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April 22 2011

HUMAN+ explores the technologically enhanced future of our species

Michael John Gorman, director of the Science Gallery, Trinity College Dublin, introduces the HUMAN+ exhibition – 'a combination of a sweet shop and a pharmacy, an Alice-in-Wonderland world of pills, promises and prosthetics'

What do we mean when we speak about human enhancement? New York University professor Wafaa Bilal recently had a video camera implanted on a titanium base in the back of his skull. Leaving wires dangling awkwardly along his neck, the camera sent images to a remote server every 60 seconds. Students' concerns over their privacy, faced with a teacher who for once really did have eyes in the back of his head, forced Bilal to wear a lens cap while teaching, somewhat defeating the point.

A few months later an infection forced Bilal to remove the camera, and simply wear it around his neck, but he remains keen to have it back in his skull as soon as possible. Why? What is the difference, you might wonder, between a camera strapped to someone's neck and the same camera attached to the skull with a titanium plate? To Bilal, it is all about a demonstration of 'commitment', making the painful surgery and risk of infection worthwhile. Bilal's messy piece of DIY illustrates some of the challenges around popular perceptions of human enhancement.

Australian artist Stelarc has grown a third ear in a lab and inserted it into his left forearm. Nina Sellars' arresting photographs of the process are on view in HUMAN+. Stelarc hopes to insert a bluetooth microphone into the ear so people all over the world can listen in to his conversations over the internet, though the completion of this aspect of the project has so far been delayed by infection.

For a small fee, body artist Steve Haworth will provide you with small magnets implanted in your fingertips so you can "feel" the presence of magnetic fields. Cybernetics Prof Kevin Warwick hit headlines when he had an RFID chip implanted in his arm to allow him to open and close doors, prior to more sophisticated experiments on direct neural/electronic interfaces. Warwick caused even more controversy when he reportedly suggested that an 11-year-old girl should be "chipped" with a tracking device in the wake of the Soham murders, in a similar manner to pet dogs and cats.

These stories have perennial fascination for the media, perhaps less for the "superpowers" of their protagonists, which could arguably be accomplished through less radical interventions, and more for their disturbing transgressions of the boundaries of the human body. We seem to fantasise endlessly about cyborgs – Robocop-style human-machine hybrids – but many of the dimensions of human enhancement are far more subtle and pervasive.

Humans have always been augmenting their senses, physical powers and cognitive abilities through ingenious tools and technologies. The Hubble telescope, functional magnetic resonance imaging and atomic force microscopes can be viewed as extensions of the senses, just as our newfound ability to gather "swarm intelligence" about developments in Libya or Japan instantaneously through social media is an extension of the campfire conversations of Neolithic man. We are continually developing new ways to see the invisible, to share knowledge and conduct our social lives remotely. In attempting to defeat ageing processes, cosmetic surgery promises to extend youthful appearance as Viagra promises to extend our sexual activity into old age.

Why shouldn't we consider contact lenses, mobile phones, watches and bicycles as human enhancements? Going back further still, the invention of writing itself, as recounted by Plato in a famous passage in the Phaedrus, was an enhancement that simultaneously extended and impaired human memory, by providing an externalised written record but diminishing people's ability to memorise by removing the necessity of learning by heart. Plato's warning about the consequences of writing for human memory is an important lesson for contemporary discussions around human enhancement through technology. New technologies, from mechanical looms to automatic cars, are always double-edged, extending certain powers while eroding traditional skills.

So is there anything special about enhancement of the human body that goes significantly beyond mere tool use? Is there any hope for our cyborg brethren to become a regular feature in our supermarkets, yoga classes and crèches?

Any compelling reason to implant chips in our brains and limbs through surgery and risk all the messy hardware updates and unpleasant maintenance issues that come along for the ride? Can we still expect superpowers for our physical bodies, and look forward to the ability to see ultraviolet light like bees or to have canine powers of hearing and smell? Or does the future instead lie in "downloading our brains" to computers, effectively trading in our fragile flesh for more durable hardware, as imagined in Ray Kurzweil's vision of the "singularity", a neo-Cartesian negation of the body and all its fluids and leaky orifices? Stelarc's Prosthetic Head, a simulated intelligence rather than a downloaded brain, is an experiment in what it might be like to live in Kurzweil's world, a Turing Test on humans.

Interestingly it is those individuals traditionally classified as "disabled" who are currently at the vanguard of human enhancement technologies. From cochlear implants and artificial hearts to neuro-prosthetics, these "early adopters" of assistive technologies are pioneers inhabiting an increasingly narrow boundary between a perceived "lack" and an unfair advantage in relation to the general population.

Consider South African athlete Oscar Pistorius, born with the congenital absence of the fibula from both legs, with his prosthetic blade "cheetah" legs leading to his near miss from participation in the Beijing Olympics. MIT researcher Hugh Herr has suggested that we may soon require an "Extra Special Olympics" to accommodate athletes with prosthetics and other enhancements. Perhaps in this context "non-enhanced" athletes would be regarded with something of the polite nostalgia with which we now view "real tennis" with its quaint long trousers and wooden racquets.

Or consider athlete and model Aimee Mullins who has redefined our notions of female beauty, with 12 sets of prosthetic legs for different occasions and her prominent appearance in Matthew Barney's celebrated Cremaster exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

Beyond the glamour of the Guggenheim and the Olympics, a key driver in the development of new prosthetic and robotic technologies is the military, fuelled in the US particularly by demand from increasing numbers of veteran amputees from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Much of the media discussion around the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) and human enhancement is focussed on notions of the 'future soldier', the cyborg in combat, but the thrust of much of Darpa's work in this area appears to be in allowing war veterans who are amputees to live relatively normal lives. The Darpa Revolutionising Prosthetics programme had aimed to have fully functional neural prosthetics controlled by brain-computer interface by the end of 2010, but ran into serious problems in integrating human neural pathways with control technologies. Darpa believe that brain implants – "implanted cortical microelectrodes" – should be the basis of future control over prosthetics, raising the familiar spectres of infection risk, and ease of maintenance and replacement.

Kazuo Ishiguro's novel Never Let Me Go, recently made into a major film directed by Mark Romanek, imagines a society where clones are bred and housed in a traditional English boarding school to grow replacement organs for their "originals" to permit the extension of life beyond organ failure. Ishiguro's novel and the film it inspired are a poignant alert to the potential societal costs of human enhancement and life extension.

New reproductive technologies and personalised genetic data provided by companies such as 23andMe are already requiring a dramatic reconfiguration of our conceptions of the family and courtship strategies. Personalised genetic screening, Gattaca style, could soon become intertwined with everything from bank loans and online dating to health insurance premiums, and we are excited to include in HUMAN+ a live experiment on the D4 Dopamine receptor gene which allegedly codes for "high risk behaviour" with the help of Dr Aoife McLysaght, Dr Ross McManus, Prof Fiona Newell, Prof Hugh Garavan, Prof Luke O'Neill and Prof Ken Wolfe.

The Methuselah Foundation has recently launched the New Organ Prize, "awarding as much as $10m to develop and transplant a new organ by the year 2020". The goal of the prize is to stimulate new techniques to grow and replace organs (kidney, liver, heart, lung, pancreas) from a patient's own cells. The same foundation also offers the M-Prize, awarded for the world record for the oldest-ever mouse. This ancient rodent will, it is hoped, lead to new ways to extend human life.

The quest to extend life and youth has become a central focus of the Transhumanist movement, championed by prominent figures like Aubrey de Grey. Life-extension through medical technologies, reduction in violence and improved diet is already a reality in the world. Even in the last forty years in Ireland our life expectancy has increased by a decade. The cryonics industry is fuelled by the enticing possibility of resurrecting the body through future technology, with companies offering to preserve your cryonically frozen head or full body through taking over your life insurance policy. Juan Enriquez of Biotechonomy is a strong advocate of the potential of stem-cell technologies, pointing out that we can already create replacement molars, bladders, ears and even tracheae in vitro.

In tones disturbingly reminiscent of Nietzsche's announcement of the Übermensch, Enriquez talks about the coming rise of Homo evolutis. Unlike Homo sapiens, Homo evolutis is characterised by taking direct and deliberate control of our biological destiny. Eduardo Kac's Edunia provides a contrary riff on human biological potential, combining the artist's DNA with that of a Petunia plant to create a new human-plant hybrid that extends the artist's presence and confronts us with the possibility of very different genetic futures.

A problem with the utopian perspectives of Enriquez and the Transhumanists towards the indefinite extension of life through regenerative medicine is that they tend to ignore on the one hand the social and emotional consequences of extreme longevity, and on the other hand to consider self-directed human evolution in splendid isolation from our changing ecological and environmental contexts. Some of the works exhibited in HUMAN+ highlight the issues inherent in life-extension. Euthanasia Coaster by Julijonas Urbonas is designed to deal with the ultimate boredom of longevity by allowing people to leave life in a euphoric state through an amusement park ride designed to kill.

Other works explore the fact that we may not be the ones who actually get to decide what new functions future humans need to perform. Laura Allcorn's Human Pollination Project demonstrates how much we rely on the ecosystem services provided by honeybees, and asks us to imagine a future where human behaviour has to be modified to provide pollination services due to the dramatic decline in bee populations. Zbigniew Oksiuta's Personal Biosphere is a meditation on the requirements for life and an externalised body providing our living requirements. Dunne and Raby's Foragers project considers a future society where food is scarce due to overpopulation and people need to create externalised stomachs so they can digest pond algae. John Isaac's disturbing sculpture If Not Now Then When offers a very different dystopian vision of the future of the human species, almost a Homo devolutis.

HUMAN+ is a combination of a sweet shop and a pharmacy, an Alice-in-Wonderland world of pills, promises and prosthetics. These works are ultimately about the fragile and contingent nature of human futures, they invite you to ponder the different dimensions, costs and unintended consequences of enhancement.

I am hugely grateful to my fellow curators and advisors for all their help and enthusiasm in creating this exhibition, to the Wellcome Trust for their support and encouragement, to Trinity College Dublin School of Medicine and the Trinity Long Room Hub for their support and advice and to all of our other supporters and sponsors, with a special word of thanks to researcher and designer Cathrine Kramer for helping draw together the cat's cradle of threads that link the ideas, artworks and experiments in the exhibition. Thank you, as always, to the Science Gallery team.

HUMAN+ tests our boundaries – boundaries of the body, boundaries of the species, boundaries of what is socially and ethically acceptable. Should we enhance ourselves, or seek to modify our descendants? Are we approaching a singularity of human-machine hybridization or de-skilling ourselves through our ever-increasing reliance on technological extensions of the body? Is extended human longevity a wonderful aspiration or a dire prospect for the planet? The ultimate decision is yours. Which enhancement will you choose?

Michael John Gorman is director of the Science Gallery, Trinity College Dublin. His essay from the catalogue of HUMAN+, which runs until 24 June, is reproduced here with the kind permission of the gallery © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

April 21 2011

See the world in a new light

Dr Patrick Degenaar explains how retinal prosthetics may one day allow humans to see in ultraviolet and infrared, a concept explored in a film unveiled at the HUMAN+ exhibition in Dublin

The purpose of retinal prosthetics is to restore sight to patients who have a degenerative condition called retinitis pigmentosa, which affects one in 3,500 people. In the condition, the retina's light-sensing cells – rods and cones – become inactive and eventually die. Symptoms start with night blindness and worsening tunnel vision, but eventually there is a total loss of sight.

In 1992, research showed that the eye's communication cells – known as retinal ganglion cells – remain intact in patients with retinitis pigmentosa. The discovery opened up the prospect of restoring some form of visual function to these people by controlling the cells' communication patterns.

In the past two decades since the research was published, hundreds of millions of pounds have been invested in retinal prosthesis research. Unfortunately, in contrast to the development of cochlear implants – which restore hearing to the deaf – progress has been slow. The highest resolution prosthesis to date was created by the Retina Implant company based in Tübingen, Germany, whose 1,500-electrode implant has allowed one of their patients, Mika, to distinguish large white characters on a black background.

One of the key challenges has been the fundamental architecture of our visual system. The eye is not simply a camera, but the first stage in a system for understanding the world around us. There are around 50 different types of processing neuron in the retina, and more than 20 types of retinal ganglion cell. So the visual cortex of the brain expects to receive the visual world encoded in a "neural song" of many different voices. Precise coding to reproduce this song is hard to achieve with implanted electrodes and the result is that the patient sees phosphenes – flashing dots of light – rather than what we would normally define as sight.

Optogenetics, an exciting new gene therapy technique, has the potential to bypass many of these problems and last year was hailed as Method of the Year by the journal Nature. Invented in the lab of Ernst Bamberg at the Max Planck Institute in Frankfurt eight years ago, the technique uses gene therapy to sensitise nerve cells to particular colours of light. Intense pulses of this wavelength of light make the photosensitised nerve cells fire. (Neurologists call each firing of a nerve an "action potential" – the currency of information in the nervous system.)

So in optogenetic retinal prosthetics, rather than performing highly complex surgery to implant electrodes into a patient's retina, a solution of a special virus would simply be injected to introduce new genes into the nerve cells. The patient would then wear a headset that records and interprets the visual scene and sends coded pulses of light to the retina. As a single pulse of light can generate a single action potential, the information encoded from the visual scene can be much more in tune with the neural song expected by the visual cortex.

The OptoNeuro European project I lead at Newcastle University is researching this new approach, and we hope to start human trials towards the middle of this decade.

The first optogenetic retinal prostheses will not deliver perfect vision, so we have teamed up with the London-based design practice Superflux to explore how the user's interaction with this new technology can be made more practical and meaningful in the coming years. The key objective is to maximise the useful sight restored to the patient while also exploring the unique possibilities of this new, modified – even enhanced – form of vision.

In their concept video Song of the Machine (above), Anab Jain, Jon Ardern and Justin Pickard explore the personal and emotional complexities that might arise once this science leaves the lab and begins to touch our daily lives. The title is derived from the idea that in optogenetic retinal prosthetics the body is itself modified to interface with the machine in order to appreciate the neural song.

Even if resolution is low, the prosthesis could allow users to experience the visual world in wavelengths beyond those perceptible to normal-sighted humans. For example the eye absorbs ultraviolet light before it reaches the retina, and nature finds it difficult to make infrared light receptors. Such constraints do not affect modern camera technology.

This "multi-spectral imaging" could be used for purely pragmatic purposes, such as telling at a glance whether an object is too hot to touch. Alternatively, it could create a certain visual poetry by allowing us to experience a flower in all its ultraviolet glory – as seen by honey bees.

By exploring these possibilities in our research, it may be possible to improve the experience of the patients who will eventually wear these prostheses, allowing them to enjoy some of the benefits of the new field of augmented reality.

Dr Patrick Degenaar is an optogenetics researcher at Newcastle University where he leads the OptoNeuro project

Song of the Machine is on show as part of the HUMAN+ exhibition at the Science Gallery, Trinity College Dublin, which runs until 24 June © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

February 14 2011

Science Weekly podcast: The birds and the bees (X-rated version)

WARNING: this podcast contains frank information and graphic details about animal sex. Again.

Peter Atkins, professor of chemistry at Oxford University, goes right to the limits of science. We then take it a bit further as we look at some of the themes in his new book On Being which is out soon.

Peter is giving a lecture on the limits of science at the Royal Institution on 22 March.

We go behind the scenes at a new exhibition which is the X-rated version of the birds and the bees. They're all at it like rabbits.

Sexual Nature is at London's Natural History Museum. We've put together a beautiful audio slideshow to give you a flavour of the exhibition.

In our show-and-tell section, we discuss a study that has drawn up a geographical map of the incidence of allergies; a universal flu vaccine; plus the International Year of Chemistry - and why the discipline often gets overlooked.

Subscribe for free via iTunes to ensure every episode gets delivered. (Here is the non-iTunes URL feed).

Meet the Guardian's crack team of science bloggers:

The Lay Scientist by Martin Robbins
Life and Physics by Jon Butterworth
Punctuated Equilibrium by GrrlScientist
Political Science by Evan Harris

Follow the podcast on our Science Weekly Twitter feed and receive updates on all breaking science news stories from Guardian Science.


Guardian Science is now on Facebook. You can also join our Science Weekly Facebook group.

We're always here when you need us, listen back through our archive.

September 10 2010

The secret world of the microscopic

Gallery: Spike Walker is honoured for his 'outstanding contribution to photography and its application in the service of medicine'

May 07 2010

Witwe darf Kind ihres toten Mannes austragen | Frankfurter Rundschau - Meldungen | 20100507

Snip: Witwe darf Kind ihres toten Mannes austragen Rostock. Wichtiger Sieg einer Witwe im Kampf um ein Kind von ihrem gestorbenen Ehemann: Das Rostocker Oberlandesgericht entschied, dass eine Klinik die künstlich befruchteten Eizellen an die 29-jährige Frau aus Neubrandenburg herausgeben muss. Das Paar hatte vor zwei Jahren die Zellen einlagern lassen, kurz darauf starb der Mann bei einem Unfall. Das Landgericht Neubrandenburg hatte zuvor der Klinik recht gegeben, die unter Verweis auf das Embryonenschutzgesetz die weitere Nutzung der Eizellen verweigert hatte. (dpa)

May 01 2010

The oldest living organisms: ancient survivors with a fragile future

Photographer Rachel Sussman has embarked on an epic journey to track down the world's oldest living things

It all began with a trip to Japan. Rachel Sussman, a photographer from New York, had flown over to take pictures of different landscapes, but during her visit she heard the same thing time and again. Go and see Jomon Sugi, people said. The name belonged to a mysterious cedar tree that grew on the island of Yakushima off the southern tip of Kyushu. It was said to be thousands of years old.

And so one trip turned into another. Sussman found the ferry port and made her way to the island, only to hear the tree was a two-day hike into the mountainous interior. A local family took her in, lent her walking gear and even agreed to hike with her. Days later they arrived. The tree, singular and gnarled, was captivating.

When the 35-year-old Sussman returned to the US, the trip to Yakushima took on new meaning. It became the kernel of an arts project that melded photography and science. Since the idea crystallised five years ago, Sussman has been travelling the globe with one aim in mind: to photograph the oldest living things in the world.

Sussman has only two criteria that organisms must meet before they become one of her prized subjects. They must be more than 2,000 years old (an arbitrary figure, she says) and the organism must have lived continuously for the period. So far she has photographed more than 20 life forms, from shrubs and predatory fungi to Siberian bacteria and domed corals that look like giant brains.

The collection offers a rare perspective of life on Earth. Some of the organisms Sussman has captured look alien. Many were alive in the bronze age. Others were eking out an existence long before modern humans rose up and migrated out of Africa.

Sussman, who grew up in Baltimore, has travelled to the high Andes to photograph the 3,000-year-old llareta plant, an extraordinary relative of parsley that looks like moss growing on smooth, round boulders. The shrub is a dense mass of thousands of tiny branches, each ending in a bud with tiny green leaves. It is so hard you can stand on top of it.

On a road trip from Cape Town to Namibia, she tracked down a 2,000-year-old welwitschia plant, a variety of conifer that grows only two leaves, which get shredded into a mass of ribbons in sand storms. At the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, she photographed 500,000-year-old actinobacteria gathered from the Siberian permafrost.

Sussman says the project has a twofold message. First, there is a humble, existential aspect in which the entirety of human history feels dwarfed by the longevity of life around us. Second is an environmental caution. "We have these organisms that have quietly persevered for an unfathomable amount of time but which are now in jeopardy," she tells me. "The Siberian actinobacteria are half a million years old and live in the permafrost. If the permafrost isn't permanent, the oldest living things on the planet will die."

Sussman has worked closely with biologists throughout the project. Behind each trip is an exhaustive search of academic journals to identify groups who are studying aged organisms. In most cases, she makes contact and arranges to visit the scientists in the field.

Things don't always go to plan. Sussman ended up stranded in southern Greenland without any means of calling for help when her arrangements to meet researchers in a shack near a fjord went awry. "For the first time in my life I knew what it meant to be completely disconnected. I'm glad I had the experience, but I'm also glad it wasn't any more dramatic," she says.

For her latest shots, Sussman had to overcome her fear of open water. She began diving lessons in a swimming pool in New York and flew to Tobago to get her scuba licence and learn how to wield her camera underwater. She came home with some rare shots of an 18ft-wide, 2,000-year-old brain coral taken off the shore on the east coast of the island. "Every time I saw it, I caught my breath. There's something about the size of it," says Sussman.

The project is expected to take two more years to complete. In that time, Sussman plans to photograph 5,000-year-old moss in Antarctica; a 10,000-year-old shrub in Tasmania and a 2,300-year-old fig tree in Sri Lanka. To finance her work, she has signed up with a microfinancing website, Kickstarter, which collects donations from anyone interested in funding such projects. Pledge $10 for a "thank you" on her website, $50 to receive an Oldest Living Things in the World keychain and sticker or $1,000 to get a signed, limited edition print and an invitation to a cocktail reception at her Brooklyn studio.

Her hope is to bring her pictures together in a book that covers the project in its entirety. "By the time I'm finished, I should have been to every continent on the planet. But this will probably be an ongoing thing for me. I'll do it for the rest of my life," she says.

Rachel Sussman's website


NAMIBIA: Welwitschia mirabilis The 2,000-year-old welwitschia plant found in the Namib-Naukluft desert is an unlikely-looking conifer that produces only two leaves in its lifetime – the longest in the plant kingdom. Over its long life, these leaves are shredded by sandstorms into a tangled mass of ribbons.

SIBERIA: Actinobacteria At 500,000 years old, and long predating modern humans, these bacteria embody the existential philosophy behind Sussman's project, and the environmental caution that her work sounds. This specimen had been gathered from the permafrost and was being kept in Copenhagen, where she photographed it. "The Siberian actinobacteria are half a million years old and live in the permafrost. If the permafrost isn't permanent, the oldest living things on the planet will die," she says.

TOBAGO: Brain coral This 18ft-wide brain coral off the shore of Speyside on the east coast of Tobago in the Caribbean is 2,000 years old. To take the shot, Sussman had to overcome her fear of open water, take diving lessons and learn how to use her camera underwater. The result is a rare shot of unique marine life in Tobago's fragile reef, which is among the world's most diverse ecosystems. "Every time I saw it, I caught my breath. There's something about the size of it," says Sussman.

SOUTH AFRICA: Underground forest Botanists believe the 13,000-year-old underground forest in Pretoria evolved to survive forest fires. All that is visible are the tips of the branches poking out of the soil. But beneath the ground is a mass of branches and roots. "If a fire roars through, only the tips are burnt. It's the equivalent of getting your eyebrows singed." says Sussman.

SWEDEN: Gran Picea This spruce, photographed by Sussman near Fulufjället mountain in Sweden, is 9,500 years old. It survives in a landscape dominated by lichen, bare mountains and valleys with dense, ancient forests. It was in such a northern environment that the photographer had one of her hairiest experiences. Sussman ended up stranded in southern Greenland without any means of calling for help when arrangements to meet researchers near a fjord went wrong.

CHILE: Llareta plant The extraordinary 3,000-year-old relative of parsley that looks like moss but is a shrub grows in the Atacama desert in the high Andes at an altitude of 15,000ft. Measuring 8-10ft across, it inhabits the surface of smooth, round boulders. It is a dense mass of thousands of tiny branches, each ending in a bud with tiny green leaves, and is so tough you can stand on top of it. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

January 25 2010

January 24 2010

All things bright and beautiful: What photographer found in one cubic foot

David Liittschwager's amazing images – featured in next month's National Geographic magazine – capture Earth's ecosystems as never before

Just how much life can you find in an ecosystem of one cubic foot? That is the question photographer David L­iittschwager set out to answer when he took a 12-inch metal frame to a range of different environments on land and in water, in tropical climes and temperate regions and began to chart the living organisms.

The answer? An astonishing amount. In each place he visited, the photographer, best known for his large images of rare animals and plants, was amazed at the diversity and abundance of life that passed through such a small area.

In five distinct and contrasting environments, from a tropical forest to a city-centre park, Liittschwager set down his green-edged metal cube, and started watching. Each creature that passed through the cube was counted and charted with the help of his assistant and a team of biologists. Over a three-week period the team photographed each inhabitant that passed through the cube, down to creatures measuring a mere millimetre.

In total, more than a thousand individual organisms were photographed, and the diversity of each environment can be seen on "It was like finding little gems," Liittschwager said.

The team started out at Central Park in New York – or more specifically, in the Hallet nature sanctuary, a 3.5-acre deciduous woodland area, populated with trees or shrubs that lose their leaves seasonally. There they found the tufted titmouse and eastern grey squirrel, creatures as big as a raccoon and as small as a leopard slug.

In Moorea, in French Polynesia, they discovered a vast array of species (pictured) thought to only be a very small selection of the reef's full diversity. Among their findings were the inch-long file clam, the whitespotted boxfish, sacoglossan sea slug and the frankly terrifying post-larval octopus.

While in the tropical cloud forest of Monteverde, in Costa Rica, most of the animals in the treetop ecosystem were as small as a fingertip, there were hawk moths, sharpshooter leafhoppers and burio tree seeds.

The fine-leaved vegetation of the fynbos of Table Mountain in South Africa, thought to hold one of the richest concentrations of plant diversity in the world, revealed the purple flower of the alice sundew, and no shortage of cape zebra cockroaches. Finally, in the fresh water of Duck River in Tennessee, one of the most biodiverse waterways in the US, swam golden darters and longlear sunfish as well as the bigeyed chub. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

September 18 2008

TERRA 446: Algal Biofuels II PREVIEW

Will algae provide the world with the biofuels of the future? Using algae to produce biofuels addresses many of the problems posed by traditional biofuels such as corn. Algal Biofuels II explores the work and perspectives of two scientists who were involved in algae-for-fuel studies decades ago and are now involved in the present day resurrection of the field.
TERRA 446: Algal Biofuels II

Will algae provide the world with the biofuels of the future? Using algae to produce biofuels addresses many of the problems posed by traditional biofuels such as corn. Algal Biofuels II explores the work and perspectives of two scientists who were involved in algae-for-fuel studies decades ago and are now involved in the present day resurrection of the field.
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