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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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.”

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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.

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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.”

Yellow Baby Chicks

France Announces Ban On Mass Slaughtering Of Male Chicks

The global farming industry has always been rooted in controversy over the rights of the innocent animals who are forced into harsh, unlivable conditions from birth. It’s never so much about the inevitable death of the animal, but more so the unfathomable torture they endure before it. While rare, there are plenty of organic local farms throughout the world who raise their animals to be killed for food, but ensure that they have a normal farm animal life before the fact. 

In Europe, animal rights are often a hot topic of discussion, as different areas of the continent have stricter restrictions when compared to others. Recently, France made some major moves to ban an archaic and straight up aggressive practice done in the industrialized farming industry. 

The practice involves the slaughtering of male chicks when they’re hatched. What most individuals don’t know about the chicken industry specifically, is that hens are really the cream of the crop when it comes to both meat and egg production (obviously males can’t produce eggs). Because of this, billions of male chicks are slaughtered, in a practice known as “shredding” by farmers, every year around the world. 

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Hens are more profitable than male chicks in the industry because they grow much quicker, can produce eggs, and in general have more meat. So more times than not when male chicks are hatched, industrial farmers throw them right into a shredder, live. It’s also been reported that some also suffocate them in bags, or gas them to death. In France, however, government workers are listening to those concerned with the extremely inhumane practice that takes the lives of billions of innocent chicks every year; so much so that they’ve banned it.  

“Nothing will be like it was before in poultry farming after the end of 2021. We [the French gov.] want to move forward, there’s no going back, the government is committed to it. The aim is to oblige farms to do this by the end of 2021. We need to find a method that works on a large scale. The ministry is going to publish regulatory texts in the next few weeks to move towards the banning of painful practices in farming husbandry,” agriculture minister Didier Guillaume announced this week. 

In addition, Guillaume also announced that part of the “banning of painful practices in farming husbandry,” will include the practice of castrating young male pigs without any anesthetic. 

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While 2021 may seem like a long way off, the logistics of the work that goes into a ban as massive as this surely justifies it. The farming industry is extremely extensive and complex, and banning a practice that’s been in the industry for years upon years is much easier said than done. It requires the creation of new methods for gender population regulation amongst the chicks. In an ideal world, all the unneeded males would simply go to a farm to live out the rest of their days, however, in this world, the humane option is often never the choice. 

Germany is another European country that is in the midst of the same sort of banning issue. In fact, back in 2015, Germany became the first country in the world to announce a ban on the mass killing of all chicks. However, just last year the German courts announced that farmers could continue the slaughtering’s until they figure out how to develop a newer technology that would be considered more humane. 

The technology that the German courts were referring to would allow industrial farmers to determine the sex of a chick while it’s still unhatched, so this way they could simply throw out the eggs containing male embryos before they even develop into a living being, or contribute them to egg collections. 

According to reports, the German government has invested a total of $5.5 million in the technology, which should be ready to use by the end of this year. Once available, the ban on mass killings will be officially enforced in Germany, and the technology will likely be shared amongst its other European counterparts.