Thursday, 30 April 2020
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/30/clean-air-in-europe-during-lockdown-leads-to-11000-fewer-deaths). Although this is only a fraction of the deaths (more than 200k) produced by the virus, one also should note that there have also been fewer people developing long-term respiratory illnesses (like asthma) so the health gains may well be higher. It would be a good move if this was remembered as we move out of lockdown. We should try to improve health as a matter of course.
Wednesday, 29 April 2020
https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/apr/25/degrees-of-separation-can-universities-adapt-in-the-rush-to-online-learning). The most immediate impact has been the urgent need to migrate most of the teaching from lecture theatres, tutorial groups and Laboratories to electronic equivalents involving 'Zoom' and other platforms (it will be interesting to see what we return to at the end of lockdown). Additional academic problems are raised for examinations (as unseen, invigilated papers no longer fit the bill) and independent quality control by external examiners talking directly to candidates becomes problematic. In addition, although one can develop and utilise 'virtual' practical and fieldwork sessions, I do not feel that they deliver precisely the same skill sets to participating students. The research aspect of the role of universities also has challenges, especially in terms of team work and using people as subjects in studies. You can add to this the loss of the social development aspect of student life with the closures of bars, eating facilities, sports venues et cetera. The UK Universities are also likely to take a major hit by the 'disappearance' of an estimated quarter of a million of overseas students (and their fees). The constructed accommodation blocks will also fail to bring in the calculated finances from both students and conferences. The University sector has been a major earner for UK plc, it will be interesting to see whether it (or some of it) can weather the storm.
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/29/microplastics-disrupt-hermit-crabs-ability-to-choose-shell-study-suggests). These soft-bodied crabs generally utilise vacated gastropod mollusc shells for protection and, of course, they have to adjust the size of the selected shell to the size of their own bodies (some will even fight other hermits for a preferred residence). Culturing them in tanks with microplastic-laced seawater (now almost ubiquitous in our oceans), impairs their ability to choose the most suitable shell. This will challenge the survival of these species.
Tuesday, 28 April 2020
https://www.theguardian.com/science/2020/apr/27/scientists-create-glowing-plants-using-mushroom-genes). These are tolerated by the plant as they act upon naturally-occurring caffeic acid in their hosts. The intention is, not only to produce weirdly glowing house plants as a novelty, but to trace some naturally-occurring processes in the plants per se. Leaves generally show a reduction in light emission as they age, whereas its intensity increases when they are munched upon by herbivores. The greatest degree of bioluminescence appears to come from flowers.
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/27/meteorologists-say-2020-on-course-to-be-hottest-year-since-records-began). You need really sustained reductions in emissions to get any meaningful change to runaway climate change. I bet, however, that all the mood music will suggest we press on the accelerator!
Monday, 27 April 2020
https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/apr/25/fracking-america-boom-founders-prices-demand-collapse-covid-19). The activity had been in a boom phase, briefly making that country a producer of more oil than either Russia or Saudi Arabia. Although things may well turn around relatively quickly, fracking may not return to its former levels in the US and the whole rationale of building a pipeline from Canada's tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico is thrown into doubt. As a side issue, the development of a fracking industry in the UK (already highly contentious) seems even less viable.
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/23/conservation-plans-help-boost-threatened-mammals-scientists-find?). Having said that, there are relatively few Mammalian species and almost everyone likes most of them (a little bit). It becomes more problematical for species lower down the food chain as they are much more numerous and some are positively disliked by substantial numbers of the human population. Only a few of the prettier ones get conservation support.
Sunday, 26 April 2020
https://www.theguardian.com/science/2020/apr/26/what-if-covid-19-isnt-our-biggest-threat). The question was posed 'What if Covid-19 isn't our biggest threat?' One such risk specialist noted that, as a species, we are pretty poor at responding to challenges to our species survival, except when we can see it happening (we are excellent at putting off doing anything positive, prior to that point). So, perhaps Covid-19 has come at a pretty good time in reminding us, without being too lethal for the species, of the dangers of pandemics in our highly-interconnected world? Sadly, the expert appears to believe that nuclear war and global warming are bigger threats to our species survival. So, what are the odds on our species surviving the next 100 years? He reckons we have a 1 in 6 chance of following the Dodo (i.e. the same odds as Russian roulette).
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/26/uk-first-wild-stork-chicks-hatch-centuries). Eggs have been laid and it is hoped that the first chicks to hatch for centuries in this country will emerge. One must caution, however, that eggs were laid last year but they did not hatch.
Saturday, 25 April 2020
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/apr/24/face-masks-mandatory-spread-coronavirus-government), making the case that the benefits are more for other people. The virus is passed on by droplets being released into the air, obviously in coughing and sneezing, but probably also in general talking and simply breathing. The mask (or other face coverings) can reduce this spread, limiting transmission of the pandemic. This is especially important because it is clearly evident that some people may contract the infection but be asymptomatic (but probably capable of passing on the virus). This is likely to be very important in locations (like the UK) where most people have not yet been tested for the virus. The author suggests that the UK's advice on face masks is illogical. The government's main concerns appear to be that 1.Wearing a face mask might make people show more risky behaviour (unproven but possible); 2. It reduces the supply of masks to vulnerable care workers (it's not that kind of mask!) and 3. No double blind, control studies on the benefits of mask wearing have been carried out (true but neither have approved strategies, like 'social distancing', been subjected to that degree of scientific rigour). I personally feel that simple face mask wearing would at least be helpful (like 'social distancing') in limiting the spread o the virus.
- April 25, 2020
Friday, 24 April 2020
Thursday, 23 April 2020
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/23/flooding-double-number-people-worldwide-2030). This doubling can be directly linked to climate change and will influence populations living by rivers and in coastal regions. As well as the direct risk to life, flooding is very destructive in terms of its effects on buildings, transport, food production and disease control. Of course, in other parts of the globe, people might well experience shortages of water (climate change involves major disturbances of weather patterns).
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/23/insect-numbers-down-25-since-1990-global-study-finds). This is certainly the case in Europe where insects are important as pollinators, recyclers and elements in food chains. It does appear that humans (especially in agriculture) are the primary cause of this decline.
Wednesday, 22 April 2020
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/22/microplastics-found-for-first-time-in-antarctic-ice-where-krill-source-food). The core is from a region where krill crustaceans feed and, their feeding technique, suggests that the plastics will be ingested. Many organisms, such as the mighty baleen whales, filter feed on the krill, so it is highly likely that the plastics will influence entire food chains. It would be interesting to determine whether the concentration of micro-plastics is increasing in more recent ice samples.
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/coronavirus-uk-sniffer-dogs-lshtm-cases-symptoms-covid-19-a9477981.html). Training in such cases, generally takes only several weeks and some dogs have greater affinity for detection. If it prove possible (not at all unlikely), the dogs could be used at airports and ferry terminals as well as doing rapid preliminary screening of people prior to more traditional clinical tests. The dogs do not appear to get the virus themselves.
Tuesday, 21 April 2020
https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/apr/20/uk-trial-coronavirus-treatments-using-blood-from-survivors). This is a long-established approach (depending on boosting the antibodies to the virus) and was reportedly trialled in the early stages of the pandemic in China with anecdotal success. The difficulty, of course, is that it would be ethically difficult to do a fully-controlled double-blind study in which some seriously ill patients received plasma from people who had not had the disease (and the physicians were initially unaware which serum had been given to which patient). We will have to rely on the percentages of recovery compared to groups receiving no transfusions. It will be difficult to ensure that the experimental and the 'control' groups are well-matched in other respects (in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, severity of disease and levels of medical and nursing care). I suspect that very large groups will be needed.
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/20/plastic-products-recyclers-single-use). These are items, such as singing birthday cards, which look to be made from cardboard but obviously contain cheap electronics and toxic batteries. They are difficult to identify and difficult to dispose of effectively.
Monday, 20 April 2020
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/26/men-are-much-more-likely-to-die-from-coronavirus-but-why). One of the first suggestions, from the Chinese outbreak, was that it was related to the levels of cigarette smoking (much higher in males than females in that country). But the male death bias persists in other countries where the levels of smoking in men and women are not so different. Another suggestion relates to behavioural differences between the genders, with males being less likely to wash their hands or to seek timely medical help than their female counterparts. More recently, attempts have been made to implicate biological factors such as the impact of sex hormones on the immune system or even an effect of the 'X' chromosome (with men obviously only having one, whereas females have 2). Whatever way you cut it, the dice appear to be stacked against males in this pandemic.
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/20/air-pollution-may-be-key-contributor-to-covid-19-deaths-study). This pollutant is mainly produced by vehicles with diesel engines. This is yet another indicator of the dangers of living, being taught or working in locations with high levels of air pollution. Levels have, of course, generally declined as a consequence of traffic being reduced by lockdowns but we do need to strive to stop them rebounding as economic activity returns.
https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/apr/16/fruity-and-irresistible-male-lemurs-wrist-scent-seduces-the-girls). The odour appears very effective but I think it is a little premature to call it a pheromone (that implies it is a single chemical compound and is entirely unique to this species).
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/apr/16/swab-tester-uk-germany-south-korea). Testing and tracking are advocated as effective ways of helping to deal with the pandemic (as revealed in the recent experiences of Germany and South Korea) but the UK's problem seems to be rooted in the collection of samples in sufficient numbers and transporting them safely to the centres. The results also need to be gathered, returned swiftly and acted upon if there is to be any point to the process.
Sunday, 19 April 2020
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/18/boom-time-for-new-zealands-rats-as-lockdown-gives-them-free-rein-in-cities-aoe). The pests are the usual introduced eutherian mammals (rats, mice and stoats), all of which will take birds (especially chicks) and eggs. Things are especially problematical as this was already set to be a boom year for pests because of last year's seed production (giving the reproduction of mice and rats fuel to burn).Rats and mice are real dangers for many island populations of birds, especially those species that are ground nesting. A lot of bird conservation in some areas comes down to rat catching.
Saturday, 18 April 2020
It has been reported that mines in Canada, USA and other countries are hot-spots for the transmission of Covid-19 ( https://www.theguardi...
The fuss about allegedly suspect data emanating from the East Anglia University Climatic Research Unit and the 'theft' of emails fr...
A combination of night rain and day-time sun has resulted in more Bynea blooms. The Southern marsh orchid ( Dactylorhiza praetermissa...
Workers in Montreal have shown that adding boiling water to a single plastic tea-bag releases almost 15 billion micro and nano particles ...