Wetenschap - 11 april 2002

English summary

www.gcw.nl/wispr

Professor Johan Bouma has resigned as chair of soil sciences to become part-time scientific director of the Environmental Sciences group at Wageningen UR. In his valedictory speech he suggests that it is time to move on from the 'polder model' for which the Netherlands has become internationally known. He suggests that we should now consider the 'kwelder model'. Read more about this on the Wisp'r website, in the translation of the article on page XX.

We already know that if you introduce a new gene into the DNA of an organism the DNA makes a new protein.

But the proteins have to work together before you can talk about a new characteristic having been created. PhD researcher Richard Immink worked at Plant Research International under the supervision of Dr Gerco Angenent to develop a new technology which can help determine whether proteins are actually joining forces. Immink attached fluorescent molecules to proteins that light up when subjected to laser radiation. Individually they light up blue, but if they link up, the colour changes to yellow. What is new in this method is that the proteins no longer have to be built into a yeast cell, but can be studied in a plant cell where they belong. Immink used transcription factors from petunia plants for his research, the results of which have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Six big European institutes for environmental research, including Alterra, are to work together intensively under the newly formed Partnership for European Environmental Research Initiative (PEER).

The emphasis will be on research on the interaction between humans and the environment. The strategic alliance has been formed in order to increase the chances of acquiring EU funding. The other partners are the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) in England, the Centre for Agricultural and Environmental Engineering Research (CEMAGREF) in France, the National Environmental Research Institute (NERI) in Denmark, the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) and the Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) in Germany. Head of Research at Alterra, Professor Herman Eijsackers says that this alliance shows that Alterra is one of the biggest environmental organisations in Europe.

The World Resources Institute announced recently that if tree felling in the world's virgin forests continues at the current rate, at least forty percent will have disappeared in the next ten to twenty years.

Wb asked Professor Frits Mohren of Forest Ecology and Forest Management for his opinion. While not denying that tree felling continues apace, Mohren raised a number of issues. The idea of virgin forest is to some extent an idealised romantic notion. Forests have always undergone change, not least as a result of long-term climate changes during the ice ages. Environmental organisations calling for money to protect forests is also hypocritical according to Mohren, 'as if you can safeguard a bit of paradise with money'. More important is to understand the relation between forest protection and human poverty.

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