All posts by LL

Saving Mexico’s most totemic chilli

A plague of whiteflies descended on the Martínez family’s fields of yellow, red, and deep purple chilhuacle in southern Mexico two decades ago. Chilhuacle is the star chilli in several versions of Oaxaca’s signature dish ­– mole – and cooks had long paid a premium for the chilli’s unique smoke and citrus flavours. But its cost was about to climb higher.

The chilhuacle is not important to filling Mexican bellies the way corn and beans are. It is important for different reasons, closer to how halva marks death in some Muslim cultures or Easter eggs mark resurrection in Christianity. At Day of the Dead and other festive occasions Mexicans eat black mole, a sauce whose smoky, ashy flavour centuries-old texts ascribe to chilhuacle.

The chilli’s cultural weight attracted a Mexico City chef and a Oaxaca plant biologist, who began visiting Félix Martínez and other growers in the region, the Cañada de Oaxaca. Since then, a loose-knit mix of locals and outsiders have financed planting costs, worked with growers to develop pest-resistant production methods, and even begun experimenting with growing chilhuacle elsewhere.

This feature and photos were first published by Rethink Magazine: [html] [pdf] and appears in Spanish at Revista HojaSanta: [html].

The Tech That Won the First Formula Student Driverless Race

Engineering student Manuel Dangel of Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich and teammates were walking the racecourse at Formula Student Driverless in Hockenheimring, Germany, earlier this month when they realized that the computerized wheelbarrow they were using to map the course had gone haywire. [See “Students Race Driverless Cars in Germany in Formula Student Competition” 16 August 2017.] Continue reading

Students Race Driverless Cars in Germany in Formula Student Competition

More than a dozen teams brought driverless cars to the Formula Studentcompetition last week in Hockenheimring, Germany. It was the first event of its type, but many participants were diligent veterans of Formula Student Electric races and had tested their cars at different types of sites leading up to the main event. “We knew from the electric season that testing is really crucial,” says Manuel Dangel, vice-president of the Formula Student Driverless team at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich. Then the rain started falling. Continue reading

Plant breeders test drive first open-source seed bank

Two German plant breeders this April released newly developed tomato and wheat varieties under open-source licenses. The breeders, Göttingen University’s Bernd Horneburg and his team, and Dottenfelderhof researcher Hartmut Spieß, issued the licenses to encourage other scientists and breeders to experiment and improve these plants varieties under a legal framework. Under the OpenSourceSeed initiative, agricultural scientists can access open-source seeds, by paying a small fee to cover maintenance breeding and delivery costs. They are then allowed to “use the seeds in multiple ways,” according to the open-source license. But should users develop subsequent varieties, they are not allowed to issue patents on them, and instead must agree to release them under the original open-source license. Continue reading