Precision fermentation, bee vaccine, chat checkout and the Bide
A collection of climate stories mostly
This is part of a series which usually includes at least one brand behaving badly. It’s a very grey January. The bad behaviour of some can wait until we see a little more light in the sky.
Everything here is bite-sized. If you’d like more in-depth study on any of these stories, post a comment on what you’re thinking.
#1 Precision fermentation
Courtesy of The Good Food Institute
When I think of fermentation and ancient civilisations, I immediately think of brewing and some form of alchemy to create a vaguely palatable alcoholic beverage which didn’t kill the imbibers. Just as important, if not more so, were the microbial cultures being used at the same time to preserve or improve the nutritional value of foods like kimchi and tempeh.
In more recent times, you might be aware of Quorn, less aware of the stringy fungus - Fusarium Venenatum it originates from perhaps, or the fermented production of chymosin, which stopped global cheese producers requiring rennet, an ingredient only found in the lining of a calves stomach.
50,000 pigs used to be destroyed to make 1 litre of insulin before precision fermentation used E. coli bacteria.
The ancient process of fermentation, which has been helping the human race for hundreds of years has never been more significant or important than it is now and in the future.
Precision fermentation is the science of refined brewing, multiplying microbes in order to create the next generation of alternative proteins. It is one of the most exciting avenues being explored today to produce new staples that will feed the world.
The science is already proven. Microbes can be bred which feed on hydrogen or methanol. A combination of water, carbon dioxide, a soupçon of fertiliser and some renewable electricity is all that’s needed. The end product is a flour which contains 60% protein, far more than soya bean (37%) and chick peas (20%).
Estimates suggest that 1,700 times less land is required than the already, super efficient agricultural process of producing protein by growing soy in the US. If you look at beef and lamb production, a far less efficient process, it’s a 138,000 and 157,000 times less land respectively. This, combined with a huge reduction in water use, greenhouse gas emissions and spillage of waste and chemicals into the environment could be the saviour needed.
The freed-up land from agriculture would then need to be re-wilded as quickly as humanly possible to avert our own extinction.
It also means that the nations, most vulnerable to food insecurity, dependent on food imports from long distances, but rich in sunlight like North and sub-Saharan Africa, have a plentiful supply of the energy needed for hydrogen and methanol based food production.
Reboot Food is part of Replanet and is driving the precision fermentation agenda. If you’ve got 3 minutes, listen to George Monbiot’s video, a Guardian columnist and supporter on their web site.
#2 Vaccinating bees
Thanks to Vanketa Suresh on Unsplash
When I think of a global temperature rise, predicted to be as high as 3.2C by the end of the century, I don’t think about insects much and what might happen to them. It turns out that half of all inspect species can expect to lose over half of their current habitat.
I didn’t even know there was an Arctic bumblebee, a good example of habitat loss in the making. This woolly bee manages to survive near-freezing temperatures in the arctic regions of Alaska, Canada, Scandinavia and Russia. Dense hair traps heat, while Arctic poppies, conical-shaped flowers, magnify the sun’s rays to help keep them warm when collecting nectar. Rising temperatures put this bee’s likely extinction at around 2050.
Bees appear to be struggling everywhere. A study by the University of Ottawa in 2020, found that bumblebee populations in North America have halved. They’re also down 17% in Europe.
One of the reasons is Foulbrood, a fatal bacterial disease caused by a spore forming bacterium. Adult bees are not affected and it’s not highly contagious, but the spores can be spread by bees within the colony stealing from an infected hive or bees which have simply drifted from an infected colony.
Nurse bees unwittingly feed young larvae who ingest the spores which later germinate in their gut with the bacterium multiplying rapidly. It reduces the larvae to a brown goo that doesn’t smell of honey. There’s been no known cure until now.
The US Department of Agriculture has granted a license for a new vaccine to Dalan Animal Health. The vaccine works by incorporating some of the bacteria into the royal jelly fed by worker bees to the queen, who in turn provides immunity to the bee larvae.
This is a significant development in North America, where the US has become so dependent upon managed honeybee colonies to support its food pollination because wild bee species are in such significant decline.
#1 Dutch supermarket has a chat checkout
Courtesy of Jumbo Supermarket
To my knowledge there have been cash lanes, card lanes, 5 or less lanes, lanes for loyal shoppers, even lanes without cashiers, but never a slow lane. What a wonderful idea!
A Dutch supermarket chain called Jumbo, decided to open a kletskassa or chat checkout, to help fight loneliness amongst the elderly.
The first lane was opened in Vlijmen in the summer of 2019. It proved very popular and Jumbo are now building out 200 slow lanes across the Netherlands, as part of the government’s One Against Loneliness campaign, strongly supported by Colette Cloosterman-van Eerd, the supermarket’s Chief Commercial Officer.
Supermarket staff are happy to work on the kletskassa, spending a bit more time to get to know their older customers as they pay for their daily/weekly shop.
The Netherlands has 1.3 million individuals over 75, of which a third report feeling moderately lonely at some point.
While the older shopper might be their target audience, it’s not exclusive. Anyone who fancies a chat is welcome to join the lane if they want. That sounds a lot like shopping at Waitrose. In my experience, cashiers in that emporium for fine food, have always been happy to take a bit more time for a chat.
#2 A simple solution to save the NHS money
Courtesy of Rory Cellan-Jones
Falling, costs the NHS and social care £4.4 billion a year, according to Tom Adler, a doctor and inventor of a simple device to help prevent them.
His invention is a square box called The Bide. It detects movement at night, so when someone gets out of bed, it automatically plays a pre-recorded message.
An area of focus is care homes and the number of people who fall in the first 2-3 days of arriving. They typically wake for the toilet and reach out for a familiar object to steady themselves, forgetting it’s no longer there.
The recorded message is often a carer or relative, reminding the person to use their stick or press a nearby buzzer for assistance.
Adler’s limited trial so far has proved very effective. A care home of 30 beds installed The Bide in the rooms of their two most prolific fallers. Neither has fallen since.
He’s now working with the Academic Health Science Network which offers private companies help working with the NHS.
Small scale manufacturing has started (£149) and trials have been extended to 30 Bides in five care homes.
Help of the helpless, oh, a…bide with me.
Love the info on precise fermentation, thanks for the education. I'd often wondered about rennet having been dating a vegetarian in the 80's and wandering round foreign supermarkets looking for vegetarian cheese!!