Saturday, March 31, 2012

From Toxic Dump to Healthy Park

The restored Wadi Hanifah. Photo courtesy: © Aga Khan Award for Architecture / Arriyadh Development Authority.

A public-health hazard has become "a place to breathe" in crowded Riyadh, where a decade-long restoration project has transformed a rubbish dump into a vast desert oasis.

The once fertile and scenic Wadi Hanifah suffered dramatically as the Saudi capital expanded rapidly. The city used the river valley "as a throughway for utility lines and a dumping ground for construction waste" as well as industrial effluent and "discharge from the city's overcapacity sewage treatment plant," according to an article last year in Canadian Architect magazine.

When the Arriyadh Development Authority began working to restore the valley, the first step was "removing 1.5 million cubic meters of debris ranging from construction waste to dead animals," according to the Mideast environmental news site Green Prophet.

Natural wastewater treatment is incorporated into the new green space.
Photo courtesy: © Aga Khan Award for Architecture / Arriyadh Development Authority.

Some 35,000 indigenous trees, as well as native grasses, now provide a buffer against dangerous flash floods while shading a 70-kilometer stretch of the river that includes 43 kilometers of paths for walking and biking. To keep the area from becoming polluted once again, the project, spearheaded by the Canadian architecture and planning firm Moriyama & Teshima and the U.K. engineering firm Buro Happold, also included the creation of an artificial wetland system to naturally clean the wastewater that once almost destroyed the river.

The restoration, while impressive, does not solve all of Riyadh's environmental ills, of course. Critics have suggested that some of the $1.5 billion spent on the high-profile project might have been better used hooking up the third of city households that remain unconnected to mainline sewerage, the BBC reported. The news agency also noted the lack of public consultation on the project but painted an overall positive picture of its impact on local residents' lives.

"Riyadh has no open space," engineer Saud Al Ajmi told the BBC. "Wadi Hanifah has become a place to breathe."

Friday, March 30, 2012

Hormones in Dairy Wastewater Takes Years to Dissipate

Photo courtesy: © Wei Zheng

A new study has found that wastewater from large dairy farms contains notable concentrations of estrogenic hormones that, instead of breaking down, can persist for years. The unusual behavior, unknown to scientists before, involves estrogens quickly converting from one form to another in the absence of oxygen – resulting in halted biodegradation, and as an extra bonus, making them much harder to detect.

The study, led by researchers at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC), appears in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

The problem starts when lactating cows create estrogenic hormones that are excreted in their waste, said ISTC senior research scientist Wei Zheng, leader of the study. In large confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) the hormones end up in wastewater, (euphemistically called lagoons). The water is used to fertilize crops, and although there are federal regulations limiting certain agricultural nutrients from polluting rivers, streams, lakes or groundwater, the regulations do not protect groundwater and surface waters from contamination by animal hormones and veterinary pharmaceuticals.

Animal hormone concentrations in agricultural waste are 100 to 1,000 times higher than those detected in human sewage - and large dairy farms are one of the major sources of estrogens in the environment, according to Zheng.

"These estrogens are present at levels that can affect the [reproductive functions of] aquatic animals," Zheng said. Even low levels of estrogens can "feminize" animals that spend their lives in the water, for example, causing male fish to have low sperm counts or to develop female characteristics, compromising their ability to reproduce.

"Hormones that end up in surface or groundwater can pollute sources of drinking water for humans," Zheng said. "The estrogens may also be taken up by plants – a potential new route into the food chain," he added. "We need to develop a strategy to prevent these hormones from building up in the environment."

What to do? Support small dairy farms, limit your dairy, experiment with alternative dairy products: soy milk, almond milk and many others.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Two Week Diet of Canned Food Raises Reporter's Bisphenol-A 2000%

Photo courtesy: Srinath TV/CC BY 2.0

An experiment in Sweden shows eating canned food clearly and drastically raises levels of bisphenol-A (BPA), though not higher than currently recommended safe levels.

Four Swedish reporters faced a savory (or unsavory) assignment: eat nothing but canned food for two days. The intrepid journalists enjoyed meals like canned beans and bacon or a tin of sardines for breakfast, served on plastic plates and accompanied by microwaved coffee in a plastic mug.

For lunch they could have tuna salad assembled from ingredients that all originated in cans, or canned ravioli, washed down with beer from a can, and followed by canned fruit served on top of ice cream made from tinned evaporated milk. Yum.

Svenska Dagbladet, the daily Swedish newspaper that orchestrated this experiment, to see how canned food affects BPA levels, counseled the journalists to follow their normal eating routines in the days leading up to the experiment, though on the final day before the 48 hours of canned food they attempted to eat "BPA-free."

The experiment, though not considered scientifically valid, was designed with the help of researchers from Lund University.

After the two-day experiment, the newspaper team sent urine samples from the four reporters to Lund's lab. The results, showing pre- and post-urinalysis, shocked the team.

All four of the experiment subjects had markedly increased levels of bisphenol A in their urine. The shocking part was that the levels (calculated as nanograms per milliliter) rose between 2,800 and 4,600 percent from the two days of eating nothing but canned.

Even with that huge rise, however, the reporters' BPA still fell below what the Swedish government estimates to be safe levels. Though the reporters basically stuffed themselves with bisphenol-A-laden foods, they didn't manage to raise levels over the government's standard of 50 micrograms per kilo of bodyweight daily.

In Sweden and elsewhere, safe levels of BPA, an estrogen-like chemical widely used in plastic products, are still being debated. The Swedes have (since April this year) outlawed the use of BPA in food packaging for children under three. The Environmental Working Group lists ten studies showing BPA is harmful at current levels.

But the US Food and Drug Administration has denied a recent petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council to have BPA outlawed from food packaging.
The FDA's conclusion: “scientific evidence at this time does not suggest that the very low levels of human exposure to BPA through the diet are unsafe.”
While the debate rages, if the Swedish experiment or an earlier one Lloyd reported on, by Canadian journalists, leaves you feeling conflicted about BPA exposure, here's a list of some companies that have phased BPA from some canned goods.

In addition, you can look to recycling codes on other plastic packaging to help you stay away from BPA. If the code is 3 or 7, BPA could be present. Don't put hot or boiling food in plastic with BPA present, and discard scratched plastic food containers, as BPA may more easily leach from these.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Second-Hand Clothes: A Blessing or a Burden to Africa

A third of all globally-donated clothes end up in sub-Saharan Africa via wholesale rag houses, where they end up lining the streets or small boutiques such as this market at Katangua in Nigeria. Photo courtesy: Monica Mark for the Guardian

I have a World Vision child in Sierra Leone; and, know that it is the poorest nation on earth. So, as a sponsor, I care about the economic state of the nation; and, I hope that something is done shortly to raise the standard of living there.

As a boy growing up in Sierra Leone, Kemoh Bah prized his Michael Jackson T-shirt. "I was the only one who had this kind of T-shirt in my village, and I felt like I was part of American culture," said Bah, dressed head-to-toe in clothes emblazoned with logos outside his roadside secondhand clothes shack in the capital, Freetown.

Nicknamed "junks" in Sierra Leone, hand-me-downs account for the majority of outfits in a country where seven out of 10 people live on less than $2 a day. The industry has ballooned to $1bn in Africa since 1990. And yet the combination of western charity and African brand enthusiasm is not always a force for good. Quite apart from the ethical issue of donated goods becoming tradeable commodities on which middlemen can turn a profit, there is the threat to local textile markets to consider.

About a third of globally-donated clothes make their way via wholesale rag houses to sub-Saharan Africa, where they end up lining the streets or filling small boutiques. Hawkers say Christmas time, when westerners flock to offload clothes to charity shops, brings in the biggest bales. The lucrative industry has even spawned fake charity clothes collectors in the west.

But critics say the billion-dollar trade risks swamping fragile domestic textiles markets, and 12 countries in Africa are among 31 globally that have now banned their import.

"The only way I survived was to start making Muslim women's clothes," said tailor Bema Sidibe from Ivory Coast, where around 20 tonnes of secondhand clothes flooded the country last year. In neighbouring Ghana, 10 times that amount arrive in an average year. "Muslim women don't go for these western-influenced clothes and around traditional feast days you are guaranteed a few new outfits will be ordered," Sidibe said.

The influx of cheap clothes has heaped pressure on an industry already struggling to adapt to changing fashions amid patchy infrastructure. During his presidency in Ghana, John Kufuor introduced national "Friday wear day" to encourage citizens to wear traditional clothes made using the jewel-coloured wax fabrics associated with African garments.

For many though, the trade allows clothes to be bought and sold cheaply and provides desperately needed jobs.

Increasingly, taste as well as necessity has come into play. Picking through Kemoh's roadside cabin jammed between crumbling colonial buildings and corrugated-zinc shacks, bargain-hunter Fatima rifles through Gucci castoffs. "You can buy even cheaper Chinese ready-mades, but then you look like everybody else. Here I can find designer clothes no one else has," she said, sporting a rainbow-coloured mohican haircut.

A roaring trade continues across Africa, from Ghana's thriving "faux" markets to Nigeria's "bend down" boutiques.

Each month, using shipping containers supposedly full of cars, a network of traffickers, including Chidi Ugwe, smuggles around 1.5 tonnes of clothes to Nigeria's sprawling Katangua market, the largest flea market in the country.

"Most of the clothes land in smaller countries like Togo and Benin and then we get them to Nigeria. We call them flying goods, because they fly into the country without being seen," Ugwe, a former customs officer, said, while thousands of shoppers thronged through the narrow market streets.

The clothes mostly come from Europe, although relatively affluent countries in Asia also provide a steady trickle. So popular are the clothes in Katangua market that thousands of small-time traders also bribe border officials to bring in their own bales.

"We call our shops 'bend down' boutiques because we have so many clothes we just pour them on the floor and you just bend down and select," explained Mercy Azbuike, surrounded by piles of clothes overflowing from her wooden shack and piled into wheelbarrows outside.

"Even those selling clothes in boutiques [proper stores] are buying from us," said Azbuike, who also travels to neighbouring Benin twice a month to replenish her stock.

"It's the same boutique but you don't have to bend down so it's more expensive," she said, emptying out a Disney rucksack stuffed with children's pyjamas. Mothers with children elbowed past teenagers. "I cover myself but under my abaya [Muslim dress] I still want to wear nice, modern clothes," said Fatoumata, 18, as she paid $13 for sequinned Levi's jeans.

Not every seller is so successful. Emmanuel Odaibanga, who sells ski suits and jackets in a stifling shack, said business was slow. "It's easy to buy jackets [from smugglers], hard to sell them," he shrugged.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Great Recycled Flip-Flops From Fresh Cargo

Maasai Treads team members with one of their products. Photo courtesy: © Fresh Cargo.

Looking for a new pair of flip-flops for summer? Fresh Cargo's latest fair-trade line, "Maasai Treads," combines locally sourced and recycled materials with indigenous sandal-making skills to create footwear that makes a stylish, sustainable statement.

The U.K.-based company works with members of the Maasai community in Nairobi, Kenya, where men have been making sandals from cow hide, called "akala," for centuries. More recently, they have begun using recycled tire treads as their main material.

The Fresh Cargo designs are 95% recycled, made from locally-sourced tires, used denim and leather products from the local Nairobi market, hemp, and a locally produced cotton called kikoy. The mix of materials allows for flip-flop styles for both women and men that range from funky to sleek.

Assembling the strap (left) and the Kikoy Buttons Blue Flip Flops for women (right). Photo courtesy: © Fresh Cargo.

Twenty local people are currently employed making the Maasai Treads line and the company hopes to have created 100 jobs in Kenya, where unemployment stands at 40%, by the end of 2014. Proceeds also help support the Born Free Foundation, a wildlife protection charity that works on anti-poaching outreach and human-lion conflict mitigation projects in Kenya.

Fresh Cargo claims their recycled tire soles can last for 20,000 miles before becoming fully worn out. Maasai warriors have already proven the technique's road-worthiness by running the London and New York marathons in recycled-tire flip-flops to raise money for their community.

The company also works with other teams in Kenya to make wire jewelry and recycled-paper jewelry, a group in the Philippines that recycles old juice cartons into bags, and one in Indonesia that makes recycled-paper homewares.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Kenya to Open Africa's First Underwater Museum

Marine life at the Malindi Marine National Park that is located to the south of Malindi town at about 118 km from Mombasa town in Kenya. Photo courtesy: Karin Duthie / Alamy/Alamy

Kenya is on the brink of building Africa's first underwater museum, which will be dedicated to studying marine life and shipwrecks.

Designs of the proposed museum, which is expected to be open in 2014, have already begun with the help of US architects and a budget for construction costs is being discussed at government level.

"Apart from studying shipwrecks that happened in the Indian Ocean Coast, we will also be studying the marine life that exists [there]... Construction is set to begin soon and it is expected to be fully operational in the next two years," said Cesar Bita, head of archaeology at the National Museums of Kenya.

Kenya will be one of the few countries in the world to have an underwater museum. The US and the United Kingdom have such facilities as well as China, which has the world's largest underwater museum. Egypt is carrying out studies to also construct an underwater museum but it has not advanced its initiative like Kenya.

The museum will be located in the shores near the town of Malindi, a popular tourist destination. "Shipwrecks attract a lot of fish which feed on micro-organisms on the wood [of the ships] and they are also a habitat for the fish and several other aquatic species. We will partner with many organisations in the study of marine life," said Bita.

"The marine life that we aim to study is several species of fish, turtles, and even dolphins because there seems to be a relation between feeding and the shipwrecks," Bita added.

Human remains from the shipwrecks will also be archived in the museum records.

"Building an underwater museum is a good idea but expensive. It is happening when the government has put at least one percent of its annual budget on scientific research and innovations. Other areas however need to be prioritised, such as the science of development," said Prof Germano Mwabu from the department of economics at the University of Nairobi.

He said more should be invested in health research such as malaria, which affects millions of people in the country each year.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Mick Jagger Asked to Intervene On Behalf of Uncontacted Peruvian Tribes

Indigenous people of the Kugapakori-Nahua-Nanti reserve in Peru, who are threatened by the Camisea project. Mick Jagger has been asked to use his influence to help stop the gasfield exploration. Photo courtesy: EPA

Peru's last uncontacted tribes may be among the small minority of mankind who have never heard of Mick Jagger but conservationists are now calling on the Rolling Stones frontman to help save the Amazonian homeland of these vulnerable groups.

The British rock star – who was reportedly made an "honorary ambassador" for the environment during a visit to Peru last year – is being asked to weigh in on a controversial gasfield development that threatens the Mashco-Piro and other tribes isolated from the outside world due to the remoteness of their forest home.

The Kugapakori-Nahua-Nanti reserve, which is close to the borders of Brazil and Bolivia, is legally protected by a "supreme decree" but it is close to the vast Camisea natural gasfield and is said to be threatened by the expansion plans of the state oil firm, PetroPeru.

Survey teams were seen in the region last year. According to the Peruvian magazine Caretas, the government has quietly created a new exploration block that may impinge on the reserve.

Non-governmental organisations have requested details about the expansion, but none have been forthcoming from either the government or the petrochemical company so they are now turning to Jagger for help.

Last year, the singer visited Peru's Manú national park – a Unesco world heritage site and area of extraordinary biodiversity that has the Kugapakori-Nahua-Nanti reserve as one of its buffer zones. The regional governor asked Jagger to serve as a tourism and environment ambassador at a ceremony where he was presented with a medal, a feather head-dress and bows and arrows, according to the Andina news agency.

Survival International has now written to the singer with a request that he use his honorary title to intervene. "Peru's last uncontacted tribes are in imminent danger … please ask the Peruvian government to stop endangering their lives," the group's international director, Stephen Corry, wrote.

Jagger has yet to respond. Though less well known for biodiversity protection than Sting, Brad Pitt, Harrison Ford and James Cameron, he is listed as a supporter of conservation causes. There is nothing, however, on his official website about the title conferred upon him in Peru. He was not immediately available for comment.

Let's hope Mick lends a hand. These tribes need all the help they can get.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Aquatic Snails (Limpets) Hitching Rides on Submarines

Aquatic snails hitching a ride. Photo courtesy: Wikipedia Commons

While much of the world's oceans remain a vast and mysterious place, one of the planet's slowest moving creatures has enlisted the latest of human technology to conquer these regions more efficiently. But, as it turns out, they don't come alone.

For decades, scientists have deployed deep-sea submarines to uncover new species in our uncharted aquatic ecosystems, often with the mission to preserve those fragile lifeforms from outside threats -- though in some cases, they may actually be doing more harm than good.

According to a new report from Australian Geographic, some species of aquatic snail found in the ocean's murky depths, known as limpets, have started to realize that hitching a ride on our visiting underwater vessels might be the best way to get around. Unfortunately, however, in many cases these sluggish stowaways have stowaways of their own. A parasite, once isolated to a single limpet population, has been using this free-ride to threaten a broader ecosystem.

Experts worry that this localized parasite could go on to do some pretty horrible things to limpets elsewhere.

"It actually castrates this limpet," says Amanda Bates from the University of Tasmania's Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies said. "So, essentially, that animal becomes this parasite because it's basically being driven around by this parasite. It's awful."

Friday, March 23, 2012

Tart Cherries Reduce Arthritis Pain

Photo courtesy: ©

For the millions who suffer debilitating joint pain and arthritis, tart cherries may help to significantly reduce inflammation and pain. New research from Oregon Health & Science University presented at the American College of Sports Medicine Conference (ACSM) in San Francisco, Calif. suggests that tart cherries have the "highest anti-inflammatory content of any food" and can help people with osteoarthritis manage their disease.

In a study of twenty women ages 40 to 70 with inflammatory osteoarthritis, the researchers discovered that consuming tart cherry juice two times a day over the course of three weeks led to surprising reductions in important inflammation markers – especially for those women who had the highest inflammation levels in the beginning.

"With millions of Americans looking for ways to naturally manage pain, it's promising that tart cherries can help, without the possible side effects often associated with arthritis medications," said Kerry Kuehl, M.D, Dr.PH., M.S., Oregon Health & Science University, principal study investigator. "I'm intrigued by the potential for a real food to offer such a powerful anti-inflammatory benefit – especially for active adults."

The benefits of tart cherries could be particularly valuable for athletes, according to Kuehl's prior research. In a past study he found that long-distance runners who drank tart cherry juice reported much less pain after exercise than those who abstained.

Anthocyanins, the antioxidant in tart cherries that lead to their bright red color, are the compound that have been specifically linked to high antioxidant capacity and reduced inflammation, at levels equal to common pain medications.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Guerilla Gardening - the Natural Way

Slugs can be a terrible problem. Not only do they chow down on your veggies; but, they leave disgusting trails of slime wherever they've been. Now I am against animal cruelty of any kind, so leave the salt cellar in the kitchen. Instead, dust cornmeal on the soil around all your green veggies; and, the slugs will stay away. They can't stand the feeling of the gritty cornmeal on their soft bodies; and, the cornmeal does not harm your garden.

Did You Know That...

A fatal heart attack during sex is more common when a man is with his mistress than when he's with his wife, a new study has found. Researchers at the University of Florence reviewed the available medical literature on infidelity and its effects. Researchers suggested a guilty conscience, the demands of satisfying a younger woman, the strain of keeping the secret; and, the coolness of the fresh sheets may be possible explanations.

Calcium supplements, recommended to elderly people and post-menopausal women, can significantly increase the risk of heart attack. German researchers found those who used calcium supplements ere twice as likely to have a heart attack as those who didn't use any vitamin/mineral supplements. Furthermore, boosting the calcium in one's diet doesn't necessarily stave of heart attack or stroke.

You may never have to get another needle. Scientists at MIT have developed a high-pressure "jet-injection" device that shoots medicine through the skin painlessly (or very nearly painlessly). The device can benefit diabetics and others who have to self-inject; but, are squeamish and avoid doctors' orders. The injector, which looks like a small cylindrical gun, works by means of a powerful magnet attached to a piston that ejects the drug at very high pressure and velocity out through the nozzle - which, the researchers said, is the size of a mosquito's proboscis. So the injection should feel like nothing more than a mosquito bite. There's no word yet on when the device might be available.

Scientists have taken skin cells and turned them into heart cells, which they hope will be able to repair the organ after heart failure. A big advantage of human-induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) is that they're derived from the patients themselves, decreasing the likelihood they would be rejected by the immune system. Researchers already knew it was possible to turn hiPSCs into hart cells in young and healthy people; but, now the same result can be reached in elderly patients.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Odds & Sodds

A few southern Maine towns will be installing turtle-crossing signs. The road signs aim to warn motorists of endangered turtle road-crossing locations with the hope of reducing road deaths of two of the state's rarest species.

The German city of Hamelin may be in need of another Pied Piper - it seems the rats are back. City officials say a popular fountain has been put out of service after the rodents gnawed through a power cable, according to the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

An experimental cholesterol treatment being jointly developed by Regeneron and Sanofi has shown it can lower bad cholesterol in difficult-to-treat patients, according to a study. The treatment, a monoclonal antibody that work by blocking a protein called PCSK9 which preserves high bad cholesterol levels in the bloodstream, is a component of a new type of drug that could become effective in preventing heart attack and stroke.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Radioactive Tuna Found in US Waters

Northern blue fin tuna. Photo via:

It's been more than a year since an earthquake off the coast of Japan triggered tsunamis and the nation was brought to the brink of nuclear disaster, but the environmental impact of those events has hardly subsided. According to scientists, scores of bluefin tuna have begun arriving to the west coast of the United States bearing qualities startlingly similar to Godzilla, another famed Japanese export -- namely, they're radioactive.

While the highly-charged migratory fish don't seem poised to trample any unsuspecting cities just yet, experts are still concerned to find the radiation leaked from Japan's nuclear power plant at Fukushima has found its way across the Pacific.

"We were frankly kind of startled," says Nicholas Fisher, a researcher studying the radioactive tuna's arrival to California.

In a study slated to appear in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists report that more than a dozen bluefin tuna fish caught off the coast of San Diego last year showed abnormally high levels of radioactive caesium, conclusively linked to the accidental discharges washed into the waters around Fukushima.

Researchers say that, although the level of radiation found in these samples is more than ten times what was found before the disaster, the radioactive tuna is still within the range considered safe for human consumption, reports the BBC.
However, the case does illustrate how migratory species can carry pollution over vast distances, they say.

"It's a lesson to us in how interconnected eco-regions can be, even when they may be separated by thousands of miles," Nicholas Fisher, a professor of marine sciences at Stony Brook University, New York, told BBC News.
The findings should serve as a humbling reminder about the broad-reaching impacts that nuclear disaster could have on the health of the world's species, ecosystems, and even ourselves, particularly considering how narrowly the worst-case-scenario at Japan's Fukushima plant was avoided.

Just to be safe, in light of these as yet innocuous radioactive tuna fish reaching the furthest corners of the Pacific, it might be best if we avoid calling them "chicken" -- of the sea, or otherwise.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Fixing the Broken Tomato

Tomatoes ripening on the vine. Photo courtesy: Ajith_chatie/CC BY 2.0

If you have ever grown tomatoes in your backyard, ideally from heritage seeds, harvesting each plump red fruit at the height of ripeness, you know there is something missing from the hothouse hybrids at the local grocery. Now scientists know exactly what makes for good tomato chemistry -- including some aromas that give the perception of sweetness independent of sugars.

Moreover, they have proven a novel method for predicting and testing "likability". Corresponding author Herry Klee, of the University of Florida, says: "We now know exactly what we need to do to fix the broken tomato".

Traditional food chemists have not succeeded at analyzing the chemicals in a food like a tomato, and predicting from that "chemical recipe" which tomatoes people will like the most. Even focusing on the volatile chemicals above odor thresholds -- that's the molecules that are released into the air in sufficient quantities that their smell affects what you taste -- has not resulted in accurate descriptions of tasty tomatoes.

The scientists behind the study of The Chemical Interactions Underlying Tomato Flavor Preferences started more traditionally. They grew 152 heirloom tomato varieties, assembling 278 chemical profiles from samples of their harvest. Most of the tomato varieties were bred before the tasteless commercial tomatoes that curse modern BLTs were invented.

They found a surprising diversity of chemicals, with variations of up to 3000 times the aromatic chemical content between cultivars (another example of the biological value lost when commercial monoculture eradicates historical biodiversity). This palette of palatables gave the researchers an opportunity to poll panelists on their "overall liking", flavor intensity, sweetness, and sourness of key varietals selected as representatives of the potential range of chemistries.

Statistical analysis of the taste test results demonstrated that "flavor intensity traces to 12 different compounds and sweetness to another 12, including 8 that were also important for overall flavor." Interestingly, some of the aromatic compounds typically abundant in the red fruits are not responsible for good taste in tomatoes; the relatively less abundant aromatics qualified in the two "tasty twelve" lists.

Additionally, the study shows that some aromatic compounds in tomatoes contribute to the perception of sweetness independently of sugar concentration.

Klee focuses on the value of the study for fixing commercial tomato flavor:
This is the first step to restoring good flavor in commercial tomatoes. Consumers care deeply about tomatoes. Their lack of flavor is a major focus of consumer dissatisfaction with modern agriculture. One could do worse than to be known as the person who helped fix flavor.
Unfortunately, it is more likely that food scientists will hijack the findings of the study to make processed foods tastier, as is done with the secret ingredients in "natural" orange juice, luring the fast food consuming public even further astray from the path of fresh fruits and vegetables that taste great and are healthy to eat.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

How a Food Forest is Changing an LA Neighbourhood

All photos are "screen grabs" from Health Happens Here.

I am a huge believer in Food Forests. I think they are wonderful for the environment (both human and other); a great source of food that can be foraged by those in need; a haven for winged pollinators and birds; an oasis of calm for the soul; and, so many other benefits, I can't mention them all.

This is a case of one man who saw a need and stepped in fill it - alone. Read on for a feel-good story and video.

When Fashion designer Ron Finley made headlines last year it wasn’t because of his day job, but because of a garden he planted along an L.A. sidewalk. The food forest, as the designer turned urban farmer describes it, was started on a parkway next to his home, and took up the 10-foot-wide, 150-foot-long strip once dominated by unruly grass.

In May of 2011, Finley was cited because his food garden was out of compliance and ordered to remove all of the overgrown vegetation or apply for a $400.00 permit that would allow it.

"People are losing their homes, they're hungry, they're unemployed, and this area is so under-served with nutritional food," Finley told the Los Angeles Times last year. After rallying community support it seems the garden has been saved.

In this recent video Finley gives a tour of the garden and talks about the impact it has had on his community. The food forest has created opportunities for dialog with his neighbors - even with those who don’t speak English - that he otherwise wouldn’t have had.

People come from all over the area just to see the garden. Some bring relatives who no longer have places to garden so they can recall what it was like to have a garden. Finley mentions finding people at all hours of the day and night in the garden. One could argue that the food forest is naturally creating instances of 'positive loitering' and helping police the neighborhood.

Another interesting effect of the garden is the shareable economy it is creating among his neighbors. The elderly Japanese man he found walking the garden who didn’t speak English returned one day with plants he wanted to gift Finley. He mentions finding a mother and daughter in the garden at 10:30 pm and realizing that to be in the area at that time meant they were in need. So he told them to take whatever food they needed.

This food forest is an example of how food deserts can be transformed. We just need more people like Finley to care to do it.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Environmentalist States China's Drinking Water Contaminated with Contraceptives

Chinese fisherman displays a bountiful catch while consumers worry about possible contamination. Photo courtesy: STR/AFP/Getty Images

Fears about water quality are rocketing throughout Chinese cyberspace after a Beijing environmentalist disclosed that tap water in China is contaminated with contraceptive compounds.

Though officialdom rushed to downplay the risks, citizens have once again broached their ever-present worries about food safety.

Liangjie Dong, a former researcher in molecular biosciences and bioengineering at the University of Hawaii, blogged on May 16 that China has the highest consumption of contraceptive pills; they are not only taken by people, but are also used in fisheries and aquaculture.

Dong cited an article, titled “Assessment of Source Water Contamination by Estrogenic Disrupting Compounds in China,” which was published by the Journal of Environmental Science in February 2012. The article said that after screening estrogenic activities in 23 source water samples from six main river systems in China, the analysis showed that all samples showed significant estrogenic activity, with the highest level in the Yangtze River delta.

Dong also posted a table from the article which compared aquatic environments in China with those of Germany, Greece, Portugal, the United States, Australia and South Korea. The data shows that China’s six major water systems all contain higher level of estrogenic compounds than other countries.

According to the article, the detection of estrogenic-disrupting compounds (EDCs) in Chinese water supplies has led to rising concerns about the health risks associated with these compounds.

“Estrogenic activity has been detected in effluents of drinking water treatment plants in China, resulting in increased risks to human health. When these compounds enter the environment, they can cause male reproductive dysfunction in wildlife,” the article said.

According to an article published in Chemosphere on Sept. 18, 2006, “EDCs are contaminants that may be hormonally active at low concentrations and are emerging as a major concern for water quality… when organisms are exposed to them, these contaminants function as estrogens.” The article also said these compounds can negatively affect humans and wildlife.

Dong’s message has gone viral on the Internet. Some netizens fear that consuming tap water will cause infertility.

Soon afterwards, a number of Chinese media quickly published articles to refute Dong’s findings.

Deputy Director of Gynecology and Obstetrics of the Zhongda Hospital at Southeast University, Peng Danhong, told Modern Express that the level of EDCs in tap water is so low that it is negligible, and there is no contraceptive effect at all.

A supervisor in the Shanghai Water Resources Bureau told the Shanghai Evening Post that there is no conclusion on whether EDCs are harmful.

However, an environmental expert from Nanjing University told Modern Express that it is difficult to handle new pollutants such as EDCs with current water treatment methods in China.

Dong also cited the Journal of Environmental Science’s article as saying that traditional water treatment processes, such as chlorination, coagulation, and sedimentation, do not adequately remove EDCs.

Many people are dissatisfied with the experts’ claims. An Internet user from Zhuhai city in Guangdong province said, “An expert says that the risk is negligible. I know eating this substance will not kill a person immediately, but its impact is long-term and destructive.”

Blogger “Fan Xiaoming” satirically describes how Chinese are consuming unsafe food on a daily basis: “I get up in the morning, buy a dough stick deep-fried with gutter oil and drink a cup of milk with melamine; at noon, I eat lean meat powder pork fried with pesticide-tainted chives. After work, I’ll then buy a fish that was fed contraceptive chemicals. At night, I’ll swig down a bottle of coke containing chlorine. But yet, since I swallow a few toxic capsules whenever I feel sick and find myself still miraculously live, I wonder when I became Superman!”

Friday, March 16, 2012

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Deep underground in Poland lies something remarkable but little known outside Eastern Europe. For centuries, miners have extracted salt there, but left behind things quite startling and unique. Take a look at the most unusual salt mine in the world. Seems pretty unimpressive from the outside, doesn't it?

The Wieliczka mine is often referred to as "the Underground Salt Cathedral of Poland." Visitors to this site have included Nicolaus Copernicus, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Alexander von Humboldt, Fryderyk Chopin, Dmitri Mendeleyev, Bolesław Prus, Ignacy Paderewski, Robert Baden-Powell, Jacob Bronowski (who filmed segments of The Ascent of Man in the mine), Karol Wojtyła (the later Pope John Paul II), former U.S. President Bill Clinton, and many others. Take a look at the pictures - it's no wonder so many people want to experience it.

From the outside, Wieliczka Salt Mine doesn't look extraordinary. It looks extremely well kept for a place that hasn't mined any salt for over ten years; but, apart from that there is absolutely no clue about the fairy land that exists below. Over 200m (656') below ground it holds a testimony to man's creative abilities. This is the salt mine that became an art gallery, cathedral and underground lake.

Situated in the Krakow area, Wieliczka is a small town of close to 20,000 inhabitants. It was founded in the 12th century by a local Duke to mine the rich deposits of salt that lie beneath.

Until 1996 it did just that but the generations of miners did more than just extract. They left behind them a breathtaking record of their time underground in the shape of statues of mythic, historical and religious figures. They even created their own chapels in which to pray. Perhaps their most astonishing legacy is the huge underground cathedral they left behind for posterity.

It may feel like you are in the middle of a Jules Verne adventure as you descend into the depths of the world. After a 150 m (492') climb down wooden stairs the visitor to the salt mine will see some amazing sights. About the most astounding in terms of its sheer size and audacity is the Chapel of Saint Kinga. The Polish people have for many centuries been devout Catholics and this was more than just a long-term hobby to relieve the boredom of being underground. This was an act of worship.

Amazingly, even the chandeliers in the cathedral are made of salt. It was not simply hewn from the ground and then thrown together; however, the process is rather more painstaking for the lighting. After extraction the rock salt was first of all dissolved. It was then reconstituted with the impurities taken out so that it achieved a glass-like finish. The chandeliers are what many visitors think the rest of the cavernous mine will be like as they have a picture in their minds of salt as they would sprinkle on their meals! However, the rock salt occurs naturally in different shades of grey (something like you would expect granite to look like).

Still, that doesn't stop well over one million visitors (mainly from Poland and its eastern European neighbors) from visiting the mine to see, amongst other things, how salt was mined in the past.

For safety reasons less than 1% of the mine is open to visitors, but even that is still almost four kilometers in length - more than enough to weary the average tourist after an hour or two.

The mine was closed for two reasons - the low price of salt on the world market made it too expensive to extract here. Also, the mine was slowly flooding - another reason why visitors are restricted to certain areas only.

The religious carvings are, in reality, what draw many to this mine - as much for their amazing verisimilitude as for their Christian aesthetics. The above shows Jesus appearing to the apostles after the crucifixion. He shows the doubter, Saint Thomas, the wounds on his wrists.

Another remarkable carving, this time a take on The Last Supper. The work and patience that must have gone into the creation of these sculptures is extraordinary. One wonders what the miners would have thought of their work going on general display? They came to be quite used to it, in fact, even during the mine's busiest period in the nineteenth century. The cream of Europe 's thinkers visited the site - you can still see many of their names in the old visitor's books on display.

These reliefs are perhaps among some of the most iconographic works of Christian folk art in the world and really do deserve to be shown. It comes as little surprise to learn that the mine was placed on the original list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites back in 1978.

Not all of the work is relief-based. There are many life-sized statues that must have taken a considerable amount of time - months, perhaps even years - to create. Within the confines of the mine there is also much to be learned about the miners from the machinery and tools that they used - many of which are on display and are centuries old. A catastrophic flood in 1992 dealt the last blow to commercial salt mining in the area and now the mine functions purely as a tourist attraction. Brine is, however, still extracted from the mine - and then evaporated to produce some salt, but hardly on the ancient scale. If this was not done, then the mines would soon become flooded once again. It would be a sin to lose these exquisite works to flooding; and, I am thrilled that they are being preserved.

Not all of the statues have a religious or symbolic imagery attached to them. The miners had a sense of humor, after all! Here can be seen their own take on the legend of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. The intricately carved dwarves must have seemed to some of the miners a kind of ironic depiction of their own work.

The miners even threw in a dragon for good measure! Certainly, they may have whistled while they did it but the conditions in the salt mine were far from comfortable and the hours were long - the fact that it was subterranean could hardly have added to the excitement of going to work each morning.

To cap it all there is even an underground lake, lit by subdued electricity and candles. This is perhaps where the old legends of lakes to the underworld and Catholic imagery of the saints work together to best leave a lasting impression of the mine. How different a few minutes reflection here must have been to the noise and sweat of everyday working life in the mine.

Lest we forget all these creations were made from plain old salt.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Indian State Allows Killing of Tiger Poachers

A tiger in India's Corbett national park. Photo courtesy: Associated Press

The problem of tiger poaching has reached critical mass in Indian wildlife reserves; and, one Indian state has had enough. Since none of the more conservative methods used to end illegal tiger hunting has worked, the government of Maharashtra has declared open season on poachers. Poachers now take their lives into their hands because shooting poachers is now legal; and, if the shot is fatal, there will be no consequences to the guards other than a pat on the back and a hearty "Well done!"

A western Indian state has declared war on animal poaching, allowing forest guards to shoot hunters on sight to curb attacks on tigers, elephants and other wildlife.

The government in Maharashtra says injuring or killing suspected poachers will no longer be considered a crime.

Forest guards should not be "booked for human rights violations when they have taken action against poachers", the Maharashtra forest minister, Patangrao Kadam, said on Tuesday. The state will also send more rangers and jeeps into forests, and will offer secret payments to informers who give tips about poachers and animal smugglers, he said.

India has about half of the world's estimated 3,200 tigers in dozens of wildlife reserves set up since the 1970s. But illegal poaching remains a serious threat, with tiger parts sought in traditional Chinese medicine fetching high prices on the black market.

According to the Wildlife Protection Society of India, 14 tigers have been killed by poachers in India so far this year – one more than for all of 2011. The tiger is considered endangered, with its habitat range shrinking more than 50% in the last quarter century and its numbers declining rapidly from the 5,000-7,000 estimated in the 1990s, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Eight of this year's tiger poaching deaths in India occurred in Maharashtra, including one whose body was found last week chopped into pieces with its head and paws missing in Tadoba tiger reserve. Forest officials have also found traps in the reserve, where about 40 tigers live.

Tiger parts used in traditional Chinese medicine are prized on the black market, but dozens of other animals are also targeted by hunters across India. Rhinos are prized for their horns and male elephants for their tusks, while other big cats such as leopards are hunted or poisoned by villagers afraid of attacks on their homes or livestock.

Encounters are rare between guards and poachers, who generally hunt the secretive and nocturnal big cats at night, according to Maharashtra's chief wildlife warden, SWH Naqvi.

"We hardly ever come face-to-face with poachers," he said on Wednesday, predicting few instances when guards might fire at suspects.

Instead, he predicted that the state's offer to pay informers from a new government fund worth about 5m rupees ($90,000) would be more effective in curbing wildlife crime. "We get very few tips, so this will really help," Naqvi said.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Guerilla Gardening - the Natural Way

Photo courtesy: fit'

Soda pop is a power lunch for every green, growing thing in your yard. That's because it supplies a jolt of carbon dioxide, which plants need to convert the sun's energy into food. To serve the pop, surround your plants with a 3" layer of chunky mulch like bark chips, gravel, or coca bean hulls OR add directly to water.

Then twice a week during the growing season, pour a can of soda pop right through the mulch. Any flavor will do, as long as it's good and fizzy. Buy regular soda. The sugar in the soda will also sweeten the tomatoes on your vines.

Did You Know That...

The cute, cuddly-looking creature of Australia is often referred to as a koala bear. However, a koala is not a bear at all; but, a marsupial. Marsupials are a class of mammals that give birth to young that are not fully developed. Perhaps the most famous marsupial is the kangaroo who gives birth to a joey no larger than a worm.

The boxer crab employs a less primitive approach to defense than most ocean floor-dwelling creatures. Instead of using its tiny claws to pinch, it picks up poisonous anemones. When threatened, the crab swings the anemones around like a boxer to scare off the intruder.

The famous "ascending" Nokia phone ringtone is the musical version of the bops and beeps of Morse code. They translate to Nokia's slogan: Connecting People.

It takes the work of about 60,000 bees to make a pound of honey. Collectively, the bees fly about 55,000 miles as they search for the flowers needed for the collection of nectar, which they bring back to their hive.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Automatic Holy Water Dispenser Removes Concerns of Germs

Traditional germ-laden holy water font. Photo courtesy:

An Irish American firefighter has eased the worries of millions of churchgoers around the world by inventing an automatic holy water dispenser that eliminates the possibility of catching germs while blessing oneself with the water at church.

John Hartel, from Queens, has created an automatic holy water dispenser in the shape of a cross that provides one milliliter of water per person, allowing each cross to serve up to 350 parishioners.

The design of the dispenser has an infrared light that reads the presence of a hand underneath, and squirts holy water onto the person's fingers.

Hartel, a 13-year veteran of the Fire Department of New York, works out of Glen Oaks, Queens. It was during some downtime at the fire station 10 years ago that the idea to create an automatic holy water dispenser sprung to his Irish mind.

“The idea came from an innocent conversation at the kitchen table in the firehouse with another firefighter over a cup of coffee,” Hartel, 43, tells the Irish Voice.

“He told me that he does not shake people's hands during the sign of peace.”

When Hartel, married with two children, quizzed his firefighter brother further he also admitted he didn’t dip his fingers into the holy water font for fear other people “with filthy fingers and God knows what else who are also sticking their fingers in there.”

This conversation resonated with Hartel over the years and finally he came up with a solution -- create an automatic holy water dispenser so churchgoers could avoid catching other people’s germs.

Hartel met with a patent lawyer but was still unsure, so he shelved the idea for some more years.

“About two or three years ago the panic of germs or viruses or diseases started to grow worldwide, so I revisited the patent lawyer and started the process all by myself with the full support of my wife Helen,” he said.

After many failures and more trial and error, Hartel finally produced a product he is proud of.

Here's a video on how his holy water dispenser works.

“I now firmly believe that I really have the perfect product,” he says.

Hartel said he has been inundated with nothing but good wishes and people hoping to try the product out for themselves.

Hartel, whose grandmother is from Castlerea, Co. Roscommon, credits her for where he is today.

“She made the gut-wrenching decision to leave her family and come to America in 1917 so none of this would be possible without her,” said Hartel.

Wanting to keep his Irish grandmother’s spirit alive through his new venture, Hartel named his company JMH Castlerea after his grandmother’s place of birth.

Hartel hasn’t been to Ireland since 1987, but hopes his new venture will see him doing a lot of trans-Atlantic flying.

Inventor Luciano Marabese displays a prototype of his holy water dispenser at his office in Capriano Briosco, around 40 km (25 miles) north of Milan November 10, 2009. Photo courtesy: REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Meanwhile in Italy, an inspired inventor came up with a similar thought; and, is making big money on his invention.

The terracotta dispenser, used in the northern town of Fornaci di Briosco, functions like an automatic soap dispenser in public washrooms -- a churchgoer waves his or her hand under a sensor and the machine spurts out holy water.

Here's a short video on exactly how it works:

"It has been a bit of a novelty. People initially were a bit shocked by this technological innovation but then they welcomed it with great enthusiasm and joy. The members of this parish have got used to it," said Father Pierangelo Motta.

Catholics entering and leaving churches usually dip their hands into fonts full of holy water -- which has been blessed by a priest -- and make the sign of the cross.

But fear of contracting the H1N1 virus has led many in Italy -- where some 15 people have died of swine flu -- not to dip their hands in the communal water font.

"It's great," said worshipper Marta Caimm as she entered the church. "Thanks to this we are not worried about catching swine flu. It is the right thing for the times," she said.

Luciano Marabese, who invented the dispenser, said he did so out of concern that fear of swine flu was eroding traditions.

And he is now blessing himself all the way to the bank.

"After all the news that some churches, like Milan's cathedral, were suspending the use of holy water fonts as a measure against swine flu, demands for my invention shot to the stars. I have received orders from all over the world," he said.

It will be interesting to see if this comes to a church near me.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Garra Rufa Fish Imported With Bacteria Harmful to Some Humans

jenny8lee/CC BY 2.0

In the beauty-treatment equivalent of leech therapy, fish pedicures allow spa-goers to have dead skin nibbled off their feet by Garra rufa, an inch-long toothless carp also known as “doctor fish.” I wrote a hubpage on this issue calling the practice a form of animal cruelty and an exploitation of the fish. Click here to read.

But now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published a report by U.K.’s Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science, which investigated the types of bacteria associated with Garra rufa. The British fish detectives intercepted Indonesian shipments of the fish which were headed to salons. Test results showed that those fish carried strains of several bacteria that could cause soft tissue infections for people with open sores, skin cuts, underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, and compromised immune systems as a result of AIDS, cancer, or advanced age.

And to add to the creepy factor, the strains were resistant to many medications.

Native to Southeast Asia, the bizarre ritual (which sounds like a suitable pastime for the ladies who lunch in the Capitol of Panem) has been an increasingly trendy treatment since 2008, when salons began offering the hungry fish as an alternative to razors for smoothing rough skin. (You can read all about the treatment here: Fish Pedicures are Ticklish and Controversial.)

“Our study identified some of the species of bacteria associated with this fish species, including some that can cause infections in both fish and humans,” lead researcher David Verner-Jeffreys told a wire service.

Water, he added, is a fertile breeding ground -- and when partnered with bacteria thriving on fish scales or waste, even the tiniest cut could allow infection to happen readily. In April 2011, a bacterial outbreak among 6,000 doctor fish brought from Indonesia to British beauty venues revealed colonies of Streptococcus agalactiae, a group of bacteria that can lead to sepsis, meningitis, or pneumonia.

As of last spring, more than 10 states had banned the practice, according to the CDC. Reasons cited included: The inability to clean fish pedicure tubs between patrons; the impossibility of disinfecting or sanitizing live fish; regulations that specify fish in a salon must be kept in an aquarium; and a humanitarian justification that to entice the fish to feed on dead human skin, they must be starved "which might be considered animal cruelty." After the new findings, more states are expected to enact similar bans.

The report appears in the CDC-published journal, Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Gay Penquin Pair Adopt Egg

Two Humboldt penquins - not Inca and Rayas. Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

Here's a wonderful story about love. Love is beautiful no matter where it is found; and, every love should be given the support to develop and flourish til its full potential is reached.

By all accounts, Inca and Rayas are just like any other Humboldt penguin couple -- loyal, affectionate, and family oriented -- but until recently, the same-sex pair's literal love nest seemed bound to be empty. There is actually more heterosexual relationships in nature than people realize. My two male cats, Max and Shaman, had a tender, loving relationship for years until Max passed on unexpectedly. I believe Shaman misses Max to this day.

Last winter, the two male birds housed at the Madrid Zoo's Faunia Park made headlines in Spain by entering into a rare, but not unheard of, 'gay' penguin relationship. So, when the breeding season approached and an amorous spirit spread among their peers, Inca and Rayas worked together to prepare for the arrival of an offspring, apparently unaware of the nuts and bolts of reproduction.

But as the other preening penguin couples around them began to lay eggs and share in the duties of incubation, keepers say Inca and Rayas seemed a bit sullen and confused by their empty nest:

"They love each other as if they were male and female, courting each other the same," one zoo staffer told a Spanish news outlet. "But what they want is what they lack: to raise a chick."

Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

Faced with this rather heartbreaking scene, last month zookeepers hatched a plan to help Inca and Rayas have a hatchling of their own. As it turns out, one of the zoo's breeding females had laid two eggs this season, one of which would have likely been abandoned -- so the keepers decided to offer it to the hapless penguin pair.

Keepers say that at first Inca and Rayas looked a bit nervous to suddenly be with child, but it didn't take long for them to welcome their new arrival with open wings, doting upon the adopted egg like any good expecting parents would.

"Inca (who's assumed the more motherly role) has yet to leave the nest. This is his first egg and he doesn't want to drop it," says their keeper. "He doesn't move even while we offer the best fish in the world."

Zoo staff expect the egg, so happily adopted by Inca and Rayas, to hatch within a week -- bringing with it renewed hopes of survival for their threatened species, and a reminder that the fruits of love most often grow sweetest when given a chance to grow.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Hand-Sculpted Bricks Provide Wildlife Habitats

All photos courtesy: © Micaela Nardella and Oana Tudose

Usually, the best solutions are those that are simple, creative and low-tech. These new "bricks" are just the ticket when it comes to giving the House Sparrow in the Netherlands new housing options; while, at the same time, having zero negative consequences to the environment. Not to mention, the visual interest they add to a plain brick wall.

It's been discussed at length before how sustainable architecture is not just about the latest and greatest geegaws tacked onto buildings, but is also about linking them with the natural ecosystem in which they sit in. Deliberately giving biodiversity a leg up by integrating measures to provide habitat for urban wildlife is one way to do it, and we've seen some pretty nifty, well-designed examples that do just that. But what about your humble brick wall?

Seen over at Design Milk during Milan Design Week, here's one design that takes the standard red brick as a point of departure. Addressing the disappearance of the House Sparrow in the Netherlands, a pair of designers turned to the traditional technique of sand-casting brick moulds to create what they call "Brick Biotopes."

Micaela Nardella and Oana Tudose utilized sand and plaster, scooping out crevices by hand after hardening to create new habitats for birds:
The House Sparrow often finds shelter in wall cracks. Brick Biotope considers this natural phenomenon, creating a bird-friendly brick that can be applied to a standard brick wall. The design allows plants and wildlife to coexist with architecture, forming unexpected life patterns. In addition, incorporating Brick Biotope into walls creates an alternative reading to standard masonry wall construction.

It's pretty cool to watch the process from start to finish:

Recognizing that life needs shelter, water and food to survive, these hand-sculpted biotopes combine craft with ecology to show how low-tech approaches can be a viable solution to creating diverse and healthier urban ecosystems. More over at FABRIKAAT.