Mar 252012
 

“Mutant, homicidal wasps employed as border guards. Eavesdropping optimized birds spying on civilian activists. Hybrid human/beasts annihilating drafted youths on reality TV”

Hank Pellissiere over at The Institute of Ethics & Emerging Technology tackles these concerns.  He starts off his discussion evoking the ancient myth of the Minotaur, but then goes on to note that while there are a number of genetic monsters being used by the evil and repressive govt. in the quite dystopian world of the Hunger Games trilogy (suggesting that it is rather more Roman than Hellenic in it’s general themes anyway), this sort of use of specially bred animals in war and the like has been in use since the bronze age (dogs being the most actively genetically manipulated animals from Ancient Babylon to the present).

Ultimately he feels that we aren’t likely to be beset with the likes of  Tracker Jackers and Jabberjays in the future, and he believes that the creation of genetic mutants will be generally restricted to the medical area.  But given our history of tyranical regimes (of which we still have plenty), is his ultimately positive stance really realistic?

Follow the link to read his full article: Tyrannic Control with Genetic Monsters in The Hunger Games trilogy

Dec 192011
 

In the 2011 film, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the Veterinarian love-interest played by Freida Pinto repeatedly tells James Franco’s scientist that, “some things aren’t meant to be controlled,” when she learns of his desire to cure his fathers Alzheimer’s disease.  Not to surprising for her character, as she’s doesn’t offer any antibiotics to Caeser after he gets a nasty arm wound.  The obsessed scientist ignores her, and this ultimately leads to super-apes and a worldwide apocalypse.  In the real world scientists are zeroing in on a molecule in the brain that deals with such problems (memory loss, that is, not super-apes).  Nope, they aren’t listening to Freida and her doomsday script written Cassandra complex at all.

Will such a discovery lead to an apocalypse like we saw in The Planet of the Apes reboot, or perhaps what we saw in a different sci-fi movie this year featuring a memory enhancing drug, Limitless (no need to name either drug, just remember they both had a Z in them.)

Hmm…

It is true that scientists in Canada have zeroed in on a molecule in the brain (called PKR, an immune system molecule) that, when supressed in mice brains, they found that memory and learning function improved.  This occurred because the suppression resulted in a different  immune system molecule, called gamma interferon, to increases communication between neurons, improving memory and making brain function more efficient.

While this may sound suspiciously like the general effect of the viral drug we saw Franco’s scientist create, It does seem that the scientists are looking at an ingestible form (such as we was in Limitless, as opposed to being so moronic as produce an airborne version as seen in the other film.)

Does this mean you will soon be able to take a drug that will turn you into a hyper motivated version of ‘The most interesting man in the world.’  Or result in a global human catastrophe (or atleast super-apes rampaging throught he streets of San Fransisco?  Check out the original article here.  As far as I can tell, since they’ve only been working on mice, the worse we could get is a Pinky and The Brain situation (although to some people, that could be frightening enough.)

 

Dec 042011
 

Would you like to move your star to a more scenic region of the galaxy? or perhaps take a long leasurely galactic cruise.  How about using something staggeringly simple, such as the Shkadov Thruster(named after Dr. Leonid Mikhailovich Shkadov who first proposed it back in 1987), A statite aimed at using a stars photonic energy as an engine.

Of course, you would have to be in not much of a hurry, as accord to the math, it would take a million years to move a star like the sun .03 light years.  But, if you are willing to wait a little longer (say a billion years) your star would be moving at a healthy clip of 20km/s and you’d have gotten a solid 34,000 light years! (a third of the way across the galaxy.)

Mind you, given the shape of the statite, you would have to position it over the stars north or south poles, or run the risk of depriving your planet of sunlight for half the year.  Although, wouldn’t that be a small price to pay to move out to the more fashionable eastern spiral arm of the galaxy?

image by Steve Bowers

 

Sep 012011
 

Back in 18881 (yes, 130 years ago) the American writer Edward Page Mitchell published a story called The Crystal Man (anticipating HG Wells’ Invisble Man by a good sixteen years .  A couple pertinant paragraphs from the classic science fiction story:

“Under the action of the etiolating drugs which the professor administered in connection with powerful detergents, I became at first pale, white, colorless as an albino, but without suffering in general health. My hair and beard looked like spun glass and my skin like marble. The professor was satisfied with his results, and went no further at this time. He restored to me my normal color.

“In the next experiment, and in those succeeding, he allowed his chemical agents to take firmer hold upon the tissues of my body. I became not only white, like a bleached man, but slightly translucent, like a porcelain figure. Then again he paused for a while, giving me back my color and allowing me to go forth into the world. Two months later I was more than translucent. You have seen floating those sea radiates, the medusa or jellyfish, their outlines almost invisible to the eye. Well, I became in the air like a jellyfish in the water. Almost perfectly transparent, it was only by close inspection that old Käspar could discover my whereabouts in the room when he came to bring me food.” 

Why do I bring this up?  Because now, almost a century and a third later, scientists in Japan have uncovered a chemical reagent that does precisely this!  What you see in the picture here are two mouse embryos.  The one on the right had been immersed in a solution of urea and glycerin (Called a Scale solution) for a couple weeks by scientists at the RIKEN brain science institute.  This is amazing enough, really but the scientists there have even greater sci-fi like plans:

“We envision using Scale on other organs such as the heart, muscles and kidneys, and on tissues from primate and human biopsy samples.”

Not ambitious enough for you how about this:

“We are currently investigating another, milder candidate reagent which would allow us to study live tissue in the same way, at somewhat lower levels of transparency. This would open the door to experiments that have simply never been possible before.”

Perhaps not possible before, but certainly anticipated.

For more info on the 19th Century Science Fiction writer Mitchell and his stories go here.

For more info on the RIKEN experiments go here.

Jun 292011
 

In my Promethead series of novels, the main character, Althea Ram possesses nanotechnology that allows her to affect many aspects of her physiology, including significan levels of healing injuries. We aren’t quite there yet, but that doesn’t mean scientists aren’t evoking science fiction with these new developments:

Blood from Skin

A short time ago I posted about a new burn treatment that uses human skin in a spray to create scar free skin grafts for burn victims.  Now researchers have created blood vessels from skin cells and implanted them  successfully.  There are many treatments that may be enhanced with these ‘off the shelf’ blood vessels including kidney dialysis,  used in limbs to bypass to route blood around diseased arteries, to repair congenital heart defects in children and to fix damaged arteries in soldiers, to save them from the loss of limbs.  For more detailes, read the article at here.

Curing Hemophilia

Genome editing is an inovative technique which allows scientists to target mutated DNA, and it has now been used to treat hemophilia in mice.  This represents another step on the way to wholesale disease management using gene therapy.  This technique uses genetically engineered enzymes called “zinc finger nucleases.”  Interested in finding out how close they are to editing your genome, read the article here.

Jun 222011
 

“I know, Sol, you’ve told me a hundred times before. People were better, the world was better…”
Ah, people were always lousy… But there was a world, once.” – Soylent Green

In the classic Chuck Heston film, a polluted, overheated and overpopulated world faces the ultimate disaster: The seas are dying.

This is the threat outlined in a new study led by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean.

Oxygen depleting pollution and massive over-fishing have lead many species to the edge of extinction (tuna, sharks etc.), following the incredible depletion of once plentiful fish like Cod in the 20th century by the commercial fishing industry.  Many whale species were saved by international action against commercial whaling.  Hopefully, the world will act on this in the same manner.    Otherwise we might be looking on the terrible future imagined forty years ago.

 

 

Jun 202011
 

On several highly regarded sites, a meme has followed the forecast that our sun may be about to undergo a significant quieting comparable to the Mauder Minimum (which took place during the little ice age).  This grand minimum, as it is called, they say here, here and here, it will have negligent effect on the forecast temperature rise reputed to be caused by Athropogentic Global Warming (now known as Climate Change). I am reminded by a quote from a friend of mine that I used previously in this post.

I am concerned about what is being done to our planet’s environment, whether it be the denuding of our oceans of fish, the massive development of coal powered generation in China (along with the other kinds of  horrific damage the Chinese are doing to their environment(which has ramifications to the whole world.) as well as the destruction of rainforests for various reasons including biofuel production.  I have felt from the beginning that AGW was a distraction from the real needs for action on the environment we live in.

What everyone needs to do is take a look at all sides of this issue, as opposed to sit on one side or another.  Climate change is important, and we need to prepare for it, but the main problem is the polarized sides that are backed by huge amounts of money and political pressure.

Carbon Dioxide is a greenhouse gas.  Increases of this in the atmosphere, as with methane and other such gases do have an effect on world temperatures, but they are not alone.  Look up into the sky and remember where the heat comes from.

The facts suggest that the behavior of the Sun has a significant effect on world climate.  Whether you look at comparisons to world temperatures here :

and solar activity here:

Very suspicious, eh?They show a clear correlation between solar activity and world temperatures.  The surprise to scientists as the world has failed to warm since 1998, and the rewriting of their forecast (this matched dwindling solar activity – including a two year period of dead activity corresponding to extreme winter weather across the globe.)  We are also experiencing a record weakness in the solar wind, which results in an increase in cosmic rays hitting the planet, something that has lead researchers to believe that will cause increased rain production (notice the increase in continental flooding lately?.)

Back in 2006, Russian scientist Khabibullo Abdusamatov produced a report that was laughed at.  Now in 2011 scientists have confirmed the forecast.  This has resulted in a significant amount of cognitive dissonance amongst the scientific community.  What to do?  Stay informed.  Learn about the factual risks to ourselves and the world we live in.

But of course, if you are interested in science fiction takes on this, understand that SF writers prefer extreme forecasts.  In such case I recommend Paolo Baciagulpi’s Wind Up Girl (2010) reviewed here, for a world that has been predicated by Global Warming alarmists.  Or perhaps the even more extreme Drowned World, (which must have inspired Al Gore) by JG Ballard reviewed here.  If you want to see the opposite take, check out Fallen Angels (1991), by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle reviewed here and can be read here.

Jun 132011
 

In many sci-fi stories housing is grown, not manufactured. This year’s Metropolis Next Generation Design Competition offers us just that.  Bricks, or indeed marble that can be created with sand and bacteria – No baking needed.  This is an achievement that could potentially reduce carbon emissions by 800 million tons per year, done by tweaking natural microbial mineral precipitation into a manufacturing process.  Awesome!

For more info click here

Jun 132011
 

One of the potentially disastrous effects of the bio-fuel age is the replacement of food-production based agriculture with fuel based agriculture.  Thankfully much of the research going into the development of replacements to fossil fuels that won’t eat away at our food supply.

The words of the appropriately named Prof. Timothy Bugg at Warwick Univeristy:

“By making woody plants and the inedible by-products of crops economically viable the eventual hope is to be able to produce biofuels that don’t compete with food production.”

For more info, check out the article here at sciencedaily.com

 Posted by at 5:29 pm
Jun 032011
 

An absolutely adorably looking blue lobster was caught off of Canada’s Prince Edward Island.  Aparently one in a million, you can see a photo of it here.  I guess, though well never know how it tastes with melted butter, though;-)

 Posted by at 6:21 am