By Marlene Cimons
Ten years ago, Japanese chemist Eijiro Miyako was trying to invent a liquid that could work as an electrical conductor. But the sticky gel he created failed, so he shoved it into a cabinet in an uncapped bottle and forgot about it. Recently, during a lab cleanup, it was rediscovered—with the viscous stuff unchanged.
Motivated by concerns about climate change and the impact it was having on natural pollinators, especially bees and other insects, Miyako wondered whether the material he had made, still good after a decade, could pick up pollen. Ultimately, he jury-rigged a tiny, insect-sized remote-controlled drone that could carry his substance and use it to pick up and deposit pollen grains.
The artificial pollinator brushes a lily.Eijiro Miyak
"I think climate change is one of the terrible problems affecting our natural pollinators," he said. "Our technology and artificial pollinators could be hopefully promising for giving us a good solution against the pollination crisis for our beautiful planet."
Globally, an estimated 1,000 plants grown for food, beverages, fibers, spices and medicines must be pollinated by animals, including apples, blueberries, chocolate, coffee, melons, peaches, potatoes, pumpkins, vanilla, almonds and tequila, according to Pollinator Partnership. Pollination by honeybees, native bees and other insects produces $40 billion worth of products annually in the U.S., according to the group.
But pollinators have been in trouble in recent years, suffering from habitat loss, chemicals misuse, diseases and parasites, among other hazards. As a result, the nation has lost more than half of its managed honeybee colonies in the last ten years. Research has shown that the effects of global warming are shrinking the geographic home range of North American and European bumblebees, with the insects unable to adapt to the changing conditions.
Before tackling the honeybee problem, Miyako experimented with houseflies and ants.
He put the goop on the ants' bodies and let them wander inside a box of tulips. Compared with the insects that didn't have the gel on them, those that did were much more likely to have pollen attached.
Artificial pollinator top (left) and bottom (right).Eijiro Miya
Still, to devise an effective artificial pollinator, he needed some kind of flying machine to transport the pollen. He found an insect-sized, remote-controlled four-propeller drone, worth about $100 and attached horse hair to it in order to mimic the fuzzy exterior of a bee.
He and his research colleagues then slathered the gel onto the horse hair bristles so the pollen would stick to it. Furthermore, the horse hair generates an electric charge that keeps the grains in place.
They flew the little drones—with hair and gel attached—over the flowers of pink-leaved Japanese lilies. The little flyers picked up pollen and the researchers guided them to other flowers, where they deposited the grains, artificially pollinating the plants.
The artificial pollinator brushes a lily.Eijiro Miyak
He and his colleagues believe that robotic pollinators ultimately could learn pollination paths via GPS systems and artificial intelligence.
Nevertheless, Miyako acknowledges that much work remains before the tiny drones will have widespread application in agriculture, including improving how the small machines drop the pollen. Once stuck, the grains require some kind of additional physical force to release them.
Thus far, "desorption of pollens possibly happened by hitting materials with piled up pollens onto female flowers," he said. "Indeed, we have never characterized what kind of forces were actually effected on them. That is a future challenge, to improve the performance for dropping off pollens on our desired plant."
Miyako, a senior researcher with the Nanomaterials Research Institute of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Ibaraki, Japan, described his work in a study published in the journal Chem.
A radio-controlled flying robot equipped with animal hairs coated with a liquid gel pollinates a flower.Eijiro Miyak
He and his colleagues are the latest in a long history of those who have tried to find ways to help nature with pollination, efforts that go back thousands of years, at least to 2000 BC, when humans pollinated date palms by hand. More recently, people have hand-pollinated tomato flowers in greenhouses and, in some parts of China, apple trees in the absence of native pollinators.
Still, despite the urgency posed by climate change and other threats to insect pollinators, some experts believe artificial methods would be less effective and economically feasible to preserve bee populations. And they worry that attention and resources directed toward artificial pollination technology could discourage efforts to address the impact of global warming on natural pollinators.
"Fortunately, in most cases around the world, the ecosystem service of pollination is provided for free by native insects, so there has been no need to rely on artificial pollination," said David Inouye, professor emeritus of biology at the University of Maryland, who studies pollination biology and who was not involved in the study. "The new technology is interesting, but it's likely less expensive to take measures to encourage native pollinators than it will be to use drones."
Berry J. Brosi, associate professor in the department of environmental services at Emory University, who also was not involved in the research, agrees. "There is the possibility that such technology would reduce the incentives for pollinator conservation," he said.
Also, mechanical replacement of pollinators, while feasible at small scales, is very unlikely to be economically possible at the levels needed for crop pollination, Brosi said. "Japanese lilies, the plant species that was used for the proof-of-concept of this technology, have very large and showy flowers, in stark contrast to most crops," he said.
A bee pollinates a canola flower. Pixabay
For example, canola, an economically important pollinator-dependent crop, has very small blooms clustered on thin stalks that grow very close together in commercial canola fields, he said. "Current technology for mechanical pollination would have to advance tremendously in a number of dimensions to allow for this much more challenging application," Brosi said.
Moreover, he adds, replacing living pollinators with mechanical alternatives could produce societal inequities. "Research has shown that pollinator declines are likely to be associated with nutritional deficits in the developing world among smallholders, exactly the population that would almost certainly be unable to afford such technology," he said.
Beyond their role in crops, insects also pollinate more than 90 percent of wild flowering plants and trees, which in turn provide a range of ecosystem services that people depend upon, "including production of oxygen, water and air purification, prevention of erosion and scenic beauty among many others," Brosi said. "Creating a pollinator habitat within or adjacent to crop fields, can provide many other benefits, including providing habitat for natural enemies of crop pests, carbon sequestration, erosion control and support of plant and other biodiversity."
The Japanese researchers acknowledge these shortcomings and the obstacles ahead. Nevertheless they hope their continued research will be valuable, even if only to reduce the pressure put on bee populations by commercialization and other stressors.
With help from artificial pollinators, honeybees, for example, might be better able to do one thing the robots can't—make honey—while drones do the pollinating. Hopefully, the little robots can "help counter the problems caused by declining honeybee populations," Miyako said.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.
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By Jill Joyce
Maybe you're trying to eat healthier these days, aiming to get enough of the good stuff and limit the less-good stuff. You're paying attention to things like fiber and fat and vitamins … and anti-nutrients?
What Are Anti-Nutrients?<p><a href="https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/anti-nutrients/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Anti-nutrients are substances</a> that naturally occur in plant and animal foods.</p><p>The name comes from how they function in your body once you eat them. They <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/food-science/antinutrients" target="_blank">block or interfere with how your body</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1631/jzus.B0710640" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">absorbs other nutrients</a> out of your gut and into your bloodstream so you can then use them. Thus, anti-nutrients may decrease the amount of nutrients you actually get from your food. They most commonly interfere with the absorption of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2016.09.025" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium and zinc</a>.</p><p>Plants evolved these <a href="https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/070111p54.shtml" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">compounds as a defensive mechanism</a> against insects, parasites, bacteria and fungi. For example, some anti-nutrients can cause a food to taste bitter; animals won't want to eat it, leaving the seed, for instance, to provide nourishment for future seedlings. Some anti-nutrients block the digestion of seeds that are eaten. The seeds disperse when they come out the other end in the animal's fecal matter and can go on to grow new plants. Both of these survival tactics help the plant species grow and spread.</p><p><span></span>In terms of foods that people eat, you'll most commonly find anti-nutrients naturally occurring in whole grains and legumes.</p>
Time for an Image Makeover as Health Enhancers<p>Despite sounding scary, studies show that anti-nutrients are not of concern unless consumed in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcs.2014.01.010" target="_blank">ultra, unrealistically high amounts</a> – and they have numerous health benefits.</p><p>Anti-nutrients are currently undergoing a change in image very similar to the one dietary fiber experienced. At one point, scientists thought dietary fiber was bad for people. Since fiber could bind to nutrients and pull them out of the digestive tract in poop, it seemed like something to avoid. To address this perceived issue, grain processing in the late 1800s removed fiber from foods.</p><p>But now scientists know that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1753-4887.2009.00189.x" target="_blank">dietary fiber is incredibly important</a> and encourage its consumption. Eating plenty of fiber lowers the risks of obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some gastrointestinal diseases.</p><p>In the same way, rather than something to avoid, many anti-nutrients are now considered health-promoting nutraceuticals and functional foods due to their numerous benefits. Here's an introduction to some of the most frequently eaten anti-nutrients that come with benefits:</p><ul><li><a href="https://doi.org/10.1089/109662004322984734" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Saponins, common in legumes</a>, can boost the immune system, reduce risk of cancer, lower cholesterol, lower blood sugar response to foods, result in fewer cavities, reduce risk of kidney stones and combat blood clotting seen in heart attacks and strokes.</li><li><a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcs.2014.01.010" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Lectins, found in cereal grains and legumes</a>, are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, some cancers and becoming overweight or obese.</li><li><a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/10408699891274273" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Tannins, commonly found in teas, coffees and processed meats and cheeses</a>, are antioxidants that can inhibit growth of bacteria, viruses, fungi and yeast and may decrease cholesterol levels and blood pressure.</li><li><a href="https://doi.org/10.1631/jzus.B0710640" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Phytates, found in wheat, barley, rice and corn</a>, are associated with increased immune function and cancer cell death, as well as reduced cancer cell growth and spread. They also have antioxidant properties and can reduce inflammation.</li><li>Finally, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1024/0300-98184.108.40.206" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">glucosinates, found in brassica vegetables</a> like cauliflower, inhibit tumor cell growth.</li></ul><p>Oxalates are one of the few anti-nutrients with mostly negative impacts on the body. They are <a href="https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/aa166321" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">found in lots of common foods</a>, including legumes, beets, berries, cranberries, oranges, chocolate, tofu, wheat bran, soda, coffee, tea, beer, dark green vegetables and sweet potatoes. The negative impacts of oxalates include binding to calcium in the digestive tract and removing it from the body in bowel movements. Oxalates can also <a href="https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/aa166321" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">increase the risk of kidney stones</a> in some people.</p>
Fitting Anti-Nutrients Into a Healthy Diet<p>Overall, comparing the benefits to the drawbacks, anti-nutrient pros actually outweigh the cons. The healthy foods that contain them – mainly fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes – should be encouraged not avoided.</p><p>Anti-nutrients become a concern only if these foods are consumed in ultra-high amounts, <a href="https://www.ars.usda.gov/research/project/?accnNo=426312" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">which is very unlikely</a> for most adults and children in the U.S. Additionally, a large proportion of anti-nutrients are removed or lost from foods people eat <a href="https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/anti-nutrients/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as they're processed and cooked</a>, especially if soaking, blanching, boiling or other high-heat processes are involved.</p><p>Vegetarians and vegans may be at higher risk of negative effects from anti-nutrients because their diet relies heavily on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. But these <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2016.09.025" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">plant-based diets are still among the healthiest</a> and are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and numerous types of cancers.</p><p>Vegetarians and vegans can take a few steps to help counteract anti-nutrients' effects on their absorption of particular nutrients:</p><ul><li>Pair high iron <a href="https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/130.5.1378S" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">and zinc</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/bs.afnr.2014.11.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">foods with</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/59.5.1233S" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">foods high in vitamin C</a> (examples: meatballs with tomato sauce, tomato-based chili with beans).</li><li><a href="https://www.jblearning.com/catalog/productdetails/9780763779764?jblsearch" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Soak legumes before cooking</a>.</li><li><a href="https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/70.3.543s" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Time dairy intake</a> such that it is not always paired with high oxalate foods.</li><li>Purchase dairy products that are fortified with calcium.</li><li>Consider a multivitamin-mineral supplement with about 100% of the daily recommended dose of nutrients (check the nutrition facts panel) as nutrition insurance if you are worried, but be sure to talk to your doctor first.<em></em></li></ul><p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/jill-joyce-1172925" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Jill Joyce</a> is an assistant professor of Public Health Nutrition at Oklahoma State University.</em></p><p><em>Disclosure statement: Jill Joyce does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/anti-nutrients-theyre-part-of-a-normal-diet-and-not-as-scary-as-they-sound-149229" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Conversation</a>.</em></p>
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Toxins enter the body through what we eat, drink, breathe in, and process in any way. Once inside, toxins overtax our immune system and detoxification system and leave us more vulnerable to illness — not ideal during cold and flu season, and especially not this year during a pandemic — and make us age a little faster, too.
1. Source Your Food Wisely<p>Try to stay away from packaged and processed foods that contain ingredients you can't pronounce, and instead reach for fresh food from natural sources. Aim to make vegetables more than 50% of your daily diet — their fiber is a great natural binder, and they're full of beneficial <a href="https://vitalplan.com/blog/the-case-of-the-missing-phytochemicals-and-how-to-get-them-back" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" style="">phytochemicals</a> — and minimize your red meat consumption.</p><p>Also, whenever practical, choose <a href="https://vitalplan.com/blog/how-to-eat-organic-without-spending-a-fortune" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">organic</a> over conventional products. That said, we know organic prices and accessibility can be an issue, so for help making strategic decisions, refer to the <a href="https://www.ewg.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Environmental Working Group</a> (EWG) "Dirty Dozen" and "Clean Fifteen" lists:</p><h3>The Dirty Dozen:</h3><ol><li>Strawberries</li><li>Spinach</li><li>Kale</li><li>Nectarines</li><li>Apples</li><li>Grapes</li><li>Peaches</li><li>Cherries</li><li>Pears</li><li>Tomatoes</li><li>Celery</li><li>Potatoes</li><li>Raisins*</li></ol><p><em>(*While raisins aren't technically a fresh food, the EWG found that they are "one of the dirtiest produce commodities on the market — and even some organic raisins are contaminated.")</em></p><h3>The Clean Fifteen</h3><ol><li>Avocado</li><li>Sweet corn</li><li>Pineapple</li><li>Onion</li><li>Papaya</li><li>Frozen sweet peas</li><li>Eggplant</li><li>Asparagus</li><li>Cauliflower</li><li>Cantaloupe</li><li>Broccoli</li><li>Mushrooms</li><li>Cabbage</li><li>Honeydew</li><li>Kiwi</li></ol>
2. Consider Detoxifying and Immune-Boosting Herbs<p>There are a number of herbs and natural ingredients that can help support detoxification and immune health. Here are the ones at the top of Dr. Rawls' list:</p><p><span></span><strong>Chlorella:</strong> This nutrient-rich freshwater algae binds to toxins so they can be eliminated from your body more efficiently. Chlorella works particularly well for withdrawing heavy metals. Pure chlorella can be purchased in the form of bulk powder, tablets, or capsules.</p><p><strong><a href="https://vitalplan.com/ingredients/milk-thistle" target="_blank">Milk Thistle</a>:</strong> It's been used for thousands of years to support a healthy liver, the primary organ responsible for detoxification.</p><p><strong>Dandelion:</strong> Known to help support liver function, research suggests <a href="https://vitalplan.com/ingredients/dandelion-extract" target="_blank">dandelion</a> helps promote the body's natural detoxification and elimination processes.</p><p><strong>Bitters:</strong> <a href="https://vitalplan.com/blog/the-impressive-health-benefits-of-bitter-foods" target="_blank">Bitter</a> flavors are important to digestion — they stimulate the release of the saliva, enzymes, and bile that help break down your food. Include bitter herbs and foods in each meal, or take a botanical extract that blends bitter herbs like dandelion root, burdock root, orange peel, and gentian root</p><p><strong>Reishi mushroom:</strong> An extensively studied adaptogenic mushroom, <a href="https://vitalplan.com/ingredients/reishi" target="_blank">reishi</a> has exceptional immunomodulating and antiviral properties. It helps normalize <a href="https://vitalplan.com/blog/are-you-inflammaging-how-to-stop-the-inflammation-that-speeds-up-aging" target="_blank">inflammatory</a> cytokines and promotes healthy immune response against threatening <a href="https://vitalplan.com/blog/the-immortal-life-of-your-microbiome" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">microbes</a>.</p><p><strong>Rhodiola:</strong> Another adaptogen, <a href="https://vitalplan.com/ingredients/rhodiola" target="_blank">rhodiola</a> improves stress tolerance by reducing fatigue, supporting energy levels, and improving tissue oxygenation.</p><p><span></span><strong><a href="https://vitalplan.com/ingredients/turmeric" target="_blank">Turmeric</a>:</strong> This popular spice is well loved for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.</p><p><strong>Shilajit:</strong> An herbo-mineral adaptogen, <a href="https://vitalplan.com/ingredients/shilajit" target="_blank">shilajit</a> has a long history of use in traditional Indian medicine for longevity and strength. It's also an immunomodulator with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral properties.</p><p><strong>Gotu Kola:</strong> Best known for improving memory and mood, <a href="https://vitalplan.com/ingredients/gotu-kola" target="_blank">gotu kola</a> is also great for promoting a normal response to inflammation, balancing stress hormones, and supporting circulation.</p>
3. Filter Your Water<p>Much of America's tap water has been shown to contain pollutants, so filtering what comes out of your kitchen sink is smart. To be sure you're using a filter that does the trick, keep these guidelines in mind:</p><ul><li>Look for a filter certified by NSF International or the Water Quality Association.</li><li>Choose one that removes the contaminants in your water (check your local drinking water quality report to see what's present).</li><li>Change your water filters on time.</li></ul>
4. Choose Safe and Effective Cleaning Supplies<p>When buying household cleaning products, don't bring home chemicals that could harm your health more than some of the microbes you're trying to get rid of. Fortunately, there are a number of products on the market that work safely; here are some ways to shop wisely:</p><ul><li>Look for the Green Seal, Ecologo, or Safer Choice (EPA) seals.</li><li>Opt for fragrance-free options.</li><li>Avoid triclosan and quaternary ammonium compounds or "quats." (One tactic is to choose products that don't advertise as "antibacterial.")</li><li>Consult the EWG's list of <a href="https://www.ewg.org/news-and-analysis/2020/03/16-effective-and-safe-products-guard-against-coronavirus" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">safe and effective products</a> for guarding against coronavirus.</li></ul>
5. Opt for Non-Toxic Beauty and Personal Care Products<p>There are a lot of claims made on beauty and self-care products these days, but words alone, like "natural," "organic," "non-toxic," "clean," "green," and "eco-friendly," don't mean a thing — they aren't backed by any sort of regulatory or certification processes. Instead, to find non-toxic products you trust, you have to do a little research.</p><p>Start by checking reputable ratings databases like <a href="https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Skin Deep</a> (EWG) and <a href="https://www.thinkdirtyapp.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Think Dirty</a>. Another good bet: Look for reliable third-party certifications on products labels, including:</p><ul><li>USDA Organic</li><li>EWG Verified</li><li>Made Safe</li><li>NSF/ANSI 305</li><li>Natural Products Association Certified</li><li>Whole Foods Market Premium Body Care</li></ul>
6. Get Outside<p>One more reason to <a href="https://vitalplan.com/blog/how-to-feel-great-and-boost-longevity-in-just-17-minutes-a-day" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" style="">get outdoors</a> beyond combatting cabin fever: The air in natural environments is generally much cleaner than indoor air. For one, outdoor air contains ⅔ less carbon dioxide, high levels of which negatively affect our productivity, <a href="https://vitalplan.com/blog/natural-sleep-aids" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" style="">sleep</a>, and more.</p><p>Forest air in particular contains phytoncides, organic compounds emitted by trees and plants that have been shown to boost our immune system function, plus plants in general help neutralize toxic substances in the air. Forests, open spaces, and open water are also rich in negative ions, which reduce inflammation.</p><p>So take your pick of natural environs, and get out there as often as possible — while still maintaining at least 6 feet of distance between yourself and others, of course.</p>
7. Bring Nature Indoors<p>Plants are natural air purifiers, so bringing some plants indoors can help clear the air in your home. Here's a list of the top 10 air-purifying plants to consider:</p><ul><li>Areca palm</li><li>Lady palm</li><li>Bamboo palm</li><li>Rubber plant</li><li>Dracaena</li><li>English ivy</li><li>Dwarf date palm</li><li>Ficus</li><li>Boston fern</li><li>Peace lily</li></ul>
8. Drive Less, Move More<p>Staying off the roads decreases air pollution, and the fact that many of us are driving less these days is noticeably improving air quality. If your commute is on hold, try to translate some of your usual travel time into getting more physical activity, or sneak in more movement between other normal routines.</p><p>Exercise improves circulation, oxygenates your tissues, and enhances the work of the lymphatic system through muscle contractions — all of which make it easier to move toxins out of your body.</p>
9. Practice Forgiveness<p>Through the practice of gratitude, we stay centered and in the present moment. This allows us to move through situations from our heart. Take time to forgive someone or yourself for things in the past. When we forgive, we expand and open up to endless possibilities.</p>
10. Quit a Bad Habit<p>Are you a smoker? Pack rat? Chronically sleep-deprived? In a bad relationship? Toxins come into our lives in many forms. Consider if you're participating in any unhealthy patterns or holding onto anything that no longer serves you, and then find a way to limit those things in your life.</p>
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