Saturday, December 24, 2016

Landscape Safe: Smart choices when choosing plants

Fours bears dead after eating red berries from English Yew plant
Photo provided by Pennsylvania Game Commission

CBS News
This mother bear and her three cubs were found dead earlier this month near a church parking lot in West Wyoming, Pennsylvania. On first thought, the Conservation officers considered the deaths suspicious, but after examining two of the bears, the game commission came to the conclusion that they died from eating berries from the European yew plants. The shrubs are commonly used in landscaping as a beautiful evergreen ornamental shrub or tree. The officials explained that there is a compound in yew, called taxine, which is highly toxic to humans and animals if ingested. This is something many people never think of when choosing a landscape plant when their decision making is based purely on it's beautiful outward appearance. While some people may be aware of this plant's toxicity to humans, who would have thought there would be any consequences to the local wildlife ? The same could be said of many other plant choices from the retail Nursery. Here below is a link to the recent article:
Family of bears likely killed from eating poisonous plant
 Remember that cool lunch debate scene in the film Jurassic Park, where the argument was about whether certain scientific choices are right or wrong ? There was one specific reference from the Paleobotanist character, Ellie Sattler, who stated the obvious when it comes to humans decision making when it comes to plant choices in the landscape:
"Well, the question is, how can you know anything about an extinct ecosystem and how could you assume you could ever control it ? You have plants here in this building that are poisonous, you pick them because they look good. But these are aggressive living things that have no idea what century country (think European Yew) they are living in and they will defend themselves, violently if necessary."
You can find this statement below in this YouTube clip and time mark 2:36 >>>

Over here in Sweden, the landscapers use this Yew plant everywhere. What appalls me is their choice to incorporate it within family housing complexes where there are large numbers of children, often unsupervised. The plant is also chosen for it's ornamental value in Christmas decorations such are wreaths which are hung on a door in the house. The deep evergreen foliage in contrast with the bright red berries are adittedly very attractive, but they are dangerous to children, especially young toddlers who will put anything in their mouths. English Holly is another one of these attractive ornamentals used at Christmas time, but their berries are also toxic. The white berries of Mistletoe is yet another toxic plant used on this holiday. Poinsettia is another. The scary thing is the red berry is sweet to the taste, but it's the seed that is toxic. I'll provide some reference examples below at the bottom of this post.

Image - Beto Frota - Oct 2007
Here's an example of a common Tew many grow as an ornamental in their urban landscapes. Many housing complexs and city parks with also plant them as they admittedly are a very handsome evergreen shrub or tree with contrasting red berries. But the seed or more commonly called, berry, can be deadly poison within one to two hours after ingesting them. In actual fact, the fruit is not really a berry at all. As you can see from the way it has a hole in the end like the picture at the right here. The outer covering (called aril) as it matures shrinks back exposing the seed which is the true fruit. The red outer part is technically is called an aril. A well known aril is the spice mace, which is the outer covering of a nutmeg. Pomagranites also fall into this description. Interestingly, the red flesh of this Yew berry is quite sweet, but again it's the seed inside is deadly poisonous. This doesn't matter to birds, because their quick digestive system passes the seed through unchanged, and like most berries, this is how the Yew distributes its seeds. Not that the Yew is capable of knowing that of course. But the more thorough digestive system of an animal would attack the seed's coating and poison the animal like it did to those four bears in the article above. Below is a plant profile of the Yew.
University of Maryland - Extension
Plant Profile: Toxic Yew
Try safer Natives from local area Native Plant Nurseries Heteromeles arbutifolia
Image - Bert Wilson - Las Pilitas Nursery

Tehachapi Conservation Resource District
This plant is a large evergreen shrub or small tree with leathery deep green leaves which produces small white flower clusters followed by showy clusters of red berries. In the urban landscape, it will only require deep watering once a month in summer when established. In most of it's native area probably not necessary to water this plant if roots are deep enough. This deeper root infrastructure can be obtained if the gardener or landscaper is smart and patient enough to train the plant by starting out with a one gallon year old specimen. They can grow from 8' to15' feet tall and 8' feet wide. The berries are edible and not dangerous like the other ornamentals I've discussed here. If a child did happen to eat one, there is not much flavour and not really sweet at all. More importantly, they will attracts birds and other wildlife who will use them as a food source. The bottomline here is you need to use your head and think about what plants you choose as appropriate to the safety of your landscape, not only for wilslife, but especially young children.
Real life trageties from Yew berry ingestion
BBC: Ben Hines died after ingesting yew tree poison
New York Post - October 2016: This city park’s deadly berries nearly killed a 2 year-old-girl
Google is your friend. Seriously, there are pages of this stuff

Friday, December 16, 2016

Is the new gene-editing tool, CRISPR/Cas9 Mankind's Saviour ???

"The scientific community is buzzing with the promise that CRISPR offers for human gene-editing, opening the door to use gene-therapy to treat diseases like cystic fibrosis and leukemia."

Unfortunately, while the quote in the above paragraph from the medical research article in Canada's, Western University's, Media Relations Department, certainly sounds promising, there are also some major concerns for which they never dealt with. CRISPR is being touted like a magic wand which only a scientific wizard with proper training can use. It also is being promoted as being able to problem solve anything that negatively impacts mankind's physical health. But as I've posted previously, there are often unknown and unintended consequences when it is assumed to be fool proof. Take the recent disaster that happened with Alnylam Pharmaceuticals. The reality is, CRISPR, while providing us with some amazing insights and possibilities, is also prone to error. This is because much of what they are messing with (informational content of DNA) is still not fully understood despite the public media faith affirmations to the contrary. The main problem I see here with this celebratory PomPoms bit of news on curing genetic diseases, cancers etc, is that in order for this to work effectively and permanently, they need to shut down DNA's error correction repair mechanisms so that the evil gene they believe is causing the problem which they edit out, won't return through the DNA Repair correction mechamism reinstalling the defective software. This newer version of the CRISPR gene-editing tool removes cells' natural undo button, so that the evil gene doesn't return. What does a cell DNA Repair mechanism do ? Basically keeps the genome's informational integrity intact. For example our DNA is constantly under attack, though we may be unware this. From what's been researched, apparently ultraviolet light is one of the major sources of damage to DNA and is apparently the most thoroughly studied form of DNA damage in terms of repair mechanisms. Hence, its importance is illustrated by the fact that exposure to our Sun's solar UV irradiation is one of the biggest causes of almost all skin cancer in humans. Make sense ? We here about this all the time. Here below is one explanation of the DNA Repair:
What is DNA Repair?
"DNA, like any other molecule, can undergo a variety of chemical reactions. Because DNA uniquely serves as a permanent copy of the cell genome, however, changes in its structure are of much greater consequence than are alterations in other cell components, such as RNAs or proteins. Mutations can result from the incorporation of incorrect bases during DNA replication. In addition, various chemical changes occur in DNA either spontaneously or as a result of exposure to chemicals or radiation. Such damage to DNA can block replication or transcription, and can result in a high frequency of mutations—consequences that are unacceptable from the standpoint of cell reproduction. To maintain the integrity of their genomes, cells have therefore had to evolve mechanisms to repair damaged DNA. These mechanisms of DNA repair can be divided into two general classes: (1) direct reversal of the chemical reaction responsible for DNA damage, and (2) removal of the damaged bases followed by their replacement with newly synthesized DNA. Where DNA repair fails, additional mechanisms have evolved been constructed to enable cells to cope with the damage." 
(Irrespective of how one believes these mechanisms got here, they never the less exist. Evolution is incapable of any forethought or planning. This is not just my opinion, remember, the Scientific Orthodoxy mandates it)

Most damage to DNA is repaired by removing the damaged bases followed by resynthesis of the damaged area which is then cut out or removed from the damaged region along the DNA strand. With this CRISPR gene editing tool, which they use to cut out and remove the cancer causing gene or other disease abnormaility, they do not want the DNA repair mechanism to replace the bad gene again. So they've invented an enzyme which prevents this. Sounds like a good thing right ? No not necessarily. It shuts down an important process which prevents any negative mutational defect from screwing up the genetic code for any and all living organisms. It keeps order within the genome from becoming a basket case of disorder which ultimately would kill most all lifeforms. How can one translate or illustrate this repair mechanism's importance to people who view such otherwise boring subject matter from a shallow surface level with it's cool sounding journalistic fluff that offers the reader nothing more than a blind faith in believing Scientists must somehow know what they are doing without questioning anything ? 

At the very least, most people today are fairly computer literate. We understand the terms hardware and software. Security update patches, etc. We are aware that the scary worldwide web has lots of malware roaming around ready to infect your software if given an opportunity and other forms of cyber enemies which wish to hijack your  computer's software. Periodically we understand that Microsoft updates are regularly uploaded as a virus protection patch created by a large software coding team who are continually counteracting malicious codes which could crash our entire computer. Your DNA is automatically doing this continual basis and at faster than supercomputer speeds. So perhaps you can understand the dangers of shutting down such a major health component that we have only scratched the surface in our understanding of it's importance. So here again from that article is their solution to the problem of preventing the reoccurence of the problem:

“The problem with CRISPR is that it will cut DNA, but then DNA-repair will take that cut and stick it back together,” said the study’s principal investigator, David Edgell, associate professor at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. “That means it is regenerating the site that the CRISPR is trying to target, creating a futile cycle. The novelty of our addition, is that it stops that regeneration from happening.”  
The Western researchers have demonstrated that the creation of a new enzyme called TevCas9, which cuts the DNA in two places instead of one, makes it much more difficult for the DNA-repair to regenerate the site of the cut. The researchers created TevCas9 by adding an enzyme called I-Tevl onto the nuclease, Cas9, which is the typical enzyme used to cut DNA in CRISPR.
So there it is in a nutshell. But did anyone take note of this sentence here. “The novelty of our addition, is that it stops that regeneration from happening.” I have one question that was also brought up by someone else in the comments section of another site on this same subject. Is this a permanent solution or is it merely a temporary one ? They inform the reader that their research also showed that the addition of Tev shows promise at being much more specific in targeting genes and less likely to cause off-target effects in the genome, which is a significant problem for any potential therapeutic application. But on that problem of off-target effects, they go on to say, “This remains to be tested, but this is the hope and the expectation.” It's difficult to picture exactly how this therapy will be implimented. Clearly, you cannot gene edit trillions of cells in one person, perhaps this is an embryo manipulation. Still, there is a lot more research to do, but if a patient goes to see a doctor on down the road after this has been approved, how would he explain this process of what we just read  to them ? Maybe it world go something like:
"Well the good news Mr Jones is that  we can cure your cancer and there will be no danger of a relapse. However several months down the road we're still not sure if it'll hold up to all the UV irradiation you'll experience when you venture outdoors into the sunlight. So it's not exactly the miracle we hoped it would be. But it'll postpone the inevitable"
 Cell Death Switch also activates as the DNA Repair Switch
image - DailyTech
Another related subject is that of cell kill switches. I remember reading about an early experiment several years back which told of scientists who removed bits of DNA from a Protozoa (I think), then sat back and watch it repair itself. In each new test, more and then more bits of DNA were removed and the cell repaired itself. Apparently there is always a shadow of itself somewhere in some unknown archive mechanism, much the way epigenetic gene expression has the original pattern archived, so too the original genome of any single cell. But the repair mechanism had limits. Eventually they observed the cell self-destruct by the kill switch which is also the repair mechansim switch when too much DNA was removed. This too is a safety outlet so as to not pass on any defective information material onto future generations which would be ultimately detrimental to those lifeforms down the road. Cell death is another fascinating component in keeping any and all living organisms healthy and alive. Our own body is made up of trillions of microscopic cells. Practically all of them must die and/or be replaced. Each type of cell has a different life span. Some are replaced every few weeks, and others every few years. Our body’s system of programmed cell death has to be highly controlled to maintain the delicate balance between cell death and cell formation. BTW, here is a video of error correction mechanisms at work. A bacterial flagellum is removed and the gene encoded with the blueprints for it's construction removed, but over the weekend this flagellum is back. They attempt again to insert the word evolution, but it's not evolution. No one is arguing there is no change, but the change was not the result of evolutionary forces. This was all programming and mechanisms. How such mechanisms came about again is anyone's love of debate about.
Bacteria evolved repaired it's DNA over the weekend

There are studies that have indicated that when cells fail to die as they should, rheumatoid arthritis or cancer may result. On the other hand, when cells die before they should, it could cause Parkinsons or Alzheimers. The article on this new CRISPR gene editing tool mentioned other things besides cancer, like cystic fibrosis, HIV, etc that could be cured. But if this CRISPR miracle really shuts down the repair mechanism switch, then what will it do to the kill switch component ? They never even mentioned that. Yet recently in September 2016, the online journal Gen News reported how this same mechanism is both repair and death switch.
"To repair or not to repair, that is the question the cell must answer after suffering a genomic injury known as the double-strand break. This sort of damage may be caused by radiation, and it may lead to cancer if it is not set right. If the damage is beyond repair, the cell may choose to activate a suicide program, an alternative means of preserving the body’s integrity—but exactly how the cell decides between repair and self-slaughter has been unclear."
(Read the rest of the article from the link at the bottom in references)
One thing that is clear is that cells are programmed, not just with a seemingly amazing infinite storage capacity, but they also seem to have inculcated within them the knowledge and wisdom with how this information is to be used. And yet, a single cell is not some sentient being in of itself. These are just living organic biological organisms that are simply responding to environmental cues. I mainly write about whole plant ecosystems here on this blog, but even they taken alone or collectively as a mutually cooperating ecosystem are not sentient beings. Still, there is a continual epigenetic response going on keeping the entire system in perfect balance. I'm facinated by how the plant's external digestive system colonized by benefical bacteria & fungi like the ones in the photo below, are opposite to our own internal digestive system which are colonized by various forms of gut bacterial. Yet both serve the same fully functional immune system benefit purpose for their respective hosts. Both systems help both plants and us processs food nutrients and trigger epigenetic immunsystem responses by switching on or off various gene expression within our cells. One does wonder though how any of this just spontaneously insta-poofed through "Stuff Happens Law" ?

 Courtesy of Larry Petersen, University of Guelph

Arbuscukar Mycorrhizaal in symbiosis with plant cells

These observations and more just question beg as to how things got this way from life's earliest start. It's apparent that such mechanisms were all present somehow at the very beginning. But such conclusions have also had unfortunate consequences as to just how today's intellectual elites want us to define this word, "Information." Definition shell games are the favoured tactic of the ideologically obsessed. One has to ask, just how much real science has been held back and how many beneficial discoveries or medical cures have been lost or postponed for decades ? Take a close look at this video comparing various forms of information as we understand it. Unfortunately there are a plethora of lame attempts these days to redefine our traditional understanding of the word/term, "Information" is. This was posted on Youtube May 2016:

So the modern take today is that information is not really information as we've been taught to understand it when we went to school ? Living consciousness and free will are also said to be simply illusions. Frankly, like the video stated, "If information is not real, then neither are we." The absurd asinine religious ideologies now being promoted if true, certainly explain the world that presently exists courtesy of human intellectual elites who are now in control. Maybe one day soon the scientists will help medical doctors to edit out of their human patient's those detrimental "selfish genes."
And the Newer CRISPR disease cure conclusion is ???
“This remains to be tested, but this is the hope and the expectation.”
Okay, so basically this was mainly a public relations marketing ploy for the biotech industry looking for investors by claiming another settled science. But in the mean time, what can people who may already have various diseases or cancers do ? What about people who are healthy, but who may be at high risk do now ? Here's an idea, change your lifestyle choices. In my work as a market researcher for the pharmaceutical industry here in Europe, my main interviews are the GP Docs & Specialist Field Docs & Scientific researchers from the United Kingdom and Ireland. Time and again these medical people tell me that it is impossible to get the majority of patients to change their irresponsible behavioural decision making. Most tell the doctor they shouldn't have to change and that the Doc should provide a science-based drug to fix the problem. Smokers want to smoke, they just don't want lung cancer and emphyzema. Party Animals want to get drunk to the point of passing out, but they just don't want Sclerosis of the Liver, car accidents, etc. Gluttonous people enjoy eating themselves into a coma, they just don't want obessity and/or diabetes. Many today pursue a degenerate sexual promiscuous lifestyle, but they just don't want the HIV/AIDS, Syphilis, Gonorrhea, Herpes, Chlamydia, etc that follows the one night stand choices they make. People demand that Scientists fix these issues. Climate change is yet another example, but no one wishes to give up an accustomed lifestyle, this includes many people in the environmental movement who are from Industrial Nations. Point out to folks the flaws in their behaviour these days and you are accused of being judgemental or some type of "Whateverphobe." There are many things that mankind does not need Science to fix for them, especially when it's already within the power of their hand to easily change for themselves.
References used:
Western University: Scientists use ‘molecular-Lego’ to take CRISPR gene-editing tool to the next level
Genetic Engineering News: Death Switch in the Cell Is Also a DNA Repair Switch

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Industrial Agriculture: A Runaway Domino Effect Freight Train of Unintended Ecological Consequences

Don't worry, Science will invent another chemical to kill those nasty Mites. Dare to criticize us and we'll expose you as an Anti-Science Luddite!

Image - IPM Innovation Labs

Ever see those cute little neat looking bright red mites out in the field somewhere when hiking ? They look so harmless and they normally are under the right ecological conditions when other beneficial critters working within any ecosystem to keep that "Goldielocks Principle" intact. But leave it to industrial science to provide a nasty twist in our natural world's ecological mutualism mechanisms. Remember the alarming news reports of the Emerald Ash Borer wreaking havoc on the North American Ash Trees ? In 2005 Asian Long Horn Beetles & these Emerald Ash Bores were found in the landscape of  New York city's Central Park and therefore as per the conventional training, the Park Landscape employees begain spraying insecticdes known as Neonicotinoids on 10s of 1000s of trees. The result of course was that the science-based synthetic chemicals killed lots of Asian Long Horn Beetles & Emerald Ash Borers. Hooray! But wait a minute, back up the Union Pacific chemical tank car train for a moment. It appears that there were unintended consequences. They apparently obliterated many non-target beneficial predatory insects (not exactly a surprise here), created an increase in Spider Mite populations and made the plants they wanted to save become tastier and more paletable to pest insects. So what happened ?
Neonicotinoid Insecticides Alter Induced Defenses and Increase Susceptibility to Spider Mites in Distantly Related Crop Plants  (
Chemical suppression of arthropod herbivores is the most common approach to plant protection. Insecticides, however, can cause unintended, adverse consequences for non-target organisms. Previous studies focused on the effects of pesticides on target and non-target pests, predatory arthropods, and concomitant ecological disruptions. Little research, however, has focused on the direct effects of insecticides on plants. Here we demonstrate that applications of neonicotinoid insecticides, one of the most important insecticide classes worldwide, suppress expression of important plant defense genes, alter levels of phytohormones involved in plant defense, and decrease plant resistance to unsusceptible herbivores, spider mites Tetranychus urticae (Acari: Tetranychidae), in multiple, distantly related crop plants.
Our findings are important because applications of neonicotinoid insecticides have been associated with outbreaks of spider mites in several unrelated plant species. More importantly, this is the first study to document insecticide-mediated disruption of plant defenses and link it to increased population growth of a non-target herbivore. This study adds to growing evidence that bioactive agrochemicals can have unanticipated ecological effects and suggests that the direct effects of insecticides on plant defenses should be considered when the ecological costs of insecticides are evaluated. 
This serious ecological disaster in the making has been studied and researched by Texas A&M University agricultural entomologist Adrianna Szczepaniec who was part of that study quoted above. She was curious as to why the neonicotinoid pesticides such as clothianidin and imidacloprid, which can kill a wide range of insects in general, would turn out to be boom in the spider mite populations. As the studied & link I posted above here showed, these elm trees treated with the neonicotinoids to kill target pest insects, are also host to populations of smaller beneficial critters that attack spider mites and keep them in balance. But the other important finding was that these Mites that fed on treated elm leaves had 40 percent more offspring than those that fed on regular Elm trees with untreated leaves. That would suggest that this insecticide was having an epigenetic effect on the trees immune system response which was shut down, which allows the trees leaves to be more palatable to the mites. Take this animated picture below.

Anyone remember many of the recent articles which have been published on the ability of plants to talk and communicate with each other ? Of course plants do not think, reason and articulate speech as we do, yet clearly there is some type of sophistcated communication which goes on which is beyond the comprehension of sceptical human scientists. But many are coming around. Frankly they are forced to acknowledge there is something more going on because the dangerous unhealthy state of our planet demands they dump old failed industrial dogmatic worldviews and accept a more ecological practical application approach to things. Epigenetics is one of the most beautiful discoveries about the natural biological world. The reality is that epigenetics is the same thing as the general term genetics. It's just that we are gaining further understanding and deeper insight into how genetics work and a name or label has been added to describe this incredible phenomena. It provides us with a visual of the actual mechanisms for change as opposed to the religious dogma of random mutation copying errors and blind dumb luck natural selection. Ignorance of just how the mechansisms of DNA and Cell biology work and function are killing we humans and the natural world around us. Remember David Suzuki's plant documentary "Smarty Plants" ?

Link Below from the BBC

Plants Talk to each other using a Fungus Internet

This Spider Mite problem is bigger and much scarier than people think. Adrianna Szczepaniec also found that these irresponsible pesticides used within today's Industrial Agriculture, also created the same indentical epigenetic problems with Cotton, Corn & Tomatoes which has led to increased Spider Mite population booms. The short sighted profit driven solution response from the Agro-Chemical companies was to invent more chemicals to spray on crops to kill Spider Mites. The researchers found that the neonic insecticide, "Imidacloprid," actually alters the activity of more than 600 genes involved in the production of cell walls and defense against pests. The immune system response of many of these genes was greatly reduced if not completely shut down. They evidently suspect that this  reduced activity leads to more palatable leaves and lower levels of hormones involved in pest resistance. This could explain why these spider mite populations thrive in the presence of these neonicotinoid pesticides. I've also previously written about how many species of mycorrhizal fungi trigger immune system responses to their hosts where they kickstart host plant immune systems into overdrive  which is good for the Mycorrhizal Fungi as well from a survival standpoint. But unfortunately, it gets even worse folks. So as not to bog down in too many examples, here is a list of further references on this subject:
Credible Research References:
Fecundity in twospotted spider mite (Acari: Tetranychidae) is increased by direct and systemic exposure to imidacloprid.
Michigan State University: Molecular and Biochemical Basis of Plant-Insect Interactions
Journal of Applied Ecology: Neonicotinoid insecticide travels through a soil food chain, disrupting biological control of non-target pests and decreasing soya bean yield
And Unfortunately, other mites like the Varroa destructor Mites which are responsible for killing Honey Bee Hives, also are increasing as a result of Neonics

Image . The Wildlife News

 Photo by S. Bauer, ARS/USDA
We've often heard about how these Neonicotinoid pesticides are detrimental to honey bee colonies. After all, Neonics are an insecticide and honey bees are insects. It's clear that target insects directly sprayed with the Neonics are killed by the lethal doses of this pesticide, but Honey Bees who come in later contact with sprayed flowers are effected by sub-lethal doses by the residual presence of these Neonics. It's effect on the honey bee is to make it sickly and lethargic with no energy to groom itself of Mites or for that matter feed itself. This causes the bee to rapidly die. But while these Spider Mites and Varroa Destructor Mites are also insects, they appear to be uneffected in a negative way by the Neonics. In fact, oddly enough they appear to have more successful in egg hatchings and young Mite survival rates. Of course a big part of that is that predatory beneficial insects who normally control the mite populations are now gone. But the other odd anomaly is that the mites find the plant juices much tastier as a result of the Neonic pesticide's ability to influence epigenetic switches in immune system genes by turning them off. Normally this properly functional immune system in plants would manufacture chemical compounds which make the plant unpaletable or bitter to pest insect, but that's been shut down here. Big Science's answer to the mite problem is to invent new Miticides to eliminate to correct the problem. But we don't need more chemicals which may also cause other unknown consequences. This is just becoming more and more insane. Rather than type any further, below here are some excellent links addressing the effects of Neonics on Honey Bee population decline:
Are there any real world viable solutions ? Well sorta - It's Called ThermoTherapy

credit: Heather Grab

Andrena nasonii bees
Unfortunately, this new technological innovation above only deals with the symptoms of the ecosystem disfunction. While commendable and certainly a necessary product which would avoid  using more chemicals like Miticides, it is not the complete answer for the permanent solution to removing the cause. Industrial Agriculture is taking a massive toll on biodiversity in multiple ways. Monoculture not only provides a poor unhealthy diet for humans, but also for the beneficial insects assoicated along the margins of agricultural fields which are mostly sterile in the biodiverse flower pollen sense. This creates nutritional deficiencies on both the pollinator and predator diet which is causing smaller versions of offspring in these insects as the photo here of healthy ground bee versus unhealthy specimen. (Read the findings from Cornell University)  Industrial Agriculture deliberately turns a blind eye to these ecological findings by creating their own opposing research papers from bought and paid for corporate scientists which attempt to refute and smokescreen the evidence against their destructive business model. The religious affirmation we often hear chanted from the hallowed halls of science that it is self-correcting are nothing more than a farce. Science is only good at self-correcting if the caliber of moral character and bioethics are present in the human beings employed by the system. How well has that been working out for us ? I've previously written about some of the good research work being done with Chaparral hedges incorporated within the agricultural infrastructure as a means of biological pest management at UC Berkeley. There are also a plethora of such good viable research work done worldwide, but sadly, this type of research does not really see the public light of day because they do not have the power, influence and funding behind it to make any difference.

“Nature is not competitive. It is ruthlessly collaborative” - Spencer Smith
California Coffeeberry: Biodiverse Insect Magnet for Pollinators & Predators (Think Hedgerows)
Update: November 24, 2016 Reuters:
Canada may ban farm pesticide imidacloprid because it harms midges, mayflies
Don't count on any forthcoming solutions any time soon
Los Angeles Times (November 22, 2016)
"Court's rejection of a lawsuit over pesticides in seed coatings is a setback to beekeepers"
Oddly enough, this court position totally ignores what the EPA itself stated about the ineffectiveness of seed treatments with Neonicotaqinoids:
"EPA concludes that these seed treatments provide little or no overall benefits to soybean production in most situations. Published data indicate that in most cases there is no difference in soybean yield when soybean seed was treated with neonicotinoids versus not receiving any insect control treatment."
EPA: Benefits of Neonicotinoid Seed Treatments to Soybean Production
Unintended Consequences on the Human body
National Pesticide Information Center - Imidacloprid - General Fact Sheet
Eco-Activism thus far has been a major disappointment in the self-correction goal
There seems to be very little hope in counting on many of these modern day militant EcoActivist groups to influence any type of bioethical self-correction within science. Many within their own leadership ranks are deathly affraid to criticize the Biotechs & other industrial entities because they cloak themselves with the cleric robe of the Scientific Orthodoxy's consensus. To do so would be considered by their leadership a sort of religious sacrilege or heresy. Instead of educating the public on how nature really works and providing the common man, woman and child with practical viable applications which work, the public is treated to their incessant ongoing public vitriol of an acerbic tongue, foul language, insults, lawsuits, and violent protests that destroy private property (not that of their enemy, but of their own people). How can such behaviour truthfully be a reflection of Nature if the ultimate goal is to education and instill deep appreciation within the hearts of their fellow man ? It's not. It's a repugnant turn off. In nature, beauty and mutual cooperation are the rule, not the exception. Their behaviour does not mirror anything about Nature.

Now we hear word from the Dakota Pipeline protest front that all is not well within the "We shall overcome" movement. The party animal house atmosphere has clouded the real reasons for being there according to this CBC News Reporter:
(please read: Reporter's notebook: Standing Rock is not the new Woodstock)                

Apparently the Non-Indigenous peoples (mostly white folk from the big cities) have turned the protester camps into a sort of new Woodstock or decadant Burning Man Festival on steroids with loud hip hop and rock music. This has offended the Indigenous Native Americans who were actually very serious about this Standing Rock pipeline cause. There appears to be now a cultural divide. The Native Americans want an atmosphere of comtemplative reflection and prayer ceremonies about the seriousness of their reasons for being there in the first place, while the non-indigenous white Eco-Activists have long since lost any admiration, appreciation or respect for anything of a spiritual nature in decades. Gus Speth's words are more illustrative than ever before as to how far down in the cesspit mankind's leadership has brought down our planet health with no real hope for any viable solution. At least many of the Native Americans still understand what is really missing. But will anyone listen ?

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

More designs in Nature translate into awesome Urban Landscapes thru Biomimicry

Most of my inspiration when I designed layouts for landscaping came from natural scenarios I observed in Nature. For example, this picture below from Baja California.
Image - Klaus Komoss

photo is mine (June 2016)
I've previously written about both the native Baja California and Sonora Mexico Rock Figs, Rock figs (tescalama): Ficus palmeri and Ficus petiolaris. We saw examples of Rock Figs at the Arizona-Sonoran Deset Museum which we visited this past June 2016. They make great patio trees in large pottery containers or planter focal points with boulders as a center piece. Mainly, when we create such landscape art, we are merely doing biomimicry of what already takes place in the wild. For example the massive wild Rock Fig above taken by Klaus Kommoss on one of his many winter adventure trips with his wife and friends down in Baja California. I'll post the link below to he and his wife's travel adventure blog and also my post link below of what I wrote about recreating these rock fig and boulder art images below. I also stumbled upon recently something else that has captured my attenton in the plant/rock art theme where I saw these incredible boulder plant creations where holes were drilled and hollowed out through  a fire process in the huge rock and trees planted in them at the Living Holocaust Memorial at the Jewish Heritage Museum.

Image - Cornell Plantations
"Boulders harvested for Andy Goldsworthy's Garden of Stones, Permanent installation, The Museum of Jewish Heritage A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, New York, New York These granite boulders and chestnut oak trees supplement the permanent installation in New York. They were installed at Cornell Plantations in 2004, and dedicated in 2005."

Image - Cornell Plantations

The first time I saw this planting design technique from the layout at the "Garden of Stones" display at the Living Memorial to the Holocaust, it made me think of potential for not only Desert Rock Figs, but also the major contribution potential of selected plants that the California Chaparral community could provide. California Oaks would be ideal like the example above, especially smaller scrub oaks. Manzanita would also be ideal. Can you just imagine. Really we've already seen such examples in the form of Bonsai plants created by rocky shallow soils of a California mountainside on a south facing slope. Boulders strewn hillsides themselves have already provided such blueprints for creative imaginations.

Image - Cornell Plantations

Image - Laura Allen in Modern Farmer
Many examples of chaparral bonsai exist in the mountains and foothills of San Diego County especially those rich in giant granite boulders. Mount Woodson near Ramona comes to minds as does the mountain passes along Interstate 8 in eastern San Diego county between Boulevard and Jacumba. Further north and east in Arizona in the Sedona red rock country, there are plenty of examples as evidenced by this photo on the right. Even further north up into the state of Utah and the Canyonlands would provide another excellent library for imaginative blueprints to any talented landscape designer. The point is, while we can admire the creativity of those who laid out the theme for the Holocaust Memorial, it must be acknowledged that such amazing designs are in fact existing somewhere out in Nature first. 

image from Goldsworthy "Garden of Stones"

So exactly how do these Landscape architects and construction planners do this ?
I'll provide a link to a gallery of photographs here below which will explain far more than I could even hope to do in text. But there are a few points where I will interject some personal thoughts and/or quotes from the "About the Process" page. Further on down I'll provide a couple of links on how the process works, but here are some planting examples. Interestingly their favourite plant specimens are dwarf type oaks like Quercus prinoides. For me I would choose both Emory Oak (Quercus emoryii) and/or  Engelmann Oak (Quercus engelmannii). I love the overall sillhouette and branching form of both species of oak. The leaf patterns and the fact that both are a tough survivor species of oak. 

Image - Cornell Plantation

Image - Goldsworthy
The Oak saplings were grown at Cornell under the guidance of Professor Tom Whitlow from the Department of Horticulture. His tree species recommendation was the dwarf Chestnut Oak (Quercus prinoides) and he advised on the optimum conditions needed for growth and nourishment. The Oak & other saplings were nurtured at Cornell by both faculty and students. Often the actual planting was done by holocaust survivors themselves, their children or even grandchildren. The point of all this of course is that humans can move away from the formal structural traditions of the English Garden design, etc and develop purely naturalistic scenes within their personal urban or commercial landscapes.
How the actual Stone Hollowing Process works
Andy Goldsworthy's Stone Hollowing Process
About the Company and Artists who created these landscape boulder planters
Image - Richard Avedon
Edward Monti and artist Andy Goldsworthy are pictured with one of the granite sculptures (in its early stages) that make up the Garden of Stones installation at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City. 
ABOUT EDWARD MONTI The History of Edward Monti Stone Sculpture
About the couple who took the photograph at the top of this post and their Adventures in Baja California

The photo on the right and at the top of this post was taken by Klaus Kommoss with his wife, Parvin, on one of their adventures every Winter to Baja California. I'll post their blog link down below at the bottom of this paragraph. Klaus was from Germany and his wife Parvin was from Iran. They lived in the state of Wshington in the Pacific Northwest. An unfortunate accident took place in 2012 where Klaus died in a freak accident when the SUV he was working on fell off the scissor jacks. I stumbled by accident upon their blog back in August while looking up information on Rock Figs of Baja California. Read and loved his blog, but then later found out the sad news. Still, they had some great adventures to places most of us only imagine seeing one day. I think you'll enjoy reading their blog adventures from the link below.
Photographs & Adventure Blog References
Man crushed to death by SUV was inventor, adventurer
Creating Little Desert Trees as Ornamentals for Indoors & Patios
Now for a fun tutorial on how Phenotypic Plasticity works on all biological organisms, but especially here with our subject of PLANTS

Genotype-Environment Interaction and Phenotypic Plasticity

Here is an awesome video explaining things in simple terms and with illustrations from familiar situations that teach. So can you understand and graps the concept of biomimicry in developing plants within an urban landscape to replication patterns and forms found in Nature ??? The video is from and is about 7:00 minutes long. But as you watch this, please think about how you can experiment and tinker with various physical environmental factors and recreate natural designs in your backyard or where ever. Keep in mind that this video deals with the science of both genotypic and phenotypic change, and this can be repeatable if we can set up just the right artifical environmental factors in our landscape. And still somewhere there is the role of something called epigenetics in shaping the patterns of your plant subjects. But that's another subject.
Real Life "Garden's of Stone" you can visit out in Nature

Photographer - Phil Douglis - Apache Stronghold

Image -
This place is Apache Stronghold, otherwise known as Chiricahua National Monument. When you visit, you can understand how tough it was for the US Cavalry to evict the resilient Chiricahua Apache. I've been to this place and it was one of the best decisions I've ever made as far as an adventure. Believe it or not it was the unique plant and animal (Parrot & Koatimundi) life that brought me here in the beginning, apart from the outstanding ancient volcanic geological formations. This is one of those classic Arizona "Sky Islands" as you can see from the top photo which looks down at the lower surrounding elevation. But the main draw for me was the Arizona Madrone, Chiricahua & Apache Pines, Alligator Juniper and some of the most humungous examples of Arizona Cypress I've ever seen. Again, it's the various features of rock (niches, slots, etc) which provide a phenotypic paradise for unique plant form and natural design.

Image - NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service
This is Gardens of Stone National Park in Australia. The landscape here is a labyrinth of pagoda rocks with beehive-shaped formations sculpted by erosion along sandstone scarpments. This type of geological landscape not only presents a treacherous and challenging obstacle of slot canyons for both hikers and expert canyoneer exploreers, but it also provides an outdoor educational lab for those who choose to view this as a learning journey into how the environments (all of it's components) sculpts biological life (in this case plant life) into various beautiful and intriguing forms. All of which can and should be replicated into the modern urban landscape.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

“Nature is not competitive. It is ruthlessly collaborative” - Spencer Smith

How can responsible land stewards teach people how much more complex and sophisticated the designs found in Nature are compared to our own ?
Kew Royal Bontanic Gardens - Rhizotron Tree Museum

(Project grade 11)
Unfortunately, it's tough teaching new things to adults who have already been through an educational system where the green revolution industrial complex as mandated by the State has indoctrinated & moulded them into obedient little Soylent cracker eaters. Let's be honest, as you watch adults worldwide, they are having a tough time with the idea of "Multiculturalism" [even from it's supporters] let along understanding the true concept of biodiversity in Nature. You have to start with youth, who surprisingly grasp far more than adults give them credit for. I mean seriously, look how expert almost every child is using a computer as compared to adults ? Who are best at hacking these days ? Indeed, one of the biggest obstacles may well come from detaching kids from their electronic gadgets. But Children do love and thrive off challenges. So approaching things from a technological innovation viewpoint should help them visualize just how biological mechanisms found in the natural world actually work. Hopefully instead of hacking computer code, they won't try a hand at cracking the genetic code to find out what kind of mutated critters they can come up with. I can almost visualize the next #1 popular gift showing up under Christmas trees being a Bio-Rad GMO Starter kit. Ah yes, but I'm sure it'll be something that'll be fun for the whole family.

Image - Bio-Rad
If we look at things from a agricultural  standpoint with older generation farmers, they are old school and the saying which goes, "cannot teach an old Dog new tricks" is certainly accurate for the most part. Not too many older farmers around like Joel Salatin or Gabe Brown who actually get to change later in life and become successful. Something else came out recently about how imperative it is to pursue biodiversity with regards to agriculture as compared to monoculture. Both the University of Californa Davis and Michigan State University came out yesterday with research on how crops grown as a monoculture attract a plethora of all kinds of pests. More pests mean more synthetic inputs into the farm field system. The only winners in that are Agro-Chemical companies. But I truly believe kids would all grasp the concepts of ecology and biodiversity if exposed to the right kind of education at a young age. Now both articles were extremely interesting and informative, aside from being logical. But how do parents and teachers communicate these important grownup things to kids ? Aside from dumping the usual intellect speak, use illustrations from familar situations common in every day life that can teach. Also, absolutely use Animation and videos

Animation - Mother Earth News

Braconid Wasp -- Caterpillar

Image - Julie Johnsen
Most of what nature does goes unseen to most people. Not just kids, but adults too. Take this Braconid Wasp in the animation above. These are not the common every day better known larger wasps we see building those paper or mud nests in the rafters of our cover porches or eaves of our homes. No, these wasp are so tiny, many of them would barely would fit on a U.S. dime. This tiny wasp at left is a Mason or Potter Wasp. Most of the beneficial work they do also goes unseen. Mason wasps are a predatory insect whose young feed on the larva of other pest insects and build nest with mud but at times will dwell in holes of wood for nesting purposes. They may capture and paralyze as many at 15+ caterpillars just to feed their egg or larva before they seal the chamber inside the wooden post or tree snag. They probably use preexisting holes for their nests, but they are not particularly harmful. Teach kids that they are beneficial as they prey on critters like tent caterpillars/army worms, and other problematic larva on your garden plants. Teach your kids how important it is for you to plant a variety of flowering plants to feed these tiny wasps. Explain that though the adults capture and sting other insects, they do not eat these as food, only their babies do that. Teach the kids that adult wasps need pollen or nectar from flowers to feed upon and benefit from a good diversity of wildflowers or flowering shrubs. Here is an excellent example by insct photographer, Marc Kummel, who photographed a mating pair of beneficial parasitic wasps on a California Fuschia (Epilobium canum aka Zauschneria californica)

Image - Marc Kummel (San Marcos Pass - Oct 2016)

Here is a mating pair of tiny "parasitic wasps" (Hymenoptera) on a new
flower of California Fuschia (Epilobium canum aka Zauschneria californica)
in the Onagraceae plant family.
Chaparral hedgerows are ideal in attracting all sorts of beneficial insect pollinators & predators. Replacing disturbed invasive non-native weedy fields with the original chaparral plant community will increase predators and decrease habitat for pests who thrive on weedy areas. Now let's focus on one particular chaparral shrub, California Coffeeberry, which is plant number one at beneficial insect attraction.

Image - Pete Veilleux (2008)

One of my native favourites for attracting beneficial insects is California Coffeeberry (Rhamnus [or Frangula - whatever] californica). Favourite cultivars are "eve Case" or "Mound San Bruno." In my personal experience, from a shrub satandpoint, this is the earliest bloomer of all the native california shrubs and mostly it goes unnoticed. Why ? Well, look below.

Image - Greg a. Monroe

Flowers of California Coffeeberry are admittedly not the most showy as compared to other well known popular garden variety flowers. So how does a parent or teacher instill appreciation for something considered, perhaps, even ugly (by flawed human standards) ? I've never considered these flowers ugly, just sort of neutral from an outward appearance standpoint. Humans by nature judge almost entirely by outward appearances first. They do this to each other starting as kids in school. But the teacher and parent has to counter this by demonstrating the Coffeeberry flower's main virtues. Unseen to us, these flowers manufacture a potent powerful cologne or perfume that only insects can sense. It's a pity that back in the late 1980s, I didn't document this more with photography.

image - Brian Marlow
 Insect Paparazzi
Of course, there were no digital cameras back then, everything was expernsive and old school compared to now. But gardeners planting and documenting this most beautiful feature of Coffeeberry's usefulness in Nature could be a fun thing when it comes to gardening photos. Planting a chaparral hedgerow, then documenting just how effective these coffeeberry flowers are at attracting mostly beneficial pollinators/predators into your landscape would not only be fun, but also provide something that even the researchers have yet to provide us with. Seriously, do a google and most references to this Coffeeberry insect relationship come from Master Gardener blogs or other private individuals. They do mention the chaparral plant's importance to wildlife & domestic animal browsing, but the importance of it as a pest control component is referenced only by a few. Usage in farm field hedgerows for pest control is being more researched, but it's not the kind of good science getting as much publicity as genetic engineering or other industrial versions of  agro-chemical advances in science.

Image- Town Mouse & Country Mouse

California Coffeeberry: Biodiverse Insect Magnet for Pollinators & Predators (Think Hedgerows)
I've created this link above to an article I finished yesterday which further illuminates California Coffeeberry's insect magnet attracting  abilities.. I've taken time to research as many beneficial insect photographs as possible linked to California Coffeeberry. I've also included some research being done by researchers from California State Berkerley's Kremen Lab Group on the potential for pest control by beneficial insects on a commercial farming scale by the creation of California Chaparral Hedgerows along all farm fields. Much like the one in the photo below.

Image - University of California - Agricultural Division & Natural Resources

This post and information above should go along well with the latest research news below on using biodiversity as an insect pest control. Children and all youth in general need to understand just how successful Nature has been for 10s of 1000s of years prior to humans coming along. Biomimicry should be considered a normal scientific pursuit. The articifical industrial conventional way of practicing agriculture with it's chemicals and genetic engineering should be the view as it truly is, abnormal. None of this junk was ever needed in the first place. Kids need to understand that and will with parent's and teacher's guidance.
BioDiversity as a Natural Pesticide
“Farm fields can create monocultures where pests may find the perfect nutrition to be healthy and reproduce,” said Wetzel, who conducted the research during his doctoral work at the University of California, Davis. “Planting fields with higher plant nutrient variability could contribute to sustainable pest control.”
Rather than my further elaborating on this subject at length, these two links below should be enough to get you started. Then in your mind's eye, simplfy the language to a point where a child would understand the biodiversity concept. It may be a challenge for you as most adults globally are often unaware themselves. If the majority were aware, our planet would look totally different.
Michigan State University: Plant Diversity could provide natural repellent for crop pests
UC Davis: Why Insect Pests Love Monocultures, and How Plant Diversity Could Change That
Teaching kids these days is always easiest with video animation. Seriously, since I was a kid in the 1960s, cartoons and animated films shown at elementary school always captured my attention. So such  animated video instructive technology can and should be used when teaching kids about the importance of biodiversity over the ecologically failed choice mankind's failed leadership has been mandating for over the past 50 years. Take a look below.

Actually photographs are yet another venue to provide good teaching points and should also be used. I've written about these Chaparral Hedgerow and Biodiverse pollinator/predator strategies previously in these three posts below. This first one deals with the reasons why planting a biodiverse flower presence is so important to honey bee health. All plants create different types of pollen with unique chemical properties. These differing pollens are used by specialized nurse bees in the hive who apparently have a built sense of what pollen medicine to feed the sick worker bees with specific illnesses. Can kids really comprehend such scientific findings ? Absolutely, if you make the right real world illustrative comparisons that we humans can relate to:
Diversity of Flowering Plants Imperative to Pollinator & Predator Health
This next link deals with actual planning, designs and construction of Chaparral Hedgerows along California's agricultural fields to provide habitat living quarters and variety of important food sources for pollinators/predators which would act an an important insurance policy against crop pests. The potential here is for greatly reduced or total elimination of synthetic (or so-called Organic) chemical pesticides. Could kids really grasp this reality ? Absolutely, especially with the beautiful colour photographs provided by the Xerces Society:

Image - Xerces Society
How to construct the best Insurance Policy for your Agricultural Business Venture
This final link deals with strategies in attracting good pollinators/predators to the landscape and commercial farming and how such strategies are not only a good business model, but also a good insurance policy. Can kids graps this concept of bugs being something good ? Absolutely, but then need adult attitudes to change and lead by example. Again the photos from the Xerces Society are very helpful in this learning process:

Image - Xerces Society
Attracting Wild Bees & Wasps to Landscapes & Farms is the best Insurance Policy

Aside from planting a diverse variety of  native shrubs & wildflowers, here is a project parents or teachers can do with kids. 
(This kind of stuff gets burned into young memories)

photo credit - Donald C. Drife (2016)
June 20-26, 2016 has been designated National Pollinator Week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of the Interior. Our yard is pollinator friendly. We use no insecticides. We provide plants that produce pollen and attract pollinators to our vegetable garden.   
This year, we put up a bee hotel now called the “Buzz Inn.”  Our plans came from a helpful guide, Managing Alternative Pollinators: A Handbook for Beekeepers, Growers and Conservationists, SARE Handbook 11, NRAES-186 by Eric Mader, Marla Spivak, and Elaine Evans.
Donald C. Drife

Michigan Nature Guy's Blog: National Pollinator Week

"No one will protect what they don't care about, and no one will care about what they have never experienced."
David Attenborough, conservationist 
One final teaching point from your friendly neighbourhood Home Depot
Image - Susan Harris of  Garden Rant

Home Depot front door display as you enter Garden Center

If you aren't teaching and illustrating at a hands on level with your children, then someone else will. The photograph above was take by Master Gardener author, Susan Harris, from the journal Garden Rant. The visual teaching going on here is their marketing strategy for indoctrinating their customers that for a beautiful successful garden, you need synthetic Chemical weed and insect killers to eliminate Nature's flaws. Here is what Susan Harris wrote about Home Depot's front entrance killer chemical display:
"The other day I walked into the Home Depot near me and noticed this enticement to enter the gardening part of the store – Kill, kill, kill those plants and bugs!  Not a plant in sight but plenty of plant-killers.  And this photo hardly conveys the impressive array of killing products extending as far as the eye could see."
(Source - Garden Rant) 
Pollinators - Beneficial Insects - Native Plants
Michigan State University: Native Plants and Ecosystem Services
Mother Earth News: Enlist Beneficial Insects for Natural Pest Control
University of Minnesota: Scholars team up to show forest biodiversity is green in more ways than one
See Google Images of Mason & Potter Wasps