Obama defends energy policy

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24 (UPI) — U.S. President Barack Obama defended his energy policies this week, saying “there are no short-term silver bullets” to the issue of gasoline prices.

Speaking Thursday at the University of Miami in Florida, Obama took aim at increasing attacks by Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates on his administration over increasing gasoline prices.

“It’s the easiest thing in the world to make phony election-year promises about lower gas prices. What’s harder is to make a serious, sustained commitment to tackle a problem that may not be solved in one year or one term or even one decade,” Obama said.

He characterized Republicans’ energy strategy as, “Step one is drill, step two is drill and step three is keep drilling.”

“Well the American people aren’t stupid. You know that’s not a plan — especially since we’re already drilling. It’s a bumper sticker. It’s not a strategy to solve our energy challenge. It’s a strategy to get politicians through an election,” Obama said.

The president cited instability in the Middle East as the biggest factor causing the price of oil to rise.

“When uncertainty increases, speculative trading on Wall Street can drive up prices even more. So there are short-term factors at work here,” he said.

Saying that “we absolutely need safe, responsible oil production here in America,” Obama maintained that “under my administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years.”

But in a statement following the president’s speech, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, criticized the Obama administration’s track record on energy.

“Facing an election, the president would like everyone to forget that gas prices have doubled over the past three years while he consistently blocked and slowed the production of American-made energy,” Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said.

“From his drilling moratorium to his denial of the Keystone pipeline, the president has time and again sided with his liberal base over American families.”

In his speech, Obama didn’t directly mention the Keystone XL project — a pipeline that would transit oil from tar sands projects in Canada to refineries along the southern U.S. coast — but he said that his administration “has approved dozens of new pipelines, including from Canada.”

Obama said he has instructed his administration “to look for every single area where we can make an impact and help consumers in the months ahead, from permitting to delivery bottlenecks to what’s going on in the oil markets.”

“And we will keep taking as many steps as we can in the coming weeks,” he added.

Most back, though few know of, Keystone XL

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24 (UPI) — In general, most U.S. voters interviewed by the Pew Research Center said they approved of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, poll data indicate.

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in a telephone interview received a positive response from 66 percent of adults asked about the Keystone XL pipeline.

Canadian pipeline company TransCanada wants to build the pipeline to carry oil from tar sands projects in Canada to refiners along the southern U.S. coast.

More than 80 percent of the people who identified themselves as Republicans expressed support for the project compared to 49 percent of the people who said they were Democrats. More than 60 percent of those who said they were independents said they backed the project.

Backers of the pipeline say it’s a “shovel-ready” project that would boost employment and enhance U.S. energy security. Critics question the job numbers given as evidence to back the pipeline and note tar sands oil is the dirtiest type of crude oil.

Of the 1,501 adults surveyed in the mid-February poll, 37 percent of the respondents said they’ve never heard of Keystone XL compared to 24 percent who said they heard a lot about the issue. The rest said they knew a little bit about Keystone XL.

Overall, the poll reported a sampling error of 3 percentage points.

London gives mixed report on energy sector

LONDON, Feb. 24 (UPI) — The conventional energy sector in the United Kingdom suffered setbacks though renewables made significant gains, the British government said.

The British Department of Energy and Climate Change published statistics about the British energy sector for 2011.

The DECC found natural gas accounted for 54 percent of the inputs into the country’s transit system but imports exceeded regional natural gas production for the first time. The country depended on imports for 48 percent of its demand, with significant volumes coming from Qatar and Norway.

“However, despite lower U.K. production, gas exports were at record levels, higher even than when U.K. gas production peaked in 2000,” the DECC said in a four-page outline.

The DECC said there were “sharp falls” in the output from oil fields on the regional continental shelf in part because of maintenance activity and slowdowns. Petroleum production was down 17 percent in 2011 compared with the previous year.

For renewable and alternative energy resources, the DECC said nuclear power output was up 11 percent, wind output was up 59 percent and hydropower was up 70 percent in 2011 compared with the previous year.

British energy officials had said they were looking to develop whatever mix of low-carbon technology is the cheapest overall.

API accuses Obama of lying about energy

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24 (UPI) — The White House is lying to the American public when it says its policies are responsible for increased oil production, the American Petroleum Institute said.

Higher gasoline prices in the United States are putting renewed impetus behind debates over domestic oil and natural gas production in the United States.

Critics of U.S. President Barack Obama’s domestic energy policy accuse him of blocking oil and natural gas production in the United States. Obama, in a speech from Miami, said there’s no way to “drill our way to lower gas prices,” however.

But API President Jack Gerard said Obama is taking credit for policies enacted under the previous administration.

“The administration suggests that its policies are, in fact, already increasing oil production,” he said. “This couldn’t be farther from the truth.”

Gerard claims Obama’s policies are pushing energy investments out of the U.S. market, a trend which is to blame for everything from high unemployment to an increased trade deficit.

Obama said the United States relied less on foreign oil in 2011 than at any time during the least 16 years, however.

Energy analysts blame turmoil in the Middle East, specifically disputes with Iran, for higher energy prices.

London backing CCS with cash commitments

LONDON, Feb. 24 (UPI) — The United Kingdom could be leading the world in carbon capture and storage projects with a $1.56 billion commitment, the British energy secretary said.

Plans for a carbon capture and storage project in Scotland fell apart following pricing concerns during talks last year between the government and developers. British Energy Secretary Ed Davey, however, said London is ready to put $1.56 billion behind the technology.

Davey told delegates from the CCS industry that London wanted to work with the private sector to help meet efforts to lower carbon emissions.

“The U.K. has the chance to lead the world in CCS and the government is backing its commitment with $1.56 billion,” he was quoted by the Platts news service as saying.

The International Energy Agency said CCS technology could cut carbon dioxide emissions from the industrial sector by as much as 4 gigatons by the middle of the century.

In a report with the U.N. Industrial Development Organization, the IEA said more than 1,800 large-scale CCS projects are needed in the next 40 years, however.

CCS technology inaugurated in West Yorkshire last year could remove up to 100 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per day from an area coal-fired power station.

TAP pipeline starts Albanian surveys

ZUG, Switzerland, Feb. 24 (UPI) — A soil survey for the route for the planned Trans-Adriatic natural gas pipeline near the coast of Albania is under way, the project company announced.

The project consortium said it deployed two barges to collect soil samples from the seabed about 3 miles off the southeastern Albanian coast.

Albert Haak, the country manager for TAP, said stressed the survey meets international standards on environment and safety.

“The comprehensive analysis of the seabed is necessary for TAP in order to decide on the exact offshore routing of the pipeline and also for further pipeline engineering work,” he said in a statement.

Early this week, the consortium controlling Shah Deniz II natural gas field off the coast of Azerbaijan chose TAP as a possible route to European natural gas consumers.

TAP would transport as much as 700 billion cubic feet of natural gas per year to European markets through Greece and Albania and then through the Adriatic Sea to Italy.

The project is up against the planned Nabucco pipeline for Europe and a project that envisions an expansion of existing transit networks through Turkey. TAP is the shortest of the projects outlined in the so-called Southern Corridor of transit networks.

IEA to assess renewables for first time

BERLIN, Feb. 24 (UPI) — The International Energy Agency said from Berlin it was including an assessment of the renewable energy sector in a mid-term report for the first time.

“A portfolio of renewable energy technologies is becoming competitive in an increasing range of circumstances and countries,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven in a statement.

The IEA said the renewable energy sector was the fastest growing sector in the energy mix. Renewables account for roughly 20 percent of the electricity produced worldwide. This, the IEA said, means renewables should take a place beside oil and natural gas in the annual mid-term report.

European countries have set ambitious targets for renewable energy though other major economies are falling behind.

The report is to take an in-depth look at the renewable energy sector at the national level to examine only what’s driving the sector and what can be considered a barrier.

Van der Hoeven warned that “significant policy effort, combined with continued economic incentives, is still needed to push a large portfolio of these technologies toward full competitiveness.”

The mid-term report will be published in July.

Ireland to sell Bord Gais energy business

DUBLIN, Ireland, Feb. 24 (UPI) — The energy business of Irish state company Bord Gais is among government-held assets to be sold in a move to raise $4 billion, officials said.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin announced Wednesday in Dublin that Bord Gais Energy — the trading, assets and retail division of Bord Gais — will be sold.

It has been valued at $1.3 billion-$1.9 billion.

The move is in keeping with Dublin’s agreement with the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank “troika” managing the $90 billion bailout of country’s economy to sell off state-owned assets.

The Bord Gais distribution and transmission systems, however, will remain in public hands as a way to protect Ireland’s energy supply security, Howlin said.

He added negotiations with the troika have resulted in an agreement allowing some sale proceeds to go to job creation, the Irish business new Web site BreakingNews.ie reported.

“When we came into government, the position was that no money from the disposal of assets could be spent on anything except reducing our debts,” he said. “This is a substantial change to the troika’s previous position and will help promote recovery in the economy.”

The breakup of Bord Gais is meant to increase competition in the energy market and bring down prices for consumers, he added.

Also to be privatized over the next two years are “non-strategic” power generation capacity held by the state-owned ESB electric utility and the government’s remaining 25 percent interest in Aer Lingus, but only if its share price rises.

Opposition party critics assailed the moves as a “fire sale” of precious public property meant to benefit the political standing of the ruling Fine Gael-Labor Party coalition government.

Fianna Fail party leader Micheal Martin accused Enda Kenny, Ireland’s taoiseach, of “misleading” people about the asset sale, while Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams blasted it as short-term thinking, Irish broadcaster RTE reported.

A warning on the sale was issued by the business group IBEC, which told The Irish Times the government should instead continue talks with the troika to “maximize” the percentage of the sale proceeds that can be reinvested in job creation.

“There will be no shortage of interest in investment opportunities in Irish assets,” said IBEC Director General Danny McCoy. “The government must ensure that valuable assets are not sold too cheaply to raise cash quickly.”

But Kenny insisted that’s not the case.

“The objective and the target of the government is to have a limit here of reaching ($4 billion) of disposal of state assets at the appropriate time, at the best opportune price,” he said.

Dublin is still deciding which of ESB’s five hydropower and seven thermal power stations will be sold. The decisions will be revealed in a report to be delivered next month.

BreakingNews.ie reported the utility is negotiating with the government to determine which of the plants are “non-strategic.”

ESB’s biggest generators are Poolbeg in Dublin, Moneypoint in County Clare and Aghada in County Cork, the Web site said.

Statoil secures more rigs for NCS oil

STAVANGER, Norway, Feb. 24 (UPI) — Norwegian energy company Statoil said more rig capacity would help it get more resources extracted from the Norwegian continental shelf.

Drilling contractor Songa Offshore won contracts worth an estimated $1.3 billion to build two rigs for Statoil. The Norwegian company said it needed the new rig capacity to revitalize the Norwegian continental shelf.

Oystein Michelsen, executive vice president for production at Statoil, described his company’s portfolio in the NCS as “world-class.”

“We are convinced that new efforts are needed to secure a rig fleet that can handle the demanding tasks ahead,” he said in a statement.

The company said it is making new oil discoveries near existing fields and securing more rig capacity means drilling and completion of production wells will be cheaper.

Statoil trumpeted its success at the NCS in January. The company said it expected to maintain a production capacity from the NCS of around 600,000 barrels of oil per day for the rest of the decade.

Statoil last year announced one of the largest oil finds on the Norwegian continental shelf at its Sverdrup field. The company estimated there were 900 million-1.5 billion barrels of recoverable oil equivalent there, twice the previous estimate.

Iran looks east for oil customers

TEHRAN, Feb. 24 (UPI) — Iran announced it was making progress in developing its oil consumer base through developing deals with India and new deals with Tajikistan.

Iran’s decision this week to halt crude oil exports to the United Kingdom and France sent oil prices to nine-month highs. The European Union had set a July 1 deadline for an Iranian crude oil embargo, though Iranian lawmakers voted to pre-empt the EU move.

Ali Hatamov, the Tajik envoy to Tehran, said Tajikistan was ready to secure more oil supplies from Iran even though it has most of its demand met by Russia, Iran’s state-funded broadcaster Press TV reports.

The envoy said, however, that a new pipeline was needed between the countries to facilitate oil deliveries.

Meanwhile, India announced that it booked additional crude oil cargoes from Iran despite sanctions pressure on the financial mechanisms needed to process payments for Iranian crude.

In a move meant to get around tightening sanctions imposed on Iran, New Delhi will pay 45 percent of its debt using rupees an Indian bank account opened by Iran. India had paid about $1 billion per month through Turkish channels for Iranian crude.

Nigerian oil outlook promising

ABUJA, Nigeria, Feb. 24 (UPI) — Licenses for major energy companies like Shell and Chevron for work in Nigeria will be renewed by the end of next month, an energy executive said.

Exxon Mobil reported that its license was renewed for 20 years for blocks in Nigeria that could collectively produce as much as 550,000 barrels of oil per day.

Austen Oniwon, managing director at state-owned Nigeria National Petroleum Corp., was quoted by Bloomberg News as saying more signings were on the way for companies like Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell “before the end of March.”

Oil exploration declined in Nigeria because producers are wary of investments without laws governing the energy sector. Legislation has been stalled in Parliament since 2009, though Abuja had said a draft petroleum law would be sent to lawmakers within six weeks.

Most of the company’s contracts with oil companies have been in various stages of negotiation for more than two years, though Shell officials had said they were “optimistic” things were turning the corner, Bloomberg reports.

Nigeria has at least 37 billion barrels of crude oil reserves and is the fifth-largest exporter to U.S. markets.

Kiev fine without Gazprom, minister says

KIEV, Ukraine, Feb. 24 (UPI) — Ukraine won’t have any problems if Russian natural gas company Gazprom decides to use outside transit networks, the Ukrainian prime minister said.

Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said this week that Ukraine would have “zero role” in Russian natural gas exports to Europe once alternative pipelines are operational.

Russia sends about 80 percent of its natural gas to Europe through the Soviet-era transit network in Ukraine. Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said Gazprom was welcome to use the network, though the country would get by without it, Russia’s state-run news agency RIA Novosti reports.

“Ukraine will find a way out of this situation,” said Azarov. “Don’t worry about that.”

The first line of Russia’s dual Nord Stream natural gas pipeline through the Baltic Sea went into service last year. Gazprom said construction on its counterpart, South Stream, would begin in December. Both options are part of an effort to send Russian gas to European countries without using the Ukrainian gas transit system.

Analysis from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace concludes that while Russia is securing alternative routes, it might be running low on natural gas supplies. Gazprom had struggled to keep pace with European demand this winter. Ukraine, meanwhile, has only focused on short-term solutions to its own address its own energy issues, the analysis said.

Toxins in shark fins linked to human ills

MIAMI, Feb. 23 (UPI) — U.S. researchers say a neurotoxin linked to neurodegenerative diseases in humans, including Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease, has been found in shark fins.

Scientists at the University of Miami say high concentrations of the BMAA neurotoxin suggest consumption of shark fin soup and cartilage pills may pose a significant health risk for degenerative brain diseases.

Sharks are among the most threatened of marine species worldwide, primarily killed for their fins alone to fuel the growing demand for the soup, an Asia delicacy, a UM release said Wednesday.

“Estimates suggest that fins from as many as 70 million sharks end up in soup,” researcher Neil Hammerschlag said. “As a result, many shark species are on the road to extinction.

“Because sharks play important roles in maintaining balance in the oceans, not only is shark fin soup injurious to the marine environment, but our study suggests that it is likely harmful to the people who are consuming them,” he said.

Seven species of shark — blacknose, blacktip, bonnethead, bull, great hammerhead, lemon and nurse sharks — were tested for the study.

“The concentrations of BMAA in the samples are a cause for concern, not only in shark fin soup, but also in dietary supplements and other forms ingested by humans, ” study co-author Deborah Mash, director of the University of Miami Brain Endowment Bank, said.

“Not only does this work provide important information on one probable route of human exposure to BMAA, it may lead to a lowering of the demand for shark fin soup and consumption of shark products, which will aid ocean conservation efforts,” Hammerschlag said.

Study: Clouds losing altitude globally

WASHINGTON, Feb. 23 (UPI) — Researchers say the sky is falling, after a fashion, as data from a U.S. satellite show clouds around the world are losing altitude.

If future observations confirm that as a trend, it could have an important effect on global climate change, they said.

“We don’t know exactly what causes the cloud heights to lower,” researcher Roger Davies of the University of Auckland in New Zealand said. “But it must be due to a change in the circulation patterns that give rise to cloud formation at high altitude.”

Researchers said clouds that are lower in the atmosphere would more efficiently cool the planet and could possibly offset some global warming caused by greenhouse gases, LiveScience.com reported.

Davies and his colleagues have analyzed 10 years of data from the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer on NASA’s Terra spacecraft and found that global average cloud height decreased by around 1 percent from 2000 to 2010, a distance of 100 to 300 feet.

Most of the reduction stemmed from fewer clouds forming at very high altitudes, the researchers reported in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Bill would make turtle California symbol

SACRAMENTO, Feb. 23 (UPI) — California, which already has a state flower, a state bird and even a state fossil, may soon have an official marine reptile, lawmakers say.

A bill introduced in the state assembly would add the endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle to a growing list of symbols that includes the California quail; the gray whale; the California poppy; the garibaldi, the state marine fish; and the saber-tooth cat, the state fossil; the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday.

The symbolic act, a part of raising awareness about the threatened creatures, comes as the federal government is setting aside 41,000 square miles of the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington as critical habitat for leatherback turtles, which have been on the endangered species list since 1970.

The population of the turtles, which can weigh 2,000 pounds and measure 8 feet long, has dropped by more than 95 percent in the last thirty years because of disease, the harvesting of their eggs and entanglement in fishing gear.

The designation as a state reptile is part of a “coordinated worldwide conservation effort” to save the sea turtles from extinction, Assemblyman Paul Fong, the bill’s sponsor, said.

It “will demonstrate California’s commitment to protecting leatherback sea turtles and our ocean’s ecosystem,” he said.

Warning on impact of mining in Norway

SALT LAKE CITY, Feb. 23 (UPI) — Scientists say they’re concerned about the practice of dumping millions of tons of waste rock from mining operations into deep Norwegian fjords.

The Norwegian Institute for Water Research, which says debris from mining operations has been dumped on the seafloor for decades with little consideration of its likely impacts, is conducting studies to assess the consequences.

“The mining companies send these tailings down a long pipe, down below the euphotic zone, below 200m (650 feet), and essentially smother everything on the seafloor,” institute research scientist Andrew Sweetman told BBC News. “All the animals that live in the sediments that provide food for larger invertebrates and fish, for example, will be killed off.”

The euphotic zone is the layer of water that receives enough sunlight for photosynthesis to occur.

Sweetman made the remarks at the biennial Ocean Sciences Meeting in Salt Lake City.

Lisa Levin — director of the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif. — said the Norwegian situation is a classic example of an activity being conducted without fully considering the consequences.

“Industry is moving steadily deeper,” she said. “Three thousand meters (9,800 feet) is now routine, and we know what can happen.”

China’s lost ‘Atlantis’ unearthed

XUYI, China, Feb. 23 (UPI) — An ancient city long-considered China’s “Atlantis” has been unearthed in the country’s Jiangsu Province, researchers say.

Archaeologists said farmers often find bizarre rectangular stones in their fields, and huge amounts of broken tiles and piles of carved stones were discovered during construction of a bridge 25 years ago.

These artifacts made people think of the ancient city of Sizhou, a mysterious “lost” city of local legend, which in 1680 was supposedly lashed by a powerful storm that forced residents to flee.

Before they escaped to become refugees, the story goes, they tried carrying earth from elsewhere to cover the town to hold the flood at bay.

In the last year, archaeologists from Nanjing and Huai’an museums located the lost city, covering nearly a square mile, with five-sixths of it buried under the Huaihe River’s sediment, China Daily reported.

The rest of the city remains underwater, archaeologists said.

“Sizhou is perhaps better preserved than Italy’s ancient city of Pompeii, which was buried in volcanic ash,” Hu Bing, deputy director of Huai’an Museum’s archaeology department, said.

“No one knows how many treasures are buried in the ancient city,” he said.

Solid ‘buckyball’ carbon found in space

PASADENA, Calif., Feb. 23 (UPI) — Astronomers using data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope say they’ve discovered buckyballs in a solid form in space for the first time.

Previously the microscopic carbon spheres had been found only in gas form in the universe, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., reported Wednesday.

Buckyballs, formally known as buckminsterfullerine, are made up of 60 carbon atoms arranged into a hollow sphere like a soccer ball and named after architect Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes.

The Spitzer telescope detected tiny specks of matter consisting of stacked buckyballs around a pair of stars called “XX Ophiuchi” 6,500 light-years from Earth, and found enough to fill the equivalent in volume of 10,000 Mount Everests, JPL said.

“These buckyballs are stacked together to form a solid, like oranges in a crate,” astronomer Nye Evans of Keele University in England said. “The particles we detected are minuscule, far smaller than the width of a hair, but each one would contain stacks of millions of buckyballs.”

The research team said it was able to identify the solid form of buckyballs in the Spitzer data because they emit light in a unique way that differs from the gaseous form.

“This exciting result suggests that buckyballs are even more widespread in space than the earlier Spitzer results showed,” said Mike Werner, project scientist for Spitzer at JPL. “They may be an important form of carbon, an essential building block for life, throughout the cosmos.”

Samsung announces ‘mil-spec’ cellphone

RIDGEFIELD PARK, N.J., Feb. 23 (UPI) — Samsung says its new Rugby Smart phone, set for a U.S. debut in March, meets military-grade levels of toughness to face the hard knocks of extreme usage.

The company says the Android phone is built to meet both the U.S. military Mil-spec 810f and the IP67 international standards for ruggedness, CNET.com reported.

The phone should be able to survive submersion in 3 feet of water for 30 minutes and prolonged exposure to dust, driving rain, extreme temperatures and falls onto hard surfaces, Samsung said.

While previous “tough” phones have been big and considerably bulky, the Rugby Smart is only slightly larger and thicker than a typical phone at 4.8 inches long, 2.5 inches wide and half an inch thick.

The Smart sports mid-range smartphone specifications like Android 2.3 Gingerbread, a 3.7-inch Super AMOLED screen, 4 gigabytes of internal memory and a microSD card expansion slot.

The GSM phone will run on AT&T’s HSPA “4G” data network, not the carrier’s much faster LTE infrastructure, CNET.com reported.

‘Virtual’ divers can explore ocean reef

BRISBANE, Australia, Feb. 23 (UPI) — Google Earth users can soon take “virtual” scuba dives onto Australia’s Great Barrier Reef through panoramas of underwater landscapes, researchers say.

A research survey will map the Great Barrier Reef and allow virtual divers to experience the unique ecosystem through thousands of 360-degree, high-definition views of underwater vistas in the same way Google’s street view takes users through urban environments.

Coral reefs and their marine life will be photographed and mapped by a pair of unmanned submarine cameras during the survey, beginning in September sponsored by Google, non-governmental organizations and British insurance company Catlin.

“Most people who dive the Barrier Reef do so to depths up to about 20 meters. But 93 percent of the reef lies at between 30-100 meters, where light still penetrates. These areas are rarely if ever dived,” project chief scientist Ove Hoegh-Guldberg from the University of Queensland told the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph.

“Our specially made James Bond-like submersibles will capture for first time in history the unique marine life down there — and whether it is under threat from climate change,” he said.

The images will be posted on Panoramio, Google Earth, Google Maps and be seen via a custom-made 360-degree viewer, he said.

“We will seek the global audience’s help in assessing the health and composition of the reef,” Hoegh-Guldberg said. “The public can help us scientists study in close detail the size of the corals and the number of fish, and spot things like coral bleaching and unique breeding habits.

“Hopefully, virtual diving will raise awareness about climate change,” he said.

Genetic changes threaten food production

HAIFA, Israel, Feb. 23 (UPI) — Genetic changes in wild progenitors of wheats and barleys, staple foods for humans and animals, may threaten future food production, an Israeli study indicates.

Genetic changes in the last three decades imply a risk for crop improvement and food production, the University of Haifa said in a release Wednesday.

“The earliness in flowering time and genetic changes that are taking place in these important progenitor wild cereals, most likely due to global warming, can negatively affect the wild progenitors.” Eviatar Nevo of Haifa’s Institute of Evolution said.

“These changes could thereby indirectly deteriorate food production,” Nevo said.

The progenitors, wild emmer wheat and wild barley, provide the genetic basis for wheat and barley cultivars, which earlier studies found are themselves under constant genetic erosion and increasing susceptibility to environmental stresses, researchers said.

“The ongoing global warming in Israel is the only likely factor that could have caused earliness in flowering and genetic turnover across the range of wild cereals in Israel,” Nevo said. “This indicates that they are under environmental stress which may erode their future survival.

“These changes threaten the best genetic resource for crop improvement and thereby may damage food production.”

“Wild emmer wheat is the world’s most important genetic resource for wheat improvement, and it is up to us to preserve it,” he said.