Canterbury university researchers look at impacts of intensive dairy farming

A group of University of Canterbury post-graduate students is investigating changes in soil carbon on intensive dairy farms.

Biology PhD students Gabriel Moinet and Anna Zakharova and masters student Sam Murray want to know if soil organic carbon stocks and long-term productivity is influenced by intensively-managed dairy farm conversions.

Moinet says soil organic carbon is important because emissions of greenhouse gases, mostly carbon dioxide, have risen dramatically since 1970 with large consequences such as global warming and climate change.

He will present his research to the annual UC biology postgraduate conference tomorrow.

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School students learn how to extract DNA from kiwifruit at Waikato Biology Days

More than 650 Kiwi kids examined the contents of around 100 kiwifruit this week during the University of Waikato’s annual Waikato Experience Biology Days.

A media statement from the university (here) says the Year 12 and 13 secondary school students from around the central North Island spent time in the biological sciences laboratories from 5-6 June, learning the skill of extracting DNA from kiwifruit.

Extracting the DNA involved peeling, chopping, mashing, incubating and sieving kiwifruit, before pouring ice-cold alcohol over the sample and hooking out the DNA.

The students also attended lectures given by Waikato University academics on topics such as DNA technologies, plant responses to the environment and animal behaviour, human evolution, and the process of evolution.

Trident High School biology teacher Phil Andrew said this was the fourth time he had brought a class to the event.

His group of Year 13 students travelled from Whakatane for the day to extend their knowledge in areas of biology relevant to the school curriculum.

Agcarm challenges EU ban on pesticides to protect honeybees

Agcarm, the New Zealand organisation which represents manufacturers and distributors of crop protection and animal health products, has sided with scientists who challenge the weight of evidence in support of the European Union’s neonicotinoid ban.

Scientific American reported last week the ban was gathering scientific support although some experts were calling for more field studies.

The goal is to reverse massive honeybee hive die-offs.

The EU decided to impose the ban this week.

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Plants get a growth boost from doses (small ones) of hydrogen sulfide

A bean plant treated with hydrogen sulfide (top) is substantially bigger at two weeks after gestation than the control plant (bottom) that was untreated.

A bean plant treated with hydrogen sulfide (top) is substantially bigger at two weeks after gestation than the control plant (bottom) that was untreated.

Low doses of hydrogen sulfide, the pungent stuff often referred to as sewer gas, could greatly enhance plant growth, leading to a sharp increase in global food supplies and plentiful stock for biofuel production, new University of Washington research shows.

Frederick Dooley, a UW doctoral student in biology who led the research, said (here) he started off to examine the toxic effects of hydrogen sulfide on plants but mistakenly used only one-tenth the amount of the toxin he had intended.

The results were so unbelievable that he repeated the experiment.

Still unconvinced, he repeated it again – and again, and again.

In fact, the results have been replicated so often that they are now “a near certainty,” he said.

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Cornell breeder develops tomato variety that deters thrips and their viruses

A tomato that packs a powerful one-two punch to deter thrips and counter the viruses they transmit has been developed by a Cornell University breeder, Martha Mutschler-Chu.

The work is reported by ScienceDaily here.

After successfully transferring resistance to thrips into new tomato lines and breeding out undesirable traits, Mutschler-Chu’s team added a second layer of protection: one or both of two natural genes known to resist the so-called TOSPO viruses, which include tomato spotted wilt virus.

If some thrips get through with the virus, the virus resistance will mop it up, she said.

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New light is thrown on photosynthesis and the role of plant pigments

Researchers from the University of Toronto and University of Glasgow have found that pigments found in plants and purple bacteria employed to provide protection from sun damage do more than just that. They also help to harvest light energy during photosynthesis.

The findings are being reported on various websites including ScienceDaily (here).

Carotenoids, the same pigments which give orange color to carrots and red to tomatoes, are often found together in plants with chlorophyll pigments that harvest solar energy. Their main function is photoprotection when rays of light from the sun are the most intense.

However, a new study published in Science this week shows how they capture blue/green light and pass the energy on to chlorophylls, which absorb red light.

“This is an example of how nature exploits subtleties that we would likely overlook if we were designing a solar energy harvester,” says Greg Scholes, the D.J. LeRoy Distinguished Professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Toronto and lead author of the study.

A series of experiments showed that a special “dark state” of the carotenoid — a hidden level not used for light absorption at all — acts as a mediator to help pass the energy it absorbs very efficiently to a chlorophyll pigment.

The researchers performed broadband two-dimensional electronic spectroscopy (a technique used to measure the electronic structure and its dynamics in atoms and molecules) on light-harvesting proteins from purple bacteria.

Synthetic biology – a call for scientists and conservationists to discuss the issues

The authors of a new paper on the rapidly growing field of synthetic biology raise questions about the implications of this science for the conservation of nature and about the ecological and ethical challenges.

They call for a new and continuing dialogue between members of the synthetic biology and biodiversity conservation communities, according to a report (here) in ScienceDaily.

Synthetic biology utilises chemically synthesized DNA to create organisms that address human needs.

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