Scientists discover plants have ‘brains’ that decide when to sprout

June 8, 2017 by  
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Researchers are quickly learning that plants are far more complex than once thought. Not only has it been determined that plants are capable of sensing and preparing for drought conditions, a team from the University of Birmingham recently learned that a cluster of cells in seeds act like a brain that decide when they should germinate. As a result of this finding, crop yields may be improved. The study, published in the journal  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) , explains that the researchers worked with a species called thale cress to determine whether or not plants have human-like “brains.” After locating the group of cells in the seed that are responsible for controlling decision-making processes, they discovered something interesting. Reportedly, the group of cells is made up of two competing types: one promotes germination and the other promotes dormancy. The scientists describe the relationship as a “tug of war” match, as hormones are swapped back and forth in a process that’s very similar to mechanisms in the human brain when someone decides whether or not to move. The team says the separate competing cells are key to the decision-making process in both humans and plants . The mechanism serves an important purpose in vegetation, because germinating too early may result in death due to frost. Alternatively, germinating too late will result in growing complications due to the wrong climate conditions. Said George Bassel, lead author of the study, “Our work reveals a crucial separation between the components within a plant decision-making center. In the human brain , this separation is thought to introduce a time delay, smoothing out noisy signals from the environment and increasing the accuracy with which we make decisions. The separation of these parts in the seed ‘brain’ also appears to be central to how it functions.” Related: Seed-Planting Tumbleweed Robot Draws From Nature to Fight Desertification After creating a mathematical model of how the separate cells work to control how sensitive the plant is to its environment , the researchers concluded that the more variation there is in environmental conditions, the more seeds will sprout. This sounds counter-intuitive, but the results were confirmed when the team tested it in a laboratory. “Our work has important implications for understanding how crops and weeds grow,” said Bassel. “There is now potential to apply this knowledge to commercial plants in order to enhance and synchronize germination, increasing crop yields and decreasing herbicide use.” + Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) Via New Atlas Images via Pixabay

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This twisting wooden skyscraper is inspired by the shape of Baobab trees

June 8, 2017 by  
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Cameroonian architecture firm Hermann Kamte & Associates just plans for a stunning wooden skyscraper inspired by Africa’s iconic Baobab trees. The Native Skyscraper is a twisting tower built with natural and locally-sourced materials that shows how biomimicry can make the future of urban design more sustainable. According to the architects, the tower design is a smart building concept for the future; a solution for cities looking to address massive urban growth while simultaneously trying to reduce their ecological footprints. The green building materials and sustainable features would make the tower design a “marketable, serviceable, economical sustainable, environmental, ecological and social” option for the urban designs of tomorrow. Related: Anders Berensson unveils wooden Trätoppen skyscraper with a numerical facade Plans for the Native Skyscraper show a soaring tower that twists as it rises. Columns of greenery are infused throughout the wood and glass exterior. The design team chose wood as the primary building material not only for its green properties , but also for the ability to connect the tower to its surroundings, “Wood is the fingerprint of Mother Nature in our buildings, this fingerprint connects us to nature in our artificial environment. There are no two identical pieces of wood in this Earth and it is wonderful.” The interior of the tower is also heavily influenced by nature. The wooden beams and columns will be left exposed, providing a treehouse-like appearance for the common areas. An abundance of greenery, including a series of living green walls will also fuse the man-made tower with its natural surroundings as well as create a pleasant microclimate throughout the interior. + Hermann Kamte & Associates

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This twisting wooden skyscraper is inspired by the shape of Baobab trees

Hundreds of massive seafloor craters are leaking methane

June 2, 2017 by  
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12,000 years ago the Barents Sea was covered with ice . Warming caused ice sheets to recede and a lot of methane was released, leading to blowouts that left the Arctic Sea floor scarred with hundreds of craters . Researchers in Norway recently found these craters, which offer a warning for the future of our world wracked by climate change – and are still leaking methane. The newly-found seafloor craters date all the way back to the end of our planet’s last Ice Age , when they were caused by explosive blowouts. Many of the Arctic Sea floor craters are huge, measuring around 0.6 miles wide. And many are not inactive, but continue to seep methane. Related: 7,000 methane gas bubbles in Siberia on the verge of exploding The ice on the Barents Sea for a time kept methane from hydrocarbon reservoirs from escaping. According to Gizmodo, the methane was stored as a hydrate in sediment, which led to pressurized conditions. Study lead author Karin Marie Andreassen of the Center for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Climate, and Environment (CAGE) explained it this way: “As the ice sheet rapidly retreated, the hydrates concentrated in mounds, and eventually started to melt, expand, and cause over-pressure. The principle is the same as in a pressure cooker: if you do not control the release of the pressure, it will continue to build up until there is a disaster in your kitchen. These mounds were over-pressured for thousands of years, and then the lid came off.” Her team found more than 100 craters between 980 and 3,280 feet wide, and hundreds more smaller craters under 980 feet wide. The also found 600 methane flares, where the gas is spewing out near the craters. Methane concerns scientists because it is 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to trapping heat in our atmosphere. And similar geological processes as the ones that led to these Arctic Sea floor craters are still in motion around the world, so scientists think climate change could lead to more methane explosions. The journal Science published the research online this week. 10 CAGE scientists collaborated on the study with two researchers from the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate . Via Gizmodo Images via Andreia Plaza Faverola/CAGE and K. Andreassen/CAGE

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Hundreds of massive seafloor craters are leaking methane

Could coffee help fight cancer?

June 2, 2017 by  
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Your morning joe could give you more than just a buzz; it might even stave off the most common form of primary liver cancer. In a new study published this week, researchers from the University of Southampton and the University of Edinburgh claimed that people who consume at least a cup or more of caffeinated coffee a day have a 20 percent lower risk of developing hepatocellular cancer than those who abstain. Heavy coffee drinkers can assert an even bigger advantage: imbibing up to five cups a day can reduce the same risk by half, scientists said. Even decaf was found to have a protective effect, if “smaller and less certain than for caffeinated coffee.” Despite coffee’s potential as a lifestyle intervention in chronic liver disease, Southampton’s Oliver Kennedy, the study’s lead author, advises some modicum of caution. Related: Edible Scoff-ee cups let you have your coffee and eat it too “We’re not suggesting that everyone should start drinking five cups of coffee a day though,” he said in a statement. “There needs to be more investigation into the potential harms of high coffee-caffeine intake, and there is evidence it should be avoided in certain groups such as pregnant women.” To reach their conclusion, the scientists analyzed data from 26 studies involving more than 2.25 million participants. Hepatocellular cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death globally, particularly in China and Southeast Asia, usually develops in people who already suffer from chronic liver disease. Experts suggest that we could see as many as 1.2 million cases by 2030. Related: Trouble brewing for coffee – half the land it needs to grow could be unfit by 2050 Previous studies have shown that increased coffee consumption can protect against liver cirrhosis , which can develop from partaking in too much alcohol. “The next step now is for researchers to investigate the effectiveness, through randomized trials, of increased coffee consumption for those at risk of liver cancer,” Kennedy said. + University of Southampton Via the Guardian Photos by Unsplash

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Houston superbug problem has been lurking for years, say researchers

May 18, 2017 by  
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Houston has a superbug problem, and it’s been lurking for years. A particularly virulent strain of Klebsiella pneumoniae , a bacteria that’s resistant to a broad spectrum of antibiotics, has a firm foothold on the Texan city, according to new research published in mBio , an online journal published by the American Society for Microbiology . Using genome sequencing, scientists from the Houston Methodist Research Institute found clone type 307 was responsible for more than one-third of resistant K. pneumoniae infections in their system. “Finding the otherwise uncommon strain in our city was a very surprising discovery,” James M. Musser, senior author of the study and chair of the Department of Pathology and Genomic Medicine at the Houston Methodist Research Institute and Houston Methodist Hospital, said in a statement. “Because K. pneumoniae is a common and important cause of human infections, we urgently need to identify potential vaccine targets or other new treatments, and develop new and rapid diagnostic techniques.” K. pneumoniae usually resides in the human intestines, where it doesn’t cause disease. When it migrates to other parts of the body, however, the bacteria can trigger infections such as pneumonia, meningitis, or blood septicity. Related: Student discovers a way to destroy superbug bacteria without antibiotics Musser’s team worked with researchers at Argonne National Laboratory and University of Chicago to analyze the genomes of 1,777 K. pneumoniae strains that caused infections in patients at Houston Methodist between September 2011 and May 2015. Clone type 307 emerged as the most abundant strain. But although the organism has been documented in regions of Europe, Africa, Asia, and South America, the study marks the first time it’s been singled out for causing such a broad number of infections in one city. Why this strain is so common in Houston is still a mystery, Musser said. “The faster we can successfully identify which antibiotics this strain is sensitive to, the faster a treating physician can target the appropriate therapy to these ill patients,” said S. Wesley Long, primary author of the study and associate director of the Clinical Microbiology Laboratory at Houston Methodist Hospital. “Our discoveries also give us the tools to begin to understand how the germ is spreading throughout the Houston area.” Earlier this year, an elderly woman in Nevada died from a K. pneumoniae infection after failing to respond to all 26 antibiotics used in the United States. There’s no approved vaccine for the superbug, but scientists are working on it. “Fortunately, the strain 307 identified in our study remains susceptible to certain antibiotics that can be used to successfully treat infected patients,” said Long. + American Society for Microbiology Via CBS News Photos by Unsplash

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Colossal landforms discovered under Antarctic ice sheet are 5X bigger than any on Earth

May 10, 2017 by  
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Colossal landforms recently found beneath the Antarctic ice sheet have surprised scientists. An international team found these eskers, or ridges of land similar to those left behind by ancient ice sheets , with satellite images and radar data – and it turns out they are far bigger than anything else like it on Earth. Some are as large as the Eiffel Tower and they might be contributing to Antarctic ice shelf thinning. The ancient Scandinavian Ice Sheet of the Pleistocene epoch was one of the biggest glacial masses of that time, and left behind eskers for us to see. The ice sheet was around 9,800 feet thick, but for thousands of years landforms under the sheet mitigated precipitation and evaporation so ice would continue to cycle through the ocean, according to ScienceAlert. Related: World’s most massive canyon may be hidden beneath Antarctic ice Now scientists have uncovered evidence of the landforms beneath the Antarctic ice sheet. But these subglacial features are a staggering five times larger than the eskers left behind we can see today. The scale of the eskers is shocking but they may also hold implications for the stability of the ice sheet. The Université libre de Bruxelles explained the “oversized sediment ridges actively shape the ice hundreds of kilometers downstream, by carving deep incisions at the bottom of the ice.” These gashes open up weak spots that are more susceptible to damage from warm ocean water. Researchers once thought ice shelves thinned only once they hit the ocean, but this new discovery means instability could impact the ice sheet even while it’s still on land. ScienceAlert pointed out we might not be able to halt the Antarctic ice sheet thinning, but a better understanding of the process could help us understand what will happen as the sheet thins. Nature Communications published the team’s research online yesterday. Scientists from institutions in Belgium, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Norway contributed to the study. Via ScienceAlert and Université libre de Bruxelles Images via Wikimedia Commons ( 1 , 2 )

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Colossal landforms discovered under Antarctic ice sheet are 5X bigger than any on Earth

Low-cost solar absorber could supercharge solar power plants

April 6, 2017 by  
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One of the major challenges in developing solar panels has been creating photovoltaic cells which can absorb as much solar energy as possible – without overheating to the point that they begin to simply radiate energy back into the atmosphere. In the past, this has meant that commercially available solar cells only manage to convert about 30 percent of sunlight they absorb into energy. Researchers from Purdue University may have found a way to overcome this issue by modifying regular silicon wafers to more efficiently absorb the energy at higher temperatures than ever before. The new study, published in the journal Applied Physics Letters , outlines how silicon wafers can be coated with thin films of tantalum and silicon nitride to enhance their ability to absorb sunlight. The modified surface is then able to selectively absorb photons within a certain range on the light spectrum, while reflecting those that cannot be used. Related: Flexible new solar panel is almost 80% lighter than traditional panels The resulting solar cells can withstand temperatures up to 535 degrees Celsius without any performance or stability issues, converting a staggering 50 percent of sunlight into useable energy. This research has some interesting applications – for instance, the same film could be painted on the surface of mirrored parabolic troughs used in concentrated solar plants in order to make them even more efficient. While the film isn’t yet ready for any kind of commercial application, the authors of the study hope it will inspire others to try a similar experimental approach to enhancing solar absorption. Via Phsy.org Images via Purdue University and Shutterstock

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European electricity sector pledges no new coal plants after 2020

April 6, 2017 by  
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In another sign that the world is rapidly moving away from coal , the European electricity sector just announced a commitment to not invest in new coal-fired power plants after 2020. Every European Union country signed onto the initiative except for Poland and Greece. The Union of the Electricity Industry, otherwise known as Eurelectric , which represents 3,500 utilities with a combined value of over €200 billion, reiterated its commitment to decarbonize the EU economy in line with targets set in the Paris climate agreement . Europe’s power sector is aiming to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. “The power sector is determined to lead the energy transition and back our commitment to the low carbon economy with concrete action,” said Eurelectric President and CEO of the Portuguese energy group EDP, António Mexia. “With power supply becoming increasingly clean, electric technologies are an obvious choice for replacing fossil fuel based systems for instance in the transport sector to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” Related: China calls America selfish amid Trump attempt to revive coal Coal is already in decline as Europe continues making massive investments in renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Last year, European coal emissions fell by an impressive 11 percent , according to an analysis published by the European Commission. The decrease of coal emissions is part of a long-term trend — since 2010, European coal’s generation emissions fell by 16 percent and overall power sector emissions fell by 19 percent. Across the Atlantic, US President Donald Trump has pledged to revive coal. However, US utilities, similar to their European counterparts, are moving away from coal in favor of natural gas and renewables. News agency Reuters contacted 32 utilities and the vast majority said that Trump’s actions would not impact their investments away from coal. “I’m not going to build new coal plants in today’s environment,” Ben Fowke, CEO of Xcel Energy, told Reuters. “And if I’m not going to build new ones, eventually there won’t be any.” Via The Guardian Images via Flickr 1 , 2

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European electricity sector pledges no new coal plants after 2020

Stickbulb’s new Boom LED lamp is made of reclaimed wood from NYC water tanks

April 6, 2017 by  
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Almost five years have passed since New York-based design firm Rux Design unveiled their revolutionary StickBulb lighting system , which was inspired by destroyed buildings. Now, the innovative designers are back with a new, bolder LED lamp called Boom that’s made out of reclaimed Redwood from dismantled NYC water tanks. Rux’s new Boom lamps were officially unveiled this week at the Milan Furniture Fair . The series follows up on the designer’s quest to repurpose materials from architectural destruction. Boom is made of reclaimed wood taken from dismantled NYC water tanks. Years of exposure to the harsh NYC climate on one side and water on the other has given the wood a rich, unique coloring. Related: 15 brilliant green lamps for a brighter future The reclaimed wood pieces are shaped to fit linear LED bulbs that are then connected to an elegant brass core. The lighted sticks shoot out at different lengths and emit light from different directions, creating a sense of “exploding light.” According to Stickbulb Co-Founder and RUX Founder Russell Greenberg, the team’s lighting systems take a revolutionary approach to green design : “Our fixtures are literally born from the destruction of architecture. We celebrate this energy and history in the form and function of our designs.” Boom debuted in a temporary exhibit at Archiproducts Milano on April 4th during Milan Design Week . + Stickbulb + Rux Design

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Trump properties rank among worst polluters in NYC

April 3, 2017 by  
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Nobody expected President Donald Trump , a man who once declared climate change a “hoax” by the Chinese government, to be a champion of the environment. Indeed, with proposed budget cuts to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a plan to reverse his predecessor’s pro-planet policies, the opposite  has been true. So it should come as a surprise to no one that properties owned by Trump, as well as his consigliere son-in-law Jared Kusher , rate among the least energy-efficient in New York City, according to a new report by ALIGN , a coalition of labor and community organizations with an environmental bent. Trump International Hotel on Columbus Circle and Trump SoHo, the analysis found, use more energy than 70 to 79 percent of large hotels in the city, respectively. Even more egregious, Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue uses more energy than 93 percent of the city’s largest residential complexes. The Mayfair, a hotel-to-condo conversion owned by the Trumps, uses more energy than 98 percent of comparable multifamily buildings. The Kushner family–owned tower at 666 Fifth Avenue , living up to its numerically ominous address, uses more energy than 85 percent of large office buildings, the study noted. Related: Jared Kushner’s 666 tower by Zaha Hadid gets reimagined as the Eye of Sauron “Those folks are the biggest polluters of our city—we need to take them on and actually make sure that they reduce their emissions,” Maritza Silva-Farrell, executive director of ALIGN, told the Daily News . The bulk of the city’s carbon footprint stems from heating, cooling, and powering its soaring skyscrapers. While New York City has voluntary programs designed to reduce its emissions, Silva-Farrell thinks it’s time to administer mandatory rules. “We think that it is really important to require these kinds of owners to reduce their emissions and create clean air for our communities,” she said. “We believe that’s the only way they will do it.” Via the Daily News Photos by jcwillia1 and Michael Vadon

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