Smart farming: The growing role of precision agriculture and biotech

BY FASTCO WORKS

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EFFICIENCY AND SUSTAINABILITY GO HAND-IN-HAND, WITH AN ADDED BONUS: FARMERS IMPROVE CROP YIELDS 

Farming has always involved risk. Risk of pestilence, water shortages or excess, and weather events are only a few of the conditions affecting successful crop growth. Applied nutrients and crop protectors help plants thrive but can result in environmental harm. Given sustainability concerns, growing tomorrow’s food supply is even more fraught with challenges. The world’s population continues expanding, but available farming land is actually shrinking, inside and outside the U.S. And the demands are growing. Currently the planet contains 7.6 billion inhabitants, but the population is expected to expand to 9.8 billion by 2050. Farmers are tasked with feeding the world, but increasingly, they need to do so with fewer resources.ADVERTISEMENT

The good news is that agricultural technology designed to address this growing need is booming. Smart farming technologies are gaining steam, with innovations ranging from seed breeding to seed feeding to the ability to monitor crops and conditions in real time using sensors and internet of things (IoT) capabilities. Farmers can incorporate current and past weather data and field performance history, weaving in localized data for planning and crop management.

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Designing Artificial Microswimmers for Targeted Drug Delivery

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Many types of motile cells, such as the bacteria in our guts, need to propel themselves through confined spaces filled with viscous liquid. Mathematical models of this cell motion are guiding the design of artificial microswimmers for targeted drug delivery.

Many types of motile cells, such as the bacteria in our guts and spermatozoa in the female reproductive tracts, need to propel themselves through confined spaces filled with viscous liquid. In recent years, the motion of these ‘microswimmers’ has been mimicked in the design of self-propelled micro- and nano-scale machines for applications including targeted drug delivery. Optimising the design of these machines requires a detailed, mathematical understanding of microswimmers in these environments. A large, international group of physicists led by Abdallah Daddi-Moussa-Ider of Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf, Germany has now generated mathematical models of microswimmers in clean and surfactant-covered viscous drops, showing that the surfactant significantly alters the swimmers’ behaviour. They have published their work in EPJ E.

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‘Like having billions of tiny 3D printers’: Scientists train BACTERIA to build complex microscopic structures

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Researchers at Finland’s Aalto University have successfully turned bacteria into a microscopic workforce of nanobots, using molds made of hydrophobic material to create incredibly intricate three-dimensional objects.

The researchers placed the Komagataeibacter medellinensis bacteria in a mould with water and the requisite amount of nutrients like sugar, proteins and air. Once sufficiently fuelled-up, the bacteria begin to produce nano cellulose structures, in line with the hydrophobic (water repellant) mold in which they were placed.

Cellulose is the main component found in the cell walls of plants and substances like wood and cotton.

This type of guided growth through the use of superhydrophobic materials, which also minimize the accumulation of dust and microorganisms, could soon be used for extremely intricate tissue regeneration and organ repair in the human body.

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Revolutionary synthetic DNA disk could hold key to future of storage

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Synthetic DNA could solve the world’s storage problems

 A new proof of concept that would see data stored on synthetic DNA could hold the key to the world’s storage problems. In theory, if the concept is successful, all the world’s accumulated data would fit inside a shoebox.

By 2025, it is estimated that 463 exabytes of data will be produced every day – equivalent to 212,765,957 DVDs – and data center providers are constantly expanding to provide storage for this deluge of information. A single gram of DNA, however, can hold 455 exabytes of information – a fact that has drawn the attention of computer scientists.

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Experts fear lab-grown brains will become sentient, which is upsetting

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Well, we don’t want that … or do we?

The idea of sentient, lab-created “organoids” raises ethical questions that ripple through science.

Tests could include physical scans, mathematical models, and more.

Scientists say there are reasons it could be necessary to create consciousness … and destroy it.

A thought-provoking new article poses some hugely important scientific questions: Could brain cells initiated and grown in a lab become sentient? What would that look like, and how could scientists test for it? And would a sentient, lab-grown brain “organoid” have some kind of rights?

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Scientists create artificial, ‘living aneurysm’ outside the human brain in extraordinary first

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 For the first time, researchers have 3D printed a ‘living’ model of an aneurysm outside the body, using human brain cells. The breakthrough could one day assist brain surgeons in both training and high-risk decision-making.

An aneurysm occurs when a bulge or bubble develops at a weak point in a given blood vessel, which can take place in the heart or brain. The weakened wall can eventually rupture, with catastrophic and life-threatening consequences for the patient.

Given the highly sensitive and delicate areas in which aneurysms take place, they are often extremely difficult to both find and treat.

As a potential solution, researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), including scientists from Duke University and Texas A&M, have created an external, artificial replica which mimics the particular environment in which aneurysms occur.

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Artificial ‘mini-lungs’ grown in a lab allow scientists to watch how the coronavirus infects human cells in ‘major breakthrough’

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Tiny artificial lungs grown in a lab from adult stem cells have allowed scientists to watch how coronavirus infects the lungs in a new ‘major breakthrough’.

Researchers from Duke University and Cambridge University produced artificial lungs in two independent and separate studies to examine the spread of Covid-19.

  • Researchers took stem cells and had them grow into cells found in the lungs
  • They then had them produce 3D models of the lung cells Covid-19 infects
  • They can use their new models to track the spread of the deadly virus in lungs
  • It’s hoped doing so will allow them to develop new drugs to help treat the virus

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Scientists claim to invent hydrogel that heals nerve damage

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THEY SAY THE GEL CAN PROPAGATE NEURAL SIGNALS WHERE NERVES ARE INJURED.

A team of doctors and engineers have developed a new hydrogel that they say might be able to repair nerve damage more quickly and reliably than any other methods.

The hydrogel is essentially a porous and water-saturated material that can stretch, bend, and — most importantly — propagate neural signals. In animal trials, the team of Nanjing University researchers found that the hydrogel restored lost bodily function and helped the animals heal faster, according to research published Wednesday in the journal ACS NANO. Now, they’re hoping the gel will work in human medicine as well.

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Biochip innovation combines AI and nanoparticles to analyze tumors

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Electrical engineers, computer scientists and biomedical engineers at the University of California, Irvine have created a new lab-on-a-chip that can help study tumor heterogeneity to reduce resistance to cancer therapies.

In a paper published today in Advanced Biosystems, the researchers describe how they combined artificial intelligence, microfluidics and nanoparticle inkjet printing in a device that enables the examination and differentiation of cancers and healthy tissues at the single-cell level.

“Cancer cell and tumor heterogeneity can lead to increased therapeutic resistance and inconsistent outcomes for different patients,” said lead author Kushal Joshi, a former UCI graduate student in biomedical engineering. The team’s novel biochip addresses this problem by allowing precise characterization of a variety of cancer cells from a sample.

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New super-enzyme eats plastic bottles six times faster

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Breakthrough that builds on plastic-eating bugs first discovered by Japan in 2016 promises to enable full recycling

A super-enzyme that degrades plastic bottles six times faster than before has been created by scientists and could be used for recycling within a year or two.

The super-enzyme, derived from bacteria that naturally evolved the ability to eat plastic, enables the full recycling of the bottles. Scientists believe combining it with enzymes that break down cotton could also allow mixed-fabric clothing to be recycled. Today, millions of tonnes of such clothing is either dumped in landfill or incinerated.

Plastic pollution has contaminated the whole planet, from the Arctic to the deepest oceans, and people are now known to consume and breathe microplastic particles. It is currently very difficult to break down plastic bottles into their chemical constituents in order to make new ones from old, meaning more new plastic is being created from oil each year.

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Machine learning takes on synthetic biology: algorithms can bioengineer cells for you

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Berkeley Lab scientists Tijana Radivojevic (left) and Hector Garcia Martin working on mechanistic and statistical modeling, data visualizations, and metabolic maps at the Agile BioFoundry last year.

 Machine learning takes on synthetic biology: algorithms can bioengineer cells for you.

If you’ve eaten vegan burgers that taste like meat or used synthetic collagen in your beauty routine—both products that are “grown” in the lab—then you’ve benefited from synthetic biology. It’s a field rife with potential, as it allows scientists to design biological systems to specification, such as engineering a microbe to produce a cancer-fighting agent. Yet conventional methods of bioengineering are slow and laborious, with trial and error being the main approach.

Now scientists at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have developed a new tool that adapts machine learning algorithms to the needs of synthetic biology to guide development systematically. The innovation means scientists will not have to spend years developing a meticulous understanding of each part of a cell and what it does in order to manipulate it; instead, with a limited set of training data, the algorithms are able to predict how changes in a cell’s DNA or biochemistry will affect its behavior, then make recommendations for the next engineering cycle along with probabilistic predictions for attaining the desired goal.

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Researchers create bioink that delivers oxygen to 3D printed tissue cells

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Tissue engineering or regeneration is the process of improving upon or replacing biological tissues by combining cells and other materials with the optimal chemical and physiological conditions in order to build scaffolds upon which new viable tissue can form. We’ve seen many examples of 3D printing being used to accomplish this task. The potential to engineer new tissues this way provides an answer to organ transplant shortages and applications in drug discovery.

However, to become viable tissues, these cells need oxygen delivered to them via blood vessels, which, in transplanted tissue, can take several days to grow. But a collaborative group of researchers is working on a solution: an oxygen-releasing bioink that can deliver this all-important element to the cells in 3D bioprinted tissues. This allows the cells to survive while they’re waiting for blood vessels to finish growing.

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