Our peculiar image of the week was created by Ilkka Halso.
Our peculiar image of the week was created by Ilkka Halso.
At the end of every cold winter there is a debate in the Netherlands on whether the forestry service should feed the oxes, horses and deers grazing the Dutch nature resorts. The official policy of the Dutch forestry service is to let the ecosystem manage itself, which causes the weaker animals – 24% of the population – to parish because of lack of food: a sight too natural for most ‘nature’ lovers.
In response to the protests, the initiators of the Dutch ‘hands-off’ landscape management argue that the protests of hikers, bikers and other tourists merely exemplify how alienated people have become from nature. However, are the premises of these policy makers really valid? Is it defendable to leave the animals in the hands of the elements or is this game getting out of hand?
Recreation in the Netherlands: Tourist meets Highland Cow (image: P. Villerius)
RECREATING A PREHISTORIC LANDSCAPE
Since the last few decades the policy for nature resorts in the Netherlands has been geared at regenerating the original landscape, as it existed in prehistoric times. In practice this means that land is gained from the ocean or bought from farmers and transformed into the landscape we think existed 8.000 years ago, long before man placed its footprint on it.
Recycled island is a research project on the potential of realizing a habitable floating island in the Pacific Ocean made from all the plastic waste that is momentarily floating around in the ocean.
The idea is as simple as it is ambitious: recycle the great pacific garbage patch – a concentration of plastic litter in the central North Pacific about the size of France – on the spot and turn it into a floating island at the size of Hawai.
Although the project is still highly speculative the people of WHIM architecture deserve kudos for their nextnatural view on plastic as a basic material in the Earths ecosystem that can be mined and used for better purposes than polluting birds.
We are keen on how the project will develop further. In cause it turns out to be too difficult we can always return our focus on designing microbes that eat plastic.
“Skin paper is made of breathable microfibres that allow for temperature regulation. As with animal and human skin, Skinpaper demands a certain level of moisture. This could be introduced into the paper in form of microcapsules containing moisturizers or essential oils. When a skin sample is sent to be manufactured into paper, it is tested to reveal the adequate levels of moisture needed to produce healthy and strong paper.”
So what would you use skin paper for? As with regular papers, the ways in which it is used depends on the values people project on it. Supposedly the paper is most appropriate for a personal and intimate writings like a diaries (unsure if they still exist nowadays) or love letters.
Although most biomimicmarketing strategies are oxymoronic, it is nice to see some people take them full cycle. This Japanese Apple fan found a way to naturally grow and harvest Fuji apples with the Apple logo on them with a simple sun tanning technique.
A month before harvest Apple logo stickers were glued on the apples and voila! An apple worthy of the attention of Steve Jobs. iApple anyone?
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
So, you are aware 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 or build a better being altogether? We have cake for you.
The University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and Stanford University, California are starting a joint research project on Synthetic Aesthetics, drawing together synthetic biologists, social scientists, designers and artist aiming to generate creative applications of synthetic biology.
Newly created synthetic particles that mimic red blood cells may one day carry drug molecules and/or oxygen through bloodstreams, scientists write in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
A team of California researchers discovered that they could create blood cells by layering hemoglobin and other proteins on top of a microscopic, donut-shaped polymer mold. When the proteins had a stable structure, the polymer mold was removed, leaving a classic blood-cell shaped hollow vessel. The cells are biodegradable, so you wouldn’t have to worry on having synthetic-cells roaming your body forever.
One synthetic-cell could carry oxygen through the blood just like a typical red blood cell, its unique shape allowing it to squeeze through tiny capillaries. But it could also carry drugs like anti-coagulant heparin, releasing it gradually. This could help doctors trying to administer drugs to highly-targeted areas fed by the circulatory system.
Perhaps the synthetic-cells could also be used as information carriers: a perfect system for hiding data or other sensitive substances in your bloodstream. One injection of synthetic-cells and you’re carrying secret plans around in your blood that can’t be detected by anyone. James Bond – quite literally – eat your heart out.
Still years of continued testing lie between prototype and clinical application. Several questions, including how long the particles will remain in circulation, how the immune system will react to the synthetic blood cells, and how efficiently they transport oxygen, remain to be answered.
If you happen to be in the neighborhood you might want to attend the Next Nature lecture I will be throwing at the Transnatural symposium this Saturday 13-03-2010 at the Trouw Building in Amsterdam. Among the other speakers are Elio Caccavale (UK), Tobie Kerridge (UK) and Rachel Armstrong (UK).
The Transnatural exhibition celebrates some of the more successful love affairs between the made & the born. Until March 19th you have the opportunity to see works like Bitfall, Biojewelery and Mudtub, whom you might know from the blogosphere, but are more than worth experiencing in real life. Thus recommended. Hendrik-Jan wrote a more extensive review in the local language.
They say “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”, but now we wonder what this keeps away, the Grapple, a hyperfruit that “Grunches like an Apple. Tastes like a Grape.”
The manufacturers of the hyperfruit cheerfully present their product as the missing link between candy and traditional fruits that – according to them – could even be an answer to unhealthy eating habits:
“With childhood obesity increasing at alarming rates, Grāpple® brand apples could go a long way to improving the eating habits of children and introducing them to more produce.”
The Grapple is made by adding flavorings to a regular Washington Extra Fancy Fuji Apple, the process uses some “complex” infusion technique and adds no additional sugars or calories.
Grapples are not genetically altered in any way, which might give parents some comfort, although we should actually be disappointed that the Grapple is merely a processed apple, rather than a bred fruit, as this means that the production of every single Grapple requires additional energy and resources – then again, the same is true for traditional sugar candy.
Anyhow, parents will be in trouble when their kids ask to show them the “Grapple tree”.
Meet the next species. Director David Lea’s wondrous fantasy of remixed biodiversity after nuclear meltdown. Made for Greenpeace.
Buckle up for the state of the art in the fusion of the made & the born. Anthony Atala of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine presented footage of his bio-engineers growing human organs at TEDMED – from muscles to blood vessels to bladders, and more. Thanks Michèle.
This translation of the essay ‘Real Nature is not Green‘ is a special treat from and for our fellow Next Nature explorers in China. We thank the people of the Microwave International New Media Festival, Hong Kong for their translation. Yes, we welcome translations in other languages as well.
As we bid farewell to 2009, it’s a good time to look back at our explorations of the year. Here are some of our most popular and peculiar posts, in case you missed them the first time around.
As of July 2009, the European Commission abolished more than two dozen laws that have stipulated the look of Europe’s fruit and vegetables for the past 20 years. The rules stipulated that only the most perfect-looking produce adorns supermarket shelves and caused international ridicule by stating that all bananas must be “free of abnormal curvature” and at least 14 cm in length. Perhaps in the long run, historians will consider this as the official end of modernity.
To make way for modern tech terms such as BlackBerry, blog, voicemail and broadband, the latest edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary has opted to drop terms pertaining to old nature. No longer can a child check this dictionary and learn more about the blackberry, dandelion, acorn, heron, otter or willow. While words like voicemail, MP3 player, attachment, database, and chatroom are added. Nature changes along with us.
At the start of the digital era, metaphors from everyday life were used in order to make otherwise incomprehensible technology acceptable – think of the digital highway, windows, folders, buttons and trashcan. Nowadays, the digital environment is accepted almost everywhere and we see how proven concepts from the digital realm are gradually seeping into our physical environment. We call this phenomenon a ‘boomeranged metaphor’.
Heard the buzz on virtual money in online games? Some years ago the first virtual millionaire was announced, yet there have also been reports on people being practically enslaved to farm virtual gold. The Chinese government recently announced to limit the use of ‘virtual’ currencies. An essay on the virtuality of money.
Our beloved King of Pop, Michael Jackson, who died tragically this year, throughout his career, he underwent countless groundbreaking cosmetic operations. Using childhood photo’s of Michael and knowledge on basic aging trends, forensic artists constructed a portrait of how Michael would have looked at age 50, had he never undergone plastic surgery. The difference between the portraits is striking. But which is the real Michael? The man of flesh and blood, sculpted by plastic surgeons or the highly speculative forensic image? Both Michaels are virtual in their own right.
For ages carrots used be white, yellow, red and purple – and in some regions of the world they still are. Yet, orange has become the dominant color in most countries. Why is that? Its political: in the 17th century, Dutch growers cultivated orange carrots as a tribute to William of Orange – who lead the the struggle for Dutch independence – and the color stuck. Hypervegetables avant la lettre.
Bird spotting is not a typical activity for us next nature explorers, yet these ‘plastic’ birds spotted by photographer Chris Jordan are the most macabre thus far. One wonders what Darwin would have thought of these Albatross babies fed bellies-full of plastic by their parents. Are we ready for a plastic planet?
With the great pacific garbage patch now twice the size of Texas and over 500 billion plastic bags produced a year – which take about a 1000 years to decompose – plastic is well on its way of becoming a basic material in the Earths ecosystem. Perhaps in the long run microbes would evolve to digest plastics. But why wait for evolution? 16-year old high school student Daniel Burd already developed a microorganism that can rapidly biodegrade plastic.
The human environmental impact on our planet is hardly underestimated nowadays. Untouched old nature is almost nowhere to be found anymore besides perhaps some small areas on the South pole, in the deep sea or if one looks up at the stars – although the brighter ones may well be satellites. “We were here”, is written all over. So when did the writing begin? Much earlier than thought.
So you think climate change is new? So you think the flooding of landmass by the oceans is a new? So you must have not heard of the times when people walked from London to Amsterdam.
So what happened to that old floppy drive, ipod or tape recorder? Time to dig up some of those modern fossils.
“We live in a time where everything or everyone can be upgraded or ‘pimped’. After the worldwide acceptance of plastic surgery, it was time to subject our worldly possessions (Pimp my Ride) and digital identities (Facebook) to an esthetical and/or functional upgrade. So it’s likely that eventually everything will be pimp-able. Even our own planet.”
The PIMP MY PLANET video, created the good people of Studio Smack, explores the possibilities of redesigning our planet according to ideals or aesthetic values. It is the wet dream of every modernist – I bet Mondriaan would have liked this – and then you wake up and realize that maakbaarheid is never finished and with every attempt to cultivate nature, a next nature arises that is wild and unpredictable as ever.
Peculiar image of the week. Created by Merijn Bolink.
It is a well known secret that plastic hardly breaks down and almost all of the plastic ever made still floats around somewhere. With the great pacific garbage patch now twice the size of Texas and over 500 billion plastic bags produced a year – which take about a 1000 years to decompose – plastic is well on its way of becoming a basic material in the Earth’s ecosystem.
Earlier, we’ve discussed some of the dramatic effects of this material and suggested how a future microbe able to digest plastic could thrive on the vast amount of plastic ‘food’ available in the biosphere. It might take a million years, however, for a plastic-eating microbe to evolve.