Tuesday, August 12, 2014

No, this isn't an alien forest, but a collection of organisms called rangemorphs.

Source: http://gizmodo.com/no-this-isnt-an-alien-forest-but-a-collection-of-orga-1619988498

No, this isn't an alien forest, but a collection of organisms called rangemorphs. One of the first complex organisms ever to exist on Earth, around 575 40 million years ago, a new study reveals that their strange structure evolved to maximize the quantity of nutrients they could absorb from their aqueous surroundings. [PNAS via New Scientist]



Saturday, August 2, 2014

Thousands Of These Bizarre Blue Animals Wash Up Along California Shores

Source: http://www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/thousands-these-bizarre-blue-animals-wash-along-california-shores

August 1, 2014 | by Justine Alford

photo credit: Bettina Walter, "Velella velella," via Flickr. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Monterey Bay is quite a spectacular sight right now, as parts are littered with thousands of electric blue, glass-like sea creatures that have been swept ashore by the wind. These bizarre cnidarians (a diverse phylum of animals including corals and jellyfish) are called Velella velella and they're normally found floating on the surface of warm and temperate oceans. Beach goers are treading carefully along the coast, but they're not dangerous and their sting isn't harmful.

Image credit: Velela, via Wikimedia Commons. 

These organisms have a flat, transparent float and an erect triangular sail that lets them take advantage of the wind. It's not unusual for them to wash up along beaches in late spring/early summer after they bloom, but according to marine biologist Nancy Black they hadn't been seen in the area for around 8 years. Why these creatures have decided to show up now and later in the year than usual is puzzling, but scientist Rich Mooi told LA Times that this is not necessarily indicative that anything is wrong with the ocean.


Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Plan to Save Bluefin Tuna By Using Science to Farm It On Land

Source: http://gizmodo.com/the-plan-to-save-bluefin-tuna-by-using-science-to-farm-1613621958

The Plan to Save Bluefin Tuna By Using Science to Farm It On Land

The bluefin tuna is a magnificent creature. A silvery torpedo, it grows as big as 1,000 pounds, swims as fast as cars, and survives the cold waters of the ocean, weirdly enough, as warm-blooded fish. Oh, it also happens to be pretty tasty as sushi. Thanks to our growing sushi appetites, the bluefin tuna seems likely to be obliterated off the face of the Earth unless we do something drastic—like stop eating it or, what the hell, use science to start spawning them in tanks on land.



Tuesday, July 29, 2014

This Company Is Turning The Desert Green รข And It Could Radically Change the Future Of Food

Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/sahara-forest-project-growing-food-in-qatar-2014-7

SFP Sahara Forest Project

In Qatar, the summers are long and hot. From April through October, the average high hovers between 90 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit, and there's hardly ever a drop of rain.

To meet the needs of a rapidly growing population, the oil-rich country must rely on imports for about 90% of its food. But there's a radical idea that's growing — against all odds — in the middle of Qatar's vast Arabian Desert.

It's called the Sahara Forest Project (SFP for short).

SFP was created to find a way not just to grow food in the desert, but to do so sustainably — to make the environment better, not worse. As the organizers explain in a fact sheet, it's "designed to utilize what we have enough of to produce what we need more of, using deserts, saltwater, and CO2 to produce food, water, and energy."

As the planet gets hotter and more crowded, this initiative in Qatar becomes relevant to us all. If we can learn how to sustainably grow food in such inhospitable conditions, the world's agricultural future might not be as bleak as it seems.

Construction of the 10,000 square meter pilot site in Qatar began in 2012. It's built on land near the capital city of Doha, adjacent to an industrial ammonia factory.

Source: Sahara Forest Project

The major technologies incorporated into the project include: concentrated solar power, revegetation, and saltwater-cooled greenhouses.

The SFP pilot facility includes the first "concentrated solar power" unit in Qatar. The unit uses mirrors to reflect and focus the sun's rays, amplifying the solar energy captured. In the next phase, this will be used to generate electricity by powering a steam turbine. In the pilot, the power it generates is used to turn some of the saltwater into freshwater.

See the rest of the story at Business Insider


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Solar cells cool themselves to produce more power

Source: http://www.engadget.com/2014/07/27/self-cooling-solar-cells/

Solar power array

Solar power cells need to stay relatively cool for the sake of both efficiency and longevity, but active cooling (like ventilation) isn't practical; it's expensive, and may block the very rays the cells are supposed to collect. To tackle this problem, Stanford University researchers have created a new form of solar cell that cools itself. The technique embeds a pattern of very small cone and pyramid shapes into the collector's silica surface, bouncing hot infrared wavelengths away while letting in the visible light that generates the most energy.

The result is a heavily optimized panel that not only scoops up more power, but avoids cooking itself to death -- it's very nearly ideal, according to scientists. The Stanford team has a long way to go (it still has to try the self-cooling tech outdoors), but it foresees commercial products. Don't be surprised if you can eventually install a refined solar array at home that not only powers more of your gadgets, but doesn't need to be replaced after suffering through a few too many scorching summers.

[Top image credit: AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi]

Self-cooling solar cell up close

Filed under:


Via: Treehugger, LaserFocusWorld

Source: Optical Society, OpticsInfoBase


Friday, July 25, 2014

This Salmon Will Likely Be The First Genetically Modified Animal You Eat

Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/this-salmon-will-likely-be-the-first-gmo-animal-you-eat-2014-6

GM Salmon

If you live in the U.S., chances are you've consumed genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, in the form of corn or soybeans. Now, the first genetically modified animal may soon be swimming its way to your dinner plate.

A genetically modified salmon, called AquAdvantage, is awaiting FDA approval, and, when it does, the fish should be available for consumption in about two years, according to the company.

Americans consume 300,000 tons of salmon yearly, according to Bloomberg Businessweek's Brendan Borrell. And with two-thirds of that coming from farmed Atlantic salmon — the wild version of which is endangered — the market seems ripe for an upgrade of the food.

But not all are pleased with its arrival.

Salmon 2.0

The AquAdvantage Salmon is an Atlantic salmon that has DNA in its genome from two other fish.

Transgenic Salmon GIFIt contains the growth-hormone gene from a Chinook salmon, the largest Pacific salmon species, and a "promoter" gene from an Ocean Pout. The promoter is the "on switch" that keeps the fish's cells making growth hormone around the clock.

The GMO salmon has a few advantages over its conventionally farmed counterpart. Constant hormone release allows it to grow more quickly — 16 to 18 months — compared to conventional farmed salmon, which grows in spurts during warm weather reaching market sizes in 31 to 36 months, according to AquaBounty, the company that created AquAdvantage.

Their faster growth means AquAdvantage salmon also consume 25% less feed in their lifetime than conventionally farmed salmon, AquaBounty cofounder Elliot Entis told the Colombia Earth Institute. Conventionally farmed salmon are fed three pounds of other fish for every pound of salmon that ends up on our dinner plate. Genetically modified salmon need less than three-quarters of that, since half of the AquAdvantage salmon feed can come from plants without affecting their growth, according to the Earth Institute article.

That makes the AquAdvantage salmon cheaper — with a production cost of about 75 cents a pound versus $1 a pound for conventional salmon, according to Borrell.

This Salmon 2.0 might appear to have it all, but for some the changes are not upgrades.

Invasion Of The Frankenfish

GM SalmonThe impending arrival of a genetically modified fish elicited many objections, with opponents dubbing the product a "frankenfish."

On the environmental forefront, critics worried that the GMO fish could escape, out-compete wild salmon and contaminate wild stocks. If the industry grew and fish farmers were able to purchase the eggs, they argued, environmental damage might get more difficult to control.

On the health front, critics worried the fish could cause allergies, though all of the genes in AquAdvantage are from edible fish.

With these concerns in mind, the FDA began its review of AquAdvantage in 1993. They examined the fish as an animal drug since Entis figured it was a more rigorous process that would placate the public and because adding genetic bits was somewhat comparable to adding a drug, according to Michele Henry at the Toronto Star. In 2012, when the FDA concluded that AquAdvantage was safe for human consumption and was unlikely to imperil the environment, critics awoke.

Though the FDA had taken 19 years to consider the fish, critics pointed out that the regulatory body had relied on studies and subsequent conclusions straight from AquaBounty, according to Andrew Pollack in the New York Times. But, to some, this is nothing to be up in arms about.

"It is a paradigm that we use in the U.S. in all industries that the producer of the product pays the cost of doing the studies which produce the evidence to the government regulators whether you're making airplanes or cars or drugs or a new fish," Bruce Chassy, a professor of food safety and nutritional science at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, told Business Insider in an interview.

Still, others were not content with the studies. An article from the Consumers ! Union, which is connected with Consumer Reports, maintained that the FDA had "set the bar very low." This was "sloppy science" with tiny sample sizes, "questionable practices," and "woefully inadequate analysis," said the union report.

'Aquatic Fort Knox'

GM Salmon

So how worried should we be about this fish?

"The scientific community is 99.99999999% not bothered by this fish at all. There is no scientific controversy, period," Chassy said.

AquaBounty agrees. According to the company's website, the fish may be the most well-studied Atlantic salmon in aquaculture, with over two decades of research. Despite concerns, the company seems confident that the chance of the fish escaping — much more escaping, surviving, and breeding — is hardly in the realm of possibility.

When AquAdvantage does gain approval, AquaBounty intends to distribute only female eggs that have been sterilized. "Prior to leaving the facility, the fertilized eggs are treated with a burst of high pressure, a process with a 99.8 percent sterilization rate," wrote Borrell. And though some have pointed out that that still leaves .2% of fish fertile, they'll have a ton of trouble making it to the wild ecosystem, according to the company.

AquAdvantage has built two facilities equipped like an "aquatic Fort Knox" to raise their GM salmon, in Panama and Canada. Their Canadian facility has 17 different barriers to keep the fish in and the anxious placated, wrote Henry. And the thermal and physical barriers of their Panamanian facility, "render the possibility of survival outside the facility virtually impossible," the company wrote in their FAQ.

Eventually, when farmers do switch to AquAdvantage fish, they will also need to switch to AquAdvantage methods — land based tanks far from salmon habitat rather than the ocean sea pens used for conventionally farmed salmon.

In the end, the argument can be made that scientific concerns for foods achieved through genetic modification are not so different than those achieved through selective breeding — which has been used for millennia to create our current domesticated livestock and crops. Any number of genetic changes in all different areas of the genome occur when you breed animals.

"If it's rational to apply premarket regulatory review to [GM foods] it's even more rational to apply it to things that are bred by other modalities of breeding which are much more ... random and chaotic," Chassy said.

So if the scientific verdict is out, what is really going on here? Chassy thinks the conventional salmon fisheries don't want the competition. "This is an opposition to new products to protect markets. That's all this is," he said. "This is a political, economic, social, and values based issue. It's not a science issue."

GM Salmon


After more than 20 years, will this fish ever make its way into stores?

After the 2012 ruling that the fish was safe, the FDA opened for public comment receiving more than 37,000 comments, according to Businessweek. The forum ended in April 2013. "That should have triggered a decision within six months," wrote Henry. "It is now month 14."

AquaBounty won't speculate on when they will hear back, Dave Conley, a representative of the company, told Business Insider in an email: "We have been waiting since September 2010 when the FDA conducted a public meeting on our application ... and we are still waiting."

The FDA says they are still reviewing the comments to see if any new information might render its previous conclusions false, according to the Toronto Star.

While AquaBounty continues its research in Panama, 62 tons (100,000 fish, according to The Star) of AquAdvantage salmon have ended up in an on-site Panamanian landfill since it cannot be legally sold, according to Bloomberg. "No other country has approved the sale of GE [genetically engineered] animals for food," Alison Van Eenennaam, who studies animal genomics and biotechnology at the University of California, Davis, told Business Insider in an email.

AquAdvantage eggs have been approved by Environment Canada for commercial production, but they cannot sell them until FDA approval is received, Conley said. And while the company continues research, it has seen too many false starts to plan too far ahead. "We will consider our next steps only after we are assured of an approval," Conley said.

"From the date of FDA approval, it will take about two years before any AquAdvantage Salmon is ready for market," he said.

Then the question will be, where can you buy it? Sixty-five supermarkets and a handful of restaurants have pledged not to sell the fish, wrote Borrell.

Perhaps there is one thing all sides can agree on. Anne Kapuscinski, a Dartmouth College sustainability professor who studies transgenic fish, told the Star: "This fish is precedent-setting."

SEE ALSO: Forget Tuna: These Are The Seafoods We'll Be Eating In The Future

GAME CHANGERS: Read more in this series

Join the conversation about this story »


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

World's largest—and most gross—aquatic insect discovered in China

Source: http://sploid.gizmodo.com/worlds-largest-and-grossest-aquatic-insect-discovered-i-1608220936/+caseychan

World's largest—and most gross—aquatic insect discovered in China

A new specimen of an insect was found this month in a mountain in Chengdu, Sichuan province, China. The insect belongs to the order of Megaloptera and has a wingspan of 21 centimeters—8.3 inches.