Harvard scientists say this one exercise can help you live longer

What’s the secret to living a long and healthy life?

I see this question asked ALL the time.

Here’s the thing…

When you look up stories from centenarians describing how they lived so long, the stories vary wildly: one may say that they ate bacon every day, another may claim that daily jogging is the key to long life, and another may say they’ve been drinking alcohol every day for the last ninety years.

So, how can you work out the habits that will give YOU the best chance of living a longer life?

Scientific research, and lots of it!

Research is designed to eliminate factors you can’t control, and also be statistically significant for the majority of participants.

And the more positive research there is, the higher chance it will actually benefit you.

And in study after study, scientists have found the one key conclusion towards living a longer and more active life: exercise.

Exercise is the be all end all answer when searching for an all-around Fountain of Youth.

Doctors usually recommend at least half an hour of exercise, five days a week, or around 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week.

And for good reason, too: not only have studies proven that exercise can extend your lifespan, but they have also proven that it can improve cognitive strength and generally keep your brain healthy and active.

Beat Out the Sweat, Beat In the Life

Harvard University School of Public Health recently released a study that examined the exact kind of exercise that was found to be most effective in significantly cutting down average death rate.

The secret is moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, which is also known as MVPA. MVPA basically includes exercise that forces you to break out a sweat, raising your heartbeat and pushing yourself slightly more than you’re comfortable with.

Activities such as light biking, swimming, and brisk walking all fall in this category.

To find these results, the study examined a total of 16,741 women over a four-year period. The participants who had actively engaged in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity throughout their lives were found to have 60 to 70% lower mortality rates than the participants who generally lived lives with no exercise, or sedentary lifestyles.

Changing Methodology and Improving Results

As great as the study may be, it’s easy to think of it as just another study lauding the great benefits of exercise.

However, there is something about this study that makes it slightly more accurate than most of those that have come before it.

According to the lead author of the study, Harvard professor I-Min Lee who specializes in epidemiology, the one aspect about their study that made it much more reliable than earlier studies on the connection between exercise and lifespan was their methodology.

Whereas other studies have come to similar conclusions regarding exercise and lifespan, those conclusions could have been shaped by confirmation bias; that is, since we are already expecting that exercise can add years to the average human life, then it is easier to believe in links that could prove that this is the case, even if those links aren’t truly definitive in the first place.

This is because many studies rely entirely on self-reported results: participants are chosen to take part in the study, and then are requested to submit updates about their health and condition over a certain period of time.

The problem with this data collection technique is that the average individual can’t be totally relied upon to submit consistently truthful information.

They may be suffering confirmation bias themselves (those who exercise believe they are healthier than they actually are), or they could misremember how much they exercise or exaggerate certain details. Ultimately, it is a flawed way of collecting data.

But Lee wanted to tackle this by conducting a study where the data could be absolutely trusted. They did this with the use of a device known as a triaxial accelerometer.

Participants wore this device for four years, which collected information about their physical activity; how much they exercised and to what magnitude.

Just How Useful Exercise Really Is

What they found through this more accurate means of data collection not only gave more definitive proof for the link between exercise and extending lifespans.

It also found that previous estimates of just how beneficial exercise could be were lower than their own findings. Lee’s study found that exercise was far more beneficial than we previously thought.

As Lee described to Psychology Today, previous studies that relied on self-reported data generally estimated a 20 to 30% mortality rate reduction, while their study found a 60 to 70% reduction.

In the scientific community, a difference as huge as 40% can be considered a game changer.

So what are you waiting for? Get those jogging shoes on right away.

Porridge could be key to a long and healthy life, says Harvard University.

Eating porridge, brown rice or corn each day could protect the heart against disease, Harvard University has found

Porridge could be key to a long and healthy life, says Harvard University

Youngsters who eat oats regularly are 50 per cent less likely to be overweight, one study of 10,000 children found

A small bowl of porridge each day could be the key to a long and healthy life, after a major study by Harvard University found that whole grains reduce the risk of dying from heart disease.

Although whole grains are widely believed to be beneficial for health it is the first research to look at whether they have a long-term impact on lifespan.

Researchers followed more than 100,000 people for more than 14 years monitoring their diets and health outcomes.

Everyone involved in the study was healthy in 1984 when they enrolled, but when they were followed up in 2010 more than 26,000 had died.

However those who ate the most whole grains, such as porridge, brown rice, corn and quinoa seemed protected from many illnesses and particularly heart disease.Oats are already the breakfast of choice for many athletes and also for dieters, who find the high fibre levels give them energy for longer.

But scientists found that for each ounce (28g) of whole grains eaten a day – the equivalent of a small bowl of porridge – the risk of all death was reduced by five per cent and heart deaths by 9 per cent.

“These findings further support current dietary guidelines that recommend increasing whole-grain consumption,” said lead author Dr Hongyu Wu of Harvard School of Public Health.

“They also provide promising evidence that suggests a diet enriched with whole grains may confer benefits towards extended life expectancy.”

The findings remained even when allowing for different ages, smoking, body mass index and physical activity.

Whole grains, where the bran and germ remain, contain 25 per cent more protein than refined grains, such as those that make white flour, pasta and white rice.

Previous studies have shown that whole grains can boost bone mineral density, lower blood pressure, promote healthy gut bacteria and reduce the risk of diabetes. One particular fibre found only in oats – called beta-glucan – has been found to lower cholesterol which can help to protect against heart disease. A bioactive compound called avenanthramide is also thought to stop fat forming in the arteries, preventing heart attacks and strokes.

Whole grains are also widely recommended in many dietary guidelines because they contain high levels of nutrients like zinc, copper, manganese, iron and thiamine. They are also believed to boost levels of antioxidants which combat free-radicals.

The new research suggests that if more people switched to whole grains, thousands of lives could be saved each year. Coronary heart disease is Britain’s biggest killer, responsible for around 73,000 deaths in the UK each year. Around 2.3 million people are living with the condition and one in six men and one in 10 women will die from the disease.

Health experts said the study proved that whole grains were beneficial to health

Victoria Taylor, Senior Dietician at the British Heart Foundation, said: “This is an interesting study and reinforces existing dietary recommendations to eat more foods high in fibre.

“People with a higher intake of whole grains also tended to have a healthier overall lifestyle and diet so it might not be the whole grains alone that are having the benefit in relation to cardiovascular disease.

“But at this time of year when we are all making resolutions to eat better, switching to whole-grain versions of bread, breakfast cereals, pasta and rice is a simple change to make.”

Source:  JAMA: Internal Medicine.

Recent Breakthroughs in Stem Cell Research Reveal That, Yes, Diabetes Can One Day Be Curable.

For Doug Melton, a researcher at Harvard University, his work with stem cell research has been fueled by his personal life—he has a son and daughter who both have type 1 diabetes. What Melton and his team have been trying to figure out, then, is whether human stem cells can produce insulin, essentially curing diabetes in the process.

The answer: probably.

The uncertainty in that answer comes from the fact that there just hasn’t been enough testing done to guarantee that, yes, diabetes will be cured with this treatment. That said, after dedicating fifteen years of his work to advancing this research, Melton and his team recently experienced what they believe to be their biggest breakthrough.

In a paper that will soon be published by the journal, Cell, Melton reports that not only were they able to rid mice of their diabetes within ten days, but that, in time, they could possess the ability to make hundreds of millions of cells that can both read the amount of sugar in the blood AND secrete the amount of insulin needed. This means that, instead of keeping diabetes at bay with external insulin applications (oral, injection), we can actually attack the disease, something many of us have been wishing we could do for some time.

Watch the video. URL:https://youtu.be/wGXfOBzP17o


Injectable electronics now exist that could one day help treat paralysis

It sounds like something taken straight from a science-fiction movie, but this is science fact: a group of international researchers led by Professor Charles Lieber of Harvard University have developed a method for injecting nano-scale electronic scaffolds into animal bodies. Once connected to electronic devices, these meshes can be used to monitor neural activity and even stimulate tissue and neurons.

Ultimately the methods pioneered by Lieber and his colleagues could lead to new ways to treat neurodegenerative diseases and paralysis, as well as mapping out the brain in greater detail than ever before. Parkinson’s is just one of the conditions that could be treated in this way, if it’s proved to be safe for humans – so far it has only been tested on mice.

The team brought together by Lieber is made up of internationally renowned physicists, neuroscientists and chemists, and he thinks the technique could make a huge difference in the future. “I do feel that this has the potential to be revolutionary,” Lieber said, as Phys.org reports. “This opens up a completely new frontier where we can explore the interface between electronic structures and biology.”

“For the past thirty years, people have made incremental improvements in micro-fabrication techniques that have allowed us to make rigid probes smaller and smaller, but no one has addressed this issue – the electronics/cellular interface – at the level at which biology works,” adds Lieber. His work has just been published inNature Nanotechnology.

Once injected, the miniature scaffolding is able to unfurl itself and melds with the existing brain tissue – the neurons apparently look at the new mesh as a friendly support rather than something alien to the body. From there, individual neurons can be both monitored and stimulated through a small connection to the brain. The team says the next step in the research is to try the same technique with larger meshes and more sensors.

MeshThe electronic mesh being injected into a solution unmagnified (left) and through a bright-field microscope (right). Credit: Lieber Research Group, Harvard University

The group of scientists Lieber has brought together are trying to solve a long-standing neuroscience mystery: exactly how the activity of individual brain cells lead to larger cognitive powers (like emotion or perception). Because the new mesh is 95 percent free space, and made of very soft and flexible silk, the brain tissue is able to comfortably rearrange itself around it.

“I think it’s great, a very creative new approach to the problem of recording from large number of neurons in the brain,” Rafael Yuste, director of the Neuro­technology Centre at Columbia University in New York, told Nature.com.

At this stage not everyone is confident the new procedure can be applied safely to human beings, however. Jens Schouenborg, who is head of the Neuronano Research Centre at Lund University in Sweden, has said he wants to see more evidence of long-term compatibility with the body. Schouenborg is also working on his own gelatin-based ‘needle’ for delivering electrodes into the brain.

Harvard Study Finds Fluoride Lowers IQ

Harvard University researchers’ review of fluoride/brain studies concludes “our results support the possibility of adverse effects of fluoride exposures on children’s neurodevelopment.” It was published online July 20 in Environmental Health Perspectives, a US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences’ journal (1), reports the NYS Coalition Opposed to Fluoridation, Inc. (NYSCOF)

“The children in high fluoride areas had significantly lower IQ than those who lived in low fluoride areas,” write Choi et al.

Harvard Study Finds Fluoride Lowers IQ - Published in Federal Gov't Journal

Further, the EPA says fluoride is a chemical “with substantial evidence of developmental neurotoxicity.”

Fluoride (fluosilicic acid) is added to US water supplies at approximately 1 part per million attempting to reduce tooth decay.

Water was the only fluoride source in the studies reviewed and was based on high water fluoride levels. However, they point out research by Ding (2011) suggested that low water fluoride levels had significant negative associations with children’s intelligence.

Choi et al. write, “Although fluoride may cause neurotoxicity in animal models and acute fluoride poisoning causes neurotoxicity in adults, very little is known of its effects on children’s neurodevelopment. They recommend more brain/fluoride research on children and at individual-level doses.

“It’s senseless to keep subjecting our children to this ongoing fluoridation experiment to satisfy the political agenda of special-interest groups,” says attorney Paul Beeber, NYSCOF President. “Even if fluoridation reduced cavities, is tooth health more important than brain health? It’s time to put politics aside and stop artificial fluoridation everywhere,” says Beeber.

After reviewing fluoride toxicological data, the NRC reported in 2006, “It’s apparent that fluorides have the ability to interfere with the functions of the brain.”

Choi’s team writes, “Fluoride readily crosses the placenta. Fluoride exposure to the developing brain, which is much more susceptible to injury caused by toxicants than is the mature brain, may possibly lead to damage of a permanent nature.”

Fluoride accumulates in the body. Even low doses are harmful to babies, the thyroid, kidney patients and heavy water-drinkers. There are even doubts about fluoridation’s effectiveness (2). New York CityLegislationis pending to stop fluoridation. Many communities have already stopped.

Infant formula when mixed with fluoridated water delivers 100-200 times more fluoride than breastmilk. (3)



Harvard Study Finds Fluoride Lowers IQ - Published in Federal Gov't Journal

As of May 2013, a total of 43 studies have investigated the relationship between fluoride and human intelligence, and a total of 19 studies have investigated the relationship fluoride andlearning/memoryin animals. Of these investigations, 37 of the 43 human studies have found that elevated fluoride exposure is associated with reduced IQ, while 19 of the 20 animal studies have found that fluoride exposure impairs the learning and memory capacity of animals. The human studies, which are based on IQ examinations of over 11,000 children, provide compelling evidence that fluoride exposure during the early years of life can damage a child’s developing brain.

After reviewing 27 of these studies, a team of Harvard scientists concluded that fluoride’s effect on the young brain should now be a “high research priority.” (Choi, et al 2012). Other reviewers have reached similar conclusions, including the prestigiousNational Research Council (NRC), and scientists in the Neurotoxicology Divisionof the Environmental Protection Agency (Mundy, et al).

Quick Facts About the 37 Studies:

  • Location of Studies: China (28), India (5), Iran (3), and Mexico (1).
  • Sources of Fluoride Exposure: 31 of the 37 IQ studies involved communities where the predominant source of fluoride exposure was water; six studies investigated fluoride exposure from coal burning.
  • Fluoride Levels in Water: IQ reductions have been significantly associated with fluoride levels of just 0.88 mg/L among children with iodine deficiency. (Lin 1991) Other studies have found IQ reductions at 1.8 ppm (Xu 1994); 1.9 ppm (Xiang 2003a,b); 0.3-3.0 ppm (Ding 2011); 2.0 ppm (Yao 1996, 1997); 2.1-3.2 ppm (An 1992); 2.3 ppm (Trivedi 2012); 2.38 ppm (Poureslami 2011); 2.45 ppm (Eswar 2011); 2.5 ppm (Seraj 2006); 2.85 ppm (Hong 2001); 2.97 ppm (Wang 2001, Yang 1994); 3.1 ppm (Seraj 2012); 3.15 ppm (Lu 2000); and 4.12 ppm (Zhao 1996).
  • Fluoride Levels in Urine: 12 of the 37 IQ studies have provided data on the level of fluoride in the children’s urine. 8 of these 12 studies reported that the average urine fluoride level was below 4 mg/l, and 6 reported average fluoride levels below 3 mg/L. To put these levels in perspective, a study from England found that 5.6% of the adult population in fluoridated areas have urinary fluoride levels exceeding 3 mg/L, and 1.1% have levels exceeding 4 mg/L. (Mansfield 1999) Although there is an appalling absence of urinary fluoride data among children in the United States, the excess ingestion of fluoride toothpaste among some young children is almost certain to produce urinary fluoride levels that exceed 2 ppm in a portion of the child population.
Harvard Study Finds Fluoride Lowers IQ - Published in Federal Gov't Journal

Methodological Limitations

As both the NRC and Harvard reviews have correctly pointed out, many of the fluoride/IQ studies have used relatively simple designs and have failed to adequately control for all of the factors that can impact a child’s intelligence (e.g., parental education, socioeconomic status, lead and arsenic exposure). For several reasons, however, it is extremely unlikely that these limitations can explain the association between fluoride and IQ.

First, some of the fluoride/IQ studies have controlled for the key relevant factors, and significant associations between fluoride and reduced IQ were still observed. This fact was confirmed in the Harvard review, which reported that the association between fluoride and IQ remains significant when considering only those studies that controlled for certain key factors (e.g., arsenic, iodine, etc). Indeed, the two studies that controlled for the largest number of factors (Rocha Amador 2007; Xiang 2003a,b) reported some of the largest associations between fluoride and IQ to date.

Second, the association between fluoride and reduced IQ in children is predicted by, and entirely consistent with, a large body of other evidence. Other human studies, for example, have found associations between fluoride and neurobehavior in ways consistent with fluoride being a neurotoxin. In addition, animal studies have repeatedly found that fluoride impairs the learning and memory capacity of rats under carefully controlled laboratory conditions. An even larger body of animal research has found that fluoride can directly damage the brain, a finding that has been confirmed in studies of aborted human fetuses from high-fluoride areas.

Finally, it is worth considering that before any of the studies finding reduced IQ in humans were known in the western world, a team of U.S. scientists at a Harvard-affiliated research center predicted (based on behavioral effects they observed in fluoride-treated animals) that fluoride might be capable of reducing IQ in humans. (Mullenix 1995)


When considering their consistency with numerous animal studies, it is very unlikely that the 37 human studies finding associations between fluoride and reduced IQ can allbe a random fluke. The question today, therefore, is less whether fluoride reduces IQ, but at what dose, at what time, and how this dose and time varies based on an individual’s nutritional status, health status, and exposure to other contaminants (e.g., aluminum, arsenic, lead, etc). Of particular concern is fluoride’s effect on children born to women with suboptimal iodine intake during the time of pregnancy, and/or fluoride’s effects on infants and toddlers with suboptimal iodine intake themselves. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, approximately 12% of the U.S. population has deficient exposure to iodine.

Want to influence the world? Map reveals the best languages to speak

Speak or write in English, and the world will hear you. Speak or write in Tamil or Portuguese, and you may have a harder time getting your message out. Now, a new method for mapping how information flows around the globe identifies the best languages to spread your ideas far and wide. One hint: If you’re considering a second language, try Spanish instead of Chinese.

Many books are translated into and out of languages such as English, German, and Russian, but Arabic has fewer translations relative to its many speakers. (Arrows between circles represent translations; the size of a language's circle is proportional to t

The study was spurred by a conversation about an untranslated book, says Shahar Ronen, a Microsoft program manager whose Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) master’s thesis formed the basis of the new work. A bilingual Hebrew-English speaker from Israel, he told his MIT adviser, César Hidalgo (himself a Spanish-English speaker), about a book written in Hebrew whose translation into English he wasn’t yet aware of. “I was able to bridge a certain culture gap because I was multilingual,” Ronen says. He began thinking about how to create worldwide maps of how multilingual people transmit information and ideas.

Ronen and co-authors from MIT, Harvard University, Northeastern University, and Aix-Marseille University tackled the problem by describing three global language networks based on bilingual tweeters, book translations, and multilingual Wikipedia edits. The book translation network maps how many books are translated into other languages. For example, the Hebrew book, translated from Hebrew into English and German, would be represented in lines pointing from a node of Hebrew to nodes of English and German. That network is based on 2.2 million translations of printed books published in more than 1000 languages. As in all of the networks, the thickness of the lines represents the number of connections between nodes. For tweets, the researchers used 550 million tweets by 17 million users in 73 languages. In that network, if a user tweets in, say, Hindi as well as in English, the two languages are connected. To build the Wikipedia network, the researchers tracked edits in up to five languages done by editors, carefully excluding bots.

In all three networks, English has the most transmissions to and from other languages and is the most central hub, the team reports online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. But the maps also reveal “a halo of intermediate hubs,” according to the paper, such as French, German, and Russian, which serve the same function at a different scale.

In contrast, some languages with large populations of speakers, such as Mandarin, Hindi, and Arabic, are relatively isolated in these networks. This means that fewer communications in those languages reach speakers of other languages. Meanwhile, a language like Dutch—spoken by 27 million people—can be a disproportionately large conduit, compared with a language like Arabic, which has a whopping 530 million native and second-language speakers. This is because the Dutch are very multilingual and very online.

The network maps show what is already widely known: If you want to get your ideas out, you can reach a lot of people through the English language. But the maps also show how speakers in disparate languages benefit from being indirectly linked through hub languages large and small. On Twitter, for example, ideas in Filipino can theoretically move to the Korean-speaking sphere through Malay, whereas the most likely path for ideas to go from Turkish to Malayalam (spoken in India by 35 million people) is through English. These networks are revealed in detail at the study’s website.

The authors note that the users they studied, whom they consider elite because—unlike most people in the world—they are literate and online, do not represent all the speakers of a language. However, “the elites of global languages have a disproportionate amount of power and responsibility, because they are tacitly shaping the way in which distant cultures see each other—even if this is not their goal,” Hidalgo says. When conflict in Ukraine flared this past summer, most people in the world learned about it through news stories originally written in English and then translated to other languages. In this case, “any implicit bias or angle taken by the English media will color the information about the conflict that is available to many non-English speakers,” Hidalgo says.

The networks potentially offer guidance to governments and other language communities that want to change their international role. “If I want my national language to be more prominent, then I should invest in translating more documents, encouraging more people to tweet in their national language,” Ronen says. “On the other side, if I want our ideas to spread, we should pick a second language that’s very well connected.”

For non-English speakers, the choice of English as second or third language is an obvious one. For English speakers, the analysis suggests it would be more advantageous to choose Spanish over Chinese—at least if they’re spreading their ideas through writing.

The problem of measuring the relative status of the world’s languages “is a very tricky one, and often very hard to get good data about,” says Mark Davis, the president and co-founder of the Unicode Consortium in Mountain View, California, which does character encoding for the world’s computers and mobile devices. “Their perspective on the problem is interesting and useful.”

Cultural transmission happens in spoken language too, points out William Rivers, the executive director of the nonprofit Joint National Committee for Languages and the National Council for Languages and International Studies in Garrett Park, Maryland. Data on interactions in, say, the souks of Marrakech, where people speak Arabic, Hassaniya, Moroccan Arabic, French, Tashelhit, and other languages, are impossible to get but important in cultural transmission, he says. He adds that “as the Internet has become more available to more people around the world, they go online in their own languages.” When they do, now they know how to connect to other languages and move their ideas, too.

Slippery banana study wins Ig Nobel

Research that investigated why bananas are slippery when you step on them has won one of this year’s Ig Nobel prizes.

Banana skin

The spoof awards that have become almost as famous as the real Nobels were handed out at their annual ceremony at Harvard University, US.

Kiyoshi Mabuchi’s Japanese team measured the friction of banana skin in the lab, and showed why apple and orange peel are not quite so hazardous.

The Kitasato University group received the physics Ig for their insights.

It is another classic of its type. The awards, which are run by the science humour magazine Annals of Improbable Research, can seem quite ridiculous at first.

But when you delve deeper, you often see a serious intention beyond just the tongue in cheek.

The Japanese scientists are interested in how friction and lubrication affect the movement of our limbs.

The polysaccharide follicular gels that give banana skins their slippery properties are also found in the membranes where our bones meet.

“This concept will help to design a joint prosthesis,” Kiyoshi Mabuchi told BBC News.

Set upIn their paper, the Kitasato group describes its experimental set-up

Another winner this year was the study that examined the brains of people who see the face of Jesus and other figures in slices of toast. The work won the neuroscience Ig.

Kang Lee, from the University of Toronto, Canada, and colleagues showed their subjects pictures of “noise” – like the random speckles you used to get on old, out-of-tune TVs – to see what patterns the volunteers would identify.

The face of expectation: Jesus on toast

This tendency to see order in randomness – like a face in the charred areas of a piece of bread – is a well-established phenomenon called pareidolia.

Using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Lee and his team saw how the same parts of the brain light up when we see non-existent faces as when we see real ones.

“Interestingly, when you superimpose all the noise images where these people say they see faces, and subtract all the noise images in which they told us they couldn’t see faces – when we do this type of image processing, a face does actually show up,” Prof Lee said.

The Toronto scientist explained that this type of pattern recognition was hard-wired, and even chimps experienced it.

“The face you are going to see is determined by your personal expectations or beliefs,” he added.

“So, for example, Buddhists might not see Jesus on toast, but they might see a Buddha on toast.”

This is the 24th year of the Ig Nobels, and they just get bigger and bigger.

Marc Abrahams, the editor of Annals of Improbable Research, said scientists were clearly now doing studies with an eye to winning an Ig.

“We’re getting about 9,000 nominations a year. About 10% to 20% are self-nominations, but these entries hardly ever win,” he told BBC News.

“That’s generally because they are just trying to be funny. Whereas, those who win perhaps don’t start out that way, and only realise later on that what they are up to really is kind of funny.”

The full list of winners this year:

PHYSICS: Kiyoshi Mabuchi, of Kitasato University, Japan, and colleagues,for measuring the amount of friction between a shoe and a banana skin, and between a banana skin and the floor, when a person steps on a banana skin that’s on the floor.

NEUROSCIENCE: Kang Lee, of the University of Toronto, Canada, and colleagues for trying to understand what happens in the brains of people who see the face of Jesus in a piece of toast.

PSYCHOLOGY: Peter Jonason, of the University of Western Sydney, Australia, and colleagues for amassing evidence that people who habitually stay up late are, on average, more self-admiring, more manipulative, and more psychopathic than people who habitually arise early in the morning.

PUBLIC HEALTH: Jaroslav Flegr, of Charles University, Czech Republic, and colleagues for investigating whether it is mentally hazardous for a human being to own a cat.

BIOLOGY: Vlastimil Hart, of the Czech University of Life Sciences, and colleagues for carefully documenting that when dogs defecate and urinate, they prefer to align their body axis with Earth’s north-south geomagnetic field lines.

ART: Marina de Tommaso, of the University of Bari, Italy, and colleaguesfor measuring the relative pain people suffer while looking at an ugly painting, rather than a pretty painting, while being shot [in the hand] by a powerful laser beam.

ECONOMICS: The Italian government’s National Institute of Statistics, for proudly taking the lead in fulfilling the European Union mandate for each country to increase the official size of its national economy by including revenues from prostitution, illegal drug sales, smuggling, and all other unlawful financial transactions between willing participants.

MEDICINE: Ian Humphreys, of Michigan State University, US, and colleagues, for treating “uncontrollable” nosebleeds, using the method of nasal-packing-with-strips-of-cured-pork.

ARCTIC SCIENCE: Eigil Reimers, of the University of Oslo, Norway, and colleagues, for testing how reindeer react to seeing humans who are disguised as polar bears.

NUTRITION: Raquel Rubio, of IRTA, Spain, and colleagues, for their study titled “Characterization of Lactic Acid Bacteria Isolated from Infant Faeces as Potential Probiotic Starter Cultures for Fermented Sausages.”

Researchers have developed an artificial spleen that cleans up blood infections

A new device can clean up blood infections and remove “everything from E. coli to Ebola”.


Top images show the magnetic nanobeads binding to Escherichia coli (left) and Staphylococcus aureus(right)  in the blood. Bottom images show the artificial biospleen set up.

Scientists from the US have developed a new, high-tech device that can clear infections from blood – even those caused by unknown pathogens.

The technology was inspired by our own spleen, and, as Sara Reardon reports for Nature News, it can rid the blood of “everything from Escherichia coli to Ebola”.

Blood infections are extremely difficult to treat and can lead to sepsis – an extreme immune response that can be fatal. More than half of the time, doctors don’t know what causes these blood infections, and they have to rely on broad-scale antibiotics in an attempt to treat the original infection, Reardon explains. This isn’t always effective, and can lead to antibiotic resistance.

But this new artificial “biospleen”, developed by a team of researchers led by Donald Ingber from Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering in Boston, promises to filter the blood and get rid of these infections more effectively.

The device’s power lies in a special, magnetic-nanobead filter. To create the filter, the scientists took magnetic nanobeads and coated them with a modified version of a protein called mannose-binding lectin (MBL). This protein is found in humans and it binds to sugar molecules on the surface of more than 90 different bacteria, viruses and fungi – including the toxins that dead bacteria release, which can trigger sepsis.

As a patient’s blood passes through the biospleen, these MBL-coated magnetic nanobeads bind to the majority of pathogens. A magnet in the artificial spleen then pulls the beads and the bacteria and viruses they’re attached to out of the blood, leaving the blood purified and ready to be pumped back into the patient.

The device has now been tested on rats infected with either E. coli or Staphylococcus aureus. Five hours after infection, 89% of the rats whose blood had been filtered through the biospleen were still alive, compared to only 14% of those who were not treated. Impressively, the scientists found that the device had removed more than 90% of the bacteria from the rats’ blood. Theresults are published in Nature Medicine.

“The rats whose blood had been filtered also had less inflammation in their lungs and other organs, suggesting they would be less prone to sepsis,” writes Reardon.

The team then tested the biospleen on five litres of blood, which is the volume in the average human, and found that within five hours, the device could remove most pathogens.

Reardon explains at Nature News: “That degree of efficacy is probably enough to control an infection, Ingber says. Once the biospleen has removed most pathogens from the blood, antibiotics and the immune system can fight off remaining traces of infection — such as pathogens lodged in the organs, he says.”

The biospleen could also be used to treat viral infections such as HIV and Ebola, according to Ingber, and testing as now begun in pigs.

Nigel Klein, an infection and immunity expert at University College London in the UK, told Reardon that he expects the biospleen could be trialled in humans within a couple of years.

Better catalyst for solar-powered hydrogen production.

Hydrogen is a “green” fuel that burns cleanly and can generate electricity via fuel cells. One way to sustainably produce hydrogen is by splitting water molecules using the renewable power of sunlight, but scientists are still learning how to control and optimize this reaction with catalysts. At the National Synchrotron Light Source, a research group has determined key structural information about a potential catalyst, taking a step toward designing an ideal material for the job.


Due to the mechanical and electrical complexity of the water-splitting reaction, there are many requirements in order for a catalyst to perform optimally. Scientists must understand not only a candidate’s local but also its structure over longer ranges – particularly the nanoscale, which tends to be a good indicator of a material’s electronic behavior and therefore its overall .

Scientists are increasingly focusing on a particular group of catalysts: cobalt-based thin films. These films are created via electrodeposition from aqueous solutions of cobalt mixed with an electrolyte. In this study, researchers from Columbia University, Harvard University, and Brookhaven Lab used x-rays to better understand the intermediate-range nanoscale structure of one of these films. They also investigated the structural differences between films grown using two electrolytes: phosphate, a negative phosphorous-oxygen ion, and borate, negative a boron-oxygen ion. The resulting films are denoted CoPi and CoBi, respectively.

X-ray scattering data from the CoPi and CoBi samples, taken at NSLS beamline X7B, indicate that both are nanocrystalline. This means that they consist of nanoscale grains, each ranging from about 1.5 to 3 nanometers (nm) in size with an ordered molecular structure. Aside from this, there are clear and important differences.

The CoBi films consist of 3-4 nm cobalate (cobalt–oxygen) clusters that stack neatly up to three layers deep. The CoPi films consist of significantly smaller clusters that do not stack in an ordered way.

These structural differences seem to tie into the films’ catalytic activity. Electrochemical data show that, as film thickness increased, the CoBi films were more active than CoPi and ultimately displayed a “significantly superior” performance. These findings suggest that the increase in CoBi film thickness also increases the effective surface area available for catalysis, while at the same time preserving the charge-transport properties of the films.

“Our results show a concrete difference between CoBi and CoPi, thus allowing the first insight into a tangible structure-function correlation,” said Harvard chemist and professor Daniel Nocera.

Chameleon in lab: Looking cooler when heated, thin coating tricks infrared cameras.

Active camouflage has taken a step forward at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), with a new coating that intrinsically conceals its own temperature to thermal cameras.

A chameleon in the physics lab

In a laboratory test, a team of applied physicists placed the device on a hot plate and watched it through an  as the  rose. Initially, it behaved as expected, giving off more infrared light as the sample was heated: at 60 degrees Celsius it appeared blue-green to the camera; by 70 degrees it was red and yellow. At 74 degrees it turned a deep red—and then something strange happened. The  plummeted. At 80 degrees it looked blue, as if it could be 60 degrees, and at 85 it looked even colder. Moreover, the effect was reversible and repeatable, many times over.

These surprising results, published today in the journal Physical Review X (an open-access publication of the American Physical Society), illustrate the potential for a new class of engineered materials to contribute to a range of new military and everyday applications.

Principal investigator Federico Capasso, Robert L. Wallace Professor of Applied Physics and Vinton Hayes Senior Research Fellow in Electrical Engineering at Harvard SEAS, predicts that with only small adjustments the coating could be used as a new type of thermal camouflage or as a kind of encrypted beacon to allow soldiers to covertly communicate their locations in the field.

The secret to the technology lies within a very thin film of vanadium oxide, an unusual material that undergoes dramatic electronic changes when it reaches a particular temperature. At , for example, pure vanadium oxide is electrically insulating, but at slightly higher temperatures it transitions to a metallic, electrically conductive state. During that transition, the optical properties change, too, which means special temperature-dependent effects—like infrared camouflage—can also be achieved.

The insulator-metal transition has been recognized in vanadium oxide since 1959. However, it is a difficult material to work with: in bulk crystals, the stress of the transition often causes cracks to develop and can shatter the sample. Recent advances in  synthesis and characterization—especially those by coauthor Shriram Ramanathan, Associate Professor of Materials Science at Harvard SEAS—have allowed the creation of extremely pure samples of thin-film vanadium oxide, enabling a burst of new science and engineering to take off in just the last few years.

“Thanks to these very stable samples that we’re getting from Prof. Ramanathan’s lab, we now know that if we introduce small changes to the material, we can dramatically change the optical phenomena we observe,” explains lead author Mikhail Kats, a graduate student in Capasso’s group at Harvard SEAS. “By introducing impurities or defects in a controlled way via processes known as doping, modifying, or straining the material, it is possible to create a wide range of interesting, important, and predictable behaviors.”

By doping vanadium oxide with tungsten, for example, the transition temperature can be brought down to room temperature, and the range of temperatures over which the strange thermal radiation effect occurs can be widened. Tailoring the material properties like this, with specific outcomes in mind, may enable engineering to advance in new directions.

The researchers say a vehicle coated in vanadium oxide tiles could mimic its environment like a chameleon, appearing invisible to an infrared camera with only very slight adjustments to the tiles’ actual temperature—a far more efficient system than the approaches in use today.

Tuned differently, the material could become a component of a secret beacon, displaying a particular thermal signature on cue to an infrared surveillance camera. Capasso’s team suggests that the material could be engineered to operate at specific wavelengths, enabling simultaneous use by many individually identifiable soldiers.

And, because thermal radiation carries heat, the researchers believe a similar effect could be employed to deliberately speed up or slow down the cooling of structures ranging from houses to satellites.

The Harvard team’s most significant contribution is the discovery that nanoscale structures that appear naturally in the transition region of  can be used to provide a special level of tunability, which can be used to suppress thermal radiation as the temperature rises. The researchers refer to such a spontaneously structured material as a “natural, disordered metamaterial.”

“To artificially create such a useful three-dimensional structure within a material is extremely difficult,” says Capasso. “Here, nature is giving us what we want for free. By taking these natural metamaterials and manipulating them to have all the properties we want, we are opening up a new area of research, a completely new direction of work. We can engineer new devices from the bottom up.”