1 Tahrcountry Musings: November 2008

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Showing off your research through dance

Dancing your PhD may sound a wee bit zany and bonkers. This happened recently in a contest sponsored by the magazine science. Science challenge to researchers was to interpret their Ph.D. research in dance form, film the dance, and share it with the world on YouTube. 36 entries came up for the competition. The panel of judges consisted of the three winners of the first "Dance Your Ph.D." contest, three scientists from Harvard University, and three artistic directors of the dance company Pilobolus. On 20 November Science announced the winners of the 2009 AAAS Science Dance Contest in four categories: Graduate Students, Postdocs, Professors, and Popular choice.

The winners were

Graduate students: Sue Lynn Lau, Garvan Institute of Medical Research / University of Sydney, Australia.
Sue Lynn Lau chose classical ballet and highly kinetic party dancing as the way to interpret her Ph.D. thesis, "The role of vitamin D in beta-cell function."

Post doc: Miriam Sach, University of Duesseldorf, Germany
The research of Miriam Sach was to find out whether different types of verbs are processed by different regions of the brain. Sach, embodied this difference by dancing in the various styles of processing: awkward and hunched for the irregular verbs and graceful and limber for the regular verbs.

Professors: Vince LiCata, Johns Hopkins University
Vince LiCata and three associates danced a slow and graceful double pas de deux, representing the interaction of pairs of hemoglobin molecules from his 1990 Johns Hopkins University Ph.D. thesis, "Resolving Pathways of Functional Coupling in Human Hemoglobin Using Quantitative Low Temperature Isoelectric Focusing of Asymmetric Mutant Hybrids."

Popular Choice: Markita Landry, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign
The winner of the Popular Choice category was determined by the number of views accumulated by each YouTube video between the time it went online and the contest deadline. Landry was the winner with 14,138 views. Landry used a tango to convey her thesis, "Single Molecule Measurements of Protelomerase TelK-DNA Complexes."

Each winner will be paired with a professional choreographer, and together they will attempt to translate a scientific paper the researcher has authored into a proper dance. Then the four choreographers will create a single four-part performance based on the papers. In February 2009, the winning scientists will be guests of honor at the AAAS Annual meeting in Chicago. They will have front-row seats to the world debut of THIS IS SCIENCE, a professional dance interpretation of their published research.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Mosques to the Support Sea Turtle Conservation in Malaysia

Would you believe this? Mosques coming to the rescue of Turtle Conservation? Yes, it is happening. This week 482 mosques in the Malaysian state of Terengganu on the north-eastern side of Peninsular Malaysia will give sermons on turtle conservation. Four species of endangered marine turtles nest on the beaches of Terengganu. This includes the critically endangered Hawksbill and Leatherback turtles.

New Strait Times reports that the state religious administrators of Terengganu have prepared a khutbah focused specifically on turtle conservation. The sermon would include threats to the environment and the importance of preserving it in line with Islamic teachings. WWF Terengganu Turtle Programme team leader Rahayu Zulkifli said many Muslims were not aware that Islam preaches conservation of natural resources and hoped it would remind people on the matter. If Mosques around the world take the same passion for conservation the wildlife is sure to benefit. Tahrcountry congratulates the people behind this magnificent venture in Malaysia.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Renewable energy product that helps wildlife – Award for Cheetah conservationist

Simple solutions can sometimes cascade in to big benefits. This is exactly what happened with a small innovative thinking from Dr. Laurie Marker, Founder and Executive Director of the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) based in Nambia. Dr Marker has been awarded $50,000 by the Tech Museum of Innovation for her Bushblok program. Tech Awards are given for applying technology to benefit humanity and spark global change.

Bushblok programme uses a high-pressure extrusion process to convert invasive, habitat-destroying bush into a clean-burning fuel. This helps cut down use of firewood, coal, lump charcoal and charcoal briquettes which are costly and result in environmental problems.

Clearing invasive bush helps restore millions of acres of Namibian savannah to revert back to its original state and improve the habitat of both the cheetah and its prey. Namibia has last of the largest remaining wild cheetah population. The global population of cheetah remaining in the wild is around 10,000.
Here is a shining example of innovative thinking coming to the rescue of wildlife. We need more such level headed thinking to solve some of our festering wildlife related problems.

As a spin off of Dr Marker’s Bushblok program Namibia is considering the use of Bushblok as biomass to power electric plants.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Environmental depredations of palm oil industry: The way out

It is a known fact that palm oil plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia are destroying rainforests and threatening the very existence of endangered wildlife there. Millions of tons of oil is produced yearly which has a great bearing on the economy of these two countries. Is there a way to balance the needs of economy and conservation? There is. The option is to go in for palm oil produced in a socially and environmentally responsible way certified as compliant with the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) Principles and Criteria,

RSPO was formally established under Article 60 of the Swiss Civil Code. The initiative was taken by WWF. The association is based in Zurich, Switzerland, while the secretariat is based in Kuala Lumpur.

The RSPO brings together oil palm growers, oil processors, food companies, retailers, NGOs and investors. The target is to ensure that no rainforest areas are sacrificed for new palm oil plantations. Plantations have to minimize their environmental impacts and the basic rights of local peoples and plantation workers have to be respected.

The first shipment of 100% certified palm oil has recently gone to Europe. If buyers worldwide decide to buy only certified palm oil it will be a big boost for the conservation. Creation of awareness worldwide is the need of the hour. You can write to the importers of your country requesting them to buy only certified palm oil. Your small action is bound to have an impact. The beneficiary will be the rainforests and denizens of the wild like tigers and orangutans.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Songbirds and 'hymn sheet'

The mysteries of nature are myriad. Some makes you wonder with its complexities and nuances. A bird song might seem ordinary at first glance. Look at it from a scientist’s perspective and there is more in it than meets the eye.

Researchers studying bird songs have arrived at fascinating conclusions. Professor Richard Hahnloser and his team of researchers from the University of Zurich after extensive studies on Zebra Finch have come up with the conclusion that Songbirds learn to sing from a hymn sheet in their head. They believe that the birds have an internal recording that helps the birds to perfect singing. A separate region seems to enable the birds to identify mistakes in their songs. To arrive at the conclusions the researchers monitored the electrical activity of cells in the zebra finches brains. While some neurons were constantly active, other cells became active only when the birds made mistakes. It is these cells that enable the birds to learn from their errors. The researchers believe that their research could unravel the complexities of how humans learn to speak.

The details of research appears in the journal Science

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Greenpeace indicts Indonesia as a big greenhouse gas emitter

Indonesia stands as the world's third biggest greenhouse gas emitter behind the United States and China. How come this happens when Indonesia is not industrialised like United States and China. The answer is conversion of forests and peatlands for palm oil and pulp plantations. This is bothering the environmentalists in Indonesia and they have sought the help from environmentalists worldwide as the implications of forest destruction are not exclusive to Indonesia. It has worldwide ramifications. Greenpeace is in the forefront of spearheading the campaign against this rampant destruction. On Monday Greenpeace stopped several palm oil shipments meant for Europe from leaving Indonesia’s main oil export port Dumai. The activists painted the words 'Forest crime' and 'Climate Crime' on the hull of three palm oil tankers and a barge full of rainforest timber, A Greenpeace activist also chained himself onto the anchor of a ship as a token protest. Papua region is seeing heavy stripping of tropical forests. Peatland forests of Riau are another recent casualty.

So next time you partake palm oil, remember everything is not hunky-dory. Think of the rainforests that are being hacked down to feed the demands of oil palm industry. The existence Orang-utans is also threatened by this massive destruction of rainforest of Indonesia and Malaysia. The palm oil lobby is very powerful in Indonesia and Malaysia. Action from concerned people all over the world is required.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The need to listen to local wisdom

The innovative ways in which local populace comes up with ways to solve some of their problems never ceases to amaze me. Here is yet another example from Thai villagers who have come up with cost effective ways to solve the problem of crop raiding by elephants.

Stringing up unwanted CDs is helping to keep elephants away from farmers' crops. CDs act as light reflectors to deter the elephants. CDs twisted and shone, mimicking a person with a torch and Works best during full moon. A very innovative and practical solution from the local people. The scientists working in the area were intrigued. Impressed scientists from The Elephant Conservation Network (ECN), and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), are propagating the idea in Thailand.

Elephants are intelligent animals and it remains to be seen whether it will work on a long term basis, but for the time being it seems to work

Friday, November 07, 2008

Obama and nature conservation

The election of Barack Obama as President of the United States has been hailed by environmentalists worldwide. He has always been concerned about environment. As a student at Columbia University, Obama worked for three months as an environmental activist to promote recycling in Harlem. He cosponsored a bill which requires that 10% of electricity in the state come from renewable sources by 2012. He has introduced multiple pieces of legislation to reduce mercury and lead poisoning. Obama fought efforts to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and voted to prohibit the use of funds to construct new roads in Alaska's Tongass National Forest. He led a spirited campaign to remove asbestos. He wants Detroit to design and build more fuel efficient cars.

In election speeches Obama had promised progressive environmental policies if elected. Policies with accent on reducing greenhouse emission and dealing with the perils of climate change. Obama had said “if we create a new energy economy, we can create five million new jobs, easily”. He had emphasized the need for being good stewards of the land and said we've got to be less wasteful both as a society and in our own individual lives. Obama's Environmental Protection Agency will strictly regulate pollution and believes in the credo the polluter pays. His words "Environmentalism is not an upper-income issue, it's not a black issue, it's not a South or a North or an East or a West issue, it's an issue that all of us have a stake in." has been widely welcomed.

Yes, environmentalists’ world wide has something to cheer about. We wish him Godspeed.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

International Agreement to protect migratory birds

Migratory birds flying across nations are facing increasing threats worldwide. The war in Afghanistan is a grim reminder. Siberian Crane which flies in to India from Siberia is a victim. Bird like Spoon-billed Sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus) and Great Knot (Calidris tenuirostris) are doomed in the East Asian - Australasian Flyway. Against this background the latest agreement to protect migratory birds is most welcome.
The countries which have signed up to Ramsar Convention on Wetlands have agreed on a resolution to protect migratory birds on their long journeys across the world. The resolution was passed on 3rd November 2008 in South Korea at the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. 2,000 people from 165 nations attended the meeting. The new agreement has been named “The Ramsar Resolution on Flyways”. The theme of the International conference was ‘Healthy Wetlands, Healthy People’.

No country can act alone to protect migratory waterbirds. The need of the hour is international cooperation. If you want to read the resolutions click here

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

In praise of a “Green” Prince

Prince Charles has always been a green man practicing what he preaches. He has been promoting environmental ideas for most of his adult life. The prince has replaced carbon-heavy private jets and helicopters with scheduled flights and train services. His Jaguar is adapted to run on biodiesel fuel. Residences such as Highgrove in Gloucestershire have switched to green electricity.

A few years back when he said he talks to plants at his country house, Highgrove, to stimulate their growth he was branded a crank. But the prince was not bothered about this criticism from unenlightened quarters.

The activism of the prince is not restricted to England alone. Wherever he travels he espouses the cause of conservation. The latest initiative has come during his tour of Indonesia.

He has now appealed to rich countries to pay an annual "utility bill" for the benefits accrued to the world from rainforests, benefits like the forests acting as air conditioner, storing of fresh water and providing work. Rainforest also play a great role in carbon sequestration. It was the developed nations that trigger rain forest destruction through a demand for products like beef, palm oil, soya and logs. So they have to start paying for it, just as we do for water, gas and electricity, the prince feels. The prince was speaking to the Indonesian President, Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and his cabinet in Jakarta. Earlier he had visited the Harapan Rainforest conservation project on the island of Sumatra.

The prince suggested that initially the funding could be provided by the private sector by subscribing to long-term bonds issued by an international agency.
This is a suggestion worth serious consideration by the international community. We salute you Prince Charles for your sagacity.

Monday, November 03, 2008

African ivory sale – The imponderables bother conservationists

The recent sale of 108 tonnes of African ivory is still bothering the conservationists worldwide even though the sale was done under proper mandate. They say the fa├žade of using the money for conservation is just a ruse. This was Succumbing to the massive Chinese demand for ivory carvings and trinkets. United States was not far behind in this charade.
Allan Thornton of the Environment Investigations Agency says, "In a country of 1.3 billion people, demand for ivory from just a fraction of one per cent of the population is colossal. If these new legal imports go ahead, they will provide a gigantic cover for illegal ivory to be sucked in."
Here is what Dr Easa the noted elephants conservationist say “Though the sale of ivory with the permission of CITES was expected, this will definitely have a long term effect on the conservation ofelephants the world over. The impact will be not just on the African elephant, it will have impact on Asian elephant also. This is especially true in the wake of absence or dormancy of all the monitoring systems as planned by CITES earlier. There should be a long term elephant conservation friendly plan on the fate of all the ivory stock the world over. It is not good to go for short term resolutions, which are also being taken in every meeting favouring the sale”.
The majority of conservationists feel that this was no way to find money for conservation. The protagonists could have easily tapped some corporate giants.