Tragic events are typically followed by periods of shock, grief, anger, and the occasional flash of inexplicable horniness. So it’s only natural that when we’re dealing with lives lost and places destroyed, we tend to only focus on these important matters and damn everything else to hell. But sometimes, that means we ignore all of the chaotic insanity that typically accompanies history, making textbooks just that little bit blander. So let’s put on our Indiana Jones hats and dive into the past, and remind ourselves of some truly crazypants parts of history that usually get left out of the conversation. For example …
The Manual For The German Tiger Tank Contained Poetry And Porn
War is chaos. With bullets flying and bombs whizzing everywhere, preparation and alertness are the keys to survival. But while combat is exciting, combat training can be mind-numbingly boring. So how do you get a group of disinterested, overly hormonal boys to sit up, pay attention, and remember stuff? By turning that stuff into smut, of course.
During World War II, German commanders needed to quickly familiarize new recruits with the inner workings of the complicated Tiger Tank. Unfortunately, the Fuhrer’s finest were less than thrilled with spending long days memorizing the dry technical manuals. Finally, the Nazis came up with an elegant solution to motivate the laser-like focus necessary to master the tank: They included a naked lady on every other page, and made sure the important parts rhymed.
German Federal ArchivesTranslation: “Danger lurks in the sump! Read your manual well, otherwise your Tiger goes to hell!”
After the war, it was discovered that the manual for the German Panzerkampfwagen was full of nudes, jokes, and dirty limericks. This masterpiece was the brainchild of Josef von Glatter-Goetz, who had novel ideas on how to warm up his cadets’ learning muscles (among others). And most of the warming up was done by Elvira, a buxom blonde who appeared every few pages to keep the boys thumbing — or whatever else helped them get there faster.
She would pop up (often with her clothes popped off) whenever the cadets were supposed to pay extra attention to the lesson, like the importance of making accurate measurements when firing or keeping the engines clean, even if it led to making the cockpits sticky.
The program was a demonstrable success, and both von Glatter-Goetz’s excellent understanding of his target audience and Elvira’s ass helped untold numbers of troops masturbate their way to mastering the Tiger Tank.
Hurricane Katrina Ejected Over A Thousand Coffins From Graves
According to FEMA, Hurricane Katrina was “the single most catastrophic natural disaster in U.S. history.” It caused over $41.1 billion in damage and killed more than 1,800 people. But not content with causing misery for the living, Katrina decided to go after the deceased as well, digging them up so she could pee her hate water on their faces.
Petty Officer Kyle Niemi/US Navy“You whine when it doesn’t rain, you whine when it rains too much, what do you want from me??”
During the disaster, over 1,000 coffins — and, more gruesomely, those coffin’s residents — were ejected from their places of rest. The transition wasn’t gentle, either. One New Orleans native found his grandmother’s body, still in her pink burial dress, splayed out in the open like she was trying to get a tan. Skeletal remains were sprawled among cemetery statues, and more than one coffin was found up a tree. According to the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team (Dmort), it’s unlikely that all the uprooted bodies will ever be located and returned. “Many are in extremely remote and inaccessible areas,” a spokesman said. “They have been carried way downrange into muck and swamp and forest.”
APWe don’t want to sound too alarmist, but this is exactly how a zombie apocalypse would start.
Despite the difficulties, officials are still doing their best to return the drifting dead to their correct burial sites — or as much of them as they can scoop up, at least. Unfortunately, since we have this silly idea that the dead aren’t supposed to move about, corpses and coffins tend to not have any labels of traceable information. Finding a corpse that’s buried with something unique is like finding a corner piece of an especially macabre puzzle. So far, officials have been able to identify bodies buried with their favorite golf club, some unusual rosary beads, and a six-pack of beer. It won’t be long before the government starts insisting we all get buried with a valid driver’s license and two utility bills.
In the meantime, less stringent coffins laws have been introduced in order for us to better retrieve these lost soulless husks. After Katrina, Louisiana passed a law requiring labels for coffins. However, they weren’t clear enough in their wording, so now Louisiana morticians are labeling their coffins with everything from smartphone tracking apps to the less-than-ideal paper tags. Inhabitants of one particularly low-lying cemetery now have beacons attached to their coffins, but the battery life for the floater-be-found is still to be determined.
King George V Was Euthanized So His Death Could Make The Right Headlines
For all the perks associated with being born into a royal family (unlimited wealth, the right to eat peasants, fancy hats), living the life of royalty also means you’re always in the public spotlight. Never can you falter from keeping up appearances, making sure your every action benefits the crown as best as possible. That includes your death, because god forbid a royal should die at an inconvenient time of day like some low-class pleb.
When Britain’s King George V lay on his deathbed in 1936, doctors were concerned about more than his failing health. Convinced that the king was not long for this world, medical staff began suspecting he might not kick the gilded bucket at the most dignified of times. Deciding that the matter couldn’t be left in the clumsy hands of God or fate, steps were taken to “hasten” the king’s death, and he was euthanized in his sleep shortly before midnight on January 20th.
Why the rush? According to the notes of his physician, Lord Dawson, the king was given lethal doses of morphine and cocaine so that word of his death would appear ”in the morning papers rather than the less appropriate evening journals.” Dawson administered the injections to King George himself at around 11 p.m., right after he’d had his wife in London ”advise The Times to hold back publication.” That’s right, the king’s life had a literal deadline.
Whether the injections counted as mercy or murder is still a topic of debate. Though the king had been in generally poor health for some time, the doctor had only been summoned to care for him four days prior to his death. On the morning of his last day, the king held a meeting with his privy counselors, which is pretty lucid for someone who’s about to get injected with mercy coke. Documents give “no indication that the King himself had been consulted,” but seeing as his last words were “God damn you” to a nurse administering a sedative, we don’t think he would’ve liked being involuntarily Belushied so that the morning papers would sell a few extra copies.
Millions Of Landmines Were Left In The Sahara After WWII, And Now ISIS Is Digging Them Up
Aside from proving how adept people can be at killing each other, World War II also highlighted how much the resulting clean-up sucks. Entire continents had to deal with the debris of their broken nations, the costly effects of which can still be felt. One group that was exempt from their collective spring cleaning were, of course, the Nazis, who were a bit busy getting tribunaled to death. Which is a shame, because they had millions of unexploded landmines buried in the African desert, and every other country had already touched their noses and called “Not it!”
But that was over 70 years ago. Surely we’ve taken care of those pesky balls of death we left buried in the sand since then, right? While countries like Egypt have tried to reduce the 17 million landmines both Nazi and Allied forces left behind in their desert, the place is still a minefield of … minefields. Thanks to the high temperatures and dry climate, the Sahara is doing an amazing job of preserving these war relics, which means they’re still very capable of taking a limb (or life) if fiddled with too much. But while most people are content with not going near any unstable explosives, there’s one pesky little death cult that doesn’t mind going out in a blaze of glory, intentional or otherwise.
In the past few years, ISIS has realized that one man’s minefield is another man’s massive cache of explosives, so they’re digging up and reusing landmines and their components. There have been several reports of ISIS terrorist attacks in which they used old munitions “MacGyvered” into IEDs. At least when it comes to age, ISIS seems to be quite open-minded.
And landmines aren’t the only type of antique firepower people in the region are packing these days. In 2015, video footage showed Syrian rebels firing a 1935 German howitzer. Meanwhile, Iraqi weapons inspectors documented the capture of a 1942 Lee-Enfield rifle, and the Armament Research Services report that British Webley revolvers, Italian cavalry carbines, Mausers, and Bren guns have appeared for sale in Libya. As long as it goes “boom” and someone dies, they’re only too happy to put it to terrible use.
The Feud Between The Hatfields And The McCoys Was Probably Caused By A Medical Condition
History has seen its share of epic feuds, but few are as legendary as the pissing contest that took place between the Hatfields of West Virginia and the Kentucky McCoys in the late 1800s. Why were they so special? Longevity. They kept their fiery hatred going for a solid decade. But recent medical tests have revealed that, at least on the McCoy side, that might have been because hatred literally runs in their blood.
Why did these two ornery tribes want to shed each others’ blood so badly? Some say the beef started over a stolen hog, while others think it was residual hostility from the families having fought on opposite sides during the Civil War. Over a hundred years later, we still have no idea what spark started the fire, but we have an idea of where they got the gasoline. In 2007, a young girl called Winnter [sic] Reynolds was struggling at school. She had anger issues, and would often fly into fits of rage. While her teachers thought it was nothing but a bad case of ADHD, a series of medical tests revealed it was worse than that. She had bad blood. McCoy blood, to be specific.
Winnter is the latest offspring of the McCoy bloodline, from whom she had inherited her temper. She suffers from a rare genetic condition called von Hippel-Lindau disease. The illness causes the formation of adrenal tumors which cause, among other things, “hair-trigger rage and violent outbursts.” After Winnter’s diagnosis, it was revealed that several other McCoy descendants had also been diagnosed with the same condition. And while having tumors keeping you pissed off 24/7 still doesn’t shed any light on the start of the feud, it does go a long way toward explaining their whole “I’m going to kill you over some bacon” reputation.
Earl Neikirk/AP“Cleetus, go fetch the tumor chart, we gotta black another circle.”
We Are Still Paying A Civil War Pension
War is never not tragic, but civil wars pile all the hurt on one people. With an estimated 620,000 lives lost during the American Civil War, the cost of that little disagreement hurt the nation badly. The price paid was terrible — not only in human lives, but also in the long-term financial state of the country. How long-term? They’re still adding up, apparently.
US ArmyYeah, were sure their main concern was how much this was gonna cost.
While the indirect ramifications are impossible to calculate, there is still one straightforward bill the U.S. Civil War is serving America: $73.13, to be exact, paid monthly to one woman in North Carolina. You see, because soldiers have a tragic tendency of not always being able to collect what Uncle Sam owes them, the government compensates by also paying out pensions to widows and children of war veterans. And while the Civil War ended more than 150 years ago, believe it or not, there’s still one soldier’s child alive and kicking. That would be Irene Triplett, 86 years young, and she’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
Irene’s father, Mose Triplett, was born in 1846, and managed to fight on both sides of the Civil War — though that sadly didn’t mean he’d get to draw two pensions. He later married a woman 50 years his junior, who we’re assuming must’ve been into antique cannons. When Irene was born, Mose was 83 years old and ready to mosey on up to Heaven.
But Irene’s isn’t the only 19th-century war pension that still being paid out. We’re also still supporting 88 people for their families’ contributions to the Spanish-American War, which started and ended in 1898. And while we’re certainly not begrudging anyone their dues, if we keep up our current military policies, half of our country’s 2080 budget will be going to Iraq vets’ second families.
The Search For Wreckage Of The Challenger Turned Up A Lot Of Junk — And A Duffel Bag Of Cocaine
Being an air crash site investigator must be a harrowing gig. Their entire job revolves around cataloging the most horrific of disaster scenes, where the Earth has gotten a dose of corpse buckshot to the face. But finding 73 separate pieces of the same human being isn’t the only weird thing they might find at a crash site. Sometimes they also find a shit ton of coke.
Like 9/11, the Challenger disaster is one of those awful tragedies seared into memories of all who witnessed it. Seven people lost their lives simply because some faulty O-rings and unusually cold weather caused their vessel to blow up and plow into the ocean. After the crash, NASA immediately began searching the Atlantic for any and all portions of the shuttle that survived the crash, as well as any remains of the crew that could be retrieved and given a proper burial. But with such a spread out investigation site in constantly shifting water, the crew was bound to encounter some weird stuff.
For nine weeks, experts spent 15-hour days combing sonar data of a 420-mile area. But when their submarines or robots finally found the wreckage, they also stumbled upon what looked like Poseidon’s garage sale. During NASA’s investigation, they encountered a whole warehouse full of lagan (that’s maritime for “junk”). Some of the more ordinary items included batteries and paint cans, a refrigerator, a filing cabinet, a kitchen sink, and a toilet. More interesting finds were eight shipwrecks, a Pershing missile, and half of a torpedo.
But the best non-shuttle find by far was a duffel bag containing 25 kilograms of cocaine. When NASA handed it over to the police (what a bunch of goody-two-shoes), they revealed the estimated street value of the marching powder at $13 million, roughly the cost of the entire salvage mission. So if you’re struggling to find rent money or hoping to remodel your house, maybe spend more time hanging out at the beach.
Kelly Stone remembers watching the Challenger explode, and speaks only as much German as Google Translate does. She sometimes Tweets about cats and Star Trek.
Don’t bug out, but you really should give your paprika a closer look before you toss it into your next recipe. It could be totally fine, but it could also be a cozy home to a colony of insects.
There are all sorts of pantry pests that can invade your kitchen. You may have heard about flour beetles that eat their way out of bags of flour and multiply by the hundreds. (I once returned from Thanksgiving vacation to find this delightful surprise in my kitchen.) You’ll also find insects in spices, and among the most susceptible to insect manifestation are pepper-based spices like paprika, cayenne and chili powder.
Many cooks know the horror of opening a jar of paprika to find it moving. Sometimes the culprits are tiny black bugs, while other times it’s little worms (more on that below). Often you won’t even notice them if you’re not looking closely, and then BAM, you’ve unknowingly sprinkled them into your food.
How do these creepy crawlers get into our spices, and what we can do to prevent them from getting there? And why are spices like paprika and cayenne more susceptible than others? We’ve got the answers.
In case you need a visual before we get started, here’s one of the less-gross videos depicting bugs in paprika:
What is it about paprika that insects love so much?
Green told HuffPost that, although many spices are prone to insect damage, including turmeric, coriander, cumin, fennel and dry ginger, insects especially love spices made of peppers.
″Spices are rich in minerals and vitamins, and paprika and cayenne have high prevalence of insect filth compared to other imported spices,” she told HuffPost.
It doesn’t matter whether your paprika is sweet or smoky: It’s all friendly to pests. Green says insects are “particularly fond of products derived from dried sweet peppers/chiles/red pepper products like red pepper flakes, paprika, chili powder and cayenne.” But why? She says it provides a hospitable environment for them to thrive.
“The pepper family appears to contain the nutritional requirements necessary for multiple generations of stored product beetles to successfully sustain life,” Green explained.
And if we’re thinking in terms of culinary use, paprika is especially prone to insect invasion because it’s a spice we don’t often use in American cooking. It sits unused in our spice racks for long periods of time, allowing insects to do their thing, unbothered.
Green says both beetles are in the same family, are reddish-brown and “about the size of a sesame seed.” They’re active fliers, so it’s not uncommon to hear them hitting surfaces in your kitchen if they escape the spice jar and start flying. Green says they live in dried tobacco and pharmaceuticals (as their name implies), but also pet food, cereal, spices and dried fruit.
Why do they sometimes look like worms?
Sometimes your spices may look like they’re infested with tiny worms. But they’re actually the same critters as the bugs, just in baby form. If you think about the life cycle of an insect, it makes perfect sense.
“These particular pests are beetles, so they undergo complete metamorphosis (like a butterfly),” Green explained. “So they have an egg, larva, pupa and adult stage. The worms that have been reportedly in the spice are the larval form.”
“They are cream-colored, have three pairs of short legs, an orange head capsule, dense hairs and have chewing mouthparts,” Green continued to elaborate, despite our nausea. “They use fragments of their food source to create a pupal cell where they pupate and then emerge as adult beetle.”
How do the bugs get into spices in the first place?
Are these tiny beetles ever-present in the spices? Or did they manage to crawl their way inside? It’s most likely the latter.
Green explains that most of the spices consumed in the U.S. have been imported, and “it is not rare for imported product to be contaminated with ‘filth’ (i.e. insects parts), so there is a good chance a product could have been infested after harvest before coming [to the U.S.].”
However, she says the more likely source of contamination is during the treatment process. Between the spices’ journey from processing to consumption, insects have a ton of chances to sneak their way into the product.
“Adult beetles are active fliers and can get into storage facilities via gaps, open doors, unscreened windows, infested vehicles, bulk bins and containers,” Green said. “With adequate food source and temperature-controlled environment, insects can thrive, breed and feed. In processing facilities, storage and even in the grocery store, infestations can be transferred on equipment and being in close proximity to other infested products. Cigarette beetles and drugstore beetles have been known to penetrate through packaging, tin foil, plastic and sheet metal.”
And then once the consumer brings home the product, the infestation doesn’t end. “People can be bringing them home in any of the life stages and the life cycle continues!” Green said, perhaps a little too excitedly.
Is there anything home cooks can do to stop this madness?
Yes! Though your spices may always contain fragments of insects that are beyond your control, you can at least end their lifecycle to ensure they don’t continue breeding. Here’s what Green suggests:
Inspect the product at the store. Look for damaged packaging. If container is transparent, look for larvae and beetles inside.
Stick your spices in the freezer for four days (make sure your freezer is set at 0 degrees Fahrenheit) before putting them in your spice rack or pantry.
If you’ve bought your spice in bulk, keep what you’re saving for future use in the freezer. Before freezing, divide it into glass containers that are airtight.
Practice stock rotation using the FIFO (first in, first out) rule. Use your oldest products first, and keep them at the front of your pantry so you’ll be more likely to grab them first. Then move on to newer products, which you keep at the back of the pantry and rotate forward when you’re ready to use them.
Clean up any spills in your kitchen as soon as they happen.
Commercial pheromone traps are available, but they’re species specific and may not be good at decreasing the population, as they attract a single sex and the pests may have already mated.
Now go forth and inspect your spices with great trepidation. We know you want to.
A “wedding bomb” that killed a newly-married software engineer and left his wife grievously wounded has shattered the peace of a small town in India. Nearly a month after the incident, the police have made no headway. Soutik Biswas travels to the eastern state of Orissa to piece together the story of a killing that has riveted India.
On a bright summer afternoon on 23 February, five days after their marriage, Soumya Sekhar Sahu, a 26-year-old software engineer, and his 22-year-old wife Reema, were pottering around in the kitchen at his newly-built family home in Patnagarh, a drowsy, nondescript town in Orissa.
They were planning to grill eggplant and make some lentil soup for lunch when Soumya heard the clanging of the latch of their metal gate. A delivery man stood outside, holding a parcel addressed to him.
A fraying sticker on the box said it had been sent by SK Sharma from Raipur, some 230km (142 miles) away.
Reema remembers her husband opening the box in the kitchen, and finding a parcel covered in green paper with a white thread sticking out of it, while his 85-year-old grand-aunt Jemamani Sahu came up from behind to see what the parcel contained.
“This looks like a wedding gift,” Soumya Sekhar told his wife. “The only thing that I don’t know is the sender. I don’t know anyone in Raipur.”
As he pulled the thread, there was a flash of light and a huge explosion rocked the kitchen. The three were knocked off their feet, and collapsed on the tiled floor, bleeding profusely. The blast had ripped the plaster off the ceiling, blown apart the water purifier, sent the kitchen window flying into an adjacent field, and cracked the green painted walls.
The three writhed in pain on the blood-splattered floor. Jeemamani Sahu was on fire. “Save me. I think I am dying,” Soumya Sekhar groaned before losing consciousness.
That was the last time Reema heard her husband speak.
The burns stung her face and arms. With smoke filling her lungs, she struggled to breathe. Her eardrum had punctured, so she barely heard the hum of panicky neighbours rushing in and asking whether the cooking gas cylinder had exploded. Her vision was blurring as debris clogged her eyes.
Still Reema managed to crawl to the bedroom, and pick up the phone to call her mother-in-law, a principal in a local college. She passed out before she could make the call.
Video footage from the house minutes after the blast shows distraught neighbours carrying away the three wounded residents in bed-sheets to a waiting ambulance. Soumya Sekhar and Jemamani Sahu, who both suffered from 90% burns, died as they were being moved to hospital. Reema is recovering slowly in a cramped room in the burns ward in a government hospital.
More than a month after the horrific murder, no one appears to have the faintest idea who killed Soumya Sekhar, described as a “genial and god fearing young man who worshipped a guru” by relatives and friends.
“We are simple people with simple lives. I have no enemies. My daughter has no enemies. My son-in-law had no enemies. I don’t suspect anybody, and I don’t know who could have done this,” Sudam Charan Sahu, Reema’s father, told me.
Their families had introduced them, and the two had been engaged for a little more than a year. Reema’s father, a garments trader, adopted her from his younger brother because he wanted a daughter after his two sons, and his brother had three daughters. The cheerful and pretty girl went to a local college and graduated with an Oriya language degree.
Soumya Sekhar’s parents were both college teachers – his father taught zoology. He had studied computer science and worked with info-tech companies in Mysore and Chandigarh, before joining a Japanese electronics firm in Bangalore two months ago.
“They met a few times before the marriage in presence of their families. They were a happy couple. Why would someone want to kill him?” Soumya Sekhar’s father, Rabindra Kumar Sahu, 57, said.
The only indication of something amiss seems to be one mysterious call that Soumya Sekhar received when he was in Bangalore.
“The call came last year,” Reema told me. “We were talking on the phone, and he said there was a call coming in. And I vaguely remember he put me on hold, and later told me, ‘I got a threatening call. A man on the line told me not to marry.'”
He didn’t mention any more calls, and by the time the marriage happened, “we had completely forgotten about the call”.
Two dozen investigators have questioned more than 100 people – friends and relatives of the couple mainly – in four cities in connection with the killing. They have scoured mobile phone records, and scanned laptops and phones belonging to the couple.
Hopes were raised when cyber sleuths found the parcel had been tracked online twice from a private computer institute in Kalahandi district, some 119km away, leading to speculation that the killer may have been following it. But eventually they found it was the courier company itself that had been tracking the consignment.
The only thing the police know for sure is that the parcel was sent from Raipur, under a false name and address. The killer, who paid 400 rupees ($6.14; £4.35) for the delivery, had chosen the courier company carefully: there were no CCTV cameras in their office, and the parcel was not scanned.
The parcel then made a 650km journey on three buses and passed through four pairs of hands before reaching Patangarh on 20 February. The delivery man made a run the same evening to Soumya Sekhar’s residence, but returned without delivering the package because “he saw a big marriage reception going on at the place”, Dilip Kumar Das, the local manager of the courier company, explained. Three days later, the man finally delivered the parcel at the gate.
Forensic experts are still trying to ascertain how sophisticated the bomb was. On the face of it, investigators say, it appeared to be a fairly crude device wrapped in jute thread which spewed white smoke after the blast.
The lack of strong leads means that the investigators are contemplating several motives behind the killing.
Was it the work of a spurned or scorned lover? The police still have no clue, but say they are investigating why Soumya Sekhar deleted his Facebook account weeks before his marriage and opened a new one.
Was the killing related to a property dispute in the Sahu family, where Soumya Sekhar was the only son and the natural heir? Investigators say they need to question more family members before coming to any conclusions.
Did the murder have anything to do with a feud that Reema had in her secondary school, when a classmate harassed her and her parents had to lodge a complaint with the principal? It seems highly unlikely because the incident happened nearly six years ago.
Also, how did the sender of the bomb manage to get his hands on an explosive and pack and send it to the target so easily? Was it a contract killing? “This is a fiendishly complex case,” Balangir’s senior police official Sashi Bhusan Satpathy said. “This was the work of a fairly knowledgeable person well-versed in the arts of bomb making.”
Reema is still in hospital, and her tragedy became a spectacle on Monday when a family member whipped out his mobile phone and recorded her breaking down after she discovered from an old newspaper in her room that her husband had been killed in the blast. For nearly three weeks, her family hadn’t broken the news to her. Now, she was crying inconsolably.
“You lied to me, you didn’t tell me the truth,” she wailed at her father, as he broke down. By the evening, the video of this private moment of grief was showing on local TV.
“We thought maybe this would move the government to step up the investigation and arrest the culprit soon,” her father said.
The creation of Camp Century, from the outset, was an audacious scheme. Under the thick ice of Greenland, a scant 800 miles from the North Pole, the US military built a hidden base of ice tunnels, imagined as an extensive network of railway tracks, stretching over 2,500 miles, that would keep 600 nuclear missiles buried under the ice. Construction began in 1959, under cover of a scientific research project, and soon a small installation, powered by a nuclear reactor, nested in the ice sheet.
In the midst of the Cold War, Greenland seemed like a strategic point for the US to stage weapons, ready to attack the USSR. The thick ice sheet, military planners imagined, would provide permanent protection for the base. But after the first tunnels were built, the military discovered that the ice sheet was not as stable as it needed to be: It moved and shifted, destabilizing the tunnels. Within a decade, Camp Century was abandoned.
When siting the secret ice base, the military chose a spot where dry snow kept the surface of Greenland’s ice sheet from melting, and when the base was abandoned its creators expected the remains to stay encased in ice forever. But decades later, conditions have changed, and as a team of researchers reported in a 2016 paper, published in Geophysical Research Letters, the now-melting ice sheet threatens to mobilize the dangerous pollutants left behind.
This hazard-in-waiting is a new kind of environmental threat: In the past, there was little reason to worry about water-borne pollution on an ice sheet 100,000 years old. As Jeff D. Colgan, a professor of political science at Brown University, writes in an article released last week in the journal Global Environmental Politics, Camp Century represents both a second-order environmental threat from climate change and a new path to political conflict.
“We’re starting to get better about dealing with the anticipated problems associated with climate change,” says Colgan. “There are going to be a whole host of unanticipated problems that we never saw coming.”
By the time the base was abandoned in 1967, it had its own library and theater, an infirmary, kitchen and mess hall, a chapel, and two power plants (one nuclear, one run on diesel). When the base closed, key parts of the nuclear power plant were removed, but most of the base’s infrastructure was left behind—the buildings, the railways, the sewage, the diesel fuel, and the low-level radioactive waste. In the 2016 paper, which Colgan worked on as well, the researchers suggested that the radiological waste was less worrisome than the more extensive chemical waste, from diesel fuel and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) used to insulate fluids and paints.
Overall, the researchers estimated that 20,000 liters of chemical waste remain at the Camp Century site, along with 24 million liters of “biological waste associated with untreated sewage.” That’s just at Camp Century; the military closed down bases at three other sites in Greenland, too, and it’s unclear how much waste is left there. Over the next few decades, the researchers found, melt water from the ice sheets could mobilize these pollutants, exposing both the wildlife and humans living in Greenland.
Creating these ice-bound military bases required a delicate political negotiation to begin with. The US established its bases in Greenland under agreement with Denmark, which governed the island at the time. (Greenland now has self-rule but is still part of the Kingdom of Denmark.) There were some principles outlined about the two governments’ responsibilities for the bases, but, as Colgan writes in the new paper, the status of American nuclear weapons on Greenland fell into a diplomatic gray area.
The Danish government had taken a stand against nuclear weapons and would never condone a nuclear base on Greenland. But in 1957, an American ambassador, Val Peterson, made an official overture to the Danish prime minister, H.C. Hansen. If—just say—the US had nuclear weapons in Greenland, would the Danish government want to know? Five days later, the prime minister had a response: “I do not think that your remarks give rise to any comments from my side,” he wrote, in a “informal, personal, top secret” paper. The US went ahead with the plan.
There was similar ambiguity around the responsibility for the physical assets of the base. While they remained the property of the United States, the agreement said they could be “disposed of” in Greenland, after input from the Danish government. But it’s not at all clear who’s responsible for dealing with a long-term environmental hazard posed by the waste abandoned there.
This problem—who will pay to clean up environmental waste—is a common one; in the US, the Superfund program assigns responsibility for a polluted site, often across multiple parties associated with it over the years. But in this sort of international agreement between two governments, there’s no parallel process for divvying up blame or costs.
“These agreements are rarely fully specified in what’s written down on paper. There’s no real procedure for addressing disputes,” says Colgan. “If Denmark says, US, you’re responsible, and the US says, no, you’re responsible—we don’t have a good resolution process for that. Climate change is likely to make that kind of problem a lot more common.”
Already, a Greenland politician, who was serving as foreign minister, has lost his job over this issue. After the 2016 paper came out, he started pushing for the US and Denmark to take responsibility for these military hazards; his boss thought he took too aggressive a stance.
But the problem isn’t going to go away, and Colgan emphasizes that these second-order environmental consequences of climate change—which he calls “knock-on effects”—are only going to become more common, creating knotty political disputes. Think, for instance, of the chemical and oil refineries that, damaged by Hurricane Harvey, started dumping waste.
Many of these environmental hazards, though, can be linked to multiple causes; in Greenland, it’s easier to pinpoint the precipitating issue.
“What’s helpful about Camp Century is that, because it’s so isolated, we can be really clear that what’s causing the problem is climate change,” says Colgan. In the 1960s, there was little reason for the US military to imagine that their secret ice-base would cause environmental problems decades in the future. After all, it was encased in ice and should only have been buried deeper into the frozen surface over time.
King Tides Show Us How Climate Change Will Threaten Coastal Cities
Seawall-topping king tides occur when extra-high tides line up with other meteorological anomalies. In the past they were a novelty or a nuisance. Now they hint at the new normal, when sea level rise will render current coastlines obsolete.
She loves to talk, hates to fly and wants to make it clear she takes no responsibility for the state of US politics
Be grateful you didnt sit next to Fran Lebowitz on the plane from New York to Melbourne. The trip was the longest flight she had taken, and therefore the longest time she managed to go without a cigarette. When I ask if it is her first time in Australia, she says: That makes it sound as if theres going to be a second time. She surprised herself by not being taken off the flight in handcuffs for assaulting fellow (first-class) passengers or smoking in the toilets.
I was like a child on the plane, asking the flight attendant, Are we there? And she said, Are you nuts? Weve only been flying for four hours. The only people who live in Australia are those who came to Australia and couldnt face the trip back Im actually one of those people.
Lebowitz has been invited to Australia several times but, as a longtime smoker, 30 hours on a flight without a cigarette was out of the question. But she was persuaded to perform shows (which quickly sold out) at the recent All About Women festival at the Sydney Opera House, and a Wheeler Centre talk in Melbourne. She got through the flight without being arrested by chewing lots of gum and being able to smoke during a brief stop in LA.
Before our meeting, I spot her standing on the footpath smoking, naturally in her sartorial uniform of Levi 501s, a white shirt and custom-made dark blazer. She glances up the street, towards Melbournes Fawkner Park, as if shes not quite sure where she is or how she got here. (She later asks me what day it is.)
Once we sit down to talk its immediately apparent that talking is what Lebowitz does best. Thats a big call, given the New Yorker is an author, social commentator, public speaker and even actor, appearing in shows such as Law and Order. Shes such a good talker that when I go to a nearby restaurant to do some work on my laptop after our interview is over, she sees me, sits next to me and talks for another hour. (Let me know if Im disturbing you, she offers politely).
But first, during her interview with Guardian Australia, Lebowitz wants to make it clear that she takes no responsibility for the state of American politics. She had just arrived in Melbourne and was having breakfast in her hotel when a man next to her saw she was reading the paper. And this guy started talking to me, I was reading something about Trump, and he said, You elected him! And I said I did not!
Lebowitz becomes indignant. I mean, I did not. Its not my fault. I know you [Australians] are very upset about it. But we are more upset. Even my friends I have a lot of friends in New York who are not American were blaming me. I spent a year of my life before the election, going around the country, talking about this stuff. Its not my fault. I am blameless. I am not a perfect person. I am not blameless in life but I do not know one single person who voted for him.
About 17,000 ex-mineworkers were wrongly told they owed thousands of pounds in tax due to an error.
One of them was 79-year-old Michael Hinchley, from Nottinghamshire, who said he was shocked after being told in a letter he owed £26,000.
Capita, the administrator for the Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme, said the tax code letters were sent by mistake.
The National Union of Mineworkers said it showed a lack of “human contact and concern” for UK miners.
Michael Hinchley, 79, from Mansfield Woodhouse, a former electrician at Mansfield and Sherwood collieries, received the letter, stating he owed £26,235.36, on Monday.
He said: “I thought ‘how can I owe that when I’ve been paying tax on my pension?’
“If someone who is elderly and doesn’t have family to help them out gets a letter like that it could be really worrying for them.”
Chris Kitchen, general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), said the union was “inundated” with calls after 17,000 former miners were issued with the letters, with some told they owed £50,000 in tax.
He said the union was concerned no-one at the Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) picked up on the error before the letters were generated.
“The letter would have been concerning for pensioners who already have small pensions and haven’t got a large amount of money,” he said.
“I don’t want them to get distressed over it… it’s an error in the new system.
“But it’s highlighted our concerns of whether Capita are up to the job – there’s a lack of human contact and concern with HMRC, too.”
The Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme said in an automated response to callers that the correspondence received from HMRC was issued in error and it was working hard to rectify it.
HMRC said it was “sorry” that Mr Hinchley received a “coding notice in error”.
A spokesman said: “Where we are provided with incorrect information, we work hard to put matters right.
“We will ensure that no customer will lose out as a result of this.”
A Capita spokesperson said: “Following a change to HM Revenue & Customs’ online PAYE portal, an incorrect update was made in processing information for members of the Mineworkers Pension scheme.
“This issue has been resolved and all members affected will shortly receive letters to advise that they do not need to take any action.
“We sincerely apologise for any concern and inconvenience this has caused.”
Entertainment Weekly spoke with the cast of Westworld and some of the people behind the scenes about what we can expect in the reality-bending Westworld and beyond. According to Jeffrey Wright, the actor behind Bernard Lowe, Season 2 goes in hard in really big ways.
“The scale of Season 2 is just nuts, literally right out of the gate,” Wright told EW. “It’s so much more expansive, it makes the first season look like a genteel kitchen drama.”
As fans of Westworld know, the first season was pretty far from anything resembling a genteel kitchen drama so we know that Season 2 is probably going to blow minds. Wright and others gave a little insight into what that is going to look like and what their characters are up to in the new season.
Warning: mild spoilers ahead for Westworld Season 2 and not-so-mild spoilers for Season 1
For Season 2, the focus will be on the uprising that kicked off in the first season, and at least some of the show’s head-scratching mysteries will be solved, showrunner Jonathan Nolan said.
“We don’t like to endlessly build mystery; we like to settle our debts by the end of the season,” Nolan said. “We want to feel like the show is rocketing ahead. The first season was a journey inward; this is a journey outward. It’s a search for what else is in the park, and what else is beyond the park.”
Nolan also shared that the show will take a deeper dive into the minds and points-of-view of the hosts.
“So as the hosts learn more about their world — and other worlds, and the real world — the audience is doing the same thing,” he said.
Evan Rachel Wood shared how her character Dolores has evolved and what she’s doing with her newfound power.
“She’s playing the chess master,” Wood said. “She has access to all of her memories, but now she’s in control. There are some scenes where she’s three different people in the span of a minute.”
In terms of expansiveness, the new season is likely to head to new parks outside of Westworld, including the park that was teased at the end of Season 1, called Shogun World.
Ed Harris, who plays the hardcore Man in Black, told EW that Season 2 will be enjoyable to watch, although he’s not sure he totally understands where everything is going.
“It’s a pretty trippy second year, man, I gotta tell you that,” he said. “Hopefully somebody can explain it all to me after it airs. But it’s going to be tremendously watchable.”
Yoselyn Ortega, the nanny accused of brutally stabbing two children, had ‘eyes of the devil’ after the murders, a witness testified Monday. (AP)
The Manhattan nanny accused of brutally murdering two children under her care had the “eyes of the devil” after the murders, a witness testified Monday.
An NYPD Emergency Services Unit testified that one of the children was “partially decapitated” and the other has a similar injury “straight down to the spine,” according to The New York Post.
No one denies that Yoselyn Ortega used kitchen knives to butcher 2-year-old Leo Krim and his 6-year-old sister Lucia, who went by Lulu, on Oct. 25, 2012. But the testimony is crucial to resolving the central question of the trial: whether Ortega was too mentally ill to be held responsible for the crimes — a high bar to clear in New York state.
Leo, left, and Lulu Krim were murdered by their nanny, Yoselyn Ortega on Oct. 25, 2012. (AP)
When Marina Krim arrived home to find her bloodied children stacked in a bathtub, she began howling, “‘They’re dead! They’re dead,” the building superintendent testified Monday.
The super, Michael Minihan, immediately ran upstairs to the unit and blocked Ortega’s escape, he told jurors.
“I didn’t freak out,” Minihan testified, according to The New York Post. “You’ve got to understand, I opened the door and I see somebody staring with the eyes of the devil holding a rag to her face. Her eyes were bugging. She’s staring right at me.”
He also said he told an arriving officer that “whatever is in there is evil.”
First responders testified Monday that the episode had taken an emotional toll.
“Whatever is in there is evil.”
– Building super Michael Minihan
After discovering the bodies, “I called my four daughters and told them that their daddy loved them,” paramedic Kevin Orr testified.
He called it “probably the most horrendous scene in my 27 years of saving lives.”
As Krim left the courtroom after testifying Friday, visibly exhausted and palpably angry, she turned to Ortega and screamed: “You’re evil! You’re evil! And you like this, you like this, you’re getting pleasure.”
Krim told the panel she and Ortega, hired part-time as an extra pair of hands for the well-to-do stay-at-home-mom, had worked out their schedule for Oct. 25, 2012.
When Ortega didn’t bring Lulu to a dance studio as scheduled, Krim hustled home, she testified.
Prosecutors say Ortega waited until Krim found the children dead in the bathroom before plunging a knife into her own neck. She survived. Lulu suffered more than 30 wounds; Leo, five.
BuzzFeedfirst reported earlier this week that Amazon Echo users were surprised to hear their devices laughing at random. After confirming the company was working on a fix, Amazon revealed on Wednesday why Alexa was laughing at random.
“In rare circumstances, Alexa can mistakenly hear the phrase ‘Alexa, laugh,'” a spokesperson said in an email. “We are changing that phrase to be ‘Alexa, can you laugh?’ which is less likely to have false positives, and we are disabling the short utterance ‘Alexa, laugh.’ We are also changing Alexa’s response from simply laughter to ‘Sure, I can laugh’ followed by laughter.”
Amazon says the fix has already been rolled out.
This confirms the theory that Alexa was falsely triggered and not possessed. While it’s promising the company issued a fix, that probably isn’t enough to comfort users who allegedly heard Alexa laughing without a sound or in the middle of the night.
Here are a few examples people managed to capture when they asked Alexa to repeat the last thing she said, just so you can hear just how creepy it is.
The tiny tadpole embryo looked like a bean. One day old, it didn’t even have a heart yet. The researcher in a white coat and gloves who hovered over it made a precise surgical incision where its head would form. Moments later, the brain was gone, but the embryo was still alive.
The brief procedure took Celia Herrera-Rincon, a neuroscience postdoc at the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University, back to the country house in Spain where she had grown up, in the mountains near Madrid. When she was 11 years old, while walking her dogs in the woods, she found a snake, Vipera latastei. It was beautiful but dead. “I realized I wanted to see what was inside the head,” she recalled. She performed her first “lab test” using kitchen knives and tweezers, and she has been fascinated by the many shapes and evolutionary morphologies of the brain ever since. Her collection now holds about 1,000 brains from all kinds of creatures.
Original story reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine, an editorially independent publication of the Simons Foundation whose mission is to enhance public understanding of science by covering research developments and trends in mathematics and the physical and life sciences.
This time, however, she was not interested in the brain itself, but in how an African clawed frog would develop without one. She and her supervisor, Michael Levin, a software engineer turned developmental biologist, are investigating whether the brain and nervous system play a crucial role in laying out the patterns that dictate the shapes and identities of emerging organs, limbs and other structures.
For the past 65 years, the focus of developmental biology has been on DNA as the carrier of biological information. Researchers have typically assumed that genetic expression patterns alone are enough to determine embryonic development.
To Levin, however, that explanation is unsatisfying. “Where does shape come from? What makes an elephant different from a snake?” he asked. DNA can make proteins inside cells, he said, but “there is nothing in the genome that directly specifies anatomy.” To develop properly, he maintains, tissues need spatial cues that must come from other sources in the embryo. At least some of that guidance, he and his team believe, is electrical.
In recent years, by working on tadpoles and other simple creatures, Levin’s laboratory has amassed evidence that the embryo is molded by bioelectrical signals, particularly ones that emanate from the young brain long before it is even a functional organ. Those results, if replicated in other organisms, may change our understanding of the roles of electrical phenomena and the nervous system in development, and perhaps more widely in biology.
“Levin’s findings will shake some rigid orthodoxy in the field,” said Sui Huang, a molecular biologist at the Institute for Systems Biology. If Levin’s work holds up, Huang continued, “I think many developmental biologists will be stunned to see that the construction of the body plan is not due to local regulation of cells … but is centrally orchestrated by the brain.”
Bioelectrical Influences in Development
The Spanish neuroscientist and Nobel laureate Santiago Ramón y Cajal once called the brain and neurons, the electrically active cells that process and transmit nerve signals, the “butterflies of the soul.” The brain is a center for information processing, memory, decision making and behavior, and electricity figures into its performance of all of those activities.
But it’s not just the brain that uses bioelectric signaling—the whole body does. All cell membranes have embedded ion channels, protein pores that act as pathways for charged molecules, or ions. Differences between the number of ions inside and outside a cell result in an electric gradient—the cell’s resting potential. Vary this potential by opening or blocking the ion channels, and you change the signals transmitted to, from and among the cells all around. Neurons do this as well, but even faster: To communicate among themselves, they use molecules called neurotransmitters that are released at synapses in response to voltage spikes, and they send ultra-rapid electrical pulses over long distances along their axons, encoding information in the pulses’ pattern, to control muscle activity.
Levin has thought about hacking networks of neurons since the mid-1980s, when he was a high school student in the suburbs near Boston, writing software for pocket money. One day, while browsing a small bookstore in Vancouver at Expo 86 with his father, he spotted a volume called The Body Electric, by Robert O. Becker and Gary Selden. He learned that scientists had been investigating bioelectricity for centuries, ever since Luigi Galvani discovered in the 1780s that nerves are animated by what he called “animal electricity.”
However, as Levin continued to read up on the subject, he realized that, even though the brain uses electricity for information processing, no one seemed to be seriously investigating the role of bioelectricity in carrying information about a body’s development. Wouldn’t it be cool, he thought, if we could comprehend “how the tissues process information and what tissues were ‘thinking about’ before they evolved nervous systems and brains?”
He started digging deeper and ended up getting a biology doctorate at Harvard University in morphogenesis—the study of the development of shapes in living things. He worked in the tradition of scientists like Emil du Bois-Reymond, a 19th-century German physician who discovered the action potential of nerves. In the 1930s and ’40s, the American biologists Harold Burr and Elmer Lund measured electric properties of various organisms during their embryonic development and studied connections between bioelectricity and the shapes animals take. They were not able to prove a link, but they were moving in the right direction, Levin said.
Before Genes Reigned Supreme
The work of Burr and Lund occurred during a time of widespread interest in embryology. Even the English mathematician Alan Turing, famed for cracking the Enigma code, was fascinated by embryology. In 1952 he published a paper suggesting that body patterns like pigmented spots and zebra stripes arise from the chemical reactions of diffusing substances, which he called morphogens.
"This electrical signal works as an environmental cue for intercellular communication, orchestrating cell behaviors during morphogenesis and regeneration."
But organic explanations like morphogens and bioelectricity didn’t stay in the limelight for long. In 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick published the double helical structure of DNA, and in the decades since “the focus of developmental biology has been on DNA as the carrier of biological information, with cells thought to follow their own internal genetic programs, prompted by cues from their local environment and neighboring cells,” Huang said.
The rationale, according to Richard Nuccitelli, chief science officer at Pulse Biosciences and a former professor of molecular biology at the University of California, Davis, was that “since DNA is what is inherited, information stored in the genes must specify all that is needed to develop.” Tissues are told how to develop at the local level by neighboring tissues, it was thought, and each region patterns itself from information in the genomes of its cells.
The extreme form of this view is “to explain everything by saying ‘it is in the genes,’ or DNA, and this trend has been reinforced by the increasingly powerful and affordable DNA sequencing technologies,” Huang said. “But we need to zoom out: Before molecular biology imposed our myopic tunnel vision, biologists were much more open to organism-level principles.”
The tide now seems to be turning, according to Herrera-Rincon and others. “It’s too simplistic to consider the genome as the only source of biological information,” she said. Researchers continue to study morphogens as a source of developmental information in the nervous system, for example. Last November, Levin and Chris Fields, an independent scientist who works in the area where biology, physics and computing overlap, published a paper arguing that cells’ cytoplasm, cytoskeleton and both internal and external membranes also encode important patterning data—and serve as systems of inheritance alongside DNA.
And, crucially, bioelectricity has made a comeback as well. In the 1980s and ’90s, Nuccitelli, along with the late Lionel Jaffe at the Marine Biological Laboratory, Colin McCaig at the University of Aberdeen, and others, used applied electric fields to show that many cells are sensitive to bioelectric signals and that electricity can induce limb regeneration in nonregenerative species.
According to Masayuki Yamashita of the International University of Health and Welfare in Japan, many researchers forget that every living cell, not just neurons, generates electric potentials across the cell membrane. “This electrical signal works as an environmental cue for intercellular communication, orchestrating cell behaviors during morphogenesis and regeneration,” he said.
However, no one was really sure why or how this bioelectric signaling worked, said Levin, and most still believe that the flow of information is very local. “Applied electricity in earlier experiments directly interacts with something in cells, triggering their responses,” he said. But what it was interacting with and how the responses were triggered were mysteries.
That’s what led Levin and his colleagues to start tinkering with the resting potential of cells. By changing the voltage of cells in flatworms, over the last few years they produced worms with two heads, or with tails in unexpected places. In tadpoles, they reprogrammed the identity of large groups of cells at the level of entire organs, making frogs with extra legs and changing gut tissue into eyes—simply by hacking the local bioelectric activity that provides patterning information.
And because the brain and nervous system are so conspicuously active electrically, the researchers also began to probe their involvement in long-distance patterns of bioelectric information affecting development. In 2015, Levin, his postdoc Vaibhav Pai, and other collaborators showed experimentally that bioelectric signals from the body shape the development and patterning of the brain in its earliest stages. By changing the resting potential in the cells of tadpoles as far from the head as the gut, they appeared to disrupt the body’s “blueprint” for brain development. The resulting tadpoles’ brains were smaller or even nonexistent, and brain tissue grew where it shouldn’t.
Unlike previous experiments with applied electricity that simply provided directional cues to cells, “in our work, we know what we have modified—resting potential—and we know how it triggers responses: by changing how small signaling molecules enter and leave cells,” Levin said. The right electrical potential lets neurotransmitters go in and out of voltage-powered gates (transporters) in the membrane. Once in, they can trigger specific receptors and initiate further cellular activity, allowing researchers to reprogram identity at the level of entire organs.
This work also showed that bioelectricity works over long distances, mediated by the neurotransmitter serotonin, Levin said. (Later experiments implicated the neurotransmitter butyrate as well.) The researchers started by altering the voltage of cells near the brain, but then they went farther and farther out, “because our data from the prior papers showed that tumors could be controlled by electric properties of cells very far away,” he said. “We showed that cells at a distance mattered for brain development too.”
Then Levin and his colleagues decided to flip the experiment. Might the brain hold, if not an entire blueprint, then at least some patterning information for the rest of the body, Levin asked—and if so, might the nervous system disseminate this information bioelectrically during the earliest stages of a body’s development? He invited Herrera-Rincon to get her scalpel ready.
Making Up for a Missing Brain
Herrera-Rincon’s brainless Xenopus laevis tadpoles grew, but within just a few days they all developed highly characteristic defects—and not just near the brain, but as far away as the very end of their tails. Their muscle fibers were also shorter and their nervous systems, especially the peripheral nerves, were growing chaotically. It’s not surprising that nervous system abnormalities that impair movement can affect a developing body. But according to Levin, the changes seen in their experiment showed that the brain helps to shape the body’s development well before the nervous system is even fully developed, and long before any movement starts.
That such defects could be seen so early in the development of the tadpoles was intriguing, said Gil Carvalho, a neuroscientist at the University of Southern California. “An intense dialogue between the nervous system and the body is something we see very prominently post-development, of course,” he said. Yet the new data “show that this cross-talk starts from the very beginning. It’s a window into the inception of the brain-body dialogue, which is so central to most vertebrate life as we know it, and it’s quite beautiful.” The results also raise the possibility that these neurotransmitters may be acting at a distance, he added—by diffusing through the extracellular space, or going from cell to cell in relay fashion, after they have been triggered by a cell’s voltage changes.
Herrera-Rincon and the rest of the team didn’t stop there. They wanted to see whether they could “rescue” the developing body from these defects by using bioelectricity to mimic the effect of a brain. They decided to express a specific ion channel called HCN2, which acts differently in various cells but is sensitive to their resting potential. Levin likens the ion channel’s effect to a sharpening filter in photo-editing software, in that “it can strengthen voltage differences between adjacent tissues that help you maintain correct boundaries. It really strengthens the abilities of the embryos to set up the correct boundaries for where tissues are supposed to go.”
To make embryos express it, the researchers injected messenger RNA for HCN2 into some frog egg cells just a couple of hours after they were fertilized. A day later they removed the embryos’ brains, and over the next few days, the cells of the embryo acquired novel electrical activity from the HCN2 in their membranes.
The scientists found that this procedure rescued the brainless tadpoles from most of the usual defects. Because of the HCN2 it was as if the brain was still present, telling the body how to develop normally. It was amazing, Levin said, “to see how much rescue you can get just from very simple expression of this channel.” It was also, he added, the first clear evidence that the brain controls the development of the embryo via bioelectric cues.
As with Levin’s previous experiments with bioelectricity and regeneration, many biologists and neuroscientists hailed the findings, calling them “refreshing” and “novel.” “One cannot say that this is really a step forward because this work veers off the common path,” Huang said. But a single experiment with tadpoles’ brains is not enough, he added — it’s crucial to repeat the experiment in other organisms, including mammals, for the findings “to be considered an advance in a field and establish generality.” Still, the results open “an entire new domain of investigation and new of way of thinking,” he said.
Levin’s research demonstrates that the nervous system plays a much more important role in how organisms build themselves than previously thought, said Min Zhao, a biologist at the University of California, Davis, and an expert on the biomedical application and molecular biophysics of electric-field effects in living tissues. Despite earlier experimental and clinical evidence, “this paper is the first one to demonstrate convincingly that this also happens in [the] developing embryo.”
“The results of Mike’s lab abolish the frontier, by demonstrating that electrical signaling from the central nervous system shapes early development,” said Olivier Soriani of the Institut de Biologie de Valrose CNRS. “The bioelectrical activity can now be considered as a new type of input encoding organ patterning, allowing large range control from the central nervous system.”
Carvalho observed that the work has obvious implications for the treatment and prevention of developmental malformations and birth defects—especially since the findings suggest that interfering with the function of a single neurotransmitter may sometimes be enough to prevent developmental issues. “This indicates that a therapeutic approach to these defects may be, at least in some cases, simpler than anticipated,” he said.
Levin speculates that in the future, we may not need to micromanage multitudes of cell-signaling events; instead, we may be able to manipulate how cells communicate with each other electrically and let them fix various problems.
Another recent experiment hinted at just how significant the developing brain’s bioelectric signal might be. Herrera-Rincon soaked frog embryos in common drugs that are normally harmless and then removed their brains. The drugged, brainless embryos developed severe birth defects, such as crooked tails and spinal cords. According to Levin, these results show that the brain protects the developing body against drugs that otherwise might be dangerous teratogens (compounds that cause birth defects). “The paradigm of thinking about teratogens was that each chemical is either a teratogen or is not,” Levin said. “Now we know that this depends on how the brain is working.”
These findings are impressive, but many questions remain, said Adam Cohen, a biophysicist at Harvard who studies bioelectrical signaling in bacteria. “It is still unclear precisely how the brain is affecting developmental patterning under normal conditions, meaning when the brain is intact.” To get those answers, researchers need to design more targeted experiments; for instance, they could silence specific neurons in the brain or block the release of specific neurotransmitters during development.
Although Levin’s work is gaining recognition, the emphasis he puts on electricity in development is far from universally accepted. Epigenetics and bioelectricity are important, but so are other layers of biology, Zhao said. “They work together to produce the biology we see.” More evidence is needed to shift the paradigm, he added. “We saw some amazing and mind-blowing results in this bioelectricity field, but the fundamental mechanisms are yet to be fully understood. I do not think we are there yet.”
But Nuccitelli says that for many biologists, Levin is on to something. For example, he said, Levin’s success in inducing the growth of misplaced eyes in tadpoles simply by altering the ion flux through the local tissues “is an amazing demonstration of the power of biophysics to control pattern formation.” The abundant citations of Levin’s more than 300 papers in the scientific literature—more than 10,000 times in almost 8,000 articles—is also “a great indicator that his work is making a difference.”
The passage of time and the efforts of others carrying on Levin’s work will help his cause, suggested David Stocum, a developmental biologist and dean emeritus at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. “In my view, his ideas will eventually be shown to be correct and generally accepted as an important part of the framework of developmental biology.”
“We have demonstrated a proof of principle,” Herrera-Rincon said as she finished preparing another petri dish full of beanlike embryos. “Now we are working on understanding the underlying mechanisms, especially the meaning: What is the information content of the brain-specific information, and how much morphogenetic guidance does it provide?” She washed off the scalpel and took off her gloves and lab coat. “I have a million experiments in my mind.”
Original story reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine, an editorially independent publication of the Simons Foundation whose mission is to enhance public understanding of science by covering research developments and trends in mathematics and the physical and life sciences.
Neuroscientist Explains One Concept in 5 Levels of Difficulty
The Connectome is a comprehensive diagram of all the neural connections existing in the brain. WIRED has challenged neuroscientist Bobby Kasthuri to explain this scientific concept to 5 different people; a 5 year-old, a 13 year-old, a college student, a neuroscience grad student and a connectome entrepreneur.
When 9-year-old Tracy Durham celebrated her birthday last week, her dad completely surprised her by dressing up as Dumbledore, her favorite character from the Harry Potter series. Lucky for Tracy, it looks like this is one gift that just keeps on giving, because a week after her birthday, her dad still hasn’t taken the costume off, and his two best buddies are dressed up like Dumbledore as well!
Wow! Looks like Tracy is getting the ultimate Harry Potter experience!
At Tracy’s Harry Potter-themed birthday party last week, her dad, Edgar, took the time to get dressed up in an authentic-looking Dumbledore costume, complete with floor-length purple robes and Dumbledore’s signature long, white beard. But where any average dad would let the fun stop when Tracy’s friends left at the end of the day, Edgar went above and beyond by staying in the costume all night long and even wearing it to church the next morning. Now he’s been in the costume for an entire week straight, and a couple of days ago his friends David and Jerry also showed up in full Dumbledore costumes and they’ve been milling around the house lapsing in and out of British accents ever since!
At this rate, Tracy may just have three Dumbledores hanging around her house forever!
Whether Tracy’s dad and his two friends are shooting pool together in the den, talking basketball at the kitchen table, or all shouting “Expecto Patronum!” at Tracy in unison, all three of them are doing it while sporting Dumbledore’s trademark braided white beard and half-moon spectacles. As a Harry Potter fan, Tracy’s got to be absolutely thrilled!
Yep, this is basically the coolest thing a parent and his two friends could do for a kid. Tracy just might be the luckiest girl in the world!