Women in power
A great article about a flight attendant named Sara Nelson who may become the next head of the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of labor unions in the United States. She’s extremely tough and smart. She is also beautiful and petite, so men underestimate her. As the journalist wryly notes, as a flight attendant, her specialty is “getting unruly people to do what she wants.” What’s exciting is that she seems to be willing to engage in head-on battles with employers; as she sees it, workers are fed up with shitty jobs and willing to strike. She had a big hand in ending the government shutdown because it was the prospect of chaos in the air (and airports) that finally made Trump back down. She organized the labor pressure that built and made sure that warnings were loud and clear in the media. I know, I used the T-word and strayed onto political ground, but the search for how to build a new, more humane economy absorbs a lot of my interest these days, and women have been leading in many of the new directions.

A wild story for those of you who have been to Namibia. Once upon a time, a very long time ago, glaciers moved from Namibia to Brazil (yup!), which is why we see those strange whaleback rock formations in the Namibian desert. It’s the hottest place I ever lived; hard to imagine. Also hard to imagine Namibia being anywhere near Brazil.

Bacteria talk to us
This one is shocking. It has long been known that bacteria cannot cross the “blood-brain barrier,” i.e., that the brain is a sterile environment. Now it’s turning out that even if that is still true, bacteria in our guts are sending all sorts of signals to our brains. Sadly, a lot of the research involves using many special strains of mice as lab animals, but the pace of learning is impressive and the lessons are potentially really important. For example:

  • Mice bred to have no gut bacteria turn out to be antisocial loners. Scientists found that the neurons in their amygdalas (where emotions are processed) make an unusual set of proteins and an unusual set of connections with other neurons. In humans, autistic people are known to also have unusual gut microbiota. So scientists bred a strain of mice with no gut biota plus a gene that makes them behave like autistic people do, and they discovered that by adding ONE species of bacteria to their guts, they could make the mice social again. They have now figured out a mechanism: the bacteria send signals to nerve endings in the gut, which relay those signals via the giant vagus nerve to the brain, which alters the production of oxytocin—the neuropeptide that rewards us for social activity.
  • Scientists now suspect a strong role for gut bacteria in Alzheimer’s, perhaps by releasing a chemical that alters how immune cells function in the brain. Mice that were bred to get Alzheimer’s developed much milder cases if the scientists killed off their gut bacteria, even with a single treatment of antibiotics.
  • Many more examples – mice got depressed when given gut bacteria from depressed humans(!!), got fat if given gut bacteria from fat mice, and so on. In each case, the sole cause of the changes was changing their gut biota.

The bacteria you are harboring are talking to you!

Burning Man
For those of you (including me) who have wanted to go to Burning Man, the attached photo is a good dose of reality. Looks kind of ghastly, kind of amazing to me. I have forgotten where I found it -- possibly the NYT.

From my colleague Petra: a warm and fuzzy animal story from the BBC. The subject of her email was “Only in Estonia.” I asked her what she meant and she said “Estonia is a nice country with nice people and obviously nice wolves (when very cold).”