Things are al­ways chang­ing among the stars, even if it’s not al­ways ob­vi­ous

The Woolwich Observer - - LIVING HERE -

Q. With apolo­gies to Wil­liam Shake­speare: What’s in a name, Gros Michel or Cavendish? A ba­nana by any other name would be as tasty — right?

A. Not re­ally. Ba­nanas at 25 pounds per Amer­i­can per year are the most pop­u­lar fresh fruit eaten, but they aren’t the same as those your grand­par­ents ate, says Dan Lewis in his book “Now I Know.”

“Prior to 1960, the stan­dard com­mer­cial ba­nana type was the Gros Michel (a.k.a. “Big Mike”), a larger ba­nana type that, by many ac­counts, was also tastier.” But it suc­cumbed to Panama dis­ease that at­tacked the plants’ roots and rapidly spread through ma­jor ba­nana plan­ta­tions, end­ing com­mer­cial cul­ti­va­tion.

En­ter the Cavendish ba­nana, ge­net­i­cally re­sis­tant to Panama dis­ease but also ge­net­i­cally iden­ti­cal to ev­ery other Cavendish — in other words, all of them are clones. And therein lies the prob­lem: Any dis­ease suc­cess­fully at­tack­ing the Cavendish could wipe out the en­tire type. Al­ready, a newer strain of Panama dis­ease has found its way to Cavendish ba­nana plan­ta­tions in Aus­tralia, Tai­wan, Malaysia, In­done­sia, and all the way to South­east Asia. Some plan­ta­tion own­ers have taken ex­treme mea­sures to pre­vent a Cavendish Apoca­lypse, even going so far as to burn down en­tire fields to stop the dis­ease from spread­ing.

Q. Some of us ter­res­trial be­ings have a real fas­ci­na­tion with all things ex­trater­res­trial, in­clud­ing why a day on Venus is longer than its year, how the al­most-mil­lion-pound In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion (ISS) ever got into or­bit, and why the Big Dip­per will even­tu­ally be­come the “Big Spat­ula”?

A. #1: Venus ro­tates so slowly that it takes 243 Earth days to com­plete one di­ur­nal spin, says as­tronomer and colum­nist Dean Re­gas in his book “Facts from Space!” And be­cause it is closer to the Sun than Earth is, the time it takes to or­bit the Sun once is only 225 days. In fact, Venus is the only planet in the so­lar sys­tem whose year is shorter than its day.

#2: As to the ISS — a joint ef­fort be­tween the United States, Rus­sia, and oth­ers — it was trans­ported into space, piece by piece, start­ing in 1998. Cur­rently weigh­ing more than 900,000 pounds, it is 239 feet wide, 356 feet long and 66 feet tall — room enough for its six crew mem­bers and the re­place­ment crew, and even guests.

#3: The stars in the Milky Way are mov­ing rapidly through space, but be­cause they’re so far away from Earth, they barely seem to change. But that won’t be the case mil­lenia from now: “The stars in the Big Dip­per, for in­stance, will shift among them­selves and look like a ‘Big Spat­ula’ by the year A.D. 75000.”

Q. For adult women, menopause can have its ups and downs. For rats, it may be all down­hill. How so?

A. A new type of bait called Con­traPest “makes rats in­fer­tile by trig­ger­ing early menopause in fe­males and im­pair­ing sperm pro­duc­tion in males,” says Alice Klein in “New Sci­en­tist” mag­a­zine. It has no known side ef­fects, and the rats even­tu­ally die of natural causes.

Ac­cord­ing to biotech­nol­o­gist Brandy Pyzyna, one breed­ing pair of rats can pro­duce 15,000 pups per year, but field tri­als with the bait in both ur­ban and farm set­tings saw a one-third to one-half de­cline in rat pop­u­la­tion. So even a one-third re­duc­tion in a few months means “you’re al­ready talk­ing 5,000 fewer rats, and the pop­u­la­tion will con­tinue to go down.” Also, she ar­gues, fer­til­ity con­trol is more ef­fec­tive than out­right killing since with the lat­ter, other rats will sim­ply move in to the ter­ri­tory.

More re­search needs to be done to en­sure that na­tive ro­dents — some of which may be en­dan­gered — don’t eat the bait. Pyzyna and her col­leagues are also work­ing on a re­for­mu­la­tion to tar­get other pest species, in­clud­ing mice, feral pigs and even feral deer, dogs and cats.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.