning (the only current alternative) in situations where they threaten the survival of ground nesting seabirds. This is all very good but suggestions that 'gene drive' can be used to, e.g. remove malaria transmitting mosquitos, are more problematic. Malaria is a very serious hazard for humans but the mosquitos are not restricted to small areas (so, treated areas might be rapidly repopulated). It is also the case that many fish and bird species are dependent on larval and adult mosquitos as major food sources. Their elimination might have wide-ranging effects on ecosystems. 

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Puffs by the Puffers?


It's somewhat scary that most of the thinktanks that advocate free market trading reportedly receive funding from the tobacco companies (https://www.theguardian.com/business/ng-interactive/2019/jan/23/free-market-thinktanks-tobacco-industry). Given the damage to health that tobacco products cause throughout the world, it doesn't fill me with confidence that their pronouncements are going to be balanced and will favour and benefit humanity.

Windbags?


Perhaps this claim accounts for the UK government's apparent antipathy to wind farms/ solar panels and it's enthusiasm for fracking (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/23/uk-has-biggest-fossil-fuel-subsidies-in-the-eu-finds-commission ). I must admit that I had thought we were a bit more enlightened (given the actuality of climate change and repeated claims of the country being on track to an acceptable reduction in the generation of 'greenhouse gases'), than to be claiming top spot in the provision of subsidies for fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) in the EU. It almost make the Prince William/ David Attenborough show at Davos seem like the pronouncements of a different country.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Being Plastic on Plastic?


An NGO has reportedly established that many members of a consortium, whose stated aim is reducing the problems of plastic waste, have invested billions in plastic production (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/21/founders-of-plastic-waste-alliance-investing-billions-in-new-plants). This might genuinely reflect a desire to control which plastics are produced (and effectively recycled) or it might be simple 'greenwash'.

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Day Trippers?


It has been reported that European eels, frequenting the Thames, are becoming hyperactive due to the levels of cocaine in the urine of Londoners that finds its way into the river waters  (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/cocaine-in-thames-makes-eels-hyperactive-lkd3vhncd). It just shows that even innocently migrating fish are not immune to the habitats of their human neighbours. It also suggests that the cocaine habit is pretty rife in Londoners.

Saturday, 19 January 2019

Seeing the Changes 1388




Nature stirring! Alder (Alnus glutinosa) and Black poplar (Populus nigra) with catkins in Penclacwydd. More remarkable, was the observation that Ivy-leaved toadflax (Cymbalaria muralis) was in bloom in Loughor.

Friday, 18 January 2019

One Great Deal We Might Want to Reconsider?


Making meat from the US more accessible in the UK might not be totally beneficial, as records have shown an almost doubling of the recalls of potentially lethal beef and chicken since 2013 (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/18/us-meat-poultry-recalls-nearly-double-since-2013). The main problems are Salmonella and Listeria, probably linked to the over-use of antibiotics as growth stimulants in the US (this would obviously encourage the development of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria). Strangely, contaminated meat doesn't have to be withdrawn, it is said,  unless it has been linked to human illness.

Thursday, 17 January 2019

It May Be a Healthy Diet But I'm Not Sure I Could Take It?


It is certainly the case that much is wrong with our diets in the UK, with obesity reportedly being a bigger killer than the contribution made by smoking, unsafe sex and every other unhealthy activity. What we eat also clearly has a major detrimental influence on the environment of the planet. I am not sure, however, whether I would be able to live on the menu proposed in this article (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/17/seeds-kale-red-meat-once-a-month-diet-save-the-world). It certainly would be an end to cookery programmes and eating out. I also suspect that, if red meat was only consumed once a month, it would become a very expensive item. The described diet also appears to take no account of the body size and level of activity of the eater?

Birder's Bonus 187


Groups of waders on the banks of the Loughor at Bynea. Possibly Godwits?

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Before He Croaks


A Bolivian Water frog, labelled Romeo by his keepers, has apparently had his prayers answered (https://www.geek.com/news/romeo-finds-his-juliet-in-the-bolivian-wilderness-1769682/). This has all been done without his dating app on the web. Although there was a fear that he might be the last of his line, a female has been located in a stream and the hope is to introduce the pair with a view to generating froglets that can be used in reintroduction programmes. Amphibia, across the globe, are currently having a very tough time.

Insectecide


A scientist, returning to the Luquillo rainforest in Puerto Rico after 35 years, has found that circa 98% of ground-based insects have disappeared (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/15/insect-collapse-we-are-destroying-our-life-support-systems). I suspect that this destruction of  'our life support systems' is even more intense in many parts of the world.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Birder's Bonus 186


A Great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) is back on the peanuts in my Loughor garden!

Hackney Cough?


In spite of it now being well-established that car fumes cause many premature deaths in the UK and have particular influences on pregnancy (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/11/air-pollution-as-bad-as-smoking-in-increasing-risk-of-miscarriage ) and development, attempts by councils to limit access of polluting cars and trucks to certain areas in London are reportedly meeting with verment opposition (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/12/drivers-resist-low-emission-scheme-as-london-struggles-to-clean-up-its-air). In terms of tackling major environmental problems, it does seem that one has to deal with a well-heeled 'I don't see why people should be able to curtail my ability to carrying on what I am doing' group of folk. 

Elephants Lose Their Tusks


Great excitement in some of the media over the observation that elephants in Mozambique seem to be losing their tusks (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6584333/Elephants-EVOLVED-not-grow-tusks-Mozambique-national-park.html ). This just shows the power of strong selection pressures as male elephants lacking these large ivories will not be selected by poachers. Although the tusks can be useful in feeding and in intermale competition for mates, this is not much benefit if you are shot. Examples of 'fast' evolution are, however, not uncommon. In Australia, snakes have recently shown a big reduction in their gapes. This seems to be related to such skins not being able to ingest highly poisonous Cane toads (introduced to the country in a vain attempt to eradicate beetles from cane sugar crops) which would kill them.

Friday, 11 January 2019

Seeing the Changes 1387

 
 

In Penclacwydd, Hazel (Corylus avellane) has both female (red) and male (yellow catkin) flowers. In Loughor, Crab apple (Malus sylvestris) was in flower and small bumblebees (Bombus sp) bumbled.

Moral Fibre


A WHO endorsed study has strongly suggested that dietary fibre (as found in many 'good' carbohydrates such as oats and whole grain bread) is beneficial in terms of reducing the incidences of heart disease and colonic cancer (https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/jan/10/high-fibre-diets-cut-heart-disease-risk-landmark-study-finds). This, as a corollary, challenges enthusiasts for 'low carb diets', that are often used by people wanting to lose weight. Losing weight is often a good idea (it is a risk factor) but not if it substantially increases health risks per se. Apparently, relatively few people in the UK take in sufficient fibre on a daily basis. Bring on the oats, dried fruit and nuts (just hope the teeth are up to it)!

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Coals and Newcastle?


Is the UK Government serious about reducing carbon dioxide emissions? Permissions are, reportedly, being sought to extract around 3 million tons of coal from behind the sand dunes at Druridge Bay in Northumberland (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/10/take-heed-of-science-minister-urged-to-drop-new-coal-mining-plans). If the minister in London grants the company permissions to operate in this coastal area it will a) confirm that they are only playing lip service to attempting to do something positive about climate change and b) environmental protections in areas outside the SE (they can sometimes be pretty wonky even there) are fairly meaningless.

Grub's Up For Fido?


It seems that pet dogs consume one fifth of the generated meat and fish generated on the planet (although one has to admit that pet foods generally contain the products that are not favoured by humans). so, if one wanted to reduce one's impact on global warming by consuming more plant-based food, one has a problem if you maintain a carnivorous pet. One semi-solution seems to be to use a recently marketed (in the UK) pet food that uses insect larvae as the source of much of the protein (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/10/dog-food-made-from-insects-on-sale). Insects can be quickly grown and are associated with much less carbon dioxide and methane generation than are cattle. They can also be homogenised into the food items. This might give pet-owning 'greenies' the best of both worlds but it will only be of benefit if it doesn't reduce meat production by cattle (otherwise, the offal might simply be discarded).

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Hot Tomato?


Researchers from Brazil and Ireland are suggesting that tomatoes can be genetically modified (GM) to produce capsaicin, the chemical that makes chilli peppers so pungent (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/jan/07/gene-editing-could-create-spicy-tomatoes-say-researchers ). This, along with tweaks to the tastes of strawberries, is presented as a culinary opportunity. All this is a little sad for the British, who once did ground-breaking work on GM, but have been strongly discouraged from such endeavours by direct action.

Monday, 7 January 2019

It's Just Cricket


The 'sonic attack' (causing headaches and some repatriations) on US diplomatic personnel in Havana has been revealed as most likely caused by local, love-lorn male crickets (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/06/sonic-attack-on-us-embassy-in-havana-could-have-been-crickets-say-scientists). As pointed out by the scientists, the confusion might well have resulted from an unfamiliarity with these noisy insects.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Pseudofish


I appreciate that we humans should be eating more plant-based food and rather less meat but I do find the tone of some current articles on vegan alternatives a bit weird. We are already familiar with vegan sausages and beetroot-blooded 'hamburgers' but we are now facing vegan 'fish' dishes (https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/jan/05/supermarkets-offer-vegan-fish). This, reportedly will include 'fishless fingers', potato-based smoked salmon along with prawn and tuna replacements. The reason I find it weird is that (even though these products might help people ditch/reduce meat and fish ingestion) what is essentially being signed up to is a bunch of totally artificial foods manufactured by companies. I could well imagine such products, under other circumstances, being attacked as ersatz. Surely some vegan foods are tasty enough in their own right? 

Seeing the Changes 1386



Surprisingly, Red campion (Silene dioica) was in flower in Penclacwydd. Less surprisingly, Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) were blooming in Loughor.

Saturday, 5 January 2019

'Locals' and Fracking

I have never been convinced about the 'benefits' of fracking,  particularly in the case of a small, crowded island like the UK. So it is somewhat reassuring to hear reports that the Greater Manchester Council (hardly an area to be 'anti-industry') is to indicate that there will be a presumption against granting planning permissions for any such activities in its area (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/04/greater-manchester-tells-fracking-firms-they-are-not-welcome ). If the establishment of city councils with elected mayors is to have any relevance, they should be able to rule on issues such as fracking in their area (after all, they must take into account the strong reasoned antipathy to this development of their local electorate). It is even more a source of encouragement that other city councils in the UK appear to be taking or planning similar actions.

Friday, 4 January 2019

Allergic to Allergies?

A study in the US has revealed that about 50% of people who think they have an allergy, don't actually have one (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jan/04/half-of-people-who-think-they-have-a-food-allergy-do-not-study). It is suggested that the situation is very similar in other countries including the UK. Actual allergies can be life-threatening but many people do not carry Epipens to administer adrenalin (often people just avoid the foods they think they are 'allergic' to). The study also suggested that many folk with real allergies developed them in adulthood rather than having the condition from childhood (this suggests that their first anaphylactic condition can be very dangerous). It is clear that much more regular scientific testing for allergies would be helpful and, potentially, life-saving.

Rats!

More reports of bait-poison-resistant rats, drawing parallels to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in hospitals (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-19974261). Some authorities have linked the spread of resistant 'super rats' to people administering the bait inappropriately so that a full lethal dose is not taken (the whole procedure is pretty barbaric as the lethally-dosed rat essentially bleeds to death via small lesions in the lumen of its intestine), whereas others have simply noted the arising of resistance genes that can be inherited from one or both parents. Rats actually have a very impressive (for a mammal) reproductive rate and any organism with such characteristics is well-placed to develop resistance to any of the treatments devised (or hijacked) by we humans.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Not so Sweet?

Slightly scary news that the average 10 year old in England has consumed all the sugar that their 18-year old self should have been allocated (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jan/02/average-10-year-old-18-years-worth-of-sugar-public-health-england). This over-consumption leads to many costly (to the individuals and the NHS) health issues including obesity, type 2 diabetes and multiple loss of teeth. Everyone seems to recognise that sugar consumption in children is too high but the big 'food' manufacturers seem to be very slow in their voluntary undertaking to reduce the sugar content of items aimed at children by 20% (they have only managed 2%). They seem to be worried about the threat to introduce a 'pudding tax', claiming that nobody has yet demonstrated that increasing the costs of harmful food leads to a reduction in average weight in children. In fairness establishing such a complex link, given the variables involved, would be difficult but threat of a tax might well focus their attention!

A Brazilian?

A Brazilian is not just an interesting hair trim.  The inauguration of their new, right-wing president (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/01/jair-bolsonaro-inauguration-progressive-brazil-rainforest-protections-police) seems to cut to the bone.There is an end of civilization feel to the country putting its faith in a Trump-admiring newbie who reportedly seems keen to replace the Amazon rainforest with agricultural developments, to remove lands from indigenous people and to denigrate women. For example, his appointment of an environmental minister who apparently believes that 'global warming' is bogus plot developed by 'communists' echoes Trump's stated belief that it is is a Chinese ploy to reduce the commercial efficiency of the USA. There is no doubt that we live in interesting times.  

Treatment for Headcases?

It has recently been demonstrated that a cheap and easily-available drug, transexamic acid, used to treat knife and gunshot wounding, ben...