Here at Gowing Life, we have decided to keep a fun record of everything we learn in 2022, be it longevity-related or something else entirely. Here is a selection of our newly acquired neural connections for the month of December!
1: Lybia tessellata: More commonly known as the boxer crab or pom-pom crab, Lybia tessellata wields an anemone in each of its claws like boxing gloves. The anemones help the crab to mop up food and ward off predators.
2: We still don’t really know the extent of what lies inside the Great Pyramid of Giza, the largest of the Egyptian pyramids. Between 2015 and 2017, the “Scan Pyramids” project was able to scan the interior of the pyramid by analysing muons – cosmic particles that constantly bombard Earth – using extremely sensitive detectors. These scans revealed two previously unknown voids within the pyramid, the largest of which is 30 metres long and 6 metres tall. We currently don’t know what these voids are nor what purpose they serve. They may have played some role in the construction process, but there are plenty of more fantastic theories: the voids could contain artefacts or even a hidden burial chamber.
3: Here’s an unsettling thought: almost every mole on your skin is caused by an oncogenic mutation – a genetic mutation capable of causing cancer. Most moles are caused by a mutation in the BRAF gene, one of the most frequent mutations found in a type of skin cancer known as melanoma. This mutation causes melanocytes (pigment-producing cells) to divide rapidly, but moles nearly always stop growing on their own, and don’t develop into a cancer. For this you can thank a process called cellular senescence, which shuts down cell division in cancerous cells.
4: Veryovkina Cave: Located in Abkhazia, a breakaway region of Georgia, Veryovkina cave is the deepest cave on Earth. Looking at its unassuming 3 metre wide entrance, one would never guess that it descended over 2.2 kilometres below the ground until reaching the water basin. It can take four days for cave divers to reach the bottom.
5: In 1659 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Christmas was banned – by Christians. Specifically by the puritan government, who thought that the holiday distracted from core religious beliefs and that it had too many roots in paganism. Easter was also banned.
6: When crossing thin ice, polar bears will lie flat on their stomachs to distribute their weight over a larger surface area.
7: This is a Demodex mite, also known as an eyelash mite. They live in or near the hair follicles of about 50% of adults, most commonly around eyelashes and eyebrows, and are usually completely harmless.
8: There really are more kangaroos in Australia than people, at least according to government figures. The population of Australia is just shy of 26 million, compared to an estimated 50 million roos. Some people dispute the methodology used to obtain that number though, arguing that counts from areas with high populations are extrapolated to areas in which kangaroos are rare. Either way, many consider kangaroos to be pests, and there is an ongoing debate as to how the roaming hordes of roos should be handled.
9: Not all holly leaves are prickly – leaves can start out smooth and develop spiky defences in response to being nibbled by animals. This is coordinated by epigenetic modifications: changes in the way the genes in the cells of each individual leaf are expressed.
10: A suit of cat armour crafted by Jeff de Boer, a Canadian artist with an unusual speciality: creating armour for cats and mice.
11: You aren’t allowed to take photographs of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. While it is true that flash photography can damage paintings, this was not the original reason behind the restriction. During the restoration of Michelangelo’s art beginning in 1980, Nippon Television Network Corporation of Japan contributed $4.2 million towards the project. In exchange, they received the exclusive rights to photograph and video the restored art for 3 years following each stage of the restoration, resulting in the no photography rule. This rule was never repealed, though its enforcement today isn’t exactly strict.
12: This image, which went viral in 2018, shows the underside of a beluga whale with what appear to be knees. Of course, beluga whales don’t have knees – these structures are abdominal fat pads that belugas tense during certain manoeuvres to improve their stability in the water. Unlike dolphins and some other whales, belugas don’t have a fins on their backs, and rely on fat deposits for stability. This is probably an adaptation to conserve heat in cold climates.
13: Colobopsis explodens: a species of ant found in Southeast Asia with an unusual combat technique. Workers are capable of ‘exploding’ in self-defence, covering their attackers in toxic goo.
14: Chess boxing, a hybrid sport of – you guessed it – chess and boxing. Players engage in alternating rounds of speed chess and boxing until either checkmate or knockout is achieved.
15: Pokémon Shock: On 16 December 1997, hundreds of children across Japan experienced seizures during the airing an episode of Pokémon. This was caused by a scene in which an explosion took place, which was illustrated using an animation technique involving alternating red and blue flashing lights. Over the course of the next few days, around 12 000 children reported symptoms. Yet with a photosensitive epilepsy incidence of around 1 in 5000, about 60 million children would have needed to watch the show in order for this number to make sense. It later turned out that after the initial 685 genuine seizure cases, most of the subsequent cases were the result of mass psychogenic illness (MPI), a complex and often misunderstood illness in which anxiety manifests as physical symptoms that can be spread through social contact.
16: Speaking may feel easy, but this MRI scan of a person talking gives us an idea just how complex this process actually is. Speech involves over 100 muscles in the tongue, face and throat.
17: At the start of the 20th century, Argentina was one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with a per capita GDP greater than that of France, Germany and its former colonial master Spain. There was even a French saying ”Riche comme un Argentin” meaning ”foolishly rich”. Yet today, it doesn’t even rank among the top 60 countries for GDP per capita. The case of Argentina has been used as a cautionary tale that no country is ”too rich to fail”, but perhaps it should also be a cautionary tale about how we gauge wealth. Argentina had the natural resources to make it rich when those resources were in demand, but its people lacked access to technologies, education and institutions found in even significantly poorer countries.
18: The Giant’s Causeway: An area of interlocking basalt columns, located in County Antrim on the north coast of Northern Ireland. Most columns are hexagonal in shape, formed by the contraction of cooling lava around 60 million years ago.
19: The mirror self-recognition test, or MSR test, is a test designed to measure the self-awareness of an animal. An animal is put to sleep and given a red sticker or mark in a place it can’t usually see. It is then given a mirror upon waking. If the animal investigates the mark upon seeing it in the mirror, this suggests that it recognises itself and is self-aware. Very few species have passed this test. They include great apes, dolphins, orcas, Eurasian magpies, one particularly self-conscious Asiatic elephant and, just recently, penguins.
20: The Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is one of the best known and most popular personality tests. Based on a self-report questionnaire, it groups you into one of 16 discreet types denoted by 4 letter codes (such as INTP or ISFJ). Many businesses like to use MBTI to help understand how employees will interact and where they are most likely to excel. Yet for some years, experts have consistently criticised it as a test with no practical utility. Your MBTI type, they argue, has almost no predictive power when it comes to how well you will perform at a job, how happy you will be in a situation, or how compatible you will be in a relationship. Perhaps most damningly of all, between 39% and 76% of respondents will obtain a different classification if they retake the test after only five weeks.
21: Physicists may have finally solved the mystery of why lightning zigzags. This knowledge could help us to better protect buildings and aircraft during storms.
22: The Earth’s magnetic poles move, and the planet’s magnetic north has been drifting from northern Canada towards Siberia for the last 100 or so years. It has recently accelerated and is now moving at a rate of around 60km a year – and no, for once this doesn’t have anything to do with climate change. The movement is most likely due to competing ‘blobs’ of molten iron shifting within the Earth’s interior.
23: The use of the ‘sign of the horns’ (formed by extending the index and little fingers while holding the middle and ring fingers down) was first popularised in heavy metal by Ronnie James Dio soon after joining Black Sabbath. The previous singer Ozzy Osbourne had used the peace sign. Dio wanted to connect with fans without copying Osbourne, so he used the sign of the horns, which he learnt from his Italian grandmother. The gesture is typically used to place a curse or to ward off evil/bad luck depending on how it is used.
24: Certain bacteria might be able to protect against bad breath, according to a recent study. Analysing studies including 278 people aged between 19 and 70, they found that taking certain probiotics significantly reduced volatile sulphuric compounds detected in the mouth – a measure of breath odour. This could be because the bacteria inhibit the decomposition of certain amino acids.
25: Glass frogs are able to turn their bodies transparent while they sleep, allowing them to camouflage themselves on leaves. Until recently it was not understood how this was done, but it now appears that these frogs can pool their red blood cells within their livers, while still circulating plasma around their bodies. In most creatures, such pooling of blood cells results in a life-threatening clot, but not in the Glass frog. Understanding why could help prevent dangerous clots in humans.
26: People getting more conservative as they grow older has been a remarkably consistent pattern, but that pattern appears to have been broken by millennials (born between 1981 and 1996). According to analysis by the FT, previous generations in the UK and USA became steadily more conservative with age: they were consistently around 5% less conservative than the national average at age 35, and 5% more conservative than the national average at age 70. Millennials, on the other hand, have so far become less conservative as they have grown older, and are also less conservative than previous generations were at their age. In the UK and the USA, 35 year-old millennials are, respectively, around 15% and 10% less conservative than the national average.
27: Helicon thruster: Potentially the future of deep-space travel, a helicon thruster is a prototype propulsion device that works by using an electromagnetic wave to produce and heat plasma, which is used as propellant. This allows the thruster to operate without moving parts, effectively allowing it to function for as long as propellant and energy are available.
28: Disguised ‘spy crabs’ were built to observe Christmas Island crabs as they marched into the sea.
29: The existence of 60 minutes in an hour and 24 hours in a day originates with the Egyptians and Babylonians, who often counted in base 12. This is because they counted to 12 on one hand, using the thumb to count each finger joint.
30: King Charles II of Scotland (and later England) escaped parliamentarians in 1651 by hiding in an oak tree, now named the Royal Oak and namesake of many pubs across the country. It took him almost a month and a half to find a safe way to leave the country for France, during which time he narrowly escaped parliamentarians searching for him multiple times. This was in part thanks to a catholic family (the Pendrells), who had taught Charles to speak with a local accent and walk like a labourer.