Author: Allison Guy

european green crab restores salt marshes

Invasive Crab Restores Damaged Habitat

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.

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Color labeling candy bars for health

Green Colors Make Food Seem Healthier

Green: It’s the color of spring leaves, little frogs and, apparently, health. According to a new study, consumers overwhelmingly rated candy bars with green nutrition labels as healthier than those with red labels, even when all the data remained the same. While green is perceived as a “green light” to go ahead and eat a sugary snack, the color green is also heavily pushed in biomimicmarketing to imply a product is wholesome and natural – and therefore better for you.

Via the Washington Post.

akeley hall of african mammals

More than Fake Nature: The Surprising Sociology of Museum Taxidermy

Opened in 1942, the Akeley Hall of African Mammals in New York’s American Museum of Natural History is perhaps taxidermy’s crowning achievement. But, as an excellent essay from Lapham’s Quarterly recounts, the hall is more than mere artistry. It’s also drenched in the egos of presidents and industrialists, men who were just as eager to preserve the memory of disappearing landscapes as they were to shoot and skin the last vestiges of it. The hall is an emblem of the American attitude towards nature and conservation:

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Screen shot 2013-03-27 at 12.31.26 PM

Cliff Swallows Are Evolving to Avoid Cars

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.

Via Smithsonian Magazine. Photo via Nebirdsplus.

early egyptians brewing beer

Did Booze Make Us Modern?

Psychiatrist Jeffrey P. Kahn believes that beer, far from being an agent of late-night chaos and early morning regrets, is what gave our ancestors modern civilization. Beer, he writes, triggered the leap from rule-bound hunter-gather groups into the creative, complex societies we’ve been enjoying for the last 10,000 years. Is there some truth in this statement, or is it no more solid than a foamy head of ale?

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AR grocery store

Filling Vacant Lots with Augmented Reality Grocery Stores

China’s biggest e-commerce website plans to virtually transform 1,500 vacant lots around the country into augmented reality supermarkets. It’s a cheap and near-instantaneous way to use dead space in cities. Each one of Yihaodian‘s AR supermarkets will take up 1,200 “real” square meters, and have about 1,000 products each. Customers will wander around using their smart phones as an interface to buy items, and get their purchases delivered at home.

Unlike Korea’s AR shopping on subway platforms, Yihaodian’s stores seem to require that shoppers go out of their way to look for items that could just as easily be purchased online. Because of this, we’re a little skeptical about the life of this idea beyond its novelty as a marketing stunt. To really draw the crowds to empty areas, AR pop-ups would have to offer something exclusive: products, art, or checkpoints in a city-wide game that sends people swarming over the streets to earn discounts.

Via Pop Up City


Get Ready for the Arctic to Bloom

Along with drowning polar bears and melting glaciers, global warming is enacting another astonishing change on the arctic landscape. The vegetation at the earth’s northernmost latitudes now resembles that found 250 to 430 miles south. “Ecologically off limits” only a few decades ago, an area the size of the continental United States is now green with new vegetation.

While the northwards march of lower-latitude ecosystems may seem great at first glance, it’s actually contributing to what’s called an amplified greenhouse effect. Darker forests absorb more energy from the sun than white snow, while the melting of the permafrost releases methane and CO2, two major greenhouse gases. Good news for anyone looking to invest in Arctic farmland, bad news for everyone else.

Via Io9

Nextnature Event

Yes Naturally: How Art Saves the World

Courtesy of our friends at the Ja Natuurlijk exhibition in The Hague, we are happy to offer a new book in the Next Nature store: Yes Naturally: How Art Saves the World.  Yes Naturally sets out to explore what is “natural”, and who or what gets to define what is natural and what is not. With essays and artworks that offer new insights into the relationshop with between humans and the environment, Yes Naturally is an excellent addition to any next natural library.

The exhibition runs until August 2013. We’ve very happy that our controversial Rayfish Footwear shoes were selected as part of the catalog.

cow fitted with GPS device to control its behavior

Bye Bye Barbed Wire: Cow-Mounted GPS Will Enable “Virtual Fencing”

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.

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bright lighting at night

Bright Streetlights Make Us No Safer, and Why That’s Good News

One of the many arguments for high-wattage storefronts, streets and parking lots is that bright lights deter crime. Since neighborhood thugs lurk in the shadows, the reasoning goes, it’s best to make sure there are no shadows at all. This commonsense conclusion has been called into doubt by findings that show no correlation between crime levels and lighting.

So why is this finding great news? It gives us all an excuse to turn off the lights. Artificial lighting at night wreaks havoc on our circadian rhythms, leaving us at risk for obesity, depression, even cancer. It’s also bad for wildlife, from birds to turtles and flying insects. Light pollution is even unhealthy for our sense of awe: Eight in ten kids born in the United States today will never see the Milky Way outside of a planetarium.

The end of bright, pushy electric lights might also make way for more humane nighttime lighting. Imagine navigating canals by bioluminescent bacteria, or walking down side streets illuminated with gentle bacterial glow. Or, just plant the whole city with rows of bioluminescent trees.

Story via Mother Jones. Image via Flickr user Kevin Dooley.

one third of all fish in the US is mislabeled

33% of All Seafood in the United States Is Fraudulently Labeled

A new study from the marine conservation group Oceana reveals that a full one-third of seafood across the US is mislabeled. Not surprisingly, the most expensive fish is also the most lied-about. Tuna was anything but tuna 57% of the time, while red snapper was another species in a whopping 87% of all cases. While cheaper, harmless species like tilapia are often substituted for the real deal, there’s at least one health threat on record: “White tuna” might actually be escolar, a tasty fish that nonetheless causes oily, explosive diarrhea.

As with the horse meat scandal, it’s astonishing how few consumers can tell the difference between species the we assume to be wildly different. It all comes down to marketing that treats fish like brands – just as that Nike swoosh is more important than the shoe itself, the words “bluefin tuna” matter far more than the actual taste.

Image from Flickr user Whologwhy.

Food Technology

How Food Scientists Engineer the “Bliss Point” in Junk Food

Over at the New York Times, a recent article exposes the clever and surprisingly immoral ways the food industry manufactures foods to rival hard drugs for their addictive potential. Well worth the read, the article discusses “designer sodium”, the genesis of the ideal kid’s lunch, and the search for the morphine-like “bliss point” in soda. One scientist’s description of Cheetos, in particular, highlighted the extraordinary detail that goes into what we see as a normal, familiar food:

“This,” Witherly said, “is one of the most marvelously constructed foods on the planet, in terms of pure pleasure.” He ticked off a dozen attributes of the Cheetos that make the brain say more. But the one he focused on most was the puff’s uncanny ability to melt in the mouth. “It’s called vanishing caloric density,” Witherly said. “If something melts down quickly, your brain thinks that there’s no calories in it . . . you can just keep eating it forever.” Read more

Couch Cachet automatically updates social network information

Software Fakes an Active Social Life While You’re on the Sofa

Now that our cooler friends can Instagram, tweet, and FourSquare the heck out of every underground concert and speakeasy cocktail, FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) has become a persistent problem for the less-hip. But there’s hope for those who would rather spend their Saturday nights watching re-runs of Downton Abbey than heading downtown to the newest brewpub.

The new application CouchCachet promises to give you the fully-booked, in-the-know life you so desperately wish to present. The app is a full-service social booster: Not only does it check you in to the trendiest places in your neighborhood, it also periodically tweets obscure lyrics and photos of hipsters in skinny jeans. As one of the quotes from the site says: “I can finally  be who I want you to think I am”. And what you are, along with the rest of the internet, is mostly an algorithm.

Via the New York Times.

victimless shelter

‘Victimless Shelter’ Grown from Pig Cells

It’s a self-evident truth that there’s nothing that can’t be better with bacon – including housing. While Next Nature was busy dreaming up new in vitro meat (IVM) foods, the mad scientists of Terreform ONE in New York went ahead and designed an entire dwelling made of IVM pig cells. While the prototype for the “victimless shelter” is just conventional pig leather, the real deal (if it ever exists) would be a complex structure with tissue-engineered bone for support and giant sphincters for windows. We’ll leave it up to the religious authorities to decide whether a pork house is kosher.

retouching models to make them appear fatter

Reverse Retouching: Fattening Up Too-Thin Models

In a darkly ironic reversal of its normal role, Photoshop is now being deployed to make models look more fleshy than they actually are. In part spurred on by the impossible beauty standards that Photoshop has made commonplace, models have become so adept at self-starvation that magazine editors have to use software to make them look healthier.

Former Cosmo editor Leah Hardy recently described the “reverse-retouching” that occurred under her tenure:

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Augmented Bodies

Did Forks Really Give Modern Humans an Overbite?

The food writer Bee Wilson, author of Consider the Fork, has put forth a surprising theory about forks and teeth that has received widespread online coverage. According to Wilson, humans had an ape-like bite until relatively recently, with our top and bottom incisors aligned along their edges. With the invention of the fork around 250 years ago, our teeth abruptly switched to the overbite that is common to nearly every human today.

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moss table creates electricity

Moss Table Powers Its Own Lamp

When moss photosynthesize, they release nutritious fats, carbs and proteins into their roots to feed colonies of helpful, symbiotic bacteria. In the process of breaking down these compounds, the bacteria release electrons. In other words, the create electricity. Researchers at the University of Cambridge have figured out how to harness these minute electrical charges into an emerging technology called biophotovoltiacs (BPV).

Created by Alex Driver, Carlos Peralta, Paolo Bombelli, the prototype Moss Table produces enough electricity to power a small lamp. According to Peralta, the Moss Table “suggests a world in which self-sustaining organic-synthetic hybrid objects surround us, and supply us with our daily needs in a clean and environmentally friendly manner.” Small devices could be powered by houseplants or backyard gardens, while larger arrays of plants might hold promise as a new renewable source of energy, especially in remote or impoverished communities.

See also the NANO Supermarket’s speculative algae-powered Latro Lamp and the Bioelectric Bonsai.

Story via the University of Cambridge. Image via Keetsa.

asteroid in orbit around the moon

NASA Might Give the Moon a Mini-Moon

Think the moon looks lonely up there? In a decade or so, NASA may add a tiny playmate to keep the moon company. Last April, researchers from the Keck Institute for Space Studies presented a proposal to “capture” an asteroid and drag it into the moon’s orbit. The moon’s new mini-moon would provide NASA astronauts with a laboratory for studying the feasibility of mining asteroids for metals, using their oxygen, hydrogen and carbon to refuel spacecraft, and for figuring out ways to prevent a Cretaceous-style extinction event. Compared to the moon, the 500 ton, 20-foot asteroid would not be very big, but would be a feat of engineering to astonish the world.

Via Discover Magazine.