Friday, September 20, 2013

Jane Austin, revisited

I was 16 when my boyfriend's mother suggested I read Pride and Prejudice.  That started my journey to read everything written in the 18th and 19th century I could locate.  It is thus a real treat to have found Death Comes to Pemberly.  By P. D. James, this is a sequel to P&P, and of course, being by P.D. James, it involves murder most foul.  What fun, and thanks again, Mrs. Walker, for the recommendation.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Food for thought

the latest issue of the International Food Technology newsletter tells me three items of interest.  1:  1.3 BILLION tons of food is annually wasted, either during production, post-harvest handling and storage, or at the processing, distribution and consumption stages.  High income areas waste more food than low income areas (no surprise there).  2.  a recent Gallup survey reports 20% of Americans sometimes lack resources to obtain food - up from 17.7% prior to August.  3.  US House Republicans want to cut $40B in nutrition programs over the next 10 years. 


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Two conferences in one week

I got to attend two conferences in Davis and Sacramento CA with"Genomics" in the title last week.  In addition to the the sequencing stuff, of which I am not really a player, there were two sessions that spoke to agriculture.  There is significant concern, of which you may be aware, that food supplies may not expand to serve the expected population by 2050. This is due to expanding population and to more cultures including more animal foods in their diet.  1/6 of people are now "stunted", meaning inferior mental and body growth due to malnutrition or calorie restriction. 

There were a couple of presentations addressing heritage seed genetics.  Some of the many seed varieties developed by crossings, a la Gregory Mendel, have desirable characteristics of low water requirements, disease resistance, tight seed heads, etc.  It's not always possible to breed all these genes into one organism, so genetic engineering is one way to fit these genes into a single cell.  The resultant GMO seeds would not release "new" genes into the world, but would increase the yield and nutritive value of the resultant crop.  So to characterise all GMO seeds as dangerous is a very wide brush that can tar a valuable tool to enhance food security for the next generations.  Not common to get a global take-away from a scientific meeting.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A little gin chemistry

I found a review in Science and checked out The Drunken Botanist, the Plants that Create the World's Great Drinks by Amy Stewart  It's fun, a cheap chance to learn more botany and good stories (know how the alcohol content measure "proof" came about?)

Coincidentally, G and I went to the Scotch tasting at the Scottish Games Sunday.  G was chatting up one of the Scotch vendors, and I happened to mention the above book to him when said vendor mentioned gin botanicals.  His eyebrows shot up and he said juniper was poisonous.  I said not in the quantities ingested in gin.  He said true, but the botanical is never metabolized, so over a lifetime of drinking gin, it accumulates.  Of course, that got my attention. I searched MedLine, the FDA Poisonous Plant list, and some other trusted sources this morning.  With all the lore out there on herbaceous bioactivity, this was not a time to turn to Wikipedia.

There are 60 species of Juniperus; the one used for gin flavoring most widely is J. communis communius.  Three examples of toxic species are J. ashei, J. sabina, and J. pinchotii.  The latter have much more sabinene and sabinyl acetate among the many terpenes in the leaves and berries.  Those are the compounds responsible for the unwanted reproductive and kidney effects.  I could find no reference in Medline indicating that any of the terpenes bioaccumulate.  So I don't have to give up my gin after all.