Beginnings & Big Innings

The remarkable thing about Sports is how they bring people together. Left, Right, Middle, Black, White, Latino, Asian, it doesn’t actually matter when the game is on the line and you’re holding your breath to see what happens. The unrestrained joy or shared disappointment will overcome pretty much everything else.

I guess for me, sports is more than just a game, especially Baseball. I love the game – second only to my family. And since 2008, it has become even more dear to me as I have been privileged to sit beside my friend, Zack, and watch some of the biggest names in today’s game make their way from High A Stockton to MLB diamonds all over the country and the world. After fourteen years in the minors, Zack got his reward yesterday. And it was glorious.

Meanwhile, Baseball once upon a time had a big problem with Steroids. The problem wasn’t what most people think it was. As it turns out, big league Academia has virtually the same problem…


The conclusion of this paper is not that stars are bad, It’s just that, once safely ensconced at the top of their fields, maybe they tend to overstay their welcome.

Publishing leads to poverty


The Bison Returns to the Great American Plains | Science | Smithsonian

After years of fierce debate, the West’s greatest symbol will again roam the countryside

This Winter, if all goes as planned, a caravan of livestock trucks will carry dozens of American bison out of Yellowstone National Park on a 500-mile journey into the past. Unlike their ranched cousins, which are mainly the result of 20th-century attempts to cross bison with cattle, the Yellowstone animals are wild and genetically pure, descendants of the original herds that once astonished visitors to the Great Plains and made the bison the symbol of American abundance. Until, that is, rampant hunting made it a symbol of mindless ecological destruction.

When the mass slaughter of 30 million or so bison finally ended at the turn of the 20th century, just 23 wild bison remained in Yellowstone, holed up in Pelican Valley. Together with a small number of animals saved by ranchers, that meager herd became the basis for the recovery of the entire species, Bison bison, which has been nurtured back to strength in the park.

Yellowstone has done its job so well, in fact, that the herd now consistently exceeds 4,000 bison, a number large enough to provoke fears of overgrazing in the park and of bison roaming beyond its boundaries. Park rangers have thus had the disheartening annual job of rounding up “excess” bison for slaughter or watching some step across the park’s northern border into a hunt that critics deride as a firing squad. Relocating the animals would be the humane alternative, except for a scary problem: Ranchers and others have long maintained that bison spread brucellosis, a bacterial infection that is devastating to cattle. A 2017 study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, however, determined that every case of brucellosis in cattle in the region over the past 20 years came from infected elk, not bison. That finding has made it harder to argue that wild bison shouldn’t be allowed out of the park.

The park service will ship the bison to the Sioux and Assiniboine tribal nations at Fort Peck Reservation, in northeastern Montana. A small herd of Yellowstone bison has been thriving there since a modest 2012 feasibility experiment. The plan is to build up that herd and to create a bison pipeline, says Robbie Magnan, the reservation’s fish and game director. As more animals arrive from Yellowstone, the Fort Peck tribes will gradually export bison—commonly called “buffalo” on the reservation—to start protected herds on other reservations and conservation lands.

On a practical level, the relocation program is simply a way to keep the Yellowstone population in check. But it is also much more than that. The move begins to restore wild bison to the Great Plains and the Plains Indians, who depended on them for food, clothing and shelter. “It has a real spiritual meaning for us,” says Magnan. “The buffalo were taking care of Native Americans from the beginning of time, and now we need to help them.” The fates of indigenous people and bison have long been intertwined in the eyes of the government, too: Federal agents 150 years ago proposed exercising control over the Plains Indians by eradicating the bison, in what Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman called “one grand sweep of them all.”

Renewed interest in the future of wild bison—including its 2016 designation as the U.S. national mammal—comes as the conventional account of their near extinction is facing fresh scrutiny. The story that eyewitnesses and historians have told since the 1870s is that the destruction of the bison, almost overnight, was the work of ruthless white hunters arriving by railroad and armed with the latest weaponry. But that account may be too simple.

Citing fur trade records, archaeological data and contemporary accounts, environmental historians such as Andrew Isenberg at the University of Kansas and Dan Flores at the University of Montana argue that white hunters administered the crushing final blow—but only after a century of environmental challenges and Native American over-hunting. The spread of horses on the Great Plains in 1680 onward gave tribes a new, highly efficient means of pursuing their prey. More Native Americans were also eking out a living from the fiercely variable Great Plains environment, as settlers displaced them from traditional territories, and commercial demand meant a huge market for bison hides.

Other researchers worry that this contrarian version of history will invite misunderstanding. “People hear only ‘Indians were involved, too,’” says Philip Deloria, a Harvard professor of Native American history, “and that has the effect of letting the others off the hook, and of letting the explicit military strategy of destroying Native American resources off the hook.” Deloria argues that the Native Americans’ culture, based on the idea of subsistence, prevented them from annihilating the bison in the same way white market hunters did.

It’s tempting to see a happy ending to this story in the restoration of the American bison: People working together can pull a species back from the brink; today bison are considered “near threatened” by the International Union of Conservation of Nature. But another battle over this shaggy, snorting symbol lies ahead, as ranchers face larger fears about a resurgent bison herd—competition for grass, water and other limited resources vital to their own uncertain future.

Source: The Bison Returns to the Great American Plains | Science | Smithsonian

Study documents paternal transmission of epigenetic memory via sperm

Studies of human populations and animal models suggest that a father’s experiences such as diet or environmental stress can influence the health and development of his descendants. How these effects are transmitted across generations, however, remains mysterious.

Susan Strome’s lab at UC Santa Cruz has been making steady progress in unraveling the mechanisms behind this phenomenon, using a tiny roundworm called Caenorhabditis elegans to show how marks on chromosomes that affect , called “epigenetic” marks, can be transmitted from parents to . Her team’s most recent paper, published October 17 in Nature Communications, focuses on transmission of epigenetic marks by C. elegans .

In addition to documenting the transmission of  by sperm, the new study shows that the  delivered by sperm to the embryo is both necessary and sufficient to guide proper development of germ  in the offspring (germ cells give rise to eggs and sperm).

“We decided to look at C. elegans because it is such a good model for asking epigenetic questions using powerful genetic approaches,” said Strome, a distinguished professor of molecular, cell, and developmental biology.

Epigenetic changes do not alter the DNA sequences of genes, but instead, involve chemical modifications to either the DNA itself or the histone proteins with which DNA is packaged in the chromosomes. These modifications influence gene expression, turning genes on or off in different cells and at different stages of development. The idea that epigenetic modifications can cause changes in gene expression that are transmitted from one generation to the next, known as “transgenerational epigenetic inheritance,” is now the focus of an intense scientific investigation.

For many years, it was thought that sperm do not retain any histone packaging and therefore could not transmit histone-based epigenetic information to offspring. Recent studies, however, have shown that about 10 percent of histone packaging is retained in both human and mouse sperm.

“Furthermore, where the chromosomes retain histone packaging of DNA is in developmentally important regions, so those findings raised awareness of the possibility that sperm may transmit important epigenetic information to embryos,” Strome said.

When her lab looked at C. elegans sperm, they found the sperm genome fully retains histone packaging. Other researchers had found the same is true for another commonly studied organism, the zebrafish.

“Like zebrafish, worms represent an extreme form of histone retention by sperm, which makes them a great system to see if this packaging really matters,” Strome said.

Her lab focused on a particular epigenetic mark (designated H3K27me3) that has been well established as a mark of repressed gene expression in a wide range of organisms. The researchers found that removing this mark from sperm chromosomes causes the majority of the offspring to be sterile. Having established that the mark is important, they wanted to see if it is sufficient to guide normal germline development.

The researchers addressed this by analyzing a mutant worm in which the chromosomes from sperm and egg are separated in the first cell division after fertilization, so that one cell of the embryo inherits only sperm chromosomes and the other cell inherits only egg chromosomes (normally, each cell of an embryo inherits chromosomes from both egg and sperm). This unusual chromosome segregation pattern allowed the researchers to generate worms whose germ line inherited only sperm chromosomes and therefore only sperm epigenetic marks. Those worms turned out to be fertile and to have normal gene expression patterns.

“These findings show that the DNA packaging in sperm is important, because offspring that did not inherit normal sperm epigenetic marks were sterile, and it is sufficient for normal germline development,” Strome said.

While the study shows that epigenetic information transmitted by sperm is important for normal development, it does not directly address how the life experience of a father can affect the health of his descendants. Strome’s lab is investigating this question with experiments in which worms are treated with alcohol or starved before reproducing.

“The goal is to analyze how the chromatin packaging changes in the parent,” she said. “Whatever gets passed on to the offspring has to go through the germ cells. We want to know which cells experience the environmental factors, how they transmit that information to the germ cells, what changes in the , and how that impacts the offspring.”

By demonstrating the importance of epigenetic information carried by sperm, the current study establishes that if the environment experienced by the father changes the epigenetics of sperm , it could affect the offspring.

 Explore further: Study shows how epigenetic memory is passed across generations

More information: Tomoko M. Tabuchi et al, Caenorhabditis elegans sperm carry a histone-based epigenetic memory of both spermatogenesis and oogenesis, Nature Communications (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-06236-8

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Source: Study documents paternal transmission of epigenetic memory via sperm

Great tits aren’t the only things evolving to adapt to humans. Here are 12 others. | Popular Science

I don’t write the headlines, people…


You already know about antibiotic and pesticide resistance. But there are other, sneakier ways that the rest of our planet’s ecosystem has adapted to humanity’s presence.

The reality is that living things are constantly ‘evolving,’ just not usually at a rate that we can pick up on. Every new birth is an opportunity to introduce a mutation that could wind up being beneficial to the organism carrying it. Maybe that critter is a little faster or stronger or smarter or more colorful than average, and it manages to produce slightly more offspring than its brethren—creating babies with the same advantage. In a world where water, nutrients, and sex are plentiful, this mutation might not matter much. Continue reading

What Is Voldemorting? The Ultimate SEO Dis | WIRED

Pretty sad when a bunch of people can’t bring themselves to say the name of the President… even behind the safety of the interwebs…


When writers swap Trump for Cheeto and 45, it’s not just a put-down. Removing a keyword is the anti-SEO—transforming your subject into a slippery, ungraspable, swarm.

Cheeto and birdsite might not be common vocabulary, but the phrases are strangely interpretable. It’s easy to jump from Cheeto to Donald Trump or from birdsite to Twitter. Even more understandable is the attitude that comes along for the ride: Somehow it’s clear that someone who uses ornate synonyms isn’t happy about either entity.

But how is it that we’re so quick to figure out the hidden meanings of these words? And what does it mean for communication in the internet age that we’re increasingly drawn to elaborate synonyms?

recent paper by researcher Emily van der Nagel puts a name to this phenomenon of hiding a word in plain sight. She calls it Voldemorting. Van der Nagel traces Voldemorting back to the Harry Potter books, where most characters are too afraid of Voldemort to say the word directly, instead of replacing his name with euphemisms like You Know Who and He Who Must Not Be Named. This practice starts as a superstition, but by the final book there’s a deeper purpose: The word Voldemort is revealed as a way of locating the resistance: “Using his name breaks protective enchantments, it causes some kind of magical disturbance.”

The internet practice of Voldemorting, van der Nagel says, comes via a comment left by a user named Eugene, who made the connection as part of a discussion about deliberately starving “trash celebrities” of attention by not referring to them by name.

Voldemorting: The act of never speaking the name of someone truly terrible. E.g. ‘Don’t bother sending me those links, I’m Voldemorting those losers!’

On the internet, there’s no such thing as a tracing spell, but there’s something almost as effective: search algorithms. Plugging a distinctive name into a search box lets us track mentions around the web. I could set up a Google Alert to email me every time a website mentions my name, or simply do a periodic Twitter search for myself or my favorite celebrity so I can ride to my or their defense if someone says something negative.

I mean, I don’t. But plenty of people do.

Yet Voldemorting departs from the Harry Potter analogy in one crucial way. You Know Who and He Who Must Not Be Named are a small set of ominous phrases, while internet Voldemorting is often playful and cycles through infinite variations of newly coined words. That includes single words for social media sites (birdhell, birbsite, birdworld, faceborg) and elaborate phrases like those found in the Detrumpify browser extension (Manchurian Combover, Empty Popcorn Bag Rotting in the Sun). In the books, Dumbledore says, “Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.” Van der Nagel counters: “On social media, Voldemorting has the potential to invert this power play.”

Rather than just extracting one taboo word and replacing it with another, online Voldemorts spread and mutate into dozens, even hundreds, of potential synonyms. (I coined faceblue while reporting on the phenomenon, and respondents immediately and correctly interpreted it as standing in for Facebook.) These variations make for effective Voldemorting: Slightly different words make it difficult to find any particular one through search. While search engine optimization uses keywords and hashtags in a competition to make your post or website the most relevant, Voldemorting is the anti-SEO, the anti-keyword, and the anti-hashtag. It transforms your subject from a single mass into an ungraspable swarm.

It’s easy to see why internet-ers have resorted to this strategy. If you complain about an airline on social media, even if you don’t directly @mention them, odds are fairly good you’ll get a reply from a perkily beleaguered social media manager tasked with searching for mentions of the brand and proactively replying to complaints. On the sketchier side, if you complain about something benign—like how much work you have to do—you may get offers from dubious productivity tools or even paid homework “help.”

(In perhaps the most ironic example of Voldemorting, I once tweeted the word Voldemort itself and my tweet was liked by two separate parody Voldemort accounts, presumably hoping to juice their follower count through a little social media Dark Arts.)

Once you’ve been burned by these nefarious techniques, you might start hiding your keywords—preemptively adding asterisks or replacing the words altogether by Voldemorting.

This gets at a second important property of Voldemorting: It’s not necessarily directly avoiding people, the way you might write a cryptic, passive-aggressive post about how some people are just so rude. It’s about selecting a group to know exactly who or what you’re talking about while preventing a broader, unwanted audience from finding your post at all—even if you’re not sure anyone’s looking for it. If I decide to tweet a negative thing about a celebrity, I might not know whether this particular celebrity has a Beyhive to leap to their Twitter defense, but it might be worth Voldemorting the name just in case.

Since Voldemorting is often a response to unwanted attention, it’s also a way of marking out a particular name or concept as objectionable. This preemptive use gives Voldemorting its ultimate meaning: As in the Harry Potter books, it’s not just a way of avoiding Twitter mobs or tracking spells, it’s a way of marking a word as so terrible that you won’t even use the name outright. That’s what many Mastodon users told me about birdsite: It may have started as a way to avoid keyword searches, but it’s now chiefly used to signal a dismissive attitude toward Twitter by people who fled to the new social media site.

Yet internet wordplay doesn’t only signal disapproval or hide discussions from the social media masses. After all, it was fans, not critics, who came up with a language game that developed more and more elaborate synonyms for Benedict Cumberbatch (a phenomenon I’ve analyzed previously). There’s even a highly courteous type of Voldemorting, practiced in several workplaces via Slack, which automatically sends you a notification every time your name is mentioned. But if you’re out sick or on vacation, your coworkers might need to mention you without wanting to disturb you so they could insert numbers or emoji into your name (in my case, making something like gr3tch3n or gre➕chen), which makes it readable by humans and not machines.

What makes this kind of internet wordplay so appealing? I tried approaching this question from a different angle, by looking at a game called No, You’re Thinking Of. You’ve probably seen one of these comment threads sweep social media. They start with someone expressing disbelief or an confusion about the meaning of a long word, and then a reply chain forms with jokey fake definitions of other, similar-sounding long words. As one particularly good thread went:

isnt rick and morty that thing you get when you die and your body gets all stiff

You’re thinking of rigor mortis. Rick and morty is when you get trolled into watching “never gonna give you up”

That’s rickrolling. Rick and morty is a type of pasta

That’s rigatoni. Rick and Morty is the study of rheumatism, arthritis, and other disorders of the joints, muscles, and ligaments.

The Rick and Morty chain started on Twitter and spread to Reddit, but examples like these sprout up on any social network: FacebookTwitterTumblrReddit. Most are spontaneous, but there’s even a whole (tiny) subreddit of people dedicated to playing this game.

Creative replacement of taboo words is not itself new. There are lists of words beginning with f or d that replace certain swear words: fudge, frig, frik, frak, fiddlesticks, foo, fooey, flaming, flipping, freaking, or darn, dang, dangnabbit, dash, ding, drat, doggonit. But offline, most people stick to a couple examples, rather than spiraling into elaborate wordplay chains.

Why is the internet particularly good at this kind of mass verbal dexterity? While mulling this question over, I set in motion a meta version of the No, You’re Thinking Of game on Twitter, using the name of the game itself as the seed word and spinning out to references like So You Think You Can Dance, “Thinking Out Loud,” Know Your Meme, and “I think, therefore I am.”

As I participated in the game, I noticed how much it was invisibly aided by the architecture of the internet. I checked the Wikipedia page for So You Think You Can Dance to make sure that the clue I provided toward it was sufficiently intelligible, and in turn Googled “Ed Sheeran songs 2014” to understand someone else’s clue toward “Thinking Out Loud.” For all I know, the person who set the clue for the song also Googled to get the right year. (I got the other two with purely my own neurons, thank you very much.)

What does it mean to be a human brain supplemented by the extended memory of internet search? This was a big question in the earlier days of the internet. Now, perhaps, we have an answer: It means that we can find things, but others can also find us. Cultural references that were once opaque are now easily cracked open for ingenious wordplay, and that same ingenious wordplay can restore a sense of local community by keeping our complaints within their intended audiences.

So what’s it like to have all the world’s information right at our fingertips? It just might involve a lot of word games.


Source: What Is Voldemorting? The Ultimate SEO Dis | WIRED

Japan Set to Allow Gene Editing in Human Embryos – Scientific American

Draft guidelines permit gene-editing tools for research into early human development but would discourage manipulation of embryos for reproduction

Japan has issued draft guidelines that allow the use of gene-editing tools in human embryos. The proposal was released by an expert panel representing the country’s health and science ministries on 28 September.

Although the country regulates the use of human embryos for research, there have been no specific guidelines on using tools such as CRISPR–Cas9 to make precise modifications in their DNA until now.

Tetsuya Ishii, a bioethicist at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, says that before the draft guidelines were issued, Japan’s position on gene editing in human embryos was neutral. The proposal now encourages this kind of research, he says.

But if adopted, the guidelines would restrict the manipulation of human embryos for reproduction, although this would not be legally binding.

Manipulating DNA in embryos could reveal insights into early human development. Researchers also hope that in the long term, these tools could be used to fix genetic mutations that cause diseases, before they are passed on.

But the editing of genes in human embryos, even for research, has been controversial. Ethicists and many researchers worry that the technique could be used to alter DNA in embryos for non-medical reasons. Many countries ban the practice, allowing gene-editing tools to be used only in non-reproductive adult cells.

Researchers around the world have published at least eight studies on gene editing in human embryos. Some of the work was done in Chinaand the United States, where using the technique does not break any laws if done with private funding; some was done in the United Kingdom, where permission must be granted by a national regulatory body.

Japan’s draft guidelines will be open for public comment from next month and are likely to be implemented in the first half of next year.

This article is reproduced with permission and was first published on October 3, 2018.

Source: Japan Set to Allow Gene Editing in Human Embryos – Scientific American

Astronomers Find What May Be First Exomoon—And It’s an Absolute Unit | Smart News | Smithsonian

Astronomers suspect that there’s Neptune-sized celestial body trailing an exoplanet about 8,000 light years

In what would quite literally be a colossal first, astronomers may have finally found an exomoon, or a moon orbiting a planet outside of our own solar system. The new alien moon is roughly the size of Neptune, which has a diameter four times larger than Earth’s and is 17 times as massive.

The moon was discovered circling Kepler 1625b, a massive gas giant three times the size of Jupiter orbiting a star in the constellation Cygnus about 8,000 light years away, reports Sarah Kaplan at The Washington Post. Unlike some notable space discoveries, this find wasn’t random; Mike Wall at reports that Columbia University astronomers David Kipping and Alex Teachey were doggedly hunting for exomoons—a truly challenging feat—when they found the beast.

Since researchers first began detecting exoplanets, or worlds orbiting stars other than our Sun, in the early 1990s, we’ve gone on to catalogue almost 3,800 alien planets, with thousands more sightings waiting for confirmation. Despite finding all those planets, researchers have never detected a moon.

To detect exoplanets, astronomers usually observe their transit, which shows up when a star’s brightness dips, indicating that a planet is passing in front of it. The problem is only large planets that orbit close to stars are detectable, and those types of planets typically don’t have moons.

So Kipping and Teachey poured over data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope, an exoplanet-hunting satellite. They decided to look at exoplanets with the widest orbits, or those that take about 30 days to circle their stars. That narrowed their focus to 284 planets. But just one of them, Kepler 1625b, showed the type of anomaly they were looking for.

Later, the team used the powerful lens of the Hubble Space Telescope to observe the planet and found a pair of unexpected abnormalities. First, Kepler 1625b begins its transit of the star over an hour early, an indicator that something with relatively strong gravity is tugging on it, alternating its center of gravity and affecting its orbit.

Second, once the planet finished passing by the face of the star, they observed another decrease in brightness about 3.5 hours later, consistent with “a moon trailing the planet like a dog following its owner on a leash,” says Kipping in a press release.

Both of these data points are best explained if a huge Neptune-sized moon is orbiting Kepler 1625b. If confirmed, this would be the first moon discovered outside our own solar system, according to the new study published in the journal Science Advances.

“We hope to re-observe the star again in the future to verify or reject the exomoon hypothesis,” Kipping tells Wall at “And if validated, the planet-moon system—a Jupiter with a Neptune-sized moon—would be a remarkable system with unanticipated properties, in many ways echoing the unexpected discovery of hot Jupiters in the early days of planet hunting.”

While some may want to define such a massive moon as a planet caught in a binary system with Kepler 1625b, the researchers define it as a moon since its mass is only 1.5 percent that of the planet it orbits, roughly the same as Earth and our moon.

How such a moon would form, however, is the big question. Kaplan reports that there are no easy explanations. It could be rogue planet caught in the gravity of the Kepler 1625b or, like the moons of Jupiter, it coalesced out of gas, dust and other space debris. Because it’s a gaseous moon circling a gas giant, it’s possible—but unlikely—that it was formed like our moon when a cosmic collision broke a chunk off its host planet.

“It’s raising new questions about sort of the dynamical processes that go on to create the planets and moons,” Teachey tells Kaplan.

But the astronomers are careful to emphasize that this is only a candidate moon. It will take more observation with the Hubble to confirm it. And finding future moons will require looking at planets much further out from their stars, something that is difficult now, but should possible once the powerful but long-delayed James Webb Space Telescope finally begins scanning the skies.

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Source: Astronomers Find What May Be First Exomoon—And It’s an Absolute Unit | Smart News | Smithsonian