This week a UK government-commissioned study into food security has called for urgent action to avert global hunger. The Foresight Report on Food and Farming Futures says the current system is not working. It is the end result of a two-year study, involving 400 experts from 35 countries. It shows that governments need to act now. Scientists are working on low and high tech solutions.
One issue affecting farmers in Africa is transport – getting out to the fields and getting crops to market. Bicycles are routinely used – but imports from China can be unreliable and heavy. One solution that a company in Ghana is trailing is to use locally grown bamboo for the bike frames. It is strong, light, local and easy to repair.
Growing crops to make bio-fuel is controversial – they can take up valuable land and resources that could be used for food production and in the case of oil palms, large tracts of rainforest have been cleared to make way for this cash crop. But the second generation of bio-fuels hope to make use of more sustainable plant material – tough grasses, stubble and plants that grown on marginal land. But the difficulty is splitting the energy rich sugars from the tough woody material. But it is something that bacteria in cow's foregut or rumen, have been doing for millions of years. Now geneticists are trawling through the DNA of these microbes to find the ones that do it best.
Oil dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico
One of the methods used to try to reduce the potential environmental damage of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year was to spray chemical called dispersants on to the oil floating on the surface. It acts like a detergent, breaking down the oil and stopping it from forming slicks. Dispersants can be toxic themselves until they have broken down and dissipated. So it was not without some controversy when the same chemicals were pumped directly onto the oil spewing out of the broken well deep underwater. It had never been done deep underwater before and now scientists are looking to see whether these dispersants might still be persisting down there.
Art and living science
A range of work from artists using the tools and methods of biomedical science, explores the manipulation of life and its processes in ways that are disturbing, curious and illuminating. Human leather, neural engineering, semi-living dolls, nano-scale film projected onto the human eye provide thought-provoking experiences at Visceral – The Living Art Experiment exhibition in Dublin.
Ocean temperatures and mass extinction
Fossil evidence has shown that around 450 million years ago there was a mass extinction event, where thousands of species of marine creatures were wiped out. We know that the Ordovician mass extinction was caused by a very cold climate, an Ice Age. But untangling whether it was habitat loss caused by changes in sea level or the cold temperature itself that caused the creatures to die has proved difficult. But geobiologists have been looking at the ratio between heavy and light isotopes of oxygen to try and figure it out.