Thursday 29 January 2015

Wild Beavers allowed to live in Devon

A family of beavers have been allowed to stay living in the river Otter in Devon. Natural England
have issued a five year license to Devon Wildlife trust which permits them to stay. Originally they were going to be removed but Friends of the Earth launched a legal challenge to this plan.

This is the first family of beavers to live in the wild in England for 500 years. There are thought
to be eight adults and three young ones.

There are certain safegurds and restrictions involved. They will all have to be trapped and tested for disease and tapeworms. Also it must be ascertained that they are a European species.

Beavers can have a big effect on the environment as they fell trees for food and to build dams which create pools for them to live in. Dams can help to slow down flood waters and also create more wetland habitat. Anglers are opposed to the reintroduction as they think the beavers will
adversely affect the fisheries.

Nobody knows for sure how the beavers got there but it is suspected that they were released deliberately.

There is a wild population of about 150 beavers on the River Tay in Scotland.

Good on 'em I say!

Wednesday 14 January 2015

Breakthrough in the search for new antibiotics

US scientists have made a breakthrough in bacterium culture that could help to discover new types of antibiotics. Most antibiotics were discoverd in the 1950s and 1960s and no new classes have become available since the late 1980s.

Many bacteria are becoming ever more resistant to existing products and some are almost untreatable.

Since  most antibiotics were found in microbes in soil, this is where the scientists turned to look again. One of the problems is that only about 1% of microbes in the soil can be grown in the laboratory. But the researches have developed a new way of culturing them in separate pods in the soil, and can now grow many more types - almost half in fact.

The microbes produce chemicals which are tested for their antibacterial properties, and so far 25 new antibiotics have been discovered. Of course its a long way from here to a commercially viable antbiotic, but it gives scientists a whole host of new chemicals to start refining.

Tuesday 6 January 2015

Bowhead Whale is the longest lived mammal on Earth

The bowhead whale can live over 200 years old, and it is the longest-lived mammal on Earth.
Scientists  have checked the sequence of the genome of the bowhead whale, against that of other
shorter-lived mammals.

Observations showed that bowhead whales have genetic differences unique to their species. For
example, genetic alterations related to cell division, DNA repair, cancer, and ageing may have
helped increase its lifespan and helped it to avoid contracting diseases associated with old age.

Some large whales like the bowhead have over 1,000 times more cells than humans do.  It is
thought that this natural mechanism is responsible for the animal's cancer resistance.

Also, whale cells have a much lower metabolic rate than those of smaller mammals. Changes have
been found in one gene that is involved in thermoregulation, and this may also have an effect
on metabolic rate, and hence ageing.

Bowhead whales are also one of the heaviest animals on Earth, of the heaviest, reaching 100 tons
, which is second only to the blue whale. There are thought to be 7000-10000 of them living mainly in cold waters of the Arctic.

Scientists discover a protein that quality controls other proteins

The proteins made in any cell are built using instructions from DNA. New research however, has
found some exceptions to this fundamental rule.

The building blocks used to make proteins are much smaller molecules known as amino acids. They
are assembled from what are in effect 'blueprints' encoded into DNA, inside cellular structures
called ribosomes. There all a vast array of proteins which can be used for anything from hair
building to organ building or any of the cells within the body.

Another large molecule known as messenger RNA carries the information from the DNA to the
ribosomes, where the magic is performed.

In the newly discovered method another protein, known as RqC2  (no not R2D2) does the job of
the messenger RNA. And it seems to function when there has been a mistake in the normal
process, and the protein is slightly wrong. Somehow the ribosomes know this and send for the
RqC2 and other proteins, to rectify the situation. It does this by getting the transfer RNA to
insert two amino acids at random points in the protein chain.

This may be a way of telling the process that this protein is wrong and should be sent for
destruction, or at least recycling.

It is hoped that as this process is understood more, it may lead to new ways for treating
diseases such as Alzheimer's which is thought to be caused by faulty proteins in the brain.