Am I the only sucker for a top 10 list?  Or any list for that matter?  Best beaches, worst dressed, most influential, least popular??  Give me a superlative and a topic and consider me “most likely” to click on it!

Top popular science stories of the week will be a regular feature on the blog every Friday.  These are my top stories; the ones that were fascinating to me as a science enthusiast.  You may or may not agree that these were most interesting or ground-breaking.  Either way, I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading this past week!

Here they are (in no particular order):

1. Open Ag Data

The G-8 Open Data for Agriculture Conference was held last week in Washington DC.  The “open data” concept is just what it sounds like: making data freely available for scientists (or anyone, for that matter) to use.  The idea may be a little unnerving for researchers who historically are tight-lipped about their hypothesis, methods and results lest an unscrupulous competitor “steal” their ideas.  However, those of us who work in agriculture ultimately have the same goals: to provide safe and sustainable food for the world.  Having a bank of accessible data would open the doors for collaboration and innovation and makes the original research dollars stretch even further by providing more options for previously published (and potentially unpublished) data.

2. NYT covers citrus greening

I will never be able to pass up a mainstream media plant pathology story.  Citrus greening (Huanglongbing) is a destructive bacterial disease of citrus trees and has been present in Florida since at least 2005. The bacteria, Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus, are disseminated by a tiny insect called the Asian citrus pysllid.  The article highlights some of the challenges growers are facing such as the lack of successful treatments and the impact of abandoned citrus groves (and potentially, homeowners’ backyard trees) as sinks for the insect and bacteria.  Fortunately research dollars have been ear-marked for this disease, but is the impact on Florida’s citrus industry already too great?

Citrus greening symptoms and vector_via APSnet(Image: Via, Tim R. Gottwald and Steve M. Garnsey, USDA, ARS, U.S.)

3.  Turning back the clock for heart tissue (video)

I’m sure most of us have been affected by heart disease in one way or another.  In age-related heart disease, there is a general decline in function as the muscle itself hardens and grows in size (myocardial hypertrophy).  Researchers from Harvard studying age-related heart disease focused their efforts on a hormone called GDF-11, which declines with age.  Surprisingly, when old mice were given doses of GDF-11 comparable to levels found naturally in young mice, old hearts returned to the size of young hearts within a matter of weeks.  This research can be found in the recent issue of Cell.

Mouse heart1_Via CBS Mouse heart2_Via CBS(Image: CBS News)

 4. Cost and profitability of organic apple production

Demand for organic produce, has skyrocketed in recent years.  As stated in this Plant Management Network article, organic apples have gone from a specialty crop to a true commodity with demand rivaling that of conventional produce.  This study compared production costs and yield in organic and conventional apple orchards in the state of Washington.  Organic management costs 5-10% more on average per acre and yields slightly less than conventional methods.  If customers remain willing to pay a premium price, organic production can be profitable for the grower.  However, in a “bad year” (i.e. heavy disease, pests or incompatible weather) both management practices may fail profit.  Ah, such is agriculture…


What have you been reading this week?