Tag Archives: genetics

The Botany of Desire – Part 2

BOTANY: The tulip, marijuana and human desire

** Read the first part of this article here **

Cannabis
MARIJUANA gratifies the human desire to experience an altered state of consciousness. We are all born with an innate drive to experience other mind states periodically, whether this manifests into singing, dancing, experimenting with substances or jumping out of an aeroplane.

CannabisThe genius of marijuana is to appeal to this human desire and it has mastered the art of biochemistry. Through it we have discovered a wealth of information regarding how memory, emotion and consciousness all work.

Continue reading

The Botany of Desire

* View this post in HD *

PLANTS: The apple and potato of desire

THE banana plant can ‘walk’ up to 40 centimeters in its lifetime. Many herbal plants can warn each other chemically when predatory herbivores are nearby. The sunflower is able to extract radioactivity from water.

Plants really aren’t appreciated enough in our hi-tech, modernised world. Many humans like to believe that we somehow exist outside the web of nature rather than living within it. From an evolutionary point of view, plants are just as advanced as humans. Time and time again nature proves that it is stronger than any of our designs as we constantly try to control it.

Continue reading

The Future: energy production and longevity

*View this post in HD*

THE FUTURE: Drinking water, energy, food production and longevity

WHAT we call “the future” may be closer than we think. The technology and solutions for many global issues already exist both in theory and practice; they just need to be properly implemented. Growing populations, clean drinking water, electricity, food production and even longevity are all on the cards within the coming decades…

Energy production in major cities

electricityFIRSTLY let’s just get something out of the way here. The whole energy crisis mumbo-jumbo is a complete myth. When there is something like load-shedding, this is the result of inefficiency. There is no longer a need to burn finite fossil fuels to produce electricity. Geothermal energy alone (which comes from the Earth) could power the entire planet for billions of years to come.

What’s more likely to happen, however, is that cities will use a combination of sustainable and renewable energy sources. We are all already familiar with tidal, wind and solar power, but some scientists are looking at heavy pedestrian areas as a possible energy source.

American inventor Elizabeth Redmond is looking at ways of generating electricity from human kinetic energy­, or foot traffic, using what she calls the POWERleap Flooring system. Thin and spongy smart panels which contain micro generators, produce piezoelectricity from applied mechanical pressure.

Power is produced and stored on the spot as people walk over them and go about their daily business. Placing these panels over busy sidewalks or pedestrian areas would produce enough electricity to power a large portion of a city’s electrical infrastructure (traffic lights, elevators­ etc.). Not only that, but sidewalks and cities would be a lot quieter too.

Longevity and Ageing

Anti-AgeingIT would be such a shame if all of this was to come to pass and we weren’t around to experience it. Exercise and diet aside, genetics are the way forward if we wish to enjoy longer life spans.

A good start for advancing longevity would be to have a personal copy of your genome or genetic profile. Iceland is already having its entire population profiled, which is a logical start as Iceland is a relatively small and closed population. Having­ an accurate copy of your body’s instruction manual, will allow you to take preventive measures in advance before the unfavourable genes strike.

Advances in modern medicine are also promising to extend our lives within the coming decades. A longevity gene has already been isolated which is currently extending the life span of mice two-fold. Fortunately we all possess this gene, it’s just a matter of triggering it. It may very well be possible to simply pop a “longevity pill” in the near future. You might also be delighted to know that the active ingredient for the longevity gene is found in red wine.

According to Cambridge scholar and founder of the Methuselah Foundation, Aubrey DeGrey, keeping our bodies young and youthful is just a matter of maintenance. DeGrey believes that we can combat ageing by treating it as a simple engineering problem. “When things break, we can fix them”, says DeGrey.

DeGrey’s Methuselah Foundation is offering a whopping grand prize of $4,5 million (roughly R31,5 million) to the research group that can most successfully extend the life span of lab mice by breaking the world record for the oldest mouse. The “Mprize” is designed to directly accelerate the development of revolutionary new life extension therapies, and it’s working.

The Future: What comes next?

*View this post in HD*

THE FUTURE: clean Drinking water, electricity, food production and longevity

WHAT we call “the future” may be closer than we think. The technology and solutions for many global issues already exist both in theory and practice; they just need to be properly implemented. Growing populations, clean drinking water, electricity, food production and even longevity are all on the cards within the coming decades…

Distilling fresh drinking water

Water splashDESPITE our little Earth being more than two-thirds water­, only three percent of this is drinkable. To make matters worse, a large portion of this miniscule percentage is either polluted or contaminated. Despite what some doomsayers might say, a lack of fresh water is single-handedly the biggest threat to the survival of our species and many others.

So how can we produce more of it cheaply? Simple. Boil dirty water beyond recognition. Boiling water at extreme temperatures not only kills germs, but rising water vapour leaves behind any sediment or pollutants, which don’t vaporise. Water vapour collected via this distilling process is highly pure and drinkable.

American inventor of the Segway, Dean Kamen, has invented a small portable device that can produce clean drinking water from any source — even ocean water and sewage. He calls it the Slingshot, which is designed to produce 1000 litres of clean drinking water a day and can be manufactured for under $2 000 (roughly R14 000).

Of course it takes huge amounts of energy to boil water at such temperatures. To counter this, Kamen uses­ a heat-exchange device which is powered by heat and produces the energy needed to create heat. This closed loop of energy allows the Slingshot to run on less power than a toaster.

Food production in major cities

Sky farmIT is estimated that about 80% of what grows in the ground can be grown indoors under controlled environments. Indoor farms and hydroponics (growing plants without soil) make so much sense when we consider that the majority of the world’s population lives in densely populated urban areas.

Furthermore, growing food directly where it’s needed, will result in lower inflation and therefore cheaper food. No fuel or transport costs would affect the price of staple foodstuffs. Weather conditions would no longer be an issue and we would no longer need to worry about farm attacks.

According to Dr Dickson Despommier from the University of Columbia, a 30-story high sky farm about the size of one New York city block, could consistently feed around 50 000 people per year. The logic is quite simple: to produce food where the people live. The result would be being able to get freshly picked fruit and vegetables easily and cheaply on a daily basis.

Link: The Vertical Farm

Bioluminescent pets – A glowing debate

*View this post in HD*

GloPets_banner

GENE-ALTERED PETS: Creatures that light up your life

BIOTECHNOLGY is a fascinating field. It has so much to offer society, and it is not inaccurate to say that it will inevitably be the salvation of our planet. Advocates can immediately point to its beneficial uses in agriculture and the production of eco-friendly fuels.

However, it seems that a very fine line is crossed when science begins to toy with nature. In fact, it is almost impossible to utter the term “genetic engineering” without raising several ethical questions and rallying its opponents.

The world today would be a very different place if science was unregulated. In many instances, control over its application is necessary for there is such a thing as mad scientists who will stop at nothing to test their latest scientific experiments. However, the more level-headed scientists become frustrated when practical and theoretically beneficial applications are simply dismissed on ethical grounds.

Bioluminescent biotechnology is one seemingly innocent branch of science that has brought some interesting ideas to the table. Biogeneticists in this field have spoken about glowing trees that light up highways, agricultural crops that glow when they need watering, and even bioluminescent methods of detecting dodgy meats and other foods. Yet the real controversy arose when they began speaking about bioluminescent pets.

GloFish sparks debate
Pet stores in the United States have been under the spotlight since 2004 over the sale of genetically-modified fish that glow in the dark. Sold under the name GloFish, these creatures carry a lofty claim to fame: they are the nation’s first officially sanctioned genetically-modified pet, and scientists say that they won’t be the last.

The GloFish is a zebra danio that is made to glow red by the insertion of a gene found in sea coral. Naturally black and white, the new GloFish has gone from curiosity to a focal point in the debate over biotechnology.

There are valid points to be made on both sides of the debate. The central ethical concern centres on the idea of altering the genetic make-up of an animal when there’s no purpose besides our own pleasure. However, most bio-geneticists will argue that this has already been occurring for years.

The Eighth Day

The Eighth Day

The pet industry is in many ways a peculiar venue for such a heated debate over the wisdom of genetic modification. The whole notion of a pet, after all, is based on generations upon generations of selective breeding aimed at drawing out certain characteristics that make animals more suitable companions.

Think about dog breeding and all the breeds of dog that wouldn’t be around without human interference. These pooches may not glow in the dark, but the fact that their genes were somehow manipulated can still be used in favour of genetic engineering.

The scary part is that geneticists could very well create an alien-looking, glow-in-the-dark dog. They’ve done it with mice and fish — the latter being the more popular. In fact, the GloFish has absolutely opened the floodgates to a whole new pet trade in genetically engineered animals.

Upsetting the natural balance of the wild
People who are opposed to the idea may also bring up the risk of unregulated gene-altered pets upsetting the natural balance of nature and the wild. However, the idea of a rogue GloFish escaping its aquarium and spawning an army of mutant glow-fish in the wild that ultimately wipe out other species of fish does not presently have a lot of backing.

Yet the question remains: How will a glowing fish benefit society? What’s interesting is that the GloFish was not originally engineered to be a pet. In fact, its creation was rather strange. According to a Washington Post article:

“…glowing fish of a related species were originally developed in a Singapore laboratory for use as a modern-day canary in a coal mine. The fish were supposed to indicate, by glowing, if a given body of water is polluted.”

Although this practical use of glowing fish failed, there still seems to be more weight on the side of the debate that argues that genetic modification of animals in general can be advantageous to both people and pets. Researchers are already at work trying to create a cat that won’t aggravate its owner’s allergies. Other possible creations include a dog that isn’t as susceptible to hip dysplasia, an ailment common among German shepherds and Labradors that is associated with over-breeding.

Proposed applications of engineered bioluminescence
Some other proposed applications of engineered bioluminescence include:

• Detecting bacterial species in suspicious corpses.
Novelty pets that bioluminesce (rabbits, mice, fish etcetera).
Agricultural crops and domestic plants that luminesce when they need watering.
Bio-identifiers for escaped convicts and mental patients.
Glowing trees to line highways, thus saving on government electricity bills.
Christmas trees that do not need lights, reducing danger from electrical fires.
New methods for detecting bacterial contamination of meats and other foods.

So will (or should) biotechnology be left to genetically modify our future pets? It seems that that is already the case. Whether they will be bioluminescent remains a question of personal taste and will ultimately be left to public demand. There will always be a market for the bizarre. Would I ever add a GloFish to my aquarium? Sure. You can get them in the U.S. for $5.