Feeding the World from the University of Minnesota

For an inspiring source of information on efforts to feed the world check out the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities website.

In these dark days of midwest winter, when the cold earth seems barren of life, this series of articles and videos on kernza, a new higher protein wheat, that will stay in production for five years, reducing the need for tilling the soil is truly inspiring. As is the feature on the graduate student, Caroline Jones, who is going into accounting to help reduce poverty by working in non-profits dedicated to this mission.

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I enjoyed the wonderful feature on professor James Bradeen, who is researching ways to reduce chemical use in food production. The post features a great series of info graphics and brief videos highlighting the importance of the potato in food security. Did you know the potato has over 39,000 genes and that over 1 million people died during the potato famine?

I really love how the University of Minnesota web and news team integrated these inspiring and informational stories in a thematic way.

As an educator concerned with helping students think of non-traditional careers (plant research is non-traditional in suburban Detroit, as is accounting for non-profits!!), I really love how the team wove the personalities into the science.

I think educators who are interested in helping students find ways to solve-pressing real world problems would find this series of features from the University of Minnesota to be a great resource.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Why is food security such an important issue?
  2. How many potato genes are involved in detecting pathogens?
  3. Why is reducing chemical use in food production important?
  4. What are the benefits of kernza? Can you think of any negative consequences?
  5. Why is the potato such an important element of food security?
  6. How has genetic research changed in the past ten years? How has this change been helpful?
  7. Where did Caroline Jones work as a field accountant? What does she see is her true passion?
  8. What other crops do you think are essential to food security?
  9. What crops are important in your state?
  10. Why is an interdisciplinary approach essential to solving the issue of food insecurity and hunger?
  11. What else does this inspire you to “dream, learn, and do?”

Bee Research from Montana State University

For an insightful look at the effect of virus on bee pollination, check out Michelle Flenniken’s article. 

The article describes the work of three Montana State University graduate students who presented at an international pollinator research conference. The students highlighted research that showed the impact of Lake Sinai viruses, which have been discovered in bee colonies internationally, including Montana, and are associated with significant colony loss.

This colony loss, on the average of 33% per year is a concern for “scientists” and “people who care about food security” according to the article.

One of the researchers, Laura Brutscher, investigates which genes are expressed when the bee is infected with a pathogen, helping to understand how they fight off the virus at the cellular level.

The article includes a link to additional pollinator research occurring at Montana State University, which educators might find helpful for additional enrichment information. It includes excellent research reports including a bee identification guide- very cool! Biology and Ecology teachers will find this information especially helpful.

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Questions for Discussion

  1. What are the Lake Sinai viruses?
  2. What are the implications of colony loss for food security?
  3. What is the process of pollination?
  4. What was the hypothesis that Laura Brutscher investigated?
  5. How do you imagine this data was actually collected?
  6. According to the additional information from the pollinator research link at Montana State University what are some “pollinator friendly  plants?”
  7. What implications can you imagine for studying how bees immune systems respond to viruses?
  8. What else does this inspire you to “dream, learn, do?”

 

 

Life Minus Oxygen?

 

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Congratulations to University of Cincinnati assistant professor of geology, Andrew Czaga and his team for finding fossils that reportedly existed prior to the existence of oxygen on this planet. For more information, you definitely want to check out Melanie Shefft’s piece in the new issue of UC Magazine.

Professor Czaga is quoted  in this piece, “These are the oldest reported sulfur bacteria to date.” At approximately 2.5 billion years old, these specimens taken from South Africa are large and spherically shaped.

This excellent, detailed article and brief video of a 3-d image of the bacteria would be of great interest to teachers of Geology and Biology.

Questions for Discussion

  1. What geologic era is this discovery from?
  2. How are these organisms described? What current organisms are similar to them?
  3. What was the name of the major supercontinent comprised of South Africa and Western Australia?
  4. When did the Great Oxidation Event occur?
  5. What was the Great Oxidation Event?
  6. Describe the process of “recycling”  as explained in the article.
  7. Looking at the graph, what do you think the “photic limit” means?
  8. What else does this inspire you to “dream, learn, do?”

“Seed to Kitchen” at University of Wisconsin-Madison

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I was excited to stumble across the “Seed to Kitchen” initiative at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which teams up agricultural scientists with local chefs and food-lovers to create and study healthy, tasty vegetables.

For me, this is a great example of applied research in which the researchers are not only educating the chefs on vegetable varieties, but the chefs are providing feedback to the researchers on what they are looking for in the vegetable. This is a great communication loop that I think truly helps bring the benefits of research directly to the community.

High school biology teachers working introducing their students to the scientific work of Gregor Mendel, Augustinian monk and leader of scientific approaches to genetics; and Punnett Squares might find this a helpful video to enrich the curriculum. Culinary Arts instructors, Food/Cooking teachers will enjoy seeing the presentation of the food and the emphasis the chefs place on high quality, healthy ingredients. Marketing/business teachers might find it useful to enrich the idea of how university research labs are instrumental in developing new product concepts.

Questions for Discussion

  1. What is the “Seed to Kitchen” initiative and why was it developed?
  2. What are the characteristics the growers are researching?
  3. What characteristics are the chefs interested in?
  4. How might the researchers change their research focus based on feedback from the chefs/consumers?
  5. How do the chefs use this research information in their work?
  6. What are the variables most likely examined in the researcher’s data?
  7. What else does this video inspire you to “dream, learn, do?”