Back to the Roots: Growing Gourmet Eats from “Garbage”


Behind that stream of steaming hot coffee pouring into your cup is a waste stream of coffee grounds. Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez of Back to the Roots (BTTR) view the huge amounts of coffee grounds waste coming out of coffee shops as a huge potential for urban mushroom farming. The UC Berkeley students were in their final semester with corporate job offers in hand when they heard about growing gourmet mushrooms from coffee grounds and independently reached out to their professor for more information. (Read a Q&A with Arora after the jump.)

The professor put them in touch and they got to growing their business idea. They asked Peet’s Coffee for used coffee grounds and set up ten test buckets in Velez’s fraternity kitchen to try out mushroom farming. Only one bucket grew a crop of mushrooms.

They took the single success to a famous Berkeley restaurant, Chez Panisse, to get those mushrooms checked out–they were sautéed and deemed good. (If you’re wondering, mushrooms grown in coffee grounds do not pick up a coffee kick to their flavor.) The two budding entrepreneurs took the same bucket to Whole Foods and caught the interest of store employees. Their idea also caught the interest of their university, which awarded them a $5K social innovation grant.

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Jatts may indeed be Scythian

In the comments on this weblog over the years I’ve learned a lot of interesting things about South Asian ethnography. One component which has been notable is the sense of ethnic pride of Punjabis, and in particular Jatts. Some of this is rather standard racism against other South Asians, especially South Indians and Bengalis in relation to whom they feel aesthetically superior. But other assertions of distinction are not so charged.

One of the aspects of Jatt identity seems to be the conception that they are descended from “Scythians,” what in a South Asian context would be termed Saka. When some Jatt commenters with whom I had amicable relationships with would bring this up I would gently mock them. My personal stance is that South Asians have an unhealthy obsession with presumed foreign origin, as if being South Asian is somehow shameful. This is very evident amongst Muslims for obvious reasons, insofar as Islam came to the subcontinent from West Asia. But I’ve encountered the same stance amongst Hindus. For example, Kashmiri Pandits explaining their peoples’ Persian origins.

But whatever the demerits of the excessive overall fixation on exogenous origin, I now believe that I wrongly dismissed out of hand the idea that Jatts in particular have some Scythian origin. The reason are a series of results coming out of the Harappa Ancestry Project. To be concise, it does seem that Jatts have a small but consistent proportion of northern Eurasian ancestry which sets them apart from other Punjabis. The most parsimonious explanation to my mind is that the Sakas did indeed have a genetic impact. This does not mean that I have a high confidence in this historical model. But I was clearly in the wrong in dismissing the Scythian origin myth out of hand. For that, I apologize. Also, please note that I am not claiming here that the preponderance of Jatt ancestry is Scythian. It is not. Rather, there may have been a Scythian overlay upon a typical Punjabi substrate.

If you are curious to learn more, please see the comments at the Harappa Ancestry Project. Continue reading

The Pakistani genome

We’re fast approaching the point where the “first genome” of class X is going to lose its novelty. There are more than 100 people who have had their full genome sequenced, and you can’t really track down a comprehensive list anymore that I can see. Remember, a full genome sequence is a mapping of all 3 billion DNA base pairs. In contrast, what genotyping services offer are a subset, often 1 million base pairs. The 1 million are not random, rather, they are variants which are known to…vary. But there are some important issues which can be addressed only in a full genome sequence. For example, you can see which distinct mutations are unique to you, and separate you from your parents.

In any case, here’s a summary in the Dawn: Continue reading

The Diaspora and human genetics

Earlier this year I expressed excitement that the 1000 Genomes, “A Deep Catalog of Human Genetic Variation,” finally was going to add some more Indian populations. There was a sample of Gujaratis from Houston, but that’s a rather narrow slice of ~1 billion Indians, and nearly ~1.4 billion South Asians. The populations which were going to be added were Kayasthas from West Bengal, Marathas from Maharashtra, and Ahom from Assam.

Unfortunately, as I commented a few days ago that looks like it’s not happening. The Indian population collections have been removed from the website, and replaced by Sri Lankan Sinhalese and Tamils from the United Kingdom, and Bangladeshis. The Pakistani collection is already in process, as they’re getting the samples from Lahore. Continue reading

Forgotten memories of being desi

Noomi_Rapace.jpgI just recently heard that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was being made into a film. This perplexed me because I thought there was a film adaptation of that novel! Yes, there was, but that was a Swedish production, and the new film is “made in America.” Fair enough.

What does this have to do with this weblog? The actress who plays the protagonist in the Swedish film, Noomi Rapace, had a father who was a Gitano, a Spanish Romani (the term “Roma” is really an ethnonym for the eastern Romani). In case you don’t know, the Romani language is clearly Indo-Aryan. Its closeness to Indo-Aryan dialects of the Indian subcontinent is such that the story goes that Indian sailors who were stationed in Britain overheard, and understood, much of the conversation of local British Gypsies.

The origin of this population in the Indian subcontinent is evident through multiple lines of inquiry. Both in terms of culture, and genetics. Most of the genetic results focus on paternal and maternal lineages, but some “genome bloggers” have obtained samples from people with Roma background, and they clearly have distinctive South Asian ancestry. Because of intermarriage obviously this is not always visibly salient. How many people are aware that Charlie Chaplin was 1/4 Romanichal? Continue reading

Sysop-in-chief leaving Whitehouse

Sources: Kundra leaving White House:

Vivek Kundra, the first-ever federal chief information officer, is planning to leave the White House in August, according to sources.

Kundra, who has held the position for two-and-a-half years, is leaving the administration for Harvard, the sources said, although it’s unclear if he’ll be teaching or taking a more research-oriented post.

As CIO in the Office of Management and Budget, Kundra was responsible for overseeing $80 billion in federal information technology projects. In that role, he spearheaded a number of initiatives to try to make the government’s complex technology systems more efficient and less costly.

Kundra is one of three White House officials tapped to revamp the government’s use of technology. President Barack Obama also appointed Aneesh Chopra as the federal chief technology officer and Jeffrey Zients as the chief performance officer. All three positions were brand new roles in the White House.

I’m a little behind in the curve when it comes to these sorts of things, but technically I think Kundra would be an “information architect.” I imagine the architects to be the officer corps of the systems administrators, who are the grunts.

According to Google Trends there hasn’t been any news out of this guy for a while….which is usually a good thing if you’re a systems administrator! It’s kind of like being an offensive line guy in football, if people are noticing you it’s probably not a good thing (e.g., there’s been a major security breach and you have to take the fall for it). I’m personally skeptical of the “cloud computing” initiative Kundra spearheaded, for national security reasons. I wouldn’t ever put anything sensitive in Dropbox, and I don’t care how good the feds think they are, hackers will worm their way into their “lockbox” in the cloud at some point. But Vivek Kundra doesn’t have to worry about it, some other command-line jockey will take the fall for it…. Continue reading

South Asians “represent” in personal genomics

CeCe Moore is reporting the following ethnic breakdowns for 23andMe’s customer database (as claimed by a scientist at the firm):

1000 African American
3500 Latino/Hispanic
5500 East Asian
3400 South Asian
4900 Southern European
6200 Ashkenazi Jewish
56,000 Northern European
1,000 First generation from two continents

All that being said, rumor has it that 3,000 of these South Asians are Iyers! (that’s a joke)

(H/T Zack Ajmal) Continue reading

South Asian genetic variation in a glance

Since I began blogging here in February we’ve come a long way in getting a better sense of South Asian genetic relationships. By “we,” I’m referring mostly to Zack Ajmal of the Harappa Ancestry Project, and to a lesser extent the Dodecad Ancestry Project and the Eurogenes Genetic Ancestry Project. These explicitly amateur enterprises have taken off the shelf population genetic analytic tools, such as ADMIXTURE, and combined them with a “crowd-sourced” sampling strategy. Zack now as over 100 individuals, the vast majority of them South Asian, some from ethnicities and communities which have never been analyzed in the academic literature.

The Times of India has now taken an interest in the Harrapa Ancestry Project. I’m rather tickled by this. When I first began corresponding with Zack about the technical details of preforming this survey of South Asian genomics neither of us knew where we were going to go. The main issue we both felt needed to be addressed was of scope of sampling. In other words, there were simply too many under-sampled populations in South Asia when it came to academic analyses of the human genetics of the region.

A quick survey of a map of some participants in HAP shows that much of north-central India remains woefully under-sampled even after six months: Continue reading

Junk Science for Fun

Arvind Gupta has won national awards for his many contributions to science education in India. But when he introduces himself, he calls himself a toymaker. He’s not developing the type of toys that you would buy in a store or order online. His toys are the kind people can make using trash and other everyday materials.

Got a straw? Make a flute! A couple of foam cups or a CD? Turn them into a helicopter or a hovercraft! Gupta’s videos, which I saw posted on MeFi, quickly show how to make nifty toys from trash and simple materials. They also demonstrate scientific principles in action–a coin and an old hanger are used to show centrifugal force, for example. Continue reading

Eating American: The Fat Cost of Fitting In?


Recently the President released his long-form birth certificate to show everyone, perhaps especially those birthers gone berserk, that he’s an American born in America who belongs in the White House. On a day-to-day basis, desis in the U.S. are not being asked to pull out their long-forms (not yet anyway), but are there other ways in which we’re made to feel that we have to prove we belong, that we’re American? New research from psychologists seems to address this question with a particular focus on the food choices of immigrant groups–”Fitting In but Getting Fat: Identity Threat and Dietary Choices among U.S. Immigrant Groups.”

Psychologists show that it’s not simply the abundance of high-calorie American junk food that causes weight gain. Instead, members of U.S. immigrant groups choose typical American dishes as a way to show that they belong and to prove their American-ness.

“People who feel like they need to prove they belong in a culture will change their habits in an attempt to fit in,” said Sapna Cheryan, corresponding author and an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Washington. “If immigrants and their children choose unhealthy American foods over healthier traditional foods across their lives, this process of fitting in could lead to poorer health,” she said.

The results are published in the June issue of Psychological Science.

Public health studies show that diets of immigrants, including those from Asia, Africa and Central and South America worsen the longer they stay in the United States. (press release)

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