Our campaign to eliminate insects is self destructive

Our Campaign to Eliminate Insects is Self Destructive

Published, The Irish Times, science page, 24th October 2020

Producing More Milk with Fewer Emissions

“Producing More Milk with Fewer Emissions”

The Irish Times, science page, 23rd January 2020

 

My weekly science news round up on East Coast FM: weight loss; mindfulness; ancient Egypt; super volcano; Chinese space station

The latest science news from around the world 

Broadcast on The Morning Show on East Coast FM (20/10/2017)

A group of scientists say there is no evidence for many of the benefits claimed for mindfulness (Source: http://www.positivepsychologyprogram.com)

 

Every two lbs overweight knocks nine weeks off your life

Source: Telegraph, UK

  • Study of 600,000 people study link between longevity and lifestyle
  • Smoke pack of cigs per day, die seven years earlier on average
  • Edinburgh University researchers did this as a so-called big data project, which means analysing and cross referencing vast amounts of data.
  • If you are two stone overweight, then it will take, on average, six months off your life.
  • Data came from Europe, North America and Australia, via the UK Biobank.
  • But… also found that life is extended by one year for every year a person stays in education after school, on average. That’s a massive effect.
  • Life expectancy continuing to increase, and in the UK it stands now at 79.5 years for a man, on average, and 83.1 for a woman.
  • But, Public Health England found this year that the average ‘healthy’ average life expectancy – the number of years a person can live largely free of illness – is less than the age people get the state pension

Little proof mindfulness meditation works, say scientists

Source: Scientific American

  • Scientists in the US now asking where is the proof that mindfulness works? Question asked by a group of 15 prominent psychologists and cognitive scientists in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science.
  • Lots of studies have been done on mindfulness and it has been reported to relieve stress, pain and even slow ageing.
  • But, these researchers are critical of these studies because they say they are poorly designed, they have inconsistent definitions are what mindfulness actually is, and often do not use a control group to rule out the placebo effect.
  • Only some 9 per cent of studies on mindfulness has been tested in clinical trials, one report said, and meta analysis of mindfulness research not impressive.
  • In 2014, a review of 47 meditation trials, involving over 3,500 people found that no evidence mindfulness enhanced enhanced attention, curtailed substance abuse, helped sleep or controlled weight.
  • Mindfulness meditation and training is now a huge industry, so there are vested interests promoting its effectiveness, the scientists state.
  • Less than 25 per cent of trials on mindfulness monitor potential negative effects and that is causing worry among scientists too.
  • The 2014 review did find some benefits, modest benefits, for anxiety, depression and pain from the use of mindfulness.
  • A reputable trial this year found that mindfulness attention training reduced self perceived stress, but not the stress hormone cortisol. What does it mean?
  • Another trial found that mindfulness increased the thickness of the prefrontal cortex around of the brain, which is associated with complex behaviour, decision making and shaping the personality.

Ancient Egypt brought down by volcanoes and climate change

Source: Independent UK

  • Volcanic eruptions caused riots and rebellions against Ptolemaic rule and Cleopatra was one of those leaders.
  • Ancient Egypt relied on monsoon weather to provide water irrigate the nile delta region, as does 70 per cent of the globe still today
  • Researchers at TCD and Yale looked at the historical records and used climate modelling methods (working backwards) to do this study.
  • Summer floods helped crops to grow, fed population and were the fundamental basis for the wealth of ancient Egypt at this time 350BC to 30 BC or so.

Yellowstone Super Volcano could erupt inside decades causing global volcanic winter

Source: Independent UK

  • The last time it erupted was 630,000 years ago and created the Yellowstone caldera, which is 40 miles wide.
  • The volcano is so big that if it erupted, it could choke the Earth’s entire atmosphere with ash, blocking out a lot of sunlight, causing temperatures to dip, and this would continue for years.
  • That last massive eruption, scientists at Arizona State have found, occurred following two influxes of fresh magma into the magma chamber.
  • The temperatures increased around the volcano as this happened over decades, not centuries, as previously thought.
  • This shows that the the yellowstone volcano could become dangerous inside decades, at any point, when temperatures start to rise.
  • Large parts of the USA would be covered in dangerous ash if it erupted, the Earth would dramatically cool, sunlight would struggle to get through and the impact would last more than a decade. Life would get very tough, esp in US.

Chinese space station will crash to Earth in months

Source: Guardian UK

  • The 8.5 tonne orbiting laboratory (two large male bull elephants) is now out of control, and in a death spiral, and the ISS will follow perhaps as earth as 2020.
  • The Tiangong-1, or heavenly palace, lab was launched in 2011 as part of China’s push to become a space superpower.
  • Visited by taikonauts including China’s first female taikonaut Liu Yang in 2012.
  • Much of the craft will burn up in the atmosphere, but scientists in the west estimate that pieces as large as 100kg (16 stone man) will crash to Earth anytime between now and April 2018.
  • Impossible to predict when and where the pieces will fall scientists say.
  • No-one has been hurt by space debris falling to Earth, but in 1979 NASA’s 77-tonne Skylab space station crashed to the ground with some large pieces landing outside Perth.

 

Plant proteins key to fighting hunger and global warming – TCD research

Legumes are high in protein density and have a relatively low environmental production cost (Source: Monash University)

The consumption of plant protein found in peas, beans and lentils can stave off global hunger and reduce the environmental impact of food production.

That’s according to a TCD study which shows that plant protein from legumes has the high nutrient density and the lowest environmental production costs.

The study led by Assistant Professor in Botany Mike Williams and conducted by students Shauna Maguire and Conor O’Brien was part of Project TRUE which is an initiative of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

The TCD researchers scored dietary protein sources in terms of both the environmental cost of production (which incorporates greenhouse gas emissions, groundwater pollution and land requirement), and their nutrient content.

“Plant protein sources, in this case legumes such as peas, beans and lentils, show the highest nutrient density and the lowest environmental costs associated with production,” said Professor Williams.

“For example, peas have a nutrient density to environmental footprint ratio approximately five times higher than equivalent amounts of lamb, pork, beef or chicken,” Prof Williams said.

“In other words, you receive more beneficial nutrients per 100 kcals of legumes than similar amounts of meat, and at far less an environmental cost,” Prof Williams added.

The researchers believe that providing quantitative estimates for sustainable food and agriculture can help consumers make more informed choices about how they will source the main protein component in their diet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The consumption of plant protein found in peas, beans and lentils can stave off global hunger and reduce the environmental impact of food production.

That’s according to a TCD study which shows that plant protein from legumes has the high nutrient density and the lowest environmental production costs.

The study led by Assistant Professor in Botany Mike Williams and conducted by students Shauna Maguire and Conor O’Brien was part of Project TRUE which is an initiative of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

The TCD researchers scored dietary protein sources in terms of both the environmental cost of production (which incorporates greenhouse gas emissions, groundwater pollution and land requirement), and their nutrient content.

“Plant protein sources, in this case legumes such as peas, beans and lentils, show the highest nutrient density and the lowest environmental costs associated with production,” said Professor Williams.

“For example, peas have a nutrient density to environmental footprint ratio approximately five times higher than equivalent amounts of lamb, pork, beef or chicken,” Prof Williams said.

“In other words, you receive more beneficial nutrients per 100 kcals of legumes than similar amounts of meat, and at far less an environmental cost,” Prof Williams added.

The researchers believe that providing quantitative estimates for sustainable food and agriculture can help consumers make more informed choices about how they will source the main protein component in their diet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Volcanic eruptions in ancient Egypt triggered revolts, TCD research indicates

Volcanic eruptions may have disrupted the stability and prosperity of of ancient Egypt by triggering revolts (Source: heritagedaily.com

Major revolts in ancient Egypt may have been triggered by volcanic eruptions that prevented the Nile from its usual summer flooding.

That’s according to research conducted by TCD and Yale University historians who examined evidence from ancient Egyptian writings during the Ptolemaic period, as well polar ice-core records and climate modelling.

The researchers believe that this research, published in Nature Communications can improve understanding of how societies respond to climate shocks.

Egypt’s Ptolemaic era, which ran from 305 BC to 30 BC is famed for its prosperity, cultural and material achievement, rulers such as Cleopatra, and was home to the great city of Alexandria.

The success of Egypt during this glorious period of its history was directly linked with the river Nile, and its annual summer flooding, which provided the water, and irrigation necessary to support the region’s thriving agriculture.

It is very rare in science and history to have such strong and detailed evidence documenting how past societies responded to sudden hydroclimatic shocks,” said Dr Francis Ludlow, from the TCD School of Histories and Humanities, who jointly led the study.

“To fully understand how sudden environmental pressures could act to destabilise society, the historical context is key, and in this case included pressures from high levels of taxation and ethnic tensions that likely coalesced to trigger revolt at times of agricultural failures from insufficient floodwaters,” Dr Ludlow added.

The researchers were able to show that large volcanic eruptions disrupted the African summer monsoon and reduced Nile river flow. This helped to trigger economic and political instability, in particular to trigger revolts against Ptolemaic rule of Egypt and limiting that state’s ability to wage warfare.

The authors also provided evidence of further social stresses through the increased sales of family-held land following eruptions. This has been documented in the surviving records, and likely to have occurred because families were unable to meet state taxation demands after failed harvests.

The study, according to the authors, also has significant implications regarding how societies will respond to future climate change, and more specifically about how the nations that depend upon the summer flood waters of Nile might manage under the impact from the next big volcanic eruption.

 

Is the haunting curlew’s cry set to fade forever in the Irish landscape?

Report on the curlew for Drivetime on RTE Radio 1

Curlew

The native Irish curlew is down to about 120 breeding pairs. Picture [Birdwatch Ireland]

The haunting cry of the curlew, the wading bird with the long-curved bill which has been written about in song and verse and was once common across the Irish countryside.

Sadly, there are just 120 breeding pairs of curlew left in Ireland, a bird that has been written about in song and verse and was once so common across the Irish countryside. Thousands of curlew flock to our shores in winter to escape harsh scandinavian winters, native Irish curlew, are now on the verge of extinction.

I went in search of the curlew recently, and began by meeting Alan Lauder, an independent wildlife conservation consultant, and Chair of the Curlew Task Force, set up by the government last November, in a desperate attempt to prevent the disappearance of our native Curlews.

I met Alan in Broad Lough, an estuary of the Varty river, near Wicklow town. It’s one of the many places around the Irish coastline where thousands of  foreign-born curlews come to feed and take advantage of the mid Irish climate when they are not breeding. Many people in the conservation community had long suspected that all was not right with the curlew, but until recently nothing was done, Alan told me.

Urgent 

In November of last year, a meeting took place in Mullingar where experts and interested bodies gathered to discuss the plight of the native Irish curlew. The meeting decided that urgent action was required to save the bird, Alan told me.

The following day, still having not seen or heard a curlew, I travelled north in hope, to the village of Carrickroe, Co Monaghan, to meet Anita Donaghy and Joe Shannon of Birdwatch Ireland. Anita who is a project field officer for Birdwatch, gave me the background to the Curlew’s gradual, sad decline.

Joe, who is the local field officer for Birdwatch, travels around the north Monaghan countryside listening for the alarm call of the adult curlew, which indicates that curlew chicks are in the area.

He reassured me that earlier this morning he had found a breeding pair, with chick or chicks, in a newly cut field, in Drumlin country, a couple of miles north of Carrickroe village.

We had finally found a pair of native Irish breeding curlews, with one adult, probably the male, circling constantly, protecting at least one chick on the ground.

The curlew chicks are vulnerable to predators such as the fox, as they are exposed out in the centre of a cut field. The eggs are laid on the ground for one month, and then it takes a further five weeks for the chicks to gain the ability to fly, or fledge. In days gone by, sheer numbers of curlew meant the population remained stable, despite the vulnerability in early life.

Today, however, Birdwatch Ireland estimate that – just for the native curlew population to remain stable – requires each breeding pair to produce one chick, but surveys indicate curlews are only producing one chick for every five pairs.

The suspicion is that curlews are continuing to decline at perhaps a rate of 10 per cent per year, so unless something big is done, the cry of the native curlew will be lost to Ireland forever in a few short years.

The odds appear to be against the survival of the native curlew, but the National Parks and Wildlife Service is not giving up and has introduced  measures to reduce the threat from predators,

If the curlew is to survive it will also require farmers to co-operate with conservation efforts in the areas where the curlew remains, and for the public to row in behind with active support through donations or volunteering their help.

Pollinators in trouble; drunk and in love; 1mm thin TVs; why we sleep & dream

Honeybee

Half of managed honeybee colonies in the U.S.A. have disappeared in the last 10 years (Credit: beneficialbugs.org)

The honeybee is a vital pollinator of crops that enable humans to survive on this planet, yet, in the U.S.A. half of managed honeybee populations have disappeared in the last 10 years.

The U.S. administration was so alarmed about the threat to human existence this represents that President Obama, in 2014, launched a National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honeybees and other Pollinators.

We discuss the theories put forward to explain why honeybees are in trouble, and the main planks of the U.S. strategy to maintain and build up honeybee numbers again.

Most of us love our TV, but large screen LED TVs can take up a lot of space, when fixtures, fittings, and the width of the set are all taken into account. Imagine a large screen TV, just 1 mm in width, that can be stuck to the wall for viewing, and peeled off and put away when not required.

South Korean electronics giant, LG, say such ultra-thin, wide screen TVs will be available for sale in Autumn this year. They are based on new technology which removes the need for bulky light boxes.

We’ve heard the expression being ‘drunk in love’. Well, scientists have found that the effect of alcohol is very similar on the mind and body, as the impact of the ‘love hormone’ oxytocin.

Scientists have long wondered why sleep, which made our ancestors, vulnerable to attack, evolved in human beings. They are finding that it has a lot to do with making sense of each day’s experience.

We also discuss how Japanese scientists are making remarkable progress with a ‘dream reading machine’ that can predict the content of people’s dreams – after the fact – with up to 80 per cent accuracy.

Listen below to discuss on all of the above with Declan Meehan on The Morning Show with Declan Meehan.

This was first broadcast on 21st May 2015

GM potato trial results in blight-free crops

Blight, a fungal infection, destroyed Irish potatoes during the Great Famine 1845-1852, and it remains a problem here today [Credit: Frogblog.ie]

Genetically modified, or GM, potatoes planted last August by Teagasc researchers have remained blight free, while standard potatoes beside them are diseased.

The apparent success of the trial opens the door for Irish farmers to use GM potatoes that are resistant to blight, which remains a major problem in Ireland.

Farmers must spray potatoes with pesticides to try and prevent blight. The EU has introduced a Directive that seeks the reduction of use of such chemicals.

Click here to read article in The Sunday Times 7-10-2012

Top Research Supporting Irish Agri-Sector

Irish dairy cattle graze out in the open all year round, unlike many other countries [Credit: Irish National Diary Council]

Ireland has great natural advantages when it comes to dairy farming, and producing livestock and crops.

The agri-sector continues to thrive despite the downturn, but that, of course, does not mean we can rest our on laurels.

For Ireland’s agri-economy to continue to thrive and expand it is vital that it is supported here at home by a top quality agricultural research infrastructure.

This is the context for the good news that Teagasc has opened a new Animal Bioscience Facility in Grange Co Meath.

The Facility is part of  Teagasc’s plan to establish ‘centres of excellence’ in the key sciences that underpin Irish agriculture.

We talk here about what kind of research will be conducted at the new facility.

LISTEN: Interview with Richard Dewhurst, Head of Animal and Bioscience Research Department,Teagasc

This interview was first broadcast on Science Spinning on 103.2 Dublin City FM on 06.09.2012

LINKS:

Teagasc, Animal and Bioscience Research 

The Irish that Battled Blight, Plague, Flu and TB

“The dance of death” by Michael Wolmegut (1493) [Credit: Wikimedia Commons]

Irish history is littered with stories of death and destruction, from the days of Cromwell to the Civil War. But, diseases have also ravaged the land at various points in our history.

The ‘Black Death’ or the Plague, arrived here in 1347 (give or take a year or two according to experts), landing first in the port towns of Howth, Youghal and Waterford, before spreading at a frightening pace all over the country.

Then there was the Great Famine of the 1840s and 1850s triggered by a disease that rendered potatoes unfit for consumption.

In 1918, Influenza, or flu, wiped out a staggering 50 to 100 million people worldwide – more than the casualties of World War 1, which are estimated at 37 million. In Ireland at least 20,000 people died of from this flu that mainly killed healthy young people.

Then in the 1950s, TB arrived, again striking fear into the population before the authorities finally managed to get it under control.

In all four situations there were Irish people that contributed to the fight against disease. To find out more

LISTEN: Interview with Dr Aoife MacCormack & Daniel Kirby of Ireland’s Biomedical Diagnostic Institute

This was first broadcast on Science Spinning on 103.2 Dublin City FM on 05-09-2012

LINKS:

Biomedical Diagnostic Institute

Videos: How Irish Science Battled Big Diseases