Author: Allison Guy

citrus greening
Food Technology

Oranges Are Going Extinct – Unless a Gene from Spinach Can Help

The apocalypse is on its way – at least for oranges. Citrus greening, a disease that kills citrus trees and makes their fruit green, shrunken and inedibly bitter, is racing across the globe. The disease, which is transmitted from tree to tree by a tiny insect called a psyllid, was first reported in China in 1943. Since then, it’s spread across the globe, finally making its way to Florida’s famous orange groves in 2005.

There is no known cure. A worldwide search failed to turn up a naturally immune tree. Measures like burning infected trees and dousing the psyllids with insecticide slow but do not stop the disease. With such seemingly bleak odds, does this mean the end of oranges, lemons and grapefruits?

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in vitro meat hamburger
Food Technology

World’s First In Vitro Hamburger Arrives

After leaving our stomachs growling for two whole years, Professor Mark Post has announced that the world’s first in vitro hamburger is finally here. The burger, grown from 3,000 rice-sized strips of lab-grown muscle tissue, will be cooked and consumed before a London audience this Monday. The 150 gram burger cost a whopping €300,000, making it far and away the most expensive hamburger ever produced. We don’t envy the chef in charge of grilling it.

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hermit crab

Crystalline Cityscapes for Homeless Hermit Crabs

Japanese artist Aki Inomata is lending a helping hand to homeless hermit crabs. Armed with a 3D printer and a CAT-scan of actual snail shells, Inomata has created a series of surreal, gorgeous shells adorned with famous cityscapes. Though the artist’s pet crab preferred to make its home in a model of the Moroccan city Ait-Ben-Haddou, we (of course) have a soft spot for the version covered in Dutch windmills.

Via The Guardian.

discus breed fish

Taste the Artificial Fish Rainbow

A gorgeously uncanny school of discus fish cluster in an aquarium, all of them captive breeds. Though there’s nothing unusual about artificially selecting animals for flamboyant or bizarre traits, it’s still compelling to see such a lovely display of manmade biodiversity. Some of these discus strains are the result of “natural” hybridization between fish from different geographic locations, while others are the result of random mutations and intense inbreeding.

Photo via Practical Fish Keeping.

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Food Technology

Food Familiarization #3: Mimicry

This is the second part in a series that examines the different ways new foods become naturalized parts of our diets. Part 1, Part 2

Food mimics try to look and taste like whatever they’re replacing. Veggie burgers, veggie sausages, even the dreaded vegan bacon, all exist to comfort the nostalgic vegetarian. These meat-mimics imply that a change in diet doesn’t mean a loss of deep-seated cultural rituals. You can still barbecue and eat a full English breakfast. Sort of. 

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friedrich de grosse
Food Technology

Food Familiarization #2: Celebrity Endorsement

This is the second part in a series that examines the different ways new foods become naturalized parts of our diets. For part one, click here

Potatoes are an evil, unchristian tuber, a food so disgusting that even dogs refuse to eat it. Or, if you’re European, that’s what you might still think, if not for the aristocracy’s work to popularize the potato in the 1700s. Though we associate the celebrity endorsement with vapid talk shows and magazine spreads, in reality it’s been around for centuries, and it’s played a far more serious role than we give it credit for.

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Vacant shopfront looks like it's full of meat

Fake Stores for a Crumbling Economy

While this storefront in Northern Ireland looks like it’s a merry place full of meat, it’s actually full of lies. In anticipation of the G8 conference in June, empty shops and abandoned buildings around the country were plastered in cheery faux-stores and images of local landmarks. The country’s leaders spent two million pounds to cover up signs of a crumbling economy. Presumably, their hope was that the G8 attendees, zooming past in their limos, wouldn’t see that the stores were as flat as the employment rate.

Via Atlantic Cities.

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Manufactured Animals

Swans Float through Flooded Streets

In this peculiar image, swans float down a flooded street in Worcester, UK. A jarring sight to human observers, the swan’s blithe adoption of a new habitat illustrates the fact that most creatures don’t care about the differences between nature and culture. Via The Times.


Food Familiarization #1: Semantic Tricks

This is the first in a series of case studies that examine the different ways new foods become naturalized parts of our diets. Why is this important? Promoting the consumption of insect, plant and in-vitro protein is an increasingly vital component of addressing global food and environmental concerns. Despite this, convincing consumers to abandon steaks and chicken nuggets remains a daunting task. 

When is a Patagonia toothfish not a Patagonian toothfish? When it’s a Chilean sea bass. In the first principle of food familiarization, semantic tricks are used to place strange food in a context where it feels familiar, alluring, or healthful. In the infamous example of Dissostichus eleginoides, an ugly fish with an ugly name was rebranded as the sexy-sounding Chilean sea bass.

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splashing milk
Food Technology

Why Isn’t Cream Cream-Colored?

While cream from the dairy aisle is pure white, most people would agree that cream the color is a pale shade of yellow. So why the discrepancy? It turns out that language preserves a form of dairy that has all but disappeared from our diets.

Though it’s over a decade old, Emily Green’s essay Is Milk Still Milk? is a fascinating history of how milk was transformed from a high-fat, high-protein and highly variable food into a homogenized industrial product. In regards to cream-the-color vs. cream-the-liquid, Green describes the results of a milk taste test performed with UC Davis students. While the students ranked raw milk from Jersey cows as better-tasting than supermarket milk from Holsteins, they also gave it the lowest scores for appearance. “It wasn’t white,” Green notes. “They had never seen cream-colored milk.”

Just as we’re surprised to learn the origin of the color cream, our children may be surprised to find out that the ‘ca-click’ of their smartphone’s camera is actually the sound of an analog shutter.

Read more over at the LA Times.

Scientists Engineer Cancer Fighting Purple Tomatoes

Purple GM Tomatoes Prevent Cancer

Normally, when we select for characteristics in fruits and vegetables, it’s to bring them closer to some modernist ideal: corn that’s sweeter, lettuce that’s crisper, cucumbers that are perfectly green and straight. However, a new strain of tomato out of the UK may soon topple the spherical red fruit from its iconic position. These purple GM tomatoes owe their unusual hue to a dark purple-blue pigment called anthocynanin. Not only does this antioxidant double the shelf life of tomatoes in the supermarkt, it also extends the lives of mice that are genetically predisposed to cancer. A tomato that cuts down on food waste and the incidence of cancer? Even if pasta and pizza will never look the same, maybe it’s time to pass the purple.

Via John Innes Centre. Photo via Natural Eater.
Thanks to Peter Klomp for the heads up!

nairobi lions prepare for hunt

Lions Relax in Morning Traffic

Old nature meets next nature as a pair of lions prepare for their day amidst morning traffic, while human bystanders snap photos and upload them to Facebook. As cities and suburbs infringe on lion habitat, these carnivores are increasingly becoming synanthropes – animals that, welcome or not, live in association with human habitations. Image via Naij.


The “Actroid” Lives in the Uncanny Valley

Deep, Deep in the uncanny valley lives this Japanese humanoid robot, aptly called an ‘actroid’. She can function autonomously, talking and gesturing while interacting with people. While her appearance may not be as hyper-realistic as her cousin Geminoid F, her interaction is autonomous instead of tele-operated. This makes her at the same time more effective and a bit creepier.

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sexually bored woman seeks female viagra
Fitness Boosters

Bored with Sex? There’s a Pill for That

Over at the New York Times Magazine, there’s a fascinating long read about the quest to find the “female Viagra”. Calling it Viagra is a bit disingenuous, as these treatments don’t necessarily address female sexual response, but desire. Contrary to what evolutionary psychologists have been telling us for years, women grow bored more quickly than men in long-term relationships, and may be more inclined to promiscuity than ever expected. Using pills to flip lust on and off, as we now do with erections, depression, and concentration, would have fascinating ramifications:

“Gaining control of their reproduction in the ‘60s affected not just women’s sex lives but also everything from their social standing to economic empowerment. What might it mean for conventional structures if women could control, with a prescription, the most primal urge? So many things, personal and cultural, might need to be recalibrated and renegotiated, explicitly or without acknowledgment. The cumulative effect of all those negotiations could be hugely transformative, in ways either thrilling or threatening, depending on your point of view.”

Read the full story here. Image via She Knows.

indian drones protect rhinoceroses

Drones Protect Rhinos in India

In a fortuitous mixture of old and next nature, park officials in Kaziranga National Park in India are now deploying aerial drones to monitor the critically endangered one-horned rhinoceros. Poaching is a serious issue in the 480 square kilometer park, where illegal hunting took 22 rhinos last year, and another 16 in the first three months of 2013. This uptick in poaching triggered mass upset in Assam State as the animal is a source of local pride and much-needed tourism revenue. Drones have already been used in the Chitwan National Park in Nepal, where rhino deaths have been drastically reduced. Drones in parks? Further proof that the noosphere is expanding by the day.

Via BBC News. Photo via Washington Post.

Prosthetic limb that embraces its artificiality

Prosthetic Limbs Straight from Versailles

We often bemoan the design issues with skeuomorph prosthetics: Why make a weak re-creation when you can make aesthetic or functional improvements on the original? The Alternative Limb Project takes this philosophy to heart by creating gorgeous new limbs that call attention to their artificiality with jewels, hand-painted flowers, and see-through anatomy.

Above, Jo Cranston wears the Snake Arm. Click through for more photos.

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paris beehive
Back to the Tribe

High-Priced Honey from Parisian Rooftops

Across Paris, bees and their keepers have been taking advantage of the city’s pesticide-free parks, gardens and flowerbeds to produce pricey honey. The otherwise unused rooftops of many Parisian landmarks are now home to hundreds of thousands of bees. The exclusivity of the real estate shows in the cost: The world’s most expensive honey – E 15 for 150 grams – comes from the roof of Palais Garnier, the city’s grand opera house.

Image: A keeper fumigates the hives atop Saint-Denis. Story via Skyscraper City. Thanks to Wessel de Jong for the tip.  

Will writing software eventually replace all journalists?
Wild Systems

Computer Algorithms Are Already Replacing Human Journalists

Did an algorithm write this blog post? If it did, you’d likely never know it. Chicago-based Narrative Science is producing smart software that writes stories for parents of Little Leaguers all the way on up to media giants like Forbes. You might expect stilted, formulaic prose from a robot, but the result is surprisingly lively:

“Friona fell 10-8 to Boys Ranch in five innings on Monday at Friona despite racking up seven hits and eight runs. Friona was led by a flawless day at the dish by Hunter Sundre, who went 2-2 against Boys Ranch pitching. Sundre singled in the third inning and tripled in the fourth inning … Friona piled up the steals, swiping eight bags in all …”

Kristian Hammond, cofounder of Narrative Science, predicts that in 15 years, 90% of all news will be auto-generated in this manner. The company’s software may someday be programmed to spit out snark, wry commentary, or philosophical reflections on the effable beauty of a spring day. As Big Data mines every minute aspect of our lives, the time is ripe for a writer – human or otherwise – to transform these reams of data into stories.

Read more about Narrative Science at Wired.