Lab made meet

Why Developed Countries Are Moving Food Production Away from Farms to Labs

While developing countries are advocating for, diversifying to and investing in Agriculture for food security and job creation, developed countries are moving food production from farms to laboratories. “Laboratory!” Someone in Africa would scream. Yes, laboratory, thanks to food biotechnology, a field African countries haven’t gotten a grip on yet. In short biotechnology is not getting enough support from the continent due to religious and cultural believes.

Developed countries are the highest emitter of Greenhouse gases, gases responsible for global warming, and are taking steps to reduce the emission of these gasses to the atmosphere. To do so they must cut down activities that produce greenhouse gases by turning to relying on a novel type of agriculture – Cellular Agriculture.

Agricultural Industry and Methane Gas Emission

global_emissions_sector_2015

Traditional Agriculture industry is a major contributor to global emissions. Source: IPCC (2014); based on global emissions from 2010.

Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use (24%) ranked only behind Electricity and Heat Production (25%) in 2010 global greenhouse gas emissions according to US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s website.

The animal agriculture industry is the primary source of methane (CH4) gas emissions. Agriculture and livestock combining contributes 35% of total methane emission. Domestic livestock such as cattle, buffalo, sheep, and goats produce large amounts of methane as part of their normal digestive process. Methane is also produced when animal manure is stored or managed in lagoons or holding tanks.

Methane’s lifetime in the atmosphere is much shorter than carbon dioxide (CO2), but CH4 is more efficient at trapping radiation than CO2. Pound for pound, the comparative impact of CH4 is more than 25 times greater than CO2 over a 100-year period.

According to the World Bank report, agriculture is a major source of methane emission. In its report in 2008, three countries that have maximum methane emission due to agriculture include Solomon Island with 96.80%, Uruguay 92.80% and Namibia 92.00%.

Reducing Greenhouse Gas in Agriculture

Advanced countries are investing in Cellular agriculture, a field that capitalizes on breakthroughs in tissue-engineering, material sciences, bioengineering, and synthetic biology to design new ways of producing existing agricultural products like milk, meat, egg, coffee, silk leather, fragrance etc. from cells and microorganisms.

This may sound new to you or give you a ‘woowish’ feeling but the concept was conceived many years ago. Winston Churchill even predicted the advent of a mainstream cellular agriculture paradigm of meat production in his 1931 essay, Fifty Years Hence.

“Fifty years hence…we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.”

A study by researchers at Oxford and the University of Amsterdam found that lab-made meat was “potentially much more efficient and environmentally friendly”, generating only 4% greenhouse gas emissions. This is in contrast to cattle farming, which according to FAO is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gases.

Read: Bio-Hacking: We Can Now Have Milk Without Cows and Eggs Without Chickens

Several cellular agriculture start-ups have been created applying cellular agriculture to make a number of agricultural products and consumables. They include meat producers: SuperMeat, Future Meat Technologies, and Meat the Future (all Israeli); Memphis Meats (United States) and Shojinmeat (a Japanese biohacker community), and also San Francisco-based startups Muufri which produces milk from yeast instead of cows and Clara Foods which produces is making egg whites from yeast instead of eggs.

China is Interested in Lab-Made Meat

China this week signed a $300 million trade agreement with Israel — a home 3 of the 8 companies in the world working to produce a scalable version of lab-made meat.

Lab-made meat—the kind being produced fiber-by-fiber in laboratories, is also called cultured meat, synthetic meat, cell-cultured meat, clean meat, vat meat, lab-grown meat and in vitro meat.

In a recent article by a state-run China Science and Technology Daily the discussing encouraged the embracing of lab-made meat for reasons that included food safety, food security, and environmental reasons.

“Imagine the future…you have two identical products; one is that you have to slaughter the cattle to get. ‘The other’ is exactly the same, and cheaper, no greenhouse gas emissions, no animal slaughter, which one would you choose?”

The article asked.

2014_emissions_by countries

China is the world largest emitter of CO2 greenhouse gas. Source: Boden, T.A., Marland, G., and Andres, R.J. (2017). National CO2 Emissions from Fossil-Fuel Burning, Cement Manufacture, and Gas Flaring: 1751-2014, Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy, doi 10.3334/CDIAC/00001_V2017.

The Chinese government recently the UK, France, and India in taking steps to decrease the number of petroleum-powered cars sold in the country and this deal signed by India and Israel will give Chinese companies the opportunity to partner with the Israeli Lab-made meat companies to tackle issues relating to greenhouse gases emissions which some think is a signal that China is serious about tapering the amount of greenhouse gases it emits.

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QR Code for Mobile Payment

Why QR Code & Mobile Payment Technology is Africa’s Next Big Move

Africa is in a good position to adopt Quick Response Code (QR code) payment technology due to its large and fast growing mobile phone penetration and the absence of efficient traditional infrastructures in the continent.

QR code, a type of two-dimensional barcode (a machine-readable optical label that contains information about the item to which it is attached), consists of black squares arranged in a square grid on a white background, which can be read by an imaging device such as a phone camera.

Mobile Phone and QR Technology

Recent QR code systems are compatible with mobile phone as your phone camera can be used as scanner, and with the correct reader application you can scan the image of a QR code to display text, contact information, connect to a wireless network, or open a web page in the telephone’s browser.

This means you can access a brand’s website more quickly by scanning their QR code instead of manually entering a URL. Car park operators can use this technology to track and bill park users, and bus users can buy bulk tickets in the form of QR codes containing ticket information on their mobile phone from a bus company’s website. It can also be used in storing personal information for use by organizations where by access clearance are stored as QR codes on employee’s mobile phone.

Anyone can generate and print their own QR codes for others to scan and use by visiting one of several pay or free QR code-generating sites or apps. Apps for scanning QR codes can be found on nearly all smartphone devices.

QR codes can be used to pay for goods and services at checkout points in supermarkets or other point of sale (POS). It is used in the field of cryptographic currencies, particularly those based on and including Bitcoin, to share payment addresses, cryptographic keys and transaction information between mobile wallets.

One advantage of QR code use on mobile device is the ability to link a code to a location and use it to track where a code has been scanned. The application that scans the QR code retrieves the geo information using GPS and cell tower triangulation (aGPS) or by using the URL encoded in the QR code itself is associated with a location.

Africa’s Fast Growing Mobile Phone Market

Africa's mobile phone market

Africa’s mobile phone market | Image credit: Endeavor South Africa

According to International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Africa is the fastest growing and second largest mobile phone market in the world and 80% of Africans have mobile phones. According to the Mobile Economy 2017, GSMA Intelligence, there were over 1 billion mobile subscribers in Sub-Saharan Africa alone in 2016 and penetration rate is growing at 4.2% annually.

Mobile Banking and QR Payment Trends in Africa

According to a recent Businessday article, Nigeria and Kenya, regarded as countries with reasonably developed formal financial sectors, have formal bank accounts for only 10 % of their populations. This drops to about 6 % in Uganda, 5 % in Tanzania and Ghana with an average of 4 % in Francophone African countries.

But led by Kenya, many African countries are using mobile phone technology to access financial services and even by-passing traditional financial institutions and their limitations. Almost 60% of Kenyan population have a mobile money accounts.

Mobile banking allows you to conduct financial transactions using your mobile phone or tablet. while Mobile payment is a service that enables you pay for a product or service using a mobile device. This doesn’t require having a bank account. All you need is a mobile money account.

mPasa from Kenya, owned by Safaricom is the most successful mobile money service in the world but unfortunately it is yet to adopt QR technology for POS payments. On May 2017 Safaricom launched payment proposition called mPesa 1 Tap, which makes use of a Near Field Communication (NFC) enabled card, wristband and a phone sticker just in case your phone does not have NFC.

As pretty as this sounds, I personally think this is not a good move. Safaricom is travelling on a lonely path as most mobile banking companies are taking the road of QR payment system. China boosted the use of QR payment system with platforms like Tencent mobile app WeChat and Alibaba Alipay, and in 2016, India government pushed for an interoperable QR code based payment system, asking major networks to have a common QR code based solution.

In Africa PaywithCapture and MasterPass adopted the technology in 2016, Visa joined the league with the introduction of mVisa. Nigerian, Interswitch introduced Paycode, while Remita introduced its new Remita mobile App. In south Africa, Pick n Pay is currently accepting Bitcoin as a payment option. The Bitcoin payment is made using a QR code.

While the future of mobile payment using QR code in Africa looks bright, Africa’s mobile money service providers should work together to ensure interoperability and standardization in the system. This is needed to encourage user’s acceptance.

It is important that USSD or Quick Codes be incorporated in the QR services so that customers without smartphones or internet are not locked out. This is important because figures from 2015 shows that while only 80% of Africans have mobile phones, only 20% of them had access to internet.

White guinea yam genome sequencing

Researchers Have Deciphered the Complete Sequence of a Major Crop in Africa—the White Yam

A group of international scientists from International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), in Nigeria, the Japan International Research Centre for Agricultural Science (JIRCAS), the Iwate Biotechnology Research Centre (IBRC), Japan, and the Earlham Institute and The Sainsbury Laboratory of the United Kingdom, has finally revealed the full genome sequence of one of Africa’s poorly understood but vitally important crop – the white Guinea yam (Dioscorea rotundata Poir.).

This breakthrough which was titled “Genome sequencing of the staple food crop white Guinea yam enables the development of a molecular marker for sex determination”, and published in BMC Biology (an open access journal) is a big development in science and food security in West Africa as yam is central to the culture of many societies in this region.

The White Guinea yam, popularly called “white yam”, by locals is a species of yam native to Africa. It is one of the most important cultivated yams in West Africa, including countries such as Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria.

Read: Solving Nigerian Seed-Yam Problems using Aeroponics

Yam is Nigeria’s most important cash crop worth nearly $14 billion annually; one-third of Nigerians, nearly 60 million people depend on yams as a main source of income; yam is Nigeria’s no. 1 source of dietary calories; and the governments is currently promoting yam exportation for foreign exchange.

Despite all the importance of yam, relatively little is known about its genes or DNA, when compared with other staple crops such as wheat and rice. This means unlike wheat and rice crops, yam crop has not been improved genetically.

Also this development is not only big. It is timely too, as yam production is currently declining and the demand for yam is currently overwhelming—much more than supply.

So what is genome sequencing and how do we gain from Yam genome sequencing?

A genome is an organism’s complete set of DNA, including all of its genes. Each genome contains all of the information needed to build and maintain that organism. So with Genome sequencing scientists can figuring out the order of DNA nucleotides, or bases, in a genome—the order of As, Cs, Gs, and Ts that make up an organism’s DNA. The human genome is made up of over 3 billion of these genetic letters.

So with this knowledge of the genome sequence of yam, scientists will be able to improve the crop’s nutrient and yield.

According to Dr Robert Asiedu, Director for West Africa, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Yam Breeder for about 20 years, on IITA’s website,

“This is an important breakthrough. It means that yam has joined those crops with a full genome sequence, such as rice and other better-known crops,”

Read: Meet the 33 Years Old Growing Yams and Potatoes in the Air and of Course Without Sand

“The implications are profound. Knowing the full DNA sequence will greatly facilitate our understanding of how genetics controls key traits such as flowering, diseases, and others including quality traits, and this in turn will make the breeding of new varieties faster and more precise,”

he further explains.

“The genome resource will help to overcome the many challenges facing yam farmers in Africa and other parts of the world,”

added Professor Ryohei Terauchi, Kyoto University and Iwate Biotechnology Research Institute, study leader and corresponding author.

This sequencing also allows yam scientists distinguish between male and female plants at the seedling stage there by saving them months of work time.

A high quality draft genome sequence of the yam is available in the public databases DNA Data Bank of Japan (DDBJ) and US National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI).