The ocean is the answer to future food security but we’re not using it: scientists

The vast majority of coastal countries on Earth are missing out on a valuable resource to ensure future food security, according to newly published research.

Published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, the research has found that the world’s oceans contain numerous “hot spots” for marine aquaculture, or ocean-based fish farms, which could produce 15 billion tonnes of fish every year: over 100 times current seafood consumption globally.

“There are only a couple of countries that are producing the vast majority of what’s being produced right now in the oceans,” said lead author Rebecca Gentry, from UC Santa Barbara’s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management. “We show that aquaculture could actually be spread a lot more across the world, and every coastal country has this opportunity.”

However, an unwillingness by governments to seriously explore aquaculture could seriously jeopardise this.

“There is a lot of space that is suitable for aquaculture, and that is not what’s going to limit its development,” said Gentry. “It’s going to be other things such as governance and economics.”

A fish farm in Dugi Otok, Croatia

At present, many countries choose to import much of their seafood, despite significant potential to meet their own needs.

The US, for example, imports over 90% of its fish, resulting in a trade deficit for seafood alone that tops $13bn. However, it could produce its entire domestic supply using just 0.01% of its ocean territory.

Worldwide, the story is similar: aquaculture could match the entire seafood production of every wild-caught fishery using a combined area the size of Lake Michigan: less than 1% of the total ocean surface.

And with food security under increasing threat, it is only a matter of time before countries take aquaculture seriously.

“Marine aquaculture provides a means and an opportunity to support both human livelihoods and economic growth, in addition to providing food security,” said co-author Ben Halpern, executive director of the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS). “It’s not a question of if aquaculture will be part of future food production but, instead, where and when. Our results help guide that trajectory.”

Cages used in marine aquaculture

With such potential, it is no surprise that aquaculture is already on the increase.

“Aquaculture is expected to increase by 39% in the next decade,” said study co-author Halley Froehlich, a postdoctoral researcher at NCEAS. “Not only is this growth rate fast, but the amount of biomass aquaculture produces has already surpassed wild seafood catches and beef production.”

However, if aquaculture is going to be a core part of future food production, it needs to be managed properly, something that hasn’t always happened in the past. In the 90s, the poor management of shrimp farming in Thailand led to a boom and bust that left vast coastal areas barren.

“Like any food system, aquaculture can be done poorly; we’ve seen it,” said Froehlich. “This is really an opportunity to shape the future of food for the betterment of people and the environment.”

Scientists, software developers and artists have begun using VR to visualise genes and predict disease

A group of scientists, software developers and artists have taken to using virtual reality (VR) technology to visualise complex interactions between genes and their regulatory elements.

The team, which comprises of members from Oxford University, Universita’ di Napoli and Goldsmiths, University of London, have been using VR to visualise simulations of a composite of data from genome sequencing, data on the interactions of DNA and microscopy data.

When all this data is combined the team are provided with an interactive, 3D image that shows where different regions of the genome sit relative to others, and how they interact with each other.

“Being able to visualise such data is important because the human brain is very good at pattern recognition – we tend to think visually,” said Stephen Taylor, head of the Computational Biology Research Group at Oxford’s MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine (WIMM).

“It began at a conference back in 2014 when we saw a demonstration by researchers from Goldsmiths who had used software called CSynth to model proteins in three dimensions. We began working with them, feeding in seemingly incomprehensible information derived from our studies of the human alpha globin gene cluster and we were amazed that what we saw on the screen was an instantly recognisable model.”

The team believe that being able to visualise the interactions between genes and their regulatory elements will allow them to understand the basis of human genetic diseases, and are currently applying their techniques to study genetic diseases such as diabetes, cancer and multiple sclerosis.

“Our ultimate aim in this area is to correct the faulty gene or its regulatory elements and be able to re-introduce the corrected cells into a patient’s bone marrow: to perfect this we have to fully understand how genes and their regulatory elements interact with one another” said Professor Doug Higgs, a principal researcher at the WIMM.

“Having virtual reality tools like this will enable researchers to efficiently combine their data to gain a much broader understanding of how the organisation of the genome affects gene expression, and how mutations and variants affect such interactions.”

There are around 37 trillion cells in the average adult human body, and each cell contains two meters of DNA tightly packed into its nucleus.

While the technology to sequence genomes is well established, it has been shown that the manner in which DNA is folded within each cell affects how genes are expressed.

“There are more than three billion base pairs in the human genome, and a change in just one of these can cause a problem. As a model we’ve been looking at the human alpha globin gene cluster to understand how variants in genes and their regulatory elements may cause human genetic disease,” said Prof Jim Hughes, associate professor of Genome Biology at Oxford University.

Using CRISPR, UK scientists edit DNA of human embryos

For the first time in the UK, scientists have altered human embryos. Using the gene-editing tool CRISPR, the scientists turned off the protein OCT4, which is thought to be important in early embryo development. In doing so, cells that normally go on to form the placenta, yolk sac and foetus failed to develop.

Source: BBC

Tesla and AMD developing AI chip for self-driving cars

Tesla has partnered with AMD to develop a dedicated chip that will handle autonomous driving tasks in its cars. Tesla's Autopilot programme is currently headed by former AMD chip architect Jim Keller, and it is said that more than 50 people are working on the initiative under his leadership.

Source: CNBC

Synthetic muscle developed that can lift 1,000 times its own weight

Scientists have used a 3D printing technique to create an artificial muscle that can lift 1,000 times its own weight. "It can push, pull, bend, twist, and lift weight. It's the closest artificial material equivalent we have to a natural muscle," said Dr Aslan Miriyev, from the Creative Machines lab.

Source: Telegraph

Head of AI at Google criticises "AI apocalypse" scaremongering

John Giannandrea, the senior vice president of engineering at Google, has condemned AI scaremongering, promoted by people like Elon Musk ."I just object to the hype and the sort of sound bites that some people have been making," said Giannandrea."I am definitely not worried about the AI apocalypse."

Source: CNBC

Scientists engineer antibody that attacks 99% of HIV strains

Scientists have engineered an antibody that attacks 99% of HIV strains and is built to attack three critical parts of the virus, which makes it harder for the HIV virus to resist its effects. The International Aids Society said it was an "exciting breakthrough". Human trials will begin in 2018.

Source: BBC

Facebook has a plan to stop fake news from influencing elections

Mark Zuckerberg has outlined nine steps that Facebook will take to "protect election integrity". “I care deeply about the democratic process and protecting its integrity," he said during a live broadcast on his Facebook page. "I don’t want anyone to use our tools to undermine our democracy.”