July 26, 2016

Four billion years ago, sometime around Earth's 560 millionth birthday, Luca was born.

Luca is your great-to-an-infinite-degree grandmother and grandfather, as it is your dog's and your goldfish's and your ficus'. Every living thing on Earth owes its existence to Luca, whose very name stands for "Last Universal Common Ancestor." It is the origin of life on Earth, from which the rest of us evolved. And now scientists believe they have mapped a genetic picture of the qualities that would have belonged to Luca, giving us a startling look at how life on Earth might have begun:

...By comparing their sequence of DNA letters, genes can be arranged in evolutionary family trees, a property that enabled [Dr. William F.] Martin and his colleagues to assign the six million genes to a much smaller number of gene families. Of these, only 355 met their criteria for having probably originated in Luca, the joint ancestor of bacteria and archaea.

Genes are adapted to an organism's environment. So Dr. Martin hoped that by pinpointing the genes likely to have been present in Luca, he would also get a glimpse of where and how Luca lived. "I was flabbergasted at the result, I couldn't believe it," he said.

The 355 genes pointed quite precisely to an organism that lived in the conditions found in deep sea vents, the gassy, metal-laden, intensely hot plumes caused by seawater interacting with magma erupting through the ocean floor. [The New York Times]

Chemist John Sutherland, of the University of Cambridge, has a rival theory that life formed in shallow pools, not the ocean. Others say that Dr. Martin's version of Luca is actually the sophisticated descendent of some other original Luca.

But regardless of which theory you believe, as James O. McInerney wrote in a commentary about Dr. Martin's research, Luca is "a very intriguing insight into life four billion years ago." Read all about it at The New York Times. Jeva Lange

November 16, 2019

A new major federally funded study released Saturday at The American Heart Association's annual scientific conference found that stents and coronary bypass surgery are no more effective than drug treatment and better health habits in preventing heart attacks.

The study's results primarily pertain to people who have narrowed coronary arteries, but are not actually suffering acute symptoms. Typically in those cases, doctors will implement a stent or perform bypass surgery to redirect blood around a blockage even when patients don't show any symptoms or feel any discomfort when they exert themselves, The Wall Street Journal reports. But, per the new study, these interventions aren't actually more successful than cholesterol-lowering drugs and other changes in health habits.

"You won't prolong life," Judith Hochman, the chair of the study, said.

Stents and surgery do, however, work better for relieving symptoms related to frequent chest pain, the study found.

The results of the study, while likely to increase debate between preventative and interventional cardiologists, do provide further evidence that caution is a-okay in many circumstances. "This shows the safety of not panicking when you see a positive stress test," said Jay Giri, a practicing interventional cardiologist. Read more at The Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

November 16, 2019

An anonymous member of the Chinese political establishment leaked over 400 pages of internal documents to The New York Times, which provide an "unprecedented inside view" into Beijing's crackdown on China's Muslim population.

The Times notes that the most detailed discussions on the "indoctrination camps" in Xianjing, where as many as one million members of ethnic groups that practice Islam are being held, are found in a directive that outlines how party officials should handle minority students returning home in the summer of 2017 to find that their family members had been sent to Xianjing. Officials were advised to tell the students their relatives were "in treatment" after exposure to radical Islam, and respond with increasingly firm replies when pressed on their matter, highlighting the narrative the government had carved out to justify the internment.

"If they don't undergo study and training, they'll never thoroughly and fully understand the dangers of religious extremism," one of the answers said. "No matter what age, anyone who has been infected by religious extremism must undergo study."

A series of internal speeches by Chinese President Xi Jinping also stood out in the document. Xi said officials should show "absolutely no mercy" and use the "organs of dictatorship" to root out Islamic extremism in the country. He was careful, however, to say there should be no discrimination against certain ethnic groups like the Uighurs, and that Islam should not be restricted as a religion. Many people argue that both of these things have come to fruition regardless. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

November 16, 2019

Things haven't been going smoothly for Sen. Kamala Harris' (D-Calif.) presidential campaign lately, but the Democratic hopeful is expected to receive a boost Saturday with an endorsement from the United Farm Workers, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.

It's considered a major endorsement from a powerful California-based union established by Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta (who personally endorsed Harris this year), and Gilbert Padilla. Home state ties were likely a factor for Harris in this instance, but a win is a win.

The union's executive board reportedly voted "overwhelmingly" to back the senator. UFW President Teresa Romero cited Harris' efforts to help farm workers secure overtime pay, as well as her time spent marching with the group during demonstrations, and advocating for immigrant rights as major reasons why they're throwing their weight behind her.

It's unclear if this will boost Harris' numbers even in California where she's lagging behind Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Vice President Joe Biden. Things look even worse nationally for her, as South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has vaulted into fourth place. Besides faltering in the polls, the campaign is also dealing with some internal strife. Perhaps the most recent endorsement will brighten the mood. Read more at The San Francisco Chronicle. Tim O'Donnell

November 16, 2019

You've probably seen the Myles Garrett helmet swing by now.

The Cleveland Browns defensive end was suspended indefinitely by the NFL after he ripped off the helmet of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph and then proceeded to hit Rudolph over the head with it at the end of the teams' contest Thursday night. Garrett was ejected from the game, and the league came down with the hammer Friday. Fans won't see Garrett until next season, at the earliest.

Football is a violent sport, but Garrett's misconduct was shocking. It was also surprising because of the culprit himself. Garrett, a former No. 1 overall draft pick and Defensive Player of the Year candidate, writes poetry, likes dinosaurs, and is considered an all around nice guy. Of course, that doesn't mean he's beyond losing his composure like he did Thursday. But his over-the-top reaction may have also been a result of his determination to shed his reputation and establish himself as someone not to be trifled with.

Garrett's former defensive line coach for the Browns, Clyde Simmons, told The Ringer in 2018 that Garrett was learning how to be more intimidating on the field:

"There's an unspoken code in football in what you will allow someone to do to you. If somebody's out there cheapshotting and playing dirty, you are the only person that's going to stop that ... At some point you have to stand up and say, 'I'm not taking that crap. I'll be here all day.'" Simmons told me then that most of the time, a few choice words will establish this. "If not there are other things you can do, but I won't be getting into that." [The Ringer]

That isn't to say Garrett's actions were okayed by the Browns or he long ago determined he would attack someone with their own helmet, but it does show he was encouraged to intensify his demeanor. Read more at The Ringer. Tim O'Donnell

November 16, 2019

It's helpful to be able to read your boss if you want something done at work.

Current and former Trump administration officials told The Wall Street Journal that President Trump was pretty adamant that he did not want to provide Ukraine with the U.S.-made Javelin antitank missiles Kyiv requested in 2017 in the hopes of defending itself against Russia. Trump's hostility reportedly stemmed from the fact that he long considered Ukraine a "corrupt country" and that he wanted European countries to do more to protect their neighbors, rather than have countries like Ukraine lean so heavily on the U.S.

But then-National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and then-Defense Secretary James Mattis told Kyiv not to worry. They promised that Washington would grant the request for the missiles once Trump was in a better mood, one foreign official briefed on the matter told the Journal. Lo and behold, the Trump administration passed its tax-reform bill in December 2017, which energized the president. The next day, Trump signed off on the missile deal, though the Journal notes that his largely negative view of Ukraine remained in tact. Read more about how Trump's opinion of Ukraine was shaped over time at The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

November 16, 2019

President Trump pardoned two U.S. service members accused of war crimes Friday and restored the rank of a third who was charged with posing for a picture with the corpse of an enemy combatant in Iraq, but was acquitted of murder.

One of the men Trump pardoned, Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, is currently in the sixth year of a 19-year sentence for ordering his soldiers to open fire on three unarmed men in Afghanistan, killing two of them. Meanwhile, Army Maj. Matthew Golsteyn was awaiting trial for allegedly murdering a suspected Afghan bombmaker in 2010 before Trump granted clemency, and Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward Gallagher, a 15-year Navy SEAL, will have his rank restored after he was docked for the photograph.

Some Pentagon and military officials, including Defense Secretary Mark Esper had reportedly urged Trump not to intervene in the cases, or at least consider holding off, but he didn't take that advice. But while his decision may be controversial, it is within his powers to grant clemency, as the Defense Department acknowledged Friday evening. "The Department of Defense has confidence in the military justice system," Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said. "The president is part of the military justice system as the commander-in-chief and has the authority to weigh in on matters of this nature." Read more at NPR and Fox News. Tim O'Donnell

November 16, 2019

President Trump apparently does not follow former President Theodore Roosevelt's foreign policy advice about speaking softly.

David Holmes, an official from the United States Embassy in Ukraine, testified before Congress in a closed-door impeachment inquiry hearing Friday that he overheard a phone call in July between Trump and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland while he was having lunch with the latter in Kyiv. The call reportedly took place just one day after Trump's infamous call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that sparked the impeachment inquiry.

During the call, Holmes reportedly heard Trump — who Holmes testified was speaking so loudly that Sondland had to hold the phone away from his ear — ask Sondland if Zelensky was "going to do the investigation." Sondland reportedly responded in the affirmative, saying that Zelensky would do "anything you ask him to."

After the call, Sondland reportedly told Holmes that Trump didn't care about Ukraine, except for "big stuff" like investigating former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, over the younger Biden's ties to a Ukrainian gas company.

Holmes' testimony confirmed an account from acting Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor's public impeachment inquiry testimony Wednesday. Going forward, The New York Times and The Washington Post note, Sondland will almost certainly be asked about the alleged conversation during his public testimony next week. The ambassador did not mention it during his previous private testimony. Read more at The New York Times and The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

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