#90: By Grabthar's hammer...what a savings.

Welcome back!

We're at issue #90, which is kind of crazy. Almost two years in. Thanks to the OG's here since the beginning, and to everyone just tuning in. 

We're kind of at Important, Not Important 3.0. Where we started with a simple newsletter, we've now got...a newsletter, still, but also a kickass weekly podcast, and a full-blown website.

Speaking of the website, it's become a great resource for new readers or listeners, or those just wanting to dig deeper on specific issues. On that front, we've now got:

  • A full newsletter archive. Over 100,000 words, fully tagged for your browsing enjoyment.
  • A podcast episode directory with show notes, links to the episodes, and full transcripts you can either read on the site, or add to Pocket for reading on the toilet.
  • The website is now fully searchable!
  • And this week, we launched our real merchandise store! Check out our t-shirts featuring the iconic Important, Not Important badge, our "space" themed shirt, our awesome new hoodies, and co-branded Klean Kanteens for all your caffeine needs.
  • Every dollar you spend accomplishes two things:
    • 1. Rocking cool INI threads helps promote the mission
    • 2. You help keep the business humming. We've taken no funding, and given away no equity. Website production, web hosting, podcast hosting and production, recording gear, snacks, Brian's endless coffee needs...it ain't cheap. So thanks for keeping the lights on.


This week's guest was Emily Cassidy, sustainability manager at the excellent California Academy of Sciences and PlanetVision. We talked the present and future of America's troubled food system. Dig in! (haha get it like at a dinner when someone says "dig in"? Because we talked about food)

Subscribe now to get Tuesday's episode with Akshat Rathi, the Quartz journalist who spent much of last year covering the emerging carbon capture industry, and how it could change the fight against climate change. 


On to the news!

Biology 401 💉👾💊 

Let's start with the good news: CRISPR Founder Wants to Use Crispr to Diagnose Disease -- in a kit.

"In a paper published in Science in February, Doudna and two other Mammoth co-founders, Janice Chen and Lucas Harrington, showcased how Cas12a could accurately identify different types of the human papillomavirus in human samples. Like Cas9, Cas12a latches on to a DNA strand when it reaches its genetic target, then slices. But then it does something Cas9 doesn’t: It starts shredding up any single-stranded DNA it finds.

So the researchers decided to hack that hunger for nucleotides. First they programmed Cas12a to chop two strains of HPV that can cause cancer.They added it, along with a “reporter molecule”—a piece of single-stranded DNA that releases a fluorescent signal when cut—to test tubes containing human cells. The samples that had been infected with HPV glowed; the healthy ones didn’t."

+ Bill Gates on the promise of CRISPR


How Much Are You 'Smoking' by Breathing Urban Air?

"“Here is the rule of thumb: one cigarette per day is the rough equivalent of a PM2.5 level of 22 μg/m3 (...) Of course, unlike cigarette smoking, the pollution reaches every age group,” the study reads. It finds that Beijing has on average a PM2.5 level of 85 μg/m3, which makes for four cigarettes; Los Angeles County registered an average of half a daily cigarette, or 12 μg/m3, in 2016.

Using the formula in the article, Coelho and Martiny designed an ad-free interface that uses live pollution data from hundreds of air quality stations in cities around the globe and converts the station’s PM2.5 number into the number of cigarettes being inhaled by a person in real time. The app launched on April 1 and can be downloaded for free through Google Playor App Store."

+ Related:
      - How’s the Air in London? ‘We Should Be Worried’
      - California has eight of 10 most polluted U.S. cities

+ More on disease:

      - New York mice are crawling with bacteria and viruses

      - The deadliest animal in the world is the mosquito

      - Infant Deaths Fall Sharply in Africa With Routine Antibiotics


Climate Change 🔥🌊💨

Who’s Most Responsible for Global Warming?

Answer: mostly us. And by "us", I mean the US. Though it's evening out. Image from the New York times, below.

+ More climate:

      - China's anti-pollution efforts might just pay for themselves -- in health benefits

      - Carbon capture tech + ethanol factories = save the planet? Yes?

      - Cars are "blue states" last obstacle/tool for fighting climate change


Can Dirt Save the Earth?

"The cows beat back the encroaching brush. Within weeks of their arrival, new and different kinds of grass began sprouting. Shallow-rooted annuals, which die once they’re chewed on, gave way to deep-rooted perennials, which can recover after moderate grazing. By summer’s end, the cows, which had arrived shaggy and wild-eyed after a winter spent near the sea, were fat with shiny coats. When Wick returned the herd to its owner that fall, collectively it had gained about 50,000 pounds. Wick needed to take an extra trip with his trailer to cart the cows away. That struck him as remarkable. The land seemed richer than before, the grass lusher. Meadowlarks and other animals were more abundant. Where had that additional truckload of animal flesh come from?

Creque had an answer for him. The carbohydrates that fattened the cows had come from the atmosphere, by way of the grass they ate. Grasses, he liked to say, were like straws sipping carbon from the air, bringing it back to earth. Creque’s quiet observation stuck with Wick and Rathmhttps://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/18/magazine/dirt-save-earth-carbon-farming-climate-change.htmlann. It clearly illustrated a concept that Creque had repeatedly tried to explain to them: Carbon, the building block of life, was constantly flowing from atmosphere to plants into animals and then back into the atmosphere. And it hinted at something that Wick and Rathmann had yet to consider: Plants could be deliberately used to pull carbon out of the sky."


Fuck Cancer, Volume XC 🖕

How Cancer Can Become Therapy-Resistant

"It is well established that cancer is a disease of our genes. However, resistance to therapy might go beyond cancer mutations that usually alter the function of genes. It may not be new mutations that are causing resistance to drugs. The DNA can stay the same, but cancer cells adapt to therapy and outsmart the drugs by switching their gene activity.

While such adaptations do not affect the DNA itself, a hidden layer of regulation controlling the activity of genes—epigenetic signals—is responsible for whether cancer cells survive or not, despite the drug a patient is taking. By targeting this hidden program, one can overcome deadly cancer resistance."

+ More on cancer:

      - Lung Cancer Patients Live Longer With Immune Therapy

      - The First “Cell-Free” CRISPR Tech Is Here To Personalize Cancer Treatment


The Final Frontier/Escape Hatch 🚀

Everything you need to know about TESS, NASA's planet-finding space observatory, by @badastronomer

"Kepler was designed to look deep into the galaxy, sensitive to faint stars to maximize the number of planets it could find. The question Kepler was tasked to answer is "How many and what kind of exoplanets are out there?"

TESS will answer a different but no less important question: "Where are the nearest rocky planets?"

To do this, it will scan a staggering 85% of the sky (an area 400 times larger than Kepler did) to look at the 200,000 or so of the brightest stars, measuring their brightness and seeking out transits. These stars are preferentially closer to the Earth (less than about 300 light-years or so), so it will find some of the nearest exoplanets in the galaxy."


      - About 17,000 Big Near-Earth Asteroids Remain Undetected: How NASA Could Spot Them


The Highlight Reel