By way of Follow Me Here, the NYT’s Nathaniel Rich examines the promise, challenges, and ethics of reviving extinct species, and beyond:
“What is coming will go well beyond the resurrection of extinct species. For millenniums, we have customized our environment, our vegetables and our animals, through breeding, fertilization and pollination. Synthetic biology offers far more sophisticated tools. The creation of novel organisms, like new animals, plants and bacteria, will transform human medicine, agriculture, energy production and much else. De-extinction ‘is the most conservative, earliest application of this technology,’ says Danny Hillis, a Long Now board member and a prolific inventor who pioneered the technology that is the basis for most supercomputers.”
The WP’s Brad Plumer talks with Elizabeth Kolber about her new book, The Sixth Extinction, and the many grim portents for life on our planet these days. “I think many scientists would say that what we’re doing to the chemistry of the oceans is the most significant. One-third of the carbon-dioxide that we pump into the air ends up in the oceans almost right away, and when CO2 dissolves in water, it forms an acid, that’s just an unfortunate fact.”
Time? What time do you think we have? As has been going around the Interweb, a series of intriguing timelines ranging from last year to the age of the universe. Among the interesting facts pointed out: “The T-Rex is closer in time to seeing a Justin Bieber concert than seeing a live stegosaurus.” Also: “When we refer to the most ancient of ancient history, we are still just talking about…less than 3% of the time that humans who look like us have existed.”
And now, IT HAS A FACE. Scientists program an old-timey robot to dramatize the electrical signals emanating from slime mold. In a 100,000 years, this is going to seem like one of those Skynet-level bad ideas. And the hat is particularly creepy touch — Very Something Wicked This Way Comes.
Hello all. So after a month or so of significant work — hence, the relative quiet around these parts of late — I have followed up on my earlier promise/threat and transformed all 1200+ pages of my dissertation into Uphill All the Way, the online edition.
The text was actually already available online in PDF form through Columbia’s Academic Commons, which is one of the reasons I thought converting it for better HTML presentation was a good idea. Now, hopefully, one can peruse the chapters more easily (or someone can skip around to the parts they are interested in.)
I don’t know if this is reassuring or depressing, but reading through it all again over the past month and change, I was once again struck by how much of this story resonates with recent events. Long before the disappointment of the current administration, ostensible progressive Woodrow Wilson had cracked down on civil liberties and broken the heart of the world at Versailles. Before Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, there was Eugene Debs and Sacco and Vanzetti. Before Austerity, there was Coolidge “Parsimony”. Before Katrina, the Great Mississippi Flood. Before Holder, Palmer. Before today’s continuing fight over evolution, Scopes. Before the recent news of forced sterilizations in California prisons, breaking just this past weekend, there was Buck v. Bell.
Instead of the Tea Party, there were 100% Americans and an Invisible Empire. Instead of fretting about “Obamacare” and “Kenyan Socialists,” conservatives rallied against the Sheppard-Towner Act and a Catholic in the White House. Instead of a War on Drugs, there was a Noble Experiment.
Then as now, civil liberties, corporate corruption, and immigration reform were major issues of the day. Then as now, the Supreme Court was a roadblock to positive change. Then as now, a culture of prosperity masked inequality and deep injustices in American life, and an ascendant business class aimed to leverage its considerable political influence to stamp out workers’ right to organize.
In the 1920s just as much as the 2010’s, progressives struggled to organize in opposition, and began to seriously question the two-party system. Then as now, many lost heart in the possibility of change. And, then as now, the push to make a more just and progressive America was, as always, Uphill all the Way.
ABC News takes a gander at the subway dogs of Moscow, who, for reasons of survival, seem to have figured out the system better than most tourists. “Moscow’s strays have also been observed obeying traffic lights, says Vereshchagin…Sometimes a pack will send out a smaller, cuter member apparently realizing it will be more successful at begging than its bigger, less attractive counterparts.”
In very related news, a new study finds that, since domestication many moons ago, dogs and humans have been evolving along parallel lines. “The study shows that dogs split from gray wolves about 32,000 years ago, and that since then, domestic dogs’ brains and digestive organs have evolved in ways very similar to the brains and organs of humans…They found both species underwent similar changes in genes responsible for digestion and metabolism, such as genes that code for cholesterol transport.” This must be the reason Berk loves him some gummi candy.
From a few weeks ago and languishing in the bookmarks, scientists find nematodes a mile below the Earth’s surface, raising the possibility of similar life on other worlds. The spice must flow… “The two lead researchers…said the discovery of creatures so far below ground, with nervous, digestive and reproductive systems, was akin to finding ‘Moby Dick in Lake Ontario.‘”
From a 400,000 year-old skull found in Ceprano, Italy, scientists believe they may have locked down humankind’s parent species. “The idea is that, aided by the favorable climates of the Middle Pleistocene starting around 780,000 years ago, Homo heidelbergensis spread far and wide throughout the Old World. Around 400,000 years ago, this mobility began to decrease and Homo heidelbergensis became more isolated, paving the way for the clear emergence of Neanderthals and modern humans in Eurasia and Africa respectively.“
“Along with modern humans, scientists knew about the Neanderthals and a dwarf human species found on the Indonesian island of Flores nicknamed The Hobbit. To this list, experts must now add the Denisovans.” Researchers discover evidence of a fourth separate species of ancient man in the caves of Siberia. “The implications of the finding have been described by Professor Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London as ‘nothing short of sensational… [W]e didn’t know how ancient people in China related to these other humans.‘”