Animal Hybrids and Human Replacement Organs  

p04nb0mqAs 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.

World’s Oldest Orangutan Celebrates 62nd Birthday

PAY-PROD-WORLDS-OLDEST-BORNEAN-ORANGUTAN-CELEBRATES-62ND-BIRTHDAY62 is an age of seniority among all human cultures. It is a time for retirement, a time for grandchildren, and a time for leisure. Most animals will never make it to this age, and in that way humans are unique. However, on occasion there is time to celebrate the rarity of such a long life span in an animal; in this case let’s meet the world’s oldest Bornean Orangutan Gypsy Chan.

Gypsy Chan just celebrated making it to 62 years old at the Tokyo Tama Zoo in Japan. To mark the occasion, the playful grandmother ape shoved her two-year-old grandson’s face into her birthday fruit cake. Who says that age defeats humor?

Bornean Orangutans are highly intelligent creatures who share 97% of their DNA with humans. They typically weigh around 66-220 pounds depending on age and sex. In the wild they normally live about 35-45 years, so this makes Gypsy Chan’s age all the more reason to celebrate. Bornean Orangutans are endangered, with only 54,500 left in the wild.

Gypsy Chan has been a wonderful ambassador for her breed, and is a well-known peacekeeper. She has amazed scientists by breaking up fights between other apes. Orangutans spend most of their time alone in the wild, so this behavior is all the more interesting!

May you continue to go strong in 2017 Gypsy Chan!

Tech in the New Year

vrA new year, a new set of tech is on coming our way. We all remember when the Ipod was released so many years ago, and truly that may have been the birth of our modern tech boom. Since then it seems like every year something new and increasingly fascinating has been released; smart phones, personal drones, fitness tech, etc. So what’s on the rise for 2017?

Tech is ingrained in every part of our lives, many may resist this—but the overwhelming trend is clearly leaning towards smart technology. We have already dipped our toes into this first trend, but it is clear that virtual reality will continue to grow in 2017. Virtual reality will begin to take shape and become more mainstream within gaming. Call it the new Atari, rough and imperfect now—but clearly leading to something bigger down the road.

Next up is something that everyone uses, even the most tech-resistant among us; cars. Yes, self-driving car technology is only going to get bigger in 2017. Take a drive through the Bay Area and you are likely to see a plethora of these self-driving cars whizzing around from Stanford to San Francisco and everywhere in-between. This form of transportation will start to expand this year to more locales no doubt.

My last prediction is more people turning to get their news from social media. We already saw this trend in 2016; people pulling away from mainstream news sites and shows and turning to the news they see on Facebook and Twitter among other alternative sources. We already rely on social media, so it becoming a big source of our news only seems logical at a certain point. Will it be a turn towards more truthful news coverage or a rise of fake stories? Only time will tell. 2017 is surely going to be a volatile year, and news coverage will be more important than ever to follow.

Cheers to the new year and cheers to new tech.

The Mysterious Ceres

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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 Feelings Too

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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.

A Bad Year for the Amazon Rainforest

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The Amazon Rainforest has long been a symbol of ecology and preservation. It is often been at the center of the hot topics of deforestation, pollution, abuse of indigenous people and their rights, and extinction of both plant and animal species. However, I find more often than not and despite the serious issues surrounding this epicenter of the earth we see the Amazon Rainforest as only but a symbol—and not a real place. Our removal in part because we are not there, we do not see it on a daily basis, and to us it only exists maybe as some exotic place rather than a concrete location with real daily problems.

However this must end, as the Amazon Rainforest has had a bad year.

Between August 2015 and June 2016 more than 3,085 miles of the Amazon Rainforest were destroyed—a marked increase of 29 percent from the last year. This place is real. The impact on the world is real. The deforestation effects more than half of the total tree biodiversity of the forest and impacts near 180 indigenous groups that live in the Amazon.

While overall the annual loss of the forest has decreased, this is the first time since 2004 that the destruction increased. Why the sudden turn? What has changed? Illegal logging, taking care of stock animals, clearing the forest for living space. As population grows and we need more space and animals surely the forests suffer. Action needs to be taken and we need to stop seeing the Amazon as a distant magical place and instead as a real location that needs help. Solutions must be put in place if we have any hope of letting the forest remain its current size—or better yet grow once again.

Employees Will Need to Adapt to New Tech

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No matter where you work, no matter the field or location, you have surely seen the technology in your job change over time. Computers, smart phones, and automated work forces within robotic technology above all else have completely swung the direction of all businesses in ways they never expected. This tech is not all bad, and within embracing new tools comes many benefits. Technology no doubt has created a more focused and enlightened work force.

There are many ways we can help ourselves, our coworkers, and our employees grow and gain from tech from education to creating a culture of progress. What does this look like though in the work place?

Simply put training is a great place to start. Many fear tech because they are unsure if they will be able to use it, after all everyone fears looking slow or behind the times. Open up the conversation and hold no judgements—only opportunities to learn. Retrain all whenever a new technology is brought in, and make it beneficial to everyone. The key is keeping those around you feeling comfortable, entertained, and encouraged. The next step is tracking feedback both from employees and the numbers. How do those in your company feel about the new tech? How do your sales or business numbers look? Always be open to helping those lagging, and don’t be afraid to make adjustments so that all are more productive and use the tech efficiently. Lastly encourage questions not only from those around you, but from yourself as well. Creating a space that is open and able to discuss will always make integrating tech all the much easier. Within creating this open culture in the workplace tech will only make your business more productive!

Nature Can Heal Itself

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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.

The Last Tigers  

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As we face more and more alarming numbers and statistics related to our endangered animals we face not only the loss of flora and fauna, but the loss of a country’s icon. Let’s look to Malaysia, a neighbor of Indonesia and a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural powerhouse. This country not only has a diverse population, but also is a megadiverse bio-climate with a high number of species and high levels of endemism. For their part Malaysia signed the Rio Convention on Biological Diversity in 1993 and produced a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, which was received by the convention in 1998. However, they are not exempt from the trend of wildlife extinction. A prime example of that is the national animal of Malaysia; the Malayan Tiger.

The Malayan Tiger is listed as critically endangered by the IUCN in 2015, and in a count in 2013 researchers only found around 250 mature breeding individuals. This animal is important to the country: there are two of these tigers depicted on the coat of arms of Malaysia and it appears on many other heraldries of Malaysia. It is prominent in local folklore and the nickname of the Malaysian national football team. Overall it holds a strong place in the history and memory of the Malaysian people.

Malayan Tigers themselves are smaller than their Indian cousins, but still are magnificent predators. They prey on local deer and boar mostly, and like many other troubled carnivores occasionally take livestock as meals.

Their main threats are commercial poaching and infringement on their natural territories. While all states in which the tiger lives have banned domestic trade of tiger parts the practice continues. Their attacks on livestock leave people hunting down problem tigers. If their habitat loss and hunting doesn’t stop Malaysia will lose this important national symbol.

So what is being done? There are many success stories when it comes to endangered animals and scientists are hoping the Malayan Tiger will be one of them. First there is an effort to mitigate human-tiger conflict through better livestock management. By helping farmers have secure cattle sheds, tigers will reduce their predation leading to less needs to eliminate problem tigers. Next is land-use planning, that will lead to tiger-friendly choices and ensure protection of tiger habitats. Last is community outreach that will teach the people the importance of Malayan Tiger survival, and hopefully curb poaching. So, it isn’t all over for the tigers of Malaysia. As with anything there is hope and there is a will to allow these important creatures to survive.

To Mars We Go?

This computer-generated view depicts part of Mars at the boundary between darkness and daylight, with an area including Gale Crater beginning to catch morning lightSpace 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.