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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 ‘Genetic-surprises’

  • YouTube Preview Image

    The Monsters We Deserve

    Recently, a video clip has been circulating the web that purportedly shows a rabbit born earless due to the radiation at Fukushima. BoingBoing has a convincing take-down of the claims of the video: earless rabbits are a fairly common mutation, mother rabbits sometimes chew off their ears of their young due to stress, and no one even knows where the video was filmed.

    More interesting than the video is the fact that we want to it to be real. Radioactivity should have immediate, visible consequences. Bodily harm should be  made manifest, and any disturbances in the natural order need to be seen to be believed. After the nuclear bomb explodes, we all head to the ocean to watch Godzilla pop out of the waves.

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  • A bacteria of a different color

    In 2009, undergraduates at the University of Cambridge worked with scientists and artists to engineer E. coli into E. chromi, a new type of bacteria that secretes a range of colorful pigments.  The genetic ‘BioBricks’ responsible for color can be combined with other custom DNA sequences to achieve various useful effects.  For instance, E. chromi could color feces blue in the presence of an intestinal disease, or turn red in response to arsenic in groundwater.

    In future scenarios, the altered bacteria give rise to a new profession of chromonauts who search the earth for new organic pigments. The Orange Liberation Front, an imaginary Dutch terrorist organization, might even demand an end to patents on orange-generating genes.  The above video, which won the Bio:Fiction prize for documentaries, is a fun look into some plausible (and less so) applications for a new piece of biotech.  The technology used for E. chromi bacteria may open new areas for information decoration on a living canvas.  Maybe transgenic humans will someday flush blue when they’re feeling down, or cover up an actual yellow belly when they’re being cowardly.  I feel less enthusiastic, however, about rainbow-hued poop that marks every stomach bug.

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  • center for postnatural history

    Take your transgenic kids to the CPNH

    The Center for PostNatural History doesn’t house the dinosaurs or dioramas of your run-of-the-mill natural history museum. Instead, it’s the first museum dedicated exclusively to the study and preservation of ‘postnatural’ life: genetically modified organisms, lab animals, and cloned livestock. While the CPNH has been organizing traveling exhibits since 2008, its permanent exhibition space is due to open in Pittsburgh in the fall of 2011. While there have been several art shows centered on bioart and transgenic life, the Center may be the most science-minded endeavor to tackle the fuzzy boundaries between nature and culture.

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  • cow-costume530

    Think Breast is Best? Try Udder

    Scientists in China have created transgenic cows that produce ‘human’ milk.  The researchers boosted the fat content of the milk and added three types of proteins, unique to humans, that help to bolster the immune systems of infants.  Due to hit shelves in ten year’s time, the genetically modified milk would help infants whose mothers cannot or chose not to nurse – and would perhaps put predatory formula companies out of business.  As for the taste?  According to the lead researcher, it’s “stronger than normal milk.”

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  • neanderthaler-1_(kennis_en_kennis)

    Essay: Should we clone Neanderthals?

    If Neanderthals ever walk the earth again, the primordial ooze from which they will rise is an emulsion of oil, water, and DNA capture beads engineered in the laboratory of 454 Life Sciences in Branford, Connecticut. Over the past 4 years those beads have been gathering tiny fragments of DNA from samples of dissolved organic materials, including pieces of Neanderthal bone. Genetic sequences have given paleoanthropologists a new line of evidence for testing ideas about the biology of our closest extinct relative.
    The first studies of Neanderthal DNA focused on the genetic sequences of mitochondria, the microscopic organelles that convert food to energy within cells. In 2005, however, 454 began a collaborative project with the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, to sequence the full genetic code of a Neanderthal woman who died in Croatia’s Vindija cave 30,000 years ago. As the Neanderthal genome is painstakingly sequenced, the archaeologists and biologists who study it will be faced with an opportunity that seemed like science fiction just 10 years ago. They will be able to look at the genetic blueprint of humankind’s nearest relative and understand its biology as intimately as our own.

    In addition to giving scientists the ability to answer questions about Neanderthals’ relationship to our own species – did we interbreed, are we separate species, who was smarter – the Neanderthal genome may be useful in researching medical treatments. Newly developed techniques could make cloning Neanderthal cells or body parts a reality within a few years. The ability to use the genes of extinct hominins is going to force the field of paleoanthropology into some unfamiliar ethical territory. There are still technical obstacles, but soon it could be possible to use that long-extinct genome to safely create a healthy, living Neanderthal clone. Should it be done?

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  • Policing Genes

    The genetics of the plants in your garden could become a police matter. Pharmaceutical companies are experimenting with genetically engineering plants to produce useful and valuable drugs. However, the techniques employed to insert genes into plants are within reach of the amateur… and the criminal. Policing Genes speculates that, like other technologies, genetic engineering will also find a use outside the law, with innocent-looking garden plants being modified to produce narcotics and unlicensed pharmaceuticals.

    A project by Thomas Thwaites – On show at Wellcome Trust in London until March 29th

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  • making_perfect_life_rathenau_nextnature

    European Parliament goes Next Nature

    Alright the title “Making Perfect Life”‘ may sound a bit 20th-century-modernistic-techno-optimistic-naive, but for the rest we are confident this conference is going to be pretty good study material for the European parliament members.

    “Biology is increasingly engineered in much the same way as technology, while technology is becoming more and more life-like. These two engineering trends not only intensify current debates about the desirability and acceptability of genetic engineering and human enhancement, but also raises novel issues, like who’s in control of machines with a life of their own? The social and political consequences of these two bio-engineering trends are discussed at the conference Making Perfect Life on November 10th 2010 in the European Parliament in Brussels.”

    Organized by our friends of the Rathenau Institute. And guess what, you can register too.

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  • DA4GA

    Join the Designers & Artists 4 Genomics Award

    So, you are well aware that biotech will drive our evolution, you took the crash course on synthetic genomics, you’ve got your map of the DNA world in your backpack and are now eager to redesign some microbes that turn waste into energy, eat plastic, detect flu, or build a better being altogether? You have a brilliant project plan already, but only need some – let say– euro 25.000 and a bit of help from a genomic center to turn your vision into reality? We have cake for you.

    The Designers & Artists 4 Genomics Award (DA4GA) aims to explore the hybrid practice between design, art and genomics on contemporary society. If you are graduated no longer than five years ago you are eligible to submit a project plan and take a chance on winning a euro 25.000,- to realize you project in collaboration with one of the participating Genomic centers.

    If we are going to mutate the made & the born, let us at least do this creatively. The application deadline is September 8th 2010.

  • SALMON-530

    Genetically Modified Salmon moves to Kitchen Table

    The US Food and Drug Administration is considering whether to approve the first genetically engineered animal that people would eat — salmon that can grow at twice the normal rate.

    The salmon was developed by a company called AquaBounty Technologies. It is an Atlantic salmon that contains a growth hormone gene from a Chinook salmon as well as a genetic on-switch from the ocean pout, a distant relative of the salmon.

    Normally salmon do not make growth hormone in cold climate. But the pout’s on-switch keeps production of the hormone going year round. The result is salmon that can grow to market size in 16 to 18 months instead of three years.

    The F.D.A. needs to analyze whether the salmon are safe to eat, nutritionally equivalent to other salmon and safe for the environment, according to government and biotechnology industry officials. Furthermore, they must decide on the environmental risks from the salmon. Some experts have speculated that fast-growing fish could out-compete wild fish for food or mates.

    Nowadays the vast majority all Atlantic salmon now comes from fish farms, not the wild. According to its promoters the genetically modified salmon would be grown only in inland tanks or other contained facilities, not in ocean pens where they might escape into the wild. And the fish would all be female and sterile, making it impossible for them to mate – similar to bananas.

    AquaBounty Technologies submitted data to the F.D.A. showing that its salmon was indistinguishable from non-engineered Atlantic salmon in terms of taste, color, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, proteins and other nutrients.

    A public meeting to discuss the salmon may be held as early as this fall.

    Via NYTimes.

  • Grow-a-NanoRaptor


    Now here is an example of the fusion between the made and the born, most kids would crave for. Much better than the robotic dino toy. Designed by evolution!

    Hopefully this genetic surprise doesn’t grow genetically wild and eats its owner. Luckily it is just an imaginative product – so far.

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  • YouTube Preview Image

    Craig Venter unveils ‘Synthetic Life’

    Craig Venter announces what might be a historic milestone in the nature caused by people. For 15 years, Craig Venter and his team of scientists have tried to synthesize life from scratch. This week, he publicized their success.

    A chromosome was designed in digital code on the computer and then transplanted into a bacterial cell, transforming that cell into a new bacterial species. Apart from the usual blueprint for proteins, the DNA also carried the names of the key contributors and even its own email address.

    “This is the first self-replicating species on the planet, whose parent is a computer”

    Venter already mentions some potential practical applications for his discovery: a vaccine for HIV and a new strain of algae that can significantly decrease CO2-levels and provide a source for gasoline.

    Though great things can be done with this new technique, it also raises a lot of questions. Is man now some kind of god? Will we be able to design our own pets? Will we save our mp3-files on a flower instead of a USB-stick?

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  • Revisiting Jurassic Park

    Revisiting Jurassic Park

    When searching for Next Nature in the world around us, one does not necessarily have to look at the present. The science fiction novel Jurassic Park, written in 1990 by the recently deceased Michael Crichton and later turned into a big blockbuster movie by Steven Spielberg, already discusses the fusion between the born and the made.

    Halfway through the book, there is a chapter where Dr. Wu, the chief scientist, tries to convince Hammond, the CEO, to go over to a next version of dinosaurs.

    Hammond sighed. “Now, Henry, are we going to have another of those abstract discussions? You know I like to keep it simple. The dinosaurs we have now are real, and -”
    “Well, not exactly,” Wu said. He paced the living room, pointed to the monitors. “I don’t think we should kid ourselves. We haven’t re-created the past here. The past is gone. It can never be re-created. What we’ve done is reconstruct the past – or at least a version of the past. And I’m saying we can make a better version.”

    “Better than real?”
    “Why not?” Wu said. “After all, these animals are already modified. We’ve inserted genes to make them patentable, and to make them lysine dependent. And we’ve done everything we can to promote growth, and accelerate development into adulthood.”
    Hammond shrugged. That was inevitable. We didn’t want to wait. We have investors to consider.”

    “Of course. But I’m just saying, why stop there? Why not push ahead to make exactly the kind of dinosaur that we’d like to see? One that is more acceptable to visitors, and one that is easier for us to handle? A slower, more docile version for our park?”

    Remarkable is how these topics, which were science fiction when written two decades ago, are still very much up-to-date and even more relevant today than before. Gene modification for patent purposes is a subject that was covered recently. How far can, and perhaps more importantly should, mankind go ?

  • FluDOC – Glowing Bacteria show if you have Influenza

    FluDOC – Glowing Bacteria show if you have Influenza

    Bacteria are traditionally perceived as infectious and unhealthy, but that is about to change. This week designer Jan van der Asdonk graduated from the Next Nature Lab at the TU/e Industrial Design Masters with a speculative yet full fledged product proposal called the FluDOC, which uses glowing bacteria to detect human influenza.

    The product uses genetically modified bioluminescent bacteria which are sensitive to influenza as a detector, somewhat similar to the canaries that were once used in coalmines to detect potentially dangerous gasses.

    The FluDOC consists of a casing and a small stick which the user can use to collect salivia from the mouth, after which an liquid capsule of the bioluminescent bacteria is entered. If the saliva contains an influenza virus the bacteria will die within 15 minutes and stop emitting their continuous flow of light, which the user can simply read of the display.

    The personal influenza test would typically be used if you don’t feel well but are unsure if you have influenza or merely a cold. Such self diagnosis could contribute to an early detection and containment of infectious influenza viruses.

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  • stingray rattlesnake pattern

    Transgenic Stingrays for Fashionable Feet

    Rayfish Footwear, a company based in Thailand, has recently produced what may be the world’s first genetically modified stingray. This ray exhibits an unusual, colorful pattern across its skin, thanks to a selection of rattlesnake and fish genes that alter its color and marking.

    This could be the first time that an animal has been genetically modified purely for aesthetic reasons – the company is not making these rays for research, but in the hopes of producing stingray “leather” to use in customized shoes. Rayfish Footwear claims that within the next few years, it will be possible to produce genetically bespoke rays on demand. Incorporating the genes from a variety of animals, these stingrays will be far more colorful and complex than any naturally occurring fish.

    Here at Next Nature, we’re a bit skeptical about this new technology. After all, genetically modified salmon have proven to be a hazard to wild populations if they escape from fish farms and interbreed. Perhaps these GM stingrays grow too fast, are susceptible to disease, or are otherwise “less fit” than their relatives in the ocean. There’s already enough risks to wild rays without strangely-colored interlopers swimming around. On the other hand, manipulating nature for the sake of fashion seems no less strange than featherless chickens, glowing green monkeys or, for that matter, what we do to animals raised in laboratories or factory farms on a daily basis.

    Story via Rayfish.com

  • Microbial Art

    Microbial Art

    This snowman (shouldn’t there be a broom?) was created by Niall Hamilton, published at microbialart.com. Science becomes art in this experimental collaboration of man, fungi and bacteria.

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  • Computer versus bacteria

    Computer versus bacteria

    Are bacteria faster than a computer? According a group of biological engineers they are. The scientists have done a research in which they have used the well-known bacteria Escherichia coli to solve a mathematical problem.

    The Hamiltonian path is the shortest route between city A to city B along several other cities and at which every city is visited only once. This sounds easy, however this has caused a lot of problems to the navigation systems. If you want to go from Amsterdam to Rome and visit some other European cities, there are millions of possible routes and the system will have to calculate all the separate routes to come to the final solution of the Hamiltonian path. Now the researchers have used bacteria to get a direct overview, in which the bacteria consider all the routes simultaneously.

    In the research, they have modified the DNA of the bacteria and let them find the shortest route between three cities. Each city has its own combination of genes, which causes the bacteria to glow red of green. The possible routes between the cities were explored by the random shuffling of DNA. The bacteria that had found the best route fluoresced green and red, resulting in yellow colonies.

    Problem solved! Althought this is just a small test and it will be difficult to program a complex computer this way, the researchers are convinced this a proof that demonstrates the possibilities of using bacteria to solve these kind of mathematical problems. According to the researchers their results validate synthetic biology as a valuable approach to biological engineering. Having a computer infected with a virus will not quite be the same anymore.

    The study was published in the Journal of Biological Engineering. Related: Crash course on synthetic genomics, Bacteria that eat waste & shit petrol, Bacteria that turn CO2 into energyGoogle tracks flue spread via sick searchers, Conversations at the doctor.

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