Biotech, bioscience & human origins

I’ve been swampd with interviews on Artificial Intelligence and writing missives to try (in expected futility) shining some light amid the shrill, panicky harrangues out there. Few seem to grasp that we’ve created a vast, new ecosystem – akin to Earth’s primordial soup – into which these AI systems are flooding, just like invasive species. 

I’ll be back to let you know more. Meanwhile, let’s talk about the older Earthly ecosystem.

First: apropos of this topic… It’s 50,000 BC. Where are your children? Discover Tribes, the underground game favorite that thrilled players for years! Now updated by Steve Jackson and author David Brin, Tribes blurs the line between roleplaying and board games. Journey to the Stone Age with Tribes!

The game is IDEAL for a college or HS anthropology or history class to get a feel for how we – and so many familiar human patterns – came about. It’s a VERY social game, best run with 6+ players with generous time allowed. 

We’re running a Kickstarter for the new, boxed version. I’ll add signed bookplates and books to the rewards. 

Now. Returning to science – recent updates and new insights into human origins…

== Re-examining human origins ==

Here’s an interesting article on the life expectancy of ancient humans. About 30,000 years ago, at the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic, the average lifespan began to push past 30 years. Other changes occurred in shifting from nomadic to more urbanized lifestyles, which often lacked proper sewage and hygiene.

Just released: Homo Sapiens Rediscovered: The Scientific Revolution Rewriting our Origins, by paleoarcheologist P. Petitt explores recent advances in our understanding how early humans evolved and innovated in developing art, language and tools.

When monkeys in Thailand use stones as hammers to help crack nuts, they often accidentally create sharp flakes of rock that resemble the stone cutting tools made by early humans. And now archaeologists may need to rethink their assumptions about some of the stone artifacts attributed to early human ancestors over a million years ago. No one has seen these monkeys do anything with the flakes. “Maybe that’s a clue for how stone tools began in the first place.” 
And some more recent re-thinks:  some researchers have recently called into question some of the earliest evidence in Brazil for when humans might have entered the continent, saying ancient sites from 50,000 years ago could have been created by monkeys instead of people. 

== Biotech updates ==

Scientists have created the first detailed wiring diagram of an insect brain The brain, from a fruit fly larva, contained 3016 neurons connected by 548,000 synapses. “Previous wiring diagrams, known as connectomes, were limited to worms like c. elegans and tadpoles with just a few hundred neurons and a few thousand synaptic connections.  It shows just how far they still have to go, to map a human brain, which contains more than 80 billion neurons and hundreds of trillions of synapses.”  The team began by slicing a single tiny brain the size of a grain of salt into thousands of very thin sections….  

And now, shroom-boom! The Ecovative company grows huge slabs of mycelium (mushroom/fungi) which can be turned into styrofoam substitute packing material – or faux leather, or even vegan bacon. Scaling up fast, too. 

A new anti-fungal compound kills so effectively it’s been named after Keanu Reeves. Along the lines of The Last of Us. 

A fundamental stepping stone in biogenesis? Were there achievable self-forming stages in the early soup on the way to the earliest ribosome? 

== Ecological News ==

Massive blob headed to Florida: More than 13 million tons of sargassum, a brown seaweed, has been drifting in the Atlantic Ocean. This year’s bloom is the largest ever recorded; such huge masses can create dead zones in the ocean, killing sealife. Sticky mats have been washing up on Florida and Mexico beaches. 

A new ocean climate solution – SeaChange – developed by UCLA engineers attempts to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gases by pulling carbon dioxide out of seawater, trapping it in calcium carbonate mineral, then returning the seawater to the ocean to trap more CO2.

There are indications that higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide may alter the micronutrient levels in plants and kelp.

Hopeful news? Dolphins have been spotted frolicking in New York City’s Bronx River, an encouraging sign of the improving health of a waterway that was for many years befouled as a sewer for industrial waste.

But alas, less hopeful…. Climate disruption caused by a decline in marine biodiversity: “By 2045 if we do nothing then oceanic pH will be below 7.95, and the saturation index for Aragonite will be below 1.0 and most oceans will be dead. There is no adaptation to dissolving. Marine life cannot survive without plankton, terrestrial life cannot survive without plankton, humanity cannot survive. Ocean acidification is the only subject the IPCC report with 100% accuracy,” in research by H. Dryden and D. Duncan.

Above all, ocean acidification is the aspect of Carbon pollution for which the right has no glib, magical cancelation incantation. They’ve got nothing, whatsoever. YOU can invite a MAGA to come down to the pier and measure Ph levels yourselves. Demand a wager and a visit to your local, community college chemistry professor. It so fully corners them that Fox etc panic and change the subject, whenever those two words come up.

Researchers worry about a new variety of bird flu, the H5N1 strain, which has killed more than 58 million poultry in the U.S., but is also affecting wild birds across the globe. It has been reported in shore birds, eagles, owls, falcons, condors and pelicans.

Microplastic particles (largely from food packaging) have been detected in the brains (of animals) within hours after ingestion.

== Bio insights ==

Biotech firm Moderna has teamed up with IBM to explore the use of quantum computing as an aid in developing future medicines and vaccines.

In Blight: Fungi and the Coming Pandemic, E. Monosson explores the next possible frontier of disease, the rise of fungal pathogens resistant to antifungal drugs. Such pathogens have devastated worldwide populations of frogs, salamanders, bats, and chestnut trees; food crops are also under threat. Drug-resistant infections are passed to patients in hospitals as well. 

Strangely-shaped twisted-toroid propellers look like a revolutionary (sorry) advance for the aviation and marine sectors. Radically quieter than traditional propellers in both air and water, they’re also showing some huge efficiency gains.

An added benefit. Look at the drone version. Its props will survive collisions and impacts vastly better than standard props, hence no need for a nacelle.

And yeah, then there’s AI… more on that soon.

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