Category Archives: Science

Cosmic radiation research

According to Polish scientists radiation in space is much less hostile than had been expected. This research of great importance for future space settlements, as cosmic radiation is a major hazard for space travelers.

However, we can make a small point of critique: the research was conducted at the ISS, which well inside the Earth’s magneto-sphere. Our magnetic field protect our planet against space radiation.

What are animals?

Though this question seems to be trivial, but in fact it is not. And if we want to introduce animal welfare legislation, we need to establish what organisms are animals.

In modern taxonomy animals (Animalia) are known as Metazoa. Animals are multicellular eukaryotes (i.e. animal cells have a nucleus), are heterotrophic (i.e. they don’t do photosynthesis, and chemical energy in the form of organic molecules to survive), and their cells don’t have a rigid cell walls (unlike plants, fungi and bacteria).

Taxonomists have divided the animal kingdom in three main groups: Eumetazoa, Mesozoa and Parazoa. The last subkingdom consists of multicellular animals who (unlike other animals) do not have tissues or organs. Currently only sponges belong to the Parazoans. The second group, Mesozoa, contains only worm-like parasites, and its actual status is subject of scientific dispute.

The first subkingdom, Eumetazoa, is by far the most interesting one, since it contains all other animals. Eumetazoans are animals with differentiated tissues and organs. Most aminals of this group of a symmetric body to a certain degree. Since only Eumetazoans are known to have nerve systems, and hence capable of suffering, it might be an idea to restrict animal welfare legislation to Eumetazoans rather to all Metazoans.

Many people have learned at school that life is divided into four kingdoms: bacteria, fungi, plants and animals. Only this system is now outdated due to new scientific (genetic!) research. There are two superkingdoms: Prokaryotes and Eukaryotes. The former is divided into Bacteria and Archaea. The latter is divided into: Unikonta and Bikonta. The latter contains plants, algae and similar organisms. Unikonta contains amoebozoa and opisthokonts.

Opisthokonts are further divided into main groups: Holomycota (includes among others fungi) and Halozoa. The latter group is then further divided into Mesomycetoea and Filozoa. Filozoans are divided into Filasterea, Choanoflagellata and Animalia. Choanoflagellata are a group of unicellular organisms, and they are the closest relatives of animals (most recent common ancestor living about 600 million years ago).

Oxytocin: the new doping?

Scientists have discovered that, at least in mice, oxytocin plays a crucial role in muscle maintenance and that the amount of oxytocin decreases with age. Older mice have less of this hormone, and hence it takes more time for them to repair their muscles. By giving older mice a daily injection of oxytocin, their muscle repair capability was strongly improved.

Though this function of oxytocin has not been demonstrated in humans, oxytocin has been approved for clinical use in humans. If these results also apply to humans, it will be useful for elderly people who will be able to live healthier at higher age.

But since oxytocin improves muscle repair capability, there is a possibility that sportsmen will use it as doping. Since sportsmen use their muscles in a very intense manner, their muscles have a higher risk at damages. This is especially problematic during multi-day sport events as the Tour de France or the Fifa World Championship. The faster a sportsman can have his muscles repaired, the better his overall performance will be.

At this moment oxytocin is legal, and could be obtained and used easily, even if the effects on human muscles is unclear. And as long oxytocin is not listed as doping and sportsmen are not tested at this hormone, which also occurs naturally in our body (to make stuff even more difficult); sportsmen will be tempted to use oxytocin.

In vitro leather

We have discussed in vitro meat several times at this site, mainly as an animal-friendly and suitable supply of meat for space settlers. The idea of in vitro meat is simple: take some muscle cells from an animal and put that in lab culture.

Andras Forgacs has realized that you do the same thing with skin tissue, and hence culture leather in the lab without killing animals. In the video below, Forgacs explains that cultured leather has not only the same qualities as “natural” leather, but actually one would create leather of superior quality. This because one has more control on conditions in which the leather is grown.

Leather has a certain appeal, and though I don’t buy leather for ethical reasons, I like this material. So do many vegetarians and vegans, so they do much efforts to obtain accurate imitation leather (if I need to buy new shoes, I have to take a one-hour train trip to Amsterdam to buy shoes at a special vegan shoe shop).

Cultured leather would be great for those who like both animals and leather products. Further it would prevent the slightly dystopian future I described in this story I wrote two years ago about a world were cattle farming has been out phased to make room for growing energy crops.


O’Neill Cilinders

The first two videos are uploaded by CentripetalWorlds. Both feature O’Neill cylinders, video one appears to show, the construction of an O’Neill cylinder.

Two rotating O’Neill cylinders (warning: annoying sound, please mute volume).

A different but related design, the Kalpana One:

The Kalpana One is an interesting design, and quite suitable for the first generation of space settlements (O’Neill cylinders have been considered as a second generation space habitat since they were designed).

For a technical discussion of O’Neill cylinders, by no one less than O’Neill himself, see here.

Exterior view of a double cylinder colony