Sunday, February 27, 2011

Transgenic Papayas, Take 2

I must have been busy last year when Genomic Gastronomy tried to engage my post on transgenic papaya because I didn't really give much of an answer...


So with apologies, here's more!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Farmboys, Allergies and Microbial Diversity

It's apparently been noticed for some time that children who grow up on farms are less likely to have asthma than other rural (and urban) dwellers.
This ties into the "hygiene hypothesis," the idea that a lack of exposure to microbes and parasitic worms somehow primes the body for auto-immune disorders like asthma and allergies. A new study suggests that this may be due to the diversity (or composition) of microbial communities that farmboys (and girls) are exposed to, rather than the quantity. (Unfortunately, I don't have access to the original NEJM article.)

As a former environmental microbiologist, I love the idea that culturing robust and complex microbial communities on our bodies is somehow optimal for our health - though I think the jury's still out as to what extent this is actually true. Ever since grad school, I've been waiting to hear someone take the next logical leap and claim that toothbrushes destroy our co-evolved dental flora, leading to cavities.*

I'll be interested to see if anyone tries to take this idea that far...

h/t: as described by The Great Beyond


*I've long been baffled by the rate that many of us rack up cavities despite intensive dental care. Our ancestors must have been toothless by 40.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Taro: Past and Future

I just discovered the local international supermarket (which is awesome by the way). It's filled with exotic fruits and vegetables, assorted sea creatures in boxes of ice and freezers full of animal pieces usually reserved for industrial uses.

I didn't find any dragonfruit (which I've been wanting to try), but they had cherimoyas, jackfruit, different cacti pieces, sugarcane, cassava, weird bananas, all kinds of odd leafy vegetables and squash-like things that were a couple feet across! Faced with a produce section full of things I barely recognized, I thought I should do some homework...

Saturday, February 19, 2011

GM Vegetable Oil

Hooray for Seed Today helping me to clear another story out of my "drafts" folder!

How GM Overcame Soy's Fatal Flaw

It's an exciting time in genetic engineering! I've long been bored by the simplicity of our contemporary transgenic crops and the single-minded focus on agronomic traits. Dropping in an herbicide or pest resistance gene is good for the environment and the farmer, but it doesn't visibly benefit the consumer very much and just doesn't impress me technically. Now, Monsanto and Pioneer's new soybean varieties are heralding a new era of more sophisticated metabolic engineering of traits that will directly benefit the public.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

New to Agriculture?

The Cornell Hort Blog just linked to the new Northeast Beginner Farmers Project website: 
"Do you wonder how other farmers breed pigs, process chickens and transplant seedlings? The new site features a growing selection of videos capturing experienced farmers and their successful production techniques in action. You’ll also find our popular library of video interviews with farmers sharing advice on profitability, choosing an enterprise, evaluating land, and much more."
Looks interesting! I'll definitely check it out more when I have extra time.

In the meantime, back to trying to find a CSA and community garden plots in the MD DC area... Any suggestions?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Data Visualization a Gateway to Statistics?

Yes! Personally, I'm a big fan of data visualization as a way of mining complex information. Pictures of data tend to contain more information than text summaries and also make associations much easier to recognize. Humans may be much less unbiased and logical than we like to think, but we're awesome pattern-detecting machines (whether there's something there or not).

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Is Science Getting Harder (or just more social)?

A recent blog post over at the WSG asks if it's getting harder to discover new things:
"If you look back on history, you get the sense that scientific discovery used to be easy. Galileo rolled objects down slopes. Robert Hooke played with a spring to learn about elasticity; Isaac Newton poked around his own eye with a darning needle to understand color perception. It took creativity and knowledge to ask the right questions, but the experiments themselves could be almost trivial. Today, if you want to make a discovery in physics, it helps to be part of a 10,000 member team that runs a multibillion dollar atom smasher. It takes ever more money, more effort, and more people to find out new things."

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