Signals: Nature's own GMOs ... and more

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Volume 1,
Number 13
May 4, 2015

Sweet Potatoes Genetically Modified by Nature

Nature has taken a hand in modifying itself: Sweet potatoes around the world have been found to contain the “foreign” DNA of the bacterium Agrobacterium, according to researchers at Ghent University and the International Potato Institute.

The scientists searching the genome of sweet potato cultivars used several methods to identify the Agrobacterium sequence, concluding that its presence was not the result of contamination. In fact, it may have been there for thousands of years. The sequence is active in the sweet potato genome, meaning that it offered farmers a positive trait for domestication.

The findings demonstrate that genetic modification is a natural process; humans attempting to master the craft “have the advantage that we know exactly which characteristic we add to the plant,” said Lieve Gheysen, professor of applied molecular genetics and one of the researchers involved in the study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Details: Ghent University.

Reference: Tina Kyndt, Dora Quispe, Hong Zhai, Robert Jarret, Marc Ghislain, Qingchang Liu, Godelieve Gheysen, and Jan F. Kreuze, “The genome of cultivated sweetpotato contains Agrobacterium T-DNAs with expressed genes: an example of a naturally transgenic food crop,” with manuscript tracking number 2014-19685RR in PNAS online Early Edition (EE) in the week of April 20, 2015. The paper will be on the cover of PNAS issue 18. DOI:10.1073/pnas.1419685112

Signals: agriculture, food, GMO

Calculating Cost Efficiency of Plug-in Hybrids

A question most car buyers would want to know before purchasing a plug-in hybrid vehicle is how much energy (and money) it will save them. The answer is: It’s complicated. How often do you drive, in what kind of conditions, how far, when do you recharge—and just what kind of driver are you, anyway? The answers to these questions create a huge number of parameters for engineers to calculate, often requiring a month of study to resolve.

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden, have now devised a method using a convex optimization algorithm to calculate cost efficiency far more quickly.

“The operating cost of a plug-in hybrid depends on many different variables, such as the way you drive, how you charge the battery, and how far you drive between charges,” says lead researcher Mitra Pourabdollah. Her thesis shows how the algorithm may be used as a tool for researchers to enter in different variables and quickly see their effects. This rapid feedback early in the design stage promises to produce cost savings down the entire production line.

“Dramatic time savings at this stage will allow more opportunities to consider other aspects of the design of the drivetrain and gain a broader perspective,” Pourabdollah says.

Source: Chalmers University of Technology.

Signals: design, hybrid vehicles

A World on Fire: New Report from AAI Foresight

AAI Foresight Inc. is pleased to announce the publication of its second Foresight Report, “A World on Fire” by futurists Robert L. Olson (Institute for Alternative Futures) and David N. Bengston (U.S. Forest Service, Northern Research Station, Strategic Foresight and Rapid Response Group).

The report summarizes the findings of a Foresight Panel convened in 2013 to address the growing incidence of wildland fires worldwide and to propose new strategies for managing them. The panel comprised seven foresight professionals—Peter C. Bishop, Jamais Cascio, James Dator, Elizabeth Hand, Michael Marien, Jonathan Peck, and David Rejeski—and two U.S. Forest Service experts on wildfire management—Sarah McCaffrey (Northern Research Station) and John Phipps (Rocky Mountain Research Station).

“The bottom line of the panelists’ thinking is that, as conditions change over time, the existing fire suppression approach will fail across the whole range of plausible future conditions, whereas the emerging fire resilience approach works in all those conditions,” the authors write. They concluded that a new paradigm for wildland fire management is needed that, rather than fighting a war on fire—a war on nature—proceeds from a better relationship with nature. The focus should thus be on resilience rather than combat.

Foresight Reports aim to reveal the methodology of professional futurist analysis and not just predict the future or prescribe actions. “A World on Fire” describes the process that the Foresight Panel undertook and the distinctive characteristics of the scenarios that panelists weighed in their discussions, which took place over a six-month period.

“A World on Fire” is available to Foresight Signals readers as a free PDF download, as is AAI Foresight’s first report, “The Future of Retail Marketing” by Timothy C. Mack. Visit AAI Foresight Reports

Call for papers! If you are working on a foresight analysis project, AAI Foresight would welcome the opportunity to publish your work in the Foresight Reports series. Please contact Cindy Wagner, consulting editor, at

Signals: fire management, foresight, futurists, resilience

News for the Foresight Community

• Publication: The Future of Foresight Professionals. The journal Futures has now published “The future of foresight professionals: Results from a global Delphi study” by Jay Gary and Heiko A. von der Gracht. The study drew on the insights of 142 experts participating in three rounds of Delphi polling over three years to produce “a framework to weigh the pros and cons of formalizing a foresight profession.” The study was published online in March and in print this month. Access the report: Science Direct, DOI: 10.1016/j.futures.2015.03.005

• Book release party: The Great Transition. Retiring Earth Policy Institute President Lester Brown and two of his co-authors, Janet Larsen and Matthew Roney, described key trends in investment in renewable energy technologies at a book release party in Washington, D.C., on April 24. The event was also an opportunity to congratulate Brown and the EPI team on their inspiring work over the years; the Institute will close at the end of June, as reported previously in Foresight Signals. Order The Great Transition. Read The Great Transition Celebration on the Earth Policy Institute blog.

• Textbook: CLA 2.0. An anthology on causal layered analysis is now available in paperback or PDF. Prepared by Sohail Inayatullah and Ivana Milojević, CLA 2.0: Transformative Research in Theory and Practice shows the latest developments in the layered analysis approach to effecting transformation. Details

• Expert Interview of the Month: Timothy C. Mack. “The only way you can figure out what's going on is to have a network,” AAI Foresight managing principal Tim Mack tells TechCast Global. “It's not just enough to have a few guys that know enough—you really need more than just a bunch of information; you need a bunch of different perspectives to see where the crossovers are.” Read more TechCast Gobal