A Momentary Flow

Updating Worldviews one World at a time

Fungus Could Be the Key to Avoiding a Global Food Crisis - Our world is sitting on time bomb.
According to a United Nations report, climate change is poised to decimate the global food supply, with agricultural production expected to decline as much as 2 percent each decade for the rest of this century. Meanwhile, the world population will only increase, almost certainly driving up demand for these crops by as much as 14 percent every decade. That means food prices will soar, communities plagued by hunger will go even hungrier, and, many experts fear, countries will fight for food, just as they have for oil. The good news is unorthodox companies like Adaptive Symbiotic Technologies are working to reverse this harrowing trend. The Seattle startup, founded in 2008, has developed an organic seed treatment it calls BioEnsure that allows agricultural crops like rice and corn to withstand severe droughts and extreme temperatures. It’s based on fungi that company CEO Dr. Rusty Rodriguez and his wife, Dr. Regina Redman, discovered some 20 years ago, that enables plants to grow in extreme heat. After spending decades perfecting and field-testing the formulation, Adaptive is preparing to bring BioEnsure to market this fall. It’s an innovation that, if successfully adopted by the agricultural industry, could not only help ensure global food safety, but reduce our dependence on harmful chemicals. “We believe it holds the potential to improve the lives of millions of people who need to produce food in difficult conditions,” says Christian Holmes, global water coordinator at United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, the government agency that helps provide aid to foreign countries. Adaptive recently was chosen as one of 17 nominees for USAID’s Securing Water for Food Grand Challenge, a partnership between USAID and the governments of Sweden and the Netherlands, which will award $32 million in funding to innovations in the water and food security space. “We reject the idea that there’s a point of no return,” Holmes says. “What we need are breakthrough solutions like this that can reach millions of people really quickly.” (via Fungus Could Be the Key to Avoiding a Global Food Crisis | WIRED)

Fungus Could Be the Key to Avoiding a Global Food Crisis
-
Our world is sitting on time bomb.

According to a United Nations report, climate change is poised to decimate the global food supply, with agricultural production expected to decline as much as 2 percent each decade for the rest of this century. Meanwhile, the world population will only increase, almost certainly driving up demand for these crops by as much as 14 percent every decade. That means food prices will soar, communities plagued by hunger will go even hungrier, and, many experts fear, countries will fight for food, just as they have for oil. The good news is unorthodox companies like Adaptive Symbiotic Technologies are working to reverse this harrowing trend. The Seattle startup, founded in 2008, has developed an organic seed treatment it calls BioEnsure that allows agricultural crops like rice and corn to withstand severe droughts and extreme temperatures. It’s based on fungi that company CEO Dr. Rusty Rodriguez and his wife, Dr. Regina Redman, discovered some 20 years ago, that enables plants to grow in extreme heat. After spending decades perfecting and field-testing the formulation, Adaptive is preparing to bring BioEnsure to market this fall. It’s an innovation that, if successfully adopted by the agricultural industry, could not only help ensure global food safety, but reduce our dependence on harmful chemicals. “We believe it holds the potential to improve the lives of millions of people who need to produce food in difficult conditions,” says Christian Holmes, global water coordinator at United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, the government agency that helps provide aid to foreign countries.
Adaptive recently was chosen as one of 17 nominees for USAID’s Securing Water for Food Grand Challenge, a partnership between USAID and the governments of Sweden and the Netherlands, which will award $32 million in funding to innovations in the water and food security space. “We reject the idea that there’s a point of no return,” Holmes says. “What we need are breakthrough solutions like this that can reach millions of people really quickly.” (via Fungus Could Be the Key to Avoiding a Global Food Crisis | WIRED)

Activating gene in key organ systems slows aging process throughout the body

See on Scoop.it - The future of medicine and health

With a typical lifespan of around six weeks, the common fruit fly is one animal that could benefit from a slowing of the aging process. And that’s just what a team of biologists at UCLA have achieved by activating a gene called AMPK. Possibly of more interest to us higher life forms is the researchers’ belief that the discovery could help delay aging and age-related diseases in humans.

AMPK (adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase) is an enzyme that acts as a metabolic master switch and is activated in response to low cellular energy levels. It has previously been shown to activate a cellular process known as autophagy, which protects against aging by enabling cells to degrade and discard old, damaged “cellular garbage” before it damages cells. Although AMPK is also found in humans, it is not usually activated at a high level.

The UCLA research team found that increasing the amount of AMPK in the intestines of common fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) increased their lifespan by around 30 percent, up from the typical six weeks to around eight weeks. Importantly, the fruit flies stayed healthier for longer as well, with the beneficial effects not restricted to the organ where it was activated.

"We have shown that when we activate the gene in the intestine or the nervous system, we see the aging process is slowed beyond the organ system in which the gene is activated," said David Walker, an associate professor of integrative biology and physiology at UCLA and senior author of the research.

"A really interesting finding was when Matt (lead author of the study, Matthew Ulgherait) activated AMPK in the nervous system, he saw evidence of increased levels of autophagy in not only the brain, but also in the intestine,” adds Walker. "And vice versa: Activating AMPK in the intestine produced increased levels of autophagy in the brain – and perhaps elsewhere, too."


See on gizmag.com

Guidelines for respectful, constructive, and inclusive philosophical discussion

Compiled by David Chalmers

The guidelines below are intended primarily for oral philosophical discussion in formal settings: colloquia, conferences, seminars, classes, and so on. Many of them have some application to informal philosophical discussion as well.

The specific norms are intended as means of facilitating more general norms of being respectful, constructive, and inclusive. These probably aren’t categorical norms and there are situations in which it is appropriate to violate them, but nevertheless in many philosophical contexts they are useful norms to have in place. Groups are encouraged to adapt and modify these guidelines for their purposes as they see fit.

All this is a highly tentative work in progress. Suggestions for addition, subtraction, and change are more than welcome. Thanks to many philosophers for their suggestions so far.

I. Norms of respect

1. Be nice

2. Don’t interrupt.

3. Don’t present objections as flat dismissals (leave open the possibility that there’s a response).

4. Don’t be incredulous.

5. Don’t roll your eyes, make faces, laugh at a participant, etc, especially to others on the side. (Partial exception for signalling norm violations to the chair.)

6. Don’t start side conversations parallel to the main discussion.

7. Acknowledge your interlocutor’s insights.

8. Object to theses, don’t object to people.

II. Norms of constructiveness

1. Objections are fine, but it’s also always OK to be constructive, building on a speaker’s project or strengthening their position. Even objections can often be cast in a constructive way.

2. Even when an objection is destructive with respect to a position, it often helps to find a positive insight suggested by the objection.

3. If you find yourself thinking that the project is worthless and there is nothing to be learned from it, think twice before asking your question.

4. It’s OK to question the presuppositions of a project or an area, but discussions in which these questions dominate can be unhelpful.

5. You don’t need to keep pressing the same objection (individually or collectively) until the speaker says uncle.

6. Remember that philosophy isn’t a zero-sum game. (Related version: philosophy isn’t Fight Club.)  

III. Norms of inclusiveness:

1. Don’t dominate the discussion (partial exception for the speaker here!).

2. Raise one question per question (further questions go to the back of the queue).

3. Don’t let your question (or your answer) run on forever.

4. Acknowledge points made by previous questioners.

5. It’s OK to ask a question that you think may be obtuse or uninformed.

6. Don’t use unnecessarily offensive examples.

IV. Procedural norms (for Q&A after talks; some are specific to the hand/finger system)

1. If there’s time, take a 3-5 minute break before Q&A (for resting, leaving, and formulating questions). Hold back questions until after the break.

2. The chair rather than the speaker should field questions (to avoid various biases), and the chair should keep a list of questioners.

3. To raise a new question at any point, raise your hand until the chair acknowledges you and adds you to the list. To follow up on an existing question by someone else, raise your finger.

4. Unless you’re speaker, existing questioner, or chair, don’t speak without being called on (limited exceptions for occasional jokes and other very brief interjections, not to be abused).

5. Following up your own question is usually fine (unless time is short), but follow-up rounds should usually be increasingly brief, and think twice about whether third and later rounds are really needed.

6. Follow-ups should pick up directly on the existing discussion, rather than being tangentially or distantly related (for follow-ups of that sort, raise your hand).

7. The chair should attempt to balance the discussion among participants, prioritizing those who have not spoken before (it isn’t mandatory to call on people in the order of seeing them).

8. The chair should try to pace things so that everyone who has a question can ask a question. In short discussion periods, or with a short time remaining, this may be difficult; disallowing fingers helps.  

V. Metanorms

1. When norms are violated, the chair is encouraged to gently point this out, and others should feel free to say something or to signal the chair.

2. If it’s more comfortable to do so, it’s also fine to quietly point out violations after the seminar (or to tell the chair who can talk to the offender).

3. If the chair violates the norms, feel free to say so then or afterwards.

4. Try not to be defensive when a violation is pointed out.

5. Remember that it’s quite possible to violate these norms without being a bad person. (I’ve certainly violated most of them myself.)

6. Respect the chair’s enforcement of these norms.

7. Policing usually works better with a light touch.

VI. Potential additional norms (mostly suggested by others; for various reasons I haven’t included them on the canonical list, but I’m sympathetic with many of them, and they’re certainly worth considering)

1. Maximum two minutes per question (modified version: after two minutes, interruptions are OK).

2. Prioritize junior people in calling on questions (modified version: don’t prioritize senior people).

3. Ask permission to follow up your own question (modified version: ask permission for any follow-up after the first).

4. Don’t worry about impressing people.

5. Be cautious about pestering the speaker during the break or after the talk (they may need to rest).

6. Negotiate these norms as a group at the start of a course or related activity.

Related resources (and sources)

Ozone layer showing ‘signs of recovery’, UN says
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The ozone layer that shields the earth from cancer-causing ultraviolet rays is showing early signs of thickening after years of depletion, a UN study says. The ozone hole that appears annually over Antarctica has also stopped growing bigger every year. The report says it will take a decade before the hole starts to shrink. Scientists say the recovery is entirely due to political determination to phase out the man-made CFC gases destroying ozone. The study was published by researchers from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). “International action on the ozone layer is a major environmental success story… This should encourage us to display the same level of urgency and unity to tackle the even greater challenge of tackling climate change,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud. Dr Ken Jucks from the US space agency Nasa told BBC News that humans “have started to do the right thing in order to convert the atmosphere back towards what it was before the industrial revolution started”. Scientists cannot be absolutely certain yet that the hole will heal itself. Prof David Vaughan from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) said that test results from his organisation would throw extra light on the WMO’s findings. (via BBC News - Ozone layer showing ‘signs of recovery’, UN says)

In his 2014 book, Life at the Speed of Light: From the Double Helix to the Dawn of Digital Life, top synthetic biologist J. Craig Venter offers powerful words supporting a future shaped by ubiquitous synthetic biology in our lives:
“I can imagine designing simple animal forms that provide novel sources of nutrients and pharmaceuticals, customizing human stem cells to regenerate a damaged, old, or sick body. There will also be new ways to enhance the human body as well, such as boosting intelligence, adapting it to new environments such as radiation levels encountered in space, rejuvenating worn-out muscles, and so on”

An open source future for synthetic biology
'Smart genes' prove elusive - Study of more than 100,000 people finds three genetic variants for IQ — but their effects are maddeningly small. - Scientists looking for the genes underlying intelligence are in for a slog. One of the largest, most rigorous genetic studies of human cognition1 has turned up inconclusive findings, and experts concede that they will probably need to scour the genomes of more than 1 million people to confidently identify even a small genetic influence on intelligence and other behavioural traits.Studies of twins have repeatedly confirmed a genetic basis for intelligence, personality and other aspects of behaviour. But efforts to link IQ to specific variations in DNA have led to a slew of irreproducible results. Critics have alleged that some of these studies’ methods were marred by wishful thinking and shoddy statistics. A sobering editorial in the January 2012 issue of Behavior Genetics2 declared that “it now seems likely that many of the published findings of the last decade are wrong or misleading and have not contributed to real advances in knowledge”. (via 'Smart genes' prove elusive : Nature News & Comment)

'Smart genes' prove elusive
-
Study of more than 100,000 people finds three genetic variants for IQ — but their effects are maddeningly small.
-
Scientists looking for the genes underlying intelligence are in for a slog. One of the largest, most rigorous genetic studies of human cognition1 has turned up inconclusive findings, and experts concede that they will probably need to scour the genomes of more than 1 million people to confidently identify even a small genetic influence on intelligence and other behavioural traits.Studies of twins have repeatedly confirmed a genetic basis for intelligence, personality and other aspects of behaviour. But efforts to link IQ to specific variations in DNA have led to a slew of irreproducible results. Critics have alleged that some of these studies’ methods were marred by wishful thinking and shoddy statistics. A sobering editorial in the January 2012 issue of Behavior Genetics2 declared that “it now seems likely that many of the published findings of the last decade are wrong or misleading and have not contributed to real advances in knowledge”. (via 'Smart genes' prove elusive : Nature News & Comment)

Would you live in a house clinging to a cliff?
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A design for a home anchored to a sheer cliff face offers a striking vista. But what would it take to live in such a place, asks Jon Kelly. For sale: distinctive seaside property with spectacular coastal views. Would suit high-value buyer untroubled by vertigo. So far it only exists as a concept, but the design for the Cliff House by Modscape, an Australian firm that designs and builds prefabricated homes, is enough to give a lurch to the stomach of anyone uneasy with heights. Here’s the pitch - it features three bedrooms (two doubles, the other en-suite), a stylish living space, a carport, separate bathroom and (tantalisingly or nausea-inducingly, depending on your tolerance of sheer drops) an open-air spa and barbecue area on the bottom floor. Artfully minimalist interior décor focuses visitors’ attention on “transcendent views of the ocean”. According to the company’s website, the plans were drawn up after a couple approached the firm asking its designers to explore how to build a holiday home along “extreme parcels” of coast in Victoria. (via BBC News - Would you live in a house clinging to a cliff?)

Freitag’s F-abric clothing belongs in the compost … eventually
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We’ve already got biodegradable shoes and bikinis, but how about just regular ol’ shirts and pants? Well, while existing natural materials such as cotton and wool will biodegrade under the right conditions, Zurich-based clothing manufacturer Freitag is producing clothing made from fabric that’s specifically designed for quick and easy composting. Known as F-abric, the material is made from a blend of flex and hemp fibers, along with modal fibers (a type of rayon) made by spinning cellulose obtained from beech trees. Additionally, a special weaving process contributes to the textile’s ability to readily disintegrate once composted, as does the use of wood pulp-based Tencel yarn for sewing the sheets of F-abric together. In order to keep its carbon footprint low, the company has also made a point of using all-European growers and manufacturers. The end result is a line of clothing that will reportedly biodegrade completely within about three months, once placed in a compost heap. Needless to say, in order to maintain your green credibility (and to get your money’s worth), you’d want to wear and mend the heck out of the stuff before getting to that point. The buttons aren’t biodegradable, but are designed to be unscrewed from the clothing for reuse. F-abric was originally conceived as a type of workwear for Freitag employees. The product line now consists of men’s pants, men’s and women’s shirts, and a bib dress. They should be available in the company’s stores in Europe, as of Oct. 31st. There’s currently no word on price, although they likely won’t be cheap. (via Freitag’s F-abric clothing belongs in the compost … eventually)

This might seem like a confounding point of view. It’s true that no matter what any adults think of circumcision, babies are unanimously against it: for them, it’s just inexplicable pain. And it’s true that when parents and communities hold a circumcision ceremony with the infant as the unwitting star, they’re using babies as a way of spreading a particular culture and pleasing dead ancestors. Then again, isn’t this what having kids is all about? Few people have children because they want to care for random free agents who don’t share any of their values. Children are beautiful, perfect, cherished little bundles of meaning. That role is usually compatible with their wellbeing, but sometimes it isn’t. This leads to conflicts of interest. It would be fascinating to try to resolve them all in the child’s favour. But until we do, it seems odd to try to ban circumcision because it fails to meet an impossible standard of parental selflessness.

If you were circumcised, are you a victim? – Rhys Southan – Aeon
read of the day: The first cut -Most American boys are circumcised as a matter of course. Now, many of them feel violated. Should the practice be banned? - My first encounter with an ‘intactivist’ was in my freshman speech class. Our assignment was to sway our classmates on a contentious issue, and she opened her speech by asking if any man in the class still had his foreskin. I raised my hand. This being late 1990s America, only one other student joined me. ‘You’re lucky!’ she said, before launching into a polemic on the many advantages of the male prepuce and the barbarism of infant circumcision. I can’t remember all her specific arguments, but I know they roughly matched the intactivist or anti-circumcision talking points that I explored in depth later on. The foreskin has sensitive nerve endings; it provides gliding and natural lubrication that is useful for unprotected sex and masturbation (its main failing, as far as influential 19th-century Americans were concerned) and it acts as a protective layer, shielding the glans from harsh friction that can dull sexual sensation over time. In the opposing corner was circumcision, which destroys all of that for no good reason. More ideologically, by making this irreversible change before the child can consent, circumcision infringes on the autonomy of the individual in a way that can’t be justified in a culture that claims to care about bodily integrity and freedom of choice. This all sounded fantastic to me. I sat back in class, revelling in my uncompromised state. About a year later, for some reason, this wonderfully reassuring speech sprang to mind, and I found myself wondering what a circumcised penis looked like. I went to one of my school’s computer labs and glanced over my shoulder before searching Yahoo! for ‘circumcised penis’. As I clicked through the images of seemingly normal and natural penises, I felt like I was staring at a ‘spot the difference’ puzzle in which the same picture had been printed twice by mistake. It was impossible to say what made these penises circumcised. They all looked just like mine. Then I had a troubling thought and did a search for ‘uncircumcised penis’. I was 19 years old when I realised I was circumcised.
go read:
(via If you were circumcised, are you a victim? – Rhys Southan – Aeon)
Image: Foreskin Man to the rescue. Image courtesy Matthew Hess

read of the day: The first cut
-
Most American boys are circumcised as a matter of course. Now, many of them feel violated. Should the practice be banned?
-
My first encounter with an ‘intactivist’ was in my freshman speech class. Our assignment was to sway our classmates on a contentious issue, and she opened her speech by asking if any man in the class still had his foreskin. I raised my hand. This being late 1990s America, only one other student joined me. ‘You’re lucky!’ she said, before launching into a polemic on the many advantages of the male prepuce and the barbarism of infant circumcision. I can’t remember all her specific arguments, but I know they roughly matched the intactivist or anti-circumcision talking points that I explored in depth later on. The foreskin has sensitive nerve endings; it provides gliding and natural lubrication that is useful for unprotected sex and masturbation (its main failing, as far as influential 19th-century Americans were concerned) and it acts as a protective layer, shielding the glans from harsh friction that can dull sexual sensation over time. In the opposing corner was circumcision, which destroys all of that for no good reason. More ideologically, by making this irreversible change before the child can consent, circumcision infringes on the autonomy of the individual in a way that can’t be justified in a culture that claims to care about bodily integrity and freedom of choice. This all sounded fantastic to me. I sat back in class, revelling in my uncompromised state. About a year later, for some reason, this wonderfully reassuring speech sprang to mind, and I found myself wondering what a circumcised penis looked like. I went to one of my school’s computer labs and glanced over my shoulder before searching Yahoo! for ‘circumcised penis’. As I clicked through the images of seemingly normal and natural penises, I felt like I was staring at a ‘spot the difference’ puzzle in which the same picture had been printed twice by mistake. It was impossible to say what made these penises circumcised. They all looked just like mine.
Then I had a troubling thought and did a search for ‘uncircumcised penis’. I was 19 years old when I realised I was circumcised.

go read:

(via If you were circumcised, are you a victim? – Rhys Southan – Aeon)

Image: Foreskin Man to the rescue. Image courtesy Matthew Hess