Synthetic Biology Incubator Launches

Yes, an incubator! Just for synthetic biology! It’s being hosted at Singularity University in Silicon Valley. Does anyone need any more convincing that there is a huge future in synthetic biology, through big leaps in both innovation and technology? The way we work with biology is changing, evolving, from observation to invention.

Looks like the incubator is providing resources, mentoring, and stipends for their chosen startups. Hopefully it will be like what tech incubators such as Y Combinator have done for computer startups – no doubt that many will fail or have to change their business plans and project ideas, but at the very least, there will be increased coverage and education about what synthetic biology is capable of.

“Teeming with ambitious ideas and some pretty futuristic potential, synthetic biology is an emerging multidisciplinary field in which the principles of genetic engineering are coupled with genome design software to capitalize on the plummeting cost of DNA analysis and synthesis. The approach is to construct artificial biological systems in a similar way that computer chips are made. The result is a broad array of potential technologies that could lead to a radical transformation across a variety of sectors, including medicine.”

There’s a great video at the end of the article that gives an intro to synthetic biology, too.

Source: http://singularityhub.com/2012/05/29/inaugural-synthetic-biology-incubator-synbio-launches-at-singularity-university/

Dan Barber’s Culinary Crusade – WSJ.com

“Butchering and eating animals may not be called kindness, but eating soy burgers that rely on pesticides and fertilizers precipitates destruction too. You don’t have to eat meat, but you should have the good judgment to relinquish the high horse. There is no such thing as guilt-free eating.”

WSJ Soapbox piece on food, sustainability, local diets, and the environment by Dan Barber, chef at Blue Hill at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. He discusses his opinions on what is best for humans to eat – best for us in a way that is healthy, and best for the earth in a way that is sustainable and logical – based on nutrient cycles, tracing the energy flow, and the inputs and outputs unique to different areas and their soils, as well as culture and our biological needs. Interesting ideas on “ecological intelligence” and an argument against vegetarianism (it’s always good to hear the reasoning behind both sides!).

“What I don’t like about sustainable foodies—and I’m considered one of them—is that we carry an air of preachiness about food. (No one wants to be told what to eat, whether it’s by your mother or by a group of holier-than-thou chefs.) But true sustainability is about more than just deciding to cook with local ingredients or not allowing your child to have corn syrup. It’s about cuisine that’s evolved out of what the land is telling you it wants to grow. As one farmer said to me, Food systems don’t last; cuisine does.”

Source: Dan Barber’s Culinary Crusade – WSJ.com

The Chromatic Typewriter

Speaking of the difficulties of defining color in a discrete way (see my previous entry on Empirical Zeal’s great blog post about color naming), here’s a creative tool that gives us a new spin on blending and blurring the lines between color names and identities. I wish I had one of these!

“Washington-based painter Tyree Callahan modified a 1937 Underwood Standard typewriter, replacing the letters and keys with color pads and hued labels to create a functional “painting” device called the Chromatic Typewriter. Callahan submitted the beautiful typewriter as part of the 2012 West Prize competition, an annual art prize that’s determined by popular vote. I don’t know how practical painting an image with a color typewriter is, but if Keira Rathbone can do it…”

– Christopher Jobson at Colossal

Source

Colors and their names

Aatish Bhatia, a PhD student at Rutgers blogging at the Empirical Zeal, gives us a very fascinating read on how naming colors has affected our perception of colors and our visual worlds. A little bit of linguistics, a little bit of color theory, a little bit of visualization, a lot of interesting science. Think about it: we gave colors discrete boundaries and names, but they are more of continuous, fluid things.

Here’s some of the introduction that gets you started on thinking about how we partition color:

“Blue and green are similar in hue. They sit next to each other in a rainbow, which means that, to our eyes, light can blend smoothly from blue to green or vice-versa, without going past any other color in between. Before the modern period, Japanese had just one word, Ao, for both blue and green. The wall that divides these colors hadn’t been erected as yet. As the language evolved, in the Heian period around the year 1000, something interesting happened. A new word popped into being – midori – and it described a sort of greenish end of blue. Midori was a shade of ao, it wasn’t really a new color in its own right.

“One of the first fences in this color continuum came from an unlikely place – crayons. In 1917, the first crayons were imported into Japan, and they brought with them a way of dividing a seamless visual spread into neat, discrete chunks. There were different crayons for green (midori) and blue (ao), and children started to adopt these names. But the real change came during the Allied occupation of Japan after World War II, when new educational material started to circulate. In 1951, teaching guidelines for first grade teachers distinguished blue from green, and the word midori was shoehorned to fit this new purpose.

“In modern Japanese, midori is the word for green, as distinct from blue. This divorce of blue and green was not without its scars. There are clues that remain in the language, that bear witness to this awkward separation. For example, in many languages the word for vegetable is synonymous with green (sabzi in Urdu literally means green-ness, and in English we say ‘eat your greens’). But in Japanese, vegetables are ao-mono, literally blue things. Green apples? They’re blue too. As are the first leaves of spring, if you go by their Japanese name. In English, the term green is sometimes used to describe a novice, someone inexperienced. In Japanese, they’re ao-kusai, literally they ‘smell of blue’. It’s as if the borders that separate colors follow a slightly different route in Japan.”

Source: The crayola-fication of the world: How we gave colors names, and it messed with our brains (part I)

Read part II here.