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.

Mortal’s Tale Told in Bones and DNA #poem #poetry #archeology #history

I just read at a poetry slam, having reworked a previous poem quite a bit. Hope I didn’t read too fast! I’m always a bit nervous. Anyway, here it is:

Trojan HeroesTroy, the fabled city
where gods and kings made war,
contains a buried story
less epic
than its famous lore.

Damage to the joints and spine
from working in the fields,
malnutrition and disease,
less noble but more real.

They suffered from a different strain
than found
in modern distribution.
Eight hundred years is
a long time
in microbe evolution.

One sad story’s told in bones,
a memoir in DNA.
Infection struck an unborn child,
stole mom and babe away.

What poems are writ to infants lost?
Who sings of nameless death?
In Trojan ground, a mortal’s tale
of pain and loss
was left.

Kate Rauner

Inspired by archeology.

Turkeys Tell the Tale #history #archeology #nativeamericans

Turkeys were kept by Native AmericansYou may have heard that ancient North American people of Southwest Puebloan cultures, such as found at Mesa Verde, disappeared, but actually they moved and assimilated into other cultures. New evidence of where they went comes from a surprising source: turkeys.

Native American people had long kept turkeys and when they moved the turkeys traveled with them.

Severe drought in 1277, coupled with resource depletion and social upheaval, is thought to have triggered a massive migration… ‘What we found was good evidence of a substantial influx of turkeys into the northern Rio Grande region that had the same genetic composition as turkeys from the Mesa Verde region.’

Scientists extracted mitochondrial DNA from turkey bones found at various historical sites to track these ancient people. The trails people leave behind them can be surprising.

Thanks to sciencedaily.com

Ancient Graveyard Tells an Authentic Human Tale #poem #poetry #archeology #history

Troy, the fabled citybyzantine_agriculture
where gods and kings made war,
contains a buried story,
more recent than
its epic lore.

Malnutrition and disease,
less noble but more real,
damage to the joints and spines
from labor in the fields.

One sad story written down
in bones and DNA –
infection struck an unborn boy,
took mom and child away.

A slightly different strain
than modern distribution.
Eight hundred years
is a long time
in microbe evolution.

What poems are writ to infants lost?
Who sings of nameless death?
Laid in a grave, our human tale
Of pain and love and breath.

By Kate Rauner

Thanks to wisc.edu for this study, from a Byzantine graveyard, in the journal eLife (Jan. 10, 2017). A calcified nodule on a woman’s skeleton contained not only her DNA and that of the microbes that killed her, but the only trace of her male fetus’s existence.

rr-3-coversAll my books, including collections of my science-inspired poetry, are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and other major online retailers. You’ll also find paperbacks at Create Space and all major digital formats at Smashwords. Read one today.

Natural GMO #GMO #poem #poetry #science #biology #evolution

What never livedRotavirus_Reconstruction
But yet evolved?
Retained itself
In species broad?
Shares DNA
But never sex?
Familiar beast
You don’t expect?

Rhyming riddles are hard to write – feel free to offer your own couplets in the comments. I bet you’ll do better than I did. Kate

Researchers from Boston College, US, are studying an ancient group of retroviruses that affected many modern mammal ancestors 30 million years ago. Viruses that colonized our ancestors and, “over the course of millions of years, however, viral genetic sequences accumulate in the DNA genomes of living organisms, including humans.”

Thanks to phys.org/news

Our Destiny Tied to the Wonderful Desert Watermelon #poem #poetry #evolution #nature #middleeast #watermelon

watermelon-on-the-white-table-725x544

licensed at creativecommons.org 2.0

Wild in the deserts
Of Egypt and Sudan,
Grows hard and bitter fruit
Called gurma in that land.

Harvested and hoarded
Somewhere in the shade,
It holds a fount of water
In green flesh that it made.

Water for dry seasons,
Water kept in storage,
Water for a Pharaoh’s Ba
On his celestial voyage.

The fibrous fruit was pounded,
So juices bound would flow.
A gift to desert dwellers
Five millennia ago.

From one gene only, dominant,
Its bitter taste was made,
So when recessive flowers met
The bitterness did fade.

Melons bearing yellow flesh,
By Common Era’s time,
Rabbis grouped with grapes and figs
As sweet within the rind.

The gene for sugar links with red,
Though DNA was not yet spelled,
Medieval farmers bred
A fruit fit for angels.

Citrullus_lanatus_var._citroides

A related wild species in the Kalahari desert

Ruby slabs of watermelon
Decorate my table,
While in the wild deserts
Its ancestral stock is stable.

Civilization could collapse,
There could be Armageddon.
But in five thousand years,
Our Kin could once again
Have watermelon.

Thanks to nationalgeographic.com. And thanks to Mark Twain for writing that watermelon is what the angels eat.

EBOOK COVER R&R3 (199x300)All my books, including collections of my science-inspired poetry, are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and other major online retailers. You’ll also find paperbacks at Create Space and all major digital formats at Smashwords. Read one today.