Archive for November 2013

Photo Gallery around the Altiplano   Leave a comment


salar Uyuni original page loic-paradise.comImage

salar Uyuni original page


lago Poopo


flamingoes click for original page


flamingoes by Jordans Cafe, Oruro


isla Incahuasi original page by


laguna verde click for original page


laguna verde by Skip


llamas at Sajama by Jordans cafe, Oruro


volcan Tunupa llamas by Miguel Izu


lago Poopo


volcan Sajama click for original page







Sajama with stream by Jordans cafe, Oruro


salar de Uyuni


volcan Tunupa



Posted November 25, 2013 by kitokinimi in Uncategorized

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Large Study Links Nut Consumption to Reduced Death Rate   Leave a comment

Source Newsroom: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

Research also shows people who eat nuts weigh less

Their report, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, contains further good news. The regular nut-eaters were found to be more slender than those who didn’t eat nuts, a finding that should alleviate the widespread worry that eating a lot of nuts will lead to overweight.

The report also looked at the protective effect on specific causes of death.

“The most obvious benefit was a reduction of 29 percent in deaths from heart disease – the major killer of people in America,” said Charles S. Fuchs, MD, MPH, director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Center at Dana-Farber, who is the senior author of the report. “But we also saw a significant reduction – 11 percent – in the risk of dying from cancer,” added Fuchs, who is also affiliated with the Channing Division of Network Medicine at Brigham and Women’s.

Whether any specific type or types of nuts were crucial to the protective effect couldn’t be determined. However, the reduction in mortality was similar both for peanuts and for “tree nuts” – walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, macadamias, pecans, cashews, pistachios and pine nuts.

Several previous studies have found an association between increasing nut consumption and a lower risk of diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, gallstones, and diverticulitis. Higher nut consumption also has been linked to reductions in cholesterol levels, oxidative stress, inflammation, adiposity, and insulin resistance. Some small studies have linked increased nuts in the diet to lower total mortality in specific populations. But no previous research studies had looked in such detail at various levels of nut consumption and their effects on overall mortality in a large population that was followed for over 30 years.

For the new research, the scientists were able to tap databases from two well-known ongoing observational studies that collect data on diet and other lifestyle factors and various health outcomes. The Nurses’ Health Study provided data on 76,464 women between 1980 and 2010, and the Health Professionals’ Follow-up Study yielded data on 42,498 men from 1986 to 2010. Participants in the studies filled out detailed food questionnaires every two to four years. With each food questionnaire, participants were asked to estimate how often they consumed nuts in a serving size of one ounce. A typical small packet of peanuts from a vending machine contains one ounce.

Sophisticated data analysis methods were used to rule out other factors that might have accounted for the mortality benefits. For example, the researchers found that individuals who ate more nuts were leaner, less likely to smoke, and more likely to exercise, use multivitamin supplements, consume more fruits and vegetables, and drink more alcohol. However, analysis was able to isolate the association between nuts and mortality independently of these other factors.

“In all these analyses, the more nuts people ate, the less likely they were to die over the 30-year follow-up period,” explained Ying Bao, MD, ScD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, first author of the report. Those who ate nuts less than once a week had a seven percent reduction in mortality; once a week, 11 percent reduction; two to four times per week, 13 percent reduction; five to six times per week, 15 percent reduction, and seven or more times a week, a 20 percent reduction in death rate.

The authors do note that this large study cannot definitively prove cause and effect; nonetheless, the findings are strongly consistent with “a wealth of existing observational and clinical trial data to support health benefits of nut consumption on many chronic diseases.” In fact, based on previous studies, the US Food and Drug Administration concluded in 2003 that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts “may reduce the risk of heart disease.”

The study is supported by National Institutes of Health grants UM1 CA167552, P01 CA87969, R01 HL60712, R01CA124908, P50 CA127003, and 1U54 CA155626-01, and a research grant from the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research & Education Foundation.

About Dana-Farber

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is a principal teaching affiliate of the Harvard Medical School and is among the leading cancer research and care centers in the United States. It is a founding member of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center, designated a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute. It provides adult cancer care with Brigham and Women’s Hospital as Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center and it provides pediatric care with Boston Children’s Hospital as Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. Dana-Farber is the top ranked cancer center in New England and fifth nationally, according to U.S. News & World Report, and one of the largest recipients among independent hospitals of National Cancer Institute and National Institutes of Health grant funding. Follow Dana-Farber on Facebook and Twitter.

About Brigham and Women’s

Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) is a 793-bed nonprofit teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School and a founding member of Partners HealthCare. BWH has more than 3.5 million annual patient visits, is the largest birthing center in New England and employs nearly 15,000 people. The Brigham’s medical preeminence dates back to 1832, and today that rich history in clinical care is coupled with its national leadership in patient care, quality improvement and patient safety initiatives, and its dedication to research, innovation, community engagement and educating and training the next generation of health care professionals. Through investigation and discovery conducted at its Biomedical Research Institute (BRI), BWH is an international leader in basic, clinical and translational research on human diseases, more than 1,000 physician-investigators and renowned biomedical scientists and faculty supported by nearly $650 million in funding. For the last 25 years, BWH ranked second in research funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) among independent hospitals. BWH continually pushes the boundaries of medicine, including building on its legacy in transplantation by performing a partial face transplant in 2009 and the nation’s first full face transplant in 2011. BWH is also home to major landmark epidemiologic population studies, including the Nurses’ and Physicians’ Health Studies and the Women’s Health Initiative.

Posted November 24, 2013 by kitokinimi in Uncategorized

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Vatican to display bones claimed to be those of Saint Peter   Leave a comment

On June 26, 1968, pope Paul VI made a dramatic announcement that put the Catholic Church back in the headlines for reasons other than its stance on women, abortion or contraception.

Vatican to display bones claimed to be those of Saint Peter
Statue of St Peter, Rome [Credit: Age Fotostock/Alamy]

New “very patient and accurate investigations” had been carried out on bones discovered in a Roman cemetery in the Vatican, he declared. The remains had been identified, “in a way we believe to be convincing”, as those of Saint Peter, the Christian martyr who is traditionally held to have been the first pope.

On Sunday, for the first time in nearly two millennia, fragments of those bones are to be displayed in public as part of celebrations to mark the end of the Year of Faith, an initiative launched by Pope Benedict.

Held in an urn usually kept in a private papal chapel, they will be presented for public veneration in St Peter’s Square at a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis. But the decision to exhibit the relics is not without controversy. No pontiff has ever said the bones are without doubt those of St Peter and some archaeologists are fairly sure they are not.

Vatican to display bones claimed to be those of Saint Peter
These are the claimed bones of the Jewish Apostle Peter, at the site were they where
found by the Vatican in 1942 [Credit: Fabbrica di San Pietro]

The battle over the bones, which pits a rigorous Jesuit archaeologist against a pioneering female epigraphist, is one of the strangest stories to have come out of the Vatican during the late 20th century, and it may also be one of the least dignified.

On Monday, Monsignor Rino Fisichella, president of the pontifical council for the promotion of the new evangelisation, said he had no qualms about thrusting the relics back into the spotlight.

“We did not want to, and have no intention, of opening up any argument,” said Fisichella, who in a carefully worded article for the semi-official Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano last week described the relics as those “recognised by tradition” as St Peter’s.

Vatican to display bones claimed to be those of Saint Peter
This is the collection of bones claimed to be of “Peter”, soon to be venerated
by Catholics [Credit: Fabbrica di San Pietro]

“We believe … the people of God have always believed these to be the relics of the apostle Peter, and we will thus continue to venerate them and give them the honour they deserve.”

Fisichella also said that “the symbolic value” of the bones – their “underlying theological value” – was hugely important. Regardless of what scientific testing might throw up in the future, he said, Christians would carry on venerating the remains and praying at the tomb of Saint Peter.

The story of how the bones came to be proclaimed Peter’s dates back to 1939, when Pius XII ordered an excavation of the area below St Peter’s Basilica.

Vatican to display bones claimed to be those of Saint Peter
The Petros Fragment from the Red Wall, discovered inside the
repository [Credit: Fabbrica di San Pietro]

Overseen by German monsignor Ludwig Kaas, the digging lasted 11 years and led, in 1950, to a stunning papal radio broadcast that “the tomb of the prince of the apostles” had been found.

But despite the discovery of human bones, the pope was forced to admit that his team had not been able to prove that they were those of the apostle Peter.

Years later, archaeologist Margherita Guarducci, the first woman to lead excavations of the Vatican, became convinced the bones were indeed those of Saint Peter. She convinced Paul VI to commission tests and these revealed they belonged to a robust man who died approximately in his 60s.

Vatican to display bones claimed to be those of Saint Peter
Pope Francis visits the necropolis under St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican where
St Peter is believed to be buried [Credit: AP]

To the outrage of Antonio Ferrua, the Jesuit father who had been the chief archaeologist on the initial excavation, Guarducci convinced the pope to say the bones were believed to be Saint Peter’s. And, to the disquiet of Ferrua and some other Vatican experts, he did just that. Kaas, Ferrua and Guarducci have all since died.

Editor’s Note

In 1953, two Franciscan monks discovered hundreds of first century ossuaries stored in a cave on the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem. The archaeologists claimed to have discovered the earliest physical evidence of a Christian community in Jerusalem, including some very familiar Biblical names.

Vatican to display bones claimed to be those of Saint Peter
Vatican to display bones claimed to be those of Saint Peter
Vatican to display bones claimed to be those of Saint Peter
The so-called ‘Ossuary of Saint Peter’ (above) discovered in Jerusalem with an inscription in Aramaic (centre) which reads: “Shimon Bar Yonah” which translates “Simon [Peter] son of Jonah”. Compare Mat 16:17: “And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” On the middle stone from the same excavation (below) one sees a mark Chi Rho, the first two letters of the Greek word Christ [Credit: Gli Scavi del Dominus Flevitt]

The name inscribed on one ossuary read: “Shimon Bar Yonah” – Simon, the Son of Jonah, the original Biblical name of the Disciple Peter. However, several scholars, both Protestant and Catholic, disputed that the tomb belonged to Peter, one of the reasons being that there was no inscription referring to him as “Cefa” or “Peter”.

Source: South China Morning Post

Posted November 24, 2013 by kitokinimi in Uncategorized

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Metro works unearth ‘second Pompeii’   1 comment

The Thessaloniki metro system aspires to be the “most modern metro system in the whole of Europe.” That, however, is contingent upon its completion. Begun in 2006, the project is currently four years behind schedule. In order to see the light of day, Thessaloniki’s archaeologists have had to chip away at the city’s shadowy past.

Metro works unearth 'second Pompeii'
Rescue excavations during construction of Thessaloniki’s metro network have revealed
significant evidence of the city’s urban life from the 4th to 9th centuries
[Credit: ΑΠΕ-ΜΠΕ]

The ruins unearthed in Greece’s second city have led some to hail it as a “second Pompeii.” Current excavations are focused on the so-called “intra muros” stations – those that sit within the limits of the city’s Theodosian walls – and the “extra muros” stations – those located outside these late antique fortifications.

Works on two intra muros stations, Aghia Sofia and Venizelou, have unearthed sections of the city’s Decomanus Maximus, the east-west boulevard that ran through Thessaloniki and most other cities of the Roman Empire. Excavations of this avenue – the medieval “Boulevard of the Byzantines” – have concentrated on a vast complex of fountains and colonnaded walkways. The late antique road was initially of marble construction; by the 6th century CE it had been repaved with rectangular stone slabs. Digging at the site of the adjacent Venizelou station has revealed a square of marble construction flanked by workshops and bazaar-style stalls. These ruins are nestled quietly beneath the bustling Odos Egnatia, a street that takes its name from the famous legionnaire highway that ran through northern Greece in antiquity.

Metro construction extra muros – beyond the formal limits of the ancient city – have provided rare glimpses of early Christian building practice. In the east, at the construction site for Sintrivani station, a late antique church has been uncovered that stands atop a pre-Christian religious structure; its mosaic flooring depicts the mythical bird Phoenix. In the western part of the city, at the site of the future Plateia Dimokratias station, archaeologists have revealed an arched, rectangular late antique church flanked by scattered graves. Burial practice suggests that the cemetery was in use until the 15th-century Ottoman sack of the city; following that conquest, these suburbs developed into commercial neighborhoods.

Thessaloniki’s difficulties are not unlike those that confronted Athens during the construction of its metro system: meeting modern commuter needs while responsibly tending to historical finds. Engineers in Athens anticipated the discovery of entire ancient neighborhoods; they were equipped to excavate them efficiently and to incorporate ruins into their respective station designs. But much of what’s been unearthed in Thessaloniki has come as a surprise to engineer and archaeologist alike. The discoveries speak to the city’s emergence in late antiquity as a cultural hub and – like Constantinople – a strategic bloodline between the Eastern and Western halves of the Roman Empire.

Tensions between Thessaloniki archaeologists and Attiko Metro, the company which is overseeing work to build the subway system, have marked the near-decade since construction began. In August, the two sides reached a compromise that calls for the temporary removal of ruins in order to allow construction to proceed unimpeded. If the deal holds, it will enable the preservation of 80 percent of discovered artifacts. “It is natural for contractors to always try to complete their constructions in the most economical way,” notes Thessaloniki archaeologist Despina Makropoulou. “What is of utmost importance is that the state defends its interest by giving culture the lead it deserves.”

Author: Alexander Clapp | Source: ekathimerini 

Artificial mummification in the Atacama Desert   Leave a comment

A relatively wet climatic period may have triggered the development 7000 years ago of complex culture in hunter-gatherer communities in the Atacama Desert, including the earliest known examples of ritual mummification.

Head of a mummy from the Chinchorro culture, found in Northern Chile [Credit: Wikipedia]

Bands of hunter-gatherers lived along the Atacama coastline from 11000 BC to 500 BC, but the Chinchorro began mummifying their dead only around 5000 BC. An early Archaic burial (dated 9000-8000 BC) that uses similar funerary symbols to the later mummy burials suggests that mummification was a local development, rather than being introduced from elsewhere. Now, researchers posit that cultural innovations, including the cult of mummification, were spurred by environmental change. Regional climate records for the time, based on the periodic appearance of certain plants in the rock records, indicate that there was a period of greater rainfall across the Andes above the Atacama between 5800 BC and 4700 BC, which would have charged groundwater reserves in the usually dry desert of northern Chile and southern Peru. Springs would have begun discharging water and creeks would have filled. The Chinchorro, who lived in fishing settlements along the coast, would have flourished under these relatively benign conditions, the researchers believe. By combining 460 dates from 131 archaeological sites in the Atacama with existing data on how hunter-gather populations fluctuated elsewhere, the researchers developed a model which indicates that the Chinchorro experienced a hike in population density between 5000–3000 BC. “Environmental change acted as a positive and creative force in the building up of social complexity, instead of being associated with the collapse of society, as is usually emphasized,” says Pablo Marquet, an ecologist at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile in Santiago, and a co-author of the study. Ritualistic technology Ritualistic mummification by the Chinchorro, thought to be the world’s earliest examples, may have evolved as a result of the population increase, the researchers say. “Dead corpses do not decompose in the coastal desert, so an increase in population size means an increase in corpses that become naturally mummified because of the extremely dry environment,” Marquet says. As the population increased, it would have become increasingly likely that the living would come across a mummified corpse, he says. The work builds on the theory that population increase drives technological innovation — the Chinchorro’s complicated mummification procedures are a form of ritualistic technology, the researchers say. Daniel Sandweiss, an archaeologist at the University of Maine in Orono, who was not involved in the study, warns that “we cannot ever really know that Chinchorro people encountered naturally mummified dead people more frequently”. And even if this did occur, we cannot know that it led to artificial mummification, he says. “But the idea is clever.” The Chinchorro developed various elaborate mummification styles, including painting the skin with red ochre or black manganese as well as disassembling the body. Such complex rituals indicate a complex society, and the period coincided with innovations in fishing tools. Around 4,400 years ago, the practice disappeared from the region. A flurry of warm El Niño currents decreased marine food sources, which is thought to have caused the eventual Chinchorro decline. Marquet suggests that as the population dropped, mummification skills were lost in the wake.

Author: Helen Thompson | Source: Nature Journal 

Posted November 24, 2013 by kitokinimi in Uncategorized

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Konstantin G. Korotkov   Leave a comment

Posted November 23, 2013 by kitokinimi in Uncategorized

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ScienceShot: Shiny Happy Neurons   Leave a comment

Shiny Happy Neurons

Roger Harris/Science Source

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA—How do we recognize emotions in the facial expressions of others? A small, almond-shaped structure called the amygdala, located deep within the brain (yellow in image above), plays a key role, but exactly what it responds to is unclear. To learn more, neuroscientists implanted electrodes into the amygdalae of seven epileptic patients who were about to undergo brain surgery for their condition. They recorded the activity of 200 single amygdala neurons and determined how they responded while the patients viewed photographs of happy and fearful faces. The team found a subset of cells that distinguish between what the patients thought to be happy and fearful faces, even when they perceived ambiguous facial expressions incorrectly. (The team carefully manipulated some of the photos of fearful faces, so that some of the subjects perceived them as being neutral.) The findings, presented here yesterday at the 43rd annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, suggest that amygdala neurons respond to the subjective judgement of emotions in facial expressions, rather than the visual characteristics of faces that convey emotions. The scientists also found that the cellular responses persisted long after each of the photographs disappeared, further suggesting that the amygdala cooperates with other brain regions to create awareness of the emotional content of faces. Thus, when it comes to recognizing the facial expressions of others, what we think we see seems to be more important than what we actually see.

Posted November 18, 2013 by kitokinimi in Uncategorized

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Debating the Evolution of Multicellularity   Leave a comment

By: Peter Byrne

Cassandra Extavour, a developmental biologist at Harvard, studies the evolution of multicellular organisms, particularly the division of labor between germ cells and other cells. David Behl

Cassandra Extavour, a developmental biologist at Harvard, studies the evolution of multicellular organisms, particularly the division of labor between germ cells and other cells.


The developmental biologist Cassandra Extavour sings classical and baroque music on stage with the Handel and Haydn Society at Symphony Hall in Boston. Blessed with a beautiful soprano voice, she could easily have chosen to pursue a career as a singer. But a summer working in a developmental genetics laboratory as an undergraduate tipped the scales in favor of science, and Extavour is now an associate professor of organismic and evolutionary biology at Harvard University. By choosing biology, she says, she has been able to pursue her musical career part time; a full-time concert soprano, by contrast, would not have had the time to run a lab on the side.

Extavour directs a national research collaborative called EDEN, which stands for Evo-Devo-Eco (evolutionary-developmental-ecological) Network. The organization, fundedby the National Science Foundation, encourages geneticists to dissect more exotic creatures than the ubiquitous fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. EDEN researchers model the various evolutionary paths of sea anemones, horseshoe crabs, mosses, crickets, spiders, milkweed bugs and the super-hardy tardigrade. Extavour’s own labfocuses on dissecting insect embryos and ovaries, searching for genetic clues to the origin of multicellularity and the complex organisms that multicellularity made possible, including Homo sapiens. Extavour’s special expertise is in tracking the development of germ cells, the cells created in an embryo that contain the genetic code for reproducing multicellular organisms.

Last winter, Extavour was one of the organizers of a ten-week program on a controversial topic, “Cooperation and the Evolution of Multicellularity,” at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The daily talk sessions were attended by scores of highly regarded scientists from all over the world, including developmental and evolutionary biologists, mathematical physicists, and zoologists — plus an embedded journalist reporting for Quanta Magazine. The event was unusual because of its prolonged and multidisciplinary nature. And many exchanges were heated because, despite 150 years of research on the biology of evolution, scientists still disagree about how and why multicellular creatures and plants emerged from ancient oceans that teemed with robust and self-reliant single-celled entities.

At the conference, biologists who work mostly in the field observing the behaviors of bees, ants, wolves, slime molds and other creatures tended to look for the mechanics of natural selection at the behavioral level by examining how individual organisms self-organize into hives, nests, packs, conglomerates or families. Physicists and molecular biologists focused more on the micromechanics of natural selection at the level of the genome, looking to mathematically measure the “fitness” of what they call competing and cooperating genes or cells. 

But the scientists were not always on the same page even regarding the meaning of such key concepts as cooperation, competition and fitness. The physicists and molecular biologists employed statistical mechanics and game theory to help build explanatory mathematical models of DNA, proteins and entire genomes. That preoccupation with micro-quantification sometimes raised the hackles of field-oriented biologists who were more focused on analyzing social behaviors.

“Scientists need to be crystal-clear that fitness is a statement of fact and not a value judgment.”

Through it all, week after week, the unflappable Extavour kept the conferees focused on the central issue: Precisely what physical mechanisms originally drove single cells to unite for mutual benefit? How can we quantify this benefit in evolutionary terms? A few months after the conference, Quanta Magazine interviewed Extavour about her own point of view. This is a condensed and edited version of that interview, incorporating a portion of her final talk at Kavli.

QUANTA MAGAZINE: Are you evo, devo or eco?

CASSANDRA EXTAVOUR: As a developmental biologist — a devo, if you will — I am intrigued by how cells become eggs and sperm in multicellular creatures. During the development of an animal embryo from a fertilized egg cell, a process that’s called embryogenesis, only a tiny percentage of the millions of genetically identical cells that make up the embryo will become gametes capable of passing their genomes on to successive generations.

Most of an embryo’s cells become soma: cells capable of forming vital organs, muscle, skin and bones. Somatic cells reproduce by dividing — genetically mirroring themselves — but they cannot contribute their specific genomes to the formation of new creatures through sexual reproduction. That is solely the job of the succession of cells in what we call a germ line.

In a sense, the somatic cells sacrifice their genetic “immortality” to protect the germ-line cells. And this primal division of reproductive labor has evolutionary consequences: It allows sexual reproduction and fosters genetic diversity and the evolution of multicellularity.

Now the eco in evo-devo-eco comes into play. The core problem in the study of the development of multicellular organisms is: Why do cells that start out with identical genomes do different things in different environments? 

How do you track the development of germ cells in the lab?

We dissect the ovaries and embryos of spiders, crickets and milkweed bugs, using molecular biology and microscopy tools to map the genetic mechanisms that guide the emergence of germ cells. In some organisms, the assignment of a cell to the germ line is caused by an inheritance-based mechanism: Before there is even an embryo, the molecular content of some cells predetermines them to develop as either germ or soma. In other organisms, there is instead a signaling mechanism: An embryonic cell receives chemical signals from neighboring cells that activate (or repress) the genes that allow for germ-line function. 

Why bother to be multicellular?

The evolution of a distinct germ line that is protected by the diverse somatic functions of the organism is thought to confer an evolutionary advantage — what we call a fitness benefit — to multicellular organisms, whether plant or animal or slime mold. 

How so?

The strict division of labor between somatic and germ-line cells in a multicellular conglomerate may allow it to explore new ecological niches and to manipulate objects with specialized multicellular organs like jaws, paws, stalks, tentacles, tails, roots, leaves or fingers. Unlike the typical single cell that is tethered to a limited environment, a multicellular unit can roam over great distances in search of food or more favorable ecological conditions or other multicellular units. It is possible that multicellular species may find more opportunities to adapt successfully to drastically changing ecosystems that might wipe out a less mobile or less complex unicellular species. So while unicellularity is clearly a successful way of life for many organisms, for others the collective benefit of multicellularity appears to outweigh the loss of individual fitness for each somatic cell that is denied a chance to pass on its particular genome.

“There may be no words that can replace the mathematical structures without carrying some normative baggage.”

What do you mean by fitness?

Fitness can have an unambiguous mathematical definition in the field of population genetics, but in other areas of biology fitness is hard to pin down semantically. So are words like conflict and cooperation when they are used to describe the behavior of nonhuman organisms — yeast or algae or rabbits. Such words are necessary to communicate what goes on non-mathematically, but they are also sociologically loaded: They imply an ability to make choices. In my lab, we avoid defining fitness using absolute numerical values. We do bookkeeping: We count how many eggs are laid. We count how many eggs are hatched. But we do not suggest that these numbers alone are somehow equivalent to something that we can confidently label fitness.

How has the sociological use of the concept of fitness evolved since the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species?

Ever since the social Darwinist Herbert Spencer launched the “survival of the fittest” trope 150 years ago, people have equated survival with fitness and fitness with survival. It’s a tautology that causes us trouble, and yet it lingers. For example, the mathematical biologist R. A. Fisher was a founder of population genetics in the 1920s and 1930s, and his work relating fitness to genetic variance was enormously important. But Fisher himself was a eugenicist who believed that upper-class people, because they are upper class, have a genetic predisposition to superior intelligence and “qualities of the moral character.” He feared that since lower-class individuals seemed to have the highest birth rates, the spread of their collectively inferior genes would lead to the downfall of civilization if left unchecked. He advocated that society take certain measures to ensure the proliferation of upper-class genes. This is one reason why scientists need to be crystal-clear that fitness is a statement of fact and not a value judgment.

Then why use these loaded words?

They evolved as a convenient, if inexact, shorthand. In actuality, there may be no words that can replace the mathematical structures without carrying some normative baggage.

What is the meaning of cooperation in experimental biology?

Biological cooperation can occur when two or more individuals — be they single-celled or multicelled units — group together to form a new entity: a new individual or, perhaps, a group of individuals, depending on the perspective of the experimenter. The division of reproductive labor in a multicellular entity requires that cells work together to maximize the reproductive potential of the entity of which they are a part.

“Cells are not conscious beings competing in a game like Prisoner’s Dilemma, say, which treats outcomes as decisions.”

To that end, cooperative cells exhibit behaviors that improve the ability of other cells to transmit their genomes, sometimes at the expense of minimizing their own genetic contribution to the next generation. These cells are often called “altruists” in the lab. They may produce or preserve energy resources for the group.

On the other hand, a noncooperative cell — or what is labeled a “defector” in the lab — will move around an ecosystem eating up scarce resources without making any contributions to sustainability. The defector’s “selfish” behavior tends to preserve its own genome for intergenerational transmission at the expense of the group.

Sexually reproducing organisms have capitalized on these two conflicting approaches in a way that benefits the entire organism: Somatic cells act as cooperators and germ cells act as defectors. Multicellularity as we know it might not have been possible without having both the defectors and the cooperators — each type of behavior is necessary.

Does Darwinian evolution reward cooperative behaviors?

Behaviors have an effect on the evolution of species and vice versa. But let’s not forget that evolution is the result of random events that generate consequences that are subject to natural selection. Some random changes improve an organism’s chance of surviving and reproducing in a specific environment, and some decrease it. Scientists strive to quantify these changes statistically so that we can make predictions and figure out what happened in the past.

To be clear: There is no conscious goal or direction or systemic intentionality built into the evolutionary trajectory of a given entity, be it unicellular or multicellular. Nonetheless, in scientific conversation, it is often convenient to talk about behaviors as if they are the result of choices. But cells are not conscious beings competing in a game like Prisoner’s Dilemma, say, which treats outcomes as decisions.

Why, then, is game theory used so much in evolutionary biology?

It was originally developed as a tool for finding solutions to zero-sum games played by conscious agents, and it was used extensively for economic analysis in a Western capitalist environment. It is riddled with anthropomorphic, value-laden language and, partly as a result, its adoption by many scholars of evolutionary biology means that we now casually talk about “altruistic” cells that commit genetic “suicide” by “cooperating” with “defectors” who “won” a “competition” for “control” of “public goods” in a test tube.

These human-centric metaphors become problematic when we forget that the linguistic shorthand does not refer to human societies and our own choices. That is why in the evo-devo-eco scheme of things, I am drawn toward developmental biology and its emphasis on understanding physical and chemical structures quantitatively.

Is it possible to unlock the secret of how we — as multicellular creatures — came to be?

My goal is to understand the genetic programs that allowed cells in multicellular entities to evolve a germ-soma division of reproductive labor in specific environments, not to analyze how our multicellular origin has affected the evolution of our societies. Frankly, I am distressed by the amount of subjectivity in human society, and I seek to avoid that in science. I grant, though, that biologists must be fascinated by the evolution of multicellularity, because we are multicellular creatures. A single cell cannot sing with the symphony!


Posted November 12, 2013 by kitokinimi in Uncategorized

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Chinese survival pods to defend against ‘apocalypse’   Leave a comment

As believers across the globe prepare for the forecast Mayan apocalypse, a Chinese villager says he’s going to save humanity with his giant tsunami proof survival pods.

­The pods are made using a fiberglass casing over a steel frame, cost $48,000 each to make and are equipped with oxygen tanks, food and water supplies. They also come with seat belts – essential for surviving in storms.  

“The pod won’t have any problems even if there are 1,000 meter high waves, its like a ping pong ball, its skin may be thin but it can withstand a lot of pressure,” the balls’ creator Liu Qiyuan, told AFP from his workshop outside Beijing.

“The pods are designed to carry 14 people at a time, but it’s possible for 30 people to survive inside for at least two months,” insisted Liu

Indeed, their insulation is such that “a person could live for four months in the pod at the north or south pole without freezing,” Liu continued.

Liu explained that he was inspired into making the spheres after seeing the Hollywood disaster film “2012”, which is itself inspired by the expiry of the Mayan calendar on the 21st December 2012. The Mayans were an ancient American civilization whose 5000 year old calendar shortly ends.

“If there really is some kind of apocalypse then you could say I’ve made a contribution to the survival of humanity,” said Liu.

Farmer Liu Qiyuan posing with survival pods that he created and dubbed ′Noah′s Arc′, in the village of Qiantun, Hebei province, south of Beijing (AFP Photo / Ed Jones)

Farmer Liu Qiyuan posing with survival pods that he created and dubbed ′Noah′s Arc′, in the village of Qiantun, Hebei province, south of Beijing (AFP Photo / Ed Jones)

Despite their tough design Liu is yet to sell any of the pods and he’s worried about paying back the loans he took out to build them.

“I worked for many years without saving much money…invested most of my money in the pods, because it’s worth it, it’s about saving lives,” he said.

But Liu isn’t alone in his bid to save mankind. A businessman in China’s eastern Zhejiang province has built 21 similar spherical survival pods which he’s called “Noah’s Ark” and sells for 5 million yuan each.

While another Chinese man from the northwestern Xinjiang province invested all his life savings of $160,000 to build an ark in case his home is flooded out.

Meanwhile, Chinese authorities have sought to reassure citizens that the world is not going to end on December 21st. Beijing police have posted an online notice telling people that “the so-called end of the world is a rumor” and citizens should instead use “scientific concepts.”

 Survival pods dubbed ′Noah′s Arc′ by their creator, farmer Liu Qiyuan, stand in a yard at his home in the village of Qiantun, Hebei province, south of Beijing on December 11, 2012 (AFP Photo / Ed Jones)

Survival pods dubbed ′Noah′s Arc′ by their creator, farmer Liu Qiyuan, stand in a yard at his home in the village of Qiantun, Hebei province, south of Beijing on December 11, 2012 (AFP Photo / Ed Jones)

Farmer Liu Qiyuan sits inside one of seven survival pods that he has also dubbed ′Noah′s Arc′, in a yard at his home in the village of Qiantun, Hebei province, south of Beijing on December 11, 2012 (AFP Photo / Ed Jones)

Farmer Liu Qiyuan sits inside one of seven survival pods that he has also dubbed ′Noah′s Arc′, in a yard at his home in the village of Qiantun, Hebei province, south of Beijing on December 11, 2012 (AFP Photo / Ed Jones)

Farmer Liu Qiyuan poses among survival pods that he built and has also dubbed ′Noah′s Arc′, in a yard at his home in the village of Qiantun, Hebei province, south of Beijing on December 11, 2012 (AFP Photo / Ed Jones)

Farmer Liu Qiyuan poses among survival pods that he built and has also dubbed ′Noah′s Arc′, in a yard at his home in the village of Qiantun, Hebei province, south of Beijing on December 11, 2012 (AFP Photo / Ed Jones)

Farmer Liu Qiyuan posing with survival pods that he created and dubbed ′Noah′s Arc′, in the village of Qiantun, Hebei province, south of Beijing (AFP Photo / Ed Jones)

Farmer Liu Qiyuan posing with survival pods that he created and dubbed ′Noah′s Arc′, in the village of Qiantun, Hebei province, south of Beijing (AFP Photo / Ed Jones)


Posted November 10, 2013 by kitokinimi in Uncategorized

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The way of the cross   Leave a comment

Their churches are set on fire. They are killed on the streets. Their women are kidnapped and converted to Islam by force. The Coptic Christians of Egypt are the largest Christian community in the Middle East. RT explores the dramatic changes that the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime brought about.

Posted November 10, 2013 by kitokinimi in Uncategorized

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