Microbes may have been responsible for the largest mass extinction of species in history


MIT professor of geophysics Daniel Rothman stands next to part of the Xiakou formation in China

A team of researchers from MIT may have found new evidence to shed light on the cause of the most devastating mass extinction in the history of our planet. The event, estimated to have taken place around 252 million years ago, was responsible for the extinction of roughly 90 percent of all life on Earth.

The team’s research indicates that the catastrophic event was in fact triggered by the tiniest of organisms, a methane-releasing microbe called Methanosarcina. New evidence suggests that at the time of the extinction, the microbes appeared in massive numbers across the world’s oceans, spreading vast clouds of the carbon-heavy gas methane into the atmosphere. This had the effect of altering the planet’s climate in a way that made it inhospitable to most other forms of life inhabiting Earth at that time.

It was previously believed that the mass extinction, known as the end-Permian extinction, was due to either vast amounts of volcanic activity, a devastating asteroid strike or prolific all-consuming coal fires. Any of these events could have caused the mass deaths, however there are inconsistencies in the evidence that point away from the traditional theories and towards the new findings presented by the researchers from MIT…

Although the team does not believe that…heightened levels of volcanism were responsible for the extinction itself, they do believe that it could have been the catalyst. The sudden and devastating increase in carbon-containing gases present during the end-Permian extinction is put down to a massive bloom of Methanosarcina. However, for this bloom to take place, the microbes would require an abundant source of carbon and nickel, both of which were discovered in a new analysis of sediments in China, and could have been distributed widely through a volcanic eruption.

The case for Methanosarcina being responsible for the extinction is further strengthened by the team’s findings that, at the time of the end-Permian extinction, the microbes had undergone a genetic transfer from another microbe. This is what gave the Methanosarcina the ability to produce methane at such a prolific rate.

With the catalyst of volcanic activity, the Methanosarcina were able to spread across our planet’s oceans unchecked. This allowed the microbes to produce vast quantities of carbon-containing methane, by harvesting the now carbon- and nickel-rich water. The release of said methane would have had the effect of raising the carbon dioxide levels in the waters, causing ocean acidification, irrevocably altering the ecosystem.

Let us hope no natural occurrence allows us to experiment firsthand with the hypothesis.

Of course, if such a cataclysm initiated, we can count on the usual assembly of know-nothings to stand around – doing their best to interfere with any attempt to save the species of Earth – while the rest of us die trying.

Pooping in elevator lands Florida woman in a pile of trouble

A Florida woman was arrested last month on the charge of “nuisance injurious to health” after she allegedly defecated in an elevator at a courthouse in Fort Pierce.

Patricia Ann Jamison was identified as the last person in the elevator at the St. Lucie County Courthouse where the feces was found…

In security camera footage from the elevator, Jamison allegedly “appears to pull her pants down and back up toward the interior elevator buttons consistent with someone using the bathroom. When the elevator arrived on the first floor the female was seen on camera fixing her pants and pulling her shirt out of her pants as if she pulled her pants up over her shirt.”

After a deputy reviewed security footage and matched it up to a woman who had signed in at the public defender’s office, the 49-year-old was identified…

The health safety charge is a misdemeanor.

She’s lucky she wasn’t charged with committing a terrorist act – in Florida.

The Internet is taking away America’s religion

Republicans still blame REM

Back in 1990, about 8 percent of the U.S. population had no religious preference. By 2010, this percentage had more than doubled to 18 percent. That’s a difference of about 25 million people, all of whom have somehow lost their religion.

That raises an obvious question: how come? Why are Americans losing their faith?

The reality is we have nothing to lose – and everything to gain.

Today, we get a possible answer thanks to the work of Allen Downey, a computer scientist at the Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts, who has analyzed the data in detail. He says that the demise is the result of several factors but the most controversial of these is the rise of the Internet…

Downey’s data comes from the General Social Survey, a widely respected sociological survey carried out by the University of Chicago, that has regularly measure people’s attitudes and demographics since 1972.

In that time, the General Social Survey has asked people questions such as: “what is your religious preference?” and “in what religion were you raised?” It also collects data on each respondent’s age, level of education, socioeconomic group, and so on. And in the Internet era, it has asked how long each person spends online…

Downey’s approach is to determine how the drop in religious affiliation correlates with other elements of the survey such as religious upbringing, socioeconomic status, education, and so on.

He finds that the biggest influence on religious affiliation is religious upbringing—people who are brought up in a religion are more likely to be affiliated to that religion later.

However, the number of people with a religious upbringing has dropped since 1990. It’s easy to imagine how this inevitably leads to a fall in the number who are religious later in life. In fact, Downey’s analysis shows that this is an important factor…In fact, that data indicates that it only explains about 25 percent of the drop.

He goes on to show that college-level education also correlates with the drop. Once it again, it’s easy to imagine how contact with a wider group of people at college might contribute to a loss of religion…

That’s where the Internet comes in. In the 1980s, Internet use was essentially zero, but in 2010, 53 percent of the population spent two hours per week online and 25 percent surfed for more than 7 hours.

This increase closely matches the decrease in religious affiliation. In fact, Downey calculates that it can account for about 25 percent of the drop.

That’s a fascinating result. It implies that since 1990, the increase in Internet use has had as powerful an influence on religious affiliation as the drop in religious upbringing.

RTFA for all the variables inside variables Downey examines.

For me, the expansion in easy communications permits access to information, real information in addition to the usual crap, gossip and myth we’re accustomed to in every part of our lives. The classic question – are Americans stupid or ignorant seems to be coming down on the side of ignorant. With diminishing returns for those who profit from ignorance. As the ignorance of Americans also diminishes.

Republican candidate wants to end days off from work!

Wisconsinites tired of relaxing on weekends and staying home on federal holidays are in luck: On Thursday, GOP state Sen. Glenn Grothman announced his challenge to 13-term moderate Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.). In a conservative district that went to Mitt Romney by seven points in 2012…

In January, Grothman introduced legislation to eliminate a state requirement that workers get at least one day off per week. “Right now in Wisconsin, you’re not supposed to work seven days in a row, which is a little ridiculous because all sorts of people want to work seven days a week…”

Eliminating days off is a long-running campaign from Grothman. Three years earlier, he argued that public employees should have to work on Martin Luther King Day…It would be one thing if people were using their day off to do something productive, but Grothman said he would be “shocked if you can find anybody doing service.”

MLK Day and “Saturday” aren’t the only holidays Grothman opposes. At a town hall in 2013, he took on Kwanzaa, which he said “almost no black people today care about” and was being propped up by “white left-wingers who try to shove this down black people’s throats in an effort to divide Americans.”

When he’s not advocating for people to spend more time working, Grothman has gotten in trouble for advocating that (some) people be paid less. “You could argue that money is more important for men…”…after pushing through a repeal of the state’s equal pay bill.

He has pushed to pare back a program that provided free birth control, while floating a bill that would have labeled single parenthood, “a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect.” Grothman justified the bill by contending that women choose to become single mothers and call their pregnancies “unplanned” only because it’s what people want to hear.

This dude’s middle name must be “Shit-for-brains Scrooge”.

Have a nice weekend. Don’t think about taking a job in Wisconsin if folks elect a prick like Grothman.