UP scientists writes guide to fruit flies

By CARIN TUNNEY

Capital News Service

LANSING — A common ancestor of fruit flies and humans emerged about 600 million years ago, long before the formation of the earth’s continents as we know them today.

Scientists discovered the link in the early 1900s, opening the floodgates to genetic research.

Fruit flies are cheap, grow rapidly and are easy to mutate. Their genetic likeness to humans allows researchers to study diseases like cancer, diabetes and immune resistance.

That makes them a model species for genetic research, said Thomas Werner, a professor of genetics and developmental biology at Michigan Technological University.

Werner recently co-authored a book “Drosophilids of the Midwest and Northeast,” which gives fruit flies overdue accolades. Continue reading

Seeking ‘Eureka!’ cries to solve environmental problems

By TALITHA TUKURA PAM

Capital News Service

LANSING — The state’s $1 million incentive for anyone who comes up with a new and innovative solution to prevent Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes.is part of a trend in using cash incentives to crowdsource and solve natural resource problems.

For instance, Michigan State University recently sponsored a challenge to redesign water foundations. The winning team won $15,000.

“The students are innovative and energetic and we were very excited to support student team learning and effort through problem solving,” said Professor Joan Rose, an MSU expert in water quality and public health safety.

Another example: The Michigan Design Council has sponsored contests for K-12 students to develop products to better enjoy the state’s water and winter. Continue reading

Detroit architect honored in new book

By STEVEN MAIER

Capital News Service

LANSING — Admirers of architect Wirt Rowland finally have the biography they were looking for. It was a long time coming.

Rowland was arguably the premier skyscraper architect of the early 20th century. He designed prominent buildings around the country for years. Yet his name is hardly known outside of architectural circles, and no one had bothered to write a book about the man.

That’s what struck Michael G. Smith of Bloomfield Hills and led him to write the just-released, “Designing Detroit: Wirt Rowland and the Rise of Modern American Architecture” (Wayne State University Press, $44.99).

The tome is comprehensive and meticulously detailed as Smith explores the rise of Rowland through the ranks of the architectural world and his work in Detroit. Despite his lack of training, Rowland earned a position in the city as an apprentice draftsman in 1901. Four years later, he was the lead designer for the two largest construction projects in Michigan. He went on to work for some of the most prominent architectural firms in the city, designing five of Detroit’s 16 prominent skyscrapers Continue reading

Two species – one to preserve, one to control – challenge dam removal

By IAN WENDROW

Capital News Service

LANSING — A proposed dam removal along the Grand River faces significant delays due to its potential to disrupt river ecosystems. The environmental risks involve the fate of two species: sea lamprey and snuffbox mussels.

One needs to be kept out while the other needs to be protected.

The Sixth Street Dam in downtown Grand Rapids was installed in the mid-1800s to help ship milled logs downstream by controlling the water’s height and flow. It drowned the river’s naturally occurring rapids, allowing logs to float over them.

Eventually log transportation no longer relied on the river, but the dam remained.

Years of inadequate maintenance began to pose a hazard to kayakers and swimmers. In 2013, firefighters rescued two kayakers after the bumped against the dam and capsized. This and other accidents motivated city and state agencies to get the removal process going in earnest. Continue reading

5 things to prepare for climate change

By KAREN HOPPER USHER

Capital News Service

LANSING — Climate change can feel daunting. What’s an ordinary person supposed to do about chemicals in the air making the planet radically hotter?

While it’s true that there are things you can do to leave a smaller footprint on the planet–walk more, waste less — some scientists think we could be close to the point of no return.

If climate change is inevitable, though, that doesn’t mean the consequences can’t be managed. In fact, a number of state officials and academics are planning ahead to help people cope with the effects of climate change.

Here are five things the state of Michigan does to make climate change easier to bear. This list is not exhaustive. Continue reading

Climate change: a tourist trap

By JACK NISSEN

Capital News Service

LANSING — In 2015, Crystal Mountain Lodge in Thompsonville was saved by an unlikely rescuer: summer.

For the first time, strong summer business bailed out the Northern Michigan ski resort due to the previous mediocre-at-best winter.

“From a traffic standpoint, we are now a 50/50 split,” said Brian Lawson, a public relations representative at the ski lodge located in Benzie County southwest of Traverse City “We have as many people here in the summer, if not more than we do in the winter.”

That’s a recent development for the resort and representative of the volatility of an industry facing the impacts of climate change. There’s more.

The relationship between weather and visits to the North Shore region in Minnesota was recently analyzed to see how it impacts how people decide to spend their time. Continue reading

Climate change tinkers with animal relationships, survival

By JACK NISSEN

Capital News Service

LANSING — How climate change manipulates relationships among organisms and ecosystems remains largely a mystery.

The only predictable is that species that do well in warmer conditions might have an advantage over species that do well in colder conditions, said Hank Vanderploeg, a researcher with the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor.

Scientists are beginning to explore what kinds of changes species will be experiencing as the colder months begin to grapple with warmer temperatures. But they don’t yet know how all the rules of the game fit together.

It is an ecological experiment taking place, said Jeffrey Andresen, Michigan’s state climatologist and a geography professor at Michigan State University. Keeping up with what is happening is one thing, but making predictions is difficult. Continue reading

Uncertainty floods the future of Great Lakes’ water quality, quantity

By JACK NISSEN

Capital News Service

LANSING — For climate change experts, it’s a world of “ifs” when trying to predict what will happen to the waters of the Great Lakes — including a surge of algae blooms.

And while there are some educated guesses out there, not much can be said for certain.

“One thing that we do know about projections for the future is all of them, and there are no exceptions, all of them call for warmer mean temperatures,” said Jeffrey Andresen, Michigan’s state climatologist and a geography professor at Michigan State University.

Now there’s a lot to take away from warmer mean temperatures projections, but again, few things are certain. Continue reading

Will the whole country descend on Michigan?

By KAREN HOPPER USHER

Capital News Service

LANSING — Some Michiganders smirked when a Popular Science video suggested the state would be a good place to live in 2100 to escape the consequences of climate change.

As if it isn’t already!

But the magazine’s broader point was climate change. Between oceans flooding coasts, wildfires torching the West, mosquitoes spreading disease and nasty storms leveling cities, the continental U.S. will be in rough shape by 2100. But Michigan and northern Wisconsin and Minnesota are going to be relatively unburdened by climate change.

Or so the magazine says.

A little warmer, sure, but not on fire or underwater, unlike those other places. Continue reading

Farmers uninterested in renting land for bioenergy crops

By JACK NISSEN

Capital News Service

LANSING — When Scott Swinton, an agriculture, food and resource economics professor at Michigan State University, asked landowners if they’d be interested in renting their land for bioenergy crops, the initial response was unexpected.

“The first thing we found was that a number of people that we sent questionnaires to were hoping MSU was secretly trying to find people they could rent land from to grow bioenergy crops,” Swinton said.

“I got scores of phone calls from people telling me they would love to rent their land to MSU if we were interested.”

But that wasn’t what Swinton was looking for. Instead, he was trying to study the willingness of farmers to rent land that isn’t used for crops. Continue reading