Saturday, January 22, 2011

Weekend Short Stories

Some pretty cool links for your weekend:

Jurassic Park beer:

Fossil Fuels Brewing Co. makes beer with an Eocene-era yeast, formerly encased in a 45 million year old chunk of amber! Incredible, but apparently true. Viable Bacillus spores were discovered first in 25-40 million year old amber by Raul Cano (these spores are so tough you can't kill them with an autoclave). He then founded a startup (Ambergene) with the hopes of discovering ancient antibiotics (this was back during the natural products craze - when pharma companies sent explorers to coral reefs, rainforests and geothermal hot pools to find new biologically-active chemicals. Now, most just do combinatorial synthetic chemistry). The company failed, but when you can't make money, make beer!    h/t: AncientFoods

Living off the land:

The Resilient Gardener teaches us how to be subsistence farmers in a temperate climate: corn, potatoes, beans, squash and eggs.   h/t: Living the Frugal Life

A reason to like kale:

Organisms can optimize their fitness by reproducing early when times are good and holding back and focusing on survival when times are bad (if your population is about to experience an involuntary bottleneck, offspring born afterwards will contribute proportionally more genes to the population). This Week in Evolution discusses the reproductive advantages that an organism would accrue if it could delay reproduction specifically in times of environmental stress.* In PLoS one, Will Ratcliff cites examples of creatures from yeast to rats showing increased longevity (and delayed reproduction) when exposed to minor environmental stresses (calorie restriction, temperature stresses, low dose toxins).** They hypothesize that the consumption of "famine foods" (e.g. low calorie and nutrition and moderate toxicity) would be an effective cue for an organism to switch to survival mode.
"Plants high in insect-repelling toxins might be an example of such "famine foods", even if some modern humans have developed a taste for kale, coffee, or hot peppers. These plant toxins might have small negative effects on our health. But, if our bodies respond to the information carried by those toxins -- famine! population decline likely! delay reproduction! -- then those negative effects may be outweighed by the health benefits of setting our hormone levels etc. to values optimized for longevity rather than reproduction."

and Maps!

The U.S. by last names, but why no Italians?***
An incredible morphing cartogram displays everything
The world according to Americans
Intriguing, yet almost impenetrable

* Not to be confused with my long-favorite, TWIS.
** Whom I played in a band with out of the very-Davis J St Coop
*** I assume this map is more biased by the redundancy by which different cultures reuse the same names than the spatial scale at which the immigrant populations currently dominate. 

Ratcliff, W., Hawthorne, P., Travisano, M., & Denison, R. (2009). When Stress Predicts a Shrinking Gene Pool, Trading Early Reproduction for Longevity Can Increase Fitness, Even with Lower Fecundity PLoS ONE, 4 (6) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0006055
Cano, R., & Borucki, M. (1995). Revival and identification of bacterial spores in 25- to 40-million-year-old Dominican amber Science, 268 (5213), 1060-1064 DOI: 10.1126/science.7538699

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Investing in Innovation

James (of the giant corn) recently posted on George Will's column on why we should be maintaining (or increasing) basic science research funding despite the economic downturn.*

Some people have the annoying habit of repeatedly dismissing the economic and public benefit of federal research funding. As an industry scientist, I thought I'd give my two cents.

Monday, January 3, 2011

US [transgene?] Testing Network

"With over 80% of the corn grown in the US genetically modified, and biotechnology companies phasing out non-GMO corn seed varieties, American farmers have fewer choices for finding non-GMO seeds to grow. 
As a result of this narrowing of farmer choice, a new initiative was launched in 2009 by Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) to address the problem. The US Testing Network (USTN) aims to develop and introduce new non-GMO corn hybrids in the market, while improving the quality and quantity of non-GMO corn hybrids available."
I haven't heard of any of these organizations before (and would be interested if you know something about them), but it sounds like an interesting project. I couldn't care less about avoiding transgenes, but I love the idea of small companies, public sector scientists and enthusiastic individuals working together to improve germplasm for niche markets too small for the big seed companies to serve. 

Do you have any experience with these organizations?

h/t: Seed Today


Related Posts with Thumbnails