AI-controlled Greenhouse Uses 90 Percent Less Water To Produce Salads

Californian startup  Iron Ox runs an indoor farm complete with a few hundred plants—and two robot farmers. Instead of using technology to grow genetically modified food, a former Google engineer partnered with one of his friends who had a PhD in robotics to open a technology-based farm where they plant, seed, and grow heads of lettuce.

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Iron Ox’s goal is to provide quality produce to everyone without a premium price. According to Natural Society the average head of lettuce travels 2,055 miles from farm to market, which is why fresh lettuce is often so expensive. Currently, Iron Ox only provides produce to restaurants and grocery stores in the Bay Area of California, which is why after a daily harvest, their products are hours fresh as opposed to shipped in. The company aims to open greenhouses near other major cities, guaranteeing same-day delivery from their trucks at a fraction of the price of the current supply chain.

So why the robots? Lettuce has always been a testing ground for farming innovation, from early greenhouses to closed aquaponic ecosystems. According to Iron Ox, their AI-controlled greenhouse uses 90 percent less water than traditional farms, and because of the technology, each head of lettuce receives intimate individualized attention that is not realistic with human labor. Iron Ox also says that because they grow their products indoors with no pesticides, they don’t have to worry about typical farming issues like stray animals eating their product.

Iron Ox has yet to launch a fully-functioning automated greenhouse, but hope to build their first by the end of 2017. However, Iron Ox is not the only company to experiment with robot farming. Spread, a sustainable farming organization, broke ground on their first techno-farm, which will be fully automated and operated by robots growing lettuce, in May. They have plans to expand to the Middle East next and then continue growing.

Does this mean the future of produce is automation? Not exactly. Agriculture is complex business, and not all produce can be greenhouse-grown as efficiently and effectively as lettuce. But it’s one more reason for farmers to be aware of how the robots are coming for us all.

Source: https://www.saveur.com/

How To Save The Bees

It’s a global phenomenon that worries beekeepers and environmentalistshoney bee colonies dying at an alarming rate. Here in Poland, bee population has halved in the past 15 years. A disease called nosemosis is one cause.

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Nosemosis is a very serious disease which shortens the bees’ lifespan. Infected worker bees live for a very short time in the summer, about 8 to 12 days, while they normally live 36 days. So the productivity of the whole bee family decreases and bees also have problems with passing the winter“, says Aneta Ptaszinska from the Maria-Curie Sklodowska University in Lublin (UMCS – Poland).

Nosema disease, or nosemosis is a honey bee gut disease caused by microscopic fungi that spread through food or water. When consumed it attacks the insects’ intestines, causing them to constantly search for food and eventually die in the process. Some studies blame pesticides for having a negative influence on the bees’ immune system, which then cannot fight off the fungi. But Ptaszynska says a new drug developed by her team strengthens the immune system to help beat the disease.

On one hand they decrease the level of Nosemosis, we can clearly observe a decrease in the number of spores in the intestines of bees given the extracts. On the other hand, they increase the level of enzymes responsible for the immunological reaction of the insects, enzymes which recognize pathogens, foreign bodies. We assume that in this way the extracts help the bees overcome this disease“, comments Dr. Ptaszinska.  She adds that the floral extract is safe for human consumption, and is effective in more than 90 percent of cases. Bees are vital for the world’s food supply, pollinating the vegetables and fruits we eat and those eaten by the animals we then consume. The drug is undergoing patenting procedures, and the team hopes that it creates enough buzz to find the right partners for production and distribution soon.

Source: http://www.reuters.com/

Biodegradable Nanoparticles For Harmless Pesticides

In this lab at North Carolina State University the future of keeping crops free of harmful bacteria is taking shape – albeit a very small shape. Researcher Alexander Richter is designing a new type of nanoparticle with lignin, an organic polymer found in almost all plants and trees, at its core. Currently, silver based nanoparticles are used in a wide range of pesticides to treat crops, but while silver has strong anti-microbial properties, its use is controversial.

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Their post-application activity when released into the environment was actually seen as a potential concern by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This is because the particles may stay active after the application, they may translocate after the application, they may kill good bacteria in the environment, which is undesired” says Alexander Tichter.

Dr. Orlin Velev, Professor of  chemical and biomolecular engineering adds: “So the problem is how do you potentially remove that danger from engineered nanomaterials?” The answer was to use less silver and replace the metallic core with lignin, making the newly engineered particles biodegradable but still an effective weapon in tackling dangerous bacteria like e-coli.
Our idea, or our approach, was to see if we can, if this is the problem, we replace the metallic core, which doesn’t participate in microbial action, with a biodegradable core. And by doing so, we could actually make the nanoparticles keep their functionality but make them degradable while also reducing the amount of the silver core in the nanoparticle system“, explains Richter.  And that equates to safer fruits and vegetables that are treated with less with chemicals as they grow.
“We believe that this can lead to a new generation of agricultural treatment products, that they’re going to be more efficient, that they’re going to use less chemicals, and that they’re going to be more friendly toward the environment” says Dr. Yelev.
The team has started a company to take their research to the next level with the hopes of perfecting the technology, scaling it up, and preparing it for commercialization.

Source:  http://www.reuters.com/