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30 Things We Learnt This Month: February, 2021

Posted on 1 March 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 February!

1: Naked mole rat colonies have different ‘dialects’ that they use to recognise other members of the same colony.

2: Studies suggest that people who are fluent in more than one language may be better at some cognitive tests, such as those involving multitasking. However, multilinguals may also have smaller vocabularies on average, and take longer to retrieve words from memory than monolinguals.

3: ”Happiness follows a generalized U-shape over the course of a life. People report high degrees of happiness in their late teens and early 20s, but as the years roll by, people become more and more miserable, hitting a nadir in life satisfaction sometime around the early 50s. Happiness rebounds from there into old age and retirement.” – World Economic Forum

World Economic Forum

4: When presented with evidence that goes against their political beliefs, people with more scientific knowledge are actually less likely to accept that evidence than less scientifically knowledgeable people with the same political inclination.

5: Most of us don’t understand what we think we understand as well as we claim. In one experiment, subjects were asked to rate their understanding of everyday objects like a zip fastener or flush lavatory on a scale of one to seven. Researchers then surprised the subjects by asking them to elaborate, explaining how the objects worked in as much detail as they could. People stumbled, struggling to explain the details of everyday mechanisms, and most realised and admitted that they did not actually understand these objects at all.

Psychologists Frank Keil and Leonid Rozenblit called this ‘the illusion of explanatory depth’. The proposed remedy to this pitfall is curiosity. Once we develop the habit of peering beneath the surface of things, we become much more aware of the gaps in our knowledge. – How to Make the World Add Up, by Tim Harford

6: There is a hypothetical scenario in which the density of objects in low Earth orbit could become high enough to result in a sort of ‘chain reaction’. In this scenario, a single collision could start a cascade in which each collision generates enough debris to make subsequent collisions increasingly likely, potentially making certain orbital ranges unusable. This is called ‘Kessler syndrome’.

Depiction of debris populations orbiting the Earth.
By NASA image – NASA Orbital Debris Program Office, photo gallery, Public Domain,

7: Up to 50% of the total protein synthesis occurring in pancreatic beta cells is insulin. In diabetics, the increased amount of pro insulin (a precursor to insulin) being produced can put enough pressure on the endoplasmic reticulum (the cell’s protein building machinery), to cause proinsulin proteins to fold incorrectly more frequently. This misfolded protein can aggregate into amyloid plaques, which are thought to contribute to the eventual death of the beta cells as the disease progresses.

8: Researchers have 3D printed a tiny heart using human cells, capable of coordinated contraction and beating rhythmically like a real human heart. Experts believe that in a decade’s time, hospitals could potentially be printing fully functional human hearts for transplantation.

A team of researchers from Tel-Aviv University successfully 3D printed a heart using human cells in April 2019, though this heart was not capable of coordinated contraction.

9: It is a commonly held belief that men take more risks than women. A meta-analysis did indeed lead to the conclusion that males are more risk taking than females, on average. However, about half of the differences were very modest. In 20 percent of cases, there was greater female risk taking. Risk taking patterns in some activities were also dependent on age. Eighteen – to twenty-one-year old males were a little more likely, on average, to report drinking and drug taking, and risky sexual activities. However, this sex difference was almost exactly reversed in older adults.

10: At the current rate of the spread of COVID (Feb 2021) a back-of-the-envelope calculation estimates that there are 200 quadrillion, 2*10^17, viral particles of COVID circulating in human bodies in the world. The diameter of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is around 100 nanometres. Therefore, all the world’s COVID could be found in about 250 ml volume – equivalent to a glass of wine. The Conversation

11: The first use of an artificial heart was in 1969. The recipient was able to survive for almost 3 days until a real human heart was available, but unfortunately died following that transplant.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 1969-Liotta-TAH.jpg
The first total artificial heart transplant.
Texas Heart Institute

12: Humans have developed ‘artificial noses’ that are 200 times more sensitive than a dog’s nose.

13: Fertility rates are decreasing around the world, with 23 countries including Japan and China expected to see their populations roughly halve by 2100. This is thought to be mainly due to more women being in education and work, as well as greater access to contraception. Global average fertility rate is roughly 2.5 births per woman today, compared with 4.7 in 1950. It is projected to fall below the ‘replacement level’ of 2.1 before 2050, meaning that the world’s population will peak at 9.7 billion around 2064.

Graph of population sizes

14: Before leaving the bone marrow, red blood cells eject their nucleus and destroy most of their organelles, but still contain residual ribosomal RNA for about a day after entering circulation. Between 0.5 and 2.5% of all circulating red cells in the body still have this RNA. They are called reticulocytes.

15: A fruit fly gene in which mutation results in increased susceptibility to alcohol (and also causes memory impairments) was named the ‘Cheap Date’ gene. Other amusing/disturbing names for fruit fly genes include Tinman, Clown, Swiss Cheese and Hedgehog.

16: Despite the immense disruption and loss of life caused by COVID-19, global carbon dioxide emissions fell by just 6.4%, or 2.3 billion tonnes in 2020. Even though transportation was shut down in many parts of the world, this occurred sporadically, while most other major sources of greenhouse gas emission were minimally impacted by COVID-19.

Our World In Data

17: David Fisher, 61 years old, is one of the few long term adherents to calorie restriction in the world. While most people only stick to a diet for just a few weeks or months at a time, he has managed to maintain a strict CR diet for 30 years!

18: Strange matter is a state of mass which exists primarily within neutron stars. It occurs when the forces acting upon atoms are so great that the nuclei break down into a ‘quark soup’. This possesses many strange physical qualities and is thought to be the most stable matter in the universe. Strange matter is indestructible, and when normal matter comes into contact with strange matter, it instantly turns into strange matter itself. Stranglets are small masses of strange matter which have been ejected from the collision of two neutron stars. Scientists think the galaxy could be littered with these stranglets.

19: During the last ice age, the average temperature was just 6 degrees Celsius lower than it is today. During the age of the dinosaurs, when the average temperature was perhaps 4 degrees Celsius higher than today, there were crocodiles living above the Arctic Circle.How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, by Bill Gates

20: ”In 1984, a mere 6,000 music albums were released in the UK. Today, 55,000 new songs – a similar volume – are made available on streaming services every single day. As lockdown took hold, major labels released 1.2m songs in 2020; DIY artists released a staggering 9.5m. That’s an 8 to 1 ratio of artists doing it themselves to labels doing it for them. In 2020 there were 885,000 new episodes of podcasts – almost two new podcasts every minute – In 2020 there were 493 scripted original TV shows in the USA alone – more than one a day.” – The Financial Times

21: It would take a someone around 50 years to type the human genome if they typed at 60 words per minute, eight hours a day.

22: The Earth gets hit by 100 tonnes of space debris every day, according to NASA.

23: Feed Conversion Ratios (FCRs) measure the amount of feed/crops needed to produce a unit of meat. A chicken, for example, has to eat two calories’ worth of grain to give us one calorie of poultry—that is, you have to feed a chicken twice as many calories as it provides when eaten. A pig eats three times as many calories as it provides when eaten. For cows, the ratio is highest of all: six calories of feed for every calorie of beef. – A Well-Fed World

24: The methane burped and farted out by cows every year has the same warming effect as 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide, accounting for about 4 percent of all global emissions. However, not all cows are equal in this regard: for example, cattle in South America emit up to five times more greenhouse gases than North American cows, while African cattle emit even more. Researchers have tried using vaccines to cut down on the methane-producing microbes living in the cattle’s gut, breeding cattle to produce fewer emissions, and adding special feeds or drugs to their diets. –How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, by Bill Gates

25: The Coronavirus Pandemic has Changed Our Sleep: 32% of people overall sleep longer than they did before COVID, while 17% of people sleep less on average. On weekdays in Sweden, people were waking up 15 minutes later on average, in the North American countries it was 45 minutes later, and early in the pandemic in Russia people were waking up 90 minutes later. During the pandemic on average people went to bed half an hour later, but wake up nearly 1.5 hours later on weekends.

The Coronavirus Pandemic has Changed Our Sleep

26: As of February 2021, data suggests that at least 33% of SARS-CoV-2 infections are asymptomatic. Longitudinal studies suggest that nearly 75% of persons who receive a positive PCR test result but have no symptoms at the time of testing will remain asymptomatic.

27: ”The matrisome is defined as the ensemble of 1000 + genes encoding extracellular matrix (ECM) and ECM-associated proteins. The matreotype is defined as the composition and modification of ECM or matrisome proteins associated with or caused by a phenotype, such as longevity, or a distinct and acute physiological state, as observed during aging or disease. Every cell type produces its unique ECM. Intriguingly, cancer-cell types can even be identified based on their unique ECM composition. Thus, the matreotype reflects cellular identity and physiological status.” – The matrisome during aging and longevity: a systems-level approach towards defining matreotypes promoting healthy aging

28: When discussing the human gut microbiome, we often think primarily about the populations of bacteria within our guts. However, the gut virome – the viruses that infect our gut bacteria – are also very important for our health. Viruses can exchange genes with gut bacteria, affect antibiotic resistance, and have the capacity to both improve and diminish overall microbiome health.

29: A trimaran is a ship with three hulls. They are more stable, potentially faster, and can traverse shallower waters than single-hulled ships, but require more structural strength to withstand bad weather.

US military trimaran.
By U.S. Navy photo by Naval Air Crewman 2nd Class Nicholas Kontodiakos

30: Today, a child born in Chad is 50 times more likely to die before their fifth birthday than a child born in Finland.

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