Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Strange but true: 3D print your dinner

An example of 3D printed food, created by a student of Professor Hod Lipson of Columbia University. Photo / Timothy Lee Photographers/Columbia Engineering
An example of 3D printed food, created by a student of Professor Hod Lipson of Columbia University. Photo / Timothy Lee Photographers/Columbia Engineering

We're all accustomed to having appliances on our kitchen counters, from toasters and blenders to coffee makers and microwaves.

If Professor Hod Lipson has his way, we'll soon need to make room for one more - a 3D food printer that could revolutionise the way we think about food and prepare it.

Over the past year, the Columbia University professor and his students have been developing a 3D food printer that can fabricate edible items through computer-guided software and the actual cooking of edible pastes, gels, powders, and liquid ingredients - all in a prototype that looks like an elegant coffee machine.

3D food printing offered incredible new options for convenience and customisation, from controlling nutrition to managing dietary needs to saving energy and transport costs to creating new and novel food items.

Lipson sees it as the "output device" for data-driven nutrition and personal health, akin to precision medicine, with huge potential for a profound impact.

Lipson is especially excited about working with chefs in trials of the new printer.

"Putting our technology into the hands of chefs has enabled them to create all kinds of things that we've never seen before. This is just a glimpse of ... what lies ahead."

Wasp vs Wasp

An adult of the Sphecophaga parasitic wasp, which could soon be used to battle our pest German and common wasp. Photo  Bob Brown/Landcare Research
An adult of the Sphecophaga parasitic wasp, which could soon be used to battle our pest German and common wasp. Photo Bob Brown/Landcare Research

Scientists are battling New Zealand's wasp scourge with ... wasps.

To help control German and common wasps that cost our primary industries around $130 million each year, Landcare Research scientists are exploring a range of possible biocontrol agents, among them a sneaky species of parasitic wasp.

Larvae of Sphecophaga feed off their host, eventually killing it.

The species was tried as a biocontrol agent against wasps in New Zealand starting in the 1980s, but so far has only established in a few locations.

However, recent research suggests this could be because those parasitic wasps had come from the wrong region, and ones better targeted against our UK-sourced wasps might be more effective.

Interactions between hosts and parasites are complex, and even more so when the host is a colony-forming insect, as they rely heavily on chemical communication within the colony.

These chemical signals serve as their language, Landcare scientist Dr Ronny Groenteman said.

"In order for Sphecophaga to go undetected in the nest, they must 'speak' the correct language, or dialect, in order to fool their hosts.

"Otherwise, wasps are so hygienic that they will rapidly remove any foreign intruders they detect."

I'll have what she's having

Meg Ryan in the film When Harry Met Sally.
Meg Ryan in the film When Harry Met Sally.

In what's perhaps the best explanation of female orgasms since Meg Ryan's famous diner demonstration from When Harry Met Sally, scientists have pointed to an evolution of ovulation.

The female orgasm, which plays no obvious role in human reproduction, has intrigued scholars as far back as Aristotle.

Numerous theories have tried to explain the origins of the trait, but most have concentrated on its role in human and primate biology.

Now US scientists have provided fresh insights on the subject by examining the evolving trait across different mammal species.

"Prior studies have tended to focus on evidence from human biology and the modification of a trait rather than its evolutionary origin," said study author Dr Gunter Wagner, of Yale University's Systems Biology Institute.

Instead, he and his colleagues propose that the trait which evolved into human female orgasm had an ancestral function in inducing ovulation.

Meet Ronan, the musical sea lion

Ronan, a California sea lion, knows how to keep the beat. Photo / Frontiers; University of California Santa Cruz
Ronan, a California sea lion, knows how to keep the beat. Photo / Frontiers; University of California Santa Cruz

Ronan, a sea lion from California, can keep the beat better than any other animal, US scientists say.

Whether it's Mozart, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, or tribal drumming, few activities feel as uniquely human as music and indeed, for a long time, most scholars believed we were the only species capable of creating and responding to rhythm and melody.

In 2009, this theory was up-ended by a bopping cockatoo called Snowball who was able to move to music, and now, there's Ronan.

Following investigations that have shown that chimps, bonobos, parrots and budgerigars have similar capabilities, the head-bobbing sea lion has provided data that may aid scientists in their quest to understand the biological roots of musicality.

Experiments with Ronan have suggested the skill was dependent on specialised neural circuits in the brain that are required for vocal flexibility. Rocking Ronan's achievements, and their accordance with a special physics equation used as a test in the study, suggest the neural drivers of beat-keeping may be more ancient and widespread than previously thought.

- NZ Herald

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