The typhoon that hit the Philippines last week killed thousands of people and displaced hundreds of thousands more, according to the BBC. The damage to infrastructure and the dislocation of all those people make it difficult for relief agencies to know where to route aid. Yet this typhoon, called Yolanda in the Philippines and Haiyan elsewhere, hit just as the technology to update maps and sift through social media is maturing. Filipinos and their faraway friends may be in the best position yet to respond to a typhoon, thanks to better digital coordination among volunteers.
Debates about how best to avoid Nairobi traffic can take nearly as long as a drive across town. The city has three dozen traffic cameras downtown, but that’s not enough information for a city of over three million people. Traffic costs the city US $600 000 a day, by one estimate. IBM’s Nairobi lab, in beta since a year ago, tackled traffic early on and today launched a mobile application to help drivers avoid traffic.
A court in the Philippines has ordered scientists to halt field trials of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) eggplant, over concerns that the genetically modified (GM) crop poses a risk to human health and the environment. On May 17, 2013, the Philippine Court of Appeals issued a cease-and-desist order to scientists running the field trials, a ruling that, if upheld, could set a precedent that may affect other biotech crops in development locally, such as the Golden Rice and GM papaya and abaca under development in the country.
More than 40 institutes around the world are teaming up to use biotech tools to improve food security in sub-Saharan Africa and India. The Sustainable Crop Production Research for International Development (SCPRID) will provide a total £16 ($25.5) million for 11 projects aimed at developing crops that will resist pests or survive in harsh environments. Each project will include at least one UK-based partner and another from a developing nation. Grants will be funded by the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Department for International Development, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and India’s Department of Biotechnology and will be administered by the BBSRC. Geneticist Cristobal Uauy at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, UK, will lead a five-year sequencing project on wheat rust spread and evolution. His team, including collaborators in Kenya, Ethiopia and India, will screen germplasm from the open-access Watkins Landrace Wheat Collection. Uauy’s collaborator, pathologist Ruth Wanyera of the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute in Njoro, aims to develop new rust-resistant wheat varieties adapted to local conditions. Although SCPRID grant holders’ intellectual property resides with their host institutions, which can conduct commercial development, they have agreed to offer BBSRC a royalty-free license to distribute technologies “at reasonable cost to people most in need in developing countries.”