First Words

So, three weeks after birth, Zootrogle has learnt to talk! I hope we are able to entertain and enthuse you with (usually) biological musings in every new post. We’ll be discussing whatever we find and think is interesting – from internationally important scientific breakthroughs to curious morsels of knowledge coming out of our lectures, nothing will be too big or little for us to get our teeth into. Let’s just see what comes up!

Among the many exciting events of my recent weeks was the visit of Dr. George McGavin to a fledgling Entomology Society run by my fellow Troglodyte and a couple of friends. His boisterous enthusiasm for the insects he studies shone throughout his talk, and it’s perhaps this enthusiasm that has catapulted him to fame in recent years, as one of the stars of the Lost Land series of television programmes. Dr. McGavin, as part of a team of biologists, has visited several remote locations to survey the local flora and fauna, and have been followed all the way by a BBC team.

Sadly, these programmes have come under a lot of fire from people who argue that they would prefer to watch traditional natural history programmes, in the format exploited so successfully by David Attenborough. Whilst I don’t disagree that this kind of documentary is fascinating, with some incredible video and great educational value, I also think that the market for it is saturated. Forget the regular Attenborough series (like a magician’s handkerchief, he just seems to keep on going!) and the BBC’s multitude of other documentaries: there are a number of entire CHANNELS devoted to showing wildlife documentaries, all day, every day. I think that by turning the cameras on the researchers, Lost Land brought a new angle to wildlife film-making. Or should that be that it revives one of the very oldest angles? Lest we forget, Attenborough himself started his career in nature programming on Zoo Quest – a show with a format not dissimilar to Lost Land.

Lost Land has other benefits too: to science – the team of scientists working on the show invariably turn up new species, mainly invertebrates and small vertebrates but occasionally something extra special. The discovery of “the world’s largest rat” in Papua New Guinea was particularly widely publicised. The series attempts to leave a more lasting legacy than any other piece of wildlife television I can recall seeing, and it usually falls to Dr. McGavin to present the team’s findings to the destination country’s government in the hope that they will protect some incredible wildernesses in an increasingly over-exploited world. Lost Land of the Tiger in particular had clear goals, having found evidence to support the viability of a previously proposed action plan to save the titular animals. I’m definitely hoping for more series in the future!

On the subject of our polluted planet, I read a summary of some recently published research on water fleas in a well-known science periodical.  It’s been discovered that these tiny crustaceans, familiar to me from my garden pond, in fact have the greatest number of functional genes within their genome of any organism to have yet been fully sequenced – fully 5000 genes more than found even in our own genome! Not only this, but many of these genes are believed to have evolved very recently in response to environmental pressures linked to climate change and pollution. One of life’s little wonders!

If you’ve got this far, thanks for reading. Catch you next time!

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