Saturday, June 16, 2007

Family Ties

Animals are known to recognize and favor their relatives, but a new study suggests that plants do too, sharing resources like soil and water more readily when situated next to their kin as opposed to strangers.

Susan Dudley, associate professor of biology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, explains that "when plants share their pots, they get competitive and start growing more roots, which allows them to grab water and mineral nutrients before their neighbours get them. It appears, though, that they only do this when sharing a pot with unrelated plants; when they share a pot with family they don't increase their root growth. Because differences between groups of strangers and groups of siblings only occurred when they shared a pot, the root interactions may provide a cue for kin recognition."

The article in ScienceDaily goes on to say,

"Though they lack cognition and memory, the study shows plants are capable of complex social behaviors such as altruism towards relatives, says Dudley. Like humans, the most interesting behaviors occur beneath the surface.

Dudley and her student, Amanda File, observed the behavior in sea rocket (Cakile edentula), a member of the mustard family native to beaches throughout North America, including the Great Lakes."

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Medicine for Mania

According to a new article in The Scientist magazine, the psychoactive plant Salvia divinorum, commonly referred to as Magic Mint or Diviner's Sage, could soon become a promising treatment for mania.

Researchers have found that the plant evokes an apathetic state in rats -- they no longer want sugar rewards, for which they'll usually do anything. The reason for this is that Salvia activates biological receptors called k-opioid receptors that induce a depressed-like state in parts of the brain; when these same receptors are blocked, it is as if rats have taken antidepressants. The article states,

The idea, says McLean Hospital's Bruce Cohen, is that if people who are manic are at the opposite end of the mood spectrum from people with depression, pushing them closer to depression with salvinorin A might deliver them to a healthy medium.

The article points out that there are a lot of issues that would need to be ironed out before Salvia might appear on a list of mania medications -- for instance, the plant acts too rapidly, and is incredibly potent -- but nevertheless, the research provides yet more evidence that some the psychoactive compounds that have long been scoffed at do, in fact, have powerful, potentially beneficial, qualities. Now that these plants are being studied under the guise of "science," people are finally taking notice of them and realizing what others have believed for a long time.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Abu Dhabi sets a green example

Abu Dhabi might be one of the most oil-rich cities in the world, but that's not stopping its government from going green.

According to a recent article in Gulf News, the government-run Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar) is launching a $5 billion initiative to develop a six square-kilometer carbon neutral, waste-free "green city" by 2009. The city is also developing a 100-megawatt solar power plant that could be expanded to power 500,000 homes.

This news comes on the tail of the newest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which predicts that temperatures in the Middle East will rise by up to two degrees celcius by 2030.

The article quotes Masdar's CEO, Sultan Al Jaber, who said, "What we are trying to do is to set an example not only in the region, but worldwide, for other nations to follow."