The universe works like a huge human brain.

The universe works like a huge human brain, discover scientists
A new study finds similarities between the structures and processes of the human brain and the cosmic web.
The research was carried out by an astrophysicist and a neurosurgeon.
The two systems are vastly different in size but resemble each other in several key areas.

By Paul Ratner

Scientists found similarities in the workings of two systems completely different in scale – the network of neuronal cells in the human brain and the cosmic web of galaxies.

Researchers studied the two systems from a variety of angles, looking at structure, morphology, memory capacity, and other properties. Their quantitative analysis revealed that very dissimilar physical processes can create structures sharing levels of complexity and organization, even if they are varied in size by 27 orders of magnitude.

The unusual study was itself carried out by Italian specialists in two very different fields – astrophysicist Franco Vazza from the University of Bologna and neurosurgeon Alberto Feletti from the University of Verona.

“The tantalizing degree of similarity that our analysis exposes seems to suggest that the self-organization of both complex systems is likely being shaped by similar principles of network dynamics, despite the radically different scales and processes at play,” wrote the scientists in their new paper.

One of the most compelling insights of the study involved looking at the brain’s neuronal network as a universe in itself. This network contains about 69 billion neurons. If you’re keeping score, the observable universe has a web of at least 100 billion galaxies.

Another similarity is the defined nature of their networks–neurons and galaxies–that have nodes connected by filaments. By studying the average number of connections in each node and the clustering of connections in nodes, the researchers concluded that there were definite “agreement levels” in connectivity, suggesting the two networks grew as a result of similar physical principles, according to Feletti.

Section of the human brain (left) and a simulated section of the cosmos (right).Credit: University of Bologna

There are also interesting comparisons when it comes to the composition of each structure. About 77 percent of the brain is water, while about 70 percent of the Universe is filled with dark energy. These are both passive materials that have indirect roles in their respective structures.

On the flip side of that, about 30 percent of the masses of each system is comprised of galaxies or neurons.

The scientists also found an uncanny similarity between matter density fluctuations in brains and the cosmic web.

“We calculated the spectral density of both systems. This is a technique often employed in cosmology for studying the spatial distribution of galaxies,” Vazza said in a press release. “Our analysis showed that the distribution of the fluctuation within the cerebellum neuronal network on a scale from 1 micrometer to 0.1 millimeters follows the same progression of the distribution of matter in the cosmic web but, of course, on a larger scale that goes from 5 million to 500 million light-years.”

Check out the new study “The Quantitative Comparison Between the Neuronal Network and the Cosmic Web”, published in Frontiers in Physics.

Antidepressant effects of psilocybin found to last one month

hallucinogenic mushrooms

By Laura Sanders

Hallucinogenic mushrooms’ key ingredient, psilocybin, can swiftly and dramatically ease depression in the right therapeutic setting, a small study suggests.

A month after receiving two doses of the psychedelic drug, 13 people had big drops in depressive symptoms, researchers report November 4 in JAMA Psychiatry.

Because the study was small and lacked participant diversity, it’s unclear whether the positive results would extend to wider populations. Still, “the current results are clear,” says Jay Olson, a psychology researcher at Harvard University who wasn’t involved in the study. “At least for some people, psilocybin can reduce depression better than several common treatment options.”

Existing antidepressant drugs don’t work well for an estimated 30 to 50 percent of the people who try them; when they do work, the effects can take weeks to kick in. Psilocybin, a compound that can profoundly alter consciousness and perceptions of reality, might be a powerful alternative, says coauthor Roland Griffiths, a neuropsychopharmacologist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

In the new study, patients with moderate or severe depression received two doses of psilocybin pills spaced about a week and a half apart. Participants also received therapy and support from researchers, before, during and after taking psilocybin.

A comparison group of 11 people waited eight weeks, then also received the two doses of psilocybin and supportive therapy. This delay allowed the researchers to look for improvements in symptoms that were not related to the drug.

Clinicians used a common depression rating scale consisting of 17 items to measure participants’ symptoms. Scores can range from 0 to 52, with higher numbers indicating more severe depression. Before receiving psilocybin, participants who got the drug without delay scored an average of 22.9 points, signaling the high end of moderate depression. Four weeks after the second dose, average scores dropped to 8.5. A score of 7 or below indicates no depression. Scores among the comparison group hovered around 23 while those people waited their turn to get the drug.

Overall, 13 of 24 people — including those who got psilocybin immediately and those who got it later — met the definition of remission four weeks after their respective treatments. The drops in depression symptoms are substantial compared with those found by some analyses of standard antidepressants, Griffiths says.

As with clinical studies in general, positive effects might arise simply from participants’ expectations, not the drug itself. But such effects are unlikely to account for the magnitude of the drop observed, Olson says.

The new findings on psilocybin’s antidepressant effects fit with earlier ones: A dose of the drug eased depression and anxiety in a small group of patients with cancer, effects that lasted for years in some cases, some of the same researchers reported in January (SN: 1/28/20). Another study, published in Lancet Psychiatry in 2016, found that signs of depression dropped in 12 people three months after two doses of psilocybin and psychological support.

Overall, the approach is promising, Griffiths says, but questions remain. “We still need to collect more safety data and we need to know conditions for optimal administration,” he says.

New Study Shows That Breastfed Babies May Grow Into Better-Adjusted Teens

Moms already know that breast milk is ideal for a baby’s physical development. Now, research shows that being breastfed in infancy might even boost a child’s mental health, years later.

“Having identified that there are potential behavioral benefits, our study strengthens the case for public health strategies that promote breastfeeding, where possible,” study lead author Lydia Speyer, of the University of Edinburgh School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, said in a university news release.

The new study included thousands of British children born between 2000 and 2002. They were assessed at ages 3, 5, 7, 11 and 14 using questionnaires about their strengths and difficulties, which had been completed by parents and teachers.

The results showed that kids who were breastfed for three months or more developed fewer behavioral difficulties than those who weren’t breastfed. They were also less likely to have social and emotional problems, such as anxiety, struggles forming friendships, or difficulties with concentration.

The findings held true even after the researchers accounted for other influencing factors, such as a mother’s education and mental health, and family wealth, according to the authors of the study. The results were published online Nov. 9 in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

The investigators said their research is the first to track children’s behavior deep into adolescence and provides added proof of a link between breastfeeding and later behavioral development.

“The positive impact of breastfeeding on children’s physical development is well known, but the effect on their social and emotional development is less understood,” Speyer noted.

Dr. Jennifer Wu is an obstetrician-gynecologist at Lenox Hill Hospital, in New York City. She said that while the researchers couldn’t prove cause and effect, “the longevity of this study, and the fact that the behavioral analyses show the trend over time, make the data more robust.”

According to Wu, “breastfeeding can have far-reaching effects for the child,” and the findings from this new study “should be used in discussions with pregnant patients who are considering whether to breastfeed.”

But of course, society needs to make room so that new moms can freely breastfeed, as well, she said. “On a larger scale, workplaces need policies to support breastfeeding for 6 months,” Wu believes.

No matter how many medications you take, eating a healthy diet, not smoking and getting plenty of exercise will help keep you alive, a new study finds.

“We’ve long known about the benefits of leading a healthy lifestyle. The results from our study underscore the importance of each person’s ability to improve their health through lifestyle changes even if they are dealing with multiple health issues and taking multiple prescription medications,” said researcher Neil Kelly. He’s a medical student at Weill Cornell Medicine of Cornell University in New York City.

For the study, Kelly’s team collected data on more than 20,000 people who took part in a study on racial differences in stroke.

At the start of the study, 44% of participants were taking four or fewer prescription medications, 39% were taking five to nine, and 17% were taking 10 or more medications.

After about 10 years, the researchers found that a healthy lifestyle reduced the risk of death during the study period regardless of the number of medications a person was taking, and the more healthy lifestyle habits one had, the lower the risk of death.

The findings were scheduled for presentation at the American Heart Association’s virtual annual meeting, Nov. 13 to 17. Such research should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

“It’s especially important for health care professionals to counsel patients and develop interventions that can maximize healthy lifestyle behaviors, even among patients with several prescription medications,” Kelly said in an AHA news release.

“It’s important for the public to understand that there is never a bad time to adopt healthy behaviors. These can range from eating a healthier diet to taking a daily walk in their neighborhood,” he added. “A healthier lifestyle buys more time.”More information

For more on a healthy lifestyle, head to the American Heart Association.

Chronic inflammation causes a reduction in NAD+

NAD+ (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide), a key metabolite central to an efficient and healthy metabolism, declines with age. This previously unexplained phenomena is associated with numerous age-related diseases and has spawned the development of many nutritional supplements aimed at restoring NAD+ to more youthful levels. Publishing in Nature Metabolism, researchers at the Buck Institute have identified chronic inflammation as a driver of NAD+ decline. They show that an increasing burden of senescent cells, which is also implicated in the aging process, causes the degradation of NAD via the activation of CD38 (cyclic ADP ribose hydrolase) a protein that is found on the cell membranes both inside and on the surface of many immune cells.

“We are very excited to link two phenomena which have been separately associated with aging and age-related disease,” said Eric Verdin, MD, Buck Institute President and CEO and senior author of the paper. “The fact that NAD+ decline and chronic inflammation are intertwined provides a more holistic, systemic approach to aging and the discovery of CD38 macrophages as the mediator of the link between the two gives us a new target for therapeutic interventions.”

The faucet or the sink? Or both?

Scientists have been aware that NAD+ levels decrease with age but Verdin says what hasn’t been clear is whether the decline stems from decreased production of NAD+, a problem with the “faucet,” or from its degradation, an issue akin to a “leaky sink”. “Our data suggests that, at least in some cases, the issue stems from the leaky sink,” he said, “Ultimately I think supplementation will be part of the equation, but filling the sink without dealing with the leak will be insufficient to address the problem.” Verdin says preliminary data suggests that blocking CD38 activity in older animals restores NAD+ levels in specific tissues.

Unique Buck collaboration drives the research

The research, led by Anthony J. Covarrubias, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the Verdin lab, also involved Buck professor Judith Campisi and her laboratory, which is recognized internationally for pioneering work in the field of cellular senescence. Experiments were done in mice and involved metabolic tissue from visceral white fat and the liver which were examined during aging and acute responses to inflammation. The work was validated in primary human macrophages. “Our initial hypothesis was that CD38 activation would be driven by inflammation,” Covarrubias said, “But we found that in this case, the activation occurred with both acute and age-related inflammation. That was a surprise.”

Inflammaging: Cellular senescence and the SASP

Senescent cells, which stop dividing in response to DNA damage, spew a multitude of pro-inflammatory proteins, called the senescence-associated secretory phenotype or SASP. Evolution selected cellular senescence as a protective measure against cancer; but as senescent cells accumulate in tissues over the course of a lifetime, the SASP drives low grade chronic inflammation which is associated with age-related disease, including late life cancer. “These inflammatory proteins in the SASP induce macrophages to proliferate, express CD38 and degrade NAD+. It’s a maladaptive process,” said Covarrubias, “But drugs that target the SASP or CD38 may offer us another way to deal with the decline of NAD+.”

NAD: Essential for life

NAD+ is found in every cell; it promotes cellular energy production and supports cellular metabolism. NAD is also critical for the activity of sirtuins which have global anti-aging properties. Comparing our cellular metabolism to a cash economy, Verdin describes NAD+ as the armored trucks that transfer money between institutions. “Money is the fuel. If you can’t transport the money, then the whole economy comes to a halt. It all comes crashing down. That’s how important NAD+ is to our cellular health and we look forward to applying this discovery to our efforts to stem the ravages of age-related disease.”

Zebra Finches Recognize the Calls of Over 40 Fellow Finches

Their ability to distinguish between individuals is strong evidence for fast mapping, a learning tool generally thought to belong only to humans.

Fast mapping, the ability to rapidly learn an association between two things after very little exposure, is a key tool responsible for the vast repertoire of human language. It’s the reason we can recognize voices from another room and why newborns prefer to listen to their mothers read them The Cat in the Hat over other women. While fast mapping is generally thought of as a human ability, zebra finches can also distinguish dozens of other finches’ vocalizations, doing so with very little exposure and retaining those memories for at least a month, researchers report today (November 13) in Science Advances.

“The reason that this study is groundbreaking is because zebra finches are the very first vocally learning species aside from ourselves with any evidence that fast mapping takes place,” Samantha Carouso-Peck, a behavioral neuroscientist at Cornell University who researches social influences on vocal learning in zebra finches but was not involved in the current work, tells The Scientist.

Prior to the new study, evidence of fast mapping in nonhumans had been suggested for only a single nonhuman animal: Rico the border collie. Rico is capable of distinguishing the name of more than 200 individual objects and can infer the meaning of a new word after hearing it only once. Whether this is truly evidence of fast mapping, however, has been debated among scientists who believe that only species capable of language, specifically humans, can be said to truly fast map. 

To test zebra finches’ ability to recognize individual calls, and the number of exposures they need to do so, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, designed a five-day “learning ladder.” Birds were initially trained on a small set of call data that became increasingly larger over several days. 

On the first day of testing, each bird in the training arena went through a series of trials during which they heard brief clips of either a song or a distance call used by birds to locate their group when it is out of sight. These two distinct vocalizations were chosen because they are thought to have the most variation between individuals. Nineteen birds were trained on songs, while another 19 heard only distance calls. The vocalizations were parsed, so that one set led to a food reward, while the other set didn’t.

In the team’s experiments, birds in an arena learned to distinguish between vocalizations that came with a reward (Re Vocalizer) and those that did not (NoRe Vocalizer). When birds recognized a call they had heard before, they allowed the clip to play fully, which activated a food reward. When they did not, they hit a button to skip ahead to the next trial. In this way, scientists were able to show that individual finches can remember an average of 42 other vocalizers.

In that first test, each finch only needed to discriminate between two individuals’ vocalizations, one that provided a food reward and one that did not. By pecking a key, the finch would start the sound file. It could then either peck the key again to start a new trial or listen to the entire clip to receive a food reward. Repeating this process over several trials, the finches learned to associate vocalizations that led to a reward from the ones that did not and to quickly skip vocalizations that weren’t rewarding.

Each successive day, sounds from additional individuals were added to the training set. While finches were originally trained to discriminate between one pair of individuals, by day two it jumped to four pairs, and then eight on days three through five, for a total of 16 different individuals’ vocalizations. The researchers began evaluating the finches’ performance only on days four and five, when each bird had been exposed at least once to each possible vocalizer. 

To be certain the finches weren’t simply memorizing the sound files, each bird providing the vocalization was recorded 10 different times. “We were pulling randomly from a large library of calls that we have, so the calls were all different every time,” Frederic Theunissen, an auditory scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, tells The Scientist. “Not only are they different vocalizers, but they heard different renditions from the same vocalizer.”

Even with this added layer of complexity, Theunissen says he was “really impressed” by how well the finches performed. All 19 finches trained using song files were able to discriminate between the vocalizers they recognized based on their individual signatures and those they did not, and the same was true for 18 of the finches trained using distance calls. 

Beyond their ability to recognize other birds based on their calls, the team was also struck by how quickly the finches were able make the distinctions. The majority of birds could hear as few as 10 exposures to an individual and memorize their signature, while some required fewer than five, strong evidence for fast mapping in the species.

“We didn’t expect the birds to be so good at this,” Theunissen tells The Scientist. “We thought this was going to be interesting, but the fact that the number of vocalizers is so high, and that they can do this so quickly, was really quite astonishing.” 

In the study, the team decided to create what Theunissen calls “an impossible task” to test the limits of the finches’ performance. He created a new set of stimuli that included both songs and distance calls from 56 distinct vocalizers. Only four randomly-selected birds went through this mega-task, but on average, they were able to remember 42 individual vocalizers. 

A month later, he tested the recall of two of the four birds by running them through the same, 56-vocalizer test and found that they were still able to distinguish between individuals—they had retained their memories of the individual calls. Both the speed of their learning and their retention over time, Theunissen says, “point towards these really remarkable abilities that these birds have in terms of making auditory memories.”

Because these birds are so social, living gregariously in colonies of more than 100 individuals, it isn’t unexpected that zebra finches could discriminate between dozens of individuals, says Sarah Woolley, a neuroethologist at McGill University who studies the neurological basis for social behavior in songbirds. “We’ve always been pretty sure that birds could do that, zebra finches included,” Woolley says. “But no one had really demonstrated it, certainly not to the degree that they do in this paper.”

While the results are “very interesting evidence” that zebra finches are capable of fast mapping, Carouso-Peck says that more work on a larger sampling of birds is needed “before we can make weightier claims about what they’re capable of.” For example, one of the criticisms of the previous work with Rico the border collie is that fast mapping is a tool for learning language, and therefore only species capable of language truly do it. While Carouso-Peck says she doesn’t necessarily agree, as a next step she would like to see if finches are also capable of fast mapping verbally. For example, how many times must young zebra finches hear their father’s song before they can reproduce it for themselves?

“Language is something which we humans tend to hold up as our great crowning achievement, something that we are capable of which absolutely no [other] species is capable of,” Caruso-Peck tells The Scientist. “Over the last few decades, we’ve had to change the goalposts for what is language in order to maintain that high and mighty position.” 

K. Yu et al., “High-capacity auditory memory for vocal communication in a social songbird,” Science Advances, doi:10.1126/sciadv.abe0440, 2020.

Scientists Use Human Genes to Make Monkey Brains Bigger

Scientists introduced a human gene, ARHGAP11B, into monkey fetuses.
The gene caused an increase in the size of the monkey brains, including folding similar to that of human brains.
The study poses some serious ethical questions on genetic engineering.

In an experiment that could portend a real-life Planet of the Apes situation, scientists spliced human genes into the fetus of a monkey to substantially increase the size of the primate’s brain. And it worked.

Researchers from Germany’s Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Germany and Japan’s Central Institute for Experimental Animals introduced a specifically human gene, ARHGAP11B, into the fetus of a common marmoset monkey, causing the enlargement of its brain’s neocortex. The scientists reported their findings in Science.This content is imported from {embed-name}. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

The neocortex is the newest part of the brain to evolve. It’s in the name—“neo” meaning new, and “cortex” meaning, well, the bark of a tree. This outer shell makes up more than 75 percent of the human brain and is responsible for many of the perks and quirks that make us uniquely human, including reasoning and complex language.

Not long after our hominid ancestors branched off the evolutionary tree of our current chimpanzee cousins, their brains underwent a rapid expansion, nearly tripling in size over a span of 3 million years. Hominids’ brains grew so fast that they became cramped in the slowly evolving craniums, causing the distinctly human folding of the neocortex into wrinkles.

Scientists believe this was the result of a number of evolutionary factors, but the expression of ARGHAP11B, something unique to hominids, may have given a boost to the brains of our ancestors, and close-but-now-extinct relatives, the Neanderthals and Denisovans.

Previous studies have shown that ARHGAP11B, when unnaturally expressed in mice and ferrets, also caused an enlargement of the neocortex. However, this was the first time the gene was used in a non-human primate and with typical human levels of expression, further suggesting the gene played a key role in our evolution.

ARGHAP11B arose in our ancestors some 5 million years ago when a happy little accident was made copying the everyday gene ARGHAP11A. In an evolutionary mistake, a single substitution of one nucleotide base (the molecules that encode DNA) with another led to the loss of 55 nucleotides from ARHGAP11B. Like a computer reading an incorrect line of code, the mutation caused the neuron-producing cells of the brain to make more of themselves for longer periods of time, resulting in a larger neocortex.

A slice of the brain of a 101 day-old marmoset monkey showing the growth and folding of its neocortex.

“We found indeed that the neocortex of the common marmoset brain was enlarged and the brain surface folded,” Michael Heide, the lead author of the study, said in a press release. “Its cortical plate was also thicker than normal.” He continued:

“Furthermore, we could see increased numbers of basal radial glia progenitors in the outer subventricular zone and increased numbers of upper-layer neurons, the neuron type that increases in primate evolution.”

The scientists call these human-monkey hybrids “transgenic non-human primates,” which may be enough to ring the alarm of any doomsdayer. It certainly raises a lot of ethical questions when doing experiments on primates, let alone when introducing human genes into other animals.

Pompeii dig reveals ‘almost perfect’ remains of a master and his slave

bodies of a master and his slave in situ at a villa on the outskirts of Pompeii
Archaeologists have unearthed two exceptionally well-preserved victims of the eruption of Vesuvius in AD79

The almost perfectly preserved remains of two men have been unearthed in an extraordinary discovery in the ancient Roman city of Pompeii.

The bodies of what are thought to be a wealthy man and his slave, believed to have died as they were fleeing the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79, were found during excavations at a villa in the outskirts of the city, Pompeii archaeological park officials said yesterday.

Massimo Osanna, the park’s director, said the find was “truly exceptional”, while culture minister Dario Franceschini said it underlined the importance of Pompeii as a place for study and research.

The two men, lying close together, are believed to have escaped the initial phase of the eruption when the city was blanketed in volcanic ash and pumice, only to then be killed by a blast that happened the following day.

Their remains, for which casts have been created, were discovered in the same location where a stable containing the remains of three harnessed horses were unearthed in 2017.

Experts said the younger man, who was probably aged between 18 and 25, had several compressed vertebrae, which led them to believe that he was a manual labourer or slave. He is thought to have been wearing a pleated tunic, possibly made of wool.

The elder man, aged between 30 and 40, had a stronger bone structure, particularly around his chest area, and was also wearing a tunic. They were found lying in what would have been the corridor of the villa.

Park officials said that further digging over the coming months might reveal where the men were heading and determine the roles they played in the elegant villa.

It is the latest in a series of fascinating discoveries that excavations at Pompeii have yielded in recent years.

The bodies of two women and three children were discovered huddled together in the room of a villa in the Regio V area in October 2018. A week before, the same villa revealed a charcoal inscription that suggested Vesuvius erupted in October AD79, and not in August of that year as previously thought.

The remains of a man, who was also believed to have survived the first part of the explosion, were found in May 2018. His legs and torso were protruding from a large stone block but, rather than being decapitated by it, archaeologists believe he was killed by the lethal gases of the eruption’s later stages. The victim, believed to have been in his mid-30s, was also found with a small sack of 20 silver and two bronze coins, the equivalent of about €500 in today’s money.

The latest dig, part of a €1m project, is continuing despite the coronavirus pandemic. The park, which is currently closed to tourists, usually attracts four million people a year.

The Pompeii ruins were discovered in the 16th century, with the first excavations beginning in 1748. Over 1,500 of the estimated 2,000 victims have been found over the centuries.

Simple Invention Helps You Sober Up by Exhaling Alcohol

Above: Olivia Sobczyk, co-author and researcher at Toronto’s University Health Network, demonstrating how the ClearMate Device is used.
Image: University Health Network

Scientists in Canada say they’ve found a new way to treat potentially life-threatening alcohol intoxication—by helping people literally breathe out the alcohol in their system. Their device, which is designed to allow people to hyperventilate safely, was found to speed up the clearance of alcohol from healthy volunteers three times faster in a small pilot study.

Usually, toxins like alcohol are largely broken down by the liver. The liver can take a lot of punishment, but the rate that it metabolizes alcohol is constant, meaning you can’t speed up the process in times when the amount of alcohol in your body is enough to be fatal or seriously harmful. Most times, all doctors can do when someone is passed out is to make sure their breathing and body functions are stable until the liver can finish its job.

But the lungs also play a small role in naturally eliminating alcohol from our body, something that you’ve probably noticed if you’ve ever smelled booze on someone’s breath. This happens when blood saturated with alcohol reaches the lungs to be replenished with fresh oxygen. Some of the alcohol in the blood, along with carbon dioxide, is then exhaled.

This process can be sped up through hyperventilation, or the act of rapidly breathing. The trouble is, when we hyperventilate, we also lose too much carbon dioxide. To stop this from happening, our body has evolved to make us seriously uncomfortable or even lose consciousness when we hyperventilate for too long (this is why someone visibly panicking might faint).

According to study author and inventor Joseph Fisher, the device has found a way to interrupt this trigger while still keeping the person safe. The patient is outfitted with a gas mask, which connects to a supply of oxygen and carbon dioxide. The mixture of gases they breathe in causes them to hyperventilate, while the device then feeds them back enough carbon dioxide that the body doesn’t involuntarily freak out.

“With each breath, it is designed to allow the normal amount of carbon dioxide to escape and any excess is returned on the very next breath,” Fisher, an anesthesiologist and senior researcher at University Health Network in Toronto, said in an email. “This is all done in a simple way by a mechanical valve so it is foolproof—without needing electronics or computers.”

To test out the device, Fisher and his team recruited five healthy volunteers and told them to get mildly intoxicated (the beverage of choice was usually 250 milliliters of 80-proof vodka mixed with 500 milliliters of water). In a series of experiments conducted over two days, they were monitored as they both sobered up naturally and by using the device for up to a half hour. Their level of alcohol was measured via breathalyzer and through blood samples taken throughout the experiment. Compared to the natural method, the volunteers appeared to sober up three times faster while using the breathing device.

The team’s findings were published in Scientific Reports on Thursday.

Though the study’s sample is very small, meaning its results should be viewed with some caution, the device itself isn’t untested. Just last year, the company Fisher cofounded, Thornhill Medical, won marketing approval from the Food and Drug Administration for the device (branded as ClearMate) to be used in emergency rooms in the U.S. as a treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning. Fisher says the same device could be used to treat both conditions as well as others in the future, including more toxic forms of alcohol poisoning, such as in people who have consumed windshield-washer fluid (methanol) or bootleg booze (polyethelene glycol).

According to Fisher, the basic fact that our lungs help remove alcohol from our bodies has been known for nearly a century. But he’s not sure why no one up until now has thought to try exploiting this process.

“The method is so simple and obvious that even looking at it, no one recognizes its potential,” he said. “Hiding in plain sight. I don’t know how else to explain it.”

While this device can be safely used by someone with alcohol poisoning who is conscious, it may hold even more promise for people who are passed out, while still being safe to operate for health care workers. “The greater the alcohol concentration in the blood, the more effective the method is,” Fisher said. “If the patient is unconscious, a tube can be placed in the lungs to protect the patient’s breathing, and the method can then be applied manually.”

Japan’s creepy robot wolf scares away crop-raiding deer, bears

A Japanese town has deployed robot wolves in the hopes of scaring away bears and other wildlife that can damage crops — or potentially injure residents. 

The robot, simply named “Monster Wolf,” is being tested in a town called Takikawa, located on the Hokkaido island in Northern Japan. 

As reported by JAPANkyo, the ‘scarecrow’ has been created by Ohta Seiki and measures roughly 24-inches long, sporting a furry body, four legs, red, glowing eyes, and inbuilt speakers. 

Motion-based infrared sensors are embedded in the wolf, and when triggered, Monster Wolf will scream out one of 40 different sounds, including howls and growls.

According to the publication, the wolf can also be set to howl at particular intervals — and since being tested in a botanical garden in Sapporo last year, incidents of animals such as deer destroying the park’s foliage has decreased by 90%. 

When it comes to tests in Takikawa, the purchase of the wolves was prompted by an increase in bear sightings and dozens of attacks, as well as two that proved fatal. Following an emergency meeting of local officials, the two Monster Wolf robots were set to safeguard the town. 

No bears have been encountered since they arrived. 

Thanks to Pete C for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.