The discovery could help astronauts find better ways to grow food in space.
- The bacteria were collected as part of a surveillance program that tasks astronauts with regularly collecting samples from eight sites aboard the International Space Station.
- The bacteria discovered on the space station belong to a family of bacteria that helps plants grow and blocks pathogens.
- Finding sustainable ways to grow food is critical to any long-term space mission.
Three previously unknown strains of bacteria were found growing in the International Space Station, according to a recent genetic analysis. The discovery could help scientists develop better ways to grow food on Mars.
The analysis, published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology, describes how astronauts collected four strains of bacteria within the space station in 2011, 2015 and 2016. It was part of an ongoing surveillance program that tasks astronauts with monitoring eight sites of the space station for bacterial growth.
Astronauts have already sent hundreds of samples back to Earth for analysis, and thousands more are scheduled to be sent back on return missions.
The newly discovered strains belong to a family of bacteria called Methylobacteriaceae, which is commonly found in soil and freshwater. These bacteria help plants grow, fix nitrogen and stop pathogens.
International Space Station
So, how did these novel microbes get in the space station? They likely came from the plant-growing experiments that astronauts have been conducting for years aboard the ISS, such as the Advanced Plant Habitat, an automated growth chamber that grows plants in space so scientists can study them back on Earth.
The new strains could be beneficial to space farming. After all, it's already clear that the bacteria can survive the conditions of the space station, and the researchers wrote that the strains might possess "biotechnologically useful genetic determinants" that could help astronauts grow food on long-term missions, or on other planets.
"To grow plants in extreme places where resources are minimal, isolation of novel microbes that help to promote plant growth under stressful conditions is essential," study authors Kasthuri Venkateswaran and Nitin K. Singh said in a press release.
"Needless to say, the ISS is a cleanly-maintained extreme environment. Crew safety is the number 1 priority and hence understanding human/plant pathogens are important, but beneficial microbes like this novel Methylobacterium ajmalii are also needed."
To accelerate their understanding of how bacteria behaves in space, Singh and Venkateswaran proposed developing customized equipment that astronauts could use to analyze bacteria on the space station.
"Instead of bringing samples back to Earth for analyses, we need an integrated microbial monitoring system that collect, process, and analyze samples in space using molecular technologies," they said. "This miniaturized 'omics in space' technology — a biosensor development — will help NASA and other space-faring nations achieve safe and sustainable space exploration for long periods of time."
Genome-based phylogenetic tree showing the phylogenetic relationship of Methylobacterium ajmalii sp. nov. with members of the family Methylobacteriaceae.
Credit: Bijlani et al.
NASA is hoping to send humans to Mars by the 2030s, while private companies like SpaceX are aiming to reach the Red Planet this decade. For any Mars mission, developing sustainable ways to grow food is critical. That's mainly because it's impractical for astronauts to pack the food they'll need for the journey, which will take 14 months roundtrip, not including time spent on the planet.
Astronauts also need to stay healthy. The main problem with prepackaged food, besides its weight, is that the nutrients break over time. That's why NASA has been experimenting with growing various types of nutritious plants through projects like Veggie and the more recent Advanced Plant Habitat. These projects help scientists learn about the complexities of growing plants in microgravity, and how plants might grow on Mars.
NASA astronaut and Expedition 64 Flight Engineer Kate Rubins checks out radish plants growing for the Plant Habitat-02 experiment.
But growing plants in space isn't all about nutrition. NASA notes that plants are psychologically beneficial to people, both on Earth and in space. These psychological benefits might become especially important to astronauts on long-term missions millions of miles away from Earth.
Here's how astronaut Peggy Whitson, who worked aboard the International Space Station, described seeing plants in space for the first time:
"It was surprising to me how great 6 soybean plants looked," she told Space Daily. "I guess seeing something green for the first time in a month and a half had a real effect. From a psychological perspective, I think it's interesting that the reaction was as dramatic as it was. [...] I guess if we go to Mars, we need a garden!"
Their success is based on us adopting a plant-based diet, too.
Natural ecosystems, such as forests, grasslands and oceans, do a pretty good job of storing carbon and supporting biodiversity.
It's therefore no surprise that Nature-based Solutions (NbS) – actions to protect, sustainably manage and restore natural or modified ecosystems, for the benefit of people and nature – are being widely discussed by NGOs, multi-stakeholder platforms and coalitions of countries as "win-win" solutions to the climate and biodiversity crises. But implementing NbS alone is not enough. Their success or failure ultimately depends on the extent to which the world transitions to healthier, more sustainable planet-based diets.
The connection between NbS and dietary patterns comes down to land. Land-use has generally been considered a local environmental issue, but it is becoming a force of global importance and may be the single most pressing environmental issue of our day. Nature-positive farming methods are often promoted as a way to feed humanity while reducing the environmental impact of food production. This includes sequestering more carbon in the soils and above-ground biomass such as trees, supporting biodiversity through wildlife corridors or riparian buffers, and reducing inputs such as nitrogen or pesticides. Yet even these types of NbS will drive an increase in demand for land if trends in food consumption patterns continue.
Food for thought
The OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook estimates that rising national GDPs will drive an increase in global meat consumption of 12% by 2030, with continued growth until 2050. Such increased demand would nearly double food-related greenhouse gas emissions and preclude any chance of keeping the global temperature increase to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. This increase in demand for meat will also continue to drive deforestation in the tropics, with devastating consequences for biodiversity.
We also need land to plant trees – and we need to plant lots of them. Tree planting has been promoted as another important NbS because trees can absorb and store greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, which is critical in our fight against climate change. In several studies, reforestation is offered as the most promising solution for storing carbon, including the potential to store up to 200 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon – two-thirds of all the carbon released into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution – but only if a trillion trees are planted. This sounds great; however, feeding 10 billion people by 2050 requires that we figure out where we can expand the land needed to sequester carbon and reverse biodiversity loss, while guaranteeing food security.
Despite the global call for reforestation, we continue to deforest our planet. Between 2004 and 2017, an area of forest roughly the size of Morocco was lost, primarily in the tropics and sub-tropics. The biggest cause is agricultural expansion, in particular for cattle ranching in areas like the Amazon, Gran Chaco, Cerrado and Eastern Australia. There will only be enough land for reforestation at scale if we halt agricultural expansion and reduce the amount of land currently used to produce food. Again, this is largely dependent on changing what we eat.
A global shift to diets that contain a larger proportion of plant-based foods relative to animal-source foods could release enough agricultural land to sequester 5 Gt to 10 Gt of CO2-equivalent per year if this land was restored to native vegetation. This finding is consistent with several studies, including one that determined that a shift to plant-based diets has the potential to sequester 332 Gt to 574 Gt CO2, an amount equivalent to 99-163% of the CO2 emissions budget consistent with a 55% chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Global carbon sequestration potential for current diets, those recommended by National Dietary Guidelines and others.
No magic fix
There are already many efforts underway to implement NbS. For instance, the Global Future Council on Nature-Based Solutions is building support to "unlock more finance and catalyse meaningful action to enable a nature-positive economy". The WWF Global Grasslands and Savannahs Initiative is elevating the importance of these often overlooked biomes to ensure that the pursuit of NbS and other activities doesn't drive more loss of grassland ecosystems, while the 1t.org initiative aims to plant a trillion trees. These are but a few examples of important global efforts to implement NbS. However, these efforts must also be accompanied with a renewed emphasis on dietary change to ensure a significant reduction in overall demand for land for food production.
There is no magic 'fix' to widespread adoption of healthy and sustainable diets. It requires hard work, political will and resources. There are some lessons, however, that can be drawn from past global transformations.
The first lesson is that no single actor or breakthrough is likely to catalyse systems change. Systems change will require actors at all scales and sectors engaged and working toward a shared set of goals. Secondly, science and evidence-gathering are keys to change, but lack of evidence must not be an excuse to delay action. The third lesson is that the full range of policy levers will be needed. It won't be enough to rely mainly on soft policy approaches, such as education campaigns or behavioural change initiatives. This must also be accompanied by regulatory or fiscal measures to ensure widespread adoption of healthy and sustainable diets.
It has been recently noted that achieving success in the climate crisis is like playing chess and requires 'seeing the whole board'. The same analogy works for the food system. Too often, and by far too many, diets are considered as pawns in the global game of food system transformation – the least significant pieces on the board. But in fact, pawns are the soul of the game and how they are arranged depends whether the game is won or lost.
The same holds true for diets. Without changing what we eat, we can't deliver a thriving future for people and planet. We ignore this strategy at our peril. It's time to realize the power of planet-based diets.
Eating veggies is good for you. Now we can stop debating how much we should eat.
- A massive new study confirms that five servings of fruit and veggies a day can lower the risk of death.
- The maximum benefit is found at two servings of fruit and three of veggies—anything more offers no extra benefit according to the researchers.
- Not all fruits and veggies are equal. Leafy greens are better for you than starchy corn and potatoes.
While few people would contest that fruit and vegetables are good for you, there can be some confusion over how many servings of them you're supposed to eat in a given day. The USDA advises people to eat anywhere from five to nine a day, with international standards similarly converging around five or six, though some go much higher.
Luckily, a new study that reviewed the health and diets of 100,000 people and combined it with meta-studies of the available data puts the debate over how many servings a day you should get to rest.
The researchers followed 66,719 women from the Nurses' Health Study and 42,016 men from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study to see how their diet affected their long-term health and mortality rates. Over the three decades of follow-ups, a clear, non-linear relationship developed between how many servings of fruit and vegetables people consumed per day and their risk of death.
That overall risk reached its lowest point at five servings a day—two of fruit and three of vegetables—with further increases having no additional benefit. What type of vegetable was consumed mattered as well, with starchy veggies like corn and potatoes having fewer benefits than other types. Fruit juices were also less helpful than just eating the fruit. On the other hand, leafy greens, carrots, citrus fruits, and berries all demonstrated health benefits.
The net benefits of this compared to only getting two servings a day (roughly what the typical American is eating) are notable. It averages to about a 13 percent lower risk of death from all causes, a 12 percent lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, a 10 percent lower risk of death from cancer, and a 35 percent lower risk of death from respiratory disease.
To confirm the findings, the researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 26 other studies involving two million people. The results were similar, with the greatest reduction in mortality occurring at the five-a-day mark, though one study found that eating 10 servings a day offered some improvement on that.
For those who are unsure, a serving of fruit is one medium-sized fruit (like an apple), half a cup of something canned, or a fourth of a cup of something dried. When it comes to vegetables, a cup of leafy greens is a serving, as is half a cup of anything else which is fresh, canned, or frozen.
The study is not without issues. The dietary data is self-reported and could be inaccurate. Participants could also choose to eat better as their health declines, reducing the observed benefits. Above all, the study was observational, and causation cannot be proven. Despite these limitations, the study provides a great deal of support for the idea that eating more fruit and veggies is good for you.
Now to just settle the problem of getting them into your meals.
Learn to whip up some of the most popular cocktails — from classic mojitos to white chocolate and coconut martinis.
- With bars and restaurants at limited capacity, people have become their own bartenders from home.
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Even though you may enjoy a variety of different cocktails, having the ability to create delicious drinks from scratch isn't something that comes naturally. It's a learned skill — and this Ultimate Mixology and Cocktail Trainer Bundle is your best bet at figuring out how to make next-level alcoholic combinations without leaving your house.
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The lessons will dive into the background and history of these cocktails to provide a deeper understanding of the mixtures. But perhaps more importantly, the recipes from this class will surely leave a lasting impression on you and your friends. There's no doubt your crew will be impressed with the number of new techniques you'll have under your belt.
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Do they really need the human touch?
- In Pinduoduo's Smart Agriculture Competition, four technology teams competed with traditional farmers over four months to grow strawberries.
- Data analysis, intelligent sensors and greenhouse automation helped the scientists win.
- Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies such as AI are forecast to deliver huge productivity gains – but need the right governance, according to the Global Technology Governance Report 2021.
Strawberries can be easy to grow – especially, it seems, if you're an algorithm.
When farmers in China competed to grow the fruit with technology including machine learning and artificial intelligence, the machines won, by some margin.
Data scientists produced 196% more strawberries by weight on average compared with traditional farmers.
The technologists also outperformed farmers in terms of return on investment by an average of 75.5%
The inaugural Smart Agriculture Competition was co-organized by Pinduoduo, China's largest agri-focused technology platform, and the China Agricultural University, with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations as a technical adviser.
Teams of data scientists competed over four months to grow strawberries remotely using Internet of Things technology coupled with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning-driven algorithms.
In the competition, the technology teams had the advantage of being able to control temperature and humidity through greenhouse automation, the organizers said. Using technology such as intelligent sensors, they were also more precise at controlling the use of water and nutrients. The traditional farmers had to achieve the same tasks by hand and experience.
One of the teams, Zhi Duo Mei, set up a company to provide its technology to farming cooperatives after it generated a lot of interest during the competition.
The contest helped the traditional farmers and the data scientists better understand each other's work and how they could collaborate to everyone's advantage, the leader of the Zhi Duo Mei team, Cheng Biao, said.
Numerous studies show the potential for Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies like AI to boost economic growth and productivity.
By 2035, labour productivity in developed countries could rise by 40% due to the influence of AI, according to analysis from Accenture and Frontier Economics.
Sweden, the US and Japan are expected to see the highest productivity increases.
In its Future of Jobs Report 2020, the World Economic Forum estimates that by 2025, 85 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labour between humans and machines, while 97 million new roles may emerge that are more adapted to the new division of labour between humans, machines and algorithms.
Emerging technologies including AI and drones will also play a vital role in helping the world recover from COVID-19, according to a separate Forum report compiled with professional services firm Deloitte.
The Global Technology Governance Report 2021 considers some of the most important applications for these technologies – and the governance challenges that should be addressed for these technologies to reach their full potential.