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I am in Berlin - home of Checkpoint Charlie and the ex-Wall - at a Biodiversity networking meeting, talking with a totally new set of colleagues about how to connect the science we do with government policy in Europe and at home. Really interesting and has opened my eyes to a new world where nightshades are important (of course!), but where people and how they connect across cultures, languages and ways of working are even more important.

 

But while sitting in the talks and workshops, in the back of my mind I am thinking about Friday this week and the annual Science Uncovered event in London. Fortunately, I will be back in time.....  just.

 

This year, in addition to being part of the Food station with an array of potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines and their friends and relatives, I will be part of Science Fess Up - where a couple of us at a time will talk with people about what WE don't know about science. Challenging? You bet! Not because there is a lack of things to talk about, but just where to start, the depths of my ignorance about lots of things is so profound........ 

 

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An array of eggplants in Avignon - all but the red one in the centre are members of the same species, Solanum melongena - the aubergine.

 

This event has been a great opportunity for me to reflect on just why I love science so much - and why I feel so lucky to be doing it as a daily job - it is a constant adventure, something new around every corner. So come along and let's talk about why its good not to know everything, and why exploring what you don't know is so exciting...oh and of course there will be lots of nightshades - thanks to new colleague Xavier Aubriot, who has just joined the team to study the nightshades of Asia - a big area where we know very little.

 

Part of the Food station will be a pile of however many different sorts of edible nightshades we have been able to find in the markets of London - we hope lots!! These crops are so much a part of our daily lives we often forget about their wild relatives that harbour important genetic diversity that will be key to improving agriculture in the face of environmental change - including that of our climate - that we know lies ahead. The taxonomic work we do here at the Museum into these species is key to unlocking this treasure trove.... come and hear about our latest ideas and adventures, and share what you think we should be thinking about!

 

See you there!

 

Science Uncovered takes place tomorrow, Friday 27 September at the Natural History Museum, London. Join us from 4pm to midnight.

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Author: Stefan

Date: 12 June 2016

Temperature: - 31C

Wind speed: 5 kts

Temp with wind chill: -40C

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http://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/library/pictures/catalogue/article/p2005.5.477/

 

Above is the obituary of one Thomas C. Clissold, taken from The Polar Record.  Having worked as a Chef for many years it always amuses me when if I happen to mention Clissold's name, my work space neighbor (Jaime) retorts, "Oh! Mr Grumpy ". Although Clissold can seem very stern of expression in Ponting's photographs, if you have worked in catering it's very easy to understand why the rigours of life might give you a furrowed brow.

 

Our Chef, Damian is a joy to have on base.  He's a true talent and manages to maintain a very laidback and jolly disposition.  But as the long Antarctic winter marches on you can see why someone like Clissold would have been in a unique position. Whilst many of the men would be finding differences in behavior and working practices endlessly grating and annoying, it’s an entirely different prospect to cook a hot dinner for someone you might not like day in, day out.

 

Cooking pot BT.jpg

Cooking pot before treatment

 

Food and its quality determines so much of what happens with morale on base, and in reading how miserable a poor cook made life on the Discovery expedition, you can see how much of an impact Clissold's service was to a happy life in the Cape Evans hut.

cooking pot.jpg

Cooking pot after treatment

 

I've recently been lucky enough to work on one of the cooking pots, (famously featured in a Ponting photograph), with Clissold at the stove………….looking grumpy.

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Author: Jana

Date: 24 October 2012

Temperature: -18

Wind Speed: 15 knots

Temp with wind chill: -32

Sunrise: None!

Sunset: None!

 

 

Well, the time has come for us to wrap up our conservation work here at Scott Base and pour all of our energy into preparing for our imminent deployment out to our field camps at the historic huts. 

 

As you might imagine, this is slightly more involved than preparing for a weekend camping trip:  it will take several days for the four of us to inventory, sort, test and pack the hundreds of pounds of food, tents, stoves, safety equipment, sleep kits, sleds, shovels, toilet supplies, fuel and timber, not to mention all of the specialized conservation and carpentry tools and material that we will require during the three months we spend out in the field.  

 

We also have to pack up the hundreds of artefacts that were conserved here over the winter season, and then there is our personal gear as well; the handful of clothes, boots, tools and books that will see us each through the season are definitely an important part of the equation! 

 

wading through gear.jpg

Wading through a small portion of our field gear © AHT/Jana

 

We’re excited enough to be counting down the days until we move out to the field though, so we find the work quite enjoyable, especially since it gives us a chance to make sure we don’t overlook anything important.  We also like to think about the fact that explorers of the heroic age would relate to our current flurry of activity; they too spent a good portion of their winters sorting, repairing and packing the vast amounts of food and gear needed for the sledging trips they undertook in the summer seasons.

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Today I had a meeting with the INBIO education department - they are doing some amazing things over here and I’m really looking forward to working with them in the future!

 

INBIO parque is a great place to visit - a botanical garden designed to reflect the whole (enormous) biodiversity of Costa Rica.

 

Day 16 PIC 1.jpg

Day 16 PIC 2.jpg

Day 16 PIC 3.jpg

(Click images to see them full size)

 

They also have some really cool animals living in the parque – I saw this iguana crossing the car park!

 

Day 16 PIC 4.jpg

 

Over the past few weeks we have received some great questions from schools all over the UK, which hopefully we have answered! We received the following early on:

 

Hello everyone,

 

We are from a School in Camden, London. We have been working with Holger Thüs on an exciting project on air quality and lichen distribution in our local area. With help from Holger and Pat Wolseley from the Natural History Museum, we surveyed lichens growing on trees in the school grounds and adjacent Hampstead Heath.

 

We wanted to investigate the relationship between differences in air quality, particularly the levels of NO2 and the lichen species found. We monitored NO2 over 5 months with diffusion tubes placed along a transect either side of Highgate Road, which is a busy road and likely to be a major source of nitrogen pollution, and included locations in the school grounds and on Hampstead Heath.

 

We identified the lichens on trees within the vicinity of the school and on the adjacent Hampstead Heath. We tested and found evidence for our hypothesis that there was a correlation between the levels of nitrogen dioxide in the diffusion tubes and biological data from the lichens distribution.

 

Although, we managed to find and identify Nitrogen loving and intermediate lichen but we didn’t find any Nitrogen sensitive lichens. We are really excited about Holger being in Costa Rica and want to know if Holger has found Nitrogen sensitive lichens there. Are there many fructose lichens? Did you find any new species of lichens? Are the lichens really colourful and exotic?

 

We initially thought the NHM team was going to be somewhere really lovely and hot but Holger told us that although it would be lovely it would be very cold because they would be up in the mountains. The air must be very clean. We really want to know about the lichens there.

 

Good Luck with the rest of the trip.

 

LSU

 

 

And today we had a chance to answer in detail…

 

 

Back at INBIO I have been flicking through the photos I (and the others) took while in the park. It seems a common theme amongst my photos is food. Pictures of all of the meals I ate in the field - I can practically hear myself salivating over the camera. I’ve put them together in a film. Bon appetite!

 

 

 

------------------

 

Note: Tom is currently on his way back to the UK, so I am posting his final blogs from Costa Rica on his behalf.
Jonathan - NaturePlus host

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We all like eating tomatoes and potatoes - what could be better than chips with ketchup ! But did you know tomatoes and potatoes are extremely closely related? Although a red juicy tomato looks totally different to a pale yellow potato, the two plants share much of their DNA.

 

Potato and tomato belong to a group of plants known as Solanaceae - the nightshade family. In actual fact, they are so closely related they belong to the same genus within Solanaceae, known as Solanum. Tomato is called Solanum lycopersicum L. in scientific latin, whilst potato is known as Solanum tuberosum L.

 

 

Other well known species in the group include the bell peppers, chili peppers, eggplants, petunias, and tobacco - yes, incredibly this strongly flavoured plant is related to commonly eaten yummy things! South Americans might know more fruits from the family, such as naranjilla (Solanum quitoense Lam.), or tamarillo (Cyphomandra betacea Sendt.) used for making preserves and juice. If you visit Mexico and indulge in local food culture, you come across another species from the family, tomatillo (Physalis philadelphica Lam.) which is used to prepare salsa for buritos, tacos and tortillas.

 

Below is a lovely phylogeny of the nighshades which illustrates how the species are related within the family. It's based on a small set of DNA data. It is still not complete as it only includes roughly 30% of all the species in the family. Our aim is to add more species as our research progresses. What you can see is that eggplant, tomato, potato and pepino are really closely related, and tobacco is the furthest relative of them all. Solanaceae_large_phylogeny_SMALL_for_blog.jpg

 

 

The nightshades were known to be a group of closely related plants before anybody even knew they are related based on their DNA. This is because all species in the group share a set of morphological characters. Some of these are very obvious such as flowers which are generally stellate, with five corolla lobes, and five stamens. The most clear character that unites the family is seeds. Seeds are small – think of tomato seeds! – flattened, kidney-shaped, and have puzzle-piece shaped cells if looked under a microscope. Most of seeds in the nightshade family have curled embryos. If you are curious, try looking at dried tomato seeds closely! You will see the impression of the curled embryo on the seed quite easily.

 

 

Other characters of the nightshade family are more hidden. For example, all nightshades have internal phloem which means that sugars produced in leaves via photosynthesis are transported down to roots inside the water transport system known as xylem. Most plants have an opposite type transport system where sugars are transported outside the waterpipe system.

 

 

Anyways, why all this ramble? Well, the thing is that we are about to go hunting for nightshades in the Andes! There are an estimated 4,500 species of nightshades in the world, and large number of these is found in the Andes. These are wild relatives of tomatoes and potatoes and such likes, some weirder than other, some with tubers, whilst other climb trees! There are still species remaining to be described, waiting in the forests and mountain sides for discovery. We will be travelling in the northern part of Argentina and in Peru over the next coming 3 months – our aim is to collect as many species of Solanaceae on our way. This time we are targeting the particularly poorly known species of the Morelloid clade in the genus Solanum, a set of roughly 60 species.

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Pemmican in Antarctic conservation

Posted by Conservators Apr 15, 2011

Posted by Julie

 

A can of pemmican from Captain Scott’s Cape Evans hut  © AHT

 

In “The Worst Journey In the World.” Apsley Cherry-Garrard describes a vaguely masochistic experiment undertaken during an already torturous winter expedition: “By taking individually different quantities of biscuit, pemmican and butter we were able to roughly test the proportions of proteids, fats and carbohydrates wanted by the human body under such extreme circumstances.” He reports that Bowers, eating excess pemmican “was all right (this was usual with him) but he did not eat all his extra pemmican.  Bill could not eat all his extra butter, but was satisfied.  I got hungry, certainly got more frost-bitten than the others, and wanted more fat.  I also got heartburn.”  The conclusion?  Pemmican: better than biscuits!

Lance making pemmican_small resized.jpg

Lance checks the drying beef and berries © AHT/Julie

Luckily for us, our excellent cook, Lance, decided to make us some pemmican, using a secret recipe which I promised to never divulge.  Okay, I’ll tell you.  Slice thin some lean, grass-fed shoulder roast, and salt and pepper liberally.  Dry the meat along with some wild blueberries for 15 hours in a warm oven.  Pulverize.  Render some fat.  Strain the fat.  Mix it all together, and let it firm up.  Cut into squares or roll into balls.  The recipe concludes, “Pemmican will keep almost forever.”  (Ha – we conservators will be the judge of that.) Being vegetarian, I of course can’t comment on the taste.  Okay, it was delicious.

Date: 11/4/11
Temperature: -20
Wind Speed: 30 knots
Temp with wind chill: -37
Sunrise: 09:19
Sunset 16:28

Sledging rations on Scott’s 1910-1912 expedition included canned pemmican, a mixture of fat, dried meat, and dried fruit ground together.
Pemican.jpg
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Posted by Cricket

 

Date: 27 October 2010
Temperature: -20C
Wind Speed: 0 knots
Temp with wind chill: -20C
Sunrise: NA
Sunset NA


This week, Diana and I started preparing for the second phase of our 6-month summer term, which involves camping and working at historic British expedition huts.  Our target deployment date is next Tuesday, 2 November 2010, if everyone arrives from New Zealand in time and the weather permits.  Our schedule for the next three months begins with two weeks at R.F. Scott’s Terra Nova Hut at Cape Evans, a brief return to Scott Base to resupply, then a month-long session at E. Shackelton’s Nimrod Hut at Cape Royds, a two week re-group period back at Scott Base for Christmas, and, in January, a final month back at Cape Evans.  It’s a lot of movement, which requires careful planning on everyone’s part, including the engineers, carpenters, mechanics and field support staff at Scott Base.

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Sorting food boxes © AHT/Cricket 

For us, one of our tasks is to organize the 35 food boxes.  Each box contains provisions for one person for 20 days and includes a range of quick, high-energy food such as peanut butter, honey, jam, pasta, rice, spice packets, dehydrated meals, cookies, crackers, chocolate bars, oat bars, powdered milk, energy drinks, coffee, tea and cereal.  Yesterday we unpacked each box, parceled everything out and repacked placing one food type per box.  In the field, we’ll each rotate through cooking duty, and since our average group size is 10, having the boxes arranged by food type makes it easier to pull in bulk what’s needed for each meal.  Seeing all this food got me thinking about what meals I could make.  I’m certain about one thing, cereal will trump the dehydrated fish pie dinner.

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At about midday my mind drifts from the numerous emails and office politics and starts to consider my lunch options. Do I fancy a hot meal, a quick sandwich, healthy salad or maybe something a little more exotic? Sushi perhaps? Well not after speaking to Eileen Harris who works on parasitic worms! She’s doing a Nature Live event on the 31st August and I just met her to find out more about what her work involves. It’s fascinating, but you do need a strong, and preferably empty, stomach.

 

Parasitic worms live in everything from the largest whale to the smallest insects. Eileen will be bringing out a whole host (no pun intended!) of parasites to the event including her personal favourite, Eric; the 7m long tapeworm…definitely not one to be missed!

 

Back to sushi and let me introduce you to Anisakis simplex. This marine roundworm can be found in fish, eel and octopus and when you eat raw, unprepared seafood you could be also be swallowing live larval forms of this parasite. Needless to say once inside your system you’re going to know about it but the good news is that they usually die after a few weeks.

 

If, like myself, you’re a big sushi fan then rest assured that high-street sushi is safe as chefs are trained to identify these little parasites but they’re definitely something to look out for if you’re making it at home. Luckily Anisakis simplex is visible to the naked eye so happy hunting!

 

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Above: Anisakis simplex is commonly known as "herringworm"