Soil Algae aims to improve soil quality through algae cultures

June 6, 2018 by  
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Algae : it’s not just for bodies of water anymore. Algae Research and Supply , a company based in Carlsbad, California that historically provides algae products for educational purposes, aims to bring its algae cultures to farmers across the world through a line of products called Soil Algae , so that farms may improve the health of their soil and boost production. In addition to offering its own algae cultures, Soil Algae also offers products that will allow farmers to cultivate the indigenous varieties of algae found in their fields. “Twenty percent of the microbial biomass in natural, healthy soil is algae, but many farmers only monitor and maintain bacteria and fungi.” said Matthew Huber, Chief Scientist at Algae Research and Supply, in a statement. “We want to bring Soil Algae to the public consciousness.” The company is now running a Kickstarter campaign to do just that. Algae Research and Supply originally became intrigued by algae’s agricultural potential when farmers continued to buy algae cultures from them. Upon digging into research, the company concluded that algae’s benefits for agricultural production should be more widely promoted, particularly as the world faces a crisis of growing populations and degrading soils. Some of the benefits of adding algae directly into irrigation lines include increased water retention through algae-produced polysaccharide, reduced erosion through its cementing effect in soil , more aerated soil, and a reduction of nutrient runoff through a process known as luxary uptake, which also decreases algal bloom in bodies of water. Related: Light-manipulating algae could boost solar power technology Soil Algae, specifically through bluegreen algae or cyanobacteria, is also capable of pulling nitrogen from the air and converting it into usable nitrogen within the soil. The added algae increases soil biodiversity, organic biomass, and the total humus found in soil, all good things for farmers keen to produce in healthy soils. “Algae in our soil has long been neglected but it is nevertheless important for soil ecology . We intend to correct that gap in knowledge,” said Huber. Via Soil Algae Images courtesy of Algae Research and Supply

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Soil Algae aims to improve soil quality through algae cultures

Atacama ‘alien’ skeleton’s identity revealed by genetic testing

March 23, 2018 by  
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Genetic testing has revealed the true identity of an exceptional mummy found in Chile’s Atacama Desert , a skeleton so strange that some have claimed it as evidence of alien life . In truth, the remains are that of a human individual known as Ata, a girl with unique mutations, who is believed to have been stillborn or died shortly after birth. Despite skeletal features similar to those of a child between six and eight years old, Ata was only six inches tall. She also had two fewer ribs than an average human while her skull is long and conical, evoking pop culture images of a grey alien . In 2013, Stanford University professor of microbiology and immunology Garry Nolan conducted a genetic test that confirmed Ata’s humanity. However, the reasons behind Ata’s appearance remained a mystery. In a study published in  Genome Research , Nolan and researchers at the University of California in San Francisco have presented their full genetic analysis of Ata, which offers more information on who she was and how she came to possess such extraordinary features. While the exact time of Ata’s life and death is unclear, her mixed indigenous and European ancestry indicates that she must have been born sometime after the Spanish colonization of Chile in the 1500s. Related: Scientists build an alien ocean to test NASA submarine Ata’s DNA test indicates that she had mutations on at least seven different genes known for affecting skeletal development. Ata may also have suffered from congenital diaphragmatic hernia, a potentially life-threatening disorder defined by an undeveloped diaphragm. Despite Ata’s unique physiology, research done on her remains may prove applicable in modern medicine . “Understanding the process might allow us to develop therapies or drugs that drive bone development for people in, say, catastrophic car crashes,” Nolan told the Guardian . As for the alien angle, Nolan strongly rejects it. “While this started as a story about aliens, and went international, it’s really a story of a human tragedy,” said Nolan. “A woman had a malformed baby, it was preserved in a manner and then ‘hocked’ or sold as a strange artifact. It turns out to be human, with a fascinating genetic story from which we might learn something important to help others. May she rest in peace.” Via The Guardian Images via Dr. Emery Smith

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Atacama ‘alien’ skeleton’s identity revealed by genetic testing

Chevron admits "there’s no debate about climate science" in court hearing

March 23, 2018 by  
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“From Chevron’s perspective there’s no debate about climate science ,” attorney Theodore Boutrous Jr. said in a courtroom this week. In a case pitting Big Oil companies against the cities of San Francisco and Oakland , which allege the fossil fuel corporations should pay for actions like sea walls to deal with the impacts of climate change , Chevron’s attorney acknowledged that manmade climate change is real. Don’t get too excited, though. According to Boutrous, it may be real, but it isn’t Chevron’s fault – it’s yours. United States District Judge William Alsup called for a two-part climate change tutorial  earlier this month to help educate all the parties involved in the lawsuit on climate change. During this tutorial,  Science Magazine and The Verge reported that Chevron agreed with the existing scientific consensus. The tutorial wasn’t an echo of the famous Scopes trial, according to Alsup. Science Magazine said he told the audience, “This will not be withering cross-examinations and so forth. This will be numbers and diagrams, and if you get bored you can just leave.” Prominent scientists spoke for San Francisco and Oakland, but Boutrous was the sole speaker for the oil industry — and he said, “Chevron accepts what the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] has reached consensus on concerning science and climate change.” Related: Federal court orders first hearing on the science of climate change Boutrous did emphasize parts of the IPCC’s fifth climate science assessment report regarding uncertainties, according to Science Magazine, such as challenges over predictions of sea level rise in particular parts of the planet or modeling Antarctic ice’s response to increasing temperatures. Even if Chevron does agree on the science, they don’t seem to agree a lawsuit is the correct way to tackle climate change — Boutrous described it as a global issue necessitating global action. Chevron spokesperson Sean Comey told The Verge the company “welcomes meaningful efforts to address the issue of climate change, but litigation is not an appropriate tool for accomplishing that objective.” He also claims that Chevron is no more to blame for climate change than anyone else. “Anyone in the world could be brought in in the case, including the plaintiffs themselves,” he said. Which gets to the crux of the argument: Chevron claims that burning fossil fuels is to blame, so it rests on the shoulders of those driving cars or heating their homes with coal to stop climate change. But the plaintiffs argue that, like the cigarette companies in the past, companies like Chevron knew about the impact of their product on the environment and chose to continue pushing it. Science Magazine said Exxon, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, and ConocoPhillips, the other oil companies involved, stayed away from the tutorial as they have questioned Alsup’s jurisdiction to hear the case. Alsup afforded them two weeks to disagree with what Boutrous had to say, or he’ll assume they’re in agreement. Via The Verge and Science Magazine Images via Depositphotos and Pixabay

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Chevron admits "there’s no debate about climate science" in court hearing

How fungi made Earth’s atmosphere livable – new study

December 19, 2017 by  
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It turns out mushrooms aren’t just great to eat, but played an essential role in creating an atmosphere suitable for animal life, according to a new study. The earliest plants to dwell on land did not have well developed roots or vascular systems. Fungi, among the earliest colonizers of land, helped facilitate the transfer of phosphorus from rocky soil to the primitive plants , which required the mineral to photosynthesize. “The results of including data on fungal interactions present a significant advance in our understanding of Earth’s early development,” said Benjamin Mills, co-author of a report on the research published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B . “Our work clearly shows the importance of fungi in the creation of an oxygenated atmosphere.” The recent research shines a light on a process that remains mysterious, even in modern times. “Photosynthesis by land plants is ultimately responsible for about half of the oxygen generation on Earth, and requires phosphorus, but we currently have a poor understanding of how the global supply of this nutrient to plants works,” said Mills. Without fungi helping them acquire their necessary phosphorus, the earliest land plants would not have been able to survive. The oldest fossil of a land-living organism is of a fungi species, one of many which moved on land and helped to break down the rocky mantle into soil, enabling plants with roots to more easily extract their minerals . Related: Paris has a new underground – a massive farm for mushrooms and veggies To test fungi’s symbiotic relationship with early plants, a research team at the University of Leeds incorporated computer modeling and laboratory experiments which involved ancient species of fungus that still endure today. The researchers observed the differing rates at which different species of fungi exchanged phosphorus and carbon, which indicated how quickly plants might have produced oxygen. “We used a computer model to simulate what might have happened to the climate throughout the Palaeozoic era if the different types of early plant-fungal symbioses were included in the global phosphorus and carbon cycles,” said Katie Field, study co-author and plant biologist. “We found the effect was potentially dramatic, with the differences in plant-fungal carbon-for-nutrient exchange greatly altering Earth’s climate through plant-powered drawdown of CO2 for photosynthesis , substantially changing the timing of the rise of oxygen in the atmosphere.” Via Science Alert Images via Depositphotos   (1)

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Scientists may have just found the chemical "missing link" for the origins of life on Earth

November 7, 2017 by  
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In attempting to recreate the conditions of Earth circa billions of years ago, a research team may have uncovered a key “missing link” in our knowledge of the origin of life on Earth. The discovery of diamidophosphate (DAP), a compound that may have been present in early Earth, is an exciting step forward in understanding how early life emerged from various ingredients and conditions. “It reminds me of the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella, who waves a wand and ‘poof,’ ‘poof,’ ‘poof,’ everything simple is transformed into something more complex and interesting,” said Ramanarayanan Krishnamurthy , senior author of the study published in  Nature Chemistry  and chemist at the Scripps Research Institute in California. The key to DAP’s “magic” is its ability to facilitate a process called phosphorylation, an essential process in the function of chemicals from neurotransmitters to proteins , and the linking of a particular compound with a phosphate. This process is very common in biochemistry and enables proteins, neurotransmitters and countless other chemicals to function within organic systems. To determine DAP’s fitness to facilitate the origins of life, the team checked DAP’s ability to phosphorylate with several crucial organic compounds. These included RNA, which is essential for the decoding and messaging of genetic information as well as protein synthesis, fatty acids, which make up cell membranes, and amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. Related: Researchers shocked to discover protein that conducts electricity All of the tested organic chemicals, when mixed with water and an additional chemical thought to be found on early Earth, successfully reacted with the DAP. While scientists lack the ability to truly know what early Earth was like, or whether the origin of life involved DAP, these experiments show one feasible path through which life could have developed. Via Newsweek Images via Depositphotos (1)

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Scientists may have just found the chemical "missing link" for the origins of life on Earth

Wolves return to Rome’s periphery for the first time in 100 years

September 26, 2017 by  
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The wolf , an animal that has served as a symbol of Rome since ancient times, has returned to the historic Italian city for the first time in a century. The alpha predators were recently sighted in a nature preserve at Castel di Guido, only a short distance from Leonardo DiVinci international airport and the perimeter highway encircling the capital of Italy. Scientists estimate that there are at least four wolves, two cubs and two adults, that reside in the area. According to Roman mythology, Romulus, Rome’s founder, and his brother Remus were suckled by a female wolf in a cave after being abandoned on the Tiber River. This episode is represented throughout Roman iconography, including the seal for Rome’s soccer club, AS Roma. The return of this iconic species to Rome is welcomed by the locals. “We’re very pleased that they are back,” said Alessia De Lorenzis, a professor whose work involves tracking and documenting the wolf pack. Related: American Coywolf is a fascinating hybrid species with supercharged adaptation Wolves were originally hunted in Europe and North America, nearly to extinction, in part due to their predation of livestock animals. The modern wolves of Rome seem to pose little threat to livestock as an analysis of their feces has demonstrated that they rely almost entirely on a diet of wild boar, a plentiful animal in the region. In Italy, the killing of wolves was promoted until the 1970s, a time when the Italian wolf population had fallen to about 100 animals. Wolves received protected status in 1971 and the population has since recovered to about 1,500-2,000 individuals, with a particularly robust population in the mountainous region on the border of France . Via The Telegraph Images via  the Italian League for Bird Protection

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Wolves return to Rome’s periphery for the first time in 100 years

Beach plastic audit in the Philippines reveals which businesses are the worst polluters

September 26, 2017 by  
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1.88 million metric tons of mismanaged plastic litters the Philippines every year. Greenpeace Philippines and the #breakfreefromplastic group decided to clean up some of that junk at Freedom Island, and discern the businesses most responsible for the pollution . Nestlé topped the list, followed by Unilever and Indonesian company PT Torabika Mayora. The Philippines is the third worst polluter of Earth’s oceans , according to Greenpeace. They spent a week cleaning up the beach and performing an audit, which they said was the first one of its kind in the Philippines. There, the organizations picked up 54,260 pieces of trash. They found single-use items like plastic straws and bags, and trash like footwear and styrofoam. Related: Could France-sized ocean garbage patch become 196th nation? Most of the garbage included sachets, small plastic parcels used largely in developing countries allowing people with low-incomes to buy quality products . But the single-use sachets typically make their way into landfills and the ocean instead of being recycled . In order, these are the companies most responsible for plastic pollution at Freedom Island according to Greenpeace: Nestlé, Unilever, PT Torabika Mayora, Universal Robina Corporation, Procter & Gamble, Nutri-Asia, Monde Nissin, Zesto, Colgate Palmolive, and Liwayway. Greenpeace called for companies to rethink packaging and delivery practices. Greenpeace Philippines campaigner Abigail Aguilar said in a statement, “They could for instance practice extended producer responsibility where companies substitute non-reusable and non-recyclable products with new systems, such as refillables – prevention instead of end-of-pipe waste management …Citizens are burdened with the social and environmental impacts of plastic waste, rather than those that are responsible.” China is the worst ocean polluter. Greenpeace cited a study which found Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam join China and the Philippines in the top 10 countries with the most poorly managed plastic trash. All that garbage is costing them; the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation estimated in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations region, the cost to fishing , shipping, and tourism industries was $1.2 billion. + Greenpeace Philippines + #breakfreefromplastic + #plasticpolluters Images © Daniel Müller/Greenpeace

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Beach plastic audit in the Philippines reveals which businesses are the worst polluters

8-year-old’s fossil discovery reveals how turtles got their shells

July 20, 2016 by  
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If you ask most people to guess why turtles first developed shells, you’ll usually get one answer: the hard shells protect them from predators. That’s the theory scientists have been working with for decades, however a new study suggests everything we know about the evolution of the turtle is probably wrong — and it’s all thanks to a fossil discovered by one 8-year-old boy from South Africa. The study examines the remains of 47 different ancient proto-turtles from a species called Eunotosaurus africanus which had developed partial shells. One fossil in particular helped crack the case: a 6-inch-long specimen uncovered by 8-year-old Kobus Snyman. Compared to the other fossils in the collection, this 260-million-year-old specimen was remarkably complete, containing almost all of the skeleton, as well as the hands and feet of the ancient reptile. After discovering the fossil, the boy immediately turned it over to his local museum in Prince Albert, South Africa. It was this discovery that allowed scientists from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science to finally understand the purpose of the proto-turtle’s broadened ribs and stiffened torso. It wasn’t for protection, as first thought: rather, these reptiles developed partial shells in order to more easily burrow underground. The modified ribcage gave these creatures a more stable base when digging. Related: Amphibious Ichthyosaur Fossil Found in China Fills Evolutionary “Missing Link” This explains one of the most enduring questions that’s puzzled researchers for decades: why would turtles evolve shells in the first place? While it’s true they offer protection, they also make the turtle much slower and make it more difficult for the animals to breathe. Most other species on the planet have maintained narrower, more flexible ribs for exactly these reasons. Now that scientists know the early versions of shells served a very specific purpose, the adaptation makes more sense. The full finding have been published in the journal Current Biology . + Denver Museum of Nature and Science Via LiveScience Images via the Denver Museum of Nature and Science

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New research shows plants respond to touch

May 31, 2016 by  
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Researchers have long speculated about whether plants are capable of interacting with humans and each other. In one study, it emerged they sometimes ‘talk’ to each other through the soil. Now scientists from the University of Western Australia (UWA) have discovered an intriguing new aspect of plant life: they appear to respond to touch. There’s no visible sign that plants respond to touch, according to the scientists, who recently released their research in the journal Plant Physiology . Instead, the researchers noticed how plant genes expressed themselves differently after being sprayed with water. The gene changes happened minutes after they were sprayed and only lasted for around half an hour. The scientists determined there were no ‘ active compounds ‘ that might trigger a change; demonstrating that the plants changed in response to their external environment . Related: Researchers believe trees may have their own living Internet Gene changes in the plants happened not only when they were sprayed with water, but when humans touched them with fingers or tweezers and even when shade fell across them. Lead researcher Olivier Van Aken said it could happen naturally when it rains, when the wind blows, or when a bug skitters across a plant. Van Aken said , “Although people generally assume plants don’t feel when they are being touched, this shows that they are actually very sensitive to it and can redirect gene expression, defense, and potentially their metabolism because of it.” Why might plants respond this way? It appears they may be protecting themselves or even adapting to environmental conditions , such as increased water or light. Van Aken said , “Unlike animals, plants are unable to run away from harmful conditions. Instead, plants appear to have developed intricate stress defense systems to sense their environment and help them detect danger and respond appropriately. The findings may cause us to think differently about our interactions with the plants around us. While plants don’t appear to complain when we pinch a flower , step on them, or just brush by them while going for a walk, they are fully aware of this contact and are rapidly responding to our treatment of them.” Via Motherboard Images via Pixabay ( 1 , 2 )

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Tree of Life redesigned to reflect thousands of new species

April 13, 2016 by  
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Bacteria fill the Earth, and a new scientific study reveals just how prevalent they are. Scientists led by biologist Laura Hug, who currently teaches at the University of Waterloo , mapped a new Tree of Life diagram that contradicts past images. The Tree of Life used to highlight our visible environment, including mainly animals and plants, but the new Tree of Life draws attention to the most massive invisible population on our globe: bacteria. Read the rest of Tree of Life redesigned to reflect thousands of new species

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