Seaweed Ant Bait: A Biodegradable Alternative

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Credit: Choe Laboratory, UC Riverside

Could this be a safer insecticide?

Some of us eat it, some of us can’t stand it, but seaweed could be a key ingredient in safer farming techniques.

After finding out that ants were killing off a wasp species researches needed to kill the Asian citrus psyllid, they developed Hydrogel.

It’s an inexpensive seaweed-based ant bait that’s biodegradable, and is proving effective in controlling Argentinean ants.

University of California researchers have found that these jello-like liquid spheres can reduce ant populations drastically.

“A 70 percent reduction is really successful, especially considering we are not spraying an insecticide but instead using a very targeted method that is better for the environment.”

– Dong-Hwan Choe, assistant professor of entomology

Hydrogels are similar to other liquid ant baits, but they are absorbent and can retain water over long periods of time.

They’re made of sugar water laced with .0001 percent thiamethoxam, which is about 100 times less than what is in standard gel traps, and 1,000 times less than typical spray insecticides.

It probably won’t be available on the market for awhile. In need of insect repellents now?  Visit this page for organic ways you can keep pests away from your home and garden.

Seaweeds are rich in minerals and fast growing – some can grow up to 3 feet a day. Hopefully this means an easy, sustainable supply.

It’s also becoming a popular non-chemical fertilizer for farming and gardening.

You can read more about seaweed fertilizer at, and


3 Ways Big Business Can Green Up

When we think about recycling, most of the pressure falls on the consumer. Not the manufacturers or industry leaders who force us into certain packaging choices, or more often than not, no choice at all.

This is especially true of the food industry, but recycling goods in any industry can reduce waste and preserve resources.

Wouldn’t it be great if more of the responsibility for sustainability started at the beginning, rather than the end of the chain?

Here are a few ways businesses could make being ‘environmentally friendly’ a lot easier.


Credit: UGRdivulga

1. Water Filtered With Fruit Peels

Mexican researchers have developed a way to filter heavy metals, and other pollutants from water using an absorbent material made almost entirely from discarded citrus peels, like oranges and grapefruits.

This is great because there isn’t any shortage of those. It’s estimated that the food industry produces about 38.2 million tons of fruit peel waste worldwide every year, so this is a great opportunity to put what is usually considered garbage to work.

The material is made using a new treatment called Instant Controlled Pressure Drop, then packing it into fixed bed columns.

“The results show a great potential for the use of said materials as adsorbents capable of competing with commercial activated carbon for the adsorption and recovery of metals present in wastewater in a way that it could be possible to carry out sustainable processes in which products with a great commercial value could be obtained from food industry residues.”

                                                             – Researcher Luis Alberto Romero Cano


Credit: UGRdivulga

2. Biodegradable Packaging That Keeps Food Fresher, Longer

Food packaging made from cellulose composites, or plant-based material, then coated with ‘active components’ that have anti-oxidizing and antimicrobial properties,
could be an alternative to traditional plastic polymers (AKA those disposable containers everything comes in).

Research has found clove ethereal oil to be best at tying free radicals and fighting oxidization, but it isn’t antimicrobial.

That’s where silver comes in. Adding iconic silver particles not only gives the material long-lasting antimicrobial properties but also makes it stronger and elastic.

These non-toxic materials take about two years to degrade.

The biggest challenge: making ready to use packaging from natural materials that are heat tolerant.

There are still difficulties in creating something that can hold up to an oven or microwave, yet decompose naturally after a certain length of time. Cellulose can’t be used in this way.

Similar products are already on the market. Compostable or edible water bottles seem to be gaining some traction. They range from somewhat appealing, to not at all.

One company has developed a bottle from Ooho, a gelatin-like substance made from seaweed and other plants. It can be flavored, is cheaper than plastic, and decomposes in 4-6 weeks. Another company, Biota, offers products that are corn based. Designer Ari Jónsson has created a bottle using red algae powder. Crystal Mountain and redleaf Water offer some slightly more traditional options.

Other entirely edible self-packaged foods, like Wikipearls, are becoming popular in Europe, and are sold in some parts of the US. They have plant and nut based skins, with yogurt, ice cream, or liquid centers.

It would be useful for our containers to dissolve naturally instead of clogging landfills and waterways forever. But how many of us actually want to take the next step and eat our water bottle, remains to be seen. Sometimes you just aren’t hungry.

3.  Recycling Rare Metals

New ways to recycle special and rare metals in batteries are on the horizon. Mining these metals is expensive and can take its toll on the environment.

The CoLaBats Initiative is working to make recycling metals like Cobalt, Lanthanides, Nickel, and Lithium easier and cost-efficient.

Task-Specific Ionic Liquids (TSIL), or ‘designer solvents’ as they are sometimes called, are used to break down Li-ion (Lithium-Ion Batteries) and NiMH (Nickel-Metal Hydride Batteries).

These batteries are used in many of our rechargeable goods, like phones, laptops, and increasingly in electric and hybrid cars. These liquids are non-toxic, cheap, and don’t require much processing to be reused.

Task-specific Ionic Liquid is essentially salt in a liquid state, that has been given special properties in order to perform a certain task. In some cases they can be used with traditional ionic liquids to reduce cost.

Another group of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are working on new ways to separate rare metals from batteries too.

The main method that is currently used for separating these metals is resource consuming. Hundreds of chambers of fluid are hooked up, and two fluids begin flowing past one another. One is acidic and water based, the other, organic. The metals then dissolve, and are extracted. This chemical process must be repeated thousands of times.

Due to expense, only about one percent of these types of metals are recycled.

“Everybody’s heard of blood diamonds, but maybe people haven’t heard of blood cobalt or tantalum or lithium for that matter. We shouldn’t just be throwing so much material away. There’s still a lot of value to them. I think that as part of a sustainable approach to manufacturing and developing a ‘circular’ economy, we should think about the impact and value of materials at every point along their life cycle. And how we can efficiently and effectively bring them back to useful raw materials once they’re at the end of their product life.”  

                                                           – Eric Schelter, Department of Chemistry, Penn’s School of Arts & Sciences

But that’s the old way.

A newer method reduces the amount of time and energy needed, while also decreasing waste generated during the process.

They’ve done this by bonding ions in mixtures. This mixture contains two types of elements. One is soluble in organics, the other isn’t. The solution acts as a filter, removing one metal from the others.

Benzene, the solvent used in most of these experiments is a natural part of crude oil, but it’s also carcinogenic. Because of this, researchers are still exploring other solvents friendlier to the environment.

Investing in such projects could help reduce landfill waste and metal consumption.

New Fossil Discovered, Named for Sir David Attenborough

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From left to right – David Siveter, Sir David Attenborough, and Derek Siveter.


 “The biggest compliment that a biologist or palaeontologist can pay to another one is to name a fossil in his honour and I take this as a very great compliment.”           – Sir David Attenborough


A 430 million-year-old fossil has been discovered by a team of scientists led by the University of Leicester.

The previously unknown crustacean is related to shrimp, crabs, crayfish and lobster. It was found in volcanic ash deposits in Herefordshire.

Only nine millimeters long, the well preserved ancient animal, eyes, antennae and all, has been named after Sir David Attenborough – in part to honor is 90th birthday. He spent some of his early days at University College Leicester, when his father was principal there.


Cascolus ravitis, here’s a breakdown of its meaning:

Cascolus, – from castrum, meaning stronghold.

colus – dwelling in, which has Old English connections to the name Attenborough.

ravitas – a combo of Ratae, a Roman name of Leicester and vita, life.


It has been reconstructed using 3D modeling.

Siveter et al

Credit: Siveter et al


This isn’t the first time Sir David Attenborough has had something named after him. A polar research ship,  the RRS Sir David Attenborough (after the popular vote “Boaty McBoatface was discarded) a wildflower, Attenborough Hawkweed, and a butterfly, Euptychia attenboroughi, to name three.

A few other notable people with plants or animals named after them:

Mick JaggerAegrotocatellus jaggeri, Trilobite fossil  

Kate Winslet –  Agra katewinsletae, a beetle

Lady Gaga –

  1. Gaga, animal
  2. Gagadon minimonstrum. prehistoric animal


Jon Stewart Aleiodes stewarti, wasp


Stephen Colbert –

 1. Aptostichus stephencolberti, California trapdoor spider 

2.  Agaporomorphus colberti, Venezuelan diving beetle 

3.  Diamphipnoa colberti, Chilean stonefly

4. Aleiodes colberti, Wasp from Ecuador

5. Sonoma colberti, Rove beetle 

4 Ways IBM’s Watson Wants to Help You Find the Perfect Recipe


There are many ways IBM’s Watson supercomputer has been sneaking into our lives unnoticed.

It’s being used increasingly in the health and medical industries. Sanofi, a French pharmaceutical company, has been using Watson to assist them in drug re-purposing. The FDA has signed a research agreement with IBM aimed at exchanging health data through blockchain. Sifting through mountains of info from wearables, clinical trials, patient records, and genomic data, to help determine which treatments work best.

Sports brand Under Armour is putting the technology to use in a new fitness app. So is a Japanese company that’s developed a robot called Pepper.

One of the more visible ways is with Chef Watson.

Cognitive Computing is being used to explore the differences in ingredients and their chemical properties in a visual way. Here are a few ways ‘Cognitive Computer Cooking’ might help with your next get together (or maybe not).

1.  After partnering with Bon Appétit in 2014, IBM launched a web app that lets you create your own full recipes with Watson. Working similarly to its sister online recipe makers, it allows you to choose one or more ingredients that you want, and rule out those you find objectionable. You can also start by selecting a dish you already know (like casserole) and hunt through possible ingredient combinations. Then Watson generates at least 100 recipes for you to try. They range from classic to experimental.

The Watson inspired combos are derived from an aggregate of 9,000 Bon Appétit recipes, combining several different recipes created by human chefs. It takes ideas and ingredients that have been used the most, then makes decisions/suggestions based on that.

Unfortunately, those of us without much cooking know how out there, looking for our own signature dish to be imagined for us, might be out of luck.

Watson is still learning itself and is apt to make mistakes. If it gives you the wrong proportion size, and you don’t catch it, you might end up with a ruined meal.

There are many occasions when you won’t need any experience to find mistakes. Like adding a lot of chocolate to blondies, kind of defeats the purpose.

2.  Bear Naked and Watson have cooked up a new way to enjoy your favorite granola snacks before you hit the trail (or the road to work).

At you can choose from 50 different ingredients to find your favorite blend. It all starts with the help of IBM Chef Watson, who selects possible flavor pairings based on your personal preferences, giving you the option to choose flavors you want, and exclude the ones you don’t. With thousands of possible combinations, it might just make it harder for you to choose!

Pick your granola, then select other ingredients which include fruits, nuts, vegetables, herbs, spices and more. Choose up to 3 and hit save.

You can even name your blend and choose a bear illustration for the package.

The company that launched in 2002 is known for using all Non-GMO Project Verified and ethically sourced ingredients. From the cinnamon apples that come from Smeltzer Orchard Company, a family owned farm in Michigan, to Red Sea Salt enriched with red algae clay from Kauai, Hawaii.

It’s the first consumer brand to use Chef Watson based foods.

Certainly a novel idea that seems like it might stick around and be picked up by other businesses. How many times do you stare at 10 different pre-made flavors, and none of them are what you wanted?

3.  IBM Chef Watson Twist is an ios app that can help you mix up a new and unique cocktail-style drink. Just tell Watson your mood, choose non-alcoholic or with, add some flavors, and Bingo! Watson comes up with a drink that (hopefully) tickles your taste buds.

4.  In need of a cookbook? Even The Institute of Culinary Education has joined forces with Watson to publish a book of recipes, Cognitive Cooking with Chef Watson: Recipes for Innovation from IBM & the Institute of Culinary Education, inspired by the supercomputer.

So what’s next for Chef Watson? A smarter mobile app, fewer mistakes, or new recipes derived from the internet’s entire recipe catalog?

Maybe what Watson really helps us discover is that a little experimentation is great, but we don’t always make such bad choices ourselves.

The Genetics of 6,000 Year Old Barley

barley Uri Davidovich

Photo Credit – Uri Davidovich

Using archaeobotany to track the domestication of crop plants.

“For us, ancient DNA works like a time capsule that allows us to travel back in history and look into the domestication of crop plants at distinct time points in the past.”  

                     — Director of the Department of Archaeogenetics at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

The genome of what is believed to be the world’s oldest plant (to date) has been reconstructed. 6,000 year-old barley grain seeds were found along with tens of thousands of other grains, during an excavation by Uri Davidovich. Their location; Israel’s Judean Desert, near Masada fortress, in Yoram cave. It’s hard to access and was probably used for a very short time.

Ancient corn was the first extremely old plant to be genetically sequenced. The Chalcolithic grain is now the oldest plant to be reconstructed.

Researchers used radiocarbon dating on half of the grains, and used the other half for DNA mapping purposes.

“This similarity is an amazing finding considering to what extent the climate, but also the local flora and fauna, as well as the agricultural methods, have changed over this long period of time.”

                    -Martin Mascher, from the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research

Barley and wheat have been grown for at least 10,000 years in large parts of the Middle East. There are many similarities in genetic makeup between ancient grain and the modern day domesticated. Wild forms of these grains are still found in the area today. By comparing the ancient seeds with wild ones and other farmer grown varieties in the Near East, researchers suggest that barley domestication originated in the Upper Jordan Valley. This is supported by archaeological sites where remains of barley cultivation were found.

“Our analyses show that the seeds cultivated 6,000 years ago greatly differ genetically from the wild forms we find today in the region. However, they show considerable genetic overlap with present-day domesticated lines from the region.”

                   -Nils Stein

Source: Press Release From BAR-ILAN UNIVERSITY.

E-Textiles In Fashion, Wearable Tech, And How Electronics Might Heal Themselves One Day


Photo By Groman 123

Did your cell reception improve when that guy walked in the room?

Wearable electronics are quickly becoming part of our everyday lives.

Many were impressed by the fiber optic LED-laced dress on show at London Fashion Week in 2014, and the one worn to the MET Gala in May. They seem to indicate that e-textiles aren’t just ‘techy accessories’ but are making a big leap into the world of fashion. With technology advancing, the not-so-cool shirts of the ’90s are being replaced by truly wearable tech.

There are several patents pending, and with production costs dropping, there’s likely to be more soon.

Shirts with a built-in antenna that can transmit information to your phone. How about a bandage that can tell how much tissue is healing underneath. There seems to be a focus on sensors for medical and health purposes, which could signal growth in those industries. 

Tracking your fitness level and activity at the gym is just a starter. People with chronic illnesses such as Epilepsy, Asthma, Parkinson’s, or addictions might benefit from such technology. Monitoring sleep patterns and other behavior could show potential risks before they become problems. A wrist watch (or an iWatch one day) preventing Asthma attacks by measuring activity, lung function, ozone levels, humidity, and blood pressure — then alerting the wearer when they need to slow down.

Researchers at Ohio State University are making big advancements in wearable electronics by affixing sensors and memory chips to clothing.

Most e-textiles are created with a typical sewing machine, by embroidering silver metal wires into fabric based on a pattern read to it from a computer. The wires and workmanship are so fine, that the embroidered fabric feels like any traditional garment.

 “We started with a technology that is very well known–machine embroidery–and we asked, how can we functionalize embroidered shapes? How do we make them transmit signals at useful frequencies, like for cell phones or health sensors? Now, for the first time, we’ve achieved the accuracy of printed metal circuit boards, so our new goal is to take advantage of the precision to incorporate receivers and other electronic components.”
                                  -John Volakis, Director of the ElectroScience Laboratory at Ohio State

One of their recent projects is a broadband antenna made up of more than six geometric shapes. Each shape is about the size of a finger nail, and transmits at a different frequency, creating the broadband capability, with different shapes performing different functions. Together, they form a circle that is only a few inches in diameter. 

They originally used silver coated polymer thread, but switched to a much thinner copper wire with silver enameling. Fine wires are needed to maintain precision, but there’s a catch; they don’t provide as much surface conductivity as thick ones.

Their solution: Find different shapes and densities that improve performance.

Techniques have been refined to use less thread, which = lower costs, and take about half the time to produce. Only 15 minutes.

A major selling point is the ability to make them into different shapes, like a company logo, similar to standard embroidery. One antenna that improves cell phone reception is shaped like a spiral, another prototype is stretchable. 

There are other new advances in electronic development too. Self-healing materials are getting some attention. Yes, you read that right. Something that has been cut in half, putting itself back together. Previous attempts to do this, weren’t a huge success, as all core functions must be restored to operate. Most materials up to now have been soft or gummy in texture, but Qing Yang, a professor at Penn State, and his team have been using two boron nitride nanosheets to make common plastic polymers stronger. Boron nitride nanosheets have several unique qualities, one being their resistance to water .You can put them under the shower and they won’t skip a beat.

The nanosheets connect to each other through hydrogen bonding groups. Two pieces are placed near each other and electrostatic attraction brings them together. It’s only ‘healed’ when the hydrogen bond has been restored. This can require extra heat in some circumstances, but many materials can heal at room temperature.

 “Most research into self-healable electronic materials has focused on electrical conductivity but dielectrics have been overlooked. We need conducting elements in circuits, but we also need insulation and protection for microelectronics. This is the first time that a self-healable material has been created that can restore multiple properties over multiple breaks, and we see this being useful across many applications.” 
                                                                      -Professor Qing Yang

An exciting time for the electronics and fashion industries. Unfortunately, a breakdown in communication between engineering and fashion/design experts could hinder development. A recent study published in the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education found that people working together, but with different areas of expertise, were using their own jargon, not that of the other person’s. This resulted in confusion and misunderstanding, even though they were talking about the same thing. Sound familiar?

Land Alliance Northeast

Sounds of the Forest: How Woodpeckers Communicate

downy by kelly colgan azar
Photo by Kelly Colgan Azar

What’s that sound?

Woodpeckers aren’t just looking for food when they hammer away at the trunk of a tree, they’re communicating. In fact, some woodpeckers make very little noise when they’re hunting a meal. While some birds sing a harmonically pleasing song to relay messages, woodpeckers tap on trees, or “drum” to communicate.

Drumming, as its referred to officially, is what some woodpeckers, like Downies, use to defend territory or attract other of their species. They can even interpret drumming intensity to determine whether a fellow woodpecker is a friend or foe. A woodpecker with a short drum is not considered very threatening, while a longer drum could mean a significant threat. Mates or partners will often coordinate with each other and decide if they need to fight an offending woodpecker together, or not.

Most Pileated Woodpeckers drum for about 3 seconds, in 40–60 second intervals. They’ve also been observed rapping, or slamming their bill against a surface, when they become excited.

Their skull and muscle structure is unique from other birds. They can take repeated blows to the head without suffering injuries. Manufacturers of protective head gear are now taking lessons from woodpecker anatomy and using it to design better helmets. This research has also been used to create a collar that helps prevent brain injuries in athletes.

Like many other birds, Pileated Woodpeckers communicate and fend off adversaries using vocal sounds. These calls can be divided into five main categories:

Random cuks — up to four per minute, but usually less.

High call — six to eight high pitched cuks and one lower one.

Woick — usually exchanged by pairs or mates.

G-waick — loud and shrill, it sometimes indicates conflict, or an intruder.

Hn, Hn — it’s still somewhat uncertain what this one means, but it’s usually made during the breeding season.

Another way they frighten off invaders is by displaying the white under-feathers on their wings, pointing their head and bill up, sometimes backwards, while swaying, jerking their body, and flapping their wings in some kind of Bill Waving Dance. It can be accompanied by a vocal threat and the raising of their red-feathered crest.

They often tangle with intruding woodpeckers, and keep the same nesting territory year after year.

Land Alliance Northeast