What causes zombie plants?

September 21, 2021 by  
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Parasitic bacteria can teach us a lot, according to scientists who have just discovered a manipulation mechanism used by the bacteria to slow down plant aging. Their insights might lead to new ways to protect food crops from  disease . Some  plants  fall so far under the sway of parasites that they’re termed “zombies.” Instead of reproducing and living normal plant lives, they are reduced to being a host and habitat for parasitic pathogens. Researchers published their findings in Cell ,  detailing a manipulation molecule that phytoplasma bacteria produces. This protein molecule can hijack plant development, breaking down key growth regulators and triggering bizarre deviations in growth. For example, if you’ve ever seen the tight configuration of excess branches in trees called “witches’ brooms,” that’s an example of phytoplasma bacteria reprogramming its host plant. Related: The best plants for pollinators “Phytoplasmas are a spectacular example of how the reach of genes can extend beyond the organisms to impact surrounding environments,” said Saskia Hogenhout, one of the study’s authors, as reported by Newswise. “Our findings cast new light on a molecular mechanism behind this extended phenotype in a way that could help solve a major problem for  food  production. We highlight a promising strategy for engineering plants to achieve a level of durable resistance of crops to phytoplasmas.” The study found that SAP05, a bacterial  protein , disrupts a plant’s natural mechanism of breaking down proteins inside plant cells. With these proteins out of the picture, SAP05 can zombify the plant, forcing it to favor the bacteria over its healthy self. It triggers the growth of vegetative tissues and shoots and pauses the plant’s aging process. The researchers identified two amino acids in the plant which interact with SAP05. If they switch these amino acids with two found in insect protein instead, they can halt the abnormal growth. The study’s finding suggests that if  scientists  fiddle with these two amino acids in food crops, perhaps by using gene-editing techniques, they could overcome the zombifying effects of some parasitic bacteria. Via Newswise Lead image via Pixabay

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Harvard University pledges to divest from fossil fuels

September 13, 2021 by  
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Harvard University president Lawrence Bacow has announced that the institution will divest from its fossil fuel holdings. The announcement came Tuesday, stating that the institution has already been cutting its investments in fossil fuels. Currently, Harvard University’s investment arm, Harvard Management Company, oversees the institution’s endowment of about $42 billion. The company has been steadily divesting its interests from fossil fuel entities. Today, the university has no direct investment in companies exploring further reserves of fossil fuels, according to Bacow. Related: Harvard’s new Science and Engineering Complex is an example of ‘healthy’ design Harvard’s final fossil fuel -related investments come from legacy investments in several private equity funds. Bacow says these indirect investments constitute less than 2% of the university’s total endowment. While the indirect investments will not end immediately, Bacow claims they are in “runoff mode” and will end when the partnerships are liquidated. The decision comes after many years of intense lobbying and protests . Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard, a campaign started by students at the university over a decade ago, declared the recent news a victory. “It took conversations and protests, meetings with administration, faculty/alumni votes, mass sit-ins and arrests, historic legal strategies, and storming football fields. But today, we can see proof that activism works, plain and simple,” Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard wrote in a statement. Former Vice President and Nobel laureate Al Gore also welcomed the news via Twitter . “Let this be a strong signal to other institutions that the era of fossil fuels is coming to a close,” Gore tweeted. Harvard has committed to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 across its investment portfolio. The university has pledged to continue supporting its investment arm and aligning it with decarbonization goals. “Given the need to decarbonize the economy and our responsibility as fiduciaries to make long-term investment decisions that support our teaching and research mission, we do not believe such investments are prudent,” Bacow wrote. Via The Guardian Lead image via Pixabay

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Harvard University pledges to divest from fossil fuels

This lake house shows how nature inspires seamless design

September 13, 2021 by  
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Organic Shelter sits in the middle of a forest, with a lake transitioning smoothly away from it. Nature is all around, creating stunning views for everyone inside. This beautiful modern home is the latest project from Studio Organic’s Aga Kobus and Grzegorz Goworek. Kobus and Goworek decided to make the lake and the landscape part of the home design itself. Nature surrounds the house, unspoiled, wild and pure. The house is not an intruder into this natural world; it’s made to be a part of it. Related: This house by the lake erases the barrier between inside and outside The house is made from natural materials such as stone and wood. Polish limestone gives the home its distinct look, alongside burned larch wood that creates black planks. These elements combine for a simple, elegant and modern design with clean lines. Inside, the minimalist style continues. Japanese design influenced the flow of the interior spaces. Glass surfaces allow plenty of natural light, and the rooms have light colors to keep the spaces feeling airy and open. The walls and floor are oak, with matching oak boards on the ceiling. Upholstery and fabrics in the space are made of natural linen and cotton. Lamps woven with wooden strips hang over the table. Soft edges and simple lines define the space. Organic Shelter’s minimalist, beautiful design takes nothing away from the amazing natural views outside. The living area is full of curving sofas that look out over the lake and the trees . This creates a continuous effect, bringing the home and lake into a seamless flow. As Studio Organic explained in a press release, “The house flows smoothly into the surface of the lake, surrounded by a forest , with the southern exposition. It sounds like a dream of every nature lover. This is what the latest project of the Studio Organic looks like.” + Studio Organic Images via Studio Organic

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This lake house shows how nature inspires seamless design

Call for climate action issued by Christian leaders

September 13, 2021 by  
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Christian leaders have petitioned officials worldwide to take action to address the climate crisis. In an unprecedented move, heads of several Christian denominations released a joint statement to encourage climate action ahead of key environmental conferences. The heads of the Roman Catholic Church, Anglican Communion, and Eastern Orthodox Church issued a  joint statement  last week, calling on global leaders to address two key issues: social inequality and climate change. The statement, seemingly directed toward the upcoming COP26 U.N. climate summit, sums up the current climate crisis . The statement urges leaders to take action to avoid a much worse scenario in the future. Related: Leaked report details what must be done to stop climate change “Today, we are paying the price,” the statement said. “All of us—whoever and wherever we are—can play a part in changing our collective response to the unprecedented threat of climate change and environmental degradation …. Our children’s future and the future of our common home depend on it.”  The statement points out that those most affected by the climate crisis are the poor, saying, “the people bearing the most catastrophic consequences of these abuses are the poorest on the planet and have been the least responsible for causing them.” In contrast, the people most responsible for environmental damage are the wealthy. In November, Pope Francis will attend the COP26 U.N. Summit in Scotland. He has appealed to Christians to pray for world leaders to make courageous choices at the meeting. Church support could play a key role in climate negotiations. There are also plans to host major world religious leaders and scientists at the Vatican to forge a “common stand” on climate issues. Still, the community has its skeletons in the closet. Archbishop Justin Welby of the Anglican Commission, a co-signer of the statement, has been criticized for his contribution to carbon emissions . Welby, a former oil executive, hasn’t divested his Church of England from fossil fuel companies. He claims the church may hold more sway in changing the industry as an investor. Via EcoWatch Lead image via Pixabay

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A green remodel gave this 1950s home major treehouse vibes

September 13, 2021 by  
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Your home might be cozy, but nothing compares to the fun of a childhood treehouse . Hazel Road Residence combines modern home design with treehouse vibes to showcase the best of both worlds. Completed by Oakland -based firm Buttrick Projects Architecture+Design, this project transformed a 1950s residence into a gorgeous family home with sustainable features. Located in Berkeley, California , this house began its life in 1952 as a 1,714-square-foot structure. Bringing the home’s “good bones” into the modern era took thoughtful planning. Buttrick Projects Architecture+Design started the transformation with a kitchen remodel in 2012. Warm wood cabinets echo the trees outdoors, while steel appliances keep the kitchen looking modern and fresh. This remodel also laid the groundwork for an upstairs addition, completed with the help of IDA Structural Engineers and Jetton Construction, Inc. The project was completed in 2018. Related: Residential building from the ’60s gets an energy-efficient remodel Now a 2,392-square-foot home, Hazel Road can comfortably house a family with kids. But more space isn’t the only welcoming element to the updated house. As stated in a project description, a “unifying concept to the project was to use the yard to greater effect.” This is where Hazel Road’s “tree-house feel” comes into play. The green yard features inviting wood and concrete stairs leading up to a deck shaded by a gorgeous Magnolia tree. Flush sliders added to the family room/kitchen blur the barrier between indoor and outdoor spaces . Continuing to bring the outdoors in, windows throughout the home frame views of the tree. This includes the upstairs master bedroom’s full-wall sliding windows with an ‘invisible’ glass safety rail. Sustainability features reinforce the home’s green perspective. For example, spray foam insulation and energy-efficient LED lighting were used throughout the structure. Exterior shades and deep overhangs control both glare and western light to minimize solar gain. The residence also includes a “state of the art rainscreen wall” with cementitious panel siding. + Buttrick Projects Architecture+Design Photography by Cesar Rubio, Matthew Millman and Buttrick Projects A+D

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Indoor air contains concerning levels of forever chemicals

September 1, 2021 by  
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Maybe you live in an area far from polluting industries, buy only organic food and have had your home screened for radon. But you’re probably still bringing dangerous per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) into your home. These are nicknamed “forever  chemicals ” because they stay in your body until death do you part. And death may come sooner, according to scientists who are worried about high concentrations of PFAS. PFAS are approximately 9,000 different compounds that make products resistant to heat, water and stains. Not only are they forever, they’re practically ubiquitous — in food packaging, cosmetics, floor waxes, carpeting, shoes. Dozens of industries use PFAS in everyday products. But they accumulate in humans and other animals, disrupting hormones, decreasing immunity and possibly contributing to birth defects, cancer, thyroid and liver  disease . Related: EWG warns ‘forever chemicals’ are contaminating US drinking water at levels far worse than expected A new study by researchers at the Green Science Policy Institute and the University of Rhode Island was published on Tuesday in  Environmental Science & Technology Letters . Researchers tested indoor air quality at 20 sites. Seventeen locations had PFAS. The airborne compounds likely break off of  clothes , carpets and other products treated with PFAS. As we breathe them in, they start doing their nasty damage. “It’s an underestimated and potentially important source of exposure to PFAS,” said Tom Bruton, a senior  scientist  at Green Science and one of the study’s authors, as reported by The Guardian. According to the study, young  children  are the most at risk, especially from biotransformed perfluorinated alkyl acids [PFAA]. Unfortunately, some of the highest levels the study found were in kindergarten classrooms. All that time sitting on the floor on rugs makes it easy to inhale unwanted substances. As the study put these concerning findings, “This research highlights inhalation of indoor  air  as an important exposure pathway and the need for further reduction of precursors to PFAA.” Via The Guardian Lead image via Pixabay

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Indoor air contains concerning levels of forever chemicals

Extreme heat leads to extreme behavior in humans

August 26, 2021 by  
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Many individuals have personally experienced that when folks are uncomfortable warm, they are correspondingly cranky. And many studies have found a correlation between rising temperatures and violence. But as we experience more extreme  heat  episodes around the world, scientists are finding that heat may not only increase our aggression but also reduce our coping mechanisms and lower our cognitive abilities. And who is likeliest to be affected by extreme heat? Lower-income individuals and countries with no way to cool off. “The physiological effects of heat may be universal, but the way it manifests … is highly  unequal ,” said economist R. Jisung Park of UCLA, as reported by Science News. Related: Gradient offers cooling and heating with a lower energy footprint Park analyzed test scores of nearly a million New York City students who took a combined 4.5 million exams between 1999 and 2011. Students took tests in rooms in their home schools with temperatures ranging from 59 to almost 99 degrees Fahrenheit. Park concluded that if the temperature was about 90 degrees or higher, students were 10% less likely to pass their test than if the exam day temperature had been a balmy 75. Park also did a nationwide review of 21 million PSAT scores, examining data from weather stations and digging up info on schools’ air conditioning systems. The verdict? The air conditioning gap of  schools  in lower-income neighborhoods could account for between 3-7% of the PSAT’s notorious racial achievement gap. Things are even worse on hot days outside the classroom. Violent crime can rise 12% in Los Angeles on 95 degree days compared to when the temperature is 65 to 70 degrees. But this, too, is uneven. “Beverly Hills doesn’t have much violent crime on any of those days,” said environmental economist Matthew Kahn of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, as reported by Science News. “But in the poorest communities in  Los Angeles , you see a larger correlation between heat and violence.” So, does fairness mean everybody should have air conditioning? Uh, maybe not. In 2018, AC and other cooling equipment hogged about 17% of the globe’s total  electricity  demand. And as emerging economies install more AC units, we’re going to be even farther from hitting those Paris agreement targets. Instead of more fossil fuel-powered AC, cooling through green energy could be a strong solution. Via Science News Lead image Pexels

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This prefab home expansion in Ecuador enjoys gorgeous views

August 26, 2021 by  
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The province of Pichincha in the northern Sierra region of  Ecuador  wraps around the slopes of a dormant stratovolcano. Although its capital and largest city is Quito, one of the most visited destinations in the entire country, Pichincha also boasts some spectacularly secluded forested landscapes in the highland areas of the Andes Mountains. It was here that architects at RAMA Estudio were tasked with a modular home expansion for a largely nomadic family that decided to stay put in their home during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Whereas the family could previously get away with smaller spaces due to keeping their stays short and sporadic in the house (which totaled just 65 square meters) pre-COVID, the challenge came in creating a larger space once they decided to move in permanently. The clients requested expanding the existing home to include social areas and independent bedrooms for each of their children, all to be completed within three months. RAMA Estudio responded with an industrially  prefabricated  piece that could subtly sit on the ground, attaching itself to the existing structure. Related: Stunning family home in Ecuador offers serenity in an increasingly noisy world As the home is positioned over a slope overlooking the valley, care was taken to understand the natural environment and refrain from disturbing the soil or degrading the vegetation. Additionally, no construction waste was created that wasn’t reused for other projects or within the site itself. For example, all material that could be reused from the facade demolition was sorted to improve the ground in areas surrounding the building. The project features a system of metal channels that work as the structure for the floor and roof, both of which are thermally  insulated  and allow for vegetation to grow, similar to a green roof. Hanging plants overflow from the rooftop to complement the floor-to-ceiling windows, helping the building camouflage into its naturally vegetated surroundings. Regular modules built with  plywood  panels run from each end to create storage, decorative surfaces and screens toward the bedrooms. There are separate modules for the stove and television, including one for the kitchen that contains other appliances and cabinets. + RAMA Estudio Via ArchDaily Images courtesy of Jag Studio

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This prefab home expansion in Ecuador enjoys gorgeous views

House in the Dunes modernizes an original Gwathmey design

August 17, 2021 by  
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Charles Gwathmey was an influential architect for many decades in the 1900s, so when one of his works showed up in need of renovation in Amagansett, New York, architecture and design studio Worrell Yeung enthusiastically jumped on board. The home, originally known as the Haupt Residence, was constructed in the 1970s and has remained unchanged, standing as an example of Gwathmey’s work. The team at Worrell Yeung approached the project with reverence. Max Worrell, co-founder of Worrell Yeung said, “We’re big fans of Gwathmey – particularly his early stuff. So we were very excited when we got the call about the house. Especially given that it was in its original condition, totally untouched.” He continued, “Our intention, at first, was really to do as little as possible.” Related: Self-sufficient Sail House by David Hertz Architects looks like a ship While the result was a full renovation of the exterior and some changes to the inside, restoration was really at the forefront of the theme. Worrell says they had the original drawings to work from, so they made gradual changes while trying to maintain the original design. Worrell says, “At every stage of the process we were asking ourselves, ‘What would Gwathmey do?’” The team had good bones to work within the four-bedroom home dubbed House in the Dunes. It sits on an acre of land with surrounding views of dunes and the ocean.  The outside reflects the coastal vibe with gray  cedar cladding, but it was showing the wear of the years so the team preserved the essence of the original design while bringing a modern appeal in a new roof, cedar siding, doors and windows, skylights, and pool deck. The inside benefits from the  natural light  streaming in through doors and windows. These openings also connect the indoors and the outdoors, allowing the owners to seamlessly move from the living space to the pool to the ocean beyond. To achieve this flow, Worrell Yeung made a small but impactful design change by removing a half wall between the living room and kitchen.  With relatively small structural changes, the Worrell Yeung team moved onto  interior design  with respect to Gwathmey’s original designs, replacing white pine trim and matching the original kitchen laminate. + Worrell Yeung Photography by Naho Kubota

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House in the Dunes modernizes an original Gwathmey design

Earth Overshoot Day 2021 has arrived. What does it mean for the planet?

July 30, 2021 by  
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While the  pandemic  had humanity burning up the world’s resources more slowly than usual, the trend has reversed. Earth Overshoot Day, alas, arrived yesterday on July 29. If you’re not familiar with this day, it’s the date that humans’ use of ecological resources and services exceeds what  Earth  can regenerate in a year. Last year, thanks to global lockdowns, Earth Overshoot Day fell on August 22. Although the pandemic is still raging in many countries, the world has somehow crept back to where we were in 2019. Related: Earth Overshoot Day comes 3 weeks later this year “With almost half a year remaining, we will already have used up our quota of the Earth’s biological resources for 2021,” said Susan Aitken, leader of Glasgow City Council, as reported by EcoWatch. “If we need reminding that we’re in the grip of a  climate  and ecological emergency, Earth Overshoot Day is it.” Another way to look at the data is that humanity is using  nature  up 1.7 times faster than Earth can regenerate its ecosystems. At this rate, we will need 1.7 planets to sustain our environmentally reckless lifestyle. Carbon  emissions  are still a little behind 2019 highs, but if you’ve been in a U.S. airport lately, you’ve probably noticed it looks as busy as before the pandemic. There’s a mood of wanting to get back to normal. And normal, for many people, means using a lot of resources. “Rather than recognize this as a reset moment,  governments  have been eager to get back to business-as-usual. Global emissions are already creeping back up to pre-pandemic levels,” said Stephanie Feldstein, population and sustainability director at the Center for Biological Diversity, as reported by EcoWatch. The National Footprint and Biocapacity Accounts graph released by  Global Footprint Network  reveals the huge disparity in Earth Overshoot Day if you slice and dice data by country.  Qatar  overshoots on an astounding February 9, with the U.S. and Canada not too far behind on March 14. Countries that come closer to making their resources last a full year include Ecuador, which makes it to December 7, and Indonesia on December 18. Another of Global Footprint Network’s interesting charts asks how many Earths would we need if the world’s population lived like different countries. If everybody resource-partied like the U.S., we’d need five whole planets. But if everyone lived as people do in  India , we could survive on seven-tenths of Earth. Via EcoWatch Lead image via Pixabay

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Earth Overshoot Day 2021 has arrived. What does it mean for the planet?

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