Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) found in flame retardant cloth, paint, adhesives and electrical transformers, have been banned since 1979, but if you live on top of a waste disposal site or you have a 40 year old couch, you could still be exposed to them.

Honeybees pollinate a third of Australia's food crops. Losing them due to varroa might would cost the economy billions of dollars. David McClenaghan, Author provided

By Gary Fitt, CSIRO

A nationwide outbreak of foot and mouth disease; an invasion of a devastating wheat disease; our honeybees completely wiped out. These are just three possible disastrous scenarios facing Australia; they’re considered in the Australia’s Biosecurity Future report published today by CSIRO and its partners.

Take a spot that only gets 6 to 8 inches of rain per year, with erosion causing such blinding dust that there is zero visibility, and build a wheat farm.

Wait, why would you do that? Washington State University researchers do it in the Horse Heaven Hills of south-central Washington to understand summer fallow management practices that can mean efficient water and soil conservation and help farmers everywhere.

Last week, in Part I of this two part series, "Bee Deaths Mystery Solved?

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.

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.