Most Basic to Life #biology #science #poem #poetry #whatislife

Code?

Are you alive?
How do you know?
What do you look at
To see if it’s so?

Is it because
You oxidize food?
Consume and create
Organic
Molecules?

Or the homeostasis
That you maintain?
Do you need cells
To be in the game?

What if the planets
Hold a surprise?
Organized data
May say you’re alive.

Kate Rauner

Thanks to sciworthy.com for raising the question, even if there’s no consensus answer. For you and me, “I think therefore I am” may work as well as any other answer.

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You’re a Mutant and it Gets Worse Every Day – Here’s How #biology #gene #radioactive #DNA #Asimov

DNA structure

DNA, just peppered with carbon atoms

Does the thought of mutations in your DNA (and other bits of your body’s cells) scare you? Do you worry about toxins, or GMOs, or species-hopping viruses? Cancer, or growing a second head? Here’s something that may terrify you. Or, since it happens every day and you’re not dead yet, maybe comfort you.

Here’s how you mutate. Your body contains a lot of carbon. This is such a basic fact that to say a chemical is organic means it contains carbon atoms in its molecules. Your DNA, the genetic blueprint that pilots your cells through life, contains carbon atoms.

Not likely!

Carbon, like many elements, exists in different forms called isotopes. Mostly we have carbon-12, but a fraction of all carbon is carbon-14, which is radioactive. When it decays (that is, releases a sub-atomic particle or energy from its nucleus), it transmogrifies into a different element, nitrogen.

Isaac Asimov once estimated that this transmogrification happens roughly six times a second somewhere in the DNA in your body, every second of every day, throughout your life. I’m way too lazy to check his figures, but whatever the rate, it happens. Every one of these events mutates the DNA where it occurred. A lot of the mutations will be in body cells, and some will be in sperm or eggs (reproductive cells.) A mutation might kill the cell, cause cancer, get passed on to offspring, or do nothing discernable.

So, you are a mutant. So am I. And we’re still alive. Do you feel better? Or worse?

BTW: Carbon-14 is created in Earth’s atmosphere every day by a natural process. Cosmic radiation strikes our planet from every direction, and it includes sub-atomic particles known as neutrons. Occasionally a neutron strikes a nitrogen atom. Our atmosphere is roughly 75% nitrogen, so this is no surprise.

The neutron reshuffles nitrogen’s nucleus and transforms it to carbon-14, which is radioactive and so decays back to nitrogen. It takes 5,700 years for half of a given amount of C-14 to decay, but it happens at a steady rate. The entire process happens at a steady rate and the C-14 way up high mixes into the air down low that we breathe, so the amount of C-14 in the body of any living organism stays constant until it stops breathing (or otherwise respiring). Then radioactive decay depletes the body of C-14. This is the basis of carbon-14 dating, which you may have heard of.

BTW2: Asimov’s book is old – published in 1988 – but still worth reading. He covers a lot of history and basic science. New discoveries seldom change what we know about the basics, like radioactive decay.

Horrible Creatures Have a Place in the World – How Revolting #poem #poetry #biology #nature

Kate Raune rhymes parasites :O

Tick fossilized in amber – they’ve been around a long time

My dog is scratching at his fleas,
There’s mistletoe throughout my trees.
Can climate change be all bad
If it kills a few of these?

Egg to larva to adult,
From fish to foul they catapult
Their complex lives to realize,
Or from seeds and spores result.

Successful parasites don’t kill,
They want their hosts to thrive, yet still
Niches open when they go
To creatures worse that will.

Some are horrible, it’s true,
We won’t miss River Blindness soon.
Next time your tummy’s sick, just know
They’re part of Mother Nature’s glue.

by Kate Rauner

Thanks to a study published in the journal Science Advances, completed with the help of the U.S. National Parasite Collection, as well as specialized databases of ticks, fleas, bee mites, and feather mites; and to techtimes Many thanks to the

Carter Center, because some parasites simply have to go. But it’s interesting to think about the little nasties we’ve adapted to live with – and them with us.

My poetry collections are available on Amazon, Smashwords, Apple, or your favorite retailer. Read a preview here or visit your favorite store

This is the Strange Value of the Best Fossil Poo #dinosaurs #fossils #science #evolution #poetry #poem

fossilized poo - resource for science

This legendary fossilized feces specimen is named “Precious”

Brontosaurus is amazing,
And likewise is T Rex,
But what about the beetles
That hold food chains erect?
Fin rays and fish scales
And bits of parasites,
The ins and outs of ecosystems
Found in coprolites.

Ancient relationships
That underlain the world
Of millions of years ago,
Their secrets are unfurled.

Synchrotron
Micro
Toe – mography
Without destroying fossils
Enables us to see

Deep into the past
Of ecology,
To reconstruct
just who ate whom
On life’s ancient tree.

by Kate Rauner

Thanks to phys.org, and read more on wikipedia. More poo poetry here 😀

Revealed – Truth Is, Zebras Don’t Have Stripes on Skin – is that Weird or Not? #nature #biology #animals #genetics

zebra_equus_quagga

Taken by Muhammad Mahdi Karim

This may not be the most important piece of news, but zebras are solid black under their striped coat.

 Skin color and hair color are controlled by different genes, hormones, and other factors, says Barsh, who studies the genetics of animal color patterns… citing domestic cats, domestic dogs, horses, zebras, and cheetahs as examples. nationalgeographic

I know that’s true with my llamas. Now, tell the truth. You’re about to go brush the hair backwards on your dog or cat to check, aren’t you? Go ahead! Be a citizen scientist.

America’s Coyote #nature #science #biology #environment

Coyote pups

Coyote pups

Coyote is our canid,
A true American,
For a million years
Remaining at his origin.

Coyote’s always waiting,
Coyote’s always hungry,
And so we have waged war on him
All across the country.

Kill half a million every year
On foot, in trucks, from planes,
But Coyote found a refuge
Where humans aren’t their bane.

He spread from coast to coast,
From plains to cities, towns,
To parks, and urban sprawl,
To built himself a home.

He thrives on rats and mice
That follow mankind’s rise,
Absorbing genes from wolf and dog,
That’s how Coyote thrives.

America’s own avatar,
Our native totem beast,
Howling out your anthem,
May your singing never cease.

By Kate Rauner

I’ve been intrigued by stories of coyotes’ success surviving rural attempts at extermination and now moving into cities – the stories keep coming. Thanks to nationalgeographic.com coyotes and urban animals.

That Which We Call a Wolf #nature #biology #words #wolves #language

Mexican gray wolf - a little guy as wolves go, perhaps because life in desert mountains is hard. Looks a lot like a coyote to me.

Mexican gray wolf – a little guy as wolves go, perhaps because life in desert mountains is hard. Looks more like a coyote than the big wolves of Yellowstone.

Can a word become more important than the thing it names? I’ve thought about this before. We humans stuff nature into neat little categories because it makes a complex world easier on our brains.

We divide living things into species.

But what is a species?

A species is often defined as a group of individuals that actually or potentially interbreed in nature. In this sense, a species is the biggest gene pool possible under natural conditions… That definition of a species might seem cut and dried, but it is not… many plants, and some animals, form hybrids in nature.” berkeley.edu

If you add deep time to your definition, you’ll find “species” come and go on Earth despite the fact that evolution is a continuum.

Like a lot of the labels humans create, a species is a handy way to mostly-categorize and sort-of talk about an important topic. The word is fuzzy, but that doesn’t usually matter.

Until it does.

In America, we have a law (much loved and hated) that requires we spend money and limit certain economic activities to save “threatened and endangered species.”

Most Americans live in urban/suburban areas and never see large predators, but want to protect them. Rural folk like myself actually live with them, lose cattle and pets to them, and sometimes fear for human lives. My urban/suburban friends may get a taste of living with predators because some wolves (and definitely coyotes) live in their parks and backyards.

Total disclosure – I own no cattle, lost two pets to bears, and am willing to protect predators but think the government often handles the projects badly.

That brings me to the American Wolf. If gray wolves, red wolves, eastern wolves, and Mexican grey wolves are four species, they must be protected in all their various ranges. Science tells us something about this question:

  • Eastern and red wolves are genetically coyote/wolf hybrids – Princeton-UCLA study published in Science Advances
  • Mexican grey wolves come from a tiny captive stock (true as far as I know) and have interbred with coyotes and domestic dogs (common assertion here in Mexican grey wolf country – I can’t say, but it seems plausible.)

Researchers analyzed the complete genomes of 12 pure gray wolves (from regions without any coyotes), three pure coyotes (from regions without any gray wolves), 6 eastern wolves, and 3 red wolves. The results showed that eastern wolves are about 75 percent gray wolf and 25 percent coyote, while red wolves are about 25 percent gray wolf and 75 percent coyote – with almost no unique genetic material of their own.”  csmonitor.com

(Too bad my local Mexican grey wolf was not included in the study.)

Pro-wolf and anti-wolf groups have entrenched mutual distrust in my area. Their conflict runs so deep that beating the other guy often seems more important than the wolves.

So choose your side and remember that, in government, a word means whatever the law or the courts say it means. Which will not be what science or common-usage says it means. Remember your opponents are probably nice people with reasonable goals – try to keep an open heart so you can keep an open mind.

Maybe haiku will help:

Coyotes mate wolves
But Danes and Chihuahuas can’t
So what’s a species?