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Archive for the ‘biological’ category: Page 183

Sep 19, 2010

New Plant Paradigms (Part X: Power Plants, Greening the Desert, Phyto-Terraforming, and Recommendations)

Posted by in categories: biological, biotech/medical, futurism, habitats

(End of series. For previous topics please see parts I-IX)

Power plants. Trees could do a lot, as we have seen — and they’re solar powered, too. Once trees can suck metals from the soil and grow useful, shaped objects like copper wire, a few more levels of genetic engineering could enable the tree to use this copper wire to deliver electricity. Since a tree is already, now, a solar energy converter, we can build on that by having the tree grow tissues that convert energy into electricity. Electric eels can already do that, producing enough of a jolt to be lethal to humans. Even ordinary fish produce small amounts of electricity to create electric fields in the water around them. Any object nearby disrupts the field, enabling the fish to tell that something is near, even in total darkness. We may never be able to plug something into a swimming fish but we can already make batteries out of potatoes. So why not trees that grow into electricity providers all by themselves? It would be great to be able to plug your electrical devices into a tree (or at least a socket in your house that is connected to the tree). Then you would no longer need to connect to the grid, purchase solar panels, or install a windmill. You would, however, need to keep your trees healthy and vigorous! Tree care specialists would become a highly employable occupation.

Greening the desert. The Sahara and various other less notorious but still very dry deserts around the world have plenty of sand and rocks. But they don’t have much greenery. The main problem is lack of water. Vast swaths of the Sahara, for example, are plant free. It’s just too dry. However this problem is solvable! Cacti and other desert plants could potentially extract water from the air. Plants already extract carbon dioxide molecules from the air. Even very dry air contains considerable water vapor, so why not extract water molecules too. Indeed, plants already transport water molecules in the ground into their roots, so is it really such a big step to do the same from the air? Tillandsia (air plant) species can already pull in water with their leaves, but it has to be rain or other liquid water. Creating plants that can extract gaseous water vapor from the air in a harsh desert environment would require sophisticated genetic engineering, or a leap for mother nature, but it is still only the first step. Plants get nutrients out of the soil by absorbing fluid that has dissolved them, so dry soil would be a problem even for a plant that contained plenty of water pulled from the air. Another level of genetic engineering or natural evolution would be required to enable them to secrete fluid out of their roots to moisten chunks of soil to dissolve its minerals, and reabsorb the now nutritious, mineral-laden liquid back into their roots.

Once this difficult task is accomplished, whether by natural evolution in the distant future or genetic engineering sooner, things will be different in the desert. Canopies of vegetation that hide the ground will be possible. Thus shaded and sheltered, the ground will be able to support a much richer ecosystem of creatures and maybe even humans than is currently the case in deserts. One of Earth’s harshest environments would be tamed.

Continue reading “New Plant Paradigms (Part X: Power Plants, Greening the Desert, Phyto-Terraforming, and Recommendations)” »

Jul 12, 2010

The True Cost of Ignoring Nonhumans

Posted by in categories: biological, ethics, futurism, policy

Posted by Dr. Denise L Herzing and Dr. Lori Marino, Human-Nonhuman Relationship Board

Over the millennia humans and the rest of nature have coexisted in various relationships. However the intimate and interdependent nature of our relationship with other beings on the planet has been recently brought to light by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. This ongoing environmental disaster is a prime example of “profit over principle” regarding non-human life. This spill threatens not only the reproductive viability of all flora and fauna in the affected ecosystems but also complex and sensitive non-human cultures like those we now recognize in dolphins and whales.

Although science has, for decades, documented the links and interdependence of ecosystems and species, the ethical dilemma now facing humans is at a critical level. For too long have we not recognized the true cost of our life styles and priorities of profit over the health of the planet and the nonhuman beings we share it with. If ever the time, this is a wake up call for humanity and a call to action. If humanity is to survive we need to make an urgent and long-term commitment to the health of the planet. The oceans, our food sources and the very oxygen we breathe may be dependent on our choices in the next 10 years.

And humanity’s survival is inextricably linked to that of the other beings we share this planet with. We need a new ethic.

Continue reading “The True Cost of Ignoring Nonhumans” »

Apr 18, 2010

Ray Kurzweil to keynote “H+ Summit @ Harvard — The Rise Of The Citizen Scientist”

Posted by in categories: biological, biotech/medical, business, complex systems, education, events, existential risks, futurism, geopolitics, human trajectories, information science, media & arts, neuroscience, robotics/AI

With our growing resources, the Lifeboat Foundation has teamed with the Singularity Hub as Media Sponsors for the 2010 Humanity+ Summit. If you have suggestions on future events that we should sponsor, please contact [email protected].

The summer 2010 “Humanity+ @ Harvard — The Rise Of The Citizen Scientist” conference is being held, after the inaugural conference in Los Angeles in December 2009, on the East Coast, at Harvard University’s prestigious Science Hall on June 12–13. Futurist, inventor, and author of the NYT bestselling book “The Singularity Is Near”, Ray Kurzweil is going to be keynote speaker of the conference.

Also speaking at the H+ Summit @ Harvard is Aubrey de Grey, a biomedical gerontologist based in Cambridge, UK, and is the Chief Science Officer of SENS Foundation, a California-based charity dedicated to combating the aging process. His talk, “Hype and anti-hype in academic biogerontology research: a call to action”, will analyze the interplay of over-pessimistic and over-optimistic positions with regards of research and development of cures, and propose solutions to alleviate the negative effects of both.

Continue reading “Ray Kurzweil to keynote "H+ Summit @ Harvard — The Rise Of The Citizen Scientist"” »

Sep 1, 2009

Keeping genes out of terrorists’ hands

Posted by in categories: biological, biotech/medical, chemistry, counterterrorism, existential risks, policy

Nature News reports of a growing concern over different standards for DNA screening and biosecurity:

“A standards war is brewing in the gene-synthesis industry. At stake is the way that the industry screens orders for hazardous toxins and genes, such as pieces of deadly viruses and bacteria. Two competing groups of companies are now proposing different sets of screening standards, and the results could be crucial for global biosecurity.

“If you have a company that persists with a lower standard, you can drag the industry down to a lower level,” says lawyer Stephen Maurer of the University of California, Berkeley, who is studying how the industry is developing responsible practices. “Now we have a standards war that is a race to the bottom.”

Continue reading “Keeping genes out of terrorists' hands” »

Jul 6, 2009

Unique opportunity to sponsor research investigating an infectious cause and potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease

Posted by in categories: biological, biotech/medical, neuroscience

Unique opportunity to sponsor research investigating an infectious cause and potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease



Alzheimer’s disease afflicts some 20 million people world-wide, over 5 million people of whom reside in the United States. It is currently the seventh-leading cause of death in the US. The number of people with the disease is predicted to increase by over 50% by 2030. The economic as well as emotional costs are huge, the costs being estimated as more than $148 billion each year (direct and indirect, for of all types of dementia, to Medicare, Medicaid and businesses).

The causes of Alzheimer’s disease are unknown, apart from the very small proportion with familial disease. We are investigating the involvement of infectious agents in the disease, with particular emphasis on the virus that causes oral herpes/cold sores/fever blisters. We discovered that most elderly humans harbour this virus in their brains and that in those (and only those) who possess a certain genetic factor, the virus confers a strong risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Also, we found that the virus is directly involved with the characteristic abnormalities seen in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients.

There are several treatment possibilities available to combat this virus and all would be suitable candidates as therapies in Alzheimer’s disease. However, much more research is needed before trials of these agents for Alzheimer’s disease in humans can begin.

In these financially difficult times many funding bodies have to prioritise projects based around long established hypotheses. Projects involving new avenues of investigation can receive very positive comments by scientific reviewers, yet are rarely funded, as they almost always appear risky compared with projects largely confirming or expanding existing ideas. Such conservative projects are almost guaranteed to produce useful data, though with modest impact. This situation can mean that research proposals with the potential to transform our understanding of a disease and offer new approaches to its treatment never reach the threshold for funding and are not implemented, even though the potential and quality of the science is acknowledged by reviewers and funding panel.

It appears that our work examining a viral cause for Alzheimer’s disease is in this category. Despite our publishing a large number of potentially very exciting papers on this topic, and despite our research projects being reviewed favourably by scientific referees, few funding panels are prepared to commit resources to fund our work, as by doing so they deny funding to other more straightforward, very low risk projects.

We are therefore actively seeking sponsorship for several projects of varying costs to investigate the interaction of virus and specific genetic factor, the pathways of viral damage in the brain, and the effects of antiviral agents. All the projects would provide significant evidence strengthening the case for trialling antiviral agents in Alzheimer’s disease.

Antiviral agents would inhibit a likely major cause of the disease in contrast to current treatments, which merely inhibit the symptoms.

If any Lifeboat member knows of a company or individual that would be interested in sponsoring some of our research on Alzheimer’s disease then please contact me for further details.

Ruth Itzhaki

Continue reading “Unique opportunity to sponsor research investigating an infectious cause and potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease” »

Jul 2, 2009

Alan Turing: Biology, Evolution and Artificial Intelligence

Posted by in categories: biological, robotics/AI

It will probably come as a surprise to those who are not well acquainted with the life and work of Alan Turing that in addition to his renowned pioneering work in computer science and mathematics, he also helped to lay the groundwork in the field of mathematical biology(1). Why would a renowned mathematician and computer scientist find himself drawn to the biosciences?

Interestingly, it appears that Turing’s fascination with this sub-discipline of biology most probably stemmed from the same source as the one that inspired his better known research: at that time all of these fields of knowledge were in a state of flux and development, and all posed challenging fundamental questions. Furthermore, in each of the three disciplines that engaged his interest, the matters to which he applied his uniquely creative vision were directly connected to central questions underlying these disciplines, and indeed to deeper and broader philosophical questions into the nature of humanity, intelligence and the role played by evolution in shaping who we are and how we shape our world.

Central to Turing’s biological work was his interest in mechanisms that shape the development of form and pattern in autonomous biological systems, and which underlie the patterns we see in nature (2), from animal coat markings to leaf arrangement patterns on plant stems (phyllotaxis). This topic of research, which he named “morphogenesis,” (3) had not been previously studied with modeling tools. This was a knowledge gap that beckoned Turing; particularly as such methods of research came naturally to him.

In addition to the diverse reasons that attracted him to the field of pattern formation, a major ulterior motive for his research had to do with a contentious subject which, astonishingly, is still highly controversial in some countries to this day. In studying pattern formation he was seeking to help invalidate the “argument from design(4) concept, which we know today as the hypothesis of “Intelligent Design.

Continue reading “Alan Turing: Biology, Evolution and Artificial Intelligence” »

Jun 18, 2009

Extra Germs and Toxins Found

Posted by in categories: biological, defense, military

Here’s a story that should concern anyone wanting to believe that the military has a complete and accurate inventory of chemical and biological warfare materials.

“An inventory of deadly germs and toxins at an Army biodefense lab in Frederick found more than 9,200 vials of material that was unaccounted for in laboratory records, Fort Detrick officials said Wednesday. The 13 percent overage mainly reflects stocks left behind in freezers by researchers who retired or left Fort Detrick since the biological warfare defense program was established there in 1943, said Col. Mark Kortepeter, deputy commander of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.”

The rest of the story appears here:
http://abcnews.go.com/Health/wireStory?id=7863828

Given that “The material was in tiny, 1mm vials that could easily be overlooked,” and included serum from Korean hemorrhagic fever patients, the lack of adequate inventory controls to this point creates the impression that any number of these vials could be outside their lab. Of course, they assure us they have it all under control. Which will be cold comfort if we don’t have a lifeboat.

Jun 16, 2009

Microbe on Ice

Posted by in categories: biological, lifeboat

It sounds like cryonics is working, at least for microbes. But could any humans now alive have resistance to ancient organisms?

Rational Review carried a link to this story:

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,526460,00.html

“After more than 120,000 years trapped beneath a block of ice in Greenland, a tiny microbe has awoken. … The new bacteria species was found nearly 2 miles (3 km) beneath a Greenland glacier, where temperatures can dip well below freezing, pressure soars, and food and oxygen are scarce. ‘We don’t know what state they were in,’ said study team member Jean Brenchley of Pennsylvania State University. ‘They could’ve been dormant, or they could’ve been slowly metabolizing, but we don’t know for sure.’”

It is yet another interesting possibility against which humans should prepare to protect ourselves. Where is our Lifeboat?

May 17, 2009

Dr. Moreau outlawed in LA — Panel Votes to Outlaw Human-Animal Hybrids

Posted by in categories: biological, biotech/medical, human trajectories

U.S. News and World Report — May 12, 2009, by KEVIN McGILL

BATON ROUGE, La.—Combining human and animal cells to create what are sometimes called “human-animal hybrids” would be a crime in Louisiana, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, under legislation approved Tuesday by a state Senate panel.

Scientific researchers in some areas have tried to create human embryonic stem cells, which scientists say could be used to develop treatment for a variety of human ailments, by placing human DNA into animal cells. But such practices are controversial for a number of reasons.

Continue reading “Dr. Moreau outlawed in LA — Panel Votes to Outlaw Human-Animal Hybrids” »

May 4, 2009

Forever Young

Posted by in categories: biological, biotech/medical, futurism, human trajectories, media & arts, space

(Crossposted on the blog of Starship Reckless)

Eleven years ago, Random House published my book To Seek Out New Life: The Biology of Star Trek. With the occasion of the premiere of the Star Trek reboot film and with my mind still bruised from the turgid awfulness of Battlestar Galactica, I decided to post the epilogue of my book, very lightly updated — as an antidote to blasé pseudo-sophistication and a reminder that Prometheus is humanity’s best embodiment. My major hope for the new film is that Uhura does more than answer phones and/or smooch Kirk.

Coda: The Infinite Frontier

star-trekA younger science than physics, biology is more linear and less exotic than its older sibling. Whereas physics is (mostly) elegant and symmetric, biology is lunging and ungainly, bound to the material and macroscopic. Its predictions are more specific, its theories less sweeping. And yet, in the end, the exploration of life is the frontier that matters the most. Life gives meaning to all elegant theories and contraptions, life is where the worlds of cosmology and ethics intersect.

Continue reading “Forever Young” »