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The New GMOs: Plants Engineered to Be Better Biofuels

A new crop of GMOs could improve biofuels. The Department of Energy even has a cute name for them—Plants Engineered To Replace Oils, or PETROs.


A new breed of genetically modified crops is heading towards America’s fields. Scientists across the country are engineering these crops not to survive a shower of pesticides or a harsh drought but to wean the country away from oil imports. They’re biofuel crops, and they’re meant to convert more carbon more efficiently into plant matter that can be more easily processed into biofuels. The Department of Energy has even come up with a cute name for them—Plants Engineered To Replace Oil, or PETROs.

Maybe the department is hoping that if they avoid the words “genetically modified,” no one will freak out about this bent of research, for which the department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy just doled out $36 million. Although most of us have probably eaten them in some processed-beyond-recognition form, Americans don’t love the idea of genetically modified crops. Or, perhaps more accurately, we don’t love the giant corporations that produce their seeds and use their patents to bully farmers. Unlike Europeans, though, we tolerate them. The trade-off is that they’re grown within the confines of a regulatory regime that some scientists say is stifling innovation.


ARPA-E is funding 10 PETRO projects, and most of them are trying in some way to improve upon photosynthesis, which, despite being the foundation of all life on earth, isn’t particularly efficient at converting sunlight into fuel. Researchers aim to create plants that “use light more efficiently” or use it to “intensify the leaf color to more efficiently capture and use sunlight.” PETROs could store more oil in seeds like soybeans or store the same type of energy-dense cells in their leaves and stems. They’re plants like Camelina, which is also an animal feed, but sugar cane, sweet sorghum, pine trees, which produce turpentine, and even tobacco. (Southern farmers have to do something with the stuff, apparently.)

For the most part, the ARPA-E grants are going to universities and other independent research bodies. But the Department of Energy is also supporting advanced biofuel research through programs like the Joint BioEnergy Institute in San Francisco. JBEI is working on growing plants that produce less hard-to-process lignin and more energy-rich cellulose.

The hope for these genetically engineered crops is that they’ll cause biofuels make a modicum of financial and environmental sense. The end goal in every case is to extract more fuel per acre, leaving more space and less competition for food crops.

Although the Department of Energy wants to move away from next-next-generation technology (and these crops definitely qualify as that), biofuels still pass muster. Right now, they’re the only fuel that could conceivably replace oil in jet planes. And since even the most optimistic estimates of hybrid and electric vehicle adoption rates still have most people driving traditional, if less gas-hungry, vehicles, these plants can also help reduce the carbon footprint of car use. Just remember that we’re calling them PETROs now, not GMOs, and hope that they won’t be used to drive every last small- and medium-scale farmer out of business.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user xdfrog

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Fredrick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818. At the age of 10 he was given to the Auld family.

As a child, he worked as a house slave and was able to learn to read and write, and he attempted to teach his fellow slaves the same skills.

At the age of 15, he was given to Thomas Auld, a cruel man who beat and starved his slaves and thwarted any opportunity for them to practice their faith or to learn to read or write.

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On April 20, 1889 at the Braunau am Inn, in Upper Austria Salzburger located at Vorstadt 15, Alois and Klara Hitler brought a son into the world. They named him Adolph.

Little did they know he would grow up to be one of the greatest forces of evil the world has ever known.

The Hitlers moved out of the Braunau am Inn when Adolph was three, but the three-story butter-colored building still stands. It has been the subject of controversy for seven decades.

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The building was a meeting place for Nazi loyalists in the 1930s and '40s. After World War II, the building has become an informal pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis and veterans to glorify the murderous dictator.

The building was a thorn in the side to local government and residents to say the least.

RELATED: He photographed Nazi atrocities and buried the negatives. The unearthed images are unforgettable.

For years it was owned by Gerlinde Pommer, a descendant of the original owners. The Austrian government made numerous attempts to purchase it from her, but to no avail. The building has served many purposes, a school, a library, and a makeshift museum.

In 1989, a stone from the building was inscribed with:

"For Peace, Freedom

and Democracy.

Never Again Fascism.

Millions of Dead Remind [us]."

via Jo Oh / Wikimedia Commons

For three decades it was home to an organization that offered support and integration assistance for disabled people. But in 2011, the organization vacated the property because Pommer refused to bring it up to code.

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In 2017, the fight between the government and Pommer ended with it seizing the property. Authorities said it would get a "thorough architectural remodeling is necessary to permanently prevent the recognition and the symbolism of the building."

Now, the government intends to turn it into a police station which will surely deter any neo-Nazis from hanging around the building.

Austria has strict anti-Nazi laws that aim to prohibit any potential Nazi revival. The laws state that anyone who denies, belittles, condones or tries to justify the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity shall be punished with imprisonment for one year up to ten years.

In Austria the anti-Nazi laws are so strict one can go to prison for making the Nazi hand salute or saying "Heil Hitler."

"The future use of the house by the police should send an unmistakable signal that the role of this building as a memorial to the Nazis has been permanently revoked," Austria's IInterior Minister, Wolfgang Peschorn said in a statement.

The house is set to be redesigned following an international architectural competition.

Communities
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Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" debuted the first episode of its final season last week.

The show is loosely based on an alternative history novel by Philip K. Dick that postulates what would happen if Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan controlled the United States after being victorious in World War II.

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Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

But for years, the company has faced boycotts for supporting anti-LGBT charities, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

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In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

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"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

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Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?

Lifestyle

Oh, irony. You are having quite a day.

The Italian region of Veneto, which includes the city of Venice, is currently experiencing historic flooding. Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro has stated that the flooding is a direct result of climate change, with the tide measuring the highest level in 50 years. The city (which is actually a collection of 100 islands in a lagoon—hence its famous canal streets), is no stranger to regular flooding, but is currently on the brink of declaring a state of emergency as waters refuse to recede.

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