science

Sticky Notes

I don’t have the brainpower for a real blog, so instead you get to see what I’ve got stuck up as reminders for various classes and reading.

Transgenic Plants

The alteration of crops to improve their production was performed through the basis of selection before the creation of transgenics. This selection has been going on for thousands of years. By the year 2050, world population may reach nine billions. Food production will need to increase at the same rate or more in order to satisfy the needs of such an enormous number of people in some older centuries. So, there is a need to use the genetic techniques to improve crops over the recent decades. Through the use of transgenics, one can produce plants with desired traits and even increased yields. The transgenics would allow for more crops that last longer and withstand pests and diseases. Transgenic plant production will allow us to feed the growing population and to produce more desirable products. The future of GM crops remains a vital debate, as its applications have several advantages and disadvantages.

Naturally Transgenic

We communicate the rather remarkable observation that among 291 tested accessions of cultivated sweet potato, all contain one or more transfer DNA (T-DNA) sequences. These sequences, which are shown to be expressed in a cultivated sweet potato clone (“Huachano”) that was analyzed in detail, suggest that an Agrobacterium infection occurred in evolutionary times. One of the T-DNAs is apparently present in all cultivated sweet potato clones, but not in the crop’s closely related wild relatives, suggesting the T-DNA provided a trait or traits that were selected for during domestication. This finding draws attention to the importance of plant–microbe interactions, and given that this crop has been eaten for millennia, it may change the paradigm governing the “unnatural” status of transgenic crops.

The Atmostphere is a Thin Soup 

Nice, but what does this have to do with rain formation? The proposal from Money’s lab is an explanation for the way fungal spores make for nuclei effective in the formation of raindrops. Before considering the possible mechanism, let’s do some numbers. Are there sufficient spores in the atmosphere to make a difference? The answer is yes. Fungal spores are dispersed every year to the tune of 50 million tons, enough to cover each square mm of the planet with 1000 spores. They are not distributed evenly, with forested regions accounting for the greater share of the production. So, the numbers seem to add up.

Could Einstein Happen Twice? 

A more pertinent question, perhaps, is whether any young scientist could do that today. Einstein’s “miraculous year” of 1905, in which he not only deduced special relativity but also kick-started quantum theory and published several other ground-breaking papers, was an unrivalled creative burst. Yet any scientist’s early career is often their most productive time, as it was with Stephen Hawking. Today, however, it’s instead likely to be the most constrained and fraught.

Young scientists now need more than ever to publish lots and quickly, to get grants and tenure, to justify the “impact” of their work, and to carve out a niche for themselves, often in a highly specialised area. There is scant opportunity to just sit at a desk and ponder big questions.

 

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