As the pandemic raged, Pope Francis took a solo mindful moment in rainy Saint Peter's Square to remind us to “row together,” see HERE. Now his message is going to space on a satellite, in case it didn’t reach its intended target from Earth. While we wait for the June launch, read about cockroach sex, mice playing VR games, and allergies.
What might you find more than 5 miles under the sea where the pressure is about 80 megapascals (more than 800 times surface pressure)? Something gelatinous that won’t collapse. Researchers dropped a weighted, baited frame over the side of a ship and came up with the snailfish, Pseudoliparis belaevi — a record for the deepest fish ever. Says expedition scientist Alan Jamieson, “the maximum depth they can survive is truly astonishing.”
Cockroach traps have changed the way females choose mates
Male cockroaches back into mating, offering females their rear ends with a liquid meal extruded from a gland on their bellies (abdomens). As a female laps the liquid, a male latches onto her with his genital hook and inserts sperm. His genital appendages are like a pocket knife, which he uses to first remove any stored sperm if she’s not a virgin.
This hour and a half dalliance is time-tested, with cockroaches rampant on Earth for several hundred million years. But now, something’s amiss. Previous research showed that cockroaches had developed a sugar aversion, an adaptation to avoid the baits used to trap them. But the adaptation also disrupted their courtship behavior by causing females to reject their suitors once they got a taste of the simple sugar glucose.
Now, a new study reports that cockroaches have adapted again, this time by making a different sugar — maltotriose — that’s slower to break down to glucose in a female’s mouth. Study author Coby Schal says that “it’s actually preferred by females.” The male has to hurry, though. The sugar-loving males gave the females more than 3 seconds to eat before they started the deed, while the maltotriose males wait just 2.1 seconds.
The hypnotic process of how crystals assemble from nanoparticles
Generations have contemplated the powers of a crystal ball (c’mon, admit you’ve spent a hot second wondering). While there’s no scientific evidence for their conduit to the spirit world, crystals have intrigued people for centuries, such as Queen Elizabeth I who sought advice from occultist John Dee via his crystal.
Magic properties aside, just the chemical properties of crystals — defined solely by orderly patterns of atoms, molecules, or ions — has merited attention. And we’re not just talking about minerals that yield gemstones. Things like table salt and ice cubes also have crystalline structures. And, until a recent study, it was unclear how they formed at the micro level.
Researchers tracked the behavior of nanoparticles with electron microscopy, observing their gradual assembly into crystals. Says study author Erik Luijten, “I can’t believe we can actually see this. We have never seen the actual growth process before.” The nanoparticles self-organized into crystals by making horizontal, then vertical layers, with one occasionally falling to the level below. See it happening HERE.
Mice playing virtual reality games reveal memory storage secrets
If you enjoy virtual reality experiences, you have something in common with mice. Instead of real mazes, lab mice ran on a rotating ball in a VR maze, complete with color-changing patterns indicating motion and turns. In the recent study, the goal was not to entertain the mice, rather to see how their brains processed memories.
Researchers watched their brain activity as they played the VR games. Depending on which path they chose in the maze, they got sugary rewards or a puff in the face (not rewarding!). As they played, the anterior thalamus — an area implicated in information transfer — was activated. In fact, stimulating that area increased longer term memory retention in the mice (judging by their VR maze performance weeks later), suggesting that it consolidates memories.
Study author Toader compares it to how we remember stimulating events better than mundane ones, saying “The analogy would be your birthday dinner versus the dinner you had three Tuesdays ago. You're more likely to remember what you had on your birthday because it's more rewarding for you — all your friends are there.”
For millions of people, allergies are no joke. While they don’t make headline news, deaths from allergies happen daily, such as this nut-allergic highschooler who died hours after eating a granola bar with peanuts, or this fish-allergic college freshman who ate a “chicken” meal in the dining hall.
Even if people are aware of their food allergies, the complexity of our processed food ingredients makes them a risky proposition. Regular recalls such as this recent Tesco breakfast cereal display that despite our food safety organizations’ best efforts, we don’t have full control over what we ingest.
So, what if you have no food allergies? Count your blessings because many food allergies develop later in life. Food allergies in the U.S. have been on the rise in recent decades, based on CDC statistics. And the factors that precipitate them are as wide-ranging as normal hormonal changes to food additives to bites from the lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum) that induce allergies to products from mammals, i.e. to meats such as beef, pork, and lamb, as well as animal fats (butter, cheese).
So, if you dodge the food allergy bullet, there are still the common allergens — like animal dander, molds, dust, and pollen — to tackle. The most recent stats estimate about a quarter of people in the U.S. suffering from at least one allergy, mostly consisting of seasonal allergies.
Reactions to pollen are so common that you can get a daily asthma and allergy index HERE based on weather and plant life stages. And people are going to some expensive lengths to find relief, like the new sublingual immunotherapies (AKA under the tongue) not covered by insurance plans.
At the end of the day, an allergic response is just an overreaction of the immune system to something we’d prefer to tolerate — whether a glass of milk or a peanut butter sandwich. And science is increasingly showing that.
A new study found that even food and dander allergies are related. Researchers analyzed the association between owning furry pets and suffering from food allergies during infancy. Getting exposed to dog dander accompanied lower risks of egg, milk, and nut allergies. Exposure to cat dander meant fewer egg, wheat, and soybeans allergies. Go figure! And in an odd twist, being around hamsters increased the chance of a nut allergy, maybe because hamsters are nut fiends.
The good news is that — given the glut of allergic people — research is continually generating new treatments. A recent study pioneers treatment with messenger RNA (mRNA) delivered to the liver, the organ that plays a role in training our immune systems to recognize (rather than fight) allergens. Says study author André Nel, “We’ve shown that our platform can work to calm peanut allergies, and we believe it may be able to do the same for other allergens, in food and drugs, as well as autoimmune conditions.”
Let’s hope so.
Next time we’ll glimpse the dynamics of jellyfish eating and being eaten.
Written by Devin Reese, Edited by Jake Currie
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