Daily Archives: 14 March 2009

Mosquitoes to Mars?

A few weeks ago, RIA Novosti reported on a type of mosquito that seems preadapted to the possibility of suspended animation during long space flights.

Cosmonauts who might fly to the Red Planet are learning how to survive in a forest outside Moscow. Scientists from the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medical and Biological Problems are assessing the impact of cosmic radiation on living organisms, one of which even managed to survive in outer space.

Anatoly Grigoryev, vice president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told RIA Novosti that a mosquito had managed to survive in outer space. First, it appeared that Grigoryev was talking about a spider running loose aboard the International Space Station. Incredibly, a mosquito slept for 18 months on the outer ISS surface. “We brought him back to Earth. He is alive, and his feet are moving,” Grigoryev said.

The mosquito did not get any food and was subjected to extreme temperatures ranging from minus 150 degrees Celsius in the shade to plus 60 degrees in the sunlight.

Grigoryev said the insect had been taken outside the ISS on orders from the Institute’s scientists working on the Biorisk experiment. “First, they studied bacteria and fungi till a Japanese scientist suggested studying mosquitoes,” Grigoryev told RIA Novosti….

“Professor Takashi Okuda from the National Institute of Agro-Biological Science drew our attention to the unique, although short-lived, African mosquito (bloodworm), whose larvae develop only in a humid environment,” Grigoryev said.

Rains are rare in Africa, where puddles dry up before one’s eyes. However, this mosquito is well-adapted to adverse local conditions, existing in a state of suspended animation when vital bodily functions stop almost completely.

When suspended animation sets in, water molecules are replaced by tricallosa sugar, which leads to natural crystallization. The larvae were then sprayed with acetone, boiled and cooled down to minus 210 degrees Celsius, the temperature of liquid nitrogen. Amazingly, they survived all these hardships.

The Japanese also studied bloodworm DNA and found that it could be switched on and deactivated in 30 to 40 minutes. “This is facilitated by the crystallization of biological matter,” Doctor of Biology Vladimir Sychev from the Institute of Medical and Biological Problems told RIA Novosti.

If Anopheles mosquitoes can do the same, it may not take long for the first humans settlers on Mars to melt some of its ice and turn barren landscapes into malarial swamps.

via Japundit

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Filed under Africa, Japan, malaria, Russia, science

Funereal Language Revival in Northern Ghana

The occasion of the 1st International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation seems an appropriate moment to note a recent post by Mark Dingemanse of The Ideophone about an encouraging bit of language revival in Siwu, spoken in the Volta region of Ghana: the return of traditional funeral dirges. (Note that Siwu is the language, Kawu is the place, and Mawu are the people, suggesting a noun-classification system most definitely related to those in found Bantu languages.)

Speaking of parting, it is only rarely that dirges are heard in Kawu nowadays. Two factors are contributing to their decline: firstly the fact that many churches discourage their use, preferring edifying hymns instead. The reason behind this, I am told, is that the dirges reflect a pre-Christian worldview and as such are to be eschewed by true Christians. A second factor has been the coming of electricity to the villages halfway the nineties, which has led to loud music taking the place of the dirges during the wakekeepings. Elsewhere I wrote that “culture is a moving target, always renewing and reshaping itself”, yet at the same time I can’t help but lament the imminent loss of such a rich vein of Mawu culture.

However, during my last fieldtrip there were some signs of a renewed interest in the genre. For example, one pastor told me that he had been reconsidering the rash dismissal of the dirges by his church. Realizing how important the dirges had been in containing, orienting, and canalizing the feelings of loss and pathos surrounding death, he felt that the Christian hymns did not always offer an appropriate replacement. Another hopeful event was that I was approached with the request to help record a great number of dirges in Akpafu-Todzi in August 2008. This was not just to record them for posterity (although this was part of the motivation), but also very practically so that they could be played at wakekeepings. I gladly complied with this wish of course. The result is a beautiful collection of 42 dirges, sung by eight ladies between 57 and 87 years of age. The first time the dirges were played at a funeral they sparked a wave of interest.

via Culture-Making, where Nate adds a lead-in: The cultural fall and rise of the traditional funeral dirges performed in the Volta region of northern Ghana: brought low by Christianity and recording technology, brought back by the same.

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Filed under Ghana, language, religion