Light-manipulating algae could boost solar power technology

October 19, 2017 by  
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You probably learned about diatoms , a prolific type of algae , back in grade school. But you may not have learned these single-celled organisms, which are inexpensive and can be found in different types of water and even tree bark, can manipulate light . Now scientists are putting them in organic solar cells to enhance their energy efficiency. Could diatoms hold the key to better solar power ? A research team from Yale University , Princeton University , Lincoln University , and the NASA Glenn Research Center is utilizing them in organic solar cells, a lower-cost alternative to conventional solar cells . The so-called jewels of the sea have a nanostructured silica or glass skeleton, and study lead author and Yale Ph.D. student Lyndsey McMillon-Brown said, “They help trap and scatter light for the algae to photosynthesize, so we’re able to use something directly from nature and put it in a solar cell.” Related: Ancient Marine Diatoms Could be Used to Make Biofuels, Electronics and Health Foods Organic solar cells usually suffer from a design issue: they need to have thin layers, so their efficiency is restricted. Nanostructures that trap and scatter light can help overcome that issue – but are typically too expensive for production on a large scale. Not so with cheap diatoms. The researchers put the algae – abundant in nature – right in the solar cells’ active layer. They saw the same electrical output levels even as they cut the amount of material necessary for the active layer. The team employed a grinding process because at first the diatoms were too big for the active layer. They think they could obtain even better results by utilizing different species and tailoring them to the correct size. McMillon-Brown’s focus is biomimicry ; she said, “We’re always on the hunt for new patterns in nature because we believe that nature solves all our engineering problems – we just have to find the solutions.” The journal Organic Electronics published the research online this month. Via Yale University Images via Depositphotos , Wikimedia Commons and Yale University

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Light-manipulating algae could boost solar power technology

Researchers detect 100-million-year-old virus in pregnant women’s blood

October 9, 2017 by  
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Here’s a startling thought: the human genome contains ancient viruses . Researchers recently detected a 100-million-year-old virus called a human endogenous retrovirus (HERV)—that would have infected our ancestors when dinosaurs roamed the Earth—in the blood of pregnant women. They are still puzzling over how retroviruses might affect us in the long term. Eight percent of the human genome is made up of ancient viruses and scientists are still trying to puzzle out their function. Three scientists, led by Gkikas Magiorkinis of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens , wrote an article available online the end of September for Trends in Microbiology , delving into the mystery behind HERVs. They said, “Are they merely fossils that, like mosquitoes in amber, were stuck and preserved in large host genomes while their functions decayed?” They noted the 100-million-year-old retrovirus, first detected by another research group, “became a human gene that is expressed in embryos and cancers , and can be detected in the blood of pregnant women.” Related: University of Queensland scientists uncover an ‘explosion’ of new life forms Retroviruses insert a DNA copy of their RNA into a genome, according to IFLScience – this has devastating consequences with the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV , for example. The 100-million-year-old HERV looks to be inactive during most stages, with low expression in many normal tissues, but it is expressed in the placenta, some stem cells, and cancer tissues like those of ovarian cancer, according to the scientists. The expression pattern “suggests potential roles for manipulation of stem cells and early life events, which could have very important impacts on adult diseases.” IFLScience points out the find has raised more questions than it solves – the three researchers suggest a hypothesis at the end of their paper, but no definitive conclusions. They say scientists should explore the roles of endogenous retroviruses to pin down potential anticancer treatments. Via IFLScience Images via freestocks.org on Unsplash and Pixabay

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Researchers detect 100-million-year-old virus in pregnant women’s blood

Muscle-packed pigs in Cambodia raise alarms

October 9, 2017 by  
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Videos and images of Cambodian pigs with extremely muscular physiques have gone viral in recent weeks, raising concerns and questions over the origin and well-being of these augmented animals. Although PETA claims that these animals have been genetically modified , there is no clear evidence to confirm this theory. It is possible that the animals were simply bred to display these characteristics. “We could do this through breeding,” said Jin-Soo Kim, a researcher at Seoul National University, “but then it would take decades.” Regardless of the specific reason for the pigs’ appearance, one can certainly add this to the already long list of unsettling happenings in the meat industry. In 2015, Kim and his peers at  Seoul National University led an experiment in which pigs were genetically modified to posses “double muscles” by altering the myostatin gene, a relatively minor tweak to the genetic code. By changing the amount of lean meat on an animal, these modifications could increase profits for animal producers. The pigs in Cambodia could have come from the same lineage. However, there is no evidence yet to confirm that this is the case. Related: Chinese scientists genetically engineer muscular superdogs While the US Food and Drug Administration has declared that GMO salmon is as safe to eat as natural salmon, no other GMO animal product has yet been approved for human consumption in the United States. However, pigs have been genetically modified in the past, for meat production or otherwise. The EnviroPig is a trademarked, genetically modified organism created in Canada that has been altered to produce waste that contains less phosphorus, which decreases the environmental costs of hog raising. Scientists in Japan have spliced spinach genes into pigs to create a less fatty animal. While the pigs in Cambodia may appear disturbing, there may be benefits to humans and the environment from genetic modification. However, further study is needed and animal welfare standards must be improved around the world. Via Newsweek Images via Facebook/Duroc Cambodia and  Xi-jun Yin

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Muscle-packed pigs in Cambodia raise alarms

Cow farts may be contributing more to global warming than we realized

October 4, 2017 by  
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When you hear the words ‘ cow farts,’ you probably giggle a little. But bovine flatulence and belches are pumping methane into the atmosphere, and contributing even more greenhouse gas emissions than scientists previously thought. According to new NASA -funded research, estimates of livestock emissions could have been off by around 10 percent. When we think of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change , carbon dioxide is typically the first one that comes to mind. But methane – even though it can break down quicker – is around 85 times more powerful in trapping heat. And guess who’s pouring methane into the air? Cows. Three scientists, from the United States Department of Agriculture , Joint Global Change Research Institute , and the United States Department of Energy , reevaluated data employed to calculate 2006 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change emissions factors. They created revised emissions factors and discovered livestock methane emissions were 11 percent higher in 2011 than other estimates arrived at using the 2006 guidelines. Related: How oregano could save the world by reducing bovine belching The journal Carbon Balance and Management published the research the end of September. Lead author Julie Wolf said in a statement , “In many regions of the world, livestock numbers are changing, and breeding has resulted in larger animals with higher intakes of food. This, along with changes in livestock management, can lead to higher methane emissions.” The way we deal with cow poop also influences how many emissions enter the air. Using manure as fertilizer on fields yields less methane than storing the poop in pits. Changes like that one have caused global methane emissions to increase by almost 37 percent. Between 2003 and 2011, livestock yielded around one fifth of methane emissions – but they were also responsible for between half and three quarters of the methane emissions increase researchers noted during that time period. Even if you’re not a farmer, and can’t control farming practices, Popular Science said it wouldn’t hurt to eat less red meat . Via Forbes and Popular Science Images via Ryan Song on Unsplash and Filip Bunkens on Unsplash

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Cow farts may be contributing more to global warming than we realized

Cow farts may be contributing more to global warming than we realized

October 4, 2017 by  
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When you hear the words ‘ cow farts,’ you probably giggle a little. But bovine flatulence and belches are pumping methane into the atmosphere, and contributing even more greenhouse gas emissions than scientists previously thought. According to new NASA -funded research, estimates of livestock emissions could have been off by around 10 percent. When we think of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change , carbon dioxide is typically the first one that comes to mind. But methane – even though it can break down quicker – is around 85 times more powerful in trapping heat. And guess who’s pouring methane into the air? Cows. Three scientists, from the United States Department of Agriculture , Joint Global Change Research Institute , and the United States Department of Energy , reevaluated data employed to calculate 2006 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change emissions factors. They created revised emissions factors and discovered livestock methane emissions were 11 percent higher in 2011 than other estimates arrived at using the 2006 guidelines. Related: How oregano could save the world by reducing bovine belching The journal Carbon Balance and Management published the research the end of September. Lead author Julie Wolf said in a statement , “In many regions of the world, livestock numbers are changing, and breeding has resulted in larger animals with higher intakes of food. This, along with changes in livestock management, can lead to higher methane emissions.” The way we deal with cow poop also influences how many emissions enter the air. Using manure as fertilizer on fields yields less methane than storing the poop in pits. Changes like that one have caused global methane emissions to increase by almost 37 percent. Between 2003 and 2011, livestock yielded around one fifth of methane emissions – but they were also responsible for between half and three quarters of the methane emissions increase researchers noted during that time period. Even if you’re not a farmer, and can’t control farming practices, Popular Science said it wouldn’t hurt to eat less red meat . Via Forbes and Popular Science Images via Ryan Song on Unsplash and Filip Bunkens on Unsplash

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Cow farts may be contributing more to global warming than we realized

New NASA discovery hints at water elsewhere in the solar system

September 13, 2017 by  
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The presence of water on Earth used to help set our planet apart from others, but not anymore. NASA researchers recently uncovered evidence of water on Vesta, the second biggest body in the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars . Essam Heggy of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory told Inverse, “The more we search, the more we find ice and water in the solar system, and the more we realize water is not unique to our planet.” Recent discoveries – like that of water on Mars or hints of water on TRAPPIST-1 planets – have us questioning what we thought we knew about H2O in the solar system. It’s likely found on the dwarf planet Ceres and the moons Europa and Enceladus, too. Researchers used information from NASA’s Dawn mission , which explored Vesta between 2011 and 2012, to uncover the best evidence for water on the large asteroid we’ve found yet. Related: Scientists just discovered snow on Mars Led by Elizabeth Palmer of Western Michigan University , three researchers scrutinized the Dawn data. The probe discovered regions that were unusually smooth; the researchers think the surface variations weren’t only the result of cratering processes, like on the Moon, connecting them with high hydrogen concentrations, strongly suggesting Vesta is home to ground ice. Heggy, who was part of the research, said Vesta was once thought to be a dry body. These findings suggest we were probably wrong about that. The presence of ice in an asteroid belt opens up intriguing possibilities, since asteroids can easily be knocked out of their orbits to other areas of the solar system. Heggy said comets transport water molecules throughout solar systems. Could asteroids play a role in transporting water too? Even if that’s true, Heggy said it’s too early to guess how they might have impacted Earth’s water supply during its primordial days. The journal Nature Communications published the research online yesterday. Via Inverse Images via NASA/JPL-Caltech ( 1 , 2 )

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New NASA discovery hints at water elsewhere in the solar system

Megacities could save $505 million a year thanks to trees

August 30, 2017 by  
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Trees offer enormous monetary benefit to megacities , or those urban areas where over 10 million people reside. New research led by Theodore Endreny of SUNY’s College of Environmental Studies and Forestry highlights the idea that cities shouldn’t overlook the immense value of these plants: every year they could offer a payoff of $482 million in lowered air pollution , $11 million in stormwater remediation, $8 million in carbon dioxide sequestration , and $500,000 savings on heating and cooling costs. The researchers looked at Los Angeles, Beijing, Tokyo, Mumbai, Buenos Aires, Moscow, London, Istanbul, Mexico City, and Cairo. They built on estimates from the i-Tree model developed by the United States Forest Service , which analyzes environmental benefits from trees, with local data. They found median tree cover in all the cities was 21 percent, with potential tree cover at 19 percent. Tree cover varies by megacity – for example, in Cairo tree cover is just 8.1 percent while in Moscow it’s 36 percent. Tokyo claims the prize for greatest tree canopy cover per person, according to CityLab. Related: California street trees are worth $1 billion, says USFS and UC Davis The benefits each megacity reaps from trees varies some as well. Cairo doesn’t receive much precipitation so they don’t benefit that much from stormwater remediation. And Mumbai’s energy expenditures aren’t as high as other megacities’ so it doesn’t benefit as much in that area. Los Angeles got the most benefit from trees sequestering carbon dioxide. The researchers suggest cities plant more trees to nearly double the benefits gleaned from the leafy canopies. And as nearly 10 percent of humans live in megacities, the move could serve millions of people. The journal Ecological Modelling made the research available online at the end of July. Six researchers at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry and the Parthenope University of Naples contributed to the study. Via CityLab Images via Laith Abdulkareem on Unsplash and Florian ? on Unsplash

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Megacities could save $505 million a year thanks to trees

Facial deformities in Uganda apes linked to pesticide use

August 29, 2017 by  
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Our pesticides may be harming animals that live nearby, according to new research. A group of 10 scientists led by Paris’ Musée de l’Homme and the Great Ape Conservation Project at Kibale National Park in Uganda found baboons and chimpanzees with facial deformities near an agricultural area where they were told around eight pesticides had been used. 25 percent of chimpanzees the researchers monitored displayed abnormalities like reduced nostrils, reproductive issues, hypopigmentation, cleft lip, or limb deformities. Kibale National Park is close to industrial tea plantations and gardens growing maize, which are often raided by the chimps and baboons, according to the researchers. But it appears pesticides in the crops they’re taking are harming them. Related: Bee-killing pesticides have been found in US drinking water The researchers asked people in tea factories and villages what pesticides were being used, and were told of eight: glyphosate , cypermethrin, profenofos, mancozeb, metalaxyl, dimethoate, chlorpyrifos , and 2,4-D amine. They took samples from soils, fresh maize stems and seeds, and river sediments near where chimpanzees reside between 2014 and 2016 and discovered mean pesticide levels were above recommended limits. They also found the pesticides imidacloprid and DDT, as well as its metabolite pp’ -DDE. And it appears these pesticides may be affecting the animals. Out of 66 chimpanzees monitored, 16 had deformities. The scientists also photographed 35 baboons, and at least six had severe nasal deformities. The researchers said in the abstract of their paper they think “excessive pesticide use…may contribute to facial dysplasia in chimpanzees and baboons.” The suggestion that our agricultural practices are physically altering animals is horrifying; the researchers noted the International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists chimpanzees as endangered . The animals are also of economic importance in Uganda as they draw in ecotourists. The researchers said it may be a conservation priority to minimize threats to their survival, as the use of pesticides may be. The journal Science of The Total Environment published the research online earlier this year. Scientists from institutions in France, Uganda, Canada, and the United States collaborated on the work. Via ScienceDirect Images via Wikimedia Commons ( 1 , 2 )

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Facial deformities in Uganda apes linked to pesticide use

Herzog & de Meuron unveil monastery-inspired campus for new Berggruen Institute in California

August 25, 2017 by  
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Pritzker Prize-winning architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron just unveiled plans for the new Berggruen Institute campus , which will be constructed along a lush green ridge in the Santa Monica Mountains. The monastic-inspired design will provide a remote, peaceful setting for the Institute’s scholars and students to “study and apply new ideas to the workings of social, economic, and political institutions”. The Institute’s hilltop campus will be an expansive complex, whose surrounding landscape is essential to the design itself. In fact, over 90% of the campus’ 450 acres will be preserved as open space in order to provide scholars and students with a peaceful environment suited to quiet contemplation as well as peer interaction. Related: Herzog & De Meuron’s stunning Elbphilharmonie to finally open in January The building site will be run along two ridges that reach 1,700 feet in altitude, allowing for guests and residents to enjoy beautiful views of the deep canyon on either side. At the heart of the complex will be the main research building – a rectangular concrete-framed structure that “floats” above ground. Two large domed buildings will be installed in its central courtyard, one will house a lecture auditorium and the other will be a water reservoir. According to the studio, the large spheres represent the socio-cultural and ecological ambitions of the Institute. A green-filled linear park with native plants and installed with an eco-friendly water-management system will stretch along the ridge, leading from the research building to the Scholar’s Village. The Chairman’s Residence will be at the edge of the site, and will be clad in earth-colored walls and a large cantilevered roof to provide shade for the surrounding outdoor entertaining space. Plans also call for a series of cottages, as well as pavilions and various spaces for art installations along the western ridge. Working in collaboration with the Institute, which was founded in 2010 by philanthropist and investor Nicolas Berggruen, the Swiss architects created the monastery-like complex to meet the needs of the campus, “Since ancient times, monasteries have been places for individual study and reflection as well as group exchange and gathering,” said Herzog & de Meuron . “In line with such scholastic tradition, the program incorporates the natural surroundings.” + Herzog & de Meuron Via Dezeen Images via Herzog & de Meuron

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Herzog & de Meuron unveil monastery-inspired campus for new Berggruen Institute in California

These cyborg bacteria are better at photosynthesis than plants

August 24, 2017 by  
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Could cyborg bacteria generate clean power in the future? Researchers at UC Berkeley covered bacteria with small semiconductors that function like solar panels in order to see how much of the sun’s energy they could capture. The cyborg bacteria have a solar efficiency of 80% – which is four times greater than commercial solar panels and six times greater than the chlorophyll plants use in photosynthesis . Researchers in Peidong Yang’s laboratory gave the nonphotosynthetic bacterium Moorella thermoacetica cadmium, and the bacteria’s natural defense allowed it to produce cadmium sulfide crystals which accrued on the outside of their bodies and essentially acted as mini solar panels. The bacteria normally can produce acetic acid – which can be used for fuel, plastics, or pharmaceuticals – with carbon dioxide (CO2). But using their tiny solar panels, they were able to create acetic acid more efficiently with CO2, light, and water. Related: Cambridge scientists use light and plants to make cheap, clean hydrogen Kelsey Sakimoto of Harvard University , a past member of Yang’s group, told the BBC, “It’s shamefully simple, we’ve harnessed a natural ability of these bacteria that had never been looked at through this lens…You grow them in their liquid broth and you just add small aliquots of cadmium solution and you wait a couple of days and out pops these photosynthetic organisms. It’s all very simple, mix-in-a-pot chemistry .” Artificial photosynthesis techniques can be expensive, but big vats of liquid, in which the bacteria can be kept in sunlight, are really all that’s needed for this new process, so it could work well even in rural areas or developing countries . The self-replicating, self-regenerating bacteria offer a zero-waste technology, according to UC Berkeley. Sakimoto and Yang presented the research at the recent meeting of the American Chemical Society in Washington, D.C. Via the BBC , The Verge , and the University of California, Berkeley Images via planetMitch aunger on Unsplash and Kelsey K. Sakimoto

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These cyborg bacteria are better at photosynthesis than plants

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