Microbe-based faux beef could save forests, slash CO2 emissions

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Gradually replacing 20 percent of global beef and lamb consumption with meat-textured proteins grown in stainless steel vats could cut agriculture-related CO2 emissions and deforestation in half by 2050, researchers reported Wednesday.

Compared to a current-trends projection for population growth and , swapping half of red consumption for so-called microbial proteins would see reductions in tree loss and CO2 pollution of more than 80 percent, they reported in the journal Nature.

“With a relatively small change in the consumption of ruminant meat, from tropical deforestation can be strongly reduced,” lead author Florian Humpenoder, a scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), told AFP.

“This is an important contribution to reaching the Paris Agreement climate targets, with additional co-benefits for other sustainability goals.”

A trio of landmark UN reports since August have made it alarmingly clear that the Paris treaty’s cornerstone target—capping “well below” two degrees—is in serious jeopardy.

The global food system accounts for roughly a third of all carbon pollution, and is the main culprit within the , according the UN’s climate science advisory panel.

The cattle industry is a double threat.

It not only destroys CO2-absorbing tropical forests to make room for grazing pastures and cattle feed crops. In addition, belching livestock are a major source of methane, 30 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2 on a 100-year timescale.

Microbe-based have been on supermarket shelves for decades.

But as the world scrambles for climate solutions, these and other “novel foods” are poised to grow into a major industry within decades, according market forecasts.


Faux meat derived by culturing microbial or fungi-based cells undergoes a , analogous to that for wine or beer.

The cells feed off of glucose—from sugar cane or beets, for example—to produce proteins, which means some cropland is needed for production.

But far less than for red meat, according to the study.

Assuming current agricultural methods and meat consumption patterns continue over the next 30 years, global pasture area is set to increase by nearly one million square kilometres (390,000 square miles).

If, however, 20 percent of that meat is replaced with microbe-based protein, pasture area is decreased even below current levels.

“About 1.2 million sq km less agricultural land is required for the same protein supply,” said senior author Alexander Popp, also from PIK.

The benefits of protein made from microbes or fungi extend beyond climate and environmental impact, according to Hanna Tuomisto, a researcher at the University of Helsinki who did not take part in the study.

“Mycoprotein is an ideal substitute for meat because it is rich in protein and contains all the ,” she said in a comment, also in Nature.

Agricultural water use, along with the emissions of yet another , nitrous oxide, would also be reduced.

“The efficiency of biotech-enabled alternatives offer huge future potential for more sustainable food provision,” said Tilly Collins, deputy director of Imperial College London’s Centre for Environmental Policy.

“Governments and the food production business need to coordinate to develop appropriate standards and thus future public confidence,” she told the London-based Science Media Centre. “Our nuggets may never be the same again.”

What remains uncertain, however, is whether enough meat lovers will give up their burgers and steaks for an alternative that shares the texture of meat more than the taste.

Only one of the six co-authors of the study had actually tasted the microbe-based meat substitute, according to Humpenoder.

“He likes it,” he said.

More information:
Florian Humpenöder, Projected environmental benefits of replacing beef with microbial protein, Nature (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-04629-w. www.nature.com/articles/s41586-022-04629-w

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New research provides possible insights into the formation of Earth

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A new study, conducted by scientists at The University of New Mexico, found ancient, primordial helium-3 leaking from the Earth’s core, suggesting the planet formed inside a solar nebula, stirring further debate among scientists.

Each year, about 2 kg of the rare isotope gas helium-3 escapes from Earth’s interior, mostly along the mid-ocean ridge system, a range of underwater volcanos around the globe. Helium-3 is primordial, created shortly after the Big Bang and acquired from the solar nebula as the Earth formed. Geochemical evidence indicates the Earth has deep reservoirs of helium-3, but their locations and abundances are uncertain.

Earth’s inventory of helium consists of two stable isotopes, the more abundant helium-4, and the rare helium-3. Unlike terrestrial helium-4, which is mainly produced by the decay of uranium and thorium, terrestrial helium-3 is largely of primordial origin, synthesized in the aftermath of the Big Bang and incorporated into the Earth primarily during its formation.

Now, scientist models of volatile exchange during Earth’s formation and evolution implicate the metallic core as a leaky reservoir that supplies the rest of the Earth with helium-3. The results also suggest that other volatiles may be leaking from the core into the mantle. Helium-3 originates primarily in nebulae, an enormous cloud of dust and other such as hydrogen and other ionized gases. As one of the earliest elements produced in the universe, most helium-3 was created during the initial stages of the Big Bang.

“Helium-3 was synthesized very early in the history of the universe, very early, meaning within a few seconds of the ,” said Peter Olson, a UNM geophysicist and lead author of the paper, “Primordial Helium-3 Exchange Between Earth’s Core and Mantle,” published recently in American Geophysical Union journal Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems. “This study helps identify the core as the source of the leak rather than the mantle. It’s 13 plus billion years old and is measured to come out of the ‘s interior and the place where it apparently is leaking at the fastest rate is the Mid Ocean Ridge spreading centers. These are the plate boundaries where new ocean crust is being created.

“Two things are important even though it’s a small amount. First of all, it didn’t get there recently. It’s a primordial element and some of the places from which it is leaking are related to the core. For example, the source of the lavas that make up Hawaii and Iceland are thought to be derived from plumes that rise through the mantle from the core-mantle boundary region. The helium loss from the earth is global. It’s not just in a few places. It is concentrated in spreading centers at the mid-ocean ridges. These spreading centers are global, covering the entire Earth. Helium is found leaking out of other environments as well. So, it’s global and it comes from deep in the earth and those are two inferences, which are really solid, I think.”

The study, which also involved Zach Sharp, a UNM geochemist in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, involved two aspects as part of the modeling process—first, how helium-3 got into the deep earth to begin with, the acquisition process, and second, how it gets out. Previous studies have shown how helium-3 gets in, but none have done both, acquiring helium-3 and the process for getting it out. Both are fundamentally different mechanisms and occur at different time scales in earth’s history.

“The acquisition process, or the gas that makes up the solar system, is actually the gas that makes up the Sun, Jupiter and Saturn and is about 15 percent helium,” said Olson. “It’s the second-most abundant element in those bodies (after hydrogen), which makes it the second-most abundant element in the solar system. The obvious way to incorporate a lot of helium-3 into the earth is to build the earth while the solar nebula was in place surrounding it. When the Earth was enveloped in nebular gas, and if the surface of the earth is molten, then the gas can dissolve into the molten Earth as it forms because gases readily dissolve into melts.”

“There are lots of small comets or small little pebbles we call snowballs within the solar nebula that will fall slowly towards the Sun simply because of the gravitation of the attraction of the Sun,” Sharp said. “That’s a physical certainty—it must happen. Now, if you have planetary bodies that are not yet fully grown, and you have the pebbles coming in towards the sun, then a significant fraction of the ‘pebbles are going to be gravitationally captured by the growing Earth. You can make in 2 million years, something the size of Earth by this process, whereas previous models required more like 10 million years to make an Earth-sized body.”

The scientists used a model that consisted of a nebular atmosphere made from the same composition as the , and ingassing of this material into the molten which provided the environment needed to partition the helium from the mantle and the core.

“You find out very quickly that the surface would be so hot under those conditions that it would be a magma ocean, just the environment where you could dissolve loss of helium,” said Olson. “That gets the helium into the earth, but not into the core, for that, you have to dissolve it into the iron that forms the core. There have been lab measurements that measure the solubility of helium in free metals, like molten iron. This gave us an estimate of how much helium you could dissolve into the core as the Earth formed. That’s the modeling process for the first step, which told us that you get one or more petagrams (1,000,000,000,000,000 grams) of helium-3 into the core that way.”

“It’s very nice where we’re going with this. The question is” ‘how do we get so much helium into the mantle’? This was always a problem that was never fully addressed,” said Sharp. “It was like, yeah, it’s in there, and maybe it came from these late comets or asteroids, but the problem is helium is not dense. It wants to ‘float’ at the surface. It’s like taking a beach ball and trying to push it down to the bottom of a swimming pool. It’s going to pop back up. How can you get helium all the way down to the deep mantle? It’s really a problem.

“It’s generally not discussed in the case of the idea of nebular ingassing, but 15 percent of the nebula is helium. Most of the rest is hydrogen, so there we go, that’s the bulk of the nebular gas. If you’ve got this high pressure, just like the CO2 dissolving into your water in a can of soda, the helium will dissolve all the way down to the interior of the planet.”

The second step in the process is tricky because you have to deplete the mantle of helium-3 before it will start leaking out of the core. Numerous studies have assumed that helium was lost from the mantle as the Earth solidified after the “Giant Impact.” The Giant Impact is the presumed formation of the Moon during a collision between the proto-Earth and a large planet equivalent in size to Mars.

“The Giant Impact was such a disruptive event that the Earth’s mantle would’ve lost a lot of its gases, including its helium three. That’s a critical step because otherwise, the core won’t leak helium,” said Olson. “Once those two were in place, the process for leaking that we modeled was just an ordinary diffusion plus convection in the earth mantle, which drives plate tectonics. That would transport mantle material down to the core-mantle boundary where it would entrain helium-3 from the core and transport it back up to the surface at the ocean ridges and volcanic hotspots, and maybe the Rio Grande Rift here in New Mexico for example.”

“The amount of helium leaking is somewhere in the neighborhood of four pounds a year, maybe enough to fill 50 balloons depending on the size of the balloons,” said Sharp. “It’s not much, but the fact that it continues to come out of the earth all the time with the idea that the core being an important source is all viable. No one cares about a little bit of helium leaking out of the Earth into space, but we think it’s a fingerprint for important early events in our planet’s history. It’s evidence that the nebular ingassing idea is valid. If the helium was delivered later by asteroids and comets slamming into the Earth millions of years after the Earth formed, we would not expect to see so much

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Canadian poultry farmers fearful of avian flu strain

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Canadian poultry farmers are facing fear and stress as a highly pathogenic strain of H5N1 avian influenza is currently circulating in both wild and domestic flocks across North America.

According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency poultry and egg producers in Canada have lost more than 1.7 million birds to since late 2021. That tally includes both birds that have died of the virus and birds that have been euthanized.

David Hyink, an Alberta chicken , checks his barns each day with a sense of trepidation. He knows if the disease were to turn up on his property, it would mean the loss of his entire flock.

Avian has a , and those birds at outbreak sites that don’t die from the disease are humanely euthanized to prevent the spread of the virus.

“While we haven’t had it on our farm, and I hope we don’t, it just appears it could be anybody,” Hyink said. ”It could be us next, the farm next to us, you just don’t know.″

Alberta is Canada’s hardest hit province with 900,000 birds dead and 23 farms affected. Ontario is the second hardest hit with 23 affected farms and 425,000 birds dead.

Outbreaks of the virus have turned up now in every province except Prince Edward Island. Across the country, farmers are being encouraged to keep birds indoors, restrict visitors and ramp up biosecurity measures to help halt the spread.

The virus can be spread between birds through direct contact, but it also spreads easily from wild bird droppings and can be carried into commercial flocks on the feet of workers or on equipment.

While avian influenza was first detected in Canada in 2004, this year’s strain— which has also been wreaking havoc in Europe and Asia—is ”unprecedented″ in terms of its global impact, according to the CFIA.

The new strain is highly transmissible and appears to be sustaining itself within wild bird populations. While there’s some hope that case counts might decline when the spring bird migration ends in June, for now, farmers are left wondering where and when the next outbreak will happen.

“You just don’t know, and you do the best you can,” Hyink said.

While farmers who lose flocks to avian influenza are eligible for government compensation, the disease has still caused significant disruption for industry, said Jean-Michel Laurin, chief executive of the Canadian Poultry and Egg Processors Council.

Laurin said consumers have not been affected by any shortages, as the Canadian supply chain as a whole for eggs and poultry is holding up well. Part of the reason for that, he said, is that unlike in the U.S.—where massive industrial scale barns are much more common, meaning an outbreak at one property can take out an enormous amount of supply—Canadian chicken barns tend to be smaller, family run operations.

Health officials say that while avian influenza can occasionally cause illness in humans, it is rare and would be the result of close contact with infected or heavily contaminated environments.

© 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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A woman bought a sculpture at Goodwill for $34.99. It actually was a missing ancient Roman bust.

The Roman bust after it was bought by Laura Young. It was sold at a Goodwill in Austin, Texas for $34.99.   Credit: San Antonio Museum of Art

An ancient Roman bust from around the first century that had been missing for decades has finally made its way into the San Antonio Museum of Art, and all it took was for one artist to buy it from a Texas Goodwill for under $40.

In 2018, art collector Laura Young was shopping at a Goodwill store in Austin, Texas when she stumbled upon a sculpture on the floor beneath a table, according to the San Antonio Museum of Art. Someone that looks for undervalued or rare art pieces, Young told The Art Newspaper she bought the piece for $34.99, and a picture of it after she bought it shows it buckled up in her car with a price tag on its cheek.

After buying the bust, Young noticed it looked very old and worn, so she wanted to find out when and where it came from. Over the next couple of years, Young consulted with experts in at the University of Texas at Austin and those at auction houses across the United States looking for answers.

Eventually, Jörg Deterling, a consultant for the fine arts brokerage Sotheby’s, identified the bust as a piece that was once in a German decades ago, and connected her with German authorities.

Turns out, the sculpture is from late first century B.C. to early first century A.D. The museum believes it depicts a son of Pompey the Great, who was defeated in civil war by Julius Caesar, while The Art Newspaper reported the bust is believed to depict Roman commander Drusus Germanicus.

The bust had belonged to King Ludwig I of Bavaria, who lived from 1786 to 1868, and was part of a full-scale model he built of a house from Pompeii, called the Pompejanum, in Aschaffenburg, Germany. The model stood for nearly 200 years, but during World War II, it was severely damaged by Allied bombers.

No one is quite sure of how the bust went from being nearly destroyed to the Austin Goodwill, but the museum noted the U.S. Army established bases in Aschaffenburg that were in use until the Cold War, so a Texas soldier likely took it before returning home.

“It’s a great story whose plot includes the World War II-era, international diplomacy, art of the ancient Mediterranean, thrift shop sleuthing, historic Bavarian royalty, and the thoughtful stewardship of those who care for and preserve the arts, whether as individuals or institutions,” Emily Ballew Neff, Kelso director at the museum, said in a statement.

As part of an agreement with Bavarian Administration of State-Owned Palaces, Gardens, and Lakes, the Roman bust will be on display at the San Antonio Museum of Art from now until May 21, 2023. Afterwards, it will finally return to Germany.

Young said she was excited to discover the bust’s origins, but added it was bittersweet since she couldn’t keep or sell it.

“Either way, I’m glad I got to be a small part of (its) long and complicated history, and he looked great in the house while I had him,” she said.

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Emissions tied to the international trade of agricultural goods are rising

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Nature helps mental health, research says—but only for rich, white people?

New findings show a troubling lack of diversity—in participants and geography—in a fast-growing scientific field exploring nature’s effects on mental health. Credit: Joshua Brown/UVM

New research shows that a rapidly-growing environmental science field—which measures nature’s effects on human well-being—has a diversity problem that threatens its ability to make universal scientific claims.

The field—which combines psychology and —has produced numerous important studies detailing the benefits of nature, forests and parks on human well-being and mental health, including happiness, depression, and anxiety. The findings have been popularized by books like Your Brain on Nature and The Nature Fix, which champion the great outdoors’ health benefits.

But when University of Vermont researchers analyzed a decade of research from the field—174 peer-reviewed studies from 2010 to 2020—they found that study participants were overwhelmingly white, and that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities were strongly underrepresented. Over 95% of studies occurred in high-income Western nations in North America, Europe and East Asia—or Westernized nations such as South Africa—while research in the Global South was largely absent. Less than 4% of studies took place in medium-income nations, such as India, with no studies in low-income countries.

This narrow sample of humanity makes it difficult for the field to credibly make universal scientific claims, say the researchers, who published their findings today in Current Research in Environmental Sustainability.

“This field has great potential to address urgent issues—from the global mental health crisis to sustainability efforts worldwide—but to do so, we must better reflect the diversity of world’s populations, cultures and values,” says lead author Carlos Andres Gallegos-Riofrio of the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute for Environment.

Just one study in Africa? That’s WEIRD

Gallegos-Riofrio credits a landmark 2012 analysis of human psychology and behavioral science for inspiring the study. That earlier team, led by Joseph Henrich, highlighted the problem of drawing universal conclusions about from experiments that primarily used from nations that are WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic). Given that most humans live in non-WEIRD nations, with different styles of perception and reasoning and values, Henrich’s team argued that WEIRD studies could not credibly support universal scientific claims.

The UVM team applied Henrich’s lens—but dug deeper into the question of ethnicity for studies of nature’s mental . While they expected a Western bias, they were surprised by the level of bias: sample populations were not only primarily from WEIRD countries—but also overwhelmingly white.

Researchers were also surprised that 62% of studies did not report participants’ ethnicity at all (although the team acknowledges some studies used anonymized data sources, such as Twitter). Of the 174 studies, only one study occurred in Africa (South Africa), and one study took place in South America (Colombia)—neither tracked ethnicity. Only one study focused on North America’s Indigenous peoples.

“We hope our study is a wake-up call for this promising field that sparks positive change,” says co-author Rachelle Gould of UVM’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, and the Gund Institute for Environment. “A more inclusive and diverse field that embraces the research needs of the —and the full spectrum of ways that humans interact with the non-human world—will ultimately be more impactful.”

In addition to studying ethnicity and geography, the team also explored cultural values. They report that many studies conceptualized the human-nature relationship in human-centered, individualistic, and extractive terms, rather than with concepts like reciprocity, responsibility, and kinship, which are more common in many Indigenous and other non-Western cultures, the researchers say.

How to expand the field

The team offers several recommendations, including: more collaboration with diverse communities, greater diversity of participants, improved demographic tracking, enhanced focus on the Global South, culturally sensitive experiments and tools, cross-cultural research training, and an emphasis on equity and justice. Funding agencies and foundations should encourage greater diversity—of study participants and settings—in their funding calls, the researchers say.

The team also highlights the importance of diversifying environmental science, with better support for students and faculty from diverse backgrounds, and greater collaboration with diverse communities. Research by Dorceta Taylor and others demonstrates that BIPOC scholars are under-represented in U.S. environmental institutions, and that the environmental concerns of BIPOC communities are strongly underestimated.

“We need all cultures working together to tackle the global emergencies we face,” says Amaya Carrasco, a co-author and UVM graduate student. “That requires understanding what’s universal about the human-nature relationship, and what is culturally specific. Those insights are critical to driving social change, and require research to be more inclusive. We need all hands on deck.”

The study is titled: “Chronic deficiency of diversity and pluralism in research on nature’s effects: A planetary health problem.” The research team also included Hassan Arab, a graduate researcher at Wayne University.

More information:
Chronic deficiency of diversity and pluralism in research on nature’s mental health effects: A planetary health problem, Current Research in Environmental Sustainability (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.crsust.2022.100148

Nature helps mental health, research says—but only for rich, white people? (2022, May 6)
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