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May 30, 2012

It takes the Earth ten million years to recover from mass extinction

10 million years needed to recover from mass extinction
Life was nearly wiped out 250 million years ago, with only 10 per cent of plants and animals surviving. It is currently much debated how life recovered from this cataclysm, whether quickly or slowly. Recent evidence for a rapid bounce-back is evaluated in a new review article by Dr Zhong-Qiang Chen, from the China University of Geosciences in Wuhan, and Professor Michael Benton from the University of Bristol. They find that recovery from the crisis lasted some 10 million years, as explained today in Nature Geoscience. There were apparently two reasons for the delay, the sheer intensity of the crisis, and continuing grim conditions on Earth after the first wave of extinction. The end-Permian crisis, by far the most dramatic biological crisis to affect life on Earth, was triggered by a number of physical environmental shocks - global warming, acid rain, ocean acidification and ocean anoxia. These were enough to kill off 90 per cent of living things on land and in the sea. Dr Chen said: "It is hard to imagine how so much of life could have been killed, but there is no doubt from some of the fantastic rock sections in China and elsewhere round the world that this was the biggest crisis ever faced by life." Current research shows that the grim conditions continued in bursts for some five to six million years after the initial crisis, with repeated carbon and oxygen crises, warming and other ill effects.

May 27, 2012

Climate Chaos makes maple syrup taste just awful

Global warming makes syrup taste gross | Grist
We’ve known for a while that climate change will threaten supplies of our favorite foods, like wine and bourbon. (Oh, and bacon, coffee, chocolate, oysters, and pecan pie.) But the optimists among us took this news with good humor. “Oh sure, our favorite foods and intoxicants might be a little scarcer,” these imaginary chirpy little shits said, “but that will make every mouthful more precious.” Well, not when it comes to maple syrup, sucker! Climate change isn’t just making it scarcer — it’s making it taste way worse. The mild winter played hell with maple syrup production, and a lot of what was produced is only good for off-the-table uses like flavoring chewing tobacco. U.S. production dropped from 30 million pounds of syrup to 18 million pounds of yucky goo.

May 24, 2012

Stanford scientists turn bacteria into data storage devices

Hugely expensive, but fascinating. Digital Data Can Now Be Stored In DNA, Thanks To Stanford Researchers | TPM Idea Lab
Forget saving files to flash drives and cloud servers. Now, digital information can be stored in the DNA of living organisms, thanks to a breakthrough discovery by researchers at Stanford University in California. A trio of scientists successfully demonstrated the ability to flip the direction of DNA molecules in sample E.coli bacteria in two directions, mimicking the “1s” and “0s” of binary code, which is at the root of all modern computer calculations. “Essentially, if the DNA section points in one direction, it’s a zero. If it points the other way, it’s a one,” said Pakpoom Subsoontorn, a bioengineering graduate student at Stanford involved in the research, in an article on the Stanford School of Medicine website. As a result, the researchers were able to get bacteria cells to glow either red or green under ultraviolet light, and were even able to arrange the colors to spell out specific messages in petri dishes holding the bacteria. (Photo above) The maximum total “file size” of the data stored using the method is currently restricted to one bit per cell, but the researchers are confident they can get it up to 8-bits, or one byte, of rewritable storage capacity by increasing the number of recombination enzymes within the data. Their method, called recombinase addressable data (RAD), works because scientists are able to control the precise amount of enzymes that catalyze chemical reactions, within each of the single E.coli bacteria cells.

May 19, 2012

Taking the Christianity out of Sex

Short version: Sexual norms are socially constructed, not biologically driven, and vary greatly amongst cultures. This research topples many ideas about virginity, promiscuity, homosexuality, and gender-based notions of sexual appetite. Taking the Christianity out of Sex | Dollars and Sex | Big Think
Men have stronger sexual desires than do women…Women are the more monogamous gender…Homosexuality is an unnatural sexual behavior. Sexual beliefs, like these, are so widespread that we have collectively come to view them as being embedded in our biology. Cross-cultural data collected from pre-industrial societies, however, tells a different story. That data suggests that culture – including religion – has played an important role in ingraining these “truths” about human sexuality into our collective psyche. . . . Thanks to the exhaustive efforts of anthropologists like George Murdock, Douglas White, and dozens of others who contributed to the Standard Cross-Cultural Survey, I can tell you quite emphatically that there is no uniformity of human beliefs about sexual behaviors across cultures and from an early point in time. In fact, cross-cultural evidence collected on 1167 pre-European contact societies suggests that much of what we believe to be true about human sexuality is socially constructed rather than biologically pre-determined.* Let’s start with the issue raised by the commenter – how widespread across societies was the belief in pre-marital virginity? . . .