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Lessons From Indigenous Knowledge Systems, Horses and Microbes

The Sydney Morning Herald | 29 January 2021


By Fiona Capp



Margo Neale & Lynne Kelly

Thames & Hudson, $19.99

Long before the World Wide Web, there existed Indigenous systems of knowledge imparted through songlines, dance and art that encompassed the "endless flow of life and ideas emanating from Country". Nothing lay outside this network, not even time. It’s hard to imagine a better introduction to how songlines work than this exciting collaboration between Margo Neale, a First Nations scholar, and non-Indigenous writer Lynne Kelly.

Whereas Western knowledge is primarily transmitted through the disembodied form of the text, First Nations’ songlines are living embodiments of the kinship between all animate and inanimate things that function as mnemonics to ensure the survival of this knowledge.

is one of those rare, thrilling books that can expand the mind in every direction.

The Best Australian Science Writing 2020

Ed., Sara Phillips

NewSouth, $32.99

An unlikely protagonist emerges as the hero in this latest collection of science writing: the humble micro-organism. Through "microbe rewilding", degraded soils can be replenished, writes Wilson da Silva. Genetically modified microbes that feed on carbon dioxide in the fermentation process herald a Fourth Industrial Revolution driven by clean biotechnological innovations that promise to feed the planet with animal-free foods, writes Lesley Hughes.

Then there’s the single-celled protist that lives in the ocean and sequesters carbon dioxide. A creature, says Smriti Mallapaty, that scientists believe could determine the fate of life on earth. While many other critters and topical issues feature in this stimulating anthology, it’s the often-overlooked and underrated "animacules" that steal the show.


Andrew Steele

Bloomsbury, $29.99

The giant Galapagos turtles can live to 175 with "negligible senescence" or loss of capacity as they age. In biological terms, they are ageless. Andrew Steele argues that with the help of science, we too could become ageless. Removing aged cells and problem proteins, improving immunity and modifying our microbiome, repairing and replacing our DNA, and reprogramming our genes to prevent degeneration and disease are all foreseeable options.

"One day, data and powerful computer models will enable us to edit the very code we run on." While an extended lifespan and a reduction in suffering are to be welcomed, as a thirty-something computational biologist, Steele seems oblivious to the dystopian possibilities and wicked moral questions thrown up by this vision of human immortality.


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