Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Study: Ecological effects of biodiversity loss underestimated

Study: Ecological effects of biodiversity loss underestimated

Children aren't the only youngsters who are picky eaters: More than half of all species are believed to change their diets -- sometimes more than once -- between birth and adulthood. And a new study by ecologists at Rice University and the University of California, Santa Barbara, finds this pattern has major implications for the survival of threatened species and the stability of natural ecosystems.

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New record achieved with Konarka's Power Plastic photovoltaic material with 8.3% efficiency certification

New record achieved with Konarka's Power Plastic photovoltaic material with 8.3% efficiency certification

National Energy Renewable Laboratory (NERL) has announced Konarka Technologies' organic-based photovoltaic (OPV) solar cells have demonstrated the highest performance for an organic photovoltaic cell at a record-breaking efficiency of 8.3%. This unprecedented certification is up from previously produced cells at 6% just two short years ago.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

For The First Time, Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes Are Released Into The Wild

For The First Time, Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes Are Released Into The Wild

The transgenic animals are designed to help stamp out dengue fever in the Cayman Islands

An Oxford-based research firm has announced the results of a release of genetically modified male mosquitoes in the Cayman Islands, the first experiment with GM mosquitoes to take place in the wild.

From May to October of this year, Oxitec released male mosquitoes three times a week in a 40-acre area. The mosquitoes had been genetically modified to be sterile, so that when they mated with the indigenous female mosquitoes there would be no offspring, and the population would shrink.

Mosquito numbers in the region had dropped 80 percent by August, which the researchers expect would result in fewer dengue cases.

Since it's only females who bite humans and transmit diseases like the untreatable dengue fever this study examined, British biologists suspected that introducing males sterilized by a genetic mutation into the gene pool could dramatically decrease their numbers over time.

While many scientists and environmentalists object to killing off mosquitoes entirely for fear it would harm dependent species, Oxitec asserts that, since the sterilizing gene could not be passed on to subsequent generations, this method will have no permanent ecological impact.

Rather, GM males function like an insecticide, temporarily reducing numbers without the negative effects of using chemical toxins. They can also be more effective against insects that had developed resistance to certain commonly-used pesticides. In regions where booming mosquito populations are have caused epidemic outbreaks of dengue fever, yellow fever and malaria, dramatically reducing the population temporarily could reduce the death toll, and provide valuable lead time to vaccinate and treat hard-hit populations.

As the death toll caused by disease-carrying mosquitoes rises (over 2 million of the 700 million people infected by mosquitoes die annually), science has proposed a wide range of possible solutions to lessen the damage, from lasers to chemicals. But the release of transgenic animals into the wild is a very bold new step.

[AP]

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Baking soda dramatically boosts oil production in algae

Baking soda dramatically boosts oil production in algae

Montana State University researchers have discovered that baking soda can dramatically increase algae's production of the key oil precursors for biodiesel.

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Plans for a domed city in a kilometer-wide Siberian diamond mine [Madurbanism]

Plans for a domed city in a kilometer-wide Siberian diamond mine [Madurbanism]

Here are plans for Eco-City 2020, a 100,000-person domed city built in the kilometer-deep and 550-meter-wide Mir diamond mine in the Yakutia Republic. According to designers AB Elise, the mine will be powered by the Siberian sun.

Here's a description of AB Elise's plan from Evolo:

The new city is planned to be divided in 3 main levels with a vertical farm, forests, residences, and recreational areas. On of the most interesting aspects of the proposal is the glass dome that will protect the city and would be covered by photovoltaic cells that will harvest enough solar energy for the new development.

According to Russian news, this project is more speculation than reality, but it certainly provides for some gee-whiz visuals.

[AB Elise via Evolo.us and Metkere]

Plans for a domed city in a kilometer-wide Siberian diamond mine
Plans for a domed city in a kilometer-wide Siberian diamond mine
Plans for a domed city in a kilometer-wide Siberian diamond mine
Plans for a domed city in a kilometer-wide Siberian diamond mine
Plans for a domed city in a kilometer-wide Siberian diamond mine
Plans for a domed city in a kilometer-wide Siberian diamond mine

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Chinese Build 15-Story Hotel In Just Six Days, Rest On Seventh [Video]

Chinese Build 15-Story Hotel In Just Six Days, Rest On Seventh [Video]

Six days. That's how long it took to build this level 9 Earthquake-resistant, sound-proofed, thermal-insulated 15-story hotel in Changsha, complete with everything, from the cabling to three-pane windows. The foundations were already built, but it's just impressive.

The wonders of prefabricated construction modules and modern construction techniques will never cease to amaze me. I just can't understand why every single building is not pre-made in factories first, for optimal energy, material and time savings, not to talk about a more efficient and cheaper end result and, in the case of the Ark Hotel, only 1% construction waste. [Archdaily]

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Trees Infused With Glowing Nanoparticles Could Replace Streetlights

Trees Infused With Glowing Nanoparticles Could Replace Streetlights

Taiwanese researchers have come up with the elegant idea of replacing streetlights with trees, by implanting their leaves with gold nanoparticles. This causes the leaves to give off a red glow, lighting the road for passersby without the need for electric power. This ingenious triple threat of an idea could simultaneously reduce carbon emissions, cut electricity costs and reduce light pollution, without sacrificing the safety that streetlights bring.

As many good things do, this discovery came about by accident when the researchers were trying to create lighting as efficient as LEDs without using the toxic, expensive phosphor powder that LEDs rely on. The gold nanoparticles, shaped like sea urchins, put into the leaves of Bacopa caroliniana plants cause chlorophyll to produce the reddish luminescence.

In an added bonus, the luminescence will cause the leaves' chloroplasts to photosynthesize, which will result in more carbon being captured from the air while the streets are lit. The next steps are to improve the efficiency of the bioluminescence and apply the technology to other biomolecules.

[Inhabitat]

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Sweeping Report Details the Devastation of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna

Sweeping Report Details the Devastation of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna

Tuna at the Tsukiji Market John Mahoney

Environmental groups and wildlife conservation advocates have argued for years that Atlantic bluefin tuna populations are being devastated, but it was difficult to make a hard case. Why? The very people and authorities that should've been keeping track of fishing quotas and enforcing international regulations simply - and sometimes willfully - did not, leading to ongoing overfishing and keeping black markets stocked with product that is very difficult to trace back to the source. Now a group of investigative journalists have compiled their own detailed and damning report, as well as a companion documentary, tallying the damage done.

The report, compiled by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), details the abuses carried out in the harvesting of Atlantic bluefin tuna, a marine delicacy that can grow to more than 1,000 pounds and live for up to 40 years - and fetch up to $100,000 per specimen at auction in Tokyo (Japan makes up 80 percent of the bluefin market). The report reveals an intricate web of interests ranging from government agencies down to fishermen and fish markets all willfully ignoring the rules for the sake of profit.

To quote directly from the report:

The questionable practices extend across the industry, ICIJ found, from fishing fleets and farms, through ministry offices, to distributors in Japan. Led by the French, Spanish, and Italians, joined by Turks and others, Mediterranean fishermen violated official quotas at will and engaged in an array of illegal practices: misreporting catch size, hiring banned spotter planes, catching undersized fish, and plundering tuna from North African waters where EU inspectors are refused entry. An illicit market even arose in trading quotas - when regulators finally started enforcing the rules - in which one vessel sells its nation's quota to a foreign vessel that had overfished.

These illicit practices, the report claims, extend to sea ranching, in which fish are kept in a series of underwater cages and nets, fattened up like cattle, and sold off at auction. Because ranching fish creates a problem for fisherman looking to appear under quota, they quickly figured out how to use the ranches to "launder fish," falsifying fish counts and the weights of their catches. Barring that, a robust black market arose in loosely regulated places like Turkey and Tunisia, who would take un-counted, illegal fish off ranchers' hands.

The documentary filmmaker, Television for the Environment, is affiliated - albeit loosely - with wildlife groups like the WWF and the UN's Environment Program, so there are lingering questions of objectivity regarding the doc. But the report is worth perusing if for no other reason than to remind us of the relevance of that Socratic adage (paraphrased here): "who will police the police?"

Check out a teaser for the documentary below.


[ICIJ via New York Times]

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Monday, November 8, 2010

BP Oil Spill Aftermath: Dead Coral Found Near Spill Site [Oilspill]

BP Oil Spill Aftermath: Dead Coral Found Near Spill Site [Oilspill]

BP Oil Spill Aftermath: Dead Coral Found Near Spill SiteScientists have found dead and dying coral reefs 4,500 feet deep in the Gulf of Mexico. The dead coral means that oil from the BP oil spill is harming marine life in the deep ocean too.

When 5 million barrels of oil spill into the ocean, something bad was obviously going to happen. However, no one really knew how deep the oil would penetrate and how much damage it could cause.

The scientists do need further tests to prove that these dead coral reefs are directly related to the BP Oil Spill but given the evidence—proximity to the BP Oil Spill (7 miles southwest), the previous presence of oil plumes and the matter of which the coral reefs died—the scientists believe there's a pretty strong link. According to Charles Fisher, chief scientist on the gulf expedition:

Oil seeps naturally from the seafloor throughout the Gulf of Mexico, but that was unlikely to have caused such a severe coral die-off, he added. "We have never seen anything like this at any of the deep coral sites that we've been to," Dr. Fisher said. "And we've been to quite a lot of them."

Looks like the after-aftereffects of the Oil Spill are trickling in. [NY Times]

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