Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

This post is about two recent developments in the field of biotechnology and environmental science.

1) Agrobacterium-mediated transformation is the method of choice for inserting foreign genes into the plant genome. Through this method one gene could be introduced at a time in a single experiment. However, to introduce two foreign genes, one needs to develop two separate plant lines each carrying one gene. The plants of the two lines are then cross bred to get both the genes in one plant. The process is quite laborious and takes a lot of time to complete. Besides, integration of the foreign gene into the plant genome can disrupt any native gene; or the foreign gene may get silenced and not expressed. To overcome these problems a team of scientists from the University of Chicago, the University of North Carolina and Chromatin, Inc., has developed a new method for constructing artificial plant mini-chromosomes. These are the rings of plant DNA that can be used to carry multiple genes in plant cells in one go. The work has been published in the October 19, 2007, issue of PLoS-Genetics. The team has developed maize mini-chromosomes (MMCs) that “…can introduce an entire “cassette” of novel genes into a plant in a way that is structurally stable and functional.” These mini-chromosomes could be suitably used as vectors for the transfer of two or more than two genes simultaneously, and would thereby save the time and effort required for lengthy and laborious hybridization experiments needed to transfer two genes in a plant genome. This would also cut down expenses involved in such experiments. The MMCs created also have maize centromere sequences in them. These sequences help them maintain independently of the maize genome and  newly introduced genes remain separate from the genome. This also helps their efficient transfer to the next generation in the Mendelian fashion. Thus these MMCs behave much like ordinary chromosomes.

You can read the full story here.

2) The second story deals with the use of algae as biofuel. Several companies are already working on the use of algae as biofuels. But LiveFuels Alliance, funded by LiveFuels Inc based in Menlo Park, CA, is trying to tap the oil producing potential of algae and hopes to replace gallons of fossil fuels with algae-based biocrude by 2010. Algae synthesize oil naturally. The raw algae is processed to “…make biocrude, the renewable equivalent of petroleum, and refined to make gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and chemical feedstocks for plastics and drugs.” To quote from the story, “Theoretically, algae can yield between 1,000 to 20,000 gallons of oil per acre, depending on the specific strain.” What is important is that LiveFuels Alliance is a national initiative led by Sandia National Laboratories, a U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratory, and in the next 3 years it would sponsor several labs and hundreds of scientists, which makes it the largest endeavor focused on commercial biofuel production from algae. Read the whole story here. via: Inhabitat

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Solar Decathlon, 2007

The Solar Decathlon is primarily sponsored by the U.S Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The Solar Decathlon, 2007, was the third in the series; the first one was held in 2002 and the second in 2005.  It is a competition in which teams from colleges and universities compete to design, build, and operate an attractive, effective, and energy-efficient solar-powered house. The competition is open to the public to witness the combination of solar energy, energy efficiency and home design. The event takes place on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., October 12 – 20.

This year teams from the colleges or universities of the USA, Puerto Rico, Spain, Germany, and Canada were in the fray to build, design, and operate the most energy-efficient solar-powered home. The competition was in different categories like  architecture, livability, comfort, provision of energy for space heating and cooling, hot water, lighting, and appliances. The winner of Solar Decathlon, 2007 (see photos from the event here), is the German University, Technische Universität Darmstadt. To build this stunning solar house the team innovatively used solar shutters and fold-up interior space. The second prize was won by the University of Maryland, and the third prize went to the Santa Clara University.

Read the whole story here. via: Inhabitat

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On the Blog Action Day

 Today is the Blog Action Day and bloggers around the world have united to put one of the most important issues of the world, the environment, on everyone’s mind. It is estimated that around 15,000 blogs and approximately 12 million readers worldwide would contribute in their own ways to raise awareness about the environment. It’s all about living, thinking, being, and of course, writing green. Bloggers from around the world will write about the environment under the Blog Action Day initiative. Prominent blogs like Lighter Footstep, GigaOm, Pronet Advertising and Google Blogs are supporting the cause. It is not necessary to have a blog writing about green issues only. Any blog, writing about anything under the sun could participate, and write about the green world. And as The Daily Green puts it “What’s most exciting is that the vast majority are not normally green blogs, but rather cover an extremely diverse range of topics and communities.”

I too have decided to contribute and would be writing this post about the environment and green technologies.

To begin with, I first of all decided to have a list of important environmental issues which are anthropogenic in nature. I found one on wikipedia. Here is the list. The list includes climate change, conservation, energy conservation, environmental impacts of dams, genetic engineering, farming, land degradation, ozone depletion, pollution, overpopulation, etc. Many more things could be added to that list.

Now the pertinent question is: How are we tackling these issues? In my view, making the Earth greener is a collective effort where every individual contributes in their own way. I would like to cite a few examples below which I feel should make an impact.

1) To stop global warming, 6 technologies have emerged as the possible remedies to curb global warming. These are synthetic trees, which “suck 1,000-times more carbon from the atmosphere than a typical tree”, orbiting space mirrors that reflect infrared radiation before it reaches the earth, algae forests in the lifeless areas of the oceans could draw carbon out of the atmosphere, floating ocean pipes, sulfur filled rockets “that would explode in the upper atmosphere, spreading a “sulfur blanket” to increase the aerosols that reflect sunlight before it reaches the earth”, and seeding cloud cover. via: The Daily Green

2) There was this landmark development in which Paris city called for a 30% reduction in energy usage and emissions from public buildings by the year 2020. I think every city should try to plan something on these lines. via: Treehugger

3) The Americans are willing to pay higher taxes, or accept a higher price on a new home, if the money would be used for energy efficiency improvements that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which in turn, would reduce global warming. 69% of the respondents were ready to pay $8.50 more a month if 20% of their electricity were generated from wind, solar and other renewable energy sources. via: The Daily Green

4) Recently, New Zealand declared a 10-year moratorium on building any thermal power plant which burns fossil fuels (coal). via: Treehugger

5) In a poll by the Clean Fuels Development Coalition, it was found that 88% of the Americans believe the U.S. should pursue renewable energy sources. 78% of the respondents believed that ethanol would lessen the country’s dependence on foreign oil. via: The Daily Green

The above points indicate that efforts are being made in the right direction and technologies like solar power, ethanol fuels, wind farms, reusable plastics, green computing, space based solar cells, and many many more would help reduce environmental problems to a greater extent.

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