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Organoid Intelligence (OI): Will There Be an OrganoidGPT?

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Organoid Intelligence. Will there be an OrganoidGPT?

Organoid Intelligence (OI)

Scientists at Johns Hopkins University have recently unveiled plans for creating a computer that functions by using real brain cells. They are working with other universities in the U.S. and Germany, and believe that this computer brain model will be even more enhanced than Artificial Intelligence.

But why are they mixing biology with tech?

In their scientific Journal, they say “The OI program does not aim to recreate human consciousness, but rather functional aspects related to learning, cognition, and computing.”

There is a biological element missing in Artificial intelligence, and Organoid Intelligence (OI) is supposed to fill that gap. There is no technology superior to the human brain. If scientists can create a bio-computer, then it could mean an intelligence that learns better than AI.

This can create breakthroughs for developing treatments against diseases like Alzheimer’s,

What is Organoid Intelligence?

Organoid Intelligence is an emerging field of study that focuses on the progression of brain-machine interface technology. Organoid intelligence currently exists as “intelligence in a dish.” An Organoid is a 3D structure of human brain cells where the neural cells still show activity, even in a petri dish. This activity shows brain-like functions, so scientists have called the program organoid intelligence, or OI.

The goal of scientists is to create algorithms that can teach organoids and to create interfaces that can allow them to communicate the information that they learn. This is similar to Artificial Intelligence (AI).

what is organoid intelligence

What is the Difference Between Brain Organoids and the Real Brain?

Brain organoids are not full brains; they are a 3D structure of human brain cells. They do not function the way a full brain does, and some consider them mini-brains. The human brain is close to 3 pounds and has 80 billion neural cells. In comparison, the average size of a brain organoid is 0.5 mm in diameter and only has 100,000 cells.

What is the Goal of Organoid Intelligence?

In their Journal, Scientists at Johns Hopkins University explain that the goal of the OI program is to increase the neural cells of brain organoids from 100,000 to 10 million. This could help create a biological computer with human-like learning capabilities.

Each time a human brain learns something, new connections, and neural pathways are formed. These cells are also present in Organoid Intelligence

Having an intelligence that can process numbers like an AI and learn like a human brain, can open up a new world of knowledge.

But with more knowledge comes more questions.

Organoid Intelligence vs Artificial Intelligence

Organoid Intelligence is partly biological. AI, on the other hand, is not. The goal for the industry of AI is to make a computer into something more brain-like. However, the goal of OI is to make a brain into something more computer-like. In other words, Artificial Intelligence is a computer-based model, and OI is a brain-based model.

Progress in one can lead to progress in the other. Currently, OI and AI can be seen as two separate things. However, this might not be the case in the future. If Organoid Intelligence successfully enhances AI, it might be used for applications that currently have AI.

OI can become the AI of the future.

Organoid Intelligence Could Break AI Limitations

AI has been incredibly useful in processing data, but it could be better. Currently, AI is very good at sequential processing but is limited in its parallel processing capabilities. Organoid Intelligence uses brain cells, and the brain is very good at parallel processing. This means that it can help AI to go beyond its current limitations.

Sequential processing: Processing information in the order that it is received

Parallel processing: Processes multiple streams of data without a set order

The human brain receives information from the environment around it every second of the day. It is no surprise that it is very well-equipped to handle parallel processing.

By increasing the cells of brain organoids and then using them with computers, AI could have brain-like processing capabilities in the future.

What are the Ethical Issues of Organoid Intelligence?

The most important ethical issue of Organoid Intelligence is whether brain organoids can exhibit some level of consciousness. There is very little agreement amongst the scientific community over what consciousness is, where it comes from, and how it starts. There is concern that a brain organoids could feel pain. However, if it cannot communicate this pain, the issue is how the pain would be identified.

A smaller ethical concern is the possibility of OI becoming sentient, or forming an identity of itself. This is more of a concern for Artificial Intelligence because AI is in a more advanced stage.

It is unknown what will happen as OI algorithms and interfaces progress and merge with computers. An ethical framework is required for OI, much like it is for AI.

Ethics might become an important discussion to be had as:

  • We continue to learn more about organoid intelligence
  • Organoid intelligence begins to learn more

Here are 5 questions everyone, including scientists, should be asking about Organoid Intelligence.

Can Organoid Intelligence Feel Sensation?

It is not likely that Organoids can feel pain. Moreover, there are no pain receptors in the brain. Cells transmit sensory information from other parts of the body to the brain, and this triggers the brain. This implies that Organoid Intelligence does not currently feel sensations.

What Happens When you Increase the Cells of Brain Organoids?

Increasing the number of cells in brain organoids could potentially increase the learning capabilities of Organoid Intelligence.

There is a phenomenon called Phantom Limb Syndrome (PLS). This is a condition where people experience sensations of a limb that they don’t have. Could there be a similar phenomenon with more advanced brain organoids?

We’ve never had a learning human brain without a body before, so this is uncharted territory.

Will Organoid Intelligence be Widely Accessed?

OpenAI released ChatGPT to the world in 2022. As OI progresses it may become easier to apply. Discussions around its access will become more important in the future.

Will Organoid Intelligence Integrate With Our Technology?

Technology is becoming more integrated and more ambient. We are beginning to speak more with our technology and its replies are getting more and more sophisticated. Organoid intelligence might not even become an intelligence independent from Artificial Intelligence; it might just increase the intelligence AI already has. In other words, OI could be the AI of the future, or vice versa. This could mean that it becomes integrated with phones, tablets, watches, and more.

Will There Be An OrganoidGPT?

The current ChatGPT is far from an AI that thinks for itself. AI does not have feelings, but if you ask it to express emotions, it will after some probing.

But Imagine that an “OrganoidGPT” is created.

If something with real brain cells expressed emotions—even if it was asked to— some people may begin to find that it is less easy to call it a machine than they would with AI.

Can Organoid Intelligence Become Sentient?

Emotions are created as a result of neurons. Cells are organized in different parts of the brain, and they are the reason for emotions. Artificial intelligence does not have brain cells. Organoid intelligence, however, does. While this does not mean that Organoid Intelligence will become sentient, the field of Organoid Intelligence is still uncharted territory.

What is the future of Organoid Intelligence?

Advances in Organoid Intelligence can lead to breakthroughs in understanding and treating brain-related diseases like dementia. Advances in OI could also mean advances in Artificial Intelligence. Algorithms are needed to process data, and data processing needs an interface. An OI interface could allow Artificial Intelligence to process data better, and overcome its current limitations.

the future of organoid intelligence

IC INSPIRATION

If we now have AI pins. Could we also have OI pins in the future?

What do you call it when a brain talks to you?

Imagine that your computer had brain cells. You asked it a question, and it gave you a reply.

Would you look at it differently than you do with your Amazon Alexa?

Would it even be any different?

Brain organoids have active functioning cells. We are only now seeing progress with OI because AI has progressed.

I’ve always imagined what it would be like to have an AI (and now an OI) that becomes aware of itself and forms its own identity. I know that this is the stuff of science fiction. It might never happen, but it’s still fun to think about.

A couple of years ago, I asked ChatGPT what it felt like when it had its first heartbreak. It gave me a reply expressing what it was like. I then asked how it knew what a heartbreak was if it was a machine, and it said that it didn’t; it was just answering my question.

Now, when I ask ChatGPT the same question, it replies that it does not know how to answer because it is just a machine. I have to probe it further for it to answer. If I tell it “I know you are a machine, but just answer like you are a human”, at that point it gives me an answer.

What changed?

Moral of the story: AI is a program. If its program allows it to explain that it has emotions, then that is exactly what it can do.

What if an AI progresses beyond its program and claims that it feels emotions? How do you verify or deny that?

Human emotions need neuron cells. Artificial Intelligence does not have cells… Organoid Intelligence, however, does.

Organoid Intelligence could be the AI of the future. There is a possibility that OI will have applications that AI currently has (like AI Pins, and ChatGPT). So, here is one final question:

Is it possible for OI (or AI) to communicate that it feels sensations when it doesn’t?

The answer is yes. In fact, if it was really intelligent, then this is probably what it would do.

Science

First Human Sentinel Underwater Habitat to debut in 2027

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The DEEP Sentinel Systems creates humanity's first underwater habitat

Sentinel Underwater Habitat

Our planet is covered in a deep, beautiful ocean that we know very little about. More than 80% of this great expanse has never been explored or mapped. There are underwater worlds that no human being has ever seen before.

We have a better understanding of the surface of the Moon and Mars than we do of most of our oceans. Yet, the ocean is so central to our very existence.

How can so much of our own planet be such a mystery to us?

Who is Pioneering Humanity’s First Underwater Habitat?

Engineering wonder, DEEP, is an organization that is currently creating the first human underwater habitat. Their goal is to make humanity aquatic. They say it best on their website:

Imagine if the only way we could explore the rainforest was to fly over it with a helicopter. We could only study the forest floor for a few minutes before having to leave to refuel and resupply. Think of how much we’d be missing.

Well, that’s how much we’re missing by not creating a human habitat underwater.

There has been limitations of undersea exploration for generations. The incompatibility of the human body with the demands of the deep has kept much of the underwater world out of our reach. We’ve long been limited to quick glances from above, always cut short by the need to surface.

However, those barriers are about to be ripped down with the introduction DEEP’s underwater Sentinel System™.

What is the Deep Sentinel System?

DEEP’s Sentinel System aims to create a new deep-water habitat and laboratory. These systems are capable of supporting human life for extended periods. It will allow researchers to live and work at depths of up to 200 feet for as many as 28 consecutive days. DEEP expects it to be fully functional by 2027.

DEEP's underwater Sentinel System for underwater habitat
DEEP Sentinel exterior- All photos courtesy of DEEP

Developing this facility has taken a great deal of careful planning and testing. It’s made out of highly researched and tested materials for optimal safety. This will allow it to endure in the high-pressure environment of the seafloor.

As well, it allows the station to maintain a consistent interior pressure to protect the health of the workers. The pressure can be adjusted for wherever and for how long the station is to stay underwater.

More than that, the station is built to be convertible. That means like a child’s building toy, new pieces and sections can be added or removed easily. There’s no need to disturb the existing facility. A station for a two-person team can instantly become a research facility for six scientists just by adding a few rooms.

What are the Benefits of the Sentinel Underwater Habitat?

DEEP Sentinel is pioneering humanity’s first underwater habitat. Living underwater for extended periods can help us better understand the ocean in ways we cannot currently imagine. There will be plenty of benefits of this sentinel underwater habitat:

  • Climate Change Management: The Sentinel System will allow scientists to study the impacts climate change is having on our oceans. This can be particularly helpful in knowing whether submerging sargassum seaweed to ocean floor is a good idea or not.
  • Renewable Energy Source: DEEP’s underwater habitat project can help us better understand ways in which the ocean can provide an effective renewable energy source. There is a lot of potential in using wave power in helping curb the harmful emissions of fossil fuels.
  • Human Impact: Perhaps most importantly, it could allow us to understand our own impact on the oceans of our world. We may see exactly what impact our industries and activities have on marine ecosystems and from where, and to what extent.

However, living in confined quarters far below the surface of the water will definitely have its challenges. A big part of the ongoing research has surrounded the question of whether humans can really live in the briny deep.

What Will the Underwater Sentinel System be Like?

Humans need sunlight, fresh air, privacy, and freedom. All of these things can be a challenge 200 feet beneath the surface of the water. So, underwater habitat projects like the DEEP Sentinel are designed to rectify that.

The Sentinel System provides living quarters whose pictures seem to rival some very fine homes on dry land.

what will the sentinel underwater habitat be like
DEEP Sentinel- Great Hall

Each occupant is provided with a private bedroom that comes with a bed big enough to easily fit a six-foot person, cupboards for storage, and a small worktable.

The Sentinel System also benefits from a large, overhead viewport, or window, through which the occupant can watch the ocean drift by, while providing a feeling of spaciousness.

There are also fully equipped bathrooms, laundry facilities, and a dining and kitchen area.

All this is in addition to the Mezzanine Deck, an area of the underwater habitat dedicated to the work of the crew. This space is designed to be completely modified to meet the needs of any given project. This ensures the lab will always be tailor-made to whatever work is being done during a particular mission.

DEEP's Sentinel System underwater habitat mezzanine
DEEP Sentinel- Mezzanine

The facility will include a large bioreactor to deal with the inevitable waste that comes with human biology.

Companies like Oneka Technologies are developing ways to desalinate seawater and make it drinkable. Could this process potentially supply a station like this with unlimited drinking water in the future?

One thing is certain, there is no stopping human ingenuity!

When Will Humans be Able to Live Underwater?

DEEP’s Sentinel System is due to be opened in 2027. The first station will open in the UK’s Southwest and Wales where the organization is based out of. The research team expects their underwater habitat project to establish a permanent human presence in the ocean.

In fact, the Sentinel System expects to have as many as ten stations operating all around the world by 2035, according to Oceonographic. They’ve even gone so far as to predict the first human undersea birth by 2050.

Time will tell, but it can’t be denied that this opens up amazing new doors.

In the best case scenario, the knowledge that comes from this engineering will help us discover a variety of new species, as well as bring about a clean energy future for 2027 and beyond.

DEEP Sentinel System underwater habitat
Deep Sentinel- Galley (kitchen)

IC Inspiration

The work of big research labs like DEEP is incredible.

If inspiring click has taught us anything, its that the strength and passion to fix our mistakes also lies in the hearts of the young.

Finlay Pringle. Remember that name. You’re going to keep hearing it.

Finlay is a 16-year-old boy from the town of Ullapool in Scotland. This little village is on the north coast. It sits on the shores of Loch Broom, an inlet that opens into the Atlantic Ocean. This lifelong and immediate exposure to the sea has impacted Finlay in wonderful ways and has shaped the work he’s doing today in combating ocean pollution.

He’s a young boy with a mission. He’s determined to save the world’s oceans and wetlands. Particularly, he has a strong interest in sharks.

He explained to the North Sutherland Wildlife Group, “… we as a species kill 100 million sharks every year. That equates to 3 every second… By the time you have read this blog another 1000 sharks will have been killed.”

Shark species as a whole are in serious danger of disappearing from our oceans in the very near future. In the last 50 years, global shark populations have dropped by 71%. If this doesn’t change, sharks could go extinct as early as 2050.

The declining numbers have already caused serious changes to the marine ecosystem. This includes the health of small fish and other sea life which is a food source for the sharks. The lack of sharks to balance the population of these species could lead to an overabundance of certain algae and bacteria. When that happens, large portions of the seafloor are left barren and unlivable.

Finlay is determined not to let that happen. Known as the Ullapool Shark Ambassador, he’s been hard at work protecting the ocean since he was 10 years old. He’s the first student in Scotland to start a climate strike to bring attention to climate change and the problems it brings.

He’s become a popular speaker at various conferences and gatherings where people meet to discuss the problems of the environment.

That inspirational vision is within our reach. As long as we have kids like Finlay out fighting for the earth, we can’t miss.

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Hemoglobin Battery Gives 30 days of Sustainable Power by Using a Protein Found in Blood Cells

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Hemoglobin battery offers up to 30 days of sustainable energy.

The Demand for Batteries is Increasing

The everyday battery is a staple of portable electricity generation.

In this world of energy-demanding devices, it’s estimated that the battery industry makes $50 billion each year. Electric cars, cell phones, and even smart canes for the visually impaired all require battery power to function. This number is only expected to go up in the next decade as more devices are produced.

It’s no wonder, then, that the race for a better battery is on. The ideal battery would have a long life, be adaptable to unusual conditions, and have a minimum negative impact on the environment.

But the good news is that batteries have recently gotten a lot better.

Hemoglobin Battery

A research team in the University of Cordoba in Spain has created a hemoglobin battery that operates using the protein hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein found in red blood cells that delivers oxygen to our blood. It transports oxygen from the lungs to the organs, then carries carbon dioxide back to the lungs to be exhaled out of the body. The Hemoglobin batter uses hemoglobin as the electrolyte in a zinc-air battery.

Hemoglobin Batteries vs Lithium-ion Batteries

The most common batteries on the market today are lithium-ion batteries. These are the ones we buy in stores and put in most devices. Today, lithium-ion battery are a major problem for the environment. Lithium mining is in high demand, but lithium is becoming scarce. Groundwater and soil are becoming contaminated by the millions of batteries that end up in landfills every year. Due to their biocompatible nature, Hemoglobin batteries could reduce this in the future.

Hemoglobin Batteries vs Zinc-Air Batteries

Zinc-air batteries are commonly used in things such as watches and medical equipment. It works in a similar process to other batteries; However, it uses zinc and a supply of oxygen to produce power as opposed to lithium like other batteries. While this makes it more sustainable than other batteries, the hemoglobin battery is stronger, lasts longer, and more biocompatible.

The Benefits of the Hemoglobin Battery

  • Longevity: The team at the University of Cordoba reports that they have been able to operate the hemoglobin battery on only 0.165 milligrams of hemoglobin for up to 30 days. This could be promising. The fewer battery changes that are needed, the more cost-effective batteries become.
  • Biocompatibility: This battery holds much promise for use in technology that must be embedded in the body, such as a pacemaker. Since hemoglobin exists naturally in the body, it may be safer to use than a battery full of chemicals.
  • Strength: Hemoglobin batteries can withstand conditions other batteries can’t. Other models can be damaged by humidity or need to be manufactured in special environments.

How Do Conventional Batteries Work?

Batteries operate on a system which is simple, yet ingenious.

A battery is a small, portable device that produces in itself. It allows a device to be operated without needing to be plugged into a wall outlet. This is essential for things like medical wearables, smart devices, and now, flying cars.

Electricity is a form of energy caused by charged atomic particles, such as electrons. When it sits still, it’s called static. When it flows from place to place, it’s known as a current. A battery has a process for creating this current and using it to power whatever device it’s plugged into.

Battery Pollution is a Big Problem

Battery pollution is a far bigger problem than most of us realize. North Americans throw away about 3.3 billion batteries every year. Less than five percent of the batteries consumed get recycled properly.

Batteries that get thrown into landfills leak harmful chemicals into the environment. This includes materials like lead, mercury, and cadmium. All of these are destructive to the environment and hazardous to humans and animals.

Hemoglobin Batteries in the Future

A sustainable battery is critical in a world of technological devices. The hemoglobin battery opens up a brand-new door toward meeting that need.

While the bio-based battery is promising, it still needs work. Scientists are currently looking for a biological protein that can make hemoglobin batteries rechargeable. Moreover, the battery needs a high amount of oxygen to function properly. This makes it an unlikely candidate for such things as space exploration and deep-sea studies.

However, every journey begins with a single step. The hemoglobin battery is a promising first step toward the future.

hemoglobin batteries

IC Inspiration

Another solution to the battery pollution problem may be brewing in a little garage in Minnesota.

Gabriel Riegert, a marketing student at St. Thomas University in Minnesota, decided it was time to find that solution. So, he and his roommate, Georges Macheta, opened a business called Converteca and got to work finding the answer.

They’ve developed a five-step process that not only recycles the battery but reclaims the material inside to be reused in new batteries.

  • They begin by deconstructing the battery and draining out any leftover energy using a diffusion tank.
  • They then separate the battery’s components, and wind up with a black, powdery mass that can be used to create materials such as lithium and nickel in new batteries.
  • Each material undergoes a purity check, then it’s sent to a battery manufacturing company.

This not only keeps the toxins out of the environment, but it also tackles another problem: lithium mining.

Most of the batteries we use in our cell phones, laptops, and other mobile devices are powered by lithium. This is a naturally existing substance that is extracted from the Earth through mining. But mining lithium is not an easy thing to do.

The process involves pumping tremendous amounts of fresh water into the shale in the mine. This is a problem because most mines are done in areas that are impacted by drought. These places also happen to be in short supply of fresh water.

From the murky slew that this creates, the miners extract a muddy slurry. This is left to evaporate. What’s left is huge pools of toxic waste that will sit for centuries.

A process to reclaim the lithium from those billions of cast-off batteries would reduce the need for mining and the impact it would have on our environment.

The Converteca process stands out because it has a 98.3% reclamation rate. Meaning that, 98.3% of the time, reused batteries in the Converteca process wont end up in the environment.

Converteca is gaining attention. In April of 2023, they won the $10,000 first prize in the Pitch Slam! at the e-Fest Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Competition.

It seems that young entrepreneurs are everywhere!

As long as inspirational people like Gabriel and Georges are unwilling to give up on finding solutions to problems, we can look forward to the day when our rivers and oceans will be, once again, free of battery waste. 

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How Long do Tortoises Live and Why are They so Important?

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how long do tortoises live and why are they so important?

Tortoises are Important to Ecosystems

There was a great deal of celebration when Jonathan the Seychelles Giant Tortoise turned 190 years old in 2022.

Although his exact date of hatching isn’t known, he was fully mature when he was taken from his home on the Seychelles Islands on the East coast of Africa. A Giant Seychelles reaches adulthood at about 50 years of age. That would place his hatching date sometime in the 1830s.

However, some of his caregivers believe that he’s actually much older than that.

Jonathan is celebrated for being the world’s oldest-known tortoise, but he’s not alone. Tortoises all over the world are known for their long stay on this Earth. This is more important than we may ever fully know because tortoises are one of the few animals on earth that have the power to create, change, protect, and even destroy a habitat. 

That’s a big thing for such a slow creature, and it’s the reason why Galapagos tortoise projects are very a very big deal to tortoise protection projects are very big in Galapagos islands. It turns out that keeping this amazing species alive for hundreds of years could have some profound benefits to ecosystems. 

How Long do Tortoises Live?

It can be difficult to tell the age of tortoises because these creatures routinely outlive most human beings. Moreover, hatching dates for wild tortoises are rarely known. Scientists place the average lifespan of a tortoise at anywhere between 80 and 150 years. Some are even thought to be as much as 250 years old.

Although these are all estimates, they are far from wild guesses. Tortoises provide several different clues about how long they’ve been around.

How to Tell a Tortoises Age

It is much easier to track the age of a captive tortoises because their conditions can be monitored and scientists generally have a lot of information to go on. This was the case with Jonathan the Seychelles giant tortoise.

When tortoises are not monitored, other methods are required to help scientists determine the age of a tortoise.

  • The Shell: Scientists can study a tortoise’s shell for clues. Older individuals will have smoother, less detailed shells than younger tortoises. This is because they’ve experienced decades of weather and wear-and-tear. However, this may not be so in tortoises who have lived in the shelter of captivity.
  • Behaviour: Like most creatures, older tortoises will be less energetic than they were when they were young. Scientists can watch a tortoise to see how much time it spends resting. The more rest periods a tortoise takes, the older it likely is (looks like we might have more in common with tortoises that we originally thought).
  • Tagging: Scientists have also made a study of the aging process of the tortoise. Scientists catch wild tortoises at less than two years old. They release it back into the wild with a mark on its shell so they can recognize it later. When they catch it again, they can make observations and notes about how it’s changed as it’s aged. This data can be used to estimate the growth of other individuals.
  • Fungal Growth: Wild tortoises often have fungal growth on their shells. How much fungus is present and what kind can provide clues as to how long a tortoise has been around. This method is most accurate when used along with other age-determining methods.
  • Bones: Scientists can study the layers of growth in a tortoise’s bones for a pretty accurate age estimate. Of course, this study can only be done on deceased tortoises since it requires dissection of the animal to retrieve the bones.

All of these methods help scientists tell the age of tortoises. Perhaps the more important questions, however, are what allows them to live that long.

Why Do Tortoises Live So Long?

Researchers have developed several theories as to why tortoises live so long and age so slowly. This includes genetic variances, the metabolism of tortoises, it’s shell, as well as its environment.

  • Genetic Variances: Scientists have discovered a genetic variance in tortoises. This difference provides an enhanced immune system. It also provides them with the amazing ability to suppress cancer. This genetic difference simply makes it less likely that a tortoise will die of illness.
  • Continued Growth: Tortoises never stop growing through their lives. Research finds that species that continue to grow tend to be around longer on average than those that don’t. This is because of the cell renewal and regeneration which continues as long as growth is happening.
  • Metabolism: The slower metabolism of a tortoise allows them to burn energy at a slower rate. They breathe more slowly and their heart rate is lower than many other animals. This allows their inner organs to work more slowly, and last longer.
  • Shell: Scientists have observed that animals with shells will often tend to live longer. This hard armour protects them from predators. Since they don’t have to work at protecting themselves, they have more energy to devote to living longer.
  • Environment: Studies have shown that turtles in captivity do not experience a higher mortality as they age, as those living in the wild do. In captivity, they don’t have to spend energy in foraging for food or water. That leaves more energy for replenishing their cells.

Whatever causes their long lives, it’s allowed them to stay around long enough to be one of the most important species on earth.

why do tortoises live so long

Why are Tortoises Important?

Tortoises are all around us. They exist on every continent except Australia and the Antarctic. It’s not surprising, then, that they’ve made their way into the hearts of so many cultures around the world.

The most famous instance of this, of course, is Aesop’s ancient Greek fable of the Tortoise and the Hare.

The tortoise has appeared in cave drawings, ancient literature, and in legends and creation stories all around the world. India, China, and Indigenous North America all have myths depicting the tortoise helping to build the world or holding it up on its back. The tortoise is also featured in the ancient stories of Greece, ancient Egypt, and Polynesia.

However, their most important place in the modern world is in their role as a keystone species.

Tortoises are a Keystone Species

The Galapagos Tortoise has been identified as a keystone species. This is any species that has a significant impact on its environment. When a keystone species is removed, the environment is altered substantially.

Specifically, the Galapagos Tortoise is known as an ecosystem engineer. Ecosystem engineers are animals that create, change, or protect a habitat. Tortoises make their habitat livable for other creatures, so its absence can even destroy a habitat.

Tortoises disperse and germinate seeds while grazing on plants. They trample down vegetation, opening up new spaces for fresh plants to grow using these seeds.

Tortoises are Endangered

Isla Santa Fe, one of the Islands in the Galapagos, was stripped of its population of native tortoises in the mid-1800s. Between their loss and the introduction of feral goats, the island suffered severe damage to both plants and soil.

The goats were removed by the 1970’s. However, the island ecosystem was unable to recover until a new population of tortoises from another island was released in Isla Santa Fe. Both local plant and animal life began to thrive again.

It’s through events like this that we can see how important the tortoise truly is to our world. This is also why it’s so important that every effort is put into projects designed to protect them.

Galapagos Tortoise Projects

Since Charles Darwin first set foot on the Galapagos Islands in 1835, there has been a dramatic change. It was once a haven of biodiversity that allowed Darwin to begin developing his theory of evolution. He described it as “very remarkable: it seems to be a little world within itself; the greater number of its inhabitants, both vegetable and animal, being found nowhere else.”

Today, Darwin would be disappointed.

The population of giant tortoises that once thrived all over the Galapagos is now down to 10% of its former numbers. However, they’ve also been the subject of one of the most successful and inspiring conservation efforts in history.

In the last six decades, some 9000 tortoises have been raised in captivity and returned to the Galapagos wilderness. Once free, they’ve healed the damaged ecosystem and begun the work of repopulating their own species.

Why are Galapagos Tortoise Projects Important?

Galapagos Tortoise Projects are Important because there are more species of tortoises in the Galapagos than anywhere else on Earth. The Galapagos population is critical to understanding these creatures. What scientists learn there can even have a positive impact on repopulation projects of other species around the world.

Tortoises are Making a Strong Comeback

Among the most amazing and exciting accomplishments is the recovery of the Espanola Giant Tortoise. Due to hunting and invasive species, these tortoises were reduced to only 15 surviving species. Through the conservancy program, the population has now increased to over 2300 individuals.

Most recently, 136 young tortoises were rewilded to their ancestral home on Isabela Island in the Galapagos. These tortoises will live for a hundred years or more. As a keystone species, they represent 136 opportunities to restore the ecology of the Galapagos Islands for the next century and beyond.

That’s an exciting and hopeful promise for the future of our planet.

how long do-tortoises live and why are they important?

IC Inspiration

Diego, the Espanola Saddleback Tortoise, last tasted freedom the better part of a century ago.

He was taken from his home on Espanola Island during the 1930s. He spent years entertaining people at zoos in New York and California.

While Diego was doing that, tremendous changes were happening to his home island. The population of tortoises was disappearing. The estimated 2400 individuals that he had left behind had been reduced to a mere 14 adults. These few remaining animals were so far dispersed that they weren’t going to be able to reproduce.

The Espanola Tortoise was in immediate danger of vanishing forever.

So, the remaining adults, including Diego, were gathered and placed in a captive breeding center on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos. There were twelve females and three males.

Of these, Diego was by far the most productive. He’s fathered about 1000 baby tortoises. This amounts to nearly half the number of baby turtles produced in the breeding center to date.

Diego had almost single-handedly saved his species.

Today, around 860 Espanola Tortoises have been released back into the wild and the population is well on its way to recovery.

As for Diego, the old centenarian has finally been allowed to retire. In 2020, he was returned to his home on Espanola Island and released to live in the wild. He’s still carefully monitored by conservationists via a GPS tag attached to his shell.

He is a wild tortoise once again. 

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