Prehistoric fish teeth, new research

This July 2018 video says about itself:

When Fish Wore Armor

420 million years ago, some fish were more medieval. They wore armor, sometimes made of big plates, and sometimes made of interlocking scales. But that armor may actually have served a totally different purpose, one that many animals still use today.

From the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility:

The origin of our teeth goes back more than 400 million years back in time, to the period when strange armoured fish first developed jaws and began to catch live prey. We are the descendants of these fish, as are all the other 60,000 living species of jawed vertebrates — sharks, bony fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. An international team of scientists led by Uppsala University (Sweden), in collaboration with the ESRF, the European Synchrotron (France), the brightest X-ray source, has digitally ‘dissected’, for the first time, the most primitive jawed fish fossils with teeth found near Prague more than 100 years ago. The results, published today in Science, show that their teeth have surprisingly modern features.

Teeth in current jawed vertebrates reveal some consistent patterns: for example, new teeth usually develop on the inner side of the old ones and then move outwards to replace them (in humans this pattern has been modified so that new teeth develop below the old ones, deep inside the jawbone). There are, however, several differences between bony fish (and their descendants the land animals) and sharks; for example, the fact that sharks have no bones at all, their skeleton is made of cartilage, and neither the dentine scales nor the true teeth in the mouth attach to it; they simply sit in the skin. In bony fish and land animals, the teeth are always attached to jawbones. In addition, whilst sharks shed their worn-out teeth entire, simply by detaching them from the skin, bony fish and land animals shed theirs by dissolving away the tooth bases.

This diversity raises many questions about the origin of teeth. Until now, researchers have focused on fossils of a group of ancient fish that lived about 430 to 360 million years ago, called the arthrodires, which were the only stem jawed vertebrates in which teeth were known. However, they struggled to understand how they could have evolved into the teeth of modern vertebrates, as arthrodire teeth are so different in position and mode of tooth addition in comparison to bony fish and sharks.

Scanning the most primitive jawed fishes

A team from Uppsala University, Charles University (Czech Republic), Natural History Museum in London (UK), National Museum in Prague (Czech Republic) and the ESRF, the European Synchrotron (France) set out to determine whether this peculiar type of dentition was really ancestral to ours, or just a specialised offshoot off the lineage leading towards modern jawed vertebrates.

With this aim, they turned to the acanthothoracids, another early fish group that are believed to be more primitive than the arthrodires and closely related to the very first jawed vertebrates. The problem with acanthothoracids is that their fossils are rare and always incomplete. The very finest of them come from the Prague Basin in the Czech Republic, from rocks that are just over 400 million years old, and were collected at the turn of the last century. They have proved difficult to study by conventional techniques because the bones cannot be freed from the enclosing rock, and have therefore never been investigated in detail.

The researchers used the unique properties of the ESRF, the world’s brightest X-ray source and the synchrotron microtomography ID19’s beamline, to visualise the internal structure of the fossils in 3D without damaging them. At the ESRF, an 844 metre-ring of electrons travelling at the speed of light emits high-powered X-ray beams that can be used to non-destructively scan matter, including fossils.

“The results were truly remarkable, including well-preserved dentitions that nobody expected to be there” says Valéria Vaškaninová, lead author of the study and scientist from Uppsala University. Follow-up scans at higher resolution allowed the researchers to visualize the growth pattern and even the perfectly preserved cell spaces inside the dentine of these ancient teeth.

Like arthrodires, the acanthothoracid dentitions are attached to bones. This indicates that bony fish and land animals retain the ancestral condition in this regard, whereas sharks are specialized in having teeth that are only attached to the skin — in contrast to the common perception that sharks are primitive living vertebrates. Again, like arthrodires, the teeth of acanthothoracids were not shed.

More different from arthrodires than expected

In other ways, however, acanthothoracid dentitions are fundamentally different from those of arthrodires. Like sharks, bony fish and land animals, acanthothoracids only added new teeth on the inside; the oldest teeth were located right at the jaw margin. In this respect, the acanthothoracid dentitions look remarkably modern.

“To our surprise, the teeth perfectly matched our expectations of a common ancestral dentition for cartilaginous and bony vertebrates.” explains Vaškaninová.

The tooth-bearing bones also carry small non-biting dentine elements of the skin on their outer surfaces, a character shared with primitive bony fish but not with arthrodires. This is an important difference because it shows that acanthothoracid jaw bones were located right at the edge of the mouth, whereas arthrodire jaw bones lay further in. Uniquely, one acanthothoracid (Kosoraspis) shows a gradual shape transition from these dentine elements to the neighboring true teeth, while another (Radotina) has true teeth almost identical to its skin dentine elements in shape. This may be evidence that the true teeth had only recently evolved from dentine elements on the skin.

“These findings change our whole understanding of the origin of teeth” says co-author Per Ahlberg, professor at Uppsala University. And he adds: “Even though acanthothoracids are among the most primitive of all jawed vertebrates, their teeth are in some ways far more like modern ones than arthrodire dentitions. Their jawbones resemble those of bony fish and seem to be directly ancestral to our own. When you grin at the bathroom mirror in the morning, the teeth that grin back at you can trace their origins right back to the first jawed vertebrates.”

English Grenfell fire disaster scandal continues

This 20 June 2017 video from the USA about England is called Grenfell Tower Disaster Could’ve Been Avoided.

From daily News Line in Britain, 10 July 2020:

Grenfell Inquiry bans survivors and relatives while safety experts didn’t even bother to read about cladding

GRENFELL survivors and relatives of the 72 people killed in the Grenfell Tower inferno are furious that they have been excluded from the inquiry that re-started on Monday under strict social distancing rules.

Despite the fact that the Tories have been driving forward relaxation of these rules when it comes to re-opening pubs, restaurants and shops and exhorting people to come out and spend, spend and spend to save the economy, none of this applies to the bereaved and their supporters.

They are banned from attending the hearing which is taking place with only the inquiry panel, witnesses and their lawyers along with cross-examining inquiry counsel permitted to be present.

Monday saw the opening of the second phase of the Grenfell Inquiry which will hear testimony from corporate witnesses from the firms responsible for creating the death trap at Grenfell Tower.

In February these witnesses and the companies they work for were granted immunity by the Tory attorney general from prosecution arising out of the evidence they give following the threat that they would refuse to give evidence that would reveal crimes they had committed.

This immunity was also granted to the Kensington and Chelsea Management Organisation (TMO), the private company paid by the council to run and maintain Grenfell Tower.

In fact, the fear of prosecution for the criminal acts carried out against Grenfell Tower residents was well grounded.

It emerged in the first phase of the inquiry that there existed overwhelming evidence that the designers and contractors who installed the cladding responsible for turning the Tower into a death trap knew in 2011 that this cladding had failed fire safety tests and was ‘not suitable for use on building facades’.

This total disregard for human life and the cavalier dismissal of all risk was brought home by the first witnesses’ statements heard this week.

Terry Ashton, the lead fire and safety consultant of the cladding refurbishment told the inquiry that he had ignored the documents outlining the proposed insulation and cladding materials to be used.

Ashton said he didn’t read an email from the project architects detailing the cladding system because he was not the ‘primary recipient’ and he had not bothered to read the plans because they were ‘very lengthy documents’.

Ashton is employed by the materials and testing firm Exova employed to assess the refurbishment and has been a fire consultant for 25 years despite having no formal training.

He produced a fire safety strategy that made no mention of plans to reclad the tower, and concluded that: ‘The proposed changes will have no adverse effect on the building in relation to external fire spread, but this will be confirmed by an analysis in a future issue of this report.’

Ashton has already told the inquiry he gave advice on the fire safety of the refurbishment and cladding without even once visiting the tower block.

No wonder the inquiry was desperate to keep survivors and relatives of those killed out of the room while those with responsibility for overseeing the fire risk from cladding already known in the industry to be a massive danger testify they couldn’t be bothered to read relevant documents because they were too ‘lengthy’.

This entire inquiry has been a sham from the start.

The public are excluded out of fear that they will explode in anger as they listen to the contemptuous disregard for the lives of workers living in a death trap.

It was a death trap built by companies out to make a profit out of using cheap, deadly materials and relying on them being passed as safe by companies that ignored the most fundamental safety oversight.

There must be no immunity for these criminals.

Grenfell was not an accident. It was the inevitable result of a Tory government working hand in glove with these companies to make a profit out of building deathtraps for workers and their families.

Justice for the crimes committed for profit will not be achieved through this sham inquiry but only by bringing down this Tory government and bringing in a workers’ government that will arrest the real criminals and force them to answer in court for their murderous crimes against the working class.

Bats may help against COVID-19

This 2014 video says about itself:

This 48-minute documentary explores the world of bats and the scientists who study them — including the late Donald Griffin, a Harvard zoologist who was the first to describe their echolocation ability in the 1940s. Using 3-D graphics to recreate the bats’ acoustic vision and shooting with infra-red and high-speed cameras, this film offers an exhilarating “bats-eye” journey into the night.

From the University of Rochester in New York State in the USA:

Bats offer clues to treating COVID-19

To combat COVID-19, we need to regulate our immune systems to resemble those of bats

July 9, 2020

Bats are often considered patient zero for many deadly viruses affecting humans, including Ebola, rabies, and, most recently, the SARS-CoV-2 strain of virus that causes coronavirus.

Although humans experience adverse symptoms when afflicted with these pathogens, bats are remarkably able to tolerate viruses, and, additionally, live much longer than similar-sized land mammals.

What are the secrets to their longevity and virus resistance?

According to researchers at the University of Rochester, bats’ longevity and capacity to tolerate viruses may stem from their ability to control inflammation, which is a hallmark of disease and aging. In a review article published in the journal Cell Metabolism, the researchers — including Rochester biology professors Vera Gorbunova and Andrei Seluanov — outline the mechanisms underlying bats’ unique abilities and how these mechanisms may hold clues to developing new treatments for diseases in humans.

Why are bats ‘immune’ to viruses?

The idea for the paper came about when Gorbunova and Seluanov, who are married, were in Singapore in March before COVID-19 travel bans began. When the virus started to spread and Singapore went into lockdown, they were quarantined at the home of their colleague Brian Kennedy, director of the Centre for Healthy Aging at the National University of Singapore and co-author of the paper.

The three scientists, all experts on longevity in mammals, got to talking about bats. SARS-CoV-2 is believed to have originated in bats before the virus was transmitted to humans. Although bats were carriers, they seemed to be unaffected by the virus. Another perplexing factor: generally, a species’ lifespan correlates with its body mass; the smaller a species, the shorter its lifespan, and vice versa. Many bat species, however, have lifespans of 30 to 40 years, which is impressive for their size.

“We’ve been interested in longevity and disease resistance in bats for a while, but we didn’t have the time to sit and think about it,” says Gorbunova, the Doris Johns Cherry Professor of Biology at Rochester. “Being in quarantine gave us time to discuss this, and we realized there may be a very strong connection between bats’ resistance to infectious diseases and their longevity. We also realized that bats can provide clues to human therapies used to fight diseases.”

While there have been studies on the immune responses of bats and studies of bats’ longevity, until their article, “no one has combined these two phenomena,” Seluanov says.

Gorbunova and Seluanov have studied longevity and disease resistance in other exceptionally long-lived animals, including naked mole rats. One common theme in their research is that inflammation is a hallmark of the aging process and age-related diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer’s, and cardiovascular disease. Viruses, including COVID-19, are one factor that can trigger inflammation.

“With COVID-19, the inflammation goes haywire, and it may be the inflammatory response that is killing the patient, more so than the virus itself,” Gorbunova says. “The human immune system works like that: once we get infected, our body sounds an alarm and we develop a fever and inflammation. The goal is to kill the virus and fight infection, but it can also be a detrimental response as our bodies overreact to the threat.”

Not so with bats. Unlike humans, bats have developed specific mechanisms that reduce viral replication and also dampen the immune response to a virus. The result is a beneficial balance: their immune systems control viruses but at the same time, do not mount a strong inflammatory response.

Why did bats acquire a tolerance for diseases?

According to the researchers, there are several factors that may contribute to bats having evolved to fight viruses and live long lives. One factor may be driven by flight. Bats are the only mammals with the ability to fly, which requires that they adapt to rapid increases in body temperature, sudden surges in metabolism, and molecular damage. These adaptations may also assist in disease resistance.

Another factor may be their environment. Many species of bats live in large, dense colonies, and hang close together on cave ceilings or in trees. Those conditions are ideal for transmitting viruses and other pathogens.

“Bats are constantly exposed to viruses,” Seluanov says. “They are always flying out and bringing back something new to the cave or nest, and they transfer the virus because they live in such close proximity to each other.”

Because bats are constantly exposed to viruses, their immune systems are in a perpetual arms race with pathogens: a pathogen will enter the organism, the immune system will evolve a mechanism to combat the pathogen, the pathogen will evolve again, and so on.

“Usually the strongest driver of new traits in evolution is an arms race with pathogens,” Gorbunova says. “Dealing with all of these viruses may be shaping bats’ immunity and longevity.”

Can humans develop the same disease resistance as bats?

That’s not an invitation for humans to toss their masks and crowd together in restaurants and movie theaters. Evolution takes place over thousands of years, rather than a few months. It has only been in recent history that a majority of the human population has begun living in close proximity in cities. Or that technology has enabled rapid mobility and travel across continents and around the globe. While humans may be developing social habits that parallel those of bats, we have not yet evolved bats’ sophisticated mechanisms to combat viruses as they emerge and swiftly spread.

“The consequences may be that our bodies experience more inflammation,” Gorbunova says.

The researchers also recognize that aging seems to play an adverse role in humans’ reactions to COVID-19.

“COVID-19 has such a different pathogenesis in older people,” Gorbunova says. “Age is one of the most critical factors between living and dying. We have to treat aging as a whole process instead of just treating individual symptoms.”

The researchers anticipate that studying bats’ immune systems will provide new targets for human therapies to fight diseases and aging. For example, bats have mutated or completely eliminated several genes involved in inflammation; scientists can develop drugs to inhibit these genes in humans. Gorbunova and Seluanov hope to start a new research program at Rochester to work toward that goal.

“Humans have two possible strategies if we want to prevent inflammation, live longer, and avoid the deadly effects of diseases like COVID-19,” Gorbunova says. “One would be to not be exposed to any viruses, but that’s not practical. The second would be to regulate our immune system more like a bat.”

Bat research critical to preventing next pandemic: here.

British Conservatives complicit in butchering Yemeni civilians

A Yemeni woman offers prayers at the grave of her husband who was killed during Yemen's ongoing conflict, at a cemetery in Sanaa

This photo shows a Yemeni woman offering prayers at the grave of her husband who was killed during Yemen’s ongoing conflict, at a cemetery in Sanaa.

By Ceren Sagir in Britain, 10 July 2020:

Government’s decision to resume arms sales to Saudis is ‘tantamount to signing the death warrants’ of thousands of Yemeni children

THE government’s decision to continue licencing arms sales to Saudi Arabia is “tantamount to signing the death warrants” of thousands of children in Yemen, charity War Child said today.

Despite a court ruling last year ordering the government to cease sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia, International Trade Secretary Liz Truss claimed there was no pattern of deliberate breaches of international humanitarian law involving British-made weaponry in Yemen.

The Saudi-led coalition was responsible for killing and injuring at least 3,481 children from 2015 to 2019, according to the UN.

Oligocene prehistoric dolphin discovery

This 9 July 2020 video says about itself:

A giant 16-foot long dolphin has been discovered. It lived 25 million years ago. It feasted on … whales and it was the apex predator of the ocean

Researchers found a full skeleton of a cetacean called Ankylorhiza tiedemani. It shared many similar features with both baleen whales and modern toothed whales. This dolphin had tusk-like front teeth. It lived in present-day South Carolina. Fossil evidence includes skull anatomy and teeth, a flipper and its vertebral column. It revealed that this large dolphin was a ‘top predator’ in the community. It was very clearly preying upon large-bodied prey like a killer whale.

Ankylorhiza was a ruthless ‘ecological specialist’ when it came to hunting. At about 16 feet long, it was about twice the size of average-sized dolphins. Ankylorhiza has proportionally large teeth with thickened roots. It is an adaptation for higher bite force. The teeth have longitudinal ridges which cut through flesh more efficiently. It is also believed to be the first marine animal that used echolocation. It used sound to obtain information about surroundings and to find food.

From ScienceDaily:

15-foot-long skeleton of extinct dolphin suggests parallel evolution among whales

July 9, 2020

A report in the journal Current Biology on July 9 offers a detailed description of the first nearly complete skeleton of an extinct large dolphin, discovered in what is now South Carolina. The 15-foot-long dolphin (Ankylorhiza tiedemani comb. n.) lived during the Oligocene — about 25 million years ago — and was previously known only from a partial rostrum (snout) fossil.

The researchers say that multiple lines of evidence — from the skull anatomy and teeth, to the flipper and vertebral column — show that this large dolphin (a toothed whale in the group Odontoceti) was a top predator in the community in which it lived. They say that many features of the dolphin’s postcranial skeleton also imply that modern baleen whales and modern toothed whales must have evolved similar features independently, driven by parallel evolution in the very similar aquatic habitats in which they lived.

“The degree to which baleen whales and dolphins independently arrive at the same overall swimming adaptations, rather than these traits evolving once in the common ancestor of both groups, surprised us,” says Robert Boessenecker of the College of Charleston in Charleston, South Carolina. “Some examples include the narrowing of the tailstock, increase in the number of tail vertebrae, and shortening of the humerus (upper arm bone) in the flipper.

“This is not apparent in different lineages of seals and sea lions, for example, which evolved into different modes of swimming and have very different looking postcranial skeletons,” he adds. “It’s as if the addition of extra finger bones in the flipper and the locking of the elbow joint has forced both major groups of cetaceans down a similar evolutionary pathway in terms of locomotion.”

Though first discovered in the 1880s from a fragmentary skull during phosphate dredging of the Wando River, the first skeleton of Ankylorhiza was discovered in the 1970s by then Charleston Museum Natural History curator Albert Sanders. The nearly complete skeleton described in the new study was found in the 1990s. A commercial paleontologist by the name of Mark Havenstein found it during construction of a housing subdivision in South Carolina. It was subsequently donated to the Mace Brown Museum of Natural History, to allow for its study.

While there’s much more to learn from this fossil specimen, the current findings reveal that Ankylorhiza was an ecological specialist. The researchers say the species was “very clearly preying upon large-bodied prey like a killer whale.”

Another intriguing aspect, according to the researchers, is that Ankylorhiza is the first echolocating whale to become an apex predator. When Ankylorhiza became extinct by about 23 million years ago, they explain, killer sperm whales and the shark-toothed dolphin Squalodon evolved and reoccupied the niche within 5 million years. After the last killer sperm whales died out about 5 million years ago, the niche was left open until the ice ages, with the evolution of killer whales about 1 or 2 million years ago.

“Whales and dolphins have a complicated and long evolutionary history, and at a glance, you may not get that impression from modern species,” Boessenecker says. “The fossil record has really cracked open this long, winding evolutionary path, and fossils like Ankylorhiza help illuminate how this happened.”

Boessenecker notes that more fossils of Ankylorhiza are awaiting study, including a second species and fossils of Ankylorhiza juveniles that can offer insight into the dolphin’s growth. He says that there’s still much to learn from fossilized dolphins and baleen whales from South Carolina.

“There are many other unique and strange early dolphins and baleen whales from Oligocene aged rocks in Charleston, South Carolina,” Boessenecker says. “Because the Oligocene epoch is the time when filter-feeding and echolocation first evolved, and since marine mammal localities of that time are scarce worldwide, the fossils from Charleston offer the most complete window into the early evolution of these groups, offering unparalleled evolutionary insight.”

COVID-19 kills hundreds of United States prisoners

This 3 July 2020 video from California in the USA is called More Than 1,100 Inmates Infected With COVID-19 At San Quentin Prison.

By Nicole Chavez, CNN in the USA:

7 prisoners with coronavirus died at San Quentin and hundreds more are dying in US jails and prisons

July 10, 2020

Governor Gavin Newsom [of California] is facing mounting pressure to release inmates as corrections officials scramble to contain outbreaks of coronavirus at state prisons.

The outbreak at San Quentin State Prison, where more than half of the Covid-19 cases in state prisons have been reported, has claimed the lives of at least seven incarcerated people, according to a tally from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

“It is incredibly frustrating that we had one person make the decision to transfer a few patients from one prison, Chino, into San Quentin,” Newsom said Thursday in a news conference. “That decision created a chain of events that we are now addressing and dealing with. I’m not here to sugarcoat that.”

The prison had escaped the early months of the pandemic unscathed until cases began soaring in late May after a transfer of detainees from the California Institution for Men in Chino.

Several advocates and lawmakers gathered outside San Quentin on Thursday, calling for the release of medically vulnerable and older detainees. California has not had an execution since 2006, yet six people from my understanding in the past few weeks have been executed by Covid while on death row,” said Adnan Khan, executive director for Re:Store Justice, a criminal justice reform advocacy group.

Authorities in California have been releasing prisoners who are close to finishing their sentences since March due to the pandemic. In San Quentin, more than 500 detainees have been released due to both expedited and natural releases, the CDCR has said.

Inside prison and jails, the pandemic couldn’t feel more palpable as detainees were forced to live, work and eat in close quarters.

Correctional facilities across the country have become major hotspots for the virus in the past months and San Quentin is just the latest.

Nearly 100 people have died in Texas facilities

Before the outbreak at San Quentin, the virus ravaged correctional facilities in central Ohio, Illlinois, Colorado and Texas, where at least 91 incarcerated people and nine staff members with Covid-19 have died, according to state’s department of criminal justice.

Corrections officials are still trying to determine whether 26 additional deaths are linked to the virus.

About 130,000 people are incarcerated across Texas facilities and more than 10,500 detainees have or have had Covid-19. At least 1,927 staff members have also tested positive for the virus, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Unlike California and other states, Texas officials have not moved to release parole-eligible detainees or those who are near the end of their sentences in an effort to reduce the population and slow the spread of the virus, despite calls from advocates and family members.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed an executive order in March to prevent the release of “dangerous criminals” from correctional facilities.

“We want to prevent the spread of #COVID19 among prison staff & inmates. But, releasing dangerous criminals in the streets is not the solution,” the governor tweeted at the time.

Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union released a report saying that more than 570 incarcerated people and over 50 correctional staff have died.

The ACLU analyzed the states’ response to Covid-19 in jails and prisons and found that many states have taken very little action to “implement a cohesive, system-wide response to protect and save lives” amid the pandemic.

Coronavirus infections are more than 5 times higher in prisons

A study released earlier this week showed that the number of incarcerated people infected with Covid-19 and the coronavirus-related death rate in federal and state prisons is higher than the overall US population.

Coronavirus deaths and infection rates higher in US prisons than general population, analysis finds

“The number of US prison residents who tested positive for Covid-19 was 5.5 times higher than the general US population,” said an analysis led by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Researchers said the disparity could be worse because mass testing in some prisons revealed wide Covid-19 outbreaks “with infection rates exceeding 65%” but many facilities are not testing inmates or only test symptomatic people.

The study analyzed cases and deaths from March 31 to June 6 using publicly available data from corrections departments websites, news reports and other sources. As of June 6, there were more than 42,100 cases of Covid-19 and 510 virus-related deaths among the nearly 1.3 million incarcerated people, researchers said.

‘They have given us flimsy paper masks,’ detainee says

Families and advocates have been calling for better conditions at the Prince George’s County jail in Maryland and now actors Jesse Williams and Alec Baldwin, singer Fiona Apple and several Broadway actors have joined them.

“We’re locked down for twenty-three hours or more per day in our hot cells. I get one hour to shower, use the phone, and clean my cell. There’s no social distancing on the phones,” said Baldwin in a video as he read a statement from a 39-year-old detainee.

The video is one of several messages recorded by celebrities, attorneys and activists for “Gasping for Justice”. An initiative by the impact advocacy project Hear Us to share first-hand accounts from detainees.

The statements were part of a federal lawsuit filed in March on behalf of detainees, describing unsanitary and crowded conditions at the Prince George’s jail.

“I don’t think it’s clean enough in here, and we are not getting enough cleaning supplies. I try to keep my cell clean, but they don’t let us use bleach. I ask for spray-nine and the guards say no. I use a rag and my hands. When I find a way to sneak some spray-nine, I use that too,” another detainee said in a statement, read by Broadway’s “Jagged Little Pill” actor Sean Allan Krill.

“They have given us flimsy paper masks. The guards tell us not to lose our masks because we can’t get a replacement,” the detainee’s statement added. “Not all inmates wear their masks; neither do the guards.”

Scott Hechinger, a public defender and director of Zealous, a national initiative to support defenders and communities in moving their advocacy outside of court, said the pandemic has only made the conditions at correction facilities like Prince George’s even more visceral.

“Just because there are not cameras inside, it doesn’t mean there isn’t injustice happening there,” Hechinger told CNN.

As of Wednesday, there have been 19,456 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Prince George’s county, according to data by the state’s health department.

How mandarin fish feed, new research

This June 2019 video says about itself:

Quick facts about one of the most vibrantly colored tropical reef fish! The mandarinfish (mandarin dragonet, Synchiropus splendidus, blue (green) mandarinfish).

Synchiropus splendidus is a Pacific ocean species.

However, there are unrelated other fish, also called mandarinfish: Asian freshwater species.

This aquarium video shows feeding of Hydrolycus armatus, Chinese perch (Siniperca chuatsi), and Polypterus endlicheri.

Siniperca chuatsi is also called mandarinfish.

From the Forschungsverbund Berlin in Germany:

Born to be a cannibal: Genes for feeding behavior in mandarin fish identified

July 9, 2020

Some mandarin fish species (Sinipercidae) are pure fish-eaters, which feed exclusively on living juvenile fish — also of their own species. A research team led by the Chinese Huazhong Agricultural University (HZAU) and the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB) has described the genome of four mandarin fish species and thus also identified genes for cannibalistic eating behaviour. Knowledge of the connections between the genome and feeding behaviour is of interest for sustainable aquaculture.

Most fish larvae feed on easily digestible, small zooplankton. Not so some species of mandarin fish. These are pure “fish-eaters” already after hatching and feed on young fish of other fish species and on conspecifics. This cannibalism leads to a high mortality rate of juvenile fish and to economic losses in aquaculture.

32 genes make the difference to cannibals

The researchers compared the genome sequences of different species of mandarin fish and were thus able to trace the evolution of 20,000 genes over a period of 65 million years. They were able to link many genes with species-specific characteristics. “For 32 of these evolving genes, we were able to experimentally demonstrate different gene expression in mandarin fish species that are common to other food and in pure fish-eating species,” explains Ling Li, one of the first authors of the study and guest scientist from HZAU at the IGB.

Rapid evolutionary adaptation in predatory behaviour

Mandarin fish are aggressive predators. During the complex genome analysis, the researchers identified so-called candidate genes that are associated with particularly high aggression and affect behaviour. “Our genome analyses show the evolutionary development of mandarin fish. They have adapted rapidly to changing environmental conditions, especially with regard to their feeding behaviour. Today, some mandarin fish species are more aggressive predators than others due to their genetic predisposition,” says Prof. Xu-Fang Liang from HZAU.

“Research on the relationship between the genetic code and feeding behaviour is an important basis for the sustainable aquaculture of these fish. In future, fish farmers will be able to use marker-based selection to choose fish for breeding where the genome indicates less predatory behavior — and thus reduce losses,” summarises Dr. Heiner Kuhl, leading bioinformatician of the project from the IGB.

High-throughput genome research at IGB

The reference genome for Siniperca chuatsi is one of the highest quality fish genomes to date. It was analysed using third-generation sequencing techniques and has very high sequence continuity and almost complete reconstruction of the 24 chromosomes. The high-quality reference genome enabled the cost-efficient sequencing of three other species from the Sinipercidae family by means of comparative genomics. This approach to create genome sequences for entire taxonomic families of organisms could serve as a blueprint for large-scale genomic projects.

COVID-19 in Donald Trump’s USA

This 10 July 2020 video from Texas in the USA says about itself:

Houston Mayor Cancels GOP Convention Amid COVID-19 Spike | NowThis

A GOP convention scheduled to take place in Houston, TX, has been canceled — listen to Mayor Sylvester Turner’s moving explanation.

In US news and current events today, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has cancelled the 2020 GOP Convention set to take place in Houston, Texas amid a rising Texas COVID spike. The current Texas coronavirus caseload and Texas COVID spikes have been a cause of concern for the Republican Convention 2020 for months now, as the Republican party plans to go full steam ahead with an in-person 2020 GOP Convention amid the Texas COVID-19 spike. The decision of Mayor Turner stems from memories of his mother, who was a hotel worker, some of the most vulnerable essential workers who would be in danger of COVID without social distancing.

THE OTHER COVID CRISIS Nearly 14 million children went hungry in the U.S. in June, with Black and Hispanic households hit disproportionately hard, according to an analysis of census data released by the Hudson project. The economic fallout from the pandemic shows no signs of abating, either, with federal relief measures running out soon and unclear guidance about returning to schools.  [HuffPost]

Fauci: “We’re just not” doing well in the coronavirus fight.

Teachers who are parents share thoughts over reopening schools.

Small study adds evidence that pregnant women can spread virus to fetus.

Christian summer camp shuts after 82 children and staffers test positive.

Bill Nye is sick and tired of people not wearing masks.

INDOOR TRANSMISSION ‘CANNOT BE RULED OUT’ The World Health Organization has updated its guidance on how the coronavirus can be transmitted. Chief Scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan said that while there’s no concrete proof that airborne transmission of the virus is happening, there’s enough reported evidence of its spread in closed settings to merit more research. [HuffPost]

Venomous snakes in Croatia, video

This 9 July 2020 video says about itself:

Croatia has a high diversity of snakes by European standards. Some species are venomous, like the Nose-horned viper (Vipera ammodytes) and Eastern Montpellier snake (Malpolon insignitus).

Living Zoology went for a short trip to Croatia and found both. Nose-horned viper is a front-fanged snake and it was the first venomous snake we found together. That’s why it is in our logo. Malpolon is a rear-fanged species and we found it for the first time during this trip.

British, Dutch banks, slave trade profiteers

This December 2014 video says about itself:

The Atlantic slave trade: What too few textbooks told you – Anthony Hazard

Slavery has occurred in many forms throughout the world, but the Atlantic slave trade — which forcibly brought more than 10 million Africans to the Americas — stands out for both its global scale and its lasting legacy. Anthony Hazard discusses the historical, economic and personal impact of this massive historical injustice.

Lesson by Anthony Hazard, animation by NEIGHBOR.

Translated from Maaike Schoon in Dutch Vrij Nederland magazine, 10 July 2020:

How Dutch bankers financed slavery

The UK financial sector is under attack for its involvement in slavery. Research by Vrij Nederland shows that predecessors of Dutch banks, and even former members of the management of De Nederlandsche Bank [central bank], were also involved in the slavery economy.

A series of films on the bank’s origins can be found on the international ING Group website. It begins in 1762, reports a cheerful female voice, with the founding of Baring Brothers, a British trading house owned by English bankers Frances and John Baring. The trading house grew into one of the largest investment banks in the world.

The international reputation of the bank does not die until the 1990s when the fraudulent merchant Nick Leeson gives the bank an unbelievably large loss of millions. Thanks to that loss of millions, ING is able to buy the chicest bank in the United Kingdom for the symbolic amount of £ 1, thus opening itself up to London City. And, as the video shows, also to the glorious past of the third oldest investment bank in the world. Even Napoleon was a customer, the woman says cheerfully.

This 2018 ING bank video says about itself:

Barings bank’s first big client was Napoleon. What did this British bank do for the French statesman in 1803 and how is ING related to what was once the UK’s most powerful investment bank?

The Vrij Nederland article continues:

What the video does not tell: Baring Brothers made big profits in the early years, thanks to large-scale investments in slavery. When slavery was abolished, Sir Alexander Baring, the founder’s son, had enslaved more than 2,000 humans as property in British Guiana (modern-day Guyana), and more than 1,000 on the island of Saint Kitts, totalling 3,400 people.

With the abolition of slavery, owners were compensated for the loss of their “possessions”. Sir Baring received compensation that would come to 1.2 million euros today.

Since June this year, a heated debate has raged in Britain about the slavery past of national business. Insurance corporation Lloyds Bank and brewer Greene King published press releases and apologies for the fact that the founders had enslaved people and had benefited financially. The numbers are a shadow of that of Barings: 162 and 231 persons respectively.

Directly related to slavery

ING is not the only Dutch bank that can be directly associated with slavery, or its financial derivatives, such as investments in plantations, through a legal predecessor. In the seventeenth but certainly also eighteenth and partly nineteenth centuries, the fine fleur of the Amsterdam financial world became involved in investing in ship insurance and plantation loans in Suriname and Guyana. It was mainly wealthy families who engaged in trade in the West Indies in search of returns.

According to research by historians Pepijn Brandon and Ulbe Bosma associated with Harvard, the trade in slave-produced goods accounted for forty per cent of economic growth in Holland in the second half of the eighteenth century. This growth again sparked a wave of speculation in plantation loans. Ultimately, this led to a major financial crisis in 1773, after which the investments declined again. But the trade did not stop.

Plantation loans are loans granted to plantation owners, both Dutch and foreign owners. The loans themselves were subsequently resold in pieces as bonds, says Brandon, who researched the subject. “You can compare the funds from then with private equity parties now; lenders provided capital to plantation owners, but then resold that debt to smaller traders. ”

In this way, the involvement in slavery was interwoven throughout the entire financial system: trading houses that did not immediately issue plantation loans often had to deal with it. Hedging was also not unusual for the eighteenth and nineteenth-century traders: hedging a financial risk should the slavery economy collapse. Thanks to the publication of these innovative financial products, Amsterdam – and to a lesser extent London – remained the financial nerve centres of Europe.


London City is currently in the spotlight because of that past. After all, legal predecessors of HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland and Barclays, as revealed in June after a University College London database was published, also had ties to the slavery economy. It lists the individuals and firms that received compensation in 1836, as well as those who made a claim in vain.

The database provides insight into which political parties, country houses, museums and other institutions benefited from slavery. As an important financial centre, London was a prominent player in the slave trade: the database lists numerous bankers, trading houses and politicians who took advantage of the enslaved persons trade.

And after the death of George Floyd and subsequent Black Lives Matters protests, this new June information hit the ground.

Even the Bank of England, founded in 1694, was forced to apologize. No fewer than 27 former bosses of the Bank were found to have invested in slavery or to have been compensated for its abolition. “As an institution, although the Bank of England itself was not directly involved in slavery, it is aware of and apologizes for some unforgivable ties to former governors and directors,” said the regulator’s official press release. Eleven portraits of former presidents associated with slavery have since been removed from their buildings by the Bank of England.

Ties to the slavery past

The Bank of England’s apologies are relevant to the Netherlands. Research by Vrij Nederland shows that De Nederlandsche Bank – founded in 1814 – also has ties to the history of slavery.

One of the sources for this is a thesis by historian J.P. van der Voort from 1973, in which all plantation loans are recorded between 1720 and 1795. It is the most direct proof of financial involvement of investors in slave plantations in the Netherlands, in addition to the archives of the Emancipation Act of 1863 (which abolished slavery).

Van der Voort’s list states that the family company of the second president of De Nederlandsche Bank (he was that from 1816 to 1827), Jan Hodshon, provided plantation loans – he would eventually work for the company Hodshon & Co. As late as 1789, the trading house Hodshon & Co issued a loan to a plantation in St. Eustatius.

The family firm of Paul Hogguer, the first president of De Nederlandsche Bank (the daily management has consisted of the president plus five directors since its foundation), is also on this list. Although it is not immediately possible to determine whether he actually traded in these loans: his archive has largely disappeared. He briefly served as President: from 1814 to 1817.

Hogguer is from an important noble Swiss family, who owned several plantations, Pippin Brandon and Sven Beckert, another Harvard historian, recently wrote in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung. For example, his grandmother and father had the La Liberté plantation in Suriname, according to data from the Amsterdam City Archives.

Hogguer was no longer very active as a banker after 1790, suspects Professor of Economic and Social History Joost Jonker, who obtained his doctorate on the subject. “After the financial crisis in 1773, the market for plantation loans collapsed. Hogguer had already largely withdrawn from the markets at the end of the eighteenth century.”

Compensation schemes

Furthermore, data from the National Archives shows that during the official abolition of slavery in 1863, three directors of DNB were involved in the compensation scheme of the Dutch government for the freeing of slaves in Suriname. Owners received 300 guilders for each enslaved person – in 2020 this means around 7,000 euros, or parts thereof, if owners had shares in the plantations.

DNB director Ferdinand Rendorp represented the interests of shareholders in such a fund and, according to archivist and historian Okke ten Hove, also held shares himself. Secretary Herman Molkenboer is mentioned because his wife was compensated for shares in a plantation. Women only became legally competent in 1956, so the money fell to him.

At the time of the Emancipation in 1863, Jacobus Insinger owned several plantations and shares in plantations. For example, researcher Dienke Hondius previously reported that Insinger personally owned 214 people on the Surinamese Barbados plantation. During Emancipation, Insinger was a director at De Nederlandsche Bank.

In response to this, De Nederlandsche Bank states that it will approach an independent party to conduct historical research into the Bank’s initial period and into then presidents and board members.

Widow Borski

The woman who – according to the president of De Nederlandsche Bank Klaas Knot – is responsible for the existence of the Bank, widow Borski, also appears to have been involved in trade in the slave economy.

The Borski Fund, a fund for female investors, was established in October 2019. Named after perhaps the richest woman of the nineteenth century, and one of the few female investors of the time. Knot is a speaker at the presentation of the fund in Museum van Loon. They are “still grateful” to the widow, says the President of the Bank, because without the widow Borski it would have been questionable whether De Nederlandsche Bank could have existed at all.

De Nederlandsche Bank was founded in 1814 by King Willem I, on the advice of the aforementioned Paul Hogguer.

But that did not happen by itself: the existence of the Bank hung on a thread in 1814. Of the five thousand shares issued, only three thousand were sold; Amsterdam’s high finance had little confidence in the bank’s future. But one trading house dared to: Borski and sons, headed by the widow Borski. Thanks to a convenient deal with Willem I, she bought the remaining two thousand shares, thereby providing DNB with much-needed starting capital.

Thanks in part to her, the Bank got off the ground, says Frank Elderson in a broadcast of the VPRO series De IJzeren Eeuw. A replica of the portrait of the widow is still hanging in the DNB meeting room. Knot, in his speech: “(…) We still exist. Thanks to the shares that the widow Borski – probably largely in gold and silver coins – settled with King Willem I.”

This July 2016 VPRO TV video is about the widow Borski.

Purely out of self-interest

An extensive inventory from 1818 between the British and Dutch State, from the National Archives in London, shows that widow Borski had been investing in Demerary (present-day Guyana) since 1802: plantation loans with a current value of more than eight million euros.

It is remarkable that she still had it in 1818, says professor Jonker, because the trade in plantation loans had already largely dried up. “That the widow still has a mortgage of one hundred thousand guilders on plantations in Demerary at that time in history. She was of course very wealthy, but that is still a large amount. Incidentally, the widow acted with her deal with De Nederlandsche Bank purely for self-interest: she knew how to immediately sell those not yet issued shares to numerous traders in Amsterdam.”

In response to questions from Vrij Nederland, DNB states that it is aware of Borski’s investments. “The widow Borski, who co-financed DNB in ​​its founding years, is known to have used its capital to fund plantations in Suriname and elsewhere in the Caribbean.”

From a historical perspective, loans to plantations are so important because it was precisely this financial infrastructure that allowed the plantations in Suriname and other colonies to grow, says Karin Lurvink. On behalf of VU University Amsterdam, she conducted research into the involvement of bankers and insurers in the slave trade.

Lurvink: “Mortgages were placed on the lives of African slaves by plantation owners, with the intention of obtaining credit, so that they could, among other things, buy even more slaves.” The African slaves represented a third of the total value of the plantation. And based on that value, the loan was granted. This led to the cynical reality that the more enslaved people were owned by a plantation, the larger the loan that could be taken out. With which even more enslaved people could be bought.

Slavery downplay

In the past, the involvement of the Dutch in slavery was often dismissed; an activity that historian Matthias van Rossum describes as “slavery downplaying“. The Netherlands supposedly did not profit that much from slavery, was the idea. Moreover, the British transported many more enslaved people.

However, the Dutch bankers’ records have shown that the involvement of the Dutch is much greater than is often assumed. The inventory from the London archives that was drawn up in 1818 shows this. Not only do the Dutch control eleven percent of all British plantations, they also issue loans to foreign plantation owners. And the Dutch mortgages and slave owners together accounted for no less than a third of the total slave trade in the region west of Suriname, according to the accompanying document. Thanks to the financial elite in the Netherlands.

Not very keen

Dutch bankers also directly owned slaves, especially when the abolition of slavery was in sight. Some of the plantations went bankrupt before their abolition and fell into the hands of the creditors: the bankers.

The best-known example of this is the company Insinger & Co, the legal predecessor of the current InsingerGilisen. Research by Karin Lurvink, who previously wrote about it in OneWorld, shows that in 1863 the trading house Insinger & co-owned over 1,500 enslaved, more than any other Dutch company.

Moreover, the Dutch elite was not very keen on the abolition of slavery, says historian Pepijn Brandon. “People knew in the Netherlands that it would end, but have tried to stretch it until the very end. And then it became part of an economic rationale: in the final stages, it even became profitable to keep plantations, because the owners knew they would be compensated by the government anyway.”

Frits Insinger was particularly active in this: as a Member of the Dutch Parliament he postponed the abolition of slavery for years. “The government has no right to free slaves without compensation,” he said in 1854 (can be read in the historical documents of the Senate). In 1863 his company receives this compensation: 300 guilders per person, 350 thousand guilders in total. Converted to now, that is more than eight million euros.

Incidentally, the historical irony, according to professor of colonial and postcolonial history Gert Oostindie, in a radio conversation with VPRO, wants the abolition of slavery in the West to be funded by proceeds from unfree labour in the East. Thanks to the profits from the Dutch East Indies, the Dutch State had enough money to compensate plantation owners.

Double compensation

Dutch plantation owners were not only compensated by the Dutch state for their lost property, but also by the British. The British took out the largest loan in their history for this: £ 20 million – converted 2.5 billion euros. The British taxpayer has had to pay until 2015 to repay this loan.

If they abolish slavery in 1836, dozens of Dutch people still have plantations in British areas at the time. The University College of London dataset contains 31 Dutch people who received money from the British government in 1836. In total, the Dutch receive hundreds of thousands of pounds for many thousands of men, women and children that they counted as their personal property: converted to now that is tens of millions of euros.

One family, in particular, makes a fortune: the Secretary of the Demerary colony, Philip Tinne, a successful sugar merchant who also invested in coffee plantations. In 1813 he forms a partnership, Sandbach, Tinne & Company, which trades in, according to the archives: “prime Gold coast Negros”.

The company gets a windfall profit during the British abolition: converted to now it would receive more than 22 million euros for the enslaved people in various coffee and sugar plantations. Philip Tinne himself receives almost thirteen million from the British State. His fortune allows his wife and daughter Alexine to do whatever they want after his death. Years later, The Hague’s Alexine Tinne made waves as “the first female explorer.”

Past past

If Dutch ABN Amro bank wants to take over the US American bank LaSalle in 2006, one of the conditions for that takeover is that the bank investigates its own slavery past. The city council in Chicago, where LaSalle is based, already considers it fundamental in the context of corporate social responsibility that companies know whether they have ever made a profit by slave trade.

The investigation shows, among other things, that predecessor Mees & Zonen was actively involved in the transatlantic slave trade. Karin Lurvink previously concluded that the involvement of Hope & Co is not included in this, while ABN also refers to the past of this predecessor on its website.

Hope & Co is a renowned Dutch bank, and one of the private companies that maintained the transatlantic slave trade, says the Amsterdam City Archives.

In several cases, they work closely together with the Barings company. In Van der Voort’s thesis, Hope & Co is mentioned with seven credits: loans worth now just under thirty million euros. The Amsterdam archive also contains extensive lists and descriptions for the equipment of slave ships – which were necessary for the financing and insurance of the ships.

Called to account

In the meantime, the pressure on banks for their problematic past is growing in the United Kingdom. For example, Member of Parliament Layla Moran stated three weeks ago that she will write to all institutions that appear in the database, so that they can make apologies and donations, just like Lloyds and Greene King.

But “sorry” is not enough, says Hilary Beckles, president of the Caricom countries (the Caribbean islands plus Suriname and Guyana). Previously, these countries threatened to sue the British, Dutch and French states for their role in the slave trade and slavery, under the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Racial Discrimination. Martyn Day of the Leigh Day law firm at that time. The case has not yet been brought to court.

The question is whether ING Group, as the parent company of Barings, can thus face a claim for damages. Day: “There are banks and institutions – and Baring Brothers is one of them – that have profited enormously from slavery and its abolition. To be honest, I would be surprised if there are no legal consequences for this in the coming years. Exactly how things will take legal form differs per case, according to Day. But: “All these organizations are nervous now. The time has come for them to be held accountable.”