Camel Capital of the World Lies In the Outback

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Saudi Arabia imports its camels from Australia.

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It’s reasonable to think of camels roaming the deserts of the Middle East and North Africa, but the only country on Earth with wild camels is Australia.

It was not always this way; camels were introduced to Australia in 1840, and have become an incredibly successful invasive species with over 1,000,000 feral camels wandering the Australian Outback less than 2 centuries after the first mating pair was introduced.

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It seems that camels were a natural fit to the Dr. Suess’ Zoo that is Australian wildlife. An animal that looks like it badly needs a chiropractor is a perfect addition to a world of koalas, kangaroos, seadragons, duck-billed platypus, thorny devils, the flying fox, wombats, emus, and a host of creatures straight out of Monsters Inc.

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The feral camels of Australia are considered a major pest, and the export industry exists as a profitable way of culling their population.

It’s a Bacterial World, and I Feel Fine

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There are 10 times more bacterial cells living in you than human cells. Put more bluntly, you are more bacteria than you are human.

Freaky? Not really. Oddly enough it should be comforting! These beneficial bacteria are like the fortress walls around a castle – if they weren’t there then the real bad guys would just waltz on in, and ruin your day, every day.

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This rabbit hole goes much, much deeper though. It turns out that each of us has a unique bacterial ecosystem called an “enterotype”, which can have profound implications for susceptibility to various diseases, and proper, individualized nutrition.

We are all unique snowflakes in more ways than we could have imagined just 10 years ago – this is truly the frontier of science.

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Like Alice’s adventure, it gets intensely interesting and odd.

Babies born by Cesarean Section have higher incidences of asthma and allergies as compared to natural birth.

A natural birth coats the babies skin and GI tract in the mothers microflora where C-Section birth leaves the newborn devoid of these microorganisms.

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The Bronx Zoo in New York City is among the largest zoos in the U.S. It houses ~650 species on 265 acres, but inside the 27 feet of intestines tucked neatly in your abdomen there are ~900 different species of microorganism. Just as most zoo patrons come for a few main exhibits, there are just 3 species that dominate your gut community.

Because of this each person is said to have one of 3 enterotypes. The enterotype is determined by which species of the 3 (Prevotella, Bacteroides or Ruminococcus) is pre-dominant, even though all, and many more, are present.

Prevotella digests carbohydrates and simple sugars and is often pre-dominant in agrarian societies; Bacteroides enterotypes are associated with animal proteins, aminoacids and saturated fats, components typical of a Western diet.

Enterotypes are very fluid, and change with diet over time. If a person has eaten a mostly carb based diet for an extended period, and abruptly shifts to an animal protein based diet they will experience negative side effects. If dietary change happens gradually, then the guts microbiome can smoothly adjust its population.

An abrupt change in diet, like the crash diets so popular in the U.S., can leave the body starved of several beneficial metabolic “waste” products produced by the these bacterial communities.

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This science is in its infancy, but it is likely that different enterotypes are suited for different lifestyles – an olympic athlete may want to develop one enterotype while training, and adjust to another before competition.

Recent findings strongly indicate that certain diets and medications can disrupt the flora of your gut causing increased susceptibility to Type II Diabetes, Celiac’s Disease, allergies, immune deficiencies, asthma, and potentially a host of other disease states.

The study of enterotype specific disease states is currently more speculation than science. Over the next decade many startling revelations will surely emerge, but for now conclusive evidence is a dream, not a reality.

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Who Is Your Santa Claus, and What Does He Do?

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If you visit Bari, Italy you can meet the real Santa Claus! Unlike most saints, Saint Nikolas’ earthly remains were never dispersed to various churches – this is usually done to make pilgrimages a more economic and feasible endeavor for the masses.

It was found that Saint Nick was approximately 5ft tall, and in 2005 a facial reconstruction was done. Amazing as it is, we know what Santa Claus looked like, even though he passed away some 1,670 years ago.

How We Built Saint Nick

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He lived in a tumultuous time of civil war for the Roman Empire and spent many years in prison because of his defense of his Christian faith. This all changed in February 313 when Emperor Constantine drafted the Edict of Milan, which put an end to prosecution of all religions, allowing citizens to worship whichever deity they chose.

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Constantine is noted as the first Christian Emperor, and the founder of the Holy Roman Empire, but he tactfully paid homage to a number of gods and goddesses depending on what event or region he was visiting.

As we all know, Santa Claus is based on the Turkish St. Nikolas of Myra. He is best known as the patron saint of sailing, but is also the patron saint of banking, pawnbroking, pirating, butchery, thievery, children, gift giving, orphans, royalty, and New York City.

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Early illustrations of St. Nicholas depict him as stern, commanding, and holding a birch rod. He was more a symbol of discipline and punishment than the jolly, overweight elf children know today.

It was the period from 1200-1500 that he really hit his stride as a joyful gift giver. After the Protestant Reformation of 1517 he fell out of favor, and it was at this time that the giving of gifts transitioned from his day, December 6th, to December 25th.

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Nat Geo Recaps His Life and Cultural Evolution

Up until ~1517 the gift sharing of Christmas was done on December 6th because it was a tradition associated purely with Saint Nick. Once he lost his mojo people still loved getting gifts, so the tradition became tied to the birth of Christ simply due to the proximity of the dates.

The image of Santa Claus we have come to know and love was established, but not necessarily invented, by the Coca Cola Company in the 1920s.

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Ultimately, the story of our modern image of Santa may have been solidified by Coca-Cola, but the image they used wasn’t original – it was one of several that had been floating around for several decades. What Coca-Cola did was to eliminate the uncertainty, and instill in the public conscience a single image of what Santa Claus looks like.

Want more detail about the history of the modern image of Santa?

The Ninja Particle

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About 100 trillion neutrinos pass through you every second zipping through your skin, blood vessels, and organs before carrying onward unscathed.

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Don’t worry though! Neutrinos are so insanely tiny that they’re described as a “point particle” – they’re a particle, but they basically occupy zero space because physics is weird like that.

A proton is 0.0000000000017 millimeters  wide, and a proton is 1836 times more massive than an electron. An electron is so small that it is considered a “point particle” as well.

However, a neutrino is one ten-millionth the size of an electron! (even though both are “point particles”)

This Is How We Detect Neutrinos

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It Was Originally A Prison For Godzilla

Neutrinos are so energetically tiny that they’re nearly impossible to detect. The picture is of the Super Kamiokande in Japan, the world’s premiere neutrino detector. Since neutrinos travel through EVERYTHING it was built 3,330 ft underground in order to isolate them from other phenomena. When in operation it is filled with 12.5 million gallons of heavy water (deuterium). The neat looking bubbles on the walls are photomulipliers that detect when a neutrino collides with a heavy water molecule.

These photomultipliers are so sensitive that all we need is a single neutrino to hit a single molecule of water. that’s it. Mission successful. You’d think it wouldn’t be that hard, but neutrinos are the true ninjas of the universe.

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There are 127,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules of H2O in a single gallon of water, and there are 12.5 million gallons of heavy water in that tank. With over ten thousand trillion neutrinos (ponder that number for a moment) passing through the Super Kamiokande EVERY SECOND you’d think we’d be detecting a lot of activity, but we aren’t, which has given neutrinos the nickname “The Ghost Particle” – although, I still prefer “The Ninja Particle”.

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This Is A Recent Image of the 1987 Supernova Explosion Remnant

The Super Kamiokande most successful day was in 1987 when the shockwave from a supernova explosion in the Large Magellanic Cloud (a small galaxy orbiting the Milky Way) reached Earth. 19 neutrinos out of the billion trillion trillion trillion trillion neutrinos that passed through were detected!

Death Star Stimulus Denied

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In late 2012, a petition was submitted to the White House website urging that the United States government build a real Death Star.

In early 2013, the proposal was rejected (in a tongue-and-cheek manner), citing that the overall cost of the Death Star’s construction would amount to a cost exceeding $852 quadrillion, and would take 833,000 years before it could even be ready for construction due to the rate of steel production. Another reason for the rejection was also because the Government “did not support blowing up planets.”

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Perspective: Light From 10 Billion Years Ago Hits Us Today

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This week, an entire new class of Supernova was discovered by analyzing light from a star that exploded 10 billion years ago.

A 300-year-old supernova remnant created by the explosion of a massive star.

This means a single photon of light began its journey to our eyes 10 billion years ago. It was created in the crucible of the most powerful explosion in the universe – over 100 times more powerful than the previous record-holder.

The power of the previous record? Several octillion (it’s a real number I swear) nuclear warheads igniting in synchrony.

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The majority of the life of the universe unfolded during this photons travels. It traveled through dust clouds birthing stars, across entire galaxies, surviving the vast, empty, cold void between galaxies for 10 billion years before ending its life by traveling through your tiny pupil, and exciting nerves in your cornea.

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The supernovae exploded when the universe was only 4 billion years old. “This happened before the sun even existed,” Howell explained. “There was another star here that died and whose gas cloud formed the sun and Earth. Life evolved, the dinosaurs evolved and humans evolved and invented telescopes, which we were lucky to be pointing in the right place when the photons hit Earth after their 10-billion-year journey.”

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Probiotics Don’t Prevent Childhood Asthma

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enteroimmunology is truly the frontier of science. Probiotics likely don’t affect asthma rates because the the GI tract is already inoculated. Children born by C-section have higher rates of asthma and allergies because the birth canal coats the newborn and its GI tract in non-harmful bacteria. Breast milk has an indigestible carbohydrate that long puzzled scientists. It was recently discovered that the carbohydrate is utilized by beneficial bacteria populating the gut, thus crowding that niche out from potential harmful bacteria.