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On Monday, one of the most massive thunderstorms I've seen in awhile eclipsed my eclipse experience in Charleston. But even the partial totality I glimpsed was worth the trip.
Here's what is happening as the world keeps spinning...
1. Craig Venter: DNA is going digital
In many ways, there was the world before humans had their genome sequence in hand — and the world after. Craig Venter was the mastermind of the private effort to map the genome in the late 1990s. Since then, he's tried to deliver on the promises that came with it, launching companies and ruffling feathers along the way:
- He's tweaking algae DNA to improve biofuels.
- With his newest company, Health Nucleus, he's scanning individuals' genomes for signs of disease.
- Venter and his team recently built a digital-to-biological converter to remotely — think the other side of the world or even Mars — manufacture antibiotics, vaccines, and eventually, he says, life. It essentially turns digital code into DNA, sans humans. (MIT Technology Review offers a good overview.)
I spoke with him this week in D.C. about genomes being edited and remotely synthesized, and what it might mean for pandemic response, Mars colonization, and life in the broadest sense.
2. Axios stories to spark your brain
- Tiny but mighty: Carbon nanotube advances could transform water filtration and energy harvesting, writes Jeff Nesbit.
- Typhoid: Researchers unexpectedly find a possible typhoid fever treatment in cholesterol-lowering statins.
- Red —and white? — planet news: Mathematical models suggest snow is possible on Mars, writes Shannon Vavra.
3. Hadza's seasonal diet shows how gut bacteria changes
Axios' Erin Ross writes about a new study on gut microbes that came out today...
The Hadza are a group of hunter-gatherers living in Tanzania. As the seasons change, so does their diet — from plant-heavy in the wet season to meat-heavy in the dry season. A study published in Science found that shift in diet changes the types and abundance of microbes in their gut.
What they found: The Hadza had more diverse gut microbes than the non-hunter-gatherers studied. Several species of bacteria that were common in the Hadza were non-existent in other groups. The seasonal shifts in bacteria species is supported by past research that shows vegetarians tend to have different gut microbes than people who eat meat.
Why it matters: Although microbiome research is still in its infancy, some results suggest diverse gut ecosystems, like the Hadza's, can be protective against illnesses. And, researchers are interested in whether diets can be supplemented with microbes in order to fight infection.
Read more here.
4. What we're reading elsewhere
5. Something wondrous
Dispatch from Erin in Sisters, Oregon...
Two wildfires are threatening homes here and covering the region with snowlike ash. Although they can be terrifying and destructive, fires are a necessary part of forest ecology. The remaining stands of ghost-white, barren trees form my favorite landscape.
These snag forests are among the rarest ecosystems in the West, both beautiful and ephemeral. Despite their outwardly dead appearance, they're teaming with life. Not long after the embers go out, rodents return to the region, bringing birds of prey and predators like pine martens and foxes. The open landscapes attract elk and deer. After a few years, stands of huckleberry, blueberry, and currant cover the ground. Snag forests can be more diverse and complex than the unburned woods that preceded them.
Over the last century, snag forests have become increasingly rare. For many years, the conventional wisdom held that fires were bad, harmed wildlife, robbed money from timber industries, and risked homes. The resulting fire management practices have left the West with what some call a fire deficit.