Science News

Biology News Round-Up 14/11/17

This week, Jason has been scouring the world’s biology news in order to find the wildest, weirdest plant news.

Whilst Nastiya and Pam have been away for the last few months, the team has been meeting together online in order to keep the various projects moving along. Pam’s work in China has come to a head with some real progress made in the realms of power converters and Nastiya has likewise been aiding her own countrymen by finding new ways to cultivate hardier potatoes, so that they can find a way of pushing through Winter without the usual famines.

In the news this week, super-charged tomatoes have been harvested in far-flung Hong Kong, truffles are successfully bred in Wales and Uganda takes an important step towards GM foods.

The Super-Tomato has been found and it’s from Hong Kong

Plant scientists at the University of Hong Kong have successfully bred what can only be described as a super-tomato. A research group working within the School of Biological Sciences has found a new method of simultaneously boosting the levels of several health-promoting properties of an otherwise tomato. By manipulating certain isoprenoid pathways within the transgenic tomatoes, these canny scientists discovered that inserting a certain strand of DNA (originally found in Indian Mustard – a plant used to make vegetable oil) led to a drastic increase in Vitamin E (494%) and provitamin A (169%).

Professor Chye Mee-len, leader of the team, said: ‘The accumulation of the healthy components in food crops would provide added-value to fruits and vegetables in the human diet, as well as enrich feed for livestock and aquaculture.’

Rare truffle species cultivated in chilly Wales

The demand for truffle has been growing exponentially over the last few years, with the current worth of the ingredient estimated at being around £1,700 per kilogram. The plant usually grows in warm climates and is notoriously tricky to cultivate even when in its natural habitat – that hasn’t stopped Dr Paul Thomas of the University of Stirling spending nearly 10 years to cultivate a Perigord black truffle in Wales, the furthest North that this species has been discovered.

The truffle was harvested from the root system of a Mediterranean oak planted in 2008 that was treated to encourage truffle production. By reducing the level of acidity in the surrounding soil, these scientists were able to mimic the growing conditions of the truffle’s natural Mediterranean clime.

Uganda takes important step towards ending food drought

Uganda has been taking the first tentative steps towards growing and developing their own GM crops that could see the food problems in the country being eradicated for good. This week, bills have been passed in the Ugandan government allowing companies to undertake large-scale tests which should pave the way for the commercial release of genetically modified foods.

Progress in this field has been blocked in recent years by critics who have suggested that the country’s food security could be compromised if foreign companies are allowed to experiment on home soil, however these fears have been counteracted by Science minister Elioda Tumwesigye who has stated that a seed bank can be opened to protect the nation’s indigenous species.

5 Post-Truth ‘Life-Hacks’

[And a real solution to the problem…]

It’s official, the international Word of the Year is: ‘post-truth’.

Arguably grimmer than last year’s ‘smiling with tears of joy’ emoji, ‘post-truth’ nonetheless neatly summarises a year in which thousands have been willingly misled by lies in the media, represented as fact.

micro-hack

Although most commentators have jumped on the recent election race in America for context for this particular (Britain’s exit from the EU was another good example of ‘post-truths’ skewing public opinion), this kind of things has been going on for much longer on the internet. 

This week, we’re going to be debunking some less harmful forms of ‘post-truths’. Life-hacks, in the form of memes, have been proliferate for the past 10 years. They are the 21st century ‘urban myth’;  baseless classroom rumours which serve little purpose, other than to waste the user’s time.


Here are 4 Post-Truth ‘Life-Hacks’ along with a better solution to the problem:

Use a Dishwasher Tablet To Clean Your Oven

A contributor known as ‘Wittery Twittery’ reported this hack on Mumsnet in September this year:

oven-cleaner-mumsnet

Although she denies coming up with the idea herself, commentators were quick to assert that this did not work. Cleaning your oven is something that should be done at least once a year. High temperatures and food with high-contents of fat will often cause a thick crust of grease to form all over the sides, requiring some serious elbow grease or some caustic cleaning chemicals to cut through.

In case your curious as to whether this will work – stop. Wetting a dishwasher tablet will lead to tablet breaking up in your hand. Attempting to scrub a dirty oven with a dishwasher tablet will result in the aforementioned tablet crumbling into nothing as it’s too small to grip and has zero-structural integrity.

You may feel like attempting a cheap, quick solution is the best option – but it’s not. Just call an oven cleaning professional, they can come out once a year – charge a small fee – and get the job done better than you ever could have hoped to.

Urinate on jellyfish stings to reduce the pain

Other than this being kind of disgusting (where exactly are you meant to be doing this, anyway, just on the beach?), it will also not work.

The cells that cause pain from jellyfish stings, called nematocysts, are more likely to release more poison if you and you’ll also smell of urine. Swimming in the seas around Australia, South East Asia and Americas comes with the problems of rising jelly fish populations. They can vary greatly in the amount of physical pain they cause (certain species can even kill), but this much used wives’ tale will not help you.

The current consensus is currently being shared in a variety of graphics (see below) – the most important tip to remember is to avoid touching the stings with your hands – this will just lead to your hands being stung as well.

jelly-fish


Take a used loo roll and make a cheap iPhone speaker

Nope. This is perhaps one of the dumbest ideas, perpetuated by many sources and emulated by eager beavers looking to ‘bring the party’ to their next camping trip.

iphone-roll

Modern smart phones are designed to project music as best as they can – people are paid very well to get the job done as best as they can – to think that something as simple as a cut up loo roll will improve on their work, is foolish. And before you consider trying any different configurations, just don’t. Most smartphones project music through their bottom – planting them in a loo roll will only serve to block the sound waves from reaching your ears easier.

If you’d like to amplify your music, just buy a good speaker.

Wooden Spoon Boiling Over

There is some grounding for this much shared meme:

wooden-spoon-meme

Essentially, the science is sound. The idea is that the bubbles of hot water, being made of hot water, will burst on impact with a colder surface (such as the wooden spoon).

This hack will work to a certain extent – if you simmer your water instead of boiling hard, the spoon will do it’s job. Turn the heat up, however, and you’ll soon find your wooden spoon being hopelessly ineffective – simply because the spoon will eventually rise to the same heat as the water.

This hack was created to stop pasta water, especially, from boiling over and covering the hob surface in starchy water. A great way to avoid this is simply simmering your pasta, instead of boiling it like an idiot.

As the amended adage goes: “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.”

Biology News Round-Up 21/11/16

This month Jason takes control of the News Round-up – reporting on all the plant-based revelations that have been occurring in the last week or so, including: Helpful lichen pointing to climate change, Marijuana breaking hearts and how a bag of salad could make you very ill…

Genetic Modification Successfully Boosts Photosynthesis

You may have thought that improving the efficiency of the photosynthesis process in plants would be the first thing on any scientist’s agenda, however, this groundbreaking step forward in plant production has only just been made by a research team at the University of Illinois. Targeting the tobacco plant’s light sheltering process, called nonphotochemical quenching (NPQ), Dr. Stephen Long and his team successfully recorded a 20% increase in yield – quite the feat!

Graphic by Julie McMahon

Graphic by Julie McMahon

Although the American team is yet to test this process on a food stuff, such as corn, it’s already been suggested that the knowledge learned here could be applied to the problem of world hunger (an issue which is predicted to worsen within the next 30 years). On the back of this success, Long and his team have now been offered funding from the Gates Foundation – allowing them to begin work on major staple foods such as soy beans, rice and cassava.

Sensitive Lichens Are Blowing Whistle On Climate Change

ScienceNews, this week, have a wonderful article well worth reading on how ecologists are studying the biological states of various species of lichens, around forests in Portland. There are hundreds of species of lichens stuck to the trees, rocks and undergrowth of the Forests in the US; biologists around the country are just starting to notice the correlation between their health and the air-quality of the environment they live in.

awesome-lichen

Photo from http://www.kindofcurious.com/

Linda Geiser makes regular trips into the Forests of Portland. As manager of the Forestry Service’s air-quality program, she records the state of particular species of lichen that are known to visibly show signs of deterioration when introduced to pollution. It’s hoped that by continually studying and recording the state of these parks, the Forestry Service will be able to build up a history of the air-quality in their 193 million acres.

Smoking Marijuana Could Break Your Heart

Although cannabis has recently seen wide-spread decriminalisation in many American States, such as Massachusetts and Washington, there is still a lot we’re yet to learn about the long term effects of smoking it. In a recent study, conducted in part by scientists from St. Luke’s University in Pennsylvania, it was found that cases of stress cardiomyopathy (or ‘broken heart syndrome’ as it’s otherwise known) were much higher in cannabis users, compared to those that choose not to partake.

marijuana

Presenting his findings at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions, Dr Sing stressed that if you are a regular marijuana smoker and are developing symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath, then you should visit a healthcare professional as soon as possible.

Salmonella enterica Loves Pre-Cut Salad

The University of Leicester has discovered that ‘small amounts of damage’ to salad leaves, such as you would find in a pre-cut bag of salad at a supermarket, offer ideal conditions for the growth of salmonella enterica. Exposure to this microbe can cause severe food poisoning to the unlucky victim – lumping them with 12-72 hours worth of vomiting and diarrhoea.

salmonella

Research published in November’s edition of Applied and Environmental Microbiology has shown that liquid, trapped with salad leaves in plastic bags, is an ideal home for microbes to multiply – with Salmonella bacteria multiplying from 100 to 100,000 in the space of five-days (the usual refrigeration time for salad products).

Maybe just buy and cut your own salad from now on?

Biology News Round-Up 17/11/16

Nastiya brings together all the interesting Plant-related news items from the last few weeks, give us a shout if you’ve found out anything and we’ll feature it in next week’s post!

Brand New Worm Discovered!

Stop the press! It turns out that there’s still hope for those budding scientists looking to mark their place in history by discovering a new speices of the natural world – and it turns out you don’t have to travel half the world away to do it either. Elaine Roll, a science technician working at Cornwall College Newquay, discovered this adorable new species of flatworm in her very own backgarden whilst hunting for slugs for a practical lesson.

marionfyfea-adventor

After members of her class brought the interesting specimen to her during a lesson, Elaine struggled to find a record for it anywhere online. After sending the little fellow off to Dr. Hugh Jones of the University of Manchester, the good news was returned that this was indeed a newly discovered creature. Marionfyfea adventor was successfully identified and shows that the next discovery could be just a potter in the back garden away! The full story can be found here…

Nanobionic Spinach Is Newest Threat To Terror

Watch out ISIS, there’s a new combatant to your troublesome antics and it comes in a form that you might not expect. No longer content with being the ‘superfood’ that is the bane of every child’s dinner, Spinach has arisen to become the next step in anti-terror measures. Scientists at MIT have been working on a new kind of science that they’ve branded ‘plant nanobionics’. The melding of plant matter with microscopic engineering electronic systems has granted spinach with ability to detect explosives and relay this information wirelessly to devices similar to a smartphone.

Although the physical applications of this technology might well be a long way off, this stands as the first important step in the process of fusing plant life with electronics – watch this space.

Age old answer to question: Do Vegetarians Live Longer?

It’s something that’s been argued for a long time – with the rise of Raw foods and the fashionable nature of Veganism – the question of whether it really is healthier to avoid meat all together may have finally been answered by Dr. Brown from Aston University, Birmingham. He’s been conducting long term research into the effect that meat eating has one the longevity of the average human’s life. Although he’s spent a long time compiling data from the dozens of research studies that have been conducted over the years – his advice does still come with a proviso.

steak-dinner

Although his findings point towards a meat-free lifestyle improving life-span, Dr. Brown is very eager to press the point that there are dozesn of other factors that also effect this. Environmental as well as genetic affects can vary wildly so, although it might be a smart move to cut down on the steaks, it won’t necessarily stop you from developing another disease that seriously shortens your life. His article for theconversation.com is well worth a read for more information.

5 of the World’s Scariest Plants

Plants can be just  as scary as anything else Mother Nature can throw at us…

Here are 5 of the World’s Most Monstrous Plants that you should definitely avoid this Halloween:

The Vampire Vine

This particular species of the Cuscata vine has the positively vampiric skill of sniffing out and sucking the nutrients out of nearby plants. Soy beans, coffee beans and grape vines are all at risk of these vicious vines (which are closely related to the much friendlier Morning Glory). However, there is one pant that has figured out a way to stop the Cuscata in it’s tracks. The C. reflexa Tomato plant, from Asia, has the uncanny skill of reflexively forming an impenetrable scan, preventing the cuscata from penetrating with his sharp fangs.

dodder

Find out more about the ‘Vampire Vine’ here at ScienceNews.org

The Venus Fly Trap

A long used trope in the realms of video games and science-fiction movies alike, Dionaea muscipulae may only be able to grow up to 15cm tall, but their 3cm wide mouths still have the potential to swallow up and digest all manner of insect-life. Each leaf of this killer-plant has two primary regions. The ‘leaf-base’ functions like most other plant leave, carrying out photosynthesis so that the plant can continue to grow and the ‘lamina’ that composes the trap itself. Within each trap lies between two or five ‘trigger hairs’ which, if touched, cause the trap to shut tight – trapping any unfortunate insect souls inside.

venus-fly

Discover more about the Venus Fly Trap here at ScienceMag.org

Carrion Flowers

The Carrion Flower is both disgusting by name and by nature. Strictly speaking, the term applies to any plant that gives off the scent of rotting flesh or death. The most horrific example of this would have to be the Amorphophallus titanum – it’s Greek name is derived from the words ‘giant misshapen phallus’ – rather on the nose, but succinct nonetheless. They can weigh up to 50kg, although there have been some specimens known to grow to almost twice that weight. Why does it smell so bad, you ask? The smell of rotting has long been something that pollinators find attractive – mistaking the carrion flower for a dead animal, carrion beetles and flesh flies do all the hard work for the plant – using them to lay eggs in their flesh.

carrion-flower

National Geographic has the scoop on Carrion Flowers here…

Rafflesia

The Rafflesia is a peculiar creature. Strictly parasitic by nature, it has no stems, leaves or even roots. Grabbing hold of any vine that it can find in it’s indigenous home of the Southeastern Asia rain forests, there are 28 species of these strange creatures that are often confused with aforementioned Carrion Flower, Amorphophallus titanum. The titanum is often referred to as being the largest flower – leaving the unsung hero, the Rafflesia, out in the cold. Unknown to many, the Rafflesia has largest single flower of any plant. It’s large, bulbous and grotesque – but it’s also a record-breaker.

rafflesia-sabah

Kew Garden’s fact sheet on the Rafflesia has all the knowledge on these guys.

Tree tumbo

You’d be forgiven for assuming that the Welwitschia is some kind of washed up piece of seaweed, if it weren’t for the fact that it only grown in the Namib desert, within Namibia and Angola. Often referred to as a ‘living fossil’ it is the only living genus within it’s family making it a uniquely sad plant. Named after it’s discoverer Friedrich Welwitsch – upon finding the plant he was said to have knelt by it in disbelief, fearing that it was a a figment of his imagination. If only that were so. The leaves that grow on this plant are permanent, giving it a dead-like look.

tree-tumbo

LiveScience.com has the scoop on this endangered plant right here.