These Are Some of the Oldest Living Things on Earth .

Animals sometimes sleep inside the hollows of giant 2,000-year old baobab trees in South Africa. Humans too, sometimes use old trees, for more dubious purposes — a jail, a toilet, a pop-up bar — as photographer Rachel Sussman discovered when she toured the world to photograph ancient trees and other organisms for her new book, The Oldest Living Things in the World.

The very oldest living things on the planet, scientists believe, are Actinobacteria that have inhabited underground permafrost in Siberia for up to 600,000 years. But ancient life survives on every continent, from 5,500-year-old Antarctic mosses, to a 100,000-year-old Mediterranean sea grass meadow, to 12,000-year-old creosote bushes in the Mojave desert, to the Tasmanian lomatia, a 43,600-year-old tree so endangered that only a single individual exists.

The book includes a map to help place these ancient life forms, and a timeline to put them in cosmic, geologic, and anthropological perspective. Those Mediterranean sea grasses, for instance, were taking root just as our ancestors started spreading out from Africa.

Sussman traveled the world to photograph dozens of organisms, sometimes risking life and limb in the process. Her stories about getting lost in Greenland, breaking her wrist in Sri Lanka, and learning to scuba dive so she could visit ancient brain corals off Tobago make the book even more interesting.

The book is scattered with foreboding anecdotes of human impacts on these ancient organisms, many of them rare or even critically endangered. In South Africa, 13,000-year-old underground forests (populated by trees with most of their mass underground — a defense against fire in this arid region) are being poisoned to make way for fields and new roads. In Florida, kids high on meth started a fire inside the hollow trunk of a 3,500 year old cypress tree that burned it down. Being old, Sussman reminds us, is not the same as being immortal.

The brainstorm that changes teenagers into adults.

Adolescence can be a hard time, both for teenagers and the people unfortunate enough to live with them. New research is shedding light on this difficult period, and busting the myth of the hormone-controlled youth.

Teenage kicks

Adolescence is a heady time of emotional highs and lows, incredible passion and energy, but it can also be risky and dangerous. So it’s no wonder that many parents approach this period with fear and trepidation.

Nature has created this change in the reward circuitry so it becomes much more rewarding to take risks, with the lower dopamine to feel restless and bored with the familiar home environment, and to push for something new.


Neuropsychiatrist and professor at UCLA Dan Siegel has extensively researched the physical and emotional development of the brain throughout childhood. But when his own children hit their teens and began to behave in palpably different ways, he began to ask, ‘what’s was going on here?’

After reviewing the past 20 years of research into brain development, Siegel and his colleagues found things that really bust some of the myths around teenage-hood.  One such myth is that adolescence is a time of life dominated by raging hormones.  ‘This is not the story,’ Siegel says, and claims that the hormones theory disempowers young people, because it seems there’s not much they can do about it.

He suggests that if parents and teens can work together to form a deeper understanding of the brain science behind this stage, they could turn conflict into connection, giving young people a happier and more stable entry to adulthood. Interestingly, he defines adolescence as extending well beyond the teens, from the ages of 12 to 24.

During this time the brain is re-modelling, and the first part of this process is known as pruning. At about 12 or 13 years of age, the brain naturally starts to prune away an abundance of synaptic connections between its cells, destroying some neurons that have been laid down during childhood.

The next stage of re-modelling is when myelin is laid down.  ‘Myelin allows the existing neurons, the ones that have remained through a use-it-or-lose-it principle [to be] 3,000 times more effective at communicating with each other,’ he says. ‘An integrated brain is actually more specialised and more efficient.’

Listen: Treatment for stressed teenagers

Watch: Brain training

The question is why these changes take place. According to Siegel, the brain has to change fundamentally in order to prepare children for adult life.

‘Imagine that you are at home and you’re in bed, you’re a young child and it’s early morning, and as the sun rays come in,  your mum comes in who loves you like crazy, she kisses you gently on the forehead and she says, “Good morning, what would you like for breakfast?” And you say, “Oh Mum, I think I’ll have some oatmeal”.’

‘You come downstairs after you get dressed in your clothes for school and you have this delicious oatmeal and you go off to preschool, you learn to play with your friends and share toys, you take a little rest and you have a snack, you play some more and then you come home, you play outside, you get a little dinner before you go take a bath, someone scrubs you down, they then put you in your pyjamas, you then get in bed and they give you a massage, sing you a song, read you a story and you fall off to sleep. Why would you leave?’

Something fundamental has to change in the child to prepare the adolescent to leave the safety and security of home. ‘You have to change the brain in a way that’s going to get it drawn to the unfamiliar, willing to engage with the unsafe, and to thrive with the uncomfortable,’ says Siegel.

So in addition to re-modelling, changes occur in the reward circuitry of the brain, which communicates within itself using a chemical called dopamine. During adolescence, the baseline level of dopamine is lower. Dopamine is released when people engage with novelty, the unfamiliar and the uncertain.

‘Nature has created this change in the reward circuitry so it becomes much more rewarding to take risks, with the lower dopamine to feel restless and bored with the familiar home environment, and to push for something new,’ says Siegel.

The upside of this is that teenagers get ready to leave home, but the downside is they do risky things. At the same time, the evaluative circuitry of the brain is skewed, favouring the exciting and adventurous aspects of a choice.  This is called hyper-rational thinking and when it is combined with the dopamine reward system changes, it helps us to understand teenage risk-taking behaviour.

Adolescents know about the dangers involved in fast driving for example, but often choose to do it anyway.

‘Sadly, even though the body of an adolescent is much stronger than any other time, during the second dozen years of life, you are three times more likely to be seriously injured or die from preventable causes,’ says Siegel.

Why You Should Avoid Antibacterial Hand Soap.

America is the midst of a serious antibacterial craze. From soap and toothpaste to playing cards and kitchenware, it’s a challenge to find a product that isn’t currently available in an antibacterial version. The majority of these products rely on an antibacterial agent called triclosan to make them hyper-hygienic.

Though it may seem wise to abolish germs at every turn, according to experts, surrounding your family with antibacterial everything is not actually a good idea. For one thing, living in an ultra-sanitized environment may ironically be quite unhealthy. A theory called the Hygiene Hypothesis says that when our bodies cease encountering a lot of bacteria and viruses in daily life, our immune systems stop getting the workout they need to stay in proper shape. When that happens, we face an increased risk of allergies, asthma, and other illnesses.
There’s also the issue of triclosan itself. Exposure to this synthetic pesticide, which is currently found in the urine of 75% of all people tested, has been linked to cancer, hormone disruption, liver damage, and other health problems. Triclosan is also a serious pollutant that breaks down in the environment into extremely toxic chemicals including a form of dioxin and carcinogenic chloroform. And there’s evidence it may be contributing to the creation of new antibiotic-resistant “super germs.”
Clearly triclosan is not a pesticide we want in our homes or in our bodies. It’s also not one anyone needs in order to practice good hygiene. Studies have shown that simple handwashing with ordinary soap is just as effective at removing bacteria as using an antibacterial soap. Many groups, including the American Medical Association and Physicians for Social Responsibility, have come out against the use of triclosan.
How to keep triclosan out of your home
To keep triclosan out of your home, avoid the use of anything labeled antibacterial. Read claims on everything from socks to personal care products to toddler training potties to cleaning products. Skip any that contain triclosan or claim that they are antibacterial or odor fighting.
Still concerned about germs? 
Wash your hands frequently and properly.
After soaping up with warm water, rub enthusiastically for 20 seconds, paying attention to fingernails, wrists, and spaces between fingers.
Got kids? Teach them to do the same. That will keep them healthier at school, day care, and other places where germs congregate. One study found that frequent handwashing results in 45% fewer cases of respiratory ailments, no pesticide needed.


Robot with a human touch.

“I pray that a need for borewell robot should not arise”

With three separate incidents of children falling into open borewells across the State since April 7, the Madurai Rescue Team, with its borewell robot, has been on its toes.

The team, led by M. Manikandan, a faculty of the Electrical and Plumbing Department at the TVS Community College, armed with its ingenious ‘Borewell robot’ played a vital role in the successful rescue of 4-year-old G. Harshan who was trapped in a borewell near Sankarankoil.

Visibly upset about the fact that they could not save 18-month-old Sujith, who had fallen into a borewell in Tiruvannamalai, the team says the robot was unable grip the hands of the baby due the position he was trapped in.

“Borewells these days are dug at great depth and when abandoned, are simply covered with gunny sacks. In most cases, the abandoned borewells do not have the inner pipe which results in the children getting trapped under mud from the sides of the pit which fall,” says Mr. Vallarasu, a mechanical engineer in a private firm, who is part of the team.

Say in case, people spend about Rs.40,000 for digging a borewell and then when they find no water, they retrieve the inner pipes that help them recover a portion of the money, the team says. And this often becomes the death trap as the slush and mud complicate the rescue operations.

The team members say that parents should refrain from panicking and should keep talking constantly to the child.

“The child should be immediately given oxygen. Any action which scrapes the sides of the pit and loosens the mud should be avoided,” they say. The robot is fitted with a high resolution camera, which is first lowered down into the borewell to monitor the position and movements of the child which is viewed on a mini TV.

“The robot has an ‘arm’ at the end of the structure which is lowered into a borewell through a rope and pulley. I have fashioned different kinds of arms which can be fitted to pull out the child depending on what position he or she is trapped in,” explains M. Thirunavukkarasu, another member and also a faculty member at the TVS College.

P. Rajkumar, a driver with a travels company, is the other member of the team.

The team was felicitated by the Rotary Club of Madurai West with the ‘Vocational Excellence Award’ on Friday where they said that the government should step in and equip the fire and rescue departments across the State with the robot.

“Even though I’ve stated many times that I’ve nurtured this idea and had to work for years to give it a shape, I pray each day that a need for the borewell robot should not arise and that children should stay safe,” Mr Manikandan said, accepting the award.

Raw food diet provides relief from Raynaud’s disease symptoms.

Raynaud’s disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes a person’s extremities to tingle, go numb and often turn white or in some cases, blue, affects a good part of thepopulation. According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, approximately 5 percent of people in the United States have this vascular condition.


The disease (also called a “syndrome” or “phenomenon” in its earlier, less serious stages) occurs when blood flow in the vessels is constricted, leading to numbness in areas of the body like the fingers, toes, nose and lips. It is more common in woman than men and often involves extreme reaction to cold environments. Even the frozen food section in a grocery store can trigger an attack, especially due to the sudden change in shifting from a warmer area to a colder one.

However, like many health issues, the foods we eat have the ability to heal. In the case of Raynaud’s, a diet high in raw foods may be the key to reducing symptoms.

Best raw foods to eat to fight Raynaud’s symptoms

Certified nutritional consultant Phyllis A. Balch states that eating a diet of 50 percent raw foods may be particularly helpful since such foods can encourage increased blood flow to affected areas. In her book, Prescription for Nutritional Healing, she acknowledges that every body is different, but is adamant that each individual should take the care to get proper nutrients. “The fuel we give our bodies’ engines,” she says, “comes directly from the things we consume.”

The bottom line is that foods with the ability to improve oxygenation and improve overall circulation are essential. Raw foods are loaded with beneficial vitamins and minerals that can help improve Raynaud’s symptoms.

Citrus fruits contain good amounts of vitamin C, which act as an immune system stimulant. Everything from helping generate new cells and protecting vessels from damage can be obtained from eating citrus foods like oranges and grapefruit. A focus on improving the vessels is critical for those with Raynaud’s disease.

Avocados as well as leafy green vegetables are good for anyone’s overall health, but even better for those with Raynaud’s symptoms. Leafy greens and avocados are high in vitamin E which helps protect cells, specifically the ones in blood vessels. This ensures optimal blood flow throughout the body and may also keep the onset of a Raynaud’s attack at bay.

Other raw foods such as nuts are another good choice. Walnuts are especially beneficial in this case because they are rich in omega-3 fatty acid. On the World’s Healthiest Food’s website, walnuts are said to have a ” . . . very favorable impact. . . on ‘vascular reactivity,’ namely, the ability of our blood vessels to respond to various stimuli in a healthy manner.”

Sources for this article include:


Japanese students design home heated and cooled by fermenting straw

We know that composting is good for our gardens, but what about heating our homes? Harnessing the heat generated by the composting process to heat our homes sounds like a far-fetched idea, but it’s been proposed before and experimented with quite successfully decades ago.

Students at Japan’s Waseda University built this intriguing prototype that is heated by composting straw encased within acrylic boxes that make up the house’s perimeter walls.

Seen over at Inhabitat, this simple home uses a simple, low-odor composting technique called “bokashi” (meaning “fermented organic matter”), the fermenting straw releases a lot of heat — 30 degree celsius (86 degree Fahrenheit) heat, in fact — for up to an impressive four weeks.

Designed by student designers Masaki Ogasawara, Keisuke Tsukada and Erika Mikami, the “Recipe to Live” house is located in Taiki-cho town on Hokkaido island, a place that is known for its dairy farms (and lots of locally-made straw).

In the summer, straw will dry inside transparent window shelving which act as “heat shield panels,” thus releasing moisture that will help cool the ambient temperature. During winter, the fermenting straw will give off heat thanks to the microbial process that gradually breaks down the organic matter.

© Waseda University

Of course, this “living house” will require extra care as the straw will have to be changed a few times per year, but this is a fascinating concept that takes advantage of the energy created by a natural process. More over at Inhabitat and LIXIL (Japanese).

Researchers successfully hatch a rare bird from the egg of a chicken.

Researchers from the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory in Dubai say that have just successfully hatched a rare bird species from the egg of a chicken.

hatching egg photo

In a development being heralded as a major advancement for conservation, a team of scientists have proven that embryonic transfer from one bird species’ egg can successfully develop in that of another. Fertilized yolk from a houbara bustard, a threatened desert bird native to the Middle East, was placed into the ‘white’ of a surrogate chicken egg.

And sure enough, the transferred bustard chick embryos continued to grow and hatch normally, despite the unnatural setting of their development.

While the technique still has some refining, scientists are optimistic that the use of surrogate eggs to hatch unrelated bird types will be a boon to conservation efforts. For a rare species like the houbara bustard, which has declined by over 60 percent in recent decades, this method would give embryos in cracked or damaged eggs collected from the wild a renewed chance of survival.

Over the long term, embryonic transfer into surrogate eggs holds the potential to hatch birds from genetic material alone — pushing science one step closer to reviving extinct species once thought lost to the ages.

Google glass helping surgeons.

From the desk of Zedie.

4 Signs There Are Too Many Toxins In Your Life

You might be reading this because you have a sneaking suspicion that something isn’t quite right. Perhaps you’re not feeling as good as you used to, or the foods that used to satisfy and energize you now bring you down or upset your digestion. It may be easy to chock it all up to “aging,” but our bodies are really good at letting us know when something is wrong. It’s when we stop listening to our bodies’ whispers that real problems can turn up.

Here’s a truth: Balance is our true nature. Our bodies are like a masterful orchestra, playing a harmonious symphony — they’re constantly moving toward balance. But daily stressors like toxins, eating the wrong foods for your body, not getting enough sleep or hating your job get in the way of achieving that balance. Instead, they can throw you into a toxic tailspin!

It’s important to get in tune with our bodies so we can start listening to the signs.

Here are four signs you can start listening to today:

1. You’re full of “it.”

Literally. Our bodies need to eliminate waste every day. This includes having a bowel movement at least once a day. If you’re not releasing the junk in your trunk, then those toxins are absorbed back into your bloodstream and can wreak havoc all over again.

Tip: If you’re having trouble with constipation, try drinking more water, exercising, taking a good-quality probiotic or sipping on an herbal tea such as senna leaf.

2. You’re have a “dirty mouth.”

Halitosis, more commonly known as bad breath, can not only ruin a perfectly good makeout session… it can also tell your date that you’re toxic. Bad breath can come from bacteria in the mouth releasing odor-causing byproducts. It can also indicate that your liver and colon are having some difficulty eliminating toxins.

Tip: You can start using a tongue scraper to eliminate excess bacteria and yeast that might be coating your tongue. Also, try getting fresh with herbs like parsley and cilantro, which are fantastic liver detoxifiers. There’s a reason for their use as a garnish.

3. You’re a little too nose-y.

Do smells often offend you? If you find yourself having strong reactions to smells like perfumes or smoke, then you might have toxic overload. Many times we become more sensitive to environmental smells when our liver is having trouble eliminating various toxins from the body. When these detox pathways are blocked, our bodies and senses can become heightened and cause reactions such as headaches and nausea.

Tip: Support your liver with herbs like milk thistle and dandelion root, both of which can be consumed in tea form. You could also try one of my favorite detoxifying practices: the castor oil pack. This oldie but goodie is a great tool to also help relieve less-than-pleasant symptoms resulting from detoxing too quickly.

4. Those extra pounds just won’t budge.

There are many reasons for weight loss resistance. Out-of-whack hormones, consuming the wrong foods for your body, and — you guessed it — toxic overload are among them. Toxins such as dioxins, PCBs, and many pesticides are lipophilic (literally “fat loving”) which means in our bodies they’re stored in our fat cells. When the body is overloaded with them, it can seem impossible to release that extra weight.

Tip: The key here is to make sure your body is releasing toxins properly. This means enhancing your body’s natural ability to detox and find balance. Doing a safe cleanse or detox can be really helpful, but reducing your exposure to toxins is super important. Choose clean, organic foods when possible and make sure you sweat, poop, hydrate and breathe well each and every day.

Insulating sheath on nerve cells isn’t an even coat.

A nerve cell’s long, slender tentacle isn’t evenly coated with an insulating sheath as scientists had thought.

Instead, many nerve cells in the brains of mice have stretches of these tentacles, called axons, that are naked, researchers report April 18 inScience. The unsheathed feeler can be as long as 80 micrometers. Nerve cells can also have specific patterns in the gaps of the insulating layer, called myelin. The differences in the thickness of that coating may control how fast signals travel between nerve cells, the scientists suggest.

The finding could have implications for understanding nerve-based diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, and improve scientists’ understanding of how signals are transmitted in the brain.