Bionic leaf creates its own fertiliser to fuel new ‘green revolution’

Researchers have invented a new bionic leaf that uses bacteria, sunlight, water and air to make fertilizer in the very soil where crops are grown. It is hoped that the leaf will be able to serve a vital role in kickstarting a new ‘green revolution’ like that of the mid-20th century.

The first green revolution saw a massive increase in the use of fertiliser on new wheat and rice varieties, helping to double agricultural production. Though far from a perfect solution – the  increased use resulted in serious environmental damage – the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization have said that the move quite possibly saved millions of lives.

However, while it served at the time, a new green revolution is required. With the world’s population expected to grow by another 2 billion by 2050, a solution to boost production without having to clear masses more land for farming is urgently required.

A multi-pronged approach will be necessary, but the bionic leaf could play a vital role.

“When you have a large centralised process and a massive infrastructure, you can easily make and deliver fertiliser,” said Dr Daniel Nocera.

“But if I said that now you’ve got to do it in a village in India onsite with dirty water — forget it. Poorer countries in the emerging world don’t always have the resources to do this. We should be thinking of a distributed system because that’s where it’s really needed.”

Nocera is known for his previous work on artificial leaves turning sunlight into liquid fuel, which we reported on here, and is now looking to turn that expertise towards the creation of fertiliser.

Previous iterations of the leaf, when exposed to sunlight, paired a water-splitting catalyst with the bacteria Ralstonia eutropha, which consumes hydrogen and takes carbon dioxide out of the air to make liquid fuel.

Radishes grown with the self-fertilising bionic leaf, right, alongside those grown with conventional methods. Image courtesy of Nocera lab, Harvard University

Last June, Nocera’s bionic leaf even reached the point of providing biomass and liquid fuel yields that greatly exceeded those from natural photosynthesis. Now, by using Xanthobacter bacteria, the leaf can fix hydrogen from itself and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to make a bioplastic that the bacteria store inside themselves as fuel.

“I can then put the bug in the soil because it has already used the sunlight to make the bioplastic,” Nocera explained. “Then the bug pulls nitrogen from the air and uses the bioplastic, which is basically stored hydrogen, to drive the fixation cycle to make ammonia for fertilising crops.”

The research team have already tested the ammonia production of the system but have found real proof in growing radishes. Using the system to grow five crop cycles, they found that the vegetables receiving the bionic-leaf-derived fertilizer weigh 150 percent more than the control crops.

With this success behind them, Nocera has said that the next step is boosting throughput to get to the point where farmers in locations such as India or sub-Saharan Africa can produce their own fertiliser.

Footage of fatal crash involving self-driving Uber released

The Tempe Police Department has released the first footage of this week’s fatal crash involving a self-driving Uber. Police had previously said that the Uber, which had a safety driver inside, did not slow down before it struck the victim, something the footage appears to confirm.

Source: The Verge

Police ask Google to help in the pursuit of two gunmen

Google may have helped solve two separate crimes committed roughly one-a-half years apart. According to reports, Raleigh police presented Google with warrants for data from all the mobile devices that were within a certain distance of the respective crime scenes at the time the crimes were committed.

Source: Tech Crunch

Teenager hacks "tamper-proof" cryptocurrency wallet

A hardware wallet designed to store cryptocurrencies, and touted by its manufacturer as tamper-proof, has been hacked by a British 15-year-old. Saleem Rashid said he had written code that gave him a back door into the Ledger Nano S, which would allow a malicious attacker to drain the wallet of funds.

Source: BBC

Tooth-mounted sensor tracks what your're eating

Scientists at Tufts University have developed a wireless sensor that can be attached onto a person’s tooth to track what they are eating and drinking. In their study, the researchers describe how the sensor is able to transmit information about a person’s glucose, salt and alcohol intake.

Source: Alphr

Scientists develop AI software that can reproduce like a living thing

Computer scientists have created a neural network that continually self improves by mimicking the biological self-replication process. “Self-replication is a key aspect of biological life that has been largely overlooked in Artificial Intelligence systems,” the scientists are quoted as saying.

Source: The Register

Boring Company unveils proposed ‘Loop’ route

Elon Musk’s Boring Company has unveiled the first leg of its hyperloop project, which is a ‘Loop’ transit system to travel between Washington D.C. and Baltimore in 15 minutes. The Boring Company’s main project is its network of tunnels under Los Angeles, where it already started digging last year.

Source: Electrek

XPRIZE launches contest to build remote-controlled robot avatars

Prize fund XPRIZE and All Nippon Airways are offering $10 million reward to research teas who develop tech that eliminates the need to physically travel. The initial idea is that instead of plane travel, people could use goggles, ear phones and haptic tech to control a humanoid robot and experience different locations.

Source: Tech Crunch

NASA reveals plans for huge spacecraft to blow up asteroids

NASA has revealed plans for a huge nuclear spacecraft capable of shunting or blowing up an asteroid if it was on course to wipe out life on Earth. The agency published details of its Hammer deterrent, which is an eight tonne spaceship capable of deflecting a giant space rock.

Source: The Telegraph

Sierra Leone hosts the world’s first blockchain-powered elections

Sierra Leone recorded votes in its recent election to a blockchain. The tech, anonymously stored votes in an immutable ledger, thereby offering instant access to the election results. “This is the first time a government election is using blockchain technology,” said Leonardo Gammar of Agora, the company behind the technology.

Source: Quartz

AI-powered robot shoots perfect free throws

Japanese news agency Asahi Shimbun has reported on a AI-powered robot that shoots perfect free throws in a game of basketball. The robot was training by repeating shots, up to 12 feet from the hoop, 200,000 times, and its developers said it can hit these close shots with almost perfect accuracy.

Source: Motherboard

Russia accused of engineering cyberattacks by the US

Russia has been accused of engineering a series of cyberattacks that targeted critical infrastructure in America and Europe, which could have sabotaged or shut down power plants. US officials and private security firms claim the attacks are a signal by Russia that it could disrupt the West’s critical facilities.

Google founder Larry Page unveils self-flying air taxi

A firm funded by Google founder Larry Page has unveiled an electric, self-flying air taxi that can travel at up to 180 km/h (110mph). The taxi takes off and lands vertically, and can do 100 km on a single charge. It will eventually be available to customers as a service "similar to an airline or a rideshare".

Source: BBC