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September 01, 2010

How Darwin and Hooker terraformed an island

Darwin's best-kept secret
Egged on by Darwin, in 1847 Hooker advised the Royal Navy to set in motion an elaborate plan. With the help of Kew Gardens - where Hooker's father was director - shipments of trees were to be sent to Ascension. The idea was breathtakingly simple. Trees would capture more rain, reduce evaporation and create rich, loamy soils. The "cinder" would become a garden. So, beginning in 1850 and continuing year after year, ships started to come. Each deposited a motley assortment of plants from botanical gardens in Europe, South Africa and Argentina. Soon, on the highest peak at 859m (2,817ft), great changes were afoot. By the late 1870s, eucalyptus, Norfolk Island pine, bamboo, and banana had all run riot. Back in England, Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution were busily uprooting the Garden of Eden. But on a green hill far away, a new "island Eden" was being created.

Gigantic jellyfish defends seas from tiny, jerk jellyfish

Zoologger: Death by world's longest animal - life - 01 September 2010 - New Scientist
The lion's mane jellyfish is the largest jellyfish known and a contender for the longest animal of all time. Its bell can be 2.5 metres across, and its tentacles can stretch over 30 metres – about the same length as a blue whale. This is 10 metres longer than the tentacles of the famous Portuguese man-of-war – which in any case is not a true jellyfish but a hydrozoan. Now Aino Hosia of the Institute of Marine Research in Bergen, Norway, and Josefin Titelman of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden have found that captive lion's manes will readily prey on sea walnuts – transparent animals of the comb jelly type and a voracious invaders of the world's oceans – and may help to control their numbers in the wild. The sea walnut is native to the western Atlantic, but has now spread to the North Sea and even to the chill waters of the Baltic. It feeds on tiny plankton, devastating their populations – and in turn it brings about crashes in the numbers of fish that depend on the plankton for food. Like many species invading new territories, it had been thought to have avoided significant predation – but no longer.

August 31, 2010

What has caused the bedbug resurgence?

Bedbugs Crawl, They Bite, They Baffle Scientists - NYTimes.com
Ask any expert why the bugs disappeared for 40 years, why they came roaring back in the late 1990s, even why they do not spread disease, and you hear one answer: “Good question.” “The first time I saw one that wasn’t dated 1957 and mounted on a microscope slide was in 2001,” said Dini M. Miller, a Virginia Tech cockroach expert who has added bedbugs to her repertoire. The bugs have probably been biting our ancestors since they moved from trees to caves. The bugs are “nest parasites” that fed on bats and cave birds like swallows before man moved in. . . . Why the bugs disappeared for so long and exploded so fast after they reappeared is another question. The conventional answer — that DDT was banned — is inadequate. After all, mosquitoes, roaches and other insects rebounded long ago. Much has to do with the bugs’ habits. Before central heating arrived in the early 1900s, they died back in winter. People who frequently restuffed their mattresses or dismantled their beds to pour on boiling water — easier for those with servants — suffered less, said the bedbug historian Michael F. Potter of the University of Kentucky. Early remedies were risky: igniting gunpowder on mattresses or soaking them with gasoline, fumigating buildings with burning sulfur or cyanide gas. (The best-known brand was Zyklon B, which later became infamous at Auschwitz.)

August 25, 2010

The end of antibiotics?

Are you ready for a world without antibiotics? | Society | The Guardian
The era of antibiotics is coming to a close. In just a couple of generations, what once appeared to be miracle medicines have been beaten into ineffectiveness by the bacteria they were designed to knock out. Once, scientists hailed the end of infectious diseases. Now, the post-antibiotic apocalypse is within sight. Hyperbole? Unfortunately not. The highly serious journal Lancet Infectious Diseases yesterday posed the question itself over a paper revealing the rapid spread of multi-drug-resistant bacteria. "Is this the end of antibiotics?" it asked. Doctors and scientists have not been complacent, but the paper by Professor Tim Walsh and colleagues takes the anxiety to a new level. Last September, Walsh published details of a gene he had discovered, called NDM 1, which passes easily between types of bacteria called enterobacteriaceae such as E. coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae and makes them resistant to almost all of the powerful, last-line group of antibiotics called carbapenems. Yesterday's paper revealed that NDM 1 is widespread in India and has arrived here as a result of global travel and medical tourism for, among other things, transplants, pregnancy care and cosmetic surgery.

August 21, 2010

Neptune to complete first solar orbit since its discovery

Neptune will soon complete its first orbit around the sun...