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Showing posts from June, 2019

Sowing the seeds of collaborations to tackle African food insecurity

A group of early career researchers from 11 African countries got together in Bristol, UK, this month for a two-week training event. Nothing so unusual about that, you may think.

Yet this course, run by the Community Network for African Vector-Borne Plant Viruses (CONNECTED), broke important new ground.

The training brought together an unusual blend of researchers: plant virologists and entomologists studying insects which transmit plant diseases, as an important part of the CONNECTED project’s work to find new solutions to the devastation of many food crops in Sub-Saharan African countries.

The CONNECTED niche focus on vector-borne plant disease is the reason for bringing together insect and plant pathology experts, and plant breeders too. The event helped forge exciting new collaborations in the fight against African poverty, malnutrition and food insecurity.

‘V4’ – Virus Vector Vice Versa – was a fully-funded residential course which attracted great demand when it was advertised. …

Indoor air pollution: The 'killer in the kitchen'

Approximately 3 billion people around the world rely on biomass fuels such as wood, charcoal and animal dung which they burn on open fires and using inefficient stoves to meet their daily cooking needs.

Relying on these types of fuels and cooking technologies is a major contributor to indoor air pollution and has serious negative health impacts, including acute respiratory illnesses, pneumonia, strokes, cataracts, heart disease and cancer.

The World Health Organization estimates that indoor air pollution causes nearly 4 million premature deaths annually worldwide – more than the deaths caused by malaria and tuberculosis combined. This led the World Health Organization to label household air pollution “The Killer in the Kitchen”.

As illustrated on the map below, most deaths from indoor air pollution occur in low- and middle-income countries across Africa and Asia. Women and children are disproportionately exposed to the risks of indoor air pollution as they typically spend the most ti…

Science in action: Air pollution in Bangkok

I was given the opportunity to spend a significant part of 2018 in Bangkok, Thailand, to work with the Chulabhorn Research Institute (CRI) Laboratory of Environmental Toxicology working on a project funded by the Newton Fund on air-quality. Bangkok is a large city with over 14 million inhabitants, which suffer high levels of traffic and congestion resulting in consequent high exposure to traffic-related pollution. It is a UN Sustainable development goal to reduce the number of deaths caused by pollution by 2030. Air pollution is a global problem – a major threat to health throughout the world – but particularly so in low and medium income countries, which account for 92% of pollution related deaths (1). The poor and the marginalised often live in areas of high pollution, and children have a disproportionate exposure to pollutants at a vulnerable stage of development.

The Chulabhorn Research Institute is an independent research institute in Bangkok whose mission includes the applicati…

How we traced 'mystery emissions' of CFCs back to eastern China

Since being universally ratified in the 1980s, the Montreal Protocol – the treaty charged with healing the ozone layer – has been wildly successful in causing large reductions in emissions of ozone depleting substances. Along the way, it has also averted a sizeable amount of global warming, as those same substances are also potent greenhouse gases. No wonder the ozone process is often held up as a model of how the international community could work together to tackle climate change.

However, new research we have published with colleagues in Nature shows that global emissions of the second most abundant ozone-depleting gas, CFC-11, have increased globally since 2013, primarily because of increases in emissions from eastern China. Our results strongly suggest a violation of the Montreal Protocol.

A global ban on the production of CFCs has been in force since 2010, due to their central role in depleting the stratospheric ozone layer, which protects us from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation…

Climate change: sea level rise could displace millions of people within two generations

Antarctica is further from civilisation than any other place on Earth. The Greenland ice sheet is closer to home but around one tenth the size of its southern sibling. Together, these two ice masses hold enough frozen water to raise global mean sea level by 65 metres if they were to suddenly melt. But how likely is this to happen?

The Antarctic ice sheet is around one and half times larger than Australia. What’s happening in one part of Antarctica may not be the same as what’s happening in another – just like the east and west coasts of the US can experience very different responses to, for example, a change in the El NiƱo weather pattern. These are periodic climate events that result in wetter conditions across the southern US, warmer conditions in the north and drier weather on the north-eastern seaboard.

The ice in Antarctica is nearly 5km thick in places and we have very little idea what the conditions are like at the base, even though those conditions play a key role in determi…