Memories pass between generations

Trifles Light As Air
Trifles Light As Air

Wild. So the experiences of your grandparents has some direct effects on you!1
Sounds like a plot point from Frank Herbert’s Dune series…

Experiments showed that a traumatic event could affect the DNA in sperm and alter the brains and behaviour of subsequent generations.

A Nature Neuroscience study shows mice trained to avoid a smell passed their aversion on to their “grandchildren”.

Experts said the results were important for phobia and anxiety research.

The animals were trained to fear a smell similar to cherry blossom.

The team at the Emory University School of Medicine, in the US, then looked at what was happening inside the sperm.

They showed a section of DNA responsible for sensitivity to the cherry blossom scent was made more active in the mice’s sperm.

Both the mice’s offspring, and their offspring, were “extremely sensitive” to cherry blossom and would avoid the scent, despite never having experienced it in their lives.

Changes in brain structure were also found.

“The experiences of a parent, even before conceiving, markedly influence both structure and function in the nervous system of subsequent generations,” the report concluded.

Family affair The findings provide evidence of “transgenerational epigenetic inheritance” – that the environment can affect an individual’s genetics, which can in turn be passed on.

(click here to continue reading BBC News – ‘Memories’ pass between generations.)

  1. possibly []

Giant snake that stalked the Earth

6000 years ago
6000 years ago

Wild! Can barely imagine such a beast

Around 58 million years ago, a monstrous snake slithered out of the swampy jungles of South America and began a reign of terror.

Weighing more than a tonne and measuring 14m (approximately 50ft) the giant reptile could swallow a whole crocodile without showing a bulge. But a few years ago, scientists never even knew it existed.

“Never in your wildest dreams do you expect to find a 14m boa constrictor. The biggest snake today is half that size,” says Dr Carlos Jaramillo, a scientist with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and part of the team that made the discovery.

‘World of lost reptiles’ Thought to be a distant relative of the anaconda and boa constrictor, the snake – named Titanoboa – was not venomous. Instead, it crushed its prey with the constricting force of 400lbs per sq inch – the equivalent of lying under the weight of one and a half times the Brooklyn Bridge.

The fossils were exposed by excavation at the massive Cerrejon open-face coal mine in northern Colombia. In 2002, scientists had discovered at that site the remains of a tropical rainforest from the Palaeocene Epoch – perhaps the planet’s first.

As well as fossilised leaves and plants, they unearthed reptiles so big they defied imagination.

“What we found was a giant world of lost reptiles – turtles the size of a kitchen table and the biggest crocodiles in the history of fossil records,” says Jonathan Bloch, an expert in vertebrate evolution at the University of Florida.

(click here to continue reading BBC News – The giant snake that stalked the Earth.)


Beneath Dead Sea, Scientists Seek Natural History

Explosion of Reds and Yellows

Speaking of the 6,000 year old earth1, there’s some interesting work being done in the Dead Sea…

EIN GEDI, Israel — Five miles out, nearly to the center of the Dead Sea, an international team of scientists has been drilling beneath the seabed to extract a record of climate change and earthquake history stretching back half a million years.

The New York Times Ein Gedi lies about five miles from the drilling platform The preliminary evidence and clues found halfway through the 40-day project are more than the team could have hoped for. The scientists did not expect to pull up a wood fragment that was roughly 400,000 years old. Nor did they expect to come across a layer of gravel from a mere 50,000 to 100,000 years ago. That finding would seem to indicate that what is now the middle of the Dead Sea — which is really a big salt lake — was once a shore, and that the water level had managed to recover naturally.

(click to continue reading Beneath Dead Sea, Scientists Seek Natural History –


  1. I am being sarcastic, if you don’t know. The earth is much, much older than 6,000 years old, only the anti-science Christian fundamentalists think otherwise []

Rebuilding Noah’s Ark Tax-Free

Wages of Sin and a Pink Caddy

Tax breaks for 6,000 year old Earthers is a travesty. Tax breaks for any religious organization is absurd, actually, but especially for the Christian Taliban who want to overthrow the U.S. Constitution and institute a theocracy in its stead.

On Dec. 1, Kentucky Gov. Steven L. Beshear announced that the state would provide tax incentives to support the construction of Ark Encounter, a sprawling theme park on 800 acres of rural Grant County. Under Kentucky’s Tourism Development Act, the state can compensate approved businesses for as much as a quarter of their development costs, using funds drawn out of sales-tax receipts. It’s a considerable sweetener to promote development and jobs.

But in this case, say critics, it may pose a constitutional problem. The developers of Ark Encounter have close ties to a Christian ministry called Answers in Genesis, which promotes “young-earth” creationism—the belief that the account of creation provided in Genesis is scientifically accurate and that the Earth is only 6,000 years old.

More seriously, civil libertarians’ are concerned that the park would involve an unconstitutional advancement of religion. But over the past two decades federal law has moved toward nondiscrimination against religious organizations. This began with the “charitable choice” provisions in Bill Clinton’s welfare-reform package, which sought to allow religious groups to receive government-funded social services. The trend continued with the Bush administration’s promotion of faith-based initiatives, which the Obama administration has extended in barely modified form. The constitutional argument therefore seems tired, supporting a form of discrimination that the government is abandoning in other quarters.

Should the promotion of tourism be subject to this kind of discrimination? The legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky has stated that he objects to the park receiving state funds because it “is about bringing the Bible to life.” But why is that different, legally speaking, from Disneyland bringing Pirates of the Caribbean to life? At what point did the planners of Ark Encounter go too far in their concerns for religious authenticity?

(click to continue reading Wilfred M. McClay: Rebuilding Noah’s Ark, Tax-Free –

I wouldn’t be surprised if, despite the outcry, Kentucky gives in to these fanatics.

Darwin Fish Prototype

Darwin Fish Prototype
Darwin Fish Prototype, originally uploaded by swanksalot.

sure looks like the Darwin Fish (the answer to the Jesus fish often found on car bumper-stickers)
Mosque of Suleiman the Magnificent 1557 Istanbul, Turkey.


from the Chicago Tribune building, of course.

Fossils Shed New Light on Human Origins

Amazingly cool. I’m sure Sarah Palin and her partners in error1 think these fossils are planted fakes, but I don’t.

Evolutionary Moment

After 15 years of rumors, researchers in the U.S. and Ethiopia on Thursday made public fossils from a 4.4-million-year-old human forebearer they say reveals that our earliest ancestors were more modern than scholars assumed and deepens the evolutionary gulf separating humankind from today’s apes and chimpanzees.

The highlight of the extensive fossil trove is a female skeleton a million years older than the iconic bones of Lucy, the primitive female figure that has long symbolized humankind’s beginnings.

[Click to continue reading Fossils Shed New Light on Human Origins –]

Skull and Concrete

I don’t subscribe to the journal, Science, but I might look for this particular issue

Documented in 11 research papers to be published Friday in the journal Science, the fossils offer a detailed look at a species of sturdy, small-brained creatures that dwelled in an ancient African glade of hackberry, fig and palm trees, by a river that long ago turned to stone. Despite their antiquity, their bodies were already starting to presage humanity, the scientists said.

Indeed, unlike apes and chimps, they had supple wrists, strong thumbs, flexible fingers and power-grip palms shaped to grasp objects like sticks and stones firmly. They were primed for tool use, even though it would be another two million years or so before our ancestors began to fashion the first stone blades, choppers and axes.

But they were still evolving the ability to walk upright, with a big toe better suited for grasping branches than stepping smartly along, an analysis of their anatomy shows. They made their home in the woods, not on the open savannah grasslands long considered the main arena of human development. Yet their upright posture, distinctive pelvis and other toes suggest they walked easily enough. Most importantly, they showed no sign they walked on their knuckles, as contemporary chimps and apes do.

“They are not what one would have predicted,” said anthropologist Bernard Wood at George Washington University. Although the differences between humans, apes and chimps today are legion, we all shared a common ancestor six million years or so ago. These fossils suggest that creature–still undiscovered–resembled a chimp much less than researchers have always believed.

Note, these photos are mine, and have nothing to do with the new fossil discoveries.

From the Ann Gibbons article at Science:

Researchers have unveiled the oldest known skeleton of a putative human ancestor–and it is full of surprises. Although the creature, named Ardipithecus ramidus, had a brain and body the size of a chimpanzee, it did not knuckle-walk or swing through the trees like an ape. Instead, “Ardi” walked upright, with a big, stiff foot and short, wide pelvis, researchers report in Science. “We thought Lucy was the find of the century,” says paleoanthropologist Andrew Hill of Yale University, referring to the famous 3.2-million-year-old skeleton that revolutionized thinking about human origins. “But in retrospect, it was not.”
Researchers have long argued about whether our early ancestors passed through a great-ape stage in which they looked like protochimpanzees, with short backs; arms adapted for swinging through the trees; and a pelvis and limbs adapted for knuckle-walking (Science, 21 November 1969, p. 953). This “troglodytian,” or chimpanzee, model for early human behavior (named for the common chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes) suggests that our ancestors lost many of the key adaptations still found in chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas, such as daggerlike canines and knuckle-walking, which those apes were thought to have inherited from a common ancestor.

[Click to continue reading Ancient Skeleton May Rewrite Earliest Chapter of Human Evolution — Gibbons 2009 (1001): 1 — ScienceNOW]

  1. the Creationists []

Philip Anschutz is building his own empire

Denver billionaire and conservative Christian Philip Anschutz has, uncharacteristically, been in the news recently. First for purchasing Dick Cheney’s favorite magazine, The Weekly Standard:

Right Turn Ahead

[ Right Turn Ahead]

In June, [The Weekly Standard] was handed from one conservative billionaire, [Rupert] Murdoch, to another, Philip F. Anschutz, for about $1 million, according to an executive close to Mr. Murdoch who spoke anonymously because the terms of the deal were meant to be confidential. The new ownership comes at a time when conservatism, especially the version espoused by The Standard involving American muscularity to spread freedom abroad, is not in the ascendancy.

Mr. Anschutz, who made his billions in oil, real estate, railroads and telecommunications before turning to media, is more closely aligned with Christian conservatism, a thread not associated with The Standard.

Staff members say Mr. Anschutz, who has visited the magazine’s Washington offices once since buying it, did not meet with the staff as a whole. He instructed the two top editors — William Kristol, who last year was also a columnist for The New York Times, and Fred Barnes — not to alter the publication’s ideological complexion.

[From New Owner for Weekly Standard as Political Tastes Change –]

and second, for purchasing a crowd-sourced news web site, NowPublic, a media company controlled by the conservative billionaire Philip F. Anschutz, said on Tuesday that it had acquired NowPublic, an innovative Web site for citizen-generated media.

With the sale,, a unit of Mr. Anschutz’s Clarity Digital Group, became the latest company to show interest in a lively corner of the Web: the tools that let people read and share the news around them, sometimes down to neighborhood blocks.

[From Buys NowPublic, a Citizen-Media Web Site –]

Random Anarchists

[for instance, this photo of mine was used by a NowPublic user]

The Weekly Standard does not interest me, except in abstract terms,  ((liberals would do well to at least have a vague idea of what the latest conservative talking points are)) but NowPublic’s users have used dozens1 of my photos in various articles over the four years of their existence. Not a huge number, but at least ten that I noted. I don’t want my photography to be anywhere close to any corporation owned by Philip Anschutz.

Who is Phil Anschutz you might ask? Well, for starters, from his Wikipedia entry:

Anschutz, a Republican donor and supporter of George W. Bush’s administration, has been an active patron of a number of religious and conservative causes:
Helped fund Colorado’s 1992 Amendment 2, a ballot initiative designed to overturn local and state laws that prohibit discrimination against individuals on the basis of sexual orientation.[13]

Helped fund the Discovery Institute, a think tank based in Seattle, Washington that promotes intelligent design and criticizes evolution. [14]

Supported the Parents Television Council, a group that protests against what they believe to be television indecency.[14]

Financed and distributed Christian films, such as Amazing Grace and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, for mass audiences through his two film production companies and ownership of much of the Regal, Edwards and United Artists theater chains. In addition, as a producer Anschutz reportedly required the removal of certain material related to drug use and sex in the 2004 film Ray because he found it objectionable.[14]

Financed The Foundation for a Better Life.

[From Philip Anschutz – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]

There’s more, but that was enough for me to send an email to NowPublic co-founder Michael Tippett, asking

In light of super conservative Republican Philip Anschutz purchasing your company, how do I go about removing my photos from the various stories they’ve been used on?

Cheers, and hope you haven’t been fired, or forced to take a loyalty oath to the anti-evolutionary forces

If I get a response, I’ll add it to this post.

  1. or more, I stopped keeping track []

Reading Around on July 4th through July 5th

A few interesting links collected July 4th through July 5th:

  • Can I Get a Witness? | TPM – yet more evidence that the Washington Post is in a death spiral”But it is bizarre to say that Palin is uncomfortable in the role of the victim. In fact I’m not sure I’ve ever found a better use for this much over-used word. As Noam Scheiber explained in one of the earliest and perhaps most insightful profiles of Palin, victimhood and resentment are Palin’s twin touchstones. They define who she is.”
  • Cat M.D.s prevent heart attack fatalities | The Daily Blank – Image by swanksalot via Flickr “Owning a cat could mean the difference between life and death. The University of Minnesota recently released a study that the risk of dying from a heart attack is 40% higher among people who have never owned a cat, compared to people who have.”
  • Confirmed: God is slightly gay – “Behold, the ongoing, increasingly startling research: homosexual and bisexual behavior, it turns out, is rampant in the animal kingdom. And by rampant, I mean proving to be damn near universal, commonplace across all species everywhere, existing for myriad reasons ranging from pure survival and procreative influence, right on over to pure pleasure, co-parenting, giddy screeching multiple monkey orgasm, even love, and a few dozen other potential explanations science hasn’t quite figured out yet. Imagine.

    Are you thinking, why sure, everyone knows about those sex-crazed dolphins and those superslut bonobo monkeys and the few other godless creatures like them, the sea turtles and the weird sheep and such, creatures who obviously haven’t read Leviticus. But that’s about it, right? Most animals are devoutly hetero and straight and damn happy about it, right?


  • Daily Kos: State of the Nation – Palins Poetry – Awesome.
    “The following is the complete text, directly transcribed, of the portion of Sarah Palin’s resignation speech available on video. The text is accurate and unaltered; a portion of the speech is missing from the beginning because the video does not start until then.The lines have been transcribed, however, in the form of vers libre poetry, which seemed appropriate under the circumstances.”
  • War: Retreat of the 20,000 — Printout — TIME – “Retreat, hell!” snapped Major General Oliver Prince Smith, commander of the 1st Marine Division, with which he had fought on Guadalcanal, New Britain, Peleliu, Okinawa (TIME, Sept. 25). “We’re not retreating, we’re just advancing in a different direction”

    Wait, you mean Sarah Barracuda Palin flubbed a quotation, again? She needs to stop letting Trig vet her speeches

Coca Cola is for creationist cretins

Speaking of reasons to avoid Coca Cola products, Professor Myers found one other

Coca Cola is a corporate partner with the Creation “Museum”. Ken Ham can brag about this meaningless exploitation of his suckers aka “museum” attendees for profit, but I doubt that Coke wants to trumpet this news — it looks like they’re sponsoring stupidity.

I don’t know that there is much point to protesting the association anyway. If Coke pulled out, you know the local Pepsi distributors would jump in to offer a contract, and then Ken Ham would proudly point to their deal as somehow vindicating their existence.

[From Coke is for creationist cretins : Pharyngula]

And since Pepsi-Cola is a famous Republican corporation, just avoid cola altogether, and drink coffee (or wine, depending).

The Body as Bacterial Landlord

Robert Lee Hotz has written an extremely fascinating look at our bacterial over-lords. If I wasn’t so busy, I’d love to create a treatment of this concept for a possible sci-fi thriller. Or something. Too interesting not to research further.

When scientists discovered that bacteria, not stress, caused most stomach ulcers, the insight overturned a century of medical dogma, transformed clinical practice and garnered a 2005 Nobel Prize for the two researchers who made the connection so many others had missed. After people adopted antibiotics to treat gastric distress, though, microbiologist Martin Blaser and his colleagues at New York University began to document an odd medical trend.

Ulcers did drop dramatically, as expected. So did the incidence of stomach cancer. As the bacteria, called Helicobacter pylori, virtually disappeared among children, however, cases of asthma tripled. So did rates of hay fever and allergies, such as eczema. Among adults, gastric reflux disease became more common, as did some forms of esophageal cancer, researchers noted.

To Dr. Blaser’s way of thinking, antibiotics and other sanitation measures are eliminating the harm these bacteria cause at the expense of the protection they provide us.

The human body teems with so many microbes that they outnumber our own cells ten to one. Vast schools of bacteria are in us and around us, like fish nuzzling a coral reef. “They are not simply along for the ride,” says Stanford University microbiologist David Relman. “They are interacting with us.”

Yet almost all of them are still unknown to science, since most cannot be grown and studied in the laboratory. In ways mysterious to medicine, this microbial menagerie of fellow travelers in and on us is controlling our health, affecting obesity, cancer and heart disease, among others.

[From The Body as Bacterial Landlord –]

Our constant interference with the body through use of anti-biotics has real consequences:

…As many as 500 species of bacteria may inhabit our guts, like H.pylori. Maybe 500 or so other species make themselves at home in our mouth, where each tooth has its own unique bacterial colony, Dr. Relman recently determined. No one knows how many species we contain in all. This past August, researchers at Kings College London identified yet another new species of oral bacteria between the tongue and cheek.

Until recently, half of humanity harbored these H. pylori stomach bacteria, according to a 2002 study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Indeed, we appear to have evolved together. Among those born in the U.S. during the 1990s, however, only 5% or so still carry these microbes, largely due to the indiscriminate use of antibiotics.

After analyzing health records of 7,412 people collected by the National Center for Health Statistics, Dr. Blaser and NYU epidemiologist Yu Chen reported this summer in the Journal of Infectious Diseases that children between three and 13 years old who tested positive for H. pylori bacteria were 59% less likely to have asthma. They also were 40% to 60% less likely to have hay fever or rashes.

Bacteria has evolved for billions of years, and is now an essential part of the human body

Last week, University of Chicago immunologist Alexander Chervonsky and his collaborators at Yale University reported that doses of the right stomach bacteria can stop the development of Type 1 diabetes in lab mice.

“By changing who is living in our guts, we can prevent Type 1 diabetes,” Dr. Chervonsky says.

Other bacteria are just as crucial to our well-being, feeding us the calories from food we can’t digest on our own, bolstering our immune systems, tending our skin and dosing us with vitamins, such as B-6 and B-12, which we are unable to synthesize unaided.

And there is work being done attempting to categorize the bacteria, and figure out what exactly each contributes to our body:

For the first time, researchers are attempting to identify and analyze the types of bacteria that live within us, in an effort that makes the Human Genome Project look like child’s play. Instead of sequencing the genes of one microbe at a time, researchers in a five-year, $125 million NIH effort called the Human Microbiome Project are analyzing entire communities of mixed bacteria at once, in a technique called metagenomics.

To start, researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mass., and the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Md., are sequencing the genomes of 200 microbe species isolated from 250 healthy volunteers. They are sampling bacteria from the skin, gut, vagina, mouth and nose, then attempting to identify them by cataloging variations in a single gene sequence that all bacteria share.

If I was in school right now, this might be a very tempting field to enter.
[Digg-enabled access to full article via this link]

Palin and Six Thousand Year Old Earth

I would be very interested if Sarah Palin was asked, point blank, in the upcoming debate if she believes the Earth is 6,000 years old. If she has conviction of her beliefs, she shouldn’t lie in response just to obscure and deny her religion, but have the courage to actually say what she believes.

Dinosaur Invasion
[Dinosaur Invasion – click to embiggen, if you aren’t easily frightened]

ANCHORAGE — Soon after Sarah Palin was elected mayor of the foothill town of Wasilla, Alaska, she startled a local music teacher by insisting in casual conversation that men and dinosaurs coexisted on an Earth created 6,000 years ago — about 65 million years after scientists say most dinosaurs became extinct — the teacher said.

After conducting a college band and watching Palin deliver a commencement address to a small group of home-schooled students in June 1997, Wasilla resident Philip Munger said, he asked the young mayor about her religious beliefs.

Palin told him that “dinosaurs and humans walked the Earth at the same time,” Munger said. When he asked her about prehistoric fossils and tracks dating back millions of years, Palin said “she had seen pictures of human footprints inside the tracks,” recalled Munger, who teaches music at the University of Alaska in Anchorage and has regularly criticized Palin in recent years on his liberal political blog, called Progressive Alaska.

The idea of a “young Earth” — that God created the Earth about 6,000 years ago, and dinosaurs and humans coexisted early on — is a popular strain of creationism.

Though in her race for governor she called for faith-based “intelligent design” to be taught along with evolution in Alaska’s schools, Gov. Palin has not sought to require it, state educators say.

[From Palin treads carefully between fundamentalist beliefs and public policy – Los Angeles Times]

Palin has not sought yet, but she’s probably just biding her time.

Evolution and Fat

Apparently, since for most of human history, famine was a bigger concern than feast, our bodies have evolved to maintain a certain weight, making losing weight more difficult than simple caloric reduction and/or exercise, and making it much harder to lose weight once you’ve gained it. Anecdotally, we’ve known this to be true, but now there is some scientific data to support what our bodies have been telling us.

“Loosely put, after you’ve lost weight, you have more of an emotional response to food and less ability to control that response,” says Michael Rosenbaum, lead author of the study in this month’s Journal of Clinical Investigation.

The key driver of this system is leptin, a hormone secreted by fat cells. When humans… lose 10% or more of their body weight, leptin falls rapidly and sets off a cascade of physiological changes that act to put weight back on. Skeletal muscles work more efficiently, thyroid and other hormones are reduced — all so the body burns 15% to 20% fewer calories, enough to put back 25 pounds or more a year.

This mechanism kicks in whether people are obese or relatively lean before losing weight — and researchers believe the effect can last for years. In previous studies, giving subjects replacement leptin reversed the metabolic changes, in effect tricking the body into ignoring the weight loss.

The latest study shows that these metabolic changes are mirrored in altered brain activity when people lose weight. The Columbia researchers put six obese subjects on liquid diets and reduced their weight by 10%, then gave them replacement leptin or a placebo. At each stage, researchers observed their brain activity using functional MRIs when they were shown food and non-food items.

The scans showed that in the weight-reduced state, the subjects had more blood flow in areas of the brain that govern emotional and sensory responses to food and less in areas involving control of food intake. When the subjects were given replacement leptin, brain activity returned to what it had been before they lost weight.

[From Can’t Keep the Weight Off? Maybe Leptin Is the Culprit –]

Not that keeping weight off is impossible, just it takes more willpower than you’d think.

Suron Salad

[You don’t win friends with salad, unless it is really good, like this from Cafe Suron, on Pratt, Rogers Park, Chicago]

[Non-WSJ subscribers can use this link to read the entire article]