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Biogardening bites

Every few months we share with you some “bites” of the latest scientific research related to growing food and the nutritional character of this food.
Here’s our latest serve…
 
Earth worms and glyphosate
If you happen to use glyphosate, which is commonly marketed as Zero, Weedmaster, Glypho or Round up, there is a strong chance you will cause your earthworm populations to crash, so says a report in Water, Air & Soil Pollution.  In a garden relying on the soil web of life to support a thriving garden, such a loss of earthworms is a serious matter that will reduce the productivity of your garden. The message is do not use this herbicide…
Earthworms have been shown to benefit plants in overcoming environmental stresses such as a lack of water, excessive heat or cold, excessive or inadequate light. The study published in HortiScience states that worm castings contain proteins, vitamins and micro and macro nutrients such as nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus, calcium and magnesium.   The leachate from a worm farm is beneficial to the plant, improving its resilience in the face of these environmental factors.

Bad Apples
In the United States apples have been genetically engineered so they do not brown after slicing or bruising.  This has nothing to do with improved consumer experience and everything to do with misleading the consumer as to the freshness of the apple. In the States, the varieties available now are Granny Smiths and Golden Delicious. Watch this space; this makes it all the more an imperative to grow your own so as not to be mislead.

Chemosynthesis 
We’ve all heard of photosynthesis; our gardens would not be gardens without it! This transformative process is responsible for converting carbon dioxide into oxygen, the formation of starches and sugars in plants, the symbiotic interactions between plant roots and soil biology and finally the formation of lignified carbon based structures that allow plants to grow skyward. Now marine biologists have discovered an entirely new means of supporting life. Chemosynthesis has been found to be the means by which a marine mollusc called lucinids lives.  This is helping biologists explain the ability of life to thrive within an ecological niche beyond the bounds that would be set through life entirely reliant on photosynthesis.

You and your microbes
Scientists have revealed how closely linked our health is to the biology that inhabits our gastro-intestinal tract. Now they are discovering legions of microbes on our bodies. They outnumber the cells in our bodies by 10 to 1. With every breath, sneeze or cough we leave a trail of “ourself” behind us. Every individual and even every family has its own unique microbial signature. So distinctive is this signature, it can be used to show who is using the same bathroom and even the same bed!

Feed the World
Of Earth’s annual food production, some 30 to 50% goes uneaten.  By eliminating food waste in the US, China and India there would be enough food to feed an extra 413million people.

Space Veggies
For all those budding veggie garden enthusiasts, the International Space Station is currently growing Chinese cabbage, Swiss chard, lettuce, snow peas, and radish.  These are amongst many plant varieties that have been grown in space. Some behave well but others have no idea of which way is up and their roots have grown up, instead of down.  For the avid gardener with an eye on space, perhaps you should grab your gardening trowel and head for the ISS.

Feacal Transplants
If you are overweight or underweight, there’s new hope. Faecal transplants are the latest in the armoury of the medical profession to help us manage our body’s ability to be different from what it may be at the moment. The idea is that if you are overweight, you have a transplant of faeces from an underweight person.  Their faeces as endowed with a population of microbes that will take the overweight person back to a normal weight.  All this is not a load of sh*t, it is soundly based on scientific research and a reflection of just how important our microbiome is to human health.

Waste not, want not
Another approach to weight reduction has scientists harvesting the waste secretions of gut bacteria and making it into a powder.  A high fibre diet leads our gut bacteria to secrete a fatty acid called propionate which releases a hormone that makes us feel full.

Cacao fermentation
Next time you nibble, suck or chew on your favourite chocolate spare a thought for the microbes that played their part in the process.  The journey from ripe cocoa pod to chocolate is a complex one. The cocoa beans have to be fermented and dried before they can become your favourite food. This process of fermentation is aided by microbes from the air, soil, leaves – the hands of the farmers and their knives they cut the pods with.  All this inoculates the pulp and the transformation is propelled by this population of bacteria. So varied is this wild bacterial inoculant that sometimes it goes astray and what ought to become chocolate becomes compost material. So now they are working on a more controlled, less diverse bacterial inoculation so the fermentation is always successful and you get to eat more chocolate.

 
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