Friday, June 17, 2016

The Science of Pokémon: Fossil Resurrection

FYI: Not a dinosaur.
Fossil Pokémon have been around since the beginning of pokémon, and I mean that quite literally. They represent the oldest species of pokémon as well as showing up in the first pokémon games. However, a major aspect of fossil pokémon is that their fossil has to be recovered and given to an appropriate scientist to resurrect. During the early 90's, bringing fossils back to life was fresh on people's minds as Jurassic Park came to theaters in 1993. Jurassic Park brings up a few good points as to why one should, or should not, bring extinct animals back to life. Of course, in pokémon a 10 year old child is saddled with that decision, and I doubt very few trainers would be opposed to it given the opportunity.

Obviously, in the real world we haven't ever been able to successfully get DNA from a fossil. That's not to say people aren't trying. It doesn't seem this is the most viable method for bringing back dinosaurs, with other scientists using different methods. So, even though we haven't been able to match the success seen in the Pokémon World, obviously the idea of bringing back long extinct animals isn't too far out in science fiction. That being said, like in my previous pokémon science blog, we know the Pokémon World is way more technologically advanced. 

"I'm back from the dead to seek my
revenge upon the mortals of your world!"
So what are the effects of bringing an extinct animal back to life? From the pokémon perspective, there seems to be some effect of the fossilization process that seems to have affected the DNA of the ancient pokémon. All fossil pokémon are at least part Rock type. From a diversity standpoint, that doesn't seem to make sense. Why would all pokémon diversity in the past be so similar when in the present day there are many other type combinations? Most likely this rock aspect is a result of inorganic materials still being present in the living pokémon after resurrection. When a bone is fossilized, minerals from the surrounding sediment leech in to replace the rotting biological components. That means all fossil pokémon are at least part Rock do to the sediment replacing the organic aspects of their bones. Although, animals with shells (ex: Omanyte and Omastar) already have inorganic material in their shells, a mineral known as calcite, and potentially were always part Rock.

Science is always progressing, so of course at one point scientists decided to push the envelope... and that envelope was Genesect. Often people forget this, but Genesect is actually a fossil pokémon. Unlike the other fossils, Genesect was resurrected by someone else and given to you, so there is no fossil to retrieve. However, Genesect is the Paleozoic pokémon. The Paleozoic era lasted from roughly 542 - 251 million years ago, so it's safe to say that Genesect is pretty old. However, its sleek technological appearance does often mask that fact. The Genesect we're familiar with is NOT how Genesect looked originally.
"She blinded me with science....
so I blasted her with my cannon."
Just like how Mewtwo is a modified clone of Mew, Genesect was modified from its resurrected form. This is evident in its typing: Bug/Steel. Steel is produced by modifying iron ore found in rocks. Most likely the original Genesect was Bug/Rock, but the modifications made to its carapace by Team Plasma changed it enough that it lost its Rock characteristics and gained Steel characteristics. This sort of type change is commonly seen with pokémon that evolve using a man-made object. The closest comparison is how Onix is Rock/Ground, but becomes Steel/Ground as a Steelix when it's traded with a Metal Coat. When Team Plasma attached Genesect's cannon to its back, it likely changed the pokémon's biology as well.

Genesect also represents a prime example of what bringing back an organism that no longer has a role in the environment will be like. In Genesect and the Legend Awakened, the Genesect are attempting to return to a habitat that no longer exists. Because they are unable to do so, they attempt to make a new habitat for themselves by displacing the pokémon already inhabiting the area. This makes Genesect a human produced invasive species. In actuality, all of the fossil pokémon would pose the same risk as would any real world resurrected animals. Present day flora and fauna are not adapted to deal with organisms that haven't been around for millions of years and could potentially be driven to extinction themselves. There is the flip side argument as well, that fossil organisms are ill-equipped to live in present day environments due to differences in plant-life, atmospheric gases, and human pollution. In that scenario, we would be bringing back organisms just to put them in an environment in which they would suffer. Regardless, if fossil organisms were ever brought back to life in the real world, they would likely never be able to be released into a natural habitat. This could explain, at least in a biological way, why fossil pokémon have never been found in the wild at all in the pokémon games even though fossil rejuvenation has been around since the beginning. Even if you released rejuvenated fossil pokémon into a Safari Zone, they wouldn't be able to coexist well with modern species.

So why do the scientists rejuvenate your fossils then give you the pokémon afterward? It seems like bringing them back to life is a bad idea. Well, the reasoning is simple. Fossil pokémon cannot survive in the wild without human interaction. Therefore, the scientists want to bring them back and observe how pokémon were different in the past. However, since they can't release the pokémon, it is better to give it to a trainer to take care of it. Although it's not the most responsible idea to give a 10 year old a T.rex, I can't say with full certainty that I wouldn't have accepted such a responsibility as a 10 year old. In fact, 10 year old me would have never even thought twice!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Science of Pokémon: An Argument for Inorganic Pokemon

Fantasy monster or apex predator?
One of the biggest arguments I see relating to inorganic pokémon is the general consensus that pokémon that look like inorganic objects are not feasible. However, I wish to present a rather scientific argument as to why these pokémon whose adaptations are inspired by man-made objects make perfect sense.

Since the beginning of the franchise, evolution has been an important mechanic. As I explained in a previous blog, pokémon evolution isn't actually true evolution. Instead, it is a metamorphosis, with juvenile organisms eventually maturing into adults. Not every animal goes through metamorphosis, which explains why some pokémon never "evolve" in the game. That doesn't mean that natural selection, the driving force behind real world evolution, doesn't occur.

Natural selection occurs when an organism is born with a random characteristic that makes it better suited to the environment, which leads to them being able to breed and pass on their genetic material. This random trait, known as a mutation, needs to be beneficial (or at least not harmful) for it to be magnified through natural selection. For a random mutation to become the norm in a population, many generations of breeding is required for the once rare trait to become common. Humans have sped up this process with animals and plants by restricting which organisms are allowed to breed. (See: Selective Breeding)

Now back to the inorganic pokémon like Klink, Trubbish, or Vanilluxe. These organisms look like household objects. The first question would be to ask, what benefit is there from looking like a human-made object? The easiest answer would be that these organisms are adapted to blend with a human environment to have better access to food, water, and/or shelter. The easiest one to explain away is the one I hear the most griping about: Trubbish.

Highly Evolved. Highly Dangerous.
Trubbish is the Trash Bag pokemon. Its designation says it all. Trubbish is living garbage and many in the pokémon fandom regard it as such. However, in terms of natural selection, it is a highly adapted (or derived) organism that is the result of generations of breeding. Based on the technology used in the Pokémon World (the ability to convert living organisms into energy, warp pads, etc) its safe to assume that the world of pokémon is more advanced than our own. This may be a result of the events in the Pokémon World taking place in a futuristic Earth. Early writers of the anime were even going to go in to detail as to how pokémon replaced animals following some sort of extinction. If that is the case, Trubbish is an example of natural selection acting upon a creature to make it better adapted to live with humans. If you go to any urban area, you are going to find garbage, more than what you would find in pristine natural habitats. Animals commonly make use of camouflage to hide within their environment. If Trubbish's environment is a highly polluted human urban center, then its appearance makes perfect sense. It isn't garbage, it just looks like garbage to blend in. What would be its food source? Likely garbage. Trubbish live in dumps and eat trash, so not only has this organism adapted to living in a toxic environment, it is now so derived it requires that toxic environment to survive.

Obviously, in the real world human pollution hasn't been around long enough to cause such an extreme level of evolution, but we do see animals adapting to our pollution. If we lived in the hyper advanced society powered by Infinity Energy where health care is free and entire cities are managed by levitating robots it may be common place to see animals adapted to the world we caused to change. As for other weird household pokémon, maybe they also have adaptations to help them better survive this human altered world. Maybe Vanilluxe looks the way it does to steal ice cream from ice cream parlors? It seems like that is pigeon holing it into a small niche (or ecological role) but that wouldn't be the first time nature has done something like that. If you research some of the odd ways animals have adapted to us, something that is adapted to hide among frozen food doesn't seem as far fetched.

Domo arigoto.
How about robotic forms of life like Klink or Magnemite? Well, we define life rather narrowly at the moment. We are usually referring to carbon-based life which includes animals and plants as well as bacteria and other microorganisms. However, we define it that way simply because we haven't encountered other types of life. As technology progresses, the idea that robotic sentient "life" could exist at some point becomes less and less far fetched. Obviously, these wouldn't be animals in the traditional sense, but would still consume something to power their bodies. In the case of Klink and Magnemite, it seems that nourishment is electrical energy. In these cases, we have not only have organisms that are adapted to live with humans, they were actually created by humans.

I could try explain why each inorganic pokémon is actually a natural science masterpiece, but I won't sugar coat it; they aren't. Not all adaptations are beneficial after all. Perhaps looking like a candle was useful for sneaking into houses and stealing food before the advent of electricity, but afterwards it would be more of a hindrance. I think most people would notice a random candle near their refrigerator.. which also seems to have a face and has turned bright orange for some reason. Eventually those mutations would be fazed out by a new mutation, perhaps one that makes the organism look like a key chain. This new organism that could better blend in and find food would eventually lead to the extinction of those defunct species that are no longer able to compete.

In the end, does basing a pokémon on a random household object allude to a loss of creativity? In my personal opinion: No. What it means is the person who devised it looked at that lifeless object and asked themselves, "If this was alive, how would it live?"