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Infographic: The world's oldest trees are really ridiculously old

For more on Pando the Trembling Giant, a clone colony of aspens in Southern Utah, see here. Earth's oldest trees are almost unfathomably ancient

December 10, 2012

Scientists discover way to turn urine into neurons

Brain cells made from urine : Nature News & Comment
Some of the waste that humans flush away every day could become a powerful source of brain cells to study disease, and may even one day be used in therapies for neurodegenerative diseases. Scientists have found a relatively straightforward way to persuade the cells discarded in human urine to turn into valuable neurons. The technique, described online in a study in Nature Methods this week1, does not involve embryonic stem cells. These come with serious drawbacks when transplanted, such as the risk of developing tumours. Instead, the method uses ordinary cells present in urine, and transforms them into neural progenitor cells — the precursors of brain cells. These precursor cells could help researchers to produce cells tailored to individuals more quickly and from more patients than current methods. Researchers routinely reprogram cultured skin and blood cells2 into induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, which can go on to form any cell in the body. But urine is a much more accessible source.

December 07, 2012

Here is a short term method to fight global warming that does not involve carbon dioxide

Going Beyond Carbon Dioxide - NYTimes.com
There is, however, a short-term strategy. We can slow this warming quickly by cutting emissions of four other climate pollutants: black carbon, a component of soot; methane, the main component of natural gas; lower-level ozone, a main ingredient of urban smog; and hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, which are used as coolants. They account for as much as 40 percent of current warming. Unlike carbon dioxide, these pollutants are short-lived in the atmosphere. If we stop emitting them, they will disappear in a matter of weeks to a few decades. We have technologies to do this, and, in many cases, laws and institutions to support these cuts. Moreover, President Obama has the executive authority to move ahead aggressively on these pollutants, as he did last year in ordering substantial reductions in auto and truck emissions. By doing so, he may persuade other countries to follow. Such reductions, if they occurred worldwide, would have the potential to slash the rate of global warming by half by midcentury — equivalent to wiping out the warming we have experienced over the last 50 years. These reductions would also prevent an estimated two to four million deaths from air pollution and avoid billions of dollars of crop loss annually, according to a study commissioned by the United Nations Environment Program and the World Meteorological Organization. We can reduce black carbon emissions significantly in the next few decades by using particulate filters on cars and trucks and switching to low-sulfur diesel. By employing those strategies, California, for instance, has cut the warming effect from diesel emissions by nearly half since the late 1980s.

Scientist at geophysics meeting declares "The Earth is fucked!"

The IO9 commenters, rarely a pleasant bunch, get especially snotty at the idea that maybe global industrial processes are bad for the environment. After extensive mathematical modeling, scientist declares "Earth is fucked"
Brad Werner has a simple question: Is the Earth fucked? He also has a remarkably complicated methodology yielding a very simple answer: yes, unless people start a serious global rebellion. Werner, a complex systems researcher at UC San Diego, spoke on Wednesday at the huge American Geophyiscal Union conference going on in San Francisco. This is a meeting where a typical talk might be called "Status and potential capacities to sequester carbon of China's terrestrial ecosystem," or "The significance of the opening angle of pyroclast ejection during explosive volcanic eruptions." Werner's talk really was called "Is Earth Fucked?" AGU Executive Director/CEO Christine McEntee told ScienceNow, "Our program committee evaluates the scientific merit of the abstracts and accepts those that meets their criteria. Our scientists are free to create the titles of their sessions." Werner, sporting a neon green winter hat over bright pink hair, discussed the nature of interactions between humans and the environment, and what those interactions say about the future. His argument goes something like this: modern culture, with its emphasis on money and economics, is far too focused on short time scales. Capitalist culture tends to encourage decreases in "dissipation of transactions" – it is much easier to get food now than it used to be, or to talk to someone not next to you. These changes reduce friction within our system, and a reduction in friction "promotes instability." So we're in the process of destroying things thanks to that instability, and even when we engage in environmental management efforts, we couch them in capitalist terms, like cost/benefit analyses as efforts to deal with climate change. This, Werner says, will inevitably lead those management schemes to fail over a long enough time frame. And he actually created a computer model to study all of this… stuff. Broadly, the result is discouraging.