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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’

  • 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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  • chapulines tacos

    Want Ketchup with those Flies?

    Industrial-scale in vitro meat may be a long way off, but for meat-lovers looking for a cheap, eco-friendly source of protein, there’s no need to wait. We just have to swear off creatures with four legs and a backbone and look to tasty livestock with an exoskeleton and six, eight, or a hundred legs.

    Bugs Originals, based near Amsterdam, is trying to introduce arthropods as the food of the future. Originally associated with primitive lifestyles or times of famine, entomophagy- the eating of insects- may be an ideal solution for growing world with an appetite for protein.  Crickets are five times as efficient as cattle when it comes to turning feed into edible mass, while mealworms produce 10 to 100 times less greenhouse gases as pigs.

    Bugs Originals has already produced nuggets, muesli and meatballs infused with mealworms.  The company’s only barrier to mainstream entry is figuring out how to produce purified bug protein, since the bug’s innards are proving difficult to separate from their inedible exoskeletons.  They have had some success grinding up the live insects and centrifuging the resulting mixture.  It might sound icky, but meat slurry and grinding live animals are already accepted practices in the production of “conventional” meat.  Call me species-ist, but I’d eat a cricket over a chicken any day.

    Story via The Atlantic.  Image via Don’t Let Our Youth Go to Waste.

  • multicolored ant ass

    The Amazing Technicolor Dream Ant

    A scientist in Mysore, India has figured out how to color-code his backyard ants. Mohamed Babu’s wife noticed that the ants’ abdomens turned white after drinking milk, so it was only a short step to filling the ants with more vibrant colors. The insects were picky, preferring yellow and green sugar water over blue and red.  The experiment goes to show that for ants, at least, those extra calories really do go right to the ass.

    Via the Daily Mail. Thanks Trendbeheer.

  • 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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  • evolution_of_the_chicken

    Evolution of the Chicken

    From Dinosaur to primitive bird to supermarket discount. Although chickens thrive as a species – in the sense that billions of them roam the earth bio-industry – we doubt if the decision of the chicken-species to involve itself in a co-evolutionary relation with people, was a wise one. Lesson learned: always be very concise on what or who you get into a co-evolutionary relationship with. Chickens have limited abilities in this regard, but people should do better.

    Via NRC charity Awards. Thanks René Pare.

  • YouTube Preview Image

    YouTube preserves unmediated Nature

    On Youtube, there’s a whole sub-genera of safari videos that show, in gruesome detail, what exactly it means to live and die in Old Nature. The above film is a particularly stomach-churning example, depicting African hunting dogs that eviscerate and devour a kudu while the antelope is still very much alive.  It’s the sort of material that winds up on the editing floor during the production of a typical nature documentary. Wildlife films sanitize the predator-prey relationship. Death occurs off-screen; if it is shown, it’s bloodless and quick.  Amateur nature videos remove a layer of artistic interpretation between the audience and “authentic” nature. Without a sound track or a narrator contextualizing the hunt, death becomes neither triumphant nor tragic. It doesn’t impart any moral lessons. In nature, as in YouTube, death just happens.

    Amateur videos like “Survival of the Fittest” compete for page views, and so still maintain the entertainment edict of traditional wildlife filmmaking. Web cams trained on nesting birds or savannah waterholes offer an even more immediate experience. They’re instantaneous, unedited, and usually unrecorded. In other words, wildlife web cams are the next best thing to being there. It used to be that professionally produced films, articles, and books were the main means for city-dwellers and office-workers to experience any wildlife more threatening than a pigeon.  Advanced digital technologies have helped to restore some ‘truth in advertising’ to the workings of wild ecosystems. In some sense, YouTube and other websites have become unintentional parks that uphold the conservation of unmediated nature.

  • jello marriage

    Transgenic Jell-O, more human than ever!

    The American Chemical Society has announced a new method of producing gelatin that sounds like good news for cannibals and the canni-curious. Researchers are able to create human-derived gelatin by inserting human genes for gelatin production into a strain of yeast.  This new method would produce hypoallergenic, standard-sized molecules, two traits especially important for medical applications. Since the traditional method of producing gelatin from animal sources can very from batch to batch, provoke immune responses, and potentially carry diseases like Mad Cow, human gelatin is a step up in quality. We’ll admit that the human-yeast hybrid doesn’t really fall under any definition of actual cannibalism. But with the advent of lab-grown meat, there’s now less to stand in the way of adventurous eaters who want to create a real-life version of HuFu.

    Via Discover Magazine.  Image via Death and Taxes.

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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.

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  • YouTube Preview Image

    What Robots dream of…

    You may think it’s a cliché, but deep down inside robots want to be birds and fly high in the sky. Hooray for the good people of Festo, that demonstrate at TED how they turn the dream into a reality.