Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Extreme Humans: Big Meets Small

Sultan Kösen, the world's tallest living human, meets with Chandra Bahadur Dangi, who was the shortest known adult human. (Credit: AFP/Andrew Cowie)
Humanity is wonderful! We come in all shapes and sizes and have different skin colors and physical and mental attributes. Some people even push the extremes of what we know about the human condition. 

In the photograph above, two extreme people can be seen meeting one another back in 2014. Sultan Kösen is currently the tallest human alive. Measured at 2.51 m (8' 3") in height for the Guinness Book of World Records back in 2011, Kösen is a Kurdish farmer from Turkey. He has undergone gamma knife treatment on the tumor which affects his pituitary gland and which caused his unusual height, and this has effectively halted his growth. Kösen is, however, not the tallest human ever known. The tallest verified living person known was Robert Wadlow, who came in at 2.72 m (8' 11.1")! Man, that's really freaking tall!

In the photograph above along with Kösen is the shortest known adult male human of all time. Chandra Bahadur Dangi, who passed away in 2015 at the age of 75, was recorded at 54.6 cm (1' 9.5") in height. Dangi had never left his village in Nepal until 2012, at age 72, when he was officially recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records. After that, he used his new-found fame to travel in his remaining years of life.

Humans really are amazing and incredible. Sure, we have our flaws and should always be cognizant of those flaws in order to improve them, yet our species has come to be a dominant part of the biosphere of our planet. If some major epidemic were to come by tomorrow and wipe out all of the human species, the impact of our actions on the planet would still remain in the rock record for an intelligent alien species to one day find! We come in so many varieties, yet I sometimes wonder if there are even more varieties possible. What lies down the road for our species? I'll come back to this idea in future posts.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Wally wins the internet with a story about some spice and GMOs

Was just cruising along Facebook while snuffling through the tapering end of this sinus infection and I saw this post on my wall from the page of SciBabe (Yvette d'Entremont):

Ya, it really is just an apple. We could hope that it had been genetically modified to improve crop yields or to make it more nutritious, though most current genetic modifications are so that more pesticides can be applied, sadly. Still, it is just an apple. We have absolutely no evidence yet to suggest that genetic modifications to our food cause any differences to how our bodies digest them. Even if the full benefit of genetically modified foods hasn't been realized (perhaps in part due to the anti-GMO hysteria), that still doesn't mean we should fear what so few of us understands; rather, we should work together to increase public understanding of the science involved.

On another note, I personally agree with food labelling, but not just for GM crops. I think our citizens are more likely to make informed decisions about food when they actually have information. Country-of-origin, pesticides used, estimated fossil fuel consumption for delivery to the super market, and other descriptors could go along with the ingredients and nutritional information (even if that nutritional info here in the US is biased by the wants of lobbyists). Or, maybe rather than labelling, a QR code or barcode could link to a website or in-store system that displays all of the information an informed shopped may wish to peruse. Still, the real issue with GM crops, as I see it, isn't in labelling our foods with pertinent information, but rather is in the lack of scientific literacy among the public, which leads to misunderstanding of what genetically modified foods even are.

Still, that's not why I wrote this post. No, my friends, I wrote this post to share with you the insight of Wally. If you're someone who freaks out over a little dirt in your food or doesn't have an understanding of the fact that we humans are still a part of a larger biosphere, then you may not want to read what Wally has to say about spices. But, I have a feeling you're not that person, and you're going to find this to be a good point:

So ya, if you're concerned about the genetic compliment within the DNA of the foods you're eating, then you might want to consider a little further the other things that are in our food. From bat shit and dirt to pesticides and preservatives, at various levels of processing, you're bound to be getting some stuff in your food that you probably don't really want. Most of it's probably not going to hurt you, but we can definitely cut back on the pesticides and preservatives by using GM crops instead (again, if done right). 

In your thinking about GM crops, consider the story of Wally. Maybe you agree with Wally. Maybe Wally wins the internet. Or, maybe like these commenters you feel like Wally just ruined spices for you: