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Where Does the Powerball Money Go?

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The estimated jackpot for Wednesday’s Powerball drawing is a record-breaking $1.4 billion—just think about what you could do with all that money! Actually, don’t think about it. Statistically, it’s essentially impossible for you to win. As Scott A. Norris, an assistant professor of mathematics at Southern Methodist University, told the Associated Press, "It's probably still not going to happen if you buy a hundred tickets or a thousand tickets or even a million tickets."

The chances of winning hover around the one-in-292-million range, and your long shot is getting longer by the minute. According to the executive director of the Texas Lottery, they were “selling more than $1.2 million in Powerball tickets every single minute.” So, at least someone is making money off Powerball—but where, and to whom, does all that cash go?

Forty-seven separate lotteries offer Powerball (it’s played in 44 states, plus D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands). According to a press document [downloadable file] from the Multi-State Lottery Association (MUSL), the organization that runs Powerball, total sales of Powerball tickets since its inception in April 1992 come to roughly $55.8 billion (through January 9, 2016). Since that time, they have paid jackpot winners a combined $16.5 billion; non-jackpot, tertiary winners have won a combined total of around $11.8 billion. This means that roughly half of the money that has been made from Powerball ticket sales has gone to the winners themselves.

As for the rest? Well, that depends. According to the MUSL, “All profits from the games are kept by the state that sells the ticket.” States must pay for expenses before counting the funds as profit, however. These expenses include advertising, salaries for lotto commission workers, vendor fees, and things like “central accounting and the purchase of government securities to fund annuitized prizes.” Once those are paid for, states can tally their profits—and that's where things get interesting.

Some state-run lottery programs make a pittance. According to a 2012 NBC News story, Rhode Island reported that their lotto program added just 11 cents per dollar of ticket sales to the state's annual budget. Others, however, do much better. Oregon, for example, “generated 50 cents in profits for each dollar of ticket sales” in 2011. These revenues vary for a slew of different reasons, like the number of players in the state and the efficiency of the lotto program itself. According to the NBC report, some states “boost their take…by turning over their lottery operations to private companies.”

Once net profits are totaled, it’s up to the state to decide what they’ll do with the money. A common benefactor of lottery profits are education budgets. (All profits for Virginia Lottery sales, for example, go to a K-12 education fund). Research has also shown that some states count lottery profits as general revenue, or use them to subsidize tax cuts promised by politicians, making them a sort of hidden, “voluntary tax.” For your state, a quick Google search for its annual budget report can help reveal more specific information.

While the $2 spent on a Powerball ticket goes a lot of places, don’t count on it ever coming back to you in full.

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Big Questions
Do Bacteria Have Bacteria?
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Drew Smith:

Do bacteria have bacteria? Yes.

We know that bacteria range in size from 0.2 micrometers to nearly one millimeter. That’s more than a thousand-fold difference, easily enough to accommodate a small bacterium inside a larger one.

Nothing forbids bacteria from invading other bacteria, and in biology, that which is not forbidden is inevitable.

We have at least one example: Like many mealybugs, Planococcus citri has a bacterial endosymbiont, in this case the β-proteobacterium Tremblaya princeps. And this endosymbiont in turn has the γ-proteobacterium Moranella endobia living inside it. See for yourself:

Fluorescent In-Situ Hybridization confirming that intrabacterial symbionts reside inside Tremblaya cells in (A) M. hirsutus and (B) P. marginatus mealybugs. Tremblaya cells are in green, and γ-proteobacterial symbionts are in red. (Scale bar: 10 μm.)
Fluorescent In-Situ Hybridization confirming that intrabacterial symbionts reside inside Tremblaya cells in (A) M. hirsutus and (B) P. marginatus mealybugs. Tremblaya cells are in green, and γ-proteobacterial symbionts are in red. (Scale bar: 10 μm.)

I don’t know of examples of free-living bacteria hosting other bacteria within them, but that reflects either my ignorance or the likelihood that we haven’t looked hard enough for them. I’m sure they are out there.

Most (not all) scientists studying the origin of eukaryotic cells believe that they are descended from Archaea.

All scientists accept that the mitochondria which live inside eukaryotic cells are descendants of invasive alpha-proteobacteria. What’s not clear is whether archeal cells became eukaryotic in nature—that is, acquired internal membranes and transport systems—before or after acquiring mitochondria. The two scenarios can be sketched out like this:


The two hypotheses on the origin of eukaryotes:

(A) Archaezoan hypothesis.

(B) Symbiotic hypothesis.

The shapes within the eukaryotic cell denote the nucleus, the endomembrane system, and the cytoskeleton. The irregular gray shape denotes a putative wall-less archaeon that could have been the host of the alpha-proteobacterial endosymbiont, whereas the oblong red shape denotes a typical archaeon with a cell wall. A: archaea; B: bacteria; E: eukaryote; LUCA: last universal common ancestor of cellular life forms; LECA: last eukaryotic common ancestor; E-arch: putative archaezoan (primitive amitochondrial eukaryote); E-mit: primitive mitochondrial eukaryote; alpha:alpha-proteobacterium, ancestor of the mitochondrion.

The Archaezoan hypothesis has been given a bit of a boost by the discovery of Lokiarcheota. This complex Archaean has genes for phagocytosis, intracellular membrane formation and intracellular transport and signaling—hallmark activities of eukaryotic cells. The Lokiarcheotan genes are clearly related to eukaryotic genes, indicating a common origin.

Bacteria-within-bacteria is not only not a crazy idea, it probably accounts for the origin of Eucarya, and thus our own species.

We don’t know how common this arrangement is—we mostly study bacteria these days by sequencing their DNA. This is great for detecting uncultivatable species (which are 99 percent of them), but doesn’t tell us whether they are free-living or are some kind of symbiont. For that, someone would have to spend a lot of time prepping environmental samples for close examination by microscopic methods, a tedious project indeed. But one well worth doing, as it may shed more light on the history of life—which is often a history of conflict turned to cooperation. That’s a story which never gets old or stale.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats 'Blep'?
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As pet owners are well aware, cats are inscrutable creatures. They hiss at bare walls. They invite petting and then answer with scratching ingratitude. Their eyes are wandering globes of murky motivations.

Sometimes, you may catch your cat staring off into the abyss with his or her tongue lolling out of their mouth. This cartoonish expression, which is atypical of a cat’s normally regal air, has been identified as a “blep” by internet cat photo connoisseurs. An example:

Cunning as they are, cats probably don’t have the self-awareness to realize how charming this is. So why do cats really blep?

In a piece for Inverse, cat consultant Amy Shojai expressed the belief that a blep could be associated with the Flehmen response, which describes the act of a cat “smelling” their environment with their tongue. As a cat pants with his or her mouth open, pheromones are collected and passed along to the vomeronasal organ on the roof of their mouth. This typically happens when cats want to learn more about other cats or intriguing scents, like your dirty socks.

While the Flehmen response might precede a blep, it is not precisely a blep. That involves the cat’s mouth being closed while the tongue hangs out listlessly.

Ingrid Johnson, a certified cat behavior consultant through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and the owner of Fundamentally Feline, tells Mental Floss that cat bleps may have several other plausible explanations. “It’s likely they don’t feel it or even realize they’re doing it,” she says. “One reason for that might be that they’re on medication that causes relaxation. Something for anxiety or stress or a muscle relaxer would do it.”

A photo of a cat sticking its tongue out
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If the cat isn’t sedated and unfurling their tongue because they’re high, then it’s possible that an anatomic cause is behind a blep: Johnson says she’s seen several cats display their tongues after having teeth extracted for health reasons. “Canine teeth help keep the tongue in place, so this would be a more common behavior for cats missing teeth, particularly on the bottom.”

A blep might even be breed-specific. Persians, which have been bred to have flat faces, might dangle their tongues because they lack the real estate to store it. “I see it a lot with Persians because there’s just no room to tuck it back in,” Johnson says. A cat may also simply have a Gene Simmons-sized tongue that gets caught on their incisors during a grooming session, leading to repeated bleps.

Whatever the origin, bleps are generally no cause for concern unless they’re doing it on a regular basis. That could be sign of an oral problem with their gums or teeth, prompting an evaluation by a veterinarian. Otherwise, a blep can either be admired—or retracted with a gentle prod of the tongue (provided your cat puts up with that kind of nonsense). “They might put up with touching their tongue, or they may bite or swipe at you,” Johnson says. “It depends on the temperament of the cat.” Considering the possible wrath involved, it may be best to let them blep in peace.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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