In the study of the plant kingdom, a slow revolution is underway. Scientists are beginning to understand that plants have abilities, previously unnoticed and unimagined, that we’ve only ever associated with animals. In their own ways, plants can see, smell, feel, hear, and know where they are in the world. One recent study found that clusters of cells in plant embryos act a lot like brain cells and help the embryo to decide when to start growing.
Now, researchers at the University of Cambridge have created a new material that mimics spider silk’s strength, stretchiness and energy-absorbing capacity. This material offers the possibility of improving on products from bike helmets to parachutes to bulletproof jackets to airplane wings. Perhaps its most impressive property? It’s 98 percent water.
Americans aren’t just putting these drugs into their bodies; they’re also putting more drugs into the environment. A growing body of research suggests all types of drugs, from illegal drugs to antibiotics to hormones, enter the environment through sewage and cesspool systems across the country. And while pharmaceutical drugs—when used as prescribed—are capable of curing disease and alleviating symptoms in people, they can wreak havoc on nature.
Many of the trees we grow evolved in temperate climates and can’t tolerate the stress of drought, water restrictions, higher salinity levels in recycled water, wind and new pests that arrive almost daily via global trade and tourism ... one particularly dangerous menace — the polyphagous shot hole borer beetle — could kill as many as 27 million trees in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties... roughly 38% of the 71 million trees in the 4,244 square mile urban region
One of the biggest constituents of rubbish dumps is polyethylene... When they put wax-moth caterpillars onto the sort of film it had taken Nocardia asteroides half a year to deal with, they found that holes appeared in it within 40 minutes ... it has yet to be established whether the caterpillars gain nutritional value from the plastics they eat, as well as If the droppings produced by eating plastic turn out to be toxic
the evidence lined up to support the anti-insect hypothesis...overlaying the ranges of various biting flies and insects with the places where zebras, and their non-striped cousins like the Asiatic wild ass, ranged...You find striping where you have high biting fly abundance... One question is about the flies—why are they repulsed by black and white? Another is whether the zebras adapted this anti-fly defense because they are particularly susceptible to blood loss, or to diseases the flies carry.
known as mires or bogs, peatlands only cover about 3 percent of the planet’s total land surface, but they contain up to a third of all of the carbon locked in Earth's soils. They're formed by an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation or organic matter in a wetland environment ... carbon has been accumulating in the Congo Basin's peat for nearly 11,000 years ... Peatlands are only a resource in the fight against climate change when left intact
However appealing it might be to imagine ant colonies organised by division of labour, the evidence tells us they are not ... The system that ant colonies use to organise their work is a distributed process ... Similar processes are at work in other natural systems without central control. For example, although certain large regions of the brain seem to be involved in particular tasks...the same neurons are involved in different tasks, and the same task can be accomplished by different neurons.
The ability to digest milk into adulthood is one of the most striking examples of how we’ve been affected by domestication. Known as ‘lactase persistence’, a term that refers to the enzyme that breaks down lactose in milk, it’s one of the greatest evolutionary adaptations in any species of the past few thousand years. Tolerance developed in humans at least five times, once in Europe and four times in areas of sub-Saharan Africa.
the planet’s soils...are a massive repository of carbon due to the plants and roots that have grown and died in them, in many cases over vast time periods (plants pull in carbon from the air through photosynthesis and use it to fuel their growth). It has long been feared that as warming increases, the microorganisms living in these soils would respond by very naturally upping their rate of respiration, a process that in turn releases carbon dioxide or methane, leading greenhouse gases.