Archive for October 26th, 2011

Your great great grandparents were sponges, and their great grandparents were fungi

| October 26, 2011 | 6 Replies
Your great great grandparents were sponges, and their great grandparents were fungi

About 10 years ago, I had the opportunity to view a set of videos called “The Shape of Life.” It was an amazing journey because it suggested that the earliest animal ancestor of human beings was the sponge. I watched this video several times, because I had trouble wrapping my mind around this finding. It was an excellent set of videos that I still highly recommend.

The mind-boggling conclusion that we are descendants of sponges was reinforced in my mind back in November, 2004, when I read a fascinating article about our ancestors in discover magazine, pulling out the article: “This Is Your Ancestor.” It is a story of an evolutionary microbiologist named Mitchell Sogin, who wanted to know the animal from which all other animals came. He extrapolated backwards from today’s oldest known species: jellyfish, sea anemones, sponges, mollusks and starfish.  When he grouped each of these organisms according to their first appearance on Earth, the most likely candidate appeared to be the sponge. As the Discover article points out, sponges don’t look much like animals, though they are truly animals, not plants, and there are 9,000 species of sponges on the planet.

Sponges are multicellular, but the cells don’t add up to much: no tissues, muscles, organs, nerves, or brain. But this simplicity can be deceptive. Some sponges come armed with glasslike skeletal spikes, microscopic and as beautiful as snowflakes. . . . Sponges are the earliest, most primitive multicelled animal, Sogin says. Some scientists believe the ability to grow different cell types started animals on the evolutionary road to becoming humans. With just a few kinds of cells, only loosely connected, the sponge manages to produce a variety of as symmetrical shapes, from cups and fans to tubes and piecrust shapes. Sponges survive handsomely on their own and can even shelter other sea creatures… Sponges are also the earliest sexual re-producers; most are hermaphroditic, producing both eggs and sperm which they release into the water.… Sponges don’t just sit still-many actually move… One sponge moves 4 millimeters a day.


Sogin used an innovative ribosomal RNA analysis and he worked at it for more than 20 years. His conclusions are stunning:

The sponge was indeed at the base of animal lineage, and just above it were the cnidarians, such as jellyfish, anemones and corals. They, like the sponge, have a saclike body form. They developed tentacles and an opening like a mouth at one end. But there were other forms of life lower down the line of descent that scientists might not have expected. Suddenly, they made sense. One of the sponges cell types is the distinctively shaped choanocyte, a cell equipped with a tiny long filament, called a flagellum, surrounded by a collar studded with even tinier hairs called microvilli. Thousands of these flagella beat constantly at the water and move it past the sponges feeding cells. As it happens, Sogin found that the sponges’ immediate evolutionary predecessors are the choanoflagellates, which represent what life would have looked like just before animals in the form of sponges emerged. Scientists had long suspected that the choanoflagellates could have been the nearest things to animals without actually being animals.

The Discover article then points out that the only thing older than the choanoflagellates in the same line of organisms are the fungi.  Sogin has determined that “fungi and plants are very different from each other, and fungi are actually more closely related to animals. [W]e share a common, unique evolutionary history with fungi.” The same article points out that this common evolutionary heritage of fungi and animals explains “why fungal infections are so difficult to treat–they’re more like us than we thought. They are similar targets.” Therefore, the next time you see a sponge, show some respect, since sponges are the first multicellular animals, and “all the other animals emerged from this imple architecture and are built upon this platform.” What animal would be find a bit upstream from sponges? Worms, another of our ancestors. Worms are “the first creatures with bilateral symmetry.” The worm, along with fungi and sponges, organisms highly deserving of your respect because they are in your line of ancestry.

For more about sponges, see my 2006 post titled “My Life as a Sponge.” For a quick ride down the evolutionary highway, visit this post.

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Big fossil fuel campaigns claim that dirty fuels are green

| October 26, 2011 | 1 Reply
Big fossil fuel campaigns claim that dirty fuels are green

At Occasional Planet, Mike Davis discusses the ubiquitous TV commercials touting the green-ness of natural gas and Canadian tar-sand oil. At my workplace lunchroom, there is a TV, and I’ve seen these misleading commercials many times. I’ve also seen many recent ads for “clean coal,” even though no such coal plants exist. Interesting how the industry never even attempts to argue that coal ash is “clean.”

Mike notes a lack of media stories critical of these ads, not surprising given the ad revenue the media receives for running these commercials.

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About the woman who sued McDonald’s for hot coffee

| October 26, 2011 | 4 Replies
About the woman who sued McDonald’s for hot coffee

I had never before seen the injuries suffered by the woman who sued McDonald’s for its hot coffee. Now I have.


Excerpt from 2011 documentary "Hot Coffee" by anonymouscoward382

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Unaccountable billions

| October 26, 2011 | Reply
Unaccountable billions

What kind of idea is this: Let’s send $40 billion in paper cash to Iraq on military airplanes and then quickly lose track of how it is being used.

What do you think of this idea? Here’s the beginning of this surreal story, as reported by Common Dreams.

“Wait, one person?” Shays asked. “One person received $40 billion?”

Asked what he thinks about that, Shays said, “It just blows you away.”

The enormous undertaking of moving the billions began in the heavily guarded Federal Reserve compound on 100 Orchard Street in East Rutherford, NJ. There, carefully screened employees loaded pallets of cash into tractor-trailers for their journey down I-95 toward Washington, DC. The money came from an account held at the New York Fed called the “Development Fund for Iraq” which was made up of billions of dollars in Saddam Hussein’s financial assets that had been frozen under various US and global sanctions regimes. They weren’t taxpayer dollars, but the US government was responsible for making sure they got where they were going.

A typical pallet held 640 bundles, which the handlers called “bricks,” with a thousand bills in each bundle. Each pallet weighed 1,500 pounds, and they were separated by color. Gold seals were used for $100 bills, brown seals held $50 bills, purple seals $20, and so on.

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Iraq vet injured while participating in #occupy Oakland.

| October 26, 2011 | 10 Replies
Iraq vet injured while participating in #occupy Oakland.

As reported by Huffpo, an Iraq veteran who was protesting as part of #Occupy Oakland was injured by the Oakland Police:

Scott Olsen, 24, remains sedated on a respirator, in stable but critical condition at Oakland’s Highland Hospital after being hit in the head with a police projectile.

According to the article Olsen served two tours of duty in Iraq, which he eventually announced that he opposed. He did not suffer any injuries while serving in Iraq.

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