Huge carbon stores discovered beneath UK grasslands

 

A nationwide survey by ecologists has revealed that over 2 billion tons of carbon is stored deep under the UK’s grasslands, helping to curb climate change.

However, decades of intensive farming, involving heavy fertilizer use and excessive livestock grazing, have caused a serous decline in valuable soil carbon stocks in grasslands across the UK.

The nationwide survey was carried out by a team of scientists from the Universities of Manchester, Lancaster, Reading and Newcastle, as well as Rothamsted Research.

The team found that 60% of the UK’s total soil carbon stored in grasslands – covering a third of UK land surface – is between 30cm and 1m deep. The team estimated the total grassland soil carbon in Great Britain to be 2097 teragrams of carbon to a depth of 1m.

Though the effects of high intensity agriculture are strongest in the surface layer of soil, they also discovered that this deep carbon is sensitive to the way land has been farmed.

Dr Sue Ward, the lead author of the paper from Lancaster Environment Centre, said:

“What most surprised us was the depth at which we were still able to detect a change in soil carbon due to historic land management.

“We have long known that carbon is stored in surface soils and is sensitive to the way land is managed. But now we know that this too is true at considerable soil depths under our grasslands.

“This is of high relevance given the extent of land cover and the large stocks of carbon held in managed grasslands worldwide.”

In contrast, the soils that were richest in carbon were those that had been subjected to less intensive farming, receiving less fertilizer and with fewer grazing animals. The team found that soil carbon stocks were 10% higher at intermediate levels of management, compared to intensively managed grasslands.

Professor Richard Bardgett from The University of Manchester said:

“Our findings suggest that by managing our grasslands in a less intensive way, soil carbon storage could be important to our future global carbon targets, but will also bring benefits for biodiversity conservation.”

He added:

“These findings could impact how grasslands are managed for carbon storage and climate mitigation, as current understanding does not account for changes in soil carbon at these depths.

“Our findings suggest that by managing our grasslands in a less intensive way, soil carbon storage could be important to our future global carbon targets, but will also bring benefits for biodiversity conservation.”

The research is part of a five year research project, supported by DEFRA, aimed at managing UK grassland diversity for multiple ecosystem services, including carbon capture.

 


The paper, ‘Legacy effects of grassland management on soil 1 carbon to depth’ is available in the journal Global Change Biology.

LGBT History Month

This February it’s LGBT History Month: a month-long celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history, the history of gay rights and the struggle for equality.

LGBT History Month aims to increase the visibility of LGBT people both past and present, promote awareness of issues affecting the LGBT community and generally improve the welfare of LGBT people, who continue to face discrimination and inequality here in the UK, as well as internationally. It is held in February to coincide with the anniversary of the 2003 abolition of Section 28, a rule that forbade the promotion of homosexuality in the UK education system.

To mark LGBT History Month, we here at FLS take a look at some of the famous figures in the history of science who were gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender:

Alan_Turing_Aged_16
Alan Turing, aged 16

For example, Alan Turing, one of Manchester’s most famous alumni and a world-renowned computer scientist and mathematician, was a gay man. Famed for his work on cracking the Enigma code while working as a codebreaker at Bletchley Park during the Second World War, Turing was prosecuted for committing homosexual acts in 1952, which were then a crime in the UK. Despite his heroic contribution to the Allied war effort, he was found guilty and sentenced to chemical castration, which back then was regarded as a ‘treatment’ for homosexuality. This was a punishment that was sadly given to thousands of others like him at the time. Turing died of an apparent suicide two years after his conviction. Homosexual acts were not made legal in the UK until 1967. Turing was given a posthumous pardon by the Queen in 2013, and his life was recently dramatised on the big screen in ‘The Imitation Game’. A building and an institution at The University of Manchester are both named in his honour.

Possible_Self-Portrait_of_Leonardo_da_Vinci
Possible self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1513

Looking further back, perhaps one of the most famous figures in the history of science (not to mention the arts, mathematics, architecture, literature etc.), Leonardo da Vinci, is thought by many historians to have been homosexual. The Italian polymath made incredible advances in fields such as anatomy and palaeontology, and invented early versions of modern day technologies such as the helicopter and the parachute. He also produced many of the most famous artworks of the Renaissance, such as the Mona Lisa, and The Last Supper. Court records of the time show that da Vinci and several others were charged with the crime of sodomy involving a male prostitute. However, the charges were ultimately dismissed, perhaps due to pressure from the accused parties’ powerful relatives.

Looking to recent history, many prominent scientists and mathematicians have identified as LGBT. These include Nate Silver, the American statistician who correctly predicted the winner of all 50 states during the 2012 US Presidential Election, who identifies as gay. Lynn Conway, a celebrated American engineer and computer scientist, came out as a trans woman in 1999, having undergone gender reassignment during the late 1960s. At the time of her reassignment, it had resulted in her being fired from her job at IBM. Today she is perhaps the most prominent transgender activist from the scientific community.

Lynn conway
Lynn Conway

 

Tuesday Feature Episode 26: Max Drakeley

Max is a recent graduate from The Faculty of Life Sciences and is now working as part of the Biological Sciences Review (BSR). Read below about how he first got interested in science and how the BSR is helping to teach the next generation of scientists.


What is your role here in the Faculty?

So my role is editorial assistant with the Biological Sciences Review, which is an A-level magazine that tries to take cutting edge scientific research and make it understandable to A-level students who have just come out of GCSE. Because BSR is aimed at A-level students, it’s a great way of getting really good research down into the general public.  I basically try to coordinate the publishing team, the editing team and the authors who are sending us their articles. I try to make things run very smoothly. I do a little bit of proof-reading myself too.

How does BSR help the general public?

The way the BSR helps the public is by making science understandable for A-level students. I used to read it when I was at school and it really helped me to decide to do a neuroscience degree at university. It’s great at getting kids involved in science and developing an understanding that you wouldn’t get in the class room.

How did you first become interested in Science?

Well I did cognitive neuroscience as an undergraduate and that was based on the fact that I read an Oliver Sacks book (The man who mistook his wife for a hat) which really got me into the psychology and the neuroscience side of things. I guess I knew I wanted to do neuroscience at university after that.

Have you got any science heroes? Who inspired you?

Other than Oliver Sacks? A standard cliché science hero is David Attenborough. I always used to love his documentaries when I was growing up. It really made me want to go into the media side of things back when I was younger. Blue Planet certainly blew my mind – it was the thing that got me into scuba diving and made me really want to go do deep sea diving. So yeah, David Attenborough would be my science hero.

How has working/studying here in Manchester helped you?

I did a science communication final year project which really helped me build my writing and editing skills because you have to do a lot of writing in your final year. I wrote a BSR article and this really helped me hone my skills and taught me how to really get a decent article ready for publication. That helped me get the job I am currently doing and it allows me to understand what the authors are going through when they’re trying to write things. A lot of the feedback the editors give back to the authors is really useful.

What do you do outside of work?

Outside of work I’m a major ice-hockey player. I’ve always played ice-hockey throughout my time at university. At the moment I’m playing for Blackburn Hawks which takes up both my days at the weekend. I also train during the week. Other than that, I like music, chilling out with friends and that sort of thing.

Tuesday Feature episode 9: David Grantham

It’s starting to feel a lot like spring here in Manchester and episode 9 of the Tuesday Feature was the perfect excuse to go enjoy the sun! In this week’s episode we interview David Grantham who is the overseer of the Firs Experimental Garden in Fallowfield. The interview, which was shot in the beautiful gardens, will show you why the Firs Experimental Garden really is Manchester’s “hidden gem”.

In ten sentences or less, what is your role in the Faculty?

My role here in the faculty is to oversee the research, teaching and outreach that is undertaken at the botanical grounds. A lot of scientific papers come from plant experiments that are planted here. The grounds have been here a long time in the faculty but there a bit of a hidden gem because not everyone knows we have these facilities here. I want to try to promote the grounds so that people can get the most use out of them – they can grow their plants here and enter the Smith Quad competition. We also invite a number of schools to come and look around the facilities to hopefully inspire them to take up plant sciences. Daivd next to tree

How does this role benefit the person reading the blog?

I think it’s crucial what we do here. I’ve always worked in the horticulture industry and I can see how important plants are. They always seem to be the area that is funded least and it is often laughed at by other people. The more we discover about science, the more we realise the fact that we rely on plants. We are a type 0 civilisation where we rely on plants and animals to survive. I think to pull money from plant science is silly and it is only now that humanity is starting to see the true value of the environment we live in.

How did you first get interested in horticulture?

David with HoseI think it was from school. We had trips out to places with outreach facilities – similar to the botanical gardens. From there I did a YTS (youth training scheme) in studying city and guilds horticulture which I really liked. I then went into working with sports turf, interior landscaping and various other areas of horticulture that has benefited my knowledge for this role.

Do you have any science heroes? Who inspired you?

No one in particular.

Obviously there’s a lot of great scientists like Einstein who had great minds and high IQ’s. I tend to try and not glorify the past too much because I think that stuff that is going on now – even within FLS – is quite amazing. I think we might see a few more heroes in the future which might be alive today. Some of the research done here and the papers that have been published are really important.

How has working in Manchester helped you?

I think it has been great. I’ve always worked within some aspect of horticulture and I have always been curious about why we do certain practices. To come and actually see the science and to work with the research has really answered a few questions for me and helped my curiosity. Also the teamwork that’s involved in the faculty –it’s a great place to work. I’ve met some really good people from working here.

What do you do outside of work?

When I’m not gardening at home, I play in a band. I have done since I’m 18. I really like music. I also play football within the University. On Wednesday’s I play 5 a-side football with members of the University – it’s always important to stay fit and football is the one that doesn’t feel like a lot of work because it’s fun! I’m also interested in astrophysics alongside life science.

And that wraps up another episode of the Tuesday Feature! Our thanks go to David who gave us a beautiful afternoon out in the sun! On Wednesday 6th  May, David is hosting a technicians seminar titled ‘Not Green Fingered? An introduction to Horticulture’ at 1pm in A.V. Hill. He’d love to have you there! 

How the blues could help reduce jet lag

Faculty researchers have revealed that the colour of light has a major impact on how our body clock measures the time of day.

It’s the first time the impact of colour has been tested. The research, published in PLOS Biology, demonstrates that the colour of light provides a more reliable way of telling the time than its brightness.

University Sunset1Faculty members, led by Dr Timothy Brown, looked at the change in light around dawn and dusk to analyse whether colour could be used to determine time of day. Their key discovery was that light was reliably bluer during twilight hours, compared to daytime.

The team recorded the electrical activity of the body clock of mice while they were shown different visual stimuli. They found that mice were much more sensitive to changes between blue and yellow in the colour of light, than to its brightness.

The scientists then created an artificial sky which imitated the daily changes in colour and brightness. Mice were placed underneath the synthetic sky for several days whilst their body temperatures were recorded.

Researchers found that the highest temperatures occurred just after night fell – when the sky had turned a darker blue, optimal for a nocturnal animal. When only the brightness was altered, the mice became active before dusk, demonstrating that their body clock wasn’t properly in sync with a normal day/night cycle.

The team concluded that colour must therefore play a role in the determination of the time of day.

On the importance of the research, Dr Brown says:

 “This is the first time that we’ve been able to test the theory that colour affects the body clock in mammals. It has always been very hard to separate the change in colour to the change in brightness but using new experimental tools and a psychophysics approach we were successful.”

He continues:

“The same findings can be applied to humans. So in theory colour could be used to manipulate our clock, which could be useful for shift workers or travellers wanting to minimise jet lag”

British Science Week 2015: #My1stExperiment (Kory Stout)

Kory StoutI remember watching BBC’s Planet Earth as a fresh-faced 13 year old and being absolutely fascinated with the sheer diversity of life on Earth. From watching penguins in Antarctica, to tigers hunting in India’s forests, I was completely captivated by nature. It was from this series and subsequent natural history films that I decided I wanted to know everything I possibly could about our planet.

My first experiment was an expertly coordinated and entirely controlled insect enclosure. After watching Attenborough describe the trials of life, I decided to gain some first-hand experience of field research by taking a Tupperware tub from my kitchen and, after filling it with leaves and twigs, I decided to hunt out as many bugs I could find from my garden as possible. After forming a rather strange ensemble of animals; ranging from spiders and worms to snails and caterpillars, I would watch over the tub for hours on end. My mum wouldn’t let me bring my mini-zoo into the house (to this day, I’m not quite sure why she wouldn’t want a bug infested box in her house) so I had to leave it outside. This proved to be a fatal error for my experiment. Thinking that insects wouldn’t be able to breathe if the Tupperware container had a lid on, I left the insect-zoo open to the elements. The next day I went to check on my specimens and to my horror they had all drowned and my enclosures were destroyed! My first scientific experiment had ended in failure.

My 1st experiment seems to be worlds apart from experiments I undertook in my undergraduate degree in Manchester. From the dirty, inaccurate and superficial make-shift animal enclosure in my back garden, to the state of the art and high-tech laboratories in the Faculty of Life Sciences, my science experiments radically changed. What didn’t change was my passion for science – my desire to better understand the world around me has not waned. If anything, my undergraduate degree increased my passion to continuously learn science! My first experiment was not a success – it wasn’t a well organised, slick or professional procedure. However, the reason for the experiment has remained constant throughout my science education and I hope that it continues.

My 1st experiment is a promotional campaign in collaboration with British Science Week. British Science Week (BSW) is a ten-day celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths – featuring fascinating, entertaining and engaging events and activities across the UK for people of all ages. To take part, why not head down to the Manchester Museums and check out some of their exhibits. Also, why not tweet in using #My1stExperiment and let us know what first sparked your interest in science.

What I learnt this week part 1 (Guest blog by Elinor Bridges)

Elinor BridgesHello everyone – I think introductions are in order. My name is Elinor and I am a first year undergraduate on the Biology with Science and Society degree. The only first year undergraduate, in fact – so hopefully I will be able to impart a different perspective on the life sciences. I will be writing a short series of weekly posts based on what I’ve learnt in the previous week. Now the formalities are out of the way, prepare to find out what I have discovered this week…

Students have varying standards of hygiene

While unsurprising, there is some interesting scientific and historical debate surrounding that statement. During my Bodies in History: An Introduction to the History of Medicine seminar, we were discussing a lecture given by the infamous Sigmund Freud.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Freud changed the field of psychology entirely with the development of psychoanalysis. But how, I hear you ask, does this relate to student cleanliness?

Well, Freud treated patients of hysteria. He believed that repressed memories could manifest themselves into the physical Sigmend Freud courtesy of Max Halberstadtsymptoms shown by hysterical patients, and these memories could be drawn out by hypnosis. One woman treated with this technique, Anna O, was a hysterical patient who suffered extreme thirst yet was unable to drink.

Under hypnosis, she revealed that when she was younger, she witnessed a companion let a dog drink out of a glass of water. Anna was disgusted by this, yet repressed her anger for fear of upsetting her friend.  Freud and his colleague believed that this was the cause of the symptoms she experienced. The focus of our discussion rested with one word: why?

Some believed that it was because letting a dog drink out of a human’s glass is unhygienic. At that time, Anna would have been recipient of new information claiming that germs were everywhere and spread disease. Increasing emphasis on the importance of cleanliness may have caused her to feel such a great level of disgust.

Others took a different angle. They believed the Freudian approach was simply wrong, because a dog drinking out of a glass isn’t such a terrible thing. This, of course, begged another important question: is letting a dog drink out of a glass unhygienic? The resulting vote was inconclusive.

I thought of another joke, but it was a bit cheesy…

It’s a pretty standard viewpoint that letting bacteria and fungus into our food is a bad thing. However, many things we eat and drink actually require these microorganisms to turn the raw materials into delicious consumables. As lectured about in the Microbes, Man and the Environment module, microbes are particularly important in cheese making. Hopefully you haven’t got any nearby, because this actually sounds pretty disgusting….

Camembert of Normandy - image courtesy of NJGJCamembert is a popular French cheese with a soft, creamy interior, but how does the inside come to be that way? This is where it gets a little icky. After being cut into rounds, a mould called Penicillium camemberti is added to the surface of the cheese. This grows over the surface into a large structure of fungal branches called a mycelium. As the fungus spreads, it releases enzymes which break down the proteins and fats in the cheese. This partially liquefies the inside of the camembert, giving a soft texture.

While this is rather interesting, I would not recommend mentioning this if served camembert at a dinner party. It’s not very polite to tell the host that they’ve served partially digested fat surrounded by a nice coating of mould!

 

On that note, this concludes the most interesting things I have learnt this week. Hopefully you have learnt something new too, whether it be that Freudian psychology was rather odd, or that some mould is actually delicious. See you next week!