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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’

  • sandengine

    Sand Engine Reinforces Dutch Coastline

    Now here is an hands-on example of ‘guided growth‘ as a way to steer complex systems.

    Part of the Dutch coastline is currently being reinforced by creating a ‘sand engine’. This involves depositing 21.5 million cubic meters of sand in the shape of a hook extending from the coast near Ter Heijde. The sand is expected to be spread along the provincial coastline by the natural motion of wind, waves and currents. Ultimately the coast is expected to be broader and safer.

    Simulation of the expected functioning of the sand engine

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  • stockhom metro 1

    Any Sufficiently Advanced Civilization is Indistinguishable from Nature

    Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” [1]

    In Western cultures, nature is a cosmological, primal ordering force and a terrestrial condition that exists in the absence of human beings. Both meanings are freely implied in everyday conversation. We distinguish ourselves from the natural world by manipulating our environment through technology. In What Technology Wants, Kevin Kelly proposes that technology behaves as a form of meta-nature, which has greater potential for cultural change than the evolutionary powers of the organic world alone.

    With the advent of ‘living technologies’ [2], which possess some of the properties of living systems but are not ‘truly’ alive, a new understanding of our relationship to the natural and designed world is imminent. This change in perspective is encapsulated in Koert Van Mensvoort’s term ‘next nature’, which implies thinking ‘ecologically’, rather than ‘mechanically’. The implications of next nature are profound, and will shape our appreciation of humanity and influence the world around us.

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  • MIT artificial leaf

    Fake Leaf is Twice as Efficient as the Real Thing

    Improving on photosynthesis has long been a dream for scientists. The so-called artificial leaf – which wouldn’t necessarily look like one – would run on only solar energy and CO2, just like a normal leaf. But unlike a real leaf, an artificial leaf could be made far more efficient at collecting solar energy, and would turn that energy into electricity.

    With their new ‘bionanodevice’, researchers at the University of Michigan have moved one step closer to that goal. Splicing together proteins from cynobacteria, Synechococcus, and Clostridium with nano-scale wire, they have created a frankenstein device that is more efficient at photosynthesis than any of the bacteria on their own. Their research joins recent efforts at MIT, where scientists have developed a ‘leaf’ that produces hydrogen from water and sunlight.

    Fake leaves producing real energy are still a way off, since producing nanodevices cheap and tough enough for mass production will prove difficult. Even though these devices are double the efficiency of natural leaves, they still only convert 4 to 5% of solar energy into useable electricity. Artificial photosynthesis may have to triple the efficiency of actual plants in order to compete with more conventional means of producing electricity.

    Image of MIT artificial leaf via Geek.com

  • izzy forest

    A New Take on the Tree

    Many people will have heard of the infamous swastika made up of larches that revealed itself every autumn in a forest outside Berlin. The trees, which turned yellow at the end of the year, stood out against the otherwise evergreen pine forest. The 60 sq yd Nazi symbol was only discovered after the fall of the Berlin Wall when the new German unified government ordered aerial surveys of state-owned land. While it may certainly be the most notorious, the German swastika plantation certainly isn’t the first time man has manipulated living trees for his own, often crude, purposes.

    National Designs

    Visitors to the Castelluccio region of Italy are usually surprised to see a strangely familiar shape looming from one of the mountains that enclose the vibrant valley. Planted by some unknown patriot, a small forest in the shape of Italy has established itself on the otherwise meadowed mountainside.

    Although a small dose of nationalism can be expected from most rural folk, the plantations found along the rest of the mountain range – one in the shape of North America, one resembling Africa and another Australia – are perhaps more suited to  a Benetton advert than the sedate Umbrian countryside.

    Over in Kyrgyzstan, a mountain in Tash-Bashat, near the edge of the Himalayas, is also the unfortunate home to a living swastika. At more than 600 feet wide, the fir tree plantation is at least 60 years old. Rumoured to have been planted by German prisoners of war, the actual truth of the design is shrouded in mystery.

    Nationalism also spawned another, less offensive forest design. Situated on the chalky South Downs that separate the UK city of Brighton from its northerly neighbours stands a plantation in the shape of a huge ‘V’ – planted to commemorate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee in 1887. When planted, it consisted of 3060 trees costing 12 pounds, 10 shillings and four pence.

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  • blue coral

    Growing Cement like Coral

    Corals are the master builders of the animal kingdom. Powered on plankton and their symbiotic algae, hard corals extract the carbon dissolved in seawater and turn it into their calcium carbonate skeletons. Now a company is trying to replicate this process, not to grow reefs, but to create cement.

    Cement, though it may seem like a neutral material, is a massive source of carbon emissions. The cement industry is responsible for 5% of global carbon emissions, with each ton of cement producing a ton of CO2. Biomineralization expert Brent Constantz hopes to green the production of cement by capturing flue gases from factories, running them through a saline solution, and using electricity to convert the gases into solids. For 542 million years, corals have been sequestering carbon dissolved in water. Constantz’s company Calera may have figured out how to do the same on a much shorter time scale.

    Story via Fast Company. Image via Jurvetson.

  • YouTube Preview Image

    Earth 2.0 with Rachel Armstrong

    Forthcoming Next Nature Power Show speaker, Rachel Armstrong describes some of the differences between so-called Earth 1.0 and Earth 2.0 technologies. The video is especially recommended for connoisseurs of fortissimo synthesizer music. If this is not you, you can also read Rachel’s Self-Repairing Architecture essay.

  • biolum bacteria

    City Planning with Bright Bacteria

    Renegade architect and futurist Rachel Armstrong has proposed that our cities, currently constructed of dead trees, baked mud, and refined ore, need to be coated in a layer of glowing, hungry bio-goo. Bioluminescent bacteria could be “painted” on walls, billboards, and sidewalks to provide a low-energy means to bathe city streets in a peaceful blue-green light.

    Wild bioluminescent bacteria like Vibrio phosphoreum (pictured above) aren’t bright enough to provide light to read by, but it’s possible that they could be genetically engineered to produce more vibrant light. Of course, delivering nutrients to an entire city of blueish bacteria, especially ones that currently live only in water, could prove more of a challenge.

    Armstrong also suggests that building surfaces could be fortified with carbon-hungry bacteria to soak up local C02 emissions. Even if hers is a decidedly sci-fi vision, it’s vital to our planet’s health (and our own) to push for over-the-top solutions. Breaking out of a 12,000 year old architectural paradigm will require thinking outside of the steel-and-concrete box.

    Rachel Armstrong has previously been featured on Next Nature for her proposal to save Venice using protocells that grow and accrete like a coral reef. She will be presenting her views on synthetic biology at the Next Nature Power Show on November 5.

    Via The Times. Image of a researcher via Hunter Cole.

  • venus_5

    Growing a Crystal Chair

    Japanese artist Tokujin Yoshioka does not sculpt his work, but grows it. His Venus chair was created by immersing a plastic mesh substrate into a tank filled with a chemical solution. Gradually crystals precipitate onto the substrate and give structure to the chair. It might not be the most comfortable place to take a seat, but it’s a great example of guided growth. Yoshioka has experimented with various other crystalline structures ranging from Greek sculptures to entire rooms. Maybe a scale replica of the Fortress of Solitude isn’t too far off.

    More images after the jump.

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  • birdssss.jpg

    Birdfeeders spit Blackcaps in two species

    Until now, most people have likely regarded bird-feeders as merely a pleasant addition to their gardens. But scientists have now discovered that bird-feeders in the UK are actually having a serious long term impact on bird life – they’ve found that the feeders have brought about the first evolutionary step in the creation of a brand new species.

    Historically, European Blackcap birds migrate to Spain to spend their winters, where they feed on fruit and berries. While in the past the part of the population that accidentally flew to the UK had a hard time surviving, since the rise of bird–feeders in the UK things changed.

    The food supplied by animal-loving Brits, along with the luxury of not flying over the Alps, have made Britain an increasingly popular holiday destination for wintering blackcaps. And that has set them down the path towards becoming two separate species, Gregor Rolshausen from the University of Freiborg and colleagues write in the journal Current Biology.

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  • typewriter animals

    Typing Out Evolution

    From the exhibit “What Machines Dream Of” in Berlin comes Life Writer, a work by Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau. As the participant types, letters are projected on a scroll of paper. After pushing the return bar, the letters are transformed into animated, typographic creatures that bob and skitter across the paper. The ravenous insects then proceed to gobble up the words as fast as they’re typed. When the paper is scrolled, the creatures reproduce, birthing offspring that looks slightly different from the parent. An algorithm determines the shape and behavior of the organisms, and controls how they evolve with each generation.

    Sommer and Mignonneau use an obsolete technology to bring up very current questions about the autonomy of technological systems, and what ‘life’ means when humans can create convincing facsimiles of it. “What Machines Dream Of” is on display until August 28. It’s free, fun, and full of  next natural goodness.

  • cellularisedscaffoldforpatient_530

    First Lab-Grown Organ Transplanted

    Another step in the fusion of the made & the born: Surgeons in Sweden have successfully transplanted a fully synthetic, tissue-engineered organ – a trachea– into a man with late-stage tracheal cancer.

    The synthetic trachea was grown in a bioreactor, using a scaffold built out of a porous polymer, and tissue grown from the patient’s own stem cells. The surgery was performed last month by Paolo Macchiarini at Karolinska University Hospital in Huddinge, Stockholm. The patient has now made a full recovery and has been discharged from the hospital.

    The transplant of the lab grown organ is a significant moment for regenerative medicine, although a trachea is much simpler than a lung, kidney or a heart, which are still far more challenging for the scientists.

    Lab grown organs are expected to be superior to ordinary donor organs in several ways. They can be made to order more quickly than a donor organ can often be found; being grown from a patient’s own cells, they also do not require dangerous immunosuppressant drugs to prevent rejection.

    Source: Technologyreview.

  • pigmeat_530-1

    Animal-free Meat could put a hold on Global Warming

    Growing meat in the lab, rather than slaughtering animals, could become a viable alternative for people who want to cut the environmental impact of their food consumption, but cannot bear a vegetarian lifestyle.

    According to scientists from Oxford University and Amsterdam University, lab-grown meat could help feed the world, while reducing the impact on the environment. It would generate only a tiny fraction of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with conventional livestock production.

    The procedure of growing meat without an animal would require between 7% and 45% less energy than the same volume of conventionally produced meat such as pork, beef, or lamb. The meat labs would use only 1% of the land and 4% of the water associated with conventional meat and Greenhouse gases would be reduced by up to 96% in comparison to raising animals.

    The scientists predict that if more resources are directed towards their research, the first lab-grown burger could be available in five years. It is their plan to start with mincemeat, while hoping to be able to produce steaks in ten years time.

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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.

  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind

    Live a happy life!

    Remember the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, where Jim Carrey removes his memories of a relationship with Kate Winslet? According to researchers at the University of Montreal, it is now possible to reduce the brain’s ability to record negative emotions using the drug metyrapone. Just like in the movie, metyrapone blocks the brain from recalling bad memories.

    Metyrapone is not a new drug. It is often used to diagnose adrenal insufficiency, but researchers have now discovered its effect on the stress hormone cortisol. Metyrapone decreases the levels of cortisol at the time of a stressful event. Decreasing these levels, as trials suggest, impairs the formation of memories of that event. These tests are in their early stage, but show serious promise. Can we still cherish our happy memories if we do not have any negative ones?

    Via Pyschcentral

  • maple_of_ratibor_530

    Tree Temple

    So we may think ‘guided growth‘ is a typically 21th century design methodology, yet apparently it was also in vogue in the 19th century.

    According the original description in the Picture magazine 1893, this century old Maple tree “has been turned into a kind of temple of two stories, each of its compartments being lighted by eight windows, and capable of containing twenty people wit ease. The floors are constructed of boughs skillfully woven together, of which the leaves make a sort of natural carpet. The walls are formed of thick leafage, in which innumerable birds build their nests”

    We are unsure if this tree ever existed or that is a 19th century design fiction.

  • Botnet Storm

    Botnet Storm

    No, this is not some solar system far, far away. Closer than you think, this is is a visualization of a botnet storm. For all you know this malicious virus, or one of its siblings, is controlling your computer – spamming thousands of innocent internet users on your behalf – at this moment. Feeling paranoid already? Yes, next nature can be harsh sometimes.

  • 128

    Acoustic Botany

    With his speculative ‘acoustic garden’ David Benqué tries to explore our cultural and aesthetic relationship to nature. He states that the current debate around Genetic Engineering is centred around subjects like food and healthcare but that the altering of nature is no new development. Mankind altered nature for hundreds of years. Think of flowers and mind altering weeds. Benqué wants to question the role of our aesthetic relationship to nature in this age of synthetic biology.

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  • Newspaper Wood

    Newspaper Wood

    How to upcycle old newspapers? Mieke Meijer (a.o.) from Vij5 took a jar of glue and started imitating tree rings. “The product surprisingly mimics the quality of real wood” she states. Read more »