Half of my scientific career appears to be shaping up into repeatedly doing this...
I carefully manage my twitter presence to be almost entirely science related to my work. As such, each day I sit down for half an hour and get a shit-ton of awesome preprints in my area of professional research and a cloud of related topics, pictures from conferences on topics I am interested in and don’t work in, and the latest from certain people involved in climate science and soil ecology (out of my wheelhouse but things I care about).Twitter direct messages have been useful getting in touch with two scientists working on things related to a manuscript I am putting together.
They do not have the capacity to see color in the way we do, with different cells sensitive to different wavelengths of light.
Instead, they exploit chromatic aberration, by which different colors at the same focal distance require different lensing to focus on the retina. By knowing how far away something is and seeing how sharp versus blurry it is at slightly different eye-focuses they can know how bright it is at different wavelengths.
There are even weirder systemic effects that happen.
There has been a longstanding, drastic decline in seabird numbers, along with a decline in the upper trophic levels in the ocean, for the last fifty years or so. A few years back, it was determined that at least in the case of seabirds, the limiting factor for their populations appeared to be B-vitamin deficiency of all things—large numbers of birds were dying of it. What could be suddenly causing that was a mystery, with all sorts of dire ideas thrown about regarding collapses in ocean productivity or zooplankton populations.
Turns out that the most likely reason for it is actually nitrogen fertilizer pollution. The algae that bloom in the ocean dead zones where fertilizer runoff hits it turn out to be largely B-vitamin auxotrophs—they cannot make it and take it up from the local ecosystem. And then when the algae bloom dies and the water goes anoxic, they sink to the ocean floor and are buried with the B vitamins they took up, efficiently sucking it out of the ecosystem and burying it in the seafloor.
These systems react in strange, nonlinear ways...
Quotes from people in the field now that more information was divulged:
′ “It’s even more appalling and abhorrent now,” Liu, cofounder of the genome editing company Beam Therapeutics, told STAT. “His responses displayed a deeply disturbing naivete about the issues involved. I have a deep fear that this could set back the field [of therapeutic genome editing] so badly that patients won’t get the therapies they desperately need.”
Other experts in the audience were equally critical. “Having listened to Dr. He, I can only conclude that this was misguided, premature, unnecessary, and largely useless,” said bioethicist Alta Charo of the University of Wisconsin, a member of the summit organizing committee. ′
′ I would add “criminal” to that list myself, because it does appear that the consent forms that the parents signed told them that this was an HIV vaccine research project. It appears that Dr. He was the only person to explain the experiment and the consent form to the patients, and God only knows what he told them or what they understood of the work itself. By American legal standards, he has (I’d say) exhibited depraved indifference to human life, and in a better world he’d stand trial for it.
It’s hard to see how this could have been done much worse. It’s obvious that human embryonic gene editing is not ready for use yet, and this is not the work of some brave pioneer because we already knew that. Going ahead with this experiment was reckless, dangerous, counterproductive, and arrogant beyond belief.′
′ We work with worms and zebrafish to generate precise point mutations. The amount of screening required to find a precise edit among the mix of indels and complex rearrangements/insertions makes me shudder at the thought of attempting this so brazenly in patients. ′
‘The technology is immature, this was an inappropriate modification, AND HE DID IT INCOMPETENTLY. I have no words. ’
Coming out of hibernation specifically to comment on this.
There is now reported gene sequencing info. The ‘edit’ is an unmitigated disaster hack-job—random insertions and deletions caused by desperate DNA-repair machinery, not a clean adjustment to a known allele. Just like what tends to happen a lot of the time when you try to CRISPR mammals that love non-homologous end joining rather than microbes that like to use homologous recombination. It is a LOT easier to just take a chainsaw to a genome and break stuff rather than actually edit cleanly. For lab animals you can just keep trying until you get it right then breed it. But now the two sequenced people (both apparently are MOSAICS of multiple different mutations!) have alleles never before seen that we have no idea what the immunological impacts of are.
Responsible research, this is not. Ghoulish tinkering with human subjects.
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Latest results on KIC 8462852 / Boyajians Star:
After comparing data from Spitzer and Swift—an infrared and ultraviolet telescope—whatever the heck the three dimensional distribution of the material causing the brightness dips, the long-term secular dimming of the star is being caused by dust. Over the course of a year of observations the star dimmed less in the infrared than in the ultraviolet, with the light extinction dependent upon wavelength in a way that screams dust of a size larger than primordial interstellar dust (and thus likely in the star system rather than somewhere between us) but still dust.
Still a weird situation. There cannot be a very large amount of dust in total since there is no infrared excess, so we must be seeing small amounts of it pass directly between the star and us.
The dipping is also semiperiodic, to the point that a complex of dips beginning in May was predicted months in advance.
One coming this approaching spring will. This one was livestreamed but not sure if it was recorded.
An update to this was presented:
Attended my first honest to god Astrobiology meeting/symposium/conference. Wow, it was amazing...
People usually point to there actually being hydrogen and carbon accessible on the surface of Mars, in the form of widespread permafrost/humidity and the CO2 atmosphere, whereas the only biomass/fuel precursor element that exists in large quantities on the moon is oxygen (in the rock, along with various metals and ions, just like rock on Earth, requiring interesing chemistry and/or molten rock electrolysis to get it out). Not much in the way of precursors to organic material on the moon.
Personally I think both places are kind of absolute shit-holes for canned monkeys. Both are science bonanzas, the moon for information on the proto-Earth, and Mars for looking at a body which has had much less geological recycling since Hadean times and an ancient second hydrosphere and for all we know biosphere.
I don’t see the difference between the two.
To answer the question of the title: Yes.
Only recently seen two instances of sleazier self-promotion.
What with the way the ASIC mining chips keep upping the difficulty, can a CPU botnet even pay for the developer’s time to code the worm that spreads it any more?
I have spoken to someone who has spoken to some of the scientific higher ups at Calico and they are excited about the longer-term funding models for biomedical research they think they can get there for sure.
I have also seen a scientific talk about a project that was taken up by Calico from a researcher who visited my university. Honestly not sure how much detail I should/can go into about the details of the project before I look up how much of what I saw was published versus not (haven’t thought about it in a while), but I saw very preliminary data from mice on the effects of a small molecule from a broad screen in slowing the progression of neurodegenerative disease and traumatic brain injury.
Having no new information for ~2 years on the subject but having seen what I saw there and knowing what I know about cell biology, I find myself suspecting that it probably will actually slow these diseases, probably does not affect lifespan much especially for the healthy, and in my estimation has a good chance of increasing the rate of cancer progression (which needs more research, this hasn’t been demonstrated). Which would totally be worth it for the diseases involved.
EDIT: Alright, found press releases. https://www.calicolabs.com/news/2014/09/11/
Postdoctoral position acquired. May be doing some work off a NASA astrobiology grant, eventually.
The perils of posting quickly in the middle of rapid apartment hunting (for a new postdoc position at a university with a bunch of yeast cell biologists AND astrobiologists! YES!).
I was referring to slide 27, with the various probability distribution graphs conditioned on various observations. The ‘no colonization’ conditional graphs all leave the left low-number tail intact while chopping off the probability bulge to the right of ‘one in our galaxy’ in various different ways. But this is only valid under the assumption that exponential colonization/galactic scale visibility with a few decades of rather poor observations against the screaming burning backdrop of the astrophysical universe is POSSIBLE. (Allow me to preemptively counter the ‘but only one has to be able to’ argument, this is an event that would be extraordinarily correlated across everybody). There are vast numbers of possibilities for the fate of intelligent systems that are not rapid extinction or consuming the universe that are insufficiently explored by so many people.
Without these conditional probability bounds, the given probability distribution is distinctly uninformative. It basically says ‘with the distribution of probabilities that can be extracted from literature on the subject, no intelligent systems in the visible universe is as likely as thousands to a billion in our galaxy’, that little bump on the right side of the distribution is pretty intense). I also happen to think that the given abiogenesis probability distributions are far too wide to the low side, that we have not excluded the possibility of multiple completely independent biospheres in our own solar system at all, and that complex life has some possibility of being limited more by geological/orbital/energetic issues than evolution which introduces interesting bimodality to that probability distribution, but that’s just me (and the people whose work I follow).
I was talking more about things like the great oxidation (reduced atmosphere and iron in the water to a very little oxygen in the air and hydrogen sulfide in the water) and the proterozoic/phanaerozic transition (low-phosphate oceans with some hydrogen sulfide and low oxygen levels to oxic, high-phosphate very productive oceans and lots of atmospheric oxygen that supports an ozone layer).
The great oxidation is looking like it almost certainly was NOT due to the recent invention of oxygenic photosynthesis, but was instead a geochemical tipping point that came when the slowing geology of the earth and the steady oxidation of crustal sinks could no longer absorb all the biogenic oxygen and the very-small-compared-to-the-crust atmosphere whipped into a new state long after the oxygenic photosynthesizer drivers that ultimately caused it were in place, triggering massive biochemical shifts across the biosphere in a short time.
The proterozoic/phanerozoic transition is looking more and more like it could have been an interesting earth-system-scale flip that had something to do both with a major increase in exposed above-water landmass (coming from the growing continents and steadily thinning oceanic crust causing a sudden shift when the ocean level fell to a level that exposed large plains rather than just mountains) and an intrinsic bistability of ocean chemistry such that there are two stable states, one with low primary productivity/oxygen and one with high, that you can only flip between via some kind of shock. Multicellular animals as we know them may simply not be a viable strategy in the low-productivity low-oxygen state, and predators that can drive evolutionary arms races of the sort that probably drove the Cambiran explosion certainly are not. As such, the late emergence of multicellular heterotrophs on Earth (there is evidence for multicellular photosynthesizers for over a billion years, last I saw) is not necessarily due to them being HARD, but due to the need for the geosphere and the chemical environment to go through some phase transitions first, some driven by slow buildups of material over time and some possibly more stochastic. They show up remarkably fast after those phase transitions are complete.
EDIT: I don’t understand the assertion in the linked slides having to do with abiogenesis that genetic systems that were precursors to ours could’ve been more stable than ours. LUCA had our genetic system, full stop, and is certainly older than 3.7 gigayears at the VERY least, for all we know it could be back to 4.4 gigayears. Our genetic code also bears the imprint of an explosive period of waaaaay pre-LUCA evolution in which it was optimized to be literally one in a million in terms of resistance to mutational damage. What came before LUCA was unstable and fell into a stable state, not the other way around. Furthermore there could be other stable biochemistries, without the need to posit going directly here (though I will go out on a limb and say I suspect protein will be everywhere there is water as a solvent and that genetic polymers are likely to have phosphates, hah).
EDIT 2: Okay now I see what you are referring to about transitions in abiogenesis, treating it as a chemical event with some odds per unit volume per unit time. A reasonable analysis, better than most, but neglecting it as a self-reinforcing PROCESS rather than a singular event. There are other schools of thought, though. There are others who, treating living things as dissipative systems that are a channel through which to discharge persistent chemical disequilibrium and our core biochemistry as being able to do so at a remarkably low level of organization, see abiogenesis as a form of breakdown into the preferred state of a planet out of equliibrium and under chemical stress. The idea being that even though the breakdown is stochastic, it is still the preferred state you are pushing the system into via putting a stress on it. See Dr. Eric Smith for a discussion of the idea from one direction (there is a lot of diversity in ideas on this front):
EDITED VIDEOS, wrong but still relevant link earlier
This analysis remains predicated on the assumption that a long-lasting intelligent system is easily visible over cosmological or galactic distances with the sorts of investigations that have already been performed by us.
EDIT—BTW, there’s a lot of interesting evidence coming out for the ease of abiogenesis, and that thinking of earth’s biosphere evolution in terms of ‘it took 4 gigayears to get to get X, what if thats just rare’ is the wrong way of thinking about things—that you need to talk about geochemical phase transitions rather than accretion of innovations, after which you get explosive changes.
Is a solution in which control of the network is secured through the same private keys that secure the stores of value an option?