rambling xcience

Maybe we get buried in our own crap before we get buried in the dirt

A short while ago I mentioned a Filter of Decrepitude (blood plasma dilution has a beneficial effect). This keeps turning over in my mind . . .

I was reflecting on the positive results from the dilution of plasma study.

When I describe this to other people I have come to rely on an analogy to automotive technology. As an engine or transmission operates you get metal-sliding-on-metal generating minuscule shavings. Even with lubrication. (there are also chemical changes with aging and over heating that cause the lubricant to become less effective)

These shavings are present in the lubricant and over time the loading increases if the fluid is not replaced. At some point this material in the lubricant begins to turn the lubricant into a slurry with abrasive quality. That wears the metal parts down faster increasing the metallic debris loading in the fluid which increases the wear which increases the shavings load . . . at some point it’s almost like a positive feedback loop and speed of wear and degradation accelerates.

Of course that’s not how the immune system works but it gets a certain picture of creeping decrepitude into their heads and I follow that up with this:

Of course your body isn’t metal but what does happen with age and living is the cells breakdown and you get cellular debris. Fragments of cell walls floating around. Worse is the biochemical constituents from inside the cells – some of those are damaging to other cells if they are floating around and able to touch outer cell walls of other cells.

So we get an increasing loading of the debris of cellular destruction and whatever other chemicals might be wrongly generated by incorrectly operating systems within our bodies. By that I mean the byproducts of life style choices or disease that produce inflammation which damages more cells. Hormones gone wrong. Organs malfunctioning. Over consumption of the wrong materials.

Now think about that from the immune system’s point of view.

Here’s a list of things that change with our immune system as we get older (courtesy of Aging Lowers Your Immunity.)

  • The thymus, which is located behind the breastbone, is one of the organs of the immune system. The thymus is where immune cells, white blood cells, called T lymphocytes (T cells) mature. The thymus begins to shrink when we are young adults. By middle age it is only about 15 percent of its maximum size.
  • Some T cells kill antigens directly. Others help coordinate other parts of the immune system. Although the number of T cells does not decrease with aging, T-cell function decreases. This causes parts of the immune system to weaken and increases the risk for becoming ill.
  • Macrophages, which are white blood cells that ingest antigens, don’t work as quickly as they used to. This slowdown may be one reason that cancer is more common among older people.
  • There are fewer white blood cells capable of responding to new antigens. Thus, when older people encounter a new antigen, the body is less able to remember and defend against it.
  • The amount of antibodies produced in response to an antigen is less in older people, and the antibodies are less able to attach to the antigen. These changes may partly explain why pneumonia, influenza, infectious endocarditis, and tetanus are more common among older people and cause death more often. These changes may also partly explain why vaccines are less effective in older people.
  • Later in life, the immune system also seems to become less tolerant of the body’s own cells. Sometimes an autoimmune disorder develops; normal tissue is mistaken for non-self tissue, and immune cells attack certain organs or tissues. Among the autoimmune disorders are: lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma and ankylosing spondylitis.
  • Diabetes, which is also more common with increasing age, can also lead to decreased immunity.

Now that list shows a number of things that change with your immune system over your lifetime. If we use the analogy of a defensive army fighting off invaders we could say that over time the army shrinks, the soldiers aren’t as well trained or effective. Conversely the field of enemies that army faces increases.

As the army loses more fights there’s more cellular debris floating around from the damage those fights caused. The more debris there is the busier the immune system becomes trying to filter the chemical signals that warn of invaders from those of the debris. It’s gets swamped with all the work. Increasing work load on a decreasing, and less effective, defense system means at some point it cannot keep up and you get a major infection that kills the body or a cascading set of failures that cannot be stopped.

In that list above they mention “T-cell function decreases”.
I am curious if they have measured this with actual individual cells OR if they know this from statistical studies of immune systems functionality? Because the former means we know the cells are less effective on an intrinsic level but the latter might mean they are still individually effective but the growing onslaught of detritus they face blunts that effectiveness.

They also point out “Macrophages, which are white blood cells that ingest antigens, don’t work as quickly as they used to”. I ask the same question as I do for the T-cell functionality. Do we know that for sure or is it a deduction from bulk activity not measuring up to statistical predictions?

Another thing mentioned is “Later in life, the immune system also seems to become less tolerant of the body’s own cells”. I wonder if an increasing loading of cellular debris presents to the immune system an ever expanding palette of cellular components that it needs to analyze and decide which are self and which hare not-self. Breakdown the cellular machinery enough and at some point the contents of self cells and the contents of non-self cells starts to look more alike than different. Possibly the aging immune system gets confused because of this and slips into attacking certain self cells via a ratcheting that way over time.

So could it be that the process of diluting the plasma and reintroducing it into the mouse is helpful simply because it reduces the amount of material the mouse’s immune system has to face in order to do its job? Akin to changing the oil in your car?

I’m just following logical-sounding questions along a path of inquiry. I have no lab or training that would allow me to say I know with any certitude that this is what happens but I do wonder about it seeing as I’m approaching that immune system cliff (hopefully not too quickly).

rambling social commentary

Words that come out of my mouth

Every now and then I hear something come out of my mouth and I’m struck by how surprised I am to hear them. (or embarrassed)
In our Writer’s Guild’s last Zoom get together this fell out. I don’t know if it’s original to me or I’d heard it somewhere before but I was struck by it’s simplicity.

It’s hard to change your mind when someone else is doing your thinking for you.

As one of my friends pointed out: Finally something both the Left and Right can agree on


Last night my friend, Lorraine, and I were discussing a number of things and I remarked that it’s an unending source of amazement to me that so many people rely on others to supply them with an opinion or point-of-view on so many things without bothering to learn enough about the subject to form their own opinions.

She countered with reminding me that most people, unlike me, seek out groups they can become part of and groups tend to develop shared ideas, outlooks and opinions.

It was a bit of a jarring moment for me . . . I’ve long felt apart from everyone else, in a way that’s not visible or obvious, but I do go through periods of forgetting that. It took her comment to bring that back into focus.

Some background might be needed here.

When I say ‘apart’ I mean that I don’t look at the world in the same ways that almost everyone in my cohort does. It’s not an easy thing to describe without resorting to a list of examples which I’m not going to try and trot out. But here’s a simple ‘objective’ indicator:

When the Nintendo Wii arrived we purchased one. In the free (built-in?) activities there was one that wasn’t a game or utility. It was the ‘Everbody Votes Channel‘ – a question and prediction channel.

People, Wii owners, around the world were solicited for questions which would then be short listed and then posed to all the other Wii owners.

Questions could be simple binary answer ones like When you put your socks on do you put the left or right on first? Or Boxers or Briefs? Or CDs or Vinyl? After a day which side of a sock is dirtier? (inside or outside) and the final (the service was shutdown) question: When you sleep, your room is . . . ‘completely dark’ or ‘not completely dark’

You would look at the questions and if you chose to ‘play’ give your own personal answer (vote) and then a guess as to which answer would garner the most votes.

After a few weeks the ‘game’ would be considered closed and poll results could be viewed. For the individual ‘questions’ you saw the results and how they compared to your answers.

Over time the system gathered enough data to give you statistics on how you have ‘performed’ over a host of questions.

They showed you how many times you were correct or not (meaning agreed with the popular-by-count vote). And how many times you correctly guessed how the group would vote.

One of the ways they graphically showed this I found to be a striking external verification and example of how I felt ‘apart’. It showed an avatar of you on screen with a small town graphic representing the total group’s Popular Opinion. And it showed you at some Distance From Popular Opinion with that distance calculated from how many times your answers coincided with the group’s. you can see all of this in the images below.

Lorraine was always close in, within ‘6 meters’.
My Mii was way out 404 meters from the group.

It was the first time I’d ever encountered an external metric that coincided with how I felt my relationship with everyone else worked. I don’t know why I was always the last man standing in group living situations – once everyone else had hit the sack I felt something inside switch on and almost heard a voice say “Now they’re gone we can get to work”. (coding happens best late when no one else is up) I still don’t.

When I imagine it in my head I see a picture of a child looking in a picture window at everyone else having a celebration of some sort. They all just fit in with each other and I . . . just don’t. It used to bother me some but with age I’ve found it’s just one of those things you can’t change. If I could I wouldn’t really be me anymore.

On the plus side I find I have to make up my own mind on a lot of things others don’t even give a second thought to. Another thing I’m not sure why about but in this case I’m feeling much better about having my own mind and opinions that are mostly my own (I won’t say I’m immune to others’ influence).

So when I find that reality differs from what is in my mind I can change my mind without waiting for everyone else to get around to some consensus. Same with my opinion about things. And I hope I’m a bit less susceptible to obsolete POVs being propped up by charismatic group members seeing as I’m not really in any particular group, party, club or boat.

If you were looking for a deeper analysis of what it means to be part of a group and how that might affect your POV and your sense of identity . . . I’d only be speculating. Guesstimating based on observation from without without the experience of having to live it. So, no – you won’t find that here.

social commentary

Arrested Development

Below this beginning is what I’d written last week. Before I got around to posting it I had my own experience that blatantly shows how screwed up the system still is . . . that’s what is stuck at the top of this post.

Bass Reeves is an example from the history of the USA that I did not hear about until I was in my 50s. The fact is that he was a heroic figure that really existed in the wild west of the US – the first Black Deputy Marshall west of the Mississippi, at a time when Blacks still faced a legal system and society heavily biased against them he roamed and lived in the most lawless places and still lived to the ripe old age of 72.

Most people my age, I’m 66, who grew up with John Wayne, Horse Opera and Cowboy movies never heard of him. That is an example of how the history has been retold in ways that eliminate Black heroes (and hide White atrocities against Blacks – see Tulsa Race Massacre)

The reason I include this is because we rented this movie that tells part of his origin story, how he got to be a deputy marshal, and after we’d watched it I noticed something. As I was putting the disc back into the sleeve I glanced at the art on the surface and was gobsmacked by what I saw.

Why is the Black guy not front and centre?

The movie is about his character not the villain. The white actor being given centre stage in the picture may be more well known than the black actor but that black actor has 50 film credits so he is not unknown.

WTF were they thinking doing this?

I do not know who was responsible for the art arranged on the disc but for this movie, in these times, this is a MASSIVE FAIL and an example of someone who is exhibiting MASSIVE CULTURAL IGNORANCE.

When I went to to find out more about the black actor I found another example of implicit racism being explicitly displayed for my view. The actor who plays Bass Reeves is David Gyasi . . . his name doesn’t come first in the cast list. Or second. Or third . . it’s fifth. I’m not sure what goes into the algorithm that makes the pages at imdb but it’s perpetuating racial stereotypes and attitudes the way it works right now.

This is the link (hopefully they fix the list)

It would appear that some in Hollywood are still stuck in the 1950s. That’s where their cultural development got arrested.

I have, in the past, thought about the idea that cultures, national cultures, grow and evolve and go through changes and are multifaceted just like human beings are in their psychology.

Human beings have different parts of them that are involved in doing things – like there’s a part of you that has to do the work-a-day life to earn a living to pay the bills etc etc but there’s another part of you that has maybe a romantic side or another part of you that’s into recreation and then when you look at politics there’s a whole other set of value systems that come into play in your judgments of how things work and how you feel about things. 

When you look at cultures, the culture of nations, you see a similar set of things. There’s lots of facets that represent different parts of what the nation, and that peoples’ national identity, are and what they do.

There’s the economy, there’s the arts, there’s health, there’s politics, social considerations, and of course there’s entertainment and recreation.

Something occurred to me, watching a news piece about the UK having to deal with, still today, having to deal with racism. People holding protests. Black Lives Matter. And they’re talking about systemic racism within the UK and the system of government and policing . . . and at that point I just had this thought.

Both the UK and the United States, the nation where a lot of these protests began, both of them had slavery at one point within their history as nations. And then they stopped having it.

Step back and look at that.

They just ended slavery. But the parts of their culture which deal with the interrelationship between people of different colors and racial backgrounds and their relationship to other people and other groups within the national identity of different colors and how those individual groups relate to the government of the nation – that should have actually been allowed to evolve and mature. But it was not.

The UK ended slavery before America did. 

They already had a class system in place even for the whites of the society. When they ended slavery I’m pretty sure that most of the people in white society looked at the people of darker color who had previously been considered possibly property, slaves, as being still not equivalent in class stature or status to themselves.

Because really all they did was say NO, they’re not going to be slaves, but they really hadn’t gone into a whole re-education of the system. Back then we didn’t even talk about that, I’m sure. They didn’t really allow that to change that much.

And the in States the same sort of thing – they ended slavery and they had a big civil war and what happened?

Well they didn’t really resolve the differences between the races and in the south, where they wanted to hold on to a whole bunch of things ‘slavery’, definitely people there – even though they were legally no longer allowed to own others, black people were no longer going to be slaves  – it’s very very clear from the history that the attitudes of the white people didn’t really change much. They definitely regarded the people of color as lower, far lower, than them in the power structure in the world. And over time enacted laws (Jim Crow laws) to keep it that way.

So what I’m getting at here with all this background is there’s a phenomenon we have with human psychology called Arrested Development.

When we think of that we tend to think of adults, and usually adult males (at least in our western culture), who exhibit the behaviors of teenagers. We say that part of them is still stuck at fifteen. It’s arrested development, Like something happened in their life and that part of their personality did not mature, it didn’t grow, it kind of got stuck at some age between 13 and 19. 

So they still act like teenagers when it comes to whatever it is: entertainment, sex, partying, recreation, being daredevils or engaging in risky behavior or whatever.

So if Cultures are in many ways just like human psychologies and human psyches, then you could say that both the UK and the United States suffer from arrested development, And that’s why today all of these protests have to happen because they never resolved this whole issue.

Even though it’s said legally that people of color have the same rights as people who are white, it is really said with one side of our culture’s face. The people in power, whites, didn’t really let them have them. And in many places the white people in power went out of their way to enact things to make sure the people of color, who were at the bottom and trying to get a leg up, were stuck there.

That’s arrested development if I’ve ever heard of it. And that’s why people today are facing all these protests and because it never got fixed back then. 

They’ll fix it sooner or later.

Arrested Development

An aspect of cultural evolution and growth and maturity or cultural immaturity. 

The questions they should have asked way back then are

Why don’t black lives matter enough to us?
What’s wrong with us as a society, and as a people, that we can look at them that way. Maybe there’s something wrong with that.

It’s not their fault, the people of color. That’s a fucked-up problem with our own, white, psychology. The non-blacks Or the people who look upon it that way.

It’s not that this is any revelation or new discovery – I’m not so full of myself to think that. But things like this need to be brought out into the light of day so they can be dealt with so 10 generations on society isn’t having to deal with unresolved issues. So 10 more generations of people of color don’t have to face the same nasty world the previous generations have had to.

And with that I think I’ll stop around here before I begin making a fool of myself.

consciousness mind

Blindsight gives Insight into Inside the Workings of Consciousness

I’m going to leave a one word comment for now so I can come back and fill in more later.



applied science

Something in the blood

A little over a decade ago the world heard the news that connecting the blood systems of an old and young mouse resulted in the old mouse showing signs of rejuvenation. Could it be that there was something in the young blood that was beneficial? Like the fabled Fountain of Youth?

By Lucas Cranach the Elder – Unknown source, Public Domain,

The flaw in that idea was that the young mice in the study showed signs of aging . . . something in the old blood made the indicators of age appear faster in the young mice.

Well after research it turns out that original FOY point of view is backwards: it’s not something in the young blood being added to the old mouse – it’s things in the old blood being cleaned out by the young mouse or diluted by the larger blood system they shared. Likely detritus, mostly proteins, from cellular decay and aging processes.

This has been shown by removing one of the mice altogether. That mouse was replaced with diluted blood plasma.

They diluted it with saline solution and albumin which “which is needed for overall biophysical and biochemical blood health and was lost when half the plasma was removed

This is something that can be done with humans . . . now. Because there is no new drug or medicine to be approved. Therapeutic plasma exchange is a relatively safe procedure with no to mild side effects. It requires no surgery, blood is drawn, plasma extracted and processed and then put back into the patient’s blood system.

This is article if you want read more about this on ScienceDaily

As I mentally reviewed this piece I found myself wondering how much of a ‘treatment’ would need to be regulated by a health authority if pretty much everything used in, and every action performed during, are simply things used and done as a regular course of affairs in many clinics, hospitals and doctors offices across the world?

What I’m getting at is “therapeutic plasma exchange” is already a valid procedure . . . what’s to stop someone from setting up Fountain Of Youth Retention clinics and capitalizing on this?

rambling writing

Syllabic Chop

Had an interesting experience today.

My granddaughter and I were talking around 9:30 in the morning … Just a normal morning conversation. When she asked me what I was doing today I said I’m getting ready for a Zoom meeting in a little while. She said “I’m having a Zoom meeting too.” with a smile. Now I’m almost 67 years old and she’s 7 and a half. “What time is your zoom meeting?” I asked. “11:00 o’clock.” she said. “Well I guess we’ll both be in zoom meetings at the same time for a little while.” She nodded as if this was an everyday occurrence.

When I was her age there was no Internet or Zoom. The only video communication anybody thought about was Dick Tracy’s wristwatch and that was a comic strip character’s fictional device. Telephones had dials and we’re connected to the wall by a wire. If your house had a TV it was probably black and white and only got two or three channels.

Now she’s 7 I’m almost 67 and two way multi person video conferencing is just something that people do. Science fiction become reality – Yahoo!

She asked me what my Zoom meeting was about and I told her it was a group of people that either had written books or wanted to write books. She said I write books. And she’s right – she showed me a book that she had produced not two days ago: 5 pages with a cover. Contents completely created by her. Kind of like a comic book – she’s getting better.

This led to a conversation where she asked me if I’d written a book and I told her I had a very short book and I tried to explain to her about the book. And in the conversation about that I got to ask her about a number of concepts that she would have to have in order to be able even understand what the book was about.

As we talked and I realized how much she had not learned yet, she is only 7, I made tentative tries at explaining some of these concepts and as I did I started to have a parallel experience of revisiting how I felt when I learned things for the first time that were what I would call hard to wrap my head around.

Concepts that I, at my advanced age of 66, feel like I’ve known my whole life started to pop up and say but you didn’t know me your whole life don’t you remember when … And it wasn’t so much the actual experience of learning those things that was coming back in, in the background, but the remembrance of the feelings of the frustration involved in trying to wrap my head around a concept that was completely foreign and strange to me and how slippery it was to try and get it. And feeling so stupid when I couldn’t understand things that, at the age of 10 or 11, I wouldn’t have to be exposed to until I was in University or College.

During the Zoom meeting I brought this up when we got to the point where we had exhausted things we’d written to read for the group. I think I said something to the effect that this is causing me to re-experience feelings I had long forgotten associated with Aha! Moments, okay they were not so much aha moments, but turning points in my awareness and knowledge of the world around me. Points and nuggets that sometimes had emotional luggage attached.

Then I had a little aha moment in my commenting on the wording of a sentence in one of the other authors’ readings. I had found the sentence to be a bit long and suggested some minor changes to shorten it up and to help get the point across about why I felt this was worth doing I coined a phrase that just came out of what I was seeing in my head at the time associated with what I was trying to explain.

That phrase was syllabic chop (I am surprised that the dictation software got it right but maybe that means I did not coin this phrase – Oh well. I just googled it and it didn’t appear that any uses of the term approximate mine so maybe I have coined a new term ;).

This is what I remember about explaining syllabic chop:

When you’re writing your story part of what you’re doing is you’re weaving a new world that you want to have recreated in the reader’s mind so that the characters and events of your story have context and a setting.

Think of it this way: you’re describing places and things in your story’s world. Those parts of your written document are descriptors of let’s say little islands of your virtual world in the head-space of your reader. Your story is going to consist of a group of islands in that head-space and you have to not only weave that group of islands into existence but also connect them by the story itself.

So some of your story’s content will be describing those little islands while a lot of your story’s content will be connecting those little islands.

What I mean by this is that if you have a sentence that says something happened, somebody said something – some text like that – think of that as you moving your story from the island where it is, the readers head is right now, to the next island.

It’s not a bridge, it’s a little journey by boat – your words are the boat and the medium through which that boat travels. Your reader is the passenger.

Between those two islands there’s a channel of water. Your story fragment, a sentence or two, is like a little boat that’s carrying you across that Channel, and in order for the reader to make that trip across there – to follow you and not fall off the boat (literally lose track of what the writer is trying to get in the reader’s head), in order for that to work out . . . well you want that trip to be as smooth as possible. Or sculpted in a way that is by design.

Every Syllable in your sentence is like a little wave in that Channel and the more syllables you have the Choppier the channel becomes.

So maybe you want to try and reduce the syllabic chop that your reader has to experience in order to give them a smooth, and maybe a more true to your desired result, experience. So that you get into their head what you want to get into their head and they don’t get confused and frustrated.

I hope that makes sense.


Think you can come home again?

This is a note to all those who grew up in a small town and went off into the big wide world to seek their fortune and make a life for themselves. And did.

Then it all fell apart courtesy of COVID-19.

And when they lost everything, their house their job – Everything – they decided they would go home. To where they came from because that’s what you do when you’re down on your luck and at the end of your rope. 

But will they find help and shelter and a friendly face when they come back home to their Hometown after being away for 20-25 years?

If what I have seen here in this small town is any indication: they’re going to find it’s kind of like that  movie trope where the kid goes off to University and it doesn’t work out and they come home and they find out that Mom and Dad have rented out their room to some stranger and there’s no place for them at home.

Except that would be nice. What will happen will not be so nice.

My town is a small town and has a small homeless population. But many of the people in this town are fed up with that homeless population and like an awful lot of people in small towns, and Big Towns, everywhere when they start thinking with their guts and their emotions they want simplistic solutions to complicated problems.

One of the things I hear them say is: The Homeless are here because we’re such a soft touch – if we weren’t so easy on them then they’d move on.

On its face that’s easy to refute – there are homeless everywhere and our town is not special.

But the implied reasoning also says these homeless are transients that will move along if the pickings get too lean or the streets get too mean.

One thing that they don’t want to hear and conveniently refuse to remember is that a large portion of that homeless population grew up here. 

That fact flies in the face of their desire for these homeless people to just take off and go somewhere else.

When I look at the organized groups and the loudest voices I find an interesting phenomenon: While there are hundreds of people in these groups some of the loudest and most angry are people who have been here about as long as I have, 15 years.

I had this conversation with one I know who has been active in the community and even local government:

Them: They are transients coming here from other places because we’re a soft touch.

Me: But the RCMP told all of us, at the meeting we were both at, that a significant portion of them grew up here. They’re the sons and daughters and cousins and nephews and nieces of people here.

Them: Well he’s not saying that now. What do you think when you see out of province plates dropping them off at the _____ (local soup kitchen)?

Me: I went through the hitchhiking craze too and I know that just means that’s where their lift dropped them. And I haven’t heard the RCMP detachment commander change his statement.

Them: Well he has. He’s not saying that now.

Me: Well I’ll wait to hear it from him myself.

Months later there was another town hall meeting and the RCMP commander said the same thing he’d said before: quite a lot of our homeless are here because this is where they grew up.
Which leaves me wondering if the person I was talking to was (a) BSing me to my face to make a point (they had been in local politics) or (b) genuinely could not remember hearing the RCMP commander say that or (c) had just not heard him when he said it (but they did not say that, they implied they had heard it)

The thing is, these angry people don’t want to hear a fact like a lot of the homeless aren’t transients from elsewhere. And they don’t want to accept it either. So even if you got them to grudgingly admit that this is what the services that interact with the homeless say they will conveniently not remember it later on when they’re out there bombasting the world with their angry ideas.

If the information comes from some quasi-governmental office they don’t like they’ll conveniently disregard it as lies or fake news. Because that’s the thing to do today: ignore or disregard anything that does not agree with your world view. Cast shade on anyone who disagrees with you. Recast scientists and experts as just people with opinions.

So if you grew up here, moved away, made a life and lost it all because of things beyond your control don’t think your return home will be a return to a safe harbour. Strangers have taken up residence and to many of them you’re going to be just more homeless trash. You might not do crimes or drugs but in their minds all the homeless take drugs and do crimes. You might have led a normal life before but now you’re a scary threat better off in someone elses’s back yard.

If I had to make that trek back I’d do as much as I could to reconnect with old friends and family and pave a way back that doesn’t give the angry newbie nimbys a reason to see you as the thing they fear and hate so much.

But then again you might be lucky and your old hometown might have a heart and a support system . . .


A ‘consciousness conductor’ synchronizes and connects mouse brain areas

Do we condense down to a loosely connected collection of neurons serendipitously located in a central place in the brain’s connectome? That might be the case. The claustrum may be the seat of consciousness … or maybe the meat space projection of this mostly mental entity.

applied science

Composite Creatures

When we look deep into our bodies How much of what we find is Human and how much is . . . something else?

During this COVID-19 crisis a lot of things are posted by many, many people – so much by so many that filtering and actively avoiding too much exposure to this torrent of stuff has become a continuous process for me.

Please don’t get me wrong – I do stay up to date but I do that from reputable news and science sources. Stuff from social media I tend to not pay much attention to. But I do pay some attention and yesterday I was glad that I did.

My friend Richard posted a link to an article on Medium called “Misinformation Goes Viral”. The piece is by Jason Shepherd an Associate Professor of Neurobiology at the University of Utah who specializes in the molecular mechanisms of memory and brain plasticity. He also has his own website ( regarding this work:

The Medium article’s main thrust, and my friend’s reason for citing it, was to have a number of the scarier ‘theories’ floating around the internet addressed by someone who knows viruses and human biology. And that part is interesting but . . . the part that got me excited was the two links (1,2) before that part. The ones that he added to show the reader he’s really a working scientist and not some quack flapping his beak.

Those links introduced me to a concept I hadn’t encountered before (I think) that added a whole new chapter to the book of our biology. An essential one that without which we would not exist.

The experience of reading and listening to what his work has revealed was akin to that I felt when I learned that the engines, the Mitochondria, that power every cell in our bodies aren’t human at all.

Mitochondria are Bacteria that colonized an animal cell very far back in the past. That cell and the bacteria were able to coexist in a mutually beneficial arrangement. The cell gave the bacteria a protected environment with nourishment and ‘house cleaning’ while the bacteria provided material the cell could use for power. And it’s been that way ever since. It’s also a reason why we lack the cellular ability to provide our own power – we don’t need to. Almost every cell in our bodies uses them for power. And the same can be said of almost all animals.

Now I find out that it looks like a similar thing happened with our DNA a long time in the past. Possibly more than once.

At some point in the past evolutionary tree we’re part of a cell was invaded by a virus. The invasion by the mitochondria was different matter: an actual fully developed bacteria lives within the cells of our bodies. An invasion by a virus differs from that because a virus has no cell body of its own so the thing it does is to invade the DNA of the target cell inserting its own DNA in the process.

When a disease causing virus does this it turns the cell into a little virus producing factory. The cell begins to spew many new copies of the virus which then go on to attack other cells in the host.

This invasion I’m talking about gave us a gene called ARC. Many animals have an ARC gene but each one is unique to that animal.

When genes are activated they transcribe into RNA molecules which then produce Proteins. In humans the ARC gene only operates in the cells in the brain where it produces a proteins. These proteins are passed from one neuron to another.

In mice bred to not have the ARC gene test show that they cannot lay down long term memories . . . meaning ARC is essential to the process of memory.

These proteins seemed to be far larger than most proteins and they wanted to know why that was. One way to find out was to image them When Sheperd went to look at these proteins he was struck by their appearance – they looked a lot like Viruses. Specifically HIV viruses.

That’s not a coincidence. The team showed that Arc descends from an ancient group of genes called gypsy retrotransposons, which exist in the genomes of various animals, but can behave like their own independent entities.* They can make new copies of themselves, and paste those duplicates elsewhere in their host genomes. At some point, some of these genes gained the ability to enclose themselves in a shell of proteins and leave their host cells entirely. That was the origin of retroviruses—the virus family that includes HIV.
So, Arc genes are the evolutionary cousins of these viruses, which explains why they produce shells that look so similar. Specifically, Arc is closely related to a viral gene called gag, which retroviruses like HIV use to build the protein shells that enclose their genetic material. Other scientists had noticed this similarity before. In 2006, one team searched for human genes that look like gag, and they included Arc in their list of candidates. They never followed up on that hint, and “as neuroscientists, we never looked at the genomic papers so we didn’t find it until much later,” says Shepherd.

It turns out that ARC can also provide an encapsulating protein shield for the RNA. And the protected RNA package is carried to the target neuron where it alters that neuron’s DNA . . . why and what happens as a result we don’t know yet.

Which brings me around to the reason Shepherd started looking at all this in the first place. If Proteins existence can be measure in hours than how are long term memories formed?

If it were encoded in proteins there would have to be a massive refreshing of proteins on a regular basis like computer DRAM memory requires. That would require a lot of energy expenditure and chemical processing, also meaning possible waste byproducts to be processed. So memory can’t be encoded strictly in proteins. If it’s not proteins then what? Which led to the search and the perplexing partial result of ARC.

So it’s possible that memory is only possible because we were hijacked by a virus a long time ago. And that may not be the only process in our bodies that benefits, or is only possible, courtesy of viruses. Over 100 gag type genes have been found within the human genome . . . we’re just beginning to see that there’s a huge hidden viral iceberg of knowledge within the genome we didn’t even realize was there.

Here’s Jason Shepherd in a TedMed talk.

applied science

Striking Progress In Stroke Research

So they’re taking broken rat brains and inserting human nerve cells . . . what do you think about that?

How about this:

They’re breaking the rat brains on the purpose, giving them strokes, so they can try something out.

What are they trying out?

Is repairing broken brains with new nerve tissue possible?

And this new nerve tissue – it’s not something you can buy or borrow so where does that come from?

It’s actually manufactured from human skin tissue which they have reprogrammed to be nerve cells. Cool, huh?

Did you know they can do that now? I wrote a small piece about that back in 2014.

So are the human nerve cells connecting to cells in the rat brains?

“Six months after the transplantation, we could see how the new cells had repaired the damage that a stroke had caused in the rats’ brains,” says one of the researchers

It gets better. A stroke is an event that causes areas of damaged (dead) cells in the brain. From either too much blood (a bleed from a burst vessel) or not enough blood (a clot blocking blood flow) So there are dead brain cells.

“We have been able to see that the fibres from the transplanted cells have grown to the other side of the brain, the side where we did not transplant any cells, and created connections”

From this article Repairing stroke-damaged rat brains ( in ScienceDaily.