Brotherhood of warmblood

All mammals are more closely related to each other than they are to any bird. That’s why an otter or a porcupine will instinctively help a rabbit that’s being chased by a hawk.

Except that they don’t.  Why not?


Posted in Uncategorized | 181 Comments

Genetic Convection

Advantageous gene variants certainly spread by people marrying someone from the next village, but they can also be spread by population movements – settling virgin lands, farmers pushing aside foragers, and of course conquest, our old friend. If a Fisher wave is diffusion, genetic transport because of those population movements could be compared to convection, as our commenter RCB has suggested.

People are sometimes interested in estimating the point of origin of a sweeping allele: this is probably effectively impossible even if diffusion were the only spread mechanism, since the selective advantage might well vary in both time and space. But that’s ok, since population movements – genetic convection – are real and very important. This means that the difficulties in estimating the origin of a Fisher wave are totally insignificant, compared to the difficulties of estimating the effects of past colonizations, conquests and Völkerwanderungs. So when Yuval Itan and Mark Thomas estimated that 13,910 T LCT allele originated in central Europe, in the early Neolithic, they didn’t just go wrong because of failing to notice that the same allele is fairly common in northern India: no, their whole notion was unsound in the first place. We’re talking turbulence on steroids. Hari Seldon couldn’t figure this one out from the existing geographic distribution.

Same thing with the EDAR allele: Kamberov et al estimate that it originated in central China, but there’s no reason to think that they’re right. Not least because we don’t even understand what the advantage is.

It looks as if the EDAR mutation was fairly common among the original Amerindians. If so, how rapidly did it spread in the Americas? Just as fast the the place was colonized : deep into South America in a thousand years.

On the other hand, the mere fact that an allele has spread very far is a strong hint that it was carried by population movements, not just a Fisher wave. As we gradually figure out ancient population movements, to a large extent using ancient DNA, we will have a better idea of the origin and trajectory of such mutations. Seeing LCT 13910 in both Europe (especially northern Europe) and India suggests that was it was carried along by the Indo-European expansion. The delf508 Cystic fibrosis mutation (also found in India) probably was as well, and perhaps the common 35delG deafness mutation. On the other hand, SLC24A5 and Factor V Leiden probably came with the Middle Eastern farmers.

Many of these allele look like defenses against infectious disease, or some kind of adjustment to an agricultural diet: you’d expect that they originated among either the EEF farmers or the Indo-Europeans, not the old Mesolithic foragers of Europe.

Posted in Uncategorized | 46 Comments

Various crap

The world is infested by various nutty ideas, and mostly you just have to ignore them, at least until you become King and release the hounds. But someone needs to oppose them, else the young and naive may fall victim. Now and then I get the urge, fortunately not too often.

One busy area is WWII revisionism.

1. The Roosevelt administration supposedly had prior knowledge of the attack on Pearl Harbor and deliberately refrained from telling Admiral Kimmel and General Short. Not true: basically pretty silly. Suppose you were a Machiavellian willing to take a hit in order to stir up the public: you might be willing to lose a ship, but not most of the Pacific fleet! Most expected an attack, but not at Pearl. I could go on with the details of the JN series codes, the extent to which they were broken: what we could read, when we could read it, when the Japanese switched codes, etc. In December ’41 we couldn’t read a thing. The Kidō Butai avoided the shipping lanes, was radio silent. Radar on Hawaii was a week old: stealth was easy in those days.

Roosevelt expected that there would probably be a war if we continued to oppose Japanese expansion in China but he didn’t expect the war that we got, with a wildly successful first campaign for Japan.

2. Icebreaker. Victor Suvorov (alias) wrote a book saying that the Soviets were poised to invade the Nazi-controlled lands in the summer of 41. Silly: the Soviets were desperately afraid of a war with Germany, because they feared that they’d lose. So afraid they ignored credible reports of the coming attack from their own intelligence guys, Western powers, even from the German ambassador! it was too horrible to be true.

The German Army looked damned good in defeating France, while the Soviets had had a lot of trouble with Finland, caused in part by having just shot most of the higher officer corps. That and Simo Häyhä.

If the Sovs were within a couple of weeks of launching invasion, you’d think that they would have called up the deep reserves, bothered to get all of their tanks working, stockpiled fuel, run recon overflights, snuck sappers into German-occupied territory (to sabotage bridges and cut communications lines), finish reorganization of their tank corps, etc. etc.. – most of which the Germans did do, of course. None of which the Soviets did. The Soviet high command expressed great concern about their frontier about not giving Hitler an ‘excuse” for starting a war – like he needed one! Hitler may be the only person that Stalin really, truly trusted in his adult life: which must prove something.

3. Other Losses. No, Eisenhower did not scrag hundreds of thousands of German POWs. We let a large number of them go as soon as we caught them : usually with the boys and old men of the Volkssturm, sometimes with regular army, not with SS. I was just reading some comments from an uncle who was a company commander: they had zillions of Germans trying to surrender to his division, rather than the Russians. His division had 65,000 German prisoners: they let most of them walk home, other than the SS, largely because they couldn’t figure out what else to do with them.

4. The Werwolf resistance in Germany – how our occupation was (not) plagued by guerrilla warfare. This one is funnier: theory #1 appealed to people who were emotionally traumatized by Pearl Harbor (many people) and/or hated Roosevelt (many people). #2 appeals to Germans, and to people who hated the Soviets (not without reason) – and, of course, to people who are just generally goofy. # 3 basically appeals to Nazi sympathizers, not necessarily German. But this last one started out as a fairly stupid but innocent satirical article on the Internet, a pretend Reuters article from 1945 talking about how people in the US were getting sick of occupying Germany in the face of all that guerrilla resistance. The satiric article plainly stated that it was not a real Reuters article – it was satire, in support of the US continuing to occupy Iraq. People copied the article and left off the bit about it being satire. Some speechwriter for Rumsfeld used it, presumably without A. knowing it was not a real Reuters article and B. naturally knowing nothing about US history (or anything else). Once Rumsfeld had publicly argued that we had the same problems in Germany (except that it was deadly blonde Frauleins, rather than IEDs) it became a thing. Nobody in high office ever admits that they’re wrong: presumably it would leave little time for anything else. Good Busheviks knew that they should believe in it – I’m sure that some still do.

Rumsfeld even improved on it, later -talked about all the chaos and bloodshed after the American revolution (undoubtedly moderated by American near-gunlessness). Condi used it, I would guess because she was behind on her idiocy quota.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 136 Comments


It looks as if the people that founded the Corded Ware culture, largely eliminating the previous LBK-like farmers, were the Yamnaya, themselves a mixed population, approximately half some kind of eastern hunter-gatherer and half some farming populations genetically similar to Armenians.

In which of those two populations did primitive Indo-European – the language – originate? I’m betting on the hunters. I suspect that they’re the ones that domesticated the horse: horses weren’t very common south of the Caucasus, and it doesn’t look as if they were domesticated there.

It’s not easy for farmers to conquer horsemen: easy the other way around.

The dominant Y-chromosome lineages among the Yamnaya (and later, most of Europe and India) originated in those hunters, not in a Middle Eastern population. It is hard to believe in a scenario in which the farmers conquered the hunters and then forced their women on them (Take my wife, please!).

Analyzing old myths and legends, various people smoking superior kinds of dope have argued that there was a ‘war of the functions” – formation wars – at the beginning of the Indo-Europeans, where a group of warriors and priest/magicians/judges conquered farmers. Two estates absorbed the third. Possibly referenced in those sobbin’ women, the Aesir-Vanir war, the Mahabharata, etc.

Moreover, something relevant happened earlier, before the Yamnaya made their big move. Somebody – pastoralists – smashed Old Europe in the Balkans a good deal earlier, and someone (maybe the same people) brought a very early branch of Indo-European into Anatolia ( Hittite, Luwian, Palaic, Carian, etc. ) Then there are the Indo-Aryan languages, and Tocharian: looking at those branches, and the genetics of early speakers, should resolve this problem. For example, if you find a  population of Indo-European speakers that has that eastern hunter-gatherer genetic signature, without the Armenian-like signature, probably the language originated in the hunters. Or vice versa.

Posted in Uncategorized | 69 Comments

Massive Migration

The big new paper on European origins is out (by Wolfgang Haak, Iosif Lazaridis, Nick Patterson, David Reich, etc) .

The Corded Ware population is quite different from the preceding Neolithic farmers: it is about 75% descended from a Yamnaya-like population (the Yamnaya being steppe herders from the Ukraine and thereabouts). The Yamnaya themselves are another fusion product: they’re a mix of farmers from the Middle East (a different population than the one that originally settled Europe, something like Armenians) and a population similar to ancient hunter-gatherers from Russia (somewhat like ancient Karelians). This population also introduced R1a and R1b chromosomes into Europe, now extremely common.

In northern Europe, the newcomers didn’t tax the neolithic farmers: mostly, they killed them. Razib Khan compares this to the original Mongol plan ( kill them, kill them all), before that Khitan bureaucrat explained the joys of taxation. In the Corded Ware/Single Grave/Battleaxe culture, there’s no sign that the farmers are around as serfs: there are almost no buildings, almost no sign of agriculture. Jim, comment on this.

My guesses:

The Karelian-like population is mostly from further east than Samara: the guys that domesticated the horse.

The Karelian-like poulation conquered the Armenian-like farmers: they account for about half the autosomal ancestry of the Yamnaya, but far more of the Y chromosomes.

it would be interesting to see if the Yamnaya picked up neolithic farmers ancestry through the female line: could you look at X-chromosomes?

In places like Italy, people are autosomally mostly neolithic farmers while the old Neolithic-farmer y-chromsomes are almost gone. Conquest, rather than extermination: younger sons go forth to conquer again. Some of the old Y chromosomes lingered in the hills – a bit like Vlachs after the fall of the Roman Empire.

Did the ur-IndoEuropeans have the European lactose-tolerance mutation? Probably. And they had the common CF mutations, too.

Archaeologists should read more Conan: Robert E. Howard was way closer to the mark than they were or are. Even good guys like David Anthony were influenced: but I’ll bet he’s over that now.

Posted in Uncategorized | 78 Comments

Deuterium as a trace isotope?

Most of the elements in the first four rows of the periodic (other than the noble gases) have some biological role – which means that you need at least a little. In many cases, we know something about the specific molecules involved (like cobalt in vitamin B12). In others, we know that lab animals or plants that are totally deprived of that element suffer, without knowing exactly why. Occasionally another is discovered: last year they found out that bromine is essential in collagen synthesis.

I said deuterium might be bad for you – and that might be so. Important if true. But since its chemical properties are somewhat different from ordinary hydrogen, more likely than not it has a specific biological role, which would mean that you need it. That’s more interesting than possible toxicity – less important, but more interesting. It introduces the possibility of trace isotopes, the analogs of biological trace elements: deuterium is the most likely one, but you might want to check out carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen too.

Of course being necessary does not mean that it can’t be toxic: quite a few necessary trace elements are toxic at higher dosage.

G. N. Lewis, no slouch, wondered about this possibility back in 1934. As yet nobody has systemically looked for a specific biological role for deuterium. Someone should.

Posted in Uncategorized | 25 Comments

Don’t Drink The Water

About 1 in every 6400 hydrogen atoms is deuterium, with a proton and a neutron in the nucleus, not just a proton. It’s not exactly like regular hydrogen: the bond energies are slightly different (different reduced mass).

Since living things rely on finely tuned chemical reactions, even small changes have undesirable effects. Deuterate an animal enough and it becomes sterile: deuterate it more and it dies. Some simple organisms, such as blue-green algae, can survive complete deuteration, but it messes them up – they grow slowly and look funny.

So, you can poison someone with heavy water – but although the authorities probably wouldn’t detect it, it takes a lot, and it’s expensive. Stick to thallium.

However, just because small amounts of of deuterium are nonlethal, doesn’t mean that they’re harmless. They might be: or they might not. Nobody knows, because nobody has ever looked. You could think of deuterium as a source of noise in biological systems – and maybe those systems would work better without that noise.

So, if you can afford it, you should undoubtedly stick to my kind of bottled water – sparkling de-deuterated. We know that there are no advantages to conventional bottled water – it’s just another way that people dispose of excess income – but de-deuterated water might actually be good for you. There is a logical case for a beneficial effect – perhaps most strongly in the most complicated of all biological systems, the brain. Mind you, if we’re talking general marketing, invoking logic is about as useless as tits on a dinosaur, but some of my readers might care.

The other attractive feature of de-deuterated water, is that it’s damned expensive. Regular consumption might run $1000 a day or more, and that’s for cheapskates that don’t shower in it. Regular consumption would mark you out as a truly special person: I can see it becoming the official drink of Davos and the Bohemian Club. There would, of course, be many associated products: de-deuterated 12-year old Glenlivet, de-deuterated Kobe beef, etc.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 50 Comments