Summer is coming… along with the mosquitoes! The solution to clouds of biting insects? Mosquitoes that ignore human beings, a dream come true. At the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, researchers have genetically altered mosquitoes’ sense of smell. If unable to sniff out the scent of human skin, they won’t bite us.
The gigantic rubber duck created by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman floated on Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour, with the island skyline in the background. The XL duck showed up in nine countries, in cities from Osaka to São Paulo to Sydney, and finished its long bath in the ocean on May 14.
Via NBC News
Like pandas, Hawaiian monk seals are loved by many for their cute, cuddly appearance. And like pandas, the species is close to becoming extinct. With only 1,100 Hawaiian monk seals left in the world, scientists predict the seal is going to disappear in 50 to 100 years. Their extinction is only being accelerated by a spate of mysterious killings. According to a fascinating detective story over at the New York Times Magazine:
“Many in Hawaii were convinced that the entire history of the monk seal is based on a lie. Because the species was eradicated in the mains so long ago, people have lived on Kauai their entire lives without seeing a single monk seal until recently. Traditional Hawaiian knowledge carries great authority on the islands, and in every cranny of the culture where you’d expect to see monk seals, people saw none [...] The logical explanation, for many, was that the seal wasn’t actually native to Hawaii, that the government had brought the animals, in secret, to create jobs for scientists and push its environmentalist agenda…”.
Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite that causes rats to become less afraid of cats. It also might change the behavior of humans, making women more outgoing and warmhearted, while men get jealous and suspicious. Toxoplasma gondii is shed in cat feces, which get eaten by rats. Infected rats become fearless to cats and then get caught easily, thus completing the parasite’s cycle through its different hosts. If a parasite can make you feel friendly, what other unusual benefits might they have?
The biggest fight we have as an organism is life itself. Continuously resupplying our body with nutrients and energy takes its toll. Our cells that are constantly working, dying and dividing as we go through our life provide us with the means to live. However, these systems inevitably break down. Is this the way things have to be?
What is nature? And who or what has a say in this? Are human beings the only ones who decide, or do plants, animals, bacteria, atmospheres, things and computers play a role as well? Yes Naturally puts anthropocentrism – centralizing the human position above all or interpreting reality exclusively in terms of human standards – in perspective. Is our arrogant placing of ourselves above all other agents in the world really justified? Is the DNA of a multicellular organism such as ourselves really so different from that of a virus? Our digestive tract looks remarkably like that of a sea squirt, which belongs to the most primitive of tunicates that have been around for more than 500 million years. And we have more in common with plants than we may on the surface suspect. Mitochondria are the energy producers of plants and animals: they are offspring of bacteria that lived in intracellular symbiosis with their hosts in an early evolutionary stage. Interconnectedness and interdependence are in fact the measure of all things.
A team of scientists from the Animal Reproduction Institute of Uruguay have genetically modified nine sheep with a phosphorescent jellyfish protein. This causes the lambs to grow a neon green colour when exposed to ultraviolet light. Besides the lambs’ predisposition to glow green, they are otherwise perfectly healthy and normal.
Genetically modifying the sheep to glow under UV light is an attempt to advance and perfect the technique that will allow scientists to add beneficial new genes to livestock. Once the genes are integrated into an animal’s DNA, it can produce milk with various medical advantages for humans. Perhaps this could lead to the creation of a real-life Korova Milk Bar, the bar from “A Clockwork Orange” that offers drug-laced milk.
Story via redorbit. Image via Fundación IRAUy / J. Calvelo
Somewhere between a vat of expensive face cream and a baby Neanderthal lies a probable future for synthetic biology. While synbio start-ups – large and small – struggle with the reality of scaling up microscopic cellular factories into profitable business models, stories of DIY anti-cancer research, Neanderthal cloning, limitless ‘green’ kerosene, and tumor-killing bacteria are told as outcomes of a likely future where humans have full control over biology.
Over the last decade, many diverse interests have contributed to this ambition of an easy-to-manipulate biology, as the field of synthetic biology has spread around research labs all over the world. Scientists, engineers, policymakers, industrialists, space agencies, politicians, and even designers are constructing a future defined by the grand rhetoric of a world-changing, world-saving technology.
There are plenty of robot arms out there, but what about the skin to cover them in? A new kind of piezotronic transistor mesh could make for robotic skin that’s as sensitive as your own is, covered in thousands of tiny mechanical hairs.
The inventor of the technology, Zhong Lin Wan from Georgia Tech, says it has immediate applications in human-machine interfaces. It could for example be used to capture electronic signatures by recording the distinctive force an individual applies while signing. In due time, Wan expects the pressure sensor arrays could equip robotics and prosthetics with a human-like sense of touch.
Here’s the solution for all you animal lovers who are also fashion lovers: Instead of a depressing campaign about animals killed for their fur, the genius World Wildlife Fund launched a clothes and accessories brand designed by Boudicca, a London designer’s collective.
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In Massachusetts’ Cape Cod, the cordgrass salt marshes have been mysteriously dying off for decades. Now, some of the marsh is just as mysteriously beginning to grow back. This die-off and regrowth has finally been traced back to two little crabs and, of course, to human error.
Who would have thought synthetic organisms would ever be employed to save endangered species? Conservation biologist worried about the extinction of exotic frog populations are calling the help of synthetic biologists to avoid disaster.
Currently, a fungus epidemics with the eerie name batrachochytrium dendrobatidis threatens more than 2,800 amphibian species. The depicted Panamanian golden frog has already been pushed close to extinction by fungal disease, but conservationists believe the tragedy could be countered by a new generation of synthetically manipulated organisms.
“We face the prospect of losing a great deal from the natural world and we have to think of solutions that could be generated by all sorts of different techniques, including those involved in synthetic biology.” conservation biologist Kent Redford told the Guardian.
Cliff swallows, as their name suggests, like to build nests on cliffs and other rocky outcroppings. They also like building their nests on bridges and overpasses, and sunbathe on warm roads. This puts them in the path of traffic, and adds thousands of swallows to the nearly 80 million birds killed by cars each year in the US. Swallows in the state of Nebraska, however, appear to be getting wise to the ways of the highway – or at least their genes are.
Researchers at the University of Nebraska have been collecting swallow bodies along several highways for the last thirty years. Not only have the total number of fatalities decreased over this time, but the wing length of the birds has also been decreasing. The swallows, it seems, are evolving to become more nimble. Shorter wings makes it easier to take off vertically or to quickly maneuver around vehicles. Time to add “vehicular selection” to the sub-categories of “natural” selection.
Andras Forgacs, the CEO of in vitro meat (IVM) manufacturers Modern Meadow set up a Reddit AMA (“ask me anything”) a week ago to discuss the merits of his product. Below are a few extracts from the question-and-answer session:
Q. How confident are you that you can get it identical to a real steak within, say, 10 years?
A.Real steak is a big stretch. It won’t be the first product since steak is very hard to make for now. Instead, the first wave of meat products to be made with this approach will likely be minced meats (burgers, sausages, etc.) and pates (goose liver pate, etc.). Also seafood is an early possibility since the texture requires may be easier to achieve than premium cuts.
While I doubt anyone will make commercial quantities of premium steak within 10 years, we will eventually get there but it will be an Nth generation product.
Our peculiar image of the week shows the DARPA Military Robot Bull in a field test. This mobile four legged robot is developed to support troops carry gear through rugged terrain. Unsure if it gives milk. Action movies are available here.
Via Global News Pointer. Thanks Monique.
Vast and sparsely populated, the rangeland in the western US is managed on horseback, on ATVs, and with thousands of miles of barbed wire fencing. Fencing is both a vital and imperfect technology. In the arid regions that stretch from Texas to Idaho, grass that is thick and green one week might be dust and tumbleweeds the next. Patches of poisonous plants come and go. Endangered birds might nest along a lush river for only a few weeks out of the year.
Put into widespread use in the late 1870s, the barbed wire fence destroyed one quintessentially American “technology” – that of the cowboy. It may now be time for a new technology to usurp the reign of barbed wire. Using GPS and a “bovine interface”, Dean M. Anderson, a scientist at the US Department of Agriculture, is hoping to transform the way we manage cattle, and by extension, the entire ecology of the American West.
Assuming that true wildlife hàs gone extinct… Who needs the real thing when you can have a Next Safari? Let’s go and hunt for the plastic birds on the beach or watch genuine Scottish highlanders in the Dutch dunes. Or even in the mall; go shopping for real fur collar coats and some fancy stingray sneakers.
How is your scrollin’ safari going?
Students of the Filmacademy in Baden-Württemberg / Germany gave it a shot with 4 trailers for the Stuttgart Festival of Animated Film 2013.
Makes the question pop into mind: What was on these animal’s menu?