Environment and genetics

Interplay between genes and the environment has been pondered at least since the phrase "nature versus nurture" was coined in the mid-1800s. But until the arrival of modern genomic sequencing tools, it was hard to measure the extent that the environment had on a species' genetic makeup. Now, researchers with the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech studying fruit flies that live on opposite slopes of a unique natural environment known as "Evolution Canyon" show that even with migration, cross-breeding, and sometimes the obliteration of the populations, the driving force in the gene pool is largely the environment.

The Unintended Consequences of Reflective Pavements

Among the most interesting exhibitors at the recent Greenbuild International Conference and Expo in Philadelphia may have been the Asphalt Pavement Alliance challenging what we thought we knew about urban heat island effect with new research from Arizona State University.

Alzheimer’s Disease and Lead Exposure

Researchers striving to understand the origins of dementia are building the case against a possible culprit: lead exposure early in life. A study spanning 23 years has now revealed that monkeys who drank a lead-rich formula as infants later developed tangles of a key brain protein, called tau, linked to Alzheimer's disease. Though neuroscientists say more work is needed to confirm the connection, the research suggests that people exposed to lead as children—as many in America used to be before it was eliminated from paint, car emissions, water, and soil—could have an increased risk of the common, late-onset form of Alzheimer’s disease. Even in small doses, lead can wreak havoc on the heart, intestines, kidneys, and nervous system. Children are especially prone to its pernicious effects, as it curbs brain development. Many studies have linked early lead exposure with lower IQs. Researchers estimate that one in 38 children in the United States still have harmful levels of the metal in their systems, but evidence linking this exposure to dementia later in life has been tenuous.

UN shows how mobile-phone data can map human need

Tracking people’s movements after the Haiti earthquake, mapping malaria spread in Kenya, evaluating Mexico’s government policies on flu outbreak, improving national census surveys in Latin America and Africa... These are just a few examples of how mobile-phone data has been used in development, as highlighted by a recent UN report.

Scientists record primates regularly using caves for the first time

After playing, feeding, and socializing in trees all day, some ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta) take their nightly respite in caves, according to a new study in Madagascar Conservation and Development. The findings are important because this is the first time scientists have ever recorded primates regularly using caves. "The remarkable thing about our study was that over a six-year period, the same troops of ring-tailed lemurs used the same sleeping caves on a regular, daily basis," said the lead author, Michelle Sauther, with the University of Colorado Boulder.

Amazon Promotes “Frustration-Free Packaging Initiative”

Just in time for the gift-giving season, the world's largest online retailer, Amazon.com continues to promote it's Frustration-Free Packaging initiative. This initiative is a five-year effort to not only make products easier to open, but to create sustainable and recyclable packaging. In a 2008 letter written to customers, Amazon founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos describes "wrap rage" as the frustration we feel when trying to free a product from a nearly impenetrable package. And we've all experienced it - from cutting through thick plastic and scraping our fingers against sharp edges, to pulling packaging apart with all our might, the process of opening up a present has become a chore.

UK looking to reap green energy from roadside verges

A farm in Snowdonia has joined a pioneering European project which aims to transform problematic habitats into clean energy and new income sources for farmers. Research has begun at the National Trust farm, Hafod y Llan, to trial the use of a new technology, developed in Germany, which could turn soft rush, gorse and bracken crops into viable biomass fuel.

Europe’s biggest renewable energy plant completes switch from coal to biomass

Britain’s largest coal-fired power station is set to become one of Europe’s biggest renewable electricity generators today, with the potential for new future generation on the site to be based on truly clean coal. Energy Secretary Ed Davey opened the Drax coal-to-biomass conversion plant, and announced the Government was awarding funding to further the White Rose CCS project, also based at the site.

Good News for African Elephants

Representatives from 30 countries came together to discuss the poaching crisis and potential measures to save Africa’s elephants at the African Elephant Summit. As the summit convened, new numbers were released by the Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which found that if poaching continues at its current rate, Africa will likely see at least a fifth of its elephants disappear in the next ten years. Heartbreaking stories of entire elephant families dying continue to make the news, while poachers continue to sink to ruthless new lows to take them out, including using cyanide to kill them. The level of horror caused by poachers was recently highlighted by a gut-wrenching recording from the Wildlife Conservation Society that accidentally captured the sounds of elephants being killed as they tried to escape from their killers.

Primal rights: Justice for Tommy the chimp

Plaintiff Tommy the chimp of Johnstown, New York has made legal history. Attorney Steve Wise on December 2, 2013 presented a case on behalf of the chimp for his legal right to bodily liberty. Wise who represents the Nonhuman Rights Project, asserts that 26-year-old Tommy, who has been kept alone in a cage in a local warehouse, is a person, possessing a legal right to bodily liberty previously reserved for humans and has a right to not be owned or imprisoned against his will.