Environment

New research has identified the mechanism used by plants in stress conditions to sense low oxygen levels - and scientists then used that knowledge and advanced breeding techniques to reduce yield loss in barley under water-logged conditions.

In 2011, University of Nottingham Professor of Crop Science Michael Holdsworth and colleagues identified the mechanism used by plants in stress conditions to sense low oxygen levels and now they have discovered how this works in barley.

“We now know how to breed barley cultivars more tolerant to waterlogging and flooding,” says Holdsworth.
Trilemma - a quandary posed by three alternative courses of action.

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“Agriculture is having increasingly strong global impact on both the environment and human health, often driven by dietary changes.”
There are concerns about climate emissions because of resistance to clean technologies like nuclear power that have led to increased use of coal. Solar power will be the best solution in the future, if it does not fall victim to too much hype and subsidies now. 

There is also a water problem. Only slightly more than one percent of the world's water is potable, making clean water a priority - but one that is easily solved by energy. 
Peak Oil, which was supposed to have happened in 1992, set off the craze of declaring 'peak' everything, to such an extent it is a running joke now.(1)

The good news for Peak Oil believers is that they are going to be right eventually. Oil is a 'fossil' fuel and we aren't making any more giant dinosaurs. Even in the 1970s, when the peak oil date was floated, no one outside environmental doomsday prophets believed it, because it fell victim to the plight of most advocacy-based projections; it created a curve of demand but assumed technology and science, and therefore the supply, would be static. By creating a false metric they concluded all the oil that would ever be found had been found.

Put innovative farming techniques in the right hands. CGIAR Climate, CC BY-NC-SA

By Sayed Azam-Ali, University of Nottingham

Africa will be able to feed itself in the next 15 years.

That’s one of the big “bets on the future” that Bill and Melinda Gates have made in their foundation’s latest annual letter. Helped by other breakthroughs in health, mobile banking and education, they argue that the lives of people in poor countries “will improve faster in the next 15 years than at any other time in history”.

There are tens of thousands of human-made chemicals circulating today and some have been bad despite studies that didn't initially find harm, yet almost every chemical is under siege by environmental groups, and they all claim science is on their side.

Everything from bisphenol A used in plastics to neonicotinoid pesticides to glyphosate weed-killers are criticized by lawyers at environmental groups despite the science consensus. How can the public know which ones really pose threats to our health and environment and which ones are just studies designed to keep poisoning lab animals until they show an effect?

Crops genetically engineered to produce proteins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) to control insect pests have been planted on a cumulative total of more than a billion acres worldwide since 1996 and they have been very successful.

But pests evolve just like everything else and to avoid that, companies recommend a variety of strategies to avoid 'herd immunity'. Biotech companies have also introduced Bt crops called "pyramids" that produce two or more Bt toxins active against the same pest. They have been adopted in many countries since 2003, including the United States, India and Australia.



One of the biggest struggles in toxicology is creating the correct parameters so you are modeling the real world as closely as possible. It's an enormous task to model the environment with its millions of factors, so controlled studies are done using animals.

Scientists design experiments that give an animal a lot of something at once and that can tell them 'this is the threshold where more analysis is a waste of time' and perhaps also find an effect that may be worth studying in more detail. It's a time-honored technique but it's also a technique that can be exploited.

A new paper says that human civilization has crossed four of nine so-called planetary boundaries as the result of human activity that put humanity in a "safe operating space." 

The four that are already beyond that point-of-no-return are climate change, the loss of biosphere integrity, land-system change, and altered biogeochemical cycles like phosphorus and nitrogen runoff. That makes us 44 percent of the way on the path to doom.

It should be a wake-up call to policymakers that "we're running up to and beyond the biophysical boundaries that enable human civilization as we know it to exist," says co-author Steve Carpenter, director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Limnology.