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The world’s most endangered food

The world’s most endangered food | Complex Insight  - Understanding our world | Scoop.it
Many varieties of fruit, meat and vegetable are disappearing from our plates, says Rachel Nuwer. Why is this happening, and can we stop the rot?
ComplexInsight's insight:

 Its probably not often we stop to think of the impacts of agriculture on the evolution of foodstuffs and what varieties of plants are being lost, along with their distinct tastes, benefits and properties. Compared to pre 1900 agriculture an estimated 75% of global farmed plant diversity is now gone and lost. Diversity is key to sustainable agriculture over the long term, so the points made in the article are particularly worrying. Thought provoking article from the BBC / worth reading.

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Viruses affect an African flamingo population by killing their bacterial food source

Viruses affect an African flamingo population by killing their bacterial food source | Complex Insight  - Understanding our world | Scoop.it

Trophic cascade effects occur when a food web is disrupted by loss or significant reduction of one or more of its members. In East African Rift Valley lakes, the Lesser Flamingo is on top of a short food chain. At irregular intervals, the dominance of their most important food source, the cyanobacterium Arthrospira fusiformis, is interrupted. Bacteriophages are known as potentially controlling photoautotrophic bacterioplankton. In Lake Nakuru (Kenya), we found the highest abundance of suspended viruses ever recorded in a natural aquatic system. We document that cyanophage infection and the related breakdown of A. fusiformis biomass led to a dramatic reduction in flamingo abundance. This documents that virus infection at the very base of a food chain can affect, in a bottom-up cascade, the distribution of end consumers. We anticipate this as an important example for virus-mediated cascading effects, potentially occurring also in various other aquatic food webs.


Via Chris Upton + helpers, Ed Rybicki
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Dino impact 'also destroyed bees'

Dino impact 'also destroyed bees' | Complex Insight  - Understanding our world | Scoop.it

Scientists say there was a widespread extinction of bees 66 million years ago, at the same time as the event that killed off the dinosaurs.

The demise of the dinosaurs was almost certainly the result of an asteroid or comet hitting Earth. But the extinction event was selective, affecting some groups more than others. Writing in Plos One journal, the team used fossils and DNA analysis to show that one bee group suffered a serious decline at the time of this collision.

ComplexInsight's insight:

Any study explaining why a species went extinct 65 million years ago will at first glance seem disconnected from current events. However bees are critical to  agriculture and ensuring biodiversity. Understanding extinction events that impacted different species of Bees in the past  help us better understand what could happen in the future as Bee's are currently being severely impacted by diesel pollution, modern farming practises (especially insecticides), changing ecosystems and new pests.

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Bees Can't Find Flowers Thanks to Diesel Exhaust

Bees Can't Find Flowers Thanks to Diesel Exhaust | Complex Insight  - Understanding our world | Scoop.it
Diesel exhaust is pretty nasty stuff. Pass an overloaded 18-wheeler clouding up the highway, and that acrid plume of hydrocarbons will overpower even your best little tree air freshener.
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New findings show that diesel exhaust impedes bees. Article on Gizmodo.

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EU to ban fipronil to protect honeybees

EU to ban fipronil to protect honeybees | Complex Insight  - Understanding our world | Scoop.it
Farmers will not be allowed to spray widely used insecticide blamed for declining bee population A widely used insect nerve agent will be banned from use on corn and sunflowers in Europe from the end of 2013 as part of an effort to protect bees,...
ComplexInsight's insight:

If you have been following any agricultural news in recent years - you may have seen titles such as Honey Bees's Disapearing or Bee Population Collapse. After several researchers linked the declining Bee population to fipronil insecticide useage- the EU has finally implemented a ban. Hopefully similar actions will follow elsewhere worldwide and Bee populations can begin to recover.  Bees are an essential natural component to most agricultural systems and fipronil usuage and its impact and endangering of ecosystem it was supposed to help preserve needs to become a lesson we take to heart.

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How Do You Feed 9 Billion People?

How Do You Feed 9 Billion People? | Complex Insight  - Understanding our world | Scoop.it
EAST LANSING, Mich. — An international team of scientists has developed crop models to better forecast food production to feed a growing population – projected to reach 9 billion by mid-century – in the face of climate change.
ComplexInsight's insight:

 A recurrent and central theme for us at Complex Insight is how important simulations are to tackling major real world challenges.  In a paper appearing in Nature Climate Change, Bruno Basso, Michigan State University ecosystem scientist and other members of the Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project unveiled an all-encompassing modeling system that integrates multiple crop simulations with improved climate change models.The new simulation model better predicts global wheat yields while reducing political and socio-economic influences that can skew data and planning efforts..In engineering simulation there has long been a trend to model based design - hopefully other areas of public policy can leverage work such as this to follow in a similar direction. 

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Using Fertilizer Wisely Could Help Feed 9 Billion People: Scientific American

Using Fertilizer Wisely Could Help Feed 9 Billion People: Scientific American | Complex Insight  - Understanding our world | Scoop.it
Farmers in the U.S.and China should use less fertilizer, freeing it up for application where such nutrients can do the most good...

Via LilyGiraud
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Researchers develop a longer, stronger cotton fiber - Texas A&M Univ (2014)

Researchers develop a longer, stronger cotton fiber - Texas A&M Univ (2014) | Complex Insight  - Understanding our world | Scoop.it

An international collaboration... has figured out how to make a longer cotton fiber... could potentially have a multi-billion-dollar impact on the global cotton industry and help cotton farmers fend off increasing competition from synthetic fibers... 

 

"This technology allows improvement of fiber quality in upland cotton, which is widely grown everywhere," said Alan Pepper, an associate professor in the Texas A&M Department of Biology... "This will increase the competitiveness of natural cotton fibers versus synthetic fibers, which have been snagging an increasing amount of the market share every year."

 

The overwhelming majority of cotton harvested in the U.S. and worldwide is upland cotton, or Gossypium hirsutum, with more than 6.5 million acres planted in 2012 in Texas alone... A higher-end cotton called Gossypium barbadense is more desirable because of greater fiber length and strength but is late-maturing, low-yielding and more difficult to grow because it requires dry climates with significant irrigation and is less resistant to pathogens and pests.

 

"For a long time cotton breeders have been trying to develop upland cotton with the fiber qualities ofbarbadense cotton... Globally, everybody's trying to do it. Economically, it's a huge deal, because every millimeter you add to fiber length adds that much to the price of cotton when the farmer sells it." The researchers' method increased the length of the fiber by at least 5 millimeters, or 17 percent, compared to the control plants in their experiment... 

 

The cotton plants developed in the project technically are genetically modified organisms (GMOs)... "What we're doing is a little different," Pepper said. "We're not actually adding in a gene from another species. Rather, we're knocking down the effect of one of the genes that's already in the plant... This was pure basic science, seeking to understand the biological function of a gene... And sure enough, the phytochrome 'knock-down' plants had all these phenotypic changes associated with it [phytochrome], and one of them was longer fiber."

 

The discovery was especially important to Ibrokhim Abdurakhmonov, the lead author of the study who received his master's degree in plant breeding from Texas A&M in 2001 and is now a professor in his native Uzbekistan. The landlocked agricultural nation that borders Afghanistan historically has relied heavily on cotton... Uzbekistan currently accounts for around 10 percent of world cotton fiber exports.

 

"Sustainability and biosecurity of cotton production is pivotal for the Uzbekistan economy because agriculture accounts for 24-to-28 percent of the country's gross domestic product... The increased value of longer and stronger lint, at 10 cents per pound, would be at least $100 per acre more income from the lint for each new cultivar using this technology. New markets for longer, finer, stronger and more uniform cotton lint fiber, as well as early maturity and increased yield potential could further increase estimated economic value. Our anticipation of possible improvement of resistance to abiotic stresses via phytochrome RNA interference further adds to its commercial potential." ... 

 

Press release:  http://www.science.tamu.edu/articles/1157/

Original article:  http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ncomms4062

 


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How Fisheries Affect Evolution

The extensive exploitation of marine resources by modern fisheries (...) has wide-ranging effects on marine ecosystems. Across the world's oceans, size-selective harvesting by commercial fisheries has been a key driving force behind changes in phenotypic traits such as body size and age at maturation (1–3). These changes have altered the trophic structure of the affected ecosystems, disturbed predatorprey relationships, and modified trophic cascade dynamics (3, 4). Phenotypic changes can involve both ecological and evolutionary reactions to the effect of fishing, and there has been much debate about the relative roles of these reactions. This is important because genetic changes could result in long-term reductions in catches. Recent work has provided evidence for fisheries-induced evolutionary changes, with important implications for the sustainability of fisheries.

 

How Fisheries Affect Evolution
Andrea Belgrano, Charles W. Fowler

Science 6 December 2013:
Vol. 342 no. 6163 pp. 1176-1177
http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1245490


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Biotech, farmer associations key for climate adaptation - panel - Reuters AlertNet (blog)

Biotech, farmer associations key for climate adaptation - panel - Reuters AlertNet (blog) | Complex Insight  - Understanding our world | Scoop.it
Biotech, farmer associations key for climate adaptation - panel Reuters AlertNet (blog) LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An increasingly extreme climate is presenting new challenges to farmers across the world, and biotechnology and greater...
ComplexInsight's insight:

The potential for genetically modified crops and relation to climate change - which recently helped drive Monsanto to acquire The Climate Corporation  is once again in the headlines. At the recent Iowa discussion, five farmers from Malawi, India, Portugal, Argentina and Kenya said they were strong believers in using biotech crops to survive and thrive in the face of a changing climate, and said that farmers needed to share ideas and help each other improve farming techniques.  Trust.org does a great job in summarizing the ideas discussed at the event. Worth reading.

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'Parasite threat' from imported bees

'Parasite threat' from imported bees | Complex Insight  - Understanding our world | Scoop.it
Nearly 80% of bumblebees imported from Europe carry pathogens that pose a threat to UK native honeybees and bumblebees, say scientists.
ComplexInsight's insight:

As the EU move to ban fipronil additional findings indicate  more challenges for UK bumblebee. As local populations of bumblebees fell - more bees were imported from Europe. The European imported bees have now been found to carry parasites which pose a threat to the remaining UK native honeybees. With a million colonies of bees imported globally the findings indicate potential problems for many native bee species in other countries. The research highlights problems not only with current import controls and how obvious economic remedies can often further complicate the situation further.

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Impact of increased demand for animal protein products in Asian countries: Implications on global food security - Cao & Li (2013) - Animal Frontier

In Asia, the consumption of animal products has been steadily increasing, thus creating a greater demand for feed crops. As the quality of life progresses, demand for animal protein also increases.

A rapid increase in the demand for animal products, together with the changes in international trade, has led to a great expansion of food industry in China. Livestock production has been growing faster than any other agricultural sub-sector in China in recent decades, mainly due to the substantial growth of pig and poultry industries.

China hosts 20% of the world’s population but occupies only 7% of the land area, and an even smaller percentage, a minimal area of 1.2 million km2, can be used as farmland for agriculture. China is researching the development of a variety of transgenic crops aimed at producing a greater yield of plant feedstuffs such as corn, soybean, rice, and wheat... 

 

In the next 5 to 10 years, even greater challenges will be encountered in meeting an ever increasing demand for animal protein products in developing countries. Therefore, there is an urgent need for new technological innovations in livestock production to ensure global food security and the stability of global economy... 


Via Alexander J. Stein
ComplexInsight's insight:

Good insight into the future complexity of food demand and geospatial constraints and driving factors that in increasing demand for animal protien products in developing countries and its relationship to global food security.

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Scientists discover genetic key to efficient crops - Cornell (2013)

Scientists discover genetic key to efficient crops - Cornell (2013) | Complex Insight  - Understanding our world | Scoop.it

With projections of 9.5 billion people by 2050, humankind faces the challenge of feeding modern diets to additional mouths while using the same amounts of water, fertilizer and arable land as today. Cornell researchers have taken a leap toward meeting those needs by discovering a gene that could lead to new varieties of staple crops with 50 percent higher yields. 

 

The gene, called Scarecrow, is the first discovered to control a special leaf structure, known as Kranz anatomy, which leads to more efficient photosynthesis. Plants photosynthesize using one of two methods: C3, a less efficient, ancient method found in most plants, including wheat and rice; and C4, a more efficient adaptation employed by grasses, maize, sorghum and sugarcane that is better suited to drought, intense sunlight, heat and low nitrogen... If C4 photosynthesis is successfully transferred to C3 plants through genetic engineering, farmers could grow wheat and rice in hotter, dryer environments with less fertilizer, while possibly increasing yields by half... 

 

Underlying study: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/pcp/pcs147 ;


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