CHARLES DARWINS LEGACY - 200 years on


Just over 200 years ago in 1809, Charles Darwin was born. Fifty years later, in 1859, he published The Origin of the Species. It was book that contained ideas which provoked both hostility and great interest throughout the world. Darwin's theories questioned many received truths which went to the heart of society's beliefs about religion, society and biology. It even affected the way they thought of their own bodies, and perhaps even their souls.

Charles Darwin's central idea is now well-known and pretty much universally accepted. Every species in the world has evolved over generations through a process of natural selection, which allows the strongest to survive. It has shaped our thinking about ourselves ever since, and is not challenged by anyone working in mainstream science, although some from a religious background do so.

Darwin's theory established the initial idea, but it has since been added to in ways that Darwin himself could never have dreamed of. We now know about genes and how they replicate, and how DNA produces the codes of our existence. It is very difficult to imagine how or what we would think today about how we got here without Darwin's ideas. So, with so much having changed since Darwin was around, and with his theories having become orthodoxy, have we still anything to learn from Darwin? It seems that we do. His work continues to have influence today, in both scientific and other fields.


Technological Evolution

Darwin's ideas can easily be applied to modern developments in technology. Today's technology is fast moving, and ever changing. It works to Darwinian principles and can be better understood using them. His ideas are applied today by scientists carrying out research in all sorts of fields which have nothing to do with biology. They can be used by programmers developing an algorithm for delivering a snow report, or by researchers designing jet engines. What Darwin's theories help these researchers to do is to think about how to test theories against a particular set of constraints and see which it adapts best to. Darwinism works against the kind of linear thinking which acts as a brake on creativity and discovery, and can be applied to almost anything. Darwin's theory has even been applied, rather fittingly, to the development of the universe:something called 'cosmic variance'. This is the idea that there are multiple universes, each of which has its own set of parameters, and in each of which things develop differently as a result. That would explain the unexplainable about our universe, as it would make unlikely developments seem more sane.

Money

One of the most common ways in which Darwin's ideas can be seen to have influence today is in the concept of social Darwinism. This rests on the concept of 'survival of the fittest'. That is, that the strongest in society will survive economically and socially. That the most talented will be the ones who 'win' in a competitive world. The term 'Darwinian economics' is also used. For its supporters, social and economic Darwinism is seen as a way of ensuring that those who prosper and who wield the power in society are those who are best able to take on those roles. The most talented are rewarded the most. It is a theory which supports laissez-faire economics which have gained mainstream currency in many parts of the west since the 1980s.

Darwin's theory can be applied to anything which changes and develops. And that is pretty much anything. While its most obvious applications are to science and the development of societies, it can be used to help us understand other things too. For example, there is Darwinian literary criticism, which seeks to apply Darwin's ideas to the interpretation of literature. They hold that because the mind develops and adapts biologically, and literature is developed from the mind, it reflects our adaptations. So, the issues and problems presented in literature reflect those face by us (and our minds) in society.

Darwin's theories can be found just about everywhere today, and can be both a way of generating new ideas, and a highly useful analytical tool. His theories are so powerful that that they could not be ignored when they were published, and continue to be compelling today.

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WHAT IS A SEED?


Each and every seed is a miracle of biological engineering. Weighing anywhere from 1/35000000 (one 35 millionth) of an ounce for an orchid seed, and up to as much as 18 kg for the enormous Coco de Mer seed, all living seeds contain the complete genetic blue print of its parents which they can use to replicate themselves to a similar design.

They are protected by a specialised seed coat – or testa - which allows the seed to germinate at the most optimum time of the year – it can also help to keep the seed viable for hundreds, and in rare cases, thousands of years! Furthermore, they contain enough energy to allow the seed to anchor itself into the ground using a juvenile root system as well as to produce its first true leaves. This will then set the seedling on the road to photosynthesis and a life of taking full advantage of free energy from the sun. This in turn will allow it to continue growing, and mature to a point where it will produce seed of its own.

I suppose that strictly speaking, a seed is a small embryonic plant enclosed within its seed coat, together with a repository of stored food in the form of carbohydrates. The seed itself is the product of the ripened ovule of gymnosperm and angiosperm plants which occurs after fertilization and some growth within the mother plant. The formation of the seed completes the process of reproduction in seed bearing plants (started with the development of flowers and pollination), with the embryo developed from the zygote and the seed coat from the integuments of the ovule.


A typical seed includes three basic parts:

1. An embryo
2. A supply of energy and nutrients for the embryo
3. A seed coat.

The embryo is the immature plant from which a new plant will grow provided that suitable conditions are available. The embryo will produce a single leaf (known as the cotyledon) in monocotyledons, or two leaves in almost all dicotyledons. Gymnosperms will produce two or more leaves.

The radicle is the name for the embryonic root, while the plumule is the name for the embryonic shoot. The embryonic stem above the point of attachment of the cotyledon or cotyledons is the epicotyl. The embryonic stem below the point of attachment is the hypocotyl.

Along with the embyo, and found within the seed coat, is a store of nutrients and carbohydrates. for the seedling that will grow from the embryo. The form of the stored nutrition varies depending on the kind of plant. In angiosperms, the stored food begins as a tissue called the endosperm, which is derived from the parent plant via double fertilization. The usually triploid endosperm is rich in oil or starch and protein.

In addition to the three basic seed parts, some seeds have an appendage on the seed coat such an aril (as in yew and nutmeg) or an elaiosome (as in Corydalis) or hairs (as in cotton). There may also be a scar on the seed coat, called the hilum; it is where the seed was attached to the ovary wall by the funiculus.

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DINOSAUR: Did Pterosaurs hang upside down?


I am not a paleontologist or even a biologist. I do have a science degree, but it is in an entirely unrelated subject. However there is something about how pterosaurs have been portrayed in the media that has bugged me for years. Ever since their cinematic characterisation in Jurassic Park 3 and subsequent 'natural history' depiction in the landmark BBC series 'Walking with Dinosaurs', there has been a  widespread belief by the scientific community that when Pterosaurs are not expending valuable energy flying around, they spent their lives using a horribly ungainly quadrupedal system of walking in order to get around.

On the whole, this is fine - but I have a question.  While I will accept that walking around like a decrepit old man on crutches will give you effective mobility, surely this slow, cumbersome method will make you incredibly vulnerable to attack by predators? And while I'll accept that they can fly off when danger arises, don't forget that the pterosaur family accounted for the largest creatures ever to fly.

Consider the mute swan and the great bustard. These are two of the heaviest flying birds in the world today - approximately 25kg for an adult male, and both of these birds require substantial run-ups to launch themselves into flight.

The largest pterosaur so far discovered is the Quetzalcoatlus. With a 30ft wingspan and weighing in at 200lbs, the scientific community is split in its opinion of whether it flew or instead  led an entirely terrestrial existence. In answer to this question, David Attenborough's recent 3D documentary on this subject takes the view that it flew, and puts forth a theory of dynamic thrust motion by the pterosaur in order to provide lift at the initial flight phase in order to provide a spring board for flight.

Be that as it may, there were plenty of pterosaur species that fit between the heaviest weight of todays flying birds and the gigantic Quetzalcoatlus. However, the likelihood of these animals being able to run fast enough using their 'quadrapedal system of walking' to achieve the critical speed for achieving powered flight is extremely low. However, if you look at the nearest contemporary flying creature that uses a quadrupedal system of walking - the bat - there is another answer to how large pterosaurs managed to obtain the initial thrust required to achieve powered flight. They amble over to the nearest tree and climb up as far as they deem necessary before jumping off! That way, gravity provides the initial acceleration necessary to instigate flight.

Of course, climbing trees with large flappy wings and tiney finger clawss is extremely hard work. It is also time consuming and leaves you at a considerable risk of being predated. However, bats have an answer to this problem and that is to avoid landing on the grown and stay back in the tree when you are not flying.

Now back to my original question - did pterosaurs hang upside down in trees? Well of course,  in such a large and varied family the chances are that some of pterosaur species spent part of their lives in trees is already accepted by the scientific community. But look at the 'top heavy' pterosaur physiology and compare the skeletons of a typical bat - see left - to a typical pterosaur - see above left. A pterosaur has a large head combined with a long neck on a comparatively stubby body, supported on a branch with typically small feet. Would a pterosuar be able to comfortably stand upright on a branch with this shape of body? I believe that it would not and I would go as far to say that like a bat - the pterosaurs most similar living creature - it would hang upside down. They even have the grabby 'tree climbing' fingers that would help them climb back up if they fell out.

To conclude, I just need to say that this was all off the top of my head with no real research involved whatsoever. So I fully expect that my views on this subject will be shot down by someone who knows what they are talking about. If not, let it be known that this was my idea first, it was original, and the date of this published article will confirm that I came to this conclusion before anyone else unless proved otherwise. Any comments you wish to make can be make below.

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HOW TO GROW FROM SEED


Inside every seed is a miracle of biological engineering. Weighing anywhere from 1/35000000 (one 35 millionth) of an ounce for an orchid seed, and up to as much as 18 kg for the enormous Coco de Mer seed, all living seeds contain the complete genetic blueprint of its parents which they can use to replicate themselves to a similar design.

They are protected by a specialised seed coat – or testa - which allows the seed to germinate at the most optimum time of the year – it can also help to keep the seed viable for hundreds, and in rare cases, thousands of years! Furthermore, they contain enough energy to allow the seed to anchor itself into the ground using a juvenile root system as well as to produce its first true leaves. This will then set the seedling on the road to photosynthesis and a life of taking full advantage of free energy from the sun. This in turn will allow it to continue growing, and mature to a point where it will produce seed of its own.

Without seeds the vast majority of the world’s plant species would simply die out. Shortly after, life on earth will begin to follow. Without plants there would be no food to eat or timber for use as tools and shelter, so understanding how to grow plants from seeds is paramount to human existence.

Whenever you are trying to grow plants from seed there is always a delay from sowing the seed until the time it germinates. This is because certain environmental factors are required to trigger the germination process - usually, a combination of light, warmth and moisture. Depending on the seed, this can range from a few days right up until a few years. The reason behind this delay is something called seed dormancy and is all to do with the complex design of seed coats.

So, just what is seed dormancy?

While all seeds have been created with the double purpose of first protecting the embryo within, and then enabling the juvenile seedling to emerge at the most opportune time for optimum growth, the way that some plant species achieve this is akin to a Chinese puzzle box.

Without the required periods of dry, cold, wet or heat the protective seed coat will not allow the embryonic seed within to break out into life. However, some seeds will still refuse to germinate! This is what is known as seed dormancy and - simply put - seed dormancy can be defined as the failure of mature, intact seeds to germinate under favourable conditions.

So secure is this method of protection offered by some seeds that without the correct environmental responses they can remain dormant for hundreds of years. In fact, ancient magnolia seed retrieved from a Japanese tomb have been germinated after a period of some 2000 years!

While some seeds are extremely easy to germinate, others are clearly not and if somebody wished to bypass the enforced dormancy that many seed coats offer a certain amount of work is needed. Below is a list of common techniques used in bypassing the dormancy process.

Chipping

Some seeds, e.g. Sweet peas, Ipomoea etc. have hard seed coats which prevent moisture being absorbed by the seed. All that is needed is for the outer surface to be scratched or abraded to allow water to pass through.

This can be achieved by chipping the seed with a sharp knife at a part furthest away from the 'eye', by rubbing lightly with emery paper or, with very small seed, pricking carefully once with a needle etc.


Pre-chilling

In some packet seed instructions you will find a reference to 'pre-chilling'. This is a pre-treatment of the seed which often helps to speed up the germination of otherwise slow to germinate seeds. However, even after pre-chilling some seeds can stubbornly refuse to germinate until a year or more has passed, so never be too hasty in discarding a seed container.

Pre-chilling was traditionally done by standing the pots outside in a cold frame during the winter. It is often quicker to adopt the following technique using a domestic refrigerator and this is of particular value if you obtain your seed outside the winter months.

To pre-chill seeds, first sow the seed on moistened seed compost, seal the seed container inside a polythene bag and leave at 60-65F (15-18C) for 3 days then place in a refrigerator for the recommended period. For convenience large seeds can be mixed with 2-3 times their volume of damp seed compost, placed direct into a polythene bag which is sealed and placed in the refrigerator. However, there must always be sufficient air inside the bag and the compost should NEVER become either too dry or over wet. After pre-chilling these seeds can then be spread with the compost on top of a seed container and firmed down.

The seeds must be moist whilst being pre-chilled, but it will harm them if they are actually in water. During the period in the refrigerator, examine the seeds once a week and remove all the seeds into the specified warm conditions if any of them start to germinate.

Light also seems to be beneficial after pre-chilling, so pre-chilled seeds should have only the lightest covering of compost, if any is required, and the seed trays or pots, should be in the light and not covered in paper.

Soaking

Soaking is beneficial in two ways; it can soften a hard seed coat and also leach out any chemical inhibitors in the seed which may prevent germination. Anything from 1-3 hours in water which starts off hand hot is usually sufficient.

If soaking for longer the water should be changed daily. Seeds of some species swell up when they are soaked.

If some seeds of a batch do swell within 24 hours they should be planted immediately and the remainder pricked gently with a pin and returned to soak. As each seed swells it should be removed and sown before it has time to dry out.

Double dormancy

Some seeds have a combination of dormancies and each one has to be broken in turn and in the right sequence before germination can take place.

For example some Lilies, Tree paeonies, Daphne etc. need a warm period during which the root develops followed by a cold period to break dormancy of the shoots, before the seedling actually emerges.

Some seeds need a cold period followed by a warm period and then another cold period before they will germinate.

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ROME: The Pyramid of Rome




The Pyramid of Cestius is an ancient pyramid found in the city of in Rome, Italy, near the Porta San Paolo and the Protestant Cemetery. It stands at a fork between two ancient roads, the Via Ostiensis and another road that ran west to the Tiber along the approximate line of the modern Via della Marmorata. Due to its incorporation into the city's fortifications, it is one of the best-preserved ancient buildings in existance in Rome today.

The pyramid was built about 18 BC–12 BC as a tomb for Gaius Cestius, a magistrate and member of one of the four great religious corporations in Rome, the Septemviri Epulonum. It is of brick-faced concrete covered with slabs of white marble standing on a travertine foundation, measuring 100 Roman feet (29.6 m) square at the base and standing 125 Roman feet (37 m) high.

In the interior is the burial chamber, a simple barrel-vaulted rectangular cavity measuring 5.95 metres long, 4.10 m wide and 4.80 m high. When it was discovered in 1660, the chamber was found to be decorated with frescoes, which were recorded by Pietro Santi Bartoli. Unfortunately, only the scantest traces of these now remain. Sadly, neither is there any trace left of any other contents in the tomb, which were plundered in antiquity. The tomb had been sealed when it was built, with no exterior entrance; it is not possible for visitors to access the interior, except by special permission typically only granted to scholars.

A dedicatory inscription is carved into the east and west flanks of the pyramid, so as to be visible from both sides. It reads:

C · CESTIVS · L · F · POB · EPULO · PR · TR · PL
VII · VIR · EPOLONVM

Caius Cestius, son of Lucius, of the gens Pobilia, member of the College of Epulones, praetor, tribune of the plebs, septemvir of the Epulones.


Below the inscription on the east-facing side is a second inscription recording the circumstances of the tomb's construction. This reads:

OPVS · APSOLVTVM · EX · TESTAMENTO · DIEBVS · CCCXXX
ARBITRATV
PONTI · P · F · CLA · MELAE · HEREDIS · ET · POTHI · L

The work was completed, in accordance with the will, in 330 days, by the decision of the heir [Lucius] Pontus Mela, son of Publius of the Claudia, and Pothus, freedman

Another inscription on the east face is of modern origins, having been carved on the orders of Pope Alexander VII in 1663. Reading INSTAVRATVM · AN · DOMINI · MDCLXIII, it commemorates excavation and restoration work carried out in and around the tomb between 1660–62.

At the time of its construction, the Pyramid of Cestius would have stood in open countryside as tombs were forbidden within the city walls. However, Rome grew enormously during the imperial period, and by the third century AD the pyramid would have been surrounded by buildings. It originally stood in a low-walled enclosure, flanked by statues, columns and other tombs.Two marble bases were found next to the pyramid during excavations in the 1660s, complete with fragments of the bronze statues that originally had stood on their tops. The bases carried an inscription recorded by Bartoli in an engraving of 1697:

M · VALERIVS · MESSALLA · CORVINVS ·
P · RVTILIVS · LVPVS · L · IVNIVS · SILANVS ·
L · PONTIVS · MELA · D · MARIVS ·
NIGER · HEREDES · C · CESTI · ET ·
L · CESTIVS · QVAE · EX · PARTE · AD ·
EVM · FRATRIS · HEREDITAS ·
M · AGRIPPAE · MVNERE · PER ·
VENIT · EX · EA · PECVNIA · QVAM ·
PRO · SVIS · PARTIEVS · RECEPER ·
EX · VENDITIONE · ATTALICOR ·
QVAE · EIS · PER · EDICTVM ·
AEDILIS · IN · SEPVLCRVM ·
C · CESTI · EX · TESTAMENTO ·
EIVS · INFERRE · NON · LICVIT ·

This identifies Cestius' heirs as Marcus Valerius Messala Corvinus, a famous general; Publius Rutilius Lupus, an orator whose father of the same name had been consul in 90 BC; and Lucius Junius Silanus, a member of the distinguished gens Junia. The heirs had set up the statues and bases using money raised from the sale of valuable cloths (attalici). Cestius had stated in his will that the cloths were to be deposited in the tomb, but this practice had been forbidden by a recent edict passed by the aediles.

The sharply pointed shape of the pyramid is strongly reminiscent of the pyramids of Nubia, in particular of the kingdom of MeroĆ«, which had been attacked by Rome in 23 BC. The similarity suggests that Cestius had possibly served in that campaign and perhaps intended the pyramid to serve as a commemoration. His pyramid was not the only one in Rome; a larger one—the so-called "pyramid of Romulus"—of similar form but unknown origins stood between the Vatican and the Mausoleum of Hadrian but this was demolished in the 16th century.

During the construction of the Aurelian Walls between 271 and 275, the pyramid was incorporated into the walls to form a triangular bastion. It was one of many structures in the city to be reused to form part of the new walls, probably to reduce the cost and enable the structure to be built more quickly. It still forms part of a well-preserved stretch of the walls, a short distance from the Porta San Paolo.

The origins of the pyramid were forgotten during the Middle Ages. The inhabitants of Rome came to believe that it was the tomb of Remus (Meta Remi) and that its counterpart near the Vatican was the tomb of Romulus, a belief recorded by Petrarch. Its true provenance was clarified by Pope Alexander VII's excavations in the 1660s, which cleared the vegetation that had overgrown the pyramid, uncovered the inscriptions on its faces, tunnelled into the tomb's burial chamber and found the bases of two bronze statues that had stood alongside the pyramid.

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Based on an article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyramid_of_Cestius
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ATHENS: The Arch of Hadrian



The Arch of Hadrian is a monumental gateway resembling – in some respects - a Roman triumphal arch. It was erected by the Athenians northwest of the Temple of Zeus and spanned an ancient road from the center of Athens, Greece, to the complex of structures on the eastern side of the city that included the Temple of Olympian Zeus. It is believed that the arch was built to celebrate the arrival of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and also to honor him for his many benefactions to the city.

It is not certain who commissioned the arch, although it is probable that the citizens of Athens or another Greek group were responsible for its construction and design. There were two inscriptions on Hadrians arch, facing in opposite directions, naming both Theseus and Hadrian as founders of Athens.

On the west side:

This is Athens the ancient city of Theseus

On the east side:

This is the city of Hadrian not of Theseus

While it is clear that the inscriptions honour Hadrian, it is uncertain whether they refer to the city as a whole or to the city in two parts: one old and one new. The early idea, however, that the arch marked the line of the ancient city wall, and thus the division between the old and the new regions of the city, has been shown to be false by further excavation.

The entire monument is made of Pentelic marble, from Mt. Pentelikon, 18.2km northeast of the arch. Pentelic marble was used for the Parthenon and many other notable structures in Athens, although its quality can vary significantly.

In 1778 the triumphal arch was incorporated into the eastern section of the Turkish fortification known as 'Haseki's Wall', at which time was converted into a gate, then known as the 'Vasilopoula's Gate' or 'Kamarophorta'.

The Arch of Hadrian is located just 325m southeast of the Acropolis as is easily seen from this vantage point.

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