With technology reminiscent of Jurassic Park, scientists plan to revive long-extinct species like the passenger pigeon.
The practice of cloning has long been stigmatized. Although the potential benefits have yet to be definitively weighed against the possible ethical repercussions, according to National Geographic, a technology called de-extinction is now within reach.
In the past decade alone, scientific tools and procedures have improved so that the idea of successfully cloning animals has moved from a vague fantasy to a tenable reality. Environmentalist Stewart Brand has been researching the possibility of bringing back the passenger pigeon, a species hunted to extinction in 1914. Ben Novak is a genetics student heading up the passenger pigeon research for environmentalist Stewart Brand’s Revive & Restore organization. “We’re going to build from scratch the code that is a passenger pigeon, one gene at a time, [and] compare it to its closest relative. Then we’re going to introduce DNA into the living cell of a Band-tailed pigeon,” he explains in a video from TIME Magazine. “When you introduce an extinct animal’s egg cell into a new mother, then you’ve changed the game, which has been done.”
Novak is referring to past attempts to clone the Pyrenean ibex. In 2003, Spanish and French reproductive physiologists were able to revive the cells of the extinct goat. The team used the preserved cells of the last ibex, who had died in 1989, to inject nuclei into goat eggs and implant the eggs in surrogate mothers. Few implantations resulted in pregnancies, and most pregnancies ended in miscarriage. However, one birth resulted in a clone of the Pyrenean ibex. The animal was born with respiratory defects and died within ten minutes, a short-lived and bittersweet first success at de-extinction.
Although technology has much improved since 2003, the revival of a once-extinct species is still years away and would only be possible for species that died out within the past couple tens of thousands of years. The events of Jurassic Park will not be relived any time soon. However, with the current advances in biotechnology, both scientists and the public may soon have to question whether bringing back extinct species is a reality they are willing to face. “One of the things we’ve gotten used to is the horrifying realization that extinction is forever,” Brand says. “But what if the new truth is that de-extinction is forever?”
Of course, there are several issues to work past before de-extinction becomes widely accepted. Revived species would be living in an environment vastly different from the one they inhabited before extinction, and the possibility of new diseases rapidly wiping them out is a real possibility. Protestors call the technology an expensive distraction from the more pressing matter of dwindling populations of living species. Since many of these species were killed through human interference and hunting, questions of whether the world is even ready to welcome these species back have been raised.
Supporters of de-extinction counter these reservations with suggestions of increased biological diversity and benefits to medical studies. With further research, the expenses of biotechnology should decrease rapidly. Scientists can research the protection of nearly extinct species while working on de-extinction, and as Church points out, “It’s hard to say in advance what’s distraction and what’s salvation.” As far as the complaints that scientists are attempting to play God or meddle unnecessarily, Novak says, “It was our direct activity that caused that extinction. For me, biotech is the future of conservation, because our meddling is not unnatural. It is what species do.”
Photo by John Goode, licensed under Creative Commons.
LEGO makes strides and faces scrutiny over its toys.
Children’s toys are an arena for play and learning – and they have also become a reflection of society. That’s both good and bad news for LEGO. On a positive note, the company is becoming more gender aware. While a past attempt at marketing the product to girls caught flak for its overuse of pink and purple, the company is now developing a series of mini-figures that feature a female astronomer, paleontologist, and chemist. The sets were designed by Alatariel Elensar who says, “As a geochemist I started with designs close to my own profession, a geologist and a chemist, and then expanded the series to include other sciences and other professions. The motto of these Scientists is clear: explore the world and beyond.” Elensar submitted her concept through LEGO CUUSOO which allows anyone to create LEGO ideas which are then considered by the company for possible production. The female scientist series is slated to hit shelves by August.
On the flipside, LEGO is coming under scrutiny for its partnership with the oil company Shell. The toy company has been producing Shell-branded sets and is selling them in 33 countries. Greenpeace is leading the campaign with a short video and petition that urges LEGO to drop Shell, citing the detriment that the company could cause to the Arctic region as well as concerns related to branding aimed at children. Despite the fact that LEGO’s Brand Framework states the company has, “an opportunity to make a difference to the environment in the future by engaging with children on sustainability and responsibility issues as they will be the builders of tomorrow,” the company is not budging on the partnership, releasing a statement that read, “We expect that Shell lives up to their responsibilities wherever they operate and take appropriate action to any potential claims should this not be the case. I would like to clarify that we intend to live up to the long term contract with Shell.”
Photo by Michele Mazzoli, licensed under Creative Commons.
The internet seems to have the ability to turn regular people into sniveling children. Maybe that’s why “Baby’s First Internet” works so well. The nursery rhyme by Kevin Fanning combined with the delightful illustrations by
Children just 3 months old prefer to look at people with similar skin color to their own. Babies also prefer people with similar accents and who speak the same language as they do. In fact, if a child is offered food from two people—one who speaks the baby’s language and the other who does not—the child will prefer the food offered by the native speaker. These innate preferences are being uncovered by a Harvard research team led by Elizabeth Spelke, Telegraph" href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/main.jhtml?view=DETAILS&grid=&xml=/earth/2008/04/30/sm_babies03.xml" target="_blank">profiled in the British newspaper Telegraph. Some hope that these discoveries will eventually able to reduce or eliminate racial prejudice, but before that can happen, Spelke says, “we have a great deal more to learn.”
(Thanks, 3 Quarks Daily.)
Image by Dean Johnson, licensed under Creative Commons.
Half of a century ago, it took some of the world’s top scientists to build Sputnik, the first man-made satellite. Today, Paul Rubens writes for BBC News Magazine, intrepid techies can build their very own beeping space transmitters using typical, household items. Gadgets as common as a baby monitor, a wireless router, and a tin box are really all a person needs to make their own 1950s-era satellite. After that, it's just a question of getting the box into space. –Eric Kelsey
What’s the old adage? Buy low, sell when Twitter users are in bad moods? Is that it? If not, maybe it should be, because according to a story in Wired, "[t]he emotional roller coaster captured on Twitter can predict the ups and downs of the stock market, a new study finds. Measuring how calm the Twitterverse is on a given day can foretell the direction of changes to the Dow Jones Industrial Average three days later with an accuracy of 86.7 percent.
The findings were somewhat stumbled upon, according to Johan Bollen, the social scientist behind the study. Attempting to find the mood of the public through Tweets, Bollen and Huina Mao, a grad student, used a questionnaire aimed to attach feelings to adjectives. After searching millions of Tweets for those adjectives—and other words used in conjunction with them—Bollen and Mao figured they could see the general mood of the population—at least those on Twitter.
Using this information along with an algorithm trained to predict the fluctuations of the stock market, the algorithm’s accuracy increased to 86.7 percent from 73.3 percent. That is, when the information of the general mood on Twitter was taken into account, this algorithm was able to predict much more accurately which way—up or down—the stock market would go.
Bollen admits that more research is needed to understand why this happens, but until then, why not add Twitter to your list of resources for figuring out who’s best to play with your money?
Image by mil8, licensed under Creative Commons.
When English isn’t good enough, innovative inventors set out to create their own languages. Most fail miserably, but every once in a while, a newly formed language will take on a life of its own. “Every time an invented language has found success,” language expert Arika Okrent told Failure magazine, “it has been an unexpected success.”
Okrent, the author of In the Land of Invented Languages, thinks that most would-be language inventors tend to view their new form of speech as a product, while most speakers don’t think of it that way. The most successful invented languages are Esperanto and Klingon, which have both changed far beyond their original intents. Okrent advises potential inventors:
Put your language out there in the world and then let people take it away and ruin it for you. If you try to hold on too tightly you’re going to have problems. If you want people to use it, you have to let them use it, but they are not going to utilize it the way you want them to.
Image by Limako, licensed under Creative Commons.