The world within a world is a tantalizing concept advocated by sci-fi and fantasy writers but so far it was in the realms of imagination. But truth can be stranger than fiction and nature takes a vicarious delight in putting the spokes in the well-ordered physical world of humans.
One such spoke is the bizarre creatures of Movile cave, a chemical (chemosynthesis) world within the organic world of humans.
In the South-east Romania, close to the Black sea lies a cave beneath the earth that has remained completely cut off from the outside world for 5.5 million years.
In Constant county, Romania close to the Bulgarian border lies a bleak, unremarkable land. The plains have nothing to recommend for except for one thing – the cave beneath the land has led a cloistered existence for 5.5 million years. While Earth was evolving prodigiously with Primates descending from the trees and advancing to Homo Sapiens, the world beneath existed completely sequestered from the outer world.
The cave was discovered by Romanian scientist Cristian Lascu.
The cave can be accessed by descending down a narrow shaft, climbing down through an ochre clay coated limestone tunnel in total darkness and in a temperature of 25-degree centigrade. The tunnel opens into a central cavern opening into a lake.
The metabolism of carbohydrate polymers drives microbial diversity in the human gut microbiota. It is unclear, however, whether bacterial consortia or single organisms are required to depolymerize highly complex glycans. Here we show that the gut bacterium Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron uses the most structurally complex glycan known: the plant pectic polysaccharide rhamnogalacturonan-II, cleaving all but 1 of its 21 distinct glycosidic linkages. The deconstruction of rhamnogalacturonan-II side chains and backbone are coordinated to overcome steric constraints, and the degradation involves previously undiscovered enzyme families and catalytic activities. The degradation system informs revision of the current structural model of rhamnogalacturonan-II and highlights how individual gut bacteria orchestrate manifold enzymes to metabolize the most challenging glycan in the human diet.
Engaging in regular weightlifting could actually make your brain work better and prevent dementia, concludes new research by Australian scientists. As about 135 million people are estimated to develop dementia by 2050, the study’s findings are key in ensuring healthier brain function in the population.
The researchers focused on 100 people aged 55 to 86 with “mild cognitive impairment” (MCI) who were asked to do weight lifting and brain training. MCI is considered a precursor to developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
In 2014, the same team published a paper outlining how cognition skills improve as a result of weight training. The benefits lasted even 12 months after that study concluded.
“What we found in this follow-up study is that the improvement in cognition function was related to their muscle strength gains. The stronger people became, the greater the benefit for their brain,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Yorgi Mavros, of Sydney University.
Twice a week, over a six month period, the study’s participants worked with weights that were 80% as heavy as the max they could lift. The stronger they got, the more weight they lifted, sticking to the 80% rule.
Subsequent MRI scans of the study’s subjects showed an increase in certain areas of their brains.
While future studies will determine whether this holds true for people of any age group, the positive results encouraged Dr. Mavros to state a general recommendation for all.
“The more we can get people doing resistance training like weight lifting, the more likely we are to have a healthier ageing population,” said Dr. Mavros. “The key however is to make sure you are doing it frequently, at least twice a week, and at a high intensity so that you are maximising your strength gains. This will give you the maximum benefit for your brain.”
To build on their findings, the researchers are planning further studies.
“The next step now is to determine if the increases in muscle strength are also related to increases in brain size that we saw,” said the study’s senior author Professor Maria Fiatarone Singh, geriatrician at University of Sydney. “In addition, we want to find the underlying messenger that links muscle strength, brain growth, and cognitive performance, and determine the optimal way to prescribe exercise to maximise these effects.”
The Study of Mental and Resistance Training (SMART) trial was conducted by University of Sydney researchers in collaboration with the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA)at University of New South Wales and the University of Adelaide.
Exciting studies with mice are showing that your lungs may have an additional role beyond providing you with air to breathe, according to HealthCanal. Scientists report that they discovered that the lungs in mice not only produce platelets necessary for blood clotting, but can restore blood production when bone marrow stem cells are depleted.
While the studies are still too new to know whether this applies to humans, it’s still a good opportunity to talk about ways to keep your lungs healthy. Of course, we know the importance of not smoking and avoiding environmental exposures that can damage our lungs — especially since exposure to chemical toxins affects your lungs, cognitive function, and even is connected to a rising number of children affected by autism spectrum disorder and ADHD.
But did you know that something as simple as eating a high-fiber diet can help your lungs stay healthy? It’s true: Studies show that people who ate a lot of fiber scored better on two breathing tests, indicating larger lung capacity and the ability to exhale more air in one second.
This adds to mounting research suggesting that a high-fiber diet can help reduce your risk of premature death from any cause, including cancer and heart disease.
If you want to increase your daily fiber intake, forget grains and concentrate on eating veggies. A high-grain diet tends to promote insulin and leptin resistance, which is counterproductive as this actually promotes many of the chronic diseases that healthy fiber can help reduce, most notably type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Excellent fiber choices include soluble fibers found in veggies and fruits like cucumbers, blueberries, beans and nuts, and insoluble fibers like dark green leafy vegetables, green beans, celery and carrots.
It turns out that having a little “junk in the trunk” is a good thing, health wise. Not only does having a larger derriere boost overall health, but it’s tied to increased intelligence and lower risk of chronic disease, according to researchers at the University of Oxford and Churchill Hospital in the United Kingdom.
Fat distribution is important, say researchers, and if you’re going to have some, it’s best to have it below the waist, as it helps to serve as a barrier against heart disease, diabetes and other conditions linked to obesity.
“It is the protective role of lower body, that is [thigh and backside] fat, that is striking. The protective properties of the lower-body fat depot have been confirmed in many studies conducted in subjects with a wide range of age, BMI and co-morbidities,” scientists wrote in the Journal of Obesity.
Apple-shaped vs. pear-shaped
Comparing your body shape to that of a fruit can help you identify whether or not you’re on the right track. If you’re pear-shaped, you’re probably in a good place, researchers say. If you’re apple-shaped, you may want to embark on a healthier lifestyle.
Individuals with belly fat have more obesity-related problems than those who carry extra weight on their hips, thighs and butt.
“There’s a lot of evidence that shows that the fat depots are not the same in the body,” said Dr. Robert Kushner, a professor of medicine specializing in obesity at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
Belly fat “is more metabolically active,” explains Kushner, meaning it has a greater effect on the brain and overall body, compared to fat stored in the lower half, which tends to be more stable and invokes fewer cytokines or proteins associated with insulin resistance and the onset of diabetes.
“There’s a whole range of these hormonal markers that seem to be more preferentially released from the belly,” he adds.
Regulating weight gain in the brain
Another factor tied to fat distribution in women is leptin. Leptin levels, crucial for regulating appetite, are correlated with a bigger derriere, too. In individuals who are obese, their brain stops responding to the hormone entirely, causing the person to develop leptin resistance, which is similar to insulin resistance, reports Elite Daily.
“Having a big butt also favors leptin levels in the female body, which is a hormone responsible for regulating the weight, and the dinopectina, a hormone with anti-inflammatory, vascular-protective and anti-diabetic attributes. The adipose tissue of the buttocks traps harmful fatty particles and prevents cardiovascular disease.”
Big butt equals big brains
Maintaining a larger behind requires significant amounts of Omega 3 fats, which are proven to boost brain function, memory and cognitive abilities. Research also shows that children born to women with wide hips are more intelligent compared to those conceived by thinner and less curvy mothers.
Drunk driving remains a threat on the roadway but for obvious reasons it is considered taboo in most circles. This is due in large part to campaigns to spread awareness about the incredible safety threat it poses. Drowsy driving can have a similar impact on driving safety. Until recently, it has not received the same amount of attention as drunk driving, but this is changing.
A report by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety illustrated how driving drowsy can be just as reckless as driving while drunk. Researchers found sleeping less than four hours can increase your crash risk 12-fold. This risk factor is comparable to a blood alcohol concentration of .12 to .15. To put this in perspective, a 200-pound man would have to consume six to eight drinks an hour to reach this level of intoxication.
Lack of sleep effects more than just your reflexes and ability to operate a motor vehicle. Sleep deprivation has a wide-ranging impact on your health, including the following:
Increased risk of car accidents
Increased accidents at work
Reduced ability to perform tasks
Reduced ability to learn or remember
Reduced productivity at work
Reduced creativity at work or in other activities
Reduced athletic performance
Increased risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity, cancer, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease
Increased risk of depression
Increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
Decreased immune function
Slowed reaction time
Reduced regulation of emotions and emotional perception
Poor grades in school
Increased susceptibility to stomach ulcers
Exacerbates current chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and cancer
Cutting one hour of sleep a night can increase the expression of genes associated with inflammation, immune excitability, diabetes, cancer risk and stress
Contributes to premature aging by interfering with growth hormone production, normally released by your pituitary gland during deep sleep
Beware of Light Pollution
Human beings have been sleeping at night since time immemorial and light exposure can easily disrupt normal sleep cycles. Your pineal gland produces melatonin roughly in approximation to the contrast of bright sun exposure in the day and complete darkness at night. The sleep difficulties that so many experience can often be linked to the absence of a natural sleep environment.
Your health depends on a regular light-dark cycle that, ideally, starts and stops at the same time each day. Late night artificial light exposure can profoundly influence your physical and mental health and well-being. EMF generating devices greatly can severely disrupt circadian rhythms. You should strongly consider removing electronics from the vicinity of your bed and not using them within several hours of turning in.
It may seem challenging at first, but another goal should be creating a sleep environment that is completely free of light. Blackout drapes are an excellent starting point. I highly recommend investing in a pair of blue blocker sunglasses. I call them reverse sunglasses and wear them in most commercial buildings. Artificial blue light should be avoided at all times and these affordable glasses reduce the harmful impact of high intensity and LED lighting.
A few other easy to implement tweaks are avoiding alcohol, caffeine and other drugs including nicotine for several hours before bed. I also recommend keeping the temperature in your bedroom below 70 degrees F. Rejuvenating sleep is one of the fundamental foundations of health, but for millions it is a challenge. Fortunately, there are strategies that can help make sleep a respite rather than a source of frustration.
Some people confuse easily when asked to distinguish left from right and vice versa, and it’s not a terribly uncommon occurrence.
Gerard Gormley, a senior academic general practitioner at Queen’s University Belfast, writes in The Conversation about this problem that he says affects “a significant portion of our population.” It may not seem like rocket science to some of us, but Gormley says that left-right confusion is a “complex neuro-psychological process involving several higher neurological functions such as the ability to integrate sensory and visual information, language function, and memory.”
When someone (most likely your GPS) is giving you directions, do you pause when they say, “Turn right here”? Taking a wrong turn is hardly life-threatening; for most people the issue causes no more than some embarrassment or inconvenience. But what if you were in a profession where it was your livelihood to know the difference?
“Some of the most tragic errors in medicine have been when surgery was performed on the wrong side of a patient: removing the wrong kidney or amputating the wrong leg.”
Consider the hospital environment for a moment — it’s a distracting place to work, making the moment of distinguishing right from left all the more difficult for those who struggle.
Gormley has published research exploring “the impact of such interruptions on medical students’ ability to correctly discriminate right from left. While objectively measuring 234 medical students’ ability to distinguish right from left, we subjected them to the typical ambient noise of a ward environment and interrupted them with clinical questions.”
He writes that even the mere background noise of a hospital ward was enough to throw off the medical student’s ability to make a distinction between right and left. Asking them questions while trying to determine right from left “had an even greater impact.” Gormley notes that these distractions had the greatest effects on students who were older and female.
What’s more, some people may not realize they have a problem making left-right judgments. Try out this handy test to see if you might be deluding yourself.
Also, don’t try suggesting the “make an ‘L’ with your hand” trick. Gormley writes that research shows this technique has failed to assist people who struggle with this issue.
THE PLANTS IN Craig Burrows’ photos look like something plucked from an alien planet, sprouting wild shades of violet, pink and green. But the plants, and the colors are real.
It’s the result of a cool trick of nature. All plants reflect light. Leaves reflect green, and flowers reflect red, or yellow, or whatever. But plants also fluoresce, which means when they absorb ultraviolet light, they emit longer wavelengths visible to the human eye. It’s the same thing that happens with a black-light poster. “The flower literally glows,” Burrows says.
Capturing that glow requires using ultraviolet-induced visible fluorescence photography, something Burrows discovered online three years ago. He was immediately fascinated, so he read a tutorial and set to work. He’s shot more than five dozen plants since then, including Mexican sunflowers, calla lilies, and silk floss tree flowers.
Burrows gathers his specimens during evening strolls through his neighborhood in the Los Angeles suburb of Arcadia. He returns home with his bouquet, turns on pensive music to spur his creativity, and covers his desk with a black cloth. He arranges each flower in a copper stand wrapped in black tape, mounts his Sony A77 on a tripod, and sets it up a few feet away. Then it’s lights out. Burrows favors long exposures, illuminating the flower with an LED shielded by a UG11 filter that blocks all but ultraviolet light, making sure to slowly pan the light over the flower to illuminate it evenly. He finds the process so engrossing that he often loses track of time. “I usually tell myself it will only be an hour, but by the time I finally quit it’s usually been three or four,” he says.
Then comes long hours with Photoshop, adjusting white balance, contrast, noise and sharpness, and removing dust. It’s tedious, but it yields big dividends. The plants truly glow, each leaf, petal and stem blooming in otherworldly colors.
When many people look at the stars, they see a vast, unbound infinity that fills them with a feeling that’s difficult to describe but impossible to forget. That feeling pushes humanity to want to explore the great unknown reaches of space in the hopes of discovering that we aren’t alone in it.
But let’s assume for one moment that extraterrestrial life does exist. Should we really be trying to contact it?
Some view the idea of reaching out to extraterrestrials as dangerous. In fact, Stephen Hawking made a strong point against the idea of making contact by comparing it to the Native Americans’ first encounter with Christopher Columbus and the European explorers, a situation that “didn’t turn out so well” for the former civilization. Hawking went on to note that advanced alien life could be “vastly more powerful and may not see us as any more valuable than we see bacteria.”
While that does sound like it could be a possibility, not everyone agrees with Hawking. In fact, many have equally convincing arguments in support of contact with aliens.
Initially, the organization focused on passively looking for signals indicating signs of intelligent life, but now it is taking action in the form of METI (Messaging Extra Terrestrial Intelligence). METI International sends greetings to specific locations in space in the hopes of alerting alien astronomers of our existence.
Though Hawking and others worry that our interstellar friendship search will lead to the annihilation or subjugation of our species as a whole, Douglas Vakoch, the president of METI International and a professor in the Department of Clinical Psychology at the California Institute for Integral Studies, strongly disagrees with this assertion. He believes that claims that we should hide our existence as a species are unfounded. After all, we have already leaked nearly 100 years of transmissions from radio and television broadcasts as electromagnetic radiation.
Vakoch goes on to note an inconsistency in Hawking’s reasoning. He asserts that any civilizations able to travel between stars will absolutely have the ability to pick up our “leaked” signals. By that logic, they must already be aware of our existence and are simply waiting for us to make the first move. Vakoch urges us to test the Zoo Hypothesis and the Fermi Paradox through standard peer-review methods, insisting that we target nearby star systems 20 or 30 light-years away with repeat messages to generate a testable hypothesis within a few decades.
NASA estimates that there are 40 billion habitable planets in our galaxy. While he strongly urges caution in making first contact, even Hawking is curious as to whether any of those planets beyond our solar system host life. To that end, he has launched a $100 million initiative to seek out life. If we ever do find extraterrestrial life, either through Hawking’s search, SETI, or any of the number of other projects in the works, we might just want to take a beat before saying “Hello.”
Algae has proven to be quite the formidable organism by being able to survive 16 months in space outside of the International Space Station.
The samples will now be sent back to Earth to test if there were any genetic changes in the specimens.
ALGAE IN SPACE
Fraunhofer scientists aboard the International Space Station (ISS) recently ran an experiment where they let algae loose into the vacuum of space for a full 16 months. And, surprisingly enough, the simple plants survived the harrowing journey. Despite extreme temperature variations, UV radiation, cosmic radiation, and incredible length of time, the algae were brought back aboard still alive.
These researchers aboard the ISS are currently running experiments as part of the Biology and Mars Experiment (BIOMEX) project. Within this experimental algae portion of the project, they tested the durability of algae species that are known to love freezing temperatures. Since the mixture of extreme conditions found in space is impossible to replicate in a laboratory environment exactly, the crew on the ISS used their location to put these cold-loving species to the test. However, despite knowing what these plants will endure on Earth, the scientists were astonished at how much they can really take.
COLD LOVING ALIENS
Post-experiment, the researchers aboard the ISS will send these algae samples back to Earth. There, they will be rigorously tested to see the actual extent that the temperatures and combined radiation impacted them. This information could be crucial to future human missions to Mars. It could help to ensure the safety of humans and any plant-based food to be consumed.
However, beyond the positive benefits that this research could have on future missions of humans in space, it could also potentially tell us a little bit more about alien life. According to many, including famed astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson, thinking that we are somehow the only living creatures in the universe would be “inexcusably egocentric.” And, while previously, few would have thought that any plants could survive such an extended stay in space, we now know better. And so, while certain environments in space may seem inhospitable, we now know that life could exist in places we never before would have suspected.