Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Blocking a Nicer Rice?

Vitamin A deficiency is estimated to affect some 250 million children in poorer countries. The condition is rare in the developed world as many foods contain this fat-soluble material. One potential aid was to develop a genetically modified form of rice with a gene producing beta carotene which can be used as a building block for the vitamin. Because of its colour, this has been termed 'Golden rice'. There are claims that ecological organisations have blocked the release of this GMO largely because it has been produced by genetic engineering (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/26/gm-golden-rice-delay-cost-millions-of-lives-child-blindness), resulting in many deaths and cases of blindness (especially night blindness) in children. This is somewhat surprising as people seem very accepting of GMOs to produce human insulin and growth hormone for medical applications.

Just a Tick

It's not only Lyme's disease that lurks in a UK tick waiting to bite you. Small numbers of cases of tick-borne encephalitis virus have been identified in Norfolk and on the Dorset-Hampshire border (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/oct/29/tick-borne-encephalitis-found-uk-first-time). Although the risk is currently classified as 'low', the incidence of transmission might well change with climate change.

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Friday, 25 October 2019

Pouring Cold Waters?

Researchers in Canada have established that the cold, relatively lifeless waters of glacial rivers actually remove more carbon from the atmosphere than a comparable area of rainforest (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/25/scientists-glacial-rivers-absorb-carbon-faster-rainforests). This suggests that there is yet another downside for the disappearing glaciers.

Chicken Lickin?

Retailers are reportedly rushing to 'reassure' UK shoppers at supermarkets that the seizure of a consignment of Chinese antibiotics en route to a large chicken farm in Northern Ireland does not indicate that there was any risk to their health by eating flesh containing drug residues (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/23/retailers-move-to-reassure-consumers-over-chicken-safety-after-drug-seizure-northern-ireland). That is hardly the point. The antibiotic, although approved for regulated veterinary use, seemed to be possibly destined for use as a growth (and, hence, profit) promoter. Such use by farmers, in other parts of the world (it's banned under EU regulations), is one reason for the rapid development of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria, threatening human health by returning us to a pre-antibiotic era. It is not just the use of chlorine wash on American chicken that should put us off facilitating its importation to our shores. Nor do we need to adopt their rearing systems for chickens here.

Slow Hitch-hiking?

It has been reported (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/23/snail-fail-australia-turns-back-mercedes-benz-cars-after-escargot-cargo-found ) that the Australian authorities have sent 900 luxury Mercedes cars back to their country of origin as some were found to be carrying Heath snails (Xerolenta obvia). Given Australia's past problems with biosecurity, the Department of Agriculture was keen not to risk this previously never before detected alien entering the country. The snail eats cereal crops and fruit trees and carries a range of parasites and fungal spores.

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Ratatouille

Scientists in the Palm oil plantations of Malaysia were reportedly surprised to find that local Pig-tailed macaques were feasting on rats in these cultured 'forests' (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/22/rat-eating-macaques-stun-scientists-malaysia). It was surprising that these monkeys captured and consumed so much animal flesh but it was also recognised that they were reducing the losses of palm oil (a somewhat problematic crop) to the rats. Primates are generally great opportunists!

Bullion on Mullion?

The appearance of copious numbers of elastic bands on Mullion island off the coast of Cornwall confused scientists for some time (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/23/depressing-mystery-of-elastic-bands-found-on-remote-mullion-island-solved). It now appears that nesting gulls were picking up these items (often dropped by postal workers on the mainland) and bringing back these 'worms' to feed to their chicks. The practice suggests that food items are very much in short supply for these birds. The bands might well cause many problems for animals in this location.

Seeing the Changes 1360

Caddis flies come to Loughor.

Monday, 21 October 2019

Brain Insurance

Recent Israeli work suggests that our brains have a mechanism that only associates death with other people (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/oct/19/doubting-death-how-our-brains-shield-us-from-mortal-truth). Although death (and supposedly taxes) are the only things that one can absolutely rely on, it appears likely that recognising our inevitable ending doesn't help us to successfully operate as biological entities. It seems likely that this 'double think' is a very human characteristic but I wonder if other cognizant beings operate in a similar fashion?

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Treatment for Headcases?

It has recently been demonstrated that a cheap and easily-available drug, transexamic acid, used to treat knife and gunshot wounding, benefits people with mild to moderate brain injuries (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/oct/14/common-drug-could-prevent-thousands-of-head-injury-deaths). The drug does not help patients with severe brain injuries and has to be given as quickly as possible after the traumatic event. It works by slowing the breakdown of blood clots. Perhaps there is a role for this treatment in some contact sports (by the ring or the pitch side) where brain injuries are likely?

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Rough for Rabbits

A recent study has suggested that many UK-based rabbit pets (rather than being simple animals to keep) actually suffer from a combination of poor housing, inadequate diets and parasite infections (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/13/domestic-rabbits-plagued-by-diseases-and-poor-diets-study-finds). I have commented previously on the need for caging to be sufficiently long to accommodate the animal's saltatory (jumping) mode of locomotion but was a bit concerned by the bald statement that rabbits should not be housed in isolation. Oryctolagus cuniculus is clearly a social animal and females can safely be housed in groups. There are, however, problems with other combinations. Housing intact males with females provides opportunities for rabbits to express their fabled reproductive capacity. Whereas housing male (buck) rabbits together can result in very damaging fighting unless the partners are castrated.

Monday, 14 October 2019

Cowzebras?

Painting cows with zebra stripes reduces the attacks by biting flies by 50% and seems a good alternative to using insecticides (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/11/if-the-shoo-fits-cows-painted-with-zebra-stripes-keep-flies-in-line). This work, of course, reflects attempts to determine WHY zebras have stripes. Rather than being a device to blend into the background, it appears that the pattern interrupts the motion detection systems of flying ectoparasites, making landing more difficult. Perhaps the breeders will be able to come up with striped cows, negating the need to paint?

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Inner Salamander?

Recent research has suggested that the former view that adult humans cannot repair damaged cartilage is not quite true (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/oct/09/our-inner-salamander-could-help-treat-arthritis-study-finds ). It does seem possible to stimulate repair (a process that could be very useful in treating arthritis) and this is easier in the toes and fingers than in the knees and elbows. The authors speculate that this may a hangover of a process in animals like salamanders who can regrow appendages lost to predators. Re-growing a finger is easier for them than items closer to the body (which would make sense if the bulk of the amphibian escaped the attack). There could, however, be alternative suggestions. Cartilage may grow better at lower temperatures (as in the extremities) than in areas that are more internal?

Friday, 11 October 2019

Troubled Waters?

It's somewhat scary that, in spite of the growing public concerns about climate change and mass extinctions, the big petrochemical companies are reportedly planning to pour an extra 7 million barrels of oil per day into the markets (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/10/oil-firms-barrels-markets). This is in contrast to the claim that some of these state- or privately-owned companies are actively exploring 'green' alternative energy sources.

Servicing the Profits

It has been reported that, in spite of their apparently green leanings, that 'big tech' companies such as Google and Facebook, make substantial contributions to right-wing 'think tanks' that attack climate change science (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/oct/10/power-silicon-valley-climate-crisis-big-tech-profitable). The explanation is that the recipients of these monies can be relied on to support an obscure US law enabling the tech companies to avoid lawsuits for content  published on line by claiming that (unlike, e.g. a newspaper) they only provide a platform and cannot be held responsible for accuracy. If the law was to be repealed, it would hit the profits of these digital companies. The defence of the companies is "that we don't always agree with all the policies of the think tanks". So, it looks as if the profit motive might well eventually fry the planet!

Whale of a Time?

People get very excited when whales appear in British rivers. The truth, however, is that such appearances are generally, as in the case of the young Sperm whale in the Thames, fatal for the marine Mammal (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/08/humpback-whale-seen-in-thames-has-died-says-rescue-service). Whales only appear in these inappropriate locations because they have become disorientated or have been injured (often by collision with a ship).

Friday, 4 October 2019

Man the Mangrove!

In Queensland and Northern Territory in Australia a 400 km stretch of Mangrove has been decimated (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/03/shocked-scientists-find-400km-of-dead-and-damaged-mangroves-in-gulf-of-carpentaria). This is probably due to a combination of record high temperatures, declining sea levels and a sequence of two cyclones in that area. No matter how generated, the loss will be felt in terms of land erosion and the loss of habitat by many developing marine organisms. 

Do Humans Really 'Risk Living in an Empty World'?

A UN spokeswoman on biodiversity has claimed that humans, by continuing to cause mass extinctions (just like a giant meteor hit), 'ri...