Micro-Livestock’s Short Shadow

Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options, a 2006 report released by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, assesses the impact of the livestock sector on environmental challenges, along with potential technical and policy approaches to mitigation. The livestock sector poses serious challenges to the environment at every scale from local to global. According to senior U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization official Dr. Henning Steinfeld the meat industry is “one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems” and “urgent action is required to remedy the situation.” The report evaluates that livestock are responsible for 1/5th of global greenhouse gas emissions, arising from feed production, fertilizer production, deforestation, feed and animal products transport, soil erosion in pastures and feed crops, enteric fermentation and methane and nitrous oxide emissions from manure. If man shrinks his needs shrink. Physically downsizing existing livestock or moving towards smaller alternative livestock options will have significant consequences in battling meat’s negative contribution to environmental challenges.

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Hallmarks of Malignant Growth: Genome Instability and Mutation

In trying to understand what makes the idea of continuous growth so powerful (despite clear evidence that it is a harmful concept) The Incredible Shrinking Man turned to cancer research to learn where healthy growth turns malignant. Although cancer is a very complex phenomenon the seminal paper “ The hallmarks of cancer” managed to simplify its underlying process to ten common traits that every single cancer shares to facilitate the transformation from a normal cell to a cancer cell. Published by Robert Weinberg and Douglas Hanahan in 2000, with an updated version in 2013, the paper functions as a guide and lens to learn what the underlying principles of growth are. And what to do about it when things go wrong. Like in our growth-obsessed economy perhaps.

The seventh hallmark of cancer is its ability to outcompete surrounding cells through a succession of alterations (mutations) in its genome. If a mutation enables faster growth or a longer life span, and has more offspring, then that cell has a selective advantage. Tumor progression can be portrayed as a succession of clonal expansions, each of which is triggered by the chance acquisition of an enabling mutant genotype. There’s an increase in mutations as the genome surveillance system is compromised while the accumulation of  a cancer’s ‘capabilities’ makes it more and more aggressive and dominant over its surroundings. The cancer evolves to evade attack by immune cells, escape the apoptotic machinery which causes cells to self-destruct, corrupt and co-opt otherwise loyal surrounding cells and migrate to distant parts of the body. With an average 100.000.000.000.000.000 (one hundred million billion) cell divisions during a life time even the very small chance of mutation still makes the probability of a mutation occurring in a gene high. That’s why the DNA repair mechanism is so important. The DNA repair ability of a cell is vital to the integrity of its genome and thus to the normal functionality of that organism. Many genes that were initially shown to influence life span have turned out to be involved in DNA damage repair and protection. Two of the best known molecular caretakers of this process are BRCA1 and BRCA2. When there’s a mistake during duplication BRCA moves to the damaged site and starts the repair process. Cells with flawed or missing BRCA are very sensitive for mutations. In addition to being crucial for DNA repair, BRCA1 and BRCA2 are also involved in controlling the cell cycle and activation of apoptosis when all else has failed.

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Shrink Exercise: Buster’s Unfolding

Buster Keaton GIF by Maudit

Buster Keaton was a master of visual comedy in the era of the silent movie. His use of props and perspective often brilliantly deflates presumptions on how things are supposed to be. In the opening scene of The High Sign (1921) the simple gesture of unfolding a newspaper turns into a beautiful shrink/growth exercise; in many ways more accurate than our A01 to A07 Exercise. Is the newspaper growing or is Keaton shrinking? And is it a coincidence that a small man appears on the pages?

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Zebrafish Oannes

The zebrafish is one of The Incredible Shrinking Man’s most beloved spirit animals. Being a model organism for endocrinological and genetic research positions it between fact and fiction, the known and the unknown, the present and the future, thus allowing us to follow it to realms of reality yet undiscovered. The series of zebrafish portraits shows how they, as an extension of the human body, have become a space of desire, a mirror of what we want. Yet at the same time they are part of the great unknown, the riddle of life, the majesty of the wild. Lately the zebrafish has become somewhat of an iconic figure in our shamanistic dance routine, the Abun’dance. The dance represents the desire to break free from our dominant paradigm of continuous growth while illustrating and enacting the alternative perspective of shrinking. The fish on our feet perhaps symbolise the above mentioned desire as well as the notion of temperance, sometimes represented in western iconography by fish drawn or painted on feet. Sometimes we wear a lab coat painted (rather amateurish) with fish scales reminiscent of Oannes, the Babylonian fish/man hybrid that taught man the use of letters, sciences, agriculture, law, architecture, and arts of all kinds. And in our mind (not out loud because it is not very good) we hum the Shaman’s Fish Song.

None of this makes direct sense from the perspective of the actual scientific or societal desire to inspire a smaller human species but perhaps when it comes to radical change, making sense is not the best place to start. The Zebrafish Oannes may disrupt comfortable understandings of how we will attain the knowledge to reach abundance for all forms of life by introducing of ’something’ we cannot yet put into words.

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Myxozoans

Several years ago Dutch artist Joep van Lieshout suggested that rather than reduce human height to 50cm (as The Incredible Shrinking Man has investigated) people should shrink to the size of a parasite and live in the stomach of  a cow. It’s an interesting suggestion, not only because it opens up perspectives on collective use of resources, ecological connectivity and community but because it’s been done before, by size-shifting jellyfish also known as myxozoans.

Myxozoans are cnidarians, just like corals, sea anemones and regular sized jellyfish. In the process of shrinking the myxozoans lost their jellyfish characteristics to a degree that hadn’t been thought possible. ”It would be like finding a one-celled creature and discovering that genetically, it’s a mammal that had lost its genes for lactation and keratinaceous hair”, explains team leader Dorothee Huchon of the Department of Zoology Tel Aviv University. During this process of extreme evolutionary transition they embraced a parasitic life, surrounding themselves with other organism’s organs so they need almost none of their own. Simple, effective, easy; just like Joep van Lieshout suggested.

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Hallmarks of Malignant Growth: Invasion and Metastasis

In trying to understand what makes the idea of continuous growth so powerful (despite clear evidence that it is a harmful concept) The Incredible Shrinking Man turned to cancer research to learn where healthy growth turns malignant. Although cancer is a very complex phenomenon the seminal paper “ The hallmarks of cancer” managed to simplify its underlying process to ten common traits that every single cancer shares to facilitate the transformation from a normal cell to a cancer cell. Published by Robert Weinberg and Douglas Hanahan in 2000, with an updated version in 2013, the paper functions as a guide and lens to learn what the underlying principles of growth are. And what to do about it when things go wrong. Like in our growth-obsessed economy perhaps.

The sixth hallmark of cancer is its ability to spawn pioneer cells that move out of the original clump of mutant cells to invade adjacent tissues (invasion) and travel to distant sites where they form colonies (metastasis). Adult specialised cells are not meant to do either. They’re meant to stay where they are and perform the task they’re assigned to do. Cancer, by default, does not have a specific assigned task and further disrupts the normal tissue program by expressing proteins that undo their fixed position (like matrix metalloproteases) within a tissue while stopping the expression of proteins that cement their position (e.g. E-cadherin). Our tissues are composed primarily of two types of cells, epithelial and mesenchymal cells, and the extracellular matrix to which these cells are connected. Epithelial cells adhere to one another to form cell layers, which act as barriers to protect our bodies and organs from the environment. In contrast, mesenchymal cells are solitary, do not make mature cell-cell contacts, and are capable of migrating. During embryonic development, epithelial cells are able to undergo physical and genetic changes collectively referred to as the epithelial to mesenchymal transformation (EMT). The mesenchymal cells are then recruited to specific sites in the developing embryo where they revert back to form the necessary epithelial tissues (mesenchymal to epithelial transformation, MET). Unfortunately long after the body’s reached adulthood and homeostasis cancer is able to hijack this principle to create malignant colonies. Paradoxically TGF-beta-Beta, an important tumor repressor involved in blocking the cell cycle in early stages of cancer, becomes a contributor to malignancy by activating the EMT program, While it blocks growth in one way this might inspire invasion and metastasis in another way.

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8000 Lil’s

Spotify now features over 8,000 artists with “Lil’” at the beginning of their name – from the well-known Lil Wayne and Lil’ Kim,  to Dutch favourite Lil Kleine (which actually translates as Lil Little).  It’s interesting that the seemingly macho world of hip hop seems to have embraced ‘little’ as one of its favourite monikers. In the past year, all these lil ones have made quite an impact on the music industry: being the names behind 33 of the top thousand songs puts the Lil’s at a 106% increase over the same timespan in 2017, and a whopping 725% increase from 2016. While some of this growth can be attributed to breakout artists such as Lil Uzi VertLil Xan and Lil Yachty, legends including Lil’ KimLil’ Troy and Lil Wayne have long represented the “Lil” prefix. Some of its popularity as a prefix may just be the result of the word “‘lil” becoming increasingly used in the everyday vernacular. But no doubt there are copycats who presume the success of the other Lil’s may rub off on them. And then there are those that understand that small is smart.  Smart, beautiful and contagious.

A short survey of artists using the somewhat less street savvy ‘Little’ shows there are also many thousands, going as far back as music history will take you. Not surprisingly though, Big, Biggie, and B.I.G. are still quite popular also.

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Hallmarks of Malignant Growth: Sustained Angiogenesis

In trying to understand what makes continuous growth such a powerful idea (despite clear evidence that it often becomes harmful) The Incredible Shrinking Man turned to cancer research to learn where healthy growth turns malignant. Although cancer is a very complex phenomenon the seminal paper “ The hallmarks of cancer” managed to simplify its underlying process to ten common traits that every single cancer shares to facilitate the transformation from a normal cell to a cancer cell. Published by Robert Weinberg and Douglas Hanahan in 2000, with an updated version in 2013, the paper functions as a guide and lens to learn what the underlying principles of growth are. And what to do about it when things go wrong.

The fifth hallmark of cancer is its ability to induce the continuous growth of blood vessels. The process of new formation of blood vessels, known as angiogenesis, is normal and necessary in the formation of embryonic tissue but is switched off in adults. However, occasionally it gets switched back on during processes such as wound healing, to restore the oxygen supply to tissues in hypoxic conditions, or during menstruation. In cancer cells, angiogenesis is always switched on. Tumors are in a constant mode of replication and thus in constant need of oxygen, nutrients and waste drainage. They recruit blood vessels in the nearby cell microenvironment to grow extensions to provide them with the resources they need. The process of recruitment depends largely on the role of a growth factor called Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor. VEGF causes endothelial cells to first break through existing blood vessels, then migrate towards the signal, grow and replicate and form new blood vessels as directed. Proteins that inhibit this process  (e.g. thrombospondin-1) are deactivated in the process. This angiogenesis is the result of a changing oxygen climate around the cell caused by the inadequate oxygen levels inside of the tumor. The stress signal inside the cell causes specific proteins (HIF) to call for help, which causes the production of high levels of VEGF and eventually a new network of blood vessels around and within the tumor. Angiogenesis in a cancer is a perversion of an innocent cellular process that exists to provide its body with the resources it needs. Yet without it, cancer would not exist.

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Original Final Words


Richard Matheson’s novel ‘The shrinking man’ was published in 1956 and soon adapted for film.  In the film the famous last words in are inspiring but quite different from the original final words in Matheson’s book. Supposedly the original text was adapted by director Jack Arnold. Therefor, not to lose any of its visionary potential, we hereby publish Matheson’s equally inspiring last words.

“How could he be less than nothing? The idea came. Last night he’d looked up at the universe without. Then there must be a universe within, too. maybe universes. He stood again. Why had he never thought it; of the microscopic and submicroscopic worlds? That they existed he had always known. Yet never had he made the obvious connection. He’d always thought in term of man’s own world and man’s own limited dimensions. He had presumed upon nature. For the inch was man’s concept, not nature’s. To a man zero inches meant nothing. Zero meant nothing. But to nature there was no zero. Existence went on in endless cycles. It seemed so simple now. He would never disappear, because there was no point of non-existence in the universe. It frightened him at first. The idea of going on endlessly through one level of dimension after another was alien. Then he thought: If nature existed on endless levels, so also might intelligence. he might not have to be alone. Suddenly he began running towards the light. And when he’d reached it, he stood in speechless awe looking at the new world with it’s vivid splashes of vegetation, its scintillant hills, it’s towering trees, it’s sky of shifting hues, as though the sunlight were being filtered through moving layers of pastel glass. It was a wonderland. There was much to be done and more to be thought about. His brain was teeming with questions and ideas and yes- hope again. There was food to be found, water, clothing, shelter. And most important, life. Who knew? It might be, it just might be there. Scott Carey ran into his new world, searching.”

Whe will we run into ours?

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Hallmarks of Malignant Growth: Limitless Replicative Potential

In trying to understand what makes continuous growth such a powerful idea (despite clear evidence that it often becomes harmful) The Incredible Shrinking Man turned to cancer research to learn where healthy growth turns malignant. Although cancer is a very complex phenomenon the seminal paper “ The hallmarks of cancer” managed to simplify its underlying process to ten common traits that every single cancer shares to facilitate the transformation from a normal cell to a cancer cell. Published by Robert Weinbergand Douglas Hanahan in 2000, with an updated version in 2013, the paper functions as a guide and lens to learn what the underlying principles of growth are. And what to do about it when things go wrong.

The fourth hallmark of cancer is its limitless replicative potential. Cancer cells continue to multiply despite an in-built, autonomous program designed that limits each cells number of replication to somewhere between 40 and 60 times. This number is also known as the Hayflick limit. A region of repetitive DNA called the telomeres at the end of the chromosomes keeps track of how many times a cell has multiplied by losing a little piece of DNA every time a cell divides. The shorter the telomeres, the more multiplications the cell went through. When the telomeres are completely gone replication stops and the cell goes into senescence. Cancer cells however, are able to maintain their telomeres by adding telomeric DNA to the ends of their chromosomes. They confuse the cell’s counting mechanism which makes cells feel and behave as if they are immortal. Except they aren’t. Since cancer cells exist within a multicellular reality their immortality comes at a price; the accumulation of damaging mutations increases with time, leading to ever more complications in the execution of basic cellular tasks, and eventually making it impossible for the larger body to survive.

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