March 3, 2014

Martha is Making a Comeback! (Maybe)

How does a bird that once numbered in the billions disappear over the course of a few decades? The birds were shot and trapped. Beds and pillows were stuffed with their feathers. Their fat was used in shortening and soap. When huge flocks of the pigeons passed overhead, people would open fire on the poor creatures from their rooftops.

NORTH WIND PICTURE ARCHIVES/VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS - A woodcut from the 1870s shows passenger pigeons being shot in Louisiana.

On Sept. 1, 1914, Martha (named for George Washington’s wife), the last captive passenger pigeon, died at the Cincinnati Zoo. She outlasted George, the penultimate survivor of her species and her only companion, by four years. Don’t the women always outlast the men…

“Martha,” the last known passenger pigeon. Photo by Carl Hansen, Smithsonian Institution, 1985

Plans are in the works to possibly bring the bird back by way of “de-extinction.” Ok, de-extinction…here’s our layman breakdown:

So the DNA of a passenger pigeon and the fragments of an existing band-tailed pigeon meet at a bar. They get together. Insert what results into a band-tailed pigeon stem cell. It becomes a germ cell. Inject these germs cells into developing band-tailed pigeons, and voila! They start mating with each other, and eventually their offspring become more and more passenger pigeon-esque.

Want a more scientific explanation of the process? Check out this article from The Washington Post.

Oh, and check out this awesome song about Martha from the upcoming production of The Great Immensity!


February 19, 2013

Chalk it up to the Sea Urchin: An Unlikely Source of a Stable Mineral

I wish I had thought of this first, but apparently scientists have discovered that sea urchins convert CO2, that harmful stuff that’s trapping heat in our atmosphere, into chalk. Check out the article in Telegraph about it! Those little guys use nickel ions to transform carbon dioxide into exoskeletons for themselves. That’s cool on its own, but there is talk that we can adopt this urchin technology by suspending nickel nanoparticles in vats of water at factories, and in doing so, capture the carbon dioxide as it’s pumped through. The nickel can be recycled, and not only is the chalk useful (used to make cement, plaster casts in hospitals, etc.), but it’s also a stable mineral, so it poses no threat to the environment. You can find this study in the Catalysis Science & Technology academic journal if you’d like to investigate it further. I’m personally curious about just how much this could cut down on factory CO2 waste and how soon and easily we could begin to implement it globally!

And this is maybe not as pragmatic, but if you’re interested in some other unlikely (and incredible) animals that evolution may or may not have been playing practical jokes on, check out this Tumblr, WTF Evolution!

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    "The Next Forever" is a song from The Great Immensity. The footage was taken on Barro Colorado Island in the Panama Canal by videographer David Ford. Music and lyrics by Michael Friedman.
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