Sep
15
2006

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright: Courtesy madcovv
Tyger! Tyger! burning bright: Courtesy madcovv

I was amazed today when I cracked open my new copy of Harper's Magazine. In the Harper's Index feature I discovered this chilling fact about our dwindling world tiger population. There are about as many tigers living in the wild around the world as there are living as pets in the US?! That's simply absurd. These wild animals were not meant to be domesticated and keeping them as pets won't help grow their numbers in the wild.

However, searching around on this topic did lead me to a rather interesting blog focusing on the issues of conservation, specifically through the lens of finance. They recently highlighted China's unique efforts at tiger conservation, which involve breeding tigers in China and shipping them to a fenced-in preserve in South Africa. But most interestingly this blog focusses on some real world situations that can be solved within our current economic system. According to the blog's author:

Good intentions are not enough. We need business models that are financially, institutionally and technically viable, based on evidence, and provide incentives to encourage biodiversity conservation.

I couldn't agree more, so head on over to the Conservation Finance blog and specifically their posts on wildlife conservation to learn more.

Sep
15
2006

Black cottonwood: Courtesy Oak Point Nursery
Black cottonwood: Courtesy Oak Point Nursery

Ever heard of Populus trichocarpa? It sure is shaking up what researchers understand about plant biology and evolution. That’s right, Populus trichocarpa is a tree, more specifically a black cottonwood.

The black cottonwood is the first tree to have its full DNA code sequenced. Reports state the poplar tree has far less DNA in its cells than humans or other mammals, but twice the number of genes. The poplar has 485 million basepairs! Basepairs are the letters orchestrating a genetic code (A=adenine, T=thymine, C=cytosine, G=guanine). Researchers have found more than 45,000 possible genes (units of hereditary information). To put this number in perspective, humans and other mammals have a little over 20-25,000 genes.

Why is this cool?

Besides figuring out specific questions about botany, having the full DNA sequence of the black cottonwood will also have industrial implications.

The research team discovered 93 genes of the poplar where involved in making cellulose. Cellulose is an organic material found in large quantities on Earth. Cellulose is the primary structural component of green plants. It can be broken down into sugar, fermented into alcohol and distilled to produce fuel-quality ethanol.

Dr. Gerald Tuskan, the lead author of the report in Science, stated, “Biofuels are not only attractive for their potential to cut reliance on oil imports but also their reduced environmental impact.”

Populus trichocarpa identification:

Leaf structure: Alternate, simple, deciduous, ovate-laneolate to deltoid, dark green and silvery white underneath, wavy margins.

Fruit: Releases cottony-tufted seeds
Bark: When young, it is smooth and yellowish tan to gray; later on it turns gray to gray-brown and has deep furrows and flattened ridges.

Form: Tallest broad-leaved tree in the West. Able to grow up to 200 feet tall and 6 feet in diameter.

Found: Flood plains and along river and stream banks. Prefers moist/wet sites.

Keep your eyes open for a black cottonwood tree near you!

Fresh spinach: Courtesey ranjit
Fresh spinach: Courtesey ranjit

The FDA is warning individuals to think twice before consuming bagged spinach. An E. coli outbreak has been linked to fresh spinach. E. coli depending on its severity, can have adverse affects.

Sep
15
2006
Sep
14
2006

Thursday, astronomers discovered a new planet so "puffy" that it would float in water. This new planet named HAT-P-1, is the largest and least dense planet found outside our solar system. 450 light-years from Earth, HAT-P-1 orbits a star in the constellation Lacerta. This planet is a gas giant, composed of hydrogen and helium. Robert Noyes, a research astrophysicist from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, claims HAT-P-1 would "float if placed in a cosmic glass of water." HAT-P-1 orbits its parent star at one-twentieth the distance that seperates Earth and the sun, taking only 4.5 days to orbit, versus our 365 days! HAT-P-1 was discovered by a network of telescopes in Hawaii and Arizona. It is too distant to be seen with the naked eye, but visible with binoculars.

Whoa baby

by Megan on Sep. 14th, 2006

Yesterday, the world's biggest human baby was born in Connecticut. The newborn baby boy weighed a whopping, 14 pounds, 13 ounces and was almost 23 inches long.

Sep
14
2006

Hearty harvest: Drought conditions in northern Minnesota have been a bounty to the growth of wild rice this year. Here, canoeists on Leech Lake navigate their way through a rice paddy. (Photo by Ken Ratcliff)
Hearty harvest: Drought conditions in northern Minnesota have been a bounty to the growth of wild rice this year. Here, canoeists on Leech Lake navigate their way through a rice paddy. (Photo by Ken Ratcliff)

Things grow slower in a drought, right?

Not always. Today’s Star-Tribune carried a story about Minnesota wild rice, and how the harvest numbers are way up due to the drought conditions over much of northern Minnesota, the prime growing area for wild rice.

Wild rice grows in lakes, and the best conditions for it to grow in are low water levels. I personally can vouch for the strong growth of wild rice. Earlier this summer a buddy and I kayaked through a dense paddy of wild rice on Lake Itasca near the headwaters of the Mississippi River. It was a lot of fun, but tough paddling.

Exactly how much more rice has grown on those lakes won’t be known for a couple of factors.

First, wild rice has to be harvested by paddling through the paddies. The lower the water levels, the harder it is to get to the wild rice for harvesting. While the boats are shallow, they do need a minimum level of water to get around, and the more rice you harvest, the lower your boat rides.

Second, fewer and fewer people are actually taking the time and effort to harvest wild rice. Only about 1,000 harvesting licenses have been sold this year by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the agency that regulates rice harvesting. That compares to about 16,000 licenses that were given out back in the late 1960s.

A DNR official conservatively estimates that the state’s lakes will produce about 20 million pounds of rice this year while about 500,000 pounds will actually be harvested. So what happens to the other 19.5 million pounds?

Ducks and other waterfowl are going to have some mighty good and easy eats this fall. And that’s not just good for the birds. Several wildlife and sportsmen’s groups have been nurturing the development of more wild rice in Minnesota lakes to help improve waterfowl habitat. If the ducks get more to eat this fall, their numbers should grow and there will be better hunting conditions for the future.

FYI: More wild rice is actually produced on paddy farms these days than in natural conditions. Minnesota wild rice farms grow 10 to 12 million pounds a year. And while Minnesotans are proud of our native grain, California farms actually produce double our amount.

A new colorful bird species (Bugun Liocichla) has been found in India. The bird exhibits a black cap, a bright yellow patch around its eyes and yellow, crimson, black and white patches on its wings.

Marjorie Taylor, the head of the Department of Psychology at the University of Oregon brings us the Museum of Scientifically Accurate Fabric Brain Art. Check out this virtual museum for some amazing yarn sculptures of our nervous system.

A new study found a link between human use of fossil fuels and an increase in the severity of hurricanes. The burning of fossil fuels has increased the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which has led to the warming of oceans in regions where hurricanes develop. The warmer the ocean water, the more severe the hurricane.