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Cow manure produces electricity, calorie restriction, and vegetables for health

Converting cow manure into electricity pays off. See the October 13, 2011 Elsevier Health Sciences news release, "Does converting cow manure to electricity pay off?" The successful renewable energy project is detailed in the October 2011 issue of the Journal of Dairy Science. Studies have estimated that converting manure from the 95 million animal units in the United States would produce renewable energy equal to 8 billion gallons of gasoline, or 1% of the total energy consumption in the nation.

Cow manure produces electricity, calorie restriction, and vegetables for health are studied.
Photo by Justin Sullivan

On the other hand, not related to the cow manure study, in other areas of the nation, people are afraid that liquid animal manure could be released into various water systems as other news reports discuss. See, "Cesspools of Shame - Natural Resources Defense Council." Because more and more farmers and communities are interested in generating renewable energy from farm waste, there is a growing need for information on the economic feasibility and sustainability of such programs.

Noteworthy, in a case study published in 2011 in the Journal of Dairy Science, researchers at the University of Vermont and the Central Vermont Public Service Corporation (CVPS) confirm that it is technically feasible to convert cow manure to electricity on farms. The economic returns depend highly on the base electricity price.

The premium paid for converted energy is the base electricity price. For example, financial supports from government and other agencies, and the ability to sell byproducts of the methane generation. On the other hand, The CVPS Cow Power program assists farms in planning and installing anaerobic digesters and generators to convert cow manure into electricity, and markets the resulting power to its customers.

Dairy farms apply for grants from CVPS, government agencies, and other organizations, and draw on their own funds and loans from local banks to install the necessary equipment. CVPS customers voluntarily participate in and agree to pay a premium of $0.04 per kWh for a proportion or all of their electricity use

"With more than 4,600 CVPS electricity customers voluntarily paying $470,000 in premiums per year, the Cow Power program represents a successful and locally sourced renewable energy project with many economic and environmental benefits," says lead author Dr. Qingbin Wang, a professor in the Department of Community Development and Applied Economics, University of Vermont, according to the news release. And check out, Renewable Energy From Cow Manure?

The study found that because of the huge initial investment of about $2 million for equipment per farm, grants and subsidies from government agencies have been necessary

Without them, few dairy farms are able to fund such a system. The price farmers received for their electricity and revenue from byproducts of the system were also critically important. Scenario analysis presented in the case study also suggests that relatively small changes in the premium price can have a significant impact on the cash flow of an average operation.

Also, waste heat from biogas combustion can be captured and used on the farm and byproducts from the digester, in the form of animal bedding and compost, contributed significantly to the cash flow of farms – up to 26% of the total revenues in 2008. Dr. Wang concludes, according to the press release, "For any community interested in a locally sourced renewable energy project like the CVPS Cow Power Program, the strong commitment and collaboration of utilities, dairy farmers, electric customers, and government agencies at the state and local level is essential."

The article is "Economic Feasibility of Converting Cow Manure to Electricity: A Case Study of the CVPS Cow Power Program in Vermont," by Q. Wang, E. Thompson, R. Parsons, G. Rogers, and D. Dunn. appearing in the Journal of Dairy Science, Vol. 94, Issue 10 (October 2011). It's published by Elsevier. See the abstract of the study, Electricity from Cow Manure Has Market Potential, Case Study Says. Also see, Electricity from Cow Manure Has Market Potential, Case Study Says. You might also check out, the PDF file of the article, Does converting cow manure to electricity pay off? -

UC Davis specializes in teaching courses focused on green health through renewable energy

For example in the course, Building Efficiencies: Low Carbon and Renewable Energy, students examined the energy issue from the macro perspective of the built environment to the micro approach of how heat flows throughout a building. Using the "whole building" perspective, you will discover some of the natural and mechanical means of heating, cooling and ventilation for improved indoor air quality and cost savings.

In the course, Cogeneration and District Solutions, students learned about cogeneration system selection and sizing, preliminary feasibility study approaches, heat to power ratios, computer programs, economic and environmental issues, emerging technologies and regulations. UC Davis offers green health-oriented courses, workshops, and other learning experiences.

Green Health for the Human Body

What about building efficiencies for green health that focus on the human body? Can someone combine energy resource management of living spaces with energy resource management of the human body? That's what green health includes--managing the energy resource of your body.

Does green health include caloric restriction coupled with nutrient-dense foods? Will caloric restriction win or will nutrients from plants lead in the race to find anti-aging health benefits? Or is the race really between food and hormones or food, caloric restriction, and hormones, or food as medicine alone?

There seems to be an evolving controversy in science in the race to discover anti-aging drugs before researchers reveal anti-aging foods. Apparently, a gene's action may help explain why restricting diet lengthens life in animals, according to the August 18, 2010 news release, "Discovery may aid search for anti-aging drugs." You also may wish to check out the study, "Genes encoding longevity: from model organisms to humans."

Which will win here in Sacramento, anti-aging foods and food extracts or anti-aging drugs?

The race is heating up, with UC Davis in the Sacramento and Davis regional area focusing on studies of plants. For example, in the Sacramento area, UC Davis has been researching nutrition topics such as research with fruit and plant extracts for improving lifespan possibilities.

One example is the anti-aging properties of strawberries. A few years ago, UC Davis studied strawberries in relation to health at the UC Davis Nutrition Department. The University of California - Davis and Baylor College of Medicine also teamed up to study the effects of fresh vegetable juices on weight loss and lowering blood pressure.

Interestingly, there seems to be a 'race' of sorts between finding foods that play a role in anti-aging, helping to switch on genes that slow down aging, and at the same time in a variety of universities another 'race' to find an anti-aging drug based on experiments of restricting calories, but not nutrition in animals.

The potato study and health

Several years ago, UC Davis nutrition scientists also ran a 15-week study to test whether diets that contain potatoes would be useful in weight loss or maintaining current body weight and how these diets affect your blood sugar. The Potato Study took place a few years ago at the UC Davis Department of Nutrition.

According to the August 18, 2010 news release, "Discovery may aid search for anti-aging drugs," the news seems to focus on looking for a way to develop anti-aging drugs rather than foods based gene suppression. A team of University of Michigan scientists has found that suppressing a newly discovered gene lengthens the lifespan of roundworms.

Caloric restriction studies

The leap that science hoped to provide is to find out how this applies to humans, since there are some similar genes between roundworms and humans. The research focused on caloric restriction. Similarly, at UC Davis, the research also focused on not only caloric restriction, but the type of nutrition that's helpful in maintaining health.

Scientists who study aging have long known that significantly restricting food intake makes animals live longer. But the goal is to find less drastic ways to achieve the same effect in humans someday. The University of Michigan (U-M) results offer promising early evidence that scientists may succeed at finding targets for drugs that someday could allow people to live longer, healthier lives.

In a study in the August 2010 issue of Aging Cell, the study "drr-2 encodes an eIF4H that acts downstream of TOR in diet-restriction-induced longevity of C. elegans," looked at genes encoding longevity. The researchers found that dietary restriction (DR) results in a robust increase in lifespan while maintaining the physiology of much younger animals in a wide range of species.

Also see, "Genes encoding longevity: from model organisms to humans," U-M scientists found that a gene, drr-2, is an important component in a key cellular pathway, the TOR nutrient-sensing pathway, where many scientists are looking for potential drug targets. The U-M scientists then found that when they caused the drr-2 gene to be under- or over-expressed, they could lengthen or shorten lifespan in C. elegans, a worm widely used in research. Manipulating the drr-2 gene's action produced the same effects as reducing or increasing caloric intake.

"We showed that in C. elegans, drr-2 is one of the essential genes for the TOR pathway to modulate lifespan," says Ao-Lin Allen Hsu, Ph.D., according to the news release. Hsu is the study's senior author and a scientist at the U-M Geriatrics Center. He also is an assistant professor in internal medicine and molecular and integrative physiology at U-M. The study also found that drr-2 appears analogous to a human gene, eIF4H, that controls similar cell functions.

The idea is to find paths for developing future anti-aging drugs

Are anti-aging nutrients considered as green health solutions? What about anti-aging medicines? Isn't food better than drugs? How can farmers increase the nutrient value of green foods? To find possible avenues for future anti-aging drugs, many scientists around the world are focusing on signaling pathways in cells that sense nutrients.

The one Hsu examined, the target of rapamycin pathway or TOR pathway, is so named because its activity can be influenced by the drug rapamycin. Recent results from a large federal study being conducted at the University of Michigan (U-M) and elsewhere have shown that in mice, rapamycin is effective at mimicking the anti-aging effects of dietary restriction.

Why aren't more scientists looking for anti-aging foods rather than drugs?

Is it because you have to follow the money, and there's less money in anti-aging foods? Who would be interested in anti-aging foods other than consumers, farmers, and natural or organic grocery and produce food stores?

Research in the last 25 years has shown that animals, including mammals, live longer and have lower levels of certain measures of age-related decline when scientists have restricted their food intake. No one has been able to show yet that the same effect happens in humans, though some studies are under way. There are groups in Sacramento where people follow restricted calorie diets, raw food diets, vegetarian diets, and vegan diets, low-carb diets, and various types of diets. You'll find many of these groups online.

The Calorie Restriction Society

Nationally, you can look for information and see whether there's a local chapter of the Calorie Restriction Society in your local area. See the website, Help the Calorie Restriction Society Raise Research Funding.

Active members of the Calorie Restriction Society have had a positive influence on the degree and direction of calorie restriction (CR) research in humans for a number of years now, helping scientists who have demonstrated that fewer calories mean less age-related disease and quite probably more healthy life, according to the Calorie Restriction Society.

As is true of many of the best patient advocate and pro-research advocacy groups, the Calorie Restriction Society has close ties with the scientific community; members have stepped up to the plate to help human studies happen more rapidly. You can find links to a number of more recent results at the websites, The Longevity Meme, and also including these sites: Calorie Restriction and the Heart and The Evidence For Calorie Restriction.

Raising funds for more calorie restriction research

The Society raised funding for further CR research. This initiative plans to build upon existing relationships with talented, well known scientists to correlate gene expression and cell signaling indicators in human calorie restriction practitioners to clinical markers of health and aging.

In essence, this work will continue to raise the bar in proving beyond a doubt that CR in humans is very beneficial to healthy longevity. You can find more information about the researchers in a PDF format release at the society website.

If you're interested in the new calorie restriction study mentioned on the Calorie Restriction Society's website, a key aspect of the new study will be to build on the calorie restriction study reported by Dr. Fontana in 2004. The goal with research is to find out whether long-term calorie restriction with adequate nutrition results in the same metabolic, hormonal, and gene expression changes in humans that scientists have seen with caloric restriction in rodents.

According to the August 18, 2010 press release on the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor research, "Genes encoding longevity: from model organisms to humans," when calories or certain nutrients are restricted, scientists detect less oxidative damage in animal cells and a slower decline in DNA repair, a decline that normally occurs with age. It's thought that limiting oxidative damage and slowing the decline in DNA repair could help postpone or avoid many age-related diseases.

But scientists know relatively little about why reducing food intake causes these effects. In the last 10 years, they have made progress in identifying genes and associated proteins that are suppressed when diet is restricted. By learning more about the cell processes involved, they may be able to discover targets for future drugs that could delay aging without the need to restrict food intake.

Drugs tailored to block specific genes or proteins involved in nutrient-sensing pathways would have much more appeal than reducing what one eats. To achieve anti-aging benefits, it's thought that people would have to restrict food intake by 30 to 40 percent, a grim prospect. In addition, drugs might be designed to avoid other disadvantages of this level of dietary restriction, which include reduced fertility.

Why study caloric restriction in the roundworm? Its genes are found in other animals

C. elegans is a tiny roundworm, a nematode whose two-week lifespan is a great advantage for scientists studying aging. The 1-millimeter-long transparent worms have other advantages, too. C. elegans exhibits many age-associated changes observed in higher organisms.

"Many genes identified in C. elegans to control the speed of aging turned out to be evolutionarily conserved, meaning that you can find them in other animals, too. And many are very similar to those found in humans," Hsu says in the August 18, 2010 press release about the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor research, "Genes encoding longevity: from model organisms to humans,"

Research details

Hsu and his team created different mutant strains of roundworms, some with drr-2 genes silenced and others in which the gene was over-expressed. They wanted to learn whether inactivating drr-2 is essential for TOR to influence longevity, and found that it was. Other newly discovered genes may affect TOR signaling as well. But Hsu's team has found a promising lead for anti-aging drugs of the future: They were able to show that silencing drr-2's action alone was sufficient to make worms live longer than wild-type C. elegans used as controls.

"It is known that reduction of TOR signaling in response to a change in the environment or genetic manipulation triggers a cascade of cellular signals that alter cell growth, metabolism, and protein synthesis, and decrease the pace of aging," says Hsu, according to the news release. "Our recent studies have shown that drr-2 might play a pivotal role in the TOR signaling network to control protein synthesis as well as longevity."

The news release also mentioned additional University of Michigan (U-M) authors: Tsui-Ting Ching, Alisha B. Paal, Avni Mehta, and Linda Zhong, all of the Division of Geriatric Medicine, U-M Department of Internal Medicine Funding: Ellison Medical Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

You also can check out the news release, "Early discovery may aid search for anti-aging drugs." Or on another note, check out the video, "Scientists re-define what’s healthy in newest analysis for Human Microbiome Project (Video) 4/16/2014." Or see, "Experts propose new approach to manage the most troubling symptoms of dementia, lessen use of drugs 4/17/2014."

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