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A weekly round-up of science news

Good news for the Environment

The US government may be determined not to take action which could benefit
the environment, but cities in America are getting on with it regardless.
On June 5th, city mayors from five continents are meeting in San Francisco to
discuss their environmental agenda. A group of American mayors have also
decided to ignore the Bush administration’s refusal to cut carbon emissions
and are going ahead with their own plans. More than 140 American cities
have signed upto the Kyoto Protocol on a local level, sending a clear
message to the administration that they are ready to take

This action can be seen globally, Curitiba in Brazil is called
the greenest city in the world. The mayor made the city centre pedestrian
only, made major highways bus only, planted trees, and dug ponds to absorb the
floods. A great move was to recruit the poor to collect garbage in return
for groceries and bus passes.

Ontario in Canada is using cold water from Lake Ontario to cool its
buildings, compared to conventional air-conditioning this saves 90% on
electricity. Berlin’s parliament has cut CO2 emissions in its new building
by 94% by using vegetable oil as its fuel. Sacramento now has 50% tree
shade in all parking lots, your car is cooler, the trees help absorb the
carbon emissions and I bet the area looks a lot better.

Plant gene found in animal

The freshwater Hydra is related to the jellyfish, yet contains a
plant gene. The Hydra contains the algae Chlorella which
provides energy through photosynthesis. The plant gene incorporated in
Hydra genes is very different though to Chlorella.

Teeth Brushing

It seems that there is another way for brushing to help clean your teeth.
The bacteria there live in biofilms which mean they grow as family groups
because they cannot move out of the biofilm. Brushing actually helps
physically destroy the biofilms leaving the broken up family groups
surrounded by unknown bacteria, therefore leaving them less likely to

Lake Victoria

The lake which borders Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda had a problem with
water hyacinth in the 1990s, so beetles were imported in to help clear the
plant, and it worked. Now it seems that the beetles may have helped less
than previously realised, as the timing coincided with an El Nino event
which meant that there was more rain and less light in the area. Those
conditions make water hyacinth grow slower and in a taller form which takes
more energy to maintain. Now the El Nino event is over, the beetles are not
keeping up and the hyacinth is spreading again.

H5N1 update

Last edition I covered the geese deaths in
China from H5N1, at the time there were only 518 dead birds. Now there are
official reports of 1000, but it is the unofficial reports which are
worrying. A weblog by 9 young people had photos of many thousands of dead
birds, these people have now allegedly been arrested. It maybe the deaths
were caused by something else but until the Chinese authorities are more
open with their information, we will not know. More information and pictures
are available here.

Whale strandings

A group of false killer whales were stranded in Australia, this species
is actually a dolphin. People came to help and all but one of the dolphins
survived. BBC news

Bumblebee threat

Bee populations are suffering from a lack of contact with other bees of
their species. Bee colonies are stuck in isolated areas, surrounded by
farmland which has no green corridor for wildlife to travel along, and are
now inbreeding. The Queen needs to mate with a non-family member or her
offspring becomes infertile males. The colony needs fertile female workers
to maintain the nest as the infertile males do no work.

Bear Farms in China

Around 7000 Asiatic Black Bears are farmed for their bile in China,
charity Animals Asia is calling on the Chinese government to devise a plan
to end the farming. Animals Asia

Concrete Mediterranean

The Med is in danger of being completely surrounding by concrete,
affecting the wildlife which lives there. It normally supports many fish,
turtles, dolphins, whales and seals, with the large sea grass meadows in the

Concrete stretches from Malaga to Gibraltar, in effect it is Spain’s
second biggest city. By 2020, concrete and buildings will cover half of the
Mediterranean coastline. Between Spain and Sicily 75% of the sand dunes
have been destroyed by re-development. Water shortages are also beginning
with huge amounts being used to fill swimming pools, which are usually
within sight of the sea, and also for watering the many golf courses. An
area half the size of Paris is cleared every year to make room for more golf
courses. Although I can understand why people want to swim in hotel pools
just metres from the sea, when you consider the sea pollution, 10 billion
tonnes of industrial and urban waste goes into the sea each year with little
or no treatment. In all less than 5% of the coast line is protected and 500
plants are currently threatened.

Charges are being discussed, including blue corridors to allow the sea
life to exist without risk of boot collisions and getting caught in nets.
As long as these are policed and more such schemes follow, then we can enjoy
the site of conservation and tourism working together and getting

Wind farms

Environmentalists who are against wind farms constantly cite the danger
to birds, but a study by The Royal Society has shown that only 1% of
migrating ducks and geese were in danger of colliding with the turbines.
Which is probably less than would be danger if we continue to depend on
present fuel supplies without looking to become less carbon dependent.


The International Whaling Commission is meeting now to discuss issues
such as allowing Japan to start commercial whaling again and increase the
amount of whales it kills to study their ecosystem. The meeting for that
particular issue, is at the time of writing (Monday 20th) so I shall pray
that I can report good news to you next week.

This comes at a time when Japan is pushing the consumption of whale meat
to school children. 280 schools in the Wakayama coastal district are being
provided with whale at government subsidised prices to revive the tradition.
There is no real tradition to revive however, in Wakayama they have hunted
with hand-held harpoons, which does not compare to harpoon-guns found on
modern ships today. In the rest of Japan whale meat only appeared on the
nations dishes in the 20th century, especially after WWII when protein was
scarce. So for Japan to promote whaling as a traditional activity, is

Red Squirrels

Red squirrels in the UK are already under threat, now squirrel pox is
affecting previously untouched populations. It is carried by the grey
squirrel which can fight it off,

Space Snippets

Titan, a moon of Saturn, has had an ice volcano detected by the Cassini
spacecraft. Latest
Cassini news here.

An aurora has been spotted on Mars by the Mars Express Spacecraft. This
is the same light display we get on Earth at the poles, caused by the effect
of the magnetic field on negative particles in the atmosphere. Mars though
has no magnetic field, its aurora are caused by anomalies in the planets
crust where it has large amount of magnetic rock. Latest news from Mars.

If you have any questions about science then why not try The Science Explained Forum – where the resident
science experts aim to explain everything in a friendly manner.


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