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THC levels ‘are identical across cannabis strains’

The levels of psychoactive chemicals tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are identical across cannabis strains, despite street names and rumours, according to a new study.

Stories behind the unusual names given to street strains of cannabis have been tackled by the research from the University of British Columbia (UBC).

However, the typical chemical levels used to differentiate strains may not indicate their true pharmacological value, the studies suggest.

"It is estimated that there are several hundred or perhaps thousands of strains of cannabis currently being cultivated," said Professor Susan Murch, who teaches chemistry at the university's Okanagan campus.

"We wanted to know how different they truly are, given the variety of unique and exotic names."

Although cannabis farmers and strain developers have historically selected breeding plants based on their production of THC and CBD, there are limited records of strain parentage.

Professor Murch explained: "People have had informal breeding programmes for a long time.

"In a structured programme we would keep track of the lineage, such as where the parent plants came from and their characteristics.

"With unstructured breeding, which is the current norm, particular plants were picked for some characteristic and then given a new name."

Cannabis is being grown commercially in the UK for medicinal
Image: Informal cannabis breeding undermines analysis of chemicals

Due to the informal breeding, the chemical breakdown of many of these strains has been practically unknown – until now.

Researchers analysed the cannabinoid, a class of psychoactive chemical compounds including THC and CBD, of 33 strains from five licensed cannabis producers.

Their research revealed that most strains, despite their origins and names, had identical or near-identical levels of THC and CBD.

Breeding highly potent strains of cannabis does impact the genetic diversity within the crop, but not the levels of THC or CBD within the plants themselves.

But according to Elizabeth Mudge, a doctoral student working with Professor Murch, there were observable differences in a number of previously unknown cannabinoids – and these newly discovered compounds, present in low quantities, could be related to pharmacological effects and even serve as a source for new medicines.

Ms Mudge said: "A high abundance compound in a plant, such as THC or CBD, isn't necessarily responsible for the unique medicinal effects of certain strains.

"Understanding the presence of the low abundance cannabinoids could provide valuable information to the medical cannabis community."

Cannabis oil
Image: CBD and THC may not be the most important chemicals in cannabis plants

At the moment, licensed producers in Canada are only required to report the THC and CBD levels in their produce, but Ms Mudge said the new research highlights how other distinguishing chemicals should be analysed too.

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She said that while patients are using medicinal cannabis for a variety of reasons, there's actually very little information available to them to help distinguish strains.

The research published in Scientific Reports is a "first step towards establishing an alternative approach to classifying medical cannabis and providing consumers with better information", the researchers added.

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World’s oldest bird, aged 68, lays another egg

By Philip Whiteside, international news reporter

The world's oldest known bird is set to become a mother again – after raising at least 30 other youngsters.

Wisdom the albatross has laid another egg at her nest site in Midway Atoll National Wildlife refuge on a tiny island about 1,200 miles northwest of Hawaii, in the Pacific Ocean.

Biologists believe Wisdom is at least 68 years old, forcing them to re-evaluate the age which they expected albatrosses to live to.

Albatross mate for life, but will recouple if a partner dies. The current age of her mate Akeakamai is not known, but the pair have been together since 2006.

Wisdom incubating her egg. Pic: Bob Peyton/USFWS
Image: Wisdom incubating her egg. Pic: Bob Peyton/USFWS

"She first appeared back at her traditional nest site on November 29 and biologists on Midway have confirmed that she has laid an egg," a statement from the US Fish and Wildlife Service Pacific Region said.

"Wisdom and her mate Akeakamai return to the same nest site on Midway Atoll each year. Biologists call this type of behavior 'nest site fidelity'."

Albatross lay a single egg and incubate it for just over two months before they spend another five months rearing it to fledgling status after it hatches.

During that time, Wisdom and Akeakamai will take it in turns to sit on the egg or tend to the chick as the other searches for food at sea.

Wisdom and her mate Akeakamai on their nest in previous years. Pic: Kiah Walker/USFWS Volunteer
Image: Wisdom and her mate Akeakamai on their nest in previous years. Pic: Kiah Walker/USFWS Volunteer

It is thought that Wisdom, a Laysan albatross, has reared between 30 and 36 chicks in her life.

The chick she produced in 2001 was observed just a few feet away from her in 2017, providing further evidence that albatross offspring return to their parents as they get older.

"Midway Atoll's habitat doesn't just contain millions of birds, it contains countless generations and families of albatrosses," said Kelly Goodale, US Fish and Wildlife Service Refuge biologist.

"If you can imagine when Wisdom returns home she is likely surrounded by what were once her chicks and potentially their chicks. What a family reunion!"

The USFWS says nearly 70% of the world's Laysan albatross and almost 40% of black-footed albatross rely on the reserve.

Wisdom and her egg on Midway Atoll in 2018. Pic: Madalyn Riley/USFWS
Image: Wisdom sitting on her egg. Pic: Madalyn Riley/USFWS

There are around three million birds on the atoll, about 1.2 million of which are albatross – providing a crucial refuge for the birds, most species of which are at risk due to loss of habitat, ocean plastic and commercial fishing practices, according to the WWF.

Wisdom was first ringed in 1956 at a time when Midway Island was a strategic outpost for the US Navy.

The biologist who ringed her then rediscovered her 46 years later in 2002 while surveying an area he had previously visited.

It was because she was a fully developed adult bird when he first saw her that he was able to determine her minimum age.

In 2006, she was seen again and from that point, after her age was recognised, she began to be monitored regularly.

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While the Laysan albatross does not have the wingspan of the wandering albatross – the largest wingspan of any bird – like other species they spend most of their lives in flight over the oceans.

It is thought Wisdom has travelled more than three million miles in her lifetime.

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Contest to inspire schoolgirls to become code-breakers

By Emma Birchley, news correspondent

A competition with a mission to inspire the next generation of cyber security experts will open on Monday… and it's just for girls.

The contest is run by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) to encourage 12 and 13-year-old girls to get involved in code-cracking and problem-solving, in the hope they chose computer science for GCSE and go on to do further qualifications in the subject.

The problem is, only 11% of the global cyber workforce are women – something the deputy director of the NCSC Chris Ensor says is "not good enough".

He said: "Often we talk about boys, girls, male, female, but ultimately we want people across the spectrum working in this space who will bring different things.

"They might have the same technical skills but they look at things in a different way, approach problems in a different way, they will do teamwork in a different way and that's what brings the magic.

Pat Battacharya has had to explain to male students why the competition is just for girls
Image: Pat Bhattacharya has had to explain to male students why the competition is just for girls

"That's what helps us solve so many different problems."

The concept of the competition is definitely working at the Piggott School in Berkshire.

Four girls made up the winning team for 2018, beating 4,500 other students from across the UK, and it has inspired many of the new Year 8 pupils to follow in their footsteps.

But it has not gone down well with everyone.

Pat Bhattacharya, head of science at the school, said: "It's a little bit tricky telling the boys it's not for them and I asked them why they thought it was just for girls and everybody knew the answer… It's to encourage girls to address the gender imbalance."

Chris Ensor has said the gender imbalance is the cyber workforce is 'not good enough'. Pic: NCSC
Image: Chris Ensor has said the gender imbalance is the cyber workforce is 'not good enough'. Pic: NCSC

As a computer programmer before she became a teacher, she knows how male-dominated an environment it can be.

Zara Pristov-King, who was part of the winning team, said: "It definitely raised awareness.

"I decided to take the subject because of the competition and I may be taking it for A-level."

Teammate Jess Peck described the experience of winning as "amazing".

She said: "I think it's really important to spread the word and competitions like this really open up opportunities."

Force leaders to debate on TV

Force leaders to debate on TV

More than 115,000 have signed the petition – have you?

The NCSC, which is part of the government intelligence organisation GCHQ, also has a scheme of student bursaries and courses to help even up the gender split.

The first round of the CyberFirst Girls Competition 2019 is all online and entries open on Monday.

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The finals are due to be held for the top 10 teams in Edinburgh in March.

But if the first two years of the contest are anything to go by, it has already proved a victory for the competition's organisers.

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China hopes to grow potatoes on far side of the moon

China says it has opened a "new chapter in lunar exploration" after sending a rover towards the far side of the moon.

The Chang'e-4 lunar probe was launched on a Long March 3B rocket from the southwestern Xichang launch centre, and is expected to reach its destination sometime around the turn of the year.

While the terrain on the near side of the moon has many flat areas to touch down on, the far side is rugged and mountainous.

It also presents communication difficulties because the far side of the moon always points away from Earth, meaning signals could be blocked.

To overcome that, a satellite was blasted into the moon's orbit in May, to act as a link between the lander and Earth.

Chinese state media said the area being targeted was the Aitken Basin in the lunar south pole region.

Force leaders to debate on TV

Force leaders to debate on TV

More than 100,000 people have signed the petition – have you?

Ten experiments – six from China and four from abroad – include planting potatoes and other seeds.

There will also be mineral and radiation tests, the Xinhua news agency said.

Chang'e-4 will be the second Chinese probe to land on the moon, following the Yutu (Jade Rabbit) rover mission in 2013, which surveyed the moon's surface for more than two years.

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China, which is investing billions in its military-run space programme, hopes to have a crewed space station by 2022.

It would also like to develop a moon base through several manned missions.

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Gifts for people who look like they spend a lot of time outside (but are actually just from Brooklyn)

Gift Guides

The "outdoorsy" type

Some of your friends like to do stuff outside: Hiking, climbing, skiing, camping. Some of them just like to look like they do that stuff.

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The Titanic is now a photorealistic gaming experience

Technology

This super precise recreation shows VR has a future in history.

Vintage Digital Revival launched a demo of its virtual reality experience “Titanic Honor and Glory.”…

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