Discover the Wildlife in Your Backyard with the WildTracker Project

Discover the Wildlife in Your Backyard with the WildTracker Project

Have you ever wondered what creatures share your backyard? Meet the Marshall family from Tinderbox, south of Hobart, Australia, who recently embarked on an exciting journey to find out what animals live on their property.

Thanks to the Tasmanian Land Conservancy’s WildTracker project, a citizen science program, the family is discovering the fascinating array of wildlife that coexist with them!

Andrew Marshall and his daughters, Paige and Adia, installed a hidden camera in their yard, capturing awe-inspiring images of their animal neighbors.

They were already accustomed to seeing wallabies and the occasional echidna, but the camera revealed so much more. From eastern bettongs to pademelons and even a pair of wallabies engaged in a heated dispute, the camera captured all these amazing moments.

But it’s not just about wallabies and echidnas. The family is also hoping to spot the elusive forty-spotted pardalote, one of Australia’s most endangered birds. They’ve even set up bird boxes to encourage these rare birds to take up residence on their property.

The WildTracker project has so far attracted about 170 participants, who have submitted over 100,000 photos in total. The initiative aims to determine which creatures live where, track the range expansion of invasive species like the lyrebird and fallow deer, and monitor the spread of diseases, such as the devil facial tumor disease in Tasmanian devils.

Participants include both large landholders and those in more urban areas, making it a perfect opportunity for everyone to get involved. According to conservation ecologist Dr. Glen Bain, it’s vital to have people with smaller plots of land participate as well, as Tasmania still has unique wildlife living in suburban areas.

The project has led to some surprising discoveries, including the first-ever recorded sighting of a pygmy possum on camera. Carol Hurst, another participant, has captured images of quolls, mischievous owls, and Tasmanian devils on her property near Ranelagh.

She believes that discovering the wildlife living on her land has made her feel more connected to her surroundings and taught her to coexist with the creatures she shares her garden with.

So, why not join this fantastic project and learn more about the incredible wildlife in your backyard? The WildTracker project is open to anyone in Tasmania looking to contribute.

By participating, you’ll not only be educating yourself and your family about native wildlife, but also helping conservationists gather valuable information for preserving these amazing creatures.

This article by Nicholas Vincent was first published by OneGreenPlanet on 17 March 2023. 

What you can do

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Fighting for Wildlife supports approved wildlife conservation organizations, which spend at least 80 percent of the money they raise on actual fieldwork, rather than administration and fundraising. When making a donation you can designate for which type of initiative it should be used – wildlife, oceans, forests or climate.

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US toxic chemical emissions to air, water and soil increased in 2021

US toxic chemical emissions to air, water and soil increased in 2021

Hazardous waste makes up a portion of the toxic chemical releases each year in the US

Shutterstock/Brandon Bourdages

Releases of toxic chemicals to air, water and soil increased by 8 per cent in the US between 2020 and 2021, according to a report from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The increase may have been related to a return to normal activity after many industries closed or paused production during the height of the covid-19 pandemic.

The annual report analysed data from the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory, which includes information on waste management from more than 21,000 facilities in industries such as mining, oil and coal, manufacturing and hazardous waste.

About 1.5 billion kilograms of toxic chemicals were released to the environment in the US between 2020 and 2021 as part of routine operations. More than half of releases occurred on land, mainly from metal mining. Releases to air, surface water and other disposals off-site from the reporting facility – for instance in a landfill – made up the rest.

Economic indicators showed that the rise since 2020 could be due to rebounding industrial activity after declines due to the covid-19 pandemic, the report found. Many facilities reported that they had returned to full-scale production after covid-related closures, said Charlotte Snyder at the EPA during a briefing on the report.

Despite the year-to-year increase, overall releases were 10 per cent lower than in 2012. This long-term decline is partly driven by a reduction in coal power, a trend that has reduced emissions of hydrochloric acid and sulphuric acid into the air.

Since 2012, the US has also seen a 22 per cent increase in the amount of chemicals managed via recycling, treatment or other methods which prevent them from being released to the environment, Snyder said at the briefing.

Eve Gartner at Earthjustice, an environmental advocacy group in the US, says the report is a valuable window on chemical releases, but provides an incomplete view. The 800 or so chemicals the report covers are “a small fraction” of the chemicals in use, she says, and some facilities that release toxic chemicals – such as airports – aren’t included.

The report also relies on companies to accurately report their own releases, which Gartner says tend not to be based on actual measurements, but on estimates of planned activity. “They are capturing what it would look like if things were working perfectly,” she says.


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We may finally know how Hawking's black hole paradox could be solved

We may finally know how Hawking's black hole paradox could be solved

An artist’s representation of a black hole

Shutterstock / Dima Zel

Black holes have an information problem. According to the laws of quantum mechanics, information about the state of a closed system cannot be destroyed, but black holes seem to obliterate it. Researchers have been trying for decades to solve this problem, called the black hole information paradox, and now one team claims to have finally figured it out.

The black hole information paradox was born in the 1970s when Stephen Hawking calculated that black holes should slowly evaporate by emitting random particles in …

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Cancer tumours in mice shrunk thanks to oxygen-sucking battery

Cancer tumours in mice shrunk thanks to oxygen-sucking battery

A breast cancer tumour in a mouse

Tomography imaging of a breast cancer tumour in a mouse


Implanting an oxygen-consuming battery into mice with cancer caused their tumours to shrink or vanish in two weeks when used alongside an experimental class of cancer drugs.

As most tumours grow, they consume oxygen from the non-cancerous tissues around them so that the tumours’ cells become oxygen-free, or hypoxic. One class of drugs, called hypoxia-activated prodrugs (HAPs), seeks to exploit this trait by only killing cells that show hypoxia, so that healthy cells are less affected, reducing the treatment’s side effects. But no HAPs are approved for clinical use due to limited evidence into their effectiveness.

Now, Fan Zhang at Fudan University in Shanghai, China, and his colleagues have developed a self-charging, implanted battery that runs off salt water injected around it, causing the battery to produce very low voltage electricity and to consume oxygen. By creating a hypoxic environment, the battery should optimise the action of HAPs.

“The battery can cover the tumour and persistently consume the oxygen within it for more than 14 days, which is much longer than previous agents [that worked for] usually not more than two days,” says Zhang.

Zhang and his team implanted the battery into some of the armpits of 25 mice with breast cancer. Five received the working battery and HAP treatment. The remaining mice were organised into groups where they either received no treatment, HAP drugs only, an implanted battery that didn’t work or just the working battery, which can run for up to 500 hours in mouse tissue.

Fourteen days later, the tumours had shrunk by an average of 90 per cent across the five mice who received the working battery and HAP treatment, and they disappeared completely in four of these mice. The tumours remained the same size or grew in the other mice groups.

While the battery caused no safety concerns when used in mice, the safety bar is higher for people, so further research is required to ensure it is compatible with human tissue prior to testing in people, says Zhang.

Randall Johnson at the University of Cambridge says that inducing hypoxia in tumours can have downsides, such as an increased tendency for the cancer to spread elsewhere in the body. While this didn’t occur in the mice, the costs and benefits of the battery’s use in people would need to be assessed before any human treatment, he says.


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Computer made of DNA works out prime factors of 6 and 15

Computer made of DNA works out prime factors of 6 and 15

DNA can be used for computation

DNA can be used for computation

Shutterstock/Billion Photos

Filling a test tube with molecules made from folded DNA can work as a simple computer. The approach has been used to split two numbers into prime factors.

Conventional computers work by passing electricity through tiny on-off switches to perform simple calculations. However, the new computer relies on the way that differently shaped DNA molecules combine.

Yinan Zhang at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China and his colleagues used a process called DNA origami, where chemicals contort, intertwine and stick together long strands of …

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A new battery starves cancer cells of oxygen in mice

A new battery starves cancer cells of oxygen in mice

It’s not great when a person sucks all the oxygen out of a room. When a battery does it to a tumor, though, it could be a good thing.

A tiny self-charging battery wrapped around a tumor removes oxygen from the cancer cells’ environment, boosting the power of some cancer therapies, a study in mice shows. Mice that had small batteries wrapped around their breast cancer tumors, combined with cancer therapy, showed a 90 percent decrease in tumor volume in two weeks, researchers report March 31 in Science Advances

Solid tumors, such as those that can develop in breast cancer, often grow rapidly — so rapidly that the tumor’s growth is faster than its blood supply can support (SN: 5/10/17). This means that the center of many tumors can be hypoxic, with much lower oxygen levels than surrounding tissue.

“Hypoxia is a double-edged sword,” says materials scientist Yongyao Xia, who specializes in battery materials at Fudan University in Shanghai. Low oxygen levels in tumors mean that the body’s immune cells often cannot survive long enough to kill the cancerous cells (SN: 2/22/17). Hypoxic cells are also resistant to treatments like radiotherapy and even to traditional chemotherapies, as there isn’t enough blood flow to deliver a deadly dose, explains Fudan’s Fan Zhang, who studies biomedical materials.

“On the other hand, it provides a target for precision treatment of tumors,” Xia and Zhang write in the new paper.

The hypoxia could act as a beacon for chemicals called hypoxia-activated prodrugs. These are chemotherapeutic drugs hooked to a linking chemical that ensures the drug becomes active only in a low-oxygen environment, says Qing Zhang, a molecular biologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, who was not involved in the study.

But hypoxia-activated prodrugs don’t show much benefit in clinical trials, possibly in part because the solid tumors they are deployed against are not evenly hypoxic or not hypoxic enough. Xia and Fan Zhang wanted to find a way to make tumors more hypoxic, to give the prodrugs a better chance.

So the researchers and their colleagues deployed a tiny, flexible battery that could partially wrap around a tumor. The battery’s zinc electrode self-charges by sucking up oxygen from the environment. It also creates highly reactive oxygen pairs that can damage DNA but aren’t a usable form of oxygen for cells.

By slurping up most of the available oxygen and producing lots of reactive oxygen pairs, the battery alone was capable of shrinking tumors in mice by up to 26 percent of their original size two weeks after implantation. When combined with a hypoxia-activated prodrug, average tumor size shrank by 90 percent. 

“I think the concept, the scientific basis, is solid,” Qing Zhang says. The findings are encouraging, he says, but extremely preliminary. Not only were the batteries deployed only in mice, but they also were used against a mouse-specific breast cancer. “It has to be tested in several breast cancer models, and also has to be tested in other cancer models,” he says. And, of course, in humans.

And a 90 percent decrease in tumor size is not a 100 percent decrease. “There’s still 10 percent left,” Qing Zhang says. If those cells survive, it could mean they are resistant to the hypoxia, and the tumor could grow back. As with many treatments, he says, it will probably have to be combined with other therapies to make sure the whole tumor is zapped for good.

Xia, Fan Zhang and their colleagues are already thinking about how the battery might have to be made more flexible and more powerful to work on human-sized tumors — using battery energy to starve cancer of air.

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