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Hometown: Alabama
Member since: Fri Sep 9, 2005, 07:39 PM
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The Corn of the Future Is Hundreds of Years Old and Makes Its Own Mucus (Smithsonian)

By Jason Daley
August 10, 2018

In the 1980s, Howard-Yana Shapiro, now chief agricultural officer at Mars, Incorporated, was looking for new kinds of corn. He was in the Mixes District of Oaxaca in southern Mexico, the area where the precursors to maize (aka corn) first evolved, when he located some of the strangest corn ever seen. Not only was it 16 to 20 feet tall, dwarfing the 12-foot stuff in American fields, it took six to eight months to mature, far longer than the 3 months needed for conventional corn. Yet it grew to those impressive heights in what can charitably be called poor soil, without the use of fertilizer.. But the strangest part of the corn was its aerial roots--green and rose-colored, finger-like protrusions sticking out of the corn’s stalk, dripping with a clear, syrupy gel.

Shapiro suspected that those mucousy fingers might be the Holy Grail of agriculture. He believed that the roots allowed this unique variety of corn, dubbed Sierra Mixe and locally bred over hundreds or even thousands of years, to produce its own nitrogen, an essential nutrient for crops that is usually applied as fertilizer in epic amounts.

The idea seemed promising, but without DNA tools to look into the specifics of how the corn was making nitrogen, the discovery was shelved. Nearly two decades later, in 2005, Alan B. Bennett of the University of California, Davis—along with Shapiro and other researchers—began using cutting-edge technology to look into the nitrogen-fixing properties of the phlegmy corn, finding that indeed, bacteria living in the mucus were pulling nitrogen from the air, transmuting it into a form the corn could absorb.

Now, after over a decade of field research and genetic analysis, the team has published their work in the journal PLOS Biology. If the nitrogen-fixing trait could be bred into conventional corn, allowing it to produce even a portion of its own nitrogen, it could reduce the cost of farming, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and halt one of the major pollutants in lakes, rivers and the ocean. In other words, it could lead to a second nitrogen revolution.
Co-author Jean Michel-Ane from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, agrees that this discovery opens up all types of new possibilities. “Engineering corn to fix nitrogen and form root nodules like legumes has been a dream and struggle of scientists for decades. It turns out that this corn developed a totally different way to solve this nitrogen fixation problem. The scientific community probably underestimated nitrogen fixation in other crops because of its obsession with root nodules,” he says in a statement. “This corn showed us that nature can find solutions to some problems far beyond what scientists could ever imagine.”
more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/corn-future-hundreds-years-old-and-makes-its-own-mucus-180969972/

Not exactly LBN, but I had never heard of this before. There's lots more in the article, and some of the developments should be in the field soon.
Posted by eppur_se_muova | Sat Oct 10, 2020, 07:45 PM (5 replies)

Not sure where to post this -- maybe Cooking and Baking, maybe here ? (Apples) {fixed a link}

Around the World in Rare and Beautiful Apples

From the sweet to the offbeat.
by Anne Ewbank January 6, 2020

Inside a bright Brooklyn gallery that is plastered in photographs of apples, William Mullan is being besieged with questions.

A writer is researching apples for his novel set in post-World War II New York. An employee of a fruit-delivery company, who covetously eyes the round table on which Mullan has artfully arranged apples, asks where to buy his artwork.

But these aren’t your Granny Smith’s apples. A handful of Knobbed Russets slumping on the table resemble rotting masses. Despite their brown, wrinkly folds, they’re ripe, with clean white interiors. Another, the small Roberts Crab, when sliced by Mullan through the middle to show its vermillion flesh, looks less like an apple than a Bing cherry. The entire lineup consists of apples assembled by Mullan, who, by publishing his fruit photographs in a book and on Instagram, is putting the glorious diversity of apples in the limelight.

Mullan, whose day job is as a brand manager for Raaka Chocolate, can rhapsodize about apples at length. He notes that the api etoile, an apple of Swiss or French origin that grows into a rounded star shape, is hard to find, with the trees he’s seen bearing fruit little and lately. He likens them to Pokémon. “You’re really lucky if you catch it,” he says with a laugh.

But he quickly sobers. “It’s a shame because they’re really cute, they’re really delicious.” Due to the demands of industrial farming, only a handful of apple varieties make it to stores, and even of those, only the most uniform specimens sit on the shelves. Growers have abandoned many delicious or beautiful varieties that have delicate skin, lower-yield trees, or greater susceptibility to disease.

more: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/unusual-apples
https://www.instagram.com/pomme_queen/ (photo gallery)

I'm especially fascinated by the Black Oxford, since it might be cross-bred with the Arkansas Black. The Arkansas Black faded from production after a wave of parasites killed much of the crop. Perhaps a hybrid could prove more resistant, and still a late fruiter like the AB. With advancing climate change, a strain that ripens in November might grow pretty far north !

ETA: cut-&-paste errors in links
Posted by eppur_se_muova | Wed Sep 30, 2020, 02:41 PM (6 replies)

Mary Katharine Goddard, the Woman who Signed the Declaration of Independence (Smithsonian)

By Erick Trickey
November 14, 2018

As British forces chased George Washington’s Continental Army out of New Jersey in December 1776, a fearful Continental Congress packed the Declaration of Independence into a wagon and slipped out of Philadelphia to Baltimore. Weeks later, they learned that the Revolution had turned their way: Washington had crossed the Delaware River on Christmas Day and beaten the redcoats at Trenton and Princeton. Emboldened, the members of Congress ordered a second printing of the Declaration – and, for the first time, printed their names on it.

For the job, Congress turned to one of the most important journalists of America’s Revolutionary era. Also Baltimore’s postmaster, she was likely the United States government’s first female employee. At the bottom of the broadside, issued in January 1777, she too signed the Declaration: “Baltimore, in Maryland: Printed by Mary Katharine Goddard.”

For three years after taking over Baltimore’s six-month-old Maryland Journal from her vagabond, indebted brother, Goddard had advocated for the patriot cause. She’d editorialized against British brutality, reprinted Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, and published extra editions about Congress’ call to arms and the Battle of Bunker Hill. In her 23-year publishing career, Goddard earned a place in history as one of the most prominent publishers during the nation’s revolutionary era.
Born June 16, 1738, into a Connecticut family of printers and postmasters, Goddard was taught reading and math by her mother, Sarah, a well-tutored daughter of a wealthy landowner. She also studied Latin, French, and science in New London’s public school, where girls could receive hour-long lessons after the boys’ schooling was done for the day.

In 1755, the family’s fortunes changed when Goddard’s father, postmaster Giles Goddard, became too ill to work. Sarah sent Goddard’s younger brother, 15-year-old William, to New Haven to work as a printer’s apprentice. Seven years later, after Giles’s death, the Goddards moved to Providence, and Sarah financed Rhode Island’s first newspaper, the Providence Gazette. William, then 21, was listed as publisher. “[It] carried his imprint,” wrote Sharon M. Murphy in the 1983 book Great Women of the Press, “but displayed from the start his mother’s business sense and his sister’s steadiness.”
more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/mary-katharine-goddard-woman-who-signed-declaration-independence-180970816/
Posted by eppur_se_muova | Tue Sep 29, 2020, 06:13 PM (4 replies)

'... the State marks its condemnation of the selfish millionaire's unworthy life.'

What Hundreds of American Public Libraries Owe to Carnegie’s Disdain for Inherited Wealth

One reason why the steel magnate spent much of his fortune building libraries is that he saw handing large fortunes to the next generation as a waste of money.

The Conversation | Arlene Weismantel

The same ethos that turned Andrew Carnegie into one of the biggest philanthropists of all time made him a fervent proponent of taxing big inheritances. As the steel magnate wrote in his seminal 1899 essay, The Gospel of Wealth:

“Of all forms of taxation this seems the wisest. By taxing estates heavily at death the State marks its condemnation of the selfish millionaire’s unworthy life.”

Carnegie argued that handing large fortunes to the next generation wasted money, as it was unlikely that descendants would match the exceptional abilities that had created the wealth into which they were born. He also surmised that dynasties harm heirs by robbing their lives of purpose and meaning.

He practiced what he preached and was still actively giving in 1911 after he had already given away 90 percent of his wealth to causes he cared passionately about, especially libraries. As a pioneer of the kind of large-scale American philanthropy now practiced by the likes of Bill Gates and George Soros, he espoused a philosophy that many of today’s billionaires who want to leave their mark through good works are still following.
more: https://getpocket.com/explore/item/what-hundreds-of-american-public-libraries-owe-to-carnegie-s-disdain-for-inherited-wealth?utm_source=pocket-newtab

(Carnegie was far from perfect. But he knew what hard work and self-education meant, unlike today's pompous, self-righteous conservatives who want to cut any form of public assistance and hide their wealth in offshore tax havens.)
Posted by eppur_se_muova | Tue Sep 22, 2020, 01:27 PM (2 replies)

The Baloney Detection Kit (Carl Sagan was too well-mannered to call it bullshit) (brainpickings)

Carl Sagan’s rules for critical thinking offer cognitive fortification against propaganda, pseudoscience, and general falsehood.

Brain Pickings | Maria Popova

Carl Sagan (November 9, 1934–December 20, 1996) was many things — a cosmic sage, voracious reader, hopeless romantic, and brilliant philosopher. But above all, he endures as our era’s greatest patron saint of reason and critical thinking, a master of the vital balance between skepticism and openness. In The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (public library) — the same indispensable volume that gave us Sagan’s timeless meditation on science and spirituality, published mere months before his death in 1996 — Sagan shares his secret to upholding the rites of reason, even in the face of society’s most shameless untruths and outrageous propaganda.

In a chapter titled “The Fine Art of Baloney Detection,” Sagan reflects on the many types of deception to which we’re susceptible — from psychics to religious zealotry to paid product endorsements by scientists, which he held in especially low regard, noting that they “betray contempt for the intelligence of their customers” and “introduce an insidious corruption of popular attitudes about scientific objectivity.” (Cue in PBS’s Joe Hanson on how to read science news.) But rather than preaching from the ivory tower of self-righteousness, Sagan approaches the subject from the most vulnerable of places — having just lost both of his parents, he reflects on the all too human allure of promises of supernatural reunions in the afterlife, reminding us that falling for such fictions doesn’t make us stupid or bad people, but simply means that we need to equip ourselves with the right tools against them.

Through their training, scientists are equipped with what Sagan calls a “baloney detection kit” — a set of cognitive tools and techniques that fortify the mind against penetration by falsehoods:
The kit is brought out as a matter of course whenever new ideas are offered for consideration. If the new idea survives examination by the tools in our kit, we grant it warm, although tentative, acceptance. If you’re so inclined, if you don’t want to buy baloney even when it’s reassuring to do so, there are precautions that can be taken; there’s a tried-and-true, consumer-tested method.

But the kit, Sagan argues, isn’t merely a tool of science — rather, it contains invaluable tools of healthy skepticism that apply just as elegantly, and just as necessarily, to everyday life. By adopting the kit, we can all shield ourselves against clueless guile and deliberate manipulation. Sagan shares nine of these tools:

1. Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the “facts.”

lots more: https://getpocket.com/explore/item/the-baloney-detection-kit-carl-sagan-s-rules-for-bullshit-busting-and-critical-thinking?utm_source=pocket-newtab

Please bookmark the link and come back to read it when you have time to read it slowly and full digest it.

I read this book many years ago, at a time when science and factual thinking were under attack, but nowhere near as viciously and mendaciously as today. It may be time to go back and re-read it, comparing what has happened to the GOP with Sagan's warnings about going down that path.
Posted by eppur_se_muova | Sat Sep 19, 2020, 06:40 PM (1 replies)

So ... the nurse at the check-in desk handed me an electronic passcard labeled 'EATME' ...

I thought it was a peculiar thing to see on a security card. Did they just assign some sort of randomly chosen phrase to each card ? Was there some inscrutable logic behind these labels, like the names of Ships in The Culture ? At first I thought I saw some strange 3D effect as the card was tilted, but that was just some other writing, so completely faded it was only visible from just the right angle. (Only later did I recall that a small cake marked 'EAT ME' had cause a lot of trouble for Alice in Wonderland ...) As I puzzled over this, I noted that the card had lots of wear, from handling by many hands, so that the other markings on the card were worn away almost completely, with the wear being very heavy near the edges, where it was easily grasped, and much less near the center, where the phrase 'EATME' appeared ... and that was when I finally realized that the card had originally been labelled 'TREATMENT'.
Posted by eppur_se_muova | Wed Sep 16, 2020, 12:52 AM (10 replies)

The Tragedy of the 'Tragedy of the Commons' (Scientific American)

The man who wrote one of environmentalism’s most-cited essays was a racist, eugenicist, nativist and Islamaphobe—plus his argument was wrong

By Matto Mildenberger on April 23, 2019

Fifty years ago, University of California professor Garrett Hardin penned an influential essay in the journal Science. Hardin saw all humans as selfish herders: we worry that our neighbors’ cattle will graze the best grass. So, we send more of our cows out to consume that grass first. We take it first, before someone else steals our share. This creates a vicious cycle of environmental degradation that Hardin described as the “tragedy of the commons.”

It's hard to overstate Hardin’s impact on modern environmentalism. His views are taught across ecology, economics, political science and environmental studies. His essay remains an academic blockbuster, with almost 40,000 citations. It still gets republished in prominent environmental anthologies.

But here are some inconvenient truths: Hardin was a racist, eugenicist, nativist and Islamophobe. He is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a known white nationalist. His writings and political activism helped inspire the anti-immigrant hatred spilling across America today.

And he promoted an idea he called “lifeboat ethics”: since global resources are finite, Hardin believed the rich should throw poor people overboard to keep their boat above water.
more (worth the read): https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/voices/the-tragedy-of-the-tragedy-of-the-commons/

This, and/or similar rebuttals, have, I'm sure, been posted on DU before. But it's always worth another read.
Posted by eppur_se_muova | Tue Aug 18, 2020, 10:31 AM (5 replies)

Can someone with real medical competence tell me why this weird idea wouldn't work?

This idea occurred to me a couple of years ago. It concerns the need for patients with lung damage, or fluid-filled lungs -- such as pneumonia patients or victims of smoke inhalation -- to maintain blood oxygenation, when the normal process of O2 absorption from their lungs is frustrated. I suppose someone, at some point, might have tried using a heart-lung machine to bypass the lungs in desperate cases, but I don't know for sure. With heart-lung machines being more complicated, more expensive, and less common than ventilators anyway, this wouldn't seem to be much help in the COVID crisis, so something simpler is needed. Unfortunately, I'm not a doctor, nor any sort of medical expert, myself, and I don't know who I could recommend this idea to for possible evaluation.

The idea comes from one very odd observation. Some turtles -- air-breathing animals which totally lack gills -- are able to survive hibernation underwater for months at a time. Of course, this is partly due to a drastic slowing of the animals' metabolism, a common ability among reptiles, but it's not enough by itself. Recently, investigators learned that these turtles are actually capable of "breathing" underwater -- through their butts. Now, technically, it involves the cloaca, an organ found in reptiles and birds, but not humans. Now, I realize turtles are not humans, and (with one prominent exception) humans are not turtles, and a human intestine is not the same as a cloaca. But consider what the intestines do -- they absorb nutrients, water, and salts from the contents of the digestive tract (water and salts apparently flowing both ways, as needed), at least partly by simple diffusion. To make this process rapid enough to be effective, the inner surfaces of the intestines are covered with tiny protrusions called villi, which increase the surface area available for diffusion, complementary to the way the airways of the lungs are ramified into many tiny alveoli for rapid diffusion of O2 and CO2. So couldn't an intestine serve as an alternative lung ? This is an idea which could be quickly be tested on dogs or pigs -- use a colonoscope or similar device to insert a tube deep into the colon, pass in O2-enriched air and allow it to pass out again through the anus. Then cut the animal's O2 supply (substitute pure N2, e.g.) and monitor the blood oxygen level. Even if this method is not as effective as normal breathing, it could still be very useful. It probably couldn't substitute completely for a ventilator, but might substantially augment oxygenation for patients in extreme pulmonary distress -- maybe enough to tip the balance. The equipment involved is not much more complicated than the high-flow nasal cannulas commonly in use, and much simpler than a ventilator. When ventilators run out, maybe it could even serve as a stopgap until a ventilator becomes available.

Again, I'm not a doctor, and don't have any in the family or my circle of acquaintances to discuss this with, but I'm just putting this out there to see if anyone can find merit in it, or improve the idea to the point it's more worth considering. Hope it helps someone, somewhere, somewhen.

(Possible later development -- use silicone or fluorocarbon fluids -- artificial blood -- in place of air. Might be of interest for deep-sea diving, or at least SF stories about same.)
Posted by eppur_se_muova | Tue Apr 7, 2020, 12:17 AM (10 replies)

**SIGH** Entropy must increase or stay constant WITHIN A CLOSED SYSTEM. (badly mistitled OP)

This is a FAR more important qualification than any requirement for equilibrium -- in fact the equilibrium argument is superfluous. Complex life evolved freely -- wantonly -- on Earth because Earth is anything BUT a closed system. The Sun constantly beams down a torrent of energy onto the Earth's surface. Virtually all of this radiation is eventually re-radiated back into space, where it expands virtually unimpeded into an effectively infinite volume, creating all the entropy that could ever be required, and allowing the local decrease in entropy that is absolutely characteristic of every living organism. In the process of being absorbed, flowing from one point to another, and eventually being lost again, that energy does useful work on the Earth's surface, including creating energetic molecules which plants and animals alike rely on for survival. That accumulation of 'negentropy' is perfectly allowed by the laws of thermodynamics in an open system. If we were to regard the Sun, the Earth, AND all the radiation emitted by the Sun as a closed system (it isn't perfectly, but close enough) then entropy is increasing massively overall, and the fact that a little turbulence in the flow of energy has produced all the complexity of life on earth is not even a jot in the entropy balance.

The suggestion that an impact is involved is also completely unnecessary. We have known since the days of the Miller-Urey experiment that radiation alone is sufficient. All the faddish theories about "life formed in outer space" will eventually be discarded as being as untenable as they are unnecessary. The attraction of these theories is romantic, not scientific -- there are no holes in any theories demanding an extraterrestial origin of life.
Posted by eppur_se_muova | Tue Jan 8, 2019, 10:53 AM (1 replies)

Use a two-part sail, which splits in two for the deceleration phase.


scroll to Fig. 5 on p. 8. This paper describes laser-pushed sails, but microwave-pushed sails would use similar principles. Interestingly, both electric and magnetic sails can be used for propulsion.
Posted by eppur_se_muova | Sat Mar 11, 2017, 11:10 PM (2 replies)
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