East Coast of Vancouver Island

East Coast of Vancouver Island
Natural Beauty is Worth Preserving

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Antarctic summer brings more bad news


B. McPherson
It will take a few hundred years for it all to go, but go it will

Antarctica is entering its winter season, but the summer has seen accelerated melting of the vast ice sheets. In 2014 we found that the Western Ice Sheet was flowing rapidly into the ocean and melting. Research conducted this summer on the eastern part of that continent has found that that side of the continent is also spilling its hoard of ice into the Austral Ocean.

Warmer ocean temperatures have infiltrated under the Western Ice Sheet and accelerated the flow and melt rate. If the whole ice sheet were to melt, it would raise the ocean levels and average of 10 feet(3 metres). This summer scientists found a previously unknown ocean trough that can allow warm, for the Antarctic, water to seep under the Totten Glacier on the east coast. The Totten Glacier acts as a brake or plug to keep the interior ice from flowing to the ocean. Like the ice shelf in the west, the Glacier’s seaward edge is now found to be floating on ocean water. Previously it was assumed that it was grounded on solid land.

“Now we know the ocean is melting ice in an area of the glacier that we thought was totally cut off before,” 

Glaciers build up when more precipitation falls and freezes than melts. Over time ice-sheets can reach depths that sequester so much water that it affects ocean levels. When more ice melts than is replaced ocean levels rise.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the Arctic Sea Ice has been thinning and melting. Greenland is seeing land that has not been bare of ice since settlement by humans. This is contributing to a creeping rise in sea level. The further one moves towards the poles, the greater the sea level change.

Sources:
Washington Post                           
Nature Geoscience                         
NASA Jet Propulsion Lab             

Jackson School of Geoscience                  

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Horse dung may save your life


B. McPherson
Copper metal kills bacteria. Copper plated push plates on doors cut infections.
Horse poop has long been known as great for gardens, but save your life? Mushroom growers know that horse manure is ideal for producing those delectable morsels. A mushroom of a different kind – the inky cap(Coprinus comatus) has researchers hot on the trail of a new antibiotic.

The promising new compound is copsin, a protein substance that interferes with cell wall formation. Bacteria have cell walls. Scientists are reproducing the substance via genetically modified yeast. It is a long way from growing yeast in small scale batches to industrial production and clinical trials.

Medical researchers have been sounding the alarm about multi-resistant bacterial infections. Gradually, as an antibiotic comes into widespread use, it loses its ability to kill bacteria. When penicillin was first produced it could wipe out nearly any infection, revolutionizing modern medicine. 
Other fungal based bacteria killers also came on line to help fight disease. But over time, bacteria have evolved resistance to the compounds.

The situation has not been helped with careless prescribing of antibiotics for people. But 85% of antibiotic use in N. America is used in the agriculture industry. From feeding animals to produce faster weight gain to spraying on fruit crops to keep the spots off, by far the greatest use of antibiotics is in agriculture.

Other names for inky cap:  lawyers wig, shaggy mane

Shaggy mane mushrooms are also nematode killers. They are able to kill and digest small round worms. Organisms in the Fungus Kingdom exhibit characteristics like plants at times, and at other times exhibit animal like characteristics.
Sources:
CBC News                          
Wikipedia                           
Journal of Biological Chemistry                  

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Golden Rice fails its test


B. McPherson
Making children unknowing guinea pigs undermines trust in official pronouncements
The genetically altered grain known as Golden Rice has been touted as the answer to Vitamin A deficiency in many countries around the world. The premise is that a gene inserted into the DNA of rice would produce beta-carotene, a precursor to Vitamin A.

This would be the first GM organism that would be aimed at improved nutrition rather than having commercial traits inserted into the genome.

While those who fully support the growing of GM field crops are still supporting the Golden Rice and castigating those who would criticize tinkering with the genes of one of the world’s most important foods, Golden Rice has been field tested and found wanting.

The International Rice Research Institute(IRRI), located in the Philippines, is a non-profit organization that is overseeing various research projects that seek to improve the nutrients in rice. Both traditional selection and hybridization methods are being used as well as high tech methods that select a rice gene carrying a desirable trait and inserting it into another rice plant. They are also the principal testing organization for Golden Rice which uses maize genes.

The IRRI looks for a new rice to meet three criteria: thrives in the field trials and produces an adequate crop, is safe to eat, produces enough carotene(in the case of Golden Rice) to be effective in producing enough carotene to spur Vitamin A production. To date the field testing has proved disappointing and the variety will be worked on further.

Vitamin A deficiency affects over 200 million people around the world, most in Africa, Asia and the Indian sub-continent. The lack of Vitamin A can be devastating. Night vision loss is a common symptom but blindness, immune system deficiencies and higher rates of death especially for women and children.

Sources:
GM Watch           
Wikipedia           

Friday, 27 February 2015

Yeast may be the answer to replacing palm oil


B. McPherson


Palm oil is used in a myriad of places around the world. From face creams to biodiesel, palm oil is everywhere in today’s modern world. Why? Because it’s a cheap(relatively), versatile substance that remains soft but solid at room temperature, is non-toxic and edible and can be produced by trees and sunlight.

It sounds like an all around winner but as the palm oil industry has grown along with massive tropical plantations of the oil palm major environmental damage is becoming evident. About 87% of the world’s palm oil is produced from plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia. The ripping up of rain forests has far reaching deleterious effects on the people and animals that were living there.

Now the insatiable appetite for palm oil is industrializing tracts of land in Africa with Nigeria leading the way in leasing out land for palm oil plantations.

Researchers at the University of Bath may have come up with an alternative to digging up the tropical forests and evicting the people and animals living there. Dr. Chris Chuck working with the university’s Centre for Sustainable Technology has worked with his team to develop an algae that produces oil that can mimic the qualities of palm oil. The name of the organism, Metschnikowia pulcherrima, is a mouthful but its needs are humble. The researchers are currently growing it in vats and feeding it a variety of foodstocks. It does not seem picky, happily digesting straw and waste food.

It is early days in their research. It is estimated that it will take about five years before industrial production of the oily yeast is in full swing. The humble requirements of the yeast will also bring into line the cost for the finished product making it competitive with the palm oil industry.

This useful little organism is widely used in the winemaking industry and is being investigated for its antimicrobial properties.



Sources:
Treehugger                       
The Guardian                   

University of Bath           

Monday, 16 February 2015

Mad cow disease shows up in Alberta


B. McPherson
Mad cow disease can cause this CJv in humans
An animal destined for the beef market was found in Alberta to carry mad cow disease. This is the first case of mad cow since an isolated case in 2011. The public has been assured that the sick animal never made it to the slaughter house. During the initial outbreak of mad cow in 2003 in Canada the beef industry in Canada took a huge economic hit. This is not expected to be the case with this incident.

While it is early days in this investigation, there is speculation that cattle feed pre-dating tighter restrictions was fed to the animal in its first year. In 1997 the Canadian government mandated that feed formulas be changed to exclude the processed remains of ruminant animals. Protein is a valuable commodity in the agricultural industry and it was routine to feed cattle processed “waste” from slaughtered carcasses of cattle and sheep.

Mad cow disease is known by other names: bovine spongiform encephalitis, BSE, transmissible spongiform encephalitis and TSE. It is the transmissible part that is what makes it so dangerous. As the disease progresses in the cow or the person who develops it, the brain develops holes and begins to resemble a sponge-like appearance. There is no treatment to avoid disability and death.

BSE first shows up in the UK in the 1980’s. The cause of the disease was unknown at the time but eventually it was shown to be prions or misshapen proteins that could cross the species barrier. Its emergence was coincidental with a change in feed processing that eliminated the dangerous chemical carbon tetrachloride(CCl4) from the process. CCl4 will denature the rogue proteins where heating and other treatments will not.

Spongiform diseases caused by prions show up in several species around the world. Humans have exhibited a disease known as Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease(CJD) a slowly developing wasting disease. A rapidly developing variant,  vCJD, is blamed on consuming beef that has been infected with the aberrant prion.

Some other animals exhibiting prion diseases
·         Domestic sheep and goats
·         Deer and elk
·         Mink
·         Felines
·         Various ruminants

Sources:
CBC                       
Edmonton Journal                          
CFIA                    

CDC                     

Saturday, 7 February 2015

TTIP will tighten corporate noose


B. McPherson

For those who believe that giant corporations rule, the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership(TTIP) is an ominous development. For proponents, it will bring about a new era of free trade between the USA and the EU.

The two great political entities are long time trade partners with few serious disputes over tariffs and markets. This proposed new trade agreement would eliminate even more of them. Together the USA and EU trade represents 60% of global GDP.

Negotiations have taken place largely out of the public’s purview but in March 2014 the German newspaper Die Zeit, leaked some of the content

Proponents of TTIP assure the public that this agreement once implemented will reduce artificial barriers to trade, reduce or remove tariffs and result in cheaper goods for consumers. Those who oppose the agreement are not convinced.

Key to environmentalists in the EU is the assurance that their higher standards for environmental protections will not be eroded. The text of the agreement(that which was leaked) seeks to reassure and speaks of “equivalents”.

Another huge objection to the agreement is the profit protection clause. It allows corporations to sue if a government refuses to comply with the agreement. For instance if a locally elected government refuses to allow fracking in its area, they may be sued by the corporation for damages. If a federal government decides to nationalise an industry, they may be sued for damages. Disputes would no longer be settled within a sovereign nation but in the pervue of a tribunal – Investor-state Dispute Settlements(ISDS).

Comment on TTIP is speculation at this time because the negotiators have opted to keep their work secret from the public.

Canada’s Conservative government negotiated a trade deal with China a year ago that gives investors protection from loss of profits. An example would be if a different government were elected that opted to not allow oil pipelines to the Pacific Coast. Investor corporations would have the right to sue the government(and by extension the people of Canada) for their losses in investments. While it seems far fetched that a trade tribunal can override national courts, it has happened in Canada. And it’s happened with our largest trading partner and neighbour over disputes on the NAFTA agreement.

Now litigious US companies are bullying the Canadian government. In one instance, it was about the right to shoot 360 caribou on a Canadian nature preserve. In another, it was about the large-scale extraction of tar sands that had been limited in one Canadian province due to environmental protection considerations.  Der Spiegel

Sources:
Wikipedia                            
The Guardian                    

Spiegel Online                  

Monday, 2 February 2015

Madagascar millions face famine from locust plague



B. McPherson

As many as 13 million people will face famine if the recurring  locust plague is not curbed this year. The insects which resemble large grasshoppers hatch in the billions and create huge hungry swarms which can devastate a field of crops, eating everything green. It has been estimated that the swarms consume over 100,000 tonnes of greenery every day.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation(FAO) is pleading for funding to combat this year’s hatch of eggs which is expected to coincide with the end of the rainy season in May. To date nearly US$29 million has been spent on a variety of methods to fight the insects over the past two years. The programme was planned for a three year stint, but funds are drying up. The FAO needs more than US$10 million to fund this year’s effort. They warn that if measures are not taken the previous years’ efforts may go to waste.

Some money is being provided by the Madagascar government but accusations have been made of incompetence and most of the funds go for salaries.

Madagascar has more woes than locusts. They are currently coping with bubonic plague spread by a mushrooming rat population. A combination of tropical storms, flooding and people and rats displaced has increased the rat/people interactions and led to 57 deaths from bubonic plague since January.

The disease is caused by bacteria that live on fleas carried by rats but the fleas can jump to humans and when they bite, spread the disease. Now it appears that some of the fleas are resistant to the pesticide of choice.

The outbreak that started last November has some disturbing dimensions," the WHO said this week. "The fleas that transmit this ancient disease from rats to humans have developed resistance to the first-line insecticide." CNN
Sources:
The Guardian                 
News Discovery                              
UPI                        

CNN