Adokiye in a promo shoot. Photo: daXclusive/adokiye.com
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Nigerian popstar Adokiye offers Boko Haram her virginity for kidnapped schoolgirls' release

A rising star in Nigeria, frustrated at the fading news coverage of Boko Haram's abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls, has offered up her virginity.

Nigerian popstar and architect Adokiye startled fans this week when, according to Vanguard, she claimed to be willing to exchange her own virginity for the release of over 200 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram. The same group is also suspected of carrying out a further spate of abductions of at least 60 more women this week, two months after the first kidnapping brought international condemnation for the extremist group.

"I am older and more experienced," she told the paper. "Even if ten to 12 men have to take me every night, I don’t care. Just release these girls and let them go back to their parents.”

While many have taken to Twitter to praise her bravery, or implore her to withdraw the self-sacrificial offer, others have criticised it as an attention-seeking media stunt - and, inevitably, some have used the opportunity to question the truth of whether she was really still a virgin:

Adokiye may well be a rising celebrity in Nigeria, but she is also a UN ambassador for peace with her own charity - called #ADOCHANGE - which works with international NGOs on health and education projects. Speaking to the NS via email, Adokiye said: “[It is] for the less privileged children, the motherless babies. Kids who can't speak for themselves. Its mission is to stand for them and to make them live right.”

However, her claim that she would swap her virginity for the safety of the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram appeared both drastic and insincere for a good reason - in March, she made the same offer to anyone who would buy her mother a private jet. When asked about this, she claims it was a "joke", that she "only used it as a figure of speech to show how much I loved my mum and would give up anything for her".

"My offer to Boko Haram isn’t a joke,” she writes, and she confirmed that she stands by her words:

With the help of my government, I will go to the forest and plead for the release of those girls. If Boko Haram were to contact me that would be scary and great but they should only do so if they are ready to release the kidnapped girls and take up my offer.”

Whether act of extreme empathy or publicity stunt, it highlights the sensitive issues that cloud the social status of female virginity. When asked if she thought her offer confirmed virginity as an exchangeable commodity, Adokiye responded:

As long as I am not offering it up for financial gains then it’s no problem. The virginity would have to go sometime, so if I can use it to save those kidnapped girls that would be great.”

Despite the flurry of news interest in the initial kidnappings in March - including a social media hashtag campaign that even Michelle Obama got involved with - Adokiye has been left frustrated and appalled by the way the news cycle has moved on. “The sudden silence of the media hype to get those girls freed is really scary and frustrating," she writes. "If the exchange of my virginity for the freedom of the girls turns out a success, then I do not see any problems at all." Since making her offer she has been tweeting at her critics, demanding they suggest something better if they're so appalled by her proposal.

Regardless, Boko Haram continue to terrorise the Nigerian state of Borno, whose inhabitants live in fear of further abductions. According to the UN, Boko Haram has forced approximately 650,000 people to flee from their homes.

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The Wood Wide Web: the world of trees underneath the surface

Mycorrhizal networks, better known as the Wood Wide Web, have allowed scientists to understand the social networks formed by trees underground.

In 1854, Henry David Thoreau published Walden, an extensive rumination on his two years, two months and two days spent in a cabin in the woodlands near Walden Pond. It was situated on a plot of land owned by his friend, mentor and noted transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Thoreau’s escape from the city was a self-imposed experiment - one which sought to find peace and harmony through a minimalistic, simple way of living amongst nature. Voicing his reasons for embarking on the rural getaway, Thoreau said, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life.”

Walden cemented Thoreau’s reputation as a key figure in naturalism; his reflections have since been studied, his practices meticulously replicated. But in the knowledge that Thoreau’s excursion into the woods was a means to better understand how to integrate into society, curious minds are left to wonder what essays and aphorisms Thoreau would have produced had he known what the botanists of today know of nature’s very own societal networks.

As scientists have now discovered, what lies beneath the ground Thoreau walked upon, and indeed beneath the ground anyone walks upon when near trees, is perhaps the most storied history and study of collaborative society in something which is now known as the mycorrhizal network or the “Wood Wide Web”.

Coined by the journal Nature, the term Wood Wide Web has come to describe the complex mass of interactions between trees and their microbial counterparts underneath the soil. Spend enough time among trees and you may get a sense that they have been around for centuries, standing tall and sturdy, self-sufficient and independent. But anchoring trees and forestry everywhere, and therefore enjoining them into an almost singular superoganism, is a very intimate relationship between their roots and microbes called mycorrhizal fungi.

Understanding the relationship between the roots of trees and mycorrhizal fungi has completely shifted the way we think about the world underneath them. Once thought to be harmful, mycorrhizal fungi are now known to have a bond of mutualism with the roots – a symbiotic connection from which both parties benefit.

Despite the discovery being a recent one, the link between the two goes as far back as 450 million years. A pinch of soil can hold up to seven miles worth of coiled, tubular, thread-like fungi. The fungi release tubes called hyphae which infiltrate the soil and roots in a non-invasive way, creating a tie between tree and fungus at a cellular level. It is this bond which is called mycorrhiza. As a result, plants 20m away from each other can be connected in the same way as plants connected 200 metres away; a hyphal network forms which brings the organisms into connection.

At the heart of the mutualistic relationship is an exchange; the fungi have minerals which the tree needs, and the trees have carbon (which is essentially food) which the fungi need. The trees receive nitrogen for things such as lignin – a component which keep the trees upright, and various other minerals such as phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, copper and more. In return, fungi get the sugars they need from the trees’ ongoing photosynthesis to energise their activities and build their bodies. The connection runs so deep that 20-80% of a tree’s sugar can be transferred to the fungi, while the transfer of nitrogen to trees is such that without the swap, trees would be toy-sized.

It’s a bond that has resulted in some remarkable phenomena. Suzanne Simard, an ecologist at the University of British Columbia, has researched into these back and forth exchanges and has found that rather than competing against one another as often assumed, there is a sort of teamwork between the trees facilitated by the mycorrhizal fungi.

In one particular example, Simard looked at a Douglas fir tree planted next to a birch tree. Upon taking the birch tree out, there was a completely unexpected result: the fir tree – instead of prospering from the reduced competition for sunlight – began to decay and die. The trees were connected underground via the mycorrhizal system, transferring carbon, nitrogen and water to one another, communicating underground, talking to each other. As Simard says in her TED talk, “it might remind you of a sort of intelligence.”

It has been documented that trees share food not just with trees of the same species, but with trees of all kinds of species, forming a social network which some have come to describe as a socialist system. Growth rates are positively affected while seedlings face greater chances of survival. There is in fact a group of plants – the mycoheterotrophic plants of which there are around 400 species – which wouldn’t survive without the mycorrhizal network. These plants are unable to photosynthesise and are therefore heavily dependent on other plants for carbon and minerals.

Over the years, Thoreau has had his fair share of critics who deemed his trip to the woods nothing more than an exercise in self-indulgence and narcissism. Perhaps if Thoreau had the chance to head back to Walden Pond with the knowledge of the Wood Wide Web at hand, he would fully understand that no one man is an island, as no one tree is a forest.