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Satellite cam captures wildfires in southern Russia

Early this year, smoke from fires in southern Russia drifted all the way across the Pacific Ocean to the Pacific Northwest.
By Brooks Hays   |   July 27, 2015 at 6:25 PM
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SIBERIA, Russia, July 27 (UPI) -- Russia's Lake Baikal, the world's largest freshwater lake by volume, is surrounded by wildfires. On Monday, NASA's Aqua satellite and its MODIS camera captured an aerial perspective of the wildfire plumes rising from southern Russia.

Aqua's Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) observes radiation across 36 different spectral bands, offering scientists one of the most complete image-based surveys of the planet -- newly updated every two days. One of the instrument's primary applications is monitoring wildfires.

Wildfires have plagued the steppe region of south central Russia throughout the spring and summer. The flames were picked up by MODIS' thermal band observations and rendered with the help of NASA scientists.

The situation has been exacerbated by recent droughts in the region, which have seen Lake Baikal's water levels -- already burdened by human pressures -- fall to historically low levels. As the water levels drop, large swaths of quickly drying peat deposits have become exposed. Officials worry these peat reserves could fuel spreading wildfires.

Early this year, smoke from fires in southern Russia drifted all the way across the Pacific Ocean. The haze's arrival in the Pacific Northwest made for some dramatic red sunsets.

© 2015 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.

Scientists detail the gene behind corn's world dominance

Researchers previously traced maize's roots to a weedy teosinte variety native to a valley in southwestern Mexico. Now they've identified the vital genetic mutation that happened there.
By Brooks Hays   |   July 27, 2015 at 5:04 PM

MADISON, Wis., July 27 (UPI) -- Corn is world's most prolific and valuable crop. But what is responsible for the grain's dramatic ascension? That's what researchers at the University of Wisconsin wanted to know. And find out, they did.

According to a new study, a single switch in the genetic coding of teosinte, corn's ancient ancestor, turned what was an inedible wild grass into a viable sustenance crop.

Just one nucleotide change to the grass's glume architectural gene, known as tga1, coaxed teosinte's kernels into ditching their hard outer shell, exposing the yummy insides to humans and animals.

Researchers previously traced maize's roots to a weedy teosinte variety native to a valley in southwestern Mexico. Here, scientists said, was the birthplace of corn. But what enabled the transformation? Why does maize, tall and erect, look so much different than the weedy grass with only miniature bulbs of kernels?

In comparing the genomes of maize and teosinte, researchers noticed a difference in the type of protein signaled by gene tga1. It turned out, tga1 was a rather important gene.

"A series of experiments showed that this particular gene, tga1, is a master regulatory gene -- a conductor of the orchestra," study author John Doebley, a professor at Wisconsin, explained in a press release.

A single mutation to tga1 changed the way its protein behaved, and thus augmented the way a variety of genes are expressed.

"Each musician is a target gene and the conductor is telling each one what to play and how loud to play," said Doebley.

The key augmentation, in this instance, was the protein's refusal to signal the genes previously responsible for the production of the kernels' hard outer coating.

"So, the kernel ends up naked, uncovered and exposed on the surface of the corn cob, to be eaten," Doebley explained.

The new research was published in the journal Genetics.

© 2015 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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