Posts

Deborah Terell Natures Circle

An Award-Winning Vision of Environmental Innovation and Pollinator Preservation | Deborah Terrell

Nestled amidst the picturesque prairies of Aurora, Texas, lies a hidden gem of agricultural innovation and environmental stewardship – Nature’s Circle Farm, where farmer Deborah Terell tends to a cornucopia of nature’s bounty. Here, Deborah has woven a tapestry of sustainable agriculture that celebrates the Earth’s gifts and honors its fragile balance.

spray

Scientists Name Fungus-Killing Compound After Keanu Reeves

Researchers from Germany’s Leibniz Institute have found a naturally occurring compound so effective at busting human and plant pathogenic fungi that they named it after actor Keanu Reeves.

The three nonribosomal lipopeptides scientists isolated—Keanumycins A, B, and C—are byproducts of Pseudomonas bacteria typically found in soil and water. Scientists observed the compounds while studying Pseudomonas for their effectiveness against predatory amoebas.

“We have been working with pseudomonads for some time and know that many of these bacterial species are very toxic to amoebae, which feed on bacteria,” said study leader and head of the department of Paleobiotechnology at Leibniz-HKI Pierre Stallforth.

The researchers wanted to know if the same bacteria would be effective against fungi, which have a cell structure similar to amoebas. Testing showed that the bacteria’s byproducts were lethal to a fungus infecting a hydrangea.

The scientists’ findings were published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society in January. The study’s first author, Sebastian Götze, said in a press release that they named the lipopeptides after Keanu Reeves because of his iconic roles in action films.

“The lipopeptides kill so efficiently that we named them after Keanu Reeves because he, too, is extremely deadly in his roles.”

Embed from Getty Images

Notably, the Keanumycins were effective against Botrytis cinerea—the fungus responsible for gray mold rot that destroys various crops, such as strawberries and wine grapes, and causes significant harvest losses. Farmers frequently use chemical fungicides to combat its aggressive spread.

Having seen the potential of the Keanumycins, the study’s authors are conducting experiments to determine whether or not a fungicide containing Keanumycins can effectively eradicate crop-damaging fungi without leaving any harmful residues behind in soil or on produce.

If the results are promising, the compounds could provide a biodegradable alternative to chemical pesticides.

Götze said that the compounds may also help treat human fungal infections that are becoming resistant to conventional antifungals. For instance, Keanumycins are non-toxic to humans and were found to “strongly inhibit” the pathogenic fungus Candida albicans, which is responsible for yeast infections.

“We have a crisis in anti-infectives. Many human-pathogenic fungi are now resistant to antimycotics — partly because they are used in large quantities in agricultural fields.”

Dr. Matt Nelsen, a researcher from Chicago’s Field Museum, told CNN in an email that the study “documents another exciting means by which microbes have evolved to compete with and fight other organisms.”

“Previous efforts have sought to exploit such natural products for human use to combat animal and plant pathogens. However, over time, many pathogenic organisms — including fungi — have evolved resistance to the chemicals we use to battle them. Consequently, we need to find a new way to ‘outsmart’ or ‘one-up’ them.”

Embed from Getty Images

This is not the first time a scientific discovery has been named after a famous face. In February, researchers Juan C. Sánchez-Nivicela, José M. Falcón-Reibán and Diego F. Cisneros-Heredia discovered a mystical steam frog in Ecuador and named it after fantasy author J.R.R. Tolkien.

The frog, Hyloscirtus tolkieni, was found in a habitat that reminded Sánchez-Nivicela of the Fangorn Forest from Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” series.

The paper on their findings started with an homage to the opening lines of Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.”

“In a stream in the forest, there lived a Hyloscirtus. Not a nasty, dirty stream, with spoor of contamination and a muddy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy stream with nothing in it to perch on or to eat: it was a Hyloscirtus-stream, and that means environmental quality.”

There are also several beetles named after celebrities, including the Agaporomorphus colberti named after late-night talk show host Stephen Colbert, Agra catbellae named after actress Catherine Bell, Agra katewinsletae named after actress Kate Winslet, and Agra liv, named after actress Liv Tyler. 

Sir David Attenborough, famous broadcaster, biologist and natural historian, has over 40 species named after him, including a prehistoric marine reptile and a native British flower.

On Saturday, Keanu Reeves participated in a reddit AMA (ask me anything) where he was asked about his thoughts on having the killer compounds named after him.

“Hi, thank you…they should’ve called it John Wick…but that’s pretty cool…and surreal for me. But thanks, scientist people! Good luck, and thank you for helping us.”

Major Hollywood Union Votes To Ratify Contracts For Better Streaming Payments

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), a major Hollywood union, have ratified their new film and TV contracts this week after six months of contentious negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). LA locals rejected the deal in a popular vote. 

“From start to finish, from preparation to ratification, this has been a democratic process to win the very best contracts,” said IATSE International President Matthew Loeb in a statement today. 

Embed from Getty Images

“The vigorous debate, high turnout, and close election, indicates we have an unprecedented movement-building opportunity to educate members on our collective bargaining process and drive more participation in our union long-term.”

AMPTP released a statement as well, stating: “We congratulate IATSE President, Matt Loeb, the IATSE Bargaining Committee and Board for their leadership in achieving ratification of the new contracts. Throughout the negotiations, IATSE leadership advocated changes to improve quality of life for those they represent. These agreements meaningfully reflect the industry’s endorsement of those priorities and keep everyone working.”

The union uses an electoral college system for ratification votes such as this one. During this particular vote, 359 (56%) voted in favor compared to 282 (44%) who voted against it out of 641 total delegate votes; the votes were taken from 36 local unions nationwide that were eligible.

Embed from Getty Images

The Basic Agreement was rejected in the popular vote with 49.6% voting yes to 50.4% voting no. Overall 50.3% voted yes to 49.7% voting no for both contracts. In the end, “72% of the 63,209 eligible members cast digital ballots this weekend,” according to IATSE.

According to media reports, “there were actually two separate contracts that were ratified: the Basic Agreement, which covers 13 Hollywood locals, and the Area Standards Agreement, which covers 23 locals outside of Los Angeles.”

“For the LA centric Basic Agreement, the vote was 256 voting for the deal that IATSE made with the AMPTP last month, yes to 188 no. In regards to the non-LA based Area Standards Agreement the yes vote was 103 to 94 no votes for the more recent deal,” according to Deadline. 

“Our goal was to achieve fair contracts that work for IATSE members in television and film—that address quality-of-life issues and conditions on the job like rest and meal breaks. We met our objectives for this round of bargaining and built a strong foundation for future agreements,” Loeb stated. 

Cabbage Plantations

Lessons That Could Be Learned From The Netherlands Take On Agriculture

As one of the world’s biggest exporters of agricultural products, the Netherlands has a major role to play on a global scale.

The Netherlands has a land area that is 237 times smaller than the leading exporter – the United States – and yet was able to export nearly $100 billion in agricultural goods in 2017, not including the $10 billion they exported in agriculture-related products.

So what is the secret to their success? A quick look at the way they use architectural innovation to reshape the way the agricultural landscape could appear may hold the answer.

To be able to fully appreciate the way the Netherlands feed the world using architecture you should take to the skies. Looking down on the country you notice the large amount of greenhouses that dominate the landscape of South Holland. Covering around 36 square miles there are enough greenhouses to cover the island of Manhattan – and half again!

Nicknamed the “greenhouse capital of the Netherlands” by National Geographic, the West land region has greenhouses seemingly filling any gaps that have been discovered in areas including industrial plants, cities and suburbs.

Over 50% of the country is dedicated to horticulture and agriculture with “banks of what appear to be gargantuan mirrors stretch[ed] across the countryside, glinting when the sun shines and glowing with eerie interior light when night falls.”

Embed from Getty Images

Farmers are now using geothermal energy and hydroponic systems to generate increasing yields of crop and are achieving amazing results with very little resources. Across the country greenhouses are using around 1.1 gallons of water per pound of tomatoes produced, which is in stark contrast to the global average of 25.6 gallons; with some farmers able to produce more than 100 million tomatoes annually over 14 hectares of land.

This is all possible thanks to a strictly controlled indoor environment. Temperature and humidity levels are kept reliable and precise and are combined with a low risk of contamination. Another aspect of the greenhouses’ abilities to produce bumper crops is the architectural forethought.

Roofs are double glazed to allow heat to be retained; the frames are made from light modular steel, allowing for adaption and fast expansion – all while keeping the natural light. When the sun sets and all the natural light disappears, LED lights provide the resources for plants to continue to grow throughout the night.

The Dutch have a legislative measure, however, that 98% of any electric lighting from a greenhouse must be contained, so many greenhouses use blackout blinds and curtains, ensuring minimum light pollution.

So how did the Dutch countryside become full of greenhouses? Back in the early 2000’s a national commitment was made for a new type of sustainable agriculture, eliminating the use of chemical pesticides in greenhouses. The use of antibiotics has also been reduced with a drop of 60% in the last ten years.

Embed from Getty Images

Viewed as one of the world’s leading agricultural researchers, Wageningen University and Research (WUR) is one of the drivers behind this innovation.

As we learn more about how we need to feed the world’s growing urban populations, new techniques such as those in the Netherlands continue to adjust to the situations. More and more farmers are tending to move away from the “natural” and traditional ways of farming, opting towards a more controlled, industrial and artificial approach.

As the urban population grows there are more demands placed on the countryside, meaning the architectural transformation will continue to grow.

There are currently 7.8 billion people in the world and it is estimated that by 2050 there will be an increase of an extra 2.2 billion. With so many people relying on the agriculture market to survive there will be a requirement for higher agricultural yields. And while this is achievable, it needs to be done using less energy, less water and most importantly, less land.

It is clear that there will be a change in the relationship between the countryside and cities, between urbanism and food, and the Netherlands are offering a way in which architectural technology can help these relationships to progress.

While technology continues to change the way processes work, including the construction, transformation and implementation of many procedures, it is believed many architects may be required to create newer, smarter ways to create integrated structures enabling agriculture to move forward.

Rem Koolhaas, founder of OMA has been considering this for sometime, noting “husbandry of the land is now a digital practice. For example, the tractor, which revolutionized the farm in the 19th century, has become a computerized work station. It is a series of devices and sensors that create a seamless, yet detached digital interface between the driver and the earth. The countryside in terms of how we work is becoming similar to the city. The farmer is like us – a flex worker, operating on a laptop from any possible location. […] This is not to say that it is all bad. It is only ironic that such drastic transformations are barely on the radar in our education and thinking.”

Baobab Trees

One Third Of All Tropical Plant Life In Africa Is Now Under The Threat Of Extinction

According to a new study, a third of tropical plant species in Africa are currently under the threat of extinction due to climate change occurrences. With so much focus on the many animal species that are under the same threat, plant endangerment is often overlooked. However, these plants especially are essential for up-keeping a multitude of the planet’s ecosystems, as they are a constant source of oxygen and food. Plants are also the base for a lot of medicines and materials used in our everyday lives that we often take for granted. 

The Guardian reports that studies show 86% of mammals are on the Red List of critical endangerment by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Comparatively, only 8% of all of Earth’s plant species are on the same list, however, when it comes to ecosystem maintenance, that percentage is already to high. Logging, mining, and extensively unnecessary agricultural industrialization is leading the cause. 

Embed from Getty Images

The IUCN states that since the Industrial Revolution took over the planet, almost 600 species of plants have been wiped out completely, and that number is growing more rapidly everyday. Plants are often overlooked and not discussed when it comes to the climate action debate, generally, deforestation is the main issue at hand. While deforestation is one of the leading causes of the deterioration of our planet, plant endangerment poses and equal threat, it just doesn’t seem like it would. 

In order for any sort of species to end up on the IUCN’s Red List, two main things need to be analyzed. They focus on population reduction, and habitat reduction for where the species is located/indigenous to. The IUCN has used those two factors to create an online computer algorithm to calculate and classify conservation status’ of certain species. This algorithm is what lead teams of conservationists to their conclusions about the massive amount of species endangered in Africa currently.  Using this algorithm, researchers inputted over 20,000 plant species indigenous to Africa, and found that almost 7,000 of those species are under the threat of complete extinction.

Embed from Getty Images

“These species are falling into categories ranging from vulnerable to critically endangered. That means almost a third of the plant species examined might be threatened by extinction, a proportion expected to hold even if all tropical African species are considered. There is an extra 38% of species which we assess are geographically restricted, so they are rare, but for which no obvious threats for the moment are identified. If the human pressure increases, which is very likely in most parts of tropical Africa, they will be likely threatened in the very near future,” The Guardian reports. 

Basically, there’s still a whole slew of plant species that aren’t accounted for when using this algorithm due to the fact that they’re so rare that they’re inaccessible to include in the data. However, it can easily be assumed that these species are under the same threatening level, especially since they’re already considered to be “rare” which is just a fancier word for endangered. 

The data is suggesting that these species are in critical endangerment and the IUCN is collecting new data everyday in an attempt to determine which species are under the biggest threat and what regions need the highest level of conservation efforts. However, even when that data becomes conclusive, it’s important to note that real systematic climate action is the one true solution to reverse the extensive damage that has already been done.