Golden Rice and GM Modified Foods

Hello everybody,

Today is the first time I blog to you guys for over 4 months, and I deeply apologize, I have not found any time to blog for ages, and with it being summer down under, the nights just fly away, when I usually do my blogging.

But recently, I have been re-inspired to resume blogging frequently, by a science camp named The Science Experience (TSE), a 3 day camp run by the Young Scientists of Australia (YSA, check out their website, www.ysa.org.au). TSE brings together senior high school students from around Brisbane and beyond, to University campuses all over Brisbane for 3 days, to hear lectures and do science. Amongst other fascinating lectures which I may talk about later, and a brilliant keynote speech by Joel Gilmore (follow him on twitter @joelgilmore ), I listened to a lecture by Neal Menzies. He discussed food for the world in the future, agriculture and its impact on global warming (not so much cow farts, but the extra nitrogen in the nitrogen cycle thanks to commercially produced fertiliser, and GM modified food.

Tonight I wish to talk about GM food, and specifically golden rice, a genetically modified rice variety created for use by farmers in areas where there is a Vitamin A shortage in the population. Golden rice, so-called due to its golden colour, was created by Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and University of Freiburg, respectively. By inserting two genes responsible for the biosynthesis of beta-carotene, the researchers where able to create rice which contained a precursor of vitamin A. Deficiency in Vitamin A is responsible for the death of over 670 000 children under the age of 5, each year. Science published the scientific details of the rice in 2000.

At the time it was published, golden rice was considered a significant breakthrough in biotech, as it was the first time that researchers had engineered an entire process and placed it in a species. It is known of as the first genetically modified plant to have no known negative side effects, and to be fully beneficial.

Golden rice is one of many genetically modified foods to have been created by scientists which have been beneficial to society. Round-up ready varieties of crops, which are resistant to a cheap and effective weed killing spray named round-up, allowing for entire fields to be sprayed with no effect to the crops, while eradicating all weeds in the field, are one very successful variety of genetically modified crops.

One GM crop which may become very useful going into the future is a genetically modified variety of Sorghum which is about 30% easier to digest than current varieties of Sorghum. This is important for two reasons, one being the fact that Sorghum is harder to digest than other grains which are main staples of all people’s diets, rice, wheat, barley and corn. The other is that Sorghum is different to other grains in that it grows better in tropical and subtropical climates, as opposed to grains which grow better in dry, mild climates. If a more digestible variety of Sorghum can be produced, and the widespread use of GM crops in subtropical areas such as Australia becomes accepted, this would result in food able to be grown in places other grains could not.

The use of GM crops going into the future will increase, and once the majority of people grow out of their fear of GM food, it will increase dramatically. It will result in the decrease of various agricultural impacts on the environment, such as the use of herbicide, pesticide and fertilizers, and allow for greater amounts of crops to be grown in an area, more efficient varieties and in places recently considered not fit for food production.

Butterflies, Credit Cards and Light Bowls

Hello there, skeptical friends, and skeptical foes,

I got my Scientific American today, Which is very surprising, because I thought it took about 2 weeks to send post from America to Australia, but there you go. I always thoroughly enjoy getting my Scientific American each month, and I always find half a dozen articles which I consider blogging for. I found an article today which was about some of the clever light tricks which animals play on us, but not about the colour changing squids which go black and then white and then black and then white when a pretty lady comes past or when a compeditor squid comes along. This article was about the microscopic patterns on bird feathers, butterfly wings and worms, which make colours which don’t look like what they really are. I will be blogging about a few of the tricky light patterns mentioned in this article in future posts, but today’s article is about A strange pattern found on Butterflies.

The emerald swallowtail butterfly lives in South-East Asia, and has a wing-span of about 8 – 10 cm, and is one of the most prominent butterflies in this area. They have a distinctive green and black pattern on their wings, and it has been discovered that the colour of the wing is not actually green, but it is a combination of blue and yellow colours.

The green parts of the wing are covered in tiny, bowl shaped dimples just a few microns across. The dimples are lined in layers of chitin which act as mirrors, which only reflect light of certain wavelengths. In the bottom of the bowls are chitin which reflect only yellow light, while around the top of the bowls are chitin which only reflect blue light.

Researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology tried to replicate this effect, with success. They created this pattern by first making a polymer, and vaporizing water, letting it condense onto the polymer, and letting the water droplets sink into the polymer, creating even, uniform, aligned bowls. They then microscopically dusted the polymer with layers of titanium oxide and aluminium oxide, and the result they turned out with was comparable to what was found on the butterfly. The researchers also found that under a polarizing filters, the yellow light from the wing and polymer pattern did not show, leaving only the blue light.

This polymer pattern could provide an extra layer of protection to credit cards and bank notes. A small half-inch square on every bank note and credit card, similar to the watermarks on bank notes in Australia , would add an extra layer of protection to the notes. All that would need to be done is put the bank note under a polarizing filter, and you would have an easy authentication check, adding to the layers of defense already present in notes and credit cards.

as can bee seen, nature has found simple ways of producing amazing colours and patterns, and as has been shown on so many scientific disciplines, physics, engineering, chemistry, technology, the best solutions to some problems were solved thousands of years ago, by a small bug that eats wood, or something of the like, and we just have to find out how to replicate them. That’s all I have to say. I will leave you with a quote from Carl Sagan, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

Nuclear Power: Why it’s great

Greetings skeptics, and fellow internet users.

Here in Australia there has been a lot of discussion about nuclear power, both political, and scientific, so I am going to add my voice to the talk with some points in both science and politics.
It’s a relevent discussion for a few important reasons.  One is the fact that the earth is warming and caused by man, and something had to be done about it. We are also eventually going to run out of oil, and we need something to replace it.

The first point I am going to make is that nuclear power is extremely environmentally friendly. There are no carbon dioxides emitted in the process. The only greenhouse gases emmited when creating nuclear power is what is used when the big machinery hauls the uranium out of the ground. This should sent the environmental nuts crazy, but apparently not. The only way to make them happy is to live in caves, liking lichen of the walls for food.

Apparently, if one blows up, then it will cause a huge amount of damage to the environment around it. Come on, in Australia, about 95% of the population lives on about 5% of our land mass, and the other 95% doesn’t have much other life on it either. If we plonk our nuclear power plants out in the middle of the Australian desert, then nothing will be harmed except sand and rocks.

Come on, surely we can find SOMEWHERE to put a nuclear power plant!

The next question raised by greenies (to use the conservative, outback term) is, “Where do we put all the waste from the plant?” I think this is another simply answered question. All of the places where we mine our Uranium is in the middle of no-where, if we put the power plant next to the uranium mine, then its a short trip, it goes from the hole in the ground to the power plant, it goes through the power plant, and then it goes back in the hole. It can’t really be that hard. Again, we have a huge amount of land that we don’t use for anything, this is a prime candidate for the dumping of our nuclear waste.

The last topic I will discuss here is the idea that nuclear power is dangerous, “look at what happened in Japan” They say. Well, they are all forgetting the point that this event happened on an Island about the size 1 twentieth the size of Australia, You could throw a stone from one side to the other. Even if one did blow up, it would endanger the lives of the workers there, and that’s it. These workers could be easily evacuated and the whole problem would be over with.

That’s all for today, I have a feeling I will be blogging about this sometime in the near future as the election comes up and this discussion looms, I will leave you with a quote from Ronald Reagan, “All the waste in a year from a nuclear power plant can be stored under a desk.” Ronald Reagan, a politician of some note.