In a newly published article on “The School of Food” in Futurum, Nansen advocates that all school curricula be “rooted in a single dominator: food.”
Biology, ecology and environmental science should be “taught based on subjects related to the growth of plants and animals,” Nansen writes. Literature, history, sociology and humanities should focus on “the importance of food concepts, like ‘breaking bread,' feasts and banquets.”
“What I am proposing here is already being done, in part, as individual initiatives and projects,” he writes. “For example, many schools have a butterfly garden, biology labs keep colonies of insects, students grow some vegetables and have a few livestock animals. In some schools, students learn how to eat and cook healthy food.”
Futurum is a website geared toward students and teachers to become inspired and interested in science. It focuses on research, analysis and insights.
Nansen, whose research interests include insect ecology, integrated pest management, and remote sensing, says that such a focus on food “would strengthen, not weaken, the academic rigor that could be delivered to students of all age groups.”
“That is, ‘food' as an educational denominator can be taught and approached with multiple goals in mind, and these would be similar to the current distinctions between practical and more theoretical classes. By engaging with students through the prism of food, we can make math, physics, history, biology, literature--all these topics more relevant to students and make the teaching more interactive and challenge-based.”
Nansen acknowledges that it is crucial that schools teach students about traditional subjects and provide them with essential skill sets regarding problem solving, critical thinking and basic knowledge, but that that students “can all be taught very effectively through an underlying emphasis on food.”
For example, he mentions that students of all ages can grow crop plants in small pots inside a classroom or outside (small plots and roof gardens), “and study growth as a function of time and growing conditions.” More advanced practical tasks could include developing irrigation systems, and plant and animal breeding programs.
Another example: for engineering, computer sciences and food production, students could delve into solar panels, rainwater catchment systems and water recycling methods. At the more advanced level, they could integrate robotics and machine learning system.
Nansen, linking chemistry with cooking, comments: “Cooking is nothing more and nothing less than applied chemistry. How does the pickling of vegetables work? What is happening when cream is whipped? What happens to food during heating and/or frying? Salting olives, fish and other types of meat has been practiced for thousands of years—how does this means of preserving food actually work?”
In his article, Nansen also explains how food can be incorporated in such subjects as humanities, human history, social studies and math.
Eating has changed over time, the professor acknowledges, “and it varies among countries and cultures, meaning that not all students view food in the same way.” But teachers can capitalize on diversity in the classroom, he relates. They can also address “societal challenges, such as obesity” and elevate levels of empowerment related to stresses, such as fear.
In the article, Nansen shared a project he assigned to his 11-year daughter, Molly, during the sheltering-in requirements: “How much cabbage would be needed to meet the Vitamin K requirements for her entire class for a whole year?”
In addition to learning about the metric system, using Excel spread sheets, regression analyses and calculus, Molly investigated websites and came to several conclusions:
- A person can harvest about 3 kg per m2 (kilograms per square meter)
- A student her age has to have 105 grams of cabbage to meet daily vitamin K requirements
In addition, she created a cabbage-muffin recipe and calculated she would need to eat four muffins per day to meet the daily Vitamin K requirements. She also calculated she would need 2,291 m2 to grow enough cabbage to meet the daily vitamin K requirement for her entire school. It is age-dependent, so that was a bit tricky to figure out.
And lastly, using Google Earth, Molly suggested where to place the cabbage field next to her school. (Her entire project is online as a sidebar.)
Virtual Youth Summit on Food and Education 2021
Nansen said he seeks contact with teachers and headmasters "interested in pursuing this approach at some level at their school."
"The idea is now to take this several steps further, through collaboration with teachers and their students, and set up a web-based platform to host an annual virtual youth summit on food and education!" he said. "That is, groups of students, in collaboration with their teachers and as part of course curricula, produce a 3-5 minute video describing a particular project they have executed. These videos would then be shown at the virtual youth summit, and we will organize review panels of students, teachers, and scientists to comment on the videos. These video projects would be divided into age groups and topics – still to be determined."
"I am hoping that we will be able to create a very special category of video projects describing two schools (have to be on separate continents) doing a project together," Nansen said. "As a start, we are pursuing the potential of a school in California working with a school in Uganda… which would be awesome!"
"We may be able to obtain corporate sponsorships and therefore be able to offer prizes/awards to participating schools, teachers and student groups. With corporate sponsorships, we may also be able to offer logistical support to schools – computers, software licenses (to create videos), basic lab supplies and equipment to conduct experiments.'"
"Just imagine a school being able to put on its website that a group of students competed in the Virtual Youth Summit on Food and Education 2021 and was selected as one of the winners! Students can put this experience on their resume when they later apply to university or jobs. Teachers can include this in their evaluation dossiers."
"Initially, we need to identify teachers interested in joining this effort--ideally teachers from multiple countries," Nansen related. "Once we have 5-10 teachers committed, then we can start putting together the virtual platform and invite schools and teachers more broadly." School teachers and others potentially interested in getting involved can contact him at email@example.com.
“Many variables are known to affect the actual spray coverage in crop fields,” said Nansen, an associate professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology said. “These include tractor speed, spray nozzles, spray volume, boom height, adjuvants, and weather conditions. But which ones are the most important ones? And are there possible interactions among some of these variables?”
Through Smart Spray, an app designed for both iOS and Android phones, growers can optimize and perform quality control of pesticide spray applications in their strawberry fields, Nansen said.
Computer science major Krishna Chennapragada, now an alumnus, launched the programming and initial design, tallying some 500 hours before his graduation. Today's team, in addition to Nansen, is comprised of recruits Gabriel Del Villar, a 2019 computer science graduate, and Alexander Recalde, a senior majoring in computer science. Together they have amassed nearly 400 hours on the project.
“The project is truly multidisciplinary,” said Nansen, adding “One of the great things about UC Davis is that the barriers between colleges are very, very shallow.”
The Smart Spray app, they said, allows a user to predict spray coverage under different operational scenarios, including type of nozzles, spray volume, and tractor speed, as well as weather data, such as temperature, relative humidity and wind. A key part of the process: the user places a water-sensitive card in the field prior to a spray application, photographs it, and uploads it into the app.
“If you're a grower, you might expect that when you go out to spray, that the more that comes out of nozzle, the better coverage you'll get,” Nansen said. “But, for example, if the wind is too strong, the relative humanity is too low, the pressure is too high, or you're going too fast--even when you're spraying large volumes--you can get very poor coverage and it's costly. Excessive spray can also reach other fields or nearby urban developments due to so-called “spray drift”.”
“Typically, a grower will spray 100 to 150 gallons per acre when he or she sprays,” Nansen explained. The water-sensitive card is yellow, but it codes blue when it interacts with moisture. “These cards have been around a long time,” he said. “They cost about $1 a card, not cheap. But it's inexpensive when you're spending thousands of dollars to control the pests. And the pesticide companies can pay for the cards.”
“Say you want to predict your coverage before you spray tonight or tomorrow,” Nansen explained. “Look at the weather conditions; what is the forecast? Then how are you going to do this? What if you spray 100 gallons and want to go two miles per hour. You enter the data—and all the other applicable data--on the Smart Spray app. It will predict the coverage you'll get with nine different nozzles. Those are the nozzles the typical strawberry grower uses, a number we based on almost 3000 experimental sprays over three years. So we did a lot of homework on this, for example—different spray rigs, different sizes of crops, different spacing of plants, and under different weather conditions. We covered all the ranges we could think of. We collected the water and operational data and we did the progression analysis (for the modeling).”
“Using this prediction, you can give it a name, say Field 6, and access it from the database,” Nansen said. “It's about quality control. It's a tool to predict and do quality control. It empowers the grower and also the sprayer to do a better job. For example, if the conditions are bad and the app shows the spraying will be only 20 percent effective, you shouldn't be spraying.”
“The Smart Spray is not just insecticides--it's fungicides, herbicides, and whatever you want to spray,” Nansen noted. “This app was developed for strawberries; if it were used for soybeans, onions and cabbage, it would still be useful but the accuracy would be off.” Pending apps: almond, pistachio and tomato.
The computer scientists enjoy working on the project. Recalde attended a Central Coast sprayers' meeting to talk about the app. “I heard ‘Oh, wow, you look so young!' he remembered. “Then we told them about this useful tool, different ways that technology can be applied to agriculture. They were really interested in how technology can improve what they're doing.”
Del Villar, whose computer interests also include teaching youth how to code, said he eagerly looks forward to making the Smart Spray app even better and more useful. Fluent in Spanish, as well as English, he plans to translate the app into Spanish. Other language translations are also in the works.
Now the team is seeking feedback to improve the app. “We're hoping growers will embrace it,” Nansen said, “and help us find ways to improve it.”
One feedback from Eric Flora, global field development and manager of Crop Enhancement, Inc., Paso Robles: “I think Smart Spray is a very helpful tool for growers and advisers as a guide to select spray tips, spray volumes, tractor speed, and other important factors to maximize sprayer coverage. Using spray cards is the best and simplest way to know, if you are penetrating everywhere in the canopy your pest target is a problem--placing cards where the specific pests attack the host gives the best information.”
State, federal and industry grants, including the California Strawberry Commission and the Floriculture and Nursery Research Initiative (FNRI) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service, help fund the project.
California grows about 88 percent of the nation's strawberries on approximately 34,000 acres along the California coast, according to the Strawberry Commission. Strawberries are available year-around in California.
Statewide, fresh strawberry production averages 50,000 pounds per acre each season. The approximately 300 strawberry growers hail from five distinct areas of California: Watsonville/Salinas, Santa Maria, Oxnard, Orange County/San Diego, and the Central Valley. They include multi-generation farming families growing both organic and conventional strawberries.
For more information on the Smart Spray app, access the manual at https://bit.ly/2q3lsL3 or contact Nansen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-752-2728.
Nansen, associate professor, Department of Entomology and Nematology, is serving as the guest editor of the issue, "Remote Sensing to Detect and Diagnose Organismal Responses." The journal (impact factor 4.118) is a leading outlet for research articles and reviews on all aspects related to remote sensing.
"I'm inviting authors to submit studies that go beyond the detection of an optical reflectance response and tie a thorough analysis of remote sensing data to other types of data (physiological, molecular, genetic, biochemical)," Nansen said. "In other words, the special issue will embrace a phenomics approach, in which the overall goal is to, at least partially, explain why and how organisms exhibit an optical reflectance response to stressors and/or treatments."
As the guest editor, Nansen said he is seeking articles describing "exciting applications of remote sensing technologies to detect and diagnose differences and/or stress across all kingdoms."
Contributions are due by March 2020. For more information, access the website: https://www.mdpi.com/journal/remotesensing/special_issues/rs4organismal_response.
The UC Davis entomologist specializes in applied insect ecology, integrated pest management and remote sensing, including proximal (lab) and aerial (drone) applications of remote sensing in agriculture; and robustness and accuracy of optical classification algorithms.
Nansen, who joined the UC Davis faculty in 2014, completed his doctorate in zoology at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. He previously held faculty positions at Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and most recently, the University of Western Australia. He may be reached at email@example.com.
Insects, such as darkling beetles and black soldier flies, can and should be bred to convert organic agricultural waste into usable products--like animal feed, pharmaceutical products, and biofuel, say UC Davis agricultural entomologist Christian Nansen, an associate professor in the Department of Entomology and Nematology and doctoral student Trevor M Fowles of the Nansen lab.
Fowles was recently awarded a grant from the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to develop lines of insects for bioconversion of agricultural waste.
“In the 21st Century, we will be breeding insects for their ability to effectively convert agricultural organic waste, and researchers at UC Davis are leading the effort,” Nansen says.
Nansen will be among those speaking at a two-day workshop on “Aligning the Food System for Food Safety in Food Waste Systems,” set May 15-16 in the UC Davis Conference Center and the Walter A. Buehler Alumni Center. Nansen will be part of a panel discussion from 1:30 to 3:35 p.m., Thursday in the Alumni Center on “Composing and Anaerobic Digestion for Nutrient Recycling.” He joins fellow panelists Jenny Stephenson, environmental protection specialist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Steve Zacari, director of engineering and research and development, California State Soil; and Robert Horowitz, supervisor, Organic Materials and Construction and Demolition Unit, CalRecycle.
Fowles and Nansen compare insect breeding to livestock breeding. “We are used to thinking of livestock breeding as producing dairy cows with higher milk production or chickens producing more and bigger eggs.”
As part of his PhD project, Fowles applies the concepts of livestock breeding to insects “so that specially adapted lines of insects can be developed and commercialized to manage economically important agricultural organic wastes, such as, skins and stems from wine production and from tomato processing. As the human population continues to grow, so, too, do the concerns regarding the sustainability of waste management from our food production systems. In the U.S. alone, we generate 145-602 gigatons of organic waste annually-- or about nine pounds per day per person! Disposal of these wastes in compost and landfilling operations generates greenhouse gases and other environmental pollutants.”
The Nansen lab research, funded by CDFA and the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, emphasizes economic feasibility, community engagement, and environmental stewardship.
Fowles and Nansen recently co-authored a paper, "Artificial Selection of Insects to Bioconvert Pre-Consumer Organic Wastes. A Review" in the journal, Agronomy for Sustainable Development (https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13593-019-0577-z).
“The potential for using insects to consume organic waste materials and convert them into feed for animal, biofuels, and other valuable secondary products is gaining momentum as both a research discipline and as a business opportunity,” they wrote in their abstract. They described insects as the ideal bioconverters, as “insects uniquely equipped to convert wastes into biomass and other valuable secondary products, and we present the current knowledge and existing research gaps towards the development of such organisms. We conclude that (1) targeted breeding of insects and their gut microbes can produce tailored insect lineages for bioconversion of specific waste streams; (2) research is needed to take full advantage of the existing insect diversity to identify new candidate species for bioconversion; and (3) further research into insect-gut microbial complexes will likely provide important insight into ways insects can be used as sustainable bioconverters of highly specialized waste streams.”
Currently, only a few insect species are used for bioconversion of organic wastes. They include crickets, locusts, black soldier flies, green bottle flies an several species of mealworms.
In addition to funding from CDFA, Fowles has also secured an EPA grant for his research, “Beetle Larvae as Biodegraders of Styrofoam and Organic Waste,” involving darkling beetles, Tenebrio molitor. In the wild, darkling beetles and larvae are general decomposers, eating decaying leaves, sticks, grasses, and carcasses, but the larvae are also known to eat polystyrene or plastic foam, commonly known as Styrofoam. They can decompose as much as three-fourths of a pound of Styrofoam within a three-week period, Fowles says. After biodegrading the Styrofoam, the beetles can be pelletized for animal feed, and the excrement or frass can be used as “high-value amendment to compost mixtures.”
(News media: you're invited to contact the Nansen lab to see the mass rearing processes and breeding. E-mail Christian Nansen at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the lab at (530)-752-2954.)
But newly published research by UC Davis agricultural entomologist Christian Nansen and insect physiologist Michael Strand of the University of Georgia reveals a new, non-destructive and quite accurate method to characterize physiological responses to parasitism: proximal remote sensing or body reflectance response data.
They published their research, “Proximal Remote Sensing to Non-Destructive Detect and Diagnose Physiological Response by Host Insect Larvae to Parasitism,” Dec. 4 in the journal Frontiers in Physiology.
Nansen, first author of the paper and an associate professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, specializes in insect ecology, integrated pest management and remote sensing. Strand, a professor of entomology at the University of Georgia, is an international authority on the physiology of insect parasitism.
The Nansen-Strand project involved soybean loopers without parasitism (control group) and with parasitism, involving both wasp species.
“Based on reflectance data acquired three to five days post-parasitism, all three treatments (control larvae, and those parasitized by either M. demolitor or C. floridanum) could be classified with more than 85 percent accuracy,” they wrote.
Due to parasitism-induced inhibition of growth, “it's easy to differentiate soybean loopers parasitized by M. demolitor from non-parasitized larvae as long as the developmental stage of the host larva is known,” they said. In addition, a single M. demolitor offspring emerges from the host larva 7-9 days post-parasitism to pupate, while non-parasitized larvae continue to increase in size to the final instar.
Copidosoma floridanum minimally alters host growth until late in the final instar, when thousands of wasp progeny complete their development. This wasp is known for having the largest recorded brood—3,055 individuals--of any parasitoidal insect.
Parasitoids are often categorized as either idiobionts--whose hosts cease development after parasitism--or koinobionts--whose hosts continue to develop as the parasitoids offspring grow. “Parasitoids also are commonly divided into ectoparasitic species whose offspring grow by feeding externally on hosts or endoparsitoids, whose offspring grow by feeding internally,” the authors wrote. “Most known idiobionts are either ectoparasitoids that paralyze and lay eggs on the surface of larval stage hosts or are endoparasitoids that lay their eggs inside sessile host stages like eggs or pupae.”
Both of the wasps they studied are idiobionts and endoparasitoids.
Nansen noted that “many species of minute wasps are parasitoids of eggs and larvae of other insects, and parasitism represents one of the most extreme life strategies among animals”
“Living inside the body of another animal,” he said, “poses a series of non-trivial challenges, including how to overcome/suppress the defense response by the host; how to obtain oxygen; how to feed on the host without killing it--because once the host is dead, then microbial organisms and general decomposition will make the host body unsuitable--and how to manage waste.”
Nansen likened the developing parasitoids to astronauts flying in a space capsule. “A developing parasitoid faces a long list of serious practical challenges, so the evolutionary selection pressure has been immense and lead to some of the most extreme cases of co-evolution.”