Environment

Fires, mudslides and earthquakes are part of California life but residents might be wishing for a few more mudslides right about now. The temperature is nothing special but the worst drought in 20 years and dry lightning have meant an abundance of forest fires.


Researchers have discovered "the most famous wheat gene," a reproductive traffic cop of sorts that can be used to transfer valuable genes from other plants to wheat, which clears the way for wheat varieties with disease- and pest-resistance traits of other grasses.

Though it would be genetic modification, because of precise legal definitions that ban some genetic optimization but allow mutagenesis and other older forms of genetic modification, it would not have the same regulatory hurdles and controversy of modern GMOs.


Around 3,000 farmers work 6,000 hectares in Veracruz, the west coast of Mexico, to grow potatoes (Solanum tuberosum). In recent decades, the fields of the Cofre de Perote area were affected by the presence of the golden nematode of potatoes (Globodera rostochiensis), also known as the yellow potato cyst nematode, a devastating plant pathogen, which reduced crop yields by more than 40 percent, leading to loss of income, loss of food and greater environmental strain due to making up the gap.

According to records of the Institute of Ecology (INECOL) in Mexico, there were 6,000 cysts per kilogram of soil of the nematode - European Organization for the Protection of Plants guidelines say anything over 40 cysts will affect crop yield.

Modern genetic modification, where biologists cause a plant to express a natural protein taken from another plant that wards off pests, is protested by environmental groups and organic farmers. Organic farmers will spray Bt on their plants, while calling them organic food, yet the same food that expresses Bt naturally, like many plants do, is a Frankenfood.

It's the protein expression, they insist. There may be a compromise between the world of science - and not letting poor people die - and activism. If protein expression is the problem, don't code for proteins. Non-coding RNA (ncRNA) still sounds like scary science to environmentalists, but transcripts that do not code for proteins exclude the possibility of producing exogenous protein products.


The Common Blue butterfly is a pollinator that plays a vital role in maintaining food supplies but it is struggling in the UK countryside. 

While environmental fundraising corporations try to spin bee numbers to create concern among the public about modern neonicotinoid pesticides, what gets no attention is that 98% of the country's flower-rich meadows have been lost since the end of the Second World War.

Yet apples, strawberries, raspberries, beans and tomatoes are all reliant on insect pollinators like butterflies. Globally, crop pollination services are estimated to be worth $153 billion per year. Understanding the influences that the landscape and other environmental factors can have on our pollinators is therefore of huge importance.

If Americans adopted the recommendations the USDA's "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010," diet-related greenhouse gas emissions would increase 12 percent, according to scholars, and if Americans reduced their daily caloric intake to the recommended level of about 2,000 calories while shifting to a healthier diet, greenhouse gas emissions would decrease by only 1 percent.

What must happen is that Americans must switch to no animal products, say Martin Heller and Gregory Keoleian of the University of Michigan's Center for Sustainable Systems, who looked at the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production of about 100 foods, as well as the potential effects of shifting Americans to a diet recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 


California's water supply depends on a clean snow pack and healthy mountain lakes.  Because of geography, California cities are conducive to air pollution and a similar effect can be found in lakes. The lakes in the Sierra Nevada are the most sensitive lakes in the U.S. to acid rain, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The lakes receive a large amount of runoff in the spring from the melting snowpack. If the snowpack is polluted, the lakes will be polluted.


More than 15 million miles of new roads will be built worldwide by 2050, pushing back the frontiers of progress. Of course, progress may mean a loss of wilderness if it is not managed carefully, and authors have created a ‘global roadmap’ for prioritizing road building across the planet, to try to balance the competing demands of development and environmental protection.
It is Valentine’s Day and our thoughts naturally turn to yeasts. Okay well, love. But love can lead to sex, and that leads to reproduction. Yeasts may not know about love, but they do know about reproducing. So do we humans: our population here on planet earth has passed seven billion.

A new analysis suggests the planet can produce much more land-plant biomass – the total material in leaves, stems, roots, fruits, grains and other terrestrial plant parts – than previous estimates showed.


In modeling, earth scientists tend to make a lot of simplifying assumptions, and one of those assumptions has been that biomass of now will be biomass of the future, which is in defiance of both science and history.

A new paper in Environmental Science and Technology recalculates the limit of terrestrial plant productivity and finds that it is much higher than many current estimates allow.