Was a dinosaur the original Easter bunny?

By Donar Reiskoffer – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15044560

Scientists have examined remains of dinosaur eggs and determined that some were speckled and others were bright blue. This should not be too surprising as birds are believed to have evolved from dinosaurs. We all know the The color robin-egg-blue.

 

 

 

Other discoveries from Science News

Time of day you rest and exercise makes a difference in the number of calories you burn. Rest in afternoon and evening burns more, but you burn more carbs in the morning and fats at night. Regular habits are better for you.

Loneliness is bad for brains.

Marijuana in bad for teen brains.

Lack of sleep increases anxiety. 

 

Scientists are Amazing!

Enzymes

Think scientists are cold and strictly analytical? You’d be wrong. They are creative and seek solutions to human problems.

Frances Arnold of Caltech recently was one of three scientists who will share the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Chemistry is about molecules, but she used biological ideas to create new enzymes. You know those little things that can be found in living creatures which produce changes in other substances without being changed themselves, i.e. tiny catalysts.  Her goal was to produce enzymes with particular properties to use in biofuel, environmentally friendly detergents, new pharmaceuticals, and other products. In general chemists are working on products that are biodegradable, which can help save our ocean. Ocean water and subsequently fish contain tiny pieces of plastic. Ordinary plastic doesn’t degrade. It merely breaks up. I just read that pieces of plastic .02 to .002 inches are being found in human stools. No one yet knows the consequences to human health.

Instead of using traditional chemical methods to create new enzymes, she directed evolution to produce the desired properties, i.e. using biology. She began with many copies of an original enzyme with a different set of genetic mutations and inserted the genes for these enzymes into bacteria. The bacteria, like living factories, churned out numerous copies of each enzyme type. Dr. Arnold chose the best mutation that suited her purpose and repeated the process.

Now, chemistry has a better and in some instances cheaper means of creating new products. We need safer products for the world we live in.

 

Tiny computers, like bacteria, may be in everything soon

 

The tech industry’s goal is to put tiny computers into you name it: microwaves, door locks, contact lenses, clothes, toasters, refrigerators, industrial robots, fish tanks, sex toys, light bulbs, toothbrushes, motorcycle helmets. All to make it so we don’t have to get up out of our chairs and  have time to sign up for gym memberships.

Full disclosure:  I have Luddite in my DNA. I view the explosion of unnecessary apps as the clutter of modern life. Once I have software and devices I like, I hate updates that move things around and change paths to my objectives.

Here’s the problem. If this computer-in-everything idea takes off, not only our privacy but our security will be destroyed. Computer hackers have already used the fact that baby monitors are hooked up to the internet to access home computers and spread major viruses. Similarly, Alexa has been proven compromisible. Security consultant, Bruce Schneier, is concerned. He explores the threats posed by the internet of things in “Click Here to Kill Everybody.”

Schneier argues, “In a roboticized world, hacks would not just affect your data but could endanger your property, your life and even national security.” However, nobody but nobody is doing anything about it. Industry likes new features to entice buyers, and these little handy-dandy computer thingies are cheap. Not industry’s problem if they provide a way into your internet services. That leaves government, which currently has no plans, usually closing the barn door after the cows got out to display my Iowa upbringing.

Quoting the nytimes article, “Mr. Schneier says only government intervention can save us from such emerging calamities. He calls for reimagining the regulatory regime surrounding digital security in the same way the federal government altered its national security apparatus after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Among other ideas, he outlines the need for a new federal agency, the National Cyber Office, which he imagines researching, advising and coordinating a response to threats posed by an everything-internet.” Presumably, this office could ensure the security of our elections, something currently given short shrift by government. 2018 could be bad.

I agree. Better nanny-government than a mob of our possessions waiting for us to go to bed to hatch their evil intentions. I know I’m not buying these infected products. Already I am creeped out by things that want to talk with me.

Last minute notice of special Events on October 13th:  I will participate in an Indie author fair at the Livermore library from 2:00 to 4:00 after Andy Weir of The Martian fame and Ann Parker of the Silver Rush series present from 1:00 to 2:00. I will have copies of my novel Lower World.  

Can computers do better than people at spotting fake news?

How to Spote Fake News

We live in a murky era of misinformation. Alex Kasprak of  Snopes says the volume of really shoddy stuff out there is mind-numbing. There’s an old saying that lies have traveled half-way around the world before the truth has time to put her shoes on.

Nothing beats researching information we find questionable, particularly prior to acting on it or sharing with others. We all bear responsibility for not passing on misinformation because of  serious consequences.

But, what if fake news could be detected before it reaches us? Programmers are working on automated systems that can red- flag information. They can correctly identify false articles 71% of the time, but automatic lie-finding tools are “still in their infancy,” according to computer scientist  Ciampaglia—Indiana University.

Programmers first studied characteristics of false versus true information. They discovered that the less related the subject and the object were, the more likely the information is incorrect. Relatedness is determined by a huge web network of nouns. Think of the meta law that any two people are connected within  seven degrees of separation. If the subject and object are only related via  seven steps, the sentence is more likely to be false.

This test alone is limited, but adding more characteristics improves the process. A careful analysis of 75 true and 75 false stories revealed that compared with real news, false articles tended to be shorter, more repetitive, contain more adverbs, and fewer quotes, technical words, and nouns. Other studies indicate that false news expresses higher certainty. Real news contains more work-related words, negations, comparisons, and quantifiers. Fake news contain more social words, positive emotions, thought processes, and references to the future.

Another method  lumped like articles together, and verified a small percentage to predict the credibility of the lumps. The accuracy was also about 70%.

A computer scientist in China  examined news-related tweets by comparing backgrounds of those who believed the story versus those who didn’t and gave more weight to the opinion of  individuals who were in a better postion to know.  Even the patterns of retweets of a real story  versus a fake story were different enough to predict veracity.

Facebook is using some means not to eliminate suspect posts, but to show them to fewer customers.

I thought I was a good detector of fake news and joked that growing up on a farm, I was familiar with the smell of bullshit. I laughed at the poor presentation and ridiculous nature of the lies passed in emails. However, one online post caught me. It fit my belief system, cited a reporter, and resembled a previous true story.

Ala Hill Street Blues: We all need to be careful out there.

I highly recommend the long article from Science News on which this post is based.

Toss your anti-bacterial soap!

 

Antibacterial

 

 

According to the FDA antibacterial soap isn’t much more effective than ordinary soap and water and contains triclosan, an ingredient that could be dangerous for a number of reasons.

Perhaps the word “antibacterial” needs to be eliminated from our vocabulary. Bacteria are like humans. There are good guys and bad guys. We wouldn’t want an anti-humanial product. This article is about a break-through in synthesizing one of the good-guy bacteria.

PKU Test

 

There is a rare condition called PKU. Parents know these letters as every baby born in a U.S. hospital is tested for it. They are pricked in the heel to draw blood. There is no cure, but there is a treatment and needs to begin before the babies suffer brain damage.

Phenylalanine, an enzyme contained in proteins will form a toxin in our blood. Most of us contain microbes that break down this toxin, but some babies are born without these microbes. This needs to be detected soon so the baby’s diet avoids protein from meat, cheese, and most milk. The special diet must continue life-long and be supplemented.

By manipulating DNA, researchers are working on synthetically creating these microbes that, once ingested, will treat PKU.

The first test was carried out in the summer of 2018 by Synlogic. Oddly the article doesn’t yet claim success, but suggests the bacterial concoction may become the first synthetic biology-based medical treatment to gain approval by the Food and Drug Administration. This new area of research called synthetic biology up until now has focused on industrial uses. Industry has harnessed bacteria for manufacturing as humans once harnessed horses  to perform useful functions.

While PKU is rare, if synthesized bacteria can allow PKU victims to lead less restricted lives, it will be a huge milestone. Who knows what possibilities might exist to improve human health with  the help of our tiny little good guys.

 

 

 

 

Stressed Americans Need More Labor Days Defined by Leisure

 

 

Americans work longer hours and more days than most industrialized countries. Below is an excerpt from an online article.

 

 

 

 

American Average Work Hours:

  • At least 134 countries have laws setting the maximum length of the workweek; the U.S. does not.
  • In the U.S., 85.8 percent of males and 66.5 percent of females work more than 40 hours per week.
  • According to the ILO, “Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.”
  • Using data by the U.S. BLS, the average productivity per American worker has increased 400% since 1950. One way to look at that is that it should only take one-quarter the work hours, or 11 hours per week, to afford the same standard of living as a worker in 1950 (or our standard of living should be 4 times higher). Is that the case? Obviously not. Someone is profiting, it’s just not the average American worker. (Eloise’s comment: I’m old enough to remember that upon the threshold of efficient technology, more leisure time for all was predicted. Lift a glass to toast! Instead the efficiency was scooped up into profit cones while Americans worked longer than ever.)
  • Zero industrialized nations are without a mandatory option for new parents to take parental leave. That is, except for the United States.

Today I read this from a reputable economist, “In 1980, CEOs made 27 times the amount of their  workers’ median salary. Now it’s 270 times the amount.” When workers can’t survive on their salaries, they are forced to take on second jobs.

The amount of work is taking its toll on American families. Parents need time to parent, maintain their homes, manage their household budget, socialize, and relax. I left out one important thing. Americans don’t have time to watch their backs as to what is going on with their political representatives and legislation especially when inundated with sound-bite lies.

There is a decline in union membership, which is correlated with income inequality. See the video chart. While unions ushered in the 40-hour work week, it was for hourly workers. Many fast food chains found a work-around. “Promote” workers to managers and pay them a fixed salary. Then it is the job of managers to arrive early to set things up and close down after hours with non-commensurate salaries. Further, it has become corporate think that with technology, employees should be available 24/7 via email or texting.

The failure of our government to set fair labor standards for salaries and working conditions is largely due to the influence of big money. The average worker can’t afford a lobbyist, and our legislators are beholden to big money whose lobbyists subtly bribe government workers with hints of well-paying jobs post government service. Big money supports “right to work (cheap)” laws, opposes minimum wage, parental leave, and the list goes one. No wonder American workers are stressed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can you infect someone with your genes?

 

Bacteria-Esherichia; Thanks Wikimedia Commons

I just read about  the likely best-known biologist no one has ever heard of outside of the scientific community. When before Darwin it was naturally believed that all of an organism’s DNA came from its parents, Woese discovered in the late 20th century that genes can flow between species . It’s called HGT, horizontal gene transfer.

Further, Woese’s work was back in the last century, but I find his discovery mind-blowing. According to the NY Times article, The Scientist who Scrambled the Tree of Life, we are not who we thought we were, but composite creatures. Parts of who we are have come sideways into our own lineage — the primate lineage.

Scientists like the metaphors that HGT is the genetic equivalent of a blood transfusion or an infection that transforms identity: infective heredity.

A first recognition of the possibility relates to a harmless strain of bacteria transforming into one that causes pneumonia. It was later discovered this kind of transformation is not exclusive to bacteria. Progress in DNA research, in particular study of ribosomes, which turn genes into living bodies much like a 3-D printer, allowed scientists to compare DNA sequences of one species with another.

Species were found with DNA that could not have come from the parent species. Beyond bacteria, HGT was discovered to operate in the insect world. Later E coli infected a brewer’s yeast—a fungus for Pete’s sake— with its bacterial type genes. A particular sea urchin, and tiny animals called rotifer show signs of being “infected” by alien DNA.

HGT occurs by three primary means: conjugation, transformation, and transduction. Conjugation can be thought of as “bacterial sex.” Transformation is uptake of stranded DNA, left floating after the rupture of a living cell, Transduction is a drag-and-drop trick by viruses, picking up bits of DNA from cells they infect, then releasing them into other cells.

Beyond the realm of insects and rotifers, evidence of HGT has been found in mammals — an opossum from South America, a tenrec from Madagascar, a frog from West Africa, all carrying long sections of similar DNA that seem derived from “infective heredity.”

Even the human genome has been laterally invaded. Its sequencing has revealed that 8 percent of our human genome consists of retroviral DNA inserted sideways into our lineage. I’ve written a blog on how a fetus can “infect” its pregnant mother with retroviruses. That’s not sideways so much as backward inheritance. I’ve also read that more than one kind of DNA can inhabit a single body. Maybe HGT is an explanation.

Life is strange!