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Category — Science

Pub Med Alert – Hybridizing Humans and Apes

Here’s one of the hits I received recently from my set Pub Med alerts. It’s a dandy from Cambridge:

Beyond eugenics: the forgotten scandal of hybridizing humans and apes.

This paper examines the available evidence on one of the most radical ideas in the history of eugenics and utopianism. In the mid-1920s, the zoology professor Ilia Ivanov submitted to the Soviet government a project for hybridizing humans and apes by means of artificial insemination. He received substantial financing and organized expeditions to Africa to catch apes for his experiments. His project caused an international sensation. The American Association for the Advancement of Atheism announced its fund-raising campaign to support Ivanov’s project but gave it a scandalously racist interpretation. Ivanov’s own motivation remained unclear, as did the motivation of those in the Bolshevik government who supported Ivanov until his arrest in 1930. This paper discusses three hypothetical reasons for Ivanov’s adventure: first, hybridization between humans and apes, should it be successful, would support the atheist propaganda of the Bolsheviks; second, regardless of the success of hybridization, Ivanov would catch and bring to Russia apes, which were necessary for the rejuvenation programs that were fashionable among the Bolshevik elite; and third, hybridization, should it be successful, would pave the way to the New Socialist Man whose ‘construction by scientific means’ was the official purpose of the Bolsheviks. Ivanov’s ideas were arguably important for the American proponent of reform eugenics, Herman Muller, and for the Soviet anthropologist Boris Porshnev.

I hadn’t heard about this little project before. It scores a 10 on the creepy quotient. I fail to see how it would support an atheist viewpoint. It seems to me that it only supports the viewpoint that all totalitarian governments are evil.

June 13, 2008   No Comments

Nanotubes and Asbestos

Asbestos does not cause cancer by its inherent chemical nature. It causes cancer because of its shape. The tiny needles of mineral initiate an inflammatory reaction that tears you up from the inside out.

Once upon a time, I was at a nanotech symposium and I raised my hand and asked if nanotubes might not act like asbestos if inhaled. I got a thousand faces staring at me as if my clothes had just vaporized. Well, guess what? From the BBC:

Carbon nanotubes, the poster child of the burgeoning nanotechnology industry, could trigger diseases similar to those caused by asbestos, a study suggests.

Specific lengths of the tiny fibres were found to cause “asbestos-like” inflammation and lesions in mice.

Check out the full article. As always, industry is dancing and yammering sweet nothings like a drunken gold fish in a bowl of solidifying Jello.

May 20, 2008   No Comments

Platypus Genome (Ornithorhynchus anatinus)

To me, the decoding of the Platypus Genome coming out in Nature this week is uber cool. It’s one of those slap yourself why didn’t I think of this moments. From the NY Times review of the research:

In their investigation of the platypus genetic blueprint, the scientists found that its genome contains about 18,500 genes, similar to other vertebrates and about two-thirds the size of the human genome. The platypus shares 82 percent of its genes with the human, mouse, dog, opossum and chicken. Some repeated elements in the genome, the scientists noted, hold hints as to the chronology of changes in the platypus.

In other words, the genome is everything you would expect from an evolutionary perspective. This work is also reviewed on the BBC and you can see a great video on the Nature web site.

May 7, 2008   No Comments

Redheads and Pre-History

Scientists have identified a gene that causes red hair color in Neanderthal DNA. This story is riding the media merry go round. Have you ever noticed how depictions of pre-historic humanoid species always have skin darker than the average European but lighter than a sub-Saharan African? It’s curious that even in the image used to illustrate the BBC article on this story, the Neaderthal is portrayed as darker than the modern European red head. Why do they continue to do that? Chances are that any red headed Neanderthals were as light skinned as my near albino redheaded father. They were, no doubt, close to Rupert Grint in complexion.

Take time to note that chimpanzees have white skin. They have skin as white as that red headed European in the BBC story. Someone drawing these illustrations or the editors ordering these illustrations need to step back and say, “No more racist depictions of pre-historic homo species.”

October 26, 2007   2 Comments

Darwin Award – Special Mention – The Generation Trophy

The cheapest, most effective medical breakthrough that has changed the lives of more people on the planet than any other medical discovery is…….?


For vaccines to work, a high percentage of the population must be vaccinated. With that bit of background information, let’s move right along to the idiots profiled in this AP story:

Sabrina Rahim doesn’t practice any particular faith, but she had no problem signing a letter declaring that because of her deeply held religious beliefs, her 4-year-old son should be exempt from the vaccinations required to enter preschool.

She is among a small but growing number of parents around the country who are claiming religious exemptions to avoid vaccinating their children when the real reason may be skepticism of the shots or concern they can cause other illnesses. Some of these parents say they are being forced to lie because of the way the vaccination laws are written in their states.

It would be fine if the offspring of these folk were the ones to get sick, suffer and perhaps die. While their little lumps of flesh don’t deserve it, these parent do. What will happen if enough people in a given population do this? The vaccines won’t work for the sane parents, the parents who had their children vaccinated.

These people are stupid. They should die immediately but, of course, that won’t happen. Every idiot news source in this country that gave one nano-second of air time to any story linking autism with vaccination should die immediately. It’s my hunch that the air time given to that nonsense is what is driving this latest stupidity.

Congratulations. The only way you could be dumber is if you actually believed in the religion you’re claiming to have so that you can endanger your offspring, your neighbors kids and everyone else in your community. Bring on the plague.

October 17, 2007   No Comments

Amylase – Is Your Humanity in Your Spit?

salivary glandsAs a devoted observer of food fads, the article in the last Nature Genetics on amylase gene copy number in humans and the implications for our evolutionary development is especially rewarding. Ever read any of the “reasoning” behind the raw food movement or the paleolithic diet? Trust me, it’s even kookier than the bible. Fruitarians are another islet in the foodie fringe that bring idle speculation to new heights in the library of bogus knowledge. Let me pause a moment to say that raw fruits and veggies are generally better for you than cooked because the micro-nutrients are maintained. This is not always true, of course. Tomatoes are better for you cooked. If you hear someone say raw food is good for you because it’s living food and it has live enzymes. Run. That’s total bunk. Enough with the backstory, on to the Nature Genetics article. The BBC has a very good lay summary of the findings:

Man’s ability to digest starchy foods like the potato may explain our success on the planet, genetic work suggests.

Compared with primates, humans have many more copies of a gene essential for breaking down calorie-rich starches, Nature Genetics reports.

And these extra calories may have been crucial for feeding the larger brains of humans, speculate the University of California Santa Cruz authors.

I’d go further out on a limb than these authors. I would hypothesize that starchy foods drove tool development. Primate hands are not meant for digging. The article continues:

“Even when you look at modern human hunter-gatherers, meat is a relatively small fraction of their diet.

“To think that, two to four million years ago, a small-brained, awkwardly bipedal animal could efficiently acquire meat, even by scavenging, just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”

They discovered humans carry extra copies of a gene, called AMY1, which is essential for making the salivary enzyme amylase that digests starch.

The real seal of approval on this bit of research comes from an earlier paper from this group:

In work earlier this year, the team found that animals eating tubers and bulbs produce body tissues with a chemical signature that matches what has been measured in early fossilised humans.

Ah, more finger lickin’ goodness from the human genome. I love it.

September 10, 2007   No Comments

The Children of Llullaillaco

Incan Mummy

Incan archaeology was my first love. Anyone who has studied anthropology and its sub-discipline archaeology views religion differently from most of those who have not. This story is an excellent example of the anthropological viewpoint. Basically, a group of children were put in their Sunday best and dropped off on a mountain top drugged with alcohol and left to die in the name of god. Their remains mummified in the high thin air. Their bodies are on display in Argentina. From CNN:

Scientists believe the so-called Children of Llullaillaco were sacrificed more than 500 years ago in a ceremony marking the annual corn harvest. Dressed in fine clothes and given corn alcohol to put them to sleep, the victims were then left to die at an elevation of 22,080 feet.

All religion is the same. It’s an excuse to murder. It seems quite a few people have objected to this exhibit. Again, from CNN:

Several Indian groups waged a losing campaign to prevent the remains from going on display, arguing that the mummies should be buried or at least kept from public view.

The exhibit is a “great mistake,” said Miguel Suarez, a representative of the Calchaquies valley tribes in and around Salta.

Of course, let’s hide the murders. No, such things should be prominently displayed. Look at what was done. These children were murdered. All religion seeks to dominate and kill.


September 8, 2007   No Comments

Bees, Bees, Where Are the Bees?

Summer is almost over and I haven’t seen a single honeybee in my yard. Generally, my lavender plants are full of bees. This year, it’s been bumble bees. If you haven’t heard, our bees, the foundation of agriculture, are disappearing. It’s called Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD. Bee keepers place a hive in a field and, when they return, the bees are gone. Disappeared. This is frightening. Without pollination, there is no food. The public, as usual, is clueless but scientists around the world have been working like bees (sorry) to find out what is going on. Finally, they may have found a lead. From the BBC:

A virus has emerged as a strong suspect in the hunt for the mystery disease killing off North American honeybees.

Genetic research showed that Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV) turned up regularly in hives affected by Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

Over the last three years, between 50% and 90% of commercial bee colonies in the US have been affected by CCD.

The work to complete the honeybee genome has allowed this breakthrough. Now that scientists know what DNA belongs to the bees, they’re able to identify what doesn’t belong. In this way, they were able to determine that DNA from IAPV appears only in bees from collapsed colonies. From the BBC:

“This virus appears to be strongly associated with CCD,” commented Dr Cox-Foster, “but whether it’s the causative agent or just a very good marker (of the syndrome) is the next question we need to address.”

Let’s hope they’ve found the problem. Solving it may prove to be more difficult than understanding the cause.


September 7, 2007   No Comments