Pleeblandia

Thoughts from the front lines


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The Scarcity of Human DNA

         Atwood’s finale to the MaddAddam Trilogy focuses on how the remaining group of humans survive the everyday struggles of a post-Flood world. This lack of survivors arises as a major issue for the survival of the human race, as their small number in size does not reach the minimum needed to viably repopulate the Earth.

         Back in 2002, anthropologist John Moore asked himself the following question: How many humans would it take to survive a 2000-year long trip to another solar system? In an attempt to solve this question, Moore postulated that a minimum of 160 humans would be sufficient to generate a stable and healthy population. More recently, anthropologist Cameron Smith tackled the same question and estimated that such a starship would have to carry at least 10,000 people.

         With this in mind, do the MaddAddamites and Gardeners stand any chance of keeping the human race afloat? Surely not. It’s pessimistic to say, but it is the harsh truth. For years, biologists have observed isolated animal populations whose numbers were initially incredibly low, like in the case of the platypuses (yes that’s plural for platypus) of King Island, found in the Bass Strait between Australia and Tasmania. A team of biologists sampled 18 individuals and found very little genetic diversity among them:

“Currently, genetic diversity in King Island O. anatinus is severely depauperate and the population is likely to be suffering from reduced fitness, reduced evolutionary potential, and an increased risk of extinction.” (Furlan et al., 2012)

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Simulated declining of genetic diversity among Kangaroo Island platypus populations. The black diamond represents the populations as of 2012. (Furlan et al., 2012)

The article offers solutions to this increased risk of extinction:

“To maintain adaptive potential and minimise the risk of extinction (Reed and Frankham 2003), levels of genetic diversity need to be maintained (in the case of Kangaroo Island) or ideally, increased. (…) Increasing the total population size through population range expansion can slow the loss of genetic diversity.” (Furlan et al., 2012)

Note: Kangaroo Island had the same problem as King Island. The study observed populations from both islands. 

         And so, the increasingly small group of MaddAddam survivors probably won’t be passing on the torch anytime soon. Unlike the platypuses of King and Kangaroo Island, humans can’t intervene and simply add more genetic diversity, and the survivors aren’t doing themselves any favors either. Not only did they off two Painballers with perfectly good DNA, essentially removing their genes from the gene pool, but Zeb also got himself killed on a trip out in the wild and indirectly caused Toby to die as well.

         4 humans down at the end of the novel, and the survivors are congratulating Swift Fox for having Craker babies instead of Painballer babies. It seems like Crake’s master plan worked after all. With human-Craker babies now in the mix, will the presence of human DNA in Craker populations drive the Crakers to suffer the same fate?

Read More:

Popular Mechanics – “How Many People Does It Take to Colonize Another Star System?

PubMed, NCBI – “How is extinction risk related to population-size variability over time? A family of models for species with repeated extinction and immigration.

 

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A New Beginning

The idea of a new beginning along with the theme of starting over are what drive the plot of Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam. Throughout the story, the humans as well as the Crakers attempt to create a new life for themselves in a world destroyed by the waterless flood and now inhabited by dangerous painballers. Restarting society is a theme that is also very prominent in the real world, namely in countries that suffer massive disasters, whether they be natural or man made.

In terms of natural disasters, the 2010 Haiti earthquake was devastating, and forced an already poor Haitian society to restart from scratch. The earthquake had a catastrophic magnitude of 7.0 Mw and affected an estimated 3 million people. At least 52 aftershocks of 4.5 Mw or higher were recorded prior to the initial earthquake and the death toll ranged between 100,000 and 160,000 people. Additionally, 250,000 residential buildings and 30,000 commercial buildings collapsed or were severely damaged. Immediately, many countries and organizations came to Haiti’s rescue by pledging funds and sending medical and rescue teams as well as engineers.

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Unlike the group in MaddAddam, Haiti received a lot of help from many different sources, and although the country is still recovering from the natural disaster, they have and still are rebuilding much faster thanks to the external help.

In terms of manmade disasters, the nuclear bombs dropped on the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and 9th of 1945 were perhaps the most destructive and tragic disasters in human history. This was the first time ever that weapons of this magnitude were used, and they were deployed by the United States military under President Truman in the final stage of World War II. Although the initial explosion was devastating, the worst part came later as radiation exposure continued to affect people many years after.

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This aspect can be compared to MaddAddam. Both the bombs and the disease created by Crake were manmade. Additionally, they both continued to have large impacts after they were initially used. Much like how the effects of radiation exposure were passed on from generation to generation, the disease created by Crake was passed from person to person and its effects are still very notable in the third book of the trilogy.

It therefore appears as though manmade disasters tend to be more catastrophic than those that are natural due to the fact that their effects seem to last much longer. While the earthquake in Haiti is definitely still having negative impacts on the country, its effects will certainly not last as long as those created by the nuclear bombs used against Japan in 1945.

Thankfully, over time, Japan was able to rebuild their societies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Haiti is also in the process of rebuilding their society, much like the group in MaddAddam is having success in rebuilding theirs. It therefore seems as though societies will always rebuild no matter how badly they are destroyed.

Is there anything capable of completely ending societies, giving them no chance of resurgence?

 

Sources

“Earthquake in Haiti.” International Rescue Committee (IRC), 12 Jan. 2015, http://www.rescue.org/article/earthquake-haiti?ms=gg_nonb_hai_thre_NK_130503&gclid=Cj0KEQjwofHHBRDS0Pnhpef89ucBEiQASEp6LJMauSiijuUY-ELOaaFSGvGNfhvURKpKOcDkIRpk488aAjUV8P8HAQ.

History.com Staff. “Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 2009, http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/bombing-of-hiroshima-and-nagasaki.

 

 


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Innocence

Childhood is a very important period of our lives. Those years are the stage of innocence. We do not know much, but we get to learn about many things. We get to understand things faster while we’re younger, which explains why we do most of our “first steps” earlier on in life. A few of those first steps are walking, talking, writing, etc. However, there are some parents who try to avoid talking to their children about topics such as sexuality, death or adults problems, in order to protect them from the “ugly side” of the world. Yet, is it really protecting them or does it simply prevent them from growing up?

innocence

In the novel, MaddAddam, we clearly see the theme of innocence through the Crakers. They are just like children: they ask too many questions and are awfully curious. They learn and understand things through songs, stories and questions. They cannot differentiate right from wrong because they seem to think that everybody is kind and that everyone has good intentions. We see it in the first pages of the novel. Finally safe from the two painballers, Toby and Ren tied them. At a certain point, the Crakers arrive and since they feel like the painballers are in danger so they naively untied them. They did not understand why they were tied and thought that the “rope is hurting these ones” and that they “must take it away” (13).

Since Jimmy is unable to tell them stories, Toby answers most of their questions through metaphors so that they could easily understand them. She answers vaguely in order to protect them from suffering. Even when she explains the story of the birth of Zeb, she avoids certain details that are unpleasant.

The Crakers have been made innocent in the idea to be free from negative emotions/feelings. They have not been created to be violent so they cannot fight. In the last novel, we understand that the Crakers are a burden for everyone since they are just like children.

child

I feel like children lose this innocence at even younger age than past generations. They get to know the dark side of the world at a really young age. They get to know about sexuality, war, and social media elaborately.

Do you think that we should preserve childhood innocence or do they have the right to know the whole truth about what is coming?

Reference
Atwood, M. (2003). MaddAddam. Toronto: Vintage Canada. Print.


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How smart are pigoons?

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In Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam Trilogy, we have seen that she describes the pigoons as one of the smartest animals in the books. They know the rifle; they know to use the tactics and almost catch Jimmy one time; they know to distract humans’ attention so that they can get into the garden; they even hold a funeral for their dead companions, and so on. In one word, they’re sly. Furthermore, in the book Maddaddam, Margaret mentions the pigoons communicate with each other and they even want to communicate with the survivors of the waterless flood. One morning, they come to the humans’ place and wish to have a talk with them. Margaret says, “there are fifty or so in all. Fifty adults, that is: several of the sows have litters of piglets, trotting along beside their mothers. … a low level of grunting is going on, from pig to pig. If they were people, Toby thinks, you’d say it was the murmuring of a crowd. It must be information exchange’ but God knows what sort of information” (Atwood 267-268). This passage shows that the pigoons can exchange ideas with each other. It’s very strange. As we know, the pigoons have the brain tissues which are similar to humans’, therefore they are smarter than the ordinary pigs. But how smart are they? We don’t have the answer, but we can test out how smart the ordinary pigs are.

According to “The 10 smartest animals”, Science on NBC NEWS, the author says that the pigs are perhaps “the smartest, cleanest domestic animals known, even more so than cats and dogs”. The experiments of testing pigs’ intelligence even started in the 1990s. Furthermore, according to the neuroscientist Lori Marino of Emory University, “we have shown that pigs share a number of cognition capacities with other highly intelligent species such as dogs, chimpanzees, elephants, dolphins and even humans”.

Well, some of the intelligent animals are considered to have the same IQ level as a preschooler and even a little child (until about 9). It’s hard to think about the pigoons may have the same level of intelligence as our human children. I mean, maybe like your 9 years old little brother or sister. It’s incredible. On the other hand, I think it could be true because some of their abilities are beyond the scope of ordinary animals should have. So what do you think? Did you find any other clues in the book and in our real world to support or against this idea?

 

References

Atwood, Margaret. The Year of the Flood. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2010. Print.

“The 10 smartest animals”, Science on NBCNEWS,             http://www.nbcnews.com/id/24628983/ns/technology_and_science-            science/t/smartest-animals/#.WPwE8zsrJhG

Viegas, Jen. “IQ tests suggest pigs are smart as dogs, chimps”, Seeker,       https://www.seeker.com/iq-tests-suggest-pigs-are-smart-as-dogs-chimps-         1769934406.html


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Personification: Not just a literary device.

Pigs with human brain tissue and multiple human organs to be grown and eventually harvested. These are what the pigoons are meant to be. The concept of it may seem far-fetched to some, but here we are in 2017, an era where we take a few more steps into the MadAddam universe. Organs and tissue donors are hard to find and there is a long list of people who need them. Scientists have found oddly familiar answers.

 

Chimeras are no longer mere fantasy and are being studied closely in order to help humanity. In fact, the Maryland University of Medicine are studying and experimenting with ways to make pig organs usable for humans. They have already managed to filter human blood through pig lungs. Now, they are injecting pig embryos with human cells and put the embryos into grown female pigs to carry for a few weeks before being removed and studied some more.

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From animals to plants, no living being is spared from human testing. Now, spinach is found to be able to build or be used as human heart tissue. This is done by growing human cells on the leaves. The leaf’s veins can replicate human veins. Studies are ongoing and the scientists feel that other types of leaves can be turned into tissue for other parts of the human body. The test they conducted transformed the spinach leaf into a miniature human heart. They plan on improving their techniques.

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Human leaves and pigoons may not be so for off into the future. Of course, there is much controversy in what is being done in these experiments, but the tests have already been done. Our science is becoming eerily similar to that of Atwood’s MadAddam universe. Well, what do you think? Is science going in the right direction? Or are we tampering with things beyond our understanding? If we continue down this path, where exactly will we stop?

 

Works Cited:

Atwood, Margaret. The Year of the Flood. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2010. Print.

Blakemore, Erin. “Human-Pig Hybrid Created In The Lab—Here Are The Facts”. News.nationalgeographic.com. N.p., 2017. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/01/human-pig-hybrid-embryo-chimera-organs-health-science/

Chambers, Delaney. “Spinach Leaf Transformed Into Beating Human Heart Tissue”. News.nationalgeographic.com. N.p., 2017. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/03/human-heart-spinach-leaf-medicine-science/


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Far from reality?

In her book The Maddaddams, Margaret Atwood describes the lives of the survivors of the waterless flood. This group of survivors is mostly made up of Gardeners and of Maddaddamites and a few lost painballers. They have no families left, they have to scavenge for food, they are under imminent threat all the times, and they have no beds. Basically none of their basic needs are met. When reading stuff like that, it’s hard to put ourselves in that situation. How do you think you would react to this new life? When I read what Atwood wrote, it’s hard for me to put myself in their shoes and imagine how I would react to having nothing to look forward to. What’s the point of trying if there’s no reward? That’s when I realised, there are people that are currently living like Atwood’s group of survivor. People living in war zones lives in very similar situation than the one Toby is in.

syriassyria

These images of Syria reminds me of what Toby describes in the book, the wrecked cars, the destroyed buildings, everything is quite similar. This is in no way a coincidence. Like everything else in the book, we are lead to believe that what happens in the book would never happen in real life, we wouldn’t let it. However, it is in fact happening every day. The people living in those conflict zones are in an even worse place than Toby as she currently is. In fact, there is about “five million people in Yemen, Somalia and northeast Nigeria, as well as areas of South Sudan where famine has already been declared” (Yemen and Somalia…). There is five million people that are being denied basic needs as I’m writing this at home, on my expensive computer, eating my expensive food, and after that going to sleep in my expensive bed. Atwood definitely put those similarity in her book to make us realize that they are people right now that are suffering and we are not even aware, nor even acknowledging it.

Cited

Atwood, Margaret. MaddAddam Trilogy. New York: Random House, 2013. Print

“Yemen and Somalia ‘months away’ from famine.” News | Al Jazeera, 22 Mar. 2017. Web

Further reading:

Fleming, Melissa, “The situation in Syria is only going to get worse … and here’s why.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 16 Feb. 2015. Web.


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Life After Humans

Reading The MaddAddam Trilogy, fictional but based on our cruel reality, I keep wondering if Crake’s reason is right, whether it would be better off for the planet if humans disappeared.

Humans have been around for thousands and thousands of years, still some million years to go to beat the dinosaurs. We have made more progress (assumingly) than those reptiles: we have built structures, we have developed technology, etc.; but what if one day, all of us vanished, what would happen to all of those?

  • 1 day: lights are out. Most power plants without people to generate would shut down (except for hydro: they have limitless fuel to work by themselves). Plus, no worries for any radiation meltdown from nuclear power plants… yet. Subway/metro tunnels would be flooded after 36 hours.subway-flooded-635x357
  • 10 days: hard time for house pets: no one feeding them. Small dogs would be more likely to die first. They are princes and princesses waiting around to be fed. So consider getting a big one as in case you disappeared, they could get out and follow their natural instincts (my advice: huskies).
  • 1 year: plants start taking roots in our structures, and “once the tree roots…take hold, no human-built structure stands a chance” (Atwood 32). Remember those hydropower plants I mentioned? Now they would completely shut down as mussels would block the generators’ cooling pipes.
  • 20 years: wildlife would be thriving already: vegetation => herbivores => carnivores. Look at the Chernobyl disaster 20 years later.chernobyl2
  • 75 years: cars would completely corrode (it would take 20-25 years if they were at coastal cities like Miami). I wonder why there are piles of corroded cars if it has been only 1-2 years after the apocalypse in the books.
  • 100 years: no one (no aliens) would know our modern-time history as books, films would go back to dirt. It is not like they were carved in clay or stone walls like in ancient time.
  • 500 years: all buildings and infrastructure would go down.
  • 1,000 years: cities would become jungles.
  • 10,000 years: Great Wall of China, Great Pyramid of Giza, and Mount Rushmore might be the only evidence of human structures left behind.

Our time on Earth is short: only haft a minute of the planet’s life on a 24-hour scale, but look at the damages we have done.  Do you think Crake is right, about our problems coming from our greed? Everything has a golden age, do you think there would be such things as our replacements?

 

Find out more

 

de Vries, David; Hense, Jim; Cohen, Douglas; Kosa, Frank; Dolan, Sam; and Georgalis, Savas. Life After People. Top Documentary Films, topdocumentaryfilms.com/life-after-people.

AsapSCIENCE. “What If Humans Disappeared?” www.youtube.com/watch?v=guh7i7tHeZk&t=1s

“Nature Is Speaking.” Conservation International, www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmVLcj-XKnM&t=4s

Gammon, Katharine. “A Brief History of Dinosaurs.” Live Science, www.livescience.com/3945-history-dinosaurs.html.