Monthly Archives: January 2014

Agricultural Ammonia Affecting the US National Parks

Agricultural AmmoniaNational parks throughout the United States are witnessing “accidental fertilization” at or above the threshold established for causing ecological damage – a result of nitrogen-based compounds blown in from power plants, car exhaust and industrial agriculture. Nitrogen is known to disturb the nutrient cycle in soil. It promotes algal overgrowth and reduces the pH level of water. This in turn reduces the number of species able to survive in an area.

A research report from Harvard University shows that 38 out of 45 national parks examined by scientists are negatively affected by the nitrogen-based compounds. It is also causing harm to the flora in their ecosystems, such as lichens, hardwood forests and tall grass prairie.

According to the Times, while on one hand nitrogen oxide emissions from automobiles and power plants will reduce by about 75% by 2050, ammonia from agriculture is expected to rise by up to 50%. It is for this reason the increasing population requires more food and uses more fertilizer and livestock.

According to the reports, there are no serious steps taken by the government, nor there are any strict rules or regulations regulated to solve the problem. The agricultural ammonia is used at unregulated rates and is deteriorating the parks of U.S. at a very fast pace.

The reason that ammonia regulations have been non-existent is that EPA regulates environmental activity based on public health concerns. As per Daniel Jacob, “Air regulations in the United States have always focused on public health, because air pollution leads to premature deaths, and that’s something you can quantify very well.”

Considering the negative effects and the future threats caused by agricultural ammonia, the problem should be considered as a national issue. It is important to deal with the trouble without any delay. The nitrogen deposition to parks is mostly coming from the domestic sources that can easily be controlled. It is time that the governments and businesses take severe steps about it.

Mammalian Brain Size Associated With Genes

NHT- Blog- XXXVI- 29 January 2014Dr. Humberto Gutierrez, from the School of Life Sciences, University of Lincoln, UK, studied the genomes of 39 species of mammals trying to understand how brains become larger and more complex in mammals. The examination clearly showed that there was a clear link between the increased brain size and the expansion of gene families.

During evolution, different mammal species have experienced different degrees of expansion in brain size, which is called encephalization. To understand exactly how this process occurs in mammals, the scientists focused on the size of the gene families across these 39 species. Gene family is a group of similar genes with similar sequence and function. The researchers believed that there is a connection between the brain size variations among related species and the large changes in the size of gene families.

“These gene families are responsible for cell communication and cell movement as well as immune functions and are prominently expressed in the human brain,” said Dr. Gutierrez in a news release. The study concluded that the larger brains in mammals are because of the changes in gene family size.

The mammalian brains are larger compared to their body size and represent an evolutionary costly adaptation as they require large amounts of energy to function. This is the reason why mammalian brains position intense metabolic demands on animals. Such brains also need greater parental investment. Like in the case of humans, they need several years of nurturing before their brains are fully developed.

The research also concluded that the variation in the size of the gene families found during the study provided an evolutionary support for the specific physiological demands associated with increased brain size in mammals. The study can also help in future discoveries of treatments of certain brain diseases and disorders and is predicted to be a revolution in the field of medical sciences.

Maternal Depression Affecting Infants

NHT- Blog- XXXV- 29 January 2014A recent study led by Dr. Anqi Qiu and colleagues at the National University of Singapore found that depression among pregnant women may have an impact on their developing babies. The impact of maternal depression is not restricted to infancy, but can also extend into toddlerhood, preschool age, and even school age children. Maternal depression triggers the same brain change in the children that are at an increased risk of developing depression themselves.

Structural MRI imaging was used by researchers on infants to evaluate the size of the amygdalae. The study showed that a tendency for abnormal amygdala function was transmitted from mother to child during fetal life. The study also suggested that maternal depression contributes to a life-long increase in the vulnerability to mental illness in children.

Such children show changes in the amygdala which is an important brain structure responsible for the regulation of emotion and stress. They experience a greater probability of problems with behavior, cognitive development and mental health. In certain cases, children are either born too early or with more complications even before delivery.

Depression damages the interactions between parents and children. Children with a depressed parent themselves develop symptoms of depression, along with other psychiatric problems and behavior issues.

The researchers believe that mental health screening should be included with the medical evaluations that women undergo when they discover that they are pregnant. Mothers who recovered from major depression gave birth to children that experienced significantly decreased symptoms and diagnosis of mental illness. Successful treatment of a depressed mother has a rapid effect on a child’s mental health.

The research shows that untreated maternal depression has potentially negative effects on the developing fetus. Many people think that depression should not be treated during pregnancy. Contrary to this, attention to maternal physical and mental health is an extremely high priority. The risk is reduced to a great extent by systematic screening of pregnant women for depression and initiating effective treatment.

Uranium Mining – Stop Before it’s Too Late

Earth-Girl--BlogLast month I spent my vacation with my friend in Japan. It was a ten days’ trip and I was very curious about visiting Nagasaki. I planned the trip to the city with her. I had heard about the demolition caused by the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Reaching there I witnessed the city to be normal as others. But abnormal births are still happening and could easily be seen. Observing such children was so depressing that it made my eyes wet.

Despite of the outcomes that we are facing, nations are still competing with nuclear weapons. They are incessantly finding new methods to make more destructive weapons knowing the fact that all it will lead to is destruction. Uranium mining is disastrous to both humans as well as environment.

The health of miners that work in conventional uranium mines is the most at risk. Miners are exposed not only to fine particles of uranium but also radon, a by-product of uranium in the form of radioactive gas. The inhalation of uranium particles and radon causes cancer particularly in the lung. It was proved long back that contamination with radon gas causes bronchial and lung cancer in mineworkers.

Being highly toxic, uranium attacks the inner organs such as kidneys. Studies show that uranium causes birth defects in fetuses and infants, increasing the risk of leukemia. It causes mutation in human DNA and chromosomes and deforms them.

Contamination of local water supplies around uranium mines and processing plants has been documented in Brazil, Colorado, Texas, Australia, Namibia and many other sites. Uranium mining affects the quality and quantity of ground water and surface water. It also affects the soil and biota.

The only way, I think, to control these effects is to put a ban on uranium mining worldwide. It is time for the nations to get together against nuclear weapons and lead to a happier and more prosperous future. The efforts that are put on finding new skills of destruction need to be imposed for the welfare of the society.

Earth Girl – The Problem of Overfishing

Fish have always been an attraction for me to watch. This is the reason why I care so much for those few in my aquarium. They may not be living free as they would have lived in a water body, but I think they are safer.

Overfishing occurs when more fish are caught than the population can replace through natural reproduction. The main cause is the increase in international commercial fishing without adequate resource planning. Millions rely on fish for protein and fishing is the principal livelihood for many around the world. More than 85 percent of the world’s fisheries have been pushed to or beyond their biological limits.

The main reason of overfishing is that there are no or few property rights due to which there is a lack of incentive for fishermen to leave fish in the water. There is lack of management oversight and government regulations. This has long been a problem in the fishing industry.

The current rules and regulations are not enough to limit fishing capacity to a sustainable level. Another major cause of overfishing is illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, also known as pirate fishing. It is prevalent across all types of fisheries, at small scales as well as large industrialized operations.

Overfishing is the greatest threat to ocean ecosystems. It destroys the physical environments of marine life and distorts the entire food chain in the oceans. Constant fishing of particular species can also lead to its extinction. The increased amount of fishing activity has a serious effect on the health of the oceans as a whole.

According to the recent studies, overfishing of large shark species greatly affects the shark’s food chain and increases the number of species that are usually the prey for large sharks.

Millions of sharks, fish and seabirds are killed due to inefficient fishing methods. It is time to stop this illegal activity for our own sake or the day is not far when there will be only a dead ocean.