Oil reservoirs, formed over millions of years as carbon-rich sediments are compressed and cooked, are scattered like islands across Earth’s subsurface. Like other deep biosphere habitats, we know they harbor life, but we aren’t really sure how or when life got there.

“There’s a hypothesis that these bacteria were buried, then continued to live on in complete isolation,” study author Olga Zhaxybayeva told me.

To test that hypothesis, the team of researchers, hailing from Dartmouth College, the University of Alberta, and the University of Oslo, analyzed 11 genomes of the heat-loving bacterium Thermotoga. The bacteria was taken from oil reservoirs in the North Sea and Japan, and marine sites near the Kuril Islands, Italy and the Azores. They compared their results with publicly available Thermotoga genomes from North America and Australia.

Their analysis revealed a complex evolutionary history between the different genomes, suggesting rampant gene swapping across far-flung communities. And since the oil beds themselves are ancient, this genetic exchange has probably been going on for millions of years.

How microbes half a world apart actually exchange genetic material isn’t totally clear. Some bacteria are genetic scavengers, sucking up stray DNA willy-nilly. Others use microscopic tubes to pass genes back and forth in a weird bacterial version of sex. And viruses—which cut and paste DNA among surface-dwellers’ genomes all the time—might also shape the genetic landscape of the deep biosphere.

“The answer is probably that it happens in a variety of ways,” Zhaxybayeva told me. “But it’s really surprising to see how much it’s happening. It’s clear that these organisms are not nearly as isolated as we once thought.”

The author’s findings may also shed light on the nature of life on early Earth. Zhaxybayeva, who has been mapping Thermotoga’s lineage for over a decade, says the organism has deep roots in the tree of life.

“This lineage is perhaps one of the most ancient that exists today,” Zhaxybayeva said. “The fact that it’s anaerobic, and likes hot environments, fits with our understanding of where life on Earth first evolved.”

Thermotoga’s penchant for gene swapping may indicate a once-widespread adaptation for life in hydrothermal vents, where high heat and acid have no trouble shredding DNA apart.

“As temperatures rise, organisms accrue more DNA damage. One way to potentially repair their genome is to actually recombine it— to patch their genomes with similar DNA,” Zhaxybayeva said.

Top-notch DNA repair machinery may be life’s most precious survival tool. Who knows, maybe it’s Earth’s most ardent gene-swappers that could actually survive the long, dark, radiation-filled trip to another world.

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The technological construct of identity and the social construct of identity are different and have different implied social contracts. The social construct of identity includes the property of imperfect human memory that allows the possibility of forgiving and forgetting, and redemption and reinvention. Machine memory, however, is perfect and can act as a continuous witnessing agent, never forgiving or forgetting, and always able to re-presence even the smallest detail at any future moment.

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We live in times so strange that to say “we live in strange times” has moved beyond the facile, through irony, and deep into boring. We live in times so strange that to state otherwise would be strange. This has the faint air of paradox about it, a nagging intuition that whatever models we come up with the explain the world, reality is constantly slipping out from under them, like we’re trying to pick up mercury. And like trying to catch mercury, the process carries the distinct possibility of at least driving us mad, if not killing us outright.
Philosophy feels, to someone like me who’s more of a hobbyist than a professional in the field, like it’s reached some kind of dead-end. Derrida has written himself under erasure, Deleuze and Guattari have built incredible landscapes which we are still exposing, but as fascinating as they are, it feels like navigating within the frame, rather than pushing the boundaries of the possible. Philosophy doesn’t feel like an exploration anymore, it feels like a tunneling under the boundaries of reality, to try to escape some weird jail sentence. The rhizome tries to undermine the walls of the black iron prison, but we spend most of out time mapping ever more convoluted tunnels, and every time we come up for air, they’ve built a new wing.

her: that’s fucking bleak
me: it’s ok if it’s bleak, it’s only the second paragraph
me: hope arrives later in the form of OOO

I try to spend my time on the outer borders of philosophical awareness. It’s a prerequisite for being a Sci-Fi writer, you go out into the Zone and bring back radioactive trinkets for the village. This happens on a number of levels, but one of them is recognizing that the only difference between the Fringe and the Now is whether the growth gets pruned back or becomes the new center. So I’m always on the lookout for philosophical inquiries that promise a genuine new direction. Timothy Morton’s Hyperobjects is the most promising of these I’ve seen in years.

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Selection from my Mad Max – Fury Road review

This is the overall message George Miller brings us after a thirty year hiatus between Mad Max films: the apocalypse is not necessarily the end. No extinction event has ever been total. Humanity has neared the brink of annihilation before and rebounded. The cycle of history will always continue, but the key to avoiding another Fall involves dismantling the dominant paradigm; the Patriarchy. An incredibly liberal and feminine idea to find in what might otherwise be expected to be a purely testosterone-filled film. Again, to contrast this against the Fast & Furious films, which talk a lot about family, but are foremost about the bonds of brotherhood. Miller offers up an act of synthesis here, uniting the feminine and masculine aspects. Creating a piece of culture that serves as a landmark to chart a better way forward. The fact that it has evoked such a strong, visceral response from certain segments of the population tells us just how its much needed. For the rest of us it’s a visual feast with a message to be treasured, and a litmus test to identify fellow travellers.

I celebrate George Miller’s vision in weaving together such a compelling film that works so well on two levels, where others would have stopped at storyboarding and choreographing its amazing, complex, compelling action sequences. Mad Max: Fury Road is already being called a masterpiece with good reason.

Review: Mad Max – Fury Road | The Daily Grail

since wolvensnothere already helpfully posted the non spoiler intro, here’s the non spoiler conclusion to my review of Mad Max : Fury Road.


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UNESCO describes Palmyra as a heritage site of ‘outstanding universal value’.

The ancient city stood on a caravan route at the crossroads of several civilisations and its 1st and 2nd century temples and colonnaded streets mark a unique blend of Graeco-Roman and Persian influences.

Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said the city was ‘under threat’ as fierce fighting and shelling continued on its eastern edges amid a regime counter-offensive.

The jihadist advance on the well-preserved remains came as an international conference was under way in Cairo to address destruction already wreaked by IS on the ancient sites of Nimrud and Hatra in Iraq. 

Foreign affairs and antiquities officials from 11 Arab countries gathered in Egypt to condemn the jihadists’ demolition of Iraq’s heritage with sledgehammers, bulldozers and high explosives.

Abdulkarim said Syria’s antiquities officials would try to ensure the safety of artefacts found in Palmyra’s archaeological digs over the years and now housed in an adjacent museum.

‘We can protect the statues and artefacts, but we cannot protect the architecture, the temples,’ he said.

‘IS will just destroy it from the outside.’

Abdulkarim said he had no doubt that if Palmyra fell to the jihadists, it would suffer a similar fate to ancient Nimrud, which they blew up earlier this year.

‘If IS enters Palmyra, it will spell its destruction… It will be a repetition of the barbarism and savagery which we saw in Nimrud, Hatra and Mosul.’

The ancient city that has stood for 2,000 years but now faces destruction at the hands of ISIS: Fears for Palmyra, the archaeological jewel of the Middle East Islamists want to reduce to rubble – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3081310/IS-jihadists-threaten-Syrias-ancient-Palmyra.html
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Though it’s often called a novel, Noon: 22nd Century is really a collection of stories, bound together by shared characters and settings. In this future, humanity has colonized the moon, Mars, and Venus, and explorers have ventured beyond the solar system to planets like Pandora, a densely forested world whose life-forms are not fully understood. (The Strugatskys’ jungle-planet was a possible inspiration for James Cameron’s Avatar.) Although contact with intelligent alien life hasn’t yet been made, its existence is confirmed thanks to abandoned satellites and other artifacts of an advanced civilization. Most significant, the Noon Universe, as it came to be known, is a world in which socialism has won out over other forms of economic and political organization, leading to universal equality and material wellbeing.

Yet Noon: 22nd Century is more than just an optimistic projection of a forty-something five-year plan. Despite its projection of socialist victory over capitalism, the book isn’t propaganda for the Soviet Union but a set of compassionate stories about characters struggling for scientific and personal fulfillment. As in the Star Trek universe, which the Noon Universe somewhat resembles, humanity has survived its internal crises, but still has discoveries to make and problems to solve. Conflict in the Noon Universe takes place “between the good and the better,” instead of between good and evil forces. Rather than being a stiff work of agitprop, Noon: 22nd Century is a hopeful reminder of why the Soviet promise was so attractive to begin with.

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Haven’t you ever noticed how much more interesting the unknown is than the known?” Snevar asks. “The unknown makes us think—it makes our blood run a little quicker and gives rise to various delightful trains of thought. It beckons, it promises. It’s like a fire flickering in the depths of the night.

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Associate Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering Shane Rogers said human experiences reported in many hauntings are similar to mental or neurological symptoms reported by some individuals exposed to toxic molds. It is known that some fungi, such as rye ergot fungus, may cause severe psychosis in humans.

The links between exposure to toxic indoor molds and psychological effects in people are not well established, however, Rogers said. Notably, many hauntings are associated with structures that are prime environments to harbor molds or other indoor air quality problems.  

“Hauntings are very widely reported phenomena that are not well-researched,” he said. “They are often reported in older-built structures that may also suffer poor air quality. Similarly, some people have reported depression, anxiety and other effects from exposure to biological pollutants in indoor air. We are trying to determine whether some reported hauntings may be linked to specific pollutants found in indoor air.”

Rogers is working with a group of undergraduate students to measure air quality in several reportedly haunted places around the North Country, including the Frederic Remington Art Museum in Ogdensburg, N.Y. The team will gather data at several locations throughout the spring and summer and will publish their results at the end of the study.

By comparing these samples to samples from places with no reported hauntings, the researchers hope to identify factors unique to the haunted locations. They are looking for commonalities in the mold microbiome in the places believed to be haunted compared to the controls, as well as analyzing the types of toxic molds that may cause psychological effects in humans.

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Little Foot, a fossilized Australopithecus Prometheus, an early hominid, has been dated as 3.67 million years old—making it an older relative of the famous 3.2 million-year-old Australopithecus, Lucy. Researchers used a dating method that measures isotopes in rock created by exposure to cosmic rays—the ratio of isotopes reveal how long the rock has been underground. The researchers say that the discovery lends evidence to the idea that there were multiple species of Australopithecus present in Africa at this time.

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“What we’re seeing is perhaps the beginning of a unique characteristic of our own species – the origins of diversity,” said Dr Jay Stock, co-author of the study from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology and Anthropology. “It’s possible to interpret our findings as showing that there were either multiple species of early human, such as Homo habilis, Homo ergaster and Homo rudolfensis, or one highly diverse species. This fits well with recent cranial evidence for tremendous diversity among early members of the genus Homo.”

“If someone asked you ‘are modern humans 6 foot tall and 70kg?’ you’d say ‘well some are, but many people aren’t,’ and what we’re starting to show is that this diversification happened really early in human evolution,” said Stock.

The study is the first in 20 years to compare the body size of the humans who shared the earth with mammoths and sabre-toothed cats between 2.5 and 1.5 million years ago. It is also the first time that many fragmentary fossils – some as small as toes and tiny ankle bones no more than 5cm long – have been used to make body size estimates.

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