• Scientists develop algae that could help coral reefs recover.
  • Albania has banned the practice of trying to “convert” LGBT people.
  • Low-cost 'million-mile' batteries could make electric cars more competitive.
  • Antarctic Peninsula’s green algae's role in reducing greenhouse gases.

1. Some hope for coral reefs

Coral larvae and algae
Under fluorescent light, these magnified coral larvae (green), are seen containing heat-evolved algae cells (orange).
Image: Patrick Buerger

For years, the image of pale bleached coral reefs has been a sobering reminder of climate change. But now scientists in Australia say they have discovered a way to make reefs stronger.

Writing in the journal Science Advances, researchers explain they have grown a more heat-tolerant strain of the algae that live in corals.

Algae are crucial to corals because they provide much of their nutrition. But when corals become stressed due to changes in their environment like warming water, they force out the algae, leaving the corals vulnerable to bleaching. This process can lead to coral starvation and, eventually, death.

The scientists have now injected corals with the new strain of algae that is able to cope with warmer water.

Bleached corals can recover. However, rapid action will be needed. Worldwide, a quarter of coral reefs are believed to be damaged beyond repair, with two-thirds under serious threat.

2. Another country bans ‘gay conversion therapy’

An LGBT rights activist waves the rainbow flag the Tirana Gay (P)Ride in Tirana, Albania May 13, 2018. REUTERS/Florion Goga
Flying the LGBT flag.
Image: Reuters/Florion Goga

Psychologists in Albania have banned so-called 'conversion therapy', which tries to change a person’s sexual orientation.

Albania joins three other countries in imposing a ban: Brazil, Ecuador and Malta. The United States, Canada, Chile and Mexico are among other nations seeking bans; Germany recently prohibited the practice for use on minors.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic requires global cooperation among governments, international organizations and the business community, which is at the centre of the World Economic Forum’s mission as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.

Since its launch on 11 March, the Forum’s COVID Action Platform has brought together 1,667 stakeholders from 1,106 businesses and organizations to mitigate the risk and impact of the unprecedented global health emergency that is COVID-19.

The platform is created with the support of the World Health Organization and is open to all businesses and industry groups, as well as other stakeholders, aiming to integrate and inform joint action.

As an organization, the Forum has a track record of supporting efforts to contain epidemics. In 2017, at our Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines. CEPI is currently supporting the race to develop a vaccine against this strand of the coronavirus.

Albania’s Order of Psychologists, the country’s leading professional organization, says members will face disciplinary action if they carry out the process.

3. Are ‘million-mile’ batteries on the horizon?

In recent days, there have been two stories about battery technology that may prove significant to the future of transport.

The first is a report that Elon Musk’s electric vehicle company, Tesla, is planning a China launch for its much-rumoured low-cost 'million mile' battery – which, as its name suggests, can last for 1 million miles. Current electric vehicle batteries typically last up to 200,000 miles,

The second, related, story is the news that General Motors is working on its own million mile battery project, investigating zero-cobalt electrodes and ultra-fast charging.

Reducing expensive materials like cobalt could cut costs significantly and bring us closer to the point when battery-powered cars cost the same as gasoline and diesel vehicles.

4. Antarctic ‘green snow’ mapped

Antarctic green snow.
Antarctic ‘green snow’ has been mapped for the first time.
Image: Dr Andrew Gray/Nature Communications

On the Antarctic Peninsula, there are patches where large blooms of microscopic algae have turned the snow green.

They’ve been known about since expeditions to the South Pole in the 1950s. But now UK scientists have created the first area-wide maps of them – and have found they cover an area of approximately two square kilometres.

Antarctic green algae
Scientists say green algae on Antarctic snow (bottom right) pulls 500 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere every year.
Image: Dr Andrew Gray/Nature Communications

That might not sound like much, but it’s enough to suck an estimated 500 tonnes of carbon out of the atmosphere every year. That’s the equivalent of 875,000 average petrol car journeys in the UK, the BBC reports.

The researchers used the EU’s Sentinel-2 satellite to detect the green blooms. It’s yet not known whether climate change – and Antarctic melting – will increase or decrease algae growth on snow.