Bioengineering and Bionics
This week, there have been two separate announcements regarding cyborg-like body replacements. The first is that surgeons in the USA have successfully implanted a lab-grown blood vessel in a patient with kidney disease. While this may not sound like a big deal, it is. Grown tissues have never been implanted into humans before now, and it is a huge step towards consigning organ donation to the dark annals of medical history. This is exciting because they used his own cells to grow the vessel – which means there will be no immune system rejection, and no immune-suppressant drugs.
The second piece of news is much more futuristic. A team in Australia are developing a system to provide limited vision to the permanently blind. This works by having a camera, which wirelessly transmits images to a chip that is implanted at the base of the skull and interfaces directly with the visual cortex. While the vision is somewhat limited, these people will be able to make out different colours and objects. Also, they will be cyborgs. This is so awesome that I almost want to be blind so that I can get one.
Agriculture for the Future
Two interesting studies have been announced this week in the area of sustainable crop management. One was a broad study of GMO crops (which are now in the billions of acres) and the development of insecticide resistance. The current problem that GMO farmers are facing is that insects develop resistance to the insecticide that the GMO plants produce. These guys found that the use of refuges (areas of plants without pesticide-producing GMO plants) hugely increased the effectiveness of the GMO plants, by allowing pests to breed in the absence of the pesticide. This stopped the spread of pesticide resistance genes in the pests, and kept the GMO crops pest-free for longer.
The other interesting story is about beneficial crop insects – pollinators, to be precise. This study demonstrated that having areas of non-crop plants with high biodiversity, similar to the refuges for pests, actually improves pollinator presence and performance for the crop plants.
So what we are seeing is some scientific support for the principles of permaculture, as well as a warning against monoculture, intensive farming and industrial agriculture. Yay for sustainable practices!