Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Boole's House: Problem hasn't gone away

The Evening Echo reports that after two and a half long years, the repair works to Grenville Place in Cork City are finally complete.

The quay wall was partially demolished here during the flooding of 2009. The roadway is directly adjacent to the former home of George Boole, a building which partially collapsed in October 2010.

Since then there has been pressure on those responsible, including Cork City Council to save the building and protect Cork's cultural, historic and scientific heritage.

Since Cork City Council had earlier stated that it would "subject to the consent of the owner, establish the level of interest in its future use/development, from the range of bodies which have expressed views to the Council on its historic importance" and given that the building now seems to be for sale on the open market, it's time to act.

The rebuilding of the quay wall was suggested as an obstacle to progressing the project. That obstacle has now, finally been cleared.

Given the length of time taken to deal with the quay wall, I won't hold my breath but Cork City Council and those responsible for the building's present condition would do well to hear that it hasn't gone away, you know.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Attention-grabbing rampage adds nothing to GM debate

Grain Aphid (Image: Rothamsted Research)
Regular readers of this blog will know that I've advocated a sensible and rational debate about GM crops and I've added my voice to the growing calls for trials to establish the scientific evidence for and against such crops.

In a recent article for the Guardian's Notes and Theories Blog, I've also called for a move away from division based on ideology in agriculture and food production towards a compromise solution where the best features of all agriculture systems are used safely and effectively.

That is why it's particularly disturbing that this weekend could see one of the most difficult, disturbing and avoidable stand-offs in the whole GM debate so far.

Located north of London, Rothamsted Research station is the longest running agricultural research station in the world. A trial of GM wheat plants has been ongoing since the 22nd of March. The plants are designed to repel aphid pests because they emit an aphid repellent.

The gene inserted into the wheat is synthetic in nature - it doesn't come from any other species. It allows the plant to produce (E)-β-farnesene, an alarm pheremone that the aphid itself produces to warn off other aphids when they come under attack. Simply put, the plants are designed to repel the aphids by scaring them off.

However, the trial, designed to see whether the new plants would grow as expected and repel aphids, is under threat from an anti-GM grouping called Take The Flour Back.

This group has called for a 'decontamination' of the site next Sunday, May 27th. According to their website, "Take the Flour Back will be a nice day out in the country, with picnics, music from Seize the Day and a decontamination. It’s for anyone who feels able to publicly help remove this threat and those who want to show their support for them".

In what amounts to a threat of physical force, the group has called on the Rothamsted researchers to remove the plants or face the consequences of a 'decontamination'. Protesters are encouraged by the protesters website: "If you are able to bring your own biohazard protection and dustmask, please do".

Rothamstead researchers took the unprecedented step of writing an open letter (pdf) to the protesters and producing a youtube video (below), appealing that their research would not be destroyed.

Apart from a letter from the protest group they seem to have been reluctant to engage in any sort of meaningful dialogue - even withdrawing from a public debate which they themselves had called for.
You can read a timeline of events and the correspondence itself here.

A petition, organised by Sense about Science has garnered over 5,500 signature in the last few weeks in support of the Rothamsted researchers.

At this late stage, it seems unlikely that the protesters will not attempt to destroy legitimate and much-needed scientific research on Sunday. They will also put at risk the nearby Broadbalk experimental site - itself the longest running field experiment in the world.

Rothamsted scientists will be at work on Sunday, a short distance from the trial site, to answer questions from the public. Nearby, years of scientific research could be reduced to nothing by extremists who refuse to accept the rule of law or the argument that a debate based on evidence is needed rather than a hot-headed, attention-grabbing rampage. As one commentator put it, destruction adds nothing to the sum of human knowledge.

Even at the eleventh hour, this group needs to call a halt to this 'protest' and engage in a proper debate. If the evidence against GM is as convincing as they think it is, then they have nothing to fear.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Fascination of Plants Day

Image: Wageningen UR/Fascination of Plants Day
Today, May 18, the fascination and importance of having plants on our planet will be in the spotlight worldwide.

Launched under the umbrella of the European Plant Science Organization (EPSO, Brussels), the Fascination of Plants Day has been adopted by 39 countries, 29 from Europe and 10 from North- and South America, Asia, Australasia and Africa.

More than 580 institutions - ranging from botanical gardens to plant research centres - are hosting different kinds of public and media events which are all closely related to basic plant science, agricultural research, environmental conservation, biodiversity, education and arts.

The public as well as journalists and the media are invited to attend press conferences, to explore laboratories or to visit greenhouses, field stations or field sites, museums, and other exhibitions. People will have the opportunity to talk with plant scientists and discuss basic and applied research in plant biology.

For information on Irish Events for Fascination of Plants Day - see here

Australian organisers have been running a Youtube video competition on the theme. Here's one of the entries-

Monday, May 14, 2012

Plants on the coast

Apologies for the dearth of posts of late. To ease us back into it, here's a few images from a day spent botanising on the coast of West Cork. 

They're two very common plants found right around the coast of Britain and Ireland.

The first is Common Scurvygrass (Cochlearia officinalis). Found on saltmarshes and cliffs, the white flowers have four petals and the leaves are easily identifiable, being arrow-shaped around the stem. It's a member of the Brassicaceae family.

The plant gets its common  name from the fact that it was often used on ships as a cure for scurvy - caused by a lack of vitamin C.

The second plant is Thrift (Armeria maritima). Flowering now until almost the end of summer in places, the pink flowers are found in round terminal heads on tall stalks extending from a cushion of slender, single-veined leaves.

Found also in saltmarshes and (as here) on clifftops, it's also known as Sea Pink.

Interestingly, Thrift is highly tolerant of copper - able to exclude the metal, retaining it in the roots without transporting it to the rest of the plant. It also excretes the copper through its decaying leaves.

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