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30 Things We Learnt This Month: January, 2021

Posted on 29 January 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 so far!

1: What’s a gene therapy? Despite the immense potential and impact of this technology, especially recently with the development of gene therapy- based COVID-19 vaccines, no one has really agreed on a precise definition of gene therapy.

2: Most cells in the human brain are not ‘born’ at the location where they will eventually reside in the adult brain. Instead, brain cells must move to the appropriate location during development, sometimes quite far (inches). In rodents this stops at birth, but in humans it might continue for two years.

3: The decision to have a child has by far the largest environmental impact, at least in developed countries. Comparatively, the effects of switching to greener energy sources and avoiding car and plane travel are minor.

The climate mitigation gap: education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions.

4: You’ve heard of IVF children, but what about IVF grandchildren? Instead of creating a son or daughter in vitro using IVF, we could have multiple embryos mate with each other to create grandchildren and great-great-great grandchildren. Doing this in a genetically controlled environment could amplify desired traits, and potentially break the shackles of ‘regression to the mean’.

5: When inhibitory cells in the developing human brain migrate to the cortex, they first extend a very long process in the direction they want to move, almost leaving the nucleus behind. The nucleus is then pulled up to the front of the cell. This happens about once an hour.

6: The human genome was never fully sequenced. Many sections of the genome remain unsequenced – perhaps as much as 9% of it. This isn’t ‘junk’ DNA either – there are hints that some of this unsequenced code may be involved in diseases like cancer.

7: Two pieces of similar metal will fuse together in a vacuum, simply because there is nothing to prevent them from doing so. This is known as ‘cold welding’ or ‘contact welding’, and is a problem in spacecraft design that may have contributed to failures in early satellites.

Cold welding GIF -
Real time transmission electron microscopy of the cold welding of two gold nanowires.

8: Hydras are able to maintain their telomere length, show no signs of increased mortality with age, and may be biologically immortal. They possess no post-mitotic cells (cells that no longer divide).

9: Each of us starts life with forty to eighty new mutations that were not found in our parents, resulting in around twenty inactive genes from loss-of-function mutations. By the time we reach the age of sixty, a single skin cell will contain between 4,000 and 40,000 mutations, according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

10: The first approved use of gene therapy was in 1990, but it took another 22 years before a gene therapy product was approved in the European Union. That product, Glybera, was only ever given to around 30 individuals before it was removed from the market in 2017. Only one patient was ever treated commercially.

11: Conventional wisdom holds that fishermen should catch bigger, older fish and release smaller ones to keep fish populations healthy. In some species, however, older females produce exponentially more eggs than younger ones, making them essential to the stability of fisheries. These fish are called BOFFFFs, a hilarious acronym that stands for Big, Old, Fat, Fertile Female Fish.


12: C.elegans worms originally came from Nobel laureate Sydney Brenner’s compost heap in Bristol, before they became one of the world’s most successful and important model organisms.

13: Now one of the countries with the highest life expectancy, 1970 Japan’s mortality rates were distinctly average for an economically developed country, despite having a famously healthy diet. This was, in part, caused by a high incidence of cerebrovascular deaths. This may have changed due to the incorporation of more cholesterol into the Japanese diet – cholesterol being an essential component of blood vessel walls.

14: Hormesis is a phenomenon in which a substance or condition has favourable biological effects in low quantities and harmful effects in larger quantities.

15: Following on, ionising radiation appears to be a form of hormesis, becoming beneficial in very low doses. Historically, there is evidence that radon springs were used to treat arthritis, and there is also some evidence that population who are exposed to slightly above-average levels of radiation develop less arthritis.

16: Zebra stripes may have evolved to ward off insects. When cows were painted with stripes, 50% fewer biting insects landed on them.

Zebra stripes on cows could save agriculture industry millions as  experiment in Japan shows they deter biting flies - CBS News
A zebra.

17: Being optimistic is associated with living 11-15% longer compared to being pessimistic, and optimists are over 50% more likely to reach the age of 85.

18: More people die every year from cold weather than from hot weather.

19: Calorie restriction means reducing your average daily calorie intake. However, not all fasting is a form of calorie restriction – you could fast one day, then consume twice as many calories the next, and still derive the benefits of fasting. However, people who fast will rarely fully compensate their calorie deficit if left to their own devices.

20: Methylene blue, a 50 year old drug and blue dye used in labs all over the world, has been found to have a number of anti-ageing properties.

21: It rains spiders in Australia. This phenomenon is sometimes called ‘angel hair’.

22: 20–60% calorie restriction in mice can boost their immune function, but counter-intuitively, can also increase susceptibility to influenza and intestinal parasites. 

23: After receiving the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, only 11 in 1 million people had allergic reactions including anaphylaxis. Comparatively, around 1500 in 1 million people have died of COVID-19 in the UK so far.

24: For centuries, the musical interval known as the augmented fourth or tritone was considered ‘the devil’s interval’ by the catholic church because of its unpleasant and dissonant sound. This may be why it is used as the interval between the two tones of a fire-engine klaxon.

25: The act of fasting or calorie restriction can drive cells to repair themselves. However, the process of re-feeding also appears to be important for some of the observed benefits of fasting such as stem cell regeneration.

26: Archaeologists have discovered the world’s oldest known cave painting: a life-sized picture of a wild pig that was made at least 45,500 years ago in Indonesia.

World's oldest known cave painting found in Indonesia

27: The New Hope Fertility Centre in Manhattan is currently advertising that couples could soon have the opportunity to create designer babies with CRISPR.

28: Suppose that a lorry driver crosses a bridge that is exactly as long as his lorry. If he were driving close to the speed of light, his lorry would appear to him to be longer than the bridge. However, to anyone else, the lorry would be shorter than the bridge.

29: The placenta is the temporary organ that supplies the developing foetus with oxygen and nutrients. Syncytin, the protein that fuses cells together to form the placenta, originally came from a retrovirus that was incorporated into the DNA of one of our distant ancestors.

30: Your lowest annual risk of death isn’t during your first few years of life. Today’s 5 to 14 years old’s have the safest lives ever of any human who has ever lived with a yearly mortality risk of 1 in 10,000. Comparatively if you are a 75 year old you have a roughly 1 in 10 chance of dying within the next year.

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