Multi-billion pound American companies deliberately cause famine in Malawi to increase their profits.

In 2002, Malawi was ravaged by an intense drought. On their last legs, genetically modified (GM) crop companies ‘came to the rescue’ by providing food for those at the brink of starvation. While it seems like a heroic action, a closer look tells a story of how massive businesses carefully manipulate drought, just so that they can sell their product.

Just years earlier, Malawi generated enough food for stockpiling, so that during droughts they would have a surplus. However, pushed by giant businesses, Malawi were forced to sell their excess grain so that foreign exchange could continue and debts could be paid. An action that led 3% of the population to die.

A brief respite from the drought occured in late 2002, early 2003, allowing Malawi to re-stockpile their grain. However, by this point they had accumulated a debt to these rich American investors and so had to sell the grain again.

Unsurprisingly, drought struck again in 2005, and with insufficient stores they looked for food abroad. Despite India offering food for a far lower cost, Malawi were in debt and so had to opt yet again for the more expensive American option.

This story demonstrates how market failures cause commodities to be of higher importance than human lives, with GM crop companies carefully and deliberately engineering a famine, causing unnecessary disease, death and despair. This shocking endless and inescapable injustice continues to this day.

Is the common house fly more fun at a party than you?

The fruit fly, often found buzzing around rotten fruit, has an array of surprising ways to avoid disease (photograph: getty images).

A new study by the University of Bath’s Nick Priest reveals that our humble house pests develop an alcoholic and sexual habit in order to avoid disease.

When you think of the hardworking Drosophila, or fruit fly, you probably think of repeatedly swatting them off your fruit at a picnic. Gathering around faeces and all things rotting, its hard to imagine that fruit flies themselves go to extreme measures to avoid disease.

Most infections in fruit flies are sexually transmitted which presents a dilemma as they want to mate, but are likely to get ill in doing so.

Their reaction? Drink alcohol. Nick found that when a male or female starts courting the other, they will quickly reach for the bottle before having sex. As well as for some dutch courage, alcohol is a natural medicine and so they are less likely to get an infection once drunk.

As well as monitoring their drinking habits, Nick had the dream job of carefully prising apart their stool. He discovered that flies gorge themselves on a high protein diet before sex as once infected, a protein rich diet dramatically increases their life expectancy.

But what if a high protein diet isn’t available? Their answer is to go out in a blaze of glory, having as much sex and as many offspring as possible before they die.

So what have we learned? Well, if you don’t want to get ill, eat steak, have sex and get drunk.

At Long Last, Predicting and Treating Dementia could Become a lot Easier.

Many of you may have been directly or indirectly affected by dementia, one of the most common brain disorders in the elderly. Scientists have routinely struggled to find reliable treatments and uncover why some people are more vulnerable than others, until now.

Neuroscientist Dr Choi proves for the first time that an enzyme named, ‘Nox1’ causes the death of brain cells and memory loss.

More exciting still, doctors can target and attack Nox1 with the substance, “apocynin” to reduce memory loss and brain damage in dementia patients.

Researchers fiddled with the brains of rats and let them loose in a chamber. Excitingly, after treatment with apocynin, fewer brain cells had died and the rats were remembering and finding a hidden, food-laden underwater platform with relative ease.

Despite being in its infancy, the work is undeniably exciting for dementia treatment.

Not only have we found a potential treatment in apocynin but we can monitor Nox1 activity to predict the most likely dementia sufferers. Elsewhere, studies have already begun to look at the role of Nox1 in other disorders as we continue to fight the war on brain disease.

How Slobber is the Moose’s Secret Weapon.

Ever tried dribbling on your meal?
It may seem bizarre, but researchers have recently revealed that moose do exactly that to protect themselves from plant defences.

After reading about how moose drool on a half eaten twig can cause re-sprouting, David Tanentzap from the University of Cambridge began to wonder whether this slobber has any other uses.

David explains how grasses release toxins that make moose sick to deter them from grazing. By slobbering over their future snack, moose can turn off plant defences to ensure a safe meal.

After somehow convincing zookeepers to do all the dirty work and scoop up moose drool after medical procedures, the scientists dabbed the saliva onto grass and watched the results.

Astonishingly, the spit did prevent some grasses from releasing toxic substances. However, rather perplexingly, the effects were only seen after a long time, meaning that slobbering over grass is only useful if the moose return to the same patch of grass later.

David is excited for future research to shed light on whether the moose do in fact return to the same patches of grass to make use of this remarkable, if a bit gross, ability.

Effects of a Changing Environment:

Studies into mating calls of the túgara frog (Physalaemus pustulosus), allude to how urban and non-urban con-specifics can respond differently to changing environments.

Press sourced image

Environmental conditions play a large role in the governance of natural and sexual selection. Halfwerk and his team concluded, through the studying of the túgara frog (Physalaemus pustulosus), that mating calls and phenotype largely vary between urban and non-urban males.

Females of the species are attracted to loud, complex call, however these calls are often overshadowed in a urban environment by the low-frequency noises of traffic pollution. To overcome this, the male frog must adapt their mating call in urban areas from what it sounds like in forested areas. The differences in mating call was noted to be more complex in urban areas, which increases sexual selection and decreased risk of predation in these areas. This was confirmed by translocation studies, in which urban males could easily adapted to their new environments that they were placed in.

This research affirms that urban con-specifics are capable of adapting to their environment, due to their altered phenotype and exposures to different environmental conditions. The ability to adapt to a changing landscape is vital today, with efforts being made world wide to improve efforts to maintain biodiversity.  ‘Making Space for Nature’ indicates that conservation efforts need to focus on the joining of established, but fragmented, patches. Species that can survive in fragmented environments can then effectively disperse and increase the species diversity of ecologically poorer areas.  

Whilst this study set out to explore the influence of a changing environment, from forest to urban, on mating call success, it has also successfully illustrated how species need not be confined to one habitat. Successful management can positively impact how species can thrive in a changing global environment.

A Great Murder Mystery

Great Tits and Pied Flycatchers undergo competition for resources due to climate change, resulting in the murder of Pied Flycatchers.

The effects of Climate change are rife, resulting in changes of breeding patterns of many species. A study conducted by Jelmer Samplonious and Christiaan Both in the Netherlands shows how interspecific competition has increased between Great Tits (Parus major) and the pied flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca), resulting in the death of adult male flycatchers as esult of the now overlapping breeding seasons.

Great tits are residents to the study site, whereas pied flycatchers are migratory breeders. Usually, this does not present an issue as the species, that occupy the same nesting sites, would not breed at the same time. However, the effects of climate change have led warmer winters meaning that the great tit population can survive through to the breeding season. Alongside this, temperature changes in the spring have pushed back the breeding season of great tits. Great tits normally breed two weeks earlier than the pied flycatcher, thus there would be no competition for resources, however the species ability to adapt to changing temperatures changes the timings of breeding seasons.

When the migratory species arrive to breed, in line with the egg laying of the great tits, the males that arrive late are often targeted and killed. It is currently still in speculation why this occurs, with some researchers attributing to a demand for food resources, with others postulating that the death of pied flycatchers simply reduces pressure on resources. Irrespective, the death of these males does not significantly affect the subsequent populations, due to not being able to find a partner.

Installing nest boxes largely decreases the competition for resources, and prevents the death of innocent birds.