mellowtigger: (dna mouse)
[personal profile] mellowtigger
The world is a hugely complex place. Pretty much by definition, each species has its own unique place within this maelstrom of activity. If two animals served precisely the same role within the system, they would essentially be the same species. Instead, each plant, animal, and microbe exploits some unique way of conserving, acquiring, or transferring energy in the complex dance of life (and death).

With countless species in the world, there are lots of biochemical and engineering lessons to be learned from each of them. Each page in the vast library of knowledge is out there, walking or flying or crawling through our environment. No creature is too small or insignificant to offer us an important insight. For example...

Alaska beetle teaches us a new formula for an antifreeze molecule. (link) This trick could teach us to save human lives in hospitals, or it could prepare us for long distance journeys in space while in suspended animation.

Microbe shows us how it "breathes" from iron-containing minerals in rock. (link) This trick could teach us how to build "living" batteries that produce electricity for us.

Zebrafish reveals that it retains its telomeres regardless of its age or regeneration. (link) This trick could teach us how to prevent or cure some forms of cancer, and it could lead to greatly increased lifespans for humans. (Also, this study came out of the University of Minnesota, just a few miles down the road from where I live.)

Fescue grass produces an herbicide that inhibits growth of other plants. (link) This trick could give us industrial farming without the use of dangerous chemicals laced with mercury or arsenic.

Algae is more efficient than it needs to be at converting light into sugar. (link)  This trick could be exploited to create new algae that uses its excess capacity to produce large amounts of hydrogen gas or other fuels or even plastics.

Southern copperhead snake administers venom that can inhibit tumor growth and migration. (link) This trick could help us cure breast cancer. Meanwhile, rattlesnake venom may be able to treat victims of stroke.

Each of these species is an already-worked-out solution to a real-world problem. The fact that species worldwide are going extinct before we have an opportunity to learn their wisdom is a problem worth a great deal of excitement. They arrived at their specialties after millions of years of trial and error. We could learn valuable lessons in years or centuries instead, except that our "mentors" are dieing from our neglect.

Be concerned about endangered or threatened species. Worry when once-thought-extinct animals are rediscovered... and then promptly eaten. Which pages of the library of knowledge are we sacrificing when we dine on the meat of a simple bird that we find in the forest? Does that quail's bone marrow contain instructions on how to build a new lightweight structure of surprising strength? Does its blood contain a cure for a fungal infection common to its environment?

Whether it is pond scum or rodent, each lost species is a lost lesson.  Go Green. It matters.

Many months ago, I purchased the domain name bearlyinvolved.org as a location for encouraging conservation activities amongst the Bear crowd. I really need to get off of my lazy butt and do something with it... before nature's unexplored processes turn around and bite us all in the butt.
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