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December 14, 2012

One tiny microbe killed 90% of life on Earth

The Permian extinction was caused by a tiny microbe eating up nickel and excreting methane. Permian mass extinction triggered by humble microbe - life - 14 December 2012 - New Scientist
AROUND 251 million years ago, over 90 per cent of the species on Earth suddenly went extinct. Their killer may not have been a devastating meteorite or a catastrophic volcanic eruption, but a humble microbe. The prevailing theory is that the mass extinction at the end of the Permian period was triggered by volcanic eruptions over a vast area of what is now Siberia. This led, among other things, to a dramatic rise in greenhouse gas emissions. But the scenario just doesn't fit the facts, says Daniel Rothman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. From his analysis of an end-Permian sediment sample from China, Rothman says carbon levels surged much too quickly for geological processes to be at work. Microbes can generate carbon compounds that fast, though. When Rothman's group analysed the genome of Methanosarcina - a methanogen responsible for most of Earth's biogenic methane today - they discovered that the microbe gained this ability about 231 million years ago. The date was close to that of the mass extinction, but not close enough to suggest a link. But Methanosarcina needs large amounts of nickel to produce methane quickly. When the team went back to their sediment cores, they discovered that nickel levels spiked almost exactly 251 million years ago - probably because the Siberian lavas were rich in the metal. That suggests Methanosarcina did trigger the extinction, Rothman told the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco last week.

Why you might want to stop eating wheat

This is a long, fairly thorough article about the link between hybridized wheat and a whole host of symptoms and syndromes. Why you should probably stop eating wheat
Back in the 1950s, scientists began cross-breeding wheat to make it hardier, shorter, and better-growing. This work, which was the basis for the Green Revolution — and one that won U.S. plant scientist Norman Borlaug the Nobel Prize — introduced some compounds to wheat that aren't entirely human friendly. As cardiologist Dr. William Davis noted in his book, Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight and Find Your Path Back to Health, today's hybridized wheat contains sodium azide, a known toxin. It also goes through a gamma irradiation process during manufacturing. But as Davis also points out, today's hybridized wheat contains novel proteins that aren't typically found in either the parent or the plant — some of which are difficult for us to properly digest. Consequently, some scientists now suspect that the gluten and other compounds found in today's modern wheat is what's responsible for the rising prevalence of celiac disease, "gluten sensitivity," and other problems.

Moose antlers help them hear

Moose's sharp hearing is attributed to antlers | Science | The Guardian
They are some of the most extravagant headgear in the animal kingdom, but a moose's antlers are not just for show. Scientists believe they act as elaborate hearing aids that help males to find calling females. A study has found that the antlers' sound-gathering qualities boost the hearing of the animals by 19%. Moose, which are called elk in Europe, are well-known for their impressive hearing. Their ears are more than 60 times larger than those of a human, and their calls can travel nearly two miles. Scientists had previously suspected the antlers helped with locating mates because males with them were found to be better able to locate females than those without. George Bubenik, of the University of Guelph, Ontario, and his son Peter, of Cleveland State University in Ohio, decided to test the antler amplifier hypothesis by using a moose skull and a fake ear made by a TV special effects team. The two scientists put a microphone inside the fake ear, placed between the sweeping Alaskan moose antlers. They measured how well the microphone picked up sounds made by a speaker 32ft (10 metres) away while it was either facing towards the sound, away from it, or sideways on into the bowl of the antlers. The recorded volume was 21% lower when the ear was facing away from the sound compared with facing towards it. But when the ear was facing sideways the sound was boosted by 19%, suggesting that the antlers funnel and amplify the sound, rather like giant ear trumpets.

December 13, 2012

Reminder: Gatorade and fruity drinks contain toxic flame retardants that gave rats heart lesions

You probably shouldn't ever drink them? Or give them to your kids? Another Look at a Drink Ingredient, Brominated Vegetable Oil - NYTimes.com
Brominated vegetable oil contains bromine, the element found in brominated flame retardants, used in things like upholstered furniture and children’s products. Research has found brominate flame retardants building up in the body and breast milk, and animal and some human studies have linked them to neurological impairment, reduced fertility, changes in thyroid hormones and puberty at an earlier age. Limited studies of the effects of brominated vegetable oil in animals and in humans found buildups of bromine in fatty tissues. Rats that ingested large quantities of the substance in their diets developed heart lesions. Its use in foods dates to the 1930s, well before Congress amended the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to add regulation of new food additives to the responsibilities of the Food and Drug Administration. But Congress exempted two groups of additives, those already sanctioned by the F.D.A. or the Department of Agriculture, or those experts deemed “generally recognized as safe.”