Scientists Want to Align Your Internal Clock Because Timing Is Everything


internal clock

In life, timing is everything.

Your body’s internal clock — the circadian rhythm — regulates an enormous variety of processes: when you sleep and wake, when you’re hungry, when you’re most productive. Given its palpable effect on so much of our lives, it’s not surprising that it has an enormous impact on our health as well. Researchers have linked circadian health to the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and neurodegeneration. It’s also known that the timing of meals and medicines can influence how they’re metabolized.

The ability to measure one’s internal clock is vital to improving health and personalizing medicine. It could be used to predict who is at risk for disease and track recovery from injuries. It can also be used to time the delivery of chemotherapy and blood pressure and other drugs so that they have the optimum effect at lower doses, minimizing the risk of side effects.

However, reading one’s internal clock precisely enough remains a major challenge in sleep and circadian health. The current approach requires taking hourly samples of blood melatonin — the hormone that controls sleep — during day and night, which is expensive and extremely burdensome for the patient. This makes it impossible to incorporate into routine clinical evaluations.

My colleagues and I wanted to obtain precise measurements of internal time without the need for burdensome serial sampling. I’m a computational biologist with a passion for using mathematical and computational algorithms to make sense of complex data. My collaborators, Phyllis Zee and Ravi Allada, are world-renowned experts in sleep medicine and circadian biology. Working together, we designed a simple blood test to read a person’s internal clock.

Listening to the Music of Cells

The circadian rhythm is present in every single cell of your body, guided by the central clock that resides in the suprachiasmatic nucleus region of the brain. Like the secondary clocks in an old factory, these so-called “peripheral” clocks are synchronized to the master clock in your brain, but also tick forward on their owneven in petri dishes!

Your cells keep time through a network of core clock genes that interact in a feedback loop: When one gene turns on, its activity causes another molecule to turn it back down, and this competition results in an ebb and flow of gene activation within a 24-hour cycle. These genes in turn regulate the activity of other genes, which also oscillate over the course of the day. This mechanism of periodic gene activation orchestrates biological processes across cells and tissues, allowing them to take place in synchrony at specific times of day.

The circadian rhythm orchestrates many biological processes, including digestion, immune function, and blood pressure, all of which rise and fall at specific times of the day. Misregulation of the circadian rhythm can have adverse effects on metabolism, cognitive function, and cardiovascular health.
The circadian rhythm orchestrates many biological processes, including digestion, immune function, and blood pressure, all of which rise and fall at specific times of the day. Misregulation of the circadian rhythm can have adverse effects on metabolism, cognitive function, and cardiovascular health.

The discovery of the core clock genes is so fundamental to our understanding of how biological functions are orchestrated that it was recognized by the Nobel Committee last year. Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash, and Michael W. Young together won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine “for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm.” Other researchers have noted that as many as 40 percent of all other genes respond to the circadian rhythm, changing their activity over the course of the day as well.

This gave us an idea: Perhaps we could use the activity levels of a set of genes in the blood to deduce a person’s internal time — the time your body thinks it is, regardless of what the clock on the wall says. Many of us have had the experience of feeling “out of sync” with our environments — of feeling like it’s 5:00 a.m. even though our alarm insists it’s already 7:00 a.m. That can be a result of our activities being out of sync with our internal clock — the clock on the wall isn’t always a good indication of what time it is for you personally. Knowing what a profound impact one’s internal clock can have on biology and health, we were inspired to try to gauge gene activity to measure the precise internal time in an individual’s body. We developed TimeSignature: a sophisticated computational algorithm that could measure a person’s internal clock from gene expression using two simple blood draws.

Designing a Robust Test

To achieve our goals, TimeSignature had to be easy (measuring a minimal number of genes in just a couple blood draws), highly accurate, and — most importantly — robust. That is, it should provide just as accurate a measure of your intrinsic physiological time regardless of whether you’d gotten a good night’s sleep, recently returned from an overseas vacation, or were up all night with a new baby. And it needed to work not just in our labs but in labs across the country and around the world.

A mismatch between our internal time and our daily activities may raise the risk of disease.
A mismatch between our internal time and our daily activities may raise the risk of disease.

To develop the gene signature biomarker, we collected tens of thousands of measurements every two hours from a group of healthy adult volunteers. These measurements indicated how active each gene was in the blood of each person during the course of the day. We also used published data from three other studies that had collected similar measurements. We then developed a new machine learning algorithm, called TimeSignature, that could computationally search through this data to pull out a small set of biomarkers that would reveal the time of day. A set of 41 genes was identified as being the best markers.

Surprisingly, not all the TimeSignature genes are part of the known “core clock” circuit — many of them are genes for other biological functions, such as your immune system, that are driven by the clock to fluctuate over the day. This underscores how important circadian control is — its effect on other biological processes is so strong that we can use those processes to monitor the clock!

Using data from a small subset of the patients from one of the public studies, we trained the TimeSignature machine to predict the time of day based on the activity of those 41 genes. (Data from the other patients was kept separate for testing our method.) Based on the training data, TimeSignature was able to “learn” how different patterns of gene activity correlate with different times of day. Having learned those patterns, TimeSignature can then analyze the activity of these genes in combination to work out the time that your body thinks it is. For example, although it might be 7 a.m. outside, the gene activity in your blood might correspond to the 5 a.m. pattern, indicating that it’s still 5 a.m. in your body.

Many genes peak in activity at different times of day. This set of 41 genes, each shown as a different color, shows a robust wave of circadian expression. By monitoring the level of each gene relative to the others, the TimeSignature algorithm learns to ‘read’ your body’s internal clock.
Many genes peak in activity at different times of day. This set of 41 genes, each shown as a different color, shows a robust wave of circadian expression. By monitoring the level of each gene relative to the others, the TimeSignature algorithm learns to ‘read’ your body’s internal clock. 

We then tested our TimeSignature algorithm by applying it to the remaining data, and demonstrated that it was highly accurate: We were able to deduce a person’s internal time to within 1.5 hours. We also demonstrated our algorithm works on data collected in different labs around the world, suggesting it could be easily adopted. We were also able to demonstrate that our TimeSignature test could detect a person’s intrinsic circadian rhythm with high accuracy, even if they were sleep-deprived or jet-lagged.

Harmonizing Health With TimeSignature

By making circadian rhythms easy to measure, TimeSignature opens up a wide range of possibilities for integrating time into personalized medicine. Although the importance of circadian rhythms to health has been noted, we have really only scratched the surface when it comes to understanding how they work. With TimeSignature, researchers can now easily include highly accurate measures of internal time in their studies, incorporating this vital measurement using just two simple blood draws. TimeSignature enables scientists to investigate how the physiological clock impacts the risk of various diseases, the efficacy of new drugs, the best times to study or exercise, and more.

Of course, there’s still a lot of work to be done. While we know that circadian misalignment is a risk factor for disease, we don’t yet know how much misalignment is bad for you. TimeSignature enables further research to quantify the precise relationships between circadian rhythms and disease. By comparing the TimeSignatures of people with and without disease, we can investigate how a disrupted clock correlates with disease and predict who is at risk.

Down the road, we envision that TimeSignature will make its way into your doctor’s office, where your circadian health could be monitored just as quickly, easily, and accurately as a cholesterol test. Many drugs, for example, have optimal times for dosing, but the best time for you to take your blood pressure medicine or chemotherapy may differ from somebody else.

Previously, there was no clinically feasible way to measure this, but TimeSignature makes it possible for your doctor to do a simple blood test, analyze the activity of 41 genes, and recommend the time that would give you the most effective benefits. We also know that circadian misalignment — when your body’s clock is out of sync with the external time — is a treatable risk factor for cognitive decline; with TimeSignature, we could predict who is at risk, and potentially intervene to align their clocks.

Volcanic Rock Discovery Calls Theories About Life’s Origins Into Question


Charles Darwin, father of evolutionary biology, wrote in 1871 that life first emerged in “warm little ponds”, which he imagined to be small wells of water and chemicals, heated by the sun and surrounded by rocks and air. With these few ingredients and a big dose of randomness, he posited, the basic elements of life clicked together, leading to simple life forms, like bacteria. Their evolution over millions of years eventually led to the sophisticated life forms that now inhabit the planet.

These days, scientists generally agree with the idea that the original recipe for life was pretty simple, but they’re not sure what ingredients were necessary for those early life forms to make the leap into complex forms of life, like animals. Many scientists theorize that, since all complex life — involving cells that have multiple components — now relies on oxygen to breathe, it must have happened at a time when there was plenty of oxygen in the air. But on Thursday, the scientists behind a study soon to be published in Nature report that oxygen in the atmosphere didn’t rise to significant levels until after complex life arose — suggesting that oxygen wasn’t all that important after all.

“This is significant because it provides new evidence that the origination of early animals, which required O2 for their metabolisms, may have gone on in a world with an atmosphere that had relatively low oxygen levels compared to today,” said study co-author Daniel Stolper, Ph.D., an assistant professor of Earth and planetary science at the University of California, Berkeley, in a statement.

Winter sea
Though all present-day life on Earth requires oxygen to survive, the sea and sky were not oxygen-rich when life first emerged.

In previous studies, scientists determined that complex life first emerged around 700 and 800 million years ago, sometime between huge ice ages. The history of oxygen on Earth, meanwhile, is a bit cloudier. Scientists believe there was no oxygen for Earth’s first two billion years, and then, some 2.3 to 2.5 billion years ago, a little bit of oxygen showed up (they can tell because it turned some rocks red with rust-like compounds). But deposits of fossilized charcoal have shown that it wasn’t until at least 400 million years ago that there was enough oxygen in the atmosphere for forest fires to burn. That leaves a 2.1-billion-year period during which there was minimal oxygen — but, strangely, still evidence of life.

At one point in those 2.1 billion years, the geochemists show, the amount of oxygen in the air reached a concentration high enough that it led to the deep seabecoming oxygenated — sometime between 540 and 420 million years ago. They came to this conclusion by looking at rocks formed by undersea volcanoes — in particular, the iron inside them.

Anyone who has encountered rust on a car knows that oxygen and iron react in very obvious ways, and the reaction is no different in the underwater rocks. Seawater flowed through them as they first formed, so the iron in the rocks carries the chemical signature of the water. It soon became clear, from the oxidation of the iron, when the sea became full of oxygen.

More importantly, it also became clear that complex life had existed on the Earth long before the oxygenation of the sea took place.

One of the world’s oldest fossil animals is Dickinsonia, which lived in the oceans 550 million years ago.

This finding complicates matters for researchers trying to figure out when complex life on Earth emerged, especially those who believe that, since all life breathes oxygen, the event was inextricably tied to the oxygenation of the atmosphere. Since that now doesn’t seem to be the case, scientists must think on different theories, like one posited by scientists in Nature in 2017, suggesting that the explosion of complex life coincided not with a rise in oxygen but with the first big boom in algae growth.

The more we learn about the origins of life, both simple and sophisticated, the more puzzling life seems to be. In some ways, it doesn’t seem to be very complex at all. For the most part, scientists pondering the mystery of life’s origins still think along the same lines as Darwin, proposing that the original recipe really wasn’t very complicated at all — and perhaps could have been cooked up someplace other than Earth. Paul Niles, for one, a planetary geologist with NASAinvestigating the possibility that life could have emerged on Mars, said in a statement in October 2017 that sometimes, life “doesn’t need a nice atmosphere or temperate surface, but just rocks, heat, and water.”

Since abundant oxygen now doesn’t seem to be all that necessary for simple life to develop into something more, there’s now an even greater possibility that complexity exists somewhere other than here.

The 25 Most-Read Inverse Science Stories of 2017: Wild, Wonderful & Strange


This year will be remembered for its immense cultural and social upheavals, both good and unbelievably, Earth-shatteringly bad. But what appears to have remained consistent, at least judging by the science stories that Inverse fans read, interacted with, and shared, is a healthy curiosity about the the weird and wonderful, the science of our own bodies and minds, and scientific discoveries that push the limits of what we currently consider reality. That, and an obsession with whatever Neil deGrasse Tyson has to say about anything.

To celebrate a strange and sensational year in science, here are the 25 science stories that Inverse readers loved the most.

A Hamer individual from Ethiopia who took part in the study. Many alleles associated with light skin originated in Africa, not in Europe.

25. Genetics Researchers Just Disproved a Long-Held Racist Assumption

As racial tensions escalated this year in America and around the world, scientists found hard evidence that many of the assumptions people make about people with dark skin are completely, utterly unfounded. Many people still act as if people born with dark skin are less human, a behavior inherited from Middle-Age Europeans who believed the African people they encountered were not the same species as them. In October, scientists revealed they — and the people who continue to promote those beliefs — were completely wrong, showing that the human genes for dark and light skin all originated in Africa.

Read more about the racist theory debunked by science.

24. Drake Equation Revision Hugely Ups Odds of Intelligent Alien Life

The Drake Equation, written in 1961 for the first meeting of SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), is a seven-variable equation that calculates the odds that there are any active civilizations beyond Earth. In 2016, scientists decided it was a bit outdated, and so they updated it to include new data on exoplanets collected in the 50+ years since the equation was written. The new probability that there isn’t any other intelligent life out there is 10 billion trillion — making it extremely likely that there is something else out there.

Read more about your chances of meeting aliens in this lifetime.

23. Science Explains the Marijuana Hangover

The marijuana hangover — replete with headache, fatigue, fogginess, and dehydration, — has long confused pot users, who are more likely to associate the symptoms with alcohol. Scientists chalk the tired feeling up to the restless sleep that ensues when you get too high, and the dehydration you feel is caused by weed shutting down saliva production, which is what also causes the dreaded “dry mouth” while smoking.

Read more about the psychological and physical downside of a pot brownie binge.

22. Humans Have Been Having the Same Nightmare for Thousands of Years

Over the centuries, humans have come up with countless, often absurd, explanations for the phenomenon known as sleep paralysis. When it strikes, sleepers find themselves suddenly awake but unable to move, pinned to their bed as if a heavy weight is sitting on their chest. Scientists think the phenomenon has its roots in our brains, which actively paralyze us during REM sleep so that we don’t act out our dreams. If we’re suddenly interrupted during that phase, our brains sometimes “wake up” before our bodies do, leading to the terrifying nightmare-like experience.

Read more about sleep paralysis, which led to the evolution of the “Night Hag”.

Fossils found in submerged tunnels in Mexico might be the oldest human artifacts found in the Americas.

21. A Stolen Human Skeleton Might Be America’s Oldest

An investigation of the spoils from a plundered underwater cave in Tulum, Mexico, turned up an unlikely guest: the most ancient human skeleton ever found in the Americas. The Chan Hol II skeleton, which was first discovered in February 2012 and was actually stolen shortly after photos of it went public, was recovered by scientists who showed, using carbon dating, that it was 13,000 years old.

Read more about the very first Americans, who were actually in Mexico.

20. Diarrhea Is Evolution’s Immune System Drain-O

Poop will never not be funny for readers. It’ll also never not be interesting to scientists. This June, they discovered that diarrhea serves a critical purpose for animals, having evolved over millennia of evolution. As much as it sucks to get the runs while traveling or after eating an adventurous meal, having to rush to the can is much better than not getting diarrhea. The uncomfortable bowel movement, the scientists reported, is your body’s way of flushing out all of the potentially life-threatening toxins in your gut before they get into the rest of your body.

Read more about the biological reason diarrhea is good for you.

19. 20 Years After the Great Lego Spill, They’re Still Washing Ashore

In 1997, a container ship called the Tokio Express bound for New York was hit by a wave so huge that it knocked an enormous container full of 4.8 million pieces of Lego into the water. While at the time it didn’t seem like the miniature blocks would ever make it to their final destination, in July of this year residents of Cornwall, United Kingdom reported that the pieces are still washing up on the beach, suggesting there’s still a chance they may float to the other side of the Atlantic.

Read more about Lego pieces posing a hazard to barefoot British beach-goers.

18. Reddit Study on Ideal Penis Size Consistent With Dick Science

Despite all the changes that took place this year, our fascination with penis size did not waver. In July, the results of a small Reddit survey on penis size were presented in graph form, showing an upside-down U-shaped curve spanning lengths from four to ten inches. While this survey only incorporated self-reported data from 761 users, the results actually matched up well with what scientists already know about average peen size: like Reddit’s dicks, most dongs are about six and seven inches long and five to six inches around.

Read more about the average penis size and girth, on Reddit and elsewhere.

17. Neuroscience Reveals How the Brain Changes as it Watches Porn

We’re watching porn at record-breaking rates, and all that visual, er, stimulation has scientists wondering what it’s doing to us on an individual and a societal level. So far, we’ve learned that porn acts in many ways like a drug, causing our brains to release the pleasure-tr iggering neurotransmitter dopamine, and it may also activate the amygdala, the part of the brain linked to emotional behavior and motivation. Word’s still out on whether casual porn watching is problematic, but some scientists worry that very frequent porn viewing might be linked to certain psychological issues.

Read more about what all those late-night Pornhub visits do to your brain cells.

16. The Real Story Behind ‘Roanoke’ Is Creepier Than ‘AHS’

The sixth season of American Horror Story, centered on the historical real-life tragedy of the lost American colony at Roanoke, premiered in 2016, but it continued to intrigue Inverse readers well into 2017. Scientists have used lasers, magnometers, and radar to uncover rare objects that survived the 400 years since the colony was founded, but these still haven’t cleared up whether the colonists succumbed to disease, a violent uprising, or something even more sinister.

Read more about American Horror Story and the even more horrific Roanoke legend behind it.

15. China Transmits Data Into Space Using Quantum Entanglement

Around the world, scientists are making huge leaps in the field of quantum teleportation, which could revolutionize quantum computer security. China’s researchers are leading the pack, this year succeeding in transporting a quantum particle 870 miles into space — breaking the former distance record of 62 miles.

Read more about China’s supremacy in the quantum teleportation race.

14. Human Mini-Brains Growing Inside Rat Bodies Are Integrating

We’re living in the age of farmed organs, but scientists are still working out the kinks. These days, they’re growing human mini-organs inside animal bodies using stem cells that can be coerced into turning into livers, hearts, and brains. The brains are proving to be a bit problematic: in November, scientists reported that human brain cells grown inside rats are starting to transfer blood and nerve signals, giving the researchers pause: might these rat-brain hybrids become conscious?

Read more about whether hybrid rat-human brains will ever wake up.

13. Conspiracy Theorists Have a Basic Cognitive Issue, Say Scientists

Conspiracy theories abounded this year, which is perhaps not surprising, as previous studies have shown that increases in such beliefs tend to correlate with rising mistrust in authority structures. In October, scientists discovered what’s different about the way that people with these beliefs actually think: people who tend to believe in conspiracy theories, they explained, see patterns that don’t actually exist, and it’s this “illusory pattern perception” that causes them to believe in bizarre explanations for those imaginary patterns.

Read more about what’s different about the brains of conspiracy theorists.

12. Here’s Scientist Bill Richards’s Playlist for Tripping on Mushrooms

Psychedelic researchers have had a big year, using mind-altering drugs to treat psychological illness and thereby mitigating decades of stigma against them. Studies on the effects of the drugs, however, must be meticulously designed so that they will be considered legitimate, and so Bill Richards, Ph.D., a Johns Hopkins University researcher, used science to create a seven-hour playlist to maximize the experience of a psychedelic trip.

Read more about how to listen to music during a mushroom trip like a psychedelic scientist.

11. The Crazy Flat Earthers’ Theory That Trees Don’t Exist Isn’t Completely Crazy

The Flat Earth Movement drew criticism from Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and pretty much every other rational mind out there, but one of their bizarre theories actually kind of made sense. Kind of. Some Flat Earthers believe that what we call trees are actually just the tiny remnants of a world where trees were as wide as mountains and were so tall they scraped the sky. In the “no forests” theory, the present-day world represents the sad, small remains of what the Earth once was — which, as Inverse argued, is not altogether untrue.

Read more about the flat-Earther “no forest” theory and its somewhat compelling argument.

10. Indonesia Sea Monster Has Been Identified (It’s Not a Giant Squid)

In May, our appetite for the grotesque was satiated when news broke about a “sea monster” that had washed up on the shore of Indonesia’s Maluku Islands. This 50-foot-long blob of flesh was so badly decomposed that it was unidentifiable, and the giant bones that pierced through it only deepened its mystery. But about a week after it washed up, experts finally determined that it was the corpse of a type of baleen whale, misshapen because of the hot gases that bloated up inside it during decomposition.

Read more about the huge, dead sea animals mistaken for sea monsters.

9. Genetic Analysis Shows Early Humans Avoided Inbreeding, Incest

This year marked the penultimate season of Game of Thrones, which was as rife with incestuous themes as any other season. A study published in October echoed those themes, suggesting that our ancient human ancestors were a lot less genetically reckless than the inhabitants of Westeros. In the Science study, archaeologists showed evidence that humans buried together in Russia 34,000 years ago were no closer than second cousins, suggesting that even these humans knew not to bone their closest relations.

Read more about why incest is best left to the characters on Game of Thrones.

8. Scientists Discover Super-Massive Black Holes Just Outside Our Own Galaxy

We’re comfortable making movies about black holes because they’ve long seemed so far removed from real life, but a study published in January suggested that they’re a lot closer to us than we think. In an announcement from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, scientists reported that they’d found evidence of two super-massive black holes in two of the Milky Way’s neighboring galaxies, 39 million and 176 million light years away from us.

Read more about your friendly neighborhood super-massive black holes.

7. Long-Term Marijuana Use Changes Brain at the Cellular Level, say Scientists

Weed smokers have long noticed, anecdotally, that long-term marijuana use tends to change people’s behavior, but it wasn’t until October of this year that scientists started to notice the cellular changes underlying those behavioral shifts. Using rats that were administered daily doses of marijuana, researchers publishing in JNeurosci showed that the GABA neurons in the brain were unable to properly regulate the amount of dopamine swimming around, causing abnormally drawn-out good feelings of reward — which is the mechanism that’s thought to lead to addiction.

Read more about marijuana’s long-term effects on your brain.

6. Upper Body Strength Is Biggest Factor in Male Attractiveness

Scientists behind a controversial study, published in December, used the results of a questionably designed experiment to argue that women, by and large, find strong-looking men attractive because those men look like they can fight. The ability to fight, in turn, is said to be appealing because ancient women needed men to protect them, and some vestige of that preference remains today. The researchers’ explanation, however, didn’t take into account the fact that perhaps the women involved in the study were not necessarily hard-wired to find those men attractive and rather were subject to a number of other influences, including their own personal choice.

Read more about why male attractiveness isn’t all about being swole.

5. Neil deGrasse Tyson Slams Flat Earth Theory With a Single Picture

Astrophysicist and notorious know-it-all Neil deGrasse Tyson could not resist sharing his thoughts on the rising Flat Earth conspiracy theorist movement, tweeting a sick eclipse-related riddle in November that was guaranteed to stump even the staunchest “globalist” truther.

Read more about Neil deGrasse Tyson’s admittedly clever addition to the flat Earth debate.

4. What Never Leaving Your Hometown Does to Your Brain

Written in 2015, this scientific investigation on the psychological effect of staying in one’s hometown remains a perpetual Inverse Science favorite. It’s not surprising, considering that migration rates among American youth are at a historic low and that more and more people are choosing to put down roots in the states where they were born.

Read more about the psychological effect of never leaving home.

3. Nanoparticle Scientists Warn Tattooed Folks: Ink Doesn’t Stay Put

A report from nanoparticle scientists in September, published in Scientific Reports, cast doubt on the permanence of ink tattoos, revealing that tiny particles from certain kinds of inks actually swim away from the skin and wind up in the lymph nodes. In particular, they found elevated levels of titanium dioxide, a white compound that’s often added to other pigments, in the lymph nodes of the four cadavers they used in their small study. It’s not clear yet whether the escaped compounds pose any danger to people with tattoos, but it’s certainly something scientists must consider.

Read more about the troubling impermanence of seemingly “permament” tattoos.

2. Surgeons Remove Over 28 Pounds of Feces From a Constipated Man

It was hard for readers to resist the horrific photo of an enormous colon, clogged with nearly 29 pounds of feces, cradled like a small animal in the arms of a surgeon. It belonged to a 22-year-old Chinese man in Shanghai who, suffering from an ailment called Hirschsprung’s disease, was unable to expel the majority of waste in his body for his entire life. He’s fine now, thanks to a team of surgeons who removed 30 inches of his swollen colon during a 3-hour operation.

Read more about what happens to a body when it never gets to poop.

1. Scientists Have Found the ‘Holy Grail’ of Physics, Metallic Hydrogen

Kicking off the year, in January, was a monumental announcement by Harvard physicist Isaac Silvera, Ph.D., who claimed to have created metallic hydrogen — a theoretical state of matter that scientists never thought would be possible. Silvera reported in Science that he had forced elemental hydrogen into that state using immense amounts of pressure and extremely cold temperatures, noting that, if produced in large enough amounts, metallic hydrogen could be used as a form of fuel for deep space travel. Other scientists in the narrow field, however, did not mince words when the time came to publicly criticize Silvera’s work.

U.S. Government Lifts 3-Year Research Ban on Engineering Lethal Viruses


The United States National Institutes of Health is ending a three-year moratorium on funding research on extremely dangerous viruses that were previously considered too risky to study in a lab. On Tuesday, the agency announced new guidelines for scientists seeking NIH support in studying pathogens capable of creating a pandemic. Now, in NIH-approved labs, scientists can increase the strength of viruses like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), and influenzas to understand how they evolve and spread.

Scientists are celebrating the end of the moratorium as a forward step in their work and in public health in general. On Monday, NIH Director Francis Collins said in a media briefing that the decision will “help to facilitate the safe, secure, and responsible conduct of this type of research.”

The viruses affected by the previous ban, like H5N1 influenza, cause severe disease and have a high mortality rate. According to the World Health Organization, the mortality rate for human cases of H5N1 is 60 percent, the mortality rate for MERS is 35 percent, and the mortality rate for SARS ranges from one to 50 percent, increasing in precariousness as a person ages.

Lung tissue pathology due to SARS.

The U.S. government instituted its ban on funding experiments that could potentially make pathogens more transmissible in 2014. In these “gain-of-function” studies, designed with the goal of understanding disease pathways, scientists increase the ability of the infectious disease to spread by enhancing its pathogenicity, or its ability to cause disease.

 Doing so gives scientists a better understanding of how a virus interacts with its host and how genetics affects its strength, which is necessary for creating more effective vaccines.

The original ban was put into place after a series of careless biosafety incidents at federal research facilities. In 2014, two labs were forced to close after the facilities accidentally shipped live anthrax and a highly virulent strain of H5N1. In that same year, six vials of live smallpox were found in an FDA lab in Bethesda, Maryland, and 75 CDC employees in Atlanta were thought to be exposed to anthrax.

“During this pause, the U.S. Government will not fund any new projects involving these experiments and encourages those currently conducting this type of work — whether federally funded for not — to voluntarily pause their research while risks and benefits are being reassessed,” the White House Office of Science and Technology announced in 2014.

“The funding pause will not apply to the characterization or testing of naturally occurring influenza, MERS, and SARS viruses unless there is a reasonable expectation that these tests would increase transmissibility or pathogenicity.”

A 3-D images of Middle East respiratory syndrome, known as MERS.

The lifting of the ban, which scientists previously argued was too broad, means that the government has decided these gain-of-function experiments aren’t a serious threat to the public. In the new guidelines, the NIH says that research involving potential pandemic pathogens is “essential to protecting global health and security” and outlines the new rules for studying the pathogens. These include the provision that says the experiment can only proceed if there are “no feasible, equally efficacious alternative methods to address the same question in a manner that poses less risk than does the proposed approach.”

Meet the Cyborg Beetles, Real Insects That Are Controlled Like Robots


The future is crawling towards us on six legs. Motherboard traveled to Singapore to meet with Dr. Hirotaka Sato, an aerospace engineer at Nanyang Technological University. Sato and his team are turning live beetles into cyborgs by electrically controlling their motor functions.

Having studied the beetles’ muscle configuration, neural networks, and leg control, the researchers wired the insects so that they could be controlled by a switchboard. In doing so, the researchers could manipulate the different walking gaits, speeds, flying direction, and other forms of motion.

Essentially, the beetles became like robots with no control over their own motor functioning. Interestingly, though the researchers control the beetles through wiring, their energy still comes naturally from the food they eat. Hence, the muscles are driven by the insects themselves, but they have no willpower over how their muscles move.

Moreover, turning beetles into cyborgs seems to not be that harmful to them. Their natural lifespan is three to six months, and even with the researchers’ interference, they can survive for several months. According to the researchers, a beetle has never died right after stimulation.

And while this technology may seem crazy, the implications are very practical. Sensors that detect heat, and hence people, can be placed on the beetles, so that they can be manipulated to move toward a person. This can be helpful when searching for someone, such as in a criminal investigation or finding a terrorist.

The researchers are very serious about ensuring that whatever the applications are for this technology, that they go toward peaceful purposes. And who knows how far it could go? With this much progress manipulating the motor functions of creatures as small as beetles, perhaps it can be used for even bigger animal targets.

Watch the video. URL:https://youtu.be/tgLjhT7S15U

Meet the Cyborg Beetles, Real Insects That Are Controlled Like Robots


The future is crawling towards us on six legs. Motherboard traveled to Singapore to meet with Dr. Hirotaka Sato, an aerospace engineer at Nanyang Technological University. Sato and his team are turning live beetles into cyborgs by electrically controlling their motor functions.

Having studied the beetles’ muscle configuration, neural networks, and leg control, the researchers wired the insects so that they could be controlled by a switchboard. In doing so, the researchers could manipulate the different walking gaits, speeds, flying direction, and other forms of motion.

Essentially, the beetles became like robots with no control over their own motor functioning. Interestingly, though the researchers control the beetles through wiring, their energy still comes naturally from the food they eat. Hence, the muscles are driven by the insects themselves, but they have no willpower over how their muscles move.

Moreover, turning beetles into cyborgs seems to not be that harmful to them. Their natural lifespan is three to six months, and even with the researchers’ interference, they can survive for several months. According to the researchers, a beetle has never died right after stimulation.

And while this technology may seem crazy, the implications are very practical. Sensors that detect heat, and hence people, can be placed on the beetles, so that they can be manipulated to move toward a person. This can be helpful when searching for someone, such as in a criminal investigation or finding a terrorist.

The researchers are very serious about ensuring that whatever the applications are for this technology, that they go toward peaceful purposes. And who knows how far it could go? With this much progress manipulating the motor functions of creatures as small as beetles, perhaps it can be used for even bigger animal targets.

Uploading human brain for eternal life is possible .


Reuters/Michaela Rehle

“People could probably live inside a machine. Potentially, I think it is definitely a possibility,” Dr Hannah Critchlow of the Cambridge Neuroscience said at the popular Hay Festival in Wales, as quoted by The Telegraph.

Although the human brain is enormously complex, scientists are beginning to better understand its separate parts’ functions, Critchlow said, describing the brain as a complex circuit board. The scientist claimed it “would be possible” to recreate it as a computer program: “If you had a computer that could make those 100 trillion circuit connections – then that circuit is what makes us us.”

“We are about 100 billion nerve cells and the most complicated circuit board you could image,” the neuroscientist, who produces and presents brainy interactive experiences for the public and has been named among the UK’s Top 100 scientists by the Science Council, told the audience.

She also debunked a common myth that humans only use some 10 percent of their brain, explaining the whole thing is constantly running in idle mode to save energy and certain areas are only powered up when needed. She noted that despite only weighing about 1.5 kilos and taking up just two percent of the body’s mass, the brain “takes about 20 percent of all energy consumption.”

The neuroscientist confirmed that the brain’s right and left hemispheres are different, and that there is some evidence to support the belief that left-handed people are more creative.

It is known that the right hemisphere of the brain, which is more active in left-handed people, is linked to creativity. Recent studies have shown that creative thought can be externally improved by special devices stimulating that part of the brain. It is now possible to buy hats containing electrodes to stimulate the area for around $80, the scientist said.

White House declares war on ‘superbugs’ .


U.S. President Barack Obama.(Reuters / Jonathan Ernst)

U.S. President Barack Obama.

The Obama administration has unveiled a $1.2 billion plan to combat drug-resistant bacteria, also known as ‘superbugs.’ Five out of six Americans are on antibiotics, and 23,000 die annually of drug-resistant infections.

Released to the public on Friday, the National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria envisions efforts to rein in over-prescription of antibiotics by doctors, use of “medically important antibiotics” in food animals, and the spread of drug-resistant bacteria, while promoting the development of new and more effective antibiotics for human use.

We know that 5 out of 6 Americans are prescribed antibiotics each year. That adds up to 262 million antibiotic prescriptions annually,” president Obama said in an exclusive interview with WebMD. “And studies have consistently shown that a lot of America’s antibiotic use is unnecessary.

One of the main causes of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is the use of antibiotics when they are not needed, the president said. Drug-resistant infections are on the rise: according to government statistics, there are two million infections a year in the US, resulting in 23,000 deaths.

The plan envisions $1.2 billion in funding to various government agencies. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would begin research on new antibiotics, while the Department of Agriculture is to start reducing “irresponsible use” of antibiotics in livestock and poultry. A newly created Presidential Advisory Council on Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria, with up to 30 members managed by the HHS, would be entrusted with oversight of the plan.

We’re seeing an increase in drug-resistant organisms that are affecting every community,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Dr. Tom Frieden told The Hill, “and are at risk, really, to undermine much of modern medicine.

The CDC would use the $264.3 million increase in funding to develop prevention programs in every state, potentially forestalling 600,000 infections and $8 billion in medical costs, Dr. Frieden said.

Some questions remain as to where the money would come from. President Obama says some of the funding is already in the 2016 budget, but it appears the rest will have to get approval from the Republican-controlled Congress.

Wherever we can act without Congress, we will. But to get the whole job done, we need Congress to step up,” Obama told WebMD.

The plan has already faced some criticism for not going far enough to reduce antibiotic use in agriculture. Industrial farming accounts for the vast majority of antibiotic consumption in the US, and is on the rise around the world.

The plan continues to allow the routine feeding of antibiotics to animals that live in the crowded conditions endemic to industrial farms,” said a statement by environmentalist group Natural Resources Defense Council.

Monsanto’s Roundup system threatens extinction of monarch butterflies .


Reuters / Michael Fiala

Monsanto’s Roundup Ready system – a potent herbicide combined with genetically-modified seeds that can withstand it – has decimated the monarch butterfly’s only source of food in the Midwest, putting it on the edge of extinction, according to a new study.

Biotechnology conglomerate Monsanto’s glyphosate-based Roundup has become the most common herbicide in American agriculture today, used in tandem with the company’s genetically-engineered Roundup Ready crops.

Since its heavy proliferation began in the 1990s, glyphosate has been a leading killer of 99 percent of milkweed in the Midwest’s corn and soybean fields. Glyphosate-sensitive milkweed plants are the only spots where monarchs lay eggs, as the plant is the only food source for monarch larvae.

According to the Center for Food Safety’s new report, Monarchs in Peril: Herbicide-Resistant Crops and the Decline of Monarch Butterflies in North America,” these conditions have contributed to a drastic 90-percent drop in population for monarchs in their main habitat, crop fields in the Midwest.

“This report is a wake-up call. This iconic species is on the verge of extinction because of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready crop system,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director for the Center for Food Safety.

“To let the monarch butterfly die out in order to allow Monsanto to sell its signature herbicide for a few more years is simply shameful.”

As Monsanto is on the precipice of receiving US government approval for its next generation of the Roundup Ready system, the report raises the question of how much longer will the monarch survive?

“Milkweed growing in Midwest cropland is essential to the monarch’s continued survival. Without milkweed, we’ll have no monarchs,” said Dr. Martha Crouch, a biologist for the Center for Food Safety and a co-author of the report.

“Very few of us fully understand the ecological impacts of our food system, but we need to pay attention. The decline of the monarch is a stark reminder that the way we farm matters.”

The Center for Food Safety said it was presenting the new report “to Congress today at an expert briefing on the decline of monarchs.”

In December, the US Fish and Wildlife Service said it may designate the monarch as a threatened species under the US Endangered Species Act. The agency review comes in response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Food Safety, and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation to list the subspecies of monarch (Danaus plexippus plexippus).

Disregarding their natural beauty, monarch butterflies play an important role in ecology. They carry pollen from plant to plant, helping fruits and flowers to produce new seeds. In their caterpillar stage, they are a food source for birds, mammals, and other insects.

While milkweed can grow away from main cropland, there is an increasingly low amount of habitat that can support monarchs. Herbicide spraying over corn and soybeans fields that dominate the Midwestern Corn Belt leave monarchs to search for milkweed in other areas like roadsides and pastures, according to the report. Monarchs also produce four times more eggs per plant on milkweed growing in a crop field as opposed to milkweed sprouting elsewhere, the Center for Food Safety claimed.

Monarchs are also threatened by global climate change, drought and heat waves, other pesticides, urban sprawl, and logging on their Mexican wintering grounds. Scientists have predicted that the monarch’s entire winter range in Mexico and large parts of its summer range in the states could become unsuitable due to these threats.

The report said that as monarch population sinks, they will likely become more susceptible to remarkable weather events.

The Center for Food Safety listed a host of policy recommendations in the report, including that the US Department of Agriculture should “reject applications to approve new herbicide-resistant crops, and [US Environmental Protection Agency] should deny registrations of herbicides for use on them, unless or until appropriate restrictions are enacted to ameliorate their harms to milkweeds, monarchs and pollinators.”

“Glyphosate is the monarch’s enemy number one. To save this remarkable species, we must quickly boost milkweed populations and curtail the use of herbicide-resistant crop systems,” said Bill Freese, a co-author of the report.

As RT reported last month, the Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service approved Monsanto’s new GMO cotton and soybean plants. The company now awaits approval from the Environmental Protection Agency for it latest herbicide – a mix of the formidable chemical dicamba and glyphosate, which the company has developed for use on the newly-approved GMO crops.

The new GMO crops – coupled with the dicamba/glyphosate cocktail – make up what Monsanto has dubbed the ‘Roundup Ready Xtend crop system,’ designed to trump super weeds that have evolved along with its Roundup biocide.

For its part, Monsanto says it is seeking alternatives for the monarch.

“At Monsanto, we’re committed to doing our part to protect these amazing butterflies. That’s why we are collaborating with experts from universities, nonprofits, and government agencies to help the monarch by restoring their habitat in Crop Reserve Program land, on-farm buffer strips, roadsides, utility rights-of way and government-owned land.”

New technique fights aging, extends life of cultured human cells .


The high vulnerability of cultured adult stem cells has posed a big problem for microbiological research. But a new technique, developed by Stanford scientists, can extend the life of cultured cells and offer clues to solving diseases and prolonging life.

The technique can quickly increase the length of human telomeres, the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes. As a result, the treated cells behave as if they are much younger and multiply with abandon in the laboratory dish – rather than stagnating and dying. Normally, telomeres shorten with each cell division, and this is the reason a cell eventually dies.

Now we have found a way to lengthen human telomeres by as much as 1,000 nucleotides, turning back the internal clock in these cells by the equivalent of many years of human life,”said Helen Blau, PhD, professor of microbiology and immunology at Sanford, in a statement. “This greatly increases the number of cells available for studies such as drug testing and disease modeling.”

The procedure involves the use of a modified type of RNA (ribonucleic acid), one of the features of a chromosome. RNA carries instructions from genes in the DNA to a cell’s protein-making factories, and with the new method increases the length of telomeres by 10 percent, allowing the cells to divide about 28 more times for skin cells, and about three more times for muscle cells.

“This new approach paves the way toward preventing and treating disease of aging,” said Blau. “There are also highly debilitating genetic diseases associated with telomere shortening that could benefit from such a potential treatment.”

Blau and her colleagues became interested in telomeres when studying the muscle stem cells of boys with Duchenne muscular dystrophy – a genetic disease that leads to muscle wasting – and who also exhibited shorted telomeres.

A paper describing the research extending telomeres was published in FASEB Journal.

This study is the first step towards the development of telomere extension to improve cell therapies and to possibly treat disorders of accelerated aging in humans,” said John Cooke, co-author of the study and now chair of cardiovascular science at the Houston Methodist Research Institute.

If successful, the new technique could make adult stem cells, or differentiated stem cells, more viable for research, since they typically cannot be cultured indefinitely in a lab. While controversial, embryonic stem cells – derived from embryos developed from eggs that have been fertilized at an in vitro fertilization clinic – have advantages over adult stem cells because they are more resilient. They are also less likely to be rejected in therapies.

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