Category: Core thought

Back to the gut!

Once again, an article from The Conversation.

I make no apologies for republishing this further article about the health of one’s gut. Apart from the relevance at this time in terms of defeating Covid-19 the health of one’s digestive system is key and, essentially, the digestive system is the gut.

Read it and if you need to adjust your diet, DO IT!

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A healthy microbiome builds a strong immune system that could help defeat COVID-19

By

Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Physiological Systems, University of Massachusetts Medical School

The microbes living in the gut are key to good health. Dr_Microbe/iStock/Getty Images Plus Ana Maldonado-Contreras, University of Massachusetts Medical School

Takeaways

  • Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria that are vital for keeping you healthy.
  • Some of these microbes help to regulate the immune system.
  • New research, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, shows the presence of certain bacteria in the gut may reveal which people are more vulnerable to a more severe case of COVID-19.

You may not know it, but you have an army of microbes living inside of you that are essential for fighting off threats, including the virus that causes COVID-19.

In the past two decades scientists have learned our bodies are home to more bacterial cells than human ones. This community of bacteria that lives in and on us – called the microbiome – resembles a company, with each microbe species performing specialized jobs but all working to keep us healthy. In the gut, the bacteria balance the immune response against pathogens. These bacteria ensure the immune response is effective but not so violent that it causes collateral damage to the host.

Bacteria in our guts can elicit an effective immune response against viruses that not only infect the gut, such as norovirus and rotavirus, but also those infecting the lungs, such as the flu virus. The beneficial gut microbes do this by ordering specialized immune cells to produce potent antiviral proteins that ultimately eliminate viral infections. And the body of a person lacking these beneficial gut bacteria won’t have as strong an immune response to invading viruses. As a result, infections might go unchecked, taking a toll on health.

I am a microbiologist fascinated by the ways bacteria shape human health. An important focus of my research is figuring out how the beneficial bacteria populating our guts combat disease and infection. My most recent work focuses on the link between a particular microbe and the severity of COVID-19 in patients. My ultimate goal is to figure out out how to enhance the gut microbiome with diet to evoke a strong immune response – for not just SARS-CoV-2 but all pathogens.

Good bacteria help the immune system ward off harmful microbes. chombosan/iStock/Getty Images Plus

How do resident bacteria keep you healthy?

Our immune defense is part of a complex biological response against harmful pathogens, such as viruses or bacteria. However, because our bodies are inhabited by trillions of mostly beneficial bacteria, virus and fungi, activation of our immune response is tightly regulated to distinguish between harmful and helpful microbes.

Our bacteria are spectacular companions diligently helping prime our immune system defenses to combat infections. A seminal study found that mice treated with antibiotics that eliminate bacteria in the gut exhibited an impaired immune response. These animals had low counts of virus-fighting white blood cells, weak antibody responses and poor production of a protein that is vital for combating viral infection and modulating the immune response.

In another study, mice were fed Lactobacillus bacteria, commonly used as probiotic in fermented food. These microbes reduced the severity of influenza infection. The Lactobacillus-treated mice did not lose weight and had only mild lung damage compared with untreated mice. Similarly, others have found that treatment of mice with Lactobacillus protects against different subtypes of influenza virus and human respiratory syncytial virus – the major cause of viral bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children.

Fermented foods like kimchi, red beets, apple cider vinegar, coconut milk yogurt, cucumber pickles and sauerkraut can help provide beneficial bacteria. marekuliasz/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Chronic disease and microbes

Patients with chronic illnesses including Type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease exhibit a hyperactive immune system that fails to recognize a harmless stimulus and is linked to an altered gut microbiome.

In these chronic diseases, the gut microbiome lacks bacteria that activate immune cells that block the response against harmless bacteria in our guts. Such alteration of the gut microbiome is also observed in babies delivered by cesarean section, individuals consuming a poor diet and the elderly.

In the U.S., 117 million individuals – about half the adult population – suffer from Type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease or a combination of them. That suggests that half of American adults carry a faulty microbiome army.

Research in my laboratory focuses on identifying gut bacteria that are critical for creating a balanced immune system, which fights life-threatening bacterial and viral infections, while tolerating the beneficial bacteria in and on us.

Given that diet affects the diversity of bacteria in the gut, my lab studies show how diet can be used as a therapy for chronic diseases. Using different foods, people can shift their gut microbiome to one that boosts a healthy immune response.

A fraction of patients infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, develop severe complications that require hospitalization in intensive care units. What do many of those patients have in common? Old age and chronic diet-related diseases like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Black and Latinx people are disproportionately affected by obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, all of which are linked to poor nutrition. Thus, it is not a coincidence that these groups have suffered more deaths from COVID-19 compared with whites. This is the case not only in the U.S. but also in Britain.

Minority communities continue to bear the brunt of the pandemic. Blake Nissen for The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Discovering microbes that predict COVID-19 severity

The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired me to shift my research and explore the role of the gut microbiome in the overly aggressive immune response against SARS-CoV-2 infection.

My colleagues and I have hypothesized that critically ill SARS-CoV-2 patients with conditions like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease exhibit an altered gut microbiome that aggravates acute respiratory distress syndrome.

Acute respiratory distress syndrome, a life-threatening lung injury, in SARS-CoV-2 patients is thought to develop from a fatal overreaction of the immune response called a cytokine storm that causes an uncontrolled flood of immune cells into the lungs. In these patients, their own uncontrolled inflammatory immune response, rather than the virus itself, causes the severe lung injury and multiorgan failures that lead to death.

Several studies described in one recent review have identified an altered gut microbiome in patients with COVID-19. However, identification of specific bacteria within the microbiome that could predict COVID-19 severity is lacking.

To address this question, my colleagues and I recruited COVID-19 hospitalized patients with severe and moderate symptoms. We collected stool and saliva samples to determine whether bacteria within the gut and oral microbiome could predict COVID-19 severity. The identification of microbiome markers that can predict the clinical outcomes of COVID-19 disease is key to help prioritize patients needing urgent treatment.

We demonstrated, in a paper which has not yet been peer reviewed, that the composition of the gut microbiome is the strongest predictor of COVID-19 severity compared to patient’s clinical characteristics commonly used to do so. Specifically, we identified that the presence of a bacterium in the stool – called Enterococcus faecalis– was a robust predictor of COVID-19 severity. Not surprisingly, Enterococcus faecalis has been associated with chronic inflammation.

Enterococcus faecalis collected from feces can be grown outside of the body in clinical laboratories. Thus, an E. faecalis test might be a cost-effective, rapid and relatively easy way to identify patients who are likely to require more supportive care and therapeutic interventions to improve their chances of survival.

But it is not yet clear from our research what is the contribution of the altered microbiome in the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 infection. A recent study has shown that SARS-CoV-2 infection triggers an imbalance in immune cells called T regulatory cells that are critical to immune balance.

Bacteria from the gut microbiome are responsible for the proper activation of those T-regulatory cells. Thus, researchers like me need to take repeated patient stool, saliva and blood samples over a longer time frame to learn how the altered microbiome observed in COVID-19 patients can modulate COVID-19 disease severity, perhaps by altering the development of the T-regulatory cells.

As a Latina scientist investigating interactions between diet, microbiome and immunity, I must stress the importance of better policies to improve access to healthy foods, which lead to a healthier microbiome. It is also important to design culturally sensitive dietary interventions for Black and Latinx communities. While a good-quality diet might not prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection, it can treat the underlying conditions related to its severity.

[Get our best science, health and technology stories. Sign up for The Conversation’s science newsletter.]The Conversation

Ana Maldonado-Contreras, Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Physiological Systems, University of Massachusetts Medical School

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Please note that obesity is regarded as a chronic illness.

Let me reprint a paragraph from the article:

In the U.S., 117 million individuals – about half the adult population – suffer from Type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease or a combination of them. That suggests that half of American adults carry a faulty microbiome army.

This is not funny. Good eating, typically the Mediterranean diet, is not difficult.

Link up to the excellent blog site One Regular Guy Writing about Food, Exercise and Living Past 100. Tony is a master at communicating good common sense!

If you are a regular red-meat eater then give yourself a break for two or three days; what have you got to lose!

And if you are the ‘wrong’ side of, say, 50 then having a faulty microbiome will be having an increasingly negative effect on you.

Remember:

Diet and Exercise are crucial!

The Secret Sauce to a Long, Sharp Life

A partial review of Sanjay Gupta’s book.

With credit to Amazon books.

There is so much to speak about in this book, and anyone the ‘wrong’ side of 50 should consider purchasing the book. Really! I include the link to the book on Amazon. (And nothing in it for me I have to say.)

I want to concentrate on two items of note.

The first is that given the right diet, primarily a Mediterranean plant-based diet, and plenty of exercise, it is possible for the brain to rejuvenate new brain cells. Yes, that’s correct! New brain cells!

The second item of note is over on page 194. Let me quote:

Dr. Waldinger’s findings are attractive because they debunk commonly held myths about health and happiness. The findings are based on a comprehensive review of the participants’ lives and biology.

and two sentences later:

The lesson learned is that health and happiness are not about wealth, fame, or working harder. They are about good relationships.

Dr. Robert Waldinger is a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. His TED talk, “What Makes a Good Life?” has been viewed more than 36 million times. The link to the TED Talk is here.

What keeps us happy and healthy as we go through life? If you think it’s fame and money, you’re not alone – but, according to psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, you’re mistaken. As the director of a 75-year-old study on adult development, Waldinger has unprecedented access to data on true happiness and satisfaction. In this talk, he shares three important lessons learned from the study as well as some practical, old-as-the-hills wisdom on how to build a fulfilling, long life.

On page 198 among the list of tips about staying engaged is to consider adopting a pet! Yes siree!

Now I am 76 and have had 14 years of pure happiness. Because in 2007 I met Jean, and all her dogs. We fell in love!

We came up to Payson, Arizona in 2010 and were married. In 2012 we came up to our rural acres in Southern Oregon.

Jeannie, Sweeny and Cleo. Taken in April, 2012.

It is 2021 and there is no doubt that we are both ageing but we are still very much in love.

We are very happy and that is because as luck would have it we are also each other’s best friend!

The Secret Sauce to a Long, Sharp Life!

Dan and Lexi

Just a reminder of how we treasure our dogs.

I was speaking two days ago to my friend Dan of many, many years, and also my best man when Jeannie and I were married in 2010, and we were talking of our dogs. In the conversation Dan said this:

You know that Lexi and I are always together for practically twenty-four hours a day!

Dan went on to say that Lexi followed him everywhere and that, literally, they were together for ninety-nine percent of their time.

I asked Dan to send me a photograph of the two of them. Here it is!

Beautiful beyond words.

(And call by tomorrow for some special words about close friends.)

Being healthy in your later years.

This is a key article!

Now this has nothing to do with dogs. Well not directly but the longer we humans live the longer we can have dogs as pets.

I was having an email ‘conversation’ with Jon over in England and he pointed me to Professor Tim Spector. Prof. Spector writes on his website that he:

Tim Spector is a Professor of Genetic Epidemiology and Director of the TwinsUK Registry at Kings College, London and has recently been elected to the prestigious Fellowship of the Academy of Medical Sciences. He trained originally in rheumatology and epidemiology.

In 1992 he moved into genetic epidemiology and founded the UK Twins Registry, of 13,000 twins, which is the richest collection of genotypic and phenotypic information worldwide. He is past President of the International Society of Twin Studies, directs the European Twin Registry Consortium (Discotwin) and collaborates with over 120 centres worldwide.

He has demonstrated the genetic basis of a wide range of common complex traits, many previously thought to be mainly due to ageing and environment. Through genetic association studies (GWAS), his group have found over 500 novel gene loci in over 50 disease areas. He has published over 800 research articles and is ranked as being in the top 1% of the world’s most cited scientists by Thomson-Reuters.

He held a prestigious European Research Council senior investigator award in epigenetics and is a NIHR Senior Investigator. His current work focuses on omics and the microbiome and directs the crowdfunded British Gut microbiome project.

Together with an international team of leading scientists including researchers from King’s College London, Massachusetts General Hospital, Tufts University, Stanford University and nutritional science company ZOE he  is conducting the largest scientific nutrition research project, showing that individual responses to the same foods are unique, even between identical twins.

You can find more on https://joinzoe.com/ He is a prolific writer with several popular science books and a regular blog, focusing on genetics, epigenetics and most recently microbiome and diet (The Diet Myth). He is in demand as a public speaker and features regularly in the media.

That is quite a CV!

Then I came across an essay on The Conversation website about being healthier in one’s old age.

Read it!

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Keen to be healthier in old age? Tend your inner garden

By

Clinical Senior Lecturer, King’s College London

Professor of Genetic Epidemiology, King’s College London

January 29, 2016

Grub’s up. Lunch by Shutterstock

The world’s oldest man, Yasutaro Koide recently died at the age of 112. Commentators as usual, focused on his reported “secret to longevity”: not smoking, drinking or overdoing it. No surprises there. But speculation on the basis of one individual is not necessarily the most helpful way of addressing this human quest for the Philosopher’s Stone.

The “very old” do spark our interest – but is our search for a secret to longevity actually misguided? Wouldn’t you rather live healthier than live longer in poor health? Surely, what we really want to know is how do we live well in old age.

Clearly as scientists we try to illuminate these questions using populations of people not just odd individuals. Many previous attempts have approached this question by looking for differences between young and old people, but this approach is often biased by the many social and cultural developments that happen between generations, including diet changes. Time itself should not be the focus – at least, in part, because time is one thing we are unlikely to be able to stop.

Yasutaro Koide made 112. Kyodo/Reuters

The real question behind our interest in people who survive into old age is how some manage to stay robust and fit while others become debilitated and dependent. To this end, recent scientific interest has turned to investigating the predictors of frailty within populations of roughly the same age. Frailty is a measure of how physically and mentally healthy an individual is. Studies show frailer older adults have an increased levels of low grade inflammation – so-called “inflammaging”.

New research published in Genome Medicine by Matt Jackson, from our group at King’s College London, investigated this question in an unlikely place – poo. Recent evidence indicates that our immune and inflammatory systems are trained and educated in our gut, through key interactions with gut bacteria. So we asked if changes in our gut bacteria could be part of the process of inflammation driving frailty.

Our recent work found that the frailer an individual, the lower the diversity of gut bacteria they have. We looked at stool samples from more than 700 healthy British twins and found that a group of bacteria belonging to the species with a tricky and slightly unpleasant name, Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, were found in higher amounts in the healthier twins. This is a particularly interesting microbe as it has been linked with good health in many other diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease and is believed to reduce inflammation of the gut. Could this bug help protect against frailty?

Putting in the research. Paper by Shutterstock

There were other microbes seen in increased amounts within the frailer twins. One was Eubacterium dolichum, which has been seen to increase in unhealthy Western diets. We found the same picture when comparing frailer, more elderly, individuals from the ELDERMET study, by the University of Cork. This suggests that dietary changes might be an easy way to encourage healthy ageing.

Our study does not yet clarify whether the changes to the gut bacteria are a cause of poor ageing itself or are just a consequence of frailty – longitudinal studies that follow people over several years will be needed to sort this out. But these results are exciting for researchers in the ageing field and suggest that if you want to age well you should perhaps do fewer crosswords and spend more time looking after your microbial garden, for example by eating plenty of plant fibre, for example in a Mediterranean-type diet.

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Well this essay was published nearly 5 years ago and one wonders if more information has come to light.

Certainly Jeannie and me are heavily into a plant-based diet with a small selection of fish from time to time.

I will do more research and see if there are any updates that may be published.

In the meantime stay as healthy and as happy as you can be!

 

The Queen’s Christmas message.

Can the Queen save Christmas?

Learning from Dogs is going to take a break. For a week. We will be back ‘on air’, so to speak, on January 1st, 2021.

The Queen has been broadcasting a Christmas message since 1952. I was just eight-years-old when she first broadcast her own message.

How very much has changed over those years. Beyond imagination.

The Conversation has an article about the Queen’s broadcast and it is shared with you all.

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Can the Queen save Christmas?

December 21, 2020

By

Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, Aston University

At 3pm UK time on Christmas day, the Queen’s Christmas message is broadcast across the Commonwealth. Each year the format is largely the same, with the Queen giving her own account of the main personal, national and international events of the year and reflecting on the meaning of Christmas. As such, it has become an important part of the festivities for many families in the UK and beyond.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, fresh restrictions imposed and Brexit rapidly approaching, this year’s broadcast has taken on new significance as a source of stability and comfort, a constant in these difficult and uncertain times. Therefore, it is worth examining how the language used in the broadcast creates this sense of reassurance.

Since 1952, the Queen’s Christmas message has performed three ideological functions through rhetorical appeals based on faith and family.

Identification

The Queen shares personal anecdotes, which she often links to ordinary people’s experiences through the pronouns “we” and “us”.

On Christmas Day 1964, for instance, she told viewers that: “All of us who have been blessed with young families know from long experience that when one’s house is at its noisiest, there is often less cause for anxiety”. As most new parents would recognise this truism, it conveys the message that – in this respect at least – the royals are like any other family.

The first televised Royal Christmas message, 1957. The Royal Family/YouTube

The Queen is also aware that some families will be separated during the festive season and regularly expresses empathy for them. As she said in 1956: “I would like to send a special message of hope and encouragement to all who […] cannot be with those they love today: to the sick who cannot be at home”.

This message is made more poignant because of COVID-19, as the Queen recognised in her special address on April 5 2020. Indeed, it is almost inevitable that this year’s Christmas broadcast will include similar words of consolation for those who have been separated from their loved ones during the pandemic.

Continuity

Uncertainty is another recurring theme in the Queen’s Christmas broadcast, as she tries to make sense of the year’s events for the benefit of her audience. She gives her personal responses to national and global problems, which frequently involve the enactment of supposedly timeless (but predominantly Christian) values. On Christmas Day 1980, amid issues such as the Soviet-Afghanistan war and UK unemployment, she said:

We know that the world can never be free from conflict and pain, but Christmas also draws our attention to all that is hopeful and good in this changing world; it speaks of values and qualities that are true and permanent and it reminds us that the world we would like to see can only come from the goodness of the heart.

Among these values are faith, charity and compassion and, by praising them as a source of stability and the means for creating a better world, the Queen is perhaps seeking to strengthen adherence to them. Not only that, her appeals to Christian values and her emphasis on the family provide a sense of security for those who are disoriented by the rapid pace of social change. In turn, this sustains the monarchy by establishing the Queen as “a permanent anchor, bracing against the storms and grounding us in certainty”, as former British prime minister David Cameron said in 2012, marking her Diamond Jubilee.

Unity

The Queen’s rhetoric of unity is based primarily on the metaphor of the Commonwealth as a family, which recurs throughout the Christmas broadcasts. In 1956, for instance, she observed that:

We talk of ourselves as a “family of nations”, and perhaps our relations with one another are not so very different from those which exist between members of any family. We all know that these are not always easy, for there is no law within a family which binds its members to think, or act, or be alike.

Despite these differences, in 2011 the Queen described the Commonwealth as “a family of 53 nations, all with a common bond, shared beliefs, mutual values and goals”. As the head of the Commonwealth, it is perhaps no exaggeration to say that the Queen is the matriarch of this family of nations, whose primary role is to keep the unit together and uphold its values. Indeed, the Christmas broadcast has been an important source of soft power since the end of Empire. As Sonny Ramphal, a former Commonwealth secretary general, put it: “without her presence, the Commonwealth will feel it is missing the captain from the bridge”.

With the UK government having tightened Christmas COVID-19 restrictions, as well as the introduction of bans on UK travel in numerous countries, this festive season will be very different. Perhaps more than ever, as families face separation or the disruption of their traditional plans, people will seek solace in the ritual of the Queen’s Christmas broadcast.

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I can’t find a copyright-free photograph of the Queen’s Corgis but this one will do. It is from Pexels.

Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich from Pexels

So her Majesty The Queen is 94! Wow!

That makes her the oldest monarch to have reigned in Britain. Ever!

Queen Victoria was Queen of the United Kingdom and Ireland from 20 June 1837 until her death, in 1901. That makes Queen Victoria the second longest monarch to have reigned.

So with that, it’s time for a small break.

See you in 2021!

That DNA link; from the BBC.

Another article about the origin of the dog.

This time on the BBC News website.

When I published the post about the dog’s nose and heart I concluded at the end that:

When one quietly reflects on the span of time that dogs and humans have been together, something in the order of 40,000 years, it’s no surprise that dogs have evolved to be our closest companion.

But the BBC proclaimed that:

The analysis reveals that dog domestication can be traced back 11,000 years, to the end of the last Ice Age.

So that rather confused me.

But read the full article from the BBC before I comment further.

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Dogs are humans’ oldest companions, DNA shows

By Paul Rincon
Science editor, BBC News website, 29th October, 2020

A study of dog DNA has shown that our “best friend” in the animal world may also be our oldest one.

The analysis reveals that dog domestication can be traced back 11,000 years, to the end of the last Ice Age.

This confirms that dogs were domesticated before any other known species.

Our canine companions were widespread across the northern hemisphere at this time, and had already split into five different types.

Despite the expansion of European dogs during the colonial era, traces of these ancient indigenous breeds survive today in the Americas, Asia, Africa and Oceania.

The research fills in some of the gaps in the natural history of our close animal companions.

Dr Pontus Skoglund, co-author of the study and group leader of the Ancient Genomics laboratory at London’s Crick Institute, told BBC News: “Dogs are really unique in being this quite strange thing if you think about it, when all people were still hunter gatherers, they domesticate what is really a wild carnivore – wolves are pretty frightening in many parts of the world.

“The question of why did people do that? How did that come about? That’s what we’re ultimately interested in.”

To some extent, dog genetic patterns mirror human ones, because people took their animal companions with them when they moved. But there were also important differences.

The Rhodesian Ridgeback retains ancestry from an ancient African dog lineage

For example, early European dogs were initially diverse, appearing to originate from two very distinct populations, one related to Near Eastern dogs and another to Siberian dogs.

But at some point, perhaps after the onset of the Bronze Age, a single dog lineage spread widely and replaced all other dog populations on the continent. This pattern has no counterpart in the genetic patterns of people from Europe.

Anders Bergström, lead author and post-doctoral researcher at the Crick, said: “If we look back more than four or five thousand years ago, we can see that Europe was a very diverse place when it came to dogs. Although the European dogs we see today come in such an extraordinary array of shapes and forms, genetically they derive from only a very narrow subset of the diversity that used to exist.”

An international team analysed the whole genomes (the full complement of DNA in the nuclei of biological cells) of 27 ancient dog remains associated with a variety of archaeological cultures. They compared these to each other and to modern dogs.

The results reveal that breeds like the Rhodesian Ridgeback in southern Africa and the Chihuahua and Xoloitzcuintli in Mexico retain genetic traces of ancient indigenous dogs from the region.

The New Guinea singing dog is one representative of a lineage found in dogs across Asia and Oceania

The ancestry of dogs in East Asia is complex. Chinese breeds seem to derive some of their ancestry from animals like the Australian dingo and New Guinea singing dog, with the rest coming from Europe and dogs from the Russian steppe.

The New Guinea singing dog is so named because of its melodious howl, characterised by a sharp increase in pitch at the start.

Greger Larson, a co-author from the University of Oxford, said: “Dogs are our oldest and closest animal partner. Using DNA from ancient dogs is showing us just how far back our shared history goes and will ultimately help us understand when and where this deep relationship began.”

Dogs are thought to have evolved from wolves that ventured into human camps, perhaps sniffing around for food. As they were tamed, they could then have served humans as hunting companions or guards.

The results suggest all dogs derive from a single extinct wolf population – or perhaps a few very closely related ones. If there were multiple domestication events around the world, these other lineages did not contribute much DNA to later dogs.

Dr Skoglund said it was unclear when or where the initial domestication occurred. “Dog history has been so dynamic that you can’t really count on it still being there to readily read in their DNA. We really don’t know – that’s the fascinating thing about it.”

Many animals, such as cats, probably became our pets when humans settled down to farm a little over 6,000 years ago. Cats were probably useful for controlling pests such as mice, that were attracted by the waste generated by dense settlements. This places their domestication in cradles of agriculture such as the Near East.

“For dogs, it could almost have been anywhere: cold Siberia, the warm Near East, South-East Asia. All of these are possibilities in my mind,” Pontus Skoglund explained.

The findings have been published in the journal Science.

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Well back to that age thing!

I decided to review the Wikipedia page on the origin of dogs. At last the discrepancy became clear. The difference between divergence and domestication. (My emboldening.)

The genetic divergence between dogs and wolves occurred between 20,000–40,000 years ago, just before or during the Last Glacial Maximum[6][1] (20,000–27,000 years ago). This timespan represents the upper time-limit for the commencement of domestication because it is the time of divergence but not the time of domestication, which occurred later.[6][7] One of the most important transitions in human history was the domestication of animals, which began with the long-term association between wolves and hunter–gatherers more than 15,000 years ago.[4]

So that explains a great deal.

But it nevertheless remains the fact that they are our longest, dearest companion.

Purple Mountains

This is a film that all should watch!

Now again this has nothing to do with dogs and I would be the first person to say that there are still some people out there who are not convinced that global warming is a major result of human activity.. But none other than the Union of Concerned Scientists are persuaded that humans are the major cause. See their website here. (From which the following is taken.)

Every single year since 1977 has been warmer than the 20th century average, with 16 of the 17 warmest years on record occurring since 2001, and 2016 being the warmest year on recorded history. A study from 2016 found that without the emissions from burning coal and oil, there is very little likelihood that 13 out of the 15 warmest years on record would all have happened.

And further on in the article, this:

Scientists agree that today’s warming is primarily caused by humans putting too much carbon in the atmosphere, like when we choose to extract and burn coal, oil, and gas, or cut down and burn forests.

Today’s carbon dioxide levels haven’t been seen in at least the last 800,000 years. Data assembled from Antarctic ice core samples and modern atmospheric observations.

So on to the film.

My son, Alex, sent me the following email on the 7th October.

Hi Dad

This is a really interesting film about climate change in the west coast mountains, USA.  A bit skiing related but a good watch !

Lots of love

Alex

Included in the email was a link to the film available on YouTube.

The film is just under one hour in length and a great film to watch as well as having a clear, fundamental message: All of us must act in whatever ways we can if our children and grandchildren are to have a future. Indeed, do you believe you have another twenty or more years to live? Then include yourself as well.

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About The Film
Professional snowboarder and mountaineer Jeremy Jones has an intimate relationship with the outdoors. It’s his escape, his identity, and his legacy. But over the course of his 45 years in the mountains, he’s seen many things change: more extreme weather, fewer snow days, and economic strain on mountain towns.
Motivated by an urge to protect the places he loves, Jeremy sets out on a physical and philosophical journey to find common ground with fellow outdoor people across diverse political backgrounds. He learns their hopes and fears while walking a mile in their shoes on the mountain and in the snow.
With intimacy and emotion set against breathtaking backdrops, Purple Mountains navigates America’s divide with a refreshing perspective: even though we may disagree about climate policy, our shared values can unite us.

Please, please watch the film!

Thank you!

Twelve on twelve!

A look, courtesy of my daughter, at Sarah Nicolls’s 12 Years project.

Again, this is not about dogs, well not in a direct way. But, indirectly, it affects all of us, young and old, and, inevitably, it affects our dear dogs.

I’m writing this in response to something that came my way as an email sent from my daughter’s company, SOUND UK. The company holds to the view that: Sound UK produces extraordinary musical encounters for all.

Sarah Nicolls has her own website and on her About page this is what she presents.

My name is Sarah Nicolls. I am a visual artist who makes pictures with language, books with pictures, prints with type, and animations with words. I combine image, visual narrative, and time in prints, books, and ephemera that are often research-based. I am interested in urbanization, local history, climate change, the history of science and technology, alternative economies, found language, and the history of publishing. I have written a collection of self-help aphorisms, I publish a series of informational pamphlets, and I organize a range of participatory walks and programs around the series.

My recent books include an examination of the history of greenhouses, and a study of the stories we tell ourselves about disappearing islands, both real and imagined. My  limited edition artist books are in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum, Stanford, UCLA, and the University of Pennsylvania, among others.

For twelve years, I ran the studio programs at the Center for Book Arts in NYC, organizing classes, public programs, readings, and talks, coordinating publications, running residency programs, and teaching interns. I learned everything I know about letterpress and bookmaking while I was there. Now I teach at Pratt Institute and Parsons School of Design, and work on a variety of projects.

I also do illustration and design work for individuals and institutions. Do you have an interesting project in mind? Contact me here, I welcome commissions and collaborations.

Well back to Sound UK. This is Sarah.

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“What she does should be happening every week of the year” The Guardian

Acclaimed pianist and composer Sarah Nicolls’ new Inside-Out Piano project 12 Years was inspired by the 2018 IPCC Special Report saying we had just 12 years to radically change our behaviour to save the planet. Starting on the second anniversary of the report, 8 October, Sarah launches 12 nights of online performances.

With her striking vertical grand piano, Nicolls combines original music and recorded speech in an absorbing performance. Piano melodies and textures interweave with phone calls between three fictional characters challenging each other to either worry less or do more. We hear from environmental experts, survivors escaping from a wildfire and a glacier melting, eloquent speeches from Greta Thunberg and finally the sound of hope emerging. There is humour and humanity as well as time for reflection.

On selected nights leading climate scientists will also join Sarah for exclusive post-show discussions online, specifically to talk about what we can all do.

See list of speakers below.

“This should be prescribed viewing/watching/listening for anyone even remotely concerned with the welfare of our planet.” Ciaran Ryan, Galway Jazz Festival

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Plus, if you would care to listen to a track on Sarah playing her piano, then feel free:

I’m bound to say that I am reasonably hopeful of living another twelve years but, at the same time, reasonably expectant that life could become very interesting indeed!

What a brilliant idea!

This is a wonderful, innovative way to look after dogs.

It’s not that often that something comes along that is wonderfully refreshing, both as an idea and in practice. I am speaking of a way of housing shelter dogs.

It’s the work of Austin Pets Alive and I’m not surprised in the slightest to read from their website:

Austin Pets Alive! is not your average animal shelter. We pioneer innovative lifesaving programs designed to save the animals most at risk of euthanasia.

They are in Texas.

But back to the article which appeared on the Treehugger website.

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This Rescue is Building Tiny Homes for Shelter Dogs

They offer a calm alternative to the chaos of shelter life.

By Mary Jo DiLonardo, October 1st, 2020

The shelter is building two tiny homes for rescue dogs.
Austin Pets Alive!

The shelter environment can be incredibly overwhelming for any dog. There are strange sights, smells, and sounds, and the presence of unfamiliar animals and people can be constantly changing. Some pets adapt more quickly than others, while some struggle with the frenetic surroundings.

One animal shelter in Texas is building tiny houses as a solution for those anxious dogs that need a calmer place to stay. The non-profit rescue is creating two small cabins on their shelter grounds complete with heating and air conditioning, dog-friendly furniture, and their own private yards. The cabins will also provide workspaces for staff and volunteers.

The tiny homes should be ready for their first guests later this month.

“The idea is to provide more of a home-like environment for the unique population of dogs Austin Pets Alive! cares for as the safety net for shelter animals who need us most — a place for decompression, training, and quality-of-life purposes,” Director of Operations Stephanie Bilbro tells Treehugger. “It seemed like the best opportunity for the investment, and also has the benefit of being a project that can be repeated as many times as we want!”

Having tiny homes for some of the shelter’s canine residents was a long-time dream of the rescue’s executive director, veterinarian Ellen Jefferson. The rescue put together a committee of staff and volunteers in 2019 to assess the facility and see what improvement could be made.

They decided to build the tiny homes “as a way to provide a better quality of life for some of our longest-stay or most behaviorally challenged dogs”, Bilbro says.

The cabins will house one dog at a time and they will remain there for the rest of their stay until they find a foster or adoptive home. The cabins will primarily be used for dogs who are overstimulated by the standard kennel environment.

Some dogs are scared and overwhelmed by the shelter environment. Austin Pets Alive!

“Overstimulation can lead not only to higher stress in the animal, but can actually be dangerous for a handler, or other animals, if you have a dog who expresses stress by showing impulsive or aggressive behaviors,” Bilbro says.

“Overstimulation is also a big barrier to successful training or behavior modification, so it can be difficult to make progress with dogs like this in a kennel or shelter environment. The cabins will ideally provide a quiet and low-stimulation place for the dogs to decompress and relax in a way that will help our staff and volunteers get through to them easier.”

The rescue is relying on donations to keep saving lives and trying out innovations like these, Bilbro says. When the pandemic first started, the rescue increased its intakes so smaller and more rural shelters that were temporarily closing wouldn’t have to euthanize animals.

The first dogs should be moving into their tiny houses soon. And maybe they won’t be staying long.

“We also hope that the ‘home-like’ environment of the cabins will help us learn a little more about how a dog would act in a home, which could tell us more about what kind of foster or adopter they need for our matchmakers to match them with their forever families,” Bilbro says.

“Would they be calm or anxious, would they be destructive or tidy, are they possibly housetrained, will they let people come into their space without conflict? These are things we would hope to learn from a foster home but without needing to find a foster who is willing to take on a challenging dog, or a dog we don’t know a lot about.”

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I have nothing to do with neither Treehugger nor Austin Pets Alive.

However, I was so impressed with the way they operated that we made a very small donation. So, if there’s anybody else out there who can afford some money then this is the link to donate.

I just donated to Austin Pets Alive!, an organization that serves the animals most at-risk through innovative programs that address the animals’ needs. I’m proud to support a mission that believes that animal shelters should do just that – provide every animal the chance to find their forever home!

Provide every animal the chance to find their forever home.

It doesn’t get any better for our lovely dogs than that.

The fate of the world!

Whichever way you look there are substantial challenges.

This post is largely a republication of a recent post from Patrice Ayme. Because when I read it I was profoundly affected. I thought that it needed to be shared with all you good people because if nothing is done then life as we know it is going to come to an end. Period! That includes our gorgeous dogs as well as us humans! So, please, please read it all the way through!

But before Patrice’s post is presented The Economist this last week came out with a special report entitled Business and climate change. I offer a small extract:


For most of the world, this year will be remembered mainly for covid-19. Starting in Asia, then spreading across Europe and America before taking hold in the emerging world, the pandemic has infected millions and killed hundreds of thousands. And it has devastated economies even more severely that did the global financial crisis which erupted in 2008.

But the impact of covid-19 has also given a sense of just how hard it will be to deal with climate change. As economic activity has stalled, energy-related CO2 emissions have fallen sharply. This year the drop will be between 4% and 7%. But to have a decent chance of keeping Earth’s mean temperature less than 2 deg C above pre-industrial levels, net emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases must fall to more or less zero by mid-century. And such a drop needs to be achieved not by halting the world economy in its tracks, but by rewiring it.

The next section in the special report was A grim outlook and it was, indeed, a very grim read.

So onto Patrice’s article.

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Back To The Jurassic In A Hurry: 500 Part Per Million Of Greenhouse Gases

Greenhouse gases (GHG) used to be 280 parts per million. Now they are around 500 ppm (including CH4, Nitrogen oxides, chlorofluorocarbons, etc.). This is more GHG than in at least thirty  million years, when the Earth was much warmer, and it is similar to CO2 densities during the Jurassic.

So we are presently transiting to a Jurassic climate. The transition to the Jurassic climate is happening at a rate many orders of magnitude faster than changes in the past. This implies that most forests of the Earth , desiccating and incapable to adapt fast enough, are going to burn… worldwide. This generalized combustion has a drastic potential consequence: generalized hypoxia.

So we should talk about climate catastrophe rather than climate change, and global heating rather than global warming: recent fires got helped by temperatures dozen of degrees higher than normal, in part from compression of the air due to record breaking winds. This is why parts of the Pacific Northwest which never burn are now burning. This will extend to Canada, Alaska, Siberia and already did in recent years. The catastrophic massive release of frozen methane hydrates could happen any time (it already does, but not as bad as it is going to get). It has up to one hundred times more warming power than CO2 (fires release it by billions of tons).

What is the way out? Well, hydrogen is the solution, in two ways, but has not been deployed as it could be. A decade ago, thermonuclear fusion, on the verge of becoming a solution, was starved for funding, and so was green hydrogen (the then energy secretary, Obama’s Steven Chu, prefered investing in batteries, it was more lucrative for his little greedy self).

Green hydrogen enables to store energy for renewables, avoiding blackouts which cut electricity to pumps to fight fires.

We, Spaceship Earth, went from 275 ppm of GreenHouse Gases (GHG) in 1750 CE to 500 ppm in 2020. That doesn’t mean we double the Greenhouse, because the main GHG gas is… water vapor (H2O). What we can guess the best at this point is the EXCESS radiative forcing since 1750 CE, and that’s already nearly 3 Watts per square meter… Equivalent to a million and a half nuclear reactors at full power…

Climate forcing is a fascinating subject, with vast areas without a high level of scientific understanding (LOSU). However we know enough to realize forceful mitigation has to be engaged in immediately.

Joan Katsareas from Philadelphia, PA wrote back: “Thank you @Patrice Ayme for sharing your knowledge of the causes and extent of the climate crisis. I will be seeking out more information on hydrogen as a solution.”

@Joan Katsareas Thank you for thanking me, that is much appreciated. Hydrogen is indeed the overall solution we need at this point. Actually Australia, in collaboration with Japan, is building a gigantic, 15 Gigawatts, project in north west Australia, AREH, the Asian Renewable Energy Hub, to convert renewables from sun and wind into hydrogen products which will then be shipped to Japan. The same needs to be done all over, it would collapse the price of “green hydrogen” (99% of the US hydrogen is from fossil fuels).

In the case of thermonuclear fusion, the  international thermonuclear experimental reactor (ITER) being built in France was slowed down by ten years, from reduced funding, and uses obsolete magnets (superconducting, but not High Temperature Superconductors, which can now be engineered with more compact and powerful fields). A massive effort would bring a positive energy thermonuclear reactor within 10 years… But that effort has not been made… except in China, the usual suspect, where a project, the China Fusion Engineering Test Reactor (CFETR), aims at an energy gain of 12 and a total power equivalent to a fission nuclear reactor. Its detailed engineering has been launched for a while (it’s supposedly symbiotic with the European DEMO project, which will produced as much as a large power station and will be connected to the grid. That too has been delayed, to the 2050s, although it’s feasible now).  The USA needs to launch a similar project, right away.

We face ecological constraints incomparably more severe than those of the Roman state. Rome did not solve its paltry problems, and let them fester: they had to do mostly with a dearth of metals, and the Franks solved them readily. This hindered the Roman economy. The situation we are facing, the threat of a runaway greenhouse is a terminal existential threat.

Look at Venus, we can look at our sparkling neighbor when the forests have finished burning, and the smoke dissipates (we were told it could be months). Once Venus probably had a vast ocean, and probably, life. But it died from a brutal greenhouse generated by Large Igneous Provinces (LIP). The same happened on Earth, on a smaller scale, more than once, in particular with the Permian Triassic mass extinction, which destroyed 95% of known species..

Now the rumor has it that indeed some life may have survived in the atmosphere.  This is not a joke. Consider: Life on Venus? Astronomers See a Signal in Its Clouds. The detection of a gas in the planet’s atmosphere could turn scientists’ gaze to a planet long overlooked in the search for extraterrestrial life.

Life on Venus? Ah, science, all those possibilities… We never imagined we would ever think possible.

Patrice Ayme

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P/S: I argued in the past, before anybody else, that the dinosaur-pterosaurs-plesiosaurs extinction, and extinction of anything bigger than 20 kilograms was due to volcanism (I was at UC Berkeley when the two Alvarez were, and they seemed too full of themselves with the iridium layer, and I like to contradict certainties…)

How would LIP volcanism set forests on fire? Well, by the same exact mechanism as now: through a massive CO2 driven greenhouse, what may have terminated the Venusians…

In this perspective climate cooling, for millions of years, visible in the graph above, would have disrupted those species which were not equipped to generate enough heat, and then the LIP accelerated into a vast holocaust…

The end with general burning and acidic oceans is hard to duplicate with a bolide, so the impactophiles have argued that the bolide magically impacted the most CO2 generating rock imaginable… Maybe. But an enormous LIP does all that CO2 production/destruction of the oceans, effortlessly… A friend of mine who is the biggest of the big in this academic domain, he decides who publishes, replied to me that the 66 million year old Dekkan LIP is too small… To which I replied that we don’t know what lays below the ocean…