UKPSF Launches New Report on Status of Plant Science

28 01 2014

Screen shot 2014-01-28 at 13.05.07Today sees the launch of a new report by the UK Plant Sciences Federation (UKPSF)– one that I helped to research, structure, copyedit and proofread!

The report, entitled, “UK Plant Science: Current Status and Future Challenges” outlines the results of a survey of more than 300 members of the UK plant science community. In this survey, respondents identified what they perceive to be the greatest challenges for UK plant science research, namely:

  • Food security
  • Production of healthier foods
  • Environmental stability
  • Development of biofuels and bioproducts

Currently, the UK is 2nd in the world in terms of plant science publication impact, and is renowned for its plant science excellence, so we are very well placed to help make valuable contributions towards solving some of the world’s most pre

ssing problems. However, the community fears that this world-class position could be threatened unless urgent action is taken.

Read the report to find out what recommendations the UKPSF makes…(opens PDF)…UK Plant Science: Current Status and Future Challenges.

Screen shot 2014-01-28 at 13.04.24

There’s me! In the acknowledgements!

Transferring Knowledge in the Horticulture Sector

1 05 2013

Horticultural Development CompanyI’m currently one month in to a three-month full time contract as a temporary Knowledge Transfer (KT) Manager at the Horticultural Development Company (HDC), while a colleague is on a secondment to DEfRA.

HDC is a division of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), a non-departmental governnment body that collects levies from farmers and growers in the UK in order to fund research into the industry. My role as KT Manager is to translate the research produced from the field veg projects that HDC funds into meaningful outputs that provide value for money for levy payers. In plain English, this means that I help turn science into practice – something that is of course right up my street!

Things I have been working on include:

  • Editing and proofreading field vegetables research projects
  • Producing posters (like these ones on post harvest disorders of peas and beans; see below)
  • Producing factsheets to help growers make positive changes in growing practices, based on HDC-funded research – currently working on a factsheet on carrot storage, and another on farmland birds
  • Writing press releases on newsworthy research and development
  • Writing articles for the next issue of Field Vegetables Review (to be published September 2013)
  • Publicising events and field veg news in the HDC Weekly Email and on the HDC website
  • Liaising with the University of Warwick and Syngenta to promote the HDC Pest Bulletin and Pest Blog
  • Publishing the monthly Brassica Research News newsletter
  • Writing HDC Research Update articles for the British Onions Producers Associations (see below), and the Brassica Growers Associations
  • Workig with Crop Protection experts to publicise the SCEPTRE project
  • [more to be added!]

When my contract at HDC is finished, I’m really looking forward to getting involved in more knowledge transfer projects, so please contact me for a discussion on how we can help each other.

Post harvest disorders of peas

Post harvest disorders of peas – (c) Horticultural Development Company/PGRO

Post harvest disorders of beans

Post harvest disorders of beans – (c) Horticultural Development Company/PGRO

British Onions newsletter April 2013

British Onions Newsletter – (c) British Onion Producers Association

It’s grim up North! Northern men have dirtier hands than Southerners

12 01 2011

A study recently published in the open access journal BMC Public Health has found that men “oop North” seem more likely to carry harmful bacteria on their hands. Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine took swabs from the hands of commuters travelling through some of the UK’s major rail stations, and the further north they went, the more bacteria – and the more harmful bacteria – they found.The dirtiest men were found to be students and people who worked with soil.

Read the original article at BMC Public Health: Male commuters in north and south England: risk factors for the presence of faecal bacteria on hands

Read the press release I wrote on this article at BioMed Central: It’s grim up North! Northern men have dirtier hands than Southerners

Read some of the articles that used my press release:

The story was also discussed on BBC Radio 5 Live (no longer available)

The Science Bit: Part 7 – Oh deer! Christmas trees’ battle with Rudolph

24 12 2010

A lighthearted and seasonal Science Bit for you this month!

Ah, there’s nothing like a real Christmas tree. You can keep your plastic trees, sprayed white and gold or with fibre optic lights – for me, the annual trip to choose and collect our perfect pine tree symbolises Christmas itself and the beginning of festive few weeks of fun with friends and family.

But for some people in North America who also love the real thing, the humble Christmas tree is under threat from a very seasonal character that usually helps Santa rather than hinders him. Forests of Fraser firs in North Carolina are often frequented by deer who damage the Christmas tree crops by butting them with their antlers in order to mark their territory and by nibbling on the young shoots and buds. According to Christmas tree production specialist and agricultural researcher Jeff Owen from North Carolina State University, a single deer can munch a young Christmas tree down to the size of a pencil in no time at all.

Of course, a simple way to keep Rudolph out of the forests would be to erect good quality fencing, perhaps even electrified barriers, however with over 350 Christmas tree farms producing more than 20,000 acres of Christmas trees each year, fencing and fence maintenance is extremely expensive. An alternative is to use commercial deer repellents, but again, this can be prohibitively expensive, with 1lb of repellent costing around $18 USD, and up to 10lbs of product used per acre, two or three times a year.

Funded by the North Carolina Christmas Tree Association, Owen and his team have been researching effective deer repellents that would make a viable and cheaper alternative to the existing commercially-available products. Old wives’ tales recommend hair clippings, cayenne pepper and raw eggs to keep deer away, and it turns out that the latter of these isn’t far from the truth. The scientists discovered that a prepared mixture of dried blood and egg powder is the perfect deterrent for Bambi and friends, and can be bought very cheaply at a cost of just $2 per lb of product thanks to the fact that these are common, inedible by-products of the pet-food industry.

Owen says, “These products have an unappealing taste, but the decaying smell actually elicits a fear response in the deer and keeps them away from the crops”.  It is hoped that dried blood and powdered egg could save threatened Christmas tree stocks in North Carolina, and with the team now making headway on extending their research to see if other pet food waste products, like liver powder and fishmeal, are as effective deer repellents, tree farmers all over the States could be spoilt for choice and assured of a sustainable future. Sorry Rudolph!

More from Ecolicious Foods

14 12 2010

Just in case you missed my announcement last month that I’d recently been made chief blogger at the Ecolicious Foods blog, here’s a little update on what’s been going on with the site and the company.

Unfortunately, despite site owner Steve’s infectious enthusiasm for his organic business venture, progress with the main Ecolicious Foods website has been slow. It was hoped that the online store would go live before Christmas, but it’s looking likely that sometime in January 2011 will be a more realistic launch date.

Nevertheless, the Ecolicious blog has got off to a great start with 4 brilliant posts (I can say that; I wrote them!) including a piece about the possible link between pesticide use and the decline in the UK’s population of bees, and, in the midst of the UK government’s spending cuts, particularly in scientific research and education,  an interesting example of how a grant given by the US government is being used to fund research into organic agriculture.

The Ecolicious Foods blog is on hold now until the New Year, but we’ll be back with a vengance in 2011 to unleash Ecolicious Foods onto the world!

Ecolicious Foods blog

5 11 2010

Ecolicious organic food blog Kicking off a new blogging venture with Ecolicious Foods, I’m pleased to announce the launch of the Ecolicious Blog!

I worked with the company director Steve last month in order to write the copy for the main Ecolicious website (which isn’t live yet, but watch this space!), and he seemed to be so pleased with the work I produced, that he’s made me head blogger too! The blog will be updated about 4 or 5 times a month with updates from Ecolicious and all the latest news regarding organic foods, farming and production. It’ll be a learning curve for me, but a challenge that I’m looking forward to !

The Science Bit: Part 3 – The Biological Effects of the Gulf Oil Spill

20 07 2010

The leak in an underground oil reserve in the Gulf of Mexico, which occurred after an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig leased by British Petroleum is, to make one hell of an understatement, an environmental catastrophe. With an estimated 25-40,000 barrels (4-6.4 million litres) of crude oil having leaked into the ocean every day, even though it has now apparently been capped, heartbreaking and sickening photographs and footage of oil-covered beaches and birds, dead turtles and dolphins are becoming more common. This month’s Science Bit investigates some of the oil spill’s devastating biological effects.

The leak in the Deepwater Horizon oil well

As marine organisms naturally die, they sink to the seabed. Under the extremely high pressure and temperature caused by the weight of the sea and more organic material falling on top, the organisms decompose over millions of years into thick, sludgy, carbon-rich crude oil that contains a plethora of different chemicals. It is the carbon-rich property of oil that makes it such a good energy source. By fractioning off and manipulating the different carbon-containing components of crude oil, we can yield petrol, diesel, kerosene and other energy-rich, yet non-renewable, fuels. Yet these fuels, and other components of oil including benzene, mercury and sulphurous compounds, are highly toxic to life.

Simply putting your hands into the oily sea around the Gulf Coast could cause your skin to itch, your eyes to water and your airways to constrict, as in an asthmatic episode. At least we have the advantage of being able to wash off the foul liquid – what about the birds and animals that live in the Gulf region?

Seabirds, such as the pelican pictured, rely on the perfect alignment of their feathers in order to prevent cold water or air penetrating through to the skin. If they become covered in oil however, the feathers matt together and are improperly aligned, which can cause birds to suffer from fatal hypothermia. In addition, the oil adds weight to the body and so renders the birds unable to fly or float on the water’s surface. What’s more, in an effort to preen the feathers and remove the oil, they can end up digesting it, which is hazardous to the internal organs. Sadly, although effective to an extent, washing birds with detergent has a very low success rate because by this time, the birds become so stressed that they die of fright.

Sea-dwelling animals also suffer. For seals, who have an insulating fur covering their bodies, oil has a similar effect to the clogging of bird’s feathers, leaving them unable to regulate their body temperature. The mangrove dwelling dugong, or manatee, already an endangered species because of the destruction of its habitat, suffers damage to the delicate, hair-like sensory cells in their mouths, causing them to starve through not being able to feed properly. Fish and shellfish ingest the poisonous oil, and in turn pass this through the food chain when eaten by larger predators.
Plugging the hole in the leaking oil line is a major step forward in recovering from this disaster, but the effects of the oil will be felt in the Gulf ecosystems for many years to come. Chemical dispersants used to break up the oil can be almost as toxic as the oil itself and the decline in fish, shellfish, marine plant and animal stocks will take a long time to recover, if they ever do.

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