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Thursday, December 26, 2013

How Plants Evolved Over Time To Withstand Cold Climates

In a study that looked into how plants evolved to withstand the low temperatures, researchers found that they developed unique characteristics that helped them bear the cold.

For the study, George Washington University reserachers constructed an evolutionary tree of more than 32,000 species of flowering plants to understand how plants evolved to withstand cold. They found that many plants acquired unique characteristics even before they encountered freezing.

Previous studies supported by plant fossil finds established that ancient plants thrived in warmer temperatures. However, due to climatic changes and shift in habitat to higher latitudes and elevations, plants evolved in such a way that they could cope with the cold. Currently, there are some plant species like the Arctic cinquefoil and three-toothed saxifrage that can survive in temperatures below -14°Celsius.

While animals fight the cold by shifting to different locations or generating heat to keep themselves warm, plants are incapable of doing any of these. The snow on the ground poses some major problems for them. Freezing temperatures result in the formation of air bubbles that block the internal water transport system in plants.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Hack the Planet? Geoengineering Research, Ethics Explored

Hacking the Earth’s climate to counteract global warming – a subject that elicits strong reactions from both sides – is the topic of a December special issue of the journal Climatic Change. A dozen research papers include the most detailed description yet of the proposed Oxford Principles to govern geoengineering research, as well as surveys on the technical hurdles, ethics and regulatory issues related to deliberately manipulating the planet’s climate.

Univ. of Washington researchers led the three-year project to gather leading thinkers and publish a snapshot of a field that they say is rapidly gaining credibility in the scientific community.

“In the past five years or so, geoengineering has moved from the realm of quackery to being the subject of scientific research,” says co-editor Rob Wood, a UW associate professor of atmospheric sciences. “We wanted to contribute to a serious intellectual discourse.”

Creating clouds over the ocean that would reflect back sunlight is the subject of a chapter by Wood, whose research is on the interaction among air pollution, clouds and climate. He and co-author Tom Ackerman, a UW atmospheric sciences professor, look at what it would take to test the idea with a field experiment.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Russian Billionaire Announces $3M Mathematics Prize

Top mathematicians will be rewarded for thinking big under a new $3 million prize announced by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Milner, a self-described “failed physicist” who made his fortune in high-tech investments, told The Guardian that he wanted the new Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics to encourage people to think more deeply about life. The prize will be awarded for the first time next year.

“If you take the largest scales possible, there are a number of scientists, individuals, who operate at that scale, they think about the whole universe. I think that we focus too much on small scales as human beings, and not enough on larger scales. That’s really the problem we’re trying to address here,” he told the paper Thursday.

The new prize was unveiled at an awards ceremony in the United States for two other multi-million-dollar research prizes established by Milner. The Fundamental Physics Prize, which he founded last year, was shared between Michael Green of Cambridge University and John Schwarz of the California Institute of Technology.

Monday, December 9, 2013

There is a class of animals that never grow old

We're born, we grow, we age, and then we die. Well, maybe not all of us, according to a new study on the animals amongst us who, while they continue to grow older, don't deteriorate with age.

A new study out of Nature takes a comparative look at the life cycles of 46 different species (us included) and finds that not all species live by this pattern of decline that we do. In fact some, the hermit crab, for instance, seem to have turned the whole process upside down. Virginia Hughes at National Geographic explains:
Some organisms are the opposite of humans, becoming more likely to reproduce and less likely to die with each passing year. Others show a spike in both fertility and mortality in old age. Still others show no change in fertility or mortality over their entire lifespan . . .
What the new study didn't find, notably, is an association between lifespan and aging. It turns out that some species with pronounced aging (meaning those with mortality rates that increase sharply over time) live a long time, whereas others don't. Same goes for the species that don't age at all. Oarweed, for example, has a near-constant level of mortality over its life and lives about eight years. In contrast, Hydra, a microscopic freshwater animal, has constant mortality and lives a whopping 1,400 years.
There's some interesting implications for both how we think about aging and evolution. You can read the whole thing here.

Source: http://io9.com/