Quitting Smoking, Exoplanets and Carnivorous Plants!

Smoking cessation, stars and planets, fungi fight lead pollution, and plants making a meal out of worms...
13 January 2012

Interview with 

Gregory Connelly, Harvard School of Public Health; Martin Dominik, University of St Andrews; Geoffrey Gadd, University of Dundee; Caio Pereria, State University of Campinas.


Nicotine Replacement not the key for Smokers wanting to Break the Habit...

As many smokers try to fulfil resolutions to quit this month, nicotine replacement therapies have been shown to have no long-term benefits for smokers trying to kick the habit.

Following 787 adult smokers over five years, Gregory Connelly and colleagues from the Harvard School of Public Health found one third of smokers relapsed when trying to quit and saw no difference in this relapse between those using therapies such as nicotine gums and patches to those using other methods, or going cold turkey, in the long term.

Gregory - There's multiple factors for relapse. There's social cues, cigarette-driven cues, and it's probably diminishing over time of the personal will to quit. In the past, studies have looked at laboratory trials and then taken those findings and put them in the real world. What we found when you put it in the real world, and you look at the long term, they're just not having an effect. So what we have to do is combine our laboratory trials with trials from the real world. Combine them, learn, develop better mechanisms, and then make this planet smoke-free


Planets for Every star in our Galaxy...

Our galaxy hasas many planets as it does stars according to scientists at the University of St Andrews.

Using gravitational microlensing to find planets located further away from their stars, Martin Dominik and colleagues discovered a large population of planets which calculations estimate to equal the number of stars in the Milky Way and further showed that stars without associated planets could be the exception.

Martin - In the Milky Way alone, we're seeing 100 billion to 300 billion stars in there. Now we took a small sample and we find that another planet is actually comparable to the number of stars or even larger, so that means just in the Milky Way alone, there could be 100 billion planets. Interestingly, we find that the abundance of the smaller planets is much larger than the number of gas giant planets like Jupiter or Saturn and that is quite interesting if you think about places where you're going to look for life.


Using Fungi to Fight Lead Pollution...

Fungi could hold the key to fighting lead pollution according to research published in the journal Current Biology.

A known environmental pollutant, lead is a widely used structural and industrial material worldwide with previous efforts to contain or control levels in contaminated sites proving challenging.

Now Geoffrey Gadd from the University of Dundee has found that fungi can be used to transform lead into pyromorphite - it's most stable mineral form.

Geoffrey - We made quite a remarkable discovery and that certain fungi can attack the metallic lead which will result in a completely new mineral form - pyromorphite - which is a kind of lead phosphate and in fact, it's the most stable leadmineral that exists in the earth's crust So we've shown that really, activity of living organisms can do this which gives the intriguing possibility that perhaps somehow you could encourage the organisms to do this or act themselves in polluted sites.


Worming a Plant meal...

And finally, a carnivorous plant residing in the tropical savannahs of the Brazilian Cerrado region uses sticky underground leaves to trap and digest nematodes.

Ciao Pereira from the state university of Campinas fed nematodes labelled with isotopes of nitrogen to the plant Philcoxia Minensis and found significant levels of nitrogen thereafter in the leaves of the plant, proving the plants digestion and absoroption of the worms.

It's thought the plant uses phosphatase enzymes to directly breakdown the nematodes for nutrition.

Ciao - This plant is producing enzymes and digesting the nematodes that gets trapped within the sticky leaves and this suggests that there is more conspicuous ways and more strategies that the plants are using to secure nutrients especially in severely stressed habitats.

The work was published this week in the journal PNAS.


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