It’s straight out of 1950s science fiction: an entire country connected by food-transporting pipelines, sending baked beans and smoked kippers sailing between London and Liverpool at 60 miles per hour. And it’s arguably more sensible than what we’re already doing.
In the United Kingdom, 8 percent of all carbon dioxide mixed into the atmosphere comes from the diesel gas used to move around food trucks. That’s a ton of unnecessary pollution, particularly when you consider one estimate suggests only a small percentage of that gas is actually needed to move the food if things were run efficiently. That’s where Foodtubes enters the picture.
The brainchild of a British team of academics, engineers, and project planners, Foodtubes calls for the creation of high-speed food pipelines throughout the UK. Each major city and center food production would be linked with a pipeline, and the cities would also have their own internal pipelines to get the food to various different neighborhoods.
The food would sail along in small capsules at upwards of 60 miles per hour. As many as 900,000 capsules could be in circulation in the nearly 2,000 miles of pressurized pipe, all of which would be controlled by smart grids that would keep food from crashing into each other. To give some semblance of order, the capsules would generally be organized into little trains of about 300 linked capsules, each spaced about a meter apart.
Farming has long evaded true automation. Where manufacturers create controlled environments perfect for precisely attuned machines performing repetitive tasks, the messiness of biology has long made automating growing things extremely challenging. Robots didn’t have the precision to pick things growing at uncertain heights, they didn’t have the judgment to identify ripeness, and they weren’t smart enough to navigate fields or greenhouses of uncertain geometry.
Well, they used to not have those traits.
Earlier this week, the Japanese Agriculture and Food Research Organization presented its strawberry picking robot: A droid that rolls along a track through fields of strawberries, scan the strawberries through stereoscopic cameras and check their color, then pick them if their ripe. In this way it can whip through 247 acres in 300 hours, far faster than the typical rate of 247 acres in 500 hours using human pickers.
With the headlines screaming “age-reversing” possibilities regarding the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard University’s results with mice telomerase manipulation, I felt a bit of cold water was in order. I am as excited as can be about serious evidence for how important telomeres and telomerase is for anti-aging medicine, don’t get me wrong. But that evidence doesn’t mean there is going to be a longevity pill in our hands this year, this decade, or even this century. And more than a few folks with a grasp of science better than mine agree.
Thankfully, I’m not the only one. My fellow Discover blogger Jennifer Welsh has a great post on 80 Beats about why the discovery, though exciting, is far from a genuine anti-aging solution. The Harvard team showed the following. Mice engineered to lack telomerase aged prematurely. When given telomerase treatments, the mice rejuvenated to age-appropriate health without adverse side-effects. That’s it. That’s the extent of the discovery.
It still remains to be seen if telomerase treatments can delay normal aging, reverse normal aging, or extend life in any way in mice. From there scientists have to then figure out what side-effects there are, why those side-effects occur, and then somehow translate the results to human beings. In short, the Harvard team only confirmed the hypothesis that telomerase in mice impacts the aging process and that it may have potential uses in treating premature aging. Hypotheses beget hypotheses. And not all our hypotheses hinge on mice. Read More