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Elyssa Pachico
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Working at InSight Crime, a think tank about organized crime in the Americas.

Entries by Elyssa Pachico

Three Questions About the Aereo Supreme Court Case That Desperately Need Answers

(6) Comments | Posted April 29, 2014 | 10:26 AM

So much trouble over a bunch of nickel-sized antennas. The fight between the TV networks and Aereo -- a start-up which allows subscribers to "rent" tiny antennas based in a warehouse, then stream broadcast programming to their laptop or phone -- has gone all the way to the Supreme Court,...

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Freaky Fungus Could Help Feed the World

(8) Comments | Posted November 10, 2013 | 11:19 AM

A Dutch bio-engineer says his lab-produced fungus could someday be used to save the lives of hungry people in the developing world.

But first, it might need some extra Rooster Sauce to make it go down easier.

"It has a very strong taste, a bitter aftertaste," says Hans van Leeuwen, a professor at Iowa State University. His research team has tried to make the fungal food tastier by flavoring it with spices, eggs, and flour. Still, as van Leeuwen admits, "It has a unique flavor. I like the taste, I've been eating it for years. But it puts some people off."

The fungus is cultivated from the leftovers of ethanol production - a fuel derived from corn. Van Leeuwen combines the ethanol byproduct with a common type of mold - "a species you could find in the kitchen" - and grows a batch over a 48-hour period. After harvesting it through screens, he runs it through a washing machine in order to dry it out, as the product is about 90 percent water at this point.

Finally, it's dried out further in a microwave. The resulting fungal food - which has a meaty texture and ranges from brown to mustard yellow in color - is then fit for human consumption, although it has also proved to be very popular with pigs in feeding trials.

The same type of fungus has been eaten in Asian cuisine for hundreds of years, va Leeuwen says. It's used in producing tempeh - a wheat product popular with vegans - and soyu, a fermented soy sauce. It's also something of a power food: rich in lysine and other amino acids, as well as polysaturated fats.

According to van Leeuwen, the fungus is so healthy that it could be sold in capsules as a diet additive. But what he really hopes is that it could be used to save the lives of millions of people who die each year due to lack of proteins. "We could grow enough to feed a couple hundred million people, really," he says.

There have been other attempts to tackle hunger and malnutrition in the developing world via innovative food production. One project in Guatemala, Maní+, created a food supplement made partly out of peanuts that's meant to combat malnutrition in the country. A French company manufactures a similar peanut-based product, Plumpy'nut. And who could forget the world's first in-vitro beef burger?

Van Leeuwen already has a patent on his fungus-growing process. What he needs now, he says, is some interested investors to further fund his research, and bring his team a few steps closer to producing a fungal food that tastes better. "It will probably be a few years before we stock the supermarket shelves," he says.

Van Leeuwen himself is already a convert. During a summer research trip to India and Turkey, he brought some dried fungus along with him, for...

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Colombia Milk Producers Feel the Pinch of Free Trade

(2) Comments | Posted July 8, 2013 | 8:37 AM

They lined up with empty Coca Cola bottles, water jugs, mop buckets, ice chests, and plastic cups. It was a hot day to be giving away free milk in the middle of Colombia's second-largest city, Medellin. But the milk producers -- who'd parked their trucks in front of local government...

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Quito's Strangest Museum Is Definitely Off the Beaten Path

(1) Comments | Posted May 20, 2013 | 11:56 AM

For tourists who are visiting Ecuador and can't afford a trip to the Galapagos, the giant tortoise shell in Rodrigo Dueñas' recently opened science museum in downtown Quito is a good way to get close.

Dueñas, a former middle school science teacher, says the shell used to belong to...

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Colombia's Maids Lobby for Labor Rights

(0) Comments | Posted April 26, 2013 | 3:49 PM

Flor Maria Cuesta got her first job as a maid at age 15, and she says she is used to hearing excuses. Sometimes when it was time to collect her salary, her employers would check their wallets, act surprised, and apologize for not having enough cash on hand to pay...

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Searching for an Old City in Medellin, Colombia

(1) Comments | Posted March 27, 2013 | 5:39 PM

It should be one of Medellin's most charming buildings. Instead, El Jordan has a collapsed roof, cracks along the wall and boarded-up doors and windows. Even the ceiba tree on the nearby street corner -- thought to be even older than the building itself -- is leafless and rotting from...

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A Writer's Life in Medellin's Most Violent Neighborhood

(1) Comments | Posted March 25, 2013 | 3:29 PM

Soledad Rios, who's lived in Medellin's most violent neighborhood, Comuna 13, for 30 years, sells blood sausage and empanadas on a street corner for a living, frying them up fresh for customers. Sometimes when she had to run for shelter during a gun battle, she would have to leave the...

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Colombia's 'Primitive' Paintings Worth a Second Look

(4) Comments | Posted October 12, 2012 | 6:14 PM

Before he was a painter, Jairo Franco made pesebres. These are nativity scenes, the Colombian equivalent to lawn decorations in the U.S. And just like in the U.S., where giant inflatable snowmen perch on rooftops and Christmas lights flash to the tune of some "Jingle Bells" techno remix, pesebres in...

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For Disappearing Glaciers, How About a Whitewashed Solution?

(4) Comments | Posted December 14, 2009 | 4:52 PM

Nobody at the Copenhagen summit is painting a very rosy picture right now when it comes to climate change. One man in Peru, however, would like to paint things a very different color: white. Literally.

With a $100,000 grant from the World Bank, Eduardo Gold plans to use...

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Should Mexico Welcome the Invasion of 'Frankencorn?'

(8) Comments | Posted December 3, 2009 | 1:19 AM

Mexico's decision to start growing genetically modified (GM) corn is sowing nothing but trouble.

After the government lifted a nation-wide ban against transgenic maize last March, peasants in northern Chihuahua have threatened to burn plots of Monsanto and DuPont patented crops if necessary. On October 18, the Mexican chapter...

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