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Fri, 03 Apr 2020
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The story of human evolution changes dramatically—again!

human evolution
© AMNH/R. Mickens
It's one thing to be expected to believe an orthodoxy, another to be expected to believe that the current revolution of a whirligig represents some ultimate reality:
Until recently, the story of our origins was thought to be settled: Homo sapiens evolved in eastern Africa about 150,000 years ago, became capable of modern behaviour some 60,000 years ago and then swept out of Africa to colonise the world, completely replacing any archaic humans they encountered. But new fossils, tools and analyses of ancient and modern genomes are tearing apart that neat tale. The Jebel Irhoud skull has turned out to be a key to a new, slowly emerging paradigm. With the dust yet fully to settle, the question now is how many, if any, of our old assumptions still hold.

Graham Lawton, "Human evolution: The astounding new story of the origin of our species" at New Scientist


Comet 2

New Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE)

CBET 4740 & MPEC 2020-G05, issued on 2020, April 01, announce the discovery of a comet (magnitude ~17) in infrared images obtained with the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (or NEOWISE; formerly the WISE earth-orbitingsatellite; cf. CBET 4225). The new comet has been designated C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE).

We performed follow-up measurements of this object while it was still on the PCCP webpage.

Stacking of 14 unfiltered exposures, 60 seconds each, obtained remotely on 2020, March 31.5 from Q62 (iTelescope network) through a 0.50-m f/6.8 astrograph + CCD + focal reducer, shows that this object is a comet with a diffuse coma about 1 arcmin in diameter and a tail 20" long in PA 115.

Our confirmation image (click on it for a bigger version)
Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE
© Remanzacco Blogspot

Solar Flares

Geomagnetic effects on Earth's biology - Electricity of life

Geomagnetic effects
© YouTube/Thunderbolts Project (screen capture)
Scientific research into the Sun's effects on life on Earth has yielded results that may surprise you. Over a century ago, the Soviet-era scientist Alexander Chizhevsky conducted exhaustive studies demonstrating an apparent correlation between solar activity and prominent historical events and societal changes.

Today, geomagnetic effects on Earth's biology, and life on the planet overall, is the subject of many fields of investigation. In this episode, we present intriguing evidence that the Sun's electromagnetic activity may influence our bodies and minds in surprising and dramatic ways.


Security gates in the cell

traffic cop
© Calebrw / CC BY-SA.
A traffic cop directing traffic
A key characteristic of life is active transport: control over what enters and exits the cell. Closer looks reveal exquisite "selectivity filters" with moving parts that make active transport work.

The simplistic portrayals of cells taught in high school biology classes of the 1970s (let us say) stressed general functions, not detailed structures. These included terms like active transport, metabolism, reproduction, and the like, described in broad terms with simple diagrams. Ions go in; waste products go out. No wonder students were bored. Memorize; repeat on test. What if they had been shown the images at the nanometer scale now available to us through advanced imaging technologies like cryo-EM microscopy? They would be texting the images to friends with "Wow!" emojis. Some might have been inspired to become molecular biologists.

Scientists have learned much in the last fifty years about the channels that enable active transport. They have learned that multiple channels exist that control specific molecules. Some aquaporin channels let water in or out. Some voltage-gated channels control the flow of electrically charged molecules, like ions of potassium, sodium, and chloride. Some mechanosensitive channels respond to touch. They have also subdivided these channels into families with similar functions that differ in particular applications, and noted that some channels are so specific, they can distinguish between molecules that differ only minutely in size.

In recent decades, the nature of selectivity filters has been elucidated at the atomic level. Often it is the specific placement of amino acids in the filter that validates and regulates the passage of molecules. Other exciting discoveries explore the nature of conformational changes (i.e., moving parts) in the proteins surrounding the channel pores. Some of these conformational changes mimic the action of slots in a vending machine that will accept dimes but not pennies.

Comment: See also: Intelligent Design: Body cells are wired like computer chips and function like microprocessors

Comet 2

New Comet C/2020 F2 (ATLAS)

CBET 4739 & MPEC 2020-G04, issued on 2020, April 01, announce the discovery of a comet by R. Wainscoat on CCD images obtained on Mar. 22.6 UT with the Pan-STARRS1 1.8-m Ritchey-Chretien reflector at Haleakala, which he then noticed (via posting at the Minor Planet Center's NEOCP webpage) was apparently identical with an apparently asteroidal object (magnitude ~19) discovered on CCD images taken the previous night with a 0.5-m f/2 Schmidt reflector at Haleakala, Hawaii, in the course of the "Asteroid Terrestrial-Impact Last Alert System" (ATLAS) search program. The new comet has been designated C/2020 F2 (ATLAS).

I performed follow-up measurements of this object while it was still on the PCCP webpage. Stacking of 15 unfiltered exposures, 120-sec each, obtained remotely, from Telescope Live (El Sauce, Chile) on 2020, March 25.3, through 0.6-m f/6.5 astrograph + CCD, shows that this object appears slightly diffuse compared to the nearby field stars of similar brightness.

My confirmation image (click on it for a bigger version)

Comet C/2020 F2 ATLAS
© Remanzacco Blogspot

Microscope 2

Efficacy of hydroxychloroquine in patients with COVID-19: results of a randomized clinical trial - Renmin Hospital, Wuhan


medRxiv (pronounced "med-archive") is a preprint server for the health sciences.

Aims: Studies have indicated that chloroquine (CQ) shows antagonism against COVID-19 in vitro. However, evidence regarding its effects in patients is limited. This study aims to evaluate the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) in the treatment of patients with COVID-19.

Main methods: From February 4 to February 28, 2020, 62 patients suffering from COVID-19 were diagnosed and admitted to Renmin Hospital of Wuhan University. All participants were randomized in a parallel-group trial, 31 patients were assigned to receive an additional 5-day HCQ (400 mg/d) treatment, Time to clinical recovery (TTCR), clinical characteristics, and radiological results were assessed at baseline and 5 days after treatment to evaluate the effect of HCQ.

Key findings: For the 62 COVID-19 patients, 46.8% (29 of 62) were male and 53.2% (33 of 62) were female, the mean age was 44.7 (15.3) years. No difference in the age and sex distribution between the control group and the HCQ group. But for TTCR, the body temperature recovery time and the cough remission time were significantly shortened in the HCQ treatment group. Besides, a larger proportion of patients with improved pneumonia in the HCQ treatment group (80.6%, 25 of 32) compared with the control group (54.8%, 17 of 32). Notably, all 4 patients progressed to severe illness that occurred in the control group. However, there were 2 patients with mild adverse reactions in the HCQ treatment group. Significance: Among patients with COVID-19, the use of HCQ could significantly shorten TTCR and promote the absorption of pneumonia.


On Earth or Mars, biohybrid can turn CO2 into new products

biohybrid reactor
© UC Berkeley photo by Peidong Yang
A device to capture carbon dioxide from the air and convert it to useful organic products. On left is the chamber containing the nanowire/bacteria hybrid that reduces CO2 to form acetate. On the right is the chamber where oxygen is produced.
If humans ever hope to colonize Mars, the settlers will need to manufacture on-planet a huge range of organic compounds, from fuels to drugs, that are too expensive to ship from Earth. University of California, Berkeley, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) chemists have a plan for that.

For the past eight years, the researchers have been working on a hybrid system combining bacteria and nanowires that can capture the energy of sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water into building blocks for organic molecules. Nanowires are thin silicon wires about one-hundredth the width of a human hair, used as electronic components, and also as sensors and solar cells.

Project leader Peidong Yang, professor of chemistry and the S. K. and Angela Chan Distinguished Chair in Energy at UC Berkeley and director of the Kavli energy Nanoscience Institute said:
"On Mars, about 96% of the atmosphere is CO2. Basically, all you need is these silicon semiconductor nanowires to take in the solar energy and pass it on to these bugs to do the chemistry for you. For a deep space mission, you care about the payload weight, and biological systems have the advantage that they self-reproduce: You don't need to send a lot. That's why our biohybrid version is highly attractive."
The only other requirement, besides sunlight, is water, which on Mars is relatively abundant in the polar ice caps and likely lies frozen underground over most of the planet.

Blue Planet

When Antarctica was a rainforest

© J. McKay/Alfred Wegener Institute (CC-BY 4.0)
Between 92 million and 83 million years ago, a diverse rainforest (shown in this artist's reconstruction) flourished within about 1,000 kilometers of the South Pole.
Once upon a time, there was a swampy rainforest near the bottom of the world.

Buried sediment extracted from the seafloor off West Antarctica contains ancient pollen, fossilized roots and other chemical evidence of a diverse forest that flourished millions of years ago, less than a thousand kilometers from the South Pole.

The sediment offers the southernmost glimpse yet into just how warm Earth was during the mid-Cretaceous Period, between 92 million and 83 million years ago. By analyzing traces of vegetation in the sediment, researchers reconstructed climate conditions at the site. Average annual temperatures in the forest were about 13° Celsius, with summertime temperatures reaching as high as 20° or 25° C, the team reports in the April 2 Nature.

The mid-Cretaceous is known to have been one of the warmest periods on Earth in the last 140 million years, based on analyses of fossils and sediment collected from the seafloor closer to the equator. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are thought to have been at least 1,000 parts per million. (Today's atmospheric carbon dioxide levels average around 407 ppm, the highest in the last 800,000 years.)

Comment: As Pierre Lescaudron writes in Of Flash Frozen Mammoths and Cosmic Catastrophes there is strong evidence that our planet's geographic poles have shifted following cometary bombardment. In his article Did Earth 'Steal' Martian Water? we can see why dating in the region may not be particularly reliable.

This is further supported by other recent studies such as: And for more, see: Also check out SOTT radio's: MindMatters: America Before: Comets, Catastrophes, Mounds and Mythology


Novel method discovers 139 new minor planets in our Solar System

A new method for hunting minor planets uncovered more than a hundred small, distant worlds. And the novel technique could even help resolve the mystery of Planet Nine.
Minor Planet
© NASA/JPL-Caltech
The discovery of 139 new minor planets in the outer solar system, and especially the new method used to find them, might eventually help astronomers determine whether Planet Nine exists or not.
Astronomers have discovered 139 new minor planets orbiting the sun beyond Neptune by searching through data from the Dark Energy Survey. The new method for spotting small worlds is expected to reveal many thousands of distant objects in coming years — meaning these first hundred or so are likely just the tip of the iceberg.

Taken together, the newfound distant objects, as well as those to come, could resolve one of the most fascinating questions of modern astronomy: Is there a massive and mysterious world called Planet Nine lurking in the outskirts of our solar system?


Controversial research that could make bird flu more risky poised to resume

bird avian flu research DCD
© James Gathany/CDC
A worker at a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention laboratory harvests avian flu viruses for sharing with other laboratories in 2013
Controversial lab studies that modify bird flu viruses in ways that could make them more risky to humans will soon resume after being on hold for more than 4 years. Science Insider has learned that last year, a U.S. government review panel quietly approved experiments proposed by two labs that were previously considered so dangerous that federal officials had imposed an unusual top-down moratorium on such research.

One of the projects has already received funding from the National Institutes of Health's (NIH's) National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in Bethesda, Maryland, and will start in a few weeks; the other is awaiting funding.

The outcome may not satisfy scientists who believe certain studies that aim to make pathogens more potent or more likely to spread in mammals are so risky they should be limited or even banned. Some are upset because the government's review will not be made public. "After a deliberative process that cost $1 million for [a consultant's] external study and consumed countless weeks and months of time for many scientists, we are now being asked to trust a completely opaque process where the outcome is to permit the continuation of dangerous experiments," says Harvard University epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch.

Comment: Who's to say that covid-19 didn't have a similar story. Why are these two allowed to continue what is clearly dangerous lines of research? More on Fouchier and Kawaoka: