Friday, January 30, 2009

"Immortal" Jellyfish Swarming Across the Oceanic World

A type of jellyfish known as Turritopsis Nutricula has the ability to revert back to a juvenile form after becoming sexually mature and mating. Scientists claim the jellyfish population in the world is skyrocketing, because they don't seem to be dying.

It's gotten to the point where Dr Maria Miglietta of the Smithsonian Tropical Marine Institute said: "We are looking at a worldwide silent invasion."

Although they are only 5mm long, the jellyfish which originated in the Caribbean have managed to spread worldwide. Turritopsis Nutricula is technically known as a hydrozoan and is the only known animal that is capable of reverting completely to its younger self through the cell development process of trans-differentiation.

The scary concept to consider is that scientists believe they can do this indefinitely, causing this animal to be potentially immortal. Which is why it will be the focus of many intricate studies by marine biologists and geneticists, to determine exactly how it manages to literally reverse its aging process.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Scientists Combat Hunger with Flood Resistant Rice

University of California-Davis professor Pamela Ronald has made a ground breaking discovery, that will have huge ramifications on the developing world. They have managed to breed a new, hardier type of rice, which may succeed in stopping millions of people from going hungry worldwide. About half of the world's population utilizes rice as a staple in their diet, and if massive flooding were to wipe out an area such as India's supply of rice, it would have catastrophic consequences on the lives of millions.

"People (in the United States) think, well, if I don't have enough rice, I'll go to the store," said Ronald, a professor of plant pathology at UC-Davis. "That's not the situation in these villages. They're mostly subsistence farmers. They don't have cars."

With the combination of rising sea levels, and the worsening of world weather patterns - flooding has become a major cause of rice crop loss. Scientists estimate 4 million tons of rice are lost every year because of flooding. That's enough rice to feed 30 million people.

Normal rice dies after three day of intense flooding - "They don't get enough carbon dioxide, they don't get enough light and their entire metabolic processes are thrown off. The rice plant tries to grow out of the flood, but when it does, it depletes its sugar reserves. It starts to break down its chlorophyll, important for photosynthesis. It grows really quickly, and then when the flood recedes, it just dies. It's out of gas."

So Ronald and her colleagues have spent the last decade working to find a rice strain that could survive flooding for longer periods of time. An associate of Ronald's named David Mackill, identified a flood-resistant gene 13 years ago in a low-yielding traditional Indian rice variety. He passed along the information to Ronald, who isolated the gene, called Sub1, and introduced it into normal rice varieties, generating rice that could withstand being submerged in water for 17 days.

The team relied on something called precision breeding, the ability to introduce very specific genes into plants without the associated baggage of other genes that might get passed along in conventional breeding. Using precision breeding, scientists introduced the Sub1 gene three years ago into test fields in Bangladesh and India. The subsequent rice harvests were a resounding success.

"The results were really terrific," said Ronald. "The farmers found three- to five-fold increases in yield due to flood tolerance. They can plant the normal way. They can harvest the normal way and it tastes the same. Farmers had more food for their families and they also had additional rice they could sell to bring a little bit of money into the household."

The potential impact is huge, and the researchers predict that this strain of flood resistant rice will be available to farmers in Bangladesh within the next two years. Because the plants are the product of precision breeding, rather than genetic modification, they are not subject to the same regulatory testing that can delay release of genetically modified crops. The U.S. Department of Agriculture conferred one of its highest research awards last December on Ronald, Mackill and Bailey-Serres for their work on submergence-tolerant rice.

But Ronald has no plans to stop discovering new ways to sontribute her scientific knowledge to the world.

"I feel a great sense of gratitude that I was able to contribute in this way," she said. "But the farmers have asked us, 'Can you develop varieties that are drought tolerant, salt tolerant? Can you develop varieties that are insect resistant?' There are always more things to work on."

Monday, January 19, 2009

Video Footage of Recent Meteorite in Europe

On January 17, 2009, this footage was captured by a security camera in Sweden, and it was also seen by stargazers as far away as Denmark, Poland and Germany as well. Some reports claim that the meteorite landed somewhere in the Baltic Sea between Germany and Sweden.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Elusive Venomous Mammal

The Hispaniolan solendon waddles around one Caribbean island with its long, thin snout. This shrew-like mammal is capable of injecting its prey with a venom-packed bite. Just like many creatures in these regions, it is threatened by hunting, deforestation, and the introduction of competing species. After a period of dormancy in the media, the mammal was finally filmed in the summer of 2008, when it was spotted in the Dominican Republic. Neighboring Haiti is the only other country where this nocturnal, insect-eating animal can be found.

Dr Richard Young, from Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, said: "My colleagues were excited and thrilled when they found it in the trap. "But despite a month's worth of trapping effort, they only ever caught a single individual."

He said: "They are still incredibly vulnerable and fragile. So it is really important to get back out there to work how how these animals are surviving." However, sometimes it can be difficult to focus on important conservation goals in countries like Haiti, where remedying political corruption takes the top spot on the To Do list. Here is a video of the captured:

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Titan Moon May Hold the Key to Future Sustainability

NASA's Cassini Spacecraft has been mapping Saturn's orange moon known as Titan, covering about 20% of the moon's surface so far. What it has observed is remarkable, and may hold the key to sustaining life on our planet in the distant future. Titan has hundreds of times the amount of natural energy in the form of liquid hydrocarbons than all of the known oil and gas reserves on Earth, which even rain from the sky and collect in hundreds of vast lakes and dunes throughout the moon.

The temperature on Titan is a brisk minus 179 degres celsius, and a few of its more potent lakes have energy in the form of methane and ethane which have the capacity to provide 300 times the amount of energy the United States uses annually.

Scientists believe that methane might be supplied to the atmosphere by eruptions from the interior in cryovolcanic eruptions. If so, the amount of methane, and the temperature on Titan, may have fluctuated dramatically throughout Titan's long history.

There is still much to discover on Titan, which could hold the key to keeping our planet sustainably sound in the distant future, and the answer lies in the hundreds of deep natural gas lakes which are visible here from satellite photography.