The Daily Dose: COVID-19 causes Japanese firms to rethink manufacturing practices that made them giants; Plant-based pork invades Asia

Much of Japan’s vaunted manufacturing industry hinges on incessant quality control measures, invariably executed by human beings. The COVID-19 pandemic and increasingly powerful Artificial Intelligence capabilities are challenging that decades-old model. Per the Japan Times, “At a factory south of Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture, robots have started sharing the work of quality-control inspectors, as the coronavirus pandemic accelerates a shift from Toyota’s vaunted ‘go and see’ system which helped revolutionize mass production in the 20th century.” Even considering it represents a seismic shift in philosophy. It is known as the genchi genbutsu (loosely translated as “real location, real thing”) methodology. https://bit.ly/3bMuzDG

Climate change is having profound effects on Pakistan and now scientists are warning that the damage can potentially get much worse. Per DW, “Climate scientists say Pakistan is especially vulnerable to wild weather and other effects of climate change including, sea intrusion, unusual rain patterns, glacial melting, rising temperatures and drought.” Problems include flooding due to increased monsoon intensity and air pollution stemming from automobiles and the prevalent use of brick kilns. https://bit.ly/32gjMi3

While we’re on the subject of smog, China continues to make the adjustments needed to bring down the once-record-levels of air pollution. In this case, Beijing announced plans to include hydrogen-fueled vehicles in anti-pollution initiatives. Per Sixth Tone, “According to the municipal government’s industry development plan, the city is aiming to establish up to 10 leading hydrogen-fueled automobile manufacturers over the next decade, focusing primarily on mid- to heavy-duty commercial vehicles such as long-haul trucks.” Hydrogen is considered a zero-emission fuel that can power an engine while giving off only water as a byproduct. https://bit.ly/35mQtwd

Converting plants (the organisms with roots, stems, and sometimes leaves) into biochemical manufacturing compounds has promised to revolutionize the pharmaceutical industry. Results have been slow, at best modest. Still, they have also been tangible, giving the impression that the science and technology just need time to catch up. Srinivasan and Smolke have overcome certain production challenges and have produced a strain of S. cerevisiae that converts simple sugars and amino acids into two tropane alkaloids, hyoscyamine and scopolamine. According to an article in Nature, “Srinivasan and Smolke genetically engineered their yeast strain to overexpress 26 genes from different kingdoms of life. Together, these genes encode several metabolic enzymes and transporter proteins. Key to the authors’ achievement is the fact that they separated the enzymes and transporters into six subcellular locations — the cytosolic fluid, four organelles (the mitochondrion, peroxisome, vacuole and endoplasmic reticulum), and the vacuolar membranes. Subcellular compartmentalization of enzymes can improve product biosynthesis by enabling proper enzymatic activity and isolating metabolic intermediates to reduce their toxicity and loss to competing pathways.” The million dollar question is whether a GM-wary public would accept genetically engineered medicine produced by microorganisms in plants. https://go.nature.com/2DMv6ZT

Asia represents nearly half of the world’s meat consumption. That’s a big number. It’s also why decreasing the region’s dependency on livestock would result in tangible reductions in agriculture-based greenhouse emissions. Impossible Foods has been making serious efforts to break into the Asian market, first with its burgers and ground meat. Now, they’ve move on to another type of faux-meat. Per Asia One, “Plant-based burger maker Impossible Foods said on Thursday it would start selling its faux pork product in Hong Kong, its first expansion outside of the United States as it seeks to tap more environment-conscious diners. The sausage patty, made from soy protein, is the Silicon Valley-based company’s second product since its faux beef burger in 2016. It launched the Impossible Sausage in the United States earlier this year.” Anyone who has ever eaten at an East Asian or Southeast Asian restaurant knows it’s all about pork. Seeing whether plant-based pork can gain some traction in the region will go a long way to predicting its overall success. https://bit.ly/3bVNAUF

IMAGE SOURCE: Creative Commons

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