The Sustainable Future of Food Must Bring Everyone to the Table

WIRED

At this year’s RE:WIRED Green event, food scientists and environmental justice activists mapped out how we can end world hunger and preserve our planet.

HOW CAN WE feed the world sustainably? Right now, 325 million people are acutely hungry. 35 million Americans don’t know where their next meal will come from. The world’s food systems are uneven, fragile, and only becoming more fragile with the climate crisis.

“When we talk about from farm-to-fork, we need to transform the food system in a way that, yes, it supports our environment, yes, it supports our health, but also that it provides the economic return to all of the stakeholders across the food system,” says Ertharin Cousin. Cousin is the CEO and managing director of Food Systems for the Future, a nutrition impact investment fund she founded. She has worked on resolving global food insecurity and hunger for two decades.

She spoke at RE:WIRED Green on Wednesday about her work, the need for more innovation, and the opportunity to lift up historically marginalized food entrepreneurs.

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The AI Researcher Giving Her Field Its Bitter Medicine

QUANTA MAGAZINE

Anima Anandkumar wants computer scientists to move beyond the matrix, among other challenges.

Anima Anandkumar, Bren Professor of computing at the California Institute of Technology and senior director of machine learning research at Nvidia, has a bone to pick with the matrix. Her misgivings are not about the sci-fi movies, but about mathematical matrices — grids of numbers or variables used throughout computer science. While researchers typically use matrices to study the relationships and patterns hiding within large sets of data, these tools are best suited for two-way relationships. Complicated processes like social dynamics, on the other hand, involve higher-order interactions.

Luckily, Anandkumar has long savored such challenges. When she recalls Ugadi, a new year’s festival she celebrated as a child in Mysore (now Mysuru), India, two flavors stand out: jaggery, an unrefined sugar representing life’s sweetness, and neem, bitter blossoms representing life’s setbacks and difficulties. “It’s one of the most bitter things you can think about,” she said.

She’d typically load up on the neem, she said. “I want challenges.”

Read the full story in Quanta Magazine

A Real-Life Body Clock

GROW

A blood test says you’re aging too fast. Now what?

HOLLY MANN remembers a time — it must have been twelve years ago — when she started feeling old. Then 27, the US Army veteran found that she could no longer comfortably exercise. She was sapped of energy, and carried pain in her shoulders, hip, knees, and wrists. “I had a lot of issues that I would frankly associate with somebody who was two decades older than me,” she says. The doctors said that her symptoms stemmed from months of undetected carbon monoxide poisoning. They couldn’t tell her any more than that. Ms. Mann was desperate to feel better — really, she says, to feel younger.

Consulting the internet, she started tinkering with her diet. She tried new workouts. She ordered capsules of Vitamin This and Supplement That. And a few years in, after incremental ups and downs, she started to see real improvements. Though she still faced her share of low-energy days, by 2020, Mann felt noticeably better. She was curious: how much better? Had she, possibly, turned back the hands of time?

Read the full story in GROW

At Some Colleges, the Fall of Roe Will Weaken Student Health Care

WIRED

As students return to school, many will find restricted campus access to abortion services and information—and perhaps reproductive care in general.

ON JUNE 24, an independent women’s health center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, received cease-and-desist orders from the state’s attorney general for its abortion services. The order came immediately after the US Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, overturning Roe v. Wade. The clinic’s operations manager told local news that her team spent that day canceling more than 100 appointments. The clinic sits right across the road from the University of Alabama and was one of only three providers in the state.

As a new school year begins on college campuses across the country, many students will move to states that promise them fewer rights now than when they applied to school last winter, or when they accepted enrollment offers this spring. On some of those campuses, health centers—fearing legal consequences for their staffers—will likely roll back what they can offer students, both in terms of care and information about how to access abortion services or pills elsewhere. Some health advocates worry that the chilling effect may even spread to conveying general information about birth control and sexual health.

“It’s going to have devastating effects,” says Gillian Sealy, chief of staff with the nonprofit Power to Decide, which advocates for reproductive rights. “In many instances, this is the place that a young person might go to get their health needs met.” Unplanned pregnancies diminish the likelihood that a student will continue their education. So having the power to choose is paramount, she says.

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Can Disgusting Images Motivate Good Public Health Behavior?

WIRED

Graphic images have long been tools of campaigns against smoking and STDs. Researchers want to know if they can work for infectious diseases like Covid.

EVERY NOW AND then, I remember the Slideshow. This presentation about sexually transmitted infections was infamous among my fellow South Florida seventh graders. If you got your middle school sex ed elsewhere, it might be hard to imagine just how graphic its slides were. But being gross was the point: If kids saw the symptoms of untreated gonorrhea, the reasoning went, then disgust would sway them from reckless decisions.

Down in the basic wiring of our brains, disgust motivates avoidance. You’re less likely to go on a second date with a first date who smells bad. If a pigeon picks at your sandwich, you might opt to go hungry. Public health data backs this up: When cigarette packaging shows graphic pictures of smokers’ diseased organs, attempts to quit smoking double. “A vivid image is much more powerful than just abstract numbers,” says Woo-kyoung Ahn, a professor of psychology at Yale University. “Disgust is a powerful emotion rooted as an evolutionary adaptation that helps us expel and avoid harmful substances.”

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How Abortion Clinics Are Racing to Prepare for a Post-Roe America

WIRED

Access to reproductive care depends on more than red states vs. blue states—but that will matter. Here’s how the future could vary across the country.

BY THE END of June, abortion may no longer be a federally protected right. With its Dobbs ruling, the Supreme Court may empower individual states to ban abortion outright if they so choose. As a result, policy experts expect 26 states to enact some form of a ban. In 22 states, laws or amendments are already written—13 are “trigger bans” set to kick in the moment of an official SCOTUS ruling, and the other half will come in the days, weeks, or months that follow.

This will be a minefield for people with unwanted pregnancies. Its contours will feel familiar: Red states (according to electoral maps) tend to limit access; blue states tend to preserve it. Across the country, clinics in blue states like Illinois and Colorado are staffing up to prepare for an influx of patients from nearby red ones. Some are expanding their call center staffing, online services, or financial aid to patients. State governments are even considering new legislation to protect—and finance—abortion access. “It’s literally a line item in the budget,” says Elizabeth Nash, a state policy analyst for the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit research organization for reproductive rights. “They want to help support people who have to travel. States are also understanding that their own residents are impacted by the need to pay for abortions.”

“All of us in blue states are expecting to see more people,” agrees Sue Dunlap, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Los Angeles. “And, frankly, we’re already seeing more people.”

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These Nanobots Can Swim Around a Wound and Kill Bacteria

WIRED

Researchers have created autonomous particles covered with patches of protein “motors.” They hope these bots will tote lifesaving drugs through bodily fluids.

THERE’S ALWAYS BEEN something seductive about a nanobot. Comic books and movies implore you to imagine these things, thousands of times thinner than a human hair and able to cruise around a body and repair a bone or heal an illness. (Or, if they’re more nefarious, simply explode.) Their scale is unfathomably finite. Their possibilities, sci-fi will have you believe, wildly infinite. While that incongruity makes it perfect for the denizens of a writers’ room figuring out how to kill James Bond, it’s also a sort of curse. Surely we can’t take tech like this seriously. Can we?

It turns out, the nanobots are among us.

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This Blood Test Detects Cancer in Dogs. But Do You Want to Know?

WIRED

A startup just showed that its OncoK9 test accurately sounds the alarm for aggressive and advanced cancers. The catch? These often have no cure.

IT WAS TIME for Cici Pepperoni’s annual check-up, but Marina Inserra, the 7-year-old pit bull mix’s owner, wasn’t worried. Inserra worked as a veterinary assistant at the San Diego office where Cici was getting her exam, and as far as she knew, Cici was perfectly fine.

Along with the checkup, Inserra agreed to enter Cici in a clinical study by a company called PetDx that had partnered with her office. The company wanted healthy dogs to donate blood to help validate a test to screen for multiple cancers at once—a liquid biopsy.

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Drones Have Transformed Blood Delivery in Rwanda

WIRED

The autonomous aircraft have shuttled blood to rural, mountainous areas for years. A new analysis proves they’re faster than driving.

SIX YEARS AGO, Rwanda had a blood delivery problem. More than 12 million people live in the small East African country, and like those in other nations, sometimes they get into car accidents. New mothers hemorrhage. Anemic children need urgent transfusions. You can’t predict these emergencies. They just happen. And when they do, the red stuff stored in Place A has to find its way to a patient in Place B—fast.

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When Robots Multiply

GROW

These scientists created living robots out of frog cells. Now these “Xenobots” are reproducing.

IT WOULD PROBABLY have been the science story of the year—any other year. In January 2020, a team of biologists, roboticists and computer scientists announced that they had created the world’s first living robots. These Xenobots were cells culled from a frog, sculpted with the help of an evolutionary algorithm, and then set free to roam under the microscope. Liberated from the constraints of frogness, these cells had designs of their own. They collaborated. They interacted. They performed basic tasks. And eventually, in more recent experiments, they started to multiply.

This is the team’s latest revelation: Xenobots can autonomously assemble identical copies of themselves from individual cells floating in the spring water around them.

Read the full story in GROW.