A neuroscientist reveals the most important factor in changing your brain and improving your mood. 


Have you ever wondered if you can change your brain, even though you’re an adult?

Not too long ago, it was generally believed that once a human was fully developed, their brain remained fixed. This meant that we couldn’t grow new brain cells, nor could we change the structure of the brain.

But recent neuroscience has proven this wrong.

Coined as neuroplasticity, research has found that the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain change in response to new situations or to changes in their environment.

In this riveting TED talk, neuroscientist Sandrine Thuret explains how our brain produces 700 new neurons per day in the hippocampus.

While you might not think this is much, compared to the billions of neurons we have, by the time we turn 50, we will have exchanged the neurons we were born with in that structure with adult-born neurons.

According to Thuret, neurons are crucial for memory capacity and for the quality of those memories.

More interestingly, Thuret says that new research is showing a strong link between neurogenesis (the process of birth of neurons) and depression. In an animal model of depression, it has been found that there’s a lower level of neurogenesis.

 And by giving anti-depressants, it increases the production of these newborn neurons and decrease the symptoms of depression, establishing a clear link between neurogenesis and depression.

More importantly, if you block neurogenesis, then you block the efficacy of the anti-depressant.

In short, there’s enough evidence to suggest that neurogenesis is the target of choice if we want to improve memory, mood and even prevent the decline associated with aging.

Of course, the question we’re all wondering is: Can we control neurogenesis? The answer is yes we can. Watch the TED talk below to find out how:

For those of you who were too lazy to watch the video, here are the answers to increasing neurogensis:

– Constantly learn new things

 – Reduce Stress

– Have sex

– Get enough sleep

– Calorie restriction of 20-30 percent

– Intermittent fasting – spacing time between meals – will increase neurogenesis.

– Intake of flavanois, which are contained in dark chocolate and blueberries.

– Omega-3 fatty acids, present in fatty fish, like Salmon.

– A diet rich in saturated fat will have a negative impact on neurogenesis.

– Ethanol – intake of alcohol – will decrease neurogenesis.

– Resveratrol, contained in red wine, has been to shown to promote the survival of these new neurons.

Edward Snowden Reveals Intricate Details about Earth’s Innermost Inhabitants. 


Among the groundbreaking disclosures forwarded by Edward Snowden to humanity, one speaks of the possibility of the inner earth being populated by an advanced civilization that had been monitoring us ever since the beginning.


By some he’s considered a traitor, but some think of him as a hero. Edward Snowden had the courage to reveal secrets that the world deserved to know, and among the relevant facts made public, few are told regarding UFOs and extraterrestrial beings.

According to some documents copied from the CIA, the U.S. government has long known about the existence of highly intelligent species, more advanced than humanity. While we were busy gazing the starts for an otherworldly race of humanoids with their disc-shaped UFOs, they were in fact under our very noses, probably for millions of years, and far ahead of us in technological development.

Taking a closer look at Earth’s geology and we’ll see its rigid crust, a rather thin layer of rock that divides the continents and the ocean floor. The crust sits on tectonic plates that shift slowly in time in the lithosphere. At the bottom of the tectonic plates, around 80 to 100 kilometers below the surface, the asthenosphere begins.

Earth’s inner flow occurs in the asthenosphere, and the convection phenomenon at this level is believed to assist the perpetual motion of tectonic plates, but the exact method and visual aspect of the frontier between the lithosphere and asthenosphere is not yet clear. The CIA stocks data tracking systems and deep-sea sonar imagery, but the high-level confidentiality status prohibits the scientists’ access in the absence of specific security clearance.

This type of intelligent Homo Sapiens may have evolved differently, considering the much more stable climate inside the planet. The general consensus is that we’re just ants from their point of view, and there is a small chance that they’ll intervene in our world’s affairs, of those from the surface who struggle with their not so beneficent existence.

So if you have an an alien civilization trying to listen for other civilizations, or our civilization trying to listen for aliens, there’s only one small period in the development of their society when all of their communication will be sent via the most primitive and most unprotected means.

So when we think about everything that we’re hearing through our satellites or everything that they’re hearing from our civilization (if there are indeed aliens out there), all of their communications are encrypted by default.

“So what we are hearing, that’s actually an alien television show, or you know, a phone call… is indistinguishable to us from cosmic microwave background radiation.”

 Having these uncertainties in reference to Earth’s inner structure and layer appearance leaves room for serious suspicions, since the Earth’s mantle could provide better living conditions than its surface. Jules Verne may have been onto something big that might prove to be as real as it can get, while we are taught to believe that everything related to fiction is rejected by the dull reality we live in.

But is this really the case? Is the material realm that we live in fully explored and understood by humanity’s scientific tools? Or is it rather a mirage from which we cannot escape unless we open our eyes and see beyond the illusions?

Despite the fact we had no problems with the occupants of the hallow earth so far, or recorded none that we would know of, the military are considering detonating a nuclear warhead that will seal the deep caves which connect the surface of the Earth with the settlers of the mantle, ultimately preventing the alleged passage from opening again. At least that’s what Snowden revelead in a recent interview.

The idea of our governments irrationally intervening into such important matters is not a foreign idea. NASA nuked the moon in 2009, destroying whatever alien outpost was located out there, and if you remember the Colares UFO incident where the military had gathered unquestionable proof of extraterrestrial existence but afterwards decided to evacuated the local population and set the dust on the entire report until recently. Even the US military officials warned about little green men and the threath they’ll pose in the near future.

With all these neglijent moves, the inner earth’s inhabitants might be up to something. With a wave of mysterious sounds that were heard all over the world, including the one from the Caribbeans that can be heard from outer space, there’s a good chance our intra-terrestrial neighbors are up to something.

If we’re going to assist to a clash between the earthly powers and the mythical dwellers of the far reaches of the Earth we’re yet to find out. Hopefully, this historic period of hasty transition will bring full disclosure for the human race. Everyone deserves to be aware and understand what’s going on.

Women Absorb And Retain DNA From Every Man They Have Sex With


Women retain and carry living DNA cells from every man with whom they have sexual intercourse, according to a new study.

Women retain and carry living DNA from every man with whom they have sexual intercourse, according to a new study by the University of Seattle and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

The study, which discovered the startling information by accident, was originally trying to determine if women who have been pregnant with a son might be more predisposed to certain neurological diseases that occur more frequently in males.

But as the scientists picked apart the female brain, the study began to veer wildly off course. As it turns out, the female brain is even more mysterious than we previously thought.

The study found that female brains often harbor “male microchimerism“, or in other words, the presence of male DNA that originated from another individual, and are genetically distinct from the cells that make up the rest of the woman.

fake-news-websites

According to the study: “63% of the females (37 of 59) tested harbored male microchimerism in the brain. Male microchimerism was present in multiple brain regions.”

So 63% of women carry male DNA cells that live in their brains. Obviously the researchers wanted to know where the male DNA came from.

 Anyone care to guess? From the women’s fathers? No. Your father’s DNA combines with your mother’s to create your unique DNA. So where else could it come from?

Through the study the researchers assumed that the most likely answer was that all male DNA found living in the female brain came from a male pregnancy. That was the safe, politically correct assumption. But these researchers were living in denial.

Because when they autopsied the brains of women who had never even been pregnant, let alone with a male child, they STILL found male DNA cells prevalent in the female brain.

At this point the scientists didn’t know what the hell was going on. Confused, they did their best to hide the evidence until they could understand and explain it. They buried it in numerous sub studies and articles, but if you sift through them all you will find the damning statement, the one line that gives the game away and explains exactly where these male DNA cells come from.

What are they so afraid of?

CONCLUSIONS: Male microchimerism was not infrequent in women without sons. Besides known pregnancies, other possible sources of male microchimerism include unrecognized spontaneous abortion, vanished male twin, an older brother transferred by the maternal circulation, or SEXUAL INTERCOURSE. Male microchimerism was significantly more frequent and levels were higher in women with induced abortion than in women with other pregnancy histories. Further studies are needed to determine specific origins of male microchimerism in women.

So according to the scientists, the possible sources of the male DNA cells living in the women’s brains are:

  1. an abortion the woman didn’t know about
  2. a male twin that vanished
  3. an older brother transferred by the maternal circulation
  4. sexual intercourse

Considering the fact that 63% of women have male DNA cells residing in the recesses of their brain, which of the above possibilities do you think is the most likely origin of the male DNA?

The first three options apply to a very small percentage of women. They couldn’t possibly account for the 63% figure. The fourth option? It’s rather more common.

The answer is 4. Sex.

This has very important ramifications for women. Every male you absorb spermatazoa from becomes a living part of you for life. The women autopsied in this study were elderly. Some had been carrying the living male DNA inside them for well over 50 years.

Sperm is alive. It is living cells. When it is injected into you it swims and swims until it crashes headlong into a wall, and then it attaches and burrows into your flesh. If it’s in your mouth it swims and climbs into your nasal passages, inner ear, and behind your eyes. Then it digs in. It enters your blood stream and collects in your brain and spine.

Like something out of a scifi movie, it becomes a part of you and you can’t get rid of it.

We are only now beginning to understand the full power and ramifications of sexual intercourse.

Berkeley Doctor Claims People Die From Chemo, Not Cancer


According to one scientist, refusing chemotherapy may be the key to beating cancer.

Dr Hardin B Jones, formerly of Berkeley, says that compared to people who undergo chemo, patients who refuse treatment live an average of 12 and a half years longer.

Given that approximately 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will develop cancer in their lifetimes, this is quite an extraordinary claim.

In the stunning video below, Dr Jones, a former professor of medical physics and physiology at the University of California, Berkeley, says ‘leading edge’ cancer treatment is a sham.

His personal research, he says, concludes that chemotherapy does more harm than good.

“People who refused chemotherapy treatment live on average 12 and a half years longer than people who are undergoing chemotherapy,” said Dr. Jones of his study, which was published in the New York Academy of Science.

According to the physician, the only reason doctors prescribe chemotherapy is because they make money from it.

Such an accusation doesn’t seem unreasonable, as cancer treatment runs, on average, between $300,000 – $1,000,000 per treatment.

Watch the video discussion. URL:https://youtu.be/5sJFyEDGpG4

Physicists Have Figured Out Where The Sun’s Plasma Jets Come From


After over a century of observations and several theories, scientists may have finally nailed the origin of the high-speed plasma blasting through the Sun’s atmosphere several times a day. Using a state-of-the-art computer simulation, researchers have developed a detailed model of these plasma jets, called spicules.

The new findings answer some of the bigger questions in solar physics, including how these plasma jets form and why the Sun’s outer atmosphere is far hotter than the surface.

“This is the first model that has been able to reproduce all the features observed in spicules,” Juan Martinez-Sykora, lead author and astrophysicist at the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute in California, told ScienceAlert.

Every five minutes, spicules shoot red hot streams of charged particles into the corona, the outer layer of the solar atmosphere, at around 150 kilometres (93 miles) per second (paper). Lasting up to 15 minutes it is estimated that up to 300,000 spicules are active at any one time.

The bizarre thing about the corona is that it’s totally counterintuitive when it comes to temperature.

Even though it’s further away, it’s millions of degrees hotter than the Sun’s surface, thanks to the constant supply of hot plasma delivered by the spicules. This jump in temperature is kind of like standing some distance away from a bonfire and feeling hotter than the fire itself.

While scientists have been aware of spicules for over a century, their origin has remained a puzzle. Over the years, there have been several theories that have attempted to crack the mystery.

One study suggested that spicules are generated by massive sound waves, while a more recent study proposed that their formation is due to the magnetic field forming loops out of the atmosphere.

But these theories only provided fragments of the story which failed to explain the origin of spicules and why they are found all over the sun.

Speaking with ScienceAlert, Lockheed and Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory principal physicist Bart de Pontieu said observing the spicules from the ground has its limitations.

“It’s been very hard to get a clear view of what these spicules do, as Earth’s atmosphere creates a murky picture,” said de Pontieu, who was also a co-author on the paper. “But thanks to space telescopes, we can now see what they really look like in greater detail.”

And now, Martinez-Sykoro and his team have developed a computer model that can generate simulations of these powerful plasma jets in action, allowing the researchers to track different temperatures and physical features.

The numerical model revealed that the formation of spicules happens in three distinct stages.

The process begins on the surface of the Sun where churning plasma interacts with the magnetic fields, which get twisted up and knotted in the process. This distortion creates strong magnetic tension trapped close to the surface.

Next, neutral and charged particles mix above the surface in a process called ambipolar diffusion, which creates an escape route for the building magnetic tension. Then, like a slingshot, the magnetic tension is violently released into the atmosphere and out into space at staggering speed.

“These jets of plasma are ejected so fast that they could traverse the length of California in just a couple of minutes,” De Pontieu told ScienceAlert. “They can reach heights of 10,000 kilometres, roughly the diameter of Earth, in just five to ten minutes.”

To see how the simulations stacked up against the real thing, the team analysed data from NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph and the Swedish Solar Telescope. They found that the simulations recreated the properties of actual spicules, including the size, speed and shape.

In addition to solving the long-held mystery of how spicules form, the new findings demonstrate how the plasma jets blast millions of degrees of heat into the scorching corona.

“It’s exciting because it explains why the solar atmosphere is millions of degrees hotter than the surface,” De Pontieu told ScienceAlert.

Now that scientists know how spicules form, they can take a closer look at how they interact with the outer reaches of the solar atmosphere.

The study has been published in Science.

How a Plant Just Made It Possible to Create The Best Aerogel Yet


And its perfect for flexible electronics.

Whether it’s balancing on a blade of grass or taking on the appearance of frozen smoke, aerogels have been blowing us away with their amazing properties in recent years. And just when you thought they couldn’t get any freakier, researchers have created a graphene aerogel that can support over 6,000 times its own weight.

Along with being super strong, the new aerographene is bendy, conductive, and mimics the structure of a plant stem. The unique properties of the material could make it an ideal component in flexible electronics such as smart windows, curved TV screens, and printable solar panels.

Speaking with ScienceAlert, Hao Bai, a materials engineer from Zhejiang University, says the graphene aerogel is unique from other aerogels available.

“Learning from nature always offers new insights for developing new materials and technology,” says Bai. “Our graphene aerogel is different from current aerogels in both microstructures and properties.”

Weighing a minuscule 0.16 milligrams per cubic centimetre, graphene aerogel is 7.5 times lighter than air and about 1000 times less dense than water. This stuff is so light that you can balance it on a fluffy dandelion head or on the stamen of a flower. Out of all the aerogels, graphene aerogel is the least dense and considered one of the lightest solid materials on Earth.

Apart from blowing our minds, aerogels are already proving useful for a wide variety of applications, from cleaning up oil spills to creating high-energy batteries. Researchers have even managed to convert sunlight into water vapour at room temperature using graphene aerogel, which makes it possible to turn wastewater into drinkable water.

But when it comes to moving machine parts, flexible sensors, and bendable energy storage devices, researchers have struggled to create aerogels that have both the strength and resilience required for these applications.

“Strength and resilience are usually mutually exclusive in regular aerogels,” Bai explains. “There is a high demand for strong and resilient aerogels in many important fields, but it is very difficult to achieve both of these properties.”

In recent years, we’ve seen several attempts to achieve these properties in graphene aerogels, including through the use of 3D printing and freeze-drying. The problem with these processes is that they only produce graphene aerogels with a random architectural structure, which doesn’t provide robust strength and resilience.

Looking at the natural world, the secret to the strength and bendiness of porous materials like plant stems comes down to how the material is arranged at the nanoscale. Even if the material itself is weak and porous, the highly organised arrangement of the material makes it strong and flexible.

“Many natural materials have developed unprecedented properties by building complex multiscale architectures,” Bai says. “We wondered whether we could mimic these features to create an aerogel that is both strong and resilient.”

To find out, Bai and his team turned to the powdery alligator-flag (Thalia dealbata), a hardy aquatic plant native to South America and Mexico. Even though the stem of this plant is slender and porous, it can withstand frequent wild winds thanks to its grid-like layered microstructure.

Taking cues from the plant’s complex structure, the team used bidirectional freezing to mimic its architecture in graphene aerogel.

First, graphene oxide particles are dispersed in water, which form sheets as the liquid freezes.

Once completely frozen, the graphene oxide sheets form a three-dimensional network similar to the structure of ice crystals.

Finally, thermal reduction and sublimation produced graphene aerogel that mirrored the bridged layers of the powdery alligator-flag stem.

Next, the team put the aerogel through a series of compression tests to see whether its architecture produced strength and resilience. After 1,000 compressive cycles the researchers discovered that the graphene aerogel was capable of supporting over 6,000 times its own weight and spring back to its original state. The material also retained 85 per cent of its strength before compression was applied.

This is a significant jump from aerogels with a random architecture, which tend to retain just 45 per cent of their original strength after only 10 compressive cycles.

Although the enormous strength and resilience of the aerogel is amazing all on its own, the researchers also wanted to know whether the material was conductive under compression.

The team placed the aerogel in a circuit with an LED, and applied different compression strains. Sure enough, they found that the aerogel remained conductive even when compressed, indicating that it could play a role in flexible electronics and sensors.

Now that the researchers have finally created a graphene aerogel that is strong, resilient and conductive, the next step is figuring out whether nature can be used as a reference for developing other kinds of aerogels, such as cellulose-based or polymer-silica composites.

“Learning from natural models will definitely help to develop new materials,” Bao told ScienceAlert. “The challenges still remain in how much we can discover and understand nature’s secrets, and if we can really mimic nature with synthetic approaches.”

We can only dream of what nature will help us design next.

NASA Are Figuring Out How to Use AI to Build Autonomous Space Probes


Adding artificial intelligence to the machines we send out to explore space makes a lot of sense, as it means they can make decisions without waiting for instructions from Earth, and now NASA scientists are trying to figure out how it could be done.

As we send out more and more probes into space, some of them may have to operate completely autonomously, reacting to unknown and unexplained scenarios when they get to their destination – and that’s where AI comes in.

Steve Chien and Kiri Wagstaff from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory think that these machines will also have to learn as they go, adapting to what they find beyond the reaches of our most powerful telescopes.

“By making their own exploration decisions, robotic spacecraft can conduct traditional science investigations more efficiently and even achieve otherwise impossible observations, such as responding to a short-lived plume at a comet millions of miles from Earth,” write the researchers.

One example they give is AI that can tell the difference between a storm and normal weather conditions on a distant planet, making the readings that are being taken much more useful to scientists back home.

Just like Google uses AI to recognise dogs and cats in photos, an explorer buggy could learn to tell the difference between snow and ice, or between running water and still water, adding extra value and meaning to the data it gathers.

The researchers suggest AI-enabled probes could reach as far as Alpha Centauri, some 4.24 light-years away from Earth. Communications across that distance would be received by the generation after the scientists who launched the mission in the first place, so giving the probe a mind of its own would certainly speed up the decision-making process.

The next generation of AI robots will have to be able to detect “features of interest”, detect unforeseen features, process and analyse data, and adapt their original plans where necessary, say the researchers.

And when smart probes get the chance to work together, the effects of AI will be even more powerful, as these artificial minds will be able to put their heads together to overcome challenges.

We are already seeing some of this artificial intelligence and autonomy out in space today. The Mars Curiosity rover has software on board that helps it to pick promising targets for its ChemCam – a device that studies rocks and other geological features on the Red Planet.

By making its own decisions rather than always waiting for instructions from Earth, Curiosity is now much better at finding significant targets and is able to gather a larger haul of data, according to researchers.

Meanwhile the next rover to be sent to Mars in 2020 will be able to adjust its data collection processes based on the resources available, report Chien and Wagstaff.

In time, AI is going to become more and more important to space travel, the researchers say, and as artificial intelligence makes big strides forward here on Earth it’s also set to have a big role in how we explore the rest of the Universe.

The research has been published in Science Robotics.

These Robot Exoskeletons Can Adjust to The Way You Walk


Scientists have developed special algorithms that enable body scaffolds called exoskeletons to adjust to the walk of the person wearing them, making these robotic aids more efficient and personalised.

The enhanced mechanics are able to tweak their behaviour based on feedback from the wearer’s metabolism and other measurements, and the team behind the system is calling it human-in-the-loop optimisation.

At the end of the process, you get an exoskeleton configuration that’s tailored to the wearer’s individual body and walking style, maximising how helpful it is, according to the researchers from Carnegie Mellon University.

“Existing exoskeleton devices, despite their potential, have not improved walking performance as much as we think they should,” says team member, Steven Collins.

“We’ve seen improvements related to computing, hardware, and sensors, but the biggest challenge has remained the human element – we just haven’t been able to guess how they will respond to new devices.”

Right now this human-in-the-loop optimisation requires a treadmill and some sophisticated monitoring equipment, but eventually you could get fitted out for your robotic walking aid in a clinic and then take your programmed profile with you.

The algorithms combine with emulator hardware that tests responses to 32 different patterns, working out which ones help the wearer use their energy more efficiently and which ones don’t.

As the human body adapts to using the exoskeleton, so the exoskeleton can adapt to the individual, making walking more efficient. It’s that loop that makes the technique so useful. For example, one of the settings the system could adjust was the degree of torque, or turning force, applied by the exoskeleton as each joint changed direction.

The exoskeleton was tested on 11 different volunteers, who were put through their paces on the treadmill with scaffolds fitted around their ankle and lower leg.

By the end of their experiments, the researchers had created customised walking profiles that saved users up to 24 percent of their energy compared to using standard exoskeleton configurations.

Whether it’s people with disabilities who have trouble walking as normal, or emergency aid workers who need to call on some robot-assisted superpowers to shift rubble or cover ground, that extra energy-to-power ratio has plenty of potential uses.

Energy efficiency is only one way to measure the effect of an exoskeleton though, and the researchers say future studies could look at limb speed, balance, heart rate, and even perceived comfort as well.

Plus, the same techniques could be applied to artificial prosthetics too, and the team behind this research says there are all kinds of possibilities.

“I could see them in the far future being used to make sports more exciting,” one of the researchers, Kirby Witte, told Kaleigh Rogers at Motherboard. “You could have people with exoskeletons slam-dunking on hoops twice as tall as they are now, doing crazy, sci-fi stuff.”

Source: Science.

Exposure to Ozone Kicks Up Chances of Autism 10-Fold in at-Risk Kids


“The increase in risk is striking.”

Having a higher number of copies of genes has been shown to raise the risk of a child developing autism, as has early exposure to various pollutants in the mother’s environment.

Researchers have now shown that when these two factors are combined, an individual has 10 times the chance of developing the condition, demonstrating the importance of stepping beyond the question of nature versus nurture and looking at the bigger picture.

The analysis by a team led by scientists from Pennsylvania State University is one of the first to examine genetic differences across the whole genome in conjunction with environmental factors surrounding an individual as it develops.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) covers a variety of behaviours involving social interactions and communications, presenting with degrees of severity.

“There are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of genes involved and up until now – with very few exceptions – these have been studied independently of the environmental contributors to autism, which are real,” says Penn State researcher Scott B. Selleck.

Those genes can affect numerous functions in the brain, potentially affecting a bunch of different neurological circuits that influence anything from social interactions to eye contact.

The question on just how heritable autism is has long been debated, with some early twin studies estimating as much as 90 percent of the condition is the result of genes passed down from parents.

Other researchers suggest the environment shares more of the blame, with the consensus now hovering around 50 percent genetics, 50 percent environment.

This new study shows how complicated the story just might be when it comes to such complex neurological conditions.

“Our team of researchers represents a merger of people with genetic expertise and environmental epidemiologists, allowing us for the first time to answer questions about how genetic and environmental risk factors for autism interact,” says Selleck.

Research involved 158 children with autism who were selected through a previous study, and 147 controls who were closely matched in age and demographic.

The team examined a feature called copy-number variations (CNVs); sequences that have been duplicated at least once to form repeats through the genome.

Previous research on individuals with ASD has already shown a higher tendency for their genomes to contain more CNVs than the rest of the population, and that the more of these repeats an individual has, the lower their measures of social and communication skills.

In addition to the subjects’ genetic variations, the team analysed their family’s residential history, comparing the addresses with data on air quality from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Air Quality System.

“This allowed us to examine differences between cases of autism and typically developing controls in both their prenatal pollutant exposure and their total load of extra or deleted genetic material,” says researcher Irva Hertz-Picciotto from University of California Davis.

Each risk factor on its own – larger numbers of CNV and high amounts of particulate in the air – was found to elevate the risk of autism, in line with previous research.

Once they started to combine the figures, one result in particular stood out.

Ozone, as one of the pollutants examined, hasn’t previously been considered a hugely significant risk factor for ASD.

The gas, consisting of three oxygen atoms, is formed from other pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds, which react in the presence of sunlight. Those molecules are generally released in vehicle exhaust, industrial processes, and electrical utilities.

The effect of ozone on those with high CVN numbers ramps up the chances of developing the condition, more than either would account for on their own.

Compared with those the bottom quarter of CNV numbers, and the bottom quarter of ozone exposure, there is a ten-fold risk of developing autism for those in the top quarter for both measures.

“This increase in risk is striking, but given what we know about the complexity of diseases like autism, perhaps not surprising,” says Selleck.

While the study didn’t analyse the cause, the researchers did speculate that ozone could increase the number of reactive oxygen species, such as peroxides, that are known to cause stress to cells and damage DNA.

It’s possible that having more variations of genes responsible for certain autism-related functions could open individuals to more oxidation damage.

The researchers acknowledge their sample size was relatively small, and since ozone occurs in conjunction with numerous other pollutants, there could be confounding factors that need to be pulled apart. It also doesn’t point at a single cause, instead hinting at one way a number of key genes could be affected by the environment.

Still, given the complexities of the condition, the study does show how variables we’ve previously dismissed might be working in combination.

“It demonstrates how important it is to consider different types of risk factors for disease together, even those with small individual effects,” says Selleck.

Having an Extra Organ or Body Part Is More Common Than You Think


Doctors thought they were operating on a malignant tumour when they set about removing an unusual oval lump on the right side of a 40-year-old woman’s body. What they recovered instead was a perfectly normal and fully functioning extra spleen.

Most of us only have one spleen, an organ involved in immune function and blood filtering. But accessory or extra spleens are quite common, appearing in more than one in ten people.

 

It is not unusual for people with extra organs to be completely unaware of their existence. Often they are discovered accidentally during diagnostic scans for unrelated conditions.

While many of these extra organs are rare, others are far more common than many of us believe. Some need to be surgically removed and others can be left alone.

The extra spleen, described above, is an example of what doctors call supernumeracy, when the body has an extra organ, part or structure.

Supernumeracy in history

Supernumeracy has long fascinated us, with many obvious and peculiar examples throughout history.

Witch hunters in the 16th and 17th centuries often identified supposed witches by their third nipple, although these extra nipples were often mistaken for moles or birthmarks.

Then there are the famous cases in the era of the Barnum and Bailey freak shows, which displayed truly extraordinary examples of supernumeracy. These included the sideshow stars Frank Lentini, the three-legged man, and Myrtle Corbin, the four-legged woman.

Their conditions were the result of being attached to partially formed parasitic twins (also known as an asymmetrical or unequal conjoined twins) that had not fully separated during development. Both went on to marry other people and have normal children.

More recently was the internationally celebrated case of the eight-limbed Indian girl Lakshmi Tatma, born in 2005, who had four arms and four legs. Some considered her to be a reincarnation of a Hindu goddess. A 72-hour operation eventually separated her from her parasitic twin.

What causes supernumeracy?

Supernumeracy is caused by errors in how the embryo develops. While some of these conditions can be genetic, most occur spontaneously and have no known cause.

To understand how this happens it helps to think of the development of an embryo into a human as being like a finely tuned orchestra following the directions of a strict conductor.

Every player in the orchestra needs to know when to start playing and when to stop, how fast the pace should be and what instrument needs to dominate in every part of the symphony. If percussion plays too fast or strings come in too soon, it can end in a disaster.

Likewise, when the embryo develops, structures that will eventually make up a human baby need to fold, move, fuse and disappear at exactly the right time.

If one structure persists too long or appears too early, it may block the way for another structure migrating to a new position. If a structure duplicates or fails to fuse with its other half, it can end up forming an extra organ.

What is most remarkable about the process of embryonic development is that in the great majority of cases we produce perfectly formed children.

In many cases of supernumeracy we don’t know what disrupted the development of the embryo, although in some cases a mother’s exposure to certain drugs or chemicals during pregnancy may be the cause.

One of the best known examples is thalidomide, a drug prescribed to pregnant women in the 1950s and 1960s to treat morning sickness but caused some 10,000 children worldwide to be born with significant birth defects.

Although absent or short limbs were among the most common birth defects reported, some babies had extra toes.

The drug was commonly taken in the first trimester of pregnancy when morning sickness is more common and when, coincidentally, the embryo develops most rapidly.

Why supernumeracy matters today

The historical cases highlighted earlier are all examples of extreme supernumeracy. But most cases of supernumeracy are so inconspicuous they are found by chance and have little impact on people’s lives.

In fact, most of the supernumerary organs we see in cadavers in the anatomy laboratory belong to body donors who were unaware of them during their lifetime.

Some supernumerary structures are very rare, including additional kidneyspenises or vaginas. Others are relatively common, including extra nipples and teeth.

Understanding these less obvious cases can be very important when diagnosing and treating patients. That’s why medical students learn about them.

One of the supernumerate structures taught in medical school is the cervical rib, an extra rib at the base of the neck above the normal rib cage, which occurs in about one in 200 people.

While not apparent without diagnostic imaging, it can compress nerves and blood vessels that pass between the neck and shoulder, leading to numbness and pain in the arms and fingers. So, every medical student is taught about this anatomical variation.

Being aware of supernumerate structures can help doctors make a correct diagnosis. For example, about one in 2,000 of us have an extra ureter – a muscular tube that carries urine from the kidneys to the bladder, where it is stored until ready to be excreted through the urethra.

While an extra ureter does not necessarily cause problems, in some people the ureter connects the kidney with the wrong structure, for example with the vagina or urethra.

This means the ureter bypasses the normal mechanism that stops urine from leaking out of the bladder. This anomaly is usually noticed in childhood, as patients who have this type of ureter often have continuous dripping of urine which needs to be surgically corrected.

Doctors also need to be aware that for patients with supernumerary organs, these organs need to be included in cancer screening.

For example, if a patient has supernumerary breasts, these breasts need to be included when screening for lumps or in mammograms.

Even the smallest supernumerary structure may alter some body functions, as it did for a 29-year-old optometry student who in a practical class accidentally discovered she had an extra opening in her eyelid known as a punctum.

The punctum helps drain away excessive tears. Usually, we only have one in each eyelid but this student had two in the same eyelid.

This explained why anaesthetic eye drops used for optometry procedures were far less effective in that eye, as the drops drained away twice as fast.

Knowing that she had a supernumerary punctum, doctors told her to press down on it to close off the opening when she needed to use eye drops.

The ConversationSo, while many of us may be aware of supernumerary structures because of the extraordinary examples usually related to parasitic twins, the more subtle supernumerary structures, which are far more common, have an important place in the study of anatomy and medical practice.