Adorably Endangered Kitten Born to Domestic Cat Surrogate
“Crystal”, an endangered black-footed cat, was recently born to a domestic cat surrogate at the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species. The birth was achieved using a previously frozen embryo, marking…
Better Than Nature?
At the turn of the millennium, miniaturized canines acquired the cherished status of living, designer handbag ornaments. These teeny tiny photogenic doggies, which had been shrunken from generations of in breeding, were snapped up by fashionistas who pouted alongside them in front of seas of clicking cameras.
In just a fragment of evolutionary time, today’s ‘to die for’ bio-couture has been genetically spliced with jellyfish signatures. These trophies are freer to roam and easier to find than their miniaturised predecessors, as they can glow under UV, or ‘black’ light. Although not all varieties can fit in a clutch purse yet, there is an impressive range of designer ‘glo’ organisms available in green and red (blue is possible but isn’t as impressive under UV light). Options include fruit flies, fish, mice, chickens, rabbits, pigs and cats (for glo-cats, see here, here and here).
Science justifies these media friendly creations in service of the greater public good. Yet these animals have great popular appeal that speaks little to their ability to fight cancer or other diseases. Despite their ‘freaky’ designer origins, glo pets are undeniably ‘cute’. Genetic modification is part of a spectrum of technological approaches offered by the new science of synthetic biology, which enable us to overcome the apparent lottery of nature. The fundamental ‘vanity’ at the heart of synthetic biology is that we can do ‘better’ than nature, but is this actually possible?
Any Sufficiently Advanced Civilization is Indistinguishable from Nature
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” 
In Western cultures, nature is a cosmological, primal ordering force and a terrestrial condition that exists in the absence of human beings. Both meanings are freely implied in everyday conversation. We distinguish ourselves from the natural world by manipulating our environment through technology. In What Technology Wants, Kevin Kelly proposes that technology behaves as a form of meta-nature, which has greater potential for cultural change than the evolutionary powers of the organic world alone.
With the advent of ‘living technologies’ , which possess some of the properties of living systems but are not ‘truly’ alive, a new understanding of our relationship to the natural and designed world is imminent. This change in perspective is encapsulated in Koert Van Mensvoort’s term ‘next nature’, which implies thinking ‘ecologically’, rather than ‘mechanically’. The implications of next nature are profound, and will shape our appreciation of humanity and influence the world around us.
A New Take on the Tree
Many people will have heard of the infamous swastika made up of larches that revealed itself every autumn in a forest outside Berlin. The trees, which turned yellow at the end of the year, stood out against the otherwise evergreen pine forest. The 60 sq yd Nazi symbol was only discovered after the fall of the Berlin Wall when the new German unified government ordered aerial surveys of state-owned land. While it may certainly be the most notorious, the German swastika plantation certainly isn’t the first time man has manipulated living trees for his own, often crude, purposes.
Visitors to the Castelluccio region of Italy are usually surprised to see a strangely familiar shape looming from one of the mountains that enclose the vibrant valley. Planted by some unknown patriot, a small forest in the shape of Italy has established itself on the otherwise meadowed mountainside.
Although a small dose of nationalism can be expected from most rural folk, the plantations found along the rest of the mountain range – one in the shape of North America, one resembling Africa and another Australia – are perhaps more suited to a Benetton advert than the sedate Umbrian countryside.
Over in Kyrgyzstan, a mountain in Tash-Bashat, near the edge of the Himalayas, is also the unfortunate home to a living swastika. At more than 600 feet wide, the fir tree plantation is at least 60 years old. Rumoured to have been planted by German prisoners of war, the actual truth of the design is shrouded in mystery.
Nationalism also spawned another, less offensive forest design. Situated on the chalky South Downs that separate the UK city of Brighton from its northerly neighbours stands a plantation in the shape of a huge ‘V’ – planted to commemorate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee in 1887. When planted, it consisted of 3060 trees costing 12 pounds, 10 shillings and four pence.