Return of the Auroch?

Move over bison burgers, the ancestor of cows is coming back.

Scientists edge closer to bringing back the aurochs, the fearsome cattle breed last seen in the 1600s

The creature, the ancestor of modern cattle, once roamed forests and marshlands from Britain to the Balkans and beyond to Asia and North Africa.

But it disappeared from the British Isles in the Iron Age and was driven to extinction in the rest of Europe by the 17th century, with the last specimen dying in Poland in 1627.

Now researchers are working through a process known as back-breeding, which entails selectively mating existing breeds of “primitive” cattle which retain much of the ancient aurochs’ DNA.

Good for them for going at this with breeding. I still kind of want to point the scientists to Jurassic Park in the part where it talks about wildlife tourism.

Cats Present Dead Animals

Lots of people claim the reason cats present dead animals to their humans is because they are trying to teach the human to hunt. (Mental Floss, IFLScience, LiveScience) At one point I probably agreed with this. This conclusion rests on cats treating their human as a kitten.

I wonder if there is something else at work.

We also think cats were domesticated about the time humans took up farming. Mice invaded our storage facilities. Cats were useful for hunting down these rodents, so we fed and bred the nice ones. This selection of nice / tame behavior traits also bred juvenile characteristics the same as we see in dogs and experimentally the Russian foxes.

What if the presentation of dead animals is a mutated behavioral pattern? My idea is the cats present these carcasses to tell the human:

See, I am fulfilling my part of our bargain. I killed the pest for you. Reward me.

We humans have just forgotten why it is we domesticated cats in the first place. Cats just have no reason to change the behavior. Out squeamishness is not enough to quash the behavior.

Missing Hydrocarbons

Cosmology, origin of life, and astronomy are topics about which I read quite a bit. Any NASA and JPL discovery makes me stop whatever to read more about it. This is not something new as one of my school science fair projects was on O-Rings and Challenger. Before that I even attended Space Camp. (This was all so I could post this cute photo.)

The Saturn Group

 

Carl Sagan discusses the presence of hydrocarbons other than Earth in The Varieties of Scientific Experience. Materials vary in the distance from the Sun at which they condense. Water condenses at the distance of Earth. Methane condenses out at the distance of Saturn. This makes perfect sense for Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, who has lakes of methane. How hydrocarbons formed on Earth if they are not readily available is the problem.

Then I made the mistake of seeing this, Life Could Have Hitched a Ride to the Moons of Jupiter and Saturn, which discusses the idea that lithopanspermia, microbes catching a ride on meteoroids, could have helped life on Earth or Mars reach the outer planets or their moons. Perhaps it worked the other way around? I have heard similar ideas that comets or panspermia from Mars or planets outside the solar system could be the origin of life on Earth. The latter is an extraterrestrial.

If one finds Earth-style cellular life forms on Europa, then how does one determine whether it came from Earth to Europa or from Europa to Earth? Successful colonization on Earth usually means the colonies having larger populations than the parent. Look at how many people in the world speak English as their primary language compared to the population of England. Or French vs France. That analogy suggests Earth could be the colony of somewhere else in the solar system. I hope we do find life near the outer planets as the amount of speculation and journal articles will be very entertaining.

P.S. The Varieties of Scientific Experience was originally Glasgow University Gifford Lectures for the theme The Search for Who We Are in 1985.

Healing Is Anti-Entropy

The Science of Healing Places was on the radio this morning. A statement near the end to the effect that healing is life or a part of life reminded me of something. Entropy, aka the Second Law of Thermodynamics, is the force behind why when you break a glass it cannot be reversed and come back together. Similarly, it works on our bodies and cells to destroy them. Bonds break. The odds of them joining without an intervention is low.

Yet the organization of our cells runs counter to entropy. Bonds regularly join and break on what seems like demand. Take breathing as an example. Red blood cells enter the bloodstreams of the lungs. Oxygen collected there takes the places of carbon dioxide by bonding with iron. Those red blood cells travel to different parts of the body where cells strip off that oxygen and carbon dioxide joins up with the iron.

Healing though is cells recognizing a malfunction of the body and bringing resources to bear in restoring the organization of the structures. Amazing to consider this goes on without our conscious consideration.

So, death is when these reorganization mechanisms have shut down. Entropy can then break down our cells at as normal.

Blue Blood

One of the many times at the beach as a teen, I recall a horseshoe crab and something blue on the sand near it. Years later I learned their blood is blue.

Our blood is red due to hemoglobin which contains iron. Iron binds with oxygen to make rust. Rust is red. So our blood looks red. This hemoglobin on red blood cells carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.

Hemocyanin which contains copper accomplishes the same task of carrying oxygen. And has a strangely cool color. Some sea creatures are where we typically find hemocyanin.

The other day a news piece talking about the search for alien life brought up the usual life can look different than we think. Carbon-based versus silicon-based life comes as an example. (The prevalence of carbon makes this seem less likely to me.)

But really I wrote this post wondering if the phrase “blue blood” which refers to an aristocrat comes from some animal. According to Etymology Online:

1834, translating Spanish sangre azul, claimed by certain families of Castile as uncontaminated by Moorish or Jewish admixture, probably from the notion of the visible veins of people of fair complexion.

How Many Lives Do Squirrels Have?

I was driving to dinner earlier today when I saw this event.

Mr. Squirrel leaped ran to the side of the road and paused. At first I thought, “Hey a smart squirrel. He’s realized the car in front of me would hit him if he tries to make it.” No such luck. A truck approached from the opposite direction. Maybe Mr. Squirrel did not look in my direction? Maybe he did and in turning to see the truck forgot about the car in front of me. Either way, he leaped into the road about 1/3 across at the first landing spot. The second leap had him hit head first the driver’s side door of the car in front of me. I hit my brakes to come to a stop. The truck coming from the opposite direction did the same. Mr. Squirrel darted across between the car in front of me and mine to make it into the woods.

Nutty.

Natural selection failed today.

TED Talk: Re-engineering mosquitos to fight disease

Don’t be afraid of sharks or tigers. Well, you should fear the tiger mosquito. I love living this far north where one does not have to plan life around not getting bitten.

What I hate about spraying to kill them because the insecticides kill off other good insects. When I was young, I could catch fireflies in the back yard. From my teens until I moved north, I only saw fireflies other places.

If the video below does not load, then try Hadyn Parry: Re-engineering mosquitos to fight disease.