Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Monday, 27 May 2013

400-year-old frozen moss brought back to life in scientist’s lab -

400-year-old frozen moss brought back to life in scientist’s lab - 

In Arctic summers, Catherine La Farge camps out at the toe of the Teardrop glacier on Ellesmere Island in Canada’s North.

The University of Alberta biologist has watched the ice retreat, up to four metres a year now, giving her an unprecedented view of what was entombed under the ice for 400 years — old rocks, mud, and her specialty, ancient moss.

One day, walking along the edge of the ice, La Farge noticed some of the moss had a greenish tinge. That gave her a hunch — could there be life in that old moss after all?

In an amazing experiment, La Farge found the frozen moss was able to revive itself though it had been buried since the Little Ice Age (1550-1850). Her study, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, is shaking up some basic assumptions about land plants.

In the past, when scientists occasionally came across plant material previously frozen under an Arctic glacier, they assumed the plant material was dead. Discoloured and lifeless, it certainly looked like it was.

In 2009, La Farge brought samples back to the lab. On closer examination, she noticed a tiny green stem. There were two possible explanations.

“Either it kept its colour under the glacier or it grew after the moss emerged 400 years later.”

There was only one way to find out.

La Farge ground up the old plant material, put it in petri dishes full of potting soil and set it in the grow chamber next to her office. Then she and graduate student Krista Williams and master’s student David Wilkie watched for signs of life.

It didn’t take long. In about four to six weeks, tiny green filaments or strands called protonema began to grow.

Months later, a dish was almost full of green moss from cells frozen for 400 years. Of 24 samples potted, seven produced new growth.

“It was just incredible,” said La Farge, whose work has given scientists another window into the basic life systems of plants.

“Now we have Little Ice Age moss material that produced juvenile plants.”

In glaciers, there are all kinds of fungi and bacteria, but no one has ever considered that land plants could survive being entombed underneath, she said.

“Now we have to think there may be populations of land plants that survived that freezing. It makes you wonder what’s under the big ice caps in the Arctic and Antarctic and alpine glaciers.

“And we have a 400-year-old lineage of genetic material,” she added.

Mosses are especially hardy and ancient — 400 million years old, she said. Mosses played a key role in moving life from water to land in evolution. They evolved from green algae and paved the way for other land plants.

Unlike most other plants, mosses reproduce by cloning their cells so “all you need is even one cell to survive.”

Also, moss cells are very powerful — totipotent is the scientific term — because they can reprogram themselves to start growth all over again.

La Farge’s work shows that ability to regenerate — the totipotency of a cell — doesn’t diminish with age, at least not over 400 frozen years.

“If we could find some moss that went back 1,000 years or 5,000 years we may find some material that could be revived. But it all depends on the specific way the material is buried and the conditions” — cold and dry is best.

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Scotland: Every Child to Have “State Guardian” From Birth - government social worker assigned to spy on every family -

Scotland: Every Child to Have “State Guardian” From Birth - government social worker assigned to spy on every family - 

Every child in Scotland is to be assigned a “state minder” from birth under draconian new proposals that would enable the government to spy on families under the justification of preventing “child abuse”.

Writing in the Scotsman of how he penned a dystopian novel based around this very scenario of every child being assigned a government mentor, sociology and criminology lecturer at the University of Abertay Dundee Stuart Walton writes, “Unfortunately, this dystopian future has arrived a little faster than I imagined, as last week the Scottish Government’s plan to give every child a state guardian from birth was launched.”
“This state-appointed overseer will be a specific, named individual, and every child will have one, from birth. The responsibility for creating this named guardian will fall on the heads of the health boards for the first five years of a child’s life, before being transferred to councils.”
The program is a statutory initiative built into the Children and Young People Bill. Children’s minister Aileen Campbell justified the proposal by asserting it would “make sure there is someone having an overview of what is happening to that child, to make sure that early indicators of anything that would pose a threat or risk to that child are flagged up”.
Walton speculates on what kind of behavior could eventually be deemed “child abuse,” including the contents of a child’s school lunch box or a re-definition of “bullying” to include a parent shouting at their kid.
Indeed, as we have previously documented, schools are now encouraging children to spy on their parents’ recycling habits in the name of protecting mother earth. Could the alleged eco-crime of failing to place a piece of cardboard in the correct trash can prompt the child to report his parents to the “state guardian” and spark an investigation?
In the aftermath of the Jimmy Savile scandal, concern about child abuse is rampant in the UK but it is a fear that has largely been generated by media scaremongering and not an actual marked increase in cases of child abuse.
Top judges like Alan Goldsack QC are also calling on the government to intervene to remove children from “criminal families” at birth. As part of what it calls “Family Intervention Projects,” the British government has also forced thousands of families to install surveillance cameras inside their own homes while subjecting them to home visits to ensure that children go to bed on time, attend school and eat proper meals.
The idea of having a government social worker assigned to spy on every family via the child is an abhorrent notion that would only be accepted in despotic hellholes like North Korea, Maoist China, or Stalinist Russia, yet it is calmly being proposed in current legislation.
The secret police of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu also recruited thousands of children aged 12-14 to spy on their school friends, parents and teachers, according to communist-era archives. At the height of the dictatorship, a staggering 15 per cent of the country’s informants were children. They were encouraged to report anyone who expressed a political opinion contrary to the status quo or those who merely made a joke of Ceausescu.
Is the Scottish government also taking cues from George Orwell’s 1984? In the dystopian classic, “children who turned in their own parents as traitors” are treated as heroes by the Party.

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Drone controlled by computer soon to round up sheep and cows... - Baa, baa robot! -

Drone controlled by computer soon to round up sheep and cows... - Baa, baa robot! - 

The bond between shepherds and their loyal sheepdogs is a rural image portrayed on television shows like the BBC's One Man His Dog.
But now the face of hill farming may soon change forever with the introduction of a battery-powered airborne robot to track and round up flocks.
The drone, developed by Frenchman Marc-Alexandre Favier, costs a few hundred pounds and could eventually be controlled by smartphone.

It uses cameras and image recognition software to find sheep and cows even in remote areas.

Favier, 27, a postgraduate student at Harper Adams University College, Shropshire, told the Sunday Times: 'It's amazing that the technology is becoming so developed that this sort of thing is possible.'
The son of a farmer, he has designed a prototype Unmanned Air System (UAS) to be used as an eye in the sky to manage and monitor livestock on very large and remote estates.

He used an AR Drone 2 with a camera attached to the bottom to allow the user to get a bird’s eye view and came up with a computer programme which instructs the drone to locate, recognise and track livestock.
Although the drone can be controlled via WiFi on a computer, the aim is for farmers to be able to control it using an iPhone or smartphone.

Favier  said: 'The number of robots for professional use is increasing significantly so it is very important to be up-to-date with robotics - it’s the future and the present.'
He said his prototype was designed with Scottish sheep farmers in mind, many of whom spend large amounts of time and cover many miles monitoring their livestock.
In America,  the U.S. Department of Defence in charge of military technology, has developed a robot dog that can run faster than Usain Bolt, follow its leader, and respond to commands
The LS3, or 'Alphadog' as it has been nicknamed, is so lifelike, that it can catch itself slipping on ice , easily navigates streams and ditches and and can carrying 400 pounds.
Other drones include hand grenade-sized robots that can be thrown into Afghanistan rebel compounds.
Former One Man presenter Clarissa Dickson Wright was unimpressed by the technological breakthrough. 'There is no substitute for a dog and a shepherd,' she said.