What happens when a language disappears?

Two grammars, a few hours of recording and a handful of books, that’s all that remains of the oubykh, a language from the shores of the Black Sea. This talk disappeared in the early 1990s, with the death of its last speaker. Like the oubykh, a dozen languages ​​are never spoken again and die every decade, at a rate that is accelerating according to linguists.

According to the Atlas of Endangered Languages, published in 2010 by Unesco, around 2,500 of the 7,000 languages ​​identified were disappearing. Since then, this figure has undoubtedly increased further, languages ​​extinguishing at the same time as their last transmitters for want of being transmitted to a new generation.

→ READ. Rwandans changed languages ​​after genocide

“In 2005, when I went to Vanikoro, in the Solomon Islands, two of the three languages ​​of the island were only spoken by six and twelve people respectively, remembers Alexandre François, director of research at the CNRS and specialists in Oceanian languages. In 2012, there was only one tanema speaker and four lovono speakers left. ” The third language of Vanikoro, Teanu, gradually imposed itself on all the inhabitants, nibbling on the other two.

“On the scale of a territory as small as this one, we observe the same phenomena as in much larger societies, with migrations and the replacement of one language by another, the majority”, continues the specialist. For we must not believe that tanema, lovono and teanu represent only three variations of the same dialect; they are indeed three different languages.

A dialect becomes a language in its own right when it is no longer understood by someone who does not speak it. For example, if Quebecers and Parisians understand each other it is because they speak French, the same language, and if French and English do not get along, it is because they are two different languages. In this case, the one who speaks Teanu does not understand the one who speaks Lovono.

Quick shutdown

Even rapid extinction in Gabon, where the linguist Jean-Marie Hombert has listed some twenty languages ​​spoken by less than a hundred speakers, and which are therefore going to disappear. And this despite the government’s efforts to preserve a certain diversity in the face of the French who had imposed themselves with colonization. “Languages ​​are abandoned either because an” official “language is dictated by the colonizer or the State, or because the language of the neighbor has greater social value”, explains this specialist in African languages.

French regional languages ​​have suffered the same fate. “The XXe century marks a brutal break, with for example within the same family of the elders who were raised in Breton and the youngest in French, describes the linguist Jean-Paul Chauveau. The future was no longer local but national; we studied and worked beyond the borders of our region and therefore we learned the common language. “ A movement that continues with globalization and distances that are constantly shortened by communication and transport. Today, English is essential to dialogue outside the French borders, and young people often master the language of Shakespeare without flinching.

A little like the biodiversity in danger, some very specific and localized talks are therefore dying out. “And when a language disappears, it’s a way of seeing the world that disappears, because each one cuts out reality and expresses subtleties according to its needs”, worries Alexandre François, for whom each language is like a clock: all have the same fundamental role but not all tell the time in the same way.

Every time a speaker dies, the language becomes impoverished

Certain distinctions between similar plants or certain descriptions of very precise and delimited meteorological phenomena depend on a vocabulary which exists only among the peoples who meet them. Languages ​​also carry the philosophy of their speakers. “In movima, a Bolivian language on which I work, the article in front of the name is different if the object or the person of which I speak is physically present next to me or if it is absent, explains Katharina Haude, linguist at the University of Cologne. It is a way of describing the world that does not exist in European languages, and each time one of the 200 or so speakers dies, the language becomes poorer. “

In Africa, the Bantu languages ​​can use up to 25 prefixes to express “genders”: masculine, feminine, place, object, nature, but also the primacy, or even simply humanity. Ditto for the Australian aboriginal languages, of which more than a hundred have disappeared in a century and which, for some of them, also use the cardinal points (north, south, east and west), instead of a centered geography on the speaker (front, back, right and left).

→ READ. El Hadi Bouras, activist for linguistic diversity

“The myths and knowledge related to a language can be translated and preserved even if a language dies out, but the common history, the construction of the world and the culture die with the speakers, sums up Katharina Haude. A dead language is at best a language without evolution, frozen as the world continues to move forward, and at worst a forgotten language, disappeared with the civilization that used it. “

To preserve a language, only transmission counts, whether written or oral. Linguists are formal: it is above all the vitality of the community and its culture that ensures linguistic vitality. Latin, although written, collapsed with the Roman Empire. Conversely, “In Gabon, only a few languages ​​have a script developed by missionaries, but that does not prevent oral languages ​​from transmitting their knowledge, recalls Jean-Marie Hombert. And with them, the stories of their peoples and their lands. “

_____________________________________

Some notions

Language, dialect and dialect. A dialect is a local variation of a language that remains understandable even by those who do not speak that dialect, and a dialect is a derogatory term for a dialect. For example, French and German are two languages, and Mosellan is a dialect of German.

Vehicle language and vernacular. A lingua franca is used by speakers of different languages ​​to communicate, like a third and common language. A vernacular is the language of the community. English is both at the same time: means of communication between a Portuguese and a Chinese, it is also the language proper to the Anglo-Saxons.

.

What happens when a language disappears?

Two grammars, a few hours of recording and a handful of books, that’s all that remains of the oubykh, a language from the shores of the Black Sea. This talk disappeared in the early 1990s, with the death of its last speaker. Like the oubykh, a dozen languages ​​are never spoken again and die every decade, at a rate that is accelerating according to linguists.

According to the Atlas of Endangered Languages, published in 2010 by Unesco, around 2,500 of the 7,000 languages ​​identified were disappearing. Since then, this figure has undoubtedly increased further, languages ​​extinguishing at the same time as their last transmitters for want of being transmitted to a new generation.

→ READ. Rwandans changed languages ​​after genocide

“In 2005, when I went to Vanikoro, in the Solomon Islands, two of the three languages ​​of the island were only spoken by six and twelve people respectively, remembers Alexandre François, director of research at the CNRS and specialists in Oceanian languages. In 2012, there was only one tanema speaker and four lovono speakers left. ” The third language of Vanikoro, Teanu, gradually imposed itself on all the inhabitants, nibbling on the other two.

“On the scale of a territory as small as this one, we observe the same phenomena as in much larger societies, with migrations and the replacement of one language by another, the majority”, continues the specialist. For we must not believe that tanema, lovono and teanu represent only three variations of the same dialect; they are indeed three different languages.

A dialect becomes a language in its own right when it is no longer understood by someone who does not speak it. For example, if Quebecers and Parisians understand each other it is because they speak French, the same language, and if French and English do not get along, it is because they are two different languages. In this case, the one who speaks Teanu does not understand the one who speaks Lovono.

Quick shutdown

Even rapid extinction in Gabon, where the linguist Jean-Marie Hombert has listed some twenty languages ​​spoken by less than a hundred speakers, and which are therefore going to disappear. And this despite the government’s efforts to preserve a certain diversity in the face of the French who had imposed themselves with colonization. “Languages ​​are abandoned either because an” official “language is dictated by the colonizer or the State, or because the language of the neighbor has greater social value”, explains this specialist in African languages.

French regional languages ​​have suffered the same fate. “The XXe century marks a brutal break, with for example within the same family of the elders who were raised in Breton and the youngest in French, describes the linguist Jean-Paul Chauveau. The future was no longer local but national; we studied and worked beyond the borders of our region and therefore we learned the common language. “ A movement that continues with globalization and distances that are constantly shortened by communication and transport. Today, English is essential to dialogue outside the French borders, and young people often master the language of Shakespeare without flinching.

A little like the biodiversity in danger, some very specific and localized talks are therefore dying out. “And when a language disappears, it’s a way of seeing the world that disappears, because each one cuts out reality and expresses subtleties according to its needs”, worries Alexandre François, for whom each language is like a clock: all have the same fundamental role but not all tell the time in the same way.

Every time a speaker dies, the language becomes impoverished

Certain distinctions between similar plants or certain descriptions of very precise and delimited meteorological phenomena depend on a vocabulary which exists only among the peoples who meet them. Languages ​​also carry the philosophy of their speakers. “In movima, a Bolivian language on which I work, the article in front of the name is different if the object or the person of which I speak is physically present next to me or if it is absent, explains Katharina Haude, linguist at the University of Cologne. It is a way of describing the world that does not exist in European languages, and each time one of the 200 or so speakers dies, the language becomes poorer. “

In Africa, the Bantu languages ​​can use up to 25 prefixes to express “genders”: masculine, feminine, place, object, nature, but also the primacy, or even simply humanity. Ditto for the Australian aboriginal languages, of which more than a hundred have disappeared in a century and which, for some of them, also use the cardinal points (north, south, east and west), instead of a centered geography on the speaker (front, back, right and left).

→ READ. El Hadi Bouras, activist for linguistic diversity

“The myths and knowledge related to a language can be translated and preserved even if a language dies out, but the common history, the construction of the world and the culture die with the speakers, sums up Katharina Haude. A dead language is at best a language without evolution, frozen as the world continues to move forward, and at worst a forgotten language, disappeared with the civilization that used it. “

To preserve a language, only transmission counts, whether written or oral. Linguists are formal: it is above all the vitality of the community and its culture that ensures linguistic vitality. Latin, although written, collapsed with the Roman Empire. Conversely, “In Gabon, only a few languages ​​have a script developed by missionaries, but that does not prevent oral languages ​​from transmitting their knowledge, recalls Jean-Marie Hombert. And with them, the stories of their peoples and their lands. “

_____________________________________

Some notions

Language, dialect and dialect. A dialect is a local variation of a language that remains understandable even by those who do not speak that dialect, and a dialect is a derogatory term for a dialect. For example, French and German are two languages, and Mosellan is a dialect of German.

Vehicle language and vernacular. A lingua franca is used by speakers of different languages ​​to communicate, like a third and common language. A vernacular is the language of the community. English is both at the same time: means of communication between a Portuguese and a Chinese, it is also the language proper to the Anglo-Saxons.

.

What happens when a language disappears?

Two grammars, a few hours of recording and a handful of books, that’s all that remains of the oubykh, a language from the shores of the Black Sea. This talk disappeared in the early 1990s, with the death of its last speaker. Like the oubykh, a dozen languages ​​are never spoken again and die every decade, at a rate that is accelerating according to linguists.

According to the Atlas of Endangered Languages, published in 2010 by Unesco, around 2,500 of the 7,000 languages ​​identified were disappearing. Since then, this figure has undoubtedly increased further, languages ​​extinguishing at the same time as their last transmitters for want of being transmitted to a new generation.

→ READ. Rwandans changed languages ​​after genocide

“In 2005, when I went to Vanikoro, in the Solomon Islands, two of the three languages ​​of the island were only spoken by six and twelve people respectively, remembers Alexandre François, director of research at the CNRS and specialists in Oceanian languages. In 2012, there was only one tanema speaker and four lovono speakers left. ” The third language of Vanikoro, Teanu, gradually imposed itself on all the inhabitants, nibbling on the other two.

“On the scale of a territory as small as this one, we observe the same phenomena as in much larger societies, with migrations and the replacement of one language by another, the majority”, continues the specialist. For we must not believe that tanema, lovono and teanu represent only three variations of the same dialect; they are indeed three different languages.

A dialect becomes a language in its own right when it is no longer understood by someone who does not speak it. For example, if Quebecers and Parisians understand each other it is because they speak French, the same language, and if French and English do not get along, it is because they are two different languages. In this case, the one who speaks Teanu does not understand the one who speaks Lovono.

Quick shutdown

Even rapid extinction in Gabon, where the linguist Jean-Marie Hombert has listed some twenty languages ​​spoken by less than a hundred speakers, and which are therefore going to disappear. And this despite the government’s efforts to preserve a certain diversity in the face of the French who had imposed themselves with colonization. “Languages ​​are abandoned either because an” official “language is dictated by the colonizer or the State, or because the language of the neighbor has greater social value”, explains this specialist in African languages.

French regional languages ​​have suffered the same fate. “The XXe century marks a brutal break, with for example within the same family of the elders who were raised in Breton and the youngest in French, describes the linguist Jean-Paul Chauveau. The future was no longer local but national; we studied and worked beyond the borders of our region and therefore we learned the common language. “ A movement that continues with globalization and distances that are constantly shortened by communication and transport. Today, English is essential to dialogue outside the French borders, and young people often master the language of Shakespeare without flinching.

A little like the biodiversity in danger, some very specific and localized talks are therefore dying out. “And when a language disappears, it’s a way of seeing the world that disappears, because each one cuts out reality and expresses subtleties according to its needs”, worries Alexandre François, for whom each language is like a clock: all have the same fundamental role but not all tell the time in the same way.

Every time a speaker dies, the language becomes impoverished

Certain distinctions between similar plants or certain descriptions of very precise and delimited meteorological phenomena depend on a vocabulary which exists only among the peoples who meet them. Languages ​​also carry the philosophy of their speakers. “In movima, a Bolivian language on which I work, the article in front of the name is different if the object or the person of which I speak is physically present next to me or if it is absent, explains Katharina Haude, linguist at the University of Cologne. It is a way of describing the world that does not exist in European languages, and each time one of the 200 or so speakers dies, the language becomes poorer. “

In Africa, the Bantu languages ​​can use up to 25 prefixes to express “genders”: masculine, feminine, place, object, nature, but also the primacy, or even simply humanity. Ditto for the Australian aboriginal languages, of which more than a hundred have disappeared in a century and which, for some of them, also use the cardinal points (north, south, east and west), instead of a centered geography on the speaker (front, back, right and left).

→ READ. El Hadi Bouras, activist for linguistic diversity

“The myths and knowledge related to a language can be translated and preserved even if a language dies out, but the common history, the construction of the world and the culture die with the speakers, sums up Katharina Haude. A dead language is at best a language without evolution, frozen as the world continues to move forward, and at worst a forgotten language, disappeared with the civilization that used it. “

To preserve a language, only transmission counts, whether written or oral. Linguists are formal: it is above all the vitality of the community and its culture that ensures linguistic vitality. Latin, although written, collapsed with the Roman Empire. Conversely, “In Gabon, only a few languages ​​have a script developed by missionaries, but that does not prevent oral languages ​​from transmitting their knowledge, recalls Jean-Marie Hombert. And with them, the stories of their peoples and their lands. “

_____________________________________

Some notions

Language, dialect and dialect. A dialect is a local variation of a language that remains understandable even by those who do not speak that dialect, and a dialect is a derogatory term for a dialect. For example, French and German are two languages, and Mosellan is a dialect of German.

Vehicle language and vernacular. A lingua franca is used by speakers of different languages ​​to communicate, like a third and common language. A vernacular is the language of the community. English is both at the same time: means of communication between a Portuguese and a Chinese, it is also the language proper to the Anglo-Saxons.

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When science fiction fuels research

2039. France has entered an authoritarian ecological regime: veganism is imposed on the entire population. Because of global warming, farming has become impossible south of the Loire. This future that is cold in the back is that imagined by the students who participated in the “Science Fiction Committee” (CSF). An initiative launched in 2017 by the Institute for Environmental Transition (ITE), in partnership with the National Museum of Natural History (MNHN) and the Sorbonne.

→ READ. From science fiction to climate fiction: novels to think about climate change.

The goal ? Invent future worlds based on current scientific knowledge, working with both science fiction authors and researchers. The written news (1) is then put into perspective during theater-debate sessions. “The students were able to imagine things that a researcher would have had a hard time conceiving”, enthuses Anne-Caroline Prévot, researcher at the CNRS and the Museum who piloted the project. Like the “cinerveau”, this instrument which captures all the thoughts and emotions of living beings and projects them on a cinema screen.

“I’m not sure that we will be able to catch the thoughts of a tomato, smiles the ecologist, but the interesting thing is to wonder why the students thought about it, and how it questions our world today. The research framework in France is focused on rationality, on reasoning. We forget all the emotional part that drives us. “ More than the invention of possible technological prowess, it is this emulation, this stimulation of the imagination that can fuel scientific research.

“The imagination is an important driver of innovation”

As early as the 1980s, EDF already published its Muxian Chronicles, to imagine the future uses of telematics.

In the early 2000s, the European Space Agency (ESA) launched a vast project called ITSF (“New Technologies in Science Fiction”). Thus 250 imaginary space concepts and technologies are compiled, from Jules Verne’s rocket launcher (From the Earth to the moon, 1865) to antimatter-propelled interstellar vessels in Dawn of the night by Peter F. Hamilton (1990s).

“I am convinced that the imagination is an important driver of innovation, says Thomas Michaud, researcher in social sciences. Institutions or companies should study it, draw out the ideas that interest them and discard the rest. Behind this approach, there must be an ethics, filter science fiction to draw a speech as beneficial as possible for humanity. “

Tickle scientists

A prospectivist approach that appeals to R & D centers but which includes a pitfall: to empty science fiction of all meaning, neglecting the fact that it is above all a work of fiction. “There is a form of misunderstanding on the part of the public about what SF is: it has no predictive value. Those who write it are not trying to predict the future, ” alerts Patrick Gyger, who worked on the ESA ITSF project, in his capacity as director of the science fiction museum Maison d´ailleurs, in Switzerland.

“However, this study showed that people who work in space are inspired by the visions conveyed by science fiction and by a kind of momentum that is created when you read it. It does not give a manual to build a rocket or a space shuttle, but it allows to provoke a desire. “ Science fiction has the merit of tickling scientists, of stimulating their imagination, often, of giving them ideas, sometimes – even of arousing vocations.

Ideas otherwise passed under the radars

Astrophysicist Roland Lehoucq, himself addicted to this literary genre, has written numerous popularization essays based on SF. For him, “This literature can also be a good means of transposing or disseminating scientific objects or techniques that are sometimes forgotten.” Like the example of this Russian engineer, Yuri Artsutanov, who formalized in 1960 the idea of ​​a space elevator. A kind of large cable stretched towards the space along which nacelles would slide allowing to reach the orbit more easily than with a rocket.

Published in a Russian magazine during the Cold War, this article went completely unnoticed. Almost twenty years later, in 1979, the American novelist Arthur C. Clarke unearthed the concept and staged it in The fountains of paradise. “Engineers read this novel and decided to continue the research. Without science fiction, this idea would have gone under the radar ”, assures Roland Lehoucq. Even today, researchers continue to work on the subject. In late 2018, a Japanese team from Shizuoka University conducted tests from the International Space Station (ISS) with a miniature cabin model on a cable. If current technological means are still largely insufficient, the Japanese company Obayashi aims to commission an elevator connecting Earth to the ISS by 2050.

For Roland Lehoucq, the imaginary literature is especially interesting for researchers in the humanities, because it allows to consider the consequences of scientific advances on humans, by proposing a “Directory of possibilities”. A truly “Experience of social and political thought” which can initiate an ethical reflection on scientific and technological progress.

Cyberpunk literature, for example, imagining dystopian worlds, questions the risks associated with the development of artificial intelligence or the increase of human capabilities by technology. The novel Neuromancer, by William Gibson (1984), describes an ultratechnological society, governed by all-powerful multinationals, where the most unbridled capitalism reigns. A world where humans are plastered with sensors and artificial implants. A world that leads us to question ourselves: how far could the enslavement of individuals by new technologies go?

——————-

Amazing intuitions

♦ Energy from plants. In the XVIIIe century Jonathan Swift stages in Gulliver’s Travels a scientist seeking to “Extract cucumbers from the sun’s rays, in order to enclose them in vials (…), and that they could be used to heat the air. “

♦ An autonomous car. In 1953 Isaac Asimov portrayed smart, driverless cars like Sally, a magnificent convertible “Positronic brain”.

♦ Bionic members. In Cyborg, by Martin Caidin (1972), an injured astronaut is implanted with artificial legs and arms which he controls with his brain.

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novels to think about climate change

What if men had to pollinate flowers by hand because the bees were gone? What if water became such a scarce resource that it would become the subject of a global conflict between peoples? What if a terrible drought transformed California into a barren desert …? The Norwegian Maja Lunde in A story of bees (1) – novel sold by a million copies – the French Jean-Marc Ligny in Aqua ™ (2) or the American Claire Vaye Watkins in The Sands of Amargosa (3) imagine these worlds where global warming would have done its work.

Novels by climate fiction (“Climate fiction”), according to the term coined by the American journalist Dan Bloom in 2011. Coming from the United States, this sub-genre of science fiction is also developing in France. “Most of the time, these are situations in the near future, where global warming has gained momentum with consequences becoming more and more visible and less and less manageable; either from post-apocalyptic worlds, where global warming has caused societies to collapse, “ explains Loan Treca, director of Arkuiris Publishing.

“Alert the general public”

“The main goal is to alert the general public to the challenges of climate change”, poses Dan Bloom. “Fiction can reach an audience that would not necessarily read IPCC reports or scientific articles”, abounds with Yann Quero, author of two novels by climate fiction. Since becoming aware of the gravity of the phenomenon in the 1990s, he feels invested with a certain ” responsibility “.

→ READ. From science fiction to climate fiction: novels to think about climate change.

In 2005, he published The White Man Trial (Arkuiris), which projects into 2143. Global warming has caused the Gulf Stream to stop and plunged the Northern Hemisphere under ice. The novelist started from a current scientific hypothesis: the water resulting from the melting of Greenland’s ice and excessive precipitation could disturb the ocean current which is at the origin of the temperate European climate.

Inward withdrawal

If the stories of climate fiction most of the time describe dystopian or post-apocalyptic worlds, some approach the problem from a more optimistic angle. In his essay Out of the rubble of the world (Champ Vallon), Yannick Rumpala points to these hopeful scenarios.

Already in 1975, Ernest Callenbach imagined in Ecotopia the secession of three states on the American West Coast to found a radical ecological society: the country is reforested, internal combustion engines are prohibited, manufactured products fully recyclable…

But this green utopia is realized at the cost of withdrawal and increasingly communitarianism. “There are always ambiguities in these models”, notes the lecturer in political science. Ambiguities which have precisely the merit of asking us questions: what concessions are we collectively ready to make to save the planet?

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when plants replace concrete

It is a popular place for tourists, who like to sail on the Mayenne and admire its bucolic shores. The Grez-Neuville canal, north of Angers (Maine-et-Loire), has been the subject of rather rare experimentation on this scale for two years: restoring its banks by preferring plants to stones. “We had observed their degradation during periods of low water, says Gwennaël Cordier, technician in aquatic environments in the department. To restore them, two options were available to us: resort to civil engineering, with masonry or riprap, or else to plant engineering, by focusing on the capacities of plants to fix and consolidate the banks. We chose the second. “

To select the best species to implant, the department relied on the expertise of the Fresne Agricultural High School, near Angers. “They had to resist the water, the waves caused by the boats, the erosion and the nutria which dig galleries, explains the technician. They also had to develop slowly and require little maintenance. “

Nature-based solutions

The choice fell on the plantation of earth sausages surrounded by coconut fibers, sown with helophyte plants such as irises or rushes. “They have the particularity of having their feet in the water and their heads in the sun”, describes André Evette, engineer and researcher at the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (Inrae), which closely monitors plant engineering projects in France (1). “These nature-based solutions are not new and date back to Antiquity, he recalls. But we lost sight of them from the 1950s and the transition to all-concrete. It was the era of the Thirty Glorious Years, and we didn’t have the same way of seeing the world as today … “ In the 1970s and 1980s, Austria and Switzerland brought these techniques up to date, followed by Germany and the Netherlands. In France, they have reappeared for ten years.

“Their major advantage is to favor the ecological restoration of the banks, high places of biodiversity, explains the researcher. The plants filter the pollutants that arrive in the water, provide a welcome shade and recreate a whole habitat in the air as in the water: insects, dragonflies, crayfish, freshwater shrimps, fish … “ A virtuous circle, which saves money. “Not only is it better to work with living things, but it’s also cheaper, confirms Gwennaël Cordier. Our plant site costs around € 40,000, when a “hard” development can amount to millions of euros, taking into account the difficulties of access to the site for construction machinery. “ Finally, if its effectiveness is not as immediate as a concrete installation, over time, “Plant engineering is becoming stronger than civil engineering”, he continues.

→ READ. Microplastics, nitrate: World Bank investigates invisible water pollution

Work on the Grez-Neuville canal was carried out in October 2018, testing two techniques. For the first 75 meters, a strip of local herb seeds has been planted above the helophyte sausages in geotextile. “It is a good alternative to the plastic sheet because it degrades naturally. “ Over the next 75 meters, a bed of willow plants has been added. The most effective technique will be reproduced on the 650 meters of remaining banks. A year and a half later, the first assessment is already positive: “The plants are well anchored to the ground and the willows have grown very well, greet the technician. But we must wait until spring 2021 to draw our conclusions. “

Only 5% of rivers in good ecological condition

In this department concentrating 7,000 kilometers of rivers, of which only 5% are in good ecological condition, the restoration of the banks and, ultimately, the recovery of the quality of the water prove to be crucial. “With plant engineering, we try to repair the mistakes of the past”, explains Marc Helbert, head of the water service in the department, which coordinates an Observatory of water quality in Anjou. “What weighs most on us is the fish index, he comments. It will replenish when they can circulate more freely in our waterways. But these actions will take time to produce their effects… ”

Especially since these techniques inspired by nature are not so simple to implement. “They require multidisciplinary skills and strong field experience, comments André Evette. It is not enough to follow technical rules like in civil engineering. Living things are impossible to model. How to predict that a beaver will eat the willow that has been planted? “ If plants can solve a multitude of problems – maintaining agricultural land in the face of erosion, preventing avalanches in the mountains, cleaning up soil, phyto-purification, wind or noise barrier – they cannot always be enough . “When you have a torrent near a school, you may not be going without concrete to secure the site, comments the researcher. In an urban environment, you don’t always have a choice. But mixed solutions are developing. “

→ REPORTAGE. At the Paris Aquarium, fish grow tomatoes

Nor is it easy to convince of the economic profitability of these developments. The establishment of hedges or buffer zones not cultivated in agricultural zones, for example, requires educational work. “Obviously, the financial gain is not necessarily demonstrated for a productivist agricultural model”, recognizes André Evette.

Last merit of plant genius: embellishing the landscape. “In front of our work on the canal, we have a very busy towpath, notes Gwennaël Cordier. Walkers are delighted with the new plantations. “ What hardly surprises André Evette: “Plants have a positive influence on humans: our blood pressure decreases in the forest, seeing a tree from its window facilitates healing in the hospital like concentration in a classroom. Putting plants back, in the end, is no longer disjoining man and nature … “

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Not enough fish, too many pesticides

The balance sheet drawn up in 2018 by the Observatory of water quality in Anjou over the last ten years draws up an unquestionable observation: too much nitrates, presence of 151 pesticide molecules (glyphosate, atrazine…), average or even bad fish population.

However, two indicators experience improvement (phosphorus, nitrogen) linked to
progress in wastewater treatment.

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Isn’t research too disconnected from professionals and citizens?

“There is more participatory science than we think”

Christian Huyghe, agronomist, scientific director of agriculture at Inrae

Contrary to popular belief, there are several experiments in participatory science or action research in France. For example, at Inrae alone, in 1979, the Agrarian Systems and Development department was created which, in 2009, will be called Sciences for Action and Development and which, today, brings together workshop areas in Mirecourt (Vosges) or Pleine-Fougères (Ille-et-Vilaine).

In forestry as in animal genetics, professionals actively participate in the work of researchers and provide them with data that they record themselves. Thus the genetic improvement of cattle or sheep requires a large amount of zootechnical data (growth gain, milk production, fertility, prolificity …) necessary for geneticists to establish the value of such a bull or such cow and, by extrapolation, their descendants.

In fact, field experiments, carried out in real life, are as necessary as those carried out in experimental stations offering perfectly controlled conditions, with hyper-trained personnel, often helped by the latest technology. The former take maximum account of local and human conditions, while the latter seek to extract a general, theoretically extrapolable vision. Above all, they should not be opposed: very often, the “truth” will come from the connection of the two approaches. Farmers are not researchers, and researchers are not farmers.

“Collaborate more with research users”

Alain Pavé, Emeritus Professor of Bio Mathematics, University of Lyon and CNRS

The advent of experiments such as those currently carried out in Chizé are relatively new and rare if not unique. From the outset, their aim is to do research in close collaboration with the stakeholders, here the farmers, and therefore on part of their land. This innovation appeared around 1995 in the United States (Long Term Ecological Research), initiated in France in 2000, took the name of ” workshop area », In collaboration with agricultural institutes (INRA and Cemagref). Workshops were thus created in Armorica, the Iroise Sea, in river basins (Seine, Rhône, Adour-Garonne), in Antarctica and the subantarctic islands as well as in Guyana. The main idea is to do action research, through a contract.

It is a form of participatory science, in which the players in the field are particularly involved and do not intervene only downstream, once the experiment is finished, analyzed and published. The underlying idea is to make the science finalized, that is to say both fundamental and applied, so that the results can serve as a basis for political decision-making.

Admittedly, this type of experiment is particularly feasible in environmental sciences (agriculture, aquaculture, forestry), but probably not applicable to all fields of science. Finally, participatory action research, accepted and shared by both parties, is certainly a place of great research freedom which can potentially lead to impracticable progress in the context of project research.

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Coral, source of inspiration for architects

More and more engineers and entrepreneurs, concerned with developing more sustainable and energy-efficient solutions, are turning to the way nature works. With this bio-inspiration are born numerous research and development projects in sometimes very different fields, such as the design of anticancer or antiviral drugs, or of structure or “corallo-inspired” material for the urban architecture of the future.

→ READ. Corals, a fascinating and little-known ecosystem

Thus, intrigued by the ingenuity of the natural phenomena of photosynthesis and the symbiosis between unicellular algae and the coral itself, Anouk Legendre and Nicolas Desmazières, architects of Agence XTU in Paris, worked for ten years to integrate photosynthetic microalgae into the southern envelope of a residential tower. ” What we call a bio-facade “, Specifies Anouk Legendre.

Mimic photosynthesis

The idea is simple: mimic photosynthesis. From CO2 of air, water and energy brought in by the sun’s rays, a small chemical factory located within each algal cell works hard to produce oxygen (O2) and carbohydrates (sugars), recoverable and recoverable as food, pharmaceutical or cosmetic ingredients.

The main difficulty? Invent a system mimicking the surface of the water on which the sun’s rays strike, the inputs arrive (CO2) and output the outputs (O2 and algae) so that the chemical reaction is carried out under the best possible conditions. The solution ? Invent a kind of double glazing with one compartment filled with air and another, such as a flat aquarium, containing water in which the algae live fed by air bubbling. In short, a kind of bioreactor producing microalgae. This system also makes it possible to regulate the building thermally, saving energy, the heat recovered can, for example, supply hot water tanks.

→ MAINTENANCE. Nature is a great reservoir of solutions

Inspired by the work of engineers from NASA and the European Space Agency aimed at producing consumable plants for long-lived inhabited trips, the architects and their team decided to produce spirulina, a food algae rich in proteins, minerals and trace elements.

Design “bio-organic concrete”

Two patents, French and international (Europe, China), have been filed, and the project received the prize of the Single Interministerial Fund in 2015. For five years and with a budget of 5.4 million euros, the architects collaborated with private partners (Viry, Oasis, Algosource) and the State. A prototype was built at the Scientific and Technical Center for Building in Champs-sur-Marne (Seine-et-Marne). The construction of the first tower should see the light of day in the 13e arrondissement of Paris in the fall.

Besides algae, another aspect of coral attracts the attention of innovators: The ability of coral to rebuild echoes the search for a self-healing material, the grail for us architects “Admits Anouk Legendre. The idea? Design a kind of “bio-organic concrete”, made by mineralizing bacteria from an organic frame and why not recovery material. But the subject is not yet mature enough.

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Corals, a fascinating and little-known ecosystem

Flowering trees, animal-flower, tree-stone, ” abyssinian coral forests “Says poet José Maria de Heredia … corals never cease to amaze humans. But are there still beautiful marine corals, far from the sight of men? Yes Fortunately.

And the public, even uninitiated in scuba diving, now has access to it through splendid naturalist films. Other reefs, however, in Polynesia or Australia, are struggling not to perish. Global warming, overfishing and pollution are among the major threats. Corals “whiten” due to the expulsion of the algae they harbor.

Coral colonies that form a “superorganism”

Fragile, therefore, corals are one of the most fascinating ecosystems in our biosphere. In particular the “hard corals”, which secrete an external mineral skeleton, of which the reef-building corals are part, of which we are talking here (1). Indeed, the majority of these animals have the distinction of living in society, being colonial and harboring in their soft body, which is called polyp, tiny algae.

→ READ Coral, source of inspiration for architects

These, thanks to photosynthesis, provide them with some of its nutrients, while the coral shelters them. A sort of “win-win” contract, called symbiosis, which has existed for about 160 million years. And ” a circular economy model “Smiles Denis Allemand, marine biologist and director of the Monaco Scientific Center.

In short, reef corals are a “super-organism” which takes the form of an enormous biomineral construction, ” one of the largest known complex structures created by living organisms “, As Robert Calcagno, director of the Oceanographic Institute-Albert-I Foundation indicateser of Monaco.

These colonies can be very varied, leafy, branched, compact – to the point of resembling a brain – and reach several meters after developing for thousands of years. Like the huge Big Momma reef, located in the Samoa archipelago (Pacific) which, with its 13 m diameter and 7 m high, is between 800 and 1300 years old.

Mostly installed in tropical seas, hard corals can form “sidewalks” like in the Red Sea, coral reefs (Reunion), atolls (Polynesia) or barriers (Australia, New Caledonia) visible by satellite. Corals of different species therefore coexist within these colonies, each species having its own species of algae. It is the variety of pigments contained in algae that generates this colorful set, ranging from white to purple through yellow and green, reminiscent of a floral garden.

Sophisticated physiological adaptations

From a physiological point of view, these animals also have some peculiarities. Being fixed, the polyps, simple bags pierced with a single orifice surrounded by six tentacles, must partly feed by capturing the prey, generally small planktonic animals passing within their reach. For this, their tentacles are equipped with microscopic arrows deploying in less than three milliseconds and which, once the prey harpooned, releases a poisonous toxin – but not very stinging for humans.

Likewise, to reproduce, corals have more than one trick up their sleeve. “Hermaphroditic animals, they can reproduce in two ways: in an asexual mode, by cuttings, a bit like strawberries. A process that allows them to quickly colonize spaces. But also by sexual reproduction, which ensures genetic diversity “Says Denis Allemand. One of the most sought after events by scuba divers is being present when the synchronous spawning of thousands of polyps occurs, emitting millions of gametes into the water.

What divers call “Snow upside down”. “Still poorly understood, although in relation to the lunar cycle, this synchronization allows on the one hand to maximize the chances of encounter between spermatozoa and oocytes, and on the other hand to minimize the chance of predators to devour the eggs living in full water, before they settle on the bottom to develop a new colony “, continues the biologist.

→ THE FACTS. Confirmation of the Great Barrier Reef decline in 2016

Since corals can live for several decades, biologists have been interested in the reasons for their longevity. Curiously, although exposed to bacteria, viruses and other parasites, corals seem rather insensitive to disease, as if they had a particular immune system since the researchers did not find any antibodies. A hypothesis that we could compare with the fact that corals are not all equal in the face of bleaching. Some seem “tolerant” of both strong sunlight and high water temperature (above 26-27 ° C). Researchers already know that this is not due to a genetic response from the algae they harbor. Research must continue.

A fundamental role in biodiversity

“True habitat-refuges, the corals constitute, even in the middle of immense tropical seas yet poor in food, oases at the origin of an exceptional abundance of life. What has been called the Darwin paradox “, says Robert Calcagno. Bacteria and algae recycling the metabolic waste of corals, phytoplankton, marine worms, sponges, molluscs, crustaceans, fish, sea turtles, sharks … juveniles and adults, all this small world constitutes a heterogeneous ecosystem but regulated like music paper.

“The greater the diversity of coral species, the more complex the reef structure, sums up Denis Allemand. In the tropical seas, hundreds of varieties of coral build the ecosystem that will be populated by tens of thousands of species, from the smallest algae to large vertebrates “, continues the biologist. This is why more and more biologists and ecologists are comparing coral reefs to tropical forests.

→ CRITICAL. Coral, a treasure to preserve

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Some numbers

If they only represent 0.2% of the world’s ocean surface, coral reefs are home to a third of marine species (fish, molluscs, crustaceans, worms, sponges, plants).

In addition to the Great Barrier Reef, listed as World Heritage by Unesco (2,000 km long, 348,000 km2), the most important reefs are the double barrier of New Caledonia (1600 km long), the Coral Triangle (Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines), and others in the Caribbean and the Red Sea.

France is the only country to have reefs in the Atlantic at the same time (Guadeloupe, Martinique), in the Indian Ocean (La Réunion, Mayotte, Gambier) and in the Pacific (New Caledonia, Polynesia). 10% of the world surface, making it the 4the coral country in the world.

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Can we trust algorithms?

In a world that is becoming more computerized every day and where the use of personal digital data raises the question of our privacy, the word “algorithm” is making a strong entry in our vocabulary. It would have the announced goal of bringing artificial intelligence to the substance necessary for its programs so that it helps us better take charge of our lives. There are usually few problems in everyday life because we can judge the results obtained. The same is not true in the health field because we would like to understand what these algorithms are and what we can expect from them.

→ READ. Algorithms and artificial intelligence – a call to be undertaken in the hope!

Mathematicians, computer scientists and others tell us that an algorithm is a process made up of a set of given operations and rules to perform a precise calculation. To try to trivialize, they indicate that a cooking recipe that defines the ingredients and the precise way of using them for a culinary success behaves like an algorithm. Is ! But in this case we know the ingredients well and master each step. This is not enough to reassure us, especially when artificial intelligence and its algorithms invade medicine. In fact, it is now possible to collect all possible data on anyone. This data can be manipulated at will to create an algorithm that can have significant effects on people’s lives, for good or for bad, without any safeguards to be reassured.

“It is now possible to collect all the possible data on anyone”

It follows therefore mixed reactions close to absolute mistrust. However, this distrust is unfortunate because we really need algorithms in our modern lives. It is therefore essential to improve their transparency. Some, like the British mathematician Hannah Fry (1), argue more and more forcefully for the creation of a body which would control their marketing, especially when they are for medical purposes. In reality, we find ourselves with the algorithms in a situation comparable to that which we knew with the drugs about thirty years ago. One of the primary concerns was to differentiate between molecules that are beneficial in therapeutic terms and molecules that are uncertain, even dangerous. This situation logically led to the creation of an agency responsible for ensuring the good quality of medicines, today the National Medicines Safety Agency (ANSM).

On the same model, an algorithm security agency could both protect their intellectual property and ensure beneficial effects for patients and society. It is she who would give the authorization to operate. This provision could be introduced into the text of the bioethics law for revision before the Parliament, unless taking proven risks because no one controls or labels the algorithms used today. The ideal would no doubt be for the European Union to ensure its sovereignty in this matter as it expresses the will. This is one of the ethical issues that I think are the most urgent to resolve.

(1) Author of Hello World. How to Be Human in the Age of the Machine, Doubleday, 2018.

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