Monday, 11 December 2017

Shoot the Messenger?


Huntington's chorea is a devastating neurological disease in which a faulty gene produces messenger RNA which codes for a toxic protein that gradually destroys the brain. A recent, smallish trial has, however, generated some very encouraging results. Here, a synthetic strand of DNA is injected into the brain that 'kills' the messenger RNA and reduces the production of the toxic protein, slowing the progression of the disease (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/dec/11/excitement-as-huntingtons-drug-shown-to-slow-progress-of-devastating-disease). This is not a cure but the slowing of symptoms may not only be good news for Huntington's sufferers as the technology (using variants of synthetic DNA) may also be applicable to patients with Alzheimer's dementia and Parkinson's disease (there also appear to be faulty proteins in these conditions).

The Answer Lies in the Soil


Somewhat depressing before the Christmas Excess but George Monbiot has written a timely account of the likely human famines to come to our planet (theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/11/mass-starvation-humanity-flogging-land-death-earth-food). His basic scenario is that postulated increases in the world human population combined with the pressures of climate change and an increased expectation by many societies of eating more animal protein will combine to make famine a common experience for most of humanity. He clearly believes that we are currently imperilling soil fertility, leading to major reductions in basic crops such as rice and maize. He doesn't appear to believe that the seas will be much help as the only things we are not denuding the waters of are plastics.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Bubbles


Physicists in Austin, Texas are getting in on Christmas cheer by using a tiny hydrophone to study the noises made by bubbles in sparkling wines- champagne, cava and prosecco (phys.org/news/2017-12-champagne-acoustics-size-wine-quality.html). The idea seems to be that the frequency of the sounds produced depends on the size of the bubbles generated that hit the flute and this may be an indication of the quality of the wine (although size must surely also be influenced by how recently the bottle was opened and the temperature of the fluid). Perhaps their most useful observation is that the fizz produced in a styrofoam beaker is markedly inferior to that generated in a glass. Personally, I would prefer to taste the liquids rather than rely on bubble noise!

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Jaw-jaw on Utah?


President Trump has apparently ordered dramatic reductions in the areas of 2 national parks in Utah (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/dec/04/trump-bears-ears-grand-staircase-escalante-monuments-shrink). The Bears ears monument has been reduced from 6000 square kilometres to around 900 and the Grand staircase from around 8100 to circa 4050. He, reportedly, has similar plans for other land-based and marine conservation areas in other parts of the USA. The move worries indigenous groups (who sometimes have religious artefacts in the areas) and conservationists, as the move is designed open up additional areas to fossil fuel extraction and ranching (both likely to have detrimental influences on climate change). The move is reportedly 'sold' using the argument that locals rather than people in Washington should determine what happens to the land. I personally feel that, in the long-term, locals are more likely to benefit from having impressive parks rather than commercially exploiting these areas. Unfortunately, people rarely think long (or even medium) term. 

Swallowing it Whole


It is hardly remarkable but the alterations to the weather appear to have changed the migrating patterns of birds that spend part of their year in the UK (https://www.abdn.ac.uk/news/9998/). The birds seem to stay longer (several weeks) before making their return flights. Migration is energetically demanding and is generally undertaken to maximise feeding and breeding opportunities. A milder year might mean that birds (especially insectivores) can feed here for longer before seeking warmer conditions with longer periods of daylight.

Sting in the Tail!


The decline of the traditional Honey bee (Apis mellifera) in Europe has apparently created an opportunity for honey producers in Liberia (https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/dec/04/african-killer-bees-providing-living-liberia). More than 1000 people have been taught to culture the allegedly 'aggressive' African honey bee (Apis mellifera scutellata) which generally gets a bad press (hybrids introduced to South America have been labelled killer bees). This appears to be one positive consequence of using neonicotinoid sprays in Europe.

It's Not Cricket!


Smog reportedly stopped play in an International cricket match between India and Sri Lanka in Delhi (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/03/the-guardian-view-on-delhis-pollution-when-smog-stops-play). Some of the cricketers (presumably fit International athletes) were said to have vomited and others wore face masks. The real question is what this air pollution does to the local population (including many much less fit people) over extended periods of time. Sadly, it takes the brief curtailing of a game to bring the urgent need to reduce this atmospheric insult to international attention.

Shoot the Messenger?

Huntington's chorea is a devastating neurological disease in which a faulty gene produces messenger RNA which codes for a toxic prot...