Volume 2

  • No. 7 July 2021

    Child growth in COVID’s shadow

    The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated crises in health and food systems, pushing millions into food insecurity and malnutrition. In low- and middle-income countries, disruptions related to COVID-19 could precipitate an additional 9.3 million cases of childhood wasting, 2.6 million cases of childhood stunting, and an additional 168,000 childhood deaths due to poor nutrition by 2022. The cost of scaling up nutrition to mitigate these effects is estimated at US$1.2 billion per year.

    See Osendarp et al.

  • No. 6 June 2021

    Red greenhouses

    Managing light quantity and quality for photosynthesis are avenues for improving crop yield. A passive approach involves using a reflector-free, spectral-shifting microphotonic thin film to serve as a greenhouse envelope, converting the impinging sunlight to more photosynthetically active red light. The film of the red-coloured greenhouse augments lettuce production by about 20% under conditions of full-spectrum grow lights or in facilities with just natural sunlight.

    See Shen et al.

  • No. 5 May 2021

    Pollinator protection

    Insecticide exposure is a key global driver of pollinator declines. Organophosphates, which account for more than a third of insecticide sales worldwide are highly toxic to pollinators. Utilizing the capability of phosphotriesterase enzymes to hydrolase linkages in organophosphates, it may be possible to develop in vivo detoxification systems for managed pollinators. Microcolonies of bumblebees fed pollen patties contaminated with malathion, the widely applied organophosphate pesticide, demonstrated 100% survival when also fed with phosphotriesterase-encapsulated pollen-inspired microparticles. Pollen-mimicking, enzyme-loaded microparticles may have potential to be deployed at low cost and large scale, incorporated into supplemental feeds, to detoxify organophosphate insecticides in stored nectar and pollen.

    See Chen et al.

  • No. 4 April 2021

    Brazil’s grain boom

    Production of soybean and corn in Brazil has increased four-fold since 1980 and the country is now the world’s largest and second largest exporter of each, respectively. The grain boom has been driven by cropland expansion and double cropping. Municipality-level data shows that cropland expansion has been the predominant strategy in frontier regions, such as the Centre-West and Matopiba, and has received attention as Brazil’s agricultural system evolves. However, double cropping, which predominates in conventional agricultural regions such as the south, has offset the equivalent of 76.7 Mha of arable land for grain production from 2003 to 2016, and has had increased impacts over land expansion. The experience of Brazil in double cropping may be valuable for pan-tropical countries producing grain for global trade.

    See Xu et al.

  • No. 3 March 2021

    Network nutrition

    Network medicine utilizes the power of data science to explore functionally relevant cellular interactions in the progression of disease, offering insights for the development of improved pharmaceutical targets. Polyphenols are phytochemicals found across a variety of food sources and though their health benefits, particularly in protection against non-communicable chronic disease, are increasingly observed in epidemiology, the molecular mechanisms by which these benefits are conferred are poorly established. A network medicine framework allows the cellular interconnectedness of polyphenol protein targets and proteins associated with disease to be explored. The network proximity of these target and disease neighbours of the human interactome is shown to be predictive of therapeutic effects of polyphenols.

    See do Valle et al.

  • No. 2 February 2021

    Feeling the heat

    Climate projections to 2100 indicate that the length and frequency of dangerous heat-stress events will increase, meaning livestock producers in East Africa — and their animals — will need to adapt to these climate-induced events to avoid production losses. Swine and poultry will suffer the greatest production losses in the region, but goat or sheep offer more resilient options for livestock producers. Switching to more heat-stress-tolerant breeds may provide alternative solutions, particularly in extensive farming systems. Dangerous heat-stress events will affect intensive production systems, despite the potential for technological interventions and climate control.

    See Rahimi et al.

  • No. 1 January 2021

    Soil, crop cover and yield

    A systematic understanding of the linkages between crop diversity, agricultural management and environmental factors such as climatic conditions and soil properties is key to the design of sustainable cropping systems. For 155 cereal fields with a high range of crop diversities across a 3,000-km north–south European gradient, the proportion of time with crop cover, regardless of its diversity, had a significantly positive impact on soil bacterial diversity, soil multifunctionality and crop yields. Increasing the proportion of time with crop cover, instead of increasing crop diversity within the rotation, could be a better approach to enhancing both yields and soil functioning, while providing habitat for soil microorganisms in European cropping systems.

    See Garland et al.