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Daniel Bastian
Science Writer | Passionate Thinker | Serial Informer | Eternal Student
Science Writer | Passionate Thinker | Serial Informer | Eternal Student


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My (very) comprehensive take on Making A Murderer. For obsessives only.

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An interesting (spoiler-saturated) take on Arrival, one of the finest movies of the last year.

"But Einstein felt that this was fundamentally a psychological matter; that the question of now need not, or could not, be addressed within physics. The specialness of the present moment doesn’t show up in the equations; mathematically, all the moments look alike. Now seems to arise in our minds. It’s a product of consciousness, inextricably bound up with sensation and memory. And it’s fleeting, tumbling continually into the past."

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Limb regeneration science has always fascinated me. Examples in nature aren't exactly abundant, but it's more common than you might think. Many reptiles and starfish can regrow missing body parts, apparently through the same processes of cell division that drive other tissue growth. In this video for Stat, Carl Zimmer travels to the lab of Jessica Whited to learn more about a salamander species called axolotl, which can regrow an entire leg in a matter of days.

Its ability to do what we cannot must ultimately lie in its genes. The question that eventually gets asked is, if we introduce limb regen genes in the human body, could we regrow appendages as well? No idea, but I've often wondered whether this unique capacity they have is due to their relatively massive genome. (Some salamander species we've sequenced have up to 10x the DNA per cell that humans do.) Perhaps this vastly larger pool of molecular batter allowed for greater trait variety as DNA was being shuffled around over the expanse of time.

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A fascinating speculation on the cosmic drivers behind extinction events and ice ages. Could dark matter play a role? Whatever explanation emerges victorious, it's clear we don't have the full picture just yet. And thanks to David Brin for bringing my attention to this quote by Mike DeSimone: “Humanity has two possible destinations: stars or strata."

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You may have heard that representatives from more than 100 countries will head to the UN on April 22 to sign the Paris Agreement, but you may also be wondering why this needs to happen at all. Didn’t the world already come to an agreement in Paris in December? Justine Sullivan offers a helpful primer to guide you through all things climate.

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"However, while this group wields disproportionate influence, old, white, conservative American men are a small and dwindling population. While they may account for a plurality of Republican primary voters, that’s the full extent of their reach.

"As the GOP scrambles to deal with the Trump candidacy, it may also have to deal with the conditions that made that candidacy possible - the same conditions that have left the Republican Party as the only major climate-denying political party in the world."

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The transition from sea to land has always been a hot topic in evo bio. There are many fish in the sea, but apparently only once in the history of life on earth have vertebrates successfully moved ashore with an anatomy for walking. Carl Zimmer wrote about this extensively in his book, At the Water's Edge.

Now, in one of those weird surprises that biology delivers with wonderful regularity, scientists have found a fish that really walks. It has even evolved a skeleton much like ours in the process. Making it an even more wonderful story is the fact that this fish lives only in a cave in Thailand, where it walks up waterfalls. Meet Cryptotora thamicola.

"I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don't have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that."

- Thomas Edison, 1931

And then what happened? What happened was over the course of the next few decades oil prices fluctuated, with a spike in the 1970s (fostering decent growth in the solar sector as the technology became more widely available) and a particularly sharp drop occurring in the 1980s (moving the needle back toward fossil fuels and other nonrenewables). Concurrently, world leaders like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher deregulated the energy sector, making it easier for fossil fuel corporations to gain control of the global market. In the early 1980s, more than a million solar water heaters were installed in the U.S., and a surplus of wind power construction took shape; both infrastructural initiatives were halted under the Reagan administration.

All of this despite the artificially cheap price of oil and coal, given the social costs to global and environmental health which fossil fuel interests exploit and which market rates do not capture.

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As always, we should be careful to distinguish between the market and labor practices of the industry on the one hand, and GMO safety and scientific efficacy on the other. We should not let our misgivings of the former cloud our perception of the latter.

Golden rice, for example, was developed as an affordable alternative for nations across the African continent suffering from Vitamin A deficiency, which is responsible for 1-2 million deaths annually, including 670,000 children under the age of 5. All studies to date have found no risk to human health, and with major partners like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, next to other GM breakthroughs the rice is largely considered an achievement in biotech and humanitarian efforts. The possibility that Monsanto and other producers have engaged in ethically dubious business practices does not change these facts.

It's like people who condemn the very notion of government. That we would like it to operate better and more efficiently should not be construed as thinking the government is a purposeless entity.

At the same time, it’s inaccurate to say that all of the various processes involved with modern GM food production is qualitatively indistinct from what crossbreeding farmers have been doing for thousands of years. Farmers of yore were not inserting and replacing sequences of DNA (transgenics), for example; blue flowers (a rarity before humans started making them) originated through experimentation of selectively breeding flower varieties. But transgenesis is certainly continuous with earlier modes of modification. And if conducted properly, in adherence with certification protocols, the modern process is safer, because we know what genes we are inserting, and we understand precisely why we are doing it.

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Great article on some of the current limitations and challenges of DNA profiling.
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