Environment

Vegetable juice ice-melt?  Ice-free pavement? "Smart snowplows"?  

Cold-climate researchers at Washington State University are clearing the road with 'green' alternatives to salt.


Reports that honey bees are dying in unusually high numbers has concerned many scientists, farmers and beekeepers, and  gripped the public. There have been thousands of stories ricocheting across the web, citing one study or another as the definitive explanation for a mystery that most mainstream experts say is complex and not easily reducible to the kind of simplistic narrative that appeals to advocacy groups.

This is part one of a two-part series that will examine this phenomenon: how complex science is reduced to ideology, how scientists and journalists often facilitate that--and its problematic impact on public policy, the environment and in this case the wondrous honey bee.

Part II will be posted on Monday, November 24.

In the 1960s, there was talk of a dystopian future where the masses starved because the ghost of Malthus came home to roost and the world could no longer feed its people.

Instead, Norm Borlaug and science ushered in a "Green Revolution" and countries that embrace science, like America, have reduced environmental strain while producing more food than ever dreamed possible. One other interesting effect the boost in agriculture has had: changing the amplitude of atmospheric carbon dioxide by about 15 percent during the last five decades. 

A new atmospheric model called VEGAS estimates that on average, the amplitude of the seasonal oscillation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing at the rate of 0.3 percent every year. 


Scientists have found that seed dormancy, a property that prevents germination when conditions are not right, was present in the first seeds 360 million years ago.

Seed dormancy is a phenomenon that has intrigued naturalists for decades, since it conditions the dynamics of natural vegetation and agricultural cycles. There are several types of dormancy, and some of them are modulated by environmental conditions in more subtle ways than others.

In an article published in the New Phytologist journal, the scientists studied the evolution of dormancy in seeds using more than 14.000 species. 


Scientists have found that transplanting a microbe that occurs naturally in eastern cottonwood trees boosts the ability of willow and lawn grass to withstand the effects of the industrial pollutant phenanthrene.

Because the plants can then take up 25 to 40 percent more of the pollutant than untreated plants they could be useful in phytoremediation, the process of using plants to remove toxins from contaminated sites, without all the environmentalist political lobbying drama of using genetically modified plants to do the same thing. 


In the last 30 years, the United States has grown more food using less land and with less environmental strain than ever believed possible. Fertilizers are better, pesticides are better and genetic modification has led to less need for both.

But some scientifically developing nations, including much of Europe, are still using more antiquated approaches, and then means a lot of nitrogen. Nitrogen boosts plant growth and yield even on poor soils, which helps plants avoid the typical characteristics of nitrogen deficiency - stunted growth and pale or yellow leaves - but in environmentally intensive approaches like organic farming, the left over nitrogen can be substantial. 



What will McDonald’s do?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday cleared a genetically engineered potato with two innovations that help both consumers and producers: The Simplot Innate potato resists bruising, which makes it more appealing to consumers (even though bruising generally does not impact the quality of the starchy vegetable); and it’s been modified to produce less of the chemical acrylamide when fried.

Acrylamide has been linked to cancer in rats although there is no clear evidence that it poses harm to humans.

A study that collected sea lion fecal samples and mussels from the ocean near the mouths of rivers as well as from the shore near sea lion haul-out sites along the central coast of California found that the pathogen Giardia duodenalis is present and the authors blame freshwater run-off sites.

One of the G. duodenalis strains found is known to infect humans; the two others occur mostly in dogs and other canids. The scholars used polymerase chain reaction (PCR) followed by DNA sequence analysis to investigate whether the pathogens were present. PCR is a method for "amplifying DNA," by making large numbers of copies of it.  



Credit: Goldenrice.org

By XiaoZhi Lim, Genetic Literacy Project

The Green Revolution that began in the 1940s and 50s brought about large increases in crop yields and saved millions of people from mass famine. Yet malnutrition remains widely prevalent around the globe. And, while many people eat enough calories, many do not get enough nutrients.

Organic marketing may like to portray itself as small mom-and-pop farmers standing up to Big Agriculture and corporate food, but they have a business juggernaut that would be the envy of anyone in any business. 

And it's going to get better.