Genome of Diatom Reveals Unanticipated Complexity

first_img“Let’s play 20 questions.”:“OK, I’m game.  Animal, vegetable or mineral?”“Yes.”“I give up.”The answer is: a diatom.  Some of the most abundant one-celled organisms in the sea, and essential for regulating the global carbon cycle, diatoms seem to be part animal, vegetable and mineral.  Scientists aren’t sure how to classify them.  They do photosynthesis like plants, but have some animal-like genes, and they build crystal houses of exquisite beauty out of silica (see 07/21/2004 headline).  Now, for the first time, the genome of one species of diatom was sequenced.  It was reported Oct. 1 in the journal Science.1  The glass house of this organism, Thalassiosira pseudonana, looks like a pill box with a lid (for picture, see the news story on EurekAlert).    The evolutionary story of the origin of diatoms is that once upon a time, a heterotrophic (other-feeding) microbe engulfed a red alga.  The two became one, and lived happily ever after in an arrangement called endosymbiosis.  The researchers did indeed find homologous genes to red algae and protozoa, but were not prepared for the complexity of the gene library of something so small.  This diatom has 24 pairs of chromosomes and 11,242 protein-coding genes in its 34 million base-pair genome.  The team was surprised to find genes for the urea cycle, a nitrogen-processing system commonly found in animals that eat meat, in a plant-like photosynthetic organism: “Identification of enzymes necessary for a complete urea cycle was unanticipated, because this pathway has not previously been described in a eukaryotic photoautotroph”.  This nitrogen cycle was not just an idle subroutine, either: “The urea cycle appears to be fully integrated into diatom metabolism in ways not previously suspected,” they said.  Also, who would have thought a little transparent sea creature would be an expert in fat metabolism?We identified novel genes for silicic acid transport and formation of silica-based cell walls, high-affinity iron uptake, biosynthetic enzymes for several types of polyunsaturated fatty acids, use of a range of nitrogenous compounds, and a complete urea cycle, all attributes that allow diatoms to prosper in aquatic environments.Apparently even diatoms can store fat for the winter in a manner “unusual among eukaryotes.”  Another unique feature of many diatoms is their ability to manufacture little hairs of chitin that protrude from their glass shells, so that they don’t sink so easily.  This enables them to stay near the sunlit surface on which they depend.    Although the research team believes their discovery of alga-like genes supports the notion of a primordial endosymbiosis for the origin of diatoms, their paper exhibited two unsolved problems with the idea.  First, in a Venn diagram of homologous genes, the report showed 1853 genes not found in animals, green or red algae (3738 common to all three), and 2550 genes not found among cyanobacteria, green or red algae (922 common to all three).  “About half the genes in the diatom cannot be assigned functions on the basis of similarity to genes in other organisms, in part because diatoms have distinctive features that cannot be understood by appeal to model systems.”  That’s a lot of functionality for an organism to develop de novo, even if some of the knowledge was gained through a merger.    Second, the team is baffled over how the alga genes made it past the barriers into the genome.  “Establishment of a stable secondary endosymbiosis required evolution of a protein import system to allow cytoplasmically synthesized proteins to traverse the two additional membranes that surround the plastid,” they note.  They can understand the first crossing of the endoplasmic reticulum, “but the mechanism of transit across the next three membranes remains unclear.”    Scientists are eagerly striving to understand the exquisite glass-blowing capability of these creatures.  Their shells are beautifully designed, yet so small that 70 could fit across the width of a human hair.  “Diatoms can manipulate silica in ways that nanotechnologists can only dream about,” said one researcher.  For information on the importance of diatoms to the global ecology and climate, see the summary on EurekAlert, where oceanographer Virginia Armbrust (U of Washington) said, “These organisms are incredibly important in the global carbon cycle.”  The report elaborates, “Together, the single-celled organisms generate as much as 40 percent of the 50 billion to 55 billion tons of organic carbon produced each year in the sea and in the process use carbon dioxide and produce oxygen.  And they are an important food source for many other marine organisms.”1Armbrust et al., “The Genome of the Diatom Thalassiosira Pseudonana: Ecology, Evolution, and Metabolism,” Science, Vol 306, Issue 5693, 79-86, 1 October 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1101156].Thank God for little things.  If it is phenomenally, inconceivably improbable for a cell to develop one usable protein by chance (see online book), how are we supposed to believe that after the hypothetical merger in some dim chapter of the evolutionary past, the new diatom evolved a “protein import system” to get the new genes past three more membranes?  Organisms don’t normally tolerate foreign proteins; they destroy them.  This explanation has all the flaws of the typical Darwinian just-so story.  It is a mere tentative suggestion, generalizing the broad-brush picture but ignoring the nasty details.  Who could possibly believe that diatoms just invented, in salty water, glass-sculpturing expertise that “nanotechnologists can only dream about,” to say nothing of evolving half its genes that are unique?  Such wishful thinking should be laughed out of court.    Their endosymbiont tall tale doesn’t help Darwinism anyway, because it pushes even farther back in time the “evolutionarily ancient divergence of Plantae (red algae, green algae, and plants), Opisthokonta (animals/fungi), and the unknown secondary host that gave rise to the heterokont (diatom) lineage.”  Imagine their surprise at this admission: “ Interestingly, 806 diatom proteins align with mouse proteins but not with green plant or red alga proteins.”  So how to save the Darwin story now?  It gets even more convoluted: “The most straightforward interpretation is that these ‘animal-like’ genes were derived from the heterotrophic secondary host, although scenarios involving gene loss in the plant/red algal lineage cannot be ruled out.”  But the former would mean that these genes underwent no evolution from near the beginning of life all the way to the origin of mammals like mice, and the latter explanation would be devolution, not evolution.  Any story that violates Occam’s razor this badly should be rejected.  Both cases mean high levels of complexity already existed from the beginning.  The only explanation that fits the evidence is that diatoms are marvels of intelligent design, doing their part to maintain the 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Once In A Lifetime – the 2010 movie

first_img10 June 2011 2010 – Once In A Lifetime: The Movie had its world premiere in Johannesburg on Wednesday night, and broadcasts on local television this weekend to mark the anniversary of South Africa’s successful hosting of the 2010 Fifa World Cup. Co-produced by Anant Singh and directed by Junaid Ahmed, the film captures the passionate commitment and vision of South Africa and its people and the continent of Africa to the beautiful game, celebrating the spirit and the magic the first ever African World Cup. The film integrates inspiring visuals, exhilarating music and compelling interviews with a range of people – Fifa and LOC officials, government representatives, high-profile personalities and the man in the street – and is narrated by international football commentator John Helm. “It was fantastic!”, Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula said after Wednesday’s premiere. “This film is something that every household should keep and it is good for others around the world too, as it allows them to experience South African-ness and African-ness in the hosting of the 2010 World Cup. “Every game and every moment of the World Cup was special, as those who will watch the movie will see,” Mbalula said. “Fantastic work has been done in ensuring that we don’t forget and that we keep the memory of the World Cup alive for many generations to come – the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa like it has never been anywhere else in the world.” Imtiaz Patel, who co-produced the film with Singh, said: “It all started when Anant and I were on a bus from one of the World Cup matches at Soccer City. We were so emotional and caught up in the excitement, and we looked at each other and it was almost as though the thought entered our minds at the same time – that we had to capture this excitement. “The film gives everyone an opportunity to relive the spirit of the World Cup as we look at the event a year later.” Co-produced by Videovision Entertainment and SuperSport, the film will have its television premiere on Friday, 10 June at 8.00pm on DSTV’s SuperSport 3, with broadcasts over the weekend as follows: Friday 10 June 2011: SS3 / SS3A/ SS3N 20:00 – 21:30 Saturday 11 June 2011: SS3 / SS3A/ SS3N 09:30 – 11:00 15:00 – 16:30 21:00 – 22:30 CSN 17:30 – 19:00 Sunday 12 June 2011: SS3 / SS3A /SS3N 00:00 – 01:30 10:00 – 11:30 15:30 – 17:00 21:30 – 23:00 SAinfo reporter Would you like to use this article in your publication or on your website? See: Using SAinfo materiallast_img read more

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Premium beef jerky is a hot seller for growing business

first_imgShare Facebook Twitter Google + LinkedIn Pinterest Katie Levesque has always really enjoyed beef jerky, but as a college student at the Ohio State University Lima Branch she did not always have the funds to purchase her favorite snack. To address this situation, she started making her own.“I found this article about how I could make jerky at home in the oven,” she said. “I had to support my jerky habit. It is hard to find good jerky and it’s expensive. I solved those problems by making my own.”During college, Levesque participated in a fundraiser that got her jerky a bit more notoriety.“Everyone else brought in cookies and cakes and I brought in beef jerky,” Levesque said.The beef jerky was a hit at the fundraiser and soon she was taking orders. She began selling her jerky.“I was a full time college student and I would spend all of my extra money on jerky supplies,” she said. “That would provide me income when I was studying the rest of the quarter.”Her jerky sales really took off from there.“I asked a couple of store owners if they would sell it for me and they said, ‘Yes.’ It went well, so I made more. Then I started renting out part of a kitchen in a pizza shop. That allowed me to make it in a commercial kitchen. Then I thought I was doing it right, but I still wasn’t. When you are 19, you take action and ask questions later. I had 50 stores in Lima selling my beef jerky and people were still calling me. I dropped out of school. That is when the Ohio Department of Agriculture showed up at the pizza shop. They shut me down,” Levesque said. “My customers still wanted my product, but I had to do it legally. Then I did two things: I found a co-packer and started a business plan. I found a local smokehouse. They had to take my recipe and make it and they would get me the end product. I didn’t have control of it, though, not really. The quality was not there. It didn’t meet my needs. It was a great learning experience, but it was the beginning of the end for that cycle. I went back to school to finish my engineering degree. That paved the way for all the years that followed. I worked in heavy manufacturing for the next several years and I learned so many things. I focused on marketing and customer service in those roles as well.”She enjoyed her work, but she also still really enjoyed beef jerky. Her career had taken her to the Columbus area and allowed her to save up some money.“I found out about the rental kitchens in Columbus, which opened the door again to allow me to do a market test. I did a test run at the North Market,” she said. “There are always bumps in the road, but I realized that the dream was still there. I jumped back in with all the enthusiasm. That is what I wanted to do, but there were definitely hurtles. I had to find a commercial space. I had to learn to navigate all the rules and regulations from the USDA.”After re-discovering the potential market for her premium jerky products produced in the proper manner, she decided to jump back into full time beef jerky and snack food production. She bought the necessary equipment and rented space in a Hilliard facility on the west side of Columbus. She now employs four people.“In December two years ago I bought all of the big equipment and we came here,” Levesque said. “I literally just bought commercial versions of the same equipment I used in college. We have not automated anything. Even our cooking equipment is just a larger version of what we had. I did it the same way now as I did it in college. The only magic, if there is any, is that I still make it the old home style way. Some people change the process and that changes the product. The magic is that we didn’t change anything. We use electric dehydrators. We use a standard manual meat slicer. We slice the meat, marinate for the different flavors, dehydrate then pack it in vacuum sealer.”While the recipes and methods are the same, the procedures have changed dramatically.“We get inspected every day. We have tons of paperwork and procedures to follow. Getting everything approved and remaining in compliance always keeps us on our toes. A lot of people don’t realize this when they are getting into the industry,” she said. “Being an engineer, I have a procedure for everything. When I talk to people about the Department of Agriculture and the regulations, you have to remember that they help us do what is right for food safety. I impart the seriousness of food safety on my staff. We could make a lot of people sick and we have to take that responsibility seriously. This is not a joke. We have fun, but food safety is not funny. The rules are there for a reason.”Katie’s Premium Jerky and Snacks now offers more than 40 different products (including traditional beef jerky, dried pineapple, and wild game in numerous flavors) and co-packs for several other businesses.“Beef is definitely the biggest seller but the other ones are growing. The dried pineapple is getting popular. We do bison, elk and venison. We are working on alligator,” Levesque said. “Sourcing our meat is tricky. We can’t use meat unless it is from a federal plant. We try to use local meats when possible. We get bison from Grassroots Bison in Covington and they get me elk from an Illinois farm. We mostly buy wholesale beef but we are working on local grass fed. We use all eye round for our jerky. There are a lot of other cuts you can use, but it is a quality thing for us.”Consistency is important with procedures and production.“We start production around 5:30 or 6 in the morning. We go for 12-hour days. The reality of day-to-day equipment failures is a challenge. When you have an unexpected shut down, you have to have back ups for everything. From a manufacturing standpoint we stay as steady as possible. Our product is shelf stable and has a long shelf life. We have the ability to stay pretty consistent because of our product. Our ebbs and flows are customer demand. Our lowest demand is in January and it climbs after that,” she said. “In January, people are not buying gifts, they are not outside hiking, touristy places have all died down, and everything drops off. As people get out and about more, they eat more jerky. They want high protein snacks to stay in shape. We start preparing for growing demand about a month ahead. The demand is a very steady climb from January though December — jerky is a great gift.”With solid production procedures in place, Levesque is now working to improve the marketing efforts of her business.“Ohio Proud helps tremendously. Their support and the time they have spent giving me ideas has been great. The number one thing they have done has been getting me into markets,” Levesque said. “Our beef jerky is sold all over the U.S. in different specialty stores and we ship off the website and through Amazon. We’re in places like Jungle Jim’s in Cincinnati — that is a fun store to be a part of. That might be my top retailer. We are having a great response from health supplement store Supzilla. Specialty jerky stores are also good sales for us. We are in Kroger stores as well in the Cincinnati area.”Her favorite way of marketing her products, though, is face to face.“The best way to have an impact is to sell directly to your customers. There are so many farmers markets and festivals around here so there are chances to direct market. I also go to Texas, California, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Michigan, Indiana and Louisiana to home shows, spicy food shows, health shows, gluten free shows, outdoor shows, and fairs. With people working for me now I can get out and travel for longer periods of time. I think a balance of the travel and the production are both important. I am probably gone at trade shows 30% of the time. I also work on new product development, purchasing, customer service, marketing, the website, emails, and literature.”Katie’s Premium Jerky and Snacks has won over 60 awards around the nation and internationally for her premium jerky made in central Ohio.Now by the book, Katie’s Premium Jerky and Snacks has succeeded far beyond the reaches of her former college beef jerky business. Her products have won over 60 awards in competitions around the country and internationally and she continues to move forward in expanding the business.“My favorite quote is, ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.’ I remind myself of that all the time,” she said. “You just handle one challenge at a time and move forward.”last_img read more

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