Blooming bouquets! Japanese scientists discover flower aging cure

July 4, 2014

morning-glory-173440_640Japanese Scientists at the National Agriculture and Food Research Organization in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, claim to have found a way to delay the aging process in flowers by up to half, keeping bouquets fresh for longer.

Discovery of the gene believed to be responsible for the short shelf-life of flowers in one Japanese variety of morning glory is responsible for the breakthrough. By suppressing this gene — named “EPHEMERAL1″ — scientists found the life span of each flower was almost doubled.

“Morning glory” is the name for a large group of flowering plants whose petals unfurl early in the day and begin to fade and curl by nightfall. So far, the scientists have managed to isolate the aging gene in just one variety of Japanese morning glory but believe these methods could be applied to other flower species.

“Unmodified flowers started withering 13 hours after they opened, but flowers that had been genetically modified stayed open for 24 hours,” said Kenichi Shibuya, one of the lead researchers in the study carried out jointly with Kagoshima University.

This means the plant has fresh purple flowers alongside the paler blooms from the previous day, he said.

This gene is linked to petal aging, the researchers discovered. Although the scientists have only modified the genes of living flowers in the study, their discovery could lead to  the development of methods to extend the life of cut flowers.

“It would be unrealistic to modify genes of all kinds of flowers, but we can look for other ways to suppress the (target) gene . . . such as making cut flowers absorb a solution that prevents the gene from becoming active,” said Shibuya.

Some florists currently use chemicals to inhibit ethylene, a plant hormone which sometimes causes blooms to ripen, in the preparation of some cut flowers. This does not always help as ethylene is not present in the aging process of some very popular flowers, such as lilies, tulips and irises.

A gene similar to EPHEMERAL1 could be responsible for petal aging in these plants, Shibuya said, meaning the ability to suppress it would extend their life.

Source: The Japan Times

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“Massive shift” to renewable energy needed, says UN report

April 14, 2014

A new report drawn up by the United Nations has called for a ‘massive shift’ to renewable energy. The study, which comes after a week of hard negotiations between scientists and government officials in Berlin, Germany, says that climate change can only be reduced by a significant and rapid shift away from non-renewable carbon fuels.

Whilst the report advocates the use of natural gas as a means of bridging the transition from oil and coal to other, renewable sources of energy, such as wind and hydroelectricity, the UN has as yet been unable to agree upon how this energy transition will be funded.

The UK’s Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey spoke of the importance of fighting climate change by all possible means, saying that “We can do this, we have to because it’s so challenging and threatening to our economies and societies, our health, our food security. The report today shows we can do it if we have the political will.”

The UK prides itself on being a major contributor to the fight against climate change and a leader in the use of renewable energy sources. Mr Davey added that “We’ve, for example, doubled the amount of renewable electricity in the last few years. We’re likely to do better than our targets in increasing renewable electricity. But we’ve got to do more.”

The United Nations report suggests that of all of the carbon emitted by human activity since 1750 has been produced in the past 40 years, and rates continue to rise. In particular, the report draws attention to the high increase in coal use since 2000: before this point, global energy rates were pointing towards a possible trend of decarbonisation.

The report warns that if drastic action is not taken immediately, our continually growing population and subsequent increased levels of fuel use could cause the average temperature of our planet to rise by up to 4.8 degrees Celsius by 2100, far above the 2 degree level which is commonly regarded as the point beyond which dangerous impacts of climate change will be felt.

However, scientists involved in the report believe that this situation is not irreversible, and whilst it will involve massive changes in the energy sector. Professor Jim Skea, vice chair of one of the groups working on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) report, said that “One of the biggest areas that’s important is getting the carbon out of electricity, so renewable energy, nuclear, fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage, that’s all part of the menu if we are going to make the transition to stay under the 2 degree target.”

For this target to be reached, the world will need to see a 40-70 per cent lowering of carbon emissions by 2050. The IPCC is a keen advocate of the use of renewables in reaching this target, and has praised the progress that renewable energy has made over the past few years, saying that it has come on in ‘leaps and bounds’ since 2007. In 2012, renewable energy use accounted for just over half of the new electricity generation added around the world, and it is hoped that such progress will continue to increase as the need for a reduction in carbon emissions reaches critical levels.

Sources include: The Guardian, BBC News

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Filipino becomes third certified language in San Francisco

April 4, 2014

Language barriers can be more than just frustrating. In fact, they can bring about a harmful disconnect between a community and its access to basic services

Until now, more than 10,000 Filipino residents of San Francisco had to put up with this problem – suffering delays in hospital treatment or forced to find their own interpreters and translators when trying to assert their rights as workers, due to their limited English proficiency. Many also felt excluded from the civic life in a vibrant city like San Francisco because of language capacity.

On 2nd April however, Filipino community members and advocates celebrated San Francisco’s certification of Filipino as the third language required for city communications, after months of urging officials to make the change.

In 2009, the city of San Francisco passed a new Language Access Ordinance (LAO), which requires improved language access for city residents, with certain requirements for populations which exceed a threshold of 10,000 limited English proficient or “LEP” community members. Using the latest Federal American Community Survey data for the years 2009-2013, the city’s planning department was able to verify that Tagalog speakers with limited English proficiency surpassed this threshold.

Filipino is the 1st language to be certified after the 2009 passage of the LAO, and will meet the same requirements as Spanish and Chinese, which were certified in 2000, before the LAO existed.

Rachel Ebora, a Filipino immigrant, native Tagalog speaker, and executive director of Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center said of the certification:

“We are delighted at the certification of Pilipino as the third language that the City of San Francisco is required to translate for its communications. To the over 10,000 Filipinos who speak this national language, our hope is that this certification will provide additional access to services and other resources to live in San Francisco.”

The LAO ordinance is an important San Francisco policy that requires the city’s Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs to identify “emerging” language populations and to ensure that residents are able to access translation services when needed in a timely manner. This will alleviate pressure on Filipinos who are staff at nonprofits, government employees, nurses and other healthcare professionals, and family members, including school-age children, all who speak some of the different Philippine languages, who have been translating for thousands of LEP Filipino residents without recognition of this additional service they are providing.

Without this new status, a type of language-based discrimination would continue to exist in the city.

Filipino’s have been present in San Francisco for nearly a century from the days of the Filipino farmworkers at the International Hotel until today. This is a long-overdue recognition of the continuing contributions of Filipinos in San Francisco,

Terrence Valen, FCC’s organizational director and president of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns, said:

“For our Filipino community members and their families, the whole world opens up to them when they are able to communicate in their mother language. To keep San Francisco a welcoming city for immigrants, officially removing this language barrier is definitely is an important step in the right direction.”

Sources include: The FilAm SF; GMA News Online

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Japan to increase number of foreign and female construction workers

April 4, 2014

The Japanese government has decided to allow more foreign workers to work in the construction industry following the growing demand for manpower in Japan, reported Kyodo News Network.

The building of facilities for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and planned reconstruction of areas hit by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster, are drivers behind the ever increasing demand for workers in this sector, officials said.

The country has experienced a general labour shortage since spending on public projects was increased under President Shinzo Abe. 

Measures to create a new resident status, allowing apprentices from emerging economies working in the construction industry to remain in Japan longer than the current period of three years, will be introduced in April 2015. These measures will also permit previous trainees in Japan to return to the country.

The news comes at the same time as plans by The Japan Federation of Construction Contractors to double the number of skilled female construction workers in Japan to some 180,000 within the next five years to help ease the industry’s labor shortage.

“I hope more and more young people and women will enter the industry to help it remain attractive,” Mitsuyoshi Nakamura, chairman of the federation, said in February.

Sources include: Kyodo News Network; The Japan Times

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Court interpreting firm fined thousands for poor service

January 22, 2014

International translation and interpreting company, Capita, has been fined thousands of pounds for failing to fulfil a large proportion of Ministry of Justice requests for court interpreters, BBC News reported this morning.

A National Audit report comissioned by the government found that Capita had £46,319 of payments, the maximum number permitted, withheld by the Ministry of Justice between May 2012 and November 2013 for deficiencies in service. Additionally, it found that individual judges had filed for £7,229 worth of wasted cost orders against the company as compensation for interpreters‘ failures in attendance. Of the numerous other company errors included in the report, one claimed that Capita had registered a pet dog as a viable interpreter.

In an effort to cut costs, the Ministry had arranged to outsource the provision of interpreters to Applied Language Solutions (ALS) in 2011. The contract had not begun when Capita took over ALS, and thus its £90 million contract with the Ministry of Justice, in late 2011.

According to The Lawyer, when the company took over the account, it had not got the resources available with 1,340 people registered to work, but only 280 who had passed the necessary quality assessment. Consequently, it only met 58 per cent of bookings against a 98 per cent target. By 2012, MPs had accused Capita of causing “total chaos” after its lack of staff had caused disruptions to many trials. Following this, the numbers of interpreters dropped again in 2013 due to reductions in Capita’s mileage allowance for its interpreters.

Although the company’s fulfilment of bookings has since improved to around 94-95% in the last four months, after packages for interpreters were made more attractive, it is still falling short of its target.

Margaret Hodge of the Labour party, who commissioned the report after receiving complaints, has said she is “umimpressed” by the statistic and commented on the crucial nature of Capita’s services: “This is a vital service for ensuring that people who do not speak English as a first language have fair access to justice.”

Despite the problems, Conservative justice minister Shailesh Vara said the contract had saved taxpayers £15m in its first year, stating that “dramatic improvements had been made over the life of the contract so far.”

The firm itself claims that, after reviewing its terms and conditions for interpreters with the MoJ, interpreters are now “tracking to the target level of service required.”

Sources Include: BBC News; The Lawyer

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Diesel boom results in increased numbers of air pollution-related deaths

November 19, 2013

Ahhh, London. Breathe in deep, and get yourself a lungful of that wonderful smell, of chip shops, sewers and, best of all, exhaust fumes. It’s not for nothing that the United Kingdom’s capital city is more commonly known as ‘The Big Smoke’. And according to Public Health England, our daily commute through a thick fog of car exhaust emissions could be more costly for our health than we dared to believe.

A recent report by Public Health England has stated that in almost half of London boroughs, there was a significant increase in the proportion of deaths from air pollution between 2010 and 2011.

In recent years, the capital has seen an extra 360,000 diesel-run vehicles on the roads, spewing their fumes into the atmosphere. The motivation for this change to diesel is due to its relative environmental friendliness as compared to petrol, as it releases fewer greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This increase in traffic is suggested to be partly to blame for such a rise in pollution-related deaths, as diesel, unlike petrol, emits certain harmful particles when burnt, which aggravate heart and lung conditions. Public Health England noted a rise in air pollution-related deaths in 15 boroughs. In the borough of Westminster, percentages attributed to pollution rose from 8.30 to 8.32 in 2011. In sharp contrast, England’s average percentage is 5.36%.

Frank Kelly, of King’s College London said of the figures: “The climate-change linked policy of favouring diesel over petrol has really backfired for Europe because of the increased pollution. We need more electric vehicles, but the simplest solution is to reduce the traffic on our roads.”

Source include the New Scientist

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Japan makes drastic cuts to greenhouse gas reduction goals

November 16, 2013

Yesterday, Thursday 14th November, Japan’s Ministry of Environment announced that it would be slashing its greenhouse gas emissions reduction target. The Environment minister for Japan yesterday said that the original target, that of reducing greenhouse gas levels in Japan by 25 per cent from their 1990 levels, has been cut by a quarter, a figure so significant and drastic that environmental experts have wasted no time in expressing their concern for the “devastating effect” this cut could make to climate change action.

For a nation which led the way at the recent Kyoto climate change treaty, this certainly presents as a significant step backwards for Japan. Such a turnaround is very likely a response to the increase in fossil fuel consumption in Japan caused by the Fukushima Daiichi disaster two years ago and the subsequent closure of Japan’s nuclear power stations, which have made the current emission reduction targets highly difficult to meet.

Speaking about the modified targets, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga explained that the government would now be working towards a 3.8 per cent cut in carbon dioxide emissions by 2020 as compared to 2005 levels, rather than the previously agreed 25 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020. “The new target is based on zero nuclear power in the future,” said Japan’s chief negotiator at the UN talks in Warsaw. “We have to lower our ambiton level.”

Whilst many in the country, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, look favourably towards a return to nuclear power, many are opposed to the idea, or at least do not see a return to nuclear power to be a viable or realistic option. Indeed, many are hopeful that Japan will be able to decrease and eventually end its reliance upon nuclear power. Currently, all fifty of Japan’s nuclear reactors are offline due to safety and maintenance checks being carried out by the Nuclear Regulation Authority. The process of restarting reactors will be by no means quick, and due to the extent of the devastation caused by the 2011 tsunami and earthquake, many will never be restarted.

As a result of the cut to Japan’s nuclear energy sources, which provided a large proportion of the nation’s energy, Japan has been forced to return to importing natural gas and coal, thus increasing carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions. Japan hopes to offset this increase by 2.8 per cent by planting trees, and will also be using carbon credits from other countries wherever possible.

Sources include The Japan Daily Press, Japan Today

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