Editorial board appointed for Food and Energy Security

Food and Energy SecurityWe are delighted to announce that Food and Energy Security has recently appointed an international editorial board to compliment and support the activities of the existing senior editor team. Each new editor is an expert in their field, providing unique insight into a specific area of food and energy security, and its associated disciplines. 

The editorial board now includes 8 Chinese editors, 4 of which are based at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The strength of representation from China is in keeping with the journals ambition to attract the best research from this key region and with interests as varied as Weiming Shi’s study into Root Biology and Rhizosphere Processes for Sustainable Agriculture and Yihua Zhou’s focus upon the production of biofuel and new energy we feel confident the journal is now well positioned to achieve this goal.

Sally Wilkinson, one of five editors from the UK, is focused on developing and improving perennial non-food biomass and bioproduct crops. Her research is directly involved in several large international projects funded by the European Commission. Li Laigeng, at the same time, is committed to exploring plant biomass as an important renewable source for energy, fiber material and biochemicals. Gail Taylor at the University of Southampton has a long standing interest in the use of woody plants as sources of renewable energy for heat, power and more recently for liquid biofuels such as bioethanol. To further the possibility of biomass becoming a real fuel source, Ashutosh Mittal, based at the National Renewable Energy Centre at the US, is currently leading research to develop the conversion of biomass into fuel in a cost-effective manner.

Several of the new editorial board have a particular interest in drought, and research into the drought tolerance of plants. Andrew Leakey is currently investigating the genetic basis of drought tolerance in C4 grasses at the University of Illinois, while Chun-Peng Song’s research at Henan University in China centres on plant response to abiotic stress such as drought stress. Ruilian Jing is leading several national projects at the Institute of Crop Germplasm, CAS, aiming to improve crop drought tolerance and water use efficiency. Zhizhong Gong’s research into plant defence at the China Agricultural University s also focused on three aspects of the salt, drought and cold hardiness of the plant.

A select number of the editorial board specialise in nutrition improvement in crops. Chun-Ming Liu at the renowned Institute of Botany at CAS uses rice and Arabidopsis as models for research on seed development and Adam Price at the University of Aberdeenis involved in the release of a better-rooted rice cultivar in India produced via marker assisted selection. Gustavo A. Slafer (University of Lleida, Spain) is focused on the mechanisms, at the crop level of organization, underlying the responses of grain crops to environmental and genetic factors.

Our two South American editors – Paulo Mazzafera of the University of Campinas in Brazil and María Patricia Benavides of the University of Buenos Aries, Argentina – are both interested in secondary metabolism . María Patricia Benavides is currently involved in a study of nitrogen metabolism under heavy metal stress. Meanwhile Nigel Halford’s work at Rothamsted Research UK concerns the genetics of metabolic regulation in crop plants, particularly how environmental stresses affect plant metabolism.

Both Leon Terry (University of Cranfield, UK) and Umezuruike Linus Opara (Stellenbosch University, South Africa) are concerned with the processes surrounding the harvest. Opara, the first board member from Africa, is currently leading research projects on design of the ‘Packaging of the Future’ supported by the South African Postharvest Innovation Programme. Terry’s research is similarly committed to reducing waste and increasing food security around the world.

For a full list of the editorial board members please visit the Food and Energy Security website. To submit your paper to Food and Energy Security visit our online submission site.

Latest Article Alert from BMC Public Health

The latest articles from BMC Public Health, published between 22-Nov-2012 and 29-Nov-2012

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Study protocol
The early identification of risk factors on the pathway to school dropout in the SIODO

Beyond the Problem of Access: Democracy Closing in Hungary

On Monday November 26 2012, a Hungarian MP, Márton Gyöngyösy, deputy leader of the extreme right “Jobbik” Party, called for the creation of a race-based list, on the grounds of risk to Hungarian national security.

This all-too-familiar burst of base bigotry from the Jobbik party in Hungary’s parliament has deflected attention from an even more ominous event that passed unnoticed, in the very same place, on the very same day: Electoral gerrymandering designed to keep the governing Fidesz Party in power.

As Marton Dornbach points out below in his remarkably insightful commentary from the Hungarian Spectrum — reproduced in full and slightly updated by the author — Fidesz is just playing “good cop” to Jobbik’s “bad cop”.

The two right-wing parties are only distinguishable by the fact that Jobbik’s hallmark is psychopathic bigotry, whereas Fidesz’s hallmark is psychopathic opportunism. Both are sinking Hungary deeper and deeper, downward and backward, toward an ugly, resentful autocracy and xenophobia to which Hungary is no stranger, and from which it has not yet made the sincere effort to dissociate itself that has been made by the other nations of Europe.

Hungary has a majority of decent, fair-minded people, like every other nation in the world. It is not beyond hope that world outrage at this pair of incidents may help them to rally against these two pernicious parties, Fidesz and Jobbik, that have already done Hungary so much harm, and oust them decisively, once and for all, in the next election, despite Fidesz’s shameless and disgraceful efforts to make this so much more difficult to do.

“The thing that is really important here, in my opinion, is not that Márton Gyöngyösi is a Nazi. Most of us realized a while ago that Jobbik is a virulently racist Neo-Nazi party. This is no news. It is also no news, unfortunately, that the ruling party is willing to go to great lengths to avoid unequivocal and firm condemnation of Nazi talk (incidentally, the most disgracefully equivocal part of Zsolt Németh?s response was the formulation he chose: he said the number of Jews in government ?is not particularly closely related? to the severity of the conflict in the Middle East /?nem nagyon kapcsolódik ahhoz?/)

“No, the most newsworthy aspect of this incident is the timing. Gyöngyösi?s statements came five days after the ceasefire in Gaza was announced. So there was nothing particularly topical about his sick proposal. In any case, thugs like him never needed a pretext for Jew-baiting. Why now then?

“Well, it so happens that, on the very same day that MGy made this demented proposal, the Fidesz supermajority put a stake through the barely-beating heart of Hungarian democracy by abolishing universal voting rights and introducing an exceptionally restrictive form of mandatory voter registration. You wouldn?t know this from the foreign media coverage of the Monday parliamentary session; but that?s precisely the point. Especially in the international media, but in Hungary too, the abolition of universal voting rights was completely eclipsed by this Nazi provocation. After all, viewed from London or Washington or Brussels it is so much easier to relate to Nazism than to election technicalities in a small country. So much easier for journalists to cover the former than the latter.

“But let?s put things in perspective. Unfortunately, there always were and perhaps there always will be sick racists who harbor genocidal fantasies. The fact that Hungarian society as a whole fails to ostracize such people and/or treat them as psychiatric cases is a sign of a civilizational breakdown. However, there is no real danger of Gyöngyösi?s proposal being implemented (although in this respect we all know that nothing is impossible). Without denying that anti-Semitism is alarmingly widespread in Hungary and has a potential to produce violent outbursts, I think it is safe to say that the only group of people in Hungary that faces systematic discrimination and harassment on account of ethnic origins is the Roma. So we should see MGy?s statement as a purely symbolic act of transgression whose sole purpose was to shock and draw attention.

“Unlike MGy?s proposal, the election law passed on the very same day is certain to have very real future consequences. It drastically reduces the chances of Orban?s opposition. Let?s be clear about this: the introduction of severely restrictive voter registration rules in a country with a perfectly well-functioning central registry is an unprecedented disgrace. It is the most overt violation of basic democratic principles even in the sordid record of the Orban regime?s power grab. This is the outrage that is being overlooked amid the (absolutely justified) uproar about the latest Nazi provocation by Jobbik. Look at the foreign coverage of what happened on Monday in the Hungarian parliament: there is no reference to the election law, no reference to Zsolt Nemeth?s appalling non-response, while most outlets state that the Hungarian government has condemned the provocation ?in the strongest terms? (if only!) The whole story is a PR coup for Fidesz. In keeping with the line of defense adopted by numerous diplomatic and journalistic apologetes of the regime, this incident has given Fidesz yet another opportunity to play good cop to Jobbik’s bad cop.

To conclude, I find it almost impossible not to raise the obvious, admittedly speculative, question: Cui bono? Who is benefitting from all of this? To my mind at least the timing of this crass provocation invites the conjecture that there may be (tacit or not-so-tacit) co-operation between the Neo-Nazi Jobbik party and the ruling Fidesz supermajority. And let?s not forget here two points: it is not inconceivable that Fidesz may need to form a coalition with Jobbik to stay in power after 2014; and Jobbik is the other party, beside Fidesz, which stands to gain from the new voter registration rules. [original comment edited by MD]

Marton Dornbach

Here is some background reading on last year’s signs of Hungary’s downward trajectory already noted in this blog:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Hungary’s Philosophy Affair: Bringing It All Out Into The Open

Open Letter to President of Hungarian Academy of Sciences

Response of President of Hungarian Academy of Sciences

The Hungarian Philosopher Affair: On Nyiri on Martyrdom

The Hungarian Philosopher Affair: On Hornok on 1919

The Hungarian Philosopher Affair: On Vancsó on Smoke Screens

The Hungarian Philosopher Affair: On “Magyar” On White Collar Crime

Quod Erat ad Demonstrandum (QED)

Latest Article Alert from Environmental Health

The latest articles from Environmental Health, published between 14-Nov-2012 and 28-Nov-2012

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Approaches to integrated monitoring for environmental health impact assessment
Liu H,

For animals, ‘Value meals’ are not just about quantity

Animals that hunt or forage for prey can be just as picky as humans about their food, and recent studies show that their choices are based on the quality of food they consume rather than its quantity.

For example, some bugs and spiders have a Spidey sense for regulating their diet to get the nutrients they need without gorging on less nutritious prey. In a recent paper published in PLOS ONE, scientists fed wolf spiders with flies that had been raised on either nutrient-rich or nutrient-poor diets. They found that the spiders hunted both kinds of flies, but chose which ones to eat based on the nutritional quality of the flies, and the spiders’ own dietary history.

Though such carefully controlled experimental diets aren’t always possible in the wild, two other recent studies rely on observations of how changes in food availability affect mammals in oceans and tropical forests.

Unlike wolf spiders, marine mammals are frequently believed to thrive eating any kind of fish, as long as there is enough of it. However, another study published this month in PLOS ONE questions this idea by analyzing the food habits of 11 species of dolphins, whales and porpoises.

These researchers discovered that although some marine mammals ate most kinds of prey, others were more finicky, and only ate certain fast-moving varieties of fish.  Fast-moving fish are more energy-rich as food than slower moving species, but it also takes more effort to catch them. This energy expenditure is, quite literally, the price that marine animals pay for their dinner. According to this study, these preferences appear linked to the muscle performance of the predators- faster moving predators require high-energy prey, while others can afford to be more liberal in their food choices.

Marine life is widely affected by climatic shifts, global warming and fishing, which are causing the populations of high-energy fish to drop and increasing the numbers of low-energy species, a phenomenon the authors describe as “the emergence of junk-food in the ecosystem.” This ‘junk-food’ is likely to have a greater impact on more selective eaters, and the authors suggest that understanding the dietary preferences of these marine mammals could help manage and prioritize conservation efforts.

Changing weather also causes land animals to adopt different diets. Several monkey species switch to fallback foods when the foods they prefer are out of season, and a study published today found that these behavioral changes can have effects beyond just simple changes in nutritional value. Scientists studying blue monkeys in tropical forests found that levels of a stress marker increased in female monkeys when they had to eat lower-quality fallback foods like leaves instead of their first preference of insects or fresh fruit. The dietary change also affected the female monkeys’ reproductive health, although that of the males remained unchanged.

These and other studies reveal how animals’ dinner decisions aren’t just about quantity but quality, and how changes in their food habits impact their health. Read other PLOS ONE papers to learn about salt-loving flies, how brightly colored birds choose foods with more pigments, why pandas eat bamboo, and more.

Photo credits:

Burger by Ewan-M on flickr, wolf spider by jack_246, dolphin by Brian Branstetter, Cercopithecus by Steffen Foerster 


Schmidt JM, Sebastian P, Wilder SM, Rypstra AL (2012) The Nutritional Content of Prey Affects the Foraging of a Generalist Arthropod Predator. PLoS ONE 7(11): e49223. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049223

Spitz J, Trites AW, Becquet V, Brind’Amour A, Cherel Y, et al. (2012) Cost of Living Dictates what Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises Eat: The Importance of Prey Quality on Predator Foraging Strategies. PLoS ONE 7(11): e50096. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0050096

Foerster S, Cords M, Monfort SL (2012) Seasonal Energetic Stress in a Tropical Forest Primate: Proximate Causes and Evolutionary Implications. PLoS ONE 7(11): e50108. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0050108

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Latest Article Alert from Reproductive Health

The latest articles from Reproductive Health, published between 28-Oct-2012 and 27-Nov-2012

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Preventing child marriages: first international day of the girl child “my life, my right,

One of world’s giant textbook publishers bought by private equity firm that "gives Wall Street a bad name"

Updated November 27, 2012

McGraw Hill, one of the world’s top textbook publishers, was just sold for $2.5 billion to Apollo Global Management, according to Inside Higher EdDebra Borchardt, in The Street, describes Apollo Global Management as a private equity firm that “gives Wall Street a bad name. And that’s saying something”.

From Inside Higher Ed:  “Waterhouse said that the company would continue to expand in digital education, and that – as a private company – “we won’t need to worry about short-term focus and pressures”.

Comment: a Wall Street bad apple expanding into higher education is something we should be watching – and take note of the long term focus.

While this announcement is not directly relevant to open access or education, those working in either area should be aware of this and of strategies that could be deployed by a company like this, whether now or in the future. 

For example, a company like this could move into open education for the short term, giving away textbooks or courses with a view to out-competing existing higher educational institutions, then charging substantial amounts for their courses later on. This is something to watch for – a company designed to reap profits giving things away may well be strategizing for maximum profits at a later date.

For open access advocates, this development is important because one question we should be asking ourselves is – could be possibly be worse off than with the existing owners of scholarly publisher such as Elsevier? Elsevier, Springer, etc., have their disadvantages for scholarship, but these companies have a long history with the scholarly tradition and changing ownership to companies with experience in the financial industry might make things worse for scholarship.

Aside from outright sales of existing publishers, this is a cautionary tale for those who promote the Creative Commons – Attribution license (CC-BY), which gives third parties commercial rights and comes with no strings requiring reciprocity or ongoing free access. When scholars give away their works with this license, they can be used by companies like this whose strategy might be to outcompete our employers, which threatens the employment of scholars. For this reason, here is my advice:

Faculty and teachers: DO NOT GIVE AWAY YOUR WORK FOR COMMERCIAL RIGHTS. If you are using CC licenses, use Noncommercial.

Update: here is the link to the news release McGraw-Hill to sell education business to Apollo for $2.5 billion from the McGraw-Hill website.

Excerpt: NEW YORK, Nov. 26, 2012 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ — The McGraw-Hill Companies (NYSE: MHP) (“the Company”) today announced it has signed a definitive agreement to sell its McGraw-Hill Education business to investment funds affiliated with Apollo Global Management, LLC (NYSE: APO) (collectively with its subsidiaries, “Apollo”), for a purchase price of $2.5 billion, subject to certain closing adjustments.

Waterhouse said that the company would continue to expand in digital education, and that — as a private company — “we won’t need to worry about short-term focus and pressures.”

Read more: http://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2012/11/27/mcgraw-hill-education-sold-25-billion#ixzz2DSLQp6e5
Inside Higher Ed

Waterhouse said that the company would continue to expand in digital education, and that — as a private company — “we won’t need to worry about short-term focus and pressures.”

Read more: http://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2012/11/27/mcgraw-hill-education-sold-25-billion#ixzz2DSLQp6e5
Inside Higher Ed

Waterhouse said that the company would continue to expand in digital education, and that — as a private company — “we won’t need to worry about short-term focus and pressures.”

Read more: http://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2012/11/27/mcgraw-hill-education-sold-25-billion#ixzz2DSLQp6e5
Inside Higher Ed

Gold OA Costs: Pre-Green vs. Post-Green

Claudio Aspesi, BernsteinResearch: ?We estimate that a full transition to OA could lead to savings in the region of 10-12% of the cost base of a subscription publisher.?

Richard Poynder, on the Global Open Access List (GOAL): “The key question: if that estimate is accurate, will those savings be passed on to the research community?”

I think that what Richard is worrying about here is whether the cost-cutting that a transition from subscription publishing to Gold OA publishing would make possible (e.g., curtailing the print edition) would be reflected in lower Gold OA charges to the author/institution or they would simply be absorbed by the publisher (Aspesi’s (2012) test case being Elsevier), leaving Gold OA charges higher than they need to be.

I join this speculation and counter-speculation only reluctantly, for two reasons:

(1) I think there are significant transition factors that none of the economic analyses has yet fully taken into account, and hence that the potential savings are still being considerably underestimated.

(2) I also think this focus on predicting the costs of Gold OA just reinforces the excessive preoccupation with estimating the costs and benefits of pre-emptive Gold OA rather than the costs and benefits of OA itself, and what is needed, practically, for facilitating a transition to OA itself, rather than just a direct transition to Gold OA in particular.

Post-Green Gold will cost far less than the pre-emptive pre-Green Gold that the economic analyses keep estimating.

We keep counting the “savings” from generic Gold OA publishing without reckoning how to get there, and whether the transition itself might not be a major determinant in the potential for savings (from OA as well as from Gold OA).

I am not an economist, so I will not try to do anything more than to point out the main factor that I believe the economic analyses are failing to take into account:

If Green OA self-archiving in institutional repositories is mandated globally by institutions and funders, this will have two major consequences:

I. First, not only will globally mandated Green OA provide universal OA (and all of its benefits, scientific and economic) alongside subscription publishing, at minimal additional cost (because (a) repositories are relatively cheap to create and maintain, (b) most research-active institutions have created repositories already, and (c) have done so for multiple purposes, OA being only one of them).

II. Second, mandating Green OA globally (unlike pre-emptive Gold OA) also puts competitive pressure on subscription publishers to cut obsolete costs, because the universal availability of the Green OA version makes it much easier for cash-strapped institutions to cancel their journal subscriptions.

Not only can the print edition and its costs be phased out under cancelation pressure from global Green OA, but so can the publisher’s online edition and version of record: The worldwide network of Green OA repositories and their many central harvesters are perfectly capable of generating, hosting, archiving and providing access to the version-of-record. No more PDF or XML needed from the publisher; nor archiving; nor access provision; nor marketing; nor fulfillment. Nor any of their associated expenses.

All that’s needed from the publisher is the service of managing the peer review (peers review for free) and the certification of its outcome with the journal’s title and track-record.

That’s post-Green Gold OA publishing. Compared to that, all the economical estimates of savings are under-estimates.

Nor will there be any need — with post-Green Gold OA — for mega-publishers (like Elsevier), publishing vast fleets of unrelated journals; nor for mega-journals (like PLoS ONE), publishing vast flocks of unrelated articles. There are many narrow research specialities, a few wider ones, and a few even wider, multidisciplinary ones. They each have their own peers, and they each need their own peer-reviewed journals; depending on the size of the field, some fields will several journals, forming a pyramid of quality standards, the most selective (hence smallest) at the top.

There may have been economies of scale for multiple journal production, in the Gutenberg days. But in the PostGutenberg era, with post-Green Gold OA journals, providing only the service of peer review, there will be no need for generic refereeing being mass-marketed by generic editorial assistants for mega-publishers or mega-journals, where no one other than the referee (if competently selected!) knows anything about the subject matter.

So besides scaling down to the post-Green OA essentials, post-Green Gold OA journals will also revert to being the independent, peer-based titles that they were before being jointly bought up for by the post-Maxwellian publisher megalopolies. The online-era economies will come from restoring journals’ own natural speciality scale rather than from agglomerating them into generic multiple money-makers.

Aspesi, C (2012) Reed Elsevier: Transitioning to Open Access – Are the Cost Savings Sufficient to Protect Margins? BernsteinResearch November 26

Harnad, S. (2007) The Green Road to Open Access: A Leveraged Transition. In: Anna Gacs. The Culture of Periodicals from the Perspective of the Electronic Age. L’Harmattan. 99-106.

Harnad, S. (2009) The PostGutenberg Open Access Journal. In: Cope, B. & Phillips, A (Eds.) The Future of the Academic Journal. Chandos.

Harnad, S. (2010a) No-Fault Peer Review Charges: The Price of Selectivity Need Not Be Access Denied or Delayed. D-Lib Magazine 16 (7/8).

Harnad, S. (2010b) The Immediate Practical Implication of the Houghton Report: Provide Green Open Access Now. Prometheus, 28 (1). pp. 55-59.

Houghton, John W. & Swan, Alma (2012) Planting the green seeds for a golden harvest. Comments and clarifications on ?Going for Gold?

Worth a Thousand Words: On Elephants, Literally

Ever wonder what purpose the sparse, coarse hairs covering an elephant’s skin serve? Authors from Princeton University wondered the same and recently published their findings in the paper “What Is the Use of Elephant Hair?” Body hair is typically thought of as an evolutionary advantage functioning mainly for insulation. Given that elephants typically inhabit warm climates and have a great need for heat loss due to their high body-volume to skin-surface ratio, insulation seems an unlikely explanation. We’ve all observed elephants using a variety of behavioral mechanisms to cool themselves down, (flapping their ears, bathing in dust, or spraying water and mud on themselves) but these alone are not sufficient in extreme heat conditions. It turns out that these little rough hairs are actually very important for keeping elephants cool.

From the Abstract:

The idea that low surface densities of hairs could be a heat loss mechanism is understood in engineering and has been postulated in some thermal studies of animals. However, its biological implications, both for thermoregulation as well as for the evolution of epidermal structures, have not yet been noted. Since early epidermal structures are poorly preserved in the fossil record, we study modern elephants to infer not only the heat transfer effect of present-day sparse hair, but also its potential evolutionary origins. Here we use a combination of theoretical and empirical approaches, and a range of hair densities determined from photographs, to test whether sparse hairs increase convective heat loss from elephant skin, thus serving an intentional evolutionary purpose. Our conclusion is that elephants are covered with hair that significantly enhances their thermoregulation ability by over 5% under all scenarios considered, and by up to 23% at low wind speeds where their thermoregulation needs are greatest. The broader biological significance of this finding suggests that maintaining a low-density hair cover can be evolutionary purposeful and beneficial, which is consistent with the fact that elephants have the greatest need for heat loss of any modern terrestrial animal because of their high body-volume to skin-surface ratio. Elephant hair is the first documented example in nature where increasing heat transfer due to a low hair density covering may be a desirable effect, and therefore raises the possibility of such a covering for similarly sized animals in the past. This elephant example dispels the widely-held assumption that in modern endotherms body hair functions exclusively as an insulator and could therefore be a first step to resolving the prior paradox of why hair was able to evolve in a world much warmer than our own.

And while on the topic of elephants, be sure to check out the videos accompanying the paper “Visualizing Sound Emission of Elephant Vocalizations: Evidence for Two Rumble Production Types” which capture the oral and nasal rumbles of elephants with an acoustic camera. The oral rumble of an elephant at 25 frames per second is below but you can watch the rest on our YouTube Channel here.


Citation: Myhrvold CL, Stone HA, Bou-Zeid E (2012) What Is the Use of Elephant Hair? PLoS ONE 7(10): e47018. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0047018

Citation: Stoeger AS, Heilmann G, Zeppelzauer M, Ganswindt A, Hensman S, et al. (2012) Visualizing Sound Emission of Elephant Vocalizations: Evidence for Two Rumble Production Types. PLoS ONE 7(11): e48907. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0048907