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Plant that Invade Lakes across Georgia and Southeast, Contributing to Deaths of Eagles and Other Birds

Scientists have been studying the issue after bald eagle carcasses were being found at a man-made lake in Arkansa

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Plant, Lakes, Georgia
An American Bald Eagle catches a fish at Occoquan River in Virginia. (Photo: Diaa Bekheet). VOA

Researchers have been trying to learn more about a plant that has invaded lakes across Georgia and the Southeast, contributing to the deaths of eagles and other birds.

The hydrilla has helped to cause the deaths of American bald eagles and thousands of other water birds over the past 25 years, scientists say.

The plant isn’t killing the birds directly, but is providing a home for a new kind of cyanobacteria that produces a lethal toxin, The Athens Banner-Herald reported.

Scientists have been studying the issue after bald eagle carcasses were being found at a man-made lake in Arkansas. An increasing number of afflicted birds then began showing up in Arkansas, Georgia, and other states across the South.

Plant, Lakes, Georgia
The hydrilla has helped to cause the deaths of American bald eagles and thousands of other water birds over the past 25 years, scientists say. Pixabay

There were reports of injuries — the loss of motor control in eagles and in a water bird called the coot. Their symptoms included wings that twitch but don’t flap, and difficultly maintaining balance.

Necropsies found that the affected eagles and coots showed peculiar lesions that made their brains look like sponges, the Athens newspaper reported.

Wildlife scientists had a name — Avian Vacuolar Myelinopathy, or AVM — but lacked crucial details on what was causing it.

The problem has been especially acute at Thurmond Lake, a man-made reservoir on the Savannah River between Georgia and South Carolina, the newspaper reported.

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University of Georgia professor Susan Wilde saw patterns. The lakes where eagles were dying of AVM are man-made, and they had been heavily invaded by hydrilla. The coots were eating the hydrilla, and the eagles found easy prey in the disabled coots.

Wilde’s hypothesis: The coots could be ingesting some neurotoxin associated with the plants, then passing on the toxin when the eagles ate them. Wilde also found that a previously unknown kind of cyanobacteria was growing on the underside of the spreading hydrilla leaves. That could be producing lethal toxins.

In 2014, nearly two decades after the neurological disease first showed up, Wilde and her colleagues had a name for the cyanobacteria: Aetokthonos Hydrillicola, or eagle-killer. They’d also isolated the toxin it produces.

Plant, Lakes, Georgia
The plant isn’t killing the birds directly, but is providing a home for a new kind of cyanobacteria that produces a lethal toxin, The Athens Banner-Herald reported. Pixabay

On Thurmond Lake, more than 105 AVM eagle deaths have been confirmed so far, and scientists believe the death toll is higher since many animal carcasses are never found.

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Lake managers are trying strategies to beat back the plant invader and its toxic companion. They’ve had some success stocking Thurmond and other lakes with a kind of sterile grass-eating carp to gnaw away at the hydrilla, combined with sowing native water plants. Lake managers are also using chemical killers on the plants, though that carries its own set of environmental risks. (VOA)

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Indian-origin Researcher Converts Banana Plantation Waste into Packaging Material

Indian-origin researcher discovers a way to turn banana plant into packaging material

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Banana plant
An team of researchers have found a way to convert banana plants into packaging material. Pixabay

An Indian-origin researcher-led team at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) on Friday announced it has discovered a novel way to turn banana plantation waste into packaging material that is not only biodegradable but also recyclable.

Associate Professor Jayashree Arcot and Professor Martina Stenzel looked at ways to convert agricultural waste into something that could value-add to the industry it came from, while potentially solving problems for another.

“What makes the banana growing business particularly wasteful compared to other fruit crops is the fact that the plant dies after each harvest,” Arcot from UNSW School of Chemical Engineering, said in a statement.

“We were particularly interested in the pseudostems – basically the layered, fleshy trunk of the plant which is cut down after each harvest and mostly discarded on the field. Some of it is used for textiles, some as compost, but other than that, it’s a huge waste,” she added.

pseudostem banana
The pseudostem of the banana plant is used to make this biodegradable packaging material. Pixabay

According to Arcot, banana growing industry produces large amounts of organic waste, with only 12 per cent of the plant being used (the fruit) while the rest is discarded after harvest.

Using a reliable supply of pseudostem material from banana plants grown at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, the duo set to work in extracting cellulose to test its suitability as a packaging alternative.

“The pseudostem is 90 per cent water, so the solid material ends up reducing down to about 10 per cent,” Arcot noted.

The team brought the pseudostem into the lab and chopped it into pieces, dried it at very low temperatures in a drying oven, and then milled it into a very fine powder.

The team then took this powder and washed it with a very soft chemical treatment.

“This isolates what we call nano-cellulose which is a material of high value with a whole range of applications. One of those applications that interested us greatly was packaging, particularly single-use food packaging where so much ends up in landfill,” informed Stenzel.

When processed, the material has a consistency similar to baking paper.

Depending on the intended thickness, the material could be used in a number of different formats in food packaging.

“There are some options at this point, we could make a shopping bag, for example,” said Arcot.

The material is also recyclable.

Banana plant waste
The banana trees provide large amount of organic waste. Pixabay

“One of our PhD students proved that we can recycle this for three times without any change in properties,” Arcot added.

Tests with food have proved that it poses no contamination risks.

Other uses of agricultural waste that the duo have looked at are in the cotton industry and rice growing industry – they have extracted cellulose from both waste cotton gathered from cotton gins and rice paddy husks.

“What makes bananas so attractive in addition to the quality of the cellulose content is the fact that they are an annual plant,” said Arcot who has been at UNSW since 1990 after completing her education from Bachelor’s and Master’s from the University of Madras and PhD from AP Agricultural University, Hyderabad.

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“If the banana industry can come on board, and they say to their farmers or growers that there’s a lot of value in using those pseudostems to make into a powder which you could then sell, that’s a much better option for them as well as for us,” said the researchers..

The UNSW has more than 52,000 students from nearly 130 countries, and highest are from India. (IANS)