Archive for March, 2008

Scientists from have found six more genes that make people more susceptible to developing Type 2 diabetes.  This breakthrough may help genetically and treat and prevent the terrible disease.   It improves the knowledge we have on how the body controls blood sugar levels in the DNA level.  The number of diabetes linked genes has now climbed to 16.

The DNA that influences insulin production.

Diabetics’ blood glucose levels often rise too high as they cannot quickly produce insulin, a glucose carrying hormone, in the pancreas.  The levels rise too high causing eye, kidney, and nerve damage.  Type two diabetes is the most common type and is closely related to obesity and obesity-related diseases.

One of the genes related to diabetes: JAZF1, also, surprisingly plays a role in prostate cancer.  New drugs that may target this gene, may actually be able to treat both of the diseases. 

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Earth Hour in 2008 was an amazing global event.  Towns, villages, and cities across America and around the world turned out their lights for a mere hour to voice their concerns and make a difference about climate change .

On March 29th, people all around the planet turned off their lights to make a statement: to help find new ways to reduce their impact on the environment, and to start a movement that ends with a solution to the common challenge we all face like global warming.

Millions of Americans alone, in cities like Chicago, Atlanta, Phoenix, and San Francisco and hundreds of other smaller communities joined together in this event.  Elsewhere around the world, countries spanning five continents did the same, from dozens of other communities large and small–joined mayors, citizens’ groups, schools and corporations from coast to coast. Around the globe, people on five continents took part, from Poland to Zimbabwe.

Earth Hour broke down cultural, religious, and geographic boundaries and walls.  People from all around the world came together to work toward a better world.   And for those skeptics to whom the figure: energy use reduced 10.2%, does not matter, the fact that this event brought all of us together in union is reason enough to support this movement.

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The Mighty Canis lupis: Soon to Return to the Endangered List?

Grey wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains no longer need federal protection under the Endangered Species list.  The problem is that people are already planning to hunt them in order to purposely lower their numbers once more.  In Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, the 1,500 grey wolves are once again under attack.  Hunts are already being scheduled by the STATE WILDLIFE AGENCIES (?!) to reduce the wolf population as a result of in increased livestock deaths.  Honestly, what the hell is going on here?  Sounds to me like another case of politics, because these agencies were created to protect animals not kill them off when they don’t officially “need” governmental protection!   According to the Idaho Fish and Game Commission, 100-300 wolves will be allowed to killed.  The commission “promises” that they have done more than expected of them.  Well that’s all well and dandy, but what was expected of you was pathetic!  OOOOO now you have just over 800 wolves.  Remember when wolves owned this land?  I think that this is just another pathetic ploy by the government to hide what they really did: struck a deal with ranchers who are “angered” by the wolves hunts.  Idaho is not the only state pulling this pathetic prank, the other two states are making measures to contain wolves as well. 

Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter recently signed a bill to allow ranchers to kill wolves harassing livestock.  I fear overzealous ranchers may shoot any wolf hanging around their ranches.  Ranchers report 53 cattle killed by wolves.  This only represents less than 0.0053% of the total population. Many, more cattle are lost to disease and respiratory problems (these are introduced an species, after all) and other predators including coyotes and dogs.  So while we kill animals for sport, wolves cannot kill them for food.

Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm, says, however, that wolf populations will not be back to normal until they hit between 2,000 and 3,000 animals.  The group plans to sue the federal government next month to continue wolf protection.  They mentioned that reducing the number of wolves will also reduce the overall fitness of the group to reproduce, as some of the more fit animals will be killed in this extermination.

Gray wolves were listed as endangered in 1973 after being hunted into near extinction, but the population has rebounded after efforts began in 1995 to return the populations to their former glory.  If the number of breeding wolf pairs falls below 10 or 15 during a three-year period, the wolves could be brought back under federal protection.

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The fossilized skull of the new species dubbed “Guarinisuchus munizi” or “Warrior of the Seas”

A fossil of a completely new species of prehistoric crocodile has been found in Brazil.  It originated in Africa around 200 million years ago.  However, this new find has led scientists to believe that the giant reptile gained from the extinction of marine dinosaurs (in this case competition) and migrated across the Atlantic. 

Paleontologists found the fossilized skull in northeastern Brazil.  After the mass extinction of the dinosaurs, the ancient crocodile species became, along with ancient sharks, the top of the food chain in oceanic waters.  Its huge size (10 feet long), gave it a great advantage in competition for food and survival. The stratification of soil in which it was found suggests that the crocodilian began its migration some 62 million years ago.  For those thinking at home and wondering how this huge migration was possible: due to the (at that point) recent breakup of Pangea, the Atlantic Ocean was much smaller.

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The Arctic ice always recedes in the summer and spreads during the winter.  However, last year’s recession was alarming: “By September, the ice cover had declined from its previous low, in 2005, by an area larger than Texas and California combined.  The amount of ice in the Arctic has been steadily receding.  In 1979 the ice had an area of 2.78 million square miles.  Last year, it was only a surprisingly low 1.65 million square miles.  It decreased around 44% during the late 19th century.  This research has shown that the melt of the Arctic is happening more rapidly than previously though.  By using computer models, several scientific organizations place the year of the demise of the northern ice cap to be in 1913 at this point.  But no, global warming is a myth, right, now go shovel that rain!


The Effects of Global Warming in the Arctic

The Antarctic is not faring much better.  Just recently, ac hunk of Antarctic ice about seven times the size of Manhattan island suddenly collapsed into the ocean.  Satellite images show the destruction of a 160 square mile chunk of ice.  It was the edge of the Wilkins ice shelf and used to be there for hundreds, maybe up to 1,500 years.  This is the result of man-made global warming, said British Antarctic Survey and numerous other global scientific agencies.  The rest of the ice shelf, which is about the size of the state of Connecticut, is being held to the mainland by a thin piece of ice and is in severe danger of collapse.  Scientists predicted that the Wilkins shelf would collapse in around 15 years from now, so this too is ahead of schedule.

A site to help you debunk global warming skeptics: http://illconsidered.blogspot.com/2006/02/how-to-talk-to-global-warming-sceptic.html

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Well, now that I am done with travel writing (for the time being), I might as well get right into the swing of things.

Biomimetics is the application of natural designs, structures, and processes that are found in organisms through the medium of technology and engineering.  The first real biomimicry project was conceived by George de Mestral when he discovered that burs attach themselves to cloth and other substances by hooking onto loops in the fabric.  He used this amazingly simple technology to create Velcro. 

Today, biomimetics is a field that has grown infinitely complex, nearly as complex as the mechanisms that can be found on living organisms.  Says Dr. Andrew Parker, “Every species, even those that have gone extinct, is a success story, optimized by millions of years of natural selection. Why not learn from what evolution has wrought?” 

So far scientists have tapped into natural selections handiwork to produce technologies that can be very practical and helpful.  For example, scientists have been looking at whale flippers (which have points on the sides, rather than the expected smooth surface) and seeing how they can apply their design to make windmills quieter and more efficient.  Scientists have also engineered a swimsuit that is made up of tiny teeth-like plates, just like the dentricles on sharks which help the organism cut through the water with less friction than a smooth surface.  Some engineers have studied the beaks of toucans to see how they can be so amazingly light so as not to disrupt flight, but hard enough to crack nuts.  Some scientists have even modeled entire organisms.  A gecko’s feet have around 6.5 million spatula-like hairs on each toe which allow the animal to stick onto and climb vertical surfaces due to Van der Wals attractions (the attractions between minute electrical charges caused by the constantly shifting electrons).  Stanford University scientists have created a robot called Stickybot with footpads covered in nanotubules, much like a gecko’s foot.  As of now it moves much slower than its natural counterpart, but researchers hope that it can be eventually used in search and rescue missions. 



Biomimetics is heralded by many as the future of engineering.  Even though we may never be able to truly grasp and understand all the mechanisms of nature (an abalone’s shell is made up of around 10 proteins working in complete harmony like a puzzle; scientists are still baffled at the complexity of it), but we are constantly learning about our surrounding environments.

For more information, check out this article: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/04/biomimetics/tom-mueller-text

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Well, here we are (and what a long, strange trip it has been), but we are at the final stop on our travel around the world.  The trip culminates in beautiful Iceland.


Iceland’s Natural Beauty

Iceland a country famous for its large mountains, active volcanoes, glaciers, and absolutely amazing natural vistas.  Despite its frigid sounding name, the island has a surprisingly mild climate and dotted with geo-thermally heated hot springs. 

Skaftafell is one of four National Parks in Iceland. It lies on the west side of Vatnjökul – Europe’s largest glacier.   It contains wide glacial rivers for extreme kayaking, glaciers for photography, and picturesque mountains and hills perfect for hiking.  There are well established hiking paths up the hill where you can access viewpoints that look across the glaciers, several stunning waterfalls, and a mixture of flora and fauna, especially an abundance of birds.  

Jökulsárlón literally means glacier lagoon.  A glacier has been retreating quickly in the latest, warmer years.  It left a lagoon up to 190m deep where the glacier snout had been, and several kilometers of glacial moraines are exposed on both sides of the lagoon.  Large blocks of ice regularly break off the edge of the glacier, which is about 30m high, keeping the lagoon stocked with icebergs.  This is a tourist hot-spot and boat services can transport you very near the glacier.

Iceland is a stunningly beautiful place if you enjoy strange and desolate landscapes. Lava fields, lava tubes, plains of fractured rock, ice, fire and steam; mountains, hills, rivers, and brooks are all some of the natural fantasies that can be easily viewed all across this fantastic country.

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