Many studies suggest that women scientists aspiring to careers in academe face roadblocks, including bias -- implicit or overt -- in hiring. But a new study is throwing a curveball into the literature, suggesting that women candidates are favored 2 to 1 over men for tenure-track positions in the science, technology, engineering and math fields. Could it be that STEM gender diversity and bias awareness efforts are working, or even creating a preference for female candidates -- or is something more nuanced going on? Experts say it’s probably both....
FOR the past year or so genetic scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York have been collaborating with a specialist from another universe: Daniel Kohn, a Brooklyn-based painter and conceptual artist.
A plant scientist from The Australian National University (ANU) has called for the United Nations to guarantee free and open access to plant DNA sequences to enable scientists to continue work to sustainably intensify world food production. Dr Norman Warthmann, a plant geneticist at the ANU Research School of Biology, has lodged a submission with the UN, which is currently considering issues to include in its 2015 Global Sustainable Development Report.
GMOs may be able to save chocolate. The bigger question is whether we want them to. Chocolate... is in trouble. The average American eats about 12 pounds of chocolate a year... But all that indulgence may be coming to an end. A chocolate shortage, to the tune of one million metric tons, is predicted to hit within the next five years, the result of climate change, disease, and the demands of rapidly growing populations of chocolate lovers in China and India.
The Nature Conservation Research Center based in Ghana – the world’s second-largest producer of chocolate after the Ivory Coast – predicts glumly that within the next 20 years, chocolate will be as rare and as expensive as caviar.
Chocolate comes from the seeds of the cacao tree, borne in football-sized pods that sprout directly out of the trunk. Dubbed... “food of the gods,” cacao is just what one might expect from an ancient, double-dealing deity: a delicious and addictive treat paired with a plant that is tricky, if not downright impossible, to grow. Cacao, believed to have originated in the steamy Amazon rainforest, is reluctant to adapt to conditions other than those of home: it now only grows in a belt 20 degrees north or south of the Equator...
Along with its geographical limitations, cacao is stunningly susceptible to disease – notably to witches’ broom, a fungus that wiped out the cacao trees of Ecuador in the 1920s, and devastated the chocolate plantations of Brazil... in a ten-year period... Worldwide today, cacao farmers lose an annual $750 million to disease.
Cacao trees are also painfully slow growers. It can take up to five years for a tree to produce fruit, and as long as ten before it becomes clear that the tree has desirable traits such as disease resistance or ultra-flavorful seeds... The conventional breeding process, given cacao’s tortoise-like growth rate, won’t be easy.
Conventional cacao breeding is also unpredictable. Take, for example, CCN-51... this is the cacao variety now generally acknowledged to be the world’s best bet to stave off chocolate disaster... is sturdy, disease-resistant, and prolific, producing four to ten times the yield of run-of-the-mill cacao trees. The bad news, however, is that its seeds taste lousy... Critics compare it to rusty nails, vinegar, wood shavings, and “acidic dirt.”
Despite the drawbacks, however, some large chocolate manufacturers have come around to CNN-51. About 95 percent of chocolate is made from “bulk beans,” generally inferior stuff which is heavily processed and beefed up with sugar and added flavors, such as vanilla. For such purposes, CNN-51 is just fine; and the belief is that most consumers won’t notice a difference.
For artisanal chocolate makers, however, who depend on delectable flavor beans for their high-end products, it’s a different story. “Artisan chocolate... is like a good bottle of wine,” carefully blended by master chocolatiers to contain just the right bouquet of flavor notes... These people aren’t likely to adopt a bean, no matter how prolific, that smacks of acidic dirt.
It may be time to turn to genetic engineering. The genome of the cacao plant has been sequenced as of 2011... From among chocolate’s approximately 30,000 genes (that is, about 10,000 more than us), scientists have identified gene sequences that govern disease resistance and direct the production of helpful metabolites and flavor components...
Some researchers point out that creating an ideal GMO chocolate isn’t going to be easy. Chocolate is a mind-bogglingly complex food, containing some 600 different flavor components. (Even red wine boasts a mere 200.) Cobbling together the right mix of flavors – along with disease-resistance, a rapid growth rate, and high productivity – may prove to be an heroic task. Still, given increasing world demand and the cacao tree’s environmentally dicey future, it may be our best chance to save chocolate as we all know and love it.
Land use management is a central challenge for the 21st century with unprecedented and competing demands to produce food, feed/fodder, fibre, fuel, and essential ecosystem services which sustain life. Global change requires rapid adaptation in current and emerging crops as well as in the foundation species of natural ecosystems.
Revolutions in genomics and high throughput experimentation are transforming breeding so that adaptive traits in new environments can be predicted and selected more directly from germplasm collections of crops and wild species. This genomic breeding is now feasible in almost any species and has promise to help meet the need to feed and nourish over 9 billion people by 2050.
Genomic techniques can accelerate our response to food security challenges of yield, quality and resilience and also address environmental security challenges. To achieve its potential there will need to be widespread and ongoing investments in the human capital to promote genomic breeding...
Advanced plant science and genomics have revolutionised breeding and crop improvement, and will continue to do so. Innovation in collecting genotypes, phenotypes, and intermediate characteristics, is allowing new crop varieties to be selected faster and more accurately than ever before.
With genomic techniques researchers can help address food security challenges of yield, quality, resilience, and other environmental and social needs. Investing in the human capital to perform genomic breeding is needed to improve food security, environments and livelihoods.
In the lead up to climate meetings in Paris at the end of the year, countries will release draft targets - the framework of a possible global climate deal. Follow our interactive map as we track these targets.
Globally, humanity has reached “peak food,” according to a recent study by Ecology and Society. Peak rice was back in 1988, causing some worry about the long-term food security of this global staple crop. Peak chicken was in 2006. Peak milk and wheat were in 2004.
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