Nov 272011
 

Is your broccoli still organic if it’s harvested by droids? Plus “microRNA” in food can affect your genes, and glow-in-the-dark bacteria are the new invisible ink.

“Wired reports on Harvest Automation, a Massachusetts company developing small robots that can perform basic agricultural labor. The ones currently being tested in greenhouses and plant nurseries are ‘knee-high, wheeled machines.’ ‘Each robot has a gripper for grasping pots, a deck for carrying pots, and an array of sensors to keep track of where it is and what’s around it. Teams of robots zip around nursery fields, single-mindedly spacing and grouping plants. Key to making the robots flexible and cost-effective is designing them to work only with information provided by their sensors. They don’t construct a global map of their environment, and they don’t use GPS. The robots have sensors that detect boundary markers, a laser range finder to detect objects in front of them, and a gyroscope for navigating by dead reckoning. The robots determine how far they’ve traveled by keeping track of wheel rotations.’”

http://hardware.slashdot.org/story/11/11/13/0410217/startup-testing-mobile-farmbots

You are what you eat–and your genes have to sit up and take notice when you do.

“Tiny bits of genetic material, called microRNAs, can make their way from the food you eat into your blood stream, and change how your genes are expressed, according to a new study. A team of Chinese scientists found tiny bits of white rice microRNA floating around in people’s blood after a meal. When they looked at what was happening on a cellular level, they found that the microRNAs were changing gene expression, decreasing levels of a receptor that filters out LDL (bad) cholesterol. When the scientists gave mice both rice and a chemical to block the microRNAs, their levels of that receptor returned to normal—showing that the microRNAs weren’t just swimming through the blood stream, but acting on genes in the animals’ cells.” http://science.slashdot.org/story/11/09/21/2251238/What-You-Eat-Affects-Your-Genes

Move over e-ink–now there’s b-ink.

“Researchers have invented a new form of secret messaging using bacteria that make glowing proteins only under certain conditions. In addition to being useful to spies, the new technique could also allow companies to encode secret identifiers into crops, seeds, or other living commodities.”
http://science.slashdot.org/story/11/09/28/2010234/Encoding-Messages-In-Bacteria

Jan 232011
 

Just when you thought slime molds, which alternate between individual and collective organisms, couldn’t get any weirder.

If amoebas can grow their own food, you have even less of an excuse for not doing so yourself. And no, Farmville doesn’t count.

Slime Molds Are Earth’s Smallest, Oldest Farmers http://feeds.wired.com/~r/wired/index/~3/7UzmakhSZzY/ via Byline Colonies of a bizarre microbial goo have been found practicing agriculture at a scale tinier than any seen before….

When food is short, hundreds of thousands of amoebas come together, fusing into a single entity. It may crawl off as a slug in search of richer pastures, then form a stalk topped by a “fruiting body” that bursts to disperse a few lucky amoebas-turned-spores. Or it may form the stalk right away, without crawling.

It’s been thought that slime molds simply scavenge, eating bacteria they like and oozing out the rest. In laboratories, researchers “cure” slime molds of their bacteria by allowing them to purge themselves on Petri dishes. But Brock, who studies how slime-mold cells communicate and self-organize, kept finding bacteria in the fruiting bodies of some slime molds and not others….

They found that some strains didn’t gorge themselves and “lick the plate clean” of bacteria, but instead saved some inside of the colony. They were farmers, and fared better in some soils than their nonfarming counterparts.

From the original article:

“The behavior falls short of the kind of ‘farming’ that more advanced animals do; ants, for example, nurture a single fungus species that no longer exists in the wild. But the idea that an amoeba that spends much of its life as a single-celled organism could hold short of consuming a food supply before decamping is an astonishing one. More than just a snack for the journey of dispersal, the idea is that the bacteria that travel with the spores can ‘seed’ a new bacterial colony, and thus a food source in case the new locale should be lacking in bacteria.”

Oct 022010
 

Your next gourmet meal, waiting in a fishtank near you.

http://www.farmfountain.com/index.html

Farm Fountain is a system for growing edible and ornamental fish and plants in a constructed, indoor ecosystem. Based on the concept of aquaponics, this hanging garden fountain uses a simple pond pump, along with gravity to flow the nutrients from fish waste through the plant roots. The plants and bacteria in the system serve to cleanse and purify the water for the fish.

This project is an experiment in local, sustainable agriculture and recycling. It utilizes 2-liter plastic soda bottles as planters and continuously recycles the water in the system to create a symbiotic relationship between edible plants, fish and humans. The work creates an indoor healthy environment that also provides oxygen and light to the humans working and moving through the space. The sound of water trickling through the plant containers creates a peaceful, relaxing waterfall. The Koi and Tilapia fish that are part of this project also provide a focus for relaxed viewing.

The plants we are currently growing include lettuces, cilantro, mint, basil, tomatoes, chives, parsley, mizuna, watercress and tatsoi. The Tilapia fish in this work are also edible and are a variety that have been farmed for thousands of years in the Nile delta.