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What is Next Nature?

With our attempts to cultivate nature, humankind causes the rising of a next nature, which is wild and unpredictable as ever. Wild systems, genetic surprises, autonomous machinery and splendidly beautiful black flowers. Nature changes along with us.

Posts Tagged ‘Designed-by-Evolution’

  • armyprotected_crops

    Army Protected Organic Foods

    Over the last few decades, the public has been – and still is – creating awareness on the values of organically produced foods. For many foodies an important value of organic foods is the pure production process, without synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

    The food industry tries to capitalize on this by increasing their yield in other ways. To minimize crop losses and thus maximize revenues, they have started to engineer killer bugs. These bugs are programmed to act as pesticides, eating and killing insects to protect the crops.

    However, an ethical question arises. Are we now relocating the chemical process of crop preservation from the crops themselves to the insects? Is it better to modify and “enhance” these bugs, so the issue shifts from the crops to a new species and thus an altered ecosystem?

    Via Businessweek. Illustration by Gerald Leung.

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  • rise and fall

    The Rise and Fall or Rayfish Footwear

    For almost three years, we worked on a sneaker company that we knew would go bankrupt on the day it was founded. This is our coming out.

    The fictional company Rayfish.com offered personalized sneakers crafted from genetically modified stingray leather. The online storytelling project was created to catalyze a debate on emerging biotechnologies and the products it may bring us. It furthermore questioned our consumptive relationship with animals and products in general. While such discussions often remain abstract, we aimed to make them tangible in a concrete product you can love or hate.

    YouTube Preview Image

    The rise and fall of Rayfish Footwear took place within a period of seven months. The story began with the launch of the corporate website, commercial, CEO lecture and online design tool. The startup immediately received significant media attention and seemed bound for success, however, there were also critical petitions against the company’s instrumental use of animals.

    While almost ten thousand people had designed their own fish sneaker, animal rights activists broke into the company and released all the fishes in the ocean. The CEO of the company, Dr. Raymond Ong, responded with a passionate video statement, which stirred further debate on our estranged relationship with products in a globalized world.

    While Rayfish was struggling to find new investors, the escaped fishes where out in the open and started appearing into video’s of tourists and fishermen. The story ended with the bankruptcy of Rayfish, after which the true objective of the company was revealed and the ‘making of video’ was released.

    Seven highly exclusive prototypes of Stingray leather sneakers were created. The leather of the shoes was dyed with paint, rather than genetically modified.

    Further information on our motivations, collaborators and supporters can be found on the Rayfish Event webpage. We welcome comments on the Rayfish Facebook page or in the box below. Thanks for participating!

  • diatom circle

    Nanotech Diatoms

    No, those aren’t plastic trinkets or beads from a craft store. They’re diatoms, a group of single-celled algae, and unlike almost all of our current technologies, they can rapidly and reliably synthesize  nanoscale structures. Diatoms produce incredibly complex silica shells that are riddled with a regular pattern of pores. As can be seen above, diatoms come in an incredible variety of shapes – around 100,000 species in all. Strong, easy and quick-growing, and virtually unlimited, diatoms are drawing the attention of scientists who are interested in nanotechnology.

    As with many nanotechnologies, research into the use of diatoms is in its infancy. These microscopic algae have been studied for their ability of synthesize novel electrical devices, including new ways to detect pollution. A chemical process that converts their silica shells into silicon creates ready-made nano electronics. Since biologically active molecules attach to the pores in their shells, they may eventually function as a “lab on a chip” for detecting antibodies, traces of diseases, and other chemicals in the body. Diatoms also show promise in the fields of optics. Solar energy cells with diatom-based coatings capture three times more electrons that standard coatings. Genetic manipulation might refine the diatom’s natural precision engineering to create bespoke parts for nanosensors and nanoscale machines from diatoms. Further proof that guided growth is the future of manufacturing.

  • mumbai2

    Power, Water and Shelter from Giant Mushrooms?

    In his (fictional!) documentary, designer and artist Tobias Revell sketches the city of New Mumbai powered by giant mushrooms. These genetically-engineered fungal organisms provide a new type of infrastructure – providing heat, light and building material.

    The documentary shows how the mushrooms grow quickly and begin to harvest the sun, creating energy that provides heat and lighting, like an organic solar panel. They can even be engineered to power a whole building. Some grow strong enough to be used as shelter, parts of building structures, and surfaces to grow local crops.

    The mushrooms’ benefits expand even further as the clever residents of the Dharavi Mumbai slums discover new features. Their porous surfaces also absorb water from the seasonal downpours, which can be collected and used for drinking and bathing.

  • nanotechnology water bottle

    Nanotech Water Bottle Harvests Water from the Air

    The Namib desert gets less than a half an inch of rain per year, yet the stenocara beetle manages to survive in these punishing conditions. The beetle’s secret lies in an array of microscopic bumps and valleys on its shell. The bumps are hydrophilic (water-attracting) and the valleys are hydrophobic (water-repelling). During foggy days, tiny water droplets accumulate on the hydrophilic bumps. Once a droplet is big enough, it tumbles off the bump down into a hydrophobic trough, which funnels the water to the beetle’s mouth. Now, a company called NBD Nano is hoping to mimic stenocara’s shell to create the world’s first self-filling water bottles.

    NBD Nano co-founder Deckard Sorenson says that “We see this being applicable to anything from marathon runners to people in third-world countries, because we realize that water is such a large issue in the world today, and we want to try to alleviate those problems with a cost-efficient solution.” According to him, this technology could harvest three liters per square meter per hour in an area with 75% humidity. Unfortunately, the self-filling water bottle is still years from being realized, if ever. For those of you who are impatient for a solution to the world’s water crisis, GrabCAD is holding a contest to design devices that harvest water from the air.

    Story via BoingBoing. Image via GrabCAD.

  • ht_mission_impossible_ghost_protocol_thg_111215_wg

    Spider-Man Gloves

    Imagine how much easier the job of window cleaners would be if they could simply scale walls like Spider-Man instead of using elevators, ladders and other gear. Ever since the first Spider-Man comic appeared children and adults alike have been dreaming of these particular talents. Thanks to “gecko-tape”, these dreams are no longer  science fiction. Luckily, this new method of scaling walls doesn’t involve being bit by a radioactive spider.

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  • unreal tournament

    Video Game-Playing Robot Acts More “Human” than Humans

    Computer-controlled players in video games can usually be spotted for their repetitive, illogical or unemotional behavior. Unlike humans, non-player characters (NPCs) don’t get angry, frustrated or scared in stressful game situations, and have trouble planning ahead. In order to address this problem, 2KGames launched the BotPrize, a Turing-style Test aimed at creating more convincing artificial players.

    A human audience watched players in battling their way through Unreal Tournament 2004 and rated them on their apparent “humanness”. A team from the University of Texas at Austin tied for the win, creating an NPC so realistic that it scored a humanness rating of 52%. That’s impressive, and even more so taking into account that plain-ole real humans only clocked in at 40%.

    The UT team was able to create their more-human-than-human bot through a process called “neuroevolution”. Using existing models of in-game human behavior, the researchers created different NPCs that were weeded out via a Darwinian process. As with mutations in genetic evolution, each new generation of the different NPCs lineages were tweaked slightly with behaviors that could either prove to be adaptive (more human) or maladaptive (less human). After five years of digital evolution, the game bot finally outperformed its human competition.

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  • ltr1-530x611

    Latro Algae Lamp

    As advances in nanotechnology bring us increasingly energy efficient products, plant life such as algae could become attractive sources for tapping energy. The Latro lamp by designer Mike Thompson is a speculative product responding to this potential future market. It utilizes living algae as its power source.

    The idea was inspired by a scientific breakthrough by scientists from Yansei and Stanford University that allows a small electrical current to be drawn from algae during photosynthesis. Placing the lamp outside in the daylight, the algae use sunlight to synthesize foods from CO2 and water.

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  • YouTube Preview Image

    Who will Question Bio-Engineering?

    Bioethicist Paul Root Wolpe presents a parade of recent bio-engineering experiments, from glowing monkeys, to genetically boosted salmon, to cyborg insects. He asks: isn’t it time to set some ground rules? Sure. Bring it on Paul!

    Now regular readers of this website already know most of the lustrous & monstrous examples, yet throughout the talk you feel a certain suspense: you-are-now-listing-to-a-real-bioethicist-who-any-minute-now-is-going-to-lay-out-some-crystal-clear-ground-rules-for-bio-engineering. Unfortunately Paul constrains himself to a call for rules, but doesn’t deliver them himself. Who will?

    Thanks anyway Ewelina Szymanska.

  • 750_tube_necklace_close_up

    Jewels from the Ocean

    Designer and former fashion model Barbara de Vries was cleaning plastic litter off her favorite beach in the Bahamas, when she noticed the plastic fragments were all uniquely tinted and molded after years tumbling in the ocean.  The beauty of the litter inspired her to create a jewelery collection. Diamonds plastics are forever!

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  • elephantiiasis_530_

    IKEA Lamp Catches Elephantiasis Virus

    Have you heard of Elephantiasis? It is a disease caused by microscopic parasitic worms that cause a thickening of the skin and underlying tissues. The disease typically occurs in tropical regions, however, as it seems it recently transferred to consumer products.

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  • YouTube Preview Image

    Get into Buckminster Fuller

    You have a choice dear reader: spend 4 seconds scanning this blogpost, or spend the full 58:10 minutes (*) watching the retro-futuristic interview with polymath & nextnature thinker avant la lettre Buckminister Fuller.

    (*) We are well aware these are times of short-attention span, yet sometimes you have to immerse yourself. We actually recommend watching the video twice to obtain an optimal understanding and appreciation of the material.

  • strawberries

    Pineberry™

    More hypernatural designer-fruit. What do you get when you cross a strawberry and a pineapple? A pineberry, of course.

    Some seven years ago the pineberry was taken from its native South America and grown commercially in glasshouses by Dutch company VitalBerry BV. Today pineberries are available in supermarkets throughout Europe and, like most designer-fruits, the pineberry is trademarked and has its own wikipedia page.

  • hard drive close-up

    Bacteria Inspire New Magnetic Hard Drive

    Certain types of bacteria can navigate using magnetic nanoparticles as tiny compasses. Researchers at the University of Leeds have extracted the protein that controls this process and applied it to computing. Typical hard drives use use “granular computing”, while this new method relies on bit-pattern media, where each miniscule magnetic square on a surface can store one bit.

    The team is close to recreating the data density of modern hard drives, and hope eventually to be able to store one terabyte of date per square inch – more advanced than any existing hard drive. According to Sarah Stanilan, who lead the research, “We’re using and abusing nature because it’s had billions of years to do all of its experiments through evolution, so there is almost no point in us starting from scratch.”

    Photo via Downhilldom. Story via New Scientist.

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  • stetson hats

    Darwinian Selection of the Cowboy Hat

    The standard story of the cowboy hat goes something like this: In 1865, J.B. Stetson went out west during the California gold rush. He observed that bowlers, raccoon hats, and sombreros weren’t cutting it for men who spent their lives in the harsh conditions of the American West. Stetson went back home and invented “The Boss of the Plains”, a waterproof hat with a high dome, ideal for cowboy life. This story would check out if the original Stetson looked anything like a true cowboy hat. Which, with its flat brim, round top, and bow-tied ribbon, it does not.

    Johnnie Hughes, author of On the Origin of Teepees, argues that the Stetson’s modern form was actually an accident of environment and human habit. The characteristic rolled brim and dented crown are the result of thousands of ranch hands picking up, folding, and sleeping on their hats. The wide brim, waterproof materials, and high crown were responses to a climate with blazing summers and frigid, wet winters. Just like the horse hoof, the cowboy hat was the unintentional result of a population of “organisms” adapting to a grasslands habitat.

    It can be problematic to equate natural evolution with the development of manmade objects. Whether or not these changes can be compared to Darwinian selection depends on the intentionality of the design. Some, like corporate logos, superficially appear to evolve like living organisms in graduallogical steps. However, each iteration of the design can usually be linked back to a conscious decision. Others are unintentional but non-adaptive. This Boo Berry cereal box, for instance, is more akin to harmless DNA transcription errors than natural selection. Finally, the Stetson hat is a true example of a manmade object that was shaped by actual, unintentional Darwinian selection to arrive at its “fittest” form. Proof that not all design is intelligent.

    Story via the always excellent Radiolab. Listen to Contagious Ideas to learn more. Photo via Phila Place Blog.

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  • baumel bacterial cartography

    Bacteria “R” Us

    There is a domain of creatures that diffusively encircles an entire planet. There are so many of them that they occupy every conceivable ecological niche. Yet, despite their countless numbers they are so in tune with their local ecology that they have become an intrinsic part of it. Those that live in rural locations greatly outnumber those that inhabit strange cites, which are gregarious, smart and even have their own personalities. The cities consider themselves as being independent from their inhabitants, yet share their nutrition with them. They have a diurnal waste cycle that removes debris and also makes room for a new influx of city dwellers. Mature cities can even reproduce to make new ones that are immediately available for the city inhabitants to colonize.

    Modern biotechnology has recently revealed that humans are immersed in a bacterial world. So much so, that an alien naturalist might consider humans as little more than smart city housing for bacterial colonies. While we think we are at the top of an evolutionary tree, it appears that our evolution is closely linked to, if not entirely dependent on bacteria. They have collectively made it possible for complex life forms to exist as they have produced our breathable atmosphere, our soil and even our rainfall. Although they have not been proven to possess a collective ‘mind’ they do have extremely sophisticated methods of communicating using linguistic qualities [1]. They encircle the planet like a chemical Internet and hold incessant conversations using physics and chemistry.

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