As the waiting lists for organ replacements grows by the day scientists have long been trying to find ways for patients to get the organs they need to save their lives. There simply is no other way for someone who needs a new heart or lung to go without, they will die without the life-saving donation. This has always meant taking organs from living relatives if the needed replacement is not vital to survival (like a kidney or even a lung), or from the recently deceased in the case of something that is needed to live (like a heart). Of course that makes these all the more difficult to procure.
Here we step from reality though into science fiction. Biologists have reported that they can now replace a patient’s failing organs with ones taken from the person’s own cells and grown within an animal. This could possibly improve the chances of not having the organ be rejected by the body after transplant because it is developed from the person’s own stem cells.
The organs would be grown in large animals like pigs that are chimeras, animals composed of two different genomes. This is made by implanting human stem cells into the pig embryo early, meanings the animal would be made of a mixture of human and pig cells.
The question then becomes the ethics of all this. What does it mean when an animal also contains human cells? Is it entitled to human rights? How will these animals be kept? What is their future after they’ve made the organ needed for the transplant? It is unclear what the future of this project will bring, but surely something we should keep an eye on.
The search for habitable planets has always run into one big problem: no water on these space bound spheres. Water is a vital source of life, finding it on another planet is always a big boon in the ideas of trying to get out there to colonize another world.
Well, now NASA can add a new planet—albeit a dwarf one—to the list of planets with a form of water on the surface: Ceres. First discovered in 1772 by Johann Elert Bode, Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt that sits between Mars and Jupiter. It has a rocky core and now is confirmed to have water ice in one of its many shadowy regions that never see the light of day. These regions are about 350 degrees below zero!
Water ice is common on the dwarf planet, much more than previously thought—there could even be ice volcanoes that spout ice mixed with mud and salt. All of this makes it clear that at some point Ceres had liquid water.
What does this mean for us? Not much now, but as time goes on and space travel gets increasingly more common for us as humans we could find ourselves ready to look into a little planet that has the possibility for liquid water.
Fish have long been thought of as creatures without feeling and a lack of intellect. We make jokes about their lack of memory, and have overall desensitized ourselves to them. Few people will stand up and say their favorite animal is a fish, they simply are not very beloved by humans. However, what if you knew they actually had the capacity for a while breadth of feelings?
Jonathan Balcombe, director of animal sentience at the Humane Society Institute for Science claims that fish are much more complex than what we give them credit for. Experiments have shown that fish will respond to being stroked, it actually reduces stress hormones in their bodies. Additionally, they are able to recognize faces within large groups, and pick out people they have bonds with.
These animals have cognitive and emotional lives, much more so than we have previously assumed. There are 33,000 species of sea and freshwater fish, I think it is time to give them some of their dues.
Often it seems we see huge headlines that scream out to us about the plight of our environment. These headlines are often grim, and before going forward it is important to note that we should always heed these warnings. Our planet is in danger, our oceans and forests are under attack by multiple forces from climate change to pollution and everything in between. However, we also need to take the time to observe and learn from every small success we have in regaining a healthy world. Recently news has broken that the Atlantic Ocean might well be healing itself.
Tuna officially contains less mercury. It is believed that reduced coal emissions have started to make this fish a bit safer to eat (though it is good to note that women of child-bearing age should always avoid Bluefin Tuna in case of a pregnancy, as well as children themselves—as any level of mercury is so harmful for their development). A new study finds that mercury levels have declined by about 19 percent between 2004 and 2012 in Tuna.
Coal has been on the decline for a while, which not only means less emissions from the fuel source but also less and less plants being created in the first place. This is small, but evidence that our actions make a difference. Imagine what could happen if we could find ways to offset carbon emissions even more. Our fish could be free of many of these toxic chemicals that not only hurt them, but ourselves as we consume them. We must see this good news and continue to work to free the world from the forces that hurt it.
Space travel has long been on the minds of the human race. In 1835 the Great Moon Hoax brought us the modern fever of wondering if there is life out in the stars. The Sun, a New York newspaper, reported fake stories about fantastical lifeforms found on the moon observed through earth bound telescopes. Since then of course, we’ve traveled to the moon and back and realized there are no trees, oceans, or anything near what we can call evidence of intelligent life out on the moon. Our attention seemed from that point to quickly swerve to travel to other planets, particularly Mars.
Mars has become Earth’s “backup plan”. Similar in size and with suitable gravity, we’ve seen it as a place that we will one day inhabit—maybe in the event that Earth is beyond saving. Getting there has never been more of reachable goal than it is today; technical readiness, public interest, and political will are finally all aligned to get human beings there. Both NASA and SpaceX have invested interests in getting us to the Red Planet in the next 20 years.
How will humans fare on this new planet however? Mars, while similar in size to Earth, is a much more unforgiving environment. No plants grow in its dry soil, there is no liquid water, and we cannot breathe much needed oxygen in its environment. Our lives on Mars would be limited to being indoors, or in complex space suites whenever we get the chance to step foot outside. We’d battle the fatigue of being constantly being cooped up and surrounded by others. We’ll need to provide shelter to these pilgrims; create ways to grow our own food and provide the inhabitants with clean water. Additionally, astronauts going to Mars will need protection from the extremely high levels of radiation out on the surface of the Red Planet.
In the face of all this, we as humans continue to press forward. Truly the spirit of explorations is shown at its best in these efforts. While only time will tell what will become of our attempts to colonize Mars, we know that the idea of space travel will always light up our minds with wonder and excitement.
The phrase “endangered animals” brings various images to mind. Tigers, pandas and the other endearing poster children for dwindling species likely spring up. We admire these animals for their attractive qualities and those traits are often used in campaigns for their benefit. Sleek cats and cute bears adorn fliers and other media that speak to the cause. What happens, however, when the endangered animal isn’t cute? Frankly, what happens when the endangered animal is just plain ugly? They’re certainly no less worthy of saving and no less important to our world, but they just don’t have the appeal of their majestic counterparts. How do we include them in our efforts to save animals on the brink of extinction?
In light of this issue, increasingly more campaigns and societies are coming forward to stop those not-so-cute creatures from disappearing. The World Wildlife Fund, a powerhouse in terms of raising funds for conservation, put this issue in perspective for Bluefin Tuna in their 2011 campaign. Fish might not be the first animal you think of when you consider endangered animals. Nevertheless, their numbers are quickly dropping as a result of overfishing. The campaign uses the face of popular endangered animals as masks on the Bluefins, asking the question, “Would you care more if I was a … ?”
Is it true? Would we care more if these fish were cuter, or if they just weren’t fish? Who will stand up for the “ugly” creatures? There is someone: Simon Watt and his Ugly Animal Preservation Society. The society was set up to shine a light on those less than attractive animals who need our help. You can find this community–and a book published under the same name–at uglyanimalsoc.com. By hosting gigs with comedians and otherwise spreading the word, they’re reaching out to speak for animals that just don’t strike the cute chord, like the Purple Pig Nosed Frog or the Blobfish. In their words, “we can’t all be pandas”.
We need to remember these less than cute creatures and their importance in the world. They deserve our attention, too.
As technology improves and robots become more intelligent–and in many ways more human–the future seems to be slowly approaching Hollywood’s classic model of it. Picture robots serving us food, selling us clothes, and taking over the service industry we depend on. If you think about it, we might already be in our Hollywood-like future. We have self checkouts, which eliminate the use of human tellers, automated phone receptionists, robotic assembly line workers, and so on. If the future is indeed here, the question isn’t whether or not robots will take our jobs, it’s whether they’ll come to dominate the these kinds of industries entirely. While that may sound terrifying and interesting at the same time, it’s not unreasonable to think that it might actually happen. The University of Oxford published a paper in 2013* that estimated in the next few decades there’s a 92% chance fast-food preparation and serving will be automated. Where will that leave those who fills those jobs now?
The idea of humans facing off against robots has been around for some time. We’ve clearly benefitted from the machines, but we’ve struggled with them, too. What’s more, finding the middle ground is often easier said than done. On one hand, we want to be the “masters” of technology and, on the other, we want to incorporate it into our lives such that or creations sweep away the tasks we don’t want or care to handle. –There’s no shortage of popular fiction that tries to grapple with this opposition. We seem to always have had this push and pull of fearing and loving tech. It might just reside in the fear of change that the future promises. Will the benefits of these robots outweigh our fear? Time will tell. However, seeing as tech has become so entrenched in our lives, we may very well be sipping on drinks delivered by apron-wearing androids.
How much would you tip a robot?
A collection of primitive paintings in a limestone cave on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi may include the oldest cave art known as of yet. Last year, a group of researchers proposed that a hand stencil may date back 40 millenia. The team was lead by Maxime Aubert and Adam Brumm of Griffith University in Queensland, Australia. While the images were first discovered in the 1950s, they were considered to have been created only 10,000 years ago. Scientists assumed that humid conditions would have destroyed anything older. Aubert and her team reported, however, that it’s likely the paintings were crafted around the same time as their French counterparts in Chauvet Cave.* They used a method called uranium-thorium dating, where a thin layer of calcium carbonate—otherwise known as “cave popcorn”—is sampled and tested to determine the rate at which the uranium decayed into thorium. In other words, the researchers were able to test a piece of cave popcorn that covered some of the paintings and figure out how old it was. That, in turn, allowed them to estimate the age of the artwork underneath. It was really, really old.
Credit: Kinez Riza
What does this mean to us? First, it challenges a Euro-centric theory that the level of self-awareness needed to create art was achieved in France or Spain before anywhere else. This simply doesn’t bear out if Aubert and her team’s findings hold up. It also suggests that our predecessors may have been equally as reflective before they migrated from Africa. Secondly, it speaks to the value of Indonesia as a region rich in invaluable artifacts that deserve to be protected. These artifacts not only promise to advance our understanding of human evolution, but also enrich our knowledge of Indonesian culture and how it came to be.
Click below** to read the about the story in Nature.
(Image via http://www.businessinsider.com/)
With its bright blue waters, some might consider the Pitcairn Islands to be one of the most pristine settings on Earth. It’s for good reason, then, that it’s on it’s way to becoming the largest single marine reserve on the planet. The islands are located squarely between South America’s west side and Australia in the South Pacific Ocean. The new reserve will be larger than the state of California and is being funded by the UK government’s 2015 budget. The protected area will help over 80 species of aquatic life, and it will be illegal to fish or mine in the reserve around the Islands unless you belong to the local population. The latter will be permitted to fish the waters in accordance with their traditional practices.
The reserve will be dependent on partnerships with non-governmental satellite monitoring.
Our oceans have been subjected to harsh treatment the past few hundred years, from overfishing to pollution. They’ve been both neglected and overlooked. The Guardian’s Adam Vaughan summed up the importance of this new marine reserve and ocean conservation: “What has happened in our oceans is a biodiversity tragedy, but it is a humanitarian issue too. Nearly a billion people depend on fish as their primary source of protein, and nearly a quarter of a billion depend on fish for their livelihoods.”
(Image via http://www.twincities.com/)
On February 22nd, a Western Lowland Gorilla named Dara gave birth to her first child, a beautiful baby girl, Arlene. She was named after the late Arlene Schenemann, a longtime zoo volunteer. The healthy baby was born weighing 5 pounds, and while nursing was a bit of a concern for this first time mother, Dara is now taken up the role of mother wonderfully. The Como Zoo continues to monitor the gorillas to ensure that the baby is fed regularly.
The Western Lowland Gorilla is the smallest of the two subspecies of Western Gorilla. But don’t let that fact fool you; males standing erect can be up to 6 feet tall and weigh up to 600 pounds! However, little Arlene will probably only get to around 5 feet tall and weigh half as much as her male counterparts. For now, she’ll be carried around by her mother and Dara will continue to carry her until she’s about is 2 or 3. Childhood will last until she is 6 or 7 years old and she’ll reach sexual maturity around 8 years old. In the wild, these Gorillas live to be around 35 years old. Females usually remain with their family group for the duration of their lives and cultivate strong familial relationships within their group.
Her birth is a great step for the species, who have been in decline for decades due to human development encroaching on their range, illegal poaching for bushmeat and ebola. At this point, the Western Lowland Gorilla is listed by the WWF** as critically endangered.
Arlene and Dara will make their first public appearance in late March, so make sure you get out and say hi!