Today’s Solutions: September 26, 2021

Decolonizing Science: Kiwi scientists take a stand on using Maori language

in Arts & Culture

At The Optimist Daily, we often feature stories about scientific discoveries that help improve our understanding of the biosphere. We are also big fans of inclusivity, particularly when it shows an appreciation of Indigenous wisdom. That’s why we wanted to feature this delightful account of a couple of iconoclastic scientists and their Maori co-authors of a recent science paper describing a new species.

In 2017, California Academy of Sciences ichthyologist Graham Short and collaborator Tom Trnski of the Auckland Museum identified a new species of pygmy pipehorse (a cousin to the wonderful seahorse) that is endemic to Aotearoa New Zealand. The researchers were excited to write about the find in the relevant scientific journals but sought to incorporate local knowledge in the task. The iwi (Maori tribe) Ngatiwai held mana whenau / kaitiaki/ stewardship of the area where the pipehorse was identified, and thus the researchers reached out to the iwi to name the new species of pipehorse and help describe it in the written language te Reo Māori.

In any given bioregion, Indigenous inhabitants are the natural historians with the most knowledge of the area. The Indigenous language is therefore the most authoritative scientific descriptive language that could be used. Thus, the article Short and Trnski authored describing the finding included detailed descriptions in both English and te Reo. However, the editors of the European science journal that was planning to publish the research took it upon themselves to cut out all the Indigenous words. We only use “major” languages in our publications, they explained when the authors complained about the edit.

For Short and Trnski, the nuanced language of the te Reo descriptions was an essential part of the paper, and they withdrew the article. They did so despite the extra work it would take to stand their ground and the time it would take to find a new publisher. Happily, the paper found a new home in Ichthyology & Herpetology, which was delighted to incorporate the te Reo in the manuscript.

Source study: BioOne CompleteA New Genus and Species of Pygmy Pipehorse from Taitokerau Northland, Aotearoa New Zealand

Click on the source link below to read the full account by a friend of The Optimist Daily, Bob Beth, in his lovely “Dispatch from Down Under”.   

Image source: Irene Middleton

10 Tips to prevent food waste in your garden

in Conservation

Growing your own food is hard work—don’t let all that work go to waste. Here are 10 strategies to help you avoid food waste in your garden.

Choose plants appropriate to place

If you’re planning to harvest food in your garden, then it is of utmost importance to choose the right plants for the right places. You’re much more likely to create waste if you grow plants that aren’t suited to your climate, microclimate, soil, and growing conditions. Now more than ever, you’ll have to strategize how to create systems that won’t just serve you today but can adapt to our drastically changing climate. If you make careful choices, then you’ll likely harvest a higher yield and experience fewer losses.

Cooperate and share

When we work together, we can save much more, especially in a community of small gardens. Oftentimes, people have more seeds than they can sow, and since seeds are only viable for a certain length of time, swapping and sharing seeds can minimize plant waste.

If you find that you’ve germinated more seeds than you have space for, don’t discard the seedlings, but try to give them away or swap plants with others.

Also, whenever you have a surplus of crops, look to your community to share the bounty.

Take an organic, holistic approach to plant care

Sometimes things don’t go according to plan, and you may lose food-producing plants to pests, disease, or environmental factors. This is another form of waste that you may have a better chance of avoiding if you take an organic, holistic approach to gardening.

Take care of the soil properly, use effective water management, and practice companion planting. Trying to attract wildlife that will support your crops and practicing crop rotation are a couple more strategies that you can implement to minimize your chances of losing food-producing plants.

Succession sow

Okay, so you’ve successfully grown and harvested your own produce. Now you must make sure that all that food gets eaten. Succession sowing crops means staggering the plantings so that you can spread out your harvest and avoid having an unmanageable amount of food all at once. This is particularly useful for quick-growing produce like lettuces and radishes.

Stagger harvests

Another way of avoiding excess produce is staggering harvest periods. For instance, grow soft fruits like strawberries or raspberries in different locations so that they produce their yield over a longer period. You can also grow some crops under a polytunnel or inside a greenhouse while you let others grow outside. Those grown under the cover are often ready to harvest a bit earlier than the outdoor crops. You can also stagger harvests by growing different varieties that mature at different rates.

Make the most of secondary crop yields

When it comes to harvesting and consuming crops, most people inadvertently waste food by letting the other parts of typical crops go to waste. Don’t chuck out your carrot tops, beet leaves, radish pods, or flowers. Here’s an article we wrote for ideas on how you can use the whole plant.

Recognize wild or non-typical food sources

Gardeners are often proud of the plants they’ve cultivated, but many overlook the common “weeds” that spring up around the produce. Yes, even nettles, dandelions, and chickweed can be sources of food.

There are also plenty of plants that are often grown for ornamental reasons that are actually potential food sources. Hostas, for example, are attractive and delicious.

Plan and prepare for preservation

The next step after harvest is to preserve what needs to be preserved. There are many ways to do this, ranging from freezing, dehydrating, pickling, or canning your garden produce. Just make sure you educate yourself on the proper techniques and have the tools and equipment you need.

Make use of leftovers and vegetable scraps

Before throwing your cooked leftovers and vegetable scraps into the compost, make sure that you try to incorporate them into other meals to prevent food waste. You can also use vegetable scraps to grow more veggies, make stock, or make natural dyes.

Compost what’s left—return the surplus to the system

If you’ve exhausted all other ways of using and re-using your crops, take what’s leftover and place them in your composting system. Effectively composting can help you maintain fertility in your garden and keep food waste from ending up in a landfill.

6 In-season superfoods to add to your grocery list this fall

in Health

As we head into the fall season, many of us are looking forward to changing leaves and cooler weather, but one of the most exciting parts of autumn is a whole new range of superfoods coming back into season. Just as we anxiously awaited the arrival of strawberries and summer squash back in May, here are six delicious fall favorites to add to your grocery list.

  1. Eggplant. These purple power foods are rich in nasunin, which protects your brain cells from oxidation and cholesterol-lowering chlorogenic acid. Try roasting them with a drizzle of olive oil for a hearty snack or side!
  2. Butternut squash. Move over zucchini, there’s a new squash in season. This beautiful gourd is loaded with beta-carotene, vitamin C, and fiber. Try this versatile veggie roasted, in a soup, or even in a salad.
  3. Pomegranate. Studies have shown consuming pomegranates helps fight the buildup of fat in your arteries, so try this delicious fruit with yogurt, as a garnish, or all on its own.
  4. Cranberries. This classic Thanksgiving ingredient is full of antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties. It can improve bladder health and has been shown to defend against breast, colon, lung, and prostate cancer. Skip some of the sugar and try making your own cranberry sauce at home!
  5. Broccoli rabe. Despite its name, this veggie is actually not related to broccoli, but it is loaded with about twice the amount of zinc. It’s an immune system booster and full of fiber so try it sauteed or roasted for an exciting broccoli substitute.
  6. Leeks. Along with other onions and garlic, leeks contain polyphenols, which protect blood vessels from oxidative damage and prevent atherosclerosis. These versatile veggies are also high in vitamin K and can be used in soups, scrambles, or on their own as a braised side.

If you’re sad to see summer go, try one of these delicious fall superfoods to get excited about the new season and fuel your body with healthy fruits and veggies. As an added bonus, eating locally grown, in-season foods helps reduce your carbon footprint and supports local growers!

From the archive: This popular healthy living story was originally published on The Optimist Daily September 15, 2020.

This AI system is designed to protect roosting bats

in Artificial Intelligence

The US is home to more than 40 species of bats, but habitat loss, climate change, and disease have taken a toll on populations with many species facing potential extinction. Bats often nest under bridges or overpasses as a way to seek shelter, but lack of awareness about their presence can cause repair projects to unintentionally disrupt or kill groups of these threatened species. To address this issue, a team of researchers from the University of Virginia has created an artificial intelligence (AI) system that can quickly and efficiently detect bat presence without the need for human inspections.

Using a pool of digital photographs of bridges with and without signs of bats, the researchers taught an AI model to recognize the features and traits that identify the presence of bats. Bats are primarily identified by the presence of guano, or excrement, but it can be difficult for the untrained eye to discern between guano and other structural stains like water seeps, rust, or asphalt leaching. Using the new AI system, officials and workers can upload photos of a site and quickly know if there are signs of bat presence.

Bats roost in groups, often in the thousands, so ensuring they are not using a bridge as a home before starting construction is critical for conserving their populations. Although sometimes spooky, bats play an important role in ecosystems by pollinating plants, spreading seeds, and keeping insect populations in check.

Moving forwards, the Virginia Department of Transportation plans to conduct a pilot study for bridge inspectors and environmental staff to test out the AI system potential construction sites. If effective in a real world setting, this system could be used to protect bats all around the world.

Source study: Transportation Research Record – Deep Learning-Based Visual Identification of Signs of Bat Presence in Bridge Infrastructure Images: A Transfer Learning Approach

Ancient footprints could be earliest evidence of humans in the Americas

in Education

Exciting new research from a team of archeologists in New Mexico shows that humans likely reached the Americas far earlier than previously thought. A hotly debated topic in the scientific community, previous research placed the arrival of humans in the North American interior around 16,000 years ago, but new evidence suggests they may have arrived a whole 7,000 years before that.

The team of researchers discovered a set of human footprints which they have dated to between 23,000 and 21,000 years old. Found in the soft mud near an ancient shallow lake which now forms part of Alkali Flat in White Sands, the footprints suggest that there are multiple previously unknown human migrations in the Americas and that some earlier populations could have even gone extinct.

The radiocarbon dating was conducted by a team from the US Geological Survey. The footprints, which appear to belong to teenagers or young adults walking back and forth in the area, offer insights into what life was like for the earliest inhabitants of the Americas. Based on the tracks, the researchers have hypothesized that the creators of the prints could have been collecting firewood or hunting.

Footprints hold significant weight in the field of population dating as they cannot migrate between layers of sediment like tools or bones can. The researchers are confident in their assertions even after taking into account the “reservoir effect”—the phenomenon in which carbon can sometimes get recycled in aqueous environments, making some layers appear older than they are.

These new footprints suggest that humans arrived in the North American interior by the height of the last Ice Age, offering insights and of course provoking new questions on the movement of our ancestors on this planet.

Image source: BBC

How to avoid the three most common fall allergies

in Health

Fall is the season of beautiful leaves and cozy soups, but what might not be so pleasant is your fall allergies. As summer blooms fade and winds pick up, you might begin to experience allergies that are just as bad, if not worse, than those in the spring. Allergies can be caused by a wide variety of environmental factors, but today we’re sharing three of the most common fall allergies and how to find some relief while still enjoying the season.

Ragweed

According to WebMD, 75 percent of people who experience spring allergies also have adverse reactions to ragweed. This weed is most common east of the Rocky Mountains, but its pollen can travel long distances and cause irritation from late August until early October. Keeping an eye on daily pollen counts can help you avoid the worst of your symptoms and if you do have to spend time outdoors when pollen counts are high, wear a mask to keep airborne allergens out of your nose.

Mold

Mold often grows indoors, but it can also pop up in compost heaps or piles of fall leaves. Keep mold away from your indoor spaces with dehumidifiers and natural mold cleaners like vinegar. Outdoors, mold can travel on the wind much like pollen, so wearing a mask and avoiding piles of vegetation will help.

Dust mites and pet dander

People tend to spend more time indoors with the windows closed as the weather cools, increasing exposure to dust mites and pet dander. Vacuuming regularly and investing in an air purifier can alleviate some of these allergies, as well as keeping pets off of beds and couches.

The sushi of the future will have fish-free versions of tuna made of fungi

in Environment

Although the fishing industry usually has a lower environmental impact than meat farming, overfishing is an issue, so innovators are racing to come up with more sustainable alternatives without compromising too much on flavor. Among such innovators is Aqua Cultured Foods.

The startup grows fish-free versions of tuna, whitefish, calamari, and shrimp by using nothing else but fungi. “It has that gorgeous translucency and wet texture that you find in a raw piece of sashimi and sushi-grade fish,” says company CEO Anne Palermo.

While other startups are also working to replicate fish using plant-based ingredients, most of them are currently focusing on simpler textures, like fish sticks or fish patties. By comparison, Aqua Cultured Foods uses a completely different method of production, arguing that the result more closely resembles seafood both in its texture and nutritional profile.

“We’re growing a whole food ingredient,” Palermo says. “Because of that, the products aren’t highly processed. There’s no sodium, there’s no cholesterol.” According to Fast Company, a 100-gram serving has 80 calories, 10 to 12 grams of fiber, and 18 to 20 grams of protein, along with micronutrients like B vitamins.

The company uses fermentation to produce the fungi, much like the process used to make kombucha or kimchi. With two decades of experience in the food and beverage industry, Palermo began experimenting with the fungi at home. “I started to try to grow my own mycelium in my pantry, on pieces of wet cardboard,” she says. “Through one of my many experiments, I started to realize that this could be a real, viable option for an alternative seafood.”

Palermo is preparing to bring its products to the market as early as 2022, as the company is currently working with a flavor house to add some of the enzymes and amino acids that are naturally found in seafood.

“I honestly believe that has the potential to replace sushi as we see it now,” Palermo says. “It has so many benefits from a health standpoint, from a sustainability standpoint, from an ethical standpoint. And eventually, once we reach scale, it should be able to be more price competitive.”

Bacteria can filter toxic metals out of wastewater to make it drinkable

in Science

From recycling car batteries to tackling plastic pollution, bacteria has been increasingly under the microscope of scientists working to provide solutions to some of the most challenging global issues. Most recently, researchers in India have discovered a strain of bacteria that can filter contaminated water and make it suitable for drinking.

Coming from the Indian Institute of Technology, Banaras Hindu University (IIT-BHU), the scientists named the bacteria “microbacterium paraoxydans VSVM IIT (BHU)”, and found that it can separate toxic hexavalent chromium from water in an effective and sustainable way.

As noted by Interesting Engineering, hexavalent chromium is a toxic metal used in electroplating, welding, and chromate painting, among other things. If ingested, the toxic metal can lead to serious health problems in humans like cancers, kidney and liver malfunction, and infertility.

Compared to current approaches that target this pollutant, the newly found bacterial strain can tolerate much higher amounts of hexavalent chromium, making it particularly successful at filtering the harmful substance out of wastewater.

As explained by study lead author Dr. Vishal Mishra, the bacteria can “easily cultivate and remove hexavalent chromium in an effective way. No skilled labor is required for this. It is inexpensive, non-toxic, and easy to use/employ. Also, separation after usage does not require large energy input and removes hexavalent chromium until the discharge limit of the Central Pollution Control Board.”

While additional research is needed to better assess the properties of this new bacteria, the researchers say that the technique could have a meaningful impact in places where water scarcity is particularly acute, such as India where access to clean drinking water is considered a privilege in some of the country’s regions.

As the water crisis is expected to exacerbate in the coming decades, the new technique could be one of the many innovations used by researchers to help local governments around the world to bring fresh drinking water to their communities in an efficient and eco-friendly way.

Study source: Journal of Environmental Chemical EngineeringMicrobial removal of Cr (VI) by a new bacterial strain isolated from the site contaminated with coal mine effluents

This printing method eliminates the need for harmful dyes and pigments

in Environment

The chemical processes needed to produce the pigments and inks for printers, combined with the issue of wasteful plastic cartridges, make printing a less than sustainable process. To address this issue, a team of researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Chemistry has come up with a way to meet all your printing needs with transparent ink.

Transparent ink may sound counter-intuitive when it comes to printing, but the process is inspired by creatures like butterflies and peacocks which use light manipulation and reflection through microscopic structures to produce vibrant colors in a phenomenon known as structural color.

Traditional printers, like that in your office, use microscopic droplets of ink clustered together to produce a full image. The newly-developed printing method uses a similar process, but instead of using multiple primary color inks, it uses just a single polymer ink, placed on glass with a hydrophobic surface, where it forms a structure that looks like a tiny dome. This dome then covers a surface in what is essentially thousands of tiny lenses, reflecting different wavelengths of light depending on size, causing the human eye to perceive them as different colors.

The researchers are currently focusing on creating detailed small images using the new method, but they believe that in the future, this technology, which would be adaptable with home and commercial printers, could be used to create more eco-friendly billboards, art pieces, and even your child’s home-printed book report. What’s more, these prints won’t fade with age and sun exposure and the single ink technology could make it more affordable than current printing methods.

Source study: Science Advances – Facile full-color printing with a single transparent ink

California law strengthens protections for mega-retailer warehouse workers

in Business

Last week, California became the first state to take action on unethical productivity practices in mega-retailer warehouses. The newly-passed law, AB 701, bars large retailers like Amazon from firing warehouse workers for missing quotas. The new law aims to ensure that productivity goals do not interfere with bathroom and rest breaks in warehouses.

The law bans large companies from disciplining employees for following health and safety laws and allows employees to sue to suspend unsafe quotas or reverse retaliation. Although motivated by frequent reports of employee mistreatment in Amazon facilities, the law applies to all warehouse distribution centers.

The law was prompted by an Amazon algorithm that allegedly tracks employees’ activities and determines that anything not directly related to moving packages is “off task.” The law, authored by Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a lawyer, and former labor leader, gives workers the right to request 90 days’ worth of documentation of how their work speed meets or fails quotas. Any discipline which led to unsafe working conditions during this 90-day period can be used to enact the worker rights laid out by the new law.

Additionally, California workplace regulators will have to investigate warehouses with annual employee injury rates more than 1.5 times higher than the warehousing industry’s average. The measure is supported by data from the Warehouse Worker Resource Center and the Strategic Organizing Center which shows that warehouse workers are sacrificing their health and safety for the sake of productivity.

In a world where online shopping and distribution monopolizes industries, warehouse workers facilitating these exchanges are often forgotten about in the race to increase production and delivery speeds. This new measure puts stronger protections in place for some of the 21st century’s most vulnerable workers and will hopefully encourage other states to follow suit.