Newsletter 231

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Newsletter 231

  1. 1. SOUTH AMERICA ENVIRONMENT, SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND HEALTH NEWSLETTER 231t h issue, July 22, 2013 GLOBE Program Inspires Scientists of the Future The GLOBE Program encourages students to participate in competitions organized by institutions promoting environmental research. In Argentina, student participants are often from rural areas; they have no electricity and limited communication with nearby cities. However, they have studied English and have won science contests. Constanza del Sol Ferreyra is one of these outstanding students from GLOBE Argentina, and she won an essay contest organized by the Embassy of the United States in Buenos Aires. This achievement allowed her to represent her country in the National Youth Science Camp (NYSC), held in the United States in 2010. Constanza developed a research project under the title “Influence of the high basin meteorological variables in Chimehuin River water quality.” Constanza tells us about her experience: “In June 2010, I was selected to join a total of 300 students from all over the world to take part in the National Youth Science Camp (NYSC). This is an intensive science program developed outdoors held in West Virginia over the last 50 years.” She adds: “It was important for me to be selected, that my school was working with GLOBE Program for many years, as they taught me many things. I started at GLOBE Program when I was in the second year of high school, by doing cloud measuring and I continued to get actively involved in other activities as I learnt more.” “I travelled in July, with two other kids selected from my country. In the camp, we were never told what we would do the next day until the night before. That kept our expectations high permanently. We had various activities, such as science lessons, guided experiments, seminars, field visits, but also trekking, excursions, campfires, etc.” “It was an amazing experience in all aspects: Being in a country so different than mine, learning so much about so many interesting things related to science, but what I value the most is the opportunity to connect and meet kids from other countries, with whom I am still in contact.” There are many other students who have received an impulse from The GLOBE Program to participate in important international competitions, sharing their research projects developed with the help of GLOBE teachers. Read more about The GLOBE Program: www.globe.gov The information contained herein was gathered from news sources from across the region, and the views expressed below do not necessarily reflect those of the Regional Environmental HUB Office or of our constituent posts. Addressees interested in sharing any ESTH-related events of USG interest are welcome to do so. For questions or comments, please contact us at quevedoa@state.gov. * Free translation prepared by REO staff. GLOBE Program Inspires Scientists of the Future Conservation: Weeds Warrant Urgent Conservation. Conservation: Galapagos Sea Lions Threatened by Human Exposure. Space: NASA Probe Snaps Earth from 900 Million Miles Away. Health: Big Leap Towards Curing Blindness in Stem Cell Study. Climate Change: Forest Efficiency to Absorb CO2 Diminishes. Science: Key Ocean Life Shows Large Regional Variations.  August 4-8, 2013 First Congress on Andean Seeds, Cajabamba—Peru http://fundacionguiar.org/  August 19-23, 2013 10th Latin American Congress of Private Nature Reserves, Chile http://asiconservachile.cl/en/x- congreso-latino-agosto- 2013.html Next events: In this issue: 2012 Science Fairs Encounter held in Argentina.Photo pro- vided by GLOBE Argentina.
  2. 2. Faced with climate change, plant breeders are increasingly turning to the genomes of the wild, weedy relatives of crops for traits such as drought tolerance and disease resistance. But a global analysis of 455 crop wild relatives has found that 54% are underrepresented in gene bank collections — and that many, including ones at risk of extinction, have never been collected. The findings, released on 22 July by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Cali, Colombia, will guide the largest international initiative so far to conserve crop wild relatives. The effort — which is being spearheaded by the Global Crop Diversity Trust, based in Bonn, Germany, in partnership with the Millennium Seed Bank at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, UK — is deemed urgent at a time when one in five plants faces extinction. Plant breeders are keenly interested in securing the genetic diversity needed to breed new varieties that will with- stand the droughts and elevated temperatures expected in the future as a result of climate change. Crop wild rela- tives are one of the most valuable genetic resources to improve crops, but they are threatened because of habitat loss as well as gene flow from domesticated plants through cross-pollination, says Paul Gepts, a plant breeder at the University of California, Davis. The analyses identified crop species — including potato, apple, aubergine, carrot and sunflower — that have high numbers of relatives yet to be collected. And it identified some crops, such as sorghum and bananas, that have few, if any, relatives secured in collections. Many of the coun- tries that are home to the most under-collected crop wild relatives — including Cyprus, Turkey, Bolivia and India — are located in regions where agriculture first originated. But two notable exceptions are northern Australia and the eastern United States, which also house many species that are still in need of collection. The analysis and weed maps by the CIAT “will help us prioritize species of interest and use the scarce resources available to find important new sources of diversity”, says Susan McCouch, a rice geneticist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Mind the gap. To prioritize species for conservation, researchers at the CIAT first identified all known wild relatives of 29 globally important crops. The team then spent two years scouring gene banks, herbaria and museums to document what is currently housed in collections and to gather other data, such as recorded sightings in the wild. From the data, the team identified species that are a high priority for collection and where con- servationists should target those efforts. “It’s by far the largest, most comprehensive information database on the distribution of wild relatives around the world,” says Colin Khoury of Wageningen University in the Netherlands, who co-led the research. The team plans to analyse the wild relatives of a further 60 crop species — incorporating essentially all the major crops — by the end of the year. The Global Crop Diversity Trust will use the resulting maps — which illustrate where wild relatives of these 29 crops are in greatest need of col- lecting — to create partnerships with conservation organizations in countries such as Portugal and Italy, as well as in conflict-ridden regions such as Pakistan and Sudan. Read more at: http://www.nature.com/news/weeds-warrant-urgent-conservation-1.13422 A recent study conducted by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) on endangered Galapagos sea lions (Zalophus wollebaeki) has revealed that the animals are more susceptible to starvation as a result of their exposure to humans. Over a span of more than 18 months, conservationists tagged and monitored the behavior and physiology of two groups of 60 Galapagos sea lions, one in San Cristobal, which is inhabited by humans, and one in Santa Fe, where there are no humans, dogs, cats, mice, or rats. The study has shown that exposure to human influences such as pets and pollution can impair the animal’s level of immunity, making them less able to hunt and more likely to go hungry when food is scarce. “The immune systems of San Cristobel sea lions were more active, perhaps indicating a threat of infectious disease, which could mean human activity is increasing the chance of potentially dangerous diseases emerging in the Galapagos sea lion,” said ZSL’s Paddy Brock. “A tell-tale sign of an unhealthy sea lion is a thinner than normal layer of blubber, which is what we saw in the sea lions on San Cristobal. This was all the more nota- ble, as we didn’t notice these patterns in sea lions on Santa Fe, where they live without the presence of people or pets.” People continue to import pets regularly to the Galapagos in spite of laws put in place to protect the unique wildlife of the islands. These imported pets bring with them an increase in risk of new diseases transferring to the local species. While the pets themselves may appear healthy, they can carry and spread diseases that have no effect on them, but can be completely devastating to other animals. “Pet owners on the Galapagos can help lower the risk of disease spread by following the guidelines of the Galapagos National Park and the Galapagos municipal authorities, which do not allow the import of pets to the archipelago, their breeding on the archipelago or their movement between islands,” Brock told mongabay.com. “They can also minimize the interaction between their pets and wildlife, which in the case of dogs and sea lions can be done by always walking one’s dog on a lead when near a sea lion beach.” Galapagos fur seals exploit warmer waters to establish colony off Peru. According to a recent story in Reuters the Galapagos fur seals have established what appears to be a permanent colony off the coast of Peru, 900 miles from their home. Read more at: http://news.mongabay.com/2013/0719-lindstrom-galapagos-sealions-threatened.html?fbfnpg#EtMliiZLW3OvdaTi.99 CONSERVATION: Weeds Warrant Urgent Conservation By Virginia Gewin CONSERVATION: Galapagos Sea Lions Threatened by Human Exposure By Hannah Lindstrom Photo by Hans Hillewaer . Under Wikimedia Commons License. Photo by Peter Wilton. Under Wikimedia Commons License.
  3. 3. Ever since the Apollo astronauts captured the first "Earthrise" photograph in 1968, showing our planet seen from near the surface of the moon, the world has been fascinated by images of Earth, taken from space. On July 19 this year, NASA's Cassini spacecraft captured one of the most spectacular yet - Earth seen from nearly a billion miles away, glimpsed beside Saturn's rings during an eclipse of the sun. The raw data arrived on Earth on Saturday, and astronomy fans have already begun to assemble the files into photographs - showing our planet as a tiny blue dot. Valerie Klavans, image processing leader for an upcoming film, In Saturn's Rings, says, "This is a true colour composite of Saturn and Earth as seen by the Cassini spacecraft on July 19, 2013. These images were taken on July 19, 2013 and received on Earth July 20, 2013. The camera was pointing toward Sat- urn's E ring at approximately 857,326 miles away." Last week, NASA urged people to look skywards and wave at Saturn in what was billed as an interplane- tary photo op. NASA's own official pictures are still being processed. NASA's simulation of what the 2013 image will look like“Ever since we caught sight of the Earth among the rings of Saturn in September 2006 in a mosaic that has become one of Cassini’s most beloved images, I have wanted to do it all over again, only better,” said Cassini imaging team leader, Carolyn Porco of the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado Porco was involved in the famous “Pale Blue Dot” image of Earth taken by NASA’s Voyager 1 from beyond the orbit of Neptune in 1990. Imaging any planetary body close to the Sun requires that the Sun is completely blocked, so that no undiluted sunlight can enter the cameras or other Cassini instruments and damage their sensitive detectors. Read full article at: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/07/10/age-mental-decline/2505371/ The prospect of reversing blindness has made a significant leap. An animal study in the journal Nature Biotechnology showed the part of the eye which actually detects light can be repaired using stem cells. The team at Moorfields Eye Hospital and University College London say human trials are now, for the first time, a realistic prospect. Experts described it as a "significant breakthrough" and "huge leap" forward. Photoreceptors are the cells in the retina which react to light and convert it into an electrical signal which can be sent to the brain. However, these cells can die off in some causes of blindness such as Stargardt's disease and age-related macular degeneration. There are already trials in people to use stem cells to replace the "support" cells in the eye which keep the photoreceptors alive. Blind mice. Now the London-based team have shown it is possible to replace the light-sensing cells themselves, raising the prospect of reversing blindness. They have used a new technique for building retinas in the laboratory. It was used to collect thousands of stem cells, which were primed to transform into photoreceptors, and injected them into the eyes of blind mice. The study showed that these cells could hook up with the existing architecture of the eye and begin to function. However, the effectiveness is still low. Only about 1,000 cells out of a transplant of 200,000 actually hooked up with the rest of the eye. Lead researcher Prof Robin Ali told the BBC News website: "This is a real proof of concept that photoreceptors can be transplanted from an embryonic stem cells source and it give us a route map to now do this in humans. Read full article at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-23374623 SPACE: NASA Probe Snaps Earth from 900 Million Miles Away By Rob Waugh Photo credit: NASA ESA. Eye globe. Photo credit: GDX Fundusbild.png. Under Wikimedia Commons License. HEALTH: 'Big Leap' Towards Curing Blindness in Stem Cell Study
  4. 4. Global warming diminishes tropical forest efficiency to absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, ac- cording to a study led by Spanish biologist Pep Canadell. Canadell is head of the Global Carbon Project and he explained that tropical forests and oceans are important natural carbon drains, which contribute to mitigate climate change effects. “Almost 50% of all anthropogenic carbon emissions are absorbed by oceans and inland vegetation, that is ap- proximately 10,000 million tons of CO2 per year.” Canadell said. He works in Camberra for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and leads the study on annual variations of atmospheric CO2, in relation to temperature and climate changes. PHOTOSYSTHESIS IN TROUBLE. This research analyzes the period between 1958 and 2011, and seeks to understand the reactions of tropical woods in face to climate change in order to determine “what might happen in the future as temperature increases over the next hundred years.” This study took into account the variations every two years caused, for instance, by El Nino, which provokes a temperature increase, as well as volcanic eruptions which cause temperature decreases. “Forests respond in a specific way to temperature changes and when it raises, they absorb less carbon” said Canadell, member of the Intergov- ernmental Panel on Climate Change that received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. According to the research, temperature increase causes a decrease in tree photosynthesis and a rise in soil microbes respiration, thus provoking tropical trees to absorb less carbon dioxide. Read full article at: http://elcomercio.pe/actualidad/1607765/noticia-calentamiento-global-disminuye-eficiencia-bosques-absorber-co2 Iron, key for ocean plant plankton growth, shows larger variations than previously recognised, with implications for models of climate. Microscopic marine plants, phytoplankton, lock up atmospheric carbon dioxide, but a lack of iron limits photosynthesis. In Nature Communications, researchers report regional iron variations in the oceans of up to 10,000 times. This observation is expected to improve ocean-climate models. Photosynthetic life is limited by low availability of iron in as much as one third of Earth's surface oceans. The problem for phytoplankton is particu- larly acute around the Southern Ocean. Dr Will Homoky, lead author of the paper by teams at the Universities of Southampton and South Carolina, said: "Iron acts like a giant lever on marine life, storing carbon. It switches on growth of microscopic marine plants, which extract carbon dioxide from our atmosphere and lock it away in the ocean." In separate studies, scientists have previously added iron to the ocean in iron-limited areas, which typically generates large blooms of phytoplank- ton. This has been suggested by some as a possible geoengineering solution to capture carbon from the atmosphere and transfer it to the ocean. It remains unclear what the fate of phytoplankton carbon, at the base of the food chain is, however, and the role of iron for fertilising the oceans is a developing field of research. Dr. Homoky commented: "Satellite images of the oceans show less phytoplankton growth in the eastern South Atlantic off the African coast, than in the western South Atlantic, off South America. Our primary hypothesis is that there are more micronutrients like iron being mixed into the surface ocean from the South American continent than from South Africa." The key to understanding these variations is now to understand how elements mix into the surface of the ocean, and how this in turn changes ocean life and potentially locks up atmospheric carbon dioxide. Read full article at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-23379646 CLIMATE CHANGE: The Efficiency of Forests to Absorb CO2 Diminishes Photo by Dinkum. Under Wikimedia Commons License.a SCIENCE: Key to Ocean Life Shows Large Regional Variations Under Wikimedia Commons License.

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