This 9 minute film got its indie director a gig writing the new Pacific Rim movie

Click to run the video

In just a few years, Emily Carmichael has gone from making an animated webseries for Penny Arcade to writing Pacific Rim: Maelstrom and directing Powerhouse, the next big project from Steven Spielberg.

Today on Ars Technica, we’re proud to host the digital debut of Stryka, one of Carmichael’s short films that rocketed her from gamer geekdom to Hollywood. It’s the tale of a neurotic alien lizard living in Brooklyn, just trying to get by on small time heists. She has just one problem. Her partner in crime just isn’t bringing the zing anymore, and she’s been secretly doing jobs on the side with someone else.

Watch the video. RTFA for a peek inside just how easy – and unlikely – creative success can be.

Uh, does your cat have a persistent cough?

Two people in England have been infected with TB by domestic cats who contracted the bovine strain of tuberculosis. The announcement came from Public Health England and they say the risk of further spread of the disease is very low…

There are reportedly nine cats who are carrying the strain of TB that infected the two people. The same strain has been found in two other people but the disease is in its latent form. This particular strain is bovine TB which comes from cattle but badgers may have been behind the outbreak.

Professor Danielle Gunn-Moore of the Feline Clinic at the Roslin Institute says that future outbreaks can be prevented from paying attention to the health of pets.

“We’re not thinking about infectious diseases but if we have a cat or dog with a skin lesion that won’t heal or a persistent cough, then we must take them to the vet and the vet needs to have a look at them and the vet needs to be thinking that TB might be a possibility.”

Cripes. One more thing for world-class hypochondriacs to worry about.

First bacteria to make the transition from humans to plants — and it’s named for Frank Zappa

zappa christianity

What would you do if you discovered an odd strain of bacteria that exhibited unconventional behavior? Why, name it after Frank Zappa of course!…This is exactly what a team of Italian and Austrian researchers did when they found a bacterium that had apparently transitioned from causing acne in human skin to infecting the bark of grape vines.

“This is the first time it’s been found that a microorganism can switch from a human to a plant,” study author and self-professed Zappa fan Andrea Campisano, a microbiologist at the Edmund Mach Foundation in Italy, told the Los Angeles Times.

In addition to being a tribute to the late musician, the naming of P. acnes zappae is also a hat-tip to the Italian word for “hoe,” which is “zappa.”

Campisano is such a big fan of the experimental musician – he said he even has a quote from him prominently displayed on his lab computer screen: “If you end up with a boring miserable life because you listened to your mom, your dad, your teacher, your priest, or some guy on television … then you deserve it.”

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Bloodless erections for big birds, say researchers — Hmmm?

Kiss, kiss!

Ostriches have bloodless erections, according to researchers.

The large birds were previously thought to have blood-based erection mechanisms similar to humans. But scientists from Yale University have now confirmed that the birds actually enlarge their penises with lymph fluid. All other birds with a penis achieve erections in this way, leading scientists to believe the mechanism evolved in their ancient ancestors…

The majority of birds reproduce with a ‘cloacal kiss’ – touching together their cloaca for long enough for sperm to transfer from the males to the females. The cloaca is a single opening through which urine and faeces are excreted but certain species, including ducks, geese, swans and flamingos also possess a penis. In birds, this reproductive organ is unusual as it is enlarged by lymph: the fluid found in bodily tissues.

But the ratite family, from large ostriches to small kiwis, were thought to be the exception to this rule. “Earlier reports form the late 19th Century had suggested that the ostrich had a blood vascular erection mechanism, while no data existed for the emu or rhea,” said Dr Patricia Brennan who co-authored the study.

“Since all other birds with penises have lymphatic erection mechanisms, I always thought that it was strange that the ostrich would be blood vascular.”

To solve the puzzle, Dr Brennan and her team closely examined the penis of a male ostrich and three male emus and found some key differences. “The penis of the ostrich is fundamentally very different from emu and rhea because it is made out of a dense collagen matrix, but the lymphatic machinery is all there,” she told BBC Nature.

“Ostriches do have blood vessels near the surface of the penis, that makes it look pink, but the inside of the penis fills up with lymph, not blood…The reason why the change between blood vascular and lymphatic took place remains a mystery,” said Dr Brennan.

At first look, this might have had special meaning for male humans, a sex group which seems to be consumed with questions about erections. Poisonally, I’d suggest research be devoted to the study of raccoon and bear penises. They are perpetually stiffened by a bone running the length of the interior. A little weightlifting might help out with the rest of the process.

Biologists find surprising number of unknown viruses in sewage

Though viruses are the most abundant life form on Earth, our knowledge of the viral universe is limited to a tiny fraction of the viruses that likely exist. In a paper published in the online journal mBio, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of Barcelona found that raw sewage is home to thousands of novel, undiscovered viruses, some of which could relate to human health.

There are roughly 1.8 million species of organisms on our planet, and each one is host to untold numbers of unique viruses, but only about 3,000 have been identified to date. To explore this diversity and to better characterize the unknown viruses, James Pipas…Roger Hendrix and…Michael Grabe…are developing new techniques to look for novel viruses in unique places around the world…The team searched for the genetic signatures of viruses present in raw sewage from North America, Europe, and Africa…

“What was surprising was that the vast majority of viruses we found were viruses that had not been detected or described before,” says Hendrix.

The viruses that were already known included human pathogens like Human papillomavirus and norovirus, which causes diarrhea. Also present were several viruses belonging to those familiar denizens of sewers everywhere: rodents and cockroaches. Bacteria are also present in sewage, so it was not surprising that the viruses that prey on bacteria dominated the known genetic signatures. Finally, a large number of the known viruses found in raw sewage came from plants, probably owing to the fact that humans eat plants, and plant viruses outnumber other types of viruses in human stool…

The main application of this new technology, says Hendrix, will be to discover new viruses and to study gene exchange among viruses. “The big question we’re interested in is, ‘Where do emerging viruses come from?’” he says. The team’s hypothesis is that new viruses emerge, in large part, through gene exchange. But before research on gene exchange can begin in earnest, large numbers of viruses must be studied, the researchers say.

First you have to see the forest before you can pick out a particular tree to work on,” says Pipas. “If gene exchange is occurring among viruses, then we want to know where those genes are coming from, and if we only know about a small percentage of the viruses that exist, then we’re missing most of the forest.”

Great. Just what we need to know. Now, all those sci-fi movies about mutated creatures rising up from the sewers to eat all of us become a bit more real.

I know, I know. I have a strange sense of humor.

What impresses me the most – once again – is how little we know of this world we live on and within. This is just the kind of basic research the know-nothings in Congress and assorted flat-earthers resent and joke about. Their cognizance of the material world is shallow in direct proportion to the amount of time they spend whining about their self-ordained superstitious reasons for the ills that befall humankind.

Russians arrest man eating human liver with potatoes

Spring onions can provide a piquant addition

Russian police say they have detained a man who was caught eating an acquaintance’s liver.

Police tracked down the suspect after a trail of severed body parts including limbs and a head were found across Moscow.

“When the police came to arrest the suspect, he was eating a human liver with potatoes,” a police spokeswoman for the Moscow’s western district said by telephone.

The rest of the human liver was found in a refrigerator in the suspect’s flat. The police spokeswoman said the cause of the acquaintance’s death was not clear.

What’s obvious is that the suspect knows nothing about proper pairing of ingredients in a meal. He was lacking onions.

TeloVac pancreatic cancer vaccine trial launched

A trial has begun on a vaccine treating pancreatic cancer, which has the lowest survival rate of all common cancers. More than 1,000 patients with advanced pancreatic cancer have joined the TeloVac trial at 53 UK hospitals.

Vaccines are usually associated with preventing infections, but this is part of a new approach to try to stimulate the immune system to fight cancer.

The trial involves regular doses of vaccine together with chemotherapy and compares this with chemotherapy alone.

The vaccine contains small sections of a protein, telomerase, which is over-produced by cancer cells. The aim is to stimulate the immune system to recognise the telomerase which sits on the surface of the cancer cells and to target the tumour…

Professor John Neoptolemos from Royal Liverpool University Hospital, who is helping to co-ordinate the trial, said: “The problem is tumours are clever and are able to turn the immune cells into traitors which help to guard the tumour.

“The vaccine takes away the masking effect of the tumour…”

There is rarely positive news about pancreatic cancer. It has the worst survival rate of all common cancers – worse even than lung cancer”…

Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician Professor Peter Johnson said: “One of big problems with cancer treatment is you are almost always left with a few malignant cells and it is from those few cells that the cancer can regrow.

“If you can programme the immune system to recognise those cells and get rid of them altogether or keep them in check then you can effectively stop the cancer from growing back lifelong.”

The South Korean manufacturer of the vaccine, KAEL-GemVax, is planning a lung cancer trial later this year using the same technology.

All I can say is Good Luck. The few folks I’ve known who developed pancreatic cancer measured their remaining life span in weeks. Scary stuff.

China’s supermarkets will carry “human” milk from cows

Genetically modified dairy products that are similar to human milk will appear on the Chinese market in two years, an expert in biotechnology has predicted.

Li Ning, a scientist from the Chinese Academy of Engineering and director of the State Key Laboratories for AgroBiotechnology at China Agricultural University, said progress in the field is well under way.

Li said Chinese scientists have successfully created a herd of more than 200 cows that is capable of producing milk that contains the characteristics of human milk.

He said the technology is at the cutting edge worldwide and will ensure “healthy protein contained in human milk is affordable for ordinary consumers”…

Human milk contains two kinds of nutrition that can help improve the immune systems and the central nervous systems of children. The components are not available in milk produced by goats or cows.

Li said the scientific world had not previously found a way to mass-produce those ingredients. The GM milk will be as safe to drink as that of the ordinary cows, he added.

The Ministry of Agriculture issued bio-safety examination certificates for the GM herd in March 2010, giving the scientific team a 22-month period during which the technology can be tested in laboratories.

The ministry will then evaluate the results of the tests before deciding whether to allow the milk to be sold.

Interesting. I’d find it more interesting if I drank milk.

I wonder if those of us who are lactose intolerant might not have a problem with the modified stuff.

Our military – and others – need a response plan to genocide

In the past 75 years, the world has been witness to genocide in Cambodia, Rwanda, Srebrenica, Darfur and the Holocaust. In a few weeks, the next mass atrocity could happen in East Africa…

In one week, the mostly Christian people of South Sudan will cast a historic vote to secede or not from the Muslim North. While the United States rightly pursues diplomatic solutions to what most believe will be a vote to secede, prudence demands military preparations for violence — to include mass killings that could be carried out simultaneously by varied groups…

Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army could exploit violence in Sudan to cover its own killing of civilians, as could al-Shabaab in Somalia. All could result in mass killings, and all could require military responses.

But so could a withdrawal from Iraq, unrest in Central Asia, or cartel violence in Mexico — and the United States is unprepared to respond to genocide or mass atrocities in any of these cases. Failing to respond to barbaric events of human slaughter is more than just a matter of political will or legal authority — it is a result of the manifest lack of critical thinking about how military forces could respond when prevention fails.

The Obama administration has said many of the right things. The 2010 National Security Strategy proclaims the United States will “in certain instances … use military means to prevent and respond to genocide and mass atrocities.” The Pentagon’s 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review says the military will “prepare to defeat adversaries and succeed in a wide range of contingencies,” to include “preventing human suffering due to mass atrocities.” Even so, the United States has done little in the way of concrete planning should mass violence against civilians break out…

RTFA. Follow the links over at the MARO Project.

Understand that humanitarians sometimes need the aid of military leaders. General Zinni is one of those rare birds who understands counter-insurgency as well as battling to halt genocide. Unfortunately, we haven’t had a government that ever seemed to listen to him – one way or the other.