30 000-year-old plant grown again

Here’s a very interesting story. Russian scientists found frozen seeds of a plant from 30 000 (A thin space is the recommended format for dividing numbers. 30,000 would really imply 30 with three significant figures.) years ago and have been found and they have managed to grow them. I’m not quite ready to write a long piece (although I have two in mind but am not sure when I will have time to write them) so I’m leaving the explanation to the capable Jerry Coyne.

Takes a lot to kill a European

At least it takes a lot to kill a European in a car. Let’s say we wanted to kill one by starvation. We could always trap a man in a car, at -30°C and leave him there for two months without food or water. Turns out that happened, not deliberately, to a man in Sweden and he managed to survive! No water will kill you in a few days but this man was able to drink melted snow. Generally you can last about four weeks without food but in this case doctors think the man went into something resembling hibernation. I’m pretty sure the cold, which would slow his metabolism, probably helped too.

If a slow death won’t work let’s do something extreme. Let’s go the cartoon route and drop a 20 tonne boulder on a car. That happened to a man in France and somehow he survived as well! Obviously he suffered severe injuries but he did survive being flattened by a massive rock and that’s not something one would expect.

The moral of the story is, if you want to kill a European, wait until he gets out of the car.

Viruses and HGT

To me, perhaps the most interesting thing in evolution is horizontal gene transfer (HGT), also known as lateral gene transfer. Simply put HGT is the process where genes move between organisms in a manner different to being passed on from parent to child, vertical gene transfer.
For one thing it demonstrates that evolution is focused on the level of the gene, the premise of Dawkin’s book The Selfish Gene, because it shows that genes are able to move between genomes and organisms are just environments for them.
It’s also very different to the way we generally think of genes behaving and allows for far more evolutionary flexibility as genes are able to move between vastly different organisms, such as viruses and humans. As a normal part of their life cycle some viruses do insert their own DNA into our genomes. Usually, viruses are bad for us but that isn’t always the case and HGT can carry benefits. There is a piece by Carl Zimmer on The Loom describing how a gene acquired, multiple times, from viruses has become essential for placenta formation.

Valentine’s day and free speech

Today is Valentine’s day. For many people it is a day to revel in the love one shares with another, regardless of race or gender. However it is also the day that a death threat was publicly issued. This death threat has been acted on yet the person responsible for it was never arrested. Today is the 23rd anniversary of the Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa calling for the death of novelist Salman Rushdie for writing the novel The Satanic Verses.

One might be tempted to think that after 23 years, and the death of Khomeni, that Rushdie can now live safely. One would be wrong. Just this year Salman Rushdie was intending to appear in India for the Jaipur Literary Festival. His trip was cancelled at the last minute as word came through that there would be an attempt to assassinate him and he felt that it would be irresponsible to put anyone else at risk. Furthermore, he wasn’t even allowed to speak via teleconferencing. Continue reading

When sick, use medicine

When you’re sick, or, more importantly, when your children are sick, use medicine. Do not use homeopathy, acupuncture, reiki, prayers or any other fraudulent practice. They do not work! They have all been tested and the evidence shows that they are nothing more than placebos and it is irresponsible to let someone die because you would rather pray for them than take them to see a doctor to get medicine that has gone through trials to test it’s efficacy. This has happened before and the parents have been charged, and found guilty of neglect and child abuse. I can only hope it happens again.

The best parenting style?

First off, I don’t know what it is. I don’t have kids, don’t particularly like them, and am not hugely familiar with parenting. However I’ve seen some parenting stories online and found the contrast to be worth bringing to people’s attention. On one side we have extreme, and abusive, parenting as promoted by a Chinese women and on the other end we have a Canadian study showing that physical punishments cause long-term harm.

The abusive incident occured in New York, where a Chinese couple forced their, almost naked, son to run around and lie down in the snow. The video got onto Youtube and attracted a huge amount of attention. Just as terrifying as the parents actions were the rationalisations which includes trying to give the son a “masculine temperament” and claiming that the child’s intense training, of which this snow incident was just one aspect, had cured his health problems. The first reason is sexist and contains harmful gender stereotypes while the second can’t be claimed from the available evidence. Continue reading

Anoka’s war on gay teens

I strongly advise everyone to read Rolling Stone article on LGBT kids in Anoka, Minnesota. Below I’ve included a number of quotes from the article.

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Sam’s death lit the fuse of a suicide epidemic that would take the lives of nine local students in under two years….

Surprisingly, the six-member board voted to adopt the measure by a four-to-two majority, even borrowing the memo’s language to fashion the resulting districtwide policy, which pronounced that within the health curriculum, “homosexuality not be taught/addressed as a normal, valid lifestyle.”

Minnesota Family Council president Tom Prichard blogged that Justin’s suicide could only be blamed upon one thing: his gayness. “Youth who embrace homosexuality are at greater risk [of suicide], because they’ve embraced an unhealthy sexual identity and lifestyle,”

Continue reading