A gentle reminder that the most beautiful things in life belong to no one and to everyone.
Wellbeing, argued the great humanistic philosopher and psychologist Erich Fromm in his treatise on having vs. being and how to master the art of living, requires “breaking through one’s narcissism and breaking through the property structure of one’s existence.” Indeed, few things limit our wellbeing more than the compulsion toward ownership, from our conquest of material possessions as a metric of self-actualization to our relationship with time, which becomes another good to “save” or “waste.” But the most joyous things in life, as Hermann Hesse hinted a century ago, are best beheld rather than held in the grip of possession; best appreciated rather than appropriated.
That’s what Brooklyn-based writer Kirsten Hall and Canadian illustrator Matthew Forsythe explore with great gentleness in The Gold Leaf (public library) — an enchanting modern fable about covetous possessiveness redeemed by the unselfish appreciation of life’s unownable wonder.
The story begins on an ordinary day in a forest just awakening from winter’s slumber, awash in spring’s “jungle green, laurel green, moss green, mint green, pine green, avocado green, and, of course, sap green.”
At first, bustling with the thrill of the changing season, none of the creatures notices a most unusual visitation — a gold leaf, shimmering in the canopy.
But one by one, they see it, and one by one, they seek to possess it. “Each wanted it more than anything else in the world,” writes Hall, whose grandfather was a gold leaf artist responsible for embellishing some of New York City’s most iconic buildings, including Rockefeller Center, Lincoln Center, and Carnegie Hall.
Suddenly, the harmony of the forest turns into chaotic competition…
A cheap plastic device could bring big changes to the worldwide palm oil industry.
The Malaysian Palm Oil Board and Orion Genomics have developed a leaf-punch test that can tell whether or not a young oil palm plant will be defective when it matures. The process works like this: Subsistence farmers use the devices, which cost about $4, to punch samples from their plants. Then they mail the samples to laboratories. A few weeks later, farmers receive the molecular test results and use the information to invest only in good plants, while tossing the bad ones. It’s a shift that could drastically increase revenue and sustainability in the industry.
“Our work in this area has been driven in part by environmental concerns,” said Robert Martienssen, co-founder of Orion Genomics and a professor of plant genetics at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. “As we devise ways to reliably boost yields, we thereby lessen the economic motivation to spread oil palm holdings into sensitive rainforest areas that are important to preserve.”
(Photo: Adek Berry)
Palm oil is the most widely consumed vegetable oil on the planet, and it’s used in all types of products — shampoo, pizza, bio-diesel, lipstick, soap, and countless others. It’s also especially productive: One hectare of oil palm can produce 10 times more oil than an hectare of soybean. And for the thousands of subsistence farmers in Malaysia and Indonesia, where about 85 per cent of the world’s oil palm is produced, it’s a livelihood.
Still, people often deride the palm oil industry for its harmful impact on the environment through deforestation and its labor conditions, Raviga Sambanthamurthi, a biochemist and former director of the Malaysian Palm Oil Board’s Advanced Biotechnology and Breeding Centre, thinks these criticisms miss the big picture.
“People really do not appreciate the fact that oil palm only occupies 5 per cent of the land that oil crops occupy, but it produces 50 per cent of the world’s oil,” Sambanthamurthi said. “You cannot run away from the fact that the world needs more oil in food. No other crop is going to give you that kind of yield. You have to clear so much more land if you’re going to produce some of the alternative…
Stinkbugs accidentally harvested with grapes and fermented during the winemaking process release a pungent stress compound. It takes only three stinkbugs per grape cluster to ruin red wine’s taste, Elizabeth S. Eaton reported in “Red wine has stinkbug threshold” (SN: 3/18/17, p. 5).
“Does contamination of wine by the bugs’ stress compound pose any health risk to consumers?” asked Hal Heaton. “And does someone really count the number of stinkbugs on each of the huge number of grape bunches picked?”
The hormone emitted by stressed stinkbugs, (E)-2-decenal, is also found in cilantro, says Elizabeth Tomasino, a food scientist at Oregon State University in Corvallis who did the research. “It is actually found at much higher concentrations in cilantro than in wine and is not a health risk,” Tomasino says.
As for counting stinkbugs, there are people who count bugs on the vines, but not by bunch as the researchers did. “What typically occurs is that someone will put a sheet under a plant and beat the leaves to see how many fall out,” Tomasino says. Another approach involves walking through the vineyard and counting as many bugs as possible in three-minute increments, she says.
Science journalist Dan Egan’s book, The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, chronicles the impacts of global trade, urbanization and climate change on the lakes and communities that depend on them. Invasive species, including zebra and quagga mussels, have been particularly damaging, Cassie Martin wrote in her review “Invaders, climate change threaten Great Lakes” (SN: 3/18/17, p. 30).
A translucent crab discovered nearly 20 years ago has finally been identified as a distinct species. Researchers dubbed…
Scientists from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute have turned a spinach leaf into working human heart tissue, and this could revolutionize the treatment of damaged organs.
Tissue engineering (also called regenerative medicine) attempts to create functional human tissue from cells in a laboratory. Its goal is to replace tissues and organs that fail due to disease, genetic errors, or other reasons. Scientists have already created large-scale human tissue in a lab, but without a vascular network that carries blood, a big part of that tissue dies.
To fight that, the researchers took a spinach leaf and removed its plant cells, leaving a frame made of cellulose. “Cellulose is biocompatible [and] has been used in a wide variety of regenerative medicine applications, such as cartilage tissue engineering, bone tissue engineering, and wound healing,” the authors write in their paper.
They bathed the remaining frame in live human cells and they grew on the leaf’s tiny veins. The team…