The Smaller-Hammer Approach

Don’t get me wrong: the bigger-hammer folks still prevail in the arena of strip-mining the soil for maximizing profit from monoculture-derived soy, corn, cotton and the like.

And granted, the insects and weeds still either have or are evolving the upper hand. Again.

But Monsanto-Bayer, Bosch and John Deere are seeing in this another opportunity to make a buck while seeming-GREEN. Yet again, the upper hand against an uncooperative NATURE is (wait for it): more technological fixes.

See Robots fight weeds in challenge to agrochemical giants

Meanwhile, in another sad statement of the state of affairs, natural predators are being replaced by yet another robot–a smaller hammer: a tiny mechanical spider is being developed, soon perhaps to be released in large numbers, to provide the environmental services that biological spiders and other predators could have effectively performed once upon a time.

Not to worry. We Know Better. We’ll fix whatever is broken–meaning whatever buggers with efficiency or profit. Nature is just too sloppy and slow for Modern Man in the Anthropocene. Move over, let our engineers show you how it’s done.

And I don’t think I like where this story is headed, but then I’ll only get to the middle of the book before the lights go out.

Should we, in the last chapter, do ourselves in, it wouldn’t be the first time that a major extinction was caused by the “environmental tinkering” of Earth’s creatures, though such a feat has never before been brought on by a single species. We really are something special.

See: Evidence that Earth’s first mass extinction was caused by critters not catastrophe

Octopi From Outer Space

No Really. That is being posited as the source of the many-faceted oddness of the 8-tentacled creature that has been shoehorned into the mollusk group but really, in many ways, is such an outlier that it seems like it came from–OUT THERE!

A recent proposal in the scientific journal Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology posits that octopus DNA could have arrived on Earth in “an already coherent group of functioning genes within (say) cryopreserved and matrix protected fertilized octopus eggs.” And these eggs might have “arrived in icy bolides several hundred million years ago.”

Not everyone is aware that Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, suggested that life on Earth was the product of “directed Panspermia“–a seeding of the galaxies by an advanced being, also OUT THERE.

And admittedly really OUT THERE is where many see the credibility of this intriguing proposal. But I have lived through a time when many “impossibilities” have proven to ultimately have been taken as fact. Stay tuned!

Go Get Dumpa!

Regrettably, we have a long distance relationship with our grand daughters. Looking back a couple of decades from now, their memories of their mother’s parents will be sporadic visits to Goose Creek or on their home turf for a long weekend now and then.

But I suppose they will have some solid recollection of the things we paid attention to: clouds, birds, flowers, and anything living.

So when Ann and Taryn came across this roadkill on their coastal Carolina neighborhood walk last weekend, the 10-yr-old immediately said “Let’s go back and get Dumpa!” And they did. And we all walked six blocks back to the dead snake.

“Can I touch it?” she asked, needing permission from the nature-outdoors “authority” in her life, now and again.

From all such interactions over the years, the grands at least know that things have names; they have stories; and they have value in the grand scheme of things. And they maybe will keep their eyes open to details that some children don’t care to attend to or see and just don’t have the curiosity to care about.

The snake, by the way, stumped me. It had the head of a rat snake, but until seeing this “yellowish rat snake” (Elaphe obsoleta) I did not know that any had longitudinal stripes. Now I know. Thanks Taryn, for teaching the old dog a new trick.

THE LAST STRAW of ONE Lifetime

I pledge: to never again use a new plastic straw.

I made that commitment—regrettably and only after decades of knowing about the Great Garbage Patch in the Sargasso Sea, and since, about the other floating islands the size of Texas that consist of all the plastic waste that washes down our local creeks and rivers.

This article contains ample support for why each of us needs to think about the cradle-to-grave lifespan of everything we buy—and mindlessly use once and toss. Think about where that toss sends the plastic sizzles, cup lids, twist-ties, “free” pens from the bank, styrofoam Happy Meal containers, coffee cups….

So on our recent trip, I had multiple opportunities to JUST SAY NO. We did stop one place that used paper straws. Paper or plastic: take TWO. I saved a straw found in the glove box and will reuse it for thoes rare times when driving and drinking—a fountain drink from Subway.

You can purchase re-usable straws, too. I’m thinking if I need that one more bit of STUFF.

Saved by The MetaGenomics of Dirt

Below are some annotated bits from an article in Wired that describe the early successes in the battle to find weapons against the increasingly numerous and increasingly virulent microbes that are resistant to all known antibiotics.

We worry about the Russians or the Chinese or the North Koreans or Dr Strangeloves in power around the world, when all along, if the human population suffers the Malthusian reduction many fear, it will most likely come from invaders far too small to see.

HOW DIRT COULD SAVE HUMANITY FROM AN INFECTIOUS APOCALYPSE

The culprit, pan-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae, is not the only superbug overpowering humanity’s defenses; it is part of a family known as carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae. The carpabenems are drugs of last resort, and the CDC considers organisms that evade these antibiotics to be nightmare bacteria.

So it’s difficult to envision a future that resembles the pre-antibiotic past—an era of untreatable staph, strep, tuberculosis, leprosy, pneumonia, cholera, diphtheria, scarlet and puerperal fevers, dysentery, typhoid, meningitis, gas gangrene, and gonorrhea.

But that’s the future we are headed for.

This is not the coming plague. It’s already upon us, and it spells the end of medicine as we know it.

That’s why Brady and others turned to metagenomics—the study of all the genetic information extracted from a given environment.

Brady came to realize that he did not need to trek to some pristine or remote ecosystem to explore the world’s biodiversity. The requisite material for building new drugs could be found much closer to home.

The more we use antibiotics, the less effective they become; the more selective pressures we apply, the more likely resistant strains will emerge.

Think about this the next time you stand quietly in the park or in the forest or meadow near your house. Reach down and gather a teaspoon full of everyday soil in your palm, and realize there are likely to be some 3000 different microbes nestled in the hollow of your hand.

Here is enough genetic information to solve many of humanity’s problems–if only we ask the right questions. And move with sufficient speed to do the work in advance of the inevitable and urgent need.

Water Matters: Kids Care

I suppose I have been conditioned to expect disappointment when facing the recently-uncommon opportunity to speak to college-aged students.

On more than one occasion, the apathy and disrespect of classes at “real colleges” has left me saddened and discouraged, knowing that at least these groups of young people will not be the ones to pick up the torch in the struggle to save what is left of our planet.

So I was pleasantly surprised last night to find 20 students from the University of Delaware engaged, sincerely interested, respectful and mature.

The topic for their spring break was “water issues in the Blue Ridge of Virginia” and they elected to spend their time at this task–not for the credit or to avoid dysfunctional families or any of the other reasons I have heard for NOT going to the beach with the rest of their classmates in March. These students came to learn, and I have not had any other group of students–including at Radford University or Virginia Tech where I have guest-lectured–as attentive and appreciative.

You can find the link to the Prezi program (slide show thingy) along with links to some of the topics contained therein, at this MilaNote page.

 

Water: the Medium of Life

When we explore other planets and wonder if life could have existed there, it is not carbon or silicon or even amino acids we look for at first. We look for water.

Without it, so far as we know, life is not possible. This is not to say that biotic entities cannot survive in dormancy for long periods–hundreds of years or longer–in a dehydrated state. Tardigrades are champs at this.

But for the most part, access to water is the limiting factor for land creatures and all aquatic–salt or fresh–plants and animals.

Closer to home, it turns out that forests are pretty good at finding available water, even from fissures underground. And given Floyd County’s fractured rock, the fact that this can be a source of survival water during times of drought gives a bit of comfort. [click image for source article/ Berkeley News. ]

I will be meeting with some spring-breaking students from U of Del next week at Apple Ridge here in FloydCo to have a discussion about water in the Blue Ridge, and this is one of the things we will talk about.

And given my current need to stay focused and not get too sidetracked, if and when I blog, it will generally be from stuff I already have on hand related to what I am working on at the time. So fire me.