Pragma Synesi – interesting bits

Compendium of interesting bits I come across, with an occasional IMHO

How “probiotic epidemics” help wildlife—and us—survive

Pretty amazing how much we are dependent on a bunch of “low life”s.

When Evolution Is Infectious

How “probiotic epidemics” help wildlife—and us—survive

By Moises Velasquez-Manoff | October 1, 2015 | Nautilus Continue reading

October 2, 2015 Posted by | environment, evolution, genes, health | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Evolutionary traps

” ON THE Caribbean island of St Kitts, a colony of exuberant vervet monkeys patrols the beach, waiting to pounce on unattended drinks. When they spot one, they scamper acrobatically across the sand to steal it. They fight. They drink. They overturn tables. Finally, as the sun slides over the horizon, they slump clumsily onto the sand.

Scientists have been studying the drunken monkeys of St Kitts for decades, using them to research the neural pathways involved in alcoholism. But they represent more than just a primate model of addiction.

According to biologist Bruce Robertson at Bard College in New York, the monkeys are caught in an “evolutionary trap”. Their enjoyment of alcohol exists for a very good reason, he says: they evolved to crave energy-rich foods. But now that piña coladas are easier to obtain than bananas, it has become a liability. “It’s an incorrect behaviour that happened because we changed the environment too fast for evolution to catch up,” Robertson says.

Evolutionary traps – also called ecological traps – are everywhere. They have been found in almost every type of habitat, affecting mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and insects. Bamboozled by rapid environmental change, these animals can no longer accurately assess the suitability of food resources, mates, habitats or much of anything else. Bad choices look like good ones, and the animals are lured into an evolutionary dead-end.”

— excerpt from the article Trapped! (New Scientist issue 2960, 17 March 2014, by Christopher Kemp)

The article goes on to give examples of other animals that are facing decline due to the change in their environment, from newly hatched turtles crawling towards the city lights instead of the sea, to jewel beetles mistaking a beer bottle for a female and mating with it.  It’s eye-opening to see examples of the inadvertent destruction humans cause in the environment.

But there are two additional ideas in this article that fascinated me.  The first one is what Robertson calls “virtuous evolutionary traps”, a trap set on purpose, for example for mosquitoes carrying malaria. Ken Pienta is using it to trap metastasizing cancer cells — and calling it eco-therapy.

The second idea is that evolutionary traps apply to humans too. Behaviours that evolved to aid survival, hijacked to our detriment:  fast food, gambling, video gaming, drugs, pornography and so on. How can these be fixed?

The article is well worth reading. If you don’t have a subscription to New Scientist, this link seems to have the full text.

April 21, 2014 Posted by | behaviour, environment, evolution | , , , | Leave a comment

Why you may want to avoid anti-bacterial products

In August 2009, the Canadian Medical Association asked the Canadian government to ban triclosan use in household products under concerns of creating bacterial resistance and producing dangerous side products (chloroform). This article highlights a new study that gives one more reason to avoid triclosan-containing products.

Hand Soap Ingredient Can Increase Body Bacteria Burden

Residues of the antimicrobial agent triclosan can paradoxically boost bacterial growth in our bodies, by giving microbes a comfortable biofilm in which to rest.

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April 17, 2014 Posted by | environment, health | , | Leave a comment

The Battle Over Global Warming Is All in Your Head

Our own brains are screwing us.  Damn.

From Time Magazine, Aug. 19, 2013:

The Battle Over Global Warming Is All in Your Head

Despite the fact that more people now acknowledge that climate change represents a significant threat to human well-being, this has yet to translate into any meaningful action. Psychologists may have an answer as to why this is
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August 23, 2013 Posted by | behaviour, brain, environment | , | Leave a comment

Driveway sealant toxic

Not only does the black coal tar sealant used for driveways produce carcinogenic dust, but there is no proof that it increases the longevity of the asphalt underneath.  Vacuuming habits seem to make no difference in the concentration of toxic dust inside the house.  Already banned in some US cities.

From news, 11 January 2010:

Driveways could spread toxins into the home

Carcinogens in coal tar–sealed pavements cause worry.

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January 12, 2010 Posted by | environment, health | , , , | 1 Comment

Easter Island’s End

One of my favorite essays by Jared Diamond on societal collapse on Easter Island.  From Discover magazine, August 1, 1995:

Easter’s End

In just a few centuries, the people of Easter Island wiped out their forest, drove their plants and animals to extinction, and saw their complex society spiral into chaos and cannibalism. Are we about to follow their lead?

by Jared Diamond

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September 30, 2009 Posted by | anthropology, environment, history | , , , | Leave a comment

Jared Diamond on the environment

An essay by Jared Diamond, from Time magazine, August 26, 2oo2:

Lessons from Lost Worlds

By Jared Diamond

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September 30, 2009 Posted by | anthropology, environment, history, sociology | , , | Leave a comment


New word!

Drillusion:  “The thought that allocating more real estate for oil exploration is wrong on every conceivable level.” — jgl

July 16, 2008 Posted by | environment, news, politics | , , , | Leave a comment


This is a no-brainer — insulating your home will save you money AND help reduce carbon emissions. Nansulate is a new insulating paint that can make this an easy and relatively inexpensive project. This is their home page:

Article from a home improvement magazine:

Click to access midstate_HomeImprovement_winter07.pdf

They have a new “one-room-at-a-time” campaign to save you even more:

The beauty of the paint is that it also resists mold and covers lead paint in older homes. I’ve checked out their safety, and it looks good too. I am also thinking of using their metal-paint-product to insulate the exposed plumbing in my basement.

May 30, 2008 Posted by | environment | , , , , , | 1 Comment