The Zombie Diseases of Climate Change

The Arctic permafrost was once an area full of vegetation. But it’s been freezing for 35,000 years or so. Every summer it thaws slightly, and every winter it refreezes.

As climate change sets in, the summers have got longer and the winters are warmer. This means more of the permafrost melts, and the remnants of that vegetation—protected from decomposition by the freezing temperatures—is exposed.

As it melts, microbes and other forms of life will reawaken. What forgotten pathogens lie beneath?

And then, as they watched, a virus appeared in their viewfinder: Pithovirus sibericum, a massive ovular virion that had survived 30,000 years frozen in the ice core. It was also the largest virion ever discovered.

“We tried to isolate amoeba viruses without knowing they were going to be giant viruses—and a totally different type of virus than we already know appeared,” Claverie said. “It turns out the viruses we are getting [in the permafrost] are extremely abnormal, extremely fancy.”

Claverie and Abergel’s viruses aren’t a threat to humanity—yet. But human pathogens have also survived freezing and thawing in the permafrost. Last summer, an outbreak of anthrax in Siberia infected dozens of people and killed one child. The vector of disease is thought to be the thawing and decaying carcass of a reindeer killed in 1941.

And a team of Canadian scientists recently found a strain of bacteria, Paenibacillus, in a cave in New Mexico that had been closed off for more than 4 million years. Though harmless to humans, the ancient bacteria was resistant to most clinical antibiotics, including most of the newest and most aggressive. The discovery suggested that bacteria can survive the most exotic and remote environments.

The problem is compounded by our desire to access precious metals, rare earths, petrol, gas and gold throughout the arctic. If, say, Russia wants to access them, millions of tonnes of permafrost needs to be moved for the first time in millions of years.

Even more worrisome are the microbes we don’t know. “No one really understands why Neanderthals went extinct,” Claverie said. Sometimes, he catches himself when talking about these possible permafrost-locked diseases—they may have threatened humans or human relatives in the past, he’ll say. Then, he’ll change tense, emphasizing that they could do so again.

Source: The Zombie Diseases of Climate Change – The Atlantic

It looks like a fish until you grab it, and then it looks like a naked chicken breast

Nicholas St. Fleur writes for the New York Times about Geckolepis megalepis, a species recently discovered in Madagascar with a remarkable way of escaping danger:

The fish-scale gecko has a freaky way of eluding danger. When snatched by an attacker, it rips off its scales and skin so it can slip away unscathed. Basically, it streaks to survive.

“It looks like a fish until you grab it, and then it looks like a naked chicken breast,” said Mark D. Scherz, a doctoral candidate at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. The torn-away scales reveal the gecko’s pink flesh, and through its translucent tissue you can see its spine and blood vessels. “It’s bizarre, it’s really surprising, and it’s quite uncomfortable when you see them,” he said.

It may seem like a gruesome getaway, but it doesn’t hurt the lizard. It loses its skin and scales with extreme ease and regenerates them in full a few weeks later. The new scales grow in with a different pattern than the previous ones, but other than that are nearly indistinguishable from the originals.

Gluten-free economic meritocracy

1: Why I unfollowed you on Instagram

I’m looking for an intelligent feed of my interests. A feed of stuff I’m going to like, drawn from a white-list of trusted curators but personalized for me. Not specific to one vertical (News, Music, Stuff to Buy, etc) or one content type (movies, photos, text, links). Ordered by the most relevant, the stuff I need to see RIGHT NOW. […] We would do ourselves a favor to stop lumping all these tools together and calling them “Social Networks” or “Social Media” and instead note what makes each service uniquely great and push these companies to improve what they’re best at. What they all are is “distribution”, ways of building direct connections between people and each other or brands. Person -> Person, Brand -> Person, Person -> Brand.

2: A new use for the @-symbol

This is a gorgeous old carousel in Jerez, Spain. Both adults and kids likely want to ride it. Let’s look closely at the motorcycle, too small for adults to ride. The sign says it’s exclusively for niñ@s to ride. I believe they are using the @ to be an a and o simultaneously, creating a clever all-encompassing plural for “boys and girls”.

3: Computer Show

Today’s technology transplanted to 1983. Made by the wonderful @lonelysandwich.

4: Women who sniff this Hawaiian mushroom have spontaneous orgasms

According to a 2001 publication in the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, the smell of the fresh fungus can trigger spontaneous orgasms in human females. In the trial involving 16 women, 6 had orgasms while smelling the fruit body, and the other ten, who received smaller doses, experienced physiological changes such as increased heart rate. All of the 20 men tested considered the smell disgusting. According to the authors, the results suggest that the hormone-like compounds present in the volatile portion of the gleba may have some similarity to human neurotransmitters released in females during sexual activity. The study used the species found in Hawaii, not the edible variety cultivated in China.

5: The most mysterious star in our galaxy

Astronomers have spotted a strange mess of objects whirling around a distant star. Scientists who search for extraterrestrial civilizations are scrambling to get a closer look.

6: Business Town

An ongoing project attempting to explain our highly intangible, deeply disruptive, data-driven, venture-backed, gluten-free economic meritocracy to the uninitiated. With apologies to Richard Scarry.

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7: Why ‘social justice warrior,’ a Gamergate insult, is now a dictionary entry

Most people hadn’t heard of a “social justice warrior” until about a year ago, when it emerged as the preferred term among the Gamergate movement for the people they believed to be their greatest enemies. Now, the word has crossed over enough into mainstream use that in August, “Social Justice Warrior” was included in the latest batch of words added to Oxford Dictionaries. The online dictionary from Oxford University Press defined the phrase as an informal, derogatory noun referring to “a person who expresses or promotes socially progressive views.”

8: How urban planning made Motown Records possible

The family piano’s role in the music that flowed out of the residential streets of Detroit cannot be overstated. The piano, and its availability to children of the black working class and middle class, is essential to understanding what happened in that time and place, and why it happened, not just with Berry Gordy, Jr. but with so many other young black musicians who came of age there from the late forties to the early sixties. What was special then about pianos and Detroit?

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