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Fossil forest gets national recognition and protection

A fossil forest in Brymbo, near Wrexham, which pre-dates dinosaurs, has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest by Natural Resources Wales.

Fossilised bark from Brymbo. Credit: Peter Appleton

The site covers an area nearly half the size of a football pitch and contains a variety of 300 million year old fossilised plants and trees.

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) says it is a world class site for plant fossils.

They are the remains of plants which grew in hot, humid conditions near the equator - and include 20 fossilised giant clubmosses that look like massive tree stumps.

The fossils were first revealed in 2004 on the former iron and steel works site in Brymbo. Much of the fossil forest remains buried for its own protection.

NRW says plans are underway, led by Brymbo Heritage Group, to establish an excavation and visitor centre on the site that will ensure the right conditions to study and display the fragile fossils.

Fossilised fern. Credit: Peter Appleton

The SSSI designation will help safeguard the fossil forest into the future as a superb scientific and educational resource.

Fossils have a wide appeal and this site, developed with the right expertise and care, has the potential to be a popular tourist attraction, contributing to the local economy of this area.

– Raymond Roberts, NRW geologist

There is an extraordinary story of tell at this site, linking the geological history with Brymbo’s industrial heritage.

Our aim is to secure funding in time to open the excavation and visitor centre in the summer of 2018

– Gary Brown, Brymbo Heritage Group

In the meantime, Brymbo Heritage Group organises guided tours, open days and community digs for people to see the fossil forest and industrial heritage.

Some of the best and rarest fossils have been removed and are being conserved in the National Museum of Wales. They will be returned to Brymbo for public display, once a suitable building is ready.

It is illegal to remove fossils or damage a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

New plan to tackle rare diseases in Wales

Wales’ first ever plan to tackle rare diseases is launched today.

A rare disease is defined as a life-threatening or chronically debilitating disease, which affects five people or less per 10,000. Credit: Angelika Warmuth/DPA/PAImages

It sets out the Welsh Government’s expectations of the NHS in Wales to treat rare diseases for people of all ages.

A rare disease is defined as a life-threatening or chronically debilitating disease, which affects five people or less per 10,000. They can range from life-limiting illnesses to manageable conditions, which do not affect daily living. There are around 150,000 people affected by such diseases in Wales.

Examples include Sickle Cell, which is a disease arising out of genetic problems, and Spina Bifida - a disease arising out of deficiencies or exposures to substances during pregnancy.

"This is the first time Wales has developed a plan to improve the experiences of people living with rare diseases and it brings together a number of recommendations designed to improve coordination of care and lead to better outcomes for people.

To this end, we are keen to see real partnership across services, agencies, and above all between individuals living with rare diseases, their carers, patient organisations and the NHS.

Patients with these conditions can suffer greatly and we are determined to provide the best care we can for them. I expect this plan to make a real difference."

– Vaughan Gething, Deputy Health Minister

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Study 'reveals north/south genetic divide in Welsh red kite'

A study of the modern red kite population in Wales has revealed a north/south genetic divide that runs along the Towy Valley.

In the 1930s only one breeding pair remained in Wales. Credit: Stephen Wilson/ PA Wire

This is one of the findings of a study of the genetic status of the red kite in Wales by Aberystwyth University postgraduate student Ilze Skujina.

The research was undertaken as part of a project to provide guidance on the long-term conservation of the red kite.

DNA was collected from feathers cast off by the birds.

The molecule acts like a bar-code and provides geneticists with information about the relations between populations and individuals.

I was not only able to reconfirm that the modern Welsh kite population still fall into a Northern and Southern groups (as had been detected in the 1980s using the single genetic fingerprint probe available at the time) but also detect a genetic difference between the older Central-Welsh and the relatively new Red kite population in Shropshire and Herefordshire

– Ilze Skujina, Postgraduate Student, Aberystwyth University

New DNA techniques helping with unsolved cases

Advances in DNA technology are being used to help solve what happened to Priscilla Berry.

Detectives are using advances in DNA technology to try and identify human remains discovered in North Wales in the last 50 years.

Under Operation Orchid, officers say they hope to bring closure to families who have lived with uncertainty for a long time.

Criminality is not suspected in any of the cases.

One mystery dates back to January 1980, when female human remains were recovered from the sea 15 miles off Llandudno and were interred at a local cemetery.

Police inquiries with the National Missing Persons Bureau have identified a possible match with 39-year-old Priscilla Berry, possibly of the maiden name Sturgess.

She went missing from her home in Mochdre, Colwyn Bay, in June 1978.

It is now possible to link close family members such as siblings or children through DNA. If we can locate a brother, sister or child of Mrs Berry we can take a DNA sample to compare to the remains.

Although Mrs Berry went missing over 35 years ago, we believe it is still important for her family to know what became of their relative - and we will do all we can to help.

It is by no means certain that the remains are those of Mrs Berry, but the proposed tests should provide a definitive answer.

We are therefore appealing to anyone who is related to Priscilla Berry or knows any of her family members to contact North Wales Police.

– Detective Constable Don Kenyon

Welsh scientists lead the fight against dementia

A new approach aims to accelerate research. Credit: Daniel Karmann/DPA/PA Images

Cardiff scientists are heading up a £16 million programme to detect, treat and prevent dementia.

They will lead the Medical Research Council's new UK Dementia Research Platform (UKDP).

It will examine not just what is going wrong in the brain but at the brain in the context of the whole body.

"We know that neurodegeneration can be linked to changes taking place in other parts of the body seemingly unrelated to the brain and many years before dementia is diagnosed."

Dr John Gallacher Cardiff University School of Medicine

UKPD brings together industry expertise and investigators from eight universities and teaming them with what they say will be the world's largest group of participants in dementia research (more than two million people)

Cardiff scientists find new uses for gold

Researchers are discovering gold's hidden value. Credit: ROBERT JAEGER/APA/PA Images

Gold is traditionally regarded as chemically uninteresting because it doesn't react readily with other substances.

But researchers at Cardiff University's School of Chemistry say when broken down into nanoparticles, containing a few hundred atoms, it becomes incredibly reactive.

That makes it an efficient catalyst to speed up chemical and biological processes.

The scientists say they have discovered gold is the best catalyst for making the main ingredient for PVC and it could replace environmentally harmful mercury.

It's hoped using gold in catalysis could mean the better use of raw materials and the ability to generate fuels, plastics and other chemicals from renewables.

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1,000 native crayfish released at Builth Wells

The native crayfish is under threat from a non-native species. Credit: Natural Resources Wales

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) says more than 1,000 native white-clawed crayfish have been released into a Welsh river as part of continued efforts to save the species from extinction.

It's the third year NRW officers have captive reared and released the juvenile crayfish working in conjunction with the Wye and Usk Foundation.

The one-year-old crayfish were reared at Natural Resources Wales Cynrig Fish Culture Unit and have been released into specially selected ‘ark’ sites on a tributary of the River Irfon, near Builth Wells.

Releases sites are free from a lethal fungus. Credit: Natural Resources Wales

NRW says to date more than 2,700 captive reared crayfish have been released into the wild in a bid to offset the damage caused by the non-native American signal crayfish, climate change and the impact of pollution on habitat and water quality to the native crayfish population.

Life sciences network among three launching today

The discovery of new drugs and development of new treatments will form the basis for a new science network launching today. One of three, the life sciences and health network, based at Cardiff University will work on areas that have unmet medical need.

A new network launching today will look into the development of new drugs Credit: PA

Another area to be looked at will be the growing needs of society, such as the need for food. The network will carry out research into the relationships between land, water, the provision of food and energy production.

The network is one of three Ser Cymru National Research Networks for Wales launching today. They are funded by £7m from the Welsh Government and are designed attract more scientific research business to the country.

Science network to focus on materials and engineering

One of three new science networks launching today will focus on materials and engineering. It aims to carry out research that could have applications in manufacturing.

Solar technology is one area of research for a new science network launching today Credit: PA

One area of research for the network, based at Swansea University, will be solar technology. Different materials that could be used to coat buildings to harness solar energy, instead of using solar panels, are already being discussed.

Multi-million pound investment in science networks

Millions of pounds are being invested in new science networks Credit: PA

Wales is to gain three new science networks. The Ser Cymru National Research Networks for Wales are the product of a £7m investment by the Welsh Government. They are designed to attract scientific research business and cover various disciplines from medicine, manufacturing, energy and food security.

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