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30 Things We Learnt In March, 2021

Posted on 5 April 2021

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Here at Gowing Life, we have decided to keep a fun record of everything we learn in 2021, be it longevity-related or something else entirely. Here is a selection of our newly acquired neural connections for the month of March!

  1. Some viral infections may contribute to obesity. For example, some adenoviruses (the same type of virus that causes the common cold) can interact with fat cells to promote their maturation and the accumulation of triglycerides. The most well studied of these viruses is adenovirus 36 (Ad 36). Studies in animals, humans, and even some twin studies suggest that being infected with Ad 36 is associated with increased bodyweight and fat mass.

2. Horizontal gene transfer occurs when genes are passed from one organism to another (besides that organism’s offspring). This frequently occurs between bacteria, but can also occur between entirely different types of organisms. It has recently been found that the whitefly Bemisia tabaci ‘stole’ a gene from plants that allows them to neutralise an anti-insect toxin the plant produces. It is not known how this gene transfer occurred, but a virus could have served as the intermediate.

3. Sperm whales in 19th century may have shared information about attacks from humans. A study of whalers’ logbooks found that harpoon strike rates fell by 58% within the first few years of whaling in the North Pacific. During this time, groups of sperm whales changed their behaviour when attacked, abandoning their defensive formations that worked well against orca attacks, and instead swimming upwind so that ships could not follow them.

A Whale of a Time

4. Most lifespan extension drugs tested in mice are more effective in males, and we don’t fully understand why. It may be because males already live shorter lives, but that doesn’t explain everything. For example, SGLT2 inhibitors make males live longer than females, but have no significant effect on female lifespan.

5. Analysis of COVID-19’s transmission rate in England suggests that when temperature varied between -5 and +15 degrees Celsius during seasonal variations, transmission varied by around 29%. This is due various factors including more people staying indoors in winter, greater virus stability, humidity and temperature affecting transmission, mucociliary clearance, epithelial integrity and innate immune efficiency.

6. In most cases, the demand for a product increases as its price decreases, almost proportionally. A Veblen good is a product for which the reverse is true: its demand increases with price due to its nature as a status symbol. The higher the price, the more exclusive (and therefore appealing) the product becomes.

7. Addiction is usually assumed to mean harmful addiction. However, addiction simply refers to the physical or mental dependence on a particular substance, with harmful effects upon its withdrawal. In the literal sense of the word, we are all addicted to water, food, and sleep.

8. Anton-Babinski syndrome is a problem that comes from some types of brain damage, usually following a stroke. People with this syndrome are blind, but think and insist that they can still see, even when shown otherwise.

9. Live fast, die young: reproduction is taxing for most organisms, and fecundity tends to be inversely related to longevity, even within species. For example, red deer live shorter lives on average when they reproduce early. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case in social insects like bees and ants, in which the queens have evolved to live far longer than most insects. This may be because they are better protected within the nest, making predation a less important selective pressure than for other species.

10. The Louvre has made it’s entire collection available online.

The Top 13 Things To See At The Louvre | Blog | Walks
Image source

11. Mitochondria retain a small amount of their own DNA, called mtDNA. In the mature human egg cell, which contains the highest number of mitochondria amongst any human cell, each mitochondrion contains a single copy of mtDNA. However, in other cells, each mitochondrion may contain up to 10 copies of its mtDNA genome.

12. Scientists have solved the mystery of ‘ice-cream toothache’, locating the cells and signals that detect large temperature drops and cause toothache and ‘brain jolt’ in those with sensitive teeth. The cells – called odontoblasts – reside between the soft inner pulp and the hard outer layer of the teeth. They sense temperature through a channel called TRPC5. If these cells becomes exposed, stimuli such as temperature or certain liquids will cause pain. TRPC5 blocking agents could be included in toothpastes and dental products to prevent such pain.

13. Almost all of the world’s anti-venom is made in horses, a method that hasn’t drastically changed since the 18th century. Horses have robust immune systems that produce powerful antibodies when immunised against venoms.

14. The cat gap is an ancient period, approximately 25 to 18.5 million years ago, from which there are few fossils of cats or cat-like species found in North America. The exact cause of this is disputed, but it may have been caused by global cooling, ecosystem changes, volcanic activity, increasingly carnivorous tendencies (making them more vulnerable to extinction due to food shortage), dogs occupying niches that would otherwise have been filled by cats, or a periodicity of extinctions called van der Hammen cycles.

15. The Hayflick limit (the number of times a cell can divide in cell culture before division stops due to senescence) is named after Leonard Hayflick. Despite being a big proponent of studying ageing at a fundamental level, Hayflick is opposed to the idea of slowing down or eliminating the ageing process, citing the risk of allowing undying ‘tyrants, dictators, mass murderers, and people who cause wars’.

16. Even though they have RNA genomes, retroviruses like HIV aren’t counted as RNA viruses, because they exist as DNA for part of their life cycle. Retroviruses must convert their RNA into DNA so that it can be integrated into the DNA of the host cell.

17. Yabusame is a type of mounted archery in Japan in which an archer on a galloping horse shoots three arrows successively at three wooden targets. Arrows fired by Yabusame archers have perforations that make them whistle. These were originally used by samurai to alert the enemy before battle, as unannounced attacks were considered dishonourable.

18. Five years ago, scientists created a synthetic single-celled organism using 473 genes (for comparison, a human cell has around 30000). When dividing, this cell behaved strangely, producing cells with widely differing shapes and sizes. With the addition of 7 new genes, scientists have now succeeded in eliminating this behaviour. The ultimate aim is to be able to produce synthetic cells that do useful things, like producing drugs or functioning as tiny computers.

19. The composition of Jupiter is similar to that of a star, but it has nowhere near enough mass for the reactions that take place in the centre of a star to occur. You would need to add around 80 more Jupiters to make a red dwarf, and around 1000 to make a star like the Sun.

20. Florence Nightingale was not only a nurse, but also a statistician, and a pioneer of the infographic. She was convinced that poor sanitation in hospitals was an important cause of death for British soldiers in the Crimean war. In order to convince the British establishment of the problem, she created a graph that was compelling and easy to understand even for those not versed in statistics.

Florence Nightingale’s infographic depicting mortality amongst soldiers over the course of a year. The blue bars represent death from preventable diseases, the red bars death from wounds, and the black bars deaths from other causes.

21. Germans have coined over 1200 words related to the coronavirus, such as the Alltagsmaske (everyday mask), the Spuckschutzschirm (spit protection umbrella) and the cosy sounding Schnutenpulli (snout sweater).

22. Roughly 68% of the world’s population is lactose intolerant, and lactose intolerance is least common in Northern Europe and North America. This may be because as dairy farming populations migrated North, they outcompeted native hunter gatherer populations who were less able to survive famine.

23. Celestial vaulting is an optical illusion in which the sky appears as a physical covering extending horizon to horizon, rather than an endless void. This is enhanced by standing in a bowl shaped crater, which can make the sky seem like a flat plane of colour, while the horizon will curve upwards to either side.

24. Not everyone has exactly the same gut microbiome composition. Your gut microbiome becomes increasingly unique as you age past 40-50. What’s more, this uniqueness tends to correlate with how healthy you are.

25. Mitochondria retain their own ribosomes (protein factories) that are attached to the inner mitochondrial membrane. The proteins necessary for ATP production are inserted directly into the inner membrane as they are being built.

26. The Captain of Köpenick: In 1906, a Prussian captain rounded up around 10 soldiers off the streets of Berlin. He ordered them to come with him to Köpenick, East of Berlin, to carry out an important mission on orders from the Kaiser. With the soldiers under his command, he confiscated 4000 marks from the municipal treasury and had the mayor arrested for crooked bookkeeping. However, the captain was in fact an impostor named Wilhelm Voigt, who changed into civilian clothes and disappeared with the money before his identity was discovered. While he was later caught and served two years in prison, he became a folk hero and was pardoned by Kaiser Wilhelm II.

27. Goodhart’s law is that when a measurement becomes a target, it stops being a good measurement, as people will find optimised methods of achieving said target that don’t necessarily achieve the target’s intended effect.

Unintended Consequences and Goodhart's Law | by Will Koehrsen | Towards  Data Science

28. Those who are experts in their subject matter are more vulnerable to motivated reasoning: the “tendency to find arguments in favour of conclusions we want to believe to be stronger than arguments for conclusions we do not want to believe”. In other words, experts have more knowledge to cherry pick from in order to justify their own wishful thinking.

29. To absorb the emissions produced by an average American in their lifetime, you would need to plant around 50 acres‘ worth of trees in a tropical area. Multiplied by the population of the US, that’s around 16 billion acres – half the landmass of the world.

30. In 1940, an 18-year old named Marcel Ravidat was walking through the countryside with his dog in Southwest France. The dog discovered a hole, which turned out to be the entrance to a cave containing over 900 astonishingly detailed cave paintings of animals, some of which are now extinct (such as the woolly rhino). These paintings are thought to be at least 17000 years old. This cave is called the cave of Lascaux.

Lascaux caves | Visit the caves of Lascaux, Dordogne

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