Tag Archives | Nature

The Biology of Altruistic Suicide

Pic: Neon_JA (CC)

Pic: Neon_JA (CC)

Kanina Foss writing at the University of the Witwatersrand:

The question of why an individual would actively kill itself has been an evolutionary mystery. Death could hardly provide a fitness advantage to the dying individual. However, a new study has found that in single-celled algae, suicide benefits the organism’s relatives.

“Death can be altruistic – we showed that before – but now we know that programmed cell death benefits the organism’s relatives and not just anybody,” says Dr Pierre Durand from the Department of Molecular Medicine and Haematology and the Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience (SBIMB) at Wits University.

When Durand and his colleagues from the University of Arizona released the results of their first study on suicide in single-celled algae in 2011, they showed that when an organism commits suicide by digesting up its own body, it releases nutrients into the environment that can be used by other organisms.

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Why Ordinary Food Will be the Future of Medicine

Pic: GardenKitty (CC)

Pic: GardenKitty (CC)

T. Colin Campbell, one the featured scientists/doctors in the breakout documentary Planeat, writes at CounterPunch:

The Problem

Few issues have become so intensely debated and politically charged as the need to reform the health care system. This debate has resulted in the ObamaCare program (The Affordable Care Act), which aims to expand and improve health care, thereby reducing health care costs.

Presently, US health care costs constitute 18% of GDP, up from about 5% around 1970 (1). These costs are burdensome and many sectors of our society are paying the price. School programs are being scaled back because of the escalating costs of retiree health care benefit programs, as illustrated in Michigan where they are “laying off teachers, scrapping programs and mothballing extracurricular activities…[because of]…health care bills of retirees.“(2). About 60% of personal bankruptcies are now attributed to medical care costs (3) and these rising costs are eroding family incomes (4), among many other devastating outcomes.

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Pesticides Are Making Bees Smaller And Weaker

beesBut surely widespread pesticide usage wouldn’t have similar subtle effects on the growth and development of humans.Via the Guardian:

Bumblebees could be shrinking because of exposure to a widely-used pesticide, a study suggests.

Scientists in the UK conducted laboratory tests which showed how a pyrethroid pesticide stunted the growth of worker bumblebee larvae, causing them to hatch out reduced in size.

Pyrethroid pesticides are commonly used on flowering crops to prevent insect damage. The study, the first to examine the pesticides’ impact across the entire lifecycle of bumblebees, tracked the growth of bee colonies over a four month period.

Currently a Europe-wide moratorium on the use of three neonicotinoid pesticides is in force because of their alleged harmful effect on bees. As a result, the use of other types of pesticide, including pyrethroids, is likely to increase, say the researchers.

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More Evidence That Plants Get Their Energy Through Quantum Entanglement

fern plantAs top human scientists dream of someday creating a quantum computer, are we lagging far behind plants? io9 reports:

Biophysicists theorize that plants tap into the eerie world of quantum entanglement during photosynthesis. Evidence to date has been purely circumstantial, but now, scientists have discovered a feature of plants that cannot be explained by classical physics.

In a way, they’re like mini-quantum computers capable of scanning all possible options in order to choose the most efficient paths or solutions. For plants, this means the ability to make the most of the energy they receive and then deliver that energy from leaves with near perfect efficiency.

The going theory is that plants have light-gathering macromolecules in their cells that can transfer energy via molecular vibrations — vibrations that have no equivalents in classical physics.

In the new study, UCL researchers identified a specific feature in biological systems that can only be predicted by quantum physics.

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Winter Solstice Today

Goseck-CircleThe winter solstice is upon us this weekend. While it’s far too soggy outside for the bonfire I had half-considered, I’ll still probably tip a glass of rum later tonight to the passing of another winter. I’m not religious, but I try to be mindful of the natural world’s cycles and remember my place within them.

If you’re interested, here’s a nice little list of ancient tribute sites from Live Science.

Goseck circle, Germany

The Goseck circle is a series of concentric rings dug into the ground — the largest of which measures about 246 feet (75 m) in diameter — located in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. It dates back to about 4900 B.C., but was forgotten and covered by a wheat field before being discovered through aerial surveys in the early 1990s. Archaeological remains suggest Goseck circle was the site of religious rituals, such as sacrifices.

Upon discovery and excavation, researchers realized that two gates cut into the outermost circle aligned with the sunrise and sunset of the winter solstice, suggesting this the circle was somehow a tribute to the solstice.

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EU: Same Insecticides Killing Bees Also Harming Human Nervous System

beeI guess if we keep using these chemicals we’ll collapse the ecosystem but be too stupid to care about it.

Via Raw Story:

The EU warned Tuesday that two widely used insecticides, one of which has already been implicated in bee population decline, may pose a risk to human health.

The neonicotinoid insecticides acetamiprid and imidacloprid “may affect the developing human nervous system,” the European Food Safety Authority said, the first time such a link has been made.

As a result, experts wanted “some guidance levels for acceptable exposure … to be lowered while further research is carried out to provide more reliable data on developmental neurotoxicity (DNT).”

The EFSA said its opinion was based on recent research and existing data on “the potential of acetamiprid and imidacloprid to damage the developing human nervous system — in particular the brain.”

The research suggested the two insecticides “may adversely affect the development of neurons and brain structures associated with functions such as learning and memory,” the EFSA said in a statement.

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Modifying Nature (Humans Included) To Save It

Image from Arne Hendriks’ fictional proposal to shrink humans for the good of the planet.

Image from Arne Hendriks’ fictional proposal to shrink humans for the good of the planet.

How extreme should our solutions to save the planet be? Tate Williams reports on some ideas from the fringe including shrinking humans to the size of chickens and giving us cat eyes so we can see at night without electric lights, at Medium:

Imaginative minds are exploring some strange and audacious solutions to our worst environmental problems. They are not, however, for the faint of heart, particularly if you have a strong attachment to the human body as it currently exists.

Biologists have already been toying with the idea of engineering endangered species to make them more resilient, or even resurrecting certain extinct species. But there’s a set of artists and scholars taking the concept of green bioengineering much further, imagining new species of synthetic, beneficial creatures and even biologically modified humans that leave a lighter footprint on the planet.

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Crickets’ Singing Slowed Down Sounds Like A Human Choir

cricketsVia Enpundit the unsettling realization that the sound of insects resembles our singing, if you know how to listen:
Composer Jim Wilson has recorded the sound of crickets and then slowed down the recording, revealing something so amazing. The crickets sound like they are singing the most angelic chorus in perfect harmony. The recording contains two tracks played at the same time: The first is the natural sound of crickets played at regular speed, and the second is the slowed down version of crickets’ voices. “I discovered that when I slowed down this recording to various levels, this simple familiar sound began to morph into something very mystic and complex……..almost human.”
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