SciCombinator

Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Sustainability

347

Improving diet quality while simultaneously reducing environmental impact is a critical focus globally. Metrics linking diet quality and sustainability have typically focused on a limited suite of indicators, and have not included food waste. To address this important research gap, we examine the relationship between food waste, diet quality, nutrient waste, and multiple measures of sustainability: use of cropland, irrigation water, pesticides, and fertilizers. Data on food intake, food waste, and application rates of agricultural amendments were collected from diverse US government sources. Diet quality was assessed using the Healthy Eating Index-2015. A biophysical simulation model was used to estimate the amount of cropland associated with wasted food. This analysis finds that US consumers wasted 422g of food per person daily, with 30 million acres of cropland used to produce this food every year. This accounts for 30% of daily calories available for consumption, one-quarter of daily food (by weight) available for consumption, and 7% of annual cropland acreage. Higher quality diets were associated with greater amounts of food waste and greater amounts of wasted irrigation water and pesticides, but less cropland waste. This is largely due to fruits and vegetables, which are health-promoting and require small amounts of cropland, but require substantial amounts of agricultural inputs. These results suggest that simultaneous efforts to improve diet quality and reduce food waste are necessary. Increasing consumers' knowledge about how to prepare and store fruits and vegetables will be one of the practical solutions to reducing food waste.

Concepts: Agriculture, Nutrition, Eating, Nitrogen, Irrigation, Sustainability, Food security, Recycling

287

Food loss is widely recognized as undermining food security and environmental sustainability. However, consumption of resource-intensive food items instead of more efficient, equally nutritious alternatives can also be considered as an effective food loss. Here we define and quantify these opportunity food losses as the food loss associated with consuming resource-intensive animal-based items instead of plant-based alternatives which are nutritionally comparable, e.g., in terms of protein content. We consider replacements that minimize cropland use for each of the main US animal-based food categories. We find that although the characteristic conventional retail-to-consumer food losses are ≈30% for plant and animal products, the opportunity food losses of beef, pork, dairy, poultry, and eggs are 96%, 90%, 75%, 50%, and 40%, respectively. This arises because plant-based replacement diets can produce 20-fold and twofold more nutritionally similar food per cropland than beef and eggs, the most and least resource-intensive animal categories, respectively. Although conventional and opportunity food losses are both targets for improvement, the high opportunity food losses highlight the large potential savings beyond conventionally defined food losses. Concurrently replacing all animal-based items in the US diet with plant-based alternatives will add enough food to feed, in full, 350 million additional people, well above the expected benefits of eliminating all supply chain food waste. These results highlight the importance of dietary shifts to improving food availability and security.

Concepts: Nutrition, Food, Meat, Sustainability, Food security, Replacements, Replacement, Kashrut

252

In urban ecosystems, socioeconomics contribute to patterns of biodiversity. The ‘luxury effect’, in which wealthier neighbourhoods are more biologically diverse, has been observed for plants, birds, bats and lizards. Here, we used data from a survey of indoor arthropod diversity (defined throughout as family-level richness) from 50 urban houses and found that house size, surrounding vegetation, as well as mean neighbourhood income best predict the number of kinds of arthropods found indoors. Our finding, that homes in wealthier neighbourhoods host higher indoor arthropod diversity (consisting of primarily non-pest species), shows that the luxury effect can extend to the indoor environment. The effect of mean neighbourhood income on indoor arthropod diversity was particularly strong for individual houses that lacked high surrounding vegetation ground cover, suggesting that neighbourhood dynamics can compensate for local choices of homeowners. Our work suggests that the management of neighbourhoods and cities can have effects on biodiversity that can extend from trees and birds all the way to the arthropod life in bedrooms and basements.

Concepts: Evolution, Life, Species, Ecology, Natural environment, Sustainability, Biome, House

199

The discipline of sustainability science has emerged in response to concerns of natural and social scientists, policymakers, and lay people about whether the Earth can continue to support human population growth and economic prosperity. Yet, sustainability science has developed largely independently from and with little reference to key ecological principles that govern life on Earth. A macroecological perspective highlights three principles that should be integral to sustainability science: 1) physical conservation laws govern the flows of energy and materials between human systems and the environment, 2) smaller systems are connected by these flows to larger systems in which they are embedded, and 3) global constraints ultimately limit flows at smaller scales. Over the past few decades, decreasing per capita rates of consumption of petroleum, phosphate, agricultural land, fresh water, fish, and wood indicate that the growing human population has surpassed the capacity of the Earth to supply enough of these essential resources to sustain even the current population and level of socioeconomic development.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Agriculture, Ecology, Natural environment, Sustainability, World population, Carrying capacity, Environmental movement

185

Next-generation sequencing (NGS) is increasingly being adopted as the backbone of biomedical research. With the commercialization of various affordable desktop sequencers, NGS will be reached by increasing numbers of cellular and molecular biologists, necessitating community consensus on bioinformatics protocols to tackle the exponential increase in quantity of sequence data. The current resources for NGS informatics are extremely fragmented. Finding a centralized synthesis is difficult. A multitude of tools exist for NGS data analysis; however, none of these satisfies all possible uses and needs. This gap in functionality could be filled by integrating different methods in customized pipelines, an approach helped by the open-source nature of many NGS programmes. Drawing from community spirit and with the use of the Wikipedia framework, we have initiated a collaborative NGS resource: The NGS WikiBook. We have collected a sufficient amount of text to incentivize a broader community to contribute to it. Users can search, browse, edit and create new content, so as to facilitate self-learning and feedback to the community. The overall structure and style for this dynamic material is designed for the bench biologists and non-bioinformaticians. The flexibility of online material allows the readers to ignore details in a first read, yet have immediate access to the information they need. Each chapter comes with practical exercises so readers may familiarize themselves with each step. The NGS WikiBook aims to create a collective laboratory book and protocol that explains the key concepts and describes best practices in this fast-evolving field.

Concepts: Molecular biology, Biology, Sequence, Medical research, Sustainability, Bench, Exponential growth, Wikipedia

175

Expansion of cropland in tropical countries is one of the principal causes of biodiversity loss, and threatens to undermine progress towards meeting the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. To understand this threat better, we analysed data on crop distribution and expansion in 128 tropical countries, assessed changes in area of the main crops and mapped overlaps between conservation priorities and cultivation potential. Rice was the single crop grown over the largest area, especially in tropical forest biomes. Cropland in tropical countries expanded by c. 48,000 km(2) per year from 1999-2008. The countries which added the greatest area of new cropland were Nigeria, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Sudan and Brazil. Soybeans and maize are the crops which expanded most in absolute area. Other crops with large increases included rice, sorghum, oil palm, beans, sugar cane, cow peas, wheat and cassava. Areas of high cultivation potential-while bearing in mind that political and socio-economic conditions can be as influential as biophysical ones-may be vulnerable to conversion in the future. These include some priority areas for biodiversity conservation in tropical countries (e.g., Frontier Forests and High Biodiversity Wilderness Areas), which have previously been identified as having ‘low vulnerability’, in particular in central Africa and northern Australia. There are also many other smaller areas which are important for biodiversity and which have high cultivation potential (e.g., in the fringes of the Amazon basin, in the Paraguayan Chaco, and in the savanna woodlands of the Sahel and East Africa). We highlight the urgent need for more effective sustainability standards and policies addressing both production and consumption of tropical commodities, including robust land-use planning in agricultural frontiers, establishment of new protected areas or REDD+ projects in places agriculture has not yet reached, and reduction or elimination of incentives for land-demanding bioenergy feedstocks.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Agriculture, Africa, Nigeria, Brazil, Sustainability, Amazon Basin

169

Access to safe drinking water is a human right, crucial to combat inequalities, reduce poverty and allow sustainable development. In many areas of the world, however, this right is not guaranteed, in part because of the lack of easily deployable diagnostic tools. Low-cost and simple methods to test water supplies onsite can protect vulnerable communities from the impact of contaminants in drinking water. Ideally such devices would also be easy to dispose of so as to leave no trace, or have a detrimental effect on the environment. To this aim, we here report the first paper microbial fuel cell (pMFC) fabricated by screen-printing biodegradable carbon-based electrodes onto a single sheet of paper, and demonstrate its use as a shock sensor for bioactive compounds (e.g. formaldehyde) in water. We also show a simple route to enhance the sensor performance by folding back-to-back two pMFCs electrically connected in parallel. This promising proof of concept work can lead to a revolutionizing way of testing water at point of use, which is not only green, easy-to-operate and rapid, but is also affordable to all.

Concepts: Water, Electrochemistry, Toxicity, Electrolysis, Sustainability, Water quality, Fuel cell, Microbial fuel cell

144

This paper aims to examine the dynamics of land transactions, machine investments, and the demand for machine services using farm panel data from China. Recently, China’s agriculture has experienced a large expansion of machine rentals and machine services provided by specialized agents, which has contributed to mechanization of agricultural production. On the other hand, the empirical results show that an increase in non-agricultural wage rates leads to expansion of self-cultivated land size. A rise in the proportion of non-agricultural income or the migration rate also increases the size of self-cultivated land. Interestingly, however, relatively educated farm households decrease the size of self-cultivated land, which suggests that relatively less educated farmers tend to specialize in farming. The demand for machine services has also increased if agricultural wage and migration rate increased over time, especially among relatively large farms. The results on crop income also support complementarities between rented-in land and machine services (demanded), which implies that scale economies are arising in Chinese agriculture with mechanization and active land rental markets.

Concepts: Agriculture, Economics, Sustainability, Supply and demand, Agricultural economics, Farm, Tractor, Agriculture in China

98

Although global food demand is expected to increase 60% by 2050 compared with 2005/2007, the rise will be much greater in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Indeed, SSA is the region at greatest food security risk because by 2050 its population will increase 2.5-fold and demand for cereals approximately triple, whereas current levels of cereal consumption already depend on substantial imports. At issue is whether SSA can meet this vast increase in cereal demand without greater reliance on cereal imports or major expansion of agricultural area and associated biodiversity loss and greenhouse gas emissions. Recent studies indicate that the global increase in food demand by 2050 can be met through closing the gap between current farm yield and yield potential on existing cropland. Here, however, we estimate it will not be feasible to meet future SSA cereal demand on existing production area by yield gap closure alone. Our agronomically robust yield gap analysis for 10 countries in SSA using location-specific data and a spatial upscaling approach reveals that, in addition to yield gap closure, other more complex and uncertain components of intensification are also needed, i.e., increasing cropping intensity (the number of crops grown per 12 mo on the same field) and sustainable expansion of irrigated production area. If intensification is not successful and massive cropland land expansion is to be avoided, SSA will depend much more on imports of cereals than it does today.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Agriculture, Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Risk, Ethiopia, Sustainability, Greenhouse gas

97

Medicinal plants are globally valuable sources of herbal products, and they are disappearing at a high speed. This article reviews global trends, developments and prospects for the strategies and methodologies concerning the conservation and sustainable use of medicinal plant resources to provide a reliable reference for the conservation and sustainable use of medicinal plants. We emphasized that both conservation strategies (e.g. in situ and ex situ conservation and cultivation practices) and resource management (e.g. good agricultural practices and sustainable use solutions) should be adequately taken into account for the sustainable use of medicinal plant resources. We recommend that biotechnical approaches (e.g. tissue culture, micropropagation, synthetic seed technology, and molecular marker-based approaches) should be applied to improve yield and modify the potency of medicinal plants.

Concepts: Pharmacology, Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Agriculture, Herbalism, Herb, Sustainability, In-situ conservation