Gulf oil spill.
(photo credit: AP)
It took seconds last April for the largest marine oil spill in history – the BP
drilling rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico – to occur, but it will take a very
long time and billions of dollars to clean up. Tel Aviv University claims it has
a solution that may help “bioremediate” the remaining problems.
Eugene Rosenberg and Prof. Eliora Ron of the department of molecular
microbiology and biotechnology are using naturally occurring oil-munching
bacteria, grown at the TAU lab, to clean hard-to-reach oil pockets. These form
when oil mixes with sand and organic matter on beaches and forms a thin layer on
“It has worked to clean up an oil spill on the coast of Haifa,
so we’ve already got good evidence it could work in Florida too,” says
The researchers identified a naturally occurring variety of
sea-borne bacteria that digest oil. By studying the bacteria’s genetic
background, developing methods of growing it and increasing its capacity
ingest the oil, the scientists have developed a solution that could
residual oil that can’t be removed by mechanical means. Ron says that
surface oil pools and containing the oil are important and necessary
steps. But her solution addresses the smaller amounts of oil which
removed from sand and water.
It is this small percentage of oil that sits
under rocks and forms a thin film on the water’s surface. Her bacterial
solution, she maintains, can remove this oil.
“We see sad pictures of
birds covered in oil and people with good intentions cleaning bird
Ron. “But by the time the oil is on their wings, it’s too late. Birds
because oil gets into their lungs.“The problem is huge, and even with
little bit in your lungs, oil is bad. Even when cleanup crews reduce the
of oil at sea, there will probably be enough left behind to kill birds
wildlife.” At this level of oil removal, the researcher says, the only
is bioremediation – using nature itself to do the final cleanup.
FOR DISCRIMINATING BEES Bees, it seems, have definite preferences in
University of Haifa researchers have found that they are keen on nectar
small concentrations of nicotine and caffeine. For them, it’s “tastier”
plain nectar, according to researcher Prof. Ido Yitzhaki of the
environmental biology department. The major component of nectar is
is the source of energy to potential pollinators. There are types of
whose nectar contains substances known to be toxic such as nicotine and
caffeine. In the current study, the researchers wanted to know if these
substances attract bees.
Nicotine appears naturally in tobacco plants at
a concentration of 2.5 milligrams per liter, while caffeine is present
citrus plants at a concentration of 11 to 17.5 milligrams per liter, but
grapefruits, the concentration is much higher – almost 95 milligrams. To
answers, the team exposed bees both to artificial nectar containing
concentrations of caffeine and nicotine and pure sugar nectar. It turns
most bees are the equivalent of light coffee drinkers and smokers. The
the concentration of these chemicals, the more likely they were to buzz
to the natural nectar with only sugar.
It’s difficult to know whether
these components evolved in nature to make pollination more efficient,
Yitzhaki, but the plants were chosen by natural selection because they
concentrations of these components that attracted bees.
proved that bees prefer some caffeine and nicotine; now they are
study whether bees become addicted to them.
POLLSTERS: WATCH THE BIRDY
Could“tweets” on the Twitter social network serve as a gauge of public
American researchers who analyzed a billion Twitter messages during 2008
2009 have found that sentiments expressed in the short postings were
those in opinion surveys.
Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University in
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania told UPI that the tweets sent during 2008 and
yielded measures of consumer confidence and of presidential job approval
to those of well-established polling services. That finding, the
said, suggests that analyzing the text found in streams of tweets could
cheap, speedy barometer of public opinion on at least some subjects. The
was presented recently in Washington during the Association for the
of Artificial Intelligence’s International Conference on Weblogs and
Study head Prof. Noah Smith said the tools for extracting public
opinion from social media text are still crude and social media remain
infancy, meaning the extent to which such methods could replace or
traditional polling is still unknown.
“With seven million or more
messages being tweeted each day, this data stream potentially allows us
the temperature of the population very quickly,” Smith said.
are ‘noisy,’ as are the results of polls. Pollsters have learned to
for these distortions, but we’re still trying to identify and understand
‘noise’ in our data. Given that, I’m excited that we get any signal at
social media that correlates with the polls.”