Sunday, November 2, 2014

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Friday, January 24, 2014

Desert plants to be put to the test for aviation biofuel production

Desert plants to be put to the test for aviation biofuel production
The Salicornia is one species of halophyte that is a promising feedstock for biofuel produ...

Whenever the topic of plant-derived biofuels is raised, the issue of turning valuable arable land over to the task of growing feedstock is generally not far behind. A discovery by the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium (SRBC) that desert plants fed by seawater can produce biofuel more efficiently than other well-known feedstocks could help alleviate such concerns.

The SRBC, which is affiliated with the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi, is receiving funding from Boeing, Etihad Airways and Honeywell UOP to develop and commercialize a sustainable biofuel that emits 50 to 80 percent less carbon through its lifecycle than fossil fuels. Plants called halophytes, which are highly salt tolerant, could be the answer.

SRBC researchers found that halophyte seeds contain oil suitable for biofuel production and that the entire shrub-like plant can be turned into biofuel more effectively than many other feedstocks.

The pilot project that will test the potential of halophytes for biofuel production (Image...

To test their findings, the SRBC team will create a test ecosystem over the coming year that will see two crops of halophytes planted in the sandy soil found in Abu Dhabi. The test site will use waste seawater from a fish and shrimp farm to nourish the plants, with the water then flowing into a field of mangroves before being returned to the ocean.

"The UAE has become a leader in researching desert land and seawater to grow sustainable biofuel feedstocks, which has potential applications in other parts of the world," says Dr. Alejandro Rios, Director of the SBRC. "This project can have a global impact, since 97 percent of the earth's water is ocean and 20 percent of the earth's land is desert."

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Modifier protein could increase crop yields, even in poor conditions

Modifier protein could increase crop yields, even in poor conditions

A modifier protein that can be used to interfere with the plant's growth repression protei...

A modifier protein that can be used to interfere with the plant's growth repression proteins could lead to higher crop yields, even in unfavorable conditions (Photo: Shutterstock)

Researchers have discovered a new way to increase plant growth by suppressing the natural response to environmental stress. The scientists have found a modifier protein that can be used to interfere with the plant's growth repression proteins independently of the previously identified hormone Gibberellin. They believe this will lead to higher crop yields, even in unfavorable conditions.

When plants face difficult conditions, like drought or high soil salinity, they produce growth-regulating DELLA proteins. It is already known that Gibberlin can reverse the effects of DELLA proteins, but the research team, led by Durham University's Dr Ari Sadanandom, discovered that the Small Ubiquitin-like Modifier (SUMO) protein also reduces the amount of growth repression experienced.

They demonstrated the ability to block the mechanism of control growth, GID1 receptors, when DELLAs were joined with the SUMO protein. The subsequent obstruction of GID1 by SUMO-paired DELLAs led to improved growth during stress. This was done independently of the much studied growth hormone Gibberellin, that plants use to break down DELLA proteins.

The study, which involved members from the University of Nottingham, Rothamsted Research and the University of Warwick, was conducted on Thale Cress, but the team believes the research could also be applied to commercial crops, such as barley, corn, rice and wheat. They researchers believe the interaction between the modifier protein and the repressor proteins can be modified in a number of ways, including using biotechnology techniques and through conventional plant breeding methods.

"What we have found is a molecular mechanism in plants which stabilizes the levels of specific proteins that restrict growth in changing environmental conditions," says Dr Sadanandom. "This mechanism works independently of the Gibberellin hormone, meaning we can use this new understanding for a novel approach to encourage the plant to grow, even when under stress. If you are a farmer in the field then you don't want your wheat to stop growing whenever it is faced with adverse conditions. If we can encourage the crops to keep growing, even when faced by adverse conditions, it could give us greater yields and lead to sustainable intensification of food production that we must achieve to meet the demands on the planet's finite resources."

The research was published in the journal Developmental Cell and was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. It is the subject of pending patent applications and commercial rights are available from Plant Bioscience Limited, Durham's commercialization partner for this technology.

Thousands of Australian bees are getting tagged for research

Thousands of Australian bees are getting tagged for research

Approximately 5,000 bees are receiving RFID tags like this one

Bees are integral to the pollination of major crops around the world, so the more that we understand how they go about their business, the better we can facilitate the process and thereby boost yields. With this in mind, scientists from Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) are taking the unprecedented step of equipping up to 5,000 honeybees with RFID (radio frequency identification) tags.

The flat, square tags measure 2.5 mm per side, and are being affixed with adhesive to the backs of bees in Hobart, Tasmania. The insects are first placed in a refrigerator to temporarily subdue them, and are then released when they awake after a few minutes. According to the researchers, the tags don't appear to impact the bees' ability to fly or perform other duties.

Once they've rejoined their hives, the bees will recommence joining in the daily swarming flights to nearby crops or other sources of pollen. As they travel, they'll pass by stationary checkpoints, that will detect the signals emitted by the tags. That data will be transmitted back to a central computer, which will assemble it all into a three-dimensional model, showing the scientists where all the bees are at what times.

The flat, square tags measure 2.5 mm per side, and are being affixed with adhesive to the ...

Along with allowing farmers and other people to better understand bee behavior – and thus make sure that conditions are optimal for pollination – the study is also intended to determine how various factors can negatively affect them. In some cases, for instance, bees feeding on chemically-treated crops will be monitored. If their behavior differs significantly from that of other bees, it should show up in the models.

It is hoped that by learning more about such factors, we may come closer to fully understanding Colony Collapse Disorder – a worldwide phenomenon in which all the worker bees in one colony spontaneously disappear. Australia is currently unaffected by the disorder.

Down the road, the scientists plan on further miniaturizing the RFID tags to one square millimeter in size, so they can be affixed to other pollinating insects such as fruit flies and mosquitoes.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

AgriRover brings Mars rover technology to the farm

AgriRover brings Mars rover technology to the farm

The AgriRover on patrol in a paddock

We tend to think of livestock farmers as "one man and his dog," but if AgResearch of New Zealand has anything to say, that pair may have to move over to include a robot. A team led by Dr. Andrew Manderson is developing AgriRover, an agricultural robot inspired by NASA's Mars rovers. It's a proof-of-concept prototype designed to show how robots can make life easier and more productive for livestock farmers.

The basic idea behind AgriRover is precision agriculture. That is, instead of using conventional methods of tending to entire fields at one time, the farmer uses robotics and other technologies to deal with problems on a much smaller scale.

A livestock paddock, for example, may look uniform, but under the grass there's a great deal of variability of soil and conditions. Levels of potassium, sulfur, and acidity can be very different even within a single square meter. The main reason is that livestock don't pee or poop in anything like a uniform pattern, as anyone who's seen a lawn burned by a dog can attest. Weeds also tend to grow in clumps, and a paddock can have many dry or sodden patches.

The AgriRover is designed for precision agriculture

Ideally, paddocks can be made healthier and more productive if they can be surveyed on a very small scale and each problem area addressed with individual treatment. That is where AgriRover comes in.

"We started this project in 2012 and presented the first prototypes at the [Fertilizer and Lime Research Centre] conference back in February," says Manderson. "We've come a long way since then, and have had a functional rover out in the paddock since April."

Manderson sees a practical version of AgriRover in use within 5 to 10 years. Intended to operate day and night in all weather, the idea is to have a robot that can autonomously navigate its way around a paddock, send back real-time data on each area, provide on-the-spot treatments or dye markings for each problem encountered, generate prescription maps, and return to base for recharging and resupply.

The prototype, the third in a series, was built with off-the-shelf components – many originally developed for motorized wheelchairs. AgriRover is powered by lithium phosphate batteries supplemented with a solar panel for additional range during daylight hours. It's also designed to be small enough to go under two-wire fences and gates.

"This works in all weather, all of the time, quietly going about its tasks without creating extra jobs for the farmer. It's designed to be easy to operate, and will report results as needed to a cell phone or computer," says Dr. Manderson.

The tricky bit of the development was coming up with a drive system that was both simple and able to maneuver in a muddy paddock. In addition, speed in traversing the paddock had to weighed against battery duration and the need to survey the area efficiently. The result is a 150-kg (330-lb) robot with four 180-watt motors capable of handling uneven ground at 5 km/h (3 mph) and small slopes of less than 20 degrees. Guidance is by internal dead reckoning, relative position sensors (such as laser or ultrasonics) and other aids, including buried magnets and wires.

The chassis is steel for greater strength, which is important, given the project's tight budget. "We accidentally dropped it off the back of a ute and it fell on its lid," says Manderson. "We just turned it over and away it went again."

According to Manderson, the biggest hurdle still to be overcome is finding a way to handle urine patches and small weed clumps. This requires a high degree of accurate navigation, and towing a chemical spray unit is too much for the battery-powered robot. However, once properly developed, Manderson sees AgriRover as having wider applications.

"For example, other scientists are developing robots to herd cows in for milking," Manderson says. "Likewise, we can put a camera on this thing so farmers can use it as a remotely controlled rover that they can use to check things on their farm, such as keeping a 24-hour watch on springers at calving time."

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

In-vitro success of Japanese wonder mushroom heading for commercial take | Voice of Himachal

In-vitro success of Japanese wonder mushroom heading for commercial take

October 16, 2013

After successful growth of a Japanese mushroom in the testing labs, experts are moving ahead with commercial propagation as first plant was set up at Dhangiara village under Gohar block in Mandi district of Himachal Pradesh.

Having medicinal properties and wonder food quality, mushroom are being grown commercially in Japan and China, now being undergoing field trial in this state which is famous for Mushroom production .

For the first time in India major break through has been achieved as an organization was working on in-vitro and field trail successfully grew this mushroom with pain staking effort of a women mycologist for last two decades.

Dr. Maninder Jeet Kaur of Himalayan Research Group (HRG), a local non-government organisation took up the study of the prized mushroom, called Lentinula Edodes by botanists and commercially popularized it is also named as 'Shiitake' or 'Shiiya Gu'.

"It is first such kind of natural food product enriched in protein carbohydrate, lipid and vitamin, whereas it has minerals and all amino acid of protein required for man in the dietary components. It has as much protein as in fresh green pea", Mycologist noted.

She went on to obtain her doctorate degree carrying out detailed studies of physical and physiological conditions required for the mushroom's cultivation.

Its production was being done on the standardise cultivation module on blocks of poplar and eucalyptus sawdust mixture and a few other locally available enriching ingredients. Sawdust waste from saw mills of Punjab and Haryana, which otherwise is discarded, gains value by cultivating the mushroom.

Explaining the technique, Dr. Kaur said steam-sterilised sawdust blocks were inoculated with culture of Shiitake and incubated at room temperature. It took around 45 to 60 days for colonisation of sawdust block at ambient temperature of 23°C to 25°C. Mushrooms started appearing after the temperature was lowered to 12°C to 18°C. The required humidity was maintained by sprinkling water on the block.

She said standardised cultivation modules did not require specialised infrastructure like compost unit and cropping facility. Natural shiitake cultivation in temperate climate started in February and March and ended around November and December.

It could be grown in temperate climate at minimal cost by stacking the sawdust blocks in temporary sheds and household rooms. A 10x10x10 feet  room could accommodate about 500 blocks of a kg each in a three-tier arrangement to produce 500 kg of mushroom, which yielded 100 percent profit at the lowest rate.

HRG director Dr. Lal Singh said that the achievement would not have been possible without the sustained support of the department of science and technology. The marketing was initially a problem, as people hesitated to purchase the mushroom due to lack of awareness and even considered it poisonous as it looks like wild mushroom. However, the dried produce displayed in exhibitions helped in breaking the ice.

The HRG plans to carry out commercial production over 5,000 to 6,000 blocks at its field station in Gohar for consumption of general consumers in Mandi and Manali areas. Once it became popular among consumers, interested farmers would be trained in its cultivation and provided with colonised blocks to establish their household enterprises, he said.

Monday, September 30, 2013

AIKS to held protest against lifting of import duty on Apple | Voice of Himachal

AIKS to held protest against lifting of import duty on Apple

July 31, 2013

All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) is planning to hold a demonstration on 1st August, 2013 against lifting of import duty from import of apple.

Press secretary of Himachal Kisan Sabha (HKS), Satyander Chauhan said in a press release that this decision was taken in 33rd All India Kisan Sabha Conference held at Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu from 24th to 27th July, 2013.

HKS leaders will launch a massive campaign against the proposed lifting of import duty from apple from the year 2014. They will mobilize the apple growers of the state and there will be a warning demonstration on this issue at tehsil, block and sub-division level on 1st August, 2013.

Mr. Satyander Chauhan said that 9 members delegation from Himachal had participated in the conference in which HKS General Secretary, Dr. Onkar was elected as Central Kisan Committee Member and HKS President, Dr. Kuldip Tanwar as All India Kisan Council Member.

Dr. Tanwar who attended the AIKS conference at Tamil Nadu raised the issues like lifting of import duty from apple, wild animal menace and issue of alternative policy for the development of Himalayan region states. He blamed the central government for carrying on the agenda of World Trade Organisation (WTO) and World Bank and said that under the influence of WTO, government is forcing anti-poor and anti-farmer policies in our country.

"The government is lifting the quantitative restriction on import and also lifting the import duty from 2014 on apple coming from outside of the country.", farmer leader said. He also stated that after the lifting of quantitative restrictions and import duty from apple, the domestic market and producers of apple will have to face stiff competition from America, China and other European countries. At present apple growers are already facing challenges and hardships due to the misuse of South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA).

Menace of wild animals was also discussed in the conference. Many states reported that they are also facing the problem of wild animals in their respective states. The state of Rajasthan is badly facing the menace of wild boar and blue bull.

"In Himachal, including monkey, wild boar, blue bull there are dozens of wild animals and birds who are destroying the apple, vegetable and cereal crops of thousand crores.", HKS leader said adding that the wrong policies of centre and states are responsible for creating this problem.

There is a need of aggressive and intensive campaign to fight out with this issue. At the national level coordination committee will be formed to devise the strategy to tackle the issue of wild animal menace.

State delegation from Himachal Pradesh also raised demand of alternate development policy for hilly states. As on today there is a binding for hilly states to retain 60 percent green cover out of the total area of the state. Because of this condition there is very little area for agriculture, horticulture and other farming related activities in these hilly states.

There is not much scope of industrialization in hilly region. Therefore, unemployed youth of Himalayan states do not have any alternative employment and they are forced to migrate to other states in search of employment. Central government is not giving any amount of compensation to these states in lieu of protection of environment and green forest. Kisan Sabha will prepare an alternate development policy for Himalayan states and will submit it to the central government.

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