Category Archives: Ecology

Autistic man becomes stranded in Utah desert for three weeks – and survives

It is the kind of thing Bear Grylls would do. An American man has spent three weeks alone hiking through the Utah desert without food, water, or shelter – and come out alive.

It is reported that autistic 28-year-old William Martin LaFever had been hiking with his dog in the Utah area when his hiking gear was stolen and had run out of money. LaFever’s father had wired money to Page, Arizona, and had told his son to catch a ride there. Instead, Mr LaFever decided to hike through the Escalante desert in southern Utah to reach his destination.

He survived by scavenging for food, eating frogs, and drinking water from the Escalante River. Three weeks into his ordeal, he was spotted by helicopter and rescued. He was emaciated, and unable to stand, but is now said to be in a stable condition as he recovers in hospital.   

Full story: BBC News


Test-tube hamburgers: coming soon to a restaurant near you?

Scientists have perfected the art of growing meat in the laboratory using stem cells and believe they will be able to replicate a real burger. If all goes to plan, the first ever “test-tube hamburger” will be sold in October this year.

The gloabl demand for meat is expected to double in the next 40 years, so the mass production of  beef, pork, chicken and lamb in test tubes may prove to be the ideal solution, as well as being able to dramatically reduce the environmental damage of farming.

Only one person has tried the lab-grown meat so far: a Russian journalist who snatched a sample of pork during a visit to the lab Maastricht University where it was being grown. He declared himself unimpressed.

Full story: Daily Telegraph

Humans adopt polar bear


Some people get a pet kitten or puppy for Christmas. Three people in Denmark have got a polar bear this year. Yes, a polar bear.

A polar bear cub born at a wildlife park in Denmark has been adopted by humans after its mother did not produce enough milk. The cub has been named Siku and will receive round-the-clock care and attention by three people who have chosen to look after him.  

It has warmed the hearts of thousands. Not only is it a sweet piece of news, but the YouTube video of  Siku yawning with his tongue out, streching, and getting stroked on the kitchen table is one of the most-viewed (and cutest) things on the internet right now. 

Full story (and video):

Study reveals polar bears have Irish maternal ancestors

Where do Polar Bears come from? The obvious answer is, of course, the North Pole. However, if we go far back enough generations, the real answer is theRepublic of Ireland. The furry white giants are in fact descended from now-extinct Irish brown bears that lived during the last Ice Age.

This surprising finding is the result of a study of ancient brown bear teeth and skeletons found in various cave sites across Ireland. Scientists from the UK, Ireland and the US analysed the brown bears’ mitochondrial DNA – which is passed from mother to child – and it turns out they share a distinct DNA sequence with all of today’s polar bears.

Oxford University’s Dr Ceiridwen Edwards, the research paper’s lead author said: “Hybridization between ancient Irish brown bears and polar bears has led to the complete replacement of the original polar bear mitochondria. This maternal lineage is now present in all modern polar bears … It’s amazing to think that Irish brown bears are the ancestors of the modern maternal polar bear lineage.”

It was a changing climate that caused their paths to cross. Just before – or during – the last Ice Age, the two species came together and polar bears mated with female Irish brown bears. “The hybridisation between the two species occurred at a time when their home ranges overlapped, most likely during environmental stress”, explained Dr. Edwards. 

Full story: BelfastTelegraph

If cows had digestive systems of kangaroos, Global Warming could be prevented

Cows are bad news for the environment. They emit enormous amounts of methane gas, and this contributes massively to the Greenhouse Effect. If only they could take a leaf out of the kangaroo’s book…

Grazing animals such as kangaroos or wallabies have very similar digestive systems to cows: they all process food in multiple stomach pouches, let microbes in one pouch do most of the work, and the fermentation of the food produces methane.

But there is a significant difference: kangaroos and wallabies are far more efficient with their emissions. In fact, the average wallaby will emit 80% less methane than the average cow from the same amount of plant matter. Scientists have recently found why this happens. They have isolated a type of bacteria, called WG-1, that grows in the guts of Tammar Wallabies, and believe this is the key to low methane production. Upon analysing the way it broke down plant matter, they found it produced a substance called succinate, which isn’t found in high-methane-producing ruminant animal guts – i.e. animals such as cows.

So, if scientists were able to turn a cow’s digestive system into a kangaroo’s digetsive system, a major cause of Climate Change would be significantly reduced. Or maybe humans should just start eating kangaroos instead of cows.  

Full story: IO9 Science

Scientists discover entirely new branch of life

Scientists have found something in water samples from a pond in Exeter. They have discovered microscopic organisms that are related to fungus, and have named them “cryptomycota”. Perhaps that doesn’t sound like a ground-breaking discovery.

However, this could turn out to be a revolutionary finding. These organisms are significantly different to ordinary fungus (pictured above). In fact, there are so many different kinds of cryptomycota, and are found in so many different places, that their biodiversity is much more vast than any other fungus. Their biodiversity may even be greater than the entire fungal kingdom.

Significantly, they apparently lack a protein in their cell walls, which is a defining feature of fungi. This implies that cryptomycota deserve their own branch on the tree of life. Indeed, they may not even be a fungus at all.  

The scientists behind its discovery are now aiming to grow it in the lab, so they can get a better understanding of it. Cryptomycota may just be a very unusual type of fungus, or it may end up getting its very own kingdom, alongside the plant and animal kingdom. 

Full story: NPR

The car that’s “green” in every sense of the word

We are all too aware that fossil fuels are irreplaceable, damaging to the environment, and contribute to the Greenhouse Effect. One of the biggest challenges that scientists currently face is to produce alternative fuels that are renewable and environmentally friendly, especially when it comes to vehicles and transportation.

But perhaps scientists’ latest creation will come as a slight surprise, and raise a few eyebrows. Motive Industries, a company in Canada, have manufactured a car made of hemp (yes, hemp – the close relative of marijuana).

The company aims to make the vehicle (pictured above) available for $25,000 and is hoping to have thousands of these cars on the road by 2012.

Full story: POPSCI Popular Science