Archived entries for biology

YEARS from Bartholomäus Traubeck on Vimeo.

Laurel pointed this out to me this morning. Yes, those are the rings of a tree trunk being used to procedurally generate music. Good music, too.

Oh god that mouth where did it come from why is it oh god the stars I can see forever into the still nothingness of the abyss! Ry’leh! Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn!

You can thank Ben for that.

And I have mapped your brain.


In J.W. Buel’s Land and Sea (1887), the Ya-te-veo (“Now-I-see-you”) plant is said to catch and consume large insects, but also attempts to consume humans. It is said to be a carnivorous plant that grows in parts of Central and South America with cousins in Africa and on the shores of the Indian Ocean. There are many different descriptions of the plant, but most reports say it has a short, thick trunk and long tendrils of some sort which are used to catch prey. – Wiki

I want a yard full of these to keep the 8am-on-a-Saturday Jehovah’s Witness away.

Or the fucking asshole lawn care people that do the same thing.

Yeah, wake me up with a hangover, guy, that’s sure to put me in a generous mood. Or a stabbing one. WHY DON’T YOU FIND OUT WHICH IT IS.

Because I really can’t think of anything else that this might be.

Look at that. Looks like a nice country road, right? A picture taken from pretty close to the ground with a wide angle lens, maybe?

Well, it’s not.

That’s hundreds of thousands of  dead sea animals floating on top of a Louisiana waterway.

From Yahoo! News:

What you see above isn’t a rural gravel road. It’s a Louisiana waterway, its surface completely covered with dead sea life – a mishmash of species of fish, crabs, stingray and eel. New Orleans CBS affiliate WWL-TV reports that even a whale was found dead in the area, a stretch of coastal Louisiana hit hard this summer by oil from BP’s busted Gulf well.

Fish kills are fairly common along the Gulf Coast, particularly during the summer in the area near the mouth of the Mississippi, the site of this kill. The area is rife with dead zones — stretches where sudden oxygen depletion can cause widespread death. But those kills tend to be limited to a single species of fish, rather than the broad sort of die-off involved in this kill.

And therein lies the concern of Gulf residents, who suspect this may be yet another side effect of the catastrophic BP oil spill.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go cry in a closet while dry heaving.

Kids around the country are getting high on the internet, thanks to MP3s that induce a state of ecstasy. And it could be a gateway drug leading teens to real-world narcotics.

At least, that’s what Oklahoma News 9 is reporting about a phenomenon called “i-dosing,” which involves finding an online dealer who can hook you up with “digital drugs” that get you high through your headphones.

And officials are taking it seriously.

“Kids are going to flock to these sites just to see what it is about and it can lead them to other places,” Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs spokesman Mark Woodward told News 9.

I-dosing involves donning headphones and listening to “music” — largely a droning noise — which the sites peddling the sounds promise will get you high. Teens are listening to such tracks as “Gates of Hades,” which is available on YouTube gratis (yes, the first one is always free).

That’s the lead in to a bit on’s Threat Level blog about house wives in middle America getting irrational because their kids are experimenting with this generation’s version of the fainting game, albeit one that doesn’t involve killing off scores of brain cells.

I’ll be honest with you, when I first read this I was pretty livid. After all, isn’t the point of music to get a reaction out of the listener by way of creating a sensation in them? I listen to a lot of experimental, tonal based music. Long, sweeping, ambient soundscape-y sort of stuff that’s specifically designed to create subtle sensation in the listener.

The piece I’m listening to right now? It makes me feel cold. A series of hollow, echoing sounds are set over a constant harmonic tingling that sounds like wind in ice covered trees. And when I focus on it, I feel cooler. That is what the music is supposed to do.

At first I had trouble believing claims of people getting “high” of listening to digitally created tonal frequencies. I could believe that by depriving themselves of other sensory input (which if you watch the video on the Threat Level, that’s what they are doing to “take” the i-dose), their body would compensate for it by focusing more on the aural, and thus intensifying the experience. But any sort of claims to euphoria or lingering highs would be complete crap, right?

Then I thought about alien abductions.

And the sound that causes them.

Back in the 80s, there was a man going around to various scifi conventions that – for a nominal fee and your signature on a waiver form – would strap you into a modified dentist’s chair, attach electrodes to your head, hypnotize you and give you an abduction experience. The experience was pretty universal. You’re taken from your place of rest by some small, fetus-like human, to some place unfamiliar. Then, the fetus human does things to you that you are powerless to prevent, and unable to understand. Finally, the fetus human returns you to safely to your home. A guy at a scifi con with a space next to the booth selling Klingon foreheads could give this to you.

His trick? Extremely low frequency vibrations. You see, the abduction experience is timeless and world-wide. Red-caps and faeries in Europe were blamed for it in the Middle Ages. The Japanese had their forest spirits. Nearly every culture has a folklore story that replicates what we thought was a totally modern phenomenon. And why is that? Because rocks break. Not pebbles or bolders or even huge slabs, but multi-million ton, mile-long swaths of bedrock. Some one had realized that abduction experiences are focused around areas with large amount of bedrock. Then they went a step further and checked the time of the abductions against any seismic activity. They found a direct correlation.

When rocks break, they give off energy. The bigger the rock, the more the energy. The energy is in the form of extremely low frequency vibrations. Think really slow, but really strong radio waves. And when these waves reach a human in the right state of sleep, they cause an abduction experience. That’s what the man at the scifi con was doing. He was getting people in the right state of sleep, then introducing ELF vibrations to their head. Voila, instant abduction.

The idea is that the ELF sets off some kind of base-level response from our brain. Sort of how if you type cmd into the run prompt of any version of windows, you’ll get the same response. We may all be different, and the details of the abduction experience will reflect that difference, but the basic response to that input is the same for everyone.

Now, what the hell does that have to do with i-dosing? Well, if a sound can cause a sleeping person to think they’re being abducted, I could make the bridge that a similar sound could induce minor euphoria in a conscious person. But claims of sound getting you as high as coke or heroin? Or that any of this is addictive? That’s complete bullshit. Paranoid, deluded bullshit.

Ultimately, none of that is the issue at hand. The real issue is that you’ve got parents who are so petrified of their children experimenting, and who are unable to converse with them on any sort of meaningful, personal level, that they’ll just run screaming to the news cameras, policemen and legislators for some knee-jerk fix. Which, in a twist of cold irony, will just make whatever they are railing against that much more enticing to their kids.

That’s Newtons formula for acceleration, the converse of his formula for force, F=ma.

The variables are a for acceleration, F for the force applied to the object, and m for the mass of that object.

Of course, there are a lot more equations that can explain acceleration in more detail, and account for its varied forms (dynamic, constant, centripetal, etc), but this is the one I’m going to use for today’s random thought.

The speed of events in the world is increasing. That’s an irrefutable facts. Things are happening faster, everything, anything, what ever you can think of, it happens faster than it did a century ago, a half-century ago, a decade ago, maybe even a year ago. This is the acceleration of modern life.

We’ll refer to it as aml.

That leaves two parts to the equation, the force and the mass.

The force, is, at the root, the advancement of our knowledge. Both in the breadth of what we know, and the depth of what we know about what we know. The rule of thumb for knowledge is that what we know is doubling every ten years. So, linear growth. That’s not to say that we’re going to make twice as many brilliant discoveries as we did in the last last decade, because a lot of what we’re learning is pointless mundane shit. We’re learning tons about how people interact with digital devices right now, but that’s not going to solve the world’s problems or give us limitless clean energy. It will just make the next generation of iPhone more attractive than last year’s model. But, there are some real advancements, and they compound on existing knowledge.

Discovering lighter alloy metals makes airplanes faster and more fuel efficient, so they can travel farther for less money. Discovering new ways to increase the density of batteries increases the usefulness of everything from electric vehicles to laptop computers to vibrators. And I don’t even know where to begin with the Internet. Things are moving so much faster every year that it is only a matter of time before the entire industrialized world is blanketed under a sheet of high-speed wifi. Right now, from my $99 iPhone, I can download an app that lets me call Korea, for FREE, over the Internet. For less than the price of a nice pair of sneakers, I can talk to some one literally on the other side of the planet.

We’ll call our force the force of knowledge.


That leaves mass.

The average weight of a human being is around 160lbs. That’s taking both men and women into account. All of the force of knowledge built up by the summation of human existence, and it only has to move less than 200lbs.

I’m not meaning that as a piss answer, either. The reason that Gutenberg printing press was such a big deal was because it enabled more people to have copies of a book, in most cases a Bible. Give a missionary a Gutenberg Bible, a direction and send him off to spread the Word. He’s dead? Eaten by cannibalistic Slavs? Oh well! Print another Bible and get another acolyte!

It only takes one person with an idea to tell another person about that idea. From there, you’ve got the magnifying effect of word of mouth. Bloggers are the modern day Gutenberg presses. They are the individual advocates of ideas that spread them to the masses, who in turn spread word about that blog. Professional news sources are turning more and more to individual bloggers for editorial and news content. Just like a missionary wandering into a town, a single blogger, at the right moment in time, with the right thing to say, can change the world for everyone.

So, for our mass, let’s go with the mass of a human.


Making our final formula aml=Fk/mh

The acceleration of modern life is equal to the force of knowledge divided by the mass of a human.

And the point and impetus to all of this?

The Massachusetts senatorial election last night. Where a Republican swept the Democrats out of a seat that had been under their control since World War II. There is potential for this to be the harbinger of a Democratic slaughter come the 2010 midterm elections. I’m not going to go down the political rabbit hole right now, but I do wonder what is going to happen as the political pendulum speeds up. Just this time last year we were all screaming our undying love for Obama (ok, those of us not decrying him as a demon Muslim socialist), and now we’re already predicting his ideology’s imminent doom. If changes in the political wind can happen this fast now, what happens as they get faster and faster? What if the country can go from Red to Blue to Red in a single week? Or day? Or hour?

Think about this economically, too. The economic collapse of the last three years is more or less over, and we’re digging out from under it right now. Three years it lasted, on the outside. The Great Depression? Oh, about a decade. It might have lasted even longer if the war hadn’t happened. This is entirely due to the speed at which financial transactions can happen now. No more waiting for wires from across the Atlantic. You can have real-time satellite connections to any bank in the world from any place in the world. Give me a satellite phone on the top of Mount Everest and I can apply for a Visa card. There’s an entire business model that revolves around banks of supercomputers making billions of stock transactions a day, buying and selling on marginal increases and decreases in the value of the stock, slowly but surely inflating the market with machine trading instead of human trading. Which is only possible because of the speed at which information moves these days.

What makes me wonder what’s going to happen as things keep speeding up, but our biology doesn’t. Eventually things happening so fast are going to have a detrimental affect on us. We’ll be overloaded with information and be completely unable to function because we’re drowning in data. You can’t decide if the choice keeps changing, you know?

Just something to muse about. The math of change. The formula for progression.




A map tracking the origin and progression of leprosy, smallpox and malaria. (Click the image for the full size.)

From Lapham’s Quarterly.

A few days ago, something came up involving smegma. I don’t remember the exact circumstances, so don’t even bother asking. I’m sure they were horribly embarrassing and probably involved me threatening to set some one’s smegma on fire. Or pelt them with baboon smegma. Or wondering if whales had smegma and if anyone had ever tasted it.

You know, my normal train of thought.


Some how this ends up with me Googling “smegma”, and of course, the first thing that pops up is the Wikipedia entry on the subject. What the hell, I think. I’ll click it. Smegma’s got to be an interesting place to fall down the wikihole, right? Lord only knows where it’ll lead.

Or so I thought.

Turns out the wikihole for smegma stops about three quarters of the way down the page when you hit this line:

An early study by Plaut and Kohn-Speyer (1947)[11] found that horse smegma had a carcinogenic effect on mice.

I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a single line that did more to damage my brain than that one did. Well, maybe not damage, more like seize up. That line did to my brain what that silica solution does to the cars turned in for the Cash for Clunkers program. Complete system hard lock.

After about five minutes of staring blankly at the screen, and drooling slightly, my brain managed to right itself. At least, until I read the next line:

Heins et al.(1958)[12] used human smegma on mice and found a carcinogenic effect,

It was all about to happen again. My brain was going to seize up, I was going to probably start bleeding out of my tear ducts and there was a decent enough chance that I would shit myself while in this smegma fugue.

Fortunately, the rest of that line offered some salvation:

but Reddy and Baruah (1963) were unable to reproduce this effect, concluding that if a carcinogenic effect did exist, it must be weak.

Oh, thank Christ. Some one took the time to repeat the experiment of rubbing human cock cheese on  mice and found that the original people who decided that this was a worthwhile scientific experiment were, in fact, crackpots. Where as these people were upstanding members of the scientific community and had upheld the highest standards of the Scientific Method and should in no way be banned from sitting outside school yards in vans with binoculars. Why? Because they are doing it for SCIENCE, DAMN IT ALL!

After muddling my brain on this for a little bit, I’ve come up with a few thoughts on the smegma experiments.

I know, ostensibly, that they were attempting to find credible evidence for saying that male circumcision is a direct contributor to a decrease in the likelihood penile cancer. Which experiments since then have backed up, but not because of the smegma angle that these experiments were attempting to lock down. But, my gut tells me there was something else going on here.

The original research was done back in the 50s, at the hight of the Cold War. I think the CIA found out that some one like Khrushchev or Castro had a penchant for horse fucking and wanted to see if there was a way they could kill them and make it look like it was something natural, like say…cancer?

So, the CIA commissions a study. They want to find out if the penile excretions of a horse can give you cancer. They hire some  poor bastard scientist who probably cried a lot when they told him what they wanted to do, but then shut up when he realized what they were going to pay him. He might have even smiled a bit when they told him that he was going to do a great service for his country. But, I’m pretty sure he went back to crying when he found out about this bit:

Smegma is best obtained from dead horses in rendering plants or from anesthetized animals in a department of veterinary surgery.

But he’s not the bastard I feel the worst for. I feel bad for his graduate student assistants. They probably had no fucking idea what they were getting into. While their friend were probably off smoking grass and making drunkenly bad choices involving birth control and townies, this poor sod of a grad student thought he’d get ahead of the curve by helping out Professor Smegma. I can’t imagine the look on his face when his job was described to him.

“Ok, Billy, here’s what I want you to do. Each morning, drive down to the old McPherson Glue Works and pick up the dead horse cocks they’ve saved for me. No, no, they’ll be waiting for you. They should even be wrapped up. Now, bring them back here to the lab. Put them on that table over there and go get a box of mice from the experiment group. Take a mouse out, write down its number and rub it furiously up and down the dead horse’s cock. Don’t be timid about it now, you want that mouse to have a good coating of smegma. Repeat this for each mouse in the control group. All six hundred of them. What? Yes, of course every day. This is science, m’boy! GOVERNMENT SCIENCE!”

“…oh, you’ll also be doing this every day for the next two years.”

“Why are you crying? Is it because you’re so excited about the experiment? I know I am! Now, off with you! Those horse cocks aren’t going to get any fresher!”

I can almost completely assure you that Professor Smegma went through at least a half dozen lab assistants. They were killing themselves when they realized they couldn’t get out of the gig or he’d flunk them out of school.

They certainly don’t do science like this anymore, do they?

This is a video of the Raleigh sewer monster. They’ve been finding these clumps of biomatter all over the sewer system in that city, but this is the first video footage of them.

I want to point something out before we go any further – this could be a complete sack of shit. A very well done viral campaign, probably. Malphrus is the company that took the video, and according to their website, they handle large constructions projects, especially those with water. But, something doesn’t sit right with me about the name “Malphrus”.  What sort of business would have a prefix that means bad or evil? I did some digging and malphrus could be a made up word that means “bad eye” or “evil eye”.  I’m being this skeptical because I really I want to believe this, but I’m not getting my hopes up.

Anyway, now that we’ve got that out of the way.

If this thing is real, then we don’t know what the fuck it is. At first they thought it was a slime mold at the slimy part of its life cycle, but it moves. So, then they thought it was something called annelid worms, which it could be. The problem, though, is that these things have a uniform skin. If they are individual organisms, then they are wrapping themselves in a communal coating. Colonizing isn’t uncommon for annelid worms, tube worms are annelid worms for example, but never under a single skin.

The most interesting part of this for me is not the life form itself (which is fascinating if real), but rather what the life form potentially implies.

We living in a reality that obeys the Law of Conservation of Matter and Energy. Things cannot be destroyed, only transformed. This applies to biological spaces, too. We cut down a forest to build a city. The space that was the forest is now the city. Instead of trees you have lamp posts and buildings. Instead of creeks you have sewers and drainage systems. The space has inherently changed, but it is still a space for life to grow and occupy.

By the way I’m not going to get into an environmental debate over the right or wrong of this, so put the pitchforks down now.

So as human civilization supplants the previous ecosystems, we’re replacing it with something new. And if this thing is real, then we’re seeing the space that we’ve created get populated by new kinds of life. Life that in all likelihood would never have come into being with out the ecosystem that we created.

Humanity is like a faster acting blue-green algae. Algae reformed this planet from a CO2 atmosphere to an O2 atmosphere. It may have taken half a billion years, but a life form did it. We’re changing the planet in the same way, but in matter of centuries, not epocs. If this is really something new, then we’re looking at the rise of the first new organism to take advantage of the world that we’ve created.

Again, take all of this with a grain of salt. But with that salt, marvel at the potentiality of an ecosystem dependant of civlization.

I believe in memetic life. I believe that if viruses are to be considered a creature strung between life and death, then information must be viewed in the same way. Information is transmissible, and through transmission, it is capable of replication. Its information may be wrapped in sheaths of silicon and paper instead of protein and amino acid, but it is still just information.

I think there are types of memetic life that can be identified. Ideas that have traced out such a path along the history of human existence that they are perpetually intertwined with us, like the mitochondria in our cells.

I call one of these types of life the Sublime Lover. It comes to you in a simple string of words. “I dreamed I met the love of my life.” The idea swims in through your eyes or ears, and buries itself in the fertile beds of your imagination. There it spreads out to your memories, creeping over the walls between thoughts like a vine. It pulls a little bit from here, some from there, and just a pinch from over there. By the time it is done, the Sublime Lover has a fully formed construct, ready to erupt into your mind.

When it comes to you, it’s just as real as the first time you fell in love. The heady passion of it all infuses every part of your being. You love this person. You love them unconditionally and uncontrollably as long as the dream holds. The Sublime Lover feeds off that raw unchecked emotion. It gorges like an animal just awoken from a long hibernation, knowing that the plenty will vanish once you awake. And that’s exactly what happens. Reality breaks the dream, you wake and that pure love is gone. You’re left unsettled because, even though it was a dream, you’re still devastated at the loss of this person. This person that existed only in the space of a dream.

Then you tell some one about this experience, about how vivid the dream was, and how much you loved that person. You tell them that you said “I love you”, and you can still hear your voice ringing in your ears. You tell them about the smells, the touches and the tastes. You tell them about it all being a dream. And, just like that, you’ve passed on the Sublime Lover.

You didn’t need all of the flowery stuff to passed it on, just the basic idea. Memetic life isn’t like organic life. We evolve through iteration, evolution and mutation. Memetic life evolves by absorption. Only the basic, most vital parts are transferred from one person to another. The Sublime Lover that one person has will be completely different from the one another person has.

That’s how this is going to work now. I have just infected all of you with the Sublime Lover. I have spread it to the hundreds of you, and you will spread it to thousands, and they to countless millions. And even though it all came from a single source, they will all be different.

What? Why are you looking at me like that?

One of my key arguments for the digital collective consciousness we’re running at full tilt into is that it makes all of humanity one reactive force to disasters. I use the example of the Southeast Asian tsunami a few years back. Death reports put the number of dead around a quarter of a million. Displaced people numbered in the millions. And while there were aid groups involved from America, most of us just watched the disaster unfold on our televisions, detached from it all.

Now imagine it is that morning of the tsunami. You wake up. You blink twice and reconnect to the SOCSWARM network. You’re suddenly overwhelmed with images and feelings of disaster. A red-hot needle is jabbed into your brain, and you can’t let go of this disaster. It becomes all you think about, your foremost desire is to help these people who you’ve never met but are intrinsically connected to. The world has ceased to be a series of small to medium sized ponds. We are all part of one ocean now. Humanity reacting as one to help part of itself.

This is, of course, an oversimplified and hyperbolized version of reality. But, a glimmer of this is seen in what’s going on with swine flu. The connectivity between people brought about through social networking and mash-up programs has given us the ability to track the spread of the disease in near real-time.

The most important factor in combating any contagion is getting ahead of it. You don’t worry about the infected people, they are already behind the leading edge. What matters is where the edge is now. You want to build a ring of isolation around that edge, and starve the disease out.

While the paranoia is a little extreme, it is doing just this. People are voluntarily retreating into their homes at the slightest hint of a sniffle. Schools are closing at the moment an infection is found. People are actually washing their hands. The over-exposure to this problem maybe amplifying our fear of it, but that fear is making us act in ways that will keep us healthy.

Swine flu could have been a very real threat to the health of the world, but because of our connectivity, we’ve reacted fast enough, and directly enough to turn this into something that the late night comics will be making jokes about for the rest of the year.

At least, that’s what I hope will happen. I’d hate to die to BACON LUNG.

Shit like this, however lovely and tempting they may seem, scare the ever loving shit out of me. A segment from The New Yorker article Brain Gain: The underground world of “neuroenhancing” drugs.

Last April, the scientific journal Nature published the results of an informal online poll asking whether readers attempted to sharpen “their focus, concentration, or memory” by taking drugs such as Ritalin and Provigil—a newer kind of stimulant, known generically as modafinil, which was developed to treat narcolepsy. One out of five respondents said that they did. A majority of the fourteen hundred readers who responded said that healthy adults should be permitted to take brain boosters for nonmedical reasons, and sixty-nine per cent said that mild side effects were an acceptable risk. Though a majority said that such drugs should not be made available to children who had no diagnosed medical condition, a third admitted that they would feel pressure to give “smart drugs” to their kids if they learned that other parents were doing so.

It is a full blown examination of the use modern pharmochemicals to make us better. No time to read this right now, but I’ll come back to it later tonight

From NewScientist: Masturbation could bring hay fever relief for men

Spring is here and with it come the  woes of hay fever. Never fear, however, as there may be a quick and pleasurable treatment to clear those bunged noses, for guys at least – a well-timed ejaculation.

That’s what Sina Zarrintan, a neurologist from the Tabriz Medical University in Iran proposes, anyway. The logic behind the proposal is based on the fact that the nose and the genitals are both connected to the same part of the nervous system that controls certain reflexes – the sympathetic nervous system.

A blocked nose is caused by swollen and inflamed nasal blood vessels, irritated by an infection or pollen in the air. But during ejaculation, the sympathetic nervous system constricts blood vessels across the body. That should soothe the swollen nasal blood vessels, freeing the airway for normal breathing, according to Zarrintan.

He hasn’t yet performed clinical trials to test the hypothesis, but if it works, it could have many benefits over decongestant drugs, Zarrintan says, which have been known to contribute to hypertension. “Furthermore, if used for more than two or three days, they can actually make congestion worse,” he adds.

Just a note – if this actually worked, I wouldn’t leave my house between mid March and late May.

EDIT: I realized what day it was, so I checked their source, and sure enough there is an article called “Ejaculation as a potential treatment of nasal congestion in mature males”.

They just dug up something in the Norwegian Arctic. Something that nightmares (and nerd wet dreams) are made of. They are calling it Predator X, in what can only be an attempt to bait the Syfy channel into making a movie about it.

(Have I told you that they made a movie called Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus? Yeah, ’cause they did.)

Here are some specifics from NewScientist:

Fossil remains of a huge and fearsome marine predator, dubbed “Predator X”, have been discovered in Svalbard, a remote Norwegian Arctic archipelago.

About 15 metres long and weighing 45 tonnes, the creature is a new species of pliosaur, and ruled the Jurassic seas some 147 million years ago.

Predator X had a head twice the size of Tyrannosaurus rex and its bite had four times the force, at around 15,000 kilograms (33,000 pounds) over the whole jaw. Its teeth were each around 30 centimetres (1 foot) long.

The remains were discovered in June 2008 during a two-week expedition led by Jørn Hurum of the Natural History Museum at the University of Oslo.


The key find enabling the dimensions of the beast to be calculated was a spherical bone called the bassioccipital condyle, which connected the base of the skull to the spine.

“The condyle we found measures 15 centimetres in diameter, the largest of any known pliosaur species,” explains Hurum. “By comparison, the condyle of T. Rex measures just 8 centimetres, meaning that Predator X’s skull was at least double the size,” he says.

From BBC News:

Our planet may harbour forms of “weird life” unrelated to life as we know it, according to Professor Paul Davies, a physicist at Arizona State University.

This “shadow life” may be hidden in toxic arsenic lakes or in boiling deep sea hydrothermal vents, he says.

He has called on scientists to launch a “mission to Earth” by trawling hostile environments for signs of bio-activity.


The descendants of this “second genesis” may have survived until today in a “shadow biosphere” which is beyond our radar because its inhabitants have biochemistry so different from our own.

“All our microscopes are customised for life as we know it – so it’s no surprise that we haven’t found microbes with different biochemistry,” said Professor Davies.

“We don’t quite know how weird life would look. It’s as wide as the imagination and that’s why it’s really hard to look for.”


If we did discover something unprecedented, “we’d all start arguing” said Professor Davies, a theoretical physicist.

“The question would be whether this life was truly different, or whether there was a common precursor a deep branch on the main tree of life.

“Also, how do we know we are dealing with separate Earth genesis and not a Mars genesis?

“We know rocks do get traded between the two planets, and life could hitch a ride.

“Personally, I’m only interested in establishing whether life happened more than once. If we find it has happened twice from scratch then its going to have happened all around the universe.

“It’s going to be teeming with life and there’s a very good chance we are not alone.”


The Turritopsis Nutricula is able to revert back to a juvenile form once it mates after becoming sexually mature.

Marine biologists say the jellyfish numbers are rocketing because they need not die.

Dr Maria Miglietta of the Smithsonian Tropical Marine Institute said: “We are looking at a worldwide silent invasion.”

The jellyfish are originally from the Caribbean but have spready all over the world.

Turritopsis Nutricula is technically known as a hydrozoan and is the only known animal that is capable of reverting completely to its younger self.

It does this through the cell development process of transdifferentiation.

Scientists believe the cycle can repeat indefinitely, rendering it potentially immortal.

While most members of the jellyfish family usually die after propagating, the Turritopsis nutricula has developed the unique ability to return to a polyp state.

Having stumbled upon the font of eternal youth, this tiny creature which is just 5mm long is the focus of many intricate studies by marine biologists and geneticists to see exactly how it manages to literally reverse its aging process.

From The Telegraph.

From PhysOrg:

Men who are very sexually active in their twenties and thirties are more likely to develop prostate cancer, especially if they masturbate frequently, according to a study of more than 800 men published in the January issue of BJU International.

However the UK research team also found that frequent sexual activity in a man’s forties appears to have little effect and even small levels of activity in a man’s fifties could offer protection from the disease. Most of the differences were attributed to masturbation rather than sexual intercourse.

The study, led by the University of Nottingham, looked at the sexual practices of more than 431 men who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer before the age of 60, together with 409 controls.

Men who took part in the study were asked about all aspects of their sex life from their twenties onwards, including how old they were when they became sexually active, how often they masturbated and had intercourse, how many sexual partners they had had and whether they had had any sexually transmitted diseases.

From NewScientist:

Men might want to remember a new rhyme: a drink a day keeps erectile dysfunction away.

Despite traditional views about the effects of booze on male performance, new research suggests that moderate drinking actually protects against impotence in the long term – perhaps for the same reason a glass or two of wine a day cuts the odds of suffering from heart disease.

There is good evidence that excessive drinking can hinder sexual performance after a night out – a phenomenon sometimes called “brewer’s droop”. The effect has been noted for many years: “[Drink] provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance,” Shakespeare reminds us in Macbeth.

But over longer periods, moderate drinking doesn’t seem to be linked to erectile dysfunction, says Kew-Kim Chew, an epidemiologist at the University of West Australia in Nedlands, whose team conducted an anonymous postal survey of 1770 West Australian men.

After accounting for differences due to age, smoking and heart disease – all risk factors for ED – Chew and colleagues found that drinkers experienced rates of impotence 25% to 30% below those of teetotallers.

Megadrought and Megadeath in 16th Century Mexico

The native people of Mexico experienced an epidemic disease in the wake of European conquest, beginning with the smallpox epidemic of 1519 to 1520 when 5 million to 8 million people perished. The catastrophic epidemics that began in 1545 and 1576 subsequently killed an additional 7 million to 17 million people in the highlands of Mexico. Recent epidemiologic research suggests that the events in 1545 and 1576, associated with a high death rate and referred to as cocoliztli (Nahuatl for “pest”), may have been due to indigenous hemorrhagic fevers. Tree-ring evidence, allowing reconstructions of the levels precipitation, indicate that the worst drought to afflict North America in the past 500 years also occurred in the mid-16th century, when severe drought extended at times from Mexico to the boreal forest and from the Pacific to Atlantic coasts. These droughts appear to have interacted with ecologic and sociologic conditions, magnifying the human impact of infectious disease in 16th-century Mexico.

Full write up here at the CDC’s site. Tim pointed this out to me a few days ago.

For those that want the short version: A South American version of ebola may have cropped up after the smallpox epidemic, and along with the worse drought in 500 years, killed most of the human population of the Americas.

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