Categories
Biology

The Future of CRISPR Technology

In the world of genetics, a new tool called CRISPR is revolutionizing genome editing. The CRISPR tool utilizes enzymes to cut and replace DNA in specific sections of a DNA sequence. A strand of RNA is used along with the enzyme in order to guide it to the correct location for extraction. Cas9 is the fastest and most accurate enzyme to be used so far, increasing the number of possible applications of CRISPR technology. These future applications are the most exciting part of this invention. Most of the talk regarding CRISPR discusses its potential to treat disease, edit the genes of human embryos, and further research specific regions of DNA sequences. CRISPR-Cas9 has already been tested in numerous plants, animals, and bacteria, but because of ethical objections, the use of gene editing in human embryos remains a pressing question.

Categories
Environment

Migratory Birds of the West Coast

The San Francisco Bay Area is the biggest estuary on the West Coast, making it the perfect retreat for a variety of songbirds, raptors, waterfowl, and shorebirds. Over 250 different species of migratory birds stop here to escape the chilly temperatures of Alaska and Canada, search for food, or to use as resting ground between their long journeys across the continent. California is a fundamental stop along the Pacific Flyway, a route for bird migration that stretches from Alaska to South America. Several species of birds stop in the Bay Area’s wetlands and forests every fall.

Golden-crowned sparrow

The golden-crowned sparrow migrates south from the coniferous forests of Alaska and western Canada. It spends the winter scampering around in shrubs and undergrowth along California’s coast and the Bay Area. In fact, this songbird spends the most time in California during the winter than any other species that migrates here.

Whimbrel

If you visit the California coast during late November or early December, look for the whimbrel. This shorebird is greyish brown, with a long curved bill and a white back. Their unique beaks allow them to dig for food in the sand. Whimbrels can fly 2,500 miles without stopping when they migrate south from northern Canada and Alaska.

Varied thrush

The varied thrush thrives in deciduous and coniferous forests during the fall and winter season. This songbird has an orange breast, and black and gray strips along its wings. It is similar in size and shape to the American Robin, and also has similar behavior patterns.

Categories
Environment

Endangered Creatures of the Bay Area

The San Francisco Bay Area is most famously known for its natural beauty, scattered around marshy terrain and rolling hills. It’s simple enough to focus on just this aspect of the Bay Area, but there is more to it than meets the eye. There are three unique species of endangered animals hidden in plain sight that can be found right in your own backyard.

If you look closely, you might spot the mission blue butterfly, a light-blue butterfly which is dying out because of habitat invasion, whether it be by non-native plants or human development. Or you could find the San Francisco garter snake, a rare, multi-colored reptile, also threatened by urban development and illegal collecting. Maybe you will see the California clapper rail, a long-billed bird that inhabits marshes, but is disappearing because of introduced predators and habitat destruction.

Do your part in helping the Earth and its residents by raising awareness for these dying creatures.

Categories
Environment

Solar Power in California

Much of California’s energy comes from unsustainable fossil fuels, like natural gas and coal, which are harmful to the environment. By taking advantage of the sun’s power, we can cut down on dangerous emissions from fossil fuels and then have access to a clean source of energy that will never run out. If we use solar energy, it can lead to cleaner air and less pollution. Our state is undeniably the nation’s solar leader, and a project called “Million Solar Roofs” was launched by an organization called Environment California back in 2006. Their long term goal was to have a million solar roofs in the state of California by the year 2020. At this point, the group is on track to reach their goals earlier than expected. The use of solar power has tripled in the U.S. within the last two years and the price has dropped more than 50% since 2001. The solar revolution is expanding remarkably. The government is working with 14 states to set goals that ensure we get 10% of the nation’s energy from solar power by 2030. This will produce enough clean energy to replace half of the country’s coal power plants and more than half of the energy used to fuel cars. By increasing the use of solar power, we can preserve our environment for years to come.

Categories
Environment

Act Now and Stop Global Warming

Global warming is an issue we have been trying to tackle for a very long time. As the years go by, we come up with innovative new solutions to reduce the threat of global warming. By enacting these solutions, we can reduce the impact of global warming.

Global warming is currently the biggest threat of our time. We have tools that can help end it, but as we wait longer, we are running out of time to prevent its worst effects. Increased amounts of extreme weather have been occurring all over the United States. Floods in the Midwest, and severe droughts and wildfires in the West are some of the dangers of global warming that alert us to take immediate action.

Since California is the world’s 12th largest source of global warming pollution, we can make a huge difference by taking initiatives to solve global warming. With more energy efficient buildings, fuel efficient cars, and renewable energy such as wind, solar and geothermal, we can begin to reduce global warming pollution. Activists are trying to encourage the simplest and easiest ways to help, such as carpooling or recycling. If everyone does their part, we can reverse our mistakes and stop global warming.

Categories
Environment

Plastic Bag Pollution

In the past few years, dozens of cities in California have issued a ban on single-use plastic bags. The public has become more educated about the problems that come with using them. The movement to stop plastic pollution is growing, and residents are now trying to outlaw plastic bags statewide.

California throws away over 123,000 tons of plastic bags each year and most of them end up as dangerous litter in the ocean. The waste endangers marine wildlife, who mistake the garbage as food, and choke on the hazardous pieces. Also, toxic pollutants leak out from the plastic and are absorbed by fish and aquatic animals. To make matters worse, scientists say that the plastic is not biodegradable. Something that we use for 10 minutes can contaminate the ocean for hundreds of years.

As more people become aware of the consequences of using plastic bags, they are spreading the news. Currently, 1 in 3 Californians have stopped using plastic bags in their lives. So far, the effort to end the use of plastic bags is making great progress. Today, over 100 communities in California already have or are in the process of enacting the ban. Now, residents are trying to take it even further. Many are in support of raising it to a statewide ban. Hopefully, the entire state of California will soon be free of pollution from plastic bags.

Categories
Environment

Worst California Drought On Record

California is currently experiencing its worst drought on record. Dozens of cities have enacted strict limitations on water usage and declared fines on violators. In the drying woodlands, fire crews had to fight 140 new wildfires in the week of August 17 alone. For the last three years, the rains have not come, sending nearly the entire state into a drought emergency. Farmers depended on reservoirs to help their crops through the season, but when that failed they pumped up thousands of gallons of water from underground aquifers. But now, the aquifers are being used up at devastating rates. The dry area stretches across a dozen states and includes fields that account for 1/3 of the country’s cattle and half of its fruit, vegetables, and wheat production.

As someone who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, my family is one of millions that are directly affected by the drought. Prices for produce and meat products have risen this year. As of July 2014, 60% of California is officially in extreme drought conditions. The 38 million residents of the Golden State have been forced to cut their water usage by 20%. This severe drought endangers dozens of communities in and around California. So far, no permanent solutions have been found, but as a society the only thing we can do now is to conserve water and hope for the best.