Category Archives: Earth Science

Have we Discovered How to make Drought-Resistant Crops?

Have we Discovered How to make Drought-Resistant Crops?

There are more than enough reasons to treasure science and to push the envelope towards progress. Some are driven by an insatiable need to personally know more. Others are pushed to research in hopes of improving efficiency for their industry’s bottom line. And others, still, are compelled to research because they need to solve a problem and they’re pressed for time. This third category is where the scientists working on the RIPE (Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency) project find themselves.

There are a lot of changes in this world coming down the pike that will dramatically affect the way humans manage resources over the next century. These changes primarily relate to two quickly-increasing variables: human population and global average temperatures. As temperatures rise around the globe, droughts are expected to become more common and more frequent, leaving less time for afflicted areas to recover before the next drought occurs. Furthermore, the population of 7.6 billion humans living on the earth right now is projected by the UN to grow to approximately 9.8 billion by 2050. On top of this, roughly 70% of the world’s fresh water is allocated towards agriculture. The most important factors to healthy, sustained human life on Earth (besides oxygen) are access to food and clean drinking water.

These factors form a perfect storm of sorts. As population grows, we will need to find new ways to feed people. While many are attempting to address an incoming food shortage by curbing food waste, people are also looking into increasing crop yields through a deeper understanding of photosynthesis. This is where RIPE comes in.

RIPE scientists working out of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois seem to have found a way of engineering crops so that they use roughly 25% less water while providing the same yields. Through genetic testing on the tobacco plant, they found that by increasing the levels of the protein PsbS (Photosystem II Subunit S), the percentage of water lost per molecule of COassimilated by the plant was reduced by 25% without loss in yield or photosynthesis. And, since PsbS functions the same across all plants, they expect their results to be applicable to other crops as well.

To understand this a little better, it is important to have a slight understanding of what they did. The protein they manipulated, PsbS, is directly related to the functioning of the plant’s stomata. Stomata are the microscopic pores on the epidermis of a plant where gas exchange occurs. Here, COis absorbed to be used in photosynthesis in a process called assimilation, while, at the same time, water vapor is lost in what is called transpiration. Our Monocot Leaf Epidermis slide shows what stomata look like under a microcope:

Stomata in a leaf

The opening and closing of stomata is influenced by the humidity, the COlevels inside the plant, the quality of light, and the quantity of light. The RIPE researchers wanted to genetically alter the stomatal reaction to the quantity of light. Since PsbS plays an essential role in informing the plant on the amount of light available, they wanted test if excess levels of it would trick the plants into opening their stomata less.

They hypothesized that since atmospheric COlevels have increased so much over the last 100-odd years, the stomata on the plant would not need to open as much to take in the amount of COthey need for photosynthesis. That being the case, the smaller pores of the less-opened stomata would allow for the plants to hold onto more of their water and lose less through the pores.

After model tests and field tests, their results seemed to back up their hypothesis. That is a big deal. From here they plan to apply this research to food-producing crops, and, in the process, hopefully cut our agricultural water usage dramatically.

The necessity for research like this can be scary to think about. But, as I said earlier, sometimes science is done because we can’t do without it. That said, even without the prerequisite doom and gloom, the potential water saving aspect of this project is awesome and exciting. Progress like this opens up great new possibilities as to where to allocate resources and how to help the less fortunate people of the world in its drought-stricken regions.

— GSC Go Science Crazy and Jacob Monash

35 Stunning Images of America’s National Parks

As we mentioned in a previous post, the National Park Service is turning 100 years old this August! What better way to celebrate nature’s greatest achievements than with a look at some of the most amazing photos taken of some of our national parks?! Here are our favorite 35 images of America’s national parks.

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20 Breathtaking Images of Space

Revisiting the Veil NebulaIn honor of Star Wars Day, we thought it would be a good idea to find the most breathtaking images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope from NASA! Aside from all of these images completely mesmerizing us time and time again, they also do a really good job at reminding us of how massive the universe actually is. Be prepared to get lost in galaxies and nebulas with our journey of the 20 most breathtaking images of space.

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15 Images That Will Leave You in Awe of Science

This is an image of oil paint floating in a solution of water and methylated spirits.: When you think of science what usually comes to mind? It’s doubtful that colorful imagery or bright, exciting chemical reactions that look like they’re going to jump out at you from the page are top of your list. Believe it or not, all of these images below are in fact science reactions captured by some of the world’s greatest photographers. Read on and be prepared to be completely in awe of science!

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Celebrating Earth Day

Starting in 1970, Earth Day was created to celebrate environmental protection efforts all over the U.S. Now it is observed in over 190 countries and is the largest secular holiday in the world! To help you make the most of this day with your students, we gathered some awesome Earth Day activities that are hands-on and interactive while also reinforcing environmentally friendly concepts such as recycling, pollution and composting. Check out these activities below to try in the classroom or even in your home!

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The National Park Service turns 100

yosemite nat parkOn August 25, 2016 The National Park Service will be turning 100 years old. To get ready for this huge milestone in the organization’s history, they have been partnering with institutions across the country on different programs, events and activities to help increase awareness and support for America’s 407 national parks. Now more than ever, it’s important we encourage students to go outdoors and explore everything that nature has to offer and thanks to the National Park Service, we have been able to do that for almost 100 years.

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Can Soap Bubbles Predict Tropical Storms?

Meteorology is a complex and imprecise science. Despite technological advancements, forecasting volatile weather patterns, such as tropical storms, remains a challenge as it involves predicting numerous dynamic atmospheric and environmental interactions. Results of recent research however, have shown that soap bubbles may provide a simple, inexpensive and effective means for predicting the strength of hurricanes and typhoons.

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Precarious Rocks Give Clues to Future Earthquake Movements

A new approach to predict the intensity and direction of earthquakes lies in an unlikely source — 10,000-yearold, improbably balanced rocks. You’ve probably seen pictures of these; they are astounding, seemingly impossible and a little scary. You certainly wouldn’t want to be standing downhill if they toppled over.

These geological features are called Precariously Balanced Rocks or “PBRs.” They are formed slowly when tectonic forces elevate granite rocks from below ground to the surface, and erosion whittles away the softer surrounding materials leaving the unlikely and amazing result.

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A New Type of Engineering Could Save Earths Climate

Shared from Tech Insider and BBC News.

bubblesWe all know Bill Nye is not shy about sharing his opinions on controversial subjects, and his views on climate change are no different. In an interview with National Geographic a couple of weeks ago he discussed a type of engineering that could have the potential to combat climate change in a major way.

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Eleven Years on Mars

marsIn the very first issue of Headline Discoveries, released in the spring of 2004, we wrote about the exciting news of the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers, landing just months before in January of that year. In an extended article, within the same issue, we expanded on the rovers’ missions, spacecraft features, as well as conditions on the rusty red planet. Remarkably, as of the writing of this article, Opportunity continues to generate power from its solar panels and traverse the Martian terrain even 11.5 years later!

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