Scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have discovered a diverse group of microbes thriving on flecks of plastic that pollute the oceans. Most of the flecks are about a millimeter in diameter. This newly dubbed “Plastisphere” has created new habitats for microorganisms that are different from those found in the surrounding seawater. Researchers have found at least 1000 different types of bacteria thus far including many individual species that have not been previously identified. How will these new microbial communities affect the ecosystem? Can we exploit the plastisphere to sequester carbon dioxide and combat global warming? Will someone exploit the plastisphere for nefarious purposes (i.e., transporting toxigenic or pathogenic organisms, plugging up harbors, polluting beaches, or contaminating water intakes)?
About a trillion microorganisms colonize our bodies making each of us a walking, talking “superorganism.” Our microscopic passengers play an important role health as well as disease. When our microbiome is imbalanced, we are prone to inflammation, arthritis and toxic megacolon. We also have a decreased ability to digest and utilize vital nutrients. Rebalancing the microbiome seems to be important and medical scientists are now using fecal transplant pills—yup, pills containing concentrated fecal bacteria -- to stop recurrent Clostridium difficile infections of the gut. Our sanitized, disinfectant- and antibiotic-laden Western culture is waging war on the superorganism and the bugs are fighting back! What would happen if we embraced the bugs? Could we use bioengineering to augment our individual microbiomes? Would we become superbeings or organic sludge? Could this be used for nefarious purposes?
Every year millions of people flock to their local parks to watch firework celebrations. We’re not the only species that likes fireworks; some bacteria are able to eat the oxidizers (perclorates) used to generate these pyrotechnic displays, What if there were bugs that could eat gunpowder, explosives, and other things that go boom? How would that change our world?
When NASA landed the one-ton, nuclear-powered Curiosity rover on the Red Planet, heaps of debris were scattered across the Martian landscape. We have landed tons of foreign substances (including radioisotopes) on the surface of Mars since 1971. We know that organisms adapt to new challenges. What if this new set of foreign nutrients stimulates the growth of organisms that thrive on these substances? How would that affect colonization? How would they affect spacecraft returning to Earth from the red planet? Does Mars need its own Environmental Protection Agency? Other foreign objects have been landed or crashed on other planetary bodies, the moon being the largest receptacle of space debris.
Sounds strange but the science is real. Could these be used to power wearable or implantable electronic devices?
Urban environments are hotter than rural environments. This changes the normal flora and fauna. Urban vermin (a catchy name) are not subjected to the harsh winter temperatures that their rural brethren face so they live longer and breed more. What happens to us as the world becomes more urbanized? Sounds like a dystopian theme.
What if humans are considered corrosive influences to buildings and pipes?
6 Tech-based Writing Prompts
5 Books for Aspiring SciFi Writers
…and general SciFi articles.
SciFi Writers – The Shamans of Modernity
SciFi and the Dangerfield Effect
SciFi Authors and Editors as Agents of Change
What Would Your Robot Say?
What Were the First SciFi Stories You Read?
Earth Day – April 22, 2014