People primarily take interest in plants for what they can give them. For instance, medicinal plants are used without anybody asking why it is that they synthesize precious, valuable molecules in the first place. Everything has a function in the animal world; nothing there is without a purpose. The sheer number, among plants, of examples such as the rubber tree — whose latex has no clear reason for existing — makes me think they don’t work like animals. Are they capable of selfless acts? The hypothesis isn’t very satisfying, but that might be another thing that sets them apart from animals.
2012 DA14 had been spotted when it passed moderately close to the Earth in the previous February – moderately close being about two million kilometres away, roughly seven times the distance from the Earth to the Moon. But it had a very similar orbital period to the Earth’s own, 368 days to our 365, which meant that it would come fairly close every year.
NASA was able to predict that on its next pass it would come much closer – about 28,000 kilometres away, barely twice the diameter of the Earth, and within the orbits of geosynchronous satellites. It would be travelling, relative to Earth, at 7.8km/s, or about 28,000 kilometres an hour. That pass was due on 15 February 2013 and would be the closest ever recorded pass of an asteroid that large.
Hairbrushes as we know them are a fairly modern invention. One of the first brush manufacturers, Kent Brushes, has been producing since 1777, with their first brushes taking upwards of 12 people to complete just one. Often seen in portraits of society women in front of their vanities, the brush was a luxury object. Over the next 150 years, patents were still coming through for slight modifications like vents or synthetic bristles. In the U.S., Lyda D. Newman, a Black inventor and suffragist, put in a patent in 1898 for a brush using synthetic bristles and a removable back to make it easier for cleaning. Her innovation paved the way for other Black women in beauty like Madam C.J. Walker. More ornamental hair brushes, such as those patented by Hugh Rock in 1854, were plated in silver with elaborate designs and often given as gifts to new brides. Sets were complete with brush, comb, and handheld mirror. For those that can be persuaded, a 1930s Art Deco silver set from Tiffany & Co. can still be found at auction for over $1,500.
Viruses closely related to the mimivirus have been grouped into the family Mimiviridae. The other giant viruses have been classified into three families: Molliviridae, Pandoraviridae, and Pithoviridae. Mimiviridae and Molliviridae produce virions, or viral particles, with a characteristically icosahedral shape. Pandoraviridae and Pithoviridae produce strange ovoid particles that have often been confused for intracellular protists.7 One of the most unusual of the giant viruses is a member of Mimiviridae. Discovered in Brazil, the Tupanvirus contains a virion featuring a gigantic head and an equally gigantic membranous tail. Such a shape is without precedent in the viral world.
Beginning with the first animal models of obesity in the late 1930s (more on that shortly), researchers, with the very rarest of exceptions, have conceived of their work as elucidating the psychological, genetic, and physiological determinants of eating behavior. They’ve assumed, without justification, that what they observed translated directly and mechanistically to the excessive accumulation of fat in fat tissue. Ask a simple question, as I have as a journalist, like “Why is it that some of us fatten easily and some of us don’t — just as some breeds of livestock fatten easily and others don’t?” and obesity researchers can’t answer it because, curiously enough, that’s not what they study.
An0m, as it was called, looked like any off-the-shelf smartphone, a polished pebble of black glass and aluminium. The device had been modified to remove many of its core functions. An0m could not be bought in a shop or on a website. You had to first know a guy. Then you had to be prepared to pay the astronomical cost: $1,700 for the handset, with a $1,250 annual subscription, an astonishing price for a phone that was unable to make phone calls or browse the internet.
The history of humanity is in no small part the story of our increasing control over our sustenance. Around 2 million years ago, our early human ancestors began processing food by slicing meat, pounding tubers, and possibly by cooking. This allowed us to have smaller teeth and jaw muscles, making room for a bigger brain and providing more energy for its increasing demand. Around 10,000 years ago, humans began selectively breeding plants and animals to suit our preferences, and the increased food production helped us build bigger and more complex societies. The industrial revolution brought major advancements in food preservation, from canning to pasteurisation, helping to feed booming cities with food from afar. In the 20th century, we used chemistry to change the flavour of food and prevent it from spoiling, while modern breeding and genetic engineering sped up the artificial selection we began thousands of years ago. The advent of humans, civilisation and industrialisation were all closely tied to changes in food processing.
For far too long, media discussions around climate change have focused primarily on the individual scale. And too often, those discussions have shifted attention away from holding the powerful to account. Say one word about the need to reduce carbon emissions or divest from fossil fuels, and you’ll soon be met with a question about how you traveled to work today, or where the electricity powering your computer comes from. And if you are just starting out on the journey to climate awareness, chances are you’ve received more advice on changing your diet or refusing straws than you have on activism, advocacy, or organizing. In other words, you’ve been told how to contribute less to the problem, but not necessarily how you can be most effective in actually fixing it.
Yet lifestyle choices do matter. They just matter for entirely different reasons than we’ve been told.