Food Versus Fuel

Harvesting Corn (Iowa State University)

After perusing 17 years of cumulative data, Michigan State University scientists have concluded that “using productive farmland to grow crops for food instead of fuel is more energy efficient.”

According to postdoctoral researcher Ilya Gelfand, “it’s 36 percent more efficient to grow grain for food than for fuel. The ideal is to grow corn for food, then leave half the leftover stalks and leaves on the field for soil conservation and produce cellulosic ethanol with the other half.”

As Science Daily reports in Food Vs. Fuel: Growing Grain for Food is More Energy Efficient, “the scientists compared the energy inputs and outputs of producing corn, soybeans and wheat grown using four systems: conventional tillage, no-till, low chemical input and organic, and then using all harvested plant material for either food or biofuel production. They also looked at energy balances for growing alfalfa, an important forage plant that can be used either for biofuel or for beef cattle feed.

“The analysis showed that using no-till production to grow grain for food was the most energy-efficient system for food or fuel production. Avoiding plowing with no-till management reduces tractor fuel use during production.

“Producing a kilogram of corn for human food provides more energy than converting the corn to either ethanol by processing or to meat by feeding it to animals. Growing alfalfa for biofuel is 60 percent more efficient than using it as cattle feed, according to the study.”

For additional detail concerning the study, see Scientists Say Growing Grain for Food is More Efficient at the Michigan State University website.

Published in: on May 1, 2010 at 9:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

Nth Power Squared

Not too long ago (in Nth Power), we discussed the works of artist Chris Jordan and a delightful slideshow Seed Magazine had created featuring some of those works.

Jordan appears again, along with several other artists, in another interesting slideshow, this time Museum-Worthy Garbage: The Art of Over-Consumption at Discover Magazine. It’s worth a look.

Published in: on May 1, 2010 at 7:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

Should We Clone Neanderthals?

Ferrassie Neanderthal Skull

“Six years ago if you wanted to sequence E. coli [a species of bacteria], which is about 4 million base-pairs in length, it would have taken one or maybe two million dollars, and it would have taken a year and 150 people. Nowadays, one person can do it in two days and it would cost a few hundred dollars.”
– Thomas Jarvie

“As the Neanderthal genome is painstakingly sequenced, the archaeologists and biologists who study it will be faced with an opportunity that seemed like science fiction just 10 years ago. They will be able to look at the genetic blueprint of humankind’s nearest relative and understand its biology as intimately as our own.

“In addition to giving scientists the ability to answer questions about Neanderthals’ relationship to our own species – did we interbreed, are we separate species, who was smarter – the Neanderthal genome may be useful in researching medical treatments. Newly developed techniques could make cloning Neanderthal cells or body parts a reality within a few years. The ability to use the genes of extinct hominins is going to force the field of paleoanthropology into some unfamiliar ethical territory. There are still technical obstacles, but soon it could be possible to use that long-extinct genome to safely create a healthy, living Neanderthal clone. Should it be done?”
— Zach Zorich

“Neanderthals are not just sort of funny Eskimos who lived 60,000 years ago.They have a different way to give birth to babies, differences in life history, shape of inner ear, genetics, the speed of development of individuals, weaning, age of puberty.”
– Jean-Jacques Hublin

“I’m convinced that if one were to raise a Neanderthal in a modern human family he would function just like everybody else. I have no reason to doubt he could speak and do all the things that modern humans do.”
– Trenton Holliday

“I think there would be no question that if you cloned a Neanderthal, that individual would be recognized as having human rights under the Constitution and international treaties.”
— Lori Andrews

The March/April issue of Archaeology Magazine features a fascinating article by Zach Zorich, asking Should We Clone Neanderthals?

Update: A related item in New Scientist discusses the regeneration of the woolly mammoth blood protein hemoglobin, and anticipates the resurrection of similar Neanderthal proteins.

Published in: on May 1, 2010 at 6:26 pm  Leave a Comment