Ants, Antibiotics, Antiseptics

Antibiotics in ants? You’re kidding, right? But according to some ground-breaking research by German researchers, the little creatures may yet hold an ace card in our desperate search for ways to counter the spread of antibiotic resistant superkillers.

Erik Frank and his team at the University of Würzburg have been studying the Matabele Ant (Megaponera analis) which lives in the warmer parts of sub-Saharan Africa. It gets involved in major battles in termite mounds, and the ant soldiers take heavy casualties, often losing entire legs. Incredibly, they get dragged back to their nests by their comrades, where special nurse ants treat them. The nurses apply a potent compound comprising proteins which seem to have both antibiotic and antifungal properties. There seems to be a high cure rate. We got this story from the excellent Alice Klein of the even more excellent New Scientist.[1] But as some readers sometimes get paywall problems with them, we’re putting up the preprint report as well.[2]

And the moral in the story? There’s always a moral, gentle readers. That the relentless destruction of forests, oceans and wild places in general may be a seriously major mistake. We’ve already written about how the Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) could be a valuable source of antibiotics(see LSS 27 10 20) Who knows what may be waiting to be tapped, to our benefit, in the last unspoiled areas? The frantic, almost neurotic, search for short term profit puts all of this at risk. Time for a different model, we think.



#habitat destruction #antibiotics #antifungals #ants #health #medicine

Weekly Round up: Statistics, magic mushrooms, China, Egg-free statues and sports

stories which we suspect may be of more than passing significance

A hundred years ago the most exciting work being done-where the future was being shaped, if you like-was in quantum mechanics. Nowadays, we think the future is being shaped by those researching things like Artificial Intelligence, Complexity Theory, and the general need to cope with the huge quantities of data which we now possess. Nowhere is this clearer than in the world of Meta-science; that exciting world where researchers look at results across many studies, scaping out new significances and the precious gold of new knowledge. And one real opportunity from the new technologies is the potential for multiple statistical analyses of data sets. About time too, as this study in Nature makes clear (“one-note analysis can give false confidence”)

Restricting analyses to a single technique can blind researchers to an important aspect of uncertainty, making results seem more precise than they really are. For example, in 2020, the UK Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling asked nine teams to calculate the reproduction number R for COVID-19 infections. The uncertainty across all the teams was considerably larger than the uncertainty within any one team — important knowledge for decision-makers. Meta-science researcher Balazs Aczel and statisticians Eric-Jan Wagenmakers and Alexandra Sarafoglou argue that data should be subject to multiple analyses, ideally by multiple teams — and that the extra work is worth it.Nature | 10 min read

Magic Mushrooms and depression The relentless persecution of recreational drug users may have led to a missed trick- a cure for the terrible affliction of depression. A more relaxed attitude could lead to some fruitful research into cures. Here’s Claire Tweedy for The Conversation:

China Crisis We have always profoundly admired Chinese Civilisation. It seemed only fair that they should take a rightful place in the world, although in recent decades their rise has been vertiginous-and slightly scary. Yet all is not necessarily well for this Asian Colossus as this piece by Nectar Gan for CNN, suggests we thank Peter Seymour for this link

Homage to a pioneer It wasn’t easy to be a woman in the nineteenth century and to be a woman scientist was many orders of magnitude more difficult. So we were heartened to see that a statue of paleontology pioneer Mary Anning is to be raised in her native Dorset. Surely no dinosaur eggs will be hurled at this one? Esther Addley for the Guardian:

Sports Algorithm Finally, as Saturday is a big sports day, here’s another use of new algorithmic techniques to predict sports injuries, says Sam Tonkin for the Mail

If we cleave to the exciting possibilities offered by new technologies, and have the courage to use our brains, the future can be better indeed. Drifting into boozy, nostalgic fantasies of lost national greatness offers no real future indeed. As more than one country is currently finding out.

#metascience #algorithms #AI #mental illness

Friday Cocktails: The Minimalist Baker on Cucumber Coolers

What distinguishes the sophisticated drinker from the lush? The narrative you weave around your tipple. Any thug can tip gallons of booze down their throat. Minimalist savouring is for the cognoscenti. Which is why we like the Minimalist Baker website. Because they tell the story of the drink. [1] Read their take on the cucumber cooler. Not just how to make it, but how it fitted in to a perfect night out in Wichita, which we suppose to be a misspelling for Wiltshire.

That’s style. That’s sophistication. Above all, it’s alarmingly prescient. Because if current trends on global warming continue, everyone is going to need a few good cooling drinks. Assuming that is, there is any water left to make the ice with.

Cheers and Have a good weekend

#minimalist baker #cocktail #cucumber #global warming

Heroes of Learning: In praise of Erasmus

Ah-the Renaissance! That multiple flowering of arts, letters and sciences which flourished in so many parts of Europe at once, and laid the grounds for so much subsequent progress. Ask the average person and they will run off a string of names-Della Francesca, Bracciolini, Copernicus, Palestrina……but for us one of the greatest names of all was Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536)[1] For the Renaissance, especially the early part of it was a truly international phenomenon, and nothing illustrates that so well as the life of this awesome polymath.

Born in Rotterdam to poor parents, he at least received a good education and was ordained into the bureaucracy of the Catholic Church, the only way up for a humble lad in those days. For all its faults, the system recognised his formidable intelligence. Dispensed from mundane parochial duties, he spent his life criss-crossing Europe in a series of teaching and research posts which included Oxford, Cambridge, Leuven, and Rome, to name but a few. And all the time in touch with the leading intellects of the day including Sir Thomas More, Cardinal Cisneros and John Colet. He knew that learning is international, multilingual and above all collaborative.

Above all he was a writer, quickly grasping the potential of the new printing technology. It is said that in the 1530s his works may have commanded 20% of all book sales in Europe. He pioneered self help books like Handbook of the Christian Knight; satire like In Praise of Folly as well as outpourings on subjects as diverse as Theology and raising children. Above all he will be remembered for his deep work on linguistics, producing important new translations of The Bible in Greek, Latin and Hebrew.

His best epitaph was by another polymath, Sir Kenneth Clark, who described Erasmus as

“Spokesman of northern civilisation and the greatest internationalist of his day” [2]

Today his achievements are commemorated by the Erasmus programme of the European Union, [3], whereby young people from many countries can travel and study to the highest levels across a whole continent, like their Renaissance forbears did long ago to such great effect. Perhaps someone in it now will be as illustrious as Erasmus one day!


[2] Clark K Civilisation BBC 1969


#renaissance #humanism #christianity #printing #technology

Will the pound sterling be the next cryptocurrency?

Astute readers will have noticed two rather similar trends in recent days. Big falls in the Cryptocurrency markets, and big falls in the £ sterling, that once-venerated symbol of Britain’s former imperial might. But, despite the fears in the public bar of the The Dog and Duck, are we really talking about the same thing?

We have always taken the view that virtual currencies will slowly integrate themselves into the broader world economy-as does trading in any new technology.(LSS 11 1 21) Think motor transport in the twentieth century or the international wine trade in the iron age, if you want. But there may be many fluctuations and bubbles before the new boy finally settles in place. Which might be some considerable time.

Sterling is rather different. Whilst it is true that UK exports and foreign investment are dramatically down, the currency is still backed by the complex infrastructure of a modern state. Which has a relatively educated workforce, transport and communications and a considerable research base in its Universities. These will persist. So a change in the currency exchange rates reflects economic realities, not existential threats. Indeed a lower rate for sterling could actually drive an export revival, as we have argued before(LSS 30 9 21) A UK trading the £ at or even below parity to the Euro would in effect have circumvented many of the disadvantages of being outside of the single market. Individual Britons would feel the squeeze in things like holidays and consumer prices. But eventually Britain (or perhaps England and Wales) would achieve a new equilibrium with the EU block, just as Ireland did with the Sterling area in the 1950s.

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once memorably remarked “you can’t buck the markets.” We are not financial advisers or even economists, but we think she was right. An equilibrium will return. We just have to set the price.

#sterling #pound #eurozone #euro dollar exchange rates

Friday Night Cocktails: World Cocktail Day

Gentle readers, we do not wish to be gloomy. But the prospect from our window is a bit depressing. Wars, inflation, hunger, quarrels….we desperately need something to bring us all together, don’t we? Something to find our common humanity. What better than a really good cocktail?

To this end we are proud to help celebrate World Cocktail Day, 13th May. And no better website could there be than NDTV food and its excellent writer Neha Grover who clearly knows one end of a shaker from another. (we forgot this once and you should have seen the mess!) Neha not only has ten lip-smacking concoctions for you, but they can all be made in less than 15 minutes, or so it is claimed. How much drinking time does that free up?

So get into your bar tonight and mix up something from Neha’s list [1] Then sit back amd join, spiritually at least, with your cocktail confreres all over the world. Happy Friday!

Mental Health-lightbulb moment needed

One of the great dividing lines in human history was the discovery of the one-cause-one-disease moment. When pioneers like Pasteur and Semmelweiss worked out that a single, easily identifiable microorganism causes a single, well-defined disease. For example the Trypanozoma protozoan causes Chagas disease. Of course the people who work in this field are experts. But even someone like Michael Gove would agree that there work has immeasurably improved the quality of our lives.

Yet when we come to mental illnesses, the picture is sadly different. Despite the tireless work of many ferociously intelligent people, the origins of mental disorders are not understood in simple cause and effect ways. The link we post here to that admirable charity Mind, makes this all too clear.[1] Our view? We can’t help thinking that a little more spending on research could pay enormous dividends for us all, not just the poor sufferers and their families. But might this happen?

Take the example of a moderately sized, moderately prosperous country such as the UK. (we bet that it is representative of many such) Currently the spend on mental health services in England was about £12.2 billion($14.6bn, Eu14.27 bn) in 2018-2019.[2] Now, you have to boost that up a bit for 2022, as the Government has increased budgets, and there would be the smaller but still significant budgets of the devolved Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to take into account. However, we doubt the grand total can be grazing anywhere near £20bn ($24.6 bn, Eu 23.4bn).

Now compare that to the overall UK defence spend. For 2021-2022 this is estimated to rise to £57.7 bn($71.6bn, Eu 67.57 bn).[3] Understandably; the UK considers that itself and its allies are under dire existential threat from aggressive powers such as President Putin and his Russian Federation. Because of people like Putin, no country dare drop its guard, for fear of inviting attack. And herein lies the tragedy for mental health. Imagine if the budgets spent on it could approach those spent on defence! Would causes, and total effective cures be just around the corner? Probably. Perhaps it could even be a form of defence, for good mental health services might even preclude the rise of people like Putin before they got anywhere near the leadership of major nuclear powers.

at LSS we use the term “billion” to mean 109, i.e. 1000 000 000


[2] Source: Mental health watch

[3] Source Armed Forces net

#mental health #disease #putin #russia

English rivers like dirty drains

We don’t often strike a personal note in the webpages of LSS, but sometimes our experiences are so vivid they cannot be easily forgotten. Unfortunately. Last week we walked with a friend across the countryside in one of the more opulent parts of Kent. It was a landscape to envy. Deep green fields with horses nodding peacefully over lush hedgerows. Oasthouses peeping against a shock blue sky . And the rivers? Lifeless. Dead. No fish. No plants. No darting insects. Just a kind of dirty blueish fetid open drain. And it’s the same across the whole of this sceptered isle, especially in England.

A little digging revealed why. We’ve got a number of links for you, tell you why in a minute, but they give a pretty good spread of the reasons. George Monbiot of the Guardian [1] zooms in on the River Wye in the west of England. He stresses industrial farming as a major culprit. Esme Stallard [2] widens the national picture for the BBC. Meanwhile, for our more elderly and excitable English readers who might find the above sources a little political, Scott Rotherham for the entirely politics free trade site Pipe Repair tells the same depressing story.

LSS is indeed and Anglocentric blog, mainly because of where we live. But is England so different from your country? Remember all this stuff goes down the stream into the rivers. And from the rivers into the sea. Where the fish get it-plenty. Somewhere, somehow, some way, you are going to drink or eat it.




#pollution #ecocide #clean water #run off #waste #farming #sewage #water companies

Weekly Round Up: Complexity in the soil, under the bonnet, in the bedroom and out in the pastures

things we thought were of more than passing significance

Carbon capture is complicated UK soil is now capturing carbon dioxide 7% more efficiently than it did 300 years ago. So that’s a good thing right? Well, the real situation is more complex and nuanced, as this article for the Conversation by Victoria Janes-Bassett and Jess Davis makes clear. But what we really like about this: it’s a prime example of the tangled, complicated nature of most issues that require serious thought. Beware the fools who think in simple soundbites-they’re always wrong

with thanks to Mr P Seymour

Rebuild, don’t buy Maybe the environmental cost of that new car could be avoided by simple surgery on the old one. Rob Hull for the Mail

Sleep soundly? One thing about the real genius go getters we’ve come across-they seem to need less sleep than us mere mortals. So how much do you need to stay healthy and still buy that Superyacht at Antibes? Here’s a whole clutch of sleep experts for The Conversation

Global warming-what’s the beef? According Nature Briefings, just cutting 25% of our beef consumption might do a lot to cut down carbon emissions. Today we are trying to link to one of their excellent podcasts, which we haven’t really done before. Let us know how you got on

Replacing just one-fifth of global beef consumption with a meat substitute within the next 30 years could halve deforestation and the carbon emissions associated with it. Researchers modelled the effects of swapping beef with a fungus-based meat substitute called mycoprotein — familiar to many as Quorn. Replacing 80% of beef with mycoprotein would eliminate about 90% of forest loss.Nature Podcast | 25 min listen
Subscribe to the Nature Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify.

if you can’t, here’s a traditional text link

eplacing just one-fifth of global beef consumption with a meat substitute within the next 30 years could halve deforestation and the carbon emissions associated with it. Researchers modelled the effects of swapping beef with a fungus-based meat substitute called mycoprotein — familiar to many as Quorn. Replacing 80% of beef with mycoprotein would eliminate about 90% of forest loss. “It should not be seen as a silver bullet,” says sustainability scientist and co-author Florian Humpenöder — but it could be a part of the solution.Nature | 4 min read
Reference: Nature paper

Remember -we the ask is to cut down, not cut out. We are regular patrons of our excellent local Toby Carvery, a habit we have no intention of changing (it’s Whig cult food) But we are just going to be sensible and measured from now on. Are these bad qualities? See you next week

The Feminist Road Movie-Thelma and Louise at (about) 30

But buddy-buddy road movies are meant to be about men, goddammit! From Eastwood and Bridges via Laurel and Hardy to Pine and Foster, it’s jobs for the boys! The idea of subverting the genre and turning into a feminist message movie could only occur to people of real distinction. Like Ridley Scott and his writer Callie Khourie. So came Thelma and Louise (1991)

And feminist movie it is. It should be shown to all girls, compulsorily, at the age of ten and a half as Terrible Warning of the types of men they are about to meet. The tyrant husband ( played by Christopher McDonald), the bonehead ( played by Michael Madsen) the charming rapist (played by Tim Carhart), gorgeous sociopath ( played by Brad Pitt), and leering brute ( played by Marco St John), Thelma (Geena Davis) and Louise (Susan Sarandon) meet them all in the course of one rather exciting girls’ weekend. It’s the sort of educational experience you will never get in Harvard, however many books you read. And all against the background of the American West, which as ever tries to steal the show as only it can.

The male of the species is redeemed by the inimitable Harvey Keitel, who plays a Detective who sympathises with the ladies’ plight, as it grows more and more acute by the hour. For this is no agit-prop-all-men-are-bad radfem diatribe. Its ultimate plea is for human, not feminist solidarity. It’s Keitel’s tragedy that he ultimately fails-but then, we don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone who hasn’t seen it.

The the only vindication, of a work of art is that it stands the test of time. And Thelma and Louise does this admirably. With a hypnotic soundtrack, two of Hollywood’s most intelligent actresses (we dare say no more) and luminous cinematography, we promise you an experience of living hard. If only they dared to make them this edgy any more.

#great films #thelma and louise #ridley scott #road movie #feminist