The Daily Dose: Ancient human brain cells produced in lab; DIY Magic Mushrooms.

One of the biggest hindrances to studying and understanding the evolution of hominins is undoubtedly the rapid (in evolutionary terms) decomposition of soft tissue like skin, muscle, internal organs, and brain tissue. Scientists have taken a small step toward gaining a better understanding of our ancestors. Per Nature, “Researchers have created tiny, brain-like ‘organoids’ that contain a gene variant harboured by two extinct human relatives, Neanderthals and Denisovans. The tissues, made by engineering human stem cells, are far from being true representations of these species’ brains — but they show distinct differences from human organoids, including size, shape and texture. The findings… could help scientists to understand the genetic pathways that allowed human brains to evolve.” This may be the start of an exciting new stage in evolutionary research.

There’s an exciting initiative taking place in Africa designed to fight the effects of climate change and other destructive trends that have damaged the continent’s landscape. It is called the Great Green Wall and it aims to transform the lives of some 100 million people by planting a mosaic of trees, shrubs, and grasses along a corridor stretching some 8000 kilometers across Africa by 2030. As with all initiatives involving the public good, funding has been a challenge. They’ve had some good news though. Per Science, “Since the African Union first launched the Great Green Wall in 2007, the initiative has struggled to make headway. Made up of local efforts across 11 countries, it has reached just 16% of its overall goal to vegetate 150 million hectares. But last month, the project—which analysts estimate will cost at least $30 billion—got a major boost: a pledge of $14 billion in funding over the next 5 years from a coalition of international development banks and governments. The money is meant to accelerate the effort to sustain livelihoods, conserve biodiversity, and combat desertification and climate change, French President Emmanuel Macron said in announcing the pledges on 11 January.” Hopefully, more deep-pocketed countries can make meaningful contributions.

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With China’s Mars orbiter circling the planet, they’ve been able to take some stunning video footage and beam it back to earth. “The small probe’s onboard cameras provide an incredible view of the Martian surface below. The footage, released by state broadcaster CCTV, is so detailed that you can make out individual craters and even the planet’s thin atmosphere.” It’s as mesmerizing as beautiful.

There’s a lot of be said for the creative minds scientists use to solve problems. In the latest example, researchers took advantage of how whales communicate to map the ocean floor. Per Scientific American, “To use such signals for imaging, Kuna had to pinpoint the whales’ locations. This was possible because each whale call made two sets of waves: one that traveled directly to the seismic station on the ocean floor, and another that bounced between the ocean floor and surface before hitting the same station. By comparing the arrival times of these two waves, Kuna could calculate the whales’ approximate locations.”

An article in Wired takes a fascinating look at the state of DIY psilocybin and how the internet fostered and perfected making magic mushrooms from home. “The evolution of these home cultivation methods is a story of user-generated, iterative design, the kind that has become familiar in the internet age. Today, Google ‘How to grow magic mushrooms,’ and you’ll find countless books, YouTube videos, websites, online courses, and free PDFs. Whereas the instructions in Psilocybin were meticulous and complicated, today’s methods are simplified to the point of being nearly fool-proof.” The article doesn’t provide a how-to though. For that, you’ll need to do some sleuthing on your own.

Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.

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