Broadcaster: BBC News
In this episode of the BBC’s technology show Click the team investigate various cutting edge development in food production. They look at salad, “meatless” and lab-grown meat and other agricultural developments.
00:45-02:04 and 08:51-12:04 (in this file) Spencer Kelly looks into the work of Local Roots and other companies in production of salad plants. Using carefully controlled hydroponics in shipping containers, crops can be grown much more efficiently than out in the fields. The potential exists to set up the containers wherever needed, e.g. in an environment where conditions would be too extreme to grow plants in a traditional way, or to position them near supermarket distribution centres, reducing travel costs and environmental impact and bolstering freshness.
More than this, tweaking the conditions can improve the flavour of plants – for example altering the spicy flavour of basil by sustained exposure to blue light. The plant-related discussion moves on (12:04-14:00) to reflect on the ethics of small private companies taking the lead on this type of development. One concern is the limitation of any one small company being unlikely to have expertise in the range of different fields necessary for the best refinement of species growth. There are also worries about intellectual property rights. The MIT Open Agriculture Initiative (OpenAg) looks to develop foods in a copyright-free way, sharing the knowledge and even starter-kits for plant production.
05:51-08:50 Kat Hawkins investigates the work of Impossible Foods making artificial meat from plant material and added haem, which it turns out is a significant contributor to “meaty” flavour. She also talks to Finless Foods about growing fish tissue from stem cells and to Memphis Meats and others about lab-grown mean (which has been the subject of other posts on this site, e.g. here and here).
The programme also looks at measures to reduce food wastage (from 15:40) and Dutch innovation to make biodegradable cars (from 19:42) but these are less relevant to biology courses.
Genetic modification of aubergine in Bangladesh has dramatically reduced the need to use pesticides
Broadcaster: BBC 1
Review by Prof John Bryant (University of Exeter)
Fierce opposition to the growth of GM crops, especially in the EU (including the UK), goes back to the late 1990s, shortly after the first successful commercialism of crops bred by these techniques. One of the most unfortunate casualties of this opposition is Golden Rice™, bred by GM techniques to provide extra vitamin-A. Its use in SE Asia would save the eyesight of tens of thousands of children and the lives of several thousand each year. However, its uptake into agriculture has been opposed by anti-GM activists at every step such that in 2015, 16 years after this development was announced to the world, the variety is still not available to Asian farmers. Nevertheless, GM-bred crops are now grown in 28 countries (the programme says 27, which was the total in 2013) on a total area of 182 million hectares and, as pointed out in the programme, the countries in which these crops are grown have not suffered environmental disasters nor have there been any detrimental effects on human or animal health.
This brief background leads us to the theme of the programme which asks whether two newer GM-bred crops may be ‘game-changers’ in respect of public attitudes. The first is insect-resistant aubergines which are now being grown in Bangladesh (where the local name for aubergine is brinjal). These plants carry the Bt-toxin gene, already widely used across the world in insect-resistant maize and cotton. Farmers growing Bt-brinjal are enthusiastic about it: the development reduces their costs, reduces crop losses and above all reduces the use of insecticides which, because of poor safety measures, cause harm to farmers’ health. Continue reading
Rothamsted has grain samples going back more than 100 years
Broadcaster: BBC 1
A 90 second clip from the BBC’s Countryfile series in which presenter Tom Heap visits the Rothamsted Research Institute and sees how the “heritage varieties” in their grain archive are being used to reintroduce desirable traits into wheat. Includes footage of a camera drone to examine the health of plants in a field trial.
The International Potato Centre collect and store tubers and other specimens in an earthquake-proof archive
Broadcaster: Al Jazeera
Since potatoes were first taken to Europe from Peru by the Spanish, they have become a staple food for large parts of the world. However agricultural practices in the recent past have tended to make crops rather inbred. This 8:37 clip from the Earthrise series shows the combination of modern science and old knowledge to reinvigorate the genetic diversity of potatoes.
Peru is home to the International Potato Centre (CIP). Scientists collaborate with indigenous farmers (the “Potato Guardians”) high in the Andes who provide tubers from wild variants. In return the centre provides them with new genetic varieties to field test; a process they term “repatriation”.
The centre stores dried tubers and potato berries collected by the farmers. In so doing they hope to be prepared for any future environmental difficulties, for example an anticipated shortage of water. Over 7000 samples with desirable traits are archived to preserve the diversity that may prove essential for future generations.
This clip would be of interest to students on botany or agricuture courses. There are sections with subtitles and no audio translation so this might limit potential uses.
Britain’s most famous TV naturalist turns his attention to plants
Year: 2013 & 2014 (originally shown 1995)
The classic six-part series featuring David Attenborough – no notes yet, please feel free to offer recommendations for teaching using these programmes.
Episodes (50 mins each)
- Travelling http://bobnational.net/record/253535
- Growing http://bobnational.net/record/253536
- Flowering http://bobnational.net/record/289579
- The Social Struggle http://bobnational.net/record/289580
- Living Together http://bobnational.net/record/289581
- Surviving http://bobnational.net/record/289582