Borg DNA from California mud


Taking DNA samples from temporary springtime pond

In the TV series Star Trek, the Borg are cybernetic aliens that assimilate humans and other creatures as a means of achieving perfection. So when Jill Banfield, a geomicrobiologist at the University of California, Berkeley, sifted through DNA in the mud of her backyard and discovered a strange linear chromosome that included genes from a variety of microbes, her Trekkie son proposed naming it after the sci-fi aliens. The new type of genetic material was a mystery. Maybe it was part of a viral genome. Maybe it was a strange bacterium. Or maybe it was just an independent piece of DNA existing outside of cells…

But Banfield wasn’t looking for DNA that could move between organisms. Instead, she and graduate student Basem Al-Shayeb were searching for viruses that infect archaea, a type of microbe often found in places devoid of oxygen. They would dig 1 meter or more below the surface and collect mud samples that might harbor archaea and their viruses. Next, they would sequence every stretch of DNA in the samples and use sophisticated computer programs to scan for sequences that signified a virus, rather than any other organism…

Banfield says she and her colleagues don’t really know how Borgs arose, but they suspect that at one time, the DNA sequences were the genomes of a close relative of Methanoperedens that got scooped up and began living inside the archaeon. Eventually only the DNA, now much modified, remains inside the microbe, but apart from its own chromosome…

Interesting read. Hope it encourages other scientists (and science-minded curious folk) to duplicate the experiments.

mRNA technology promises to revolutionize future vaccines

More than 80 million Americans have been vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — using the game-changing possibilities of mRNA technology. And while some people worry that the technology has been “rushed,” for more than 25 years university labs have been exploring the use of RNA, rather than viruses, to build the body’s immunity against diseases…

Messenger RNA (mRNA) — the basis of the first two vaccines cleared for public use by the Food and Drug Administration — induces cells to set off an immune response against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Vaccine researchers believe the success of these inoculations will usher in the most radical change to vaccine development since Jenner tapped a cow virus two centuries ago.

mRNA emerged as an alternative to traditional vaccine development in the early 1990s, building on research involving RNA injections into mice at the Waisman Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. mRNA is a molecule that essentially delivers instructions to cells to build specific proteins. Proteins are key to the success of a viral infection, because they enable a virus to replicate after it attaches to a cell. The coronavirus, for example, attaches to a cell with a so-called “spike” protein, which triggers the viral replication that turns the infection into COVID-19.

The theory behind the vaccines is that mRNA will tell a cell to make a protein that’s used by a certain virus, which would set off an immune response that builds the body’s ability to fend off the actual virus.

“It’s essentially biological software,”…says John Cooke, MD, PhD, medical director of the RNA Therapeutics Program at the Houston Methodist Research Institute.

Yes, it really is that simple to explain. That simplicity is part and parcel of time saved, costs lowered, for the design of production-ready vaccines.

Who are these people?

More than 93,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2020. “We are in an enduring crisis that is still going on. We are still right in the middle of it…”

The 29.4% increase is an alarming jump from 2019, which also set a record after 71,000 people died from drug overdoses, according to CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics…

The spike in deaths was driven by the increased presence of the dangerous opioid fentanyl into the illicit drug market in the US, along with increased isolation among people who use drugs and overwhelmed public health agencies during the pandemic. The increase is only the latest in a long-running epidemic of overdose deaths steadily rising over the last half-century, with more than half a million people dying as a result of drug overdoses in the last decade alone…

While fentanyl is now linked to 3 out of 5 overdose deaths nationwide, the preliminary statistics suggest deaths from methamphetamine, cocaine, and prescription pain pills also increased in the last year. That likely reflects their contamination with fentanyl, and increasing use of multiple drugs together, said Volkow. As little as 2 milligrams of fentanyl can be a lethal dose; one survey conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration reported that 26% of counterfeit pain pills contained that dosage or higher.

We know all the usual steps needed to fightback…including policing producers of ingredients used by the makers of counterfeit drugs. One constant remains. A junkie is a junkie is a junkie. Straightening out that personality disorder still seems to be beyond modern American medicine.

Pacific Northwest heatwave virtually impossible without climate change

The last week of June saw shocking temperatures in Oregon, Washington state, and British Columbia. Differentiating a forecast in Canada from a forecast in Phoenix is usually a breeze, but not in June. All-time high-temperature records—not just daily records—were smashed across the region. Portland International Airport broke its all-time record of 41.7°C (107°F) by a whopping 5°C (9°F). The small town of Lytton set a new record high for the entire country of Canada at 49.6°C (121.3°F) on June 29. In the days that followed, most of the town burned in a wildfire…

As with other extreme weather events, the World Weather Attribution team has generated a rapid analysis of this heat wave in the context of climate change…The goal is to fit a mathematical relationship that tells you how unusual an event was—it can produce figures like 1-in-10 or 1-in-50 odds in any given year, for example. But with events this extreme, the statistics are often challenging, as this heat wave went far beyond anything in the instrumental record. As near as they could estimate, the researchers put this heat wave at a 1-in-1,000 probability—the kind of thing that ought to happen roughly once in a thousand years.

Comparing this to the world before human-caused climate change requires adding in model simulations. As usual, the team compared historical temperatures in the area to a large database of models, tossing the simulations that fit the historical trend poorly. Statistics from simulations of climate in the late 1800s can then be combined with the historical data to see how rare this event would have been in the past.

Remember, it’s taken our dumbass species two centuries to screw things up this bad. Just because quantitative events have accumulated sufficiently to produce qualitative change…the disasters we’re sliding into…doesn’t mean they were caused by short-term phenomena. Nor will there be much of a chance for short-term solutions.

The decline in U.S. fertility


A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle
I wonder why this photo was chosen for the article?

The decline in population growth in the U.S. from 2010 to 2020 is part of a broader national trend linked to falling birth rates, but also immigration changes and other factors. In May of 2021 the scope of that change became clear, with a record low of 55.8 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age in 2020, a 4% drop from 2019. Other countries are facing similar slowdowns in population growth.

This shift has been underway in the U.S. for many years.

Economic opportunities, social norms and changing gender roles – especially expanding education and employment options for many women – help to explain why fertility has slowed in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. That change has repercussions for trends in workforce numbers, employment, health care, housing and education.

And that’s about as much of this article as I care to reproduce (pun intended!). Maybe I missed something; but, the authors avoided the everpresent question in our young(ish) republic. Do we continue to obey the instruction set we receive from religious leaders — or not!

When my father’s family moved here from Canada they hadn’t yet reached their ultimate family size of 10. That’s Grandma, Grandpa, and eight kids. My parents had two of us. Birth control overruled the priest at St.Charles Church on East Main Street. And after my sister and I related our first-day-in-catechism class…how fortunate we were not to be whipped by the nuns who performed that task for the priest in charge…that Sunday morning journey came to an end. My mom…very much self-taught like my dad…picked society-oriented books, fiction and non-fiction, for us to read every week and we discussed them Sunday mornings instead of taking that walk to church.

Over time, we went different ways, different conclusions. My sister married and had two lovely children. I eventually decided marriage could work. My parents example proved that to me. I had no interest in children since I didn’t set out to set the world on economic fire, anyway. Stronger political struggles in the (then) new and growing post-war civil rights movement served as primer for an ever-expanding materialist philosophy. Got a vasectomy when I was 22 years old. The Doc just about freaked out. I never looked back.

Read both the articles I linked to. Make up your own mind. It’s your life to build.

A snake bit him on the toilet

A 65-year-old man was left with minor injuries after a reticulated python bit him while he was sitting on the toilet.

He was said to have felt a “pinch in the area of his genitals” before noticing a five foot snake beneath him in the toilet bowl at his home in the Austrian city of Graz.

“Shortly after he sat on the toilet the Graz resident – by his own account – felt a ‘pinch’ in the area of his genitals,” the police said in a statement…The victim needed treatment in hospital for minor injuries.

Although the snake’s suspected route into the toilet could not be confirmed, it is thought to have escaped from a neighbour’s apartment.

Eeoough!