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Bill Noble

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the best little note about rotifers I've ever read! Thank you, John.
The toughest animal on the planet

A rotifer is an animal that lives in water and sweeps food into its mouth with small hairs.  There are many kinds, most less than a millimeter in length.  They can eat anything smaller than their head.

The toughest are the bdelloid rotifers.  These can survive being completely dried out for up to 9 years!  When they dry out, they sometimes crack.  Even their DNA can crack... but when they get wet, they come back to life!

Thanks to this strange lifestyle, their DNA gets mixed with other DNA.   Up to 10% of their active genes come from bacteria, fungi and algae!!! 

Scientists have found DNA from 500 different species in the genes of a rotifer from Australia.  "It's a genetic mosaic. It takes pieces of DNA from all over the place," said one of the study's authors. "Its biochemistry is a mosaic in the same way. It's a real mishmash of activities."

Perhaps because of this, bdelloid rotifers don't bother to have sex. 

Their ability to survive dry conditions makes them great at living in desert lakes and mud puddles that dry up.  But they also use this ability to beat some parasites.  When they dry out, the parasites die... but the rotifers survive!

On top of all this, bdelloid rotifers can survive high doses of radiation.  My guess is that this is just a side-effect of having really good genetic repair mechanisms.

Puzzle 1: what does 'bdelloid' mean?

Puzzle 2: what other words begin with 'bd'... and why?

Here's the paper that found 10% of active genes and 40% of all enzyme activity in bdelloid rotifers involve foreign DNA:

• Chiara Boschetti, Adrian Carr, Alastair Crisp, Isobel Eyres, Yuan Wang-Koh, Esther Lubzens, Timothy G. Barraclough, Gos Micklem and Alan Tunnacliffe, Biochemical diversification through foreign gene expression in bdelloid rotifers, PLOS Genetics, 15 November 2012,

The  animated gif is from here:

#spnetwork #bdelloid #rotifer doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1003035
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Looking to give the world a gift during the holidays? Here's a promising project -- a completed documentary of worldwide approaches to change, protest, and nonviolent civil disobedience, and an in-process, ongoing, online toolkit. I was moved by its playful, practical tone, and by its potential to empower citizen movements. They have 6 Kickstarter days to go. They need your support.
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Three major publications on climate have come my way in the last week. Each is sobering. Together, they feel apocalyptic:

1. New cloud modeling suggests that warming by 2100 is likely to be 4 degrees C rather than 2. (And that, of course is just the part that will have happened by then of an already committed much larger change -- all of Greenland's ice and most of Antarctica's gone within a few more centuries.)

2. The shutting down of ocean circulation because of the diminishing temperature differential between the equator and the poles: a 30% decline in bottom life in the North Atlantic by 2100. (And the end point, of course with further CO2 is anoxia for most of the oceans, a great reduction in atmospheric O2 and a surge of H2S -- the mechanism that caused all but one of earth great extinctions.)

3. A major Nature article suggesting that we have reached the limits of increased productivity from industrialized agriculture, and that decline has already begun -- just as we need to double food production over the next five decades or so. (I'm inclined to believe that genetic engineering may well buffer another few decades, but no more.)

As we arrive at 2014, how does the scale and import of all of this figure in the decisions we will each make over the rest of our lives, knowing that, every day, we are the biggest beneficiaries of the status quo, and are deciding the fate of lots and lots more of life than just us?
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Heads up. BitDefender is repeatedly telling me that the petition page has malware. It probably doesn't, but someone managing the petition needs to figure out what the problem is.

Meantime, the text (visible on this page)  is simple, and easy to print out for your household or your workmates to sign en masse, and then drop off at a store.
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This Strikes Me as a Very Big Deal Indeed

. . . and in a wearyingly familiar pattern, has been almost unreported in the US (Google turned up only the Sacramento Bee so far among significant media), but is widely reported in China. What does it mean? Likely that California will lead the Western World in renewable energy and adaptive technologies, partnering with the giant polluter that is also the world's largest researcher and investor in climate tech.
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Gabrielle Giffords

90% of Americans, in multiple polls, supported the very modest gun-control measures in the bipartisan Manchin-Toomey BILL. So did 4 brave GOPers. But four Democrats, "Red-Staters," made the Republican filibuster work. The hero who stood up in the Senate Gallery and shouted "Shame on You!" spoke for all of us.

Democrats are unlikely to reclaim the House in the next decade -- right-wing gerrymandering seems nearly bomb-proof. That being the case, what's the value of a Democratic-led Senate that does something like this? And little else.

Democrats, end the filibuster.  Or lose the Senate, because lots of us out here will simply abandon funding the worthless charade of Congressional politics.

If you haven't read Giffords' passionate denunciation of the vote, here it is:
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Fossil Logic

Subsidizing school lunches is wrong. Subsidizing solar is wrong. Subsidizing anyone poorer than you is wrong. But oil? The International Monetary Fund calculates that the total US subsidies to fossil fuels is half a trillion dollars. PER YEAR.
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The 10th Anniversary of a Great Lie

I've just read this linked letter, on the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the US invasion of Iraq, and wanted to send it on. It says what should have been said, by millions of us, ten years ago.

It's striking how powerful the social agreement is that normal, essential moral judgments aren't applied to those of great wealth or power. No senior figure of the financial industry has been called to account for their crimes. Not one, despite the millions of Americans who lost -- and are still losing -- their homes. And these two men -- Bush and Cheney -- will probably not travel outside US borders much for the rest of their lives for fear of being arrested for war crimes. But that's about the only consequence they will suffer for the human tragedies Tomas Young lists below. Not for those, nor for the moral degradation of our country into one where torture is tolerated or even defended, and the violation of every single protection of the Bill or Rights is shrugged off as just a casual cost of the "War on Terror."

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At today's press conference, news of the strongest, most detailed evidence yet that Mars had a period when conditions for life were favorable. We're rapidly arrowing in on the key question: in the Universe at large, does life ignite whenever it has appropriate conditions? Or not?
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To endure, democracies need to deal head-on, and always, with their relationships to money and power. The US in 2013 is a near-perfect example of poor attention. And corn, as it turns out, could be a great way to focus our attention. Would you have guessed that, in terms of its ability to FEED people, the US corn industry is less productive than Bangladesh or Egypt? The reasons for this are a case study in the (ailing) arts of democracy.
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