Poisonous Plants Database from Cornell, Animal Science Dept.

“Best of the Web” column in “Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News” <update@genmail.co>

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Oct 15, 2015 (Vol. 35, No. 18)

Poisonous Plants Database


The people in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University want to make sure that you don’t accidentally poison your livestock or pets with toxic plants. Their Poisonous Plants database includes a sizable number of entries such as oak trees (the acorns and young leaves are poisonous to horses and cattle), Daphne (toxic to cats, dogs, and humans), and rhubarb (the leaves are toxic to goats, swine, horses, and even people—who knew?). Each entry is accompanied by images of the plants, as well as answers to questions that the authors have either encountered in the past or anticipate that readers may have. The database is simple to browse—either by scientific name or common name—or users can search the database by scientific name, common name, primary poisons, or species most often affected.

Life on Earth, 4.1billion years old?

Life on Earth likely started 4.1 billion years ago, much earlier than scientists thought

Posted: 19 Oct 2015 12:41 PM PDT

“Geochemists have found probable evidence for life on Earth at least 4.1 billion years ago — 300 million years earlier than previously documented, pushing the origin of life close to when the planet formed, 4.54 billion years ago.


Carbon in 4.1 billion year old zircon.
Credit: Stanford/UCLA.

University of California – Los Angeles. “Life on Earth likely started 4.1 billion years ago, much earlier than scientists thought: Evidence that early Earth was not dry and desolate.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 October 2015.

Go to <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/10/151019154153.htm>. to read more about this, or see the journal reference.

Journal Reference:

  1. Elizabeth A. Bell, Patrick Boehnke, T. Mark Harrison, and Wendy L. Mao. Potentially biogenic carbon preserved in a 4.1 billion-year-old zircon. PNAS, October 19, 2015 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1517557112

Black holes gorging at excessive rates

Date:May 3, 2015  Science Daily


Summary: A group of unusual giant black holes may be consuming excessive amounts of matter, according to a new study. This finding may help astronomers understand how the largest black holes were able to grow so rapidly in the early Universe.”

Illustration of an extremely ravenous black hole devouring material.
Credit: Illustration: CXC/M. Weiss; X-ray images: NASA/CXC/Penn State/B. Luo et al.

A group of unusual giant black holes may be consuming excessive amounts of matter, according to a new study using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. This finding may help astronomers understand how the largest black holes were able to grow so rapidly in the early Universe.

Journal Reference:

  1. B. Luo, W. N. Brandt, P. B. Hall, Jianfeng Wu, S. F. Anderson, G. P. Garmire, R. R. Gibson, R. M. Plotkin, G. T. Richards, D. P. Schneider, O. Shemmer, Yue Shen. X-ray Insights into the Nature of PHL 1811 Analogs and Weak Emission-Line Quasars: Unification with a Geometrically Thick Accretion Disk? The Astrophysical Journal, 2015 [link]

Conversations in Genetics History

Oral History of Genetics Now Available Online

“The Genetics Society of America (GSA) and Executive Producer Rochelle Easton Esposito, PhD, are pleased to announce that Conversations in Genetics, an oral history of our intellectual heritage in genetics, is now available for free online viewing at http://www.genestory.org/.”

Source:  Newswise SciWire for 30-Apr-2015

Other interviewees to come:  King, Cavalli-Sforza, Meyerowitz, Horowitz

National Science Foundation YouTube Channel

“National Science Foundation YouTube Channel

  • https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRuCgmzhczsm89jzPtN2Wuw

    Nearly 13,000 viewers have subscribed to the National Science Foundation’s YouTube channel. It’s not a secret why. These well-produced and often poignant presentations have managed to pack so much into such a small space. Nearly all the videos clock in at less than four minutes. Many of the clips are just two or three minutes long so readers can easily learn about the birth of planets, the details of the tropospheric ozone, and the wonders of biomedical engineering – all within the timespan of a quick coffee break. The hundreds of available videos are broken into categories such as Computer Science, Brain Research, and Education, among others. Whether you are looking for an interesting tidbit to add to your lecture on Geoscience or you are simply curious about conservation efforts in Central Africa, there is much to enjoy here. [CNH]

  • Source:  Scout Report, University of Wisconsin, Mar. 27, 2015, Vol. 21(12)

Addressing our Greatest Engineering Challenges

From today’s WhatsNew@National-Academies.org:

Engineering Schools throughout the U.S. are committing to educate certain numbers of engineers with special interests and talents in helping to solve our greatest challenges.

“In a letter of commitment presented to President Obama today, more than 120 U.S. engineering schools announced plans to educate a new generation of engineers expressly equipped to tackle some of the most pressing issues facing society in the 21st century. Read More

Princeton University’s Prof. Robert Socolow is a member of this Committee on Grand Challenges.

There is also a 6-min video at http://engineeringchallenges.org/

Viruses: Timeline, Structure, Biology

From Genetic Engineering &  Biotechnology News (GEN), March 15, 2015


“Sure, the year 1941 may best be remembered for being the year of the attack on Pearl Harbor, but it was also the year in which X-ray diffraction patterns were obtained for the tomato bushy stunt virus (TBSV) and tobacco mosaic virus (TMV). You can find this and other world history/structural biology history side-by-side comparisons in the nifty timeline feature on the Viruses: From Structure to Biology website. This site—the creation of Sondra and Milton Schlesinger at Washington University School of Medicine —provides some nice background on key milestones in structural virology and the resulting biological breakthroughs in the field. There isn’t a ton of information on the site—one might call it a single-serving website—but within that serving you’ll be able to chew on some interesting science history.”

Climate change myths — addressed by John Cook, Climate Communication Fellow, Australia

Skeptical Science: Getting skeptical about global warming skepticism

  • http://www.skepticalscience.com

    “This website gets serious about addressing climate change skepticism. Using only peer-reviewed research, John Cook, the Climate Communication Fellow at the University of Queensland, Australia, takes the time to seriously consider the doubts that people might have about the state of the earth’s climate. Readers might like to start with the sidebar that addresses the ten most common climate myths, including the idea that the climate has changed before, that warming is due to the sun, that climate change isn’t bad, that there is no scientific consensus, that the earth is actually cooling, and five others. The site also offers a variety of interesting tabs to explore, including an excellent Resources page. [CNH]

  • Source:  The Scout Report, University of Wisconsin, Vol. 21(7), Feb. 20th

Symbols in physics & astronomy — videos


Source:  GEN:  Best of the Web Jan 15, 2015 (Vol. 35, No. 2) Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News   Mouse over symbol to see 5 or 10 min. video explanations.

Created by the University of Nottingham.


NBC LEARN: a free resource — for most all ages

“Our Mission:  NBC Learn believes in the power of great stories — historic news reports, original video content, and current events coverage — to engage, inspire and educate K-12 and Higher Ed students.”  Among the free resources there are those that deal with the science of sports,  chemistry, and environmental issues.

Featured this month is: “Finishing the Dream”  — Martin Luther King Jr’s “Dream”