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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’

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    iPhone Entertainment for Pets

    Children can be effortlessly entertained for hours thanks to tablet and smartphone games, but these technologies also provide a solution for the lazy pet owner.

    More videos of perplexed pets after the jump.

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  • banksy rat

    City Rats Love Ethnic Food

    City rats, it seems, prefer the same foods that humans do: Greasy, fatty, sweet, and salty. Although rats are usually seen as the billy goats of city life, ready to chow down on anything remotely edible, they show a marked distain for healthy vegetables. According to author Robert Sullivan, “A rat might starve in an alley full of raw carrots”. Like a human that missed the low-carb fad, Rattus norvegicus instead loads up on white bread, fried chicken, and mac and cheese.

    Rats don’t only exhibit a human-like tendency to indulge in junk food. Although they naturally opt for sweet over spicy, their cultural background plays in a role in what they eat. In Manhattan’s East Harlem, home to one of the city’s biggest Latino populations, rats have reportedly developed a preference for the same spicy food that other rodents would reject.

    Rats mirror our urban lives, eating what we don’t, absorbing our culture, and taking up residence in even the more undesirable real estate. Maybe they make us uneasy because they’re too good at acting human.

    Via Edible Geography and Robert Sullivan’s Rats. Image via Caruba.

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  • backbird squabble

    City Living Splits Up Blackbirds

    Some blackbirds have found city living so much fun (the theater scene! the restaurants!) that they have given up migrating south for the winter. Cities are usually warmer than the surrounding country, with lots of discarded food for the birds to scavenge. If the non-migratory birds start breeding sooner, the two populations may eventually split into different species. Even if we can’t predict what fully urban blackbirds will look like, we do know that they will likely be smarter than their country counterparts.

    Photo via TarikB

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    Sympathy for the Device

    Tweenbots are small robots that depend on the kindness of strangers. They are only able to move straight forward and do this constantly. Once they get stuck in a hole or at a curb, surrounding people have to move, turn or tilt them to have them reach their destination. Every Tweenbot arrived sooner or later at the address on its label. This implies that people were eager to help this little fellah with its big smiling face. But why are people doing this? Be it due to the instincts to help and protect inferior beings, politeness or empathy – these are all behavioral patterns seen in human relationships rather than interactions with objects.

    On the contrary, users freak out if their high-end laptop is not working instantaneously, but have understanding for this dull cardboard robot. Passers-by turn away if another human needs help, but advising this robot “you can’t go this way, it’s toward the road” or walk it with their umbrella to protect it from rain. This experimental device unveils deeply rooted behavioral patterns, which are normally overruled by culture. It is amazing to see how this little piece of technology breaks through that wall and naturalizes our culture for the blink of an eye – welcome to next nature, Neanderthals.

  • Nest

    Birds Change Along with Us

    A ‘treasure in the trees’ reveals the exchange of materials between man and animal. This beautiful house finch nest, made of natural resources and manmade garbage, demonstrates how ‘bird architecture’ is able to make use of materials which are useless to us. For some people it might be art, but from another perspective this nest is a pure representation of how humans contribute to nature’s development. Certain bird species use their nests to compete for mates. High-tech-garbage, which contains materials like plastics, textiles or wires, might take their mating rituals to the next level (and to the next nature).

    Image from Sharon Beal’s Nests: Fifty Nests and the Birds that Built Them

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    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.