Chris Hadfield Still Rocks

A brief note aside: Yes, we know. Every once in a while it behooves us to check the instructions. It really is that easy to embed a tweet. This Unfortunately Requisite Duh has been brought to you by Diving Under Many Bogus Assumptions. Take the note.

More importantly, there is a reason why @Cmdr_Hadfield remains awesome.


Happy π Day

Happy π Day. Π? π? I go with π, since that’s what this is all about, anyway. right?

Well, you know, to our American friends. Never mind. Dumb joke. Predictable. Happy π Day to each and every one of you around the world and throughout the Universe.

On a related note, NASA proudly recalls the Pi Transfer:

π ManeuverOn Jan. 19, 2007, the Cassini spacecraft took this view of Saturn and its rings—the visible documentation of a technique called a “pi transfer” completed with a Titan flyby. A pi transfer uses the gravity of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, to alter the orbit of the Cassini spacecraft so it can gain different perspectives on Saturn and achieve a wide variety of science objectives. During a pi transfer, Cassini flies by Titan at opposite sides of its orbit about Saturn (i.e., Titan’s orbital position differs by pi radians between the two flybys) and uses Titan’s gravity to change its orbital perspective on the ringed planet.

Taking in the rings in their entirety was the focus of this particular imaging sequence. Therefore, the camera exposure times were just right to capture the dark-side of its rings, but longer than that required to properly expose the globe of sunlit Saturn. Consequently, the sunlit half of the planet is overexposed.

Yeah. They can do this. Happy π Day.

CDC on AMD: “Nothin’ Against Canada”

Meanwhile, in the war against … er .. um … ah … right. Anyway, politics and priorities:

We have the technology  ....Many public health experts see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the premier disease detection agency not just for the United States but for the entire planet.

Yet when it comes to employing the fastest and most precise method of spotting outbreaks of illness, the CDC is no longer at the cutting edge—and won’t be for years. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Thomas Frieden along with public health and provider groups want to turn that around by investing in a sophisticated technology called “advanced molecular detection” that determines the genetic map of the viruses, bacteria and parasites that cause disease.

The effort began paying off early this year. Appropriators for the first time in several years decided to rewrite Labor-HHS-Education spending provisions. In doing so, they included $30 million for the AMD technology in the omnibus spending measure funding the government through the end of fiscal 2014.


It almost sounds like a bureaucratic accident; indeed, the task remains for Frieden to convince Congress to maintain funding.

There are, of course, the political questions, from global health perspectives to budgetary questions, to “nightmare” pathogens that, unfortunately are not so unrealistic as the description might lead us to hope. Consider the idea of a contagion that cannot be killed with current technology, and can dance across species. The kind of thing they make bad suspense films about. Except real.

The viruses, bacteria and parasites that cause disease each have their own individual genetic makeups. Advanced molecular detection is used to determine what they are.

It does so by analyzing a small sample of virus or bacteria, for example. It prints out a sequence of the genes in the sample involved. That allows a precise match to a particular medical condition.

Also, the data can be made available within hours to the “bioinformatics” specialists who have the expertise to interpret it. These “rapid gene sequencing” techniques can be applied without the painstaking culturing of samples in labs over a period of days or weeks. It also can quickly determine whether bacteria is drug resistant—speed that could save thousands of lives, officials say.

“Imagine putting together a 10,000-piece jigsaw puzzle with the speed you could normally do a 100-piece puzzle—apply that to infectious disease control and that’s AMD at work,” says a CDC fact sheet on the technology. “Now imagine, while disease is spreading and people are dying, trying to put a 10,000 piece puzzle together when key pieces are missing. That’s what many CDC scientists are struggling against today” ….

…. “We’ve been concerned for a number of years that CDC is falling behind,” said Scott Becker, executive director of the Association of Public Health Laboratories. He cited investments 10 to 15 years ago in a technology known as PCR and in the PulseNet food illness surveillance network as ones that kept the agency then at the cutting edge of disease detection, but no longer.

It isn’t so much that the CDC is behind other nations as it is that the technology isn’t being used when dangerous new threats are emerging, said Becker.

“It’s more that the microbes are ahead of us,” agreed Frieden. “The microbes are evolving really quickly.”

But Frieden acknowledged a “painful” story. “During the [2010] cholera outbreak in Haiti we were able to sequence the genome of the cholera bacillus, but we couldn’t interpret it. So we had to send it to Canada to have it interpreted,” he said. “You know, I got nothin’ against Canada, but I never ever want to have to send something elsewhere to have it interpreted. They were ahead of us with bioinformatics.”


Reichard, John. “CDC Plans to Map DNA of Disease-Causing Viruses”. Roll Call. March 10, 2014.

You Wouldn’t Believe ….

Now this is a paragraph:

Among the more profitable endosymbioses is one that allows the host to derive energy from sunlight. The light-harvesting machines of plants and algae, for example, are the products of an ancient merger between a photosynthetic bacterium and a microbial eukaryote. Like mitochondria, present-day plastids—including both pigmented light-harvesting as well as unpigmented nonphotosynthetic chloroplasts—are fully and inescapably integrated into the host cell. Their journey from bacterium to internal solar-powered generator is responsible for much of the success and diversity of life on earth; no other cellular invention has had a greater impact on eukaryotic evolution. In fact, as scientists continue to uncover new and bizarre plastid-bearing lineages, it is becoming clear that many eukaryotic groups lacking plastids actually descend from photosynthetic ancestors. Some species are even in the process of generating novel plastid organelles.


That is to say, just stop and consider everything in that paragraph.

Elysia chlorotica, for instance:

Elysia ChloroticaElysia chlorotica is a “solar-powered” marine sea slug that sequesters and retains photosynthetically active chloroplasts from the algae it eats and, remarkably, has incorporated algal genes into its own genetic code. It is emerald green in color often with small red or white markings, has a slender shape typical of members of its genus, and parapodia (lateral “wings”) that fold over its body in life. This sea slug is unique among animals to possess photosynthesis-specific genes and is an extraordinary example of symbiosis between an alga and mollusc as well as a genetic chimera of these two organisms.

(Encyclopedia of Life)

Is there really anything we can add to that? Behold … life!

Smith, David. “Steal My Sunshine”. The Scientist. January 1, 2013.

“Eastern Emerald Elysia”. Encyclopedia of Life. (n.d.)

Pierce, S. K., et al. “Horizontal Transfer of Functional Nuclear Genes Between Multicellular Organisms”. The Biological Bulletin. 204: 237-240. June, 2003.

Image credit: Patrick Krug via