BLOGS

biology (9)

Pandora's Box...

gene-leak.jpg
MS TECH / SOURCE PHOTO: GETTY

 

Topics: Biology, Biotechnology, Civics, Ethics, Existentialism


A private DNA ancestry database that’s been used by police to catch criminals is a security risk from which a nation-state could steal DNA data on a million Americans, according to security researchers.

Security flaws in the service, called GEDmatch, not only risk exposing people’s genetic health information but could let an adversary such as China or Russia create a powerful biometric database useful for identifying nearly any American from a DNA sample.

GEDmatch, which crowdsources DNA profiles, was created by genealogy enthusiasts to let people search for relatives and is run entirely by volunteers. It shows how a trend toward sharing DNA data online can create privacy risks affecting everyone, even people who don’t choose to share their own information.

“You can replace your credit card number, but you can’t replace your genome,” says Peter Ney, a postdoctoral researcher in computer science at the University of Washington.

Ney, along with professors and DNA security researchers Luis Ceze and Tadayoshi Kohno, described in a report posted online how they developed and tested a novel attack employing DNA data they uploaded to GEDmatch.

 

The DNA database used to find the Golden State Killer is a national security leak waiting to happen
Antonio Regalado, Technology Review

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Adaption and Extinction...

MV5BMWQ4MzI2ZDQtYjk3MS00ODdjLTkwN2QtOTBjYzIwM2RmNzgyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQxNzMzNDI%2540._V1_.jpg
Source: Internet Movie Database

 

Topics: Biology, Climate Change, Existentialism, Philosophy, Politics


Though the movie poster is an attempt at dark humor, I do agree with the science. We're in a time of our history where science is being suborned to political and economic considerations, when we need it literally for survival.


From a biological perspective, there is no such thing as devolution. All changes in the gene frequencies of populations--and quite often in the traits those genes influence--are by definition evolutionary changes. The notion that humans might regress or "devolve" presumes that there is a preferred hierarchy of structure and function--say, that legs with feet are better than legs with hooves or that breathing with lungs is better than breathing with gills. But for the organisms possessing those structures, each is a useful adaptation.

Chief among these misconceptions is that species evolve or change because they need to change to adapt to shifting environmental demands; biologists refer to this fallacy as teleology. In fact, more than 99 percent of all species that ever lived are extinct, so clearly there is no requirement that species always adapt successfully. As the fossil record demonstrates, extinction is a perfectly natural--and indeed quite common--response to changing environmental conditions. When species do evolve, it is not out of need but rather because their populations contain organisms with variants of traits that offer a reproductive advantage in a changing environment.

 

Is the human race evolving or devolving? July 20, 1998, Scientific American

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The Lightness of Stupidity...

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Anti-evolution books on sale during the Scopes "Monkey Trial" in 1925. Credit: Getty Images

 

Topics: Biology, Civics, Climate Change, Education, Science, Research

History.com: Scopes Monkey Trial


Nearly a quarter of a million science teachers are hard at work in public schools in the United States, helping to ensure that today’s students are equipped with the theoretical knowledge and the practical know-how they will need to flourish in tomorrow’s world. Ideally, they are doing so with the support of the lawmakers in their state’s legislatures. But in 2019 a handful of legislators scattered across the country introduced more than a dozen bills that threaten the integrity of science education.

It was a mixed batch, to be sure. In Indiana, Montana and South Carolina, the bills sought to require the misrepresentation of supposedly controversial topics in the science classroom, while in North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota, their counterparts were content simply to allow it. Meanwhile, bills in Connecticut, Florida and Iowa aimed beyond the classroom, targeting supposedly controversial topics in the state science standards and (in the case of Florida) instructional materials.

Despite their variance, the bills shared a common goal: undermining the teaching of evolution or climate change. Sometimes it is clear: the one in Indiana would have allowed local school districts to require the teaching of a supposed alternative to evolution, while the Montana bill would have required the state’s public schools to present climate change denial. Sometimes it is cloaked in vague high-sounding language about objectivity and balance, requiring a careful analysis of the motives of the sponsors and supporters.

Either way, though, such bills would frustrate the purpose of public science education. Students deserve to learn about scientific topics in accordance with the understanding of the scientific community. With the level of acceptance of evolution among biomedical scientists at 99 percent, and the level of acceptance of climate change among climate scientists not far behind at 97 percent, it is a disservice to students to misrepresent these theoretically and practically important topics as scientifically controversial.
 

 

Science Education Is Under Legislative Attack, Glen Branch, Scientific American

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The Whims of Tyche...

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Fossil of trilobite that evolved following the mid-Ordovician ice age. | Birger Schmitz

 

Topics: Asteroids, Astronomy, Biology, Planetary Science


Tyche: Modern Greek: [ˈti.çi] "luck"; Roman equivalent: Fortuna) was the presiding tutelary deity who governed the fortune and prosperity of a city, its destiny. In Classical Greek mythology, she is the daughter of Aphrodite and Zeus or Hermes. Source: Wikipedia

Dust from the breakup of a 150-kilometer- (93 mile) diameter asteroid may have caused — or at least intensified — an ice age half a billion years ago, providing the impetus for a sweeping array of aquatic animal adaptations that shaped today's spectacularly diverse ocean ecosystems, according to a new study published in the September 20 issue of Science Advances.

The authors uncovered extraterrestrial material in sediments that correlate the timing of asteroid breakup with a major dip in sea level frequently attributed to the onset of the Mid-Ordovician ice age. Their findings suggest that asteroid dust may have settled in Earth's atmosphere, shading the planet from the sun's radiation and cooling global temperatures.

While extraterrestrial dust only accounts for about one percent of the modern atmosphere and does not impact the climate, large quantities of dust lingering for several hundred thousand years or more would be expected to cause global cooling.

"This is the first time anyone has shown that asteroid breakups and asteroid dust can lead to ice ages," said Birger Schmitz, a professor of geology at Lund University in Sweden and the first author of the study. "This is also the first time since the discovery of the asteroid impact that killed the dinosaurs that an important event in the history of life has been tied to an astronomical event."

 

Asteroid Dust May Have Triggered Ice Age and Sea Life Explosion
Shannon Kelleher, American Association for the Advancement of Science

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Herd Immunity...

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Everyone who was in the Fullerton, CA, movie theater, not just those at the "Avengers" screening, may have been exposed to the contagious disease. (Source: CDC/Twitter, KCRG)

 

Topics: Biology, Civil Rights, Human Rights


Normally, I save this type of commentary for Fridays, but...

As measles cases rise, more vaccine exemptions are being demanded by parents concerned about government control or worried about the now-debunked link between immunization and autism.

This year’s back-to-school season coincides with the worst measles resurgence that the nation has seen since the disease was declared “eliminated” nearly two decades ago.

At least 1,241 people — many of them school-age children — contracted the viral infection across 31 states so far this year, according to the most recent count by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which called it the highest number of reported cases in nearly a generation. [1]

Here's what I was looking for:

Measles was declared eliminated (absence of continuous disease transmission for greater than 12 months) from the United States in 2000. This was thanks to a highly effective vaccination program in the United States, as well as better measles control in the Americas region. [2]

The declaration was a bit hyperbole and grandiose: we again, increased the likelihood of protection from it via herd immunity.

You can reduce the incident of things when you respect the science.

This resurgence of measles, with an R0 of 18 versus Ebola's R0 of 2 - is due to the rampant conspiracy theories spread online and hyped by celebrities that has impacted herd immunity - simply, if 95% of the population go for their vaccinations, it protects the 55 or so that for various reasons good only to them, refuse to get them.

When the numbers increase in the un-vaccinated and the numbers decrease in the vaccinated, you have the situation we're currently not enjoying.

This lack of respect for science has analogies: climate change and mass shootings.

In each case, there is a disrespect for the science that preceded any announced conclusions. In the case of climate change, it enjoys the same treatment the cigarette industry used to sow doubt (and in many cases, the same PR and law firms to do it).

With gun lobbyists that did NOT exist at the founding of the country, science is discouraged and the useless channeling of 'thoughts and prayers" follows any massacre, as if they know our attention spans are fleeting and the carnage has already been factored into their business models.

Though it thought triumphant in 2000 to declare ourselves measles-free, this predates 9/11 when our sense of safety was ripped away like a scab of useless flesh. Fear gripped the nation and irrationality became the norm. Fear of the "other" drove gun sales then, and they always will.

My "societal inoculation" to reduce (not eliminate) gun violence:

1. License and insurance - this logical step is resisted by the aforementioned gun lobbyists as the "slippery slope" to totalitarianism, yet no one has proposed we NOT regulate vehicle or business licenses.

2. Universal background checks - of in-store and straw one-to-one purchases.

3. Buy-back programs to those that don't want to go through the hassle of 1 or 2.

4. Confiscation - for the knuckleheads that will invariably try to go out in a "blaze of glory."

No one law or set of laws will eliminate gun violence any more than one vaccine, even at 95% herd immunity will totally eliminate a disease: it simply reduces its frequency; the current R0 for guns has to be around the mid thirties.

The above is slightly better than the thoughts and prayers that haven't traversed higher than the myriad ceiling under which they have been uttered.

 

1. Across the nation, hundreds of thousands of kids are going to school unvaccinated, Jayme Fraser, The Columbus Dispatch
2, Center for Disease Control and Prevention: Measles History

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Relics of Entropy...

 

Topics: Biology, Entropy, Existentialism, Futurism


I've passed all my courses and now have the task of putting my Thesis together. I'm anticipating a successful completion from a good start.

My granddaughter is as well, with a good family (I'm biased) surrounded by a support system of extended friends and close relatives.

I'm understandably concerned by headlines like these:

Up to one million plant and animal species face extinction, many within decades, because of human activities, says the most comprehensive report yet on the state of global ecosystems.

Without drastic action to conserve habitats, the rate of species extinction — already tens to hundreds of times higher than the average across the past ten million years — will only increase, says the analysis. The findings come from a United Nations-backed panel called the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

According to the report, agricultural activities have had the largest impact on ecosystems that people depend on for food, clean water and a stable climate. The loss of species and habitats poses as much a danger to life on Earth as climate change does, says a summary of the work, released on 6 May. [1]

 

*****


Capitalism has generated massive wealth for some, but it’s devastated the planet and has failed to improve human well-being at scale.

Species are going extinct at a rate 1,000 times faster than that of the natural rate over the previous 65 million years (see Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School).

Since 2000, 6 million hectares of primary forest have been lost each year. That’s 14,826,322 acres, or just less than the entire state of West Virginia (see the 2010 assessment by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN).

Even in the U.S., 15% of the population lives below the poverty line. For children under the age of 18, that number increases to 20% (see U.S. Census).

 • The world’s population is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050 (see United Nations' projections).

By 2050, my granddaughter will be 31, and I likely a memory to her.

I came of age during the sixties when our Civil Rights leaders became Civil Rights icons and martyrs. I came of age when "duck and cover" drills were the order of the day. I came of age when post Civil Rights, we tried at least to act...civil. Forced busing gave way to De Facto desegregation in the public square in education - until the end of forced busing and re-segregation; malls, sports arenas (especially there) where some modicum of the old "control of black bodies" could be exercised with less bull whip and more paychecks and professional sports contracts.

The seventies would be the last time production kept pace with pay: we've been in a hamster wheel since then, and the gulf between the super rich and everyone else has become an un-crossable chasm. We're more oligarchy than democracy, and the owners would sooner than later transform us into a full dystopian fascistic hell scape than help solve the problems they've created.

The point is, despite all the challenges, I came of age. I lived. I loved. I laughed. I cried. I learned to drive. I married. I had children and they are starting to have children.

It would be lovely for my granddaughter to have a planet on which to have a tea.

Lovelier still for her parents (my children) to become grandparents in my absence on a planet still able to support life and a civilization that could support such an endeavor with minimal environmental impact.

Or...she and I could be relics of entropy, where our ashes will not be discernible from scientist to citizen, layman to philosopher, capitalist to socialist; black to white and prince to pauper. In a blink of an eye on the scale of cosmic time...we would all become irrelevant to an unfeeling universe.

I am again biased. I think my granddaughter (and yours), deserves a little more than that.

 

1. Humans are driving one million species to extinction, Jeff Tollefson, Nature
2. Unless It Changes, Capitalism Will Starve Humanity By 2050, Drew Hansen, Forbes

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Distant Cousins...

Callao Cave, Luzon Island, The Philippines

Image credits:
Callao Cave Archaeology Project

 

Topics: Biology, DNA, Evolution, History, Research


(Inside Science) -- In a jungle cave in the Philippines, scientists have discovered fossils of what may be a new human species they call Homo luzonensis. The newfound teeth and bones combine primitive and modern traits in a way never previously seen together in one species, and suggest much remains to be discovered about human evolution outside Africa.
 
Image Source: Homo luzonensis

Although modern humans, Homo sapiens, are now the only surviving branch of the genus Homo, other species of humans once roamed across Earth. For example, previous research suggested Homo erectus, the most likely ancestor of modern humans, made its way out of Africa by at least 1.8 million years ago. In contrast, modern humans may have only begun dispersing from Africa roughly 200,000 years ago.

Fifteen years ago, scientists revealed an unusual extinct human species from the Indonesian island of Flores -- Homo floresiensis, often called "the hobbit" due to its diminutive size, which lived on Earth during the same time as modern humans. This finding hinted that other hominins -- any relatives of modern humans dating from after our ancestors split from those of chimpanzees -- might await discovery in Southeast Asia.
 

Researchers Find a New Ancient Human Species in the Philippines
Charles Q. Choi, Live Science

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Ethics of Genesis...

MS. TECH; EVOLUTION: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

 

Topics: Biology, Ethics, Genetics, Science Fiction


Note: The article "went there" before I could.

"Beware the beast man, for he is the devil's pawn. Alone among God's primates, he kills for sport or lust or greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother's land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home, and yours. Shun him... for he is the harbinger of death." Internet Movie Database, Planet of the Apes (1968) Synopsis

 

*****


Human intelligence is one of evolution’s most consequential inventions. It is the result of a sprint that started millions of years ago, leading to ever bigger brains and new abilities. Eventually, humans stood upright, took up the plow, and created civilization, while our primate cousins stayed in the trees.

Now scientists in southern China report that they've tried to narrow the evolutionary gap, creating several transgenic macaque monkeys with extra copies of a human gene suspected of playing a role in shaping human intelligence.

“This was the first attempt to understand the evolution of human cognition using a transgenic monkey model,” says Bing Su, the geneticist at the Kunming Institute of Zoology who led the effort.

According to their findings, the modified monkeys did better on a memory test involving colors and block pictures, and their brains also took longer to develop—as those of human children do. There wasn’t a difference in brain size.

Su’s monkeys raise some unusual questions about animal rights. In 2010, Sikela and three colleagues wrote a paper called “The ethics of using transgenic non-human primates to study what makes us human,” in which they concluded that human brain genes should never be added to apes, such as chimpanzees, because they are too similar to us.

“You just go to the Planet of the Apes immediately in the popular imagination,” says Jacqueline Glover, a University of Colorado bioethicist who was one of the authors. “To humanize them is to cause harm. Where would they live and what would they do? Do not create a being that can’t have a meaningful life in any context.”

 

*****


Not to go all Cassandra on you, but...

At the story's heart is Caesar (Andy Serkis), a chimpanzee who gains human-like intelligence and emotions from an experimental drug. Raised like a child by the drug's creator, Will Rodman (James Franco) and a primatologist Caroline Aranha (Freida Pinto), Caesar ultimately finds himself taken from the humans he loves and imprisoned in an ape sanctuary in San Bruno. Seeking justice for his fellow inmates, Caesar gives the fellow apes the same drug that he inherited. He then assembles a simian army and escapes the sanctuary - putting man and ape on a collision course that could change the planet forever. Internet Movie Database, Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) Storyline

 

Chinese scientists have put human brain genes in monkeys—and yes, they may be smarter
Antonio Regalado, MIT Technology Review

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Antithesis of Wisdom...

 

Topics: Biology, Civics, Climate Change, Existentialism, Entropy, Mars, Politics


Chimpanzees look up to those they consider to be more prestigious, echoing the way that young people admire celebrities such as David Beckham and Cheryl Cole, according to a new study. Researchers found that apes copy the actions of those they consider to have high status within their group.

Professor Whiten commented, “Teenagers look to pop stars as social models, copying their clothing, mannerisms and speech. Adults are inspired by prominent members of their society, such as successful professionals. Our study shows that chimpanzees are similarly selective in their choice of trend setters.” [1]

 

*****


Abstract

Humans follow the example of prestigious, high-status individuals much more readily than that of others, such as when we copy the behavior of village elders, community leaders, or celebrities. This tendency has been declared uniquely human, yet remains untested in other species. Experimental studies of animal learning have typically focused on the learning mechanism rather than on social issues, such as who learns from whom. The latter, however, is essential to understanding how habits spread. Here we report that when given opportunities to watch alternative solutions to a foraging problem performed by two different models of their own species, chimpanzees preferentially copy the method shown by the older, higher-ranking individual with a prior track-record of success. Since both solutions were equally difficult, shown an equal number of times by each model and resulted in equal rewards, we interpret this outcome as evidence that the preferred model in each of the two groups tested enjoyed a significant degree of prestige in terms of whose example other chimpanzees chose to follow. Such prestige-based cultural transmission is a phenomenon shared with our own species. If similar biases operate in wild animal populations, the adoption of culturally transmitted innovations may be significantly shaped by the characteristics of performers. [2]

 

*****


Thwaites glacier in West Antarctica is often referred to as the "Doomsday glacier" because of its sheer size and position as "'backstop' for four other glaciers which holds an additional 10-13 feet of sea level rise." [3] Add the two feet of sea level Thwaites holds and Florida may have a little more to fear than the denials of their republican senators on the impact of climate change.

I've used the term fascism before, not because it's powerful but because it's stupid. The basis of its appeal is fear: fear of the "other," fear of the future, fear particularly of a supposed loss of birth numbers, therefore future voters and numerical power. So-called "white" supremacy has always been a math game of bad algebra and pure ignorance.

But it does not benefit the crowd proudly without Melanin, intellect and possessing MAGA hats: the celebrity chimps with all the bananas above them they worship use the faux demarcation points of politically constructed cultural differences to rob blind the very people that become their shock troops. Rigging elections is not beneath the 1% simians, as they've motivated their rubes that their "white" team won, despite the lack of sharing of spoils after said rigging, Russian interference or not. Socialism is thrown up as demon while demons rob rubes. They ask for "trick-down" bananas" and get feces. Smoking causing cancer must be denied. Humans causing climate impact MUST be denied until the last drop of oil; the last fracking of methane. Then, the royal chimpanzees will wall themselves up as sea levels rise, soundproof beyond "weeping and gnashing of teeth." They'll have extra bananas to live on as the rest of the planet starves. Eventually, their impressive supplies will run out. Perhaps they'll resort to the cannibalism as the Jamestown colonists did in desperation, eating their own children first. Eventually they will see their last sunrise in splendid, decaying mansions atop a canopy of the forest they razed. Currently, their high potentate Orange Orangutan cannot discriminate "orange" and "origin"; that his own father was born in the Bronx and not the Germany and thinks windmills causes cancer.

Homo sapiens, (Latin: “wise man”) the species to which all modern human beings belong. Homo sapiens is one of several species grouped into the genus Homo, but it is the only one that is not extinct. [YET] See also human evolution. Source: Britannica

Entropy - the measure of a system's thermal energy per unit temperature that is unavailable for doing useful work. Because work is obtained from ordered molecular motion, the amount of entropy is also a measure of the molecular disorder, or randomness, of a system. Encyclopedia Britannica

Having stupid citizens also serves a more ‘noble’ purpose. Although most of us want to be treated as intelligent beings, it is also in the interest of ruling parties – be they political or religious – to have an overall stupid population, dumb enough to make them controllable. Education and knowledge are being pushed aside in favour of technical training. Governments are more interested in a highly-skilled labour force than in critical and intelligent citizens. The media feed the population with ready-made entertainment and information, thus forming people’s minds according to what is preferable for the overall functioning of society. Zoereei, Homo stultus

Mars may have been a living world once. We still study it. We wish to terraform it. Mars as a world still takes 687 days to complete its year. It will take 365.25 days for Earth to complete its year...whether we're here, or not.
 

Homo Stultus - foolish man, stupid man: the chimps are exonerated.

1. Chimpanzee trend-setters: New study shows that chimps 'ape' the prestigious, University of St. Andrews, 2010, Phys.org
2. Prestige Affects Cultural Learning in Chimpanzees, Victoria Horner, Darby Proctor, Kristin E. Bonnie, Andrew Whiten, Frans B. M. de Waal, PLOS Journal
3. A glacier the size of Florida is on track to change the course of human civilization. Pakalolo, Daily Kos

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