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Why the world needs death to prosper
Scientists have developed new ways of understanding how the biological forces of death drive important life processes.
- Researchers have found new ways on how decomposing plants and animals contribute to the life cycle.
- After a freak mass herd death of 300 reindeer, scientists were able to study a wide range of the decomposition processes.
- Promoting the necrobiome research will open up new areas of inquiry and even commerce.
The biosphere and its many ecosystems rely on more than just life processes to subsist and exist. Death and regeneration are a necessity to the flow of the biome. A new study out of Michigan State University has now figured out a way to investigate how decomposing plant and animal matter helps contribute to a lively ecosystem.
What was coined the necrobiome by Eric Benbowm, forensic entomologist and microbial ecologist, in 2013 – is a collective of organisms that assist in plant and animal decay. The new research sheds light on an established list of organisms that play key roles in carrion decomposition.
The paper was published in Ecological Monographs and its focus is on establishing what they call the necrobiome encyclopedia. The goal is to help bridge the interdisciplinary gap between multiple lines of ecological theory and also show how important death is as a component of all ecosystems.
Researchers have laid out a detailed study of the different stages of the decomposition processes from decaying plant life in the oceans – seaweed, to mass animal herd deaths. The findings are changing the way we view the humble gang of bacterium, vermin, decomposers and more and their ultimate role in the transformation of life.
What is a necrobiome?
Organisms are always dying. When either a plant or some kind of animal corpse sets itself against the cold hard ground, a new process emerges from the detritus of a once living being. A corpse is a cache of nutrients and a great blend of multiple fats, proteins, carbohydrates and building blocks of life.
Once the life light goes out, a group of bacteria, fungi and other assorted organisms begin to feast. There is a total change in the environment around this once living thing.
The microbiome is in a sense both a process and a coterie of species that act as decomposers and scavengers of life. It's becoming clear to scientists that there is a predictable manner in a way that this multitude of species shows up for a post-mortem dinner.
Some studies have found that mouse and human corpses share a similar group of bacteria colonizers after death for example. Not only are the processes of the necrobiome being uncovered, but the benefits to an environment are being unearthed as well.
What positive changes in ecosystems are seen after massive deaths of animals?
In a stroke of dumb luck, scientists were able to watch as an area transformed after 300 reindeer in Norway were instantly killed when lighting struck. The mass amount of carcasses drew many larger animals like foxes and wolverines, larger birds and of course maggots and microbes. In an article with the New York Times, one of the scientists, Jen Pechal, who studied the area was quoted as saying that she thought of the site as a "hyperlocal decomposition island."
The mass death created an incredible amount of diversity in such a small amount of time. It is a new and novel idea now that carcasses are able to alter and affect the greater biodiversity in the landscape. The scientists watched the area evolve over a period of a couple of years. The first spring was filled with a horrid stench with blowflies swarming about. But by the fall, the area consisted mostly of skin and bones, with no vegetation yet peaking up.
Researchers have recently seen new types of grass sprouting up bearing flowers and even crowberry seedlings being laid. One of the major changes in the area was an increased amount of plant diversity. The carcasses had actually become a rich soil for the land.
Here we see again, nature proving that it wastes nothing. Scientists believe that as we learn more about the necrobiome, it will lead to new ways of recycling and even one day commerce.
One researcher said that:
"Our research and this study establish a common language and conceptual tools that can lead to new product discovery... We're eliminating organic matter and turning it into a value-added product that can add to the world-food cycle. Understanding the species and the mechanisms, which are essentially recycled, can contribute to establishing food security."
Life to death and back again, the ubiquitous cycle continues and there's no doubt that we will keep learning more about this fascinating phenomena.
"Deepfakes" and "cheap fakes" are becoming strikingly convincing — even ones generated on freely available apps.
- A writer named Magdalene Visaggio recently used FaceApp and Airbrush to generate convincing portraits of early U.S. presidents.
- "Deepfake" technology has improved drastically in recent years, and some countries are already experiencing how it can weaponized for political purposes.
- It's currently unknown whether it'll be possible to develop technology that can quickly and accurately determine whether a given video is real or fake.
The future of deepfakes<p>In 2018, Gabon's president Ali Bongo had been out of the country for months receiving medical treatment. After Bongo hadn't been seen in public for months, rumors began swirling about his condition. Some suggested Bongo might even be dead. In response, Bongo's administration released a video that seemed to show the president addressing the nation.</p><p>But the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=324528215059254" target="_blank">video</a> is strange, appearing choppy and blurry in parts. After political opponents declared the video to be a deepfake, Gabon's military attempted an unsuccessful coup. What's striking about the story is that, to this day, experts in the field of deepfakes can't conclusively verify whether the video was real. </p><p>The uncertainty and confusion generated by deepfakes poses a "global problem," according to a <a href="https://www.brookings.edu/research/is-seeing-still-believing-the-deepfake-challenge-to-truth-in-politics/#cancel" target="_blank">2020 report from The Brookings Institution</a>. In 2018, the U.S. Department of Defense released some of the first tools able to successfully detect deepfake videos. The problem, however, is that deepfake technology keeps improving, meaning forensic approaches may forever be one step behind the most sophisticated forms of deepfakes. </p><p>As the 2020 report noted, even if the private sector or governments create technology to identify deepfakes, they will:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"...operate more slowly than the generation of these fakes, allowing false representations to dominate the media landscape for days or even weeks. "A lie can go halfway around the world before the truth can get its shoes on," warns David Doermann, the director of the Artificial Intelligence Institute at the University of Buffalo. And if defensive methods yield results short of certainty, as many will, technology companies will be hesitant to label the likely misrepresentations as fakes."</p>
Context is everything.
The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced a number of new behaviours into daily routines, like physical distancing, mask-wearing and hand sanitizing. Meanwhile, many old behaviours such as attending events, eating out and seeing friends have been put on hold.
A new study looks at how images of coffee's origins affect the perception of its premiumness and quality.
- Images can affect how people perceive the quality of a product.
- In a new study, researchers show using virtual reality that images of farms positively influence the subjects' experience of coffee.
- The results provide insights on the psychology and power of marketing.