Author: Horizon Magazine

Bird immune systems reveal harshness of city life

They may peck greedily at feeding tables – and have it easier than country birds do in the warmer urban winters – but city birds, it turns out, are in turmoil on the inside. By Aisling Irwin Researchers have found that many internal defence mechanisms that are quiet in rural birds are much more active in those in cities. These biological pathways are pumping out extra antioxidants, immune system cells and detoxifiers – a sign that urban life is challenging their health. Globally, bird numbers are dropping. According to figures published by conservation organisation BirdLife International last year, 40% of bird species have

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Storing CO2 underground can curb carbon emissions, but is it safe?

At first glance, it almost sounds crazy. Can we really take carbon dioxide emissions from an industrial plant and store them underground? To find out, research is currently taking place to test if such an idea is not only viable but safe, and prove that to the public. By Jonathan O’Callaghan This approach is known as carbon capture and storage (CCS) and it’s been around for decades but has never really taken off. In its recent reports, however, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said that CCS could have a key role to play if we’re going to meet our climate

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Can CRISPR feed the world?

By 2040, there will be 9 billion people in the world. ‘That’s like adding another China onto today’s global population,’ said Professor Sophien Kamoun of the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, UK. Prof. Kamoun is one of a growing number of food scientists trying to figure out how to feed the world. As an expert in plant pathogens such as Phytophthora infestans – the fungus-like microbe responsible for potato blight – he wants to make crops more resistant to disease. Potato blight sparked the Irish famine in the 19th century, causing a million people to starve to death and another million migrants to flee. European farmers now keep the fungus in check by using pesticides. However, in regions without access to chemical sprays, it continues to wipe out enough potatoes to feed hundreds of millions of people every year.‘Potato blight is still a problem,’ said Prof. Kamoun. ‘In Europe, we use 12 chemical sprays per season to manage the pathogen that causes blight, but other parts of the world cannot afford this.’

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The Stilling: Global Wind Speeds Slowing Since 1960

Few people have probably noticed, but the world’s winds are getting slower. It is something that cannot be picked up by watching the billowing of dust or listening to the rustle of leaves on nearby trees. Instead, it is a phenomenon occurring on a different scale, as the average global wind speed close to the surface of the land decreases. And while it is not affecting the whole earth evenly, the average terrestrial wind speed has decreased by 0.5 kilometres per hour (0.3 miles per hour) every decade, according to data starting in the 1960s. Known as ‘stilling’, it has only been discovered in the last decade. And while it may sound deceptively calm, it could be a vital, missing piece of the climate change puzzle and a serious threat to our societies.

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