Category: Science

Dogs have been man’s best friend longer than we thought

The bond between humans and dogs can feel very strong, deep and profound. It may also be much older than we once thought.

A group of researchers discovered an ancient wolf bone and say its DNA suggests dogs diverged from wolves 27,000 to 40,000 years ago — not 11,000 to 16,000 years ago, as previous research has suggested. The researchers published their findings Thursday in the journal Current Biology.

In this latest study, researchers radiocarbon-dated a Taimyr wolf bone they found in Siberia and concluded it to be about 35,000 years old. Researchers point to the ancient wolf as possibly the most recent common relative of modern wolves and dogs.

That means two things could have happened about 40,000 years ago, with the simplest scenario being that dogs became domesticated.

“The only other explanation is that there was a major divergence between two wolf populations at that time, and one of these populations subsequently gave rise to all modern wolves,” study co-author Love Dalén of the Swedish Museum of Natural History said in a release.

Under that theory, the second wolf population would had to have gone extinct…

“The difference between the earlier genetic studies and ours is that we can calibrate the rate of evolutionary change in dog and wolf genomes directly, and we find that the first separation of dog ancestors must have been in the older range,” Skoglund told Reuters.

Another implication of this study: re-imagining how dogs became an important part of human society. As the BBC notes, a prevalent theory is that dogs became domestic creatures once humans settled into agricultural-based communities.

Humans could have also “caught wolf cubs and kept them as pets and this gradually led to these wild wolves being domesticated,” Dalen told BBC. “If this model is correct, then dogs were domesticated by hunter gatherers that led a fairly nomadic lifestyle.”

Being a longterm dog family, we’ve always felt that some extra smart dogs figured out we were a soft touch and moved in.

Solving the energy crisis with affordable, renewable clean fuel — in Hobbs, NM

Joule has pioneered a CO2-to-fuel production platform, effectively reversing combustion through the use of solar energy. Free of feedstock constraints and complex processing, this platform can achieve unrivaled scalability, volumes and costs without the use of any agricultural land, fresh water or crops.

Unlike products derived with complexity from petroleum or biomass, Joule Sunflow® products are produced in a direct, continuous process from abundant resources. The novel CO2-to-liquids conversion requires only sunlight, non-potable water and proprietary catalysts that are tailored to produce specific products, including ethanol and hydrocarbon fuels that are inherently compatible with existing infrastructure.

…This uniquely modular system can achieve replicable productivity, whether installed across 100 or 1,000 acres, mitigating scale-up risks and ensuring stability of supply. At full-scale commercialization in ideal locations, the company ultimately targets 25,000 US gallons of Joule Sunflow®-E (solar ethanol) or 15,000 US gallons of Joule Sunflow®-D (solar diesel) per acre annually, for approximately $1.20/US gallon ($50/barrel).

Joule has successfully pilot-tested its platform for over two years, initiated demonstration-scale operations, and assembled a specialized team to lay the groundwork for commercial deployment. The company is moving rapidly to commercialize Joule Sunflow-E, with Joule Sunflow-D and additional hydrocarbon fuels to follow.

Phew! The link above is from the “about us” statement at their website. Wander through the whole site starting here. Looks interesting. A winner if it works.

Had this link in the hopper for a short spell and just got round to clicking through.

Do you risk Mad Cow Disease – from cutting the grass?

Grass plants can bind, uptake and transport infectious prions, according to researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). The research was published online in the latest issue of Cell Reports.

Prions are the protein-based infectious agents responsible for a group of diseases called transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, which includes bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) in cattle, scrapie in sheep, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans and chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer, elk and moose. All are fatal brain diseases with incubation periods that last years.

CWD, first diagnosed in mule deer in Colorado in the late 1960s, has spread across the country into 22 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including the counties of El Paso and Hudspeth in Texas. In northeastern Colorado and southeastern Wyoming, the disease is endemic. Soto’s team sought to find out why…

There is no proof of transmission from wild animals and plants to humans,” said lead author Claudio Soto, Ph.D., professor of neurology at UTHealth Medical School and director of the UTHealth George and Cynthia W. Mitchell Center for Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Brain Related Illnesses. “But it’s a possibility that needs to be explored and people need to be aware of it. Prions have a long incubation period.”

RTFA. It’s a serious study and should be treated as such.

OTOH, any excuse to get out of cutting the grass is OK with me.

Over 40% of bee hives died in past year – Bayer says “Don’t worry, bee happy”

More than two out of five American honeybee colonies died in the past year, and surprisingly the worst die-off was in the summer…

Since April 2014, beekeepers lost 42.1 percent of their colonies, the second highest loss rate in nine years, according to an annual survey conducted by a bee partnership that includes the U.S. Department of Agriculture…

What shocked the entomologists is that is the first time they’ve noticed bees dying more in the summer than the winter, said vanEngelsdorp said. The survey found beekeepers lost 27.4 percent of their colonies this summer. That’s up from 19.8 percent the previous summer.

Seeing massive colony losses in summer is like seeing “a higher rate of flu deaths in the summer than winter,” vanEngelsdorp said. “You just don’t expect colonies to die at this rate in the summer.”

Oklahoma, Illinois, Iowa, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Maine and Wisconsin all saw more than 60 percent of their hives die since April 2014, according to the survey…

Delaplane and vanEngelsdorp said a combination of mites, poor nutrition and pesticides are to blame for the bee deaths. USDA bee scientist Jeff Pettis said last summer’s large die-off included unusual queen loss and seemed worse in colonies that moved more.

Dick Rogers, chief beekeeper for pesticide-maker Bayer, said the loss figure is “not unusual at all” and said the survey shows an end result of more colonies now than before: 2.74 million hives in 2015, up from 2.64 million in 2014.

That doesn’t mean bee health is improving or stable, vanEngelsdorp said. After they lose colonies, beekeepers are splitting their surviving hives to recover their losses, pushing the bees to their limits, Delaplane said.

Bayer’s sophistry is impressive. They should make even larger donations to Congressional fops. They need the creeps in government who refuse responsibility for any destructive result from the corporate quest for profit at any price.

Key findings about the changing U.S. religious landscape

FSM
Click to enlarge

Pew Research Center’s new Religious Landscape Study, the first since our 2007 study, draws on a massive sample size of more than 35,000 Americans to offer a detailed look at the current religious composition of U.S. adults. The size of the sample enables us to explore relatively small religious groups (including specific Christian denominations) as well as state- and metropolitan area-level data.

In addition to the full report, the findings of the study can be explored at a new interactive website. Here are a few of the key findings:

Christians are declining, both as a share of the U.S. population and in total number. In 2007, 78.4% of U.S. adults identified with Christian groups, such as Protestants, Catholics, Mormons and others; seven years later, that percentage has fallen to 70.6%. Accounting for overall population growth in that period, that means there are roughly 173 million Christian adults in the U.S. today, down from about 178 million in 2007.

Within Christianity, the biggest declines have been in the mainline Protestant tradition and among Catholics

The decline of Christians in the U.S. has corresponded with the continued rise in the share of Americans with no religious affiliation…People who self-identify as atheists or agnostics (about 7% of all U.S. adults), as well as those who say their religion is “nothing in particular,” now account for a combined 22.8% of U.S. adults – up from 16.1% in 2007…

There are clear differences between certain demographic groups when it comes to religious affiliation

The share of Americans who identify with non-Christian faiths, such as Islam and Hinduism, has grown modestly

You’ll find the whole report online over here. An interesting read especially if you find philosophy, personal and sociological, of interest. As I do.

Yes, we’re still about a half-century or more behind the rest of the industrial West when it comes to re-examining the beliefs we inherit from our less-educated forebears. Not much we can do about it except continue to encourage education. Folks can come to progressive conclusions on their own; but, it does help to have an extended opportunity to see what the whole world is learning and talking about. Ain’t many folks getting that from cable TV or this year’s hot social media.

A consensus on coffee’s benefits

Coffee has long had a reputation as being unhealthy. But in almost every single respect that reputation is backward. The potential health benefits are surprisingly large…

Just last year, a systematic review and meta-analysis of studies looking at long-term consumption of coffee and the risk of cardiovascular disease was published. The researchers found 36 studies involving more than 1,270,000 participants. The combined data showed that those who consumed a moderate amount of coffee, about three to five cups a day, were at the lowest risk for problems. Those who consumed five or more cups a day had no higher risk than those who consumed none.

Of course, everything I’m saying here concerns coffee — black coffee. I am not talking about the mostly milk and sugar coffee-based beverages that lots of people consume. These could include, but aren’t limited to, things like a McDonald’s large mocha (500 calories, 17 grams of fat, 72 grams of carbohydrates), a Starbucks Venti White Chocolate Mocha (580 calories, 22 grams of fat, 79 grams of carbs), and a Large Dunkin’ Donuts frozen caramel coffee Coolatta (670 calories, 8 grams of fat, 144 grams of carbs).

…Years earlier, a meta-analysis — a study of studies, in which data are pooled and analyzed together — was published looking at how coffee consumption might be associated with stroke. Eleven studies were found, including almost 480,000 participants. As with the prior studies, consumption of two to six cups of coffee a day was associated with a lower risk of disease, compared with those who drank none. Another meta-analysis published a year later confirmed these findings.

Rounding out concerns about the effect of coffee on your heart, another meta-analysis examined how drinking coffee might be associated with heart failure. Again, moderate consumption was associated with a lower risk, with the lowest risk among those who consumed four servings a day. Consumption had to get up to about 10 cups a day before any bad associations were seen.

No one is suggesting you drink more coffee for your health. But drinking moderate amounts of coffee is linked to lower rates of pretty much all cardiovascular disease, contrary to what many might have heard about the dangers of coffee or caffeine. Even consumers on the very high end of the spectrum appear to have minimal, if any, ill effects.

But let’s not cherry-pick. There are outcomes outside of heart health that matter. Many believe that coffee might be associated with an increased risk of cancer. Certainly, individual studies have found that to be the case, and these are sometimes highlighted by the news media. But in the aggregate, most of these negative outcomes disappear.

Aaron E. Carroll is a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine. He blogs on health research and policy at The Incidental Economist. He carries forward from this point in his article to broaden his search for understanding of the effects of coffee drinking – usually in moderation – on your health.

I suggest you RTFA. It’s even written in human being-English.

Saving avocado trees with drones and dogs

In Florida, a devastating disease threatens the nation’s nearly half-a-billion dollar avocado industry. That’s leading researchers to use extreme measures: drones and dogs…

The hunt for the deadly fungus begins in the air. A drone scans a seemingly healthy avocado grove and in just minutes, its multi-spectral camera spots trees in trouble.

Trees indicated in yellow or red may be infected by a fungus, carried by the microscopic ambrosia beetle that causes laurel wilt…

Once the drone has narrowed the search area, the dogs set to work. The fungus spreads through a tree’s interior and is invisible to the human eye, but the smell is inescapable to the sensitive noses of these trained dogs. They check every tree at risk and sit when the disease is detected…

Laurel wilt has killed an estimated 6,000 avocado trees in Florida in the last few years. The state is the second-largest avocado producer in the nation, and a $64 million industry is now at risk…

Scientists hope to stop the disease in Florida. One of their biggest fears is that it will spread to California, the country’s largest producer of avocados. For now, growers in Florida are hoping to get through this season, as they start harvesting groves in June.

Scary enough for me. I generally have an avocado every day.

In this neck of the prairie, I’m probably eating one from Mexico or California. In fact, we’ve already had some from California already.

Know-Nothings will hate the Pope even more – Climate Change encyclical coming

pope-francis

Since his first homily in 2013, Pope Francis has preached about the need to protect the earth and all of creation as part of a broad message on the environment. It has caused little controversy so far.

But now, as Francis prepares to deliver what is likely to be a highly influential encyclical this summer on environmental degradation and the effects of human-caused climate change on the poor, he is alarming some conservatives in the United States who are loath to see the Catholic Church reposition itself as a mighty voice in a cause they do not believe in.

As part of the effort for the encyclical, top Vatican officials will hold a summit meeting…to build momentum for a campaign by Francis to urge world leaders to enact a sweeping United Nations climate change accord in Paris in December. The accord would for the first time commit every nation to enact tough new laws to cut the emissions that cause global warming.

The Vatican summit meeting will focus on the links between poverty, economic development and climate change, with speeches and panel discussions by climate scientists and religious leaders, and economists like Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia. The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, who is leading efforts to forge the Paris accord, will deliver the opening address…

In the United States, the encyclical will be accompanied by a 12-week campaign, now being prepared with the participation of some Catholic bishops, to raise the issue of climate change and environmental stewardship in sermons, homilies, news media interviews and letters to newspaper editors, said Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant in Washington.

But the effort is already angering a number of American conservatives, among them members of the Heartland Institute, a [purportedly] libertarian group partly funded by the Charles G. Koch Foundation, run by the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers, who oppose climate policy…

But climate policy advocates see a scheduled address by the pope to Congress in September as a potent moment — about 30 percent of members of Congress are Catholics, more than belong to any other religion, according to a study published this year by the Pew Research Center…

“I think Boehner was out of his mind to invite the pope to speak to Congress,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, an analyst at the National Catholic Reporter. “Can you imagine what the Republicans will do when he says, ‘You’ve got to do something about global warming’?… ”

Francis chose the name of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment. He talks the talk- and walks the walk. Unlike the patent leather princes American Catholics have been accustomed to Francis actually says the ethics and morality preached in the communal wing of his church are standards that have to be lived up to if you are to be a good Catholic.

I wonder how that will go over with creeps like John Boehner or Rick Santorum, phonies like Jeb Bush, Rubio, Jindal and Christie, et al?

Scientists find origin of creepy “Blood Falls”


Click to enlargePeter Rejcek, National Science Foundation

The McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica are some of the most extreme desert regions on the planet. But new research indicates that the region may actually be full of salty, extremely cold groundwater. The water may even connect surrounding lakes into a massive network, and it probably hosts extreme microbial life…

Despite McMurdo’s apparent dryness on the surface, it’s always hinted at something more: The region is home to the magnificently creepy Blood Falls, a red ooze that shines bright against the otherwise desolate surface. For a while scientists believed that red algae gave this mysterious, bloody ooze its vibrant color. But even though iron oxide is responsible for the hue, analysis has shown that the feature does contain strange bacterial life.

Jill Mikucki and her colleagues used an electromagnetic sensor mounted on a helicopter to scope out the area, testing the conductivity of the ground below. Water increases its resistivity as it freezes, meaning that it’s less conductive of electrical currents. But salty water — which can stay liquid at lower temperatures — have very low resistivity.

“We found, as expected, that there was something sourcing Blood Falls,” Mikucki said, “and we found that these brines were more widespread than previously thought. They appear to connect these surface lakes that appear separated on the ground. That means there’s the potential for a much more extensive subsurface ecosystem, which I’m pretty jazzed about.”

It’s possible that this extensive brine isn’t unique to the valley, Mikucki explained, and that subsurface ecosystems of extreme microbes might be connected to visible lakes, and perhaps even interact with the ocean.

“It turns out that as beautiful and visceral as Blood Falls is in these valleys, it’s actually just a blip. It’s a little defect in this much more exciting feature,” she said.

Scientists have been using the Dry Valleys to test instruments since the Viking missions,” Mikucki said. “So how we detect the brines and access them is relevant to work on places like Mars…

And if we find life on another planet, it’s most likely going to look like the life we find in Antarctica. The subsurface lake Vostok, which is now thought to contain extensive (and quite alien) life, is often cited as an example of what might be found on Europa, Jupiter’s ice-and-ocean covered moon. Recent studies on Mars found evidence of brines on that planet, which could presumably have supported life once as well. On our planet, these subsurface waters host only the most extreme forms of life. But elsewhere in the universe, the same conditions might be as hospitable as a planet gets.”

McMurdo reeks with extra-terrestrial feelings. I knew an ice geologist who was based around there for a couple of years and he always felt as if he was on another planet.

A geneticist examines 10 studies “proving” GMOs are harmful

killer tomoatoes

Activists often cite the alleged potential health risks of genetically modified foods. One recent example of this—”10 Scientific Studies Proving GMOs Can Be Harmful To Human Health“, posted on Collective-Evolution.com—outlines many familiar concerns and points in each case to “credible scientific studies that clearly demonstrate why GMOs should not be consumed”.

Are these concerns credible? What do the studies cited actually claim?

1) Multiple Toxins From GMOs Detected In Maternal and Fetal Blood.

The blog post cites a 2010 study that alleges to show this danger. The authors identified the Bt protein Cry1Ab in maternal and fetal blood, a protein found in some GMOs, but also commonly used as a pesticide in organic farming. The paper is flawed. The researchers’ measurements were based on an experiment/assay designed to detect Bt’s Cry1Ab in plants, not in humans. As this post in Biofortified.org explains, the pregnant women in the study would have had to eat several kilos of corn in order to get the Bt measurements that were detected in their blood.

Additionally, there’s the “so what” factor. Humans lack the receptors for the protein, so it has no impact on us. Did you know that chocolate is toxic to dogs? Are you concerned that it might be toxic to you? Probably not (if you are concerned, then you’ve missed out on the greatest source of joy known to human taste buds…). Some chemical compounds behave differently among species, and both Bt‘s Cry1Ab and chocolate are examples of this.

2) DNA From Genetically Modified Crops Can Be Transferred Into Humans Who Eat Them

That’s not what the cited 2013 study concluded. The authors found that whole genes from our food can be detected in our plasma. That does not mean that they’ve integrated into our DNA; it means that they’ve been found floating in the space between cells. And that’s any food, not just GMOs. DNA from GMOs behave no differently than DNA from organic or conventional foods

If you aren’t concerned about the DNA from blueberries “transferring” into you, then you should not be concerned about DNA from GMOs either. The paper’s deepest flaw is that a negative control was not included in the sequencing experiments. Several recent papers…have outlined the importance of including a negative control in experiments where there is very little DNA to account for possible contaminants from the environment and reagents. (For a lay introduction to the concept of contaminants in sequencing, see here)…

RTFA for the rest. Unfortunately, folks I meet who are anti-GMO and only read ideologues, not peer-reviewed science – are not often as ignorant of fact as their peers who deny anthropogenic climate change. However, their unwillingness to examine real science is as faulty. Unless you care to limit your life to making decisions based on information akin to reviews at walmart.com.

In conclusion, despite the title of the article, none of these studies proves or even persuasively suggests that GMOs can be harmful to human health. The majority are either obviously flawed or are not scientific studies.

The current scientific consensus regarding GMOs remains unchanged: they are safe and do not pose a health risk to humans. However, a scientific consensus is subject to change if there is sufficient reproducible evidence that may impact it, but none of the studies reviewed here constitute such evidence.

Layla Katiraee’s credentials appear at the end of her article. The article has all the links you might wish to pursue to evaluate the studies on your own.

If you feel the topic is important enough to guide your own life [and society as a whole] then read the real science. I debated and questioned in public and private forums online for two years at the turn of the millennium before I made up my mind about climate change. Eventually finding truly persuasive research from the Max Planck Institutes – translated into readable english for a mono-lingual student like me. I revisit the topic periodically as our regular readers know.

I feel the same about genetics.