"There is no romantic adventure or skullduggery at work here," said Professor Fred Dobbs from Old Dominion University, Virginia, USA. Ships pump water in and out of ballast tanks to adjust the waterline and compensate for cargo loading, making the ship run as efficiently as possible. These tanks can hold thousands of tonnes of water. "Any organisms in the water are likely to be released when it is next pumped out."
Many non-native animals and plants have been taken to new environments and become invasive, threatening the survival of local species; some fundamentally alter the ecosystem. Zebra mussels were introduced in North America and the comb jelly in the Black Sea and both have had enormous ecological and economic impacts.
For more than 20 years we have known that a variety of large phytoplankton and protozoa are transported in this way, but we know very little about smaller microbes like bacteria and viruses. "It is inevitable that hundreds of trillions of micro-organisms enter a single ship's ballast tank during normal operations," said Professor Dobbs. The majority of these microbes are harmless, but some are a potential risk to public health.
"Vibrio cholerae, which causes cholera in humans, can be carried in ballast tanks," said Professor Dobbs. "There have been no known outbreaks of disease associated with ballasting activities, but the water is only sampled very rarely." Other disease-causing microbes in the tanks include Cryptosporidium parvum and Giardia duodenalis, which cause stomach upsets.
Some people say microbes are present everywhere; they may be easily dispersed because they are so small. However, many experts believe micro-organisms have a "biogeography", a natural home, which means they could become invasive if moved and have a negative effect on different environments. There is some evidence for this argument: two phytoplankton species called diatoms were introduced to the English Channel from the North Pacific Ocean
The International Maritime Organisation, which sets rules and standards for the global shipping industry, has proposed an upper limit to the numbers of Vibrio cholerae, E. coli, and intestinal enterococci contained in discharged ballast water. A few ships are also using different treatments to reduce and even eliminate the microbes in their ballast water. "A number of techniques are being looked at for this purpose, from filtration to biocides, ultrasound to ultraviolet irradiation," said Professor Dobbs. "Our understanding of the issues involved will increase as more studies are carried out, particularly those employing the tools of modern molecular biology."
Lucy Goodchild | alfa
20.11.2017 | Washington University in St. Louis
Carefully crafted light pulses control neuron activity
20.11.2017 | University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.
Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...
Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.
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Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.
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The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.
Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...
Pillared graphene would transfer heat better if the theoretical material had a few asymmetric junctions that caused wrinkles, according to Rice University...
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20.11.2017 | Life Sciences