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Last updated on April 21, 2014 at 5:21 EDT

Organic Farms Support Greater Biodiversity – On Science

February 5, 2014

Biodiversity is thriving on organic farms.

Icelandic folklore might have been proven wrong.

What’s worse than insects? Insect robots!

And what do people really think about DNA advancements. Coming up today…On Science.

Hello and welcome to On Science. I’m Emerald Robinson,

Biodiversity seems to be organic to organic farming. Researchers at Oxford University found that organic farms support greater biodiversity in their immediate environment. After studying data from organic farm reports dating back to 1989 and re-analyzing the data using satellite imagery, they found that there was greater species richness on organic farms as compared to conventional farms. Species richness refers to how many different species there are but doesn’t have anything to do with the actual number of organisms. Researchers found that species richness was even greater if the land area surrounding the organic farm was more intensely and conventionally farmed. It makes sense considering it’s like a little pesticide-free island in the middle of a contaminated ocean. Can’t you just see a honeybee sipping on its pollencolada?

And speaking of islands, I know this comes as a shock, but Icelandic trolls are not actually to blame for the basalt pillars found in Iceland as legend has it. According to local folklore, the mysterious basalt pillars found in Iceland were created by a pair of angry trolls who hurled rocks at one another. But a researcher from the University of Buffalo says these pillars actually formed around vertical columns of steam and hot water venting through lava. Apparently during the Laki eruption of 1783, that slower moving lava hardened around steam rising from geysers that formed through wall gaps on the ground surface leaving hardened pillars behind. Seems plausible but, according to the Associated Press, 62% of Icelandic natives still believe that it’s actually the trolls who are responsible. That version certainly does seem more exciting.

So back to that honeybee chilling on the organic island, his brain is the latest inspiration in robotic technology. Scientists at a university in Berlin are using the honeybee nervous system as a model for a robot brain. They installed a camera on a small robotic vehicle and connected it to a computer, which acted as the insect brain. The camera acted as the eye and the neural network operated the motors of the robot in order to control its direction. The scientists set up a reward system associated with colored objects to lead to specific changes in the network – teaching the insect-brained robot to go for the reward and avoid the other option. And the little insect robots did it! Success! Now these scientists plan to expand the neural network by supplementing more learning principles.

And like bees to honey, we humans flocked to sugar. But it’s a killer sweet. Scientists looking at data from a national health survey investigated the possible link between added sugar intake as a percentage of daily calories and the risk of cardiovascular disease. The data showed that, from 2005-2010, 71% of participants got 10% or more of their calories from added sugar while 10% of participants got 25% or more calories from added sugar. With the higher intake of calories from added sugar, the risk of death from cardiovascular disease rose. Regular intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, that being 7 servings or more per week, was linked to increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. So what’s the answer? You guessed it…keep in moderation. Sweet but deadly…kind of like love.

Here’s a question for you: “Which comes closer to your opinion about scientific research on human, plant and animal DNA? A. I worry that this research poses unforeseen dangers? B. I’m excited that this research could lead to major scientific breakthroughs. C. Both of these. D. Neither. or E. Not sure?” Well, according to a new Huffington Post Poll that posed this question, seventy-one percent said they were “B” excited but showed some concern in their responses to some of the other questions. When it came to cloning, fifty-five percent said they were against the idea. And when it came to designer DNA babies, they really didn’t go for it with 72% disapproving of such efforts. Gattica anybody? And when asked if they felt that scientists were “playing God” by tinkering with DNA in such ways, thirty-five percent said they were very worried about that possibility.

And that’s what’s happening On Science! See you tomorrow!!!