Bumble bees, honey bees and insecticide
Bees are vital for crop, fruit and flower pollination, and over the last 50 years bumble bees have been on the decline. More recently honey bees are also disappearing. And as yet there appears to be no simple answer. Now two studies just published in the journal Science show that a widely used insecticide harms both bumble bees and honey bees. Professor David Goulson from the University of Stirling in the UK is a bumble bee expert and was involved in one of the studies. He says bumble bees have been declining for more than half a century, probably because of modern farming methods and the greatly reduced numbers of wild flowers, and that this pesticide effect might be the final nail in the coffin for many species.
Billions of rocky planets
Rocky planets, similar in size to Earth, are much more common than we thought. In fact new data shows there are probably billions of planets not much bigger than Earth, orbiting stars in our Galaxy, and they could be in the so-called habitable zone where liquid water can exist on the surface of the planet. Scientists used a high precision instrument called HARPS, which is fitted to a telescope at an observatory in Chile to detect the planets. We cannot see them directly, but their gravitational effect on the star can be measured. Dr. Stéphane Udry from the Observatory of Geneva explains the technique the team used.
Gas leak in the North Sea
Concerns are increasing over a gas leak at a North Sea platform. A flame is still burning in the stack above the Elgin platform from which gas has been leaking for four days. The flare has been taking excess gas off the production platform. It had been hoped the flare would burn itself out but that has still not happened. The methane gas released is a potent greenhouse gas. Not only that, but it is what is known as a 'sour gas' as it contains hydrogen sulphide which is very poisonous to humans and aquatic life.
Salt tolerant wheat
Scientists in Australia have developed a type of wheat that can grow in salty water. They used a gene that was identified 15 years ago in an ancestor of modern wheat which made the plant much more tolerant to salty soils. Using traditional breeding techniques they managed to incorporate the salt tolerance gene into durum wheat – the one that is used to make pasta and couscous. Dr Matthew Gilliham, from the University of Adelaide led the team behind the work and joins us on the programme. It is estimated that 20-30% of agricultural soils are saline – so this research could have a significant impact on yields.
Bacteria extracting metals
Jon Stewart speaks to Damian Palin about biomining – using bacteria to extract metals from the by-product of water desalination. Damian believes micro-organisms can be used to mine certain minerals from this super-salty left over water.