Tags: biology

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Orion Magazine | State of the Species

A great piece from Charles C. Mann from five years ago, where you can see the genesis of The Wizard And The Prophet.

For hundreds of thousands of years, our species had been restricted to East Africa (and, possibly, a similar area in the south). Now, abruptly, new-model Homo sapiens were racing across the continents like so many imported fire ants. The difference between humans and fire ants is that fire ants specialize in disturbed habitats. Humans, too, specialize in disturbed habitats—but we do the disturbing.

Was There a Civilization On Earth Before Humans? - The Atlantic

So, could researchers find clear evidence that an ancient species built a relatively short-lived industrial civilization long before our own? Perhaps, for example, some early mammal rose briefly to civilization building during the Paleocene epoch about 60 million years ago. There are fossils, of course. But the fraction of life that gets fossilized is always minuscule and varies a lot depending on time and habitat. It would be easy, therefore, to miss an industrial civilization that only lasted 100,000 years—which would be 500 times longer than our industrial civilization has made it so far.

Cooking with Ursula K. Le Guin

Recipes inspired by The Left Hand Of Darkness.

I mostly stuck to Le Guin’s world-building rules for Winter, which were “no large meat-animals … and no mammalian products, milk, butter or cheese; the only high-protein, high-carbohydrate foods are the various kinds of eggs, fish, nuts and Hainish grains.” I did, however, add some hot-climate items found in Manhattan’s Chinatown for their space-age looks and good flavors (dragonfruit, pomelo, galangal, chilis, and kaffir limes).

Serve with hot beer.

Greetings, E.T. (Please Don’t Murder Us.) - The New York Times

Steven Johnson dives deep into the METI project, starting with the Arecibo message and covering Lincos, the Drake equation, and the Fermi paradox.

He also wrote about what he left out of the article and mentions that he’s writing a book on long-term decision making.

In a sense, the METI debate runs parallel to other existential decisions that we will be confronting in the coming decades, as our technological and scientific powers increase. Should we create superintelligent machines that exceed our own intellectual capabilities by such a wide margin that we cease to understand how their intelligence works? Should we ‘‘cure’’ death, as many technologists are proposing? Like METI, these are potentially among the most momentous decisions human beings will ever make, and yet the number of people actively participating in those decisions — or even aware such decisions are being made — is minuscule.

The Ray Cat Solution

A website dedicated to one of the most, um, interesting solutions to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage problem:

  1. Engineer cats that change colour in response to radiation.
  2. Create the culture/legend/history that if your cat changes colour, you should move some place else.

There are T-shirts!

[1701.01109] Fast Radio Bursts from Extragalactic Light Sails

We examine the possibility that Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) originate from the activity of extragalactic civilizations. Our analysis shows that beams used for powering large light sails could yield parameters that are consistent with FRBs.

I’m guessing Paul Gilster may have thoughts on this.

Winston Churchill’s essay on alien life found : Nature News & Comment

Churchill, as it turns out, had some pretty solid ideas on SETI.

Churchill was a science enthusiast and advocate, but he also contemplated important scientific questions in the context of human values. Particularly given today’s political landscape, elected leaders should heed Churchill’s example: appoint permanent science advisers and make good use of them.

The Computational Foundation of Life | Quanta Magazine

Philip Ball certainly has a way with words.

Visualizing the Alien: A Hollywood Conundrum

Compare and contrast Alien, Starship Troopers, and The Thing with 2001 and Roadside Picnic (and I would throw Solaris into the mix).

Plugging in a monster moves a plot right along, of course, but if that’s all it’s doing, the plot is neglecting to examine how a real biosphere would work. That would be a sensationally complex task, but given the amount of research now going on in astrobiology and exoplanetary science, the suspicion here is that experts could be summoned who could produce such a film. Even so, there is something to be said for not seeing aliens.

Is DNA the Future of Data Storage? - WSJ

It’s still many years away from being a viable storage option, but here’s the latest on using DNA to back up our collective data.

Magnetic tape may survive a few decades, and DVDs even longer, but they are by no means immortal. Data stored in DNA, provided it’s kept cold and dry, could last for thousands of years.

NASA GeneLab

A beautiful website for ISS-based biology experiments.

Tabletop Whale

Beautiful visualisations of science and nature.

Made with love by a designer with a molecular biology degree.

Archeology, Anthropology, and Interstellar Communication edited by Douglas A. Vakoch

A free PDF download from NASA on all things SETI, specifically the challenges of interspecies interstellar communication.

A Few Notes on the Culture by Iain M Banks

I’ve linked to this before, but with the death of Iain M Banks it’s worth re-reading this fascinating insight into The Culture, one of science fictions’s few realistic utopias.

The brief mention here of The Culture’s attitude to death is apt:

Philosophy, again; death is regarded as part of life, and nothing, including the universe, lasts forever. It is seen as bad manners to try and pretend that death is somehow not natural; instead death is seen as giving shape to life.

The Creeping Garden

I, for one, welcome our slime mould overlords.

The slime mould is being used to explore biological-inspired design, emergence theory, unconventional computing and robot controllers, much of which borders on the world of science fiction.

DNA molecule plush on Think Geek

Brilliant little magnetic cuddly nucleobases from Jun. You get all four bases to combine to your heart’s content: cytosine, guanine, adenine, thymine — take that, Pokémon.

Mark Lynas » Lecture to Oxford Farming Conference, 3 January 2013

This is a superb talk by Mark Lynas who once spearheaded the anti-GM movement, and who has now completely changed his stance on genetically-modified crops. Why? Science.

You are more likely to get hit by an asteroid than to get hurt by GM food. More to the point, people have died from choosing organic, but no-one has died from eating GM.

Biochemies :: DNA Molecule Plush Dolls

With magnetic hydrogen bonds!

Near Arctic, Seed Vault Is a Fort Knox of Food - New York Times

A tour of the Global Seed Bank in Svalbard.

SYMBIOTIC HOUSEHOLDS on Vimeo

Design fictional biohacking.

SYMBIOTIC HOUSEHOLDS