Restoring the American Chestnut - not a plea for money

This is about a crowdfunding campaign, but I’m not here to ask you to contribute.  I’m just here to ask you to spread the word.

Also, it includes Science.

A lot of people don’t realize that the forests in North America don’t look the way they should.

Until the 20th century, the American chestnut made up about 1/4 of the trees in eastern North American forests. It was a keystone species.  Its nuts fed bears, deer, squirrels, raccoons, opossums and wild turkeys—not to mention people—and its leaf litter supported the ground plants, bugs and larvae that our songbirds and fish ate.

In 1904, the chestnut blight arrived in the US, and almost all the American chestnuts died. Over 9 million square miles of them.  Without this tree, the ecology of the eastern forests is broken.  Native animals can’t find the right foods to eat.  The chemical balance of the soil is changing and supporting the wrong kinds of plants.  People have forgotten this tree should be there, but they’re living the consequences of its loss.

Now here’s the deal: researchers from SUNY-ESF (that’s an environmental science college) have worked for 25 years to develop a true, non-hybrid blight-resistant American chestnut tree…and as of this month, November 2014, they’ve declared success.

The tree has to go through a regulatory approval process, but while they wait for that to clear, they’re planning to grow 10,000 baby blight-resistant American chestnuts that can be distributed throughout the tree’s native range, and begin restoring the chestnut to its native range.

Chestnuts spread easily.  In 50 years, 10,000 trees will become 200,000.  In 100 years, 200,000 trees will become 4 million, and can right the wrong of one of the greatest, and quietest, ecological disasters the world has ever seen.

Hence, the American Chestnut Project’s crowdfunding campaign: You can donate if you like, but more importantly, please just tell eerybody about it!  The project doesn’t just need money; it needs public awareness, and support, and for people to plant American chestnut trees so that when the blight-resistant trees are ready, they’ll be able to pollinate and produce the next generation.




While listening to music is beneficial, playing music is “the brain’s equivalent of a full-body workout.” (via teded)

Anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann found that voice-hearing experiences of people with serious psychotic disorders are shaped by local culture – in the U.S., the voices are harsh and threatening; in Africa and India, they are more benign and playful.

The striking difference was that while many of the African and Indian subjects registered predominantly positive experiences with their voices, not one American did. Rather, the U.S. subjects were more likely to report experiences as violent and hateful – and evidence of a sick condition.


Among the Indians in Chennai, more than half (11) heard voices of kin or family members commanding them to do tasks. “They talk as if elder people advising younger people,” one subject said. That contrasts to the Americans, only two of whom heard family members. Also, the Indians heard fewer threatening voices than the Americans – several heard the voices as playful, as manifesting spirits or magic, and even as entertaining. Finally, not as many of them described the voices in terms of a medical or psychiatric problem, as all of the Americans did.

In Accra, Ghana, where the culture accepts that disembodied spirits can talk, few subjects described voices in brain disease terms. When people talked about their voices, 10 of them called the experience predominantly positive; 16 of them reported hearing God audibly. “‘Mostly, the voices are good,’” one participant remarked.

A miniature evolution rant for science fiction writers

1. A living thing cannot be more or less evolved. It can be more or less derived, meaning it differs from some basal ancestor in more or fewer ways. It can be more or less complex, which is by no means the same as more or less derived, nor do being more derived and being more complex necessarily correlate. But evolution doesn’t stop. Even when an organism changes very little over many, many generations, that is because those same traits that served its ancestor well are still beneficial or non-detrimental and thus still being selected for. Claiming something is more evolved because it is either more derived or more complex is like claiming a cubist painting is more painted than a Renaissance painting.

2. Likewise, it is impossible to reach the pinnacle of evolution. Evolution does not have a linear plot. It is a sandbox game. Our personal brand of human intelligence is glorious and wonderful and tremendous, but it was neither inevitable nor necessary. Again, evolution doesn’t stop. It is a constant interplay between species and environment, defined by birth, death, and change. A change in the environment alters the needs of the species. A change in a species alters the environment. Nothing is ever “perfectly evolved”, even for its specific environment, because every alteration requires alteration in response, even if that alteration is very small. There is certainly no such thing as a perfect species.

3. A change in the environment is a change in the environment. Until someone discovers or invents a form of true immortality, nothing we do can actually halt our own evolution- it can only change the course. As a general rule, the more members of a species who survive each generation, the better that species is doing, and the more diverse its genome, the less likely one or two catastrophic things will wipe it off the face of the planet. You don’t know what traits will be valuable for future challenges we face and what traits won’t be. If I remember correctly (I’ll dig up my notes later), the jaw was derived from an initially bizarre and useless mutation in the skull, and several of our ear bones were derived from what used to be part of our jaw articulation. So eugenicists and people who claim not to be eugenicists but use eugenics arguments can all fuck right off.

4. A single individual cannot evolve. Evolution does not occur on the individual level. It occurs on the population level. When a single individual changes to better suit their environment, that is adaptation, not evolution. Adaptation is of course a part of evolution, but it is not the same thing. This, combined with points 1 and 2, means you personally cannot become or choose to be more evolved than other people. That is not how anything works, at all, ever.

Thank you for your time, everyone!

Scientists Develop a Darker Black

Really dark black is apparently the new black. From The Independent:

A British company has produced a “strange, alien” material so black that it absorbs all but 0.035 per cent of visual light, setting a new world record. To stare at the “super black” coating made of carbon nanotubes – each 10,000 times thinner than a human hair – is an odd experience. It is so dark that the human eye cannot understand what it is seeing. Shapes and contours are lost, leaving nothing but an apparent abyss.

If it was used to make one of Chanel’s little black dresses, the wearer’s head and limbs might appear to float incorporeally around a dress-shaped hole.

Actual applications are more serious, enabling astronomical cameras, telescopes and infrared scanning systems to function more effectively. Then there are the military uses that the material’s maker, Surrey NanoSystems, is not allowed to discuss.

You can read the rest here. The obvious question is: how much more black can this be? And the answer is — none. None more black.

if you want to think about something else that’s fucking rad, if you consider animals and humans to be the earth’s children then that makes the moon our eldest sister. she’s a half-sister, because technically multicellular life got co-parented by the sun, and luna was calved off from the earth’s crust via saucy collision with a handsome rogue planet named theia. after that earth settled down, went steady with the sun, got an atmosphere, played around with chemicals, and here we are today.

but next time you see your big sister say hi. 



The camera used for this photo has a crappy white balance which could really screw with people’s colour perception. I’m also surprised that most people saw this as white-gold and that there are *debates* about this. Lol good luck trying to win that.

PMTH Morning Report: NK Cells

Good morning staff, zombies, and minions of Princeton Medbloro Teaching Hospital!

I am a baby medblr here, taking a stab at my first morning report. Today’s topic is…wait for it…my favorite cells…natural killer cells! Those bad ass little buggers whom you can thank your lucky stars for playing a role in keeping you a healthy, and relatively happy, humanoid. 

Give them credit because they truly are:

These lymphocytes don’t get as much credit as their ever so popular B and T cell counterparts, but don’t let the absence of genetic rearrangement deter your from what these gems do. They are a part of the innate immune system, and they are ready for action! Watch out infected cells, watch out neoplasms, NK cells are hunting you down!

How do you identify one of these super duper cells you ask? Well, lucky for us they are waving a giant flag. Thanks CD56! Of course, there are other markers but I like this one the best. Anyway, some NK cells let their CD56 shine more than others. What do I mean by that? You can see it with the use of our friend,flow cytometry!

But don’t think CD56 is all lonely on the surface…oh no. There’s a party going on. We have NKG2D getting all flirty with danger, and revving up the engines. All the while NKG2A is flirting’ with the HLA’s (Human Leukocyte Antigen) on cells passing by, and calming shit down. 

However, our party would not be complete without the KIRs (Killer Cell Immunoglobulin-Like Receptors) making everything more interesting. These aren’t generalists like NKG2D or NKG2A. Oh no, these dudes are picky. KIR2DL1 is looking for HLA-C2, KIR2DL2/3 is looking for HLA-C1, KIR3DL1 is looking for HLA-Bw4. But shhhh there’s a little secret that people don’t like to talk about…these KIRs can be frisky sometimes. I just listed the inhibitory KIRs, but substitute an S for the L (ex. KIR2DS1), and you’ve got yourself an activating KIR!

Yes, Yes, I know there is a lot of random information here. It’s important though because whether or not an NK cell kills, and how activated it is, depends on the BALANCE of those activating and inhibiting signals. 

Why do we give a shit about this? There are lot’s and lot’s of reasons, but I’ll list one. Tumor immunology! Turns out information about somebody’s HLA and KIR genotypes may be able to predict a patient’s response to immunotherapies, and maybe even outcomes in cancer patients. Pretty neat huh? 

Well, that’s all I’ve got. Be sure to grab coffee and an extra doughnut on your way out. 

How humans might regrow lost limbs

Scientists have been closely studying how animals like salamanders do it, and may thus be able to develop some intermediate treatments for humans, like healing lacerations without scarring.