SEXLESS SEX FOR MAMMALS.
Surveillance cameras at St Matthias church in the Netherlands captured unique footage of serotine bats mating in a non-traditional manner, leading to potential textbook revisions. Researchers, including Dr. Nicolas Fasel from the University of Lausanne, observed the bats engaging in non-penetrative sex, a first for mammals. The serotine bat’s anatomy, particularly the size and shape of the male’s penis, had puzzled scientists. Video analysis from the church and a Ukrainian bat rehabilitation center showed males using their oversized penis to maneuver and make contact with the female’s vulva without penetration, in a process lasting up to 13 hours. This discovery was supported by anatomical studies showing sensory hairs on the male’s penis. Although non-penetrative mating in mammals hasn’t been conclusively proven, evidence of fluid on females suggests sperm deposition attempts. Experts like Brock Fenton and Gareth Jones find the study intriguing, while others like Paul Racey remain skeptical but open-minded about this unconventional mating behavior. (The Guardian)
In the wake of Sam Altman’s departure from OpenAI, the company faces potential talent loss, creating an opportunity for rivals like Anthropic, Mozilla, and Patronus AI to attract these employees. The turmoil, coupled with Altman’s move to Microsoft, has heightened the value of OpenAI’s skilled workforce. Major tech companies, including Salesforce and Cohere, have expressed interest in hiring these AI experts. Despite high compensation offers, not all firms may succeed in recruiting OpenAI talent due to Altman’s influence in their hiring. The AI job market remains robust, with a significant increase in tech trend job postings, contrasting with a general decline in global job opportunities. This scenario highlights the acute demand for AI skills, presenting a strategic moment for competitors to strengthen their AI teams. OpenAI employees face a choice between staying amid uncertainty, joining larger corporations like Microsoft, or exploring new opportunities. This period of disruption could also pave the way for the rise of new AI startups, further changing the industry landscape. (Techcrunch)
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LUXURY WATER IS A THING.
In the Himalayas, a spring supplies pure water for Veen Waters India, a luxury bottled water company. This water, sold for about $6 per bottle, reaches India’s upscale hotels, restaurants, and wealthy families, contrasting with the millions worldwide lacking clean water. The trend of luxury water includes unique sources globally, enjoyed by connoisseurs who value their distinct qualities. Veen, employing about 40 workers, exports roughly 240,000 bottles to India monthly. In stark contrast, Mumbai’s Dharavi slum residents struggle for basic water access. The rising global demand for premium water, particularly in populous countries like India, underscores the disparities in water availability. The ethical implications of commodifying water are significant, especially in regions facing water scarcity. The luxury water market, exemplified by Veen, highlights the complex relationship between high-end consumption and the broader challenges of ensuring water accessibility for all. (Associated Press)
FRENCH WARNED AGAINST EATING EGGS.
Health authorities in the greater Paris area have warned against consuming eggs from private farms due to soil contamination with per- and polyfluorinated alkyl compounds (PFAS). The advisory, particularly aimed at children and pregnant or breastfeeding women, extends to home-grown fruits and vegetables and even gardening activities. Professional farm eggs sold in stores are not affected as their chickens are less exposed to contaminated soil. Investigations found increased PFAS contamination in 23 out of 25 private chicken coops, suggesting widespread soil contamination in urban areas. This pollution, often a result of decaying materials releasing pollutants over decades, was similar near waste incineration plants and in other areas. PFAS, a group of over 10,000 synthetic chemicals, persist in the environment for decades to centuries and can accumulate, posing health risks like liver damage and cancer. Used in various products from clothing to cookware, a potential EU ban on PFAS is being considered, despite industry concerns over its impact on high-tech industries. (Der Spiegel)
SEVERE FLASH FLOODS IN AFRICA.
Somalia is grappling with severe flash floods caused by torrential rains, resulting in 50 deaths and displacing nearly 700,000 people. The situation is expected to worsen with more heavy rains forecasted. The Somali Disaster Management Agency notes the extensive impact, including destroyed bridges and residential inundation. The International Rescue Committee reports over 1.7 million people in urgent need, with the ongoing crisis potentially leading to widespread hunger. NGOs like World Vision emphasize the devastating effects on children, who face increased risks of illness and lack basic necessities due to destroyed homes and schools. The United Nations and Save the Children highlight the rapid escalation of displacement and infrastructure damage. The Horn of Africa, highly vulnerable to climate change, is experiencing more frequent and intense extreme weather events. Humanitarian groups urgently call for global intervention, with the El Nino phenomenon expected to continue affecting the region until at least April 2024. (Al-Jazeera)
THERE’S ALSO DROUGHT IN AFRICA.
Tunisia faces its sixth consecutive year of drought, drastically affecting its agriculture. With less than 500mm of rainfall in the past six months, regions like Beja, a key agricultural hub, suffer significantly. The vital Sidi Salem Dam is below 30% capacity, impacting water supply for drinking and irrigation. Farmers struggle with crop failures, bureaucratic challenges, and unsuitable agricultural policies. A critical seed shortage and high prices leave them without suitable varieties for the drier conditions. At least 300 farmers face a barren harvest this year, deepening economic hardships. Drinking water access is also unstable, with nightly supply cuts. The drought devastates not just crops but also livestock, with animals struggling for food on parched land. Families dependent on agriculture face severe income losses, compelling some, like farmer Hatem Matousi, to consider selling ancestral land for survival. This crisis highlights the urgent need for effective drought management and support for Tunisia’s agricultural sector. (The National)
VOLCANO THEATENS FLIGHTS.
The Ulawun volcano in Papua New Guinea, the nation’s most active, erupted, emitting smoke up to 15km high and prompting evacuations and flight cancellations at Hoskins airport on New Britain island. Although the eruption’s intensity decreased from a “very strong” to a “moderate to strong” level, the volcano remains active with an uncertain duration for the outburst. No tsunami threat to Japan was identified. Located 47km from the town of Bialla, the volcano’s ash is affecting nearby oil palm plantations and buildings. Papua New Guinea, part of the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” frequently experiences seismic activities. Ulawun has a history of eruptions dating back to the 1700s, with the last major one in 2019 leading to over 5,000 evacuations. Despite no reported casualties from its eruptions, Ulawun often causes significant population displacement, infrastructure damage, and service disruptions. (Al-Jazeera)
U.S. GOVERNMENT TRACKS CITIZENS’ CALLS.
A surveillance program, known as Data Analytical Services (DAS), tracks over a trillion domestic phone records annually in the U.S., raising legal concerns. This program, previously named Hemisphere and coordinated with AT&T, allows law enforcement to analyze call details, including of individuals not suspected of any crime. Despite its downgrade to a moderate-level alert, the volcano remains active, and the situation is uncertain. The DAS program, funded by the White House and managed under the High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program, has collected call records for over a decade without including actual conversation content. It has been used for location tracking, which is constitutionally questionable without a warrant. The program’s scope and lack of oversight have drawn criticism for potential privacy law violations. Recent legislation, the Government Surveillance Reform Act, aims to address these concerns, potentially making DAS’s current operations illegal. (Wired)
THE GENETICS OF CANNABIS ADDICTION.
A study analyzing over one million people’s genomes identified DNA regions linked to cannabis addiction, also finding associations with lung cancer and schizophrenia. This research, involving diverse ethnic groups and data from the Million Veteran Program, suggests significant public health risks with increased cannabis use. Approximately one-third of cannabis users develop addiction or harmful usage, with genetic factors playing a role. The study, published in Nature Genetics, reveals a bi-directional relationship between excessive cannabis use and schizophrenia, indicating a mutual influence. This finding is crucial as cannabis is a preventable risk factor for schizophrenia. Understanding the biological links between cannabis use and various health conditions could guide better medical practices and policies. Future research is essential to delve deeper into these associations, focusing on cannabis administration methods and THC consumption levels, to comprehensively understand the health implications of both medical and recreational cannabis use. (Nature)
Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.
WORDS: The Biology Guy.
IMAGE CREDIT: Brandon Nickerson.