Environment


Put innovative farming techniques in the right hands. CGIAR Climate, CC BY-NC-SA

By Sayed Azam-Ali, University of Nottingham

Africa will be able to feed itself in the next 15 years.

That’s one of the big “bets on the future” that Bill and Melinda Gates have made in their foundation’s latest annual letter. Helped by other breakthroughs in health, mobile banking and education, they argue that the lives of people in poor countries “will improve faster in the next 15 years than at any other time in history”.

There are tens of thousands of human-made chemicals circulating today and some have been bad despite studies that didn't initially find harm, yet almost every chemical is under siege by environmental groups, and they all claim science is on their side.

Everything from bisphenol A used in plastics to neonicotinoid pesticides to glyphosate weed-killers are criticized by lawyers at environmental groups despite the science consensus. How can the public know which ones really pose threats to our health and environment and which ones are just studies designed to keep poisoning lab animals until they show an effect?

Crops genetically engineered to produce proteins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) to control insect pests have been planted on a cumulative total of more than a billion acres worldwide since 1996 and they have been very successful.

But pests evolve just like everything else and to avoid that, companies recommend a variety of strategies to avoid 'herd immunity'. Biotech companies have also introduced Bt crops called "pyramids" that produce two or more Bt toxins active against the same pest. They have been adopted in many countries since 2003, including the United States, India and Australia.



One of the biggest struggles in toxicology is creating the correct parameters so you are modeling the real world as closely as possible. It's an enormous task to model the environment with its millions of factors, so controlled studies are done using animals.

Scientists design experiments that give an animal a lot of something at once and that can tell them 'this is the threshold where more analysis is a waste of time' and perhaps also find an effect that may be worth studying in more detail. It's a time-honored technique but it's also a technique that can be exploited.

A new paper says that human civilization has crossed four of nine so-called planetary boundaries as the result of human activity that put humanity in a "safe operating space." 

The four that are already beyond that point-of-no-return are climate change, the loss of biosphere integrity, land-system change, and altered biogeochemical cycles like phosphorus and nitrogen runoff. That makes us 44 percent of the way on the path to doom.

It should be a wake-up call to policymakers that "we're running up to and beyond the biophysical boundaries that enable human civilization as we know it to exist," says co-author Steve Carpenter, director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Limnology. 
A 21st century gold rush has led to a significant increase of deforestation in the tropical forests of South America.

Researchers from the University of Puerto Rico have shown that between 2001 and 2013, around 1680 km2 of tropical forest was lost in South America as a result of gold mining, which increased from around 377 km2 to 1303km2 since 2007, which increased in the global economic crisis of 2008 and on. Around 90 percent of this forest loss occurred in just four areas and a large proportion occurred within the vicinity of conservation areas.

A new research project has identified a specific gene in soybean that has great potential for soybean crop improvement because it can be bred to better tolerate soil salinity - that means less changes to soil and the ecosystem while still getting more food.

The researchers from the University of Adelaide in Australia and the Institute of Crop Sciences in the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing pinpointed a candidate salt tolerance gene after examining the genetic sequence of several hundred soybean varieties. 


After a wildfire burns a large swath across timberlands, logging companies come in to do salvage logging - they clean up the timber that has not been completely destroyed by the fire. It's a good idea to get economic benefit from devastated land and otherwise it is just rotting tinder for the next fire.

Environmentalists, who object to even the most basic forest management in order to prevent fires, hate logging - even after a fire has burned the place down. They have been raising the alarm about salvage logging because the ecological effects are...unknown.

Controlled-release fertilizers are a widely used method of delivering nutrients to nursery container crops. Controlled release is just like it sounds, the fertilizers contain encapsulated solid mineral nutrients that dissolve slowly in water which are released over an extended period of time.

Controlled-release fertilizers (CRFs)
are quite popular, but growers and researchers want ways to decrease fertilizer and irrigation expenses and reduce the impact of nutrient leaching into the environment, so a new study compares CRF placement strategies.


Controlled-release fertilizers are a widely-used method of delivering nutrients to nursery container crops, because they contain encapsulated solid mineral nutrients that dissolve slowly in water, which are then released into substrates over an extended period of time.

Although the use of controlled-release fertilizers is a popular and widely-accepted practice, growers and researchers are always looking for ways to get the same results with decreased fertilizer and irrigation expenses - and less nutrient leaching into the environment. A new study contains recommendations for controlled-release fertilizer placement methods that can address these issues.