Top Stories

Genetic Obesity

For those who are overweight, it is not entirely your fault. Researchers at UCLA say it's not just what you eat that makes those pants tighter — it's also genetics. In a new study, scientists discovered that body-fat responses to a typical fast-food diet are determined in large part by genetic factors, and they have identified several genes they say may control those responses. The study is the first of its kind to detail metabolic responses to a high-fat, high-sugar diet in a large and diverse mouse population under defined environmental conditions, modeling closely what is likely to occur in human populations. The researchers found that the amount of food consumed contributed only modestly to the degree of obesity. >> Read the Full Article

iWind Power?

Apple may be the world’s valuable company and brand, but to sustainability and corporate social responsibility advocates, the company is often a pariah. But a patent application the company filed last year, first revealed on the Apple Insider blog, shows that some of that cash on which Apple is sitting could be invested in a new clean energy technology. Filed last year, the application describes a set of rotating blades that converts rotational energy from a wind turbine into heat that is then stored in a vessel containing "low heat capacity fluid." The system would then selectively transfer the heat as needed from that low heat capacity fluid to a "working fluid" and hence would generate electricity. Heat, not rotational energy, would would be the result of the turbine's blades rotating; and even more exciting, energy could be used when needed, as when there is little or no wind. >> Read the Full Article

Coral Fighting Back

Corals are marine animals typically living in compact colonies of many identical individual polyps. The group includes the important reef builders that inhabit tropical oceans and secrete calcium carbonate to form a hard skeleton. Coral reefs are under stress around the world often due to climate change issues. Researchers have uncovered a pattern of gene activity that enables some corals to survive in higher temperatures. The finding suggests a way to predict how different corals will fare in the warmer waters expected to result from climate change over the coming decades. Such information could help to focus future conservation efforts, the researchers say. >> Read the Full Article

More Fin whales in the Mediterranean Sea

The scientific journal Marine Ecology recently published a study undertaken by the Italian Institute for Environmental Protection and Research, ISPRA (Istituto Superiore per la Ricerca e Protezione Ambientale) showing that frequency of occurrence of fin whales in the central Tyrrhenian sea increased by 300% over 20 years. From 1989 to 1992 dedicated cetacean surveys along a trans regional fixed-transect in the central Tyrrhenian sea were carried out twice a week, using passengers ferries as a research observation platform. Collected data provided new information about cetacean species and their distribution in the region. From 2007 the research restarted with same protocol, the fixed line transect seasonally monitored the line from Civitavecchia (Rome district) to Golfo Aranci (Sardinia), along a strategic area just out of the southern border of the Pelagos Sanctuary. >> Read the Full Article

Mercury Contamination Similarities Found Between Birds and People

Birds aren't that different from people. We learn from our parents, just like zebra finches learn songs from their fathers. We are active and noisy during the day, like birds, and we can also be territorial. Also like birds, we try to attract mates through colorful displays and beautiful songs. Birds are sensitive to pollution in their environment just like we are: harmful elements such as mercury wreak similar havoc on human and bird biology alike. Because our species share so many attributes, studying birds illustrates the connections between them and us. >> Read the Full Article

Brain Development in Children Directly Impacted by Parenting Technique

Infancy and early childhood is a critical time for the development of a healthy brain as well as positive emotional development. It is the role of the parents to ensure that their babies grow up to be healthy, functioning members of society. However, a new study from the University of Notre Dame claims that social practices and cultural beliefs of modern life are preventing the healthy development of children. Traditional methods of nurturing, having been passed down from our hunter-gatherer days, are being neglected for more stereotypically modern childbearing norms to the detriment of the youth of America. >> Read the Full Article

Shoe Stable Fly!

Swatting at flies is a major aggravation but luckily for us, we can often shoe away these annoying arthropods before that painful bite. But what about cows and other livestock that only have a tail to defend themselves? Besides a quick pinch, stable flies actually have a huge effect on cattle costing the U.S. cattle industry more than $2.4 billion! How might you ask? Animals will often stop grazing and bunch together to minimize the number of bites they're getting. Consequently, this can reduce milk production in dairy cows, decrease weight gain in beef cattle, and reduce feed efficiency. >> Read the Full Article

The World's Oldest Living Olive Trees Are Lebanese

Tucked away in the sleepy village of Bechealeh, Lebanon, 16 olive trees have witnessed 6000 years of political unrest, plagues, diseases, varying climatic conditions and changing civilizations. In fact these "trees of Noah" are considered by locals to be a living miracle because nature, as we all know, is often silent and passive in the face of hardship, greed and violence so the fact that these arcane olive trees have managed to skirt 6000 years of climatic shifts, hacking axes and diseases makes me believe that, as improbable as this may sound, that there has been some mystical or divine providence watching over and protecting those trees for Bechealeh, for Lebanon and – who knows – maybe even for all the rest of us. >> Read the Full Article

Exocomets

A comet is an icy small body that, when close enough to the Sun, displays a visible coma (a thin, fuzzy, temporary atmosphere) and sometimes also a tail. These phenomena are both due to the effects of solar radiation and the solar wind upon the nucleus of the comet. Comet nuclei range from a few hundred meters to tens of kilometers across and are composed of loose collections of ice, dust, and small rocky particles. The discovery by astronomers at the University of California, Berkeley, and Clarion University in Pennsylvania of six likely comets around distant stars suggests that comets – dubbed exocomets – are just as common in other stellar systems with planets. >> Read the Full Article

Hurricane Sandy Relief Bill - Good Coastal Policy?

Next week, the U.S. Congress is expected to vote on the bulk of $60 billion in emergency spending to provide for recovery from Hurricane Sandy. Clearly, significant aid is needed to repair the damage left by the storm and to help many people put their lives back together. But the bill before Congress includes provisions authorizing spending that would be fiscally irresponsible and environmentally damaging and would set a very bad precedent as we plan for long-term adaptation to rising sea levels and climate change. The bill goes far beyond the immediate need for emergency assistance by funding a massive coastal engineering effort that is not based on science or wise planning. As currently proposed, the bill would give the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers roughly $4.5 billion to spend on coastal construction projects related to "flood control and risk reduction." Most troubling, the bill requires the Corps to attempt to rebuild the New Jersey and New York beaches to their "design profile." In other words, the Corps will work to put the beaches back exactly as they were before the storm, ignoring the reality of rising sea levels and intensifying storms as the world warms. >> Read the Full Article