NASA presented some preliminary findings from their Twins Study earlier this year. A complete paper from this study is to be released later this year. For those who are not familiar with this study, this is the first and only study done on twin astronauts comparing the one who spent 340 days in space (Scott Kelly) with his brother (Mark Kelly) who spent the same time on earth, to try to understand genetic changes due to long term space travel. The twins had identical genes when the experiment started. They found that the person who had lived in space went through some genetic mutations during his time in space, and that some changes in gene expression (which apparently is not the same as genetic changes) seem to be long lasting.
Our living environment deeply impacts what we are as a species inhabiting the Universe. We are shaped by where we exist in the universe, and there is some kind of a process that causes us to develop in a certain manner in different environments. Scott Kelly spent less than a year in Space before the changes in his body manifested themselves. Consider the near certainty that the magnitude of the differences caused in species because of where we exist in the universe likely outweighs our differences due to our existences in different places and in different circumstances on this earth itself. Why then are we bent on focusing on and exploiting our own relatively minor differences? And do we really think we are the superior species?
(Picture from Quanta Magazine. Credit – Vaishakh Manohar.)
via The Simple Algorithm That Ants Use to Build Bridges | Quanta Magazine
I first learned about how ants work in a cooperative manner in a book that my daughter had bought me for Christmas. The book was all about trails. (She had figured out the perfect book for my interests!) There is a chapter in this book about how trails historically came into being, and how these have, over time, led to our modern day system of roads, railroad tracks, and other connections for human travel.
Trails have existed for ages. The concept is not the creation of humans. Animals of different kinds, using different skills, and for different purposes, have created trails. There was, and still is, no real planning involved (the way humans would define it) in the creation of animal trails. It is all tied to their inbuilt instinct to survive and exist.
Ants have been creating trails for a long time. The notable thing about the behavior of ants is that in spite of the fact that they do not have any significant level of individual intelligence, they show a great deal of collective or cooperative intelligence that lets them be effective in complex tasks. (They do not even depend on the presence of an occasional “smart” ant that can serve as a leader.) The book describes how their processes work for creating very efficient trails. (There is even a kind of ant that is blind that is still very effective at this.) Humans are now trying to understand if any of these processes are useful for our own existence.
Anyway, the article I have linked to is fascinating. Make sure to watch the videos!
I wrote about this technology and its possible impacts a while back. Here is an article on the topic with a short video that describes the technology in simple terms. (The video in this link started playing automatically with my browser, but I needed to “unmute” the audio.)
via How Does Crispr Gene Editing Work? | WIRED
This is a fascinating article that is worth a read in spite of its length. We are going to be visiting a couple of the islands later this week. It is good for us to know more about the circumstances of the places we are visiting.
“Three years before Darwin’s arrival, a zoo’s worth of invasive species had become entrenched on Floreana. It is no accident that in the scientific literature, the earliest date for many invasive species is 1832. That’s when General José de Villamil, the first governor of the Galápagos Islands, arrived on Floreana to organize the penal colony. As Cruz—farmer, amateur historian, sometime bus driver and the largest landowner on Floreana—puts it, “He brought everything—goats, donkeys, cows, mules, horses, dogs, pigs, rats, everything.” Similar animal importations occurred on other islands in the Galápagos during the 19th century, with devastating consequences on the local flora and fauna. Villamil brought the mules and donkeys to haul tortoises down from the highlands. At the time of his visit, Darwin reported that a previous ship visiting Floreana had loaded up on 200 tortoises in a single day (other ships reportedly collected as many as 700 apiece, according to Darwin).”
“Humans don’t get a waiver from these waves of invasion, and their impact is increasing, too. In 1984 only 6,000 people total lived on five of the 129 islands and islets; more than 30,000 do today. And tourists? Three decades ago there were 20,000 a year; in 2016 there were 218,000. Just as more people began to come to the Galápagos to marvel at the local biodiversity, that biodiversity became increasingly threatened by the invasive species.”Credit: Mapping Specialists
via Could Genetic Engineering Save the Galápagos? – Scientific American
I wrote a blog in the past about CRISPR, and the ethical questions the use of this technology is going to bring up.
Consider this thought. If life on earth as we know it is going to be destroyed by some extraterrestrial event some time in the future, it is possible that such an event has already happened.
via A Nearby Neutron Star Collision Could Cause Calamity on Earth – Scientific American
“If that part of the story is true, it tells us that humans have actually been the selective agents, which [have] caused this evolutionary change in great tits.”
via Humans May Be Influencing Bird Evolution in Their Backyards – Scientific American
It is interesting to be able to observe changes like this happening even during human lifetimes, and to be able to understand the reasoning and the science behind these changes.