Environment, Uncategorized

Environment Digest – 26 June- 2 July 2016

[1]A station in Himalayas to study climate change

What happened?

  • A team of glaciologists from the National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research is  studying Himalayan glaciers to understand the impacts of climate change in the polar climate and its connection to the Indian monsoon.

Key points:-

  • The newly established station would be one of the few high-altitude research facilities in the Himalayas that would help the scientists to study the region throughout the year.
  • The station would have several automated research facilities to detect the changes in glaciers, and glacial melt-water.
  • The scientists will be looking into various aspects of climate change and the present status and future stability of glaciers from the Himalayas.
  • Scientists will be undertaking an integrated study on the health and fate of benchmark glaciers from the Chandra basin (part of the Indus river basin) in Lahaul-Spiti valley, Himachal Pradesh, Western Himalaya, he explained.
  • The multidisciplinary project has researchers from glaciology, geology, biology, physics, and chemistry that helps in understanding the cryospheric systems in a holistic way.

Why Himalaya?

  • The effects of global warming is most perceptible and amplified in the Polar Regions — the Antarctic and Arctic — and the Himalaya.
  • The ice sheets and glaciers also act as natural recorders of climate variability and change.

Study

  • A sobering report released by the International Energy Agency says that air pollution has become a major public health crisis leading to around 6.5 million deaths each year, with “many of its root causes and cures” found in the energy industry.

Key points:-

  • The agency, whose 29 members are wealthy, industrialised countries, was founded in response to the Arab oil embargo in 1973 to coordinate international responses to energy issues.
  • The agency argues that pressing concerns about climate change and the emergence of countries like China and India as major energy consumers and polluters mean that the it needs to shift its strategy.
  • It has been working to build bridges with China in particular, which energy experts say is crucial to the success of global efforts to reduce emissions.
  • According to it, environmental issues are very important to emerging economies like India and China, whose cities are often plagued by choking smog.
  • Helping these countries solve problems through increasing energy efficiency or filtering out pollutants can make progress on climate change goals.

[3]Around the world in Health this week

A ‘fitbit’ for plants?

  • Scientists have developed a tool called ‘Phenocart’ to capture essential plant health data.
  • The ‘Phenocart’ measures a plant’s vital signs like growth rate and colour the same way a Fitbit monitors human health signals like blood pressure and physical activity.
  • It can also help plant breeders design larger experiments.
  • Knowing what physical traits a plant has is called phenotyping.
  • Measuring phenotypes is very labour-intensive, and really limits how big an experiment we can do.
  • The new tool will allow for faster measurements and accelerate the breeding process.

Self-organising soft materials

  • Researchers have created self-organising soft materials that mimic the spontaneous folding motion seen in the Mimosa pudica plant.
  • The technology could benefit numerous emerging technologies and commercial applications including wearable sensors, microfluidics, and artificial muscles.
  • Many biological systems in nature adapt to their environments using self-assembly techniques; the crystallisation-driven formation of seashells is one example.

Signatures and cancer treatment

  • Researchers have found unique signatures in four different human breast cancer cell types that could be used to develop tailor-made cancer treatment.
  • This will increase the efficacy of drug treatments for breast cancer patients as well as reduce side effects.
  • Certain cancer-triggering genes, or oncogenes as they are called, drive solid tumour growth in some breast cancer patients but are just passenger genes in others, i.e. expressed but not essential for growth.
  • As a result, tumours in different breast cancer patients may respond differently to the same treatment depending on which oncogenes are active and which are just along for the ride.
  • Identifying the panel of active genes in a patient’s tumour — called the functional oncogene signature — could help an oncologist select therapies that target its growth.

The ‘nice’ and ‘nasty’ genes

  • A mathematical model claims to shed light on why some individuals may be genetically programmed to be nice while others are nasty.
  • Using colony-living microbes as inspiration to explore why some individuals are by nature generous and others less so, the researchers produced an innovative model of social evolution that allows them to understand how far this is likely to be influenced by conditioning or the surrounding environment.
  • They found that the behaviour of individuals can often evolve to be determined by a set of inherited genetic tendencies that accurately predict social relationships, including their likely relatedness to other members of their community and their surroundings rather than in direct response to what they sense or experience.

[4]India’s thriving biodiversity: 445 new species added in 2015

News

  • The report on animal and plant discoveries of 2015 was released by the government to mark the conclusion of the centenary celebrations of Zoological Society of India (ZSI).

Key points

  • Four species of reptiles, six species of amphibians, 26 species of fishes, three species of wild ginger and three of figs are among the 445 species new to science identified in India in 2015.
  • The figure includes 262 animal species and 183 plant species.
  • Some of the notable additions to the list of animals include a rock gecko (Hemidactylus yajurvedi) found in Kanker Chhattishgarh, a new frog species (Fejervarya gomantaki) from the Western Ghats, and a shiny new species of fish (Barilius ardens), also from the Western Ghats.
  • Among the plants, a new species of ginger Zingiber bipinianum has been found in the South Garo hills of Meghalaya, and a species of mushroom (Bondarzewia zonata) has been collected from north Sikkim at an altitude of 2,829 m.
  • The most discoveries were made in the Eastern Himalaya region, which accounts for 19 per cent of the total discoveries followed by the Western Ghats (18 per cent) and Andaman and Nicobar Islands at about 15 per cent.

[5]Nobel winners slam Greenpeace on GM crops

Issue

  • Tussle over Genetically Modified Crops between scientists and environmentalists.

Context

  • About a third of living Nobel laureates have signed an open letter which attacks Greenpeace for campaigning against genetically modified crops, especially one called Golden Rice.

Golden Rice

  • This genetically-modified rice contains genes that produce high levels of beta carotene and related compounds which are converted in the human body into the crucially-needed vitamin A. Many in the developing world who do not have access to fruits and vegetables suffer from chronic vitamin A deficiency which results in night blindness.
  • According to the WHO, vitamin A deficiency hits the poor in 96 countries, resulting in over five lakh blind children every year.
  • This blindness is irreversible, these children will never see.
  • The significance of this red-gold rice containing carotenoid genes obtained from daffodils is the potential it offers to counter vitamin A deficiency.
  • There are enough precursors of vitamin A in one average portion of the rice to prevent night blindness through ordinary dietary intake.
Nobel laureates Greenpeace
  • They have alleged that  Greenpeace has “misrepresented the risks, benefits and impacts” of genetically altered food plants.
  • There has never been a single confirmed case of a negative health outcome for humans or animals from their consumption.
  • It has called on Greenpeace to “cease and desist” in its efforts to block GM crops, and on governments to embrace “seeds improved through biotechnology.
  • Opposition based on emotion and dogma contradicted by data must be stopped.
  • The Nobel winners singled out Golden Rice as a genetically modified crop with huge potential to improve health and save lives in the developing world.
  • Accusations that anyone is blocking genetically engineered ‘Golden’ rice are false.
  • Corporations are using the strain “to pave the way for global approval of other more profitable genetically engineered crops”.
  • Greenpeace’s longstanding position is to oppose all patents on plants or animals, or their genes, and that “life is not an industrial commodity”.
  • Golden Rice was “environmentally irresponsible, poses risks to human health, and could compromise food, nutrition and financial security”.
  • The NGO also maintains that genetically modified organisms should be held back “since there is not an adequate scientific understanding of their impact on the environment and human health”.

 

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