Assumed safety of pesticide use is false, says top government scientist

Posted by on January 16, 2018 in Our Environment | 0 comments

Assumed safety of pesticide use is false, says top government scientist

This article appeared in The Guardian. Damning assessment by one of the UK’s chief scientific advisers says global regulations have ignored the impacts of ‘dosing whole landscapes’ and must change Damian Carrington  Environment editor@dpcarrington Fri 22 Sep 2017 12.23 BSTFirst published on Thu 21 Sep 2017 19.00 BS   Shares 6,809   The assumption by regulators around the world that it is safe to use pesticides at industrial scales across landscapes is false, according to a chief scientific adviser to the UK government. The lack of any limit on the total amount of pesticides used and the virtual absence of monitoring of their effects in the environment means it can take years for the impacts to become apparent, say Prof Ian Boyd and his colleague Alice Milner in a new article. The damning assessment of pesticide regulations that are meant to protect the global environment follows a growing number of highly critical reports including research showing farmers could slash their pesticide use without losses and a UN report that denounced the “myth” that pesticides are necessary to feed the world. “The current assumption underlying pesticide regulation – that chemicals that pass a battery of tests in the laboratory or in field trials are environmentally benign when they are used at industrial scales – is false,” state the scientists in their article published in the journal Science. Boyd is chief scientific adviser to the UK’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, where Milner also works on secondment, but their criticism reflects their own views. “The effects of dosing whole landscapes with chemicals have been largely ignored by regulatory systems,” the scientists said. “This can and should be changed.” They contrast this situation with pharmaceuticals, for which there is a system of rigorous global monitoring after a drug is approved in case adverse effects emerge. “Vigilance on the scale that is required for medicines does not exist to assess the effects of pesticides in the environment,” they said. They cite the UK as an example of one of the most developed regulatory systems: “Yet it has no systematic monitoring of pesticide residues in the environment. There is no consideration of safe pesticide limits at landscape scales.” The scientists’ article also criticises the widespread use of pesticides as preventive treatments, rather than being used sparingly and only when needed. Farms could slash pesticide use without losses, research reveals Read more Milner told the Guardian: “We want to start a discussion about how we can introduce a global monitoring programme for pesticides, similar to pharmaceuticals. It can take years to fully understand the environmental impact.” “Any chemical you put into the environment has the potential to be widely distributed,” she said. “We’ve known this for decades, particularly through the early work in the 1960s – the Silent Spring, DDT and so on – and you can find chemicals in places that have not been treated because of the connectivity of ecosystems. There are often quite unexpected effects [and] you often don’t see them until the pesticide is used at more industrial scales.” Matt Shardlow of the conservation group Buglife said: “Pesticides have got big on society – the thin veil of science around the approvals process has been exposed and the marketing strategies are stronger than the products they tout. “If you think the biggest governments in the world are wrapped around the pesticide industry’s fingers, that’s nothing compared to...

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Plants are capable of complex decision-making

Posted by on January 16, 2018 in Our Environment | 0 comments

Plants are capable of complex decision-making

 Earth Matters > Wilderness & Resources They might not have brains, but that doesn’t mean they’re dim-witted. BRYAN NELSON December 29, 2017, 4:51 a.m.   Are plants smarter than we think they are? (Photo: brewbooks/Flickr) Have you ever had the distinct feeling that your houseplants know more than they’re letting on? Well, your intuition might not be far off. We already know that plants are capable of learning and adapting to their environment, just like any organism. But a new study out of Tübingen University seems to suggest that plants can do more than just adapt. They can actually make decisions, and fairly complex decisions at that. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Plants might be rooted, but their environments can be intricate, and the contexts where they’re situated can change. In fact, researchers discovered that competition and a dynamic environment are what really pushes plant decision-making to its limits. For instance, when vying with competitors for limited sunlight, a plant is faced with having to choose among a number of options. It can attempt to outgrow its neighbors, thus gaining more access to light. It can also attempt to go into a low-light survival mode, if it doesn’t deem an arms race to be worthwhile. The plant might also need to determine which way it should grow to best maximize its resources. “In our study we wanted to learn if plants can choose between these responses and match them to the relative size and density of their opponents,” said Michal Gruntman, one of the study’s researchers, in a press release. In the experiment, whenever plants were presented with tall competitors, they would go into shade-tolerance mode. Conversely, when plants were surrounded by small, dense vegetation, they would attempt to grow vertically. But there were also subtler decisions built into each of these scenarios, too. For instance, plants in shade-tolerance mode would make their leaves thinner and wider (to capture as much light as possible) relative to the level of their competition. “Such an ability to choose between different responses according to their outcome could be particularly important in heterogeneous environments, where plants can grow by chance under neighbors with different size, age or density, and should therefore be able to choose their appropriate strategy,” said Gruntman. All of this essentially means that scientists are beginning to look more closely at how plants work through their decisions. Obviously plants don’t have nervous systems, so more research will be needed to see exactly how these decision-making mechanisms operate within our flora friends. The study was published in the journal Nature Communications. Share this:Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new...

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Streetlights could be replaced by glow-in-the-dark trees after scientists create plants that shine like fireflies

Posted by on December 14, 2017 in Our Environment | 0 comments

Streetlights could be replaced by glow-in-the-dark trees after scientists create plants that shine like fireflies

  Experts injected specialised nanoparticles into the leaves of a watercress plant This caused it to give off a dim light, that lit up the pages of a book, for 3.5 hours  The enzyme involved, luciferase, is created by fireflies in their fluorescent glow The team hopes to develop a way to paint the nanoparticles onto plant leaves This would allow them to create much larger lights out of trees and bigger plants  By Tim Collins For Mailonline PUBLISHED: 10:19 GMT, 14 December 2017 | UPDATED: 11:47 GMT, 14 December 2017 Roads of the future could be lit by glowing trees instead of streetlamps, thanks to a breakthrough in creating bioluminescent plants. Experts injected specialised nanoparticles into the leaves of a watercress plant, which caused it to give off a dim light for nearly four hours. The chemical involved, which produced enough light to read a book by, is the same as is used by fireflies to create their characteristic shine. Scroll down for video Roads of the future could be lit by glowing trees instead of streetlamps, thanks to a breakthrough in creating bioluminescent plants. Experts created a watercress plant which caused it to glow for nearly four hours and gave off enough light to illuminate this book HOW DOES IT WORK? Luciferases make up a class of oxidative enzymes found in several species that enable them to ‘bioluminesce’, or emit light. Fireflies are able to emit light via a chemical reaction in which luciferin is converted to oxyluciferin by the luciferase enzyme. Some of the energy released by this reaction is in the form of light. The reaction is highly efficient, meaning nearly all the energy put into the reaction is rapidly converted to light. Lighting accounts for around 20 per cent of worldwide energy consumption, so replacing them with naturally bioluminescent plants would represent a significant cut to CO2 emissions. To create their glowing plants, engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) turned to an enzyme called luciferase. Luciferase acts on a molecule called luciferin, causing it to emit light. Another molecule called Co-enzyme A helps the process along by removing a reaction byproduct that can inhibit luciferase activity. The MIT team packaged each of these components into a different type of nanoparticle carrier. The nanoparticles help them to get to the right part of the plant and also prevent them from building to concentrations that could be toxic to the plants. The result was a watercress plant that functioned like a desk lamp. Researchers believe with further tweaking, the technology could also be used to provide lights bright enough to illuminate a workspace or even an entire street, as well as low-intensity indoor lighting. Michael Strano, professor of chemical engineering at MIT and the senior author of the study, said: ‘The vision is to make a plant that will function as a desk lamp — a lamp that you don’t have to plug in. ‘The light is ultimately powered by the energy metabolism of the plant itself.’ ‘Our work very seriously opens up the doorway to streetlamps that are nothing but treated trees, and to indirect lighting around homes.’ Luciferases make up a class of oxidative enzymes found in several species that enable them to ‘bioluminesce’, or emit light. The chemical involved, which produced enough light to read a book by, is...

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Almost all plastic in the ocean comes from just 10 rivers.

Posted by on December 6, 2017 in Our Environment | 0 comments

Almost all plastic in the ocean comes from just 10 rivers.

Most of the plastic in our oceans doesn’t get dumped there directly, rivers carry it to the sea. As it turns out, a very small number of them do most of the damage. At last count, there were at least 8.3 billion tons of plastic in the world. Much of it gets discarded and eventually ends up in our oceans. Researchers are looking for ways to collect that trash in the sea using a variety of technologies but the overall consensus is that using less plastic, or at least catching the trash at the source, would be much better than filtering it out afterwards. Read: There are 8.3 billion tons of plastic in the world But where to start? Well, in fact, that might be an easier decision to make than one would think. It turns out that about 90 percent of all the plastic that reaches the world’s oceans gets flushed through just 10 rivers: The Yangtze, the Indus, Yellow River, Hai River, the Nile, the Ganges, Pearl River, Amur River, the Niger, and the Mekong (in that order). These rivers have a few key things in common. All of them run through areas where a lot of people live — hundreds of millions of people in some cases. But what’s more important is that these areas don’t have adequate waste collection or recycling infrastructure. There is also little public awareness that plastic trash is a problem at all, so a lot of garbage, gets thrown into the river and conveniently disappears downstream. So the problem is huge but the good news is that there is no need to reinvent the wheel — or for some breakthrough technology. Simply collecting and recycling trash as is already being done in other parts of the world (with varying degrees of success) could largely solve the problem. “Halving the plastic input from the catchment areas of these rivers would already be a major success,” said Christian Schmidt, a hydrogeologist at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research. Schmidt was lead author on a recent study that identified the 10 rivers as the main polluters. Below some of the  Rivers: Yangtze River The Yangtze is Asia’s longest river and the third-longest river in the world. It also tops the list of river systems through which the most plastic waste flows into the oceans, according to a recent study. The Yangtze flows into the East China Sea near Shanghai and is crucial to China’s economy and ecology. The river basin is home to 480 million people — one-third of the country’s population. Indus River The Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research found 90 percent of plastic flowing into oceans can be traced to 10 rivers. The Indus ranks second on the list. One of Asia’s largest rivers, it flows through parts of India and Pakistan into the Arabian Sea, supporting millions of people. While much plastic enters rivers because of a lack of waste infrastructure, sewage systems contribute too. The Ganges The Ganges is central to Indian spiritual life and provides water to more than half a billion people. Sewage, agricultural and industrial waste have made it one of the world’s most polluted rivers, as have the multitudes of plastic that end up in it. Cleaning up the waste – as students are doing in this picture – is important, but experts say we must...

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