Neanderthal genes and immunity

Neanderthal genes and immunity

New research shows that our ancestors have prodigiously mate with two other human-like groups that conferred on us some mixed genetic heritage.

The Neanderthals and the Davisonans were similar to early homo sapiens and new genetic evidence shows that all these groups have mated with each other. 4% of our genes come from the former and 4-6% from the latter group. Both groups had superior immunity to numerous pathogens and early homo sapiens absorbed these genes through natural selection.

“But the scientists think there was a downside. Inheriting Denisovan or Neanderthal immunity genes will have helped modern humans to fight the diseases of the day, but beyond the age of reproductive maturity they might have a more harmful effect, turning our immune systems on ourselves” – reports the Guardian.

So this added immunity benefit came at a hefty cost that many of us, including myself, bear today: beyond our early 20s homo sapiens has an increased tendency to develop autoimmune illnesses in which the body attacks its own tissues: thyroid tissues in the case of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, joint cartilage in the case of autoimmune arthritis, and insulin producing cells in Type 1 diabetes.

There is even a hypothesis according to which these genetic variants, alleles, in our genome, are actually somewhat foreign DNA that hadn’t evolved in our bodies and therefore could be considered slightly alien DNA that has a tendency to attack its host. A very kooky and amazing interpretation.

Just the idea that some of us struggle with debilitating autoimmune illnesses today because our ancestors have mated with other humanoid groups is enough to blow your mind.

The downside of sex with Neanderthals

Hungary’s anti-democratic slide

Hungary’s anti-democratic slide

There are further scary developments afoot in the now firmly EU-member Hungary and it’s a sad sight.

The currently ruling right-wing Fidesz party was elected in May 2010. Since then it’s been gradually, and sometimes shockingly, dismantling the pillars of democracy in the country. One by one they all get eroded or wiped out. The situation may never lead to a totalitarian regime or another Ukraine, but from the vantage point of August 2011 even this isn’t entirely certain.

What’s been happening?

According to my understanding the Orban government has disabled the constitutional court which has been a very important part of the ‘checks and balances’ in Hungarian democracy. Orban transferred most of its power to the Parliament which is 2/3rd full of Fidesz members who have practically as much power as they could ever want. Most major laws, including the ones to change the constitution and elections, require a 2/3 majority. Orban possesses this and therefore can do as he pleases. The EU makes a bit of noise but essentially has no power to change Hungarian politics.

After the constitutional courts superannuation was wiped out and taken into the care of the state. Some people have essentially lost their savings. Then came the plan to re-write the constitution. It’s probably going to enshrine heterosexual marriage and the family (enshrining homophobia and discrimination), emphasise the primacy of the Hungarian nation (posturing) and wipe out protection of minorities.

Then a new media authority was set up who was to rule with an iron fist over all media organisations. Recently up to 3000 media workers have been fired from state radio, television and news services, supposedly as an austerity measure, but also perhaps to purge state media of anyone undesirable. New law dictates that media organisations can be fined for minor misdemeanors and the new media authority is already using this as a pretext to slap huge fines on newspapers, which can cripple them financially. A wonderful strategy to wipe out undesirable media opposition and also to curtail free speech. Organisations can also be ‘disbanded’ at will.

In this latest round of changes independent media is effectively silenced or curtailed. Welfare has also been re-organised: work camps will be set up for the unemployed and unemployment benefit will run out at 3 months. The Roma are going to be majorly effected. To top it all off, several major religions have now been excluded from ‘recognition’: Islam, Buddhism and several smaller ones. If they aren’t recognised they certainly cannot be protected, so this is very worrying.

I’m going to keep up to date with further developments, feel free to email me or message me for further information.

Read this Guardian Weekly article on some of the latest developments (in English):
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/aug/02/hungary-press-freedom?INTCMP=SRCH

Being smoke free is finally becoming a reality!

Being smoke free is finally becoming a reality!

There is a quiet revolution happening and it fills me with so much joy.

After years of enduring heavy second hand smoke, not to mention the smugness, bullshit and nonchalance of smokers, their ugly habit of non-consensually poisoning others is finally pushed back some more.

Smoking was banned in Australian pubs and restaurants years ago. Now councils are teaming up with the Cancer Council to ban smoking in and nearby council establishments, children’s playgrounds, sporting events, bus stops and so on.

This is akin to limiting other legal but potentially very damaging activities in our society: extremely loud music, using chainsaws, cutting up asbestos, handling carcinogenic dyes etc. All these activities are legal, but they are restricted so that they don’t damage the lives of others. This is how freedom works in a liberal society: you have a freedom to do something but others also have the freedom to be free of the damaging effects of your actions and this trumps your original rights in many instances. You are allowed to express your opinion, go surfing etc as long as these don’t threaten other people’s lives. When they do (your opinion incites violence, your surfing is threatening lives around you), your freedom to fully engage in these activities gets a bit curtailed so that other people’s freedom is not encroached on. Very simple.

Some friends and acquaintances cannot quite fathom this, but I’m sure it’s all a matter of shifting cultural values and adjusting your set.

To put the smokers’ mind at ease: smoking can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. Enjoying your nicotine and tar will not going to be taken away from you. Your options (not that someone like me, who suffered from your smoking, should be the one who does the extra work to show you): smoking alone and away from other people (like taking other drugs), or having a nicotine patch, or using an e-cigarette.

Isn’t it an addiction? Yes it is, a nasty, cancer causing addiction that damages other people and puts a crazy cost on society. So let’s treat it as an addiction. If you want to go to university, sit in a cafe etc and enjoy yourself while not being deprived of your substance one minute.. well, you can go to a chemist and buy a nicotine patch so you don’t have cravings (perhaps one day you can also buy your cigarette there, like methadone). A nicotine patch doesn’t harm other people’s health. Nor does an e-cigarette. I have already seen friends using these, you can use them right in front of people and it helps with cravings and oral fixation/psychological addiction. Way to go.

Finally a serious culture change is going to happen… and I can breathe easily.

Some links for you:

Smoke Free Australia, effective action
Marrickville council is going smoke free… explanation

Six Feet Under

Why do people have to die?
To make life important…

Six Feet Under has to be one of my most cherished tv series. Through it’s microcosm filled with death we get to truly examine life.

Several years after the fifth season finished I’m now re-visiting all of it again… what a gift.

If you have never seen it I’d urge you to do so… you’ll be grateful that you did get to see it.