Worms and Flowers

Pollen Under the Microscope

Posted in Scientific by Lzyjo on May 1, 2010

Who knew allergies could be beautiful?! Swiss photographer Martin Oeggerli took ultra-microscopic pictures using a device called a  scanning-electron microscope (SEM) these photos are stunningly and even frighteningly beautiful. I especially loved the uniqueness of the pollen from each different species.

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Forget-me-not pollen photo by Martin Oeggerli

Check it out on MSNBC, “Micropollen:The Beauty behind your allergy misery.

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Blog Action Day Climate Change

Posted in Environment by Lzyjo on October 15, 2009

Okay this is old news right, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. We all know reduce comes first because it is the most important. Stop the chain of pollution at the beginning. Reuse is great, becuase it means you are not only using something again, but you are are also reducing by not using or buying something else. Recycling is last but not least, it’s almost the same as reusing. Paper and plastic products undergo reincarnation in the processing and subsequent remanufacturing. We don’t have the power to change global policy but we can start change on our own at home.

Just by evaluation my household needs I found a lot of way to use the three Rs.

Reduce

Reduce packaging by buying economical family sized products.

Avoid individually wrapped servings. Even buying a 2L of soda and drinking from tumblers can save a lot of packing from entering the recycling process.

A lot of packaging is plastic (petroleum) Amazon.com offer toys and other products that come packed directed in an amazon box, reducing a lot of packaging and the hassel of removing the molded plastic shells.

Henkel 00-09122 Indoor 5-Window Shrink Film Kit, 62-by-210-Inch

Reduce energy cost by insulating your home. This doesn’t mean spending a fortune having the walls restuffed, but rather take some simple non-permanent measures, like making draft dodgers and using shrink film on the windows. I LOVE the window kits, so easy to install and it makes a night tight barrier from the cold a must for any home with single pane windows.  This particular package claims you can save up to $190 per year. Great stuff, you’ll notice a difference as soon as it’s installed!

Reflective solar curtains are also a great way to keep out the hot sun in the summer, also a very economical product with a noticible effect.

Reuse

Reusing packing is a great way to get more use out of a produt before it becomes “garbage”

Single serving yogurts make great pots for seedlings or cuttings, making it worthwhile to buy small containers instead of a pint.

Reusing grocery bags is a fabulous way to prevent trash from littering the environment. We all know that an outrageous number of plastic shopping bags, 500 BILLION, are used around the world each year. 30 Billion plastic shopping bags are used in the US alone! Of course it takes a ton of oil to make that many bags, about 12 MILLION barrels worth! A lot of the 500 Billion bags end up as litter, where they hand around for a long time. Sometimes the bags are where we can see them, blowing across a parking lot or median. Sometimes they are found flood debris, but more often they in parts of your ocean-backyard that we don’t see. Places like the “Eastern Garbage Patch,” (sounds attractive, huh?) contains an enormous amoust of plastic debris that is harmful (no duh) to marine life (spell check just changed that the martian life) and shore birds like the Albatross. Marine animals also become entangled with debris or they can die from a stomach full of plastic garbage, lighters, bottle caps….The saddest part, only 1% of plastic bags are recycled annually, so take advantage of those plastic bags drop offs at the grocery store.

grocery bag canYou might think, in the middle of the bag controversy, that paper bags are the way to go. Save all that oil. Get a nice brown bag. Most often baggers put the paper bag in a plastic bag so the bottom doesn’t drop out and and so you’ll have handles to grab. The truth is, the pulp and paper industry is a major industrial energy consumer, the largest industrial water consumer, and the third largest polluter behind the steel and chemical industries.

Grocery bags don’t have to be a guilty pleasure because there are so many great (re)uses for them. For plastic bags try  Simple Human’s super garbage can that secures that loops the grocery bag under the can’s handles. This stainless steel wonder makes recycling grocery bags sexy. Even at 24.99, it will pay for it’s quickly, no more buying expensive trash liners, that waste use more petroleum. Beautiful, sturdy, effective. No more fishing the handles out of the garbage.  Of course you always want to use two bag, in case a hole or rip is hiding, you never know. Better safe than sorry, or in this case, better safe than cursing.

Paper bags, use them to wrap packages in a pinch. Also great for cooling cookies, especially at Christmas time. Cute the bag into a flat sheet, unload the cookies,  cool the sheets down outside and bake your next batch!

Don’t forget to recycle! The little things DO make a difference!

Blog Action Day

Butterfly vs. Bt

Posted in Scientific by Lzyjo on September 29, 2009

PhotobucketI know, I’m not Sherlock Holmes, but there is a serious problem afoot that needs some investigating. Here is the first clue: On the East Coast the most prevalent butterflies are the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail in both its black and yellow forms. These pictures were taken last year in the middle of June.  One of their favorite flowers in these parts are the milk thistles. There are a ton of these thistles and they bloom a lot, but this year, not one butterfly on their flowers. Not one. In fact I saw two butterflies this entire summer. A black one quickly darted away from me while I was picking blackberries and a Yellow Tiger Swallowtail also darted away from me closer to the yard.

Second Clue: Bt, Bacillus thuringiensis, is a naturally occurring soil-dwelling bacteria and biological insecticide. Bt is a living organism very similar to Anthrax.  Bt, like anthrax, produces endospores a virtually indestructible  enclosure that protects the organism’s DNA. Endospores remain dormant until favorable conditions are met, then they replicates their own DNA, producing other compounds and toxins during the process. One of these is a crystal protein toxin produced by Bt’s cry gene. This cry toxin specifically effects larvae in many orders of the insect family. Bt lives in the soil and on plant material, specifically plant material that caterpillars need to eat. When caterpillars or any insect larvae ingest the cry toxin it becomes activated due to the pH in their guts. The toxin basically causes the cells in the thin gut lining to explode, quickly and effectively killing the insect. This is exactly how Bt insecticides and genetically modified Bt crops work.Photobucket

I lifted the following paragraph from Wikipedia’s Bt page. “Because of their specificity, these pesticides are regarded as environmentally friendly, with little or no effect on humans, wildlife, pollinators, and most other beneficial insects”

oh, except, ants, beetles, butterflies,  flies, mosquitoes, moths,  nematodes and so on…

Granted, we don’t want mosquitoes with West Nile Virus flying all over the country, but do we really prefer Bt killing every insect in sight like an invisible grim reaper?

Sources:

Wikipedia Bt]

UPDATED INFO: Bt Correction

First Blush

Posted in Scientific by Lzyjo on September 24, 2009

Autumn is truly upon us and the leaves have noticed not a moment too soon.

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Just a few days ago, I noticed the tiniest blush of gold on the green hills.

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When the days shorten the trees respond by storing as much energy as possible for the upcoming months. They begin by sealing off the leaf petiole, preventing chlorophyll from regenerating.

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When the chlorophyll breaks down it leaves the more stable carotene molecules. Carotene naturally occurs in green leaves, acting as an accessory to increase absorption of certain wave lengths in the light spectrum. With the chlorophyll gone the leaf appears yellow due to light reflecting from the carotene molecules.

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Under certain stressful circumstances, bright dry days and cool nights, the tree makes a last ditch effort to recover any remaining nutrients.  If these condition are met, a reaction between the sugars and proteins in the sap occurs, catalyzing anthocyanins, pigments that can be red to purple colored depending on the pH. Anthocyanins are responsible for the red skin of apples and the purple colors of grapes.

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Depending on the temperature and weather conditions, fall displays can vary greatly from year to year.

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Sources:

The Chemistry of Autumn Colors

HowStuffWorks “Why do leaves change color and turn red?”