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Better Napping Through Chemistry.

“But here’s the trick of the coffee nap: sleeping naturally clears adenosine from the brain. If you nap for longer than 15 or 20 minutes, your brain is more likely to enter deeper stages of sleep that take some time to recover from. But shorter naps generally don’t lead to this so-called ‘sleep inertia’ — and it takes around 20 minutes for the caffeine to get through your gastrointestinal tract and bloodstream anyway.”

Citing various recent research, Vox’s Joseph Stromberg extols the benefits of the coffee nap. “So if you nap for those 20 minutes, you’ll reduce your levels of adenosine just in time for the caffeine to kick in. The caffeine will have less adenosine to compete with, and will thereby be even more effective in making you alert.” And just imagine how much more fulfilling a Red Bull-Guinness-Coffee-Nap would be.

Life Everlasting.

“The scientists joined old and young mice for five weeks and then examined them. The muscles of the old mice had healed about as quickly as those of the young mice…The young mice, on the other hand, had effectively grown prematurely old.”

Take that, Van Helsing: Per PBS’s NOVA, research increasingly suggests that transfusions of young blood hold the secret to slowing or reversing aging. “We can turn back the clock instead of slowing the clock down,” said Dr. Toren Finkel, director of the Center for Molecular Medicine at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.”

(Unless, of course, it’s all about the jellyfish.)

Outbreak.

“The outbreak — the largest in history — has spread across Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone and killed at least 672 people, according to the World Health Organization. The disease has no vaccine and no specific treatment. It has a fatality rate of at least 60%.”

Among the most frightening developments in a world full of bad news at the moment: Ebola is running rampant through West Africa, and has reached both Freetown and Lagos, Africa’s largest city (where it was hopefully and quickly contained.) “This epidemic…can only get worse, because it is still spreading, above all in Liberia and Sierra Leone, in some very important hotspots,’ Janssens said…’we have never known such an epidemic.'”

Still, before you seal the locks on the underground shelter, the general scientific consensus seems to be that, even if the virus does reach here by plane — and it may well — ebola isn’t influenza circa 1918: “This is not a highly transmissible disease, where the number of people who can be infected by a single individual is high. You have to come into very close contact with blood, organs, or bodily fluids of infected animals, including people. If you educate people properly and isolate those who are potentially infected, it should be something you can bring under control.”

Also, as far as deadly mutations go, ebola “kill[s] so quickly that I don’t envision there’s going to be a major shift in transmission.” Some small comfort…unless, of course, you’re infected. As it is, per The Onion, a vaccine is “at least 50 white people away.

Microscopic Monets.

“Each ovary of the female fruit fly houses multiple ovarioles or ‘assembly lines’ in which individual egg chambers develop into fully formed fly eggs…In this picture, cross-sections of ten ovarioles from different female fruit flies are arranged with stem cells and early stage egg chambers at the center, and the more mature chambers at the periphery. The nucleus of each cell is stained yellow/orange. The cell membranes are stained blue.”

As written up by Aatish Bhatia at Wired, the winners of Princeton’s annual Art of Science competition are announced. “Among the entries are some wonderful ‘oops’ moments, where an experiment goes beautifully wrong, revealing art where you might not have expected to see it…But most of these submissions aren’t accidents. Many of these pieces reveal form, structure, and beauty hidden at a scale that our eyes can’t perceive.”

A, C, G, T…X, Y?

“While all possible combinations of G, T, C, and A are already in use — AAG for example, creates an amino acid called lysine, and TAA signifies the end of a code of DNA — new letters exponentially increase the number of possible codons and give researchers the ability to recode the genetic framework without needing to rewrite or erase what life has already created. Codons like XYA or TGX, for example, could be programmed to build new types of amino acids, which could configure new proteins.”

In an impressive breakthrough, biologists successfully expand the genetic alphabet of a living organism from four to six, opening up all kinds of possibilities for everything from pharmaceuticals to new life. “‘This is a very major accomplishment in our efforts to inch towards a synthetic biology,’ says Steven Benner, a synthetic biologist at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution who was not involved in the study. ‘Many in the broader community thought that Floyd’s result would be impossible to achieve.'”

Of Mice and Men.

“‘People have not paid attention to this in the entire history of scientific research of animals,’ says Jeffrey Mogil, a pain researcher at McGill University and lead author of the study. ‘I think that it may have confounded, to whatever degree, some very large subset of existing research.'”

Sorry, Lenny: A new study finds a potentially problematic issue for decades of research: Mice are scared of men (or males of any species). ‘If you’re doing a liver cell study, the cells came from a rat that was sacrificed either by a man or a woman,’ Mogil says. As a result, ‘its stress levels would be in very different states.’ This, he says, could have an effect on the functioning of the liver cell in that later experiment.”

Rdng is Fndmtl.



“[W]hat Spritz does differently (and brilliantly) is manipulate the format of the words to more appropriately line them up with the eye’s natural motion of reading. The ‘Optimal Recognition Point’ (ORP) is slightly left of the center of each word, and is the precise point at which our brain deciphers each jumble of letters. The unique aspect of Spritz is that it identifies the ORP of each word, makes that letter red and presents all of the ORPs at the same space on the screen. In this way, our eyes don’t move at all as we see the words, and we can therefore process information instantaneously rather than spend time decoding each word.”

Whoa…I’ve read about kung-fu. An intriguing new app aims to turn everyone into speed readers. “Spritz is about to go public with Samsung’s new line of wearable technology.”

“The Blood Harvest.”

“‘Every drug certified by the FDA must be tested using LAL,’ PBS’s Nature documentary noted, ‘as do surgical implants such as pacemakers and prosthetic devices.’ I don’t know about you, but the idea that every single person in America who has ever had an injection has been protected because we harvest the blood of a forgettable sea creature with a hidden chemical superpower makes me feel a little bit crazy. This scenario is not even sci-fi, it’s postmodern technology.”

In The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal unearths the amazing secrets, and industry, surrounding horseshoe crab blood. “The thing about the blood that everyone notices first: It’s blue, baby blue…The iron-based, oxygen-carrying hemoglobin molecules in our blood give it that red color; the copper-based, oxygen-carrying hemocyanin molecules in theirs make it baby blue.”

Better Living Through Nanotech.

“A team of chemists and engineers accomplished the feat by inserting tiny synthetic motors inside living cells, moving them around with ultrasonic waves and steering them magnetically. Clearly, it’s not as elegant as the self-propelled, self-guided nanobots envisaged by futurists and scifi, but it’s an important first step. These same basic principles could conceivably be refined and upgraded.”

A glimpse of the future: A Penn State team manage to insert synthetic nanomotors into living cells for the first time. “We might be able to use nanomotors to treat cancer and other diseases by mechanically manipulating cells from the inside. Nanomotors could perform intracellular surgery and deliver drugs noninvasively to living tissues.”

The Morality of the Tribe.

“[I]f you’re like the average American, here’s a fact you don’t know: in 1953, the United States sponsored a coup in Iran, overthrowing a democratically elected government and installing a brutally repressive regime that ruled for decades. Iranians, on the other hand, are very aware of this, which helps explain why, to this day, many of them are gravely suspicious of American intentions…This is the way the brain works: you forget your sins (or never recognize them in the first place) and remember your grievances.”

In a long piece at The Atlantic, Robert Wright ponders recent arguments about the biological basis of morality. “If Greene thinks that getting people to couch their moral arguments in a highly reasonable language will make them highly reasonable, I think he’s underestimating the cleverness and ruthlessness with which our inner animals pursue natural selection’s agenda. We seem designed to twist moral discourse — whatever language it’s framed in — to selfish or tribal ends, and to remain conveniently unaware of the twisting.”

Of Mice and Memory.


“‘Prof Roger Morris, from King’s College London, said: “This finding, I suspect, will be judged by history as a turning point in the search for medicines to control and prevent Alzheimer’s disease.’ He told the BBC a cure for Alzheimer’s was not imminent but: I’m very excited, it’s the first proof in any living animal that you can delay neurodegeneration. The world won’t change tomorrow, but this is a landmark study.'”

Some good news for a change, by way of Dangerous Meta: Scientists have developed (for mice, at least) what appears to be a breakthrough drug that could prevent Alzheimers and other neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s(!):

When a virus hijacks a brain cell it leads to a build-up of viral proteins. Cells respond by shutting down nearly all protein production in order to halt the virus’s spread. However, many neurodegenerative diseases involve the production of faulty or ‘misfolded’ proteins. These activate the same defences, but with more severe consequences…The researchers used a compound which prevented those defence mechanisms kicking in and in turn halted neurodegeneration.”

We…learn. We…feed.


“‘Slime mould’s remarkable problem-solving capabilities are well-documented and include finding the shortest path between different food sources. It also displays memory, in a similar way to a novel electrical component called a memristor, which has in turn been likened to the functionality of biological brains. ‘It’s one of the simplest organisms that can learn,’ says Gale.”

And now, IT HAS A FACE. Scientists program an old-timey robot to dramatize the electrical signals emanating from slime mold. In a 100,000 years, this is going to seem like one of those Skynet-level bad ideas. And the hat is particularly creepy touch — Very Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Sleep: Nature’s Reset Button.

“More than 20 years ago…we began to suspect that the brain’s activity during slumber may somehow restore to a baseline state the billions of neural connections that get modified every day by the events of waking life. Sleep, in this telling, would preserve the ability of the brain’s circuitry to form new memories continually over the course of an individual’s lifetime without becoming oversaturated or obliterating older memories.”

More Science of Sleep: In Scientific American, two Italian academics put forward their “synaptic homeostasis hypothesis” (SHY) of slumber, whereby the brain weakens (not strengthens, as is usually assumed) synaptic links overnight. “In principle, SHY explains the essential, universal purpose of sleep…sleep restores the brain to a state where it can learn and adapt when we are awake…Most generally, sleep is the price we pay for the brain’s plasticity — its ability to modify its wiring in response to experience.”

Also part of SHY: the idea of “local sleep”: “Recently we have even found that prolonged or intense use of certain circuits can make local groups of neurons ‘fall asleep’ even though the rest of the brain (and the organism itself) remains awake…It seems that when we have been awake for too long or have overexerted certain circuits, small chunks of the brain may take quick naps without giving notice.” I believe in Internet parlance this is known as “haz-ing the dumb.”

Good News, Coffee Achievers.

“In one large-scale epidemiological study from last year, researchers primarily at the National Cancer Institute parsed health information from more than 400,000 volunteers, ages 50 to 71, who were free of major diseases at the study’s start in 1995…men who reported drinking two or three cups of coffee a day were 10 percent less likely to have died than those who didn’t drink coffee, while women drinking the same amount had 13 percent less risk of dying during the study.”

Better living through chemistry: The NYT’s Gretchen Reynolds touts the potential medical benefits of caffeine addiction. “Participants with little or no caffeine circulating in their bloodstreams were far more likely to have progressed to full-blown Alzheimer’s than those whose blood indicated they’d had about three cups’ worth of caffeine.” Factor in all the taurine I consume to boot, and I’m disco.

Seven Minutes of Fury.

“In 12 exercises deploying only body weight, a chair and a wall, it fulfills the latest mandates for high-intensity effort…into about seven minutes of steady discomfort — all of it based on science.”

To complement Calvinism: The NYT lays out a seven-minute workout that might actually work. “The exercises should be performed in rapid succession, allowing 30 seconds for each, while, throughout, the intensity hovers at about an 8 on a discomfort scale of 1 to 10…Those seven minutes should be, in a word, unpleasant.”

The Pleasures of the Void.

“I slid the blackout door closed behind me, eased down into the water, and touched a button that switched off the lights. I was floating in total darkness and silence…For what must have been the first 15 minutes, I wondered what I was doing there…Then a transformation began…My brain went a little haywire. When the storm passed, I found myself in a new and unfamiliar state of mind.”

To kick off his new Slate column “Anything Once,” friend Seth Stevenson finds himself reveling in the sensation of sensory deprivation. “I emerged in a profound daze. I spoke slowly and quietly, like a smooth-jazz DJ, to the person at the spa desk who inquired how my session had gone. I felt more rested than if I’d slept for 16 hours on a pile of tranquilized chinchillas. Outside, colors were saturated; sounds were vivid. I had to try this again, as soon as possible.”

Follow the Bouncing Dot.

“‘We are trying to understand how human motor performance changes with age,’ the researchers say. ‘We believe that research should be done in collaboration with people—with people like you who are interested in learning about themselves and helping research.'”

An online Harvard experiment tries to guess your age by evaluating your mouse-clicking ability. Hard to say how good it is, really. It deemed me thirty — eight years too young — but then again, with blogging and gaming both ranking high among the extra-curriculars, I probably use a mouse more than most people too.

The Expanding Nation.

“This shows the percentages of the U.S. population medically defined as obese, which means a body mass index of 30 or greater…By now everyone knows obesity is a serious issue, but it always helps me to see things moving and in color, and makes the ‘epidemic’ terminology make sense.

A troubling GIF captures twenty-five years of expanding waistlines in America. “Meanwhile, through 2012, no state has met the CDC’s nationwide goal to reduce obesity to 15 percent.” Update: The states behind the curve? Everyone could be lying.

Don’t Sleep on Second Sleep.

“In 2001, historian Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech published a seminal paper, drawn from 16 years of research, revealing a wealth of historical evidence that humans used to sleep in two distinct chunks…Today, most people seem to have adapted quite well to the eight-hour sleep, but Ekirch believes many sleeping problems may have roots in the human body’s natural preference for segmented sleep as well as the ubiquity of artificial light.”

When you’re lying awake at night, it’s alright: BBC’s Stephanie Hegarty delves into pre-industrial sleep habits and discovers that eight hours of uninterrupted sleep may be a recent invention. “Much like the experience of Wehr’s subjects, these references describe a first sleep which began about two hours after dusk, followed by waking period of one or two hours and then a second sleep. ‘It’s not just the number of references – it is the way they refer to it, as if it was common knowledge,’ Ekirch says.”

Whither Happiness? (At Wal-Mart).

“The researchers coded each tweet for its happiness content, based on the appearance and frequency of words determined by Mechanical Turk workers to be happy (rainbow, love, beauty, hope, wonderful, wine) or sad (damn, boo, ugly, smoke, hate, lied). While the researchers admit their technique ignores context, they say that for large datasets, simply counting the words and averaging their happiness content produces ‘reliable’ results.”

Happiness where are you? I’ve searched so long for you. A statistical analysis of states’ relative happiness, as determined by tweets. (Red states above are happy, blue states are not.) David Simon is 2-for-2: Next to the mouth of the Mississippi, the Maryland-Delaware area is apparently the saddest in the nation. Perhaps due to proximity to Washington DC? Definitely maybe.

In probably related news, a different map of the United States shows the most popular places cited in Craigslist’s Missed Connections. “The most popular place to spot potential love in Texas, New Mexico, Missouri, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, Ohio, West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Florida? Wal-Mart.”

Of course, this begs the question: Do people actually ever meet up on Missed Connections? Every time I’ve perused them, that section is overwhelmingly the Boulevard of Broken Dreams, just damaged, lovelorn people sending out messages in a bottle to lost exes who are actively ignoring them.

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