HAMNET Report 23rd April 2023

With the high levels of loadshedding likely to continue for the foreseeable future, Michael ZS1MJT has provided some advice to all HAMNET members. He says:

“Please be aware of your readiness should the power situation move to higher stages. Keep your vehicle fuel tank full, have some spare drinking water and some cash readily available.

“Cell phone tower batteries will not last the 4 hour loadshedding and cell communications will become less, and erratic. Charge up time for these batteries will not allow a full charge before the next loadshedding period. Do not rely on cell phone communications as the towers are also overloaded during loadshedding.

“Keep your batteries charged up, and test your radios and antennas.

“Be active on radio! We may be called upon any time, so get yourselves prepared!

Wise words indeed, Michael Thank you.

Beethoven has often been regarded as the greatest classical composer ever. However, his medical history was chequered, and the cause of his death has remained a bit of a mystery, until the subject was studied by researchers.

Freda Kreier, writing for Sciencenews.org says that the composer was plagued with health issues for most of his life. On March 26, 1827, he succumbed to what many historians suspect was liver failure while in his apartment in Vienna. Now, an analysis of several locks of hair passed down through families and gathered by collectors shows that Beethoven carried several genetic risk factors for liver disease, the scientists report March 22 in Current Biology.

This elevated risk — paired with a potential liver infection and the composer’s alleged drinking habits — may have hastened Beethoven’s premature death at the age of 56, says Tristan Begg, a biological anthropologist at the University of Cambridge.

It’s well-known that Beethoven’s storied career was cut short by progressive hearing loss that left the composer completely deaf by age 45. Beethoven also suffered from gastrointestinal issues and a deteriorating liver. That faulty organ is thought to be responsible for the composer’s skin reportedly turning yellow in the summer of 1821.  

The researchers used some of the best-preserved locks of his hair to reconstruct the composer’s genome. This analysis didn’t uncover any genetic markers for deafness or intestinal issues. But the team did identify several risk factors for liver disease, including a variant of the gene PNPLA3that would have tripled the composer’s risk of developing liver issues in his lifetime.

Those risk factors alone shouldn’t have doomed Beethoven. But the scientists also found traces of the Hepatitis B virus, which damages livers, in one of the strands reportedly collected shortly after Beethoven’s death. The risk to the liver from a hepatitis B infection would have been further compounded by regular alcohol use, the researchers say. Some contemporaries claimed that the composer was drinking heavily by the end of his life.

While we don’t know exactly what combination of factors killed Beethoven, “this is a fascinating detective story,” says Ian Gilmore, a hepatologist at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital in England, who was not involved with the research.

Now if you lived in the ocean and had 8 arms with many tentacles on them, what would you use them for?

Well, according to Tina Hesman Saey, it turns out that these soft-bodied cephalopods known as octopus, squid and cuttlefish have proteins on suckers along their tentacles that allow them to “taste” by touching objects. But the species have evolved to detect different compounds, researchers report in two studies published in the April 13 Nature. And the differing tastes may be tied to the species’ hunting styles.

All the species have modified versions of proteins called neurotransmitter receptors, which detect brain chemicals. Evolution morphed the brain proteins to take on new roles as taste-sensing proteins. But octopus evolution led them to develop a taste for greasy things, while squid and cuttlefish evolution tweaked the brain proteins to detect bitter compounds, the researchers discovered.

“This is an entirely new sensory system,” says Maude Baldwin, an evolutionary biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Intelligence in Seewiesen, Germany, who was not involved in the work. “Together these papers offer unprecedented insight into how sensory systems evolve.”

Studying cephalopod receptors might also shed some light on how human taste-sensing proteins evolved. “It greatly enhances our understanding of how proteins evolve in general,” Baldwin says, as well as how proteins and even entire organisms acquire new functions.

Now, from the ridiculous to the sublime, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all the SARL members who were recipients of awards at the AGM held yesterday, and particularly Alister ZS2OK, who received the HAMNET Shield, in recognition of the hard work he put in to establishing the Western Cape’s second EOC at the City of Cape Town’s Disaster Risk Management Centre, ZS1DCC, in Goodwood. I’m very glad your sterling services have been fully recognized. Heartiest congratulations too to all the HAMNET members recognized in other ways.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting from a cold and miserable Cape Town for HAMNET in South Africa.