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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 ‘Manufactured Animals’

  • romeo wolf with lab

    Black Wolves Have Dogs to Thank

    Black wolves should probably not exist. The same species as their gray relatives, these wolves have a genetic mutation that causes them to produces excess melanin, a pigment responsible for coat color. The origin of black wolves has long been a puzzle. Unlike domestic animals, wild species usually don’t exhibit such dramatic variations in coloration, especially within the same population. While all tigers are orange and striped, and all grizzly bears are brown, “gray” wolves range from pure white to brown to red to black.

    Researchers at Stanford University have discovered that dogs may be the cause of the wolves’ unusual coloration. Dogs have a unique gene for melanism, which is also shared by European, Asian and American black wolves. Scientists estimate that the gene arose somewhere between 12,779 and 121,182 years ago, with a preferred time of around 50,000 years. Even if European wolves were the first to don a black coat, it was domestic dogs that brought the gene to the wolves (and coyotes) of North America.

    Most new mutations tend to disappear within a few generations. With North American wolf, however, this accidental genetic loaner from dogs has become a stable part of their population’s DNA. Clearly, black wolves derive some benefit from their coloration. The reasons why are still a mystery: Black coat color doesn’t aid in camouflage, but since it occurs more frequently in southern, forest-dwelling wolves, it may have some advantage for life in warmer climates.

    The melanism gene in wolves is one of the few instances, perhaps even the only instance, in which interbreeding with a domestic animal has conferred an adaptive edge on a wild animal. As climate change progresses, and forests march northward, it may be that the “gray” wolf population will soon switch to black, all thanks to some melanistic, prehistoric pooches.

    Via the New York Times. Image via Carnivora.

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  • cyborg2

    Bugged Bugs

    Some of you might remember the Next Nature article by Rolf Coppens called Withus Oragainstus. Since then there have been occasional newsreports on cyborg insects. For instance this article from 2009 describing partly succesful attampts to wirelesly control the flight of beetles by connecting electrodes, a small battery and antenna’s to their nervous system.

    Now professor Khalil Najafi, the chair of electrical and computer engineering, and doctoral student Erkan Aktakka at the University of Michigan have incorporated thin-film solar cells, piezoelectric and thermoelectric energy harvesters to extend the batterylife that could be used to supply sensors and even a small camera with the needed juice. Imagine a swarm of these as first responders at hazardous sites like Fukushima, gathering information on radiation and other dangerous substances.

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  • turkey farm

    The Search for the “Real” Thanksgiving

    Thanksgiving is fake-for-real. While it’s true that there was a minor harvest feast in 1621, held by English immigrants and Wampanoag Indians, the event was never celebrated regularly, and largely dropped off the national radar for the next 200 years. It took the Civil War for Abraham Lincoln to formalize the holiday, a political move he hoped would promote national unity.

    Even if the holiday is invented, at least the food is real, right? When Americans sit down to groaning tables on Thursday, it’s tempting to think we’re participating in a culinary tradition not that far removed from the time of the Pilgrims. Thanksgiving food is, after all, as authentic and naturally American as apples (Kazakhstan), potatoes (Peru), and green bean casserole (Campbell Soup Company). Maybe we can find some culinary authenticity hiding between the gravy boat and the cranberry sauce. Hope you’re hungry…

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    Augmented Cat beats Dog

    Normally a house cat would not stand a chance against a dangerous pit-bull dog. But with a little help of an electric vacuum cleaning robot, supersmart cat Max-Arthur emancipates himself from its presumed fate. Don’t you just love it when old nature and nextnature come together?!

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    Traditional Thanksgiving Meat

    Greenridge Farm offers this pork molded in the shape of a piglet. But if you are more the traditional type of person, Greenrdige Farms also offer Turkey-breasts in the shape of an actual turkey. Perfect for a traditional Thanksgiving!

    Will this pseudo-pig actually taste better in the shape of a piglet? Or does the shape reminds us too much of Babe, and becomes cruel to roast? At least it is a good marketing trick to distract you from what the piglet is actually made of.

    Via Consumerist

  • collector afterlife

    A Bug’s Afterlife

    When fruit flies die, they don’t go to heaven, but they do get to go to outer space. At least that’s the conceit of artist HsienYu Cheng’s Collector: Afterlife, which zaps bugs with high voltage and then reincarnates them in a Space Invaders-style video game. Each dead fly translates to one extra life for the onscreen hero. When the lives run out, the player has to wait around for more flies to wander into the trap’s deadly blue light. It’s a digital age update on the concept of rebirth, or just a new take on the spider and its web.

    Via Mediamatic

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  • pigeon d'or

    The Pigeon that Shat the Golden Soap

    Ever wished you could take a shower with pigeon poop? Artist Tuur van Balen proposes changing pigeons from flying rats to cleaning agents. A speculative, specially engineered bacteria, as harmless to pigeons as Lactobacillus is to humans, could potentially change pigeon excrement into biological soap.

    For Pigeon D’Or, van Balen built a coop that clips to a window, which would allow future apartment dwellers to harvest their very own fresh, pigeon-made soap. Another version of the perch extends over a car’s windshield, inviting the birds to come and rain detergent on glass in need of cleaning. Van Balen’s “bespoke urban disinfection” won him an 2011 Ars Electronica Award of Distinction.

    Tuur van Balen will be presenting at the Next Nature Power Show on November 5th. Though he won’t be bringing along any sudsy pigeons, he will be teaching the audience how to make their own anti-depressant yogurt.

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  • rhinos naturalis

    Poaching from the New Savannah

    The Ipswich Museum, the Tring Museum, and around 30 other European cultural institutions and antiques dealers have experienced a rash of theft over the last few months. What turns an everyday crime into next natural poaching is the strange selectivity of these thieves. Despite having a selection of priceless artifacts to choose from, the robbers have only targeted rhinoceros horn.

    A coveted commodity in Chinese Traditional Medicine, powdered rhinoceros horn is worth around €68,000 a kilo: twice the value of gold. Rhino horns are made of the same material as hooves and fingernails, and have the same lack of actual medical effectiveness. Authorities are urging museums, auction houses, and taxidermists to lock away their horns, and replace any horns on display with fake ones. Naturalis Museum in Rotterdam recently moved all of their rhino collection to a secure, secret location.

    Wild rhinos have become so scarce that poachers must turn to long-dead, taxidermied specimens for their crimes. In the case of the Ipswich Museum, Rosie the Rhino was last shuffling around India sometime in the late 1800s. We already know that the supermarket is the new savanna. Who would have guessed that the new savanna is also in museum storage?

    Story via the New York Times.  Image of the (fake) Naturalis rhinos via Ferdi’s World.

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  • 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.

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  • pig nose

    The Afterlife of PIG 05049

    Christien Meindertsma spent three years tracking down every product made from a single pig. Pork made a showing, but the more strange goods were “ammunition, medicine, photo paper, heart valves, brakes, chewing gum, porcelain, cosmetics, cigarettes, conditioner and even bio diesel.” All in all, 158 products came out of the 103,700 grams of the hog at slaughter.

    PIG 05049 shows the surprising degree to which global supply chains are intricately interconnected. Pig fat turns into automobile paint; bone ash turns into train brakes. The hog is as good a symbol of globalization as coca-cola or the World Trade Organization. Though Meinderstsma resists any moralizing, there’s something decidedly uncanny about some poor porker completely deconstructed and scattered across the earth.

    Christien Meindertsma will presenting a visualization of a pig farm at the Next Nature Power Show on November 5th.

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  • robodog

    Robodog

    Ultimately we get the nature we deserve. I can live with that. Our fellow species however, deserve better. Peculiar image of the week. Thanks Mieke.

  • E.Coli

    E.Coli produced Spider Silk

    In a previous post we have reported on spider silk, it’s applications and the way it is produced. Adding the gene responsible for the production of the spider silk protein to other animals has given us silkworms and spidergoats that produce spider silk. We can now ad a harmless version of E.Coli to the spider silk production list.

    Via Physorg. Image via University of California.

  • elephant noosphere

    The Non-Human Noosphere

    The definition of the noosphere as “the sphere of human thought on earth” is woefully anthropocentric. It ignores that fact that our fellow sentient organisms have noospheres of their own. Elephants have their own social networks, maintaining close friendships and extended tribes, and keeping touch over long distances through subsonic rumbles.

    If the noosphere can loosely be defined as the interaction and interconnection of conscious minds, then clearly cetaceans, wolves, great apes, elephants, and many species of birds have their own forms of a noosphere. Granted, these noospheres are not as large and complex as ours. Humans have telecommunications, the biggest brain-to-body ratio on earth, and the force of numbers – 7 billion of us, versus a few tens of thousands for African elephants, and a few hundred thousand for chimpanzees.

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  • northern corn rootworm

    Monsanto’s Technorhetoric Kills Corn

    Mega-agro-biotech corporation Monsanto recently denied that insects have developed resistance to their patented Bt corn. Injected with a bacterial gene toxic to corn rootworms, Bt corn has proven so successful with farmers that it now makes up 65 percent of the corn planted in the US. Fields of wilting, dying corn are now following years of massive popularity. Bt-resistant worms have been found in Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota, and are likely to continue spreading.

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  • Spidergoat

    Spidergoats & Superskin

    While some of us might have heard of the humorous but fictional ‘spider pig,’ spidergoats are the real deal. Although you might expect to see them lounging in giant webs or dangling from the ceiling, spidergoats actually look and behave like normal, everyday goats.

    Randy Lewis, professor of molecular biology at the University of Wyoming, has geneticly modified goats so they produce the same protein in their milk that spiders use to spin their webs. As you might have guessed, milking spiders is a difficult job. Milking goats, on the other hand, has been done for centuries. Not only are goats easy to handle, they don’t tend to eat each other like spiders do. They also produce much more of the spider silk-protein than a single or even a hundred spiders can.

    The silk spiders produce is a very thin yet strong material. The tensile strength of a silk strand varies from species to species.  Some spiders, like Darwin’s Bark Spider, produced silk that is up to 10 times stronger than kevlar.

    Bio-artist Jalila Essaïdi uses the spider silk produced by Randy Lewis’ goats to create superhuman skin that is partially bulletproof. “The work did stop some partially slowed bullets but not the one at full speed. But even with the skin pierced by the bullet the experiment is still a success. It leads to the conversation about how which form of safety would benefit society.”

  • Pic: Copyright Timothy Allen. http://www.humanplanet.com

    Animals Made from Other Animals

    That’s no reindeer, and it’s certainly no moose. It’s an Irish Elk, Megaloceros giganteous, a deer that happens to be neither an elk, nor really all that Irish. What it does happen to be, though, is long extinct. Renowned taxidermist Ken Walker has reconstructed Megaloceros from the tanned hides of once-living Canadian deer.

    The mount is made of elk skins stretched over a custom foam form, and fitted out with a pair of fiberglass antlers. Using Paleolithic art as a guide, Walker also gave the giant deer a prominent shoulder hump with contrasting coloration. Walker’s prowess with taxidermic reconstruction isn’t just limited to extinct animals. He has also won awards for Thing Thing, a panda made from the dyed fur of other bears.

    Taxidermic reconstruction occupies a particularly strange area within the already weird world of taxidermy. It uses the parts of recently deceased (but still extant) animals to create a scientifically accurate fantasia of an animal too rare to kill, or so long gone that no modern human has seen one alive. In other words, it’s fake nature at its most realistic.

    Information via Still Life.  Image via Taxidermy.net

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  • tarpans bucking

    Inventing an Extinct Horse

    Along with the Heck cattle and Scottish Highlanders, another reconstructed species roams the Dutch dunes. The sturdy Konik horse, also known as the Polish primitive, is the result of an attempt to ‘breed back’ the tarpan, an extinct subspecies of wild horse. A forest-dwelling horse with a distinctive silver-gray coat, tarpans once roamed Western Europe through Russia. The endangered Przewalski’s horse is the only surviving subspecies of the wild horse, Equus ferus, found only in zoos and in wild herds that have been reintroduced to places like Mongolia and Chernobyl.

    The last wild tarpans were extirpated between the 1820s and 1890s, while the last captive tarpans died out somewhere between 1910 and 1920. Sources are unclear whether the final herds were true tarpans, tarpan mixes, or domestic horses that happened to look a lot like their wild relatives. It may be extinct, but the tarpan still clings to existence via cultural memory and scattered genes. The fact that many “primitive” breeds of domestic horse still graze the world’s meadows has tempted hopeful breeders to resurrect the tarpan on at least three occasions.

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