wonders of nature and science…

wonders of nature and science...

Some ultra-shiny berries have been found and examined by science. The pollia condensata apparently reflects an impressive 30% of light back from its surfaces thanks to some amazing nano structures. Apparently ‘the cells are coiled in a peculiar twist. The cells form sheets, like the skin of an onion. Light filters down through those layers in a way that creates something called “structural color.” “So what they do, basically, is they bounce back the blue light, and they let the rest of the light through.”‘

Strangely, the plant is inedible but birds will pick it up and carry it to their nest for some fancy decoration. And thereby the plant gets its wish: the seeds get dispersed. Very clever.

A Berry So Shiny, It’s Irresistible (And Inedible)

Science too never ceases to amaze. Scientists at the Harvard Medical School have recently used DNA to encode the contents of an entire book, including both words and images. Apparently DNA encoding is going to get so cheap in 10 years’ time that it might be cheaper to store large amounts of data in DNA than in electronic devices.

The data capacity of DNA is far higher than silicon chips: one gram can store up to 455bn gigabytes of information, thanks to this ingenious biological system beautifully developed through evolution. They used a system of coding in which A and C indicate zero, while G and T represent one (the 4 building blocks of DNA). Therefore this is still a binary system. Apparently the DNA gets ‘inkjet printed’ onto glass and each DNA fragment contains a digital address code that denotes its location inside the original file so it can be assembled later.

Obviously this is an ingenous way of storing data. I wonder if leaving DNA strands to coil up would make them more fragile and difficult to use. Afterall, that’s their original 3D structural nature. So perhaps scientists found they need to change the structure, essentially making this a hybrid system: an already existing biological information coding system that has been shaped and re-coded using human-made logic and properties.

Book written in DNA code

Of course, as soon as science finds a biological system that it can bend to its purposes via complex techniques of precise manipulation, the wheels of instrumental rationality are set in motion. What follows is usually purposively rational manipulative action being taken up for commercial technological purposes that may or may not serve wider social interests. I wonder what wider technological use this new discovery will be put to… will we use this evolutionary-scientific hybrid to advance sustainable, equitable interests and give back some value to the two communities whose original ‘patent’ and know-how the technology uses: the plant and animal kingdom, and human society?

DNA: The Ultimate Hard Drive

Pollination and the magic of life…

Pollination and the magic of life...

Look here for a sense of wonder! 🙂

In the TED talk “The hidden beauty of pollination” Louie Schwartzberg says:
“Nothing lasts forever, everything in the universe wears out. And that blew my mind. Because I realised that Nature had invented reproduction as a mechanism for life to move forward. As a life-force that passes right through us and makes us a link in the evolution of life”

His is a talk on the ‘mystical moment where life regenerates itself again and again’… pollination. As bees around the world are in danger our attention is drawn to the crucial and magical process of pollination. Most of it is managed by insects, especially bees, but birds and bats are also involved. There are some breathtaking visuals here…

The hidden beauty of pollination

Frozen Planet

Frozen Planet

This is truly a landmark series from the BBC about the two polar regions. The Arctic and the Antarctic are shown in amazing detail through the four seasons, with understated commentary and breathtaking cutting edge photography.

A truly magnificent series that gives you a mesmerizing view into life in the arctic regions, where harsh winters are followed by bountiful summers and life has developed so many novel strategies for survival. The underwater scenes are as fascinating as are the ones in the open waters, on the ice shelves and up in the skies.

You’ll see the most outstanding and rare footage of orcas, seals, owls, wolves and polar bears hunting, narvals and fish migrating, bison fighting, penguins marching, and a whole continent being transformed by planetary forces. There are many scenes beyond imagination, some have moved me to tears (especially the fight to the death of one wolf and one baby bison in episode 5!).

A truly outstanding experience that verges on the spiritual for me… and relays some ultimate truth about life, death and our amazing planet.

BBC’s page for Frozen Planet


Climate change… and Australian politics

Climate change… and Australian politics

Global carbon emissions have grown in 2010 despite the economic downturn. In fact it increased by a record amount and is close to a threshold limit that when reached before 2020 will most likely guarantee a more than 2C rise in global temperatures.

2C is the dangerous threshold for “potentially dangerous climate change”. What does this mean? Some of our worse case scenarios are going to come true.

“I am very worried. This is the worst news on emissions,” Birol told the Guardian. “It is becoming extremely challenging to remain below 2 degrees. The prospect is getting bleaker. That is what the numbers say.”

“Guardian: Worst ever carbon emissions leave climate on the brink”

The usual words are uttered and they are truer than ever: in order to avert disasters on a global scale we really need to act now.

Instead we are emitting more than ever. In Australia our political game is just about stalled. We have a Labor Government that is proposing a very minimal carbon tax in which most, including big polluting industries, may get compensation and yet, negotiations are stalling and who knows if the new carbon tax, even in a very watered down form, will ever get passed. In other words Australian politics is failing even at the most minimal level in bringing forth desperately needed action.

We are failing in a major way and I am convinced that subsequent generations will look back with disbelief and disgust. Our leaders who deny climate change and advocate for relentless economic growth will be looked at as people committing crimes against humanity.

Shockingly last week several climate scientists received a death threat in Sydney! I doubt that police will ever be able to persecute anyone for these yet no doubt they’ll terrorize scientists and perhaps make them want to get out of this increasingly risky and politicized area of research. Who would want this? The coal and oil industries, of course. They have billions of dollars at stake and are not content with just a massive PR campaign to discredit legitimate science and influence the politics of Western nations, they now also conspire to illegally threaten scientific activity which is the only tool we’ve got to find real objective answers.

I find this appalling and a real symptom of just how difficult the task ahead is… industry is way more powerful in many ways than any of our democratic processes and now those powerful interests are intimidating scientists. This is really dirty play. I wonder how on earth can we not be publicly appalled… how can all this NOT feed back into the politics of carbon in Australia, how can we not have a positive backlash to all this???

BBC Life

BBC Life

Attenborough’s ‘Life’ (BBC 2009) is definitely one of the most exhilarating wildlife documentaries you could get your hands on. I suggest you beg, cajole and umm search online until you’ve got it.

The neatest conceptual framework and most astounding insights are paired with the most breathtaking camerawork in the world.

Attenborough is reaching transcendental heights with this series, I am in total awe of it all.

Life shows animals and plants using the most amazing techniques, strategies and skills to survive under all kinds of precarious and demanding conditions. Sometimes they don’t make it, but often they succeed and how!!

Here’s a taste, go and get it now so we can re-tell each other the most awesome bits! Come on! 🙂