Invasive Species, Unknown Lives


L. Rhodes

There's some vital oral history in this piece at The Bitter Southerner memorializing a largely black and industrial Atlanta neighborhood that was displaced by the construction of the Georgia World Congress Center and a (now demolished) stadium. Some of the usual patterns in development and racial inequality crop up: "[O]nce Lightning was in view of developers, there appeared to be a real disinvestment in the community, to the point where it became blighted and an eyesore for downtown. It made it easier to come back and displace the community."


Recent research coming out of multiple different laboratories suggests that infiltration of the brain by bacteria associated with gum disease may be a principle cause of Alzheimer's, opening up the possibility of a vaccine.


The ocean is well-stocked with strange, nightmare creatures, and the hagfish (what an evocative name!) is no exception. This *Atlantic piece focuses on the slime it emits, a softer-than-Jello mesh of mucus and thinner-than-hair protein fibers that rapidly expands to choke the hagfish's would-be predators. For my money, though, the real nightmare is the image of a hagfish coiled inside a carcass, absorbing nutrients through is loose, flaccid flesh.


At Real Life, Ana Cecilia Alvarez writes about how the desire for Tricorder-like technology runs up against the messiness of the Aristotelian project of classifying life:

A computer might be able to identify a tree the way it is able to surveil and track faces, fingerprints or handwriting: It "processes" an image -- resizes it, compresses it, enhances it, geo-tags it -- and then recognizes existing patterns in order to classify it. […] But life's variegated forms don't neatly align into databases. Individuals of any species differ in their morphology, either from genetic distinction, accident, or age. If difference abounds within a species, similarity abounds among species closely related…

Some of the app-based solutions she examines work by training machine learning algorithms on datasets provided by a mix of scientists and lay enthusiasts, which threatens to produce a second-order system of classifications, a competing meta-Linnaean taxonomy drawn not from direct observation, but rather inferred by observing humans in the act of Linnaean interpretation.


A six-year study suggests that generations of Denisovans, a lost branch of human evolution known from fossil finds in Siberia, occupied in Denisova Cave for as long as 300,000 years. For at least part of that time, they likely lived alongside Neanderthals, as testified by the bone fragment of a girl who inherited Devisovan DNA from her father and Neanderthal DNA from her mother. A summary of the latest research appears in the New York Times