Using Seawater to Farm in the Desert

The future of farming in much of the world could look like something out of science fiction. Sundrop farms in Australia has a farm up and running that produces food using seawater pumped into a desert location where they use the power of the sun to power the entire process. Solar energy desalinates the water while purifying the environment (so no pesticides) of the greenhouse – the entire process is form renewable sources!

Seawater is piped 2 kilometres from the Spencer Gulf to Sundrop Farm – the 20-hectare site in the arid Port Augusta region. A solar-powered desalination plant removes the salt, creating enough fresh water to irrigate 180,000 tomato plants inside the greenhouse.

Scorching summer temperatures and dry conditions make the region unsuitable for conventional farming, but the greenhouse is lined with seawater-soaked cardboard to keep the plants cool enough to stay healthy. In winter, solar heating keeps the greenhouse warm.

There is no need for pesticides as seawater cleans and sterilises the air, and plants grow in coconut husks instead of soil.

The farm’s solar power is generated by 23,000 mirrors that reflect sunlight towards a 115-metre high receiver tower. On a sunny day, up to 39 megawatts of energy can be produced – enough to power the desalination plant and supply the greenhouse’s electricity needs.

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Be a Rebel by Eating Healthy


Teenagers question assumptions and tend to rebel against societal norms, so why not get them to question the normal industrial food supply we have? If we do subtly guide teens to think that standard capitalist food practices should be questioned they end up rebelling by eating healthy! It turns out all one has to do to encourage healthy eating is to get teens to think about where their food comes from more than what does for our bodies.

“If the normal way of seeing healthy eating is that it is lame, then you don’t want to be the kind of person who is a healthy eater,” said David Yeager, co-author of the research from the University of Texas at Austin.

“But if we make healthy eating seem like the rebellious thing that you do, you make your own choices, you fight back against injustice, then it could be seen as high status.”

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Efficient Beans to Beat Drought Conditions

Beans are delicious, so delicious that earlier this year the UN declared 2016 to be year of the pulse. Around the world beans are cultivated for their protein and their ability to grow in many places. Some beans are better at growing in wet areas while others in drought conditions. This has led botanists to look into why some beans are better than others in terms of the drought resistance. They figured it out thanks to crossbreeding the beans!

What the researchers have now found is that the plants have developed two distinct strategies, depending on the soil in which they were planted and the length of the dry periods they had to endure.

One group has developed deeper roots so they can reach the available moisture in soil that retained water even when there was no rain.

The second group has smaller leaves and closes down their operations to wait for better times. Some varieties use what little resources they have left to grow as many beans as possible, to ensure the survival of the next generation.

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Thanks to Delaney!

Eat Shrimp Made of Red Algae

Industrial fishing is killing life in the oceans at an alarming rate, so much so that the loss of life undersea is contributing to climate change. In fact, one tiny thing many people can do to fight climate change is to simply cut fish out of their diet. One company, New Wave Foods, in California is hoping to help people cut out shrimp from their diet by having them eat “shrimp”.

The “shrimp” they are making is actually plant-based so it can be grown even on land. Using red algae to make simulated shrimp is good for the environment and good for the shrimp under the sea.

M: How do you make shrimp from plants?

D: We use all plant-based ingredients to mimic the taste, texture, color, and nutritional profile of shrimp. We use soy for protein and red algae for flavor. Red algae are what shrimp eat in the wild, so they contribute to the flavor profile. We’re creating food out of food and using science to bring ingredients together.

M: How close are you to a finished product and wide distribution?

D: We are really close to a final product, and we’re collaborating with a number of food experts. We’ve created the perfect shrimp in the lab, but now we have to scale it for greater production. We are going to market first with popcorn shrimp. It’s pretty perfect, and popcorn shrimp is about one-third of the shrimp market. It looks really familiar to people. Our goal is to launch this product in six to 12 months. We’ll do a soft launch in California first. We’re also working on a cocktail shrimp.

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Craft Beer is Advancing Science

We all know that craft beers are delicious thanks to all their fun flavours and now we also know that by drinking craft beer we are helping the world of science. The search for hop plants, which are integral to craft beer, has pushed science to go further into examining the plant and it’s neighbours – that means the world of botany is expanding. The drive for more varieties of hops has even led to using old ideas in new ways around what medicinal practices hops can be used for!

Flavor is driving the hunt. But, as it turns out, Matthews himself is not only, or even mostly, interested in flavor. The scientific byways, and possible medical uses, are more intriguing to him: the hipster I.P.A. quaffers are, in effect, advancing the frontiers of pure science, enabling the sequencing of the hop genome, and funding ethnobotanical excursions. “I was just in Tbilisi, at the Georgian botanical garden,” Matthews said. “People in Georgia are still into agroforestry—they pick wild strawberries and things in the forest. It turns out rural Georgians have for a long time used wild hops to cure their breads. Hops makes a powerful broad-spectrum antibiotic. It stops bacteria from souring the bread.”

The Georgians have also used hops as a folk medicine for reproductive health, to treat uterine pain, for example. This makes sense to Matthews since hops contain the strongest known plant-derived estrogen. “We are seeking to engineer it,” he said. “We think it can be used for hormone-replacement therapy—for example, in postmenopausal women.”

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