April 8, 2009

So You Think You Know? : Wildlife

To switch from male to female and back again without the help of surgery is a feat that only a handful of organisms can accomplish, including some types of fish, shrimp, snails and worms. Now, a new study adds mushroom corals to the list.

It is the first study to show that any coral can change sex in either direction, let alone both.

Understanding why and when some corals make the switch may eventually help scientists protect them from the stresses of a changing environment. For now, the study remains a fascinating window into the biology and evolution of these corals.

Mushroom corals belong to a family called Fungiidae. They are solitary, mobile species that live throughout the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Mushroom corals are abundant and diverse, but how they reproduce is something scientists haven't known much about.

The transition from male to female seems to be a natural progression with growth, van Woesik added. But the fact that the corals sometimes switch back from female to male, might be a sign that they are in distress and need to conserve resources.

The oceans face a lot of stressors these days, from pollution to climate change. If environmental pressures push too many mushroom corals towards maleness, a skewed sex ratio could threaten their future.

Via Discovery Channel

April 7, 2009

Bottled Water Carries Hidden Cost to Earth

$1.79 might seem like a small price to pay for a bottle of water. But it costs the Earth far more than that.

Compared to a liter of tap water, producing a liter of bottled water requires as much as 2,000 times more energy, according to the first analysis of its kind. The study also found that our nation's bottled water habit sucked up the equivalent of 32 to 54 million barrels of oil last year.

"The bottom line is that we should understand better the implications of our choices," said Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security in Oakland, Calif. "It suggests more ways to reduce energy use than maybe we otherwise think of."

In 2007, the last year for which numbers are available, Americans purchased more than 33 billion liters of bottled water. Globally, the number was 200 billion liters.

"It's a big deal," Gleick said. "And yet, no one had looked at all of the energy that goes into it. We didn't know."

To find out, he and a colleague considered three case studies: water that was bottled and used in Los Angeles; water bottled in the South Pacific and sent by cargo ship to L.A.; and water bottled in France and shipped in various ways to L.A. For each scenario, the researchers looked at all the energy involved in collecting, treating, bottling, labeling, packaging, cooling, and transporting the liquid.

For water that is consumed near its source, producing PET plastic bottles is the most energy-intensive step, according to their results, which appeared in the journal Environmental Research Letters. For bottles that make longer trips, transportation has the biggest impact.

In other words, buying water that was bottled near your home rather than in places like Fiji can help reduce your carbon footprint. Better yet, Gleick said, put away your wallet and turn on the faucet instead.

"One of the conclusions we can all draw from this study is that novel materials and low-carbon energy can help," said Daniel Kammen, co-director of the Berkeley Institute of the Environment at the University of California, Berkeley. "But our own behavior is critical to cutting down not just physical waste, but also carbon waste."

Via Discovery Channel

Beijing Street Food

As I'm going to be off to China in a few days, I've been doing some research on random stuff. And I stumbled on this clip... My mouth got watering watching it. I like crispy, crunchy stuff.

April 2, 2009

Top 10: Steps to a better brain

It doesn't matter how brainy you are or how much education you've had - you can still improve and expand your mind. Boosting your mental faculties doesn't have to mean studying hard or becoming a reclusive book worm. There are lots of tricks, techniques and habits, as well as changes to your lifestyle, diet and behaviour that can help you flex your grey matter and get the best out of your brain cells. And here are 10 of them.

1. Smart drugs

2. Food for thought

3. The Mozart effect

4. Gainful employment

5. Memory marvels

6. Sleep on it

7. Body and mind

8. Nuns on a run

9. Attention seeking

10. Positive feedback

Via New Scientist

April 1, 2009

April Fool's Day Hoaxes

imageSan Serriffe

1977: The British newspaper The Guardian published a special seven-page supplement devoted to San Serriffe, a small republic said to consist of several semi-colon-shaped islands located in the Indian Ocean. A series of articles affectionately described the geography and culture of this obscure nation. Its two main islands were named Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse. Its capital was Bodoni, and its leader was General Pica. The Guardian's phones rang all day as readers sought more information about the idyllic holiday spot. Only a few noticed that everything about the island was named after printer's terminology. The success of this hoax is widely credited with launching the enthusiasm for April Foolery that gripped the British tabloids in subsequent decades.
San Serriffe (full-length article)
Fictitious Geography of April Fool's Day

The Left-Handed Whopper

1998: Burger King published a full page advertisement in USA Today announcing the introduction of a new item to their menu: a "Left-Handed Whopper" specially designed for the 32 million left-handed Americans. According to the advertisement, the new whopper included the same ingredients as the original Whopper (lettuce, tomato, hamburger patty, etc.), but all the condiments were rotated 180 degrees for the benefit of their left-handed customers. The following day Burger King issued a follow-up release revealing that although the Left-Handed Whopper was a hoax, thousands of customers had gone into restaurants to request the new sandwich. Simultaneously, according to the press release, "many others requested their own 'right handed' version."