Venom Without the Snake – Hurray – Here’s Why #medicine #wildlife #sciences

Collecting venom from a snake: milking a snake

Collecting venom is the first step in producing anti-venom. Would you want to do this, or whir some blobs of tissue in a blender?

I live with rattlesnakes, and now there’s some good news related to that. Keep reading.

On my New Mexico ridgetop, on the broken limestone, I feed the birds. That means I also feed the rodents, and that means I’ve got perfect snake habitat. Why would a snake crawl all the way up here to hunt a meal? I have no idea, but every year or two I spot one or two rattlers.

My doctor friends tell me our blacktails only inject venom in about half their bites to humans. (They also tell me most bites involve young men and alcohol. Sometimes being an old woman pays off! Furthermore, no glass of wine ever induced me to turn over rocks looking for snakes.)

All Americans live with rattlesnakes. “Rattlesnakes are native to the Americas, living in diverse habitats from southwestern Canada to central Argentina… 7,000 to 8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes in the United States each year, with about five deaths.” Wikipedia

Neither New Mexico nor the rattlesnake accounts for the majority of venomous bites, but I’d still like to know that my local ER has serum available. And they don’t. In America and world-wide, there’s a shortage for all species of vemonous snakes.

Which brings me to the good news: venom can be produced in the lab. That’s the first step in anti-venom production. Custom grown, in-vitro snake glands without the snake.

We have PhD students and stem cells to thank:

If they had told Clevers about their project before they started, he would have told them that it was extremely unlikely to work. But it did… They’ve grown organoids from eight different species, all sourced as eggs from breeders or as euthanized individuals from zoos. The Atlantic

This is the first advance in production of anti-venom in a hundred years, and, since snake bites globally kill 100,000 people every year, this could be a big deal.

The PhD students are moving on. They want to grow crocodile-tear-glands! But since the market for cheap anti-venom is global, I hope the right pharmaceutical company picks this up. There’s finally a way to make money from treating snake bite and – oh, yeah – save lives too.


Gifts from the Past #history #archeology #botany

Date palm grown from ancient seed

Date-palm nicknamed “Methuselah” germinated in 2005 from a 2000-year-old seed found in the Masada excavations.  By DASonnenfeld – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Zealots held a mountaintop
As they went to sleep.
Their Roman foes decayed to dust
While they were hidden deep.

Deep indeed sits the Dead Sea.
Nowhere is more secured
From cosmic rays, by denser air,
So in their shells endured.

The fallen palace of a king
Preserved their jar of dates.
Museum drawers then carried them
To their amazing fate.

Seeds that sprout two thousand years
After being packed away.
They bring a history to life,
We touch our past today.

Kate Rauner

Date-palm seeds from this era were taken from several ancient sites. A few looked good and germinated to everyone’s delight and then grew into trees:

The seedlings were genetically quite different from one another. These ancient seeds might represent lost genetic diversity we don’t see any more. As date-palm growers adapt to climate change and battle pests and diseases, they might want to tap into the pool of ancient genes hidden in archaeological archives.

[One male tree produced pollen that was used] to pollinate a modern female, and they made dates. The two female date palms from ancient seeds, Judith and Hannah, have not yet reached sexual maturity, so no ancient date fruits have been resurrected yet. The Atlantic

When dates are produced from the female trees, they aren’t likely to taste the same as the fruit people ate 2,000 years ago, because farmers were already planting their groves from shoots rather than seeds. I guess that means these trees are more like whatever wild dates inspired their domestication, a taste from even farther in our past. I’d love to eat one.

The Betelgeuse Nebula

What would a supernova Beteleguse look like? Let someone else do the math for us!

Starman's Meanderings


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Fusion Power is Always 30 Years Away – Could That Be 5 years? #fusion #energy

Sun viewed in X-rays

The Sun: our only reliable source of fusion power

The joke is older than I am! Fusion power is 30 years away and always will be.

The joke works because, after almost a century and billions spent on government-backed megaprojects, we’ve failed. Huge, doughnut-shaped magnetic tokamaks or enormously powerful lasers suck up vast amounts of electricity to produce… no net gain.

Fusion needs a new approach, and today there’s more than one. At MIT, Oxford, and in southern California, researchers promise big things. Neutral hydrogen fuel, superconductors, and inertial-confinement, along with the latest artificial intelligence, could make a difference.

I’m jaded enough to ignore the latest claims if it weren’t for one thing:

If just one succeeds in building a reactor capable of producing electricity economically, it could fundamentally transform the course of human civilization. In a fusion reaction, a single gram of the hydrogen isotopes that are most commonly used could theoretically yield the same energy as 11 metric tons of coal, with helium as the only lasting by-product.

That would be a mighty significant outcome, so even a small chance of success is hard to ignore.

Private investors are getting involved and that means innovative ideas are being heard. The trouble with a government project (and I was a contractor for the US Federal government for many years) is there’s no exit strategy, and no sense of how to cut loses or remove powerful individuals who have become drones. Of course, in the private world, returns often need to come swiftly, and basic research takes time. Maybe a mix of funding is best.

The world needs abundant, CO2-free energy, so this blossoming of ideas grabs my attention. What truly seems weird is, even with fusion, we’re still boiling water to drive turbines to generate electricity. But if we can do it cheaply, safely, and without frying the planet – that would transform civilization.

Thanks for their article.


Astronaut Ice Cream – Better Than Ever #astronauts #icecream

Astronaut Ice Cream freeze dried sandwichYou can still get astronaut ice cream. I remember this from my misspent youth (all youth is misspent, just ask us old farts.)

I seem to remember flat squares of freeze-dried ice cream. This latest version really looks exactly like an ice cream sandwich.

It’s sweet and bland. Ben and Jerry’s has nothing to fear. The real treat is how it melts in your mouth, which is weird because it’s actually a bit hard to break. I think the flat, mouth-sized squares would work better in space because this sandwich makes crumbs. Crumbs are bad in zero-g from what I read – they clog up the air filters.

You can buy freeze-dried ice cream in many places. Mountain House makes it for backpackers, and craft stores carry it as an ice cream novelty. Amazon of course has various sized packages,

But if there’s not an astronaut on the package… Well! It’s just not the same at all. Better yet, get it from the NASA gift shop. Hmm. I bet that’s run by some contractor who has definitly never put anyone into space. BTW, the manufacturers admit the current treats were not developed for Apollo misisons and, apparently, don’t travel to the ISS either… because of those crumbs I bet. Still – fun.

Comic Books Are Good For Your Brain! I always knew it #comics #brainhealth #neurology

Perhaps the first comic character from 1884

Perhaps the first recurring character in comics – cover to 27 December 1884 edition

My parents were easy to get along with. They pretty much let me read whatever I wanted. But for some reason, my mother was certain that comics would rot my mind.

But guess what? Comics and graphic novels are good for you, maybe especially for those of us who struggle with reading, because

Not all literacy is textual, or even grounded in a verbal language… [comics] tell sophisticated stories through multimodal cues that stimulate similar processes to the human brain mapping the world around it. Combinations of words, images, color, spatial layout, gutters, sound effects, panel composition, body language, and facial expressions are all used to convey meaning. Yahoo

Yeah – like all those words say. If only Mom had known.


Warning for 2020: Beware the Straight Line #predictions #unexpected

Niagra Falls Hydroelectric Plant

Hydroelectric plant near the US/Canadian border. This one’s been around so long that the original generating facility is on the US National Register of Historic Places

If you predict that tomorrow’s weather will be like today’s, you’ll have a good accuracy rate, but no one will want you for their forecaster. You’ll miss all the changes!

People tend to extrapolate. It’s easy to see a straight line extending into the future. But even when we try to take lots of factors into account, we get it wrong.

America’s energy sources, like booming oil and crumbling coal, have defied projections and historical precedents over the last decade… Coal-fired power is plummeting and natural gas has risen significantly… EIA (U.S. Energy Information Administration) had projected in 2010 that U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide emissions would continue rising. In fact, they dropped.

The experts got it wrong because they failed to foresee a combination of technological and political changes. They’ll get things wrong again because change never stops, the world is complex, and no solution is perfect. What will we be shaking our heads over in 2030?

It’s not just global energy markets that change. Name any field you care about. Healthcare? Archeology? Agriculture? Physics? Birdwatching? Football? Continental drift? Origin of birds? It’s easy to scoff at expert pronouncements, but you and I are likely to see beliefs we thought were rocks turn to sand.

Some people change their mind when new information arrives. What do you do?