Grooming the yard, some cool biology news, and medicine stuff

This weekend has been the high-intensity solar storm, and so far, we haven’t had any of the society-ending infrastructure damage I heard might be possible. (Knock on wood.) Although I didn’t get to see much aurora last night — only the faintest hints of hue change in the sky — I got to have some lovely walking time with my family when it was gorgeous and warm. Plus, I got to look at the sun spot through Little Sunshine’s eclipse glasses. That one dark spot is apparently fifteen times the size of Earth, so that was cool.

Seeing all the aurora photos on social media is just lovely. It’s nice how far the auroras borealis and australis made it — a unifying experience shared by so many that is a *pretty* thing. Something humbling that reminds us of our solar scale. I wish we united over loveliness more often. I know there must be more opportunities than we notice.

Generally today was a really nice day. Even if my mental health is in the pits. Every idle moment, I’m engulfed by existential terror — probably a sign I need to supplement iron again. I’m having digestive issues and my absorption is probably also in the pits. Existential terror is a common symptom of anemia, for me.

Anyway, I stayed active by working in the yard. It’s a lot easier and more pleasant now that I’m less afraid of bugs. Indoor gardening really gifted me with an interest in entomology. Now when I’m pulling little beetles out of my hair and having spiders run over my foot, I’m zen. My yard is extremely biodiverse, heh. It’s a good thing! But we have to clean up a bit. While I was performing the act of weeding, trimming, and raking, I felt great. How could I not feel great in the shade of these enormous mature trees I’ve shared the last decade with?

I’m sure I’ll be sore tomorrow.

I also helped cut hair on three members of the family today, myself included. Husband looks great. Kiddo didn’t want to hold still for a proper cut, so it’s messy, but he’s adorable anyway. I also trimmed myself and fixed my bangs a bit. I think it’s a significant improvement, even though I maybe went a little too choppy. I feel good about that.

Somehow I also got almost a thousand words of writing done. I’m not sure I’m done for the night (two hours until midnight, not sleepy yet), but I’d be good with what I achieved. What I’m writing is as disgusting as my real life is warm and lovely. I’ve always been kinda like that! Ever since my spouse and I forged a life together, we’ve managed to have an extremely lovely time, while my tastes have continued running demented and dark. This is the most demented thing I’ve ever written, though.

I’m feeling motivated to finish it even if I’m not working super fast, so that’s excellent too.


One of the many formerly scary insects I’ve come to appreciate is wasps. They’re just part of the whole cycle, you know? I try to stay out of their way.

It turns out some wasps are even mysterious, fascinating creatures. Microplitis demolitor cultivates viruses inside its body. (Ars Technica)

According to the article, these parasitic wasps actually domesticated a novel virus to wreck the immune systems of their prey. It makes it easier to force caterpillars to carry their babies. You gotta check the details, it’s rad.

How have wasps evolved to control their pet viruses? Most important, they’ve neutered them. The virus particles can’t reproduce because they don’t contain the genes that are crucial to building new virus particles. Those remain in the wasp genome.

Wasps also control where and when the domesticated virus particles are produced, presumably to reduce the risk of the virus going rogue. Bracovirus particles are made only in one pocket of the female’s reproductive tract, and only for a limited time.

And key virus genes have been lost altogether such that the domesticated viruses cannot replicate their own DNA. This loss is seen even in recently domesticated viruses, suggesting that it’s an important first step.

A more worrying virus, bird flu, continues to present issues for the American beef supply. I found this Al Jazeera English article about it to be interesting — they’re not afraid to talk about things that a lot of American news media veers away from. For instance, Colombia, Mexico, and Canada have placed new testing restrictions on our exports, or won’t take products from states with outbreaks. Testing at American dairies is still optional. Cows get tested crossing state lines, though.

We’re sending samples of this virus to a facility in the UK for further testing. (The Guardian)

Elsewhere on the food chain, we’ve identified a psychedelic toad toxin with potential medicinal uses. (Smithsonian Mag) They’re hoping this will be useful for treating depression and anxiety — with the hallucinogenic effects removed. So far they’ve tested the Sonoran desert toad’s toxin on mice, with promising results, but apparently it’ll be a long time before they can make anything approved for human use.

I’ve always understood psychedelic compounds from nature to be medicine, but it’s always nice to see research honing these uses.


Scarier to me than psychedelic toads or wasp-domesticated viruses is the new weight loss procedure where doctors burn part of the stomach lining. (Gizmodo via Quartz) I guess the hunger hormone, ghrelin, mostly comes from the mucosal lining near the fundus (the top bit, to put it plainly). The idea is that you burn the stomach so it produces less ghrelin. I have digestive issues, as I mentioned, and I often feel like my stomach is already eating itself alive. I’d really rather not burn it further. Shudder.

How badly do we want people to lose weight? Semaglutide products are linked to rare but severe side-effects like gastroparesis. (NBC News) That means stomach paralysis, more or less. There are also many serious risks to older weight loss surgeries, like lap band surgery occasionally letting stomach juices leak into the abdomen. (Stanford Health Care)

Supposedly these risks are less than the risks of clinical obesity. This is probably sometimes true. But a lot of these treatments are available for less-serious cases (especially Ozempic et al), and I worry that we’re putting a cultural fear & loathing of fatness ahead of actual safety.

Which is to say, I’m not jumping toward any weight loss procedures, though I currently qualify as Class I Obese. Vanity and fear be damned. I’m just gonna try to move my body more and eat more green stuff.

We are making really cool medical advancements in general, though. The case of children having hearing restored via gene therapy (which is a quick procedure, apparently) is really encouraging. (The Guardian) This specific treatment is only for one specific kind of hearing impairment, of course. But it was unthinkable when I was young. The stuff of science fiction. What else are we going to be able to do in twenty years?

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