David Kirkpatrick

February 21, 2010

Feeding the world through biotech, synthetic biology and nanotech

Another release from the AAAS 2010 annual meeting — this covers how cutting edge biology and nanotechnology can help meet the growing demand for food across the globe.

The release:

Biotech, nanotech and synthetic biology roles in future food supply explored

AAAS panel mulls science and public acceptance

SAN DIEGO – Some say the world’s population will swell to 9 billion people by 2030 and that will present significant challenges for agriculture to provide enough food to meet demand, says University of Idaho animal scientist Rod Hill.

Hill and Larry Branen, a University of Idaho food scientist, organized a symposium during the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting Sunday to explore ways biotechnology could provide healthy and plentiful animal-based foods to meet future demands.

Synthetic biology, nanotechnology, genetic engineering and other applications of biotechnology – and the public’s role in determining their acceptable uses — were all addressed by panelists during the session.

The goal for the session, which was part of the nation’s largest and most prestigious general science meeting held annually, was to encourage a dialogue among scientists and the public, said Hill, a Moscow-based molecular physiologist who studies muscle growth in cattle.

“There will be a significant challenge for agriculture and the science that will be required to provide a healthy, nutritious and adequate food supply in coming decades for a rapidly growing population,” Hill said.

A key question, he said, is whether the Earth can continue to provide enough food without technological support. The history of civilization and agriculture during the last 10,000 years suggests otherwise.

“Unaided food production is an unattainable ideal – current society is irrevocably grounded in the technological interventions underpinning the agricultural revolution that now strives to feed the world,” Hill said.

Branen serves as the university’s Coeur d’Alene-based associate vice president for northern Idaho. He also remains active as a researcher working with nanotechnology in a variety of ways, including uses as biological sensors to detect disease or spoilage.

Nanoparticles may be used to target certain genes and thus play a role in genetic engineering of food animals. Branen said, “There’s also no question that nanomaterials may help increase the shelf stability of food products and assure their safety.”

Other panelists include University of Missouri Prof. Kevin Wells who believes genetically modified animals will have a future place on humanity’s tables, just as genetically modified plants do now.

Panelist Hongda Chen serves as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s national program leader for bioprocessing engineering and nanotechnology. He will explore how scientific methods like nanotechnology may be applied to help meet the world’s growing demand for safe and healthy food.

Synthetic biology, the use of novel methods to create genes or chromosomes, will be explored by panelist Michele Garfinkel, a policy analyst for the J. Craig Venter Institute, which pioneered the sequencing of the human genome.

The public’s acceptance or rejection of new technologies that could determine future food supplies will be the domain of Susanna Priest, a professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. A communications researcher, she has argued that public debate is essential to public attitudes toward such technologies.

For Idaho’s Branen, the panel provides an opportunity to advance that public discussion.

“I think that’s essential,” he said. “We’ve seen lots of technologies where we didn’t get adoption because we didn’t get consumer acceptance and understanding. Irradiation of food has been possible for over 50 years but we still haven’t gotten to general use because there is still a fear and lack of understanding of it.” Branen added, “To me everything we’re doing today requires an extensive discussion and an interdisciplinary approach. We can’t just focus on the technology but must look at the social and political aspects of the technology as well.”

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About the University of Idaho

Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s flagship higher-education institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year; the University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation ranking for high research activity. The university’s student population includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars. Offering more than 130 degree options in 10 colleges, the university combines the strengths of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. The university is home to the Vandals, the 2009 Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl champions. For information, visit http://www.uidaho.edu

December 21, 2009

Health Care reform is coming

Filed under: Politics, Science — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 5:19 pm

And the form of the reform is taking shape. It’s a major issue in the U.S. and an insanely hot button topic in politics, made even more in modern politics after the defeat of Hillarycare in Clinton’s first term. I’ve stayed largely on the sidelines on heath care reform and have mostly sought as unbiased as possible ideas and opinions. I did think it was a strategic mistake for the GOP to effectively take itself out of the serious sausage-making of the bills and just throwing random poop at the walls to see what resonated as a decent attack line.

I’ve finally read one piece that makes me feel quite a bit better about the legislation that will hit Obama’s desk sometime in the near future, “Testing, Testing” by Atul Gawande in the December 14, 2009, issue of the New Yorker. Gawande is a M.D. and a regular New Yorker contributor and has written on the challenges of receiving and practicing medical care in the current climate. This article is measured, doesn’t really take any of the partisan sides other than to acknowledge something has to be done to change the status quo, and lays out a vision where the current legislation could start an ongoing process of continued improvement in heath care and its administration.

Whichever side of the reform debate you stand on, this article should be a priority read for a glimpse into what could be with the current legislation. It’s not going appease anyone who opposes the bill on either extreme, but it should make anyone who reads the article feel a bit better about the future of medicine in the United States.

In the article Gawande lays out parallels between the agriculture reform efforts of the twentieth century and the current effort at health care reform.

From the link, here’s the concluding graf:

Getting our medical communities, town by town, to improve care and control costs isn’t a task that we’ve asked government to take on before. But we have no choice. At this point, we can’t afford any illusions: the system won’t fix itself, and there’s no piece of legislation that will have all the answers, either. The task will require dedicated and talented people in government agencies and in communities who recognize that the country’s future depends on their sidestepping the ideological battles, encouraging local change, and following the results. But if we’re willing to accept an arduous, messy, and continuous process we can come to grips with a problem even of this immensity. We’ve done it before.

October 5, 2009

Carbon nanotubes make tomatos germinate faster

Filed under: Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 3:02 pm

Via KurzweilAI.net — I’ll have to say the idea carbon nanotubes “appear to penetrate the thick seed coat” is one of those cautionary details on nanotech.

A sprinkling of nanotubes makes plants shoot up

New Scientist Tech, Oct. 4, 2009

Tomato seeds planted in growth medium that contained carbon nanotubes germinated sooner and seedlings grew faster, University of Arkansas researchers have found.

The nanotubes appear to penetrate the thick seed coat, which would allow water to enter the dry seeds more rapidly.

Read Original Article>>