Ancient DNA

After I am long dead, I hope that anthropologist discover my fossil remains and do whatever future scientists will do to figure help understand humanity. Never know what that might be.

I went to a lecture today at Smithsonian about ancient DNA. The speaker was David Reich who wrote a book, “Who We Are & How We Got Here,” about the subject. The field is been revolutionized in the last few years, so much of what we thought we knew has been overtaken by events. In the last ten years, testing DNA has become 100,000 times cheaper. Scientist can now test DNA from ancient human remains and compare them with other ancient and modern populations.

One surprising finding is that modern populations often are not much related to the “original” inhabitants of their regions. People have always moved and they have always mixed. This brings us to another truth. Groups as we define them just did not exist in the past. The mixing and moving has created our modern populations and they are never permanent. To take the dust to dust analogy, people and our ethnicity are based on dust. They come together for a short time but are recreated again and again each time in different ways.

We know a lot more about European populations than others because the science has been concentrated in Europe. In “deep time” – 5000 – 6000 years ago – there are four identifiable groups. Back then, these groups were more different from each other than East Asians are different from Western Europeans are today. The four groups from what is now Iran, Levant, Western European hunters and gatherers and people of the steppe north of the Black Sea. These groups mixed and matched to produce today’s European populations. Genetic diversity has been declining as people mix.

An interesting finding was that Western European populations are related to American native populations. Did they cross the Atlantic? Probably not. Rather both Native Americans and Western Europeans had common ancestors in a “ghost population.” This was a population in what is now Russia that is no longer extant as a population, but has left its genes in populations in America and Europe.

When you talk about genetics, somebody will bring up race. Reich was questioned about why he did not use the term. He explained that the term is meaninglessly imprecise but loaded with imputed meaning. Genetically, there is no such thing as a race, at least as we define it. He mentioned categories like “Hispanic” as especially meaningless from a genetic point of view.

The more we learn about genetics, the more we see that all human categories are impermanent. I like this idea, since it fits my historical conception. My belief is that when anything passes from living memory, it become the common heritage of humanity – good, bad or neutral, we are all one people.

My first picture is the lecture, held at the Smithsonian Indian Museum. Next two pictures are the Museum of the American Indian and last is the White House.

April 2018 forest

Went down to the farms. Still not much action. Spring is a little late this year. An interesting thing is in my second picture. I am calling these Lazarus trees. They sure looked dead, but if you look close you see that they have new growth. It is not much yet, but seeing any is odd.
I did a few hours of vine pulling and clearing at the Brodnax place. I have kinda given up doing this on Diamond Grove. My logic is that Diamond Grove is bigger (110 acres), so it is impossible to get at all of them, and it will be thinned in couple of years. That will knock down many of the vines.The Brodnax place has a stand from 2007 that is only 24 acres, so maybe manageable, and these trees are younger and so are the vines climbing them. If I get at them sooner, they will not cause so much damage and not be able to seed.

Funny thing happened today, however. I like to push through in a straight line, pulling and cutting maybe ten feet in each direction. I worked for about 3 hours when I noticed a dirt road ahead. I was a little surprised, but I sometimes find new things on land, things I missed. When I got to the road, however, I saw it was the same one I had come in, about a hundred yards down. I know that you tend to go in circles when you are lost, but this was a really graphic example. In my defense, I was not trying to pay close attention, but I do recognize my limitations.

First two pictures are the longleaf fields. The second show the Lazarus tree. Next two are the cu-over. In real life, you can see some of the little trees. They do not show up well on the picture. Last trees are my thinned trees on the Brodnax place. We will plant pollinator habitat on the dirt in front in a couple weeks. Should be very nice. I like the look of the thinned trees. They remind me of ponderosa pines in the west.

Hyperloop Coming Sooner

I heard of the hyperloop, but didn’t know much about it, nor did I think it was something feasible in the near term.  The discussion at AEI – “Is the hyperloop the future of transportation” – cleared up a few things for me.

The keynote speaker was the dynamic Maryland transportation secretary and the chairman of the Maryland Transportation Authority, Pete Rahn.  He did a very smart thing before starting his talk.  He went around and introduced himself to the guests in the front couple of rows.  I was among them. It made us pay more attention and feel closer to the subject and the man explaining it.  He started off talking about the alternatives.   The status quo is not working well, what with congestion growing all the time.  Mr. Rahn studied maglev in Japan.  They are very smooth and fast, but probably impractical for Maryland & Washington.  Maglev are expensive, and they take up a lot of space.  It is unlikely that they could get the space.

Mr. Rahn said that the future is not far off for hyperloop. In fact, it is almost here. Work has started on a near New York Avenue in the District. The advantage of hyperloop is that it is underground.  This is not a panacea. There are lots of things underground that need be considered. That is why the hyperloop will follow MD 295 to Baltimore.  There are fewer property owners to consider.  It should have no impact on the road above. The idea is for it to reach New York.

Hyperloop will compete mostly with Amtrak.  Private autos have the advantage of flexibility.  What I did not know is that hyperloop will also carry freight.  I had envisioned pods something like the size of private cars.  In fact, they will be more like airlines.  The freight pods must be designed to be intermodal, or the hyperloop needs be designed to take standard container sizes.  This is not a problem for the width, but length might be a problem around curves.  The containers do not bend.

The discussion session addressed specifics.  With time, they may add more stops.  Maybe little pods could join with trains and split off as appropriate.  For example, you might join the train on pod coming from Union Station riding in pod A. Once on the train, you could move to pod B being dropped off from the train in Columbia, MD.  I envision one of those cartoon that shows how red blood cells move through the circulatory system.

A prototype Hyperloop will be tested literally in a couple days, on April 17 in France.  It will go only 1.4 kilometers (less than a mile) but it will show the concept.

Sustainable Water at Wilson Center

Went to “Sustainable Water, Resilient Communities: Solutions for Dirty Water” at Wilson Center today. I will put links to the program in the comments.
I got to stand up and ask my question about biosolids, but mostly it was just fun to listen.
I had a couple take-aways from each speaker.

Moderator Eric Viala had a good point about helping people. We are all about saving lives, but if we have to save the same people over-and-over, maybe we are not getting anywhere. We might reconsider our approach.

Sasha Koo-Oshima re-framed waste. Wastewater is an undervalued resource, she said. We should start calling sewage plants “Resource Recovery Facilities.” This is really true, especially re biosolids.

Robyn Fischer reminded us to pay attention to women. Women make a lot of the decisions about water use. Beyond that, the best way to curb population growth is to educate and empower women.

My favorite was Jon Winsten. He advocated incentives to farmers, pay for performance. he pointed out that prescriptive regulations reduce productivity and are often not effective. We get better results by being flexible. Giving farmers choices recruits their intelligence and ingenuity.

A problem is that non-point source pollution is hard to measure, so we often have to pay for process. They do some things and we have reasonable faith that it works. Best management practices are good, but they can be made better by proactive measures by farmers who know their land better than anyone else.

Winsten argued for a mixed program where farmers get payments for the good things they do on their farms (ecological services) but also a bonus for the total watershed. This helps them think bigger and maybe recruit their fellow farmers. Nobody is trusted as much as a neighbor.

Finally, Jon Freedman talked about his company, Suez. They can clean water to make it drink quality. The problem is not the purity, but the perception. People just do not like to drink water that is recycled. It is a PR problem.

All water is recycled. No new water, at least not much, has come to earth in more than 4 billion years. All the water we drink has been through billions of kidneys and mixed with oceans of shit and yet it comes back to use clean as rain.

Water is generally under priced. We hear talk about water as a human right and SOME water is. But if we make it generally a right, we will surely make it scarce. We need a price on water.

Wilson does good programs. I often attend and learn each time. My picture shows Jon Winsten speaking in front of the panel.