Mother Nature’s a bitch

In the past, our ancestors were subjected to full-strength, undiluted, CFC-free, pure-organic, additive-free natural selection. The biggest recipients were young children, for which evolution had the greatest appetite of all. Those with the least useful mutations could look forward to a horrific death by starvation, predators, cannibalism, disease, drought, flash floods, drowning and much more besides. During an average 30 to 40 year human life span, mothers would produce eight to ten children only to see four to five of them die before reaching the age where they might pass their genes to the next generation.

How long have donkeys been in England?

Donkeys hate the British weather and would rather be inside, study finds

The research looks sensible in its results. But how long have we had donkeys in England? So, don’t we know this? Did anyone, for example, go talk to a few donkey handlers?

Sorry, not putting this well. I’d rather assume that this is local knowledge of that Hayekian type, among those who keep donkeys and horses. What I’m wondering is whether the scientists bothered to go and ask them?

Researchers studied 208 healthy, semi-free ranging donkeys and horses in Somerset and Devon, over 16 months where temperatures ranged between 33f (1C) and 91F (33C).

The temperature, wind speed, rainfall, light and density of and degree of harassment by flying insects at each site were measured and the behaviour of the donkeys and horses recorded as the weather changed.

Overall, unless it was hot and dry, donkeys spent a great deal less time outdoors than horses, preferring the sanctuary of a shelter. When it rained, donkeys were three times more likely than horses to stay indoors, and they tended to seek shelter when the temperatures dropped below 57F (14C), which is higher than the average annual temperature in Britain 46F – 51F (8C to 11C).

Or was that temptation to do Science! such that they didn’t bother to ask first?

Calling BiG – does this work?

So additive to stop bread going mouldy fingered for causing diabetes.

In a small trial involving humans, people who consumed propionate experienced temporary increases in insulin resistance, over the space of a few hours, compared with those who didn’t consume the additive.

However, this early research cannot prove that propionate causes diabetes. Larger studies conducted over longer periods are needed to better understand whether propionate contributes to diabetes in people, the authors said. [9 Disgusting Things That the FDA Allows in Your Food]

Still, the findings are concerning given how widely propionate is used, the authors wrote in their paper, published today (April 24) in the journal Science Translational Medicine. They called for more research into the potential metabolic effects of food components like propionate.

“Understanding how ingredients in food affect the body’s metabolism at the molecular and cellular level could help us develop simple but effective measures to tackle the dual epidemics of obesity and diabetes,” study senior author Dr. Gökhan Hotamisligil, a professor of genetics and metabolism at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in a statement.

Entirely happy with the idea that more research should be done. Just wondering whether the idea has nay legs at all is all:

Propionate is “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), meaning the ingredient doesn’t need to be approved by the FDA to be added to food. It’s also a naturally occuring fatty acid, produced by our gut bacteria when it breaks down fiber. But no one had investigated the metabolic effects of propionate when it’s consumed as a food additive, the authors said.

If you eat fibre your gut produces it. Eating fibre has effects upon insulin etc.

So, what’s the difference here between the effect of eating fibre and eating the substance? Is there something about digestion that I’m missing here?

So here’s a question

Sperm whale found dead in Sardinia was pregnant and had 22 kilos of plastic in stomach

As we’re told plastic pollution of the oceans is at terrible levels.

We’ve also seen in recent decades and explosion of the number of cetaceans. Obvs, partly because they’re no longer hunted.

But, then, plastics in the ocean can’t be killing off the whales, can it? Can kill some, sure, anything can kill some but….

Honeybuns, do try to think

Even if you can’t have kids naturally, that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to be a parent, writes Sharyn Graham Davies.

Fair enough.

Other reactions I get though stem from a place of hate and fear. Some people think that if you can’t have kids naturally then that’s social Darwinism in practice. In other words, only the best, brightest and fittest should reproduce, moving humanity generation after generation to a higher form of evolution.

That’s not social anything you dimwit. That’s Darwinism, evolution itself. That’s how we got here – we’re descended from those who were able to reproduce.

Perfectly happy with the idea that we don’t have to continue that way, that we don’t have to entirely rely upon that evolutionary fitness as our definition of who does and does not have kids. But I do insist that you understand the underlying idea at the same time.


That’s something I think many cisgender people don’t realise, or think about. We’re all born with the same template, and our hormones then decide what particular bits of the recipe our bodies should follow – so for example in the womb a rush of hormones tells us whether we should grow male or female gonads; in puberty hormones tell us whether to grow breasts or beards. But the template for both sexes remains, so if you take somebody born male, suppress their testosterone and increase their estrogen then their body (and their emotions; jeez, the emotions…) will change.

Reproductive systems aside, men and women aren’t that different: the idea that there are huge biological differences between the sexes is largely based on status preservation.

Hormones aren’t biological now?

This is cool

With their enormous shaggy torsos and long curved tusks, the imposing creatures last walked on earth during the Ice Age.

Fast forward thousands of years and the woolly mammoth may once again make an appearance on this planet – after Japanese scientists claim to have taken a “significant step” towards bringing the long-extinct animals back to life.

Researchers extracted bone marrow and muscle tissue from the remains of a mammoth named Yuka, who has lain frozen in Siberian permafrost for more than 28,000 years.

No idea whether the sciencey bit here is accurate. But it would be cool, wouldn’t it?

And wouldn’t it be even better if they were able to do it with the pygmy types of elephant, rhino and so on? Sadly, they won’t, as they tended to be on islands that were rather warmer, like Malta etc. But, still, would be fun.

A slightly different questions. Mammoths are more closely related to Asian elephants than African elephants are to Asian. And something I don’t know, can Asian and African cross breed? So, are we really talking about different species?

So here’s a stupid question

Obviously, geographical separation is what – OK one of the things – that leads to speciation. The oceans are a lot less geographically separated than the land masses. So, we get rather wider distribution of sea species than we do land ones.

Sorta, at least.

I can imagine that a barrier in the sea is the Equator. Not so much currents and stuff but heat. Down deep even that doesn’t matter of course. But I could imagine at least that we get N Hemisphere fishies and S Hemisphere ones.

At which point, how true is this?

Take, say, cod. I know there’s a Pacific cod as well as an Atlantic one. And they’re both up in northern waters as they don’t like it hot. But, and here’s the thing, do we have closely related species which are S hemisphere? Or other, cognate species? Or something entirely different occupying the niche? Or does the niche not exist?

No particular reason, just a question that crossed the synapses.

There’s me told then

The mystery of eel migration which has puzzled ecologists since Aristotle is about to be solved, the Environment Agency has said as it announced plans to locate their origin.

The critically endangered species travel some 3,700 miles from Europe across the Atlantic Ocean to spawn – but where exactly remains completely unknown.

Researchers claim the eels spawn and die somewhere in the Sargasso Sea, a vast area off the east coast of the United States and north of the Caribbean.

So yes, I know about the migration, and elvers. Catch them in the rivers you do.

And yet I’ve always vaguely – for I’ve not tried very hard at this – thought that the elvers are coming downstream.


Is South Asian right here?

You all know more than I do:

Marriage between cousins leading to fatal genetic conditions remain a factor in a significant proportion of child deaths in Bradford, according to a safeguarding report.

The report by the West Yorkshire city’s child death overview panel found that consanguineous relationships led to deaths from genetic and congenital abnormalities.

The report, published annually by Bradford children’s safeguarding board, reviewed 69 child deaths. These included 29 that occurred in 2017-18, 33 in 2016-17, and seven that took place in previous years.

More than two-thirds of these deaths, 67%, involved children under the age of one, most of whom died within 28 days.

Children of south Asian heritage were overrepresented in the figures

South Asian? Or Pakistani? Is cousin marriage common among “South Asians” or is it more restricted than that?

Such an amusement

Matthew Bishop was told there was no treatment that could save his vision. But now scientific breakthroughs in gene therapy have given him, and others, hope

There’s an argument against genetic manipulation. I understand it even if disagree with it. There’s one in favour as well. But how do we construct an argument that’s in favour of doing it to humans and not to rice?

How lovely – and how rare

Someone getting a science article right. Even, someone getting evolution right – nearly.

It’s a development that would have delighted Darwin.

African elephants are losing their tusks in an astonishing example of evolution by natural selection which protects them against ivory poachers.

Until the 1990s, around 2,500 elephants lived in Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique,

but 90 per cent were killed during the 15-year civil war which raged from 1977 to 1992 – with their ivory used to finance weapons.

Now scientists have noticed that nearly one third of the female elephants born since the war have lost their tusks.

Normally fewer than four per cent of a population are born without tusks, but because tuskless animals were ignored by poachers, they gained a biological advantage and…

The decision isn’t tusk, no tusk, for the infant, It’s that the tuskless are still there to pass on their genes. But it is nice to see someone getting much of it right, isn’t it?

A strange theory

We seem to have more reports of whale beachings and strandings than we used to. This could be because the modern world is distracting them, undersea noise perhaps.

It could also be because there are more whales around. We stopped hunting in any volume what, 50 years ago? We might this be returning to the “natural” level of strandings.

Anyone know which is the correct answer here?

What Simon Baron Cohen has been saying for ages

If you often sit on a train pondering how the rail networks are coordinated then you are more likely to be male, new research suggests.

Likewise if friends often come to you with their problems, then chances are you’re a woman.

In the biggest ever study examining differences between the sexes, scientists have concluded that women really are more empathetic while men are more analytical and logical.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge tested more than 680,000 people and found that on average women have a greater ability to recognise what another person is thinking intuitively and respond appropriately.

On the other hand men have a stronger drive to view the world through ‘rule-based systems’,…

On the other hand, given that this is Cambridge, it might actually be Baron Cohen.

Stunning scientific finding

The smell – and clothes – of a loved one could have a powerfully calming effect. So claims a study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, which tested 96 women, who were asked to randomly smell one of three scents – a male partner’s, a stranger’s or a neutral scent. Those who caught a whiff of their partner tended to experience a reduction in stress hormones, while those forced to sniff a stranger experienced the opposite. The study suggested that sniffing a partner’s used clothing had a calming effect.

Does this work for men, too? The psychotherapist and psychologist Peter Klein says not so much: “You often hear of a woman wearing partner’s T-shirt, but you rarely hear of a man wearing his girlfriend’s T-shirt! Research suggests women have a better developed sense of smell and men are more visually stimulated, so men would be more likely to experience stress reduction through seeing their partner’s clothing.”

He adds: “How close a woman feels towards her male partner – how much oxytocin she experiences when she’s with them or how happy she is in the relationship – will also affect how comforting she finds smelling the clothing.”

What makes you happy makes you happy.

True dat.

Something I’d not thought about

So, bigger people. Are they bigger because they have more cells? Or because their cells are bigger? Never thought about it before until I saw this:

Taller people have a greater risk of cancer because they are bigger and so have more cells in their bodies in which dangerous mutations can occur, new research has suggested.

So, that answers that question then.

Thinking it through, it needs to be that way too, doesn’t it? Things like, umm, sciencey words and insert the right ones here, osmosis, that sorta stuff, depend crucially upon size don’t they? Surface area to volume ‘n’ stuff? So it’s got to be more, not bigger, right?

And think if it were the other way. You’d be able to tell how tall someone was from the cell size in some dandruff, which would make cop shows rather different… this reality you can only do that by looking at the bruising from how far it has fallen.

This is a surprise, isn’t it

Mothers who give birth using donor eggs do not have the same connection with their babies as women who use their own eggs, a new study suggests.

Men who have children by AI might also have some similarly subtle difference. Anyone tested it yet?

For cuckolds do tend to have a different reaction. And all for the same reason of course.


Sir Gregory is currently the Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, which has now has produced 33 Nobel Prize winners — three more than Sweden. If it were a country, it would be ranked just after France, at number five in the rankings.