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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 ‘Guided Growth’

  • 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.

  • Blood Bricks

    House of Cow Blood

    Using animal blood for building your own house sounds like something from a horror film, but architect Jack Monro has created a set of experimental bricks that take bovine blood as their raw material.

    According to Monro the blood bricks are “a potential replacement for mud bricks in regions which have suffered significant rain damage such as Siwa, Egypt”, because it’s a sustainable and cheap way of building houses. A slaughtered bullock, for example, produces over 30 liters of blood. Blood also happens to be one of the most-wasted “materials” in the world.

    Beyond the addition of the preservative EDTA no chemicals are required for manufactering the blood bricks. The preservative is added to prevent bacterial and fungal growth in the blood. The relatively low coagulation temperature of blood (over 64 C) would allow for the bricks to be baked using desert sunlight only. All this makes the blood brick a good substitution for conventional building materials.

    Monro’s research forms part of a wider trend focusing on the uses of biomaterials, including mushrooms and bamboo, in construction projects.

    Story via Wired and Architizer

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  • YouTube Preview Image

    Donor Organ Shortage? Let’s Print Them

    Another step in the fusion of the made & the born: Biological physicist Gabor Forgacs envisions to “print” new organs for use in clinical trials. Similar to an inkjet printer, Forgacs and his team use bio-ink particles to print living cells that sequentially organize themselves into a more complex tissue structures. Since the organ is printed from your own cells, chances of rejection should be minimal.

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  • desire_path

    Desire Paths

    Design by planning vs design by doing. Desire paths are unplanned paths grown by the erosion of its use. They emerge as shortcuts where constructed pathways take a circuitous route. Perhaps one day, all our roads will be desire paths.

  • nanocrystalline cellulose sample

    Using Nanoscale Wood Pulp to Replace Metal and Plastics

    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.

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  • bacteria turn carbon into fuel

    GM Bacteria Turn Carbon Dioxide into Biofuel

    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.

    Via MIT.

  • YouTube Preview Image

    Dan Barber on the Ultimate Fish Farm

    Chef Dan Barber discusses a dilemma facing many chefs today: how to keep fish on the menu? With impeccable research and deadpan humor, he chronicles the discovery of a unique open-ended and utmost sustainable fish farm in Spain.
    Idea worth spreading: Embrace complexity and guide its growth.

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  • PigsBladder

    Bio-engineered Football

    With the knowledge that footballs were once made of pig’s bladder and that in 2006 the first artificial bladder was transplanted into a patient, artist John O’Shea designed the first bio-engineered football made of lab grown pig’s bladder.

    He harvested animal cells from abattoir waste, used rapid prototyping and very precise tissue engineering to create a modern version of the medieval football.

    O’Shea hopes his ‘super-football,’ will encourage audiences to consider the importance science plays in our daily lives. Pig’s Bladder Football will be presented at the Abandon Normal Devices festival between 30 August – 7 September.

    Via DesignWeek

  • 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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  • hylozoic ground

    Complexity and Evolving Synthetic Soil

    Twenty-first century society draws from a world that is less determined by objects and increasingly shaped by connectivity. The clear either/or distinctions that formerly informed experience are being replaced by a much more fluid understanding of the world. Identity is not fixed, but shaped by networks where people and ‘things’ can coherently exist in many states. This ‘complex systems’* view extends to the characterization of nature, which is made up of many interacting bodies. Some of these are human, others living and many other participating agencies that are dynamic, yet are not thought of as being alive. Yet the animal, plant and mineral kingdoms represent different kinds of organizing networks that are entwined and constitute our living world.

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  • electricity generating viruses

    To Generate Electricity, Just Tap on this Virus

    Is your friend impatiently tapping on her phone, or is she just charging the battery? Researchers at the Berkeley Lab have produced the first virus-powered generator that runs off taps. The device takes advantage of a special characteristic of certain viruses, piezoelectricity, that converts movement into electrical energy. By tapping on a small electrode coated in harmless viruses, the scientists were able to produce enough energy to power a liquid-crystal display. The viruses, which self-assemble into a thin, organized film, may also pave the way for simplified electronics manufacturing.

    This technology could potentially generate electricity from any object that’s subject to motion or vibration: Doors in apartment buildings, busy sidewalks and roads, even the soles of shoes. There’s stranger, next natural applications to consider as well. What about tiny surveillance devices that run on pigeons’ flapping wings? Or streetlights powered by leaves as they shake in the wind? Whatever the outcome, this piezoelectric generator represents a step away from mechanistic thought, and towards a more ecological approach to design.

    Via Berkeley Lab.

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  • glowing canals in Amsterdam

    Amsterdam’s Canals by Bacterial Light

    Italian architect Carlo Morsiani would like to take Amsterdam’s canals from dark, dank and filled with old bikes, to brilliant, blue, and presumably still filled with old bikes. Morsiani recently proposed adding bioluminescent members of Photobacterium to the city’s waterways. With the canals stocked with motion-sensitive bacteria, any passing boats or accidental swimmers would leave a hazy blue trail in their wake.

    The idea is not entirely untenable – bioluminescent organisms congregate in such density in Vieques, Puerto Rico, that the bay has become a tourist attraction. Since these tropical organisms produce only weak light, Morsiani has a lot of genetic modification to work out before these bacteria can adjust to life in Europe. Add glowing canals to buildings coated with Photobacterium and transgenic streetlight trees, and we might never have to change a lightbulb again.

    Story via The Pop-Up City.

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  • silkworm cocoons

    Regrowing Bones with Silk

    Time to add another superpower to insect silk, which already includes bulletproof skin and implantable microelectronicsRecent research indicates that silk may be an ideal candidate for creating strong, flexible scaffolding for re-growing bones. Scientists used a chemical process to break silk strands down into nano-scale fibers that were used to reinforce a silk protein scaffold. By mimicking the natural roughness and stiffness of bone, this biodegradable structure helps to encourage vigorous bone growth. While certain biomaterials are at the center of research into bone regeneration, few of these existing materials can match silk’s toughness, especially in load-bearing grafts.

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  • carrots

    First “Farm”aceuticals Grown in Carrots

    The United States Food and Drug Administration recently approved Elelyso, the first drug to be grown in genetically modified plant cells. Produced in carrot cells, this drug helps to treat the symptoms of Gaucher disease, a genetic disorder that causes bruising, anemia and low blood platelets.

    Israeli scientists were able to insert a gene that codes for a human enzyme into carrot cells, causing the cells to produce the same protein that Gaucher patients lack. This new method should help prevent drug shortages that have affected Gaucher sufferers in the past, as well as being cheaper and less prone to infection than animal cells. Soon mothers may be telling their children to eat carrots, not just for better eyesight, but for better health across the board.

    Story via Nature. Photo via Flickr user Loose Ends

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  • jae rim

    The Ecological Human

    The nature of humanity in the twenty-first century is, according to sociologist Steve Fuller, a ‘bipolar disorder’ beset with dualisms of identification such as divine/animal, mind/body, nature/artifice and individual/social. He notes that they have challenged our collective sense of identity as ‘human’, particularly though the operationalization of the mind/body question in new material configurations of metallic or silicon bodies [1].

    In short, we are ‘becoming’ machines. Inventor Ray Kurtzweil and performance artist Marcel Li Antunez Roca both explore this notion in their projections about the future of the human body. Yet ‘emergentist’ philosophers and scientists have challenged the mechanistic model of matter since the late 18th and early 19th century. They propose another way of understanding the organization of matter [2], without resorting to the customary mechanist  [3] – vitalist [4] dichotomy [5]. Observations from the biological and chemical sciences demonstrate that substances frequently do not behave in a manner that can be explained as the simply ‘sum’ of their components. For example, the addition of an acid and an alkali creates salt and water, while the fusion of an ovum and spermatozoon produces a conceptus. These are transformational rather than additional processes, which resist simple, mechanical interpretations.

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  • quadrotors

    Can Life Be a Technology?

    In 2009 the Initiative for Science, Society and Policy coined the phrase ‘living technology’ [1] to draw attention to a group of emerging technologies that are useful because they share some of the fundamental properties of living systems. The technologies fell short of being fully ‘alive’ yet they possessed at least some unique characteristics that are usually associated with ‘life’: Self-assembly, self-organization, metabolism, growth and division, purposeful action, adaptive complexity, evolution, and intelligence. Examples of this new field of technology include synthetic biology, attempts to make living systems from scratch in the laboratory [2], ICT systems exhibiting collective and swarm intelligence and robot companions.

    ‘Living technology’ may be an oxymoron, yet despite its innate contradictions, it does not propose an empirical measurement of the ‘aliveness’ or ‘usefulness’ of the systems it represents. Rather the term implies a fundamental change in the way we engage with our world. Indeed, the idea of living technology embodies a complex, non-mechanical approach to the process of problem-solving, which frames the expectations of its performance.

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  • plantagon_greenhouse_2

    The “Plantascraper” Sprouts in Sweden

    We’re used to seeing proposals for high-tech vertical farms that never seem to translate to real life, but the city of Linköping in Sweden has finally taken these buildings out of the realm of glossy CG models. Plantagon International is building a 17-story vertical greenhouse, slated to open by 2013, that will have a “transportation helix” to transfer vegetables and grains within its enormous spherical space. The greenhouse promises to parasitize  on the excess heat, CO2 and waste produced by the city, using it for warmth and fertilizer. The design cuts transportation costs, and perhaps most impressively, promises the equivalent of 100,000 square meters of arable land on a 10,000 square meter footprint. Still no word on whether building a gigantic steel and glass structure is more carbon-efficient than conventional farming, but retrofitting existing office buildings might help take care of this problem.

  • 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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