- Website: http://cargocollective.com/pigeonandtonic
- Next Nature Researcher
Is the neon green tetra GloFish soon to be the florescent, transgenic terror of America’s waterways? The internet hype machine has repeated ad infinitum the Washington Post’s recent story about the invasive potential of a new breed of GloFish. First sold to the public in 2003, the original GloFish were four brightly colored strains of zebrafish that fluoresced thanks to jellyfish and coral genes.
Last February, the biotech company Yorktown expanded their species range by introducing a transgenic, acid green version of the tetra fish. It’s this Electric Green Tetra (©) that has biologists and wetland conservationists worried. While tropical zebrafish go belly-up in cooler US waters, their argument goes, tetras are better adapted to seasonally cold conditions. Any released GloFish tetras could potentially take over lakes and rivers, their freaky genes compelling them to outcompete native species or breed with their wild cousins.
It’s a catchy argument. It’s also untrue.
If you’ve noticed candy-colored pigeons flapping through Copenhagen lately, don’t blame a freak chemical spill. Artist Julien Charriere and photographer Julius von Bismark have built a conveyer-belt device, equipped with seed and spray nozzles, to lure in unwitting pigeons for a brisk airbrushing. The bird trap was installed for a week to mark the Copenhagen’s architectural biennial, with a total of 35 birds being transformed from drab flying rats into limited-edition “prints”. Watch out, pigeons: Now that you’re art, you’ll have to watch out for overzealous collectors.
Plentiful, familiar and practically tame, pigeons make great raw material for bio-hackers. We’ve seen them used as tools for protestors, as secure alternatives to file-sharing, and as genetically engineered soap dispensers. With green roofs and backyard chickens proliferating through trendy cities, perhaps these artists are paving the way for pigeons to become the next hip urban organism. The only drawback to a pigeon rainbow? There’s definitely not a pot of gold at the end.
Check out the full, gloriously colored collection here. Thanks to Mike Bularz for the tip.
Closed to commercial shipping and fishing, offshore wind farms aren’t put to much use besides generating clean energy. Ecofys, a Dutch sustainable consulting company, hopes to turn the empty space between turbines into an environment teaming with fish and farmed seaweed.
Last March, the company installed a trial module of steel nets in the North Sea and seeded the nets with native seaweed species. If the trial succeeds, the company says, it will be the first “offshore cultivation of biomass”, and a way to produce two renewable resources in the same area. The seaweed could eventually be used for biofuels or as an energy feedstock, or as a replacement for soy protein in fish and livestock feed. It’s a win-win situation for the environment, with less land cleared for soy, more nursery habitat for fish, and more clean energy for us humans.
Ecofys will be presenting their proposal at the Transnatural Festival in Amsterdam, from September 7 to October 7.
Nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC) sounds almost too good to be true. The same microscopic particles that help trees to stand up straight are also lightweight, non-toxic, stronger than steel and just happen to be the most abundant organic compound on Earth. First studied in earnest in the early 1990s, manufacturers can now produce pure NCC from wood pulp.
Some early boosters are predicting that NCC will replace metals, conventional glass, and petroleum-based plastics in everything from helicopters to office towers. The material is cheap, and doesn’t even require felling entire trees: It can be recovered from twigs, sawdust and presumably any plant with woody components. Though NCC is cheap, is potential profitability is anything but. The USDA anticipates that the nanocrystalline cellulose market will hit $600 billion by 2020. NCC might wean us off mining for nonrenewable resources, might lead to a second rush on the world’s forests, or may simply blow away in a puff of nanoscale hype.
Via Atlantic Cities.
In a twist on the classic “microbes that turn shit into petrol“, researchers at MIT have developed a bacterium that turns carbon dioxide into a direct substitute for gasoline. When deprived of certain nutrients, the soil bacterium Ralstonia eutropha goes into hoarder mode, shoring up its carbon stores in anticipation of leaner times. The complex carbon polymers that the bacteria store happen to be very similar to petroleum-based plastics, a coincidence that wasn’t lost on the scientists.
By tweaking the microbe’s genome and adding genes from other organisms, the team was able to create a bacterium that makes isobutanol rather than plastic. The researchers are currently focusing on figuring how to manipulate the bacteria to use atmospheric carbon dioxide as a source, although it could feasibly be made to use agricultural or municipal waste. As if turning a greenhouse gas back into fuel isn’t benefit enough, Ralstonia eutropha, unlike other microbes engineered to produce gas, continually excrete fuel and so don’t need to have be destroyed in order to extract the chemical. The scientists hope these microbial factories may one day compete with the ethanol industry as the primarily source of biofuel.
Farmers have long made frugal use of their table scraps, feeding their leftovers to hogs, dogs and now, cows. In a bizarre sign of our cash-strapped and climate-changing zeitgeist, a farmer in Kentucky has turned to feeding his 1,400 cattle on candy. A crippling drought in the US has raised corn prices so much that it’s now cheaper for Joseph Watson to buy factory-discard candy than America’s staple crop.
Global warming is often called “global weirding”, and the factors that have lead to this bovine sugar high are absolutely weird. Global trade and subsidies has combined with food science to create a glut of cheap sugar enhanced with cheap artificial flavorings and colors. Although the original article does not mention the specific brand of candy, from the photos it appears that they’re “rainbow belts” that, strangely enough, list corn syrup as their second ingredient after sugar. Not to mention that cows are ruminants. Even a “normal” diet of corn is fatal, over the long-term, for an animal that evolved to eat nothing but grass.
Luckily, the cattle are unfazed by being put out to graze on Candyland. Watson reports that they’re plump and healthy on their new diet of sugar supplemented with ethanol byproducts (also mostly from corn) and minerals. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to have a burger for dessert.
Plants have it tough. They’re tasty, silent, and stuck to the spot. With Jurema Action Plant, artist Ivan Henriques has given plants the mobility they deserve . Henriques’ pieces links up Mimosa pudica – the touch-me-not plant – with hacked wheelchair. When the plant’s touch-sensitive leaves curl away from a person’s prying fingers, integrated sensors trigger the wheelchair robot to scoot away to safety.
While plants do not have nervous systems like animals or wires like machines, they do use electrical signaling within their cells. Henriques takes advantage of this fact, using a series of electrodes placed around the plant to measure changes in its electromagnetic field. These electrodes communicate to the robot which direction it should flee. Add a pair of water tanks, and the shy Mimosa plant is fully self-sufficient. Jurema Action Plant is a hybrid entity, a way to empower plants through machinery to give them the trappings of conscious behavior. Just like the Lorax, Jurema Action Plant speaks for the trees.
Action Plant will be exhibited at the 2012 Transnatural Festival in Amsterdam.
Dolphins in Port Adelaide, Australia, have been observed performing a remarkable trick: tail-walking, a trait so rare it has only been seen in the wild one other time. More remarkable still, these dolphins seem to have picked up this move from Billie, a female dolphin who briefly lived in a tourist attraction before being returned to the wild. Billie, who learned this skill from human trainers, has now taught it to her calves, and to another adult female and her calves. In animals, most cultural transmission of behavior is linked to finding food. Chimpanzees fishs for termites, and certain groups of dolphins hydroplane to catch fish. The behavior of Billie and her companions is unusual in that it is performed just for fun. Dolphins’ reputation for playfulness may be well-deserved.
Thanks to Tensai Hilra for the tip. Photo via Jared422_80.
Whale sharks are great at filtering; plastic needs to be filtered. For now, however, whale sharks only have an appetite for plankton. Industrial designer Elie Ahovi has jumped into the void with her Marine Drone, an autonomous robot that can dredge up the plastic junk that currently clogs our oceans. Roaming the ocean for two-week periods, Ahovi’s drone can collect plastic in its attached net while scaring off any marine life with an irritating high-pitched tone. When its batteries run low, the robot returns to a home base where humans can collect the plastic and ship it off to a recycling plant.
Via Popular Science.
Life is bleak and bleached for many of the world’s corals. Fatal bleaching events triggered by warming seas have become common from the Caribbean to Australia. More worrying still is climate change-related ocean acidification, which hampers coral’s ability to build their calcium carbonate skeletons. Helped along by pollution, disease, and overfishing, scientists predict that these threats may destroy most of the world’s corals by 2050.
Mary Hagedorn, a biologist at the Smithsonian Institution, hopes to help reefs hedge their bets by building a library of coral sperm. Dr. Hagedorn has already collected and frozen an estimated one trillion coral sperm, in hopes that they may one day be used to restore genetic diversity to damaged reefs. This effort is in keeping with other cryopreservation banks such as the San Diego Frozen Zoo or the Svalbard Seed Vault that buffer the earth’s biota against manmade environmental catastrophe.
Operating under a limited budget, Dr. Hagedorn is facing an uphill battle. There are well over 1,000 species of coral on earth, not to mention the fact that freezing equally important eggs is significantly more difficult than freezing sperm. While an “archive” approach to conservation may not be as effective as adequately protecting habitats, in the case of corals, in may be their best chance at avoiding extinction.
Researchers at Stanford and the J. Craig Venter Institute recently created the first complete computer model of an organism. The simulation models the genome and life processes of Mycoplasma genitalium, an aptly-named bacteria that makes its home in human genitals. The team’s leader, Markus W. Covert, hopes that similar simulations may eventually allow for more medical experiments than is currently possible, and at faster rates. One day we may be able to bypass lab rats entirely and plug new drugs directly into a model of a cancer cell.
Convenience store chain 7/11 is serving up the latest in a line of futuristic near-foods: Instant mashed potatoes from a Slurpee-style spigot. The machine dispenses a stream of instant potato paste, along with a squirt of gravy. The machine, currently available only in Korea, will soon make its way to the United States. In a time of organic, heritage potatoes and biodynamic growing methods, we’re glad that 7/11 continues to innovate in the world of easily digestible food-like substances.
Canada-based Okanagan Specialty Fruits is pitching a genetically engineered apple that does not turn brown when bruised or exposed to air. This new technology, available in both Granny Smiths and Golden Delicious, introduces a synthetic gene that drastically cuts down on the enzyme responsible for browning.
As with the introduction of snack-sized baby carrots, Okanagon Specialty Fruits president Neal Carter is positive that his Arctic apples will remove consumers’ issues with eating an entire fruit at once. According to Carter, “If you had a bowl of apples at a meeting, people wouldn’t take an apple out of the bowl. But if you had a plate of apple slices, everyone would take a slice.” Carter hopes his fruit will reverse declining rates of apple consumption, and will help to curtail the number of apples tossed for minor browning.
Miss the soothing clacking of typewriter keys? Long for satisfying clang of a carriage return? Noisy Typer, a piece of freeware for your Mac, adds the nostalgic noises of a typewriter to emails, word documents, and chats. Equipped with six different noises, Noisy Typer will help you to relive those Mad Men days, or ensure that everyone in the library hates you by the time you hit ‘send’.
There’s a new threat to the world’s unemployed. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a robot that helps to organize shop inventories, making that trip to the store simpler for shoppers, cheaper for bosses, and harder on workers. AndyVision, as our newest retail overlord is called, is programmed to roll through the aisles, checking to see if products are low or out of stock, and if its puny human coworkers have incorrectly shelved an item. Human employees get the bot’s updates on iPads, and are sent scurrying to restock the shelves. Customers short on time can access AndyVision’s map to more quickly locate their canned goods and hunting supplies for the impending robot apocalypse.
With a Kinect sensor, learning algorithms and floor plans, AndyVision is well-equipped to make his takeover of minimum-wage jobs even more effective. The robot currently only works at Carnegie Mellon’s campus store, but customers can expect to see these automated workers in other local stores sometime in 2013. AndyVision might look cute and inoffensive, but remember: In the United States alone, 5 million fewer workers are needed now to produce more goods than they did in 2006, all thanks to automation. Robots are coming to make our cameras, our sushi, and in a sure sign of the singularity end-times, our Starbucks.
Artist Willis Elkins “rescues” plastic detritus from the sea. His most recent venture, the Jamaica Bay Pen Project, retrieves sun-baked, useless pens from the shores of New York’s Jamaica Bay and reinvigorates them with fresh ink cartridges. Once consigned to the sea, Elkins gives these pens a second chance at a useful life. This project joins the New York City Lighter Log, Elkins’ previous effort to catalogue and preserve the various species of plastic lighters found on the city’s shores.
Elkins’ project is a reversal of our standard disregard for plastic junk. Instead of seeing it as disposable, the artist treats each object as a unique specimen worthy of preservation. According to Elkins, ”[land]scapes that were once virgin territories of human exploration: staggering mountains, vast oceans, even the depths of space are now all being rediscovered and examined not for containing profound examples of what is natural, but what is not.” From landfill mines to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the world is now overflowing with unnatural resources ready to be exploited.
In Ngogo, Gombe and elsewhere in Africa, bands of male chimpanzees regularly make organized raids on neighboring troops and batter their enemies to death. These grim, warring chimps have been held up as a compelling argument for the role of violence in humanity’s evolutionary past. The premeditated violence of male chimp society forms the basis of naturalist E.O. Wilson’s argument that warfare, just like social grooming and opposable thumbs, is a trait that humans and chimps have inherited from our common ancestor. War, in his view, is an innate and unavoidable aspect of human nature.
Wild salmon gets its robust pink color from a diet rich in red-hued krill. Farmed salmon are fed on fish meal, chicken byproducts, soybeans, wheat and a long list of other monochrome food. The result is a fish that’s the same plain gray as tilapia or cod. To make up for this color deficit, salmon farmers feed their fish doses of the carotenoid pigments canthaxanthin and astaxanthin.With the help of the SalmoFan’s color swatches, the farmers can decide when their product is blush enough for market. Consumers prefer a deeper shade, with 66% choosing color No. 33.
As with “orange” cheddar, these pigments do not affect taste, nor are they particularly “unnatural”. They are the same chemicals found in krill, shrimp, cyanobacteria and, yes, wild salmon. Instead, the coloration persuades (or tricks) customers into thinking that their chain store’s coho is fresher, healthier and wilder than it really is.