Articles of Interest — Ancient Mega-Temples and Vital Whale Feces

An incredible 6,000-year-old mega-temple is discovered in an unlikely place…

Sci-News reports that the ancient site belonged to the Trypillian culture, which lasted from approximately 5,400-2,700 B.C. and extended from the Carpathian piedmont to the Black Sea. The culture was complex, boasting early advancements in metallurgy, pottery and textiles.

According to researcher Mikhail Videyko, the temple was likely two stories tall, the largest of its kind on the site, and may have been the “center of a complex plan” as the “central temple of the whole village community.” Each single-habitation Trypillian settlement appears to have been burnt to the ground after about 60 to 80 years of continuous occupation for reasons unknown to current researchers, including the temple site.

The unexpected importance of whale waste provides a valuable lesson about complex ecosystems…

[T]he whales fertilise the plant plankton on which the krill and fish depend. This effect, known as the “whale pump” has been hypothesised for several years. But now there is some experimental evidence to support it. A team of scientists at the University of Tasmania collected some pygmy blue whale poo (who knew that marine biology was so rich with possibility?) and grew plankton in water containing varying concentrations of it. They found that the richer the mix, the greater the productivity. No surprises there.

Separate research, in the Gulf of Maine, estimates that whales and seals, by defecating at the surface and recycling nutrients there, would, before their numbers were reduced by hunting, have been responsible for releasing three times as much nitrogen into those waters as the sea absorbed directly from the atmosphere. The volume of plant plankton has declined across much of the world over the past century, probably as a result of rising global temperatures. But the decline appears to have been been steepest where whales and seals have been most heavily hunted. The fishermen who have insisted that predators such as seals should be killed might have been reducing, not enhancing, their catch.

But it doesn’t end there. Plant plankton, when they die, slowly descend into the abyss, taking with them the carbon they have absorbed from the atmosphere. It is hard to quantify, but when they were at their historical populations, whales are likely to have made a small but significant contribution to the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The recovery of the great whales, which werereduced by between two-thirds and 90%, but whose numbers are slowly climbing again in some parts of the oceans, could be seen as a benign form of geoengineering.

This should not be the only, or even the main, reason why we should wish them to return, but the way in which whales change the composition of the atmosphere provides yet another refutation of the idea that we can manipulate the living world with simple, predictable results.

Random chance is biggest factor in two-thirds of cancer cases…

“This development has some rather striking implications. Improving certain lifestyle factors like weight, tobacco use, or alcohol consumption can certainly contribute to the prevention of some specific cancers, such as lung cancer. However, for other cancers that are more likely to be influenced by unpredictable cell mutations, the lifestyle choices might not make that much of a difference. This could warrant the need to more aggressively pursue ways to identify cancer in the earliest stages, when it can more easily be dealt with.”

“This study shows that you can add to your risk of getting cancers by smoking or other poor lifestyle factors. However, many forms of cancer are due largely to the bad luck of acquiring a mutation in a cancer driver gene regardless of lifestyle and heredity factors. The best way to eradicate these cancers will be through early detection, when they are still curable by surgery,” concludes Vogelstein.

Just for fun: nine interesting facts about flatulence, such as…

Modern society views flatulence as a negative. This is unfortunate, because in most cases, it’s the byproduct of a beautiful thing — the intricate ecosystem of bacteria living in your intestines.

“It’s a complex ecology, with various organisms coexisting and thriving,” Kashyap says. “When a complex carbohydrate reaches your colon, some bacteria will break it down first, and then some of their byproducts will feed other bacteria. The whole community benefits from a single carbohydrate that you consume.”

What’s more, you also benefit. Scientists are still unraveling the role of the microbiome in digestion, but it’s known that the same bacteria that produce gas also generate vitamins and fatty acids that help maintain our colon lining, and may support our immune systems.

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