November 01, 2014 09:34 UTC

Science in the News

The Next Big Thing in Agriculture May Be Very Small

Microbes Next Big Thing in Agriculturei
|| 0:00:00

Microbes: The Next Big Thing in Agriculture

The Next Big Thing in Agriculture May Be Very Small
The Next Big Thing in Agriculture May Be Very Small i
|| 0:00:00

From VOA Learning English, this is Science in the News
I’m Anna Matteo.
And I’m Christopher Cruise.
Today we tell how some extremely small organisms may help meet our food needs in the future. Then, we report on an American project to save endangered orchids. Finally, we tell about the discovery of what British scientists are calling the oldest human footprints found outside of Africa. 

Small Organisms May Help Meet Food Needs of the Future

Experts say farmers will need to produce about 70 percent more food by the middle of the century. They predict that nine billion people will need to be fed worldwide by 2050. 
The prediction means experts will need to develop more-effective farming methods that cause less harm to the environment. Experts say living things called “microbes” could help meet that need. A microbe is an organism so small it can be seen only with a microscope. 
Jeff Dangl is a biology professor at the University of North Carolina. He says researchers are finding extremely small organisms in the ground. 
“This soil was teeming with life.”
Jeff Dangl says one gram of soil contains between 100 million and one billion microbes. 
He says microbes are taking part in a healthy exchange with the plants that share the soil. Around plant roots, microbes change chemicals in the air and soil into food for the plants. The microbes include bacteria and material known as “fungi.”  
Some microbes act as bodyguards. They produce anti-bodies and other chemicals to fight harmful germs. 
Plants make sugar through a process called “photosynthesis.” This happens when a plant receiving light changes water and carbon dioxide into food.  
Professor Dangl says much of the sugar is pumped down through the roots. There, it is turned into sugar-based microbe food and released into the soil. He says that is done to get microbes to help the plants grow better. Some of the organisms turn chemicals in the air and soil into food that the plants can eat.
The microbes produce antibiotics and other chemicals to fight the harmful germs. Professor Dangl said bacterial and fungal parts of the plant organism must be considered to understand how plant organisms operate.
The biosciences company Novozymes already sells one kind of fungi that helps plants get phosphorous from the soil. 
Shawn Semones is the head of product research for the company. At an experimental greenhouse in Virginia, he is treating the roots of corn plants with a microscopic fungus. 
He holds a small plastic cup which has a dead insect inside. The insect is developing a fine white coat of mold -- a substance that grows on living organisms. That mold killed the insect. The white covering is producing spores that will blow in the wind to infect another insect.  
Shawn Semones says the microbe develops naturally. He says Novozymes has found a way to produce it in very large amounts and offer it to farmers as a bio-pesticide. A bio-pesticide protects crops from animals, microbes, bacteria and fungi.
Novozymes recently signed a $300 million deal with Monsanto, a company best known for producing seeds and chemicals. The goal is to help bring discoveries about microbes to farmers’ fields.
You are listening to the VOA Learning English program Science in the News. With Christopher Cruise, I’m Anna Matteo in Washington.
Project to Save Endangered Orchids Growing in Florida

Our planet is home to 20,000 kinds of orchids. Orchids exist on almost every continent. But the beautiful and valuable flowers live mainly in warm, moist climates like that found in the southern part of Florida. 
Project to Save Endangered Orchids Blossoms in Floridai

America’s “sunshine state” has about 50 native species of orchid. But many are in danger of dying out. This threat has led scientists to launch a five-year project to save them.                
Carl Lewis directs Miami’s Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden. He says many orchid species native to Florida have become rare.
“Most of those orchids are very difficult to find now. They’ve, they’ve been hunted almost to extinction in the wild. So, really, we launched this project just as an effort to bring those orchids back.” 
The project to grow and plant one million orchid seedlings began two years ago. Orchids grow mostly on trees. But their seedlings are extremely small, delicate and weak. So they start their life in a laboratory.
The seeds grow in clean bottles with required nutrients. After that, the young plants are moved to a warming device with LED lights. Next, they go to a nursery -- an area where plants are grown. Two years may pass before the plants are strong enough to be connected to -- or fixed onto -- trees.
Volunteers help Carl Lewis to transplant -- or move -- the orchid plants. He says it is important to transplant enough older orchids so they can continue to reproduce without that help. 
“This is supposed to be an infusion, just to get so many out there that they start to reproduce on their own.” 
After these plants are moved to areas where other orchids grow, scientists hope insects and tiny organisms will find the orchids.
The campaign to save native orchids also depends on help from local students. They have been asked to watch the transplanted orchids in their neighborhoods. A number of plants will also be given away to try to reduce the chance that people will steal them off the trees.
The Center for Plant Conservation guides the conservation and study of threatened plants across the United States. The center is based in the city of St. Louis, Missouri.
Britain’s Oldest Human Footprints Found on Coastline

Finally, British scientists have found what they believe are the oldest human footprints ever discovered outside of Africa. The footprints of what appears to be ancient humans were found in the seaside community of Norfolk, in eastern Britain. The scientists estimate the markings are between 800,000 and almost one million years old. They may be about 500,000 years older than the earliest footprints ever found in the country. If so, that could provide the oldest evidence of human beings in northern Europe.
Britain's Oldest Human Footprints Found on Beachi

Images and a model of one of the footprints were recently shown to reporters at the British Museum in London. A team of scientists found the footprints in May, 2013. The scientists work for the British Museum, Britain’s Natural History Museum, and Queen Mary University of London. The researchers say ocean water from incoming tidal waves made it impossible to remove the prints from the coast.

The area appears to have 50 footprints of both adults and children. They were found near the village of Happisburg. The British Museum says the Happisburg area has what it calls a “remarkable concentration” of early Stone Age archeological sites. All were found since 2000.
Archeologist Nick Ashton described how he felt when he recognized the footprints came from prehistoric humans. At the time, he was looking at e-mails on his computer.
“It was only when the, this overhead views e-mailed through to me back in my office I suddenly looked at it and opened up the file and I thought, ‘This is absolutely amazing, you know -- there, there is no doubt this is really is human footprints.” 
He says the discovery will change the understanding of early human history in Europe.
The researchers estimate the height of the early humans at between about .93 and 1.73 meters. The difference in the heights suggests a group of mixed ages. 
Isabelle de Groote is with Liverpool John Moores University in the city of Liverpool. She examined the footprints. She says the markings help to tell about the humans who may have made them.
“The spread of the footprint size gives us an indication that we have children, a number of children and then probably some adults there with at least one, you know with probably one, male.”
One footprint appears to show the mark of toes.
Scientists say Britain was joined to continental Europe about a million years ago. It is not known how the early humans survived in the cold climate of northern Europe. Scientists believe the creatures who left the footprints were related to Pioneer Man, an ancestor of Homo sapiens. Pioneer Man was known to have lived in a warmer climate. 
Researchers continue looking for human fossil remains in the Happisburg area. A report on the footprint discovery and its meaning was published in the journal PLOS ONE
This Science in the News was written by Jerilyn Watson. It was based on stories from VOA reporters Steve Baragona and George Putic. Christopher Cruise produced the program.
I’m Anna Matteo.
And I’m Christopher Cruise.
To comment on this program, go to our website, While you are there, you can read, listen to and download our programs. You can follow us on Facebook, iTunes, LinkedIn, Twitter and on our YouTube Channel, all at VOA Learning English
Join us again next week for more news about science on the Voice of America!

Question image

Making Food, Saving Orchids and Really, Really Old Footprints

See how much you remember from the article by taking our quiz. Let's begin!
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Epifanio from: México
06/11/2014 11:12 PM
I really liked this information about human evolution,tiny microorganisms in the soil and how to protect endangered species like orchids.With this sort of information I can understanding many social facts,natural phenomenon and how the human being is figthing many problems in today´s world.Thanks the Voice of America.

In Response

by: Moderator
06/13/2014 6:31 PM
Dear Epifanio:

Thanks for writing. I host and produce the weekly Science in the News feature, which is one of our most-popular programs.

I'm glad to hear the program is helpful, and I look forward to hearing from you again.

Christopher Cruise

by: Maria from: Smolensk, Russia
06/11/2014 4:05 PM
Researchers suppose the production of food over the world to increase by the middle of the century because of the number of people will rise to record high level and they need to be fed by two thousand and fifty. And the researchers and experts are developing the new sustainable farming methods that need to be a lot more effective than today and be much more environmentally friendly that cause less harm to enviroment. The use of bio-pesticides offers practical solution to agricultural problems. Recently researchers working for biotechnology company Novozymes have declared the new enzymatic pesticides to help farmers to take healthier crops and higher yields and minimize enviromental impact.
I read that Met52 (Metarhizium) ® is fungus pesticide and its spores attach to the surface of insects, begin to germinate, kill and in result to better control of damaging pests as trips, mites and etc. Also agricultural biologists announced the new bioyield enhancers can improve plant abilitity to uptake nutrients. In the thirteenth of December, two thousand and thirteen, Monsanto and Novozymes established the BioAg Alliance with an aim to develop new solutions to agricultural, consumers and society.
The other story describes the constructive approaches to increase and save orchids. Orchids are in Orchidaceae family. They are beautiful plants with unusual shade of the flower. Orhids exist the worldwide, especially in warm, moist climates like in the southern part of Florida. There are over fifty species of orchids in Florida. But many are in danger of extermination. The biologists who work for Tropical Botanic Garden lanched a five-year project on growing and saving orchids from extermination. The aim of this project is to obtain, grow and move seedling into naturally areas. The biologists use biotechnology methods of growing the orchids. They plant seeds into nutrial medium in clear bottles at the labolatory. Plants grow extremely slow and grow up in two years. After volunteers transplant orchids on the trees.
The third story tell us about an amazing discovery of British scientists in England. The researchers declared the most ancient human footprints to be found on the coastline. The scientists assume their discovery to reach the age of one million years.

In Response

by: Moderator
06/11/2014 4:43 PM
Wow, Maria. Your written English is really awesome.

Keep up the great work and thanks for listening to VOA Learning English!

by: Richard ( Nicky) from: Dominican Republic
06/10/2014 8:15 PM
Interesting program and very good job.
But we must know behind anything there's something more intelligent

by: Kashif Lodhi from: Pakistan
06/10/2014 4:20 PM
New discoveries are always appreciated we must know the hard work behind it.Thank you

by: Kashif lodhi from: Pakistan
06/10/2014 8:37 AM
please let me know about why the quiz sectin in not working.waiting anxiously for reply.

In Response

by: Moderator
06/10/2014 6:07 PM
We're checking on that. Thanks for letting us know!

Learn with The News

  • FILE - Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, right, walks past Chinese President Xi Jinping as they arrive to the Monument to the People's Heroes during a ceremony marking Martyr’s Day at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, Sept. 30, 2014.

    Audio China’s Constitution Receives New Attention

    The constitution took effect in the early 1980s, when the Communist Party was opening up the country economically. Now China is at a new crossroads. Observers say it is reaching for a new economic growth model. Chinese officials will promise to defend its rules when they take office. | In The News More

  • Video More US Hispanic Women Convert to Islam

    Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. The Pew Research Center says about six percent of American Muslims are Latino. And women make up a little more than half of the new converts -- the people who have changed their religion to Islam. More

  • This image released by USCIS shows a sample of the front of the redesigned green card carried by foreign-born residents living permanently in the U.S. The Homeland Security Department is issuing the redesigned "green card" that is stacked with safety feat

    Audio US 'Green Card Lottery' Ending November 3

    State Department’s Diversity Visa program closes November 3rd. Millions of people have entered the program, hoping to win a visa. But only 50,000 are chosen. 5,000 more are available under the Nicaraguan and Central America Relief Act. The green card lottery closes on Monday. | As It Is More

  • A convoy of peshmerga vehicles is escorted by Turkish Kurds on their way to the Turkish-Syrian border, in Kiziltepe near the southeastern city of Mardin October 29, 2014

    Audio Iraqi Kurdish Fighters Enter Kobani

    Also in the news, Burkina Faso ends efforts to extend its presidential term limit after protests in the capital. Ukraine says the EU will be guarantor in any gas deal with Russia. Myanmar holds a major meeting Friday. And claims of cheating delay SAT results for South Korean and Chinese students. More

  • Video Singapore Film Ban Raises Free Speech Issue

    The documentary film, “To Singapore, with Love” tells about political dissidents from Singapore. The film has been shown at public events in Britain, India and Malaysia, among other countries. But one place the movie cannot be seen is Singapore. That is because the government there has banned it. More

Featured Stories

  • Obama Halloween

    Audio Halloween Is Big with Kids and Business

    The National Retail Federation says sales of Halloween goods will total about $7.4 billion this year. It says the average American will spend about $77. The group expects 162 million people to celebrate. The NRF predicts 54 million of them will hold Halloween parties. | American Mosaic More

  • A print shows the Second Battle of Bull Run, also called Second Manassas.

    Audio South Defeats North Again at Manassas

    Lincoln named George Pope to lead the Army of Virginia. He wanted to join Pope’s forces with the Army of the Potomac and break through Confederate defenses around Richmond. But General Robert E. Lee decided to hit Pope first. More

  • Star House

    Video Home of Last Comanche Chief Close to Ruins

    One of the most interesting people in U.S. history is Quanah Parker, the last chief of the country’s Comanche Indian tribe. Quanah Parker was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Quanah Parker was a fierce fighter. More

  • FILE - A veterinarian at the nonprofit Bali Animal Welfare Association gives a rabies shot to a puppy in Kebon Kaja village, Bangli Regency in Bali, Indonesia.

    Audio Mass Vaccination of Dogs Can Eliminate Rabies

    About 70,000 people worldwide die every year of rabies. Rabies is a viral infection that people get mainly through dog bites. Scientists say vaccinating dogs can effectively get rid of rabies outbreaks in dog populations. And this will have a domino effect, fewer humans with rabies. More

  • Methane oxidizing

    Photogallery Small Organisms in Deep Sea Rocks Eat Methane

    The gas methane has been linked to rising temperatures on Earth. But methane does not stay in the atmosphere as long as another “greenhouse gas” -- carbon dioxide. Scientists say both gases trap heat from the sun. They prevent heat from escaping into outer space. More

Practice Your Writing

Confessions of an English Learner BlogConfessions of an English Learner Blog

Tell us About Our Programs