Your complicated tongue, when water makes fire, metal-eating robots, and more

Published April 23, 2020

If you give a rat a doobie

If you want to hook a rat on cocaine, you should start it on mar­i­jua­na (and start it young). It’s not that pot is a gate­way drug — not exact­ly. It’s more that giv­ing cannabis to young rats makes them more sen­si­tive to the effects of coke.

“Our find­ings sug­gest that expo­sure to psy­choac­tive cannabi­noids dur­ing ado­les­cence primes the ani­mals’ pre­frontal cor­tex, so that it responds dif­fer­ent­ly to cocaine com­pared to ani­mals who had been giv­en cocaine with­out hav­ing pre­vi­ous­ly expe­ri­enced cannabis.”

Start ’em while they’re young.


* I don’t have to add “the component of marijuana that gives a high” do I? You know that already. OK, never again.
tl;dr: Marijuana seems to prime the brain to the effects of cocaine

Foodies are older than you think

Food cul­ture start­ed a lot ear­li­er than researchers expect­ed. As far back as 6,000 to 7,000 years ago, dif­fer­ent hunter-gath­er­er tribes had dif­fer­ent tastes in food “even in areas where there was a sim­i­lar avail­abil­i­ty of resources.”

Our study sug­gests that culi­nary prac­tices were not influ­enced by envi­ron­men­tal con­straints but rather were like­ly embed­ded in some long-stand­ing culi­nary tra­di­tions and cul­tur­al habits.”

tl;dr: Even when they had the same foods, early hunter-gatherer tribes developed cultural preferences.

Rain and volcanoes

Study Suggests Rainfall Triggered 2018 Kīlauea Eruption

[The] mod­el results sug­gest that, in ear­ly 2018, flu­id pres­sure had been at its high­est in almost half a cen­tu­ry, weak­en­ing the vol­canic edi­fice, which the authors pro­pose enabled mag­ma to break through con­fin­ing rock beneath the vol­cano and lead to the sub­se­quent eruption.


Did heavy rains trig­ger the erup­tion of the most dan­ger­ous U.S. vol­cano? Scientists are skep­ti­cal

[P]ressure changes from rain­fall would be so small that they wouldn’t have made much dif­fer­ence. “They’re small­er than the stress­es from tides from the Moon.”

tl;dr: Some geophysicists think rain can increase the chances of a volcanic eruption, but others are iffy.

The sleep-fat connection

Sleeping a lot does­n’t make you fat (say researchers). Being fat makes it hard­er to sleep. And that can lead to a vicious cycle as “acute sleep dis­rup­tion can result in increased appetite and insulin resistance.”

tl;dr: Obesity makes sleep more difficult, leading to more weight gain.

Your tongue is more complicated than you think

Gut micro­bio­me. Skin micro­bio­me. So why should the tongue be left out? That’s right — not only does your tongue have bac­te­ria on it, those bac­te­ria form well-defined colonies in dif­fer­ent areas.

“Bacteria on the tongue are a lot more than just a ran­dom pile. They are more like an organ of our bod­ies,” said lead researcher Gary Borisy. He even titled his image “Tongue Consortium”:

Courtesy Steven Wilbert and Gary Borisy, The Forsyth Institute

Bonus: Story includes the sur­pris­ing phrase, “our mouth’s main mus­cle remains some­what of a mys­tery to scientists.”

tl;dr: A new image shows that tongue bacteria live in well-defined colonies.

Hungry, hungry robots

This is sure to make sci-fi writ­ers hap­py: UPenn researchers have devel­oped a robot that can ‘eat’ met­al for ener­gy.

[A]ny met­al sur­face it touch­es func­tions as the anode of a bat­tery, allow­ing elec­trons to flow to the cath­ode and pow­er the con­nect­ed device.

This effec­tive­ly gives them a pow­er den­si­ty as good or bet­ter than tra­di­tion­al bat­ter­ies — at half the weight.

And this is not fore­shad­ow­ing at all:

In the long term, this type of ener­gy source could be the basis for a new par­a­digm in robot­ics, where machines keep them­selves pow­ered by seek­ing out and “eat­ing” met­al, break­ing down its chem­i­cal bonds for ener­gy like humans do with food.

tl;dr: A new robot can power itself using any metal surface it glides over.

A year of rice and toilet paper

What will future his­to­ri­ans think of this year of CoviD-19 and how ordi­nary peo­ple han­dled life? Now’s the time to tell them.

Arizona State University is cre­at­ing “A Journal of the Plague Year: an Archive of CoVid19″ where any­one can sub­mit their sto­ries to the ever-grow­ing “crowd­sourced dig­i­tal archive.”

We are act­ing not just as his­to­ri­ans, but as chron­i­clers, recorders, mem­oirists, as image col­lec­tors. We invite you to share your expe­ri­ence and impres­sions of how CoVid19 has affect­ed our lives, from the mun­dane to the extra­or­di­nary, includ­ing the ways things haven’t changed at all.

The site does­n’t explain how (or if) the final archive will be curat­ed, so hope­ful­ly it won’t be over­run with silli­ness and vit­ri­ol … then again, maybe that’s the mes­sage we need to send.

tl;dr: Submit your stories, photos, or more to a digital archive of the CoviD pandemic

Window power

Aussie researchers have devel­oped a semi-trans­par­ent solar cell that can be incor­po­rat­ed into windows.

This tech­nol­o­gy will trans­form win­dows into active pow­er gen­er­a­tors, poten­tial­ly rev­o­lu­tion­is­ing build­ing design. Two square metres of solar win­dow, the researchers say, will gen­er­ate about as much elec­tric­i­ty as a stan­dard rooftop solar panel.

It con­verts about 17 per­cent of sun­light into elec­tric­i­ty, which is so-so for a tra­di­tion­al solar pan­el. But it also lets 10 per­cent of light through, mak­ing it a pret­ty good trade-off.

Of course, announce­ments of game-chang­ing ener­gy break­throughs are a dime a dozen, so let’s wait and see. (They even say they hope to have a com­mer­cial prod­uct … with­in 10 years.)

tl;dr: A semi-transparent solar cell could turn windows into power generators.

Quick CoviD-19 tidbit

Remdesivir keeps look­ing good as the treat­ment of choice.

Early results of two remdesivir trials show it’s effective for treating CoviD-19.
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