Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Breeding Better Berries

 Driscolls white, red, and pink strawberry varieties.

Bloomberg profiles Driscoll's efforts to breed the next generation of strawberries:
A few years ago, during his commute across California’s Pajaro Valley, Phil Stewart began stopping more regularly at the Burger King in Watsonville. He wasn’t just there for the Whoppers. He was visiting a wild strawberry plant. Stewart, an affable 41-year-old with sandy hair, breeds the fruit for Driscoll’s, the largest player in the $5.6 billion U.S. berry market. He was struck by the plant’s vigor—sprouting at the edge of the sidewalk without much water or soil, blanketed in the exhaust of cars waiting at a stoplight. Stewart dropped in on it for two years, waiting for it to fruit. When at last he found two small berries on the plant and tasted one, it was delicious.
Strawberries grow almost everywhere in the world, though nowhere as bounteously as they do along this particular stretch of the California coast, about 95 miles south of San Francisco, where the Pajaro River empties into Monterey Bay. The Spanish explorer SebastiĆ”n VizcaĆ­no, anchoring nearby in 1602, found wild strawberries in December, which was unheard of in Europe. Explorers to other parts of the New World also discovered strawberries with marvelous advantages in color, size, and flavor, and took botanical specimens home. Two of these crossed to yield the modern strawberry, Fragaria x ananassa, in the 18th century.
Today, California produces almost 29 percent of the world’s strawberries—$2.6 billion worth—a lot of that from the 14,200 acres of fields that surround Watsonville and neighboring Salinas....Driscoll’s breeding program predates the company itself. In 1944 a group of strawberry farmers founded the Strawberry Institute of California, dedicated to the development of new and better varieties. Driscoll Strawberry Associates, formed as a grower’s cooperative in 1953, merged with the institute in 1966, and got out of physical farming. Since then, the company has focused on the two ends of the supply chain.
Driscoll’s has a staff of 30 scientists devoted solely to strawberries, manipulating evolution at nine research stations in Watsonville, Southern California, Florida, Spain, Mexico, and the U.K. The company provides seedling plants to contracted growers. Then, when the growers harvest the berries, Driscoll’s packs, ships, and markets them to retailers. The growers get 85 percent of the revenue; Driscoll’s keeps the rest.
Driscoll’s is a private company and family-owned. The chairman, Miles Reiter, is the third generation of Reiters to run the business, and his daughter manages operations in Chile. Driscoll’s doesn’t disclose financial data but estimates that it has 34 percent market share of U.S. strawberry sales—48 percent in organic.
Until seeing this article, I'd never heard of Driscoll's strawberries.  Actually, that's only partially true.  A friend of mine from high school's dad raised a nice garden of strawberries.  Their name was Distl.  However, my grandma, who never met a word she couldn't mispronounce, always called him Driscol.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Common Hospital Infection May Be Foodborne

National Geographic:
One of the most common and troubling infections that occur in healthcare may come from an unexpected source, according to a new paper: from food. Yet because it is not one of the bacteria that we think of as disease-causing foodborne organisms, the size of the threat it poses, and the way it reaches us, may not be well understood.
The infection is Klebsiella pneumoniae, a stubborn gut-dwelling organism that can cause pneumonia, bloodstream infections and meningitis. The finding that it is present in food—and in some cases, practically genetically identical in food and in hospitals—comes from a multi-institute project that for several years has been closely analyzing pathogens found on supermarket meat and in hospital patients in Flagstaff, Ariz. The collaboration chose Flagstaff because it is home base for the institution that started the study, the private Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), and also because it is a relatively isolated city with one major medical center and a small number of grocery store chains, which put useful boundaries on a project looking at bacterial traffic between medical settings and food....
Johnson and Price are long-time collaborators on studies of E. coli, another disease organism that contaminates hospital environments, unpredictably causes severe illness, and travels on food. They hypothesized Klebsiella might behave in the same way. For this study, they and the rest of the team—from TGen; George Washington University, where Price heads the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center; and institutions in Flagstaff, Baltimore and Denmark—looked for the bacterium in 508 packages of chicken, turkey and pork bought in Flagstaff supermarkets over 10 months, and in 1,728 samples of blood or urine taken from Flagstaff hospital patients during the same time span.
They found that 10 percent of the patients, and 47 percent of the meat, carried Klebsiella. Moreover, 22 percent of the Klebsiella—32 percent of those found on meat and 8 percent of those found in patients—were multi-drug resistant, that is, to at least three different families of antibiotics. When they put the samples from meat and from patients through MLST, an analysis that groups organisms into types on the basis of similarities in certain genes, they found that the meat and human isolates were not different, but fell into the same types. And when they sequenced the entire genomes of a randomly chosen subset of the Klebsiella from each source, and then compared them to see how alike or different they were, they found that the meat-source and human isolates did not separate out, but clustered within groups. Of the 38 human-source isolates they chose for close scrutiny, 5—13 percent—were almost identical to ones that came from meat. When they used those matched pairs to infect mice experimentally, the human-origin and meat-origin bacteria were equally virulent.
So what does this mean? Price said in a phone conversation that the results show how limited our awareness of foodborne organisms is. Public concern, and public-health surveillance, focus on well-known pathogens such as Salmonella and Campylobacter where the link between food consumption and illness is more evident, but discount bacteria that do not cause immediate illness, That suggests, first, that foodborne illness is more widespread than we detect, and given the sometimes fatal illness that Klebsiella causes, more serious as well.
But an additional, crucial issue, revealed by the results and by additional testing done on the different groups of bacterial samples, is the influence of antibiotics that are given to meat animals. The resistance patterns in the Klebsiella isolated from humans were not all like each other, and the resistance patterns in meat were not all alike either; but certain samples taken from humans matched samples in the meat-source pool. That suggests, Price said, that the bacteria did not all enter the local hospital and become resistant there due to homogeneous patterns of drug use in the medical center. Instead, the bacteria became differently resistant depending on the degree of antibiotic use on the farms where animals were raised, and then passed that idiosyncratic pattern to whichever human consumed the meat the animal became.
If farmers think they can maintain business as usual, they are grossly mistaken.

First-Rate Protection

 Columbus Dispatch:
A Lancaster man has pleaded guilty to accidentally firing his rifle into the ground outside a military recruiting center that he was helping to guard last week.

Christopher Reed, 28, of Garfield Avenue, entered the plea today in Fairfield County Municipal Court. He was charged with discharging a firearm in the city limits, a fourth-degree misdemeanor.

Reed was fined $112 and $25 in court costs. He also was ordered not to possess weapons for two years and placed on probation for that same amount of time.

It wasn’t the first time he’d had a gun violation. Reed was convicted of the same offense in 2013 and was fined $50, court records show.

The incident occurred last Thursday when Reed was standing guard with others outside the U.S. Army Recruiting Center near the River Valley Mall.

Like other recruiting centers across the United States, the Lancaster facility was being watched by armed civilians who were standing guard after five servicemen who weren’t armed were killed at two recruiting sites in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Reed told Lancaster police that he was holding his AR-15 when someone asked to look at the gun. He said he was trying to clear the ammunition to make the weapon safe when the gun discharged a bullet into the pavement.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Powerful Iceland

Powerful Iceland from Garðar Ólafsson on Vimeo.

I've been shooting this video around iceland the last few months, it's such an amazing country that everyone should witness with their own eyes.


Mount Kirkjufell
Vík í Mýrdal
Sólheimasandur (DC-3 Plane)
Seljalandsfoss waterfall
Goðafoss waterfall
Aldeyjafoss waterfall
Hólmbergsviti lighthouse
Garðskagi lighthouse
Hvalsneskirkja church

Equipment used:

Dji Phantom 3 Professional
Canon EOS 6D
Sony a7s
Gopro Hero 4 Black

Edited in Final Cut Pro X

Music by: Matt Corby - Brother

States Hurt Worst By Commodities Bust


The Bloomberg Commodity Index last week reached a 13-year low and has plunged 61 percent since its peak in 2008. That matters a lot in, say, Wyoming, Louisiana, Texas and Nebraska. Not so much in New Jersey or Massachusetts, for example. The map below shows the top 10 states with the greatest exposure as measured by mining and agriculture's share of the economy in 2014. The darker the color, the more the state's economy is at risk.

And things could still get ugly in the Corn Belt.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

NASA Photo of the Day

July 19:

The First Rocket Launch from Cape Canaveral
Image Credit: GRIN, NASA
Explanation: A new chapter in space flight began this week in 1950 July with the launch of the first rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida: the Bumper V-2. Shown above, the Bumper V-2 was an ambitious two-stage rocket program that topped a V-2 missile base with a WAC Corporal rocket. The upper stage was able to reach then-record altitudes of almost 400 kilometers, higher than even Space Shuttles once flew. Launched under the direction of the General Electric Company, the Bumper V-2 was used primarily for testing rocket systems and for research on the upper atmosphere. Bumper V-2 rockets carried small payloads that allowed them to measure attributes including air temperature and cosmic ray impacts. Seven years later, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I and Sputnik II, the first satellites into Earth orbit. In response in 1958, the US created NASA.

Border War?


Canada is one wrong move away from a border war with the United States—if you believe a group of boiling-mad Maine lobstermen. Unfathomable as armed conflict between Canada and the United States seems, if it’s going to happen, it will be in the ocean between Maine and New Brunswick, where two tiny, treeless islands—North Rock and Machias Seal—are the last remaining disputed lands between the two countries.
The islands have no obvious value. They aren’t strategically located for military purposes and there are no natural resources to be mined. In fact, the islands’ primary residents are 5,800 pairs of nesting puffins. However, the waters around the islands, known by locals as “the grey zone,” because both Canada and the U.S. claim that part of the ocean, contain a lucrative lobster fishery.
The conflict bubbles to the surface every few years, when a bellicose lobsterman on one side or the other gets quoted in the press and sets the other side off. But things are different this year. Due to the high price of lobster, new lobstermen have entered the fray, and they are ignoring unwritten rules that have kept the conflict on a low simmer since 1783. Most of the American lobstermen are from the Maine coast bordering the grey zone, and most of the Canadians are from Grand Manan Island. Both sides admit they have a few hotheads they keep an eye on, but the new lobstermen aren’t from either community, so there is no one to talk them out of rocking the boat.
“Somebody is going to get killed. We’ve had bad years in the past and got lucky, but this is the worst year I’ve ever seen,” says American John Drouin, chair of the Maine Lobster Zone Council district in charge of the grey zone. Drouin fears things are even more dangerous than they were eight years ago, when Maine lobsterman Patrick Feeney had his thumb ripped off. It got caught as he was trying to free his equipment while jostling with a Canadian for territory. Laurence Cook, chair of the Grand Manan Fishermen’s Association’s committee in charge of the grey zone, echoes Drouin’s sentiment. “You can work with some people, but there are assholes on both sides of the border who take things too far,” says Cook, who received a death threat in 2002.
As of the end of June, lobster prices in the Maritimes were at about $5.50 a pound, up from about $4 at the same time last year. The high price of lobster is encouraging non-locals to fish in the area, including reviled “company boats” from Nova Scotia that both lobstermen from New Brunswick and Maine say are aggressive and dangerous. Unlike most boats owned and operated by the same person, company boat operators often come from farther afield, so they don’t know the surrounding waters, and their behaviour is less likely to be tempered by the need to work alongside someone in future years.
The Maine Department of Marine Resources say it regularly patrols the area, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada insists Canadian agencies enforce rule violations—the number of traps, the size of lobsters—by Canadian boats, but local lobstermen on both sides feel the other side regularly breaks the law without any consequences.
Canadian fishermen set lobster traps in the grey zone from July to November. The Americans have a much longer season. Drouin, who has been fishing lobster off the coast of Maine for 37 years, is fed up with what he sees as reckless and unpunished lawbreaking. “Canadians are like Vikings. They’ll rape and pillage and not give a s–t, because they can still go home [after their short season],” says Drouin.
Fishermen: folks who make farmers look sane.  Putting things on an international boundary, where stereotypes and bitterness can take root, just spices things up more.  Well, hopefully nobody dies.

Salt Poisoning California Almonds

The Salt:
As California's drought drags on, its almond industry has come under scrutiny. As you've probably heard by now, almonds use a lot of water — about one gallon per nut. Most growers are relying on groundwater even more this year, because their surface water has been cut off. But that brings a different problem all together: too much salt.
Not the salt added to make roasted almonds savory, but salt in groundwater – which is killing trees.
"The trees just don't look healthy," says Paul Parreira. He and his brother David ship over 30 million pounds of almonds around the globe each year from Rpac Almonds, in California's Central Valley.
"Everybody is watering at the minimum levels with high-salinity water," he says. "It's a double-edged sword."
High salinity levels in groundwater used for agriculture has long been a problem in the west side of the Central Valley, but this year, it's also an issue on the east side, a growing region at the base of the Sierra Nevada that's usually wet. Many farmers have zero allocation of surface water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, so they're forced to irrigate with salty groundwater. And the few farmers who do get delta water say it's also saltier than normal these days.
Without an end to the drought, agriculture in the Central Valley will be shrinking.  That is significant for the entire world.

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