By Robert Wheatley – Health and Innovation Editor
What’s going on in the realm of discovery? Off to a rough start, global warming is affecting the Great Barrier Reef’s marine life, resulting in large quantities of coral dying — however, scientists suggest potential for recovery. Most change has been for the positive: we’ve discovered almost 1,500 new viruses as a result of studying creatures not often considered, and Women in Science are aiming to combat misogyny and anti-immigration sentiments president-elect Donald Trump’s campaign has reflected.
1. Largest coral die-off ever recorded in Great Barrier Reef
Two-thirds of the of the coral have been pronounced dead by scientists surveying the reef, as a result of coral bleaching in response to warmer water temperatures. Corals release algae in their tissues, which cuts off their food supply and thus results in ‘bleaching’; the coral turning pale, causing it to become susceptible to disease and death. Because many fish depend on these coral reefs for shelter and food, there will likely be a decline in reefs in many areas. Thankfully, some corals survived the bleaching, and the ones that are alive should be able to help provide for the ones in need.
2. An Australian-China based research team has discovered almost 1,500 new viruses.
Studying viral infection in invertebrates, some of the new species were so unique that they didn’t fit our existing virus family tree. It’s been called “the largest virus discovery to date”, and will likely “remodel our view of the virus world” (Professor Elodie Ghedin, New York University). The research also reveals that viruses have actually been trading their genetic material to create new species, lego-like in their ability to recombine themselves (Professor Eric Delwart, University of California). While the authors of the study do not think the viruses pose risks, like Zika and dengue have, in spreading to humans, Ghedin does not rule it out: she says this is a good call for “expanding virus surveillance to invertebrates in our quest to better understand (and predict) emerging viruses.”
3. Women in Science sign a pledge to combat discrimination following the US election
Almost 9,000 women have signed a pledge that rejects the sentiments spoken during the U.S. presidential election, claiming the “anti-knowledge” and “anti-science” statements expressed “threaten the very foundation of our society” because of Trump’s inconsideration of issues like climate change, in which he has promised to cancel the Paris Climate Agreement. They highlighted anti-immigrant, anti-LGBT+ as well as misogynistic rhetoric from the Republican campaign, and reinforced that these are the identities of many US scientists, and many of which face issues of structural inequality and discrimination. Those interested in supporting the project are asked to join.
4. The lesser known ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ gains more coverage in the scientific community
Originally coined in 2005 by Richard Louv, the author argues that because we are spending more time indoors we are alienating ourselves from nature, resulting in vulnerability to bad moods and less attention span. Dr Ross Cameron, from the department of landscape at Sheffield University, says it’s potentially a symptom of the average lifestyle as a result of our fixation on modern technology. His views on the subject were discussed in a recent lecture at the Royal Horticultural Society, the society promoting ways of bringing more nature into one’s life such as having plants that attract wildlife, and growing certain plants like Scots pine and Junipers which capture pollution particles. Dr Cameron says we need to consider the potential it has for our mental health, and that we should aim to interact with nature as much as we can.
5. European research ministers are to decide on the ExoMars rover’s funding
€400m is needed to finish building the European Space Agency’s ExoMars robot, designed with the ability to drill on Mars’ surface to find evidence of microbial activity; an important mission as it is the only one planning to dig below the terrain to find life. Europe will work with Russia, as they had previously in the first part of the mission, where they attempted to land a probe ‘Schiaparelli’. Although the probe failed its landing, the engineers have learned what went wrong, which will be applied to the rover if it gets its funding.