Hydrogen sulfide, the pungent stuff often referred to as sewer gas, is a deadly substance implicated in several mass extinctions, including one at the end of the Permian period 251 million years ago that wiped out more than three-quarters of all species on Earth. But in low doses, hydrogen sulfide could greatly enhance plant growth, leading to a sharp increase in global food supplies and plentiful stock for biofuel production, new University of Washington research shows.Well, the 'biofuel' connection is criminal, but the basic observation is brilliant. Why the fuck can't you just think about FOOD?
Dooley started off to examine the toxic effects of hydrogen sulfide on plants but mistakenly used only one-tenth the amount of the toxin he had intended. The results were so unbelievable that he repeated the experiment. Still unconvinced, he repeated it again -- and again, and again. In fact, the results have been replicated so often that they are now "a near certainty," he said. "Everything else that's ever been done on plants was looking at hydrogen sulfide in high concentrations," he said.Classic good science and good thinking. Open to serendipity, open to alternative explanations. But Dooley's supervisor is not open-minded:
Crop yields nearly doubled, said Peter Ward, Dooley's doctoral adviser, a UW professor of biology and of Earth and space sciences and an authority on Earth's mass extinctions. Hydrogen sulfide, probably produced when sulfates in the oceans were decomposed by sulfur bacteria, is believed to have played a significant role in several extinction events... At high concentrations, hydrogen sulfide killed small plants very easily while larger plants had a better chance at survival, he said, so it is likely that plants carry a defense mechanism that spurs their growth when they sense hydrogen sulfide.Ward obviously doesn't grasp the main point. HORMESIS is not a strange special tacked-on 'defense mechanism', it's the way every living thing responds to almost every input, dammit. Small amounts are beneficial, large amounts are toxic. I hope his modern fallacy doesn't completely confuse or silence the correct thinking of his grad asst Dooley.
Polistra was named after the original townsite of Manhattan (the one in Kansas). When I was growing up in Manhattan, I spent a lot of time exploring by foot, bike, and car. I discovered the ruins of an old mill along Wildcat Creek, and decided (inaccurately) that it was the remains of the original site of Polistra. Accurate or not, I've always liked the name, with its echoes of Poland (an under-appreciated friend of freedom) and stars. ==== The title icon is explained here. ==== Switchover: This 2007 entry marks a sharp change in worldview from neocon to pure populist. ===== The long illustrated story of Polistra's Dream is a time-travel fable, attempting to answer the dangerous revision of New Deal history propagated by Amity Shlaes. The Dream has 8 episodes, linked in a chain from the first. This entry explains the Shlaes connection.