Russian man to undergo world’s first full head transplant


Mr Spiridinov, from Russia, suffers from Werdnig Hoffman disease, a muscle wasting condition that seriously diminishes his physical capabilities and left him dependent on a wheelchair.

Now he has announced his intention to become the world’s first subject of a full head transplant, so that his brain can be attached to a healthy body.

Italian neuroscientist Dr Sergio Canavero claims he can complete the unprecedented procedure in less than a day.

The whole process, Dr Canavero says, is “90 per cent” guaranteed to succeed, though he admitted: “Of course there is a marginal risk. I cannot deny that.”

Other doctors have expressed serious doubts, and, in particular, the likelihood that Mr Spiridinov’s brain will still be functional by the time the surgery is complete.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Valery Spiridinov who suffers from Werdnig Hoffman disease wants the world’s first head transplant.

Mr Spiridinov, however, is more optimistic.

“If I have a chance of full body replacement I will get rid of the limits and be more independent”, he said.

Stage one involves cooling the patient and donor’s bodies in order to prevent the brain cells from dying during the operation.

Next, the neck is partially severed and the blood vessels from one body linked to the other with tubes.

Matthew Crocker, consultant neurosurgeon at St George’s Hospital, London, said every section of the operation has a grounding in current science and practice – at least in theory.

“Excluding blood vessels that supply blood to the brain then restoring them with tubes is very well recognised”, he told Sky News.

“Lowering the temperature of the whole body head and brain to between 10 and 20 degrees, usually around 15 to 17 degrees, is a very well recognised technique used for complex neurosurgery or cardiovascular surgery in which there is an expectation that the brain will be starved of its blood and oxygen supply for a substantial period.”

Stage two sees the spinal cord cut with an extremely fine blade to minimise damage.

The donor head is then removed, placed on the recipient’s body, and the spinal cord fused back together again using polyethylene glycol, a compound used both in medicine and industrial manufacturing.

Mr Crocker said: “The idea of cutting the spinal cord sharply rather than bluntly has a little medical support. The only well recognised success with spinal cord injury surgery came from a man who had a stab injury rather than a blunt injury.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He added: “I’m sure any of this is really okay, and it requires a little more thought. At what point does one die, might be one for an ethicist to consider.

“But the heart is routinely stopped in open heart surgery, that’s no longer unusual.”

Stage three involves knitting together the survivor’s blood vessels and nerves, though Mr Crocker said he doubted whether the feat had ever been attempted on such a scale successfully before.

The body is then kept in a coma for several weeks to prevent movement and allow time for the spinal cord to glue itself back together.

“That is very speculative”, Mr Crocker said.

“The issue here is that someone with a functioning spinal cord is facing having that function completely removed.”

Strange but True: Drinking Too Much Water Can Kill


Liquid H2O is the sine qua non of life. Making up about 66 percent of the human body, water runs through the blood, inhabits the cells, and lurks in the spaces between. At every moment water escapes the body through sweat, urination, defecation or exhaled breath, among other routes. Replacing these lost stores is essential but rehydration can be overdone. There is such a thing as a fatal water overdose.

runner-drinking-water

Earlier this year, a 28-year-old California woman died after competing in a radio station’s on-air water-drinking contest. After downing some six liters of water in three hours in the “Hold Your Wee for a Wii” (Nintendo game console) contest, Jennifer Strange vomited, went home with a splitting headache, and died from so-called water intoxication.

There are many other tragic examples of death by water. In 2005 a fraternity hazing at California State University, Chico, left a 21-year-old man dead after he was forced to drink excessive amounts of water between rounds of push-ups in a cold basement. Club-goers taking MDMA (“ecstasy”) have died after consuming copious amounts of water trying to rehydrate following long nights of dancing and sweating. Going overboard in attempts to rehydrate is also common among endurance athletes. A 2005 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that close to one sixth of marathon runners develop some degree of hyponatremia, or dilution of the blood caused by drinking too much water.

Hyponatremia, a word cobbled together from Latin and Greek roots, translates as “insufficient salt in the blood.” Quantitatively speaking, it means having a blood sodium concentration below 135 millimoles per liter, or approximately 0.4 ounces per gallon, the normal concentration lying somewhere between 135 and 145 millimoles per liter. Severe cases of hyponatremia can lead to water intoxication, an illness whose symptoms include headache, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, frequent urination and mental disorientation.

In humans the kidneys control the amount of water, salts and other solutes leaving the body by sieving blood through their millions of twisted tubules. When a person drinks too much water in a short period of time, the kidneys cannot flush it out fast enough and the blood becomes waterlogged. Drawn to regions where the concentration of salt and other dissolved substances is higher, excess water leaves the blood and ultimately enters the cells, which swell like balloons to accommodate it.

Most cells have room to stretch because they are embedded in flexible tissues such as fat and muscle, but this is not the case for neurons. Brain cells are tightly packaged inside a rigid boney cage, the skull, and they have to share this space with blood and cerebrospinal fluid, explains Wolfgang Liedtke, a clinical neuroscientist at Duke University Medical Center. “Inside the skull there is almost zero room to expand and swell,” he says.

Thus, brain edema, or swelling, can be disastrous. “Rapid and severe hyponatremia causes entry of water into brain cells leading to brain swelling, which manifests as seizures, coma, respiratory arrest, brain stem herniation and death,” explains M. Amin Arnaout, chief of nephrology at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

Where did people get the idea that guzzling enormous quantities of water is healthful? A few years ago Heinz Valtin, a kidney specialist from Dartmouth Medical School, decided to determine if the common advice to drink eight, eight-ounce glasses of water per day could hold up to scientific scrutiny. After scouring the peer-reviewed literature, Valtin concluded that no scientific studies support the “eight x eight” dictum (for healthy adults living in temperate climates and doing mild exercise). In fact, drinking this much or more “could be harmful, both in precipitating potentially dangerous hyponatremia and exposure to pollutants, and also in making many people feel guilty for not drinking enough,” he wrote in his 2002 review for the American Journal of Physiology—Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology. And since he published his findings, Valtin says, “not a single scientific report published in a peer-reviewed publication has proven the contrary.”

Most cases of water poisoning do not result from simply drinking too much water, says Joseph Verbalis, chairman of medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center. It is usually a combination of excessive fluid intake and increased secretion of vasopression (also called antidiuretic hormone), he explains. Produced by the hypothalamus and secreted into the bloodstream by the posterior pituitary gland, vasopressin instructs the kidneys to conserve water. Its secretion increases in periods of physical stress—during a marathon, for example—and may cause the body to conserve water even if a person is drinking excessive quantities.

Every hour, a healthy kidney at rest can excrete 800 to 1,000 milliliters, or 0.21 to 0.26 gallon, of water and therefore a person can drink water at a rate of 800 to 1,000 milliliters per hour without experiencing a net gain in water, Verbalis explains. If that same person is running a marathon, however, the stress of the situation will increase vasopressin levels, reducing the kidney’s excretion capacity to as low as 100 milliliters per hour. Drinking 800 to 1,000 milliliters of water per hour under these conditions can potentially lead a net gain in water, even with considerable sweating, he says.

While exercising, “you should balance what you’re drinking with what you’re sweating,” and that includes sports drinks, which can also cause hyponatremia when consumed in excess, Verbalis advises. “If you’re sweating 500 milliliters per hour, that is what you should be drinking.”

But measuring sweat output is not easy. How can a marathon runner, or any person, determine how much water to consume? As long as you are healthy and equipped with a thirst barometer unimpaired by old age or mind-altering drugs, follow Verbalis’s advice, “drink to your thirst. It’s the best indicator.”

Significance of social touch


My three sons are nearly all teenagers, and some of the details of their earliest years have begun to blur. Which boy was it who said that funny thing about the dog? Who lost a tooth while crossing the street? But I remember the minutes immediately after each child’s birth as sharply as if the boys had entered the world this morning. Given my new baby to hold, I hugged him to my chest, caressed his back and kissed the top of his tiny head. And then we stayed there like that for quite awhile, mother and child.

The sense of touch had a lot to do with why those moments were so powerful. Touch has long been understood to be important in nurturing relationships—so much so that babies who were raised in orphanages without it often died. Those first moments with my children, followed by years of cuddles and hugs, no doubt contributed mightily to the deep bonds between us.

Rhabdomyosarcomas And Other Heart Cancers Are So Extremely Rare It’s As If They Didn’t Exist


Food for thought: there are cancers of the brain, blood, lymph nodes, lungs, bone, and every other bodily organ, part, or system imaginable. Why, then, do we never hear about heartcancer — could it be our hearts, long symbolized as the root of loving emotion, are somehow immune to the dreaded disease? Unfortunately, the reason no one ever talks about heart cancer is much more mundane.

“We do have tumors that occur in the heart,” Dr. Jacqueline Barrientos, assistant professor, Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine, told Medical Daily in an email, “but these are not as common, so you don’t hear about them.”

Indeed, malignant heart tumors, known as rhabdomyosarcomas, are extremely rare. A sarcoma is a type of tumor that originates in the soft tissues of the body; a rhabdomyosarcoma occurs in the muscle tissue of the heart. Their incidence is estimated at less than 0.1 percent, based on a study of more than 12,000 autopsies, which identified only seven cases of any kind of primary cardiac tumor. (Primary tumors are those that have originated where they are found, and have not spread from some other part of the body.)

That said, “most cancers found in the heart have come from elsewhere in the body,” according to Dr. Timothy J. Moynihan of the Mayo Institute, meaning they are secondary tumors. To understand exactly what he means, it might be necessary to review the fundamentals.

Back to (Cancer) Basics

Our bodies have an astronomical number of cells — uncountable, really — though one estimate places the number at 37.2 trillion. When we are healthy, our many cells cooperate and share the vast work of our body, all while they go about their separate business of growing, dividing (to provide a replacement for themselves), and then efficiently dying. Cancer, then, is simply an aberration of these cellular processes.

Cancer begins when cells start to grow out of control. This is due to damaged DNA, the genetic material carried in the nucleus of each and every cell. Normally, a cell repairs any damaged DNA, or simply dies, but cancer cells do not repair or die. Instead, they divide and make many more abnormal cells with damaged DNA. Another unusual property possessed by cancer cells is they are able to grow into —invade, really — other tissues. Normal cells cannot do the same.

So, when Moynihan says cancers in the heart have come from “elsewhere in the body,” he is talking about just such an invasion — the cancer began somewhere else in the body, but now it has infiltrated the heart.

Dr. Mitchell Gaynor, clinical assistant professor at Weill Cornell Medical College, toldMedical Daily the most common secondary tumors spreading to the heart “come from the lung, from the esophagus, and you can also see them from the liver, and the stomach. Even nests of leukemia cells form tumors in the heart.” More importantly, all of these different types of tumors “usually go to the right side of the heart,” Gaynor explained. “That’s where the blood enters the heart — on the right side.”

But a tumor is a tumor is a tumor, you say. How do doctors know where a tumor originates — especially when a new tumor may appear years later in a part of the body far from the original cancer site? When a new tumor appears, its cells are identical to those of the original tumor. So if a person had pancreatic cancer, say, and it spread to the brain, the tumor appearing in their brain, when viewed through a microscope, would look nothing like the tumor of a person with brain cancer — the cells of this brain tumor would look identical to pancreatic tumor cells.

If secondary tumors invade the heart, why is it so rare for primary tumors to develop there? According to Gaynor, the explanation begins and ends with our genes.

The Reason We Don’t Get Heart Cancer

As you likely know, we receive half our genes from our mothers, half from our fathers. While it would seem our genetic fate is sealed, “nothing could be further from the truth,” said Gaynor, whose new book on the subject, The Gene Therapy Plan, will be available in 2015. “We understand now how gene expression can be modified throughout your life… and that can create cancer,” he said.

In fact, our environment affects which genes become expressed (activated) as well as how frequently they become activated. And carcinogens coming from our food and environment are one of the many factors that influence which genes are activated or not.

“A lot of toxins are found in breast tissue, because there are a lot of fat cells there,” Gaynor explained. “And toxins are found wherever there is the most fat.”

While our bodies have some defenses against these contaminants, in the form of detoxifying enzymes, and while our bodies are supported by micronutrients which turn on tumor suppressor genes, dangerous toxins found in our fat tissue still modify our genes, which can result in cancers forming in the organs of our bodies, especially those containing fatty tissue.

This, then, is why the heart is so exceptional:

“There’s not a lot of fatty tissue [in the heart],” Gaynor said. Even more, “the heart’s enclosed in a membrane,” he explained. Known as the pericardium, this fluid-filled sac may itself become engulfed by cancer, with tumors metastasizing to the outside of it, but still it does its job of protecting our precious hearts.

So, even though cancer can happen anywhere there are cells, your heart remains virtually immune due to its muscular nature and the assistance of the pericardium. Smart heart.

Scientists have figured out how to inject human eyes with night vision .


A team of biochemical researchers in the US has figured out how to give a human volunteer night vision, allowing him to see across a distance of over 50 metres in total darkness for several hours.

The key is a natural, light-sensitive substance called Chlorin e6 (Ce6), which is derived from sea creatures and has been used for many years in cancer treatment research. It’s also been shown to be effective in the treatment of night blindness and improving dim light vision in people with eye disorders, so an independent team of self-described ‘bio-hackers’ in California called Science for the Masses decided to see how else it could be used to improve vision.

The idea came from a patent filed in 2012, claiming that when you apply a mixture of Ce6, insulin, and saline to a person’s eye, the retina will absorb it and increase vision in low light. The patent also mentions that the chemical dimethlysulfoxide (DMSO) can be used in place of the insulin, but the Science for the Masses team thought, why not use both to increase the permeability of the solution?

“Going off that research, we thought this would be something to move ahead with,” the lab’s medical officer, Jeffrey Tibbetts, told Max Plenke at Mic. “There are a fair amount of papers talking about having it injected in models like rats, and it’s been used intravenously since the ’60s as a treatment for different cancers. After doing the research, you have to take the next step.”

Fellow researcher, Gabriel Licina (pictured above), stepped forward to be their human guinea pig. The team explains the procedure over at their website:

“For the application, the subject rested supine and his eyes were flushed with saline to remove any micro-debris or contaminants that might be present. Eyes were pinned open with a small speculum to remove the potential for blinking, which may force excess liquid out before it had a chance to absorb. Ce6 solution was added to the conjunctival sac via micropippette at 3 doses of 50μl into each eye. 

After each application, pressure was applied to the canthus to stop liquid from moving from the eye to the nasal region. Each dose was allowed to absorb between reloading the pippette, with the black colour disappearing after only a few seconds.

After application was complete, the speculum was removed and black sclera lenses were placed into each eye to reduce the potential light entering the eye. Black sunglasses were then worn during all but testing, to ensure increased low light conditions and reduce the potential for bright light exposure.”

Licina reported experiencing the effects for “many hours” after application, the team reports.

Licina and four controls were then placed in a dark environment, and Licina waited to feel the effects. After about an hour, he started to make out the objects of shapes in the darkness about 10 metres away. Soon, this distance progressed to 20, and eventually just over 50 metres, with Licina able to recognise and identify symbols and objects, such as numbers, letters, and shapes, moving against differently coloured and patterned backgrounds. Licina and the controls were tested on how many they could identify. And we’re not talking huge objects here, Licina told Mic they were about the size of his hand.

Next, Licina and the controls were taken out into the woods at night and moved into separate locations. Then they were asked to try and spot people standing in random locations 50 metres away. The team reports the results, and they’re pretty phenomenal:

“The Ce6 subject and controls were handed a laser pointer and asked to identify the location of the people in the grove. After testing, the Ce6 subject replaced the sunglasses, which were not removed until sleep. Eyesight in the morning seemed to have returned to normal and as of 20 days, there have been no noticeable effects.

The Ce6 subject consistently recognised symbols that did not seem to be visible to the controls. The Ce6 subject identified the distant figures 100 percent of the time, with the controls showing a 33 percent identification rate.”

The team recognises that a lot more testing needs to be done, but they say that this can be done cheaply, because the substances are inexpensive, and have already been rigorously tested for human safety for other applications.

They told Max Plenke at Mic that the whole idea behind their research group is to pursue the things that major corporations or research institutions wouldn’t bother with, but are too fascinating to ignore. “For us, it comes down to pursuing things that are doable but won’t be pursued by major corporations,” said Tibbetts. “There are rules to be followed and don’t go crazy, but science isn’t a mystical language that only a few elite people can speak.”

We cannot wait to see what comes from this.

Study Questions Statin, Memory Loss Connection .


Action Points

  • Note that this large observational study found that initiation of a statin, or any other kind of lipid-lowering medication, was associated with an increased risk of memory impairment within 30 days.
  • To the researchers’ credit, they identify that this association is likely driven by ascertainment bias.

Beginning treatment with a statin was associated with a nearly fourfold increased risk of developing acute memory loss within 30 days in a retrospective cohort study, but a similar increase in risk was seen in patients starting non-statin lipid-lowering drugs.

Compared with non-users, both statin and non-statin lipid-lowering drug (LLD) use was found to be associated with acute memory loss in the weeks following treatment initiation, but there was no difference in memory loss when statins and non-statins were compared with each other, researcher Brian L. Strom, MD, of Rutgers University in Newark, N.J., and colleagues wrote online June 8 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

 The observation that all LLDs were associated with memory loss suggests that either all drugs used to lower lipid levels cause acute memory loss or that the observed memory loss in the study was due to detection bias, Strom said.

In a telephone interview with MedPage Today, Strom said it makes sense that patients on a new drug would be more likely to notice symptoms and attribute them to the drug, and they are also more likely to report such symptoms to their physician.

“Patients might report a memory loss to me that they would otherwise pay little attention to because I am seeing them more often and I ask them about it,” he said.

Earlier Statin, Memory Studies Mixed

Several previous studies have shown acute memory loss associated with the use of statins, but others have not shown the association or have even shown improved memory in long-term statin users compared with non-users.

 Strom noted that without the non-statin LLD control group in his study, the findings would have shown a strong association between statin initiation and short-term memory loss.

“In the absence of this control group, the finding would have been completely misleading,” he said.

The study included data obtained between early 1987 through late 2013 from The Health Improvement Network (THIN), which is a comprehensive database of medical records from general practitioners in the U.K. Patients were excluded from the analysis if they had a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, if they had received medications used for dementia, or if they had other conditions affecting cognition, such as Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, or vascular dementia.

The analysis compared 482,543 statin users with 482,543 matched non-users of any lipid-lowering drug (control group 1) and with 26,484 users of non-statin LLDs, such as cholestyramine, colestipol hydrochloride, colesevelam, clofibrate, gemfibrozil, and niacin (control group 2).

A secondary case-crossover analysis was performed that included 68,028 patients with incident acute memory loss whose exposure to statins was evaluated during the period immediately before the outcome versus three earlier periods (31 to 60 days prior, 150 to 180 days prior, and 270 to 300 days prior).

 Non-statin LLD Users Had 3.6-Fold Risk Increase

The analysis revealed that:

  • When compared with matched non-users of any LLDs, there was a strong association between first exposure to statins and acute memory loss within 30 days immediately following exposure (fully adjusted odds ratio 4.40, 95% CI 3.01-6.41).
  • The association was not seen in the comparison of statin versus non-statin LLDs (fully adjusted OR 1.03, 95% CI 0.63-1.66).
  • The association was seen in the first 30 days following exposure in non-statin LLD users compared with matched non-user controls (adjusted OR 3.60, 95% CI 1.34-9.70).
  • Both atorvastatin and simvastatin showed an increased OR within the first 30 days after exposure compared with non-users (adjusted OR 2.40, 95% CI 1.42-4.04 and 3.53, 95% CI 2.79 -4.48, respectively).
  • The case-crossover analysis showed a weak negative association, which was not found to be clinically meaningful.

A potential study limitation cited by the researchers involved a substantial difference in baseline characteristics between users of statins and users of non-statin LLDs, and differences among users of the various statin drugs.

“Bias from confounding by indication is the most serious potential problem in this study, even though we attempted to control for indication variables and a large number of other underlying conditions,” the researchers wrote.

The case-crossover analysis was conducted to address this issue because each patient served as his or her own control.

 Statin, Memory Issue ‘Tempest in Teapot’

The researchers also noted that potential confounding could exist for variables not recorded in the medical records database.

Strom said the study findings should reassure both patients and physicians who prescribe statins.

“This whole issue of short-term memory loss with statins is really a tempest in a teapot,” he said. “Statins are very effective drugs, and people should not veer away from them for fear of a short-term memory effect, especially given the data suggesting that long-term statin use improves memory.”

Skull Flap Implanted in Abdominal Wall


General Considerations

  • On occasion, a portion of the skull may be emergently removed to relieve increased intracranial pressure (decompressive craniectomy)
  • Mostly performed for acute subdural hemorrhage
  • The remaining dura mater may be sewn together and the patient may wear a protective helmet
  • Although other materials can be used to replace the bone flap, sometimes the patient’s own skull flap is preserved for re-use
  • Cosmetically, this can provide the best result
  • The bone flap can be frozen, stored in sterile solutions or sewn into the subcutaneous tissue of the patient’s abdomen where its viability is maintained by the body
  • Advantages of storing the bone flap in the abdominal wall include sterility and continued nourishment that allows for the chondroblasts and osteoblasts to mature
  • The flap is returned to the skull typically in 6-20 weeks after removal

Clinical Findings

  • History of recent decompressive craniectomy or hemicraniectomy

Imaging Findings

  • Absence of a portion of the skull from the cranial vault
  • Presence of a bone flap in the anterior abdominal wall with the typical appearance of the inner and outer tables of the skull.

Differential Diagnosis

  • Ossification of a scar

Complications

  • Infection
  • Necrosis


Skull flap implanted in abdominal wall.
There is a skull flap seen in the right anterior abdominal wall (white arrows) on this axial and sagittally re-formatted CT of the abdomen using bone windows. The flap was removed during a decompressive craniectomy from the right parietal region (yellow arrow)
and stored in the abdominal wall for re-implantation.

 

Global Warming Spawns Hybrid Species .


Only purebred dogs are allowed to compete at the Westminster Kennel Club’s annual dog show.

“The basic purpose of dog shows is to facilitate the evaluation of breeding stock for use in producing the next generations,” the organization’s website says.

Judges choose winners based on how closely a dog fits a standard, or “ideal breed.” Standards are based on both personality traits and physical ones—from eye color to ear shape and even tail placement. Mutts need not apply.

It is competitions like these that contribute to the common perception that mixing animal species leads to “maladapted” animals, according to Michael Arnold, a professor of genetics at the University of Georgia.

But closer analysis of genetics suggests that perception is far some settled. What is clear is that warming is increasing many opportunities for gene mixing.

“As we’ve developed genomic methodologies, we’re finding that organisms are exchanging genes with other species,” Arnold said. “Genetic exchange due to organisms coming together from climate change is the rule rather than the exception.”

Animals have been interbreeding for millennia. Even modern humans are the product of genetic exchange with Neanderthals some 60,000 years ago.

But the rate at which species interbreed is accelerating because of climate change, researchers say. As habitats and animal ranges change and bleed into one another, species that never before would have encountered one another are now mating.

Warmer temperatures have allowed grizzly bears and polar bears to venture to habitats they don’t usually occupy and mate to form a hybrid: the pizzly or grolar bear.

Similar trends have been observed between golden-winged warblers and blue-winged warblers.

“This issue is horrendously complex because of our ability to change the environment,” said Arnold.

Considering that human activity has indirectly brought together species through planetary warming and increased fossil fuel emissions, the question on the minds of many biologists like Arnold is whether humans should play a role in preventing hybridization like this.

A threat to genetic diversity?
Montana’s Flathead Basin has long been a spawning haven for the westslope cutthroat trout. But as waters in the region warm, rainbow trout have swum up from the western lakes where they were introduced decades ago to cutthroat native grounds.

As rainbow trout meet and interbreed with dwindling cutthroat trout populations, the survival of cutthroat trout is at risk. Instead, a hybrid species is taking its place.

“It’s a major cause of species extinction—lots of species are now disappearing because they are being genetically swamped by other, commoner ones,” said Stuart Pimm, a professor of conservation ecology at Duke University.

In some cases, hybridization can lead to reduced genetic diversity in animals, according to David Tallmon, an associate professor of biology at the University of Alaska.

In the case of cutthroat-rainbow trout hybrids, the hybrids are less genetically fit, with offspring of the hybrids struggling to survive, a study led by researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey found.

The rate at which humans are driving species to extinction is 1,000 times faster than the rate at which animals would go extinct naturally, Pimm’s research shows.

“The issue is how fast we are driving species to extinction,” said Pimm. “We’re responsible for that, and, in doing so, we are handing our children a world not as rich and interesting as the one we got from our parents. We should do what we can to be good stewards.”

Combining the strengths of coyotes and wolves
However, some biologists disagree, saying that hybridization is natural and doesn’t always produce negative results. In some cases, hybrids are better adapted to cope with changing landscapes.

“Hybridization can increase genetic diversity in some cases,” said Tallmon.

A coyote-wolf-dog hybrid that made its way to western New York in the 1940s has the combined features of stealthy coyote-like movements and a larger skull, making it better-adapted to hunting white-tailed deer.

Members of the Heliconius butterfly genus in the Amazon breed with other species within the genus and have developed more distinctive colors in the process. Without these colors, the birds would not be aware that these butterflies contain cyanide, and the defense mechanism would be useless.

Though crossbreeding between Amazonian butterflies was not triggered by climate change, it is an example of hybridization that strengthens the survival abilities of a species.

No help from Endangered Species Act
Humans are doing a lot more than warming the planet, so hybridization is not the only issue that has the potential to decrease biodiversity.

“We are losing biodiversity not due to genetic exchange, but because we are eating up the landscape,” said Arnold. “What we want to do is we’ve got to stop destroying landscape.”

In cases where warmer temperatures are bringing species together, human intervention should be carefully thought through, he added.

Hybrids are not classified as their own species, so there are no regulations to protect them—they can’t be placed on the U.S. government’s endangered species list.

“With large-scale climate change, the question is: Are these hybrids more well-adapted?” said Arnold.

Google’s new AI can count food calories from a photo .


Keeping track of your calorie intake can be a labourious and time-consuming process – so much so that very few of us stick to it diligently. But that could be about to change thanks to a new photo recognition application developed by Google, which can assess the number of calories on a plate from nothing more than a picture of it. Imagine posting a foodie photo to Instagram and then getting a calorie report back instantly.

First the AI tries to identify the foods on show, then it works out the size of the portions based on the size of the plate and other cues in the image – like the size of a ketchup bottle. Recently unveiled at the Rework Deep Learning Summit in the US, the software could potentially make tracking food intake and nutrition statistics much more straightforward. That said, these are early days for the software, and Google confirmed to CNET that no consumer products are on the roadmap yet.

The experimental software has been dubbed Im2Calories and doesn’t necessarily need high-definition images to work, so your shaky mobile photos will do just fine. Google’s Kevin Murphy, one of the scientists working on the project, says the current program only works around a third of the time, but as it gathers more data it will become more accurate.

“To me it’s obvious that people really want this and this is really useful,” Murphy toldPopular Science. “Fine, maybe we get the calories off by 20 percent. It doesn’t matter. We’re going to average over a week or a month or a year. And now we can start to potentially join information from multiple people and start to do population level statistics. I have colleagues in epidemiology and public health, and they really want this stuff.”

Like most AI systems, the more data it has the better it works, which is why it should improve over time – once Im2Calories has photos of 1,000 burgers to work from rather than 100, it’s more likely to recognise that gourmet slice of beef you’ve ordered for yourself. And if you can quickly snap a photo of it with your fitness app rather than having to enter the food and calories manually, keeping track of your diet becomes much more straightforward.

Murphy sees plenty of other uses for the software too, besides health and fitness. The same depth-sensing image technology could analyse an urban street, for example, and spot free parking spaces or work out how much traffic is moving through the road – collecting this kind of data could be invaluable aid to local authorities and city planners. However the photo-scanning AI technology is eventually deployed, whether for counting calories or cars or something else, its impact will be substantial.

If Google does produce a calorie counter app in the near future, it’s probably best to treat it as a rough guide to what you eat rather than building your diet regime around it. Various studies have called into question the effectiveness of calorie management and the accuracy of food labels, so much so that Weight Watchers has abandoned its calorie-first approach in recent years.

Yoga: What’s the big fuss?


Representational image

The government has been extremely responsive to criticism in reshaping how the mass yoga campaign will run on June 21, International Yoga Day. Objections by some religious groups regarding elements of the ancient practice for health have been acted upon. If misgivings still remain in some other groups, the mistake can’t be that of the government, which is committed to spreading the message of yoga as it is thought of as an invaluable gift of India’s ancient traditions.

There is no reason why anyone should find the practice objectionable if yoga indeed offers a holistic route to well-being, especially when it is “devoid of any religious trappings”, as a California court had recently determined. With yoga sessions to be organised in 191 countries, including 47 members of the OIC, and Pakistan, where private arrangements have been made, the dissenters have now been reduced to a minority.

Much as t’ai chi is not just a Chinese practice of well-being but has found worldwide acceptance as a way of maintaining fitness, yoga too has its votaries around the world to the extent that a day has been marked for this by the UN. This is to be celebrated, while ignoring the silly chatter from both proponents and opponents.