A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that


Thursday, 14 December 2017

Hooptedoodle #288 - Donkey Award - another solution for a problem you didn't know you had

Courtesy of a couple of whizzo articles from newatlas.com, an exciting glimpse of the future - pick your own nightmare.



Naturally, we are all fascinated by the possibilities of the scientific world of plant nanobionics, which has recently produced such marvels as a variety of spinach which can give off a warning glow in the presence of explosives (if you don't believe me, click here). The idea is based around the development of  microparticles containing enzymes and other organic substances, which are small enough to be absorbed into the leaves, so that extra reactions can be introduced into the plant's normal repertoire.


MIT have recently developed a strain of watercress which glows in the dark. This was achieved by studying the chemical processes used by fireflies, and introducing microparticles into the humble watercress which will simulate this same light-producing trick. Thus far, it isn't very bright, to be quite honest, but the hope is that it should be possible to engineer plants as seedlings so that the trick will last throughout the life of the plant - the aim being to make it hereditary. There is hope that indoor plants will be developed which require no additional energy to produce a light bright enough to read by, thus saving some of the estimated 20% of the world's electricity bill which goes towards providing lighting. Beyond this there are visions of specially "hacked" species of trees whose leaves will glow bright enough to replace electric street lighting - just think of that.


If we ignore the potential psychological damage to confused fireflies, not to mention what chaos will hit the streets in the autumn when these wondrous shining leaves fall off, you may still wish to share with me some concern at the possibility that someday it may never be dark again. Fear not, o timid soul - the engineers at MIT are already considering that the hacked trees may be further tweaked so that they can turn themselves off on a given command, so what can possibly go wrong?

What if the plants propagate and spread naturally, beyond the places we want them? Is this the future botanic section of Jurassic Park?


I really don't know how people can be so negative when there is so much potential out there. Read all about it here.


20 comments:

  1. I am at a complete loss for words (a rarity).

    Best Regards,

    Stokes

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  2. Surely they should be working with conifers to avoid the shedding thing. As a bonus they could delevop pines with cones that flash bright colours in December. Genetically modified birds could then be developed that perch on these luminescent trees and sing appropriate seasonal music.

    The profit would of course come through offering a pest control service to try and eradicate them from your neighbourhood.

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    1. Please excuse our Johnnie for missing the chemistry test this morning - he was kept awake all night by the weeds in the garden.

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    2. Ross - I like your ideas - you wouldn't fancy a job in our development labs, by any chance?

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  3. Prof De Vries has already spotted that the picture of the book illuminated by a pot plant seems to be a fake - the shadow of the book appears in the backgroundI Of course, the actual light source could well have been another plant. Not proven, I guess. Hmmm.

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    1. Looks like a reflection in a mirror to me.

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    2. Jonathan - I think you're correct - it's a mirror. Drat - and I've already ordered one. Never mind, I can always make find-in-the-dark egg and cress sandwiches if i can't read my book. Dare I eat the things, though...?

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  4. I feel a bit equivocal about this. Our Land Management Team at the Wildlife Trust spends a lot of time locating and removing invasive non-native plant species. I'm imagining how much easier that job would be if the offending vegetation were to glow in the dark.
    And then I thought, would the LMT want time and a half for working at night?
    Needs thought, I think, to iron out the drawbacks.

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    1. Agreed. It is depressing, but the comments on the original newatlas article were all about how great this was, how good luminous alpines would be as a path edging, where could you could them etc. Nobody at all seems to have said, "You what?".

      I'm interested about invasive life forms - sometimes (if they have ray guns, for example) this is intuitively obvious, but tell me about these non-invasive, native plant species - where did they come from? How did they get here? Whose watch was that on? Is there a gentle paradox at work here?

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    2. Don't mention ray guns or they'll want danger money as well.
      The invasives are usually brought in to plant in people's gardens, from which they duly escape(having, presumably, overpowered the guards). Spread by wind and birds, they muscle in on the native wild vegetation and make its life a misery.
      There is a breed of fig tree which has grown wild by the River Don in Sheffield for 100 years which otherwise, I'm told, is only found in North Africa. It doesn't however, glow in the dark (yet).

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    3. But yes, you have a point. How many native plants were once invasive non-natives, and when was the amnesty?

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    4. Off the top of my head, if we regard it as unlikely that exactly the same plants evolve independently in different locations, it looks pretty certain that just about all plants came from somewhere else. Even the red squirrel (which is not a plant, I am told) must have come from somewhere. It is all very worrying.

      It's a bit like the indigenous Englishman, so much loved by Mr Farage - our recent research, involving DNA samples from more than 5 donors, has found that there is only one surviving example of a true Englishman - he has a single eyebrow, red hair on his cheekbones, and he works for the council in Merthyr Tydfil. His name is Darren.

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    5. With global warming, many species are being found further north than they used to be. We face the worrying prospect that soon, non-native plants will migrate here naturally and find that they really belong here after all. They will then spend their entire life cycle grumbling about the weather that brought them here.
      Being careful here not to offend anyone, but aren't the English indigenous to Germany? Weren't they an invasive species that no amount of Danegeld could shift?

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    6. Yes, I think that's right, but Darren was here before them. Well, he sort of migrated westward as successive groups of invasive incomers arrived. [We got a grant of £15 from the government for our research, by the way - we spent most of it on bus fares and a packet of sandwiches from the Co-op.]

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  5. Hmmm, being an intellectual midget when it comes to matters scientific I have to wonder...what happens to the animals that eat these glowing plants/trees? Will they to glow in the dark? And the predators (including the upright monkeys) who, in turn, eat them? Hmmmm indeed.

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    1. Very good point. I suddenly had a rather pleasing vision of a luminous giraffe, but when i think about it the lions would just hunt at night. This does need some careful thought.

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  6. I know I am a Luddite, and to be honest I am quite proud of that sometimes. I do think that Man is becoming a little too clever for their own good. We seem to make some unbelievable discoveries in science and medicine which is good but at the same time we are morphing into very stupid and selfish people at the same time. Perhaps we should take a step back and think about what we are becoming.

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    1. No arguments here - a sense of proportion is a fine thing. An invention which makes someone rich and famous is not by definition a step forward in global terms.

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  7. To offset the idea that I may be unnecessarily dismissive of MIT's marvellous efforts, I must mention that one of the recent developments is of a plant which can be planted along with a particular agricultural crop. If this monitor plant senses that it is short of water, electrical signals can trigger a relay which will turn on the irrigation system - a simple Raspberry Pi system is required to make the interface. The next stages of this will enable the plant to email the farmer and, if that doesn't produce any result, go round to his house and put a postcard through the door.

    Exciting times.

    On an entirely individual basis, I am working on genetically engineering a hacked variety of geranium which will read future articles from newatlas.com on my behalf without disturbing me.

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