When humankind faces a dire situation, we usually turn to our brightest minds for help. Engineers fabricate incredible technologies to save lives in natural disasters, scientists carry out brilliant studies to develop life-saving medicines, and politicians offer guidance.
To solve humanity’s greatest problem, though, we might soon be turning to a fish. Because if we play our cards right, one little alien-faced creature called the monkeyface prickleback may one day save the human race — as long as the robots don’t take over the world first.
Donovan German, a biologist at the University of California, Irvine, was pleased to learn about the monkeyface prickleback, or Cebidichthys violaceus. After all, the fish could answer one of the world’s most pressing questions.
See, Donovan found that the frowning fish bears a digestive tract similar to a human’s, possessing both small and large intestines and an acidic stomach. This was a big deal — who woulda thunk it.
According to Donovan and the authors of this new study, the monkeyface prickleback makes up just five percent of the 30,000 species of fish that are vegetarian. The bizarre species nibbles on specialized algae in the tide pools it calls home.
And the authors were perplexed at how the frowning fish could live on a food source that possessed such a low level of lipids. Well, the little vegetarian fish has a digestive system that “is excellent at breaking down starch, which we anticipated,” said Donovan.
“We also learned it has adapted to be very efficient at breaking down lipids. It is a compelling example of what we call ‘digestive specialization’ in the genome,” Donovan continued. But what the heck does that mean for us?
Not only is the monkeyface prickleback funny-looking in appearance, but, according to the researchers, it also has extraordinary survival skills. The fish can survive on dry land for up to a whopping 37 straight hours, as it can breathe above and below water!
Vikram B Baliga
Researchers detailed that the Pacific Ocean native can live up to 18 years, grow up to three feet in length, and weigh up to six pounds. The sad-looking, grey-green fish is what you’d call “tiny but mighty.”
Though your mouth may not water upon staring at the cold-blooded creature, it’s considered a culinary delicacy in other parts of the world, even being deemed “the new white meat.” But what does that have to do with answering life’s great questions?
Fisherman’s Life / YouTube
See, the monkeyface prickleback can be farmed in mass amounts, which could then feed people across the globe. And since raising livestock on a regular ol’ farm has proved to be not so sustainable these days, this could be revolutionary.
“Using plant-based food ingredients reduces pollution and costs less. However, most aquaculture fish are carnivores and can’t handle plant lipids,” said Dr. Joseph Heras, the lead author of the study, which was published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
“Sequencing this genome has provided us a better understanding of what types of genes are necessary for breaking down plant material,” he continued. It turns out that the monkeyface munchkin was a scientific anomaly of sorts.
@SEBASTESinBLUE / Twitter
“If we scan additional fish genomes, we may find omnivorous fish with the right genes that could provide new candidates for sustainable aquaculture,” he continued. We all might be pescatarians one day!
Californians love to hang by the tide pools and wait for the ugly, eel-like fish to unveil themselves from beneath the slippery, algae-coated rocks, which taste great in some homemade farro pasta. And though the monkeyface prickleback is not available commercially, this may change.
The Monkeyface News
If you’re still grimacing, or perhaps gagging, at the idea of eating this algae-muncher (hey, some people downright hate sushi), Donovan relayed that “the taste is actually delicate and mild.”
While certain people may have sophisticated (more like entitled) palates, others are scrounging for anything to provide them with proper nourishment, and would consider the monkeyface prickleback a blessing disguised as a hideous sea creature.
@SEBASTESinBLUE / Twitter
According to The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, it’s estimated that approximately 815 million people of the 7.6 billion people on earth, endured “chronic undernourishment” in 2016, which is the most recent data available to the public.
Andrew Rush / Post-Gazette
Worldhunger.org detailed that the plethora of issues that cause hunger include poverty, conflict, political instability, food and agriculture policy, and climate change. Specifically, climate change and its side effects, such as natural disasters, have increasingly posed problems over the last 30 years.
The brainy authors of the study concluded that the “unusual fish … offer new possibilities for humans to obtain dietary protein as climate change imperils traditional sources,” which is a drop of hope in a sea of presumed doom.
@SEBASTESinBLUE / Twitter
Though our future is fuzzy, it’s possible that the radical vegans are right; mass raising cows and pigs may only accelerate heinous climate change. One day, the human race might just worship the ground this strange little fish walks on… or rather the tide pool it swims in.
@SEBASTESinBLUE / Twitter
Meanwhile, a new technology is being developed that could one day have food, auto parts, and even organs all coming from the same place. But the question is: if that steak was produced right next to a pair of human lungs, would you still dig in?
@dgermanuci / Twitter
Surprisingly, a good number of people probably wouldn’t mind. The average person consumes over 200 pounds of meat in a single year, and as a whole, global meat consumption has exceeded 315 million tons annually.
What isn’t a surprise, however, is the impact that our meat consumption is having on the planet. It takes an incredible amount of energy and resources to raise and slaughter livestock, two processes that also give off high levels of greenhouse gases.
In fact, industrial agriculture is one of the leading causes of global climate change and loss of biodiversity. Yet with the global population continuing to grow exponentially and demand for meat at an all-time high, is there really any chance of reversing this harmful trend?
The world’s foremost scientists have pointed to plant-based diets as the answer, as growing crops takes a significantly lesser toll on the environment than raising livestock. But let’s face it: do you really think people are going to give up the taste of a juicy strip steak for some green beans?
Fortunately, we may soon be living in a world where meat and veggies are one in the same. Thanks to the Barcelona-based startup Novameat, you’ll be able to have your steak and eat it too — totally guilt free.
@KORcombat / Twitter
In 2018, Novameat developed a meat alternative that looks, tastes, and even feels like real meat. How is this possible you may ask? The device that made this happen isn’t one you’ll find in a typical kitchen.
A printer — well, a 3D printer, to be exact. Using a plant-based paste derived from various veggies, the printer meticulously weaves layers of meat substitute together, creating a criss-cross pattern designed to imitate the muscle cell proteins that give steak its signature mouth feel.
“This strategy allows us to define the resulting texture in terms of chewiness and tensile and compression resistance, and to mimic the taste and nutritional properties of a variety of meat and seafood, as well as their appearance,” explained Guiseppe Scionti, Novameat’s founder.
According to Scionti, this technology will eventually be made readily available to restaurants, allowing them to print their own meals. By 2021, we could see 3D-printed, vegetarian steaks on dinner plates all across the globe. But this raises questions.
@Nova_Meat / Twitter
Can we really trust a piece of machinery to “print” our meals for us? And what’s more, isn’t 3D-printer technology — even for non-edible creation — still in its infancy?
Ars Electronica / Flickr
Though 3D printing seemed like something out of a sci-fi novel when it first hit the tech world some two decades ago, it’s now become a regular part of the industry. More than one million printers were sold worldwide in 2018, and by 2027, that number is expected to rise to 8 million.
Tinker Air Force Base
And when it comes to uses for the technology, “there are constantly new applications discovered, with new materials and machines unveiled each year,” according to IDC Europe senior research analyst Galina Spasova. In fact, you may have a bit of 3D printing in your mouth right now.
The dental industry is steadily making use of this new technology, specifically when it comes to the production of crowns and bridges. Not only does 3D printing cut production time in half, but it also ensures that these implants are an accurate fit.
Alan Levine / Flickr
Similarly, 3D printing is also responsible for the production of most of the world’s hearing aids, a process that once took hundreds of man hours to craft each individual ear piece. Now, 3D printers can churn thousands of these aids out in a single day.
But perhaps the most revolutionary use of 3D printing has been in the medical field. In late 2019, researchers at New York’s Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute announced they’d actually developed a method of 3D printing living human skin.
Though we may still be a few years from 3D-printed hearts and nervous systems, it’s the concept of personalized medical care the really makes this technology worthwhile. Prosthetic limbs can now be custom printed to fit patients, and even medicines can be produced in smaller doses for children.
Beyond healthcare, 3D printing is being utilized in the production of airplanes and auto parts — there’s even a 3D printer on the International Space Station! One day, researchers even foresee 3D printing being used to build cities.
In early 2020, New York construction firm SQ4D built an 1,900-square-foot home using only a 3D printer. Laying each wall layer by layer, the project took just eight days to complete.
If taken mainstream, this process would revolutionize the construction industry. In fact, SQ4D claims that its printed homes cost 70 percent less to build than the exact same model under traditional means.
It’s incredible to think that in the near future, steaks and sheetrock could both come from the same place. Yet believe it or not, the brilliant minds behind these 3D-printing innovations weren’t the first to tackle the Earth’s growing environmental problems in a totally unconventional way.
Therealmaart / Imgur
There’s an old joke that says IKEA is the place to end relationships: its complicated furniture and diverse selection causes even the most dedicated couples to argue. But in reality, the furniture giant is trying to make the world a better place.
See, amidst Copenhagen’s high-energy Meatpacking District — a hot spot full of Nordic seafood bars and cafes — is the headquarters for IKEA’s little-known project, Space 10.
Don’t think for one second that because the exterior design lacks any real vibrancy that anything ordinary goes on inside. It’s packed with scientists with a simple mission: save the world.
Ikea realized that we tend not to dwell on the fact that the world’s food supply is quickly running out. And why would we? The thought of limited access to food is terrifying (we’ve all seen movies where starving people turn into savages at the mere sight of anything digestible)!
Environmental statistics show one-third of the food produced by factories all over the world gets thrown away. That’s an alarming fact. The United Nations also reported that by 2050, the world needs to produce 70 percent more food.
But, before you pop a Zoloft thinking about the dire situation, you can rest easy knowing IKEA is working around the clock to combat the problems — this is why Space10 exists. You need to see their innovations to actually believe them.
Space10’s founders, a designer and former professional dancer, Carla Cammilla Hjort, and former documentary filmmaker, Simon Caspersen, took the reigns of the laboratory in 2015 after wowing IKEA’s CEO, Torbjörn Lööf.
Hjort gave a presentation to the CEO in 2014, and he was so enthralled with her work he led a successful collaboration into limited-edition furniture. But, that was just the very start of her positive impact at IKEA.
After she hit her 2014 presentation out of the park, Lööf asked the designer to “create a better IKEA for the future.” Now, that was a pretty overwhelming request, but she had the answer…
Hjort crafted another presentation, this one lasting six hours, detailing Space10’s mission — to develop a way to keep food sustainable for future generations. Lööf was hooked, so Hjort went straight to work using the funding IKEA offered up.
One such endeavor was aquaponic farming, where fish and plants were bred in symbiosis. This kind of farming can be done year round and in any climate! Hjort’s team had plenty of other projects in the works.
Another ambitious undertaking was something Hjolt called SolarVille. A team of researchers built a working prototype of a miniature neighborhood powered entirely by the sun. But, it was the culinary world Space10 truly took by storm.
Yep, Space10 dipped its hands in many different jars, but their ideas and projects on the future of food were prioritized — you know, what with the dwindling food supply. They’ve employed some pretty crazy research.
For instance, these spherical structures teeming with vegetation are called Growrooms. Space10 created these food-producing architectural domes to serve as urban farms. Some produce fast-growing algae to combat potential livestock-feeding problems.
It’s the human food, however, that garnered much of the public’s attention. Space10’s goal was to create nutrient-rich foods that aren’t completely bland, which is much harder than you might think.
One highly innovative experiment was called “Tomorrow’s Meatball,” where chefs unveiled different types of meatballs, such as one that was grown artificially in a lab (bottom right), and one that was created in a 3D printer (top right)!
Simon Perez, the chef heading the culinary creations, turned to a fascinating experimental ingredient: spirulina. This micro-algae was a popular addition in Aztec cooking, and it’s incredibly versatile.
One of the spirulina-based concoctions was this meatless hot dog. All you carnivores out there might immediately scoff at the idea, but pickled mustard seeds and chives, a beetroot-black currant ketchup, curried mayo, and a garnish of crispy onions and microgreens might hit the spot.
Chef Perez even made ice cream using the spirulina. The chances of it offering the same satisfaction as a tub of Ben & Jerry’s is likely slim, but flavor comes second when the world needs food. But if you think spirulina’s an odd ingredient, strap in for their next food venture.
Bugs! The thought of eating the creepy crawlies that live in the dirt below is a tough pill to swallow, but in the future, we might not have a choice. Space10 at least found a way to make ’em semi-palatable.
Many times, it’s just the thought of eating bugs that deter people. A talented chef can mask pungent flavors and off-putting textures, and Space10 hoped this burger was proof. The patty consisted of mealworms, beets, parsnips, and potatoes.
The people behind the work at IKEA’s Space10 know how important preparing for the future is, and they’re achieving it through incredible technological leaps and bounds. Luckily, Space10 isn’t alone in their conservation mission.
Considering oceans cover 70% of the Earth’s surface, it’s no wonder that these waters are where most of our world’s pollution lies. The prospect of literally cleaning oceans may seem impossible, but one initiative is hoping to do just that.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
With the help of a man-made “coastline,” The Ocean Cleanup has been using the natural forces of the sea to collect plastic waste since 2013. The nonprofit organization is aiming to remove 50% of the ocean’s plastic within the next 5 years, leading to 90% removal by 2040.
Then there’s Jadav Payeng. While walking along the eroded banks of the Brahmaputra river, Jadav Payeng came across a number of snakes that had died from exposure. The concerned tribesman proceeded to plant 20 bamboo seedlings, hoping to one day restore life to the area.
ADAPA Canary Islands
Forty years later, the seedlings are part of a 1,300 acre reserve hand-planted by Payeng himself. The once-barren landscape is now home to a variety of mammals and birds, and Payeng continues growing his forest in the hope of one day saving the world.
Donate Your Sweat / Flickr
Aside from that, while plastic remains one of the biggest man-made threats to the environment, e-waste is a close second. Out of the millions of tons of electronics that are thrown away each year, only about 20% are recycled and repurposed.
Thankfully, the Medal Project is striving to change that. In preparation for the 2020 Olympics, the project has been collecting e-waste and will transform this scrap into the bronze, silver, and gold medals that will be awarded at the Tokyo games.
Similarly, for years, the Henley Reserve in Kwinana, Australia, was plagued with pollution. The sewer pipes did little to impede the flow of garbage into the waters, and every day, dozens of workers were rounded up to remove the trash by hand.
But in 2018, the city decided to install nets below the sewer pipes to stop the pollution once and for all. The $20,000 investment has proven far more cost effective than paying for manual labor, and the nets have already collected well over 1,000 pounds of trash!
Global hunger, meanwhile, is another pressing environmental issue, yet every year developed countries discard a staggering 1.3 billion tons of food. And what’s worse — there’s usually little to nothing wrong with most of it.
To combat this, Danish supermarket WeFood has begun selling “undesirable” foodstuffs, such as expired canned goods and damaged produce. Not only is this practice reducing the amount of food waste in Denmark, but it’s also cutting costs for consumers by up to 50%.
And while most people are more than willing to plant a tree to help the environment, actually doing so is easier said than done. But what if there was a way to plant millions of trees simply by searching the web?
Aspire Training Team
That’s the logic behind Ecosia, a search engine that plants one tree for every 50 online searches. Using ad revenue, Ecosia has planted 52,044,430 trees thus far, and that number continues to grow every second.
In the same vein, avocado lovers are all too familiar with the fruit’s notorious pit, though it seems like such a waste to simply discard the perfectly good seed. BioFase thought so too, and so they developed a revolutionary new way to repurpose these pesky pits.
That’s right: cutlery! The Mexico-based company converts discarded avocado seeds into single-use “plasticware” that biodegrades after just 240 days. Considering Mexico produces half of the world’s avocados, they likely won’t be running out of material any time soon.
Plastic is obviously one of the worst things for our planet — hence the avocado cutlery — and everyone knows how deadly six pack rings can be for small animals. Luckily, SaltWater Brewery has developed a beverage holder that is 100% plastic free.
National Geographic Education Blog
Made of barley and wheat ribbons, SaltWater Brewery’s Eco Six Pack Rings are both useful and environmentally friendly. And if an animal does manage to swallow a ring, it’ll go down as easy as an afternoon snack.
Extraordinary people are doing their part to help the world. Being the first Indian woman to climb Mount Everest is impressive a feat as any, but even this wasn’t enough to satisfy Bachendri Pal’s fiery spirit. For her next big undertaking, however, she decided to work with the environment instead of struggling against it.
Alongside a team 40 individuals strong, Pal managed to remove 55 tons of pollution from India’s Ganges river. Incredibly, the team was able to complete this massive project over the course of just a single month!
And yet, despite our best intentions, saving the planet isn’t going to come cheap. Thankfully, however, a number of the world’s wealthiest individuals have pledged to put their vast fortunes toward this noble goal, including Swiss philanthropist Hansjörg Wyss.
In an article titled “We Have to Save the Planet. So I’m Donating $1 Billion,” Wyss explained that the goal of his donation is to protect 30% of the Earth’s surface by 2030. If other billionaires are willing to follow suit, preserving the planet will become a real possibility. Creative minds can solve problems, too.
For instance, in January of 2017, towering flames swept across the south-central region of Chile. The fires, fueled by historically high temperatures and a long drought, turned vineyards, forests, and homes to ash.
Biblioteca del Congreso Nacional
Despite heroic efforts by firefighters, the flames only grew. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet declared a state of emergency. “We have never seen something of this size,” she said. “Never in Chile’s history.”
In February, with the help of foreign aid from 12 countries including Japan, the United States, and Russia, Chile corralled and controlled the fires. The destruction, though, was almost inconceivable.
Nearly 1,500 homes fell to the fire that ate up 1,433,000 acres of drought-dry forests and claimed 11 lives in the El Maule region. Charred trees were all that remained in an ecosystem once teaming with animal life.
But in the wake of the fires, Francisca Torres (below) — who ran an environmental NGO called Pewos — and her sister undertook the impossible task of rejuvenating the forests. She enlisted some curious help to get the job done…
See, Francisca knew even with human replanting efforts, it would take decades to restore the charred forest. With her border collies, Summer, Olivia, and Das, however, she hoped to speed the process up.
Balti Mom / Instagram
The project, which started in March of 2017, drew inspiration from the legend of Johnny Appleseed, an 18th-century American who generously spread apple seeds all across Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.
Francisca and her sister’s recreation of the American legend didn’t feature a pioneer and nurseryman, however. Instead, her three border collies wore special backpacks, all stuffed with the seeds of native trees…
Martin Bernetti / Instagram
Then, she sent them off running into the charred forests! On a typical excursion, six-year-old Das led the charge, and her two pups followed close behind her. They played with seed-stuffed backpacks.
As the dogs ran and wrestled throughout the charred forests, they sent seeds flying from their special backpacks. The goal, of course, was to spread seeds far and wide.
Balti Mom / Instagram
Francisca (right) hoped the seeds would take root throughout the forest, giving life to trees, grass, and flowers. “The main thing,” she said, “is for the fauna to be able to live.”
Because Francisca knew that, if the trees and flowers returned to the Chilean forests, so would the bees, birds, and every other animal or insect exiled by the devastating fires.
Naturally, Summer, Olivia, and Das relished the opportunity to run free along the forest floor — even if they didn’t truly understand their impact on the landscape. Even better, as Francisca pointed out, they were effective…
Border collies were bred to herd sheep. They’re smart, they’re fast, and they know not to get distracted by any bird they might see passing by overhead. But more importantly, they could cover serious distances.
Your average human, Francisca figured, might be able to cover effectively about two miles of forest per day using the Johnny Appleseed technique of haphazardly tossing seeds everywhere. But the dogs?
Thanks to their speed and energy, Summer, Olivia, and Das covered about 10 times as much as a human could — nearly 20 miles per day. And the dogs were handsomely rewarded for that…
Every time the dogs returned to Francisca, she refilled their backpacks with seeds…and handed over a few delicious dog treats, too! Then, of course, they were off to play again — and spread seeds.
Incredibly, the dogs did such a great job with the seeds — they each spread about 20 pounds worth every day in the field — that their services were used in forests throughout Chile.
Martin Bernetti / Instagram
Just from March 2017 to June 2017, for instance, Summer, Olivia, and Das visited 15 different flame-devastated forests in the region. At each burned spot, they brought their backpacks full of seeds. And best of all?
By June, Francisca shared the good news: “we have seen many results in flora and fauna coming back to the burned forest,” she said. No doubt, those dogs definitely earned their treats!