Your DNA is the Size of the Solar System

DNA Coding

When it comes to humility, science can dish it out with a big spoon: we've often heard of the inconsequential nature of human beings compared to the size of the cosmos (and in fiction, Douglas Adams riffed on this idea in coming up with the Total Perspective Vortex in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy).

While there's plenty of criticism that could be directed at this idea - that physical size is the be-all and end-all of importance (vs intelligence, imagination, purpose etc) - an interesting aside is the fact that, while our bodies seem like specks of dust, they contain systems that are cosmic in size.

One such example is human DNA: our body contains approximately five trillion cells, with 'long' strands of DNA immaculately folded into the tiny space within the cell walls. If you were to take all the DNA in just one person, straighten it out and put it end to end, it could stretch from the Sun to beyond the heliosphere (which some use as the demarcation of the 'edge' of our Solar System). Or to put it another way, the DNA molecules in your body could be stretched out to cover the distance from the Earth to Jupiter and back, ten times over.

But perhaps an even more amazing aspect is the way in which this massive length of DNA molecules is compacted within our tiny cells - it needs to be folded via biological origami in specific ways, so that our genes can work together in different ways.

If you have a gene it is often controlled - like, turned on or off - by another piece of DNA, that can be located very, very far apart from this gene. The chromosome is folded in such a way that the switch which turns the gene on or off is actually touching the gene. So all the DNA in between is looped.

These amazing aspects of DNA are discussed in the fascinating science short below, presented by the esteemed science writer Carl Zimmer:

You might also like:

News Briefs 04-04-2016

That moment when you drop the bass...

Quote of the Day:

Not every pony grows up to be a pegasus.

Atmosphere

A New Approach to Death and Funerals

If you're likely to die at some point in the next century, I highly recommend this interesting TEDx talk by undertakers Claire and Ru Callender, who are calling out the 'corporate' funeral industry and suggesting we reinvent the way we send off our dearly departed (and ourselves when it gets to that point).

Claire and Ru Callender are self taught, award winning ceremonial undertakers and sextons who set up The Green Funeral Company in 2000. Their stripped back, naturalistic approach is informed by their own experiences of bereavement and the unsatisfactory funerals that followed, and their practice has unusual and diverse influences including the natural death movement, rave culture, Quakerism, hospices, punk, and crop circles.

They aim to create rituals that are practical, satisfying and unique but feel profound and genuine, and their intentions can be summed up in three words: Honesty, appropriateness and participation.

They have strong feelings about the funeral industry, particularly embalming, current cremation practice and design, family disempowerment, corporate takeovers, assembly line rituals, faux Victorian aesthetics, inappropriate religious services and exploitative and unnecessary prepayment schemes.

You can read more about Claire and Ru's thoughts in this Vice magazine interview from last year.

Samurai Visiting the Sphinx in 1864

Samurai standing in front of the Great Sphinx

Like the Daily Grail on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter for more fascinating posts like this one.

Over the years there have been many great images of the Great Sphinx and Pyramids in Egypt, but this 1864 photo by Antonio Beato may be the best ever. Now over 150 years old, it shows a diplomatic mission from Japan dressed in full samurai regalia - swords and all - standing in front of the Great Sphinx.

From Wikipedia:

The Second Japanese Embassy to Europe, also called the Ikeda Mission, was sent on December 29, 1863 by the Tokugawa shogunate. The head of the mission was Ikeda Nagaoki, governor of small villages of Ibara, Bitchū Province (Okayama Prefecture). The assistant head of the mission was Kawazu Sukekuni.

The objective of the mission was to obtain French agreement to the closure of the harbour of Yokohama to foreign trade. The mission was sent following the 1863 "Order to expel barbarians" enacted by Emperor Kōmei, and the Bombardment of Shimonoseki incidents, in a wish to close again the country to Western influence, and return to sakoku status. The task proved impossible, as Yokohama was the center of foreign presence in Japan since the opening of the country by Commodore Perry in 1854.

On the way to France, the mission visited Egypt, where the members of the mission were photographed posing before the Sphinx by Antonio Beato, brother of the famous photographer Felice Beato. The members of the mission were abundantly photographed in Paris by Nadar.

The mission returned to Japan in failure, on July 22, 1864.

Fantastic image of an amazing location - right up there in my list of favourites with this 1920 photograph of two elegant ladies viewing an Egyptian sunset from the top of the Great Pyramid.

Related stories:

News Briefs 31-03-2016

"I'm late! I'm late! For a very important date! No time to say hello, goodbye! I'm late! I'm late! I'm late!"

Thanks to Greg, Michael Mayes, Chris Knowles, and viewers like you.

"My idea is that the term ‘supernatural’ is a gross mistake. We have only to enlarge our conceptions of the natural, and all will be alright."
- Alfred Russel Wallace

Review: Batman vs Superman

Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice

First things first: I’m not a huge fan of superhero films, though I’m not a hater either – my interaction with them is largely for the ‘popcorn’ reason of sometimes enjoying turning off my brain, taking a seat and watching kick-ass special effects and listening to big sounds. Perhaps my favourite recent film in the genre is Deadpool, which is basically less a superhero film than a piss-take on the entire genre.

Second, I don’t claim to be any sort of film critic. I do think I have a decent idea of what makes a film ‘okay’, vs what makes one pants - but what follows is less a proclamation of judgement upon Batman vs Superman, than it is a discussion borne out of an inexplicable fact that has me intrigued: that while the rest of the world seems to think this film is horrible, I actually quite enjoyed it.

Let me explain. Though never a true comics ‘fan-boy’, I’m a Marvel kid: I began reading comics with a number of Jack Kirby’s works, which inexplicably somehow made it to my aunt’s house in a rural area in the deep north of Australia in the late 1970s (his 2001 adaptation in particular is burned into my memory). I later got into the X-Men, and perhaps my favourite teenage comic book memory is the (1984) Secret Wars series.

While there was no shortage of DC comics available also, Batman and Superman never really resonated with me. Batman was too mundane, Superman was too godly. In both cases, I pitied the story writers who had to work with each.

What this should tell you is: I enjoy comics, but I have little knowledge of the D.C. 'canon', alternative histories or many other elements of this film that might particularly enrage a true fan who thought the film-makers diverged from core elements of the Batman and Superman mythos. And when it comes to voicing any positive opinions on this film, it's not exactly one that I've had high on my list of 'must-views'.

But it’s currently school holidays here, and a new cinema has opened nearby that finally makes movie-going an attractive option for my wife and I, so I booked tickets in advance for the whole family to go see the opening marquee film: Batman vs Superman.

And then the reviews started rolling in. Review after review, calling it: one of the worst, if not the worst, superhero film ever made.

We’re a busy family, so I seriously considered just not going and chalking the lost money down to a bad call. But then, the reviews for Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy were glowing, and I really didn’t like those films at all. So why trust other people’s reviews?

And as it turned out, as the credits rolled (and after a quick check there were no post-credit scenes), I sat there thinking: “umm, I kind of enjoyed that…is there something wrong with me?” With some trepidation, I asked the rest of the family their thoughts. My wife, not usually one for big budget smash-em-ups, voiced her approval. All three children (10, 12, 14) gave it a thumbs-up, with perhaps the biggest movie cynic of the three remarking “that was a great film”.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that. It’s got its share of plot flaws. Some of the casting was off for me, including the villain of the piece in Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor (though not the much-maligned Ben Affleck...in fact, in my book he probably goes the closest to nailing the Bruce Wayne/Batman combo of all that I’ve seen). The end boss-fight is an overblown mess.

But let’s also get this straight. It’s a comic-book movie, and I walked in with that knowledge in hand, ready for my popcorn enjoyment and little more. And I got the former, and plus more than a little extra on top.

So why are my thoughts completely out of sync with most other reviewers? This is ... Read More »

News Briefs 30-03-2016

Get off my land!

  • Thousands of ancient petroglyphs, 'dramatic' solar calendar reported in N. Arizona.
  • Researcher links mass extinctions to 'Planet X'.
  • Text in lost language may reveal god or goddess worshipped by Etruscans at ancient temple.
  • Rats adapt to infrared sensors in hours thanks to brain implants.
  • NDEs absolutely, positively NOT caused by malfunctioning brains.
  • Experts doubt claims of 'hidden chambers' in King Tut's tomb.
  • New study shows LSD fights depression by inhibiting regretful thinking.
  • War vet reveals 'hidden world' beneath Naples.
  • Leading neuroscientists and Buddhists agree: "Consciousness is everywhere".
  • The demonic origins of ventriloquism.
  • James Randi's 1 Million Dollar Challenge finally terminated.
  • Excitement grows as Large Hadron Collider hints at new particle.
  • The unique mosquito that lives in the London Underground.
  • Amateur astronomers video impact on Jupiter.
  • A world map of Neanderthal and Denisovan ancestry in modern humans.
  • 'Cave paintings' spotted on Mars.
  • Microsoft's racist chatbot returns with drug-smoking Twitter meltdown.

Quote of the Day:

Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.

Carl Jung

Stoneworking Mysteries of Ancient India

A couple of weeks ago I posted a couple of short, interesting films on the so-called 'Bosnian Pyramid', and stone-working in ancient Egypt. The maker of those two films, Alex Mott, has now made another film available, this time on the mysteries of ancient India (which features a cameo from Robert Bauval):

Alex Mott visits India on the trail of the Vedas and ancient stone working techniques. As with sites in Egypt and around the world, the physical evidence is right in front of you - but how they did it is still a mystery.

Whether you agree with Alex's theories or not, it's a fascinating look into a too-often-overlooked ancient civilisation.

Related:

News Briefs 29-03-2016

From mythical planets to unicorns, the Daily Grail news is bringing all your childhood dreams back to life...