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National Geographic (Apr. 2018)

…Similarly, the mutation that’s most responsible for giving Europeans lighter skin is a single tweak in a gene known as SLC24A5, which consists of roughly 20,000 base pairs. In one position, where most sub-Saharan Africans have a G, Europeans have an A. …

Studying DNA extracted from ancient bones, paleogeneticists have found that the G-to-A substitution was introduced into western Europe relatively recently–about 8,000 years ago–by people migrating from the Middle East, who also brought a newfangled technology: farming. That means the people already in Europe–hunter-gatherers who created the spectacular cave paintings at Lascaux, for example–probably were not white but brown. The ancient DNA suggests that many of those dark-skinned Europeans also had blue eyes, a combination rarely seen today.

“Skin Deep,” Elizabeth Kolbert

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National Geographic (Apr. 2018)

Genetics frequently works like this: A tiny tweak can have many disparate effects. Only one may be useful–and it may outlive the conditions that made it so, the way families hand down old photos long past the point when anyone remembers who’s in them.

“Skin Deep,” Elizabeth Kolbert

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National Geographic (Mar. 2018)

In early spring much of the land remains bare, with soil left exposed after the harvest of quinoa that feeds an insatiable appetite for the high-protein grain in Europe and the U.S.

The timing is unfortunate. Before the year’s crops are planted, the winds off the Atacama Desert in Chile scour the empty fields, carrying twice as many tons of sediment into the lake as they did before native grasses and shrubs were cleared for quinoa production.

“Drying Lakes,” Kenneth Weiss

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National Geographic (Mar. 2018)

The United Nations warned a decade ago that indigenous people would be among the first to be ravaged by climate change because so many rely on nature’s bounty as subsistence hunters and fishermen. An estimated 23.5 million people fled their homes in 2016 because of storms, floods, wildfires, extreme temperatures, and other weather-related disasters, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. That exceeded the 6.9 million newly displaced by conflict and violence that year.

In sheer numbers those fleeing “natural” calamities have outnumbered those fleeing war and conflict for decades. Still, these figures do not include people forced to abandon their homelands because of drought or gradual environmental degradation; almost two and a half billion people live in areas where human demand for water exceeds the supply. Globally the likelihood of being uprooted from one’s home has increased 60 percent compared with 40 years ago because of the combination of rapid climate change and growing populations moving into more vulnerable areas.

“Drying Lakes,” Kenneth Weiss

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National Geographic (Mar. 2018)

You can call them “failed experiments” in evolution if you want, but they succeeded and flourished, within their preferred but challenging environments, for more than 30 million years. We humans should be so steadfast and lucky.

“When Life Got Complicated,” David Quammen, of Ediacarans

Nonfiction, Science

Ford, Kenneth W.: The Quantum World

2004

“Drawing on a deep familiarity with the discoveries of the twentieth century, Ford gives an appealing account of quantum physics that will help the serious reader make sense of a science that, for all its successes, remains mysterious.”

(see @ goodreads)
Nonfiction, Science

Sagan, Carl; Ann Druyan: Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors

1992

“Cosmos, the widely acclaimed book and television series by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan, was about where we are in the vastness of space and time. Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors is an exploration of who we are. How were we shaped by life’s adventure on this planet, by a mysterious past that we are only just beginning to piece together?”

(see @ goodreads)