Author: Billy Schonenberg


Eco Currency Questions

In December 2014 Radiolab had a show about Worth. The third segment discussed possibilities to put a price-tag on nature, and what this would implicate. Another interesting perspective on an eco-currency. In their own words:

“Back in 1997, a team of scientists slapped a giant price tag on the earth. They calculated the dollar value of every ecosystem on the planet, and tallied it all up: 142.7 trillion dollars. It’s a powerful form of sticker shock — one that could give environmentalists ammunition to protect wetlands and save forests. But some people argue it actually devalues something that should be seen as priceless. Then the apple farmers of Mao county in central China turn this whole debate upside down and make us question the value of understanding nature in terms of dollars and cents.”

Listen to the story here. Image via Shutterstock.

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Trips to the Moon

When watching a science fiction flick, it can be hard to determine what time in the future it is set, although this is a usually an integral part of the movie. However, it is often obvious in which year the movie was made. The combination of costumes, cinematography, CGI, and content create an overall feeling that immediately makes you aware of when it was made. The celebrity actors are a dead give-away as well. Even the CGI capabilities of this post-Avatar-era are not enough to fool us- compare Jeff Bridges in Tron and Tron: Legacy.

The future depicted in these films always seems to follow the present in a linear fashion, while the actual future turns out to be wild, chaotic and unpredictable. Instead of an overview of correct predictions, the legacy of science fiction movies represents an interesting insight in the thoughts of people throughout the years. How the moon is depicted can be particularly telling of a given era’s mindset.  In Le Voyage dan la Lune, for example, the moon is shown as having a lush Earth-like ecosystem that makes for a grand adventure.  In Duncan Jones’ Moon, the moon has become much more like a true wilderness, isolated and uncaring.

It makes me wonder how will the moon be presented in science fiction movies over the next decade.  Will it be overrun with nanotechnology, restored to a next natural landscape, or be another base for Jeff Bridges?

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Computer versus Bacteria: Round Two

Last year, scientists managed to use the bacteria Escherichia coli to solve a mathematical problem, described in this research. This year, the building blocks of a computer are made.

Researchers at the UCSF School of Pharmacy’s Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, led by Christopher A. Voigt have just published a paper which promises to get your circuits moving. This team has been working with the same bacteria to build logic gates like the ones found in computers directly into cells, making it possible to rewire and program them. The simple logic gates used in the experiment were built into genes then inserted into E. coli cells. The logic gates then acted as the communicator between the separate strains, allowing them to be connected together. Via

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Revisiting Jurassic Park

When searching for Next Nature in the world around us, one does not necessarily have to look at the present. The science fiction novel Jurassic Park, written in 1990 by the recently deceased Michael Crichton and later turned into a big blockbuster movie by Steven Spielberg, already discusses the fusion between the born and the made.

Halfway through the book, there is a chapter where Dr. Wu, the chief scientist, tries to convince Hammond, the CEO, to go over to a next version of dinosaurs.

Hammond sighed. “Now, Henry, are we going to have another of those abstract discussions? You know I like to keep it simple. The dinosaurs we have now are real, and -”
“Well, not exactly,” Wu said. He paced the living room, pointed to the monitors. “I don’t think we should kid ourselves. We haven’t re-created the past here. The past is gone. It can never be re-created. What we’ve done is reconstruct the past – or at least a version of the past. And I’m saying we can make a better version.”

“Better than real?”
“Why not?” Wu said. “After all, these animals are already modified. We’ve inserted genes to make them patentable, and to make them lysine dependent. And we’ve done everything we can to promote growth, and accelerate development into adulthood.”
Hammond shrugged. That was inevitable. We didn’t want to wait. We have investors to consider.”

“Of course. But I’m just saying, why stop there? Why not push ahead to make exactly the kind of dinosaur that we’d like to see? One that is more acceptable to visitors, and one that is easier for us to handle? A slower, more docile version for our park?”

Remarkable is how these topics, which were science fiction when written two decades ago, are still very much up-to-date and even more relevant today than before. Gene modification for patent purposes is a subject that was covered recently. How far can, and perhaps more importantly should, mankind go ?

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