Restoring the American Chestnut - not a plea for money

This is about a crowdfunding campaign, but I’m not here to ask you to contribute.  I’m just here to ask you to spread the word.

Also, it includes Science.

A lot of people don’t realize that the forests in North America don’t look the way they should.

Until the 20th century, the American chestnut made up about 1/4 of the trees in eastern North American forests. It was a keystone species.  Its nuts fed bears, deer, squirrels, raccoons, opossums and wild turkeys—not to mention people—and its leaf litter supported the ground plants, bugs and larvae that our songbirds and fish ate.

In 1904, the chestnut blight arrived in the US, and almost all the American chestnuts died. Over 9 million square miles of them.  Without this tree, the ecology of the eastern forests is broken.  Native animals can’t find the right foods to eat.  The chemical balance of the soil is changing and supporting the wrong kinds of plants.  People have forgotten this tree should be there, but they’re living the consequences of its loss.

Now here’s the deal: researchers from SUNY-ESF (that’s an environmental science college) have worked for 25 years to develop a true, non-hybrid blight-resistant American chestnut tree…and as of this month, November 2014, they’ve declared success.

The tree has to go through a regulatory approval process, but while they wait for that to clear, they’re planning to grow 10,000 baby blight-resistant American chestnuts that can be distributed throughout the tree’s native range, and begin restoring the chestnut to its native range.

Chestnuts spread easily.  In 50 years, 10,000 trees will become 200,000.  In 100 years, 200,000 trees will become 4 million, and can right the wrong of one of the greatest, and quietest, ecological disasters the world has ever seen.

Hence, the American Chestnut Project’s crowdfunding campaign: http://www.esf.edu/chestnutchallenge

You can donate if you like, but more importantly, please just tell eerybody about it!  The project doesn’t just need money; it needs public awareness, and support, and for people to plant American chestnut trees so that when the blight-resistant trees are ready, they’ll be able to pollinate and produce the next generation.

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While listening to music is beneficial, playing music is “the brain’s equivalent of a full-body workout.” (via teded)

Scientists Develop a Darker Black

Really dark black is apparently the new black. From The Independent:

A British company has produced a “strange, alien” material so black that it absorbs all but 0.035 per cent of visual light, setting a new world record. To stare at the “super black” coating made of carbon nanotubes – each 10,000 times thinner than a human hair – is an odd experience. It is so dark that the human eye cannot understand what it is seeing. Shapes and contours are lost, leaving nothing but an apparent abyss.

If it was used to make one of Chanel’s little black dresses, the wearer’s head and limbs might appear to float incorporeally around a dress-shaped hole.

Actual applications are more serious, enabling astronomical cameras, telescopes and infrared scanning systems to function more effectively. Then there are the military uses that the material’s maker, Surrey NanoSystems, is not allowed to discuss.

You can read the rest here. The obvious question is: how much more black can this be? And the answer is — none. None more black.

if you want to think about something else that’s fucking rad, if you consider animals and humans to be the earth’s children then that makes the moon our eldest sister. she’s a half-sister, because technically multicellular life got co-parented by the sun, and luna was calved off from the earth’s crust via saucy collision with a handsome rogue planet named theia. after that earth settled down, went steady with the sun, got an atmosphere, played around with chemicals, and here we are today.

but next time you see your big sister say hi. 

Regular reading also increases empathy, especially when reading a print book. One study discovered that individuals who read an upsetting short story on an iPad were less empathetic and experienced less transportation and immersion than those who read on paper.
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Science Has Great News For People Who Read Actual Books, Mic.com

innnnnnnnnnteresting. (my argument remains though, that everyone should read all the things in all the ways.)

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How humans might regrow lost limbs

Scientists have been closely studying how animals like salamanders do it, and may thus be able to develop some intermediate treatments for humans, like healing lacerations without scarring.

Merry Christmas and a huge thank you! As you guys know, the campaign was a massive success (we hit 4x our min. goal!) - all thanks to you lovely people! Since the last update *a lot* has happened: I’ve submitted all 3 applications aaaaand I just started a new job in India(!). Will give you a thorough update soon, but for now, I’m wishing you all the love and christmassy joy you can stuff into these holidays!

The Power of Basic Research: Following the Science
This is the first in an occasional series of posts exploring the importance of basic research.

"Basic research” is the term for scientific studies that are conducted for the sake of learning something we didn’t know before. Basic biologists might ask questions about how a particular protein works in a cell — what it does, how it interacts with other molecules and how that all changes in different environments or stages of development. They are looking at fundamental, baseline molecular and cellular processes and trying to figure out how we and other life forms work.

“Translational research,” on the other hand, takes it the next step by looking for practical applications for that basic knowledge — investigating the role of that protein in the context of human disease and perhaps looking for a new therapeutic drug that targets that protein.

Yet many of the best medical breakthroughs in the last century emerged serendipitously from basic research, not from a scientist who set out from day one to make that specific breakthrough. Instead of focusing on just getting from point A to point B, basic researchers follow their findings wherever they may lead. And sometimes the science leads to surprisingly translational results.

That’s how someone who usually calls himself a glycobiologist — a scientists who studies sugar molecules on cell surfaces — finds himself making a groundbreaking discovery about an infectious disease.

Serendipity case in point: Yesterday, we published this press release about a finding on typhoid fever that may lead to a new therapeutic. But the lead scientist on the study, Ajit Varki, MD, says it didn’t start out that way. A few years ago, he and his team had discovered that a certain type of sialic acid (sugar) was missing in humans because of a genetic mutation that occurred after our shared common ancestor with the chimpanzee (our closest evolutionary relative). They wanted to further explore the possible effects of this human specific change. To do this, they developed a mouse model that has the human-like mutation and therefore the human-type sialic acid.

Around the same time, other scientists published a new paper that described the exact crystal structure (3D shape) of the typhoid toxin. And Varki took note because the structure had been co-crystalized with sialic acid. He read up on typhoid-causing bacteria, Salmonella Typhi, and discovered that it’s known for causing disease only in humans, not any other mammal.

That was an “ah-ha” moment for Varki. He knew that humans have one type of sialic acid and all other mammals have another. Could that be the secret to typhoid’s specificity for humans? Following the science, Varki and his team used the mouse model originally created to look at human-type sialic acid to investigate typhoid toxin binding, leading to their Cell paper on the topic.

“We’re lucky that we had the resources and the freedom to pursue this idea,” Varki said. “The way the funding climate is for research these days, that’s not always the case.”

Read more on the importance of basic research:

Why do Basic Research? – National Institute of General Medical Sciences

Science the Endless Frontier – report to the President by Vannevar Bush, Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, July 1945

The Importance of Basic ResearchHuffington Post