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Bumblebee slips tether of the absent spider

Langstone, Hampshire Parting the ivy I discovered a buff-tailed bumblebee ensnared in an orb web

A frantic buzz emanated from behind the curtain of ivy covering the fence, rising in pitch like an accelerating Vespa scooter. Parting the glossy leaves I discovered a buff-tailed bumblebee ensnared in an orb web.

Researchers have discovered that bees generate a positive electrostatic charge as they fly. This helps pollen grains stick to their bodies as they forage, but has the unfortunate side effect of increasing the likelihood that they will be caught in a web. Spider silk tends to be neutral or negatively charged, which causes an attractive interaction between insect and web.

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Source: Guardian Environment

Estimated cost of Hinkley Point C nuclear plant rises to £37bn

Critics point to volatility of scheme but energy department says price ‘will not affect bill payers’

The total lifetime cost of the planned Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant could be as high as £37bn, according to an assessment published by the UK government. The figure was described as shocking by critics of the scheme, who said it showed just how volatile and uncertain the project had become, given that the same energy department’s estimate 12 months earlier had been £14bn.

The latest prediction comes amid increasing speculation about the future of the controversial project in Somerset, whose existence has been put in further doubt by post-Brexit financial jitters.

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Source: Guardian Environment

Plastic fantastic? Not for us or our wildlife | Brief letters

Social care | Women cleaning up the mess | Artificial turf | Resigning | Fishermen and Sturgeon

The plain fact is that we are not going to get proper funding for social care until we see providers either exiting the market, or refusing unsustainable contracts (Letters, 7 July). This must be a warning to local authorities and the government that once this sector starts to fail it will also bring the NHS to breaking point because nobody can be discharged. At which point we hope the minister of state might finally get it into his head that social care is an essential part of the system.
Professor Martin Green
Chief executive, Care England

• So Die Welt writer Mara Delius expresses the view that Merkel, May, Sturgeon et al are coming along to “clean up the mess created by the men” (Report, 6 July). Or, as the teacher Mrs Lintott put it in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys: “History is women following behind, with a bucket.” Precisely.
Margaret Farnworth

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Source: Guardian Environment

Global fish production approaching sustainable limit, UN warns

Around 90% of the world’s stocks are now fully or overfished and production is set to increase further by 2025, according to report from UN’s food body

Global fish production is approaching its sustainable limit, with around 90% of the world’s stocks now fully or overfished and a 17% increase in production forecast by 2025, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Overexploitation of the planet’s fish has more than tripled since the 1970s, with 40% of popular species like tuna now being caught unsustainably, the UN FAO’s biannual State of the world’s fisheries report says.

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Source: Guardian Environment

June swoon: US breaks another monthly temperature record

Average temperature of 71.8F is 3.3F above 20th-century average for the month and comes amid a string of climate- and weather-related calamities

The US experienced its warmest ever June last month, with a scorching summer set to compound a string of climate-related disasters that have already claimed dozens of lives and cost billions of dollars in damage this year.

Worldwide, heat records have been broken for 13 months in a row, an unprecedented streak of warmth that has stunned climate scientists and heightened concerns over the future livability of parts of the planet.

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Source: Guardian Environment

Australia's vast kelp forests devastated by marine heatwave, study reveals

About 90% of forests off the western coast were wiped out between 2011 to 2013, posing a threat to biodiversity and the marine economy, say scientists

A hundred kilometres of kelp forests off the western coast of Australia were wiped out by a marine heatwave between 2010 and 2013, a new study has revealed.

About 90% of the forests that make up the north-western tip of the Great Southern Reef disappeared over the period, replaced by seaweed turfs, corals, and coral fish usually found in tropical and subtropical waters.

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Source: Guardian Environment

From silk to milk: Why growing everything could be a 21st century game changer

Materials, energy and just about everything around us is finite. A more thorough understanding of the Earth’s limitations and commodity price volatility has made this a critical realisation for 21st century economies.

Still, conserving natural resources, while still enabling economic, environmental and social prosperity presents a significant challenge, especially in a context of increasing demands for “things”, in particular from the 3 billion new middle class consumers predicted to hit the global markets before 2050.

An emerging discipline may have at least part of the answer – want more “stuff”? Grow it!

Using micro-organisms, like yeasts and bacteria, modifying their DNA to turn them into microscopic factories, chemists and biologists are now able to grow a huge range of resources, from real cow’s milk to high-performance silk fibres.

Photo credit: Z33 art centre, Hasselt via / CC BY-NC-ND
Photo credit: Z33 art centre, Hasselt via / CC BY-NC-ND

A jacket weaved with a laboratory based copy of spider silk, an innovation developed by California-based startup Bolt Threads, was announced by Patagonia in May. Replicating the protein using yeast, sugar and water in a large scale fermentation process, they were able to spin fibres and turn them into textiles, producing a silk with superior and highly customisable performances characteristics like strength, softness and stretch.

Not only does the spider-like silk have the potential to be a bio-sourced fibre alternative to fossil based polyester products, but its characteristics could enable a whole range of new innovative product possibilities.

Muufri hopes to do the same by applying synthetic biology to milk. Based in Cork, the startup has engineered yeast to produce milk proteins, brewing them in a vat and mixing them with a few minerals, oils, fats and some galactose to produce a dairy product that doesn’t require heat treatment or cows.

Photo credit: Ars Electronica via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-ND
Photo credit: Ars Electronica via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

It is perhaps hard to understand, but absolutely no part of the milk that is consumed has been genetically modified, only the yeast, which is filtered out through the process. Muufri’s product is expected to hit the commercial markets in 2017 and it will not be advertised as a substitute, it is real milk.

Rapidly increasing understanding of DNA and genomes is bringing the costs down in terms of sequencing and creation of these products. Moreover, low-cost machines for synthesising DNA and open source biological information is reportedly helping to pace the rate of innovation.

If resources can be grown economically and in a way that is healthy for people and the environment, then there also exists the opportunity to embed synthetic biology with the principles of the circular economy, drawing on lessons from nature.

Photo credit: Taema via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-SA
Photo credit: Taema via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

There’s a science fiction, even unnatural, feeling associated with growing our things, but synthetic biology appears be an opportunity to create better resources that meets contemporary needs.

Critically, it is important to emphasise that this science is not genetic modification, but rather represents the harnessing of natural processes. Furthermore, as population growth and resource finiteness challenge global supply chains, can it really be said that modern milk farming or polyester production are particularly “natural”?

The post From silk to milk: Why growing everything could be a 21st century game changer appeared first on Circulate.

Source: Circulate News RSS

Arctic sea ice crashes to record low for June

From mid-June onwards, ice cover disappeared at an average rate of 29,000 miles a day, about 70% faster than the typical rate of ice loss, experts say

The summer sea ice cover over the Arctic raced towards oblivion in June, crashing through previous records to reach a new all-time low.

The Arctic sea ice extent was a staggering 260,000 sq km (100,000 sq miles) below the previous record for June, set in 2010. And it was 1.36m sq km (525,000 sq miles) below the 1981-2010 long-term average, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

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Source: Guardian Environment

Police deploy helicopter over Dartmoor in search for escaped lynx

Officers warn people not to approach animal that escaped from its enclosure at Dartmoor Zoological Park

Police are searching for a lynx that escaped from a zoo in Devon.

The moors of south-west England are often associated with stories of big cats haunting the wilderness, but in this case a real-life hunt – including a police helicopter, which has been hovering above the area around Dartmoor Zoological Park in search of the animal – is under way.

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Source: Guardian Environment

Ministers reject second request to use banned bee-harming pesticides

Campaigners welcome decision to turn down National Farming Union’s application for ‘emergency’ use of neonicotinoids for oil seed rape, reports ENDS

An application to use neonicotinoid pesticides to protect winter oilseed rape has been refused by government for the second time.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) concluded that the request did not meet the criteria for emergency use of two seed treatment agents to fight cabbage stem flea beetle, according to a statement issued by the National Farming Union (NFU) on 5 July.

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Source: Guardian Environment