agriculture

Fighting malaria in Northern Peru

When large-scale irrigation came to Peru’s north coast in the 1960s and 1970s it brought with it an explosion in agriculture, in particular rice cultivation. But it also brought a new disease to the area — malaria.

“The north coast is a semi-arid area, the only reason there is malaria there is because of irrigation,” says Andrés Sánchez, a senior program specialist with Canada’s International Development Research Centre, which is supporting a project in the region that could help eliminate the deadly disease. “It’s a man-made problem.”

Fortunately, there’s also a man-made solution. Read more in Canadian Geographic.

Fitbit for Cows

Wearable tech could help cowboys spot sick animals sooner.

Wearable fitness monitors are all the rage among humans right now, but they are also spreading among farm animals. Researchers hope the devices can help keep herds of beef cows healthy.

Karin Orsel, a veterinary epidemiologist at the University of Calgary in Canada is testing how accelerometers – the same devices inside fitness monitors that measure a person’s activity level – can be used to detect disease in beef cattle before it becomes obvious to ranchers. Read more in Inside Science.

Strategies to reduce the use of antibiotics in animals

New drugs that could eventually replace or reduce the use of antibiotics in animals are in development to help slow the rise of antibiotic resistance.

Imagine a farm with over 100,000 head of cattle, each one receiving daily low-dose antibiotics in their food or water, not to treat illness, but to make them put on weight faster.

In the United States, the total amount of antibiotics used in food-producing animals rose by 16% between 2009 and 2012, to 14.61 million kilograms per year, and there is a great deal of overlap between the drugs used in animals and those used in humans. The most recent data on human use in the United States, from 2011, shows that Americans used 3.5 million kilograms of antibiotics that year. Read more in The Pharmaceutical Journal.

Pests worm their way into genetically modified maize

Broadening of rootworm resistance to toxins highlights the importance of crop rotation.

Even with biotech crops, farmers still need to make use of age-old practices such as crop rotation to fight insect pests. That’s the lesson to be drawn from the latest discovery of resistance to the pest-fighting toxins added to maize — also known as corn.

According to a team led by Aaron Gassmann, an entomologist at Iowa State University in Ames, in some Iowa fields a type of beetle called the western corn rootworm (Diabrotica virgifera virgifera LeConte) has developed resistance to two of the three types of Bacillus thurinigiensis (Bt) toxin produced by genetically modified maize. Resistance to one type of Bt toxin has cropped up in the worms in recent years, but now there is a twist — the researchers have found that resistance to that type of Bt toxin also confers protection against another, more recently introduced type. Read more in Nature.

Slow science

The world’s longest-running experiments remind us that science is a marathon, not a sprint.

Although science is a long-term pursuit, research is often practised over short timescales: a discrete experiment or a self-contained project constrained by the length of a funding cycle. But some investigations cannot be rushed. To study human lifespans or the roiling of Earth’s crust and the Sun’s surface, for instance, requires decades and even centuries.

Here, Nature takes a look at five of science’s longest-running projects, some of which have been amassing data continuously for centuries. Read more in Nature.