Ash dieback is an invasive fungus that threatens to decimate stocks of European ash.
The first symptoms of ash dieback in European ash trees were seen in Poland in 1992, although it took until 2006 to identify a fungus as the cause. By 2012, 23 countries in Europe had reported cases of the disease, which causes leaf loss and usually kills the tree.
Some scientists believe the new strain is native to Japan, where they say it causes no harm to local trees. It is also related to a native species that has been known in Europe since 1851 and grows on ash tree leaves without harming the tree.
With no effective strategies for managing ash dieback, or controlling its spread, researchers are working to breed disease-resistant varieties of ash in an effort to restore tree stocks.
Close up symptoms of the ash dieback. © Fera-Crown
At the same time, they are developing new tools to rapidly detect the pathogen. At the beginning of 2013, the EU supported ‘Q-Detect’ multi-disciplinary research network reported some interesting advances in this field. Q-Detect has developed a range of new tools to help plant health inspectors protect Europe’s agriculture and forestry sectors from invasive pests and pathogens.
By adapting a military technology for detecting battlefield biological agents, researchers in the network produced a quick identification tool to diagnose the fungus at the origin of the illness in less than 30 minutes. Previously, the detection procedure could have taken several days.
In the summer of 2014 a strange building began to take shape just outside MoMA PS1, a contemporary art centre in New York City. It looked like someone had started building an igloo and then got carried away, so that the ice-white bricks rose into huge towers. It was a captivating sight, but the truly impressive thing about this building was not so much its looks but the fact that it had been grown.
Concrete has become our building material of choice for countless structures such as bridges, towers and dams. But it also has a huge environmental footprint mostly due to carbon dioxide emissions from the production of cement – one of its main constituents. Researchers are now experimenting with root vegetables and recycled plastic in concrete to see whether this can make it stronger – and more sustainable – and even power streetlights or air pollution sensors.
Bilingual people can effortlessly switch between languages during everyday interactions. But beyond its usefulness in communication, being bilingual could affect how the brain works and enhance certain abilities. Studies into this could inform techniques for learning languages and other skills.
Professor Martijn Nawijn, an immunologist at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, tells Horizon about his quest to map every cell in a healthy human lung. He says this work should help to understand more about the causes of lung disease - which is comparatively understudied - and should lead to new therapies in the next 15 to 20 years.
Live mycelium networks, capable of information processing, could be used as building materials.
Researchers are investigating whether bilingualism enhances certain cognitive abilities.
Dr Kate Rychert studies ocean plate structures.