Expedition 3.0

Through the forest
February 9, 2017
The Kabobo party – The Congolese soul of the Kabobo Expedition
February 11, 2017

We are doing something that has never been attempted before”. Massimo often repeats this, visibly excited, “we are for the first time bringing the laboratory to the field, rather than taking the field to laboratory”. I hadn’t really wholly grasped the significance of his words until he showed me Voltrax. I thought the exceptionality of our equipment began and ended with Minion, the DNA sequencer.

I now realize that with Voltrax our expedition evolves from 2.0 to 3.0. For the first time out of the laboratory where it was developed, it is still in its experimental phase, but Massimo tells us “ it is an instrument that will wholly transform our lives”. No larger than a digital camera, this device will be able to do, in a few minutes, the entire procedure that took Anita 15 hours to complete. “From blood to sequence?”, I wonder, “yes, starting from a biological DNA sample to its sequencing: this includes extraction, purification and amplification. We still need Minion to take care of the sequencing”. Extraordinary! “It will leave me out of a job” laughs Anita. “All joking aside, such an instrument will reduce effort, material in excess and will give me additional time”. A revolution.

Its use is not confined to a scientific context like ours, where it allows the expedition to travel lighter and to obtain more results, but I believe that, once everyone has access to it, an appliance like this can change people’s lives. “Imagine being able to analyze the water you drink, or if you have a cold being able to understand what virus it is, or even more trivially finding out if the yeast you use to make bread is of high quality.” Cutting down time, reducing costs, it will allow us to focus on the matters at hand.

Simone and Claus begin their interview with Massimo. I look around. In addition to the futuristic Voltraz, we are using: two studio lights, a video camera with an independent microphone, three 1.5 watt rechargeable batteries, a DNA sequencer the size of an external disc connected to a computer in addition to all the laboratory equipment, the Thuraya IP+ modem given us by Intermatica to allow us to document our expedition and the computer on which I’m writing. And this is only a fragment of all the technology the Kabobo Expedition has access to. An immense difference with the romantic expeditions that fill our imagination. Explorers would then leave with little more than a compass and a notebook to document their travels: it was all they had to discover the world.

This new gear allows us to investigate every morphologic detail of the landscape, its composition and further, to the most intimate detail of life. All this without having to wait the long weeks of the journey back, without cages for the animals, without the limits imposed by the hardship of relocation and without the disadvantage of lost time. A multi-stratified photograph of reality, from the surface to its invisible soul.

I glance at the notepad lying next to me: we have gained so much in our means of investigating nature. Technology has given us time, security and quantity of results. It has granted to many the chance, once exclusive, to explore. We are still fragile, and no matter how much security our equipment brings us, the failure of one of them puts us in difficulty as if too much of our lives depended on these artificial attachments, rather than ourselves.

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