Magazines from the future.

Came over this site with some funny magazinecovers from the future.

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In hindsight…

I really don´t have anything to complain about. In an earlier post I complained about the cold weather, but I came over an article that made me think about it. It´s one of those things that you know of, but you get a little stunned every time you hear about it. That there are homeless people in one of the richest countries on the globe. It´s embarresing.

This is Hans Petter, aged 41, from Oslo. He is homeless, but been lucky so far this winter and had a roof over his head. But tonight he´s not sure. With temperatures around -10°C he might be in for a hard night.

You get used to it, Hans Petter says to VGNett.

Hans Petter isn´t alone. It´s about 40 or so homeless people that we know of in Oslo. It can´t be that expensive to lodge 40 people over the winter? I´m sure it´s cheaper then the resources going to the health sector out patrolling to make sure they don´t freeze to death. And some of the resources used by some ideal-organisations could be used towards other things. I´m not saying it´s bad to help them, and I salute the health personnel and the volunteers that are out every night helping those less fortunate, but I think that in a country like Norway the government could provide shelter, at least over the winter, and not some shared living situation, but they could get their own small apartments.

Everyone deserves a warm bed to sleep in at night. And we go out of our way to help people in poor countries, wich is a good thing in most cases, but we do little – or nothing – in our own backyard.

Why so sad?

This got to be the saddest living thing ever. Look at it, there are no joy at all – not even a twinkle in its eye. But I kind of like it, I like weird animals. It´s awesome how cruel evolution has been in some cases, like the case is with this blobfish.

The blobfish (Psychrolutes marcidus) is a deep-sea fish of the family Psychrolutidae. Inhabiting the deep waters off the coasts of mainland Australia and Tasmania, it is rarely seen by humans.

Blobfish live at depths where the pressure is several dozen times higher than at sea level, which would likely make gas bladders inefficient for maintaining buoyancy. Instead, the flesh of the blobfish is primarily a gelatinous mass with a density slightly less than water; this allows the fish to float above the sea floor without expending energy on swimming. Its relative lack of muscle is not a disadvantage as it primarily swallows edible matter that floats by in front of it.

Blobfish can be caught by bottom trawling with nets as bycatch. Such trawling in the waters off Australia may threaten the blobfish in what may be its only habitat.

The Blobfish is currently facing extinction due to deep-sea fishing

Building blocks of life.

Biologists have isolated a bacterium that can use a deadly chemical in place of one of life’s key building blocks, in a finding NASA says could have major implications for astrobiology and our understanding of life on Earth.

In the study, researchers examined a bacteria living in a very salty and arsenic-heavy lake in northeastern California, not far from Yosemite National Park. It is not a space alien, nor is it “new life” – it’s an existing bacteria that lives in a difficult environment and was deliberately manipulated in a lab.

But the results are interesting because nothing like this has ever been done before. All life as we know it depends on six key ingredients – carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur and phosphorus. This bacteria can switch from phosphorus to arsenic – usually a deadly toxin – and not only survive, but thrive. It can swap arsenic for phosphorus so completely that arsenic is incorporated into its DNA and other biomolecules like ATP, according to the study. This is a first, and it upends our assumptions about how life works.

“I don’t know about a new textbook, but certainly some paragraphs and sentences are going to have to be rewritten after today,” said James Elser, a professor at Arizona State University.

Extraterrestrial life?

What this means for astrobiology is pretty speculative, however. When looking for life in other worlds, especially promising places like Saturn’s moon Titan or in the Martian soil, scientists look for telltale signs of life as we know it. That means carbon-based life, respiration with oxygen and carbon dioxide, amino acids, and so on.

This finding tells us that we should ditch these assumptions and broaden our horizons. If a humble Earthling bacteria can live on a poisonous chemical, then who knows what might lurk elsewhere in the solar system? We’ll have to recalibrate our mass spectrometers.

“I find this result delightful because it may have to expand my notion of what environmental constituents might enable habitability,” said Pamela Conrad, an astrobiologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and a principal investigator on the new Curiosity Mars rover, which will carry experiments designed to look for signs of life. “The implication is that we still don’t know everything there is to know about what might make a habitable environment on another planet. We have to increasingly broaden our perspective.”

Mono Lake, California

In terms of its metabolism, the bacterium – a proteobacteria called GFAJ-1 – is actually not very interesting, according to Felisa Wolfe-Simon, a scientist with NASA’s Astrobiology Institute and lead author of the paper released today. It is not a chemosynthetic bacteria, for instance, using chemicals instead of light to produce food. In that way, it’s less exciting than well-studied extremophiles that live near superheated hydrothermal vents or the unforgiving sulfur lakes of Yellowstone National Park.

“But it’s interesting because it’s a chemical mutant. In an arsenic-enriched environment in Wolfe-Simon’s lab, its very DNA changed. It swapped arsenic for phosphorus in the nucleic acids that make up the backbone of DNA, and that’s a revolutionary result,” Elser said.

“Every living thing uses phosphorus to build its DNA,” Elser said at a press conference Thursday. “The fact that I am sitting here today discussing the possibility that that is not true is quite shocking.”

At the very least, that is interesting for our understanding of microbes, Wolfe-Simon said. Microorganisms are the oldest and most prevalent form of life, and this study shows that we know less about them than we thought. There may be many other species of microbes that can tolerate or thrive with arsenic, for instance. This is just the first time anyone has really ever tried to find one.

Wolfe-Simon said she had been thinking about chemical substitution for several years. Back in 2006, while she was a postdoctoral fellow at ASU, she proposed looking for life forms that can survive even substituting various chemicals for the building blocks of life. It’s not a wild hypothesis – there are a few previous examples of trace metallic elements substituting for one another, including the switching of copper for iron as an oxygen carrier in some mollusks, for instance. The swapped elements share some chemical similarities, making the transition simpler.

Arsenic and phosphorus are also chemically analagous – arsenic is directly below phosphorus on your periodic table, and the elements have the same number of electrons in their outer shells, which makes them behave similarly. So swapping arsenic for phosphorus makes sense on paper. Wolfe-Simon wanted to find out if it worked in practice, and she went looking in a likely place – California’s Mono Lake, which teems with life despite containing high levels of arsenic and a salinity level three times that of the oceans.