World’s first cloned arctic wolf is now 100 days old

Friday, September 30th, 2022

Chinese researchers have created the world’s first cloned arctic wolf, and it is now 100 days old:

Scottish scientists proved back in 1996 that it was possible to clone a mammal using a cell from an adult animal. Possible — but not easy. Dolly the sheep was the only successful clone in their 277 attempts.

Maya is the world’s first cloned arctic wolf

Cloning is still a challenging process — fewer than 25 animal species have been cloned to date, so the first successful cloning of a species is still newsworthy 25+ years after Dolly’s birth.

The journey to creating the first cloned Arctic wolf began in 2020, when researchers at Sinogene Biotechnology, a Beijing-based biotech, teamed up with the polar theme park Harbin Polarland.

Using skin cells donated by Maya, an arctic wolf housed at Harbin Polarland, Sinogene created 137 embryos using female dogs’ eggs. They then transferred 85 of the embryos into 7 beagle surrogates.

In July 2022, one of those beagles gave birth to a healthy cloned Arctic wolf, also named Maya.

It’s our innate evolved form of government

Monday, September 26th, 2022

Erik Hoel describes the gossip trap:

Given that humans have been around for 200,000 years, why did civilization take so long to get started? Why were we stuck in prehistory for so long?

[…]

If we imagine being transported back to 50,000 BC, what would we expect to find? In the end, we have to give a metaphor to current life of how things were organized: a follower of Rousseau would expect Burning Man, a follower of Hobbes might expect to find a bunch of warring gangs, the Davids might expect to find the deliberation of a town council full of Kandiaronks.

But perhaps small groups of humans less than the Dunbar number were organized by none of these, since they didn’t need to be—instead, they could be organized via raw social power. That is, you don’t need a formal chief, nor an official council, nor laws or judges. You just need popular people and unpopular people.

After all, who sits with who is something that comes incredibly naturally to humans — it is our point of greatest anxiety and subject to our constant management. This is extremely similar to the grooming hierarchies of primates, and, presumably, our hominid ancestors. So 50,000 BC might be a little more like a high school than anything else.

I know the high school metaphor sounds crazy, but given that any metaphor we’re going to give will fail, I think this one possibly fails less than the others. After all, the central message of The Dawn of Everything is that prehistorical people were just people, with all the weirdness, politicking, cultural hilarity and differentness this implies. But, unlike what the Davids seem to want, most people aren’t Kandiaronk — he was exceptional. Most people are not exceptional. They are…well, like the people you remember from high school. So if we take the heart of the message of The Dawn of Everything seriously, perhaps entering a new tribe in Africa at 50,000 BC would not involve a bunch of mysterious rituals in the jungle enacted by solemn actors with dirt smeared across their faces. Maybe it was a bit more like the infamous lunch table scene from the movie Mean Girls (I encourage you to watch), with some minor surface alterations, like clothes (picture beads and furs instead).

[…]

What’s interesting is that anthropologists, from what I’ve read, seem to assume that raw social power is mostly a good thing (one wonders if they’ve ever seen social pressure applied). Mostly they focus on gossip, and if we look at the work of Robin Dunbar, and his 1996 book Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language, he speculates that the need to gossip was why language was invented in the first place. And gossip has (as far as I can tell), an almost universally positive valence throughout anthropology. In the literature it is portrayed as something that maintains social relationships and rids groups of free-riders and cheats, i.e., gossip is a “leveling mechanism” that prevents individuals from accruing too much power.

[…]

But it never seems to strike Dunbar or others that living under a dominion of raw social power, with few to little formal powers anywhere, would be hellish to a citizen of the 21st century (which is why I say the closest analog is high

My mother used to quote Eleanor Roosevelt all the time:

Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.

A “gossip trap” is when your whole world doesn’t exceed Dunbar’s number and to organize your society you are forced to discuss mostly people. It is Mean Girls (and mean boys), but forever. And yes, gossip can act as a leveling mechanism and social power has a bunch of positives — it’s the stuff of life, really. But it’s a terrible way to organize society. So perhaps we leveled ourselves into the ground for 90,000 years. Being in the gossip trap means reputational management imposes such a steep slope you can’t climb out of it, and essentially prevents the development of anything interesting, like art or culture or new ideas or new developments or anything at all. Everyone just lives like crabs in a bucket, pulling each other down. All cognitive resources go to reputation management in the group, to being popular, leaving nothing left in the tank for invention or creativity or art or engineering. Again, much like high school.

And this explains why violating the Dunbar number forces you to invent civilization — at a certain size (possibly a lot larger than the actual Dunbar number) you simply can’t organize society using the non-ordinal natural social hierarchy of humans. Eventually, you need to create formal structures, which at first are seasonal and changeable and theatrical, and take all sorts of diverse forms, since the initial condition is just who’s popular. But then these formal systems slowly become real.

[…]

Of course we gravitate to cancel culture — it’s our innate evolved form of government.

Arnold Kling keeps saying that the smart phone and social media smash together the intimate world and the remote world:

In the intimate world, gossip is the strong social force. In the remote world, institutions with their formal roles are supposed to be the strong social force. But modern technology has weakened formal roles, and we are falling back on gossip.

It’s amazing to live in a society that often pretends these differences are not real

Thursday, September 22nd, 2022

What if we just looked at what men and women actually talk about in private?, Emil Kirkegaard asks:

We see that the male topics include politics, war/sports/gaming/weapons/death/killing, swearing, music (especially metal/rock), work/science, metals. Women’s topics are much more mundane. There’s a lot of expression of emotions, especially positive. There’s a lot of family talk shown by all the terms of human relationships (sister, daughter, nephew, brother, boyfriend etc.). Of interests, the main thing we see is food (cooking), and some shopping. In fact, it is surprisingly devoid of any abstract interests, I am surprised there are not more words related to clothing and child-rearing.

Overall we see that results are consistent across studies that men and women are interested in and talk about quite different things. It’s amazing to live in a society that often pretends these differences are not real.

(Hat tip to Arnold Kling.)

The Industrial Revolution kicked off the fertility transition

Wednesday, September 21st, 2022

It is ironic that our species, which is defined by our big brains, is evolving to become stupid, George Francis says:

Countless articles of scientific research have found the less intelligent to be having more surviving offspring and breeding faster than the intelligent. The problem was noticed by Darwin and his contemporaries, yet it has mostly been ignored throughout the 20th century. Recently it has had a small yet significant revival with the cult classic book At our Wits’ End, and large genetic databases showing intelligence decline. It has even been featured in the Telegraph.

[…]

The famous studies of dysgenics in the UK biobank show there is selection against intelligence but don’t attempt to quantify its size. The famous Icelandic study shows dysgenics but only attempts to measure its effect on years in education, not intelligence itself.

[…]

The Industrial Revolution kicked off the fertility transition. Countries that became rich were able to prevent starvation and improve health so the number of surviving children skyrocketed. Then with the advent of contraception, abortion and enjoyable alternatives to raising children, fertility plummeted. Many of the poorer, less intelligent countries started this process later meaning that as the natives of smart countries shrink in their population, the low IQ countries are still rapidly expanding.

[…]

My favourite estimate of the rate of dysgenics comes from Woodley’s calculation in At Our Wits’ End. He takes the Icelandic estimate for the rate of dysgenics on the educational attainment (years in education) polygenic score, adjusts it for the higher heritability of intelligence (about 80% heritable) and estimates a 0.8 IQ point decline per decade. That’s a lot. My guess is that this is an overestimate. Education attainment correlates negatively with fertility because it captures both the effect of intelligence and the effect of education, creating an overestimate. On the other hand, years in education is less heritable than IQ, causing the unaltered Icelandic estimate of about 0.3 IQ points to be an underestimate.

This is tricky, so let’s be cautious, split the difference and round up. IQ is falling by 0.6 points a decade.

In 1950 the average genotypic IQ was around 93.6. If you are not a high school graduate you need an IQ of 93 to join the US military. In 1950 something like half of the world’s population was too dumb to be in a professional army. Currently, the global average IQ is around 85 and by the end of the century, it will be 74. Then only an elite fraction would be capable of even being part of a professional army.

Average global IQ of 74 — dysgenics is a big problem! Let’s try and narrow it down a bit more. In Francis and Kirkegaard (forthcoming) we estimate that each national IQ point is associated with a 7.8% increase in GDP per capita. We also estimate the economic effects of dysgenics in that paper slightly differently, but with similar results. Let’s imagine the world is one country with an average IQ of 74 in 2100 and an average IQ of 85 as of 2020. The maths works out as a difference of logs at [exp((74–85)*7.8%) –1] = –58%. The effect of this dysgenic decline will be to cut GDP in half! And of course, that doesn’t even begin to consider the intangible factors GDP doesn’t necessarily include: low crime, social trust, science, culture and the arts.

Climate change is currently predicted to cost us a whopping 4% of world GDP by 2050. My numbers imply dysgenics will cost us 30% of GDP by 2050.

(Hat tip to Arnold Kling, who says, “Have a nice day.”)

The results confirmed the integrity of the self-described ancestry of these individuals

Saturday, September 17th, 2022

Numerous human population genetic studies have come to the identical conclusion, that genetic differentiation is greatest when defined on a continental basis:

The results are the same irrespective of the type of genetic markers employed, be they classical systems [5], restriction fragment length polymorphisms (RFLPs) [6], microsatellites [7,8,9,10,11], or single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) [12]. For example, studying 14 indigenous populations from 5 continents with 30 microsatellite loci, Bowcock et al. [7] observed that the 14 populations clustered into the five continental groups, as depicted in Figure 1.

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The African branch included three sub-Saharan populations, CAR pygmies, Zaire pygmies, and the Lisongo; the Caucasian branch included Northern Europeans and Northern Italians; the Pacific Islander branch included Melanesians, New Guineans and Australians; the East Asian branch included Chinese, Japanese and Cambodians; and the Native American branch included Mayans from Mexico and the Surui and Karitiana from the Amazon basin. The identical diagram has since been derived by others, using a similar or greater number of microsatellite markers and individuals [8,9]. More recently, a survey of 3,899 SNPs in 313 genes based on US populations (Caucasians, African-Americans, Asians and Hispanics) once again provided distinct and non-overlapping clustering of the Caucasian, African-American and Asian samples [12]: “The results confirmed the integrity of the self-described ancestry of these individuals”. Hispanics, who represent a recently admixed group between Native American, Caucasian and African, did not form a distinct subgroup, but clustered variously with the other groups. A previous cluster analysis based on a much smaller number of SNPs led to a similar conclusion: “A tree relating 144 individuals from 12 human groups of Africa, Asia, Europe and Oceania, inferred from an average of 75 DNA polymorphisms/individual, is remarkable in that most individuals cluster with other members of their regional group” [13]. Effectively, these population genetic studies have recapitulated the classical definition of races based on continental ancestry – namely African, Caucasian (Europe and Middle East), Asian, Pacific Islander (for example, Australian, New Guinean and Melanesian), and Native American.

The new catalyst has three different active sites for the reaction

Friday, August 26th, 2022

A research team led by Prof. Minhua Shao from the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at HKUST, has discovered a new fuel-cell catalyst to replace pure platinum:

It not only cuts down the proportion of platinum used by 80 percent, but it also set a record in terms of the cell’s durability level.

Despite a low portion of platinum, the new hybrid catalyst developed by the research team managed to maintain the platinum catalytic activity at 97% after 100,000 cycles of accelerated stress test, compared to the current catalyst which normally sees a drop of over 50% in performance after just 30,000 cycles. In another test, the new fuel cell did not show any performance decay after operating for 200 hours.

One reason behind such outstanding performance was the fact that the new catalyst has three different active sites for the reaction, instead of just one in current catalysts. Using a formula containing atomically dispersed platinum, iron single atoms, and platinum-iron nanoparticles, the new mix accelerates the reaction rate and achieves a catalytic activity 3.7 times higher than the platinum itself. Theoretically, the higher the catalytic activity, the greater the power it delivers.

Zombie fly fungus lures healthy male flies to mate with female corpses

Thursday, August 25th, 2022

Entomophthora muscae is a widespread, pathogenic fungus that survives by infecting common houseflies with its deadly spores — and that’s when things really start to swing:

After having infected a female fly with its spores, the fungus spreads until its host has slowly been consumed alive from within. After roughly six days, the fungus takes over the behavior of the female fly and forces it to the highest point, whether upon vegetation or a wall, where the fly then dies. When the fungus has killed the zombie female, it begins to release chemical signals known as sesquiterpenes.

“The chemical signals act as pheromones that bewitch male flies and cause an incredible urge for them to mate with lifeless female carcasses,” explains Henrik H. De Fine Licht, an associate professor at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Environment and Plant Sciences and one of the study’s authors.

As male flies copulate with dead females, the fungal spores are showered onto the males, who then suffer the same gruesome fate.

Long-term low-dose alcohol intake promotes white adipose tissue browning and reduces obesity

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2022

There are numerous pieces of evidence indicating that moderate alcohol intake has a protective effect on metabolic diseases:

Our previous studies revealed that long-term low-dose alcohol intake resists high-fat diet (HFD) induced obesity. A process in which white adipose tissue can be stimulated and turned into heat-producing brown adipose tissue named white adipose browning is associated with energy expenditure and weight loss. In this study we aimed to investigate whether alcohol causes the browning of white adipose tissue and whether the browning of white adipose tissue is involved in the resistance to the occurrence of obesity caused by long-term low-dose alcohol intake. After eight months of alcohol feeding, the body weight of mice had no significant change, but the fat content and lipid deposition in the liver were reduced. Morphological observations revealed that the browning of white adipose tissue occurred.

[...]

Moderate alcohol drinking mice had faster lipid metabolism and slower lipid anabolism. In addition, we found that long-term low-dose alcohol intake prevented the increase of body weight, triglycerides, inflammation and energy expenditure decrease induced by HFD. Moderate alcohol consumption increased the expression of UCP1 and glucose uptake in the adipose tissue of the HFD group. In conclusion, our results show for the first time that alcohol can trigger the browning of white adipose tissue to counteract obesity.

It is descended from bipedal dinosaurs

Sunday, August 21st, 2022

Ostriches, unlike humans, can run very fast on two legs:

Their legs are all bone and tendon. They don’t have any muscles in their legs or feet. All the muscles are up in the body. It allows their legs to go faster — ostriches can run 45 miles an hour.

A human foot has 26 individual bones in it. And you have two feet, so you have 52 foot bones. That means a quarter of your skeleton is made of foot bones. Tons and tons of foot bones.

[...]

We are primates, and primates live in trees. And in trees, you need a mobile foot. Think about an orangutan’s foot, a chimpanzee’s foot. They can use their foot in the same way that I use my hand to grab onto things.

The bones that we have in our foot are the exact same 26 bones that a chimpanzee has. They’re just tweaked a little bit, and that converts our foot from a grasping organ, like a chimpanzee’s, into one that can push off the ground. But we still have those 26 individual bones. And what are the results? Well, you get plantar fasciitis, you get an ankle sprain.

[...]

Think about the ostrich lineage. It doesn’t come from an ape or a primate. It is descended from bipedal dinosaurs. The bones of their ancestors’ feet have fused together into a single, rigid column. They only have eight bones in their feet, so there’s less capacity for motion. Instead, their foot looks a lot like the Paralympic prosthetic blade that athletes use with that single rigid structure that can hit the ground, store elastic energy and then push off the ground and propel them into their next step.

Cubic boron arsenide may be best semiconductor of them all

Wednesday, August 17th, 2022

Silicon is one of the most abundant elements on Earth, but its properties as a semiconductor are far from ideal:

For one thing, although silicon lets electrons whizz through its structure easily, it is much less accommodating to “holes” — electrons’ positively charged counterparts — and harnessing both is important for some kinds of chips. What’s more, silicon is not very good at conducting heat, which is why overheating issues and expensive cooling systems are common in computers.

Now, a team of researchers at MIT, the University of Houston, and other institutions has carried out experiments showing that a material known as cubic boron arsenide overcomes both of these limitations. It provides high mobility to both electrons and holes, and has excellent thermal conductivity. It is, the researchers say, the best semiconductor material ever found, and maybe the best possible one.

So far, cubic boron arsenide has only been made and tested in small, lab-scale batches that are not uniform. The researchers had to use special methods originally developed by former MIT postdoc Bai Song to test small regions within the material. More work will be needed to determine whether cubic boron arsenide can be made in a practical, economical form, much less replace the ubiquitous silicon.

[...]

Not only is the material’s thermal conductivity the best of any semiconductor, the researchers say, it has the third-best thermal conductivity of any material — next to diamond and isotopically enriched cubic boron nitride.

Sauna bathing demonstrated a substantially supplementary effect on CRF, systolic BP, and total cholesterol levels

Monday, August 15th, 2022

Regular exercise and sauna bathing have each been shown to improve cardiovascular function in clinical populations:

However, experimental data on the cardiovascular adaptations to regular exercise in conjunction with sauna bathing in the general population is lacking. Therefore, we compared the effects of exercise and sauna bathing, to regular exercise using a multi-arm randomized controlled trial. Participants(n = 47) aged 49 ± 9 years with low physical activity levels, and at least one traditional CVD risk factor were randomly assigned (1:1:1) to guideline-based regular exercise and 15-minute post-exercise sauna (EXS), guideline-based regular exercise (EXE), or control (CON), for eight weeks. The primary outcomes were blood pressure (BP) and cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF). Secondary outcomes included fat mass, total cholesterol levels, and arterial stiffness. EXE had a greater change in CRF (+6.2 ml/kg/min; 95% CI, +4.2. to +8.3 ml/kg/min) and fat mass, but no differences in BP when compared to CON. EXS displayed greater change in CRF (+2.7 ml/kg/min; 95% CI, +0.2. to +5.3 ml/kg/min), lower systolic BP (-8.0 mmHg; 95% CI, -14.6 to -1.4 mmHg) and lower total cholesterol levels compared to EXE. Regular exercise improved CRF and body composition in sedentary adults with CVD risk factors. However, when combined with exercise, sauna bathing demonstrated a substantially supplementary effect on CRF, systolic BP, and total cholesterol levels. Sauna bathing is a valuable lifestyle tool that complements exercise for improving CRF, and decreasing systolic BP. Future research should focus on the duration, and frequency of exposure to ascertain the dose-response relationship.

Why that new “science-backed” supplement probably doesn’t work

Sunday, August 14th, 2022

In much the same way that everything in your fridge both causes and prevents cancer, Alex Hutchinson notes, there’s a study out there somewhere proving that everything boosts endurance:

A new preprint (a journal article that hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed, ironically) from researchers at Queensland University of Technology in Australia explores why this seems to be the case, and what can be done about it. David Borg and his colleagues comb through thousands of articles from 18 journals that focus on sport and exercise medicine, and unearth telltale patterns about what gets published—and perhaps more importantly, what doesn’t. To make sense of the studies you see and decide whether the latest hot performance aid is worth experimenting with, you also have to consider the studies you don’t see.

[...]

One way to illustrate these results is to plot something called the z-value, which is a statistical measure of the strength of an effect. In theory, if you plot the z-values of thousands of studies, you’d expect to see a perfect bell curve. Most of the results would be clustered around zero, and progressively fewer would have either very strongly positive or very strongly negative effects. Any z-value less than -1.96 or greater than +1.96 corresponds to a statistically significant result with p less than 0.05. A z-value between -1.96 and +1.96 indicates a null result with no statistically significant finding.

In practice, the bell curve won’t be perfect, but you’d still expect a fairly smooth curve. Instead, this is what you see if you plot the z-values from the 1,599 studies analyzed by Borg:

Borg Distribution of Z Values

There’s a giant missing piece in the middle of the bell curve, where all the studies with non-significant results should be. There are probably lots of different reasons for this, both driven by decisions that researchers make and—just as importantly—decisions that journals make about what to publish and what to reject. It’s not an easy problem to solve, because no journal wants to publish (and no reader wants to read) thousands of studies that conclude, over and over, “We’re not yet sure whether this works.”

Turmeric is routinely adulterated with a yellow pigment that contains lead

Saturday, August 13th, 2022

Rural Bangladesh has a lead-poisoning problem — because turmeric is routinely adulterated with a yellow pigment that contains lead, PbCrO4. Wow.

Resistant starch reduced upper gastrointestinal cancers by more than half

Friday, August 12th, 2022

An international trial with almost 1,000 patients with Lynch syndrome revealed that a regular dose of resistant starch, also known as fermentable fibre, taken for an average of two years, did not affect cancers in the bowel but did reduce cancers in other parts of the body by more than half:

This effect was particularly pronounced for upper gastrointestinal cancers including oesophageal, gastric, biliary tract, pancreatic and duodenum cancers.

The astonishing effect was seen to last for 10 years after stopping taking the supplement.

The study, led by experts at the Universities of Newcastle and Leeds, published today in Cancer Prevention Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, is a planned double blind 10 year follow–up, supplemented with comprehensive national cancer registry data for up to 20 years in 369 of the participants.

Previous research published as part of the same trial, revealed that aspirin reduced cancer of the large bowel by 50%.

“We found that resistant starch reduces a range of cancers by over 60%. The effect was most obvious in the upper part of the gut,” explained Professor John Mathers, professor of Human Nutrition at Newcastle University. “This is important as cancers of the upper GI tract are difficult to diagnose and often are not caught early on.

“Resistant starch can be taken as a powder supplement and is found naturally in peas, beans, oats and other starchy foods. The dose used in the trial is equivalent to eating a daily banana; before they become too ripe and soft, the starch in bananas resists breakdown and reaches the bowel where it can change the type of bacteria that live there.

“Resistant starch is a type of carbohydrate that isn’t digested in your small intestine, instead it ferments in your large intestine, feeding beneficial gut bacteria — it acts in effect, like dietary fibre in your digestive system. This type of starch has several health benefits and fewer calories than regular starch. We think that resistant starch may reduce cancer development by changing the bacterial metabolism of bile acids and to reduce those types of bile acids that can damage our DNA and eventually cause cancer. However, this needs further research.”

The Amish have been breeding themselves for plainness

Thursday, August 4th, 2022

The Amish population doubles every 20 years:

The North American Amish population grew by an estimated 195,710 since 2000, increasing from approximately 177,910 in 2000 to 373,620 in 2022, an increase of 110 percent. The Amish population doubles about every 20 years.

[…]

The primary forces driving the growth are sizable nuclear families (five or more children on average) and an average retention rate (Amish children who join the church as young adults) of 85 percent or more.

The Amish probably won’t pass 10 billion in the early 24th Century, Steve Sailer notes:

I wrote about the Amish in 2013, including the Cochran-Harpending theory that one reason their retention rate has gone up over the generations is because they have been boiling off Amish-born individuals with genomes that don’t put up well with the Amish lifestyle, that the Amish have been breeding themselves for their favorite trait: “plainness.”