Researchers at Rothamsted are trialling GM wheat with a special chemical defence against aphids. The chemical they have engineered into wheat varieties is (E)-ß-farnesene and is found across over 400 plant speies, including crops used to make many food and drink products. It works by mimicking a pheromone that aphids use as an alarm call which repels the insects and also acts to attract predatory threats such as wasps and ladybirds.
English Grain Aphid (Sitobion avenae)
But anti-GM campaign group, Take the Flour Back, are threatening to sabotage the experiment. The protestors have stated that if the scientists do not remove the field trial plants by the 27th of May, protestors will do it for them.
The campaign group have argued that there is a risk of the open-air trial allowing the dispersal of engineered pollen into “the local environment and the UK wheat industry”.
The scientists involved have responded strongly against the threats in direct letter and video, released earlier this week, standing firm to protect their research.
A group of undergraduate students at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland have thought of a brilliant solution to potholes in the roads! They’ve proposed using non-Newtonian fluids, fluids with special properties which alter the viscosity under pressure. Corn flour/starch is a common example of this, which when allowed to flow freely acts as a liquid, but when pressure is applied to it e.g. by rolling it between your fingers, it acts as a solid.
“So we were putzing around with different ideas and things we wanted to work with—and we were like, what’s a common, everyday problem all around the world that everybody hates? And we landed on potholes. When there’s no force being applied to it, it flows like a liquid does and fills in the holes, but when it gets run over, it acts like a solid.” team member Curtis Obert describes.
A video of a demonstration is shown below, and you can find the full story over at ScienceMag. Give these guys a coconut!
65 million years ago, the asteroid that hit Earth wiped out most life and caused all the non-avian dinosaurs to go extinct. A collision of that magnitude must have ejected many rocks from Earth into space – some of the debris inevitably carrying life. A study published (free PDF download) by a team of scientists from Kyoto Sangyo University in Japan have calculated what must have become of them.
Some estimates suggest that the collision may have ejected a debris mass equivalent to the asteroid itself. The team of scientists, led by Dr Tetsuya Hara, have proposed that much of this debris has scattered throughout our own solar system, suggesting that some of it reached Europa, a satellite orbiting Jupiter, as well as outside our own solar system to exoplanets orbiting other stars. Because the focus is on if the debris has reached planets deemed suitable for life, it begs the question of whether the life survived and colonised other planets.
In fact, the team have calculated that nearly as much debris would have reached Europa as our own Moon because of the huge pull of the gravitational field around Jupiter. The study concludes that many meteorites 1cm in diameter could reach the exoplanet Gliese 581 which is more than 20 light years away and if the life forms inside remain viable, then this could provide preliminary evidence of life from Earth seeding other planets.
Mat Baily, an activist, humanist and personal friend, has written an excellent blog post over at his blog Militant Skepticism.
Mat recently gave a talk to the University of Sheffield Atheist society entitled ‘Is it racist to criticise Islam?’ and, as expected, a torrent of abuse and slander followed. He and other members were labelled as racist for even daring to raise the question of whether it was racist or not to criticise Islam.
Hamza Kashgari, the 23 year old facing execution in Saudi Arabia for a few harmless tweets about Muhammad has been in prison now for 62 days.
There have been some reports floating around on the Internet that he is out of danger and is to be released shortly, but these reports are sadly not true.
Maryam Namazie received this message from a family member:
That’s not true, nothing has been confirmed so far, everything still foggy and in a gray area. We hear from him from one time to time informing us that he’s ok and that’s it.
If you haven’t already, please sign this petition to free Hamza keeping the pressure on the Saudi government. Your name will be joining the names of people like Maryam Namazie, Salman Rushdie and Richard Dawkins.
I’m not usually a fan of this guy on YouTube, he can be a bit over the top for my liking. However, this video is hilarious and brilliant.
P.S. The UK is starting to import some of the nastier elements of US abortion protestors. 40 days for life have been picketing abortion clinics over the last month and a half, thankfully ceasing at the start of April.
The US anti-abortion group “40 Days for Life” has come to the UK and has been holding vigils outside abortion clinics in London, Birmingham, Brighton and elsewhere.
It has been accused of filming staff at abortion clinics and harrassing women attempting to use the clinics’ services.
A member of staff at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), which runs several of the targeted clinics, described banners as “very aggressive”.
Two new field studies, reported online in Science this week, look at the possible underlying causes of colony collapse disorder by studying the effects of widely-used neurotoxin insecticides.
The first study, by Mickaël Henry et al., have shown that small exposure to thiamethoxam (which is a pesticide of the neonicotinoid family) causes failure in the bee to navigate effectively, often resulting in mortality. This study suggests that whilst producers of pesticides have to ensure that they are non-toxic or lethal to unintended species, they have failed to take into account behavioural alterations which may impair an organism’s fitness. The researchers suggest that the homing is directly impaired by thiamethoxam intoxication, meaning that bees are struggling to find their nests and are subsequently dying because of this.
The second study by Penelope Whitehorn et al. has demonstrated that another commonly used member of the neonicotinoid family, imidacloprid, significantly lowers the growth rate of colonies leading to an ’85% reduction in the production of new queens to control colonies’ which can thus lead to colony collapse disorder.
However, we should be hesitant on pointing to this as the sole reason for the decline observed. Other research published just two years ago by Bromenshenk et al. has suggested that an RNA bee virus is responsible for colony collapse disorder, and that it was found present in all of the collapsed colonies studies.
It may be a combination of these factors that have led to the decline, or other unknown variables yet to be discovered, however further research is needed before jumping to conclusions. Concern has been raised over the use of pesticides already, with further regulation and restriction of the use of neonicotine insecticides. Speculation arose last year of their effect on colony collapse disorder, before a link was experimentally established between the two. One thing is for sure – the decline in bee populations is a worrying trend because of their value to biodiversity as well as the human economy, being the chief pollinators of many flowers.
Here’s a short clip from Sunday Morning Live by the BBC. I’m bewildered that this actually got airtime. The bias of the show is headache-inducing; the outright lies spouted went largely unopposed.
The only authority on the subject, a biologist from Birmingham University, received less than a minute and a half to respond to the crap presented by the creationist.
Also, in response to the ‘liberal’ Christian woman, I’m pretty sure that science does contradict genesis. I’ve never heard of science finding that plants were created before the Sun, nor have I heard that women came from a man’s rib etc.
The sheer ignorance of these people is astounding – they clearly do not even have a basic highschool comprehension of biology and genetics.
So I’ve just come across this website which has basically disproved Einstein’s theory of relativity, along with inventing a new ‘Theory of Everything’, and finally talks about the Grand Theory of Espinoza Guedez. It’s even demonstrated how to become immortal.
Apparently, the answer to the Theory of Everything lies in colour. Colour is the origin of mass, it caused the expansion of the universe, colour is magnetic, there are no such things as other dimensions but other colours that we can’t see or don’t know about, and this colour is created by the touching of the positive and the negative. He refutes Einstein’s theory of relativity by claiming that the word ‘time’ was poorly used, and goes on to explain how “the time not be enumerate”. Finally, the Grand Theory describes how a hole in the universe will be opened by energy from the future.
Wow, this guy’s cracked it. Or cracked up, I’m not sure which to be honest. I recommend reading it all, it’ll provide a good chuckle. This has to be one of the strangest pieces of pseudoscience that I’ve ever read though. It remains true to the quackary of bullshit; providing all the usual hallmarks of pseudoscience; using technical-sounding language inappropriately, name-dropping key scientists, bitesize chunks to allow the reader to digest it’s awesome explanatory power, some simple ‘experiments’ that are so poorly designed that a highschool student would vomit, as well as throwing around words like ‘theory’ as if his guess is as good as any other.
In all seriousness though, I genuinely feel sorry for this man. He seems to have devoted a large proportion of his life to this work, and seems quite genuine and sincere. It seems like he possesses the true aspiration of a scientist to revolutionise our understanding of the world, taking pride in his work by naming his ‘theories’ after himself, but he’s just so unfathomably misguided and off-the-mark I can’t really understand what went wrong. I’ve read similarly awful stuff (admittedly not in as poor English), but that just pissed me off. With this guy, I honestly pity him as he does appear sincere. I dunno. Maybe he’ll get published in the future with his groundbreaking research and astound all of us cynical critics. Or maybe he’ll just forever be seen as a quack and remain largely unheard of in the rest of the normal world, whilst providing a cheap laugh for sceptics to feel sufficiently smug in our superior grip on reality..