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1 Mad Prophet Ludwig  Wed, Mar 2, 2011 6:32:17am

Excellent post.

2 Prononymous, rogue demon hunter  Wed, Mar 2, 2011 7:18:33pm

Great post. Very relevant points for the modern world. This issue of food supply/cost is among the most pressing issues for humanity today IMO, along with AGW and ecological damage, disease, energy supply, population growth, etc.

The terrible flip-side of the need to produce food for the rising population is that the methods we currently use to produce much of that food are not without significant ecological impacts. The fertilizers we use, and the waste from humans/animals, to produce at high productivity can go on to cause eutrophication in freshwater and marine habitats. The pesticides used can have an effect on terrestrial and aquatic organisms in many, sometimes unknown, ways. So the production, and consumption, of food on land can go on to affect the production of food in the water. Of course food in the water, fish and invertebrates, is already being being put under pressure due to the demand for more food. Seafood in many cases is harvested from wild populations that depend on the viability of particular habitats put in danger by eutrophication, pollution, and AGW.

Currently, my business revolves around the culture of ornamental marine organisms. But the processes and technologies I am developing along the way will be documented in an open, public format. I want to provide marine organisms to the aquarium hobby that are cultured entirely from captive populations. These organisms then are better suited to the hobbyist's home display, and survive better, because they have grown up in an aquarium and have interacted with humans their whole life and know to eat prepared foods. At the same time I will help reduce the collection pressure on wild reefs for aquarium animals. That way people can enjoy a beautiful, educational hobby without hurting the biodiversity of reefs.

But also the technologies I am developing and documenting for the culture of marine fish and invertebrates could easily be used for the production of food organisms. If other people don't take these technologies and apply them to food production, I know I will eventually. These technologies will allow production of aquatic organisms anywhere - even right here in the middle of the desert. At the same time, I want to document a way to make production as ecologically responsible as possible by recycling resources and saving energy where possible. Much of the coastal regions of the world would be especially suitable for this sort of production.

Personally, I feel that humans are too slowly recognizing that the solutions to some of these pressing human issues might not come from philosophy or politics but rather from science such as physics and biology.

Organisms have had a really long time to evolve the solutions to problems presented by, for example, nutrient limiting conditions. Often you will see a few organisms evolve a way around nutrient limitation by reusing/recycling, using normally unsuitable forms of a compound, etc.

Our first instinct when we need a resource is "can we dig it up or suck it out of somewhere?". When you need a lot of something that is often the fastest/easiest way to get it done. But organisms have been, metaphorically, mining our planet and each other for resources since life began. When a nutrient is limiting an organism's growth, that is a strong pressure for evolution to overcome and many various groups have indeed evolved adaptations that allow them to thrive despite such a context.

There are some obvious examples of such nutrient limitations being overcome. Phosphorus limitation (it is common but chemically unavailable) is overcome, for example, by the mycorrhizal fungi symbiotic with many plant roots. Nitrogen limitation is overcome by organisms that do Nitrogen Fixation. Many of them are bacteria, including the photosynthetic cyanobacteria I work with in my field.

*Running out of characters. Continued in the next post.*

3 Prononymous, rogue demon hunter  Wed, Mar 2, 2011 7:18:59pm

So when looking to solutions to nutrient limitations in agriculture we should keep in mind that some organisms will have evolved solutions to those problems. We may get around Nitrogen limitation in aquaculture (my field) by starting with cyanobacteria or Phosphorus limitation in land agriculture by encouraging the right symbiotic fungi. IMO, we also should be mindful of wasted resources. We shouldn't be wasting perfectly good shit and urine.

Using the solutions from biology we could potentially fix more than just the immediate biological problems like food supply, disease, etc. For example, using the cyanobacteria I mentioned above we could capture solar energy, atmospheric nitrogen, and atmospheric/industrial CO2 in useful biological compounds that then become the basis for all sorts of useful products.

What if we could capture the crebbs cycle and the membrane pathway from mitochondria and put it in the battery of an electronic device? Wouldn't it be cool to be able to power your smartphone, or maybe even EV, with a sugary or oily fluid you just pour in instead of having to wait for a charge to build? The carbohydrates to serve as the chemical basis for such power could be harvested from photosynthetic organisms, such as the previously mentioned cyanobacteria. And the CO2 produced by the electronic devices could be CO2 harvested from the atmosphere or from CO2 that was going to go into the atmosphere.

The awesome utility of biology and biotechnolygy (and science in general, of course) is why Hollywood and the media's portrayal of it bothers me so much. When they aren't giving equal time to evolution deniers or anti-vaxers they are implying that the most important thing that will come from genetic engineering will be the zombie apocalypse, really big sharks, and/or superheroes. There are indeed major ethical and practical concerns that need to be addressed as the science is to progress forward. But frankly, the media can go fuck itself with regards to its portrayal of science.

Anyway, I hope I didn't literally kill anyone from boredom with my little rant. I'd welcome any thoughts.

4 What, me worry?  Wed, Mar 2, 2011 8:29:15pm

I'm surprised they didn't mention the effect of extreme weather - climate change - on food production and costs. (Or did they. I didn't see it.)

As climate change worsens, this is one of the largest problems we face.


5 Mad Prophet Ludwig  Thu, Mar 3, 2011 1:05:52pm

re: #4 marjoriemoon

I'm surprised they didn't mention the effect of extreme weather - climate change - on food production and costs. (Or did they. I didn't see it.)


As climate change worsens, this is one of the largest problems we face.


Yeah it's not like there aren't hundreds of peer - reviewed papers on this.

6 Prononymous, rogue demon hunter  Thu, Mar 3, 2011 5:40:26pm

Didn't like the second half? ;)

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