Posts By: Kennedy

To the horror or everyone, it turns out cockroaches are actually pretty useful

shutterstock_180958520There are 4,500 known species of cockroach that live in a number of different environments all over the world. Sure, cockroaches that scurry around your kitchen are pretty gross and there is no real reason you shouldn’t just put your foot down on those little guys—but there are actually only four species of cockroach that are considered to really be pests. The other 4,496 species are about as diverse as you might expect, and have yielded some pretty useful applications for the scientific community.

All grossness aside, this photo-heavy spread in BBC Magazine looks at some of the most useful contributions that the biology of the cockroach has yet to make to humanity. As it turns out, the next generation of prosthetics will likely be based in part on the flexibility and springiness that is unique to roach legs—in particular, the mechanics of a roach leg may help researchers develop prosthetic hands that are more capable to gripping objects in the same way a human hand would.

Then there are the cybernetic roaches—live cockroaches implanted with miniature computers—that may be remotely operated to access places that would otherwise be difficult for people to access—think natural disaster areas. In fact, students from Shanghai Jiap Tong University have even gone so far as to demonstrate how human brain waves could be translated into electrical impulses that control one of these robo-roaches.

Perhaps one of the most promising areas of cockroach-inspired research—though it is not exactly new—is focused on the cockroach’s ability to synthesize relatively powerful antibiotics. It is hoped that this ability may help researchers develop new antibiotics capable of battling some of the most virulent bacteria known to humankind, including MRSA and E. coli.

Though it may be little consolation to you next time you surprise a cockroach that is roaming your countertops, you can rest assured that—somewhere and somehow—roaches may just end up making all our lives a little bit easier.


Internet Freaks Out after WHO Reveals Link between Eating Meat and Cancer

shutterstock_264832343Meat lovers everywhere may have to rethink their choices after the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a link between some meats and cancer.  The study found that processed meat, like hot dogs and bacon, increases the risk of cancer, along with red meat such as beef, pork, and lamb.  The report comes from WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and puts processed meats at the top tier of cancer causes along with alcohol and cigarettes, with red meat sitting on the second tier list.

The study shows a positive correlation in the risk for colorectal (bowel) and other types of cancer in individuals who consumed processed and red meat.  Essentially, as the amount of processed and red meat you ate increased, so did your risk of cancer.  For example, the agency estimated that eating a 50-gram portion of processed meat daily increased the risk of bowel cancer by up to 18%.  That’s only about 3 slices of bacon daily.  However, the study has already received criticism from meat industry groups who say the studies did not consider lifestyles and that meat is an important part of a balanced diet.  However, the IARC says their studies were extensive and show a probable cause between processed and red meat and cancer.

According to the reports, however, the risk can be decreased with a healthy lifestyle. Maybe vegetarians had the right idea the whole time???

Black Coffee Equals Black Hearts, New Study Finds

shutterstock_129339416We all have our taste preferences: some people dip their French fries in ice-cream and other people drench their pizza in ranch dressing. While we don’t normally analyze these decisions beyond a health perspective, a new study finds that some food preferences link directly to our personality traits. Professor Christina Sagioglou from Innsbruck University in Austria designed a study of 500 men and women to discover if our tastes buds were valid indicators of our personality.

In the experiment, men and women were shown a list of sweet, salty, sour, and bitter foods before being asked to rate them on a six-point Likert scale. For example, one participant would view a chocolate cake and decide if she disliked strongly to liked strongly that particular item. After finishing these tests, the participants were given four different personality tests.

These personality tests distinguished the aggression levels of the men and women, identified Machiavellianism, psychopathy and narcissism traits, and dimensions of extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness and emotional stability.

The study was originally published in the journal Appetite. It found a correlation between enjoying the taste of bitter foods, such as black coffee, beer, and broccoli to Machiavellianism, psychopathy, narcissism, and everyday sadism. In contrast, predictors of agreeableness and kindness were negatively correlated with interest in bitter foods.

While another test of 450 participants confirmed these findings, it is still probably too soon to write off a Tinder date that enjoys his coffee black or prefers IPAs. It is still a known fact that our taste buds change the types of foods we like on a semi-regular basis. With further research into what these relationships mean, perhaps the future of Buzzfeed quizzes will resemble something similar to “Does Your Dinner Choice Mean You’re a Psychopath?”

Scientists Digitally Recreate Slice of a Rat’s Brain

shutterstock_196810991Scientists have achieved a simulation milestone after digitally recreating a sliver of a rat’s brain on a computer.  The brain simulation is a part of the Blue Brain Project, the first goal of which is to digitally reconstruct a rat’s brain.  However, their final goal is much more ambitious, as they eventually want to digitally construct a human brain.

The Blue Brain Project’s experimentation began by recording the brain cell connections of tens of thousands of juvenile rats.  By doing this, they were able to calculate principles that governed how brain connections were made and use computer programs to fill in the rest of the brain structure they could not calculate.  From this, they were able to create a 3D model that showed over 600 million neuron connections.  The team continued experiments until a part of a virtual rat brain was rendered on a computer, which was able to solve billions of equations for every 25 microseconds of neuronal activity.

The new simulation is just a tiny slice of a rat’s brain but includes 31,000 brain cells with 37 million connections.   The simulation mimicked real experiments the team had done of rats and could even be used to predict behavior.  Although these rats may be a little less intelligent than humans, these findings can still eventually be used to do the same with human brains.  However, there is much to be improved on in this computer simulation, with other blood vessels, brain cells, and communications needing to be included in a future digital reconstruction for a more realistic picture.  In the meantime, Disney might be able to use the findings for an interesting sequel to Ratatouille.

Noble Prize Winners Wash Their Hands of Parasites

shutterstock_200494427The winners of the Noble Prize in Physiology or Medicine were announced as William C. Campbell, Satoshi Omura, and Youyou Tu for their advancement in parasite fighting medication. Unlike the Magic School Bus episode in which Ms. Frizzle leads the kids on a germ fighting adventure, this medical breakthrough is helping hundreds of millions. Campbell and Omura won for developing the drug Avermectin, a cure for river blindness and elephantiasis. They are sharing the $960,000 prize money with Tu, the inventor of the drug Artemisinin which is responsible for significantly reducing deaths from malaria.

While these parasites might be not as terrifying as the worm-like space creature from Alien, they are just as merciless. Over a third of the world’s population suffers from parasitic worms. While the most afflicted areas are sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America, these parasites affect the entire world. Not to continue being a Negative Nancy, but malaria is responsible for more than 450,000 deaths each year.

Dr. Tu previously won a Lasker Award in 2011 for the development of Artemisinin. Her work centered on using ancient Chinese remedies to find a cure for malaria. Her work includes researching 380 extracts from 200 different plants. Her discovery is now a working pharmaceutical that saves over 100,000 lives in Africa annually. When combined with other therapies, Artemisinin can reduce the mortality rate of malaria by more than 20 percent.

The three winners will be awarded diplomas and gold medals during a ceremony in December. Hopefully their work will inspire further research that leads to the complete eradication of disease-causing parasites. Lastly, a note to future Nobel Prize contenders: unfortunately, the Nobel Assembly does not have enough participation ribbons for all of the papier-mâché volcano entries.

NASA Reveals Martians Should Drink 8 Glasses of Water a Day

shutterstock_92516068Mars has been permeating the news lately with a human exploration in the planning process and films such as The Martian propagating the hope that one day man will step foot on the Red Planet. Just this past week, NASA’s press agents announced the organization had an exciting new discovery to share, building anticipation across the globe that little green aliens are indeed real. While some people breathed a sigh of disappointment when this was not the case, others became excited when NASA confirmed a theory that space explorers have had for a while: Mars has water.

The different terrestrial formations decorating the planet, including what are now referred to as “Mars blueberries,” were theorized to have formed from water erosion. NASA’s ground-based observations through the rover finally discovered liquid water that was salty, briny, and unrecognizable compared to the water found on Earth.

NASA believes that over 20 percent of the planet was once made of ocean. Now, only 13 percent of the original water supply is present on the planet, mostly in the form of ice caps. The water found uses a heavier form of hydrogen paired with other chemicals to keep water from leaving the thin atmosphere on Mars, causing it to seep into the ground and freeze. Some scientists believe that the existence of water in the curst will finally yield the discovery of microbe life.

The Mars rover discovered methane and other elements that suggest life on Mars is or was a possibility. The discovery of water on Mars is one more step towards finding life outside of Earth. If not, a type of colonization of the Red Planet may underway in the upcoming centuries as the initial mission to Mars prepares to discover whether the hazardous conditions are livable. And if we never find life on Mars, perhaps the real Martians will simply be our future great-great-grandchildren.

Watch out Ken, Barbie is Talking Back

shutterstock_243417928Mattel, the creator of the Barbie dolls, just announced that Barbie may not be the “dumb blonde” stereotype consumers always believed. In recent years, the toy company has come under fire for portraying Barbie as an inferior intellect; in 1992 the company even programmed Barbie to say “math class is tough!” Fortunately, for all of the young girls and boys out there that are ready for a Barbie to challenge their imagination and minds, Mattel just announced the creation of an artificial intelligence Barbie.

Since as early as the 1800s, toy makers have tried to make dolls speak in hope that one day they will one day sing and talk with a child. Barbie first found her voice in 1968 when a pull string activated 8 programmed phrases, a huge advancement from when dolls could simply say “papa.” This move to make Barbie more lifelike through artificial technology will help create a dialogue between the doll and the children playing with her with over 8,000 programmed lines of dialogue.

The technology is similar to voice recognition devices such as Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana. By partnering with ToyTalk, an artificial intelligence company located in San Francisco, Mattel hopes to release Hello Barbie before the $6 billion holiday toy season begins.

In one demonstration of Hello Barbie, a young girl sat down with the doll and played a number of games. Some of these included helping Barbie cook pizza and s’mores while other conversations worked through complex social problems. During one session, Barbie asked the young girl for advice on how to apologize to a friend after a fight. She is also developed to remember details about her child companion, including favorite colors, if a child has same-sex parents, or if a loved one had passed away. Perhaps the days of Geppetto’s Pinocchio and Toy Story are not a far off reality for children all over the world.


Two Black Holes are Better than One

NASA recently found the first known existence of binary black holes in the middle of the closest quasar to Earth. The scientific discovery belongs to galaxy Markarian 231, the nearest galaxy to our planet that houses a quasar at 600 million light-years away. Quasars are the brightest objects in the universe and are formed from the infinitely hot matter inside of black holes. As black holes obliterate nearby planets, stars, and other debris, an accretion disk is formed from the fiery force field which can be brighter than entire galaxies.

Black Hole

The discovery was made by a combination of U.S. and Chinese scientists using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. The wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff is giving scientists more insight on the function of black holes and possible prevalence of binary black holes. The ultraviolet color of the quasar in Markarian 231 may give researchers a clue in finding more twin black holes.

The increased energy of two black holes and the quasar is causing a drastic increase in star production. While black holes are created due to a collapse of a star, they are also capable of creating new stars. The black holes in Markarian 231 are producing at a rate 100 times faster than the Milky Way, which is home to one black hole but no Quasar.

There is a space odyssey in the making when the inevitable occurs in a few hundreds of thousands of years: the two black holes collide. Currently, the primary black hole is approximately 150 million times larger than our sun. Its little sister is only four million times larger. Feel free to root for the underdog, however it’s pretty clear which black hole is going to win this fight. What isn’t clear is what exactly the collision will trigger: the end of the universe? Or just a slight hiccup in our Netflix streaming connection?

30,000-Year-Old Virus Comes Back from the Dead

shutterstock_113494426While more scientists would have you believe that rising sea levels will be the cause of worldwide headaches in a few decades, a new discovery may literally cause humanity headaches in the near future. Researchers recently discovered a giant, 30,000-year-old virus frozen in the thawed permafrost of a frozen region in Siberia. This discovery comes on the heels of scientists warning of melting Polar Regions and rising sea levels.

Okay, so the virus is technically not harmful to humans. The ancient virus is named Pithovirus sibericum and only infects amoebas. However, this new discovery may lead to a number of other frozen viruses, bacteria, and previously extinct organisms that could threaten human health. This includes viruses that previously caused planet-wide epidemics, which only furthers the fear of an Armageddon virus.

Scientists have already discovered previous giant virus families: Megaviridae and Pandoraviridae. These types of viruses have 50-250 times as many genes as modern day viruses such as AIDS or the flu. For instance, Pithovirus has 500 genes in comparison to the 10 genes of AIDS.

The discovery of Frosty the Snow Virus is not a surprise. Giant frozen viruses have been found in thawing permafrost since 2003 and scientists are only now beginning to discover the nature of the organisms. Drilling and oil exploration in the Arctic is bridging the previous gap between modern immunizations and old world viruses. If there is a world-ending virus awoken from cryosleep, it will be a comfort knowing that history rarely repeats itself.


Man Eats Nothing but McDonald’s for 180 days…and loses weight

shutterstock_220538989There have been plenty of diet fads over the years as people search for a way to lose as much weight as possible as quickly as possible.  Many people put on this weight as a result of too much fast food, but an Iowa science teacher is silencing the fast-food haters and showing that, if done right, fast food can actually lead to losing weight.  As a part of a class experiment, John Cisna embarked on the hypothesis that a person could end up in better shape after eating McDonald’s every day, three meals a day. This included the healthier options as well as Big Mac’s and French fries on the daily. Cisna’s students were tasked with planning his meals—he could eat no more than 2,000 calories a day and had to stay within the FDA’s daily recommendations for fat, sugar, protein, carbs, and a number of other nutrients.  He also started walking for 45 minutes a day.

Even though this sounds like the beginning of Supersize Me, a documentary by Morgan Spurlock who packed on 24 pounds in the course of a month by eating McDonald’s every day, Cisna had experienced very different results. By the end of the six months, the science teacher had lost 60 pounds—a virtual dream come true for grease and fast-food loving Americans.  So what does Cisna have to say about his experiment?  He says his results show that individuals should take individual accountability and responsibility for their food choices and not be so quick to blame fast food restaurants for their weight.

Even though Cisna does not recommend the diet for everyone, he says the experiment has changed his life for the better.  So, next time you’re eating a Big Mac, you can actually tell people you’re on a new health kick.