Saturday, June 26, 2010

Perennial Wheat

PULLMAN, Wash. –Earth-friendly perennial grain crops, which grow with less fertilizer, herbicide, fuel, and erosion than grains planted annually, could be available in two decades, according to researchers writing in the current issue of the journal Science.

Perennial grains would be one of the largest innovations in the 10,000 year history of agriculture, and could arrive even sooner with the right breeding programs, said John Reganold, a Washington State University Regents professor of soil science and lead author of the paper with Jerry Glover, a WSU-trained soil scientist now at the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas.

“It really depends on the breakthroughs,” said Reganold. “The more people involved in this, the more it cuts down the time.”

Published in Science’s influential policy forum, the paper is a call to action as half the world’s growing population lives off marginal land at risk of being degraded by annual grain production. Perennial grains, say the paper’s authors, expand farmers’ ability to sustain the ecological underpinnings of their crops.

“People talk about food security,” said Reganold. “That’s only half the issue. We need to talk about both food and ecosystem security.”

Perennial grains, say the authors, have longer growing seasons than annual crops and deeper roots that let the plants take greater advantage of precipitation. Their larger roots, which can reach ten to 12 feet down, reduce erosion, build soil and sequester carbon from the atmosphere. They require fewer passes of farm equipment and less herbicide, key features in less developed regions.

By contrast, annual grains can lose five times as much water as perennial crops and 35 times as much nitrate, a valuable plant nutrient that can migrate from fields to pollute drinking water and create “dead zones” in surface waters.

“Developing perennial versions of our major grain crops would address many of the environmental limitations of annuals while helping to feed an increasingly hungry planet,” said Reganold.

Perennial grain research is underway in Argentina, Australia, China, India, Sweden and the United States. Washington State University has more than a decade of work on perennial wheat led by Stephen Jones, director WSU’s Mount Vernon Research Center. Jones is also a contributor to the Science paper, which has more than two dozen authors, mostly plant breeders and geneticists.

The authors say research into perennial grains can be accelerated by putting more personnel, land and technology into breeding programs. They call for a commitment similar to that underway for biologically based alternative fuels.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Announcing a New Species of Human: Homo SubMarinari

Homo Submarinari is a species of human that is at home under the water. Submarinari will be born, raised, and make its life under the sea. Living in seafloor habitats, and traveling across oceans via high speed nuclear submarines, Submarinari feels more comfortable under the sea.
It is important that Submarinari be born into the water, and learn to dive and swim from the earliest days of life. Early training allows for rapid development of competence, confidence, and comfort in the full immersion environment.
External air supplies and re-breathers will be necessary in the earliest stages of Submarinari evolution, but simple genetic engineering of "neo-gills" will eventually allow Submarinari to dispose of technological breathing apparatus.
Homo Sapiens has already evolved into sub-species that are adapted to particular terrestrial environments -- the Innuit, the Andeans, Himalayans, various tropical strains . . . So there is nothing different about Submarinari in that regard -- except perhaps in the use of genetic engineering to solve problems unique to the undersea environment.

Expect similar speciation and subspeciation phenomena to occur as humans move permanently into outer space.

H/T ImpactLab

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

How Quickly Can the World Move from Coal to Nuclear?

Elliott Morse takes a look at the issue here:

Table 1. – [IEA] Energy Projections, Current Policies
07-30 % Change
Total (MTOE)*
Source: IEA
* Million tons of oil equivalent (MTOE), is a standardizing measure for energy; one million tons of oil equivalent is the energy generated by burning 1,000,000 metric tons of crude oil.
To meet this growth in demand, fossil fuels (oil, coal, and gas) are expected to grow most rapidly. Coal use is projected to grow by 52%, with its share increasing from 26.5% to 28.8%, unless major policy changes occur. Under this scenario, the number of railroad cars loaded with coal leaving mines every day would increase from 225,687 to 343,044.

Table 5. – China Electricity, by Fuel, 2007
Electricity (GWh)
Share %
Production from:
- coal
- hydro
- nuclear
- oil
- gas
- wind
- biomass
- other
Total Production
Quadrupling its nuclear capacity would mean being able to produce 248,520 GWh per year. That increase, 186,390 GWh, would require increasing its capacity by 21GWe. Using US$2 billion as the GWe cost (some estimates for 1 GWe in China are as low as US$1.5 billion), this will cost only US$42 billion. This should be no problem for China.
But let’s consider something somewhat more ambitious: could China replace half its electricity generated by coal with nuclear? That would mean increasing nuclear production by 1,328,217 GWh annually. That would take an additional 151 GWe of capacity. At US$2 billion per GWe, that would cost US$302 billion. With a GDP of US$5 trillion annually, this investment would also seem feasible over a couple of decades.
The joint the Nuclear Energy Agency of the OECD and the International Energy Agency gave the impression that most of the concerns with nuclear are manageable. But there are extraordinarily complex logistical and regulatory problems that still must be faced. China is in a much better position to deal with these problems than is a democracy.

Source: SeekingAlpha

China has already begun building new nuclear reactors. But then, China finds it easier to deal with its trial lawyers and political activists -- it executes them if they cause trouble. In the US, trial lawyers and political / environmental activists can tie a multi-billion dollar project up in the courts for years, draining the resources of investors dry.

In other words, the faux environmentalists who are blocking nuclear power are making it necessary to continue mining and burning coal! But no one ever said "environmentalists" were very intelligent. Dogmatic, pompous, corrupt, self-serving, yes. Intelligent? Not so much.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Pardon Me, Madame: Is That My Arm Up Your Dress?

How odd that Charlie would not know that it is his arm up Mrs. Randthorpe-Fitzgerald's dress. But we all remember that Charlie suffered an infarction of his right insular cortex following a stroke last spring. Yes, of course, Charlie must be suffering from left sided neglect -- he doesn't know that his left arm is actually his.

But wait a minute! It is Charlie's right arm that is up Mrs. R-F's dress. Charlie, you dog! And why is Mrs. R-F smiling?
This is where the insula is located -- hidden beneath the temporal lobe (cut away in the illustration). It is like an island into itself, and is in many ways like a separate brain. But the insula happens to be crucial to a person's sense of self, and to his consciousness. Here is how:
The insula has increasingly become the focus of attention for its role in body representation and subjective emotional experience. In particular, Antonio Damasio has proposed that this region plays a role in mapping visceral states that are associated with emotional experience, giving rise to conscious feelings. This is in essence a neurobiological formulation of the ideas of William James, who first proposed that subjective emotional experience (i.e. feelings) arise from our brain's interpretation of bodily states that are elicited by emotional events. This is an example of embodied cognition.
Functionally speaking, the insula is believed to process convergent information to produce an emotionally relevant context for sensory experience. More specifically, the anterior insula is related more to olfactory, gustatory, vicero-autonomic, and limbic function, while the posterior insula is related more to auditory-somesthetic-skeletomotor function. Functional imaging experiments have revealed that the insula has an important role in pain experience and the experience of a number of basic emotions, including anger, fear, disgust, happiness and sadness.
Functional imaging studies have also implicated the insula in conscious desires, such as food craving and drug craving. What is common to all of these emotional states is that they each change the body in some way and are associated with highly salient subjective qualities. The insula is well situated for the integration of information relating to bodily states into higher-order cognitive and emotional processes. The insula receives information from "homeostatic afferent" sensory pathways via the thalamus and sends output to a number of other limbic-related structures, such as the amygdala, the ventral striatum and the orbitofrontal cortex, as well as to motor cortices. [45]

A study using magnetic resonance imaging has found that the right anterior insula was significantly thicker in people whomeditate[46]

It is remarkable to think that such a small, hidden patch of cortex could be so pivotal to the "soul" of each human being. Al Fin has long championed the concept of "Embodied Cognition", the idea that a mind must have a body in order to be functionally conscious. Particularly when one's consciousness rests so crucially upon a sense of self.

The insula is also thought to be important in the act of decision-making including, perhaps, the making of moral decisions. That makes sense, given the importance of the insula to one's internal body sense, or "gut sense."

Many of our decisions are based upon gut instincts, as it were. Some acts and people "make us sick", while others leave us weak, strong, or make our heads hurt. The way our bodies feel about things can influence us far more than we realise.

And so we leave the insulae of one armed Charlie and Mrs. R-F in the parlour, performing an ancient "dance of the insular cortices."

Meanwhile we may contemplate how it would be possible to insert an insula-like processor into a machine brain, to give it a sense of embodiment. It would be but a bare beginning, of course. But it would be a rational beginning.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Shimizu's Floating Island Concept

This cross sectional view illustrates the full height and depth of the tower, both above and below the sea surface. The apparent top-heaviness may require additional ballast below the center -- such as an inverted tower with adjustable ballast tanks.
This near-aerial view demonstrates the surface extent of the floating island in comparison to the size of the central tower. Such a large surface area allows for significant wave control.
The modular view illustrates the potential for growth when multiple cells and modules are combined. Since greater size will reduce surface mobility, it will be important to enhance wave control to compensate for inability to move away from large storms.
Cross sectional view emphasizes functional components of the design.
Step by step construction is illustrated by this view. The solution to the ballast problem becomes apparent as one proceeds through the steps.