Friday, February 28, 2014

This Brilliant Water Filter Made From A Tree Branch Could Help Millions Of People



Researchers from MIT have created a water filter fashioned from a small piece of sapwood, an inexpensive and disposable technology that could help millions of people in the developing world who don't have access to safe drinking water.

The key ingredient is plant xylem — a tissue in plants made up of vessels and tiny pores. The vessel pathways allow sap to travel up from the tree's roots to the shoots, while the pores trap air bubbles so they don't spread into the wood and kill the tree.

“It’s the same problem with water filtration where we want to filter out microbes but maintain a high flow rate," Rohit Karnik, co-author of the study and an associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, said in a media release.

It's also a coincidence that the size of these xylem pores, anywhere from a few nanometers to 500 nanometers depending on the plant, are the perfect size for blocking out pathogens, researchers said in a study published Wednesday in the journal PLoS One.

For this study, researchers used plant xylem from the branch of white pine trees. The device was made by simply peeling the bark from the branch, cutting it up into inch-long pieces, and shoving it into a plastic tube. They used a simple tube fastener to provide a tight seal. 


MIT water filter

In the lab, the MIT team found that the tree branch filtered out 99% of E. coli bacteria from water. In an interview! with Po pular Mechanics, Rick Andrews, global business development director of water systems at the National Sanitation Foundation International, cautioned that the results might be slightly different if conducted in a real-world setting. It's possible that very polluted water could clog the pores of the tree branch making it less effective.

But the design is still a positive step forward. Because xylem filters are low-tech and made from wood, an easily available material, they could be produced on a small-scale at a much lower cost than current water-disinfecting technologies, such as boiling (which requires lots of fuel), expensive chlorine treatments, and UV lamps, according to the study.

The xylem filters aren't only applicable in the developing world. Researchers think that sapwood could also be used as a makeshift filter on a camping trip.

"Break off a branch from the nearest pine tree, peel away the bark, and slowly pour lake water through the stick," they said.

The MIT team is now looking at the xylem tissue of other plants, particularly from locally available sources, to see how well they filter out bacteria and other pathogens.

SEE ALSO: 6 Crazy Photos That Show Why California Is Desperate For Rain

SEE ALSO: A Battery That Runs On Sugar Could Soon Be Powering Electronics

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Monsanto pushes Big Data-driven planting but farmers are skeptical


Some farmers are worried that with the latest push from seed manufacturers, their planting techniques could be used against them. Monsanto and DuPont (two of the largest seed providers in the world) are urging farmers to implement data-driven "prescriptive planting" tech that suggests how densely rows of seeds should be planted and at what depth. It also gives detailed information about a farm's soil, according to a Wall Street Journal report. Some modern farming equipment already collects the above information for the farmer's personal use, but this new tech would upload it to seed-providers who will analyze the aggregated data and feed optimized planting info directly to the iPads or other tablet inside a tractor's cab. As Monsanto tells it, this could increase corn crop yields by as much as five to ten bushels per acre -- and with mass adoption, that number would rise.

Critics, however, aren't nearly as optimistic. The American Farm Bureau Federation (a farming trade-group) has pointed out that seed companies have an implicit interest in higher crop returns and planting denser fields: Monsanto and its ilk stand to profit from the cost of their services as well as increased seed sales. Farmers fret that the shared data could lead to increased competition and higher seed prices, too. What's more, they're worried about a drop in the profits made from futures contracts and a possible fight related to who owns their crop data. Given Monsanto's history regarding ownership, though, the farmers' hesitation could be warranted. For the full story, be sure to hit the source link.

[Image credit: Vampire Bear/Flickr]

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Via: The Verge

Source: Wall Street Journal


Thursday, February 20, 2014

U.S. proposes new safety rules for farm pesticide use


By Carey Gillam

(Reuters) - Farm workers, children and other people working or living near farm fields would have more protection from hazardous pesticides under changes proposed on Thursday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"Today marks an important milestone for the farm workers who plant, tend, and harvest the food that we put on our tables each day," Gina McCarthy, EPA administrator, said in a statement.

EPA is proposing revisions to the agency's 22-year-old "Worker Protection Standard" that EPA officials say will help protect approximately 2 million U.S. farm workers and their families from exposure to pesticides used to protect crops from weeds, insects, and disease.

The EPA said pesticides are beneficial tools in agriculture when used in proper concentrations and with proper protections.

U.S. scientists are studying how human health is affected by the use of herbicides, insecticides and other farm chemicals in growing a variety of crops. Some consumer and environmental groups have been calling for greater controls on pesticide use.

The EPA, the United States Department of Agriculture, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have been overseeing an "Agricultural Health Study" of nearly 90,000 people in Iowa and North Carolina tracking the impact of factors including pesticide use.

The studies have linked a series of health problems to pesticide use, including various cancers and Parkinson's disease.

"Current medical research suggests that while farmers are generally healthier than the general U.S. population, they may have higher rates of some cancers, including leukemia, myeloma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and cancers of the lip, stomach, skin, brain, and prostate," the study states.

Among the changes proposed Thursday, the EPA would require annual training in pesticide protection, instead of once every five years. It would expand mandatory posting of signage warning people from entering fields newly treated with pesticides; prohibit children under 16 from handling pesticides unless they are part of a family farm; and set no-entry buffer areas of 25 feet to 100 feet around pesticide-treated fields to limit exposure from overspraying and fumes.

The EPA is seeking public comments on the proposed changes before making a final decision.

Also Thursday, a coalition led by residents of rural Minnesota announced a campaign to convince fast-food restaurant chain McDonald's to reduce pesticide use on farms where potatoes are grown for its French fries. The group said studies of air quality have shown contamination by the fungicide chlorothalonil, a farming chemical listed by the EPA as a probable carcinogen.

McDonald's had no immediate comment.

In Hawaii, the state department of agriculture and the U.S. Geological Survey are undertaking a statewide "pesticide sampling" project to check soil and water for pesticide residues.

(Reporting By Carey Gillam; Editing by David Gregorio)

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

China To Spend $330 Billion In Attempt To Clean Polluted Water


china fish pollution

BEIJING (Reuters) - China plans to spend 2 trillion yuan, or $330 billion, on an action plan to tackle pollution of its scarce water resources, state media said on Tuesday.

China has a fifth of the world's population but just 7 percent of its water resources, and the situation is especially precarious in its parched north, where some regions have less water per capita than the Middle East.

The plan is still being finalized but the budget has been set, exceeding the 1.7 trillion yuan ($277 billion) China plans to spend battling its more-publicized air pollution crisis, the China Securities Journal reported, citing the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

It will aim to improve the quality of China's water by 30 to 50 percent, the paper said, through investments in technologies such as waste water treatment, recycling and membrane technology.

The paper did not say how the funds would be raised, when the plan would take effect, or what timeframe was visualized, however.

Groundwater resources are heavily polluted, threatening access to drinking water, Environment Minister Zhai Qing told a news conference in the capital, Beijing, last week.

According to government data, a 2012 survey of 5,000 groundwater check points found 57.3 percent of samples to be heavily polluted.

China emits around 24 million tons of COD, or chemical oxygen demand, a measure of organic matter in waste water, and 2.45 million tons of ammonia nitrogen, into its water each year, Zhai said.

Over the next five years, China has previously estimated it will need to spend a total of 60 billion yuan to set up sludge treatment facilities, and a further 10 billion yuan for annual operation, the environment ministry says.

China is short on water to begin with but its water problems are made worse by its reliance on coal - which uses massive amounts of water to suppress dust and clean the fuel befor! e it is burnt - to generate nearly 70 percent of its electricity while self-sufficiency in food remains a key political priority.

(Reporting by Kathy Chen and Stian Reklev; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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Magnitude 6.7 quake strikes off Barbados


BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (Reuters) - A magnitude 6.7 earthquake struck off the Caribbean island of Barbados on Tuesday morning, the U.S. Geological Survey reported.

The quake was 126 miles northeast of the capital Bridgetown at a depth of 20 miles.

A Reuters reporter in Barbados said the quake, which struck shortly before dawn, did not immediately appear to have had any notable impact in Bridgetown, the island nation's capital.

(Reporting by Robert Sandiford in Bridgetown Editing by David Adams, John Stonestreet and W Simon) nL6N0LN1M1

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Sunday, February 9, 2014

How the Drought Is Devastating California's #1 Food Export: Almonds


How the Drought Is Devastating California's #1 Food Export: Almonds

California grows a mind-boggling amount of the nation's produce: 99 percent of artichokes, 97 percent of kiwis, 97 percent of plums, 95 percent of celery, and on and on. That's why the record-breaking drought (yes, it's finally raining—no, it won't help much!) can affect your grocery bill, even if you live nowhere near California. But with almonds—the state's most lucrative agricultural export—the effect could reverberate for years.


Friday, February 7, 2014

Scientists reveal origin of mysterious sea circles (spoiler: not human)


Scientists reveal origin of mysterious sea circles (spoiler: not human)

Scientists have finally unraveled the mystery of the strange crop circles that appeared off the coast of the Island of Møn, Denmark, in 2010. Unlike the crop circles on land, however, these are not made by humans.


Thursday, February 6, 2014

Mysterious Giant Jellyfish Washes Up In Australia


jellyfish australia

Scientists were on Thursday working to classify a new species of giant jellyfish that washed up on an Australian beach, describing it as a "whopper" that took their breath away.

The 1.5-metre (4 foot 11 inch) specimen was found by a family in the southern state of Tasmania, who contacted a local marine biologist.

Lisa Gershwin, a scientist with the government's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), said the type of jellyfish had been seen in the past, but never one so big and not one that became beached.

"We know about this specimen but it hasn't been classified yet, it hasn't been named," she told AFP, adding that there had been a massive jellyfish bloom in Tasmanian waters over the past month.

She said the new species was related to the lion's mane jellyfish, the largest known species of the marine animal in the world.

"It is so big it took our breath away," added Gershwin, who has been working with jellyfish for 20 years.

"It's a whopper of an animal but it's not life-threatening, although it does sting."

CSIRO scientists now have enough pictures and samples to begin a proper analysis to classify and name the creature. Despite this, much remains unknown, including how it eats and breeds, and its habitat.

"It's so big but we know nothing about it," said Gershwin. "It highlights again how much we still have to learn about the ocean."

The jellyfish was found by the Lim family on a beach south of the Tasmanian capital Hobart with mother Josie saying "it blew our minds away".

"It's not really jellyfish territory here and all we could do was stand back and admire it," she told AFP.

Copyright (2014) AFP. All rights reserved.

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