Things have been rough for the potato over the last decade or so. American consumers have been turning a cold shoulder toward the humble tuber, with each of us eating 22 pounds of potatoes less in 2012 compared to what we put down in 2000, the National Potato Council reports.
The slide has been steady, and both potato growers and agricultural scientists have taken note. If you’re young and have some expendable income, they’d like to sell you a potato with a little more pizzaz than the one your grandma overcooked.
"What we are doing now is developing unique varieties that have a tendency to appeal to the younger set with high income who are willing to try something different,” said Creighton Miller, a Texas A&M University horticultural scientist who turns out new breeds of potato and legume. “This has contributed somewhat to an increase in consumption of these types over the russets, which are still the standard.”
Breeding programs are constantly trying to improve potatoes to make them more disease and pest resistant, and to make them better suited to industrial processing like making chips and frozen french fries. But scientists are also combing through natural variations in potatoes to find characteristics that might make the fresh tubers more appealing to people.
Could it be that venom is just what we need to heal what ails us?
With the still unfolding news of 1,600 injuries and 42 deaths inflicted so far in China by the Asian giant hornet’s sting, it might seem ridiculous to suggest that there’s an upside to the dangerous cocktail of toxins injected by thousands of creatures around the world.
Yet just when the bad news about the hornets’ deadly collision with humanity broke, another announcement emerged from the scientific community. Chinese and Australian researchers reported in the journal Nature that they had found a compound in the Chinese red-headed centipede’s venom that is a more potent painkiller than morphine and carries no addiction risk.
Such a discovery might appear to be an anomaly, an accidental kindness from the debilitating and sometimes lethal world of animal poisons. But those engaged in the burgeoning field of venom-based therapeutics development called venomics say that it’s no accident.
War was the main driving force in the evolution of ancient societies, a controversial new study finds.
The study used a computer model to predict the time and place of ancient empires’ origins. Researchers found that incorporating the spread of military technologies resulted in a model that was 65 percent accurate in explaining how these societies evolved and spread. An alternative model that omitted such technologies was only 16 percent accurate.
"Before we went through this exercise we did not know whether competition between societies, taking the form of warfare, was really an important driver in the evolution of large complex societies," says Peter Turchin, lead author of the study. "Now we know that it is the main factor, with the presence of agriculture as a necessary condition, and various environmental effects also playing a role."