New theory of how the brain generates consciousness


Electromagnetic energy in the brain enables brain matter to create our consciousness and our ability to be aware and think, according to a new theory developed by Professor Johnjoe McFadden from the University of Surrey.

Publishing his theory in the journal Neuroscience of Consciousness, Professor McFadden posits that consciousness is in fact the brain’s energy field. This theory could pave the way toward the development of conscious AI, with robots that are aware and have the ability to think becoming a reality.

Early theories on what our consciousness is and how it has been created tended toward the supernatural, suggesting that humans and probably other animals possess an immaterial soul that confers consciousness, thought and free will—capabilities that inanimate objects lack. Most scientists today have discarded this view, known as dualism, to embrace a ‘monistic’ view of a consciousness generated by the brain itself and its network of billions of nerves. By contrast, McFadden proposes a scientific form of dualism based on the difference between matter and energy, rather than matter and soul.

The theory is based on scientific fact: when neurons in the brain and nervous system fire, they not only send the familiar electrical signal down the wire-like nerve fibres, but they also send a pulse of electromagnetic energy into the surrounding tissue. Such energy is usually disregarded, yet it carries the same information as nerve firings, but as an immaterial wave of energy, rather than a flow of atoms in and out of the nerves.

This electromagnetic field is well-known and is routinely detected by brain-scanning techniques such as electroencephalogram (EEG) and magnetoencephalography (MEG) but has previously been dismissed as irrelevant to brain function. Instead, McFadden proposes that the brain’s information-rich electromagnetic field is in fact itself the seat of consciousness, driving ‘free will’ and voluntary actions. This new theory also accounts for why, despite their immense complexity and ultra-fast operation, today’s computers have not exhibited the slightest spark of consciousness; however, with the right technical development, robots that are aware and can think for themselves could become a reality.

Johnjoe McFadden, Professor of Molecular Genetics and Director of the Quantum Biology Doctoral Training Centre at the University of Surrey, said: “How brain matter becomes aware and manages to think is a mystery that has been pondered by philosophers, theologians, mystics and ordinary people for millennia. I believe this mystery has now been solved, and that consciousness is the experience of nerves plugging into the brain‘s self-generated electromagnetic field to drive what we call ‘free will’ and our voluntary actions.”

More information: Johnjoe McFadden. Integrating information in the brain’s EM field: the cemi field theory of consciousness, Neuroscience of Consciousness (2020). DOI: 10.1093/nc/niaa016

New species of water bear uses fluorescent ‘shield’ to survive lethal UV radiation

By Lakshmi Supriya

Tardigrades, small aquatic creatures known as water bears, can survive extreme heat, radiation, and even the vacuum of outer space—conditions that would kill most animals. Now, scientists have discovered a new species of tardigrade that can endure ultraviolet (UV) light so lethal, it is regularly used to get rid of hard-to-kill viruses and bacteria.

The discovery was made by chance: Researchers at the Indian Institute of Science scoured their campus for water bears, and then exposed them to extreme conditions. They happened to have a germicidal UV lamp in the lab, so they hit their specimens with it. The dose of 1 kilojoule per square meter, which killed bacteria and roundworms after just 5 minutes, was lethal to Hypsibius exemplaris tardigrades at 15 minutes; most died after 24 hours. But when they hit a strange, reddish brown species with the same dose, all survived. What’s more, when the researchers upped the dose four times, about 60% of the reddish brown bears lived for more than 30 days.

The researchers realized they had found a new species of tardigrade, part of the Paramacrobiotus genus. To figure out how the new species—which was found living in moss on a concrete wall in Bengaluru, India—survived, the scientists examined it with an inverted fluorescence microscope. To their surprise, under the UV light, the reddish tardigrades became blue (above). Fluorescent pigments, likely located under the tardigrades’ skin, transformed the UV light into harmless blue light, the team reports today in Biology Letters. In contrast, Paramacrobiotus with less pigment died about 20 days after exposure.

Next, the researchers extracted the fluorescent pigments and used them to coat H. exemplaris and several Caenorhabditis elegans earthworms. Animals with the jury-rigged shields survived at almost twice the rate of animals without the shields. It’s likely, scientists say, that the tardigrades evolved fluorescence as a means to tolerate the high doses of UV typical for hot summer days in southern India.

Tourist returns stolen artifacts to Pompeii after suffering ‘curse’ for 15 years

by Jack Guy and Nicola Ruotolo

A Canadian woman has returned five artifacts she took from Pompeii in 2005, saying they have plagued her with bad luck.The woman, identified only as Nicole, sent two white mosaic tiles, two pieces of amphora vase and a piece of ceramic wall to the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, along with a letter explaining her decision.”I wanted to have a piece of history that couldn’t be bought,” wrote the woman, who said she was “young and dumb” at the time.

Since returning to Canada, she said, she has suffered two bouts of breast cancer, resulting in a double mastectomy, and her family has also been in financial trouble.

Pompeii is one of the most famous archeological sites in the world.

Pompeii is one of the most famous archeological sites in the world.Salvatore Laporta/KONTROLAB/LightRocket/Getty Images”We can’t ever seem to get ahead in life,” she wrote, blaming the bad luck on the tiles.

“I took a piece of history captured in a time with so much negative energy attached to it,” she wrote. “People died in such a horrible way and I took tiles related to that kind of destruction.”Nearby Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, showering Pompeii with hot rock, volcanic ash and noxious gas and burying its residents.

The woman related how she had given another tile to a friend and told her of the decision to send her artifacts back, but she said she doesn’t know if the friend will return hers.”We are good people and I don’t want to pass this curse on to my family, my children or myself anymore,” she wrote. “Please forgive my careless act that I did years ago.”Over the years, around a hundred visitors have returned small artifacts like mosaic tiles and pieces of plaster that they stole during a visit to Pompeii, according to a spokeswoman for the park.The items were sent back along with letters from the visitors “claiming to have derived only bad luck” from taking away the artifacts, the spokeswoman told CNN.A selection of letters and returned artifacts has been put on display at the Pompeii Antiquarium, she added, noting that, while the value of the artifacts was not significant, the letters were interesting from an anthropological perspective.

Pompeii is one of the world’s most famous historical sites, and archaeologists continue to work on the remains.In February, the famed House of Lovers reopened for the first time in 40 years following a restoration project.The building, one of Pompeii’s best-known sites, was shut to visitors in 1980 after suffering damage in an earthquake, but it has now reopened as part of the Great Pompeii project, which launched in 2014 with the aim of safeguarding the ancient city.

Fecal Transfer from Moms to Babies After C-Section

By Ruth Williams


he composition of gut microbes in babies born via Cesarean section tends to differ from those in babies born vaginally, prompting speculation that this may have long-term health consequences. To enrich for beneficial bugs in babies’ bellies after C-section, researchers have performed mom-to-infant microbial transplants, described today (October 1) in Cell. In a clinical trial in which seven Cesarean-delivered babies were fed tiny amounts of their mothers’ fecal material, it was found that the babies’ guts became colonized with the sorts of bacteria normally present in infants delivered vaginally. While the procedure produced no ill effects in the infants, there are no data on whether it has any benefits to the baby, and experts warn it may be dangerous for mothers to attempt such a treatment themselves.

“This is a very well-balanced, important, and clinically relevant contribution to the field, with really nice, clear-cut conclusions,” says gut microbe researcher Tine Rask Licht of the Technical University of Denmark who was not involved in the research. “They have very nice data . . . [showing that] with fecal transfer they get a pattern of microbial development which is much more similar to that of children born vaginally.”

As a baby leaves the womb and passes through the birth canal it is bathed in its mother’s microbes—an experience that Cesarean-born infants do not share. As a result, there are differences in the bacteria that colonize the guts of newborns depending on their delivery method.

Epidemiological evidence indicates there may also be later life consequences to missing out on this bacterial baptism, as some call it. A recent study showed that Cesarean-born kids have a higher likelihood of developing immune disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and celiac disease. The growing prevalence of Cesarean deliveries makes these potential repercussions an increasing concern.

Numerous trials are therefore underway to test the safety and long-term benefits of swabbing Cesarean-born infants with microbes from their mothers’ vaginas. But, there aren’t a lot of published data to suggest that the gut microbiomes of these swabbed infants match those of vaginally born babies, says microbiologist and immunologist Willem de Vos of the University of Helsinki and Wageningen University who led the research. Furthermore, he adds, “the bacteria that you find in the baby [gut] are not found in the vagina, so it’s not so likely it’s the source,” he says. “It’s more likely that there is a fecal-oral transfer” at the time of birth, he says, because vaginal delivery is “a messy business.”

Indeed, anecdotal accounts suggest most women delivering babies vaginally do defecate during labor. “Feces is always part of the delivery process,” agrees obstetrician Bo Jacobsson of the University of Gothenburg who was not part of the research team. He says he therefore thinks that “from a scientific point of view, [the researchers] have done the right thing,” even if on first impression the procedure seems “nasty.”

A mother’s fecal microbes, unlike those from the vagina, are “geared to actually establish and colonize in the [baby’s] gut, because they come from the gut,” explains Licht. So what de Vos and colleagues have done, she says, “makes sense.”

The team recruited 17 mothers who were due to undergo elective C-sections and collected stool and blood samples from them approximately three weeks prior to delivery. This gave the team time to prepare the samples and to screen them for infectious pathogens, including HIV, hepatitis, Clostridium difficileHelicobacter pylori, norovirus, drug-resistant bacteria, group B streptococcus, and a long list of others. On the basis of these screens, only seven of the mothers were selected to continue with the procedure.

Each newly delivered baby was given a dose of the live fecal bacteria (a few million cells) in their first milk feed (via a bottle) and their health was monitored for two days in the maternity ward with follow up visits at four weeks and three months. None of the babies experienced adverse health effects.

Stool samples from the babies were collected after two days, then each week for four weeks and then again at 12 weeks. Analysis of these samples as well as of control samples collected from 29 vaginally born babies and 18 untreated Cesarean-delivered babies showed that the while the gut microbiota of the treated and vaginally born babies differed in the early days, after a week they were significantly more similar to each other, and both were distinct from the microbiotas of untreated Cesarean babies. Using previously published data on the microbiota of Cesarean infants who received vaginal swabs, the team showed that these were also distinct from those of the vaginally born or feces-fed infants.

The main differences observed between untreated Cesarean babies and those delivered vaginally or fed feces were that the control infants had a lower abundance of commensal Bacteroides and Bifidobacteria species, but a higher abundance of more pathogenic taxa, in line with previous findings.

While the study provided a proof-of-concept for the procedure, larger and longer-term studies would be necessary to confirm safety and to determine whether there are any health benefits, says Jacobsson. Because of these unknowns, both he and de Vos warn mothers undergoing Cesareans not to try this themselves.

“[There’s] a big risk that people will read about this and make the mistake of doing it themselves,” Jacobsson says, “But, you can put your baby into danger if you start to do a home-style version.”

K. Korpela et al., “Maternal fecal microbiota transplantation in cesarean-born infants rapidly restores normal gut microbial development: a proof-of-concept study,” Cell, doi:10.1016/j.cell.2020.08.047, 2020.

Researchers gave thousands of dollars to homeless people. The results defied stereotypes.

A man walking through a Vancouver tent city in March. Researchers in a new study found that homeless people who received direct cash transfers were able to find stable housing faster.

You’ve heard this refrain before — giving money to homeless people is not the best way to help them because it might be squandered, or spent on harmful habits. But a new Canadian study makes a powerful case to the contrary.The study, dubbed “The New Leaf Project,” is an initiative of Foundations for Social Change, a charitable organization based in Vancouver, in partnership with the University of British Columbia.Researchers gave 50 recently homeless people a lump sum of 7,500 Canadian dollars (nearly $5,700). They followed the cash recipients’ life over 12-18 months and compared their outcomes to that of a control group who didn’t receive the payment.The preliminary findings, which will be peer-reviewed next year, show that those who received cash were able to find stable housing faster, on average. By comparison, those who didn’t receive cash lagged about 12 months behind in securing more permanent housing.

People who received cash were able to access the food they needed to livefaster. Nearly 70% did after one month, and maintained greater food security throughout the year.The recipients spent more on food, clothing and rent, while there was a 39% decrease in spending on goods like alcohol, cigarettes or drugs.”The homeless population continues to grow, and we keep applying the same old approaches,” said Claire Williams, the CEO and co-founder of Foundations for Social Change.”We really think it’s important to start testing meaningful risk-taking in the name of social change,” WIlliams added.The 115 participants in the randomized controlled trial were between the ages of 19 and 64, and they had been homeless for an average of 6 months. Participants were screened for a low risk of mental health challenges and substance abuse.Funding for the initiative came from a grant from the Canadian federal government, and from donors and foundations in the country.

“Moving forward on their own terms”

“One of the things that was most striking is that most people who received the cash knew immediately what they wanted to do with that money, and that just flies in the face of stereotypes,” Williams told CNN.For example, she explained some cash recipients knew they wanted to use the money to move into housing, or invest in transportation — getting a bike, or taking their cars to the repair shop to be able to keep their jobs. Others wanted to purchase computers. A number of them wanted to start their own small businesses.”People very much know what they need, but we often don’t equip them with the intervention or the services that really empowers them with choice and dignity to move forward on their own terms,” Williams said.

Not a ‘silver bullet,’ but a useful tool for many

Direct cash transfers are not “a silver bullet for homelessness in general,” and the program focused on “a higher functioning subset of the homeless population,” Williams said, but she believes the research shows that providing meaningful support to folks who have recently become homeless decreases the likelihood they will become entrenched in the experience.People who received the cash infusions were even able to set some money aside — about 1,000 Canadian dollars on average through 12 months.The money provided by the program also had “trickle down impacts,” according to Williams, with people investing more in their children’s well-being and needs, as well as helping out family members.”There are these hidden impacts that we just don’t anticipate and aren’t necessarily quantifying, but now we’re seeing that this is having an exponential effect on people’s lives,” Williams explained.The study shows there are advantages for the taxpayer, too.According to the research, reducing the number of nights spent in shelters by the 50 study participants who received cash saved approximately 8,100 Canadian dollars per person per year, or about 405,000 Canadian dollars over one year for all 50 participants.”There’s a common misconception that the cost of doing nothing is free or cheap and it absolutely is not,” Williams said.

Homelessness and the pandemic

The risk of homelessness looms large for many across the United States, as people deal with job losses and economic uncertainty brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.”We’re hearing that from homeless providers in a lot of places, people who have never been homeless before are coming into shelters and have no idea what to do,” Steve Berg, a vice president with the National Alliance to End Homelessness, an American nonprofit organization, told CNN.”It’s a brand new experience for them, and they never dreamed that when they’d be talking about homeless people they’d be talking about themselves,” said Berg, who was not involved in The New Leaf Project study.Innovative solutions to the issue are even more pressing right now. Berg thinks the research confirms what is true for many people experiencing homelessness: money can solve it.”There are certainly people who are homeless who have deeper, more severe problems,” Berg explained, “but for many people, it’s simply a matter of — they ran out of money, lost a job, fell on hard times, became homeless. Once they’re homeless, it’s very difficult to get enough money saved up in order to find a place to live.””People can be relied on, if they get the money upfront, to take care of the problem themselves,” Berg added.

1,200-year-old pagan temple to Thor and Odin unearthed in Norway

The god house (shown here in a digital reconstruction) was strongly built of beams and walls of wood; some lasted for hundreds of years. It included a central tower, patterned on Christian churches seen in lands further south.

By Tom Metcalfe

The remains of a 1,200-year-old pagan temple to the Old Norse gods such as Thor and Odin have been discovered in Norway — a rare relic of the Viking religion built a few centuries before Christianity became dominant there.

Archaeologists say the large wooden building — about 45 feet (14 meters) long, 26 feet (8 m) wide, and up to 40 feet (12 m) high — is thought to date from the end of the eighth century and was used for worship and sacrifices to gods during the midsummer and midwinter solstices.

Old Norse culture was famous and feared by some a century later, after bands of Norse sailors and warriors known as the Vikings started trading, raiding and colonizing throughout Europe and into Iceland, Greenland and Canada.

This is the first Old Norse temple found in the country, said archaeologist Søren Diinhoff of the University Museum of Bergen.

“This is the first time we’ve found one of these very special, very beautiful buildings,” Diinhoff told Live Science. “We know them from Sweden and we know them from Denmark. … This shows that they also existed in Norway.”

The Norse began building these large “god houses,” as they’re called, in the sixth century. The god houses were much more complex than the simple sites, often outdoors, that the people previously used to worship the Old Norse gods.

“It is a stronger expression of belief than all the small cult places,” he said. “This is probably something to do with a certain class of the society, who built these as a real ideological show.”

God house

Archaeologists unearthed the foundations of the ancient building last month at Ose, a seaside village near the town of Ørsta in western Norway, ahead of preparations for a new housing development. 

Their excavations revealed traces of early agricultural settlements dating to between 2,000 and 2,500 years ago, including the remains of two longhouses that would have each been the center of a small farm for a family and their animals, Diinhoff said.

The remains of the god house at Ose, however, are from a later time when the area began to be dominated by an elite group of wealthy families — a distinction that arose as Scandinavian societies began to interact with the more stratified societies of the Roman Empire and the Germanic tribes of northern Europe.

“When the new socially differentiated society set in, in the Roman Iron Age, the leading families took control of the cult,” he said.

Norse religious worship became more ideological and organized, and god houses at Ose were patterned on Christian basilicas that travelers had seen in southern lands, he said.

As a result, Old Norse temples featured a distinctive high tower above the pitched roof, which was a copy of the towers of early Christian churches, he said.

Although the wooden building is now long-gone, the post-holes that remain show its shape, including the round central posts of its tower — a very distinctive construction that was only ever used in god houses, Diinhoff said. “It would have been very impressive.”

Ancient worship

The purpose of the site is also revealed by a concentration of cooking pits where food for religious feasts was prepared, and numerous bones — the remains of animal sacrifices.

A large white “phallus” stone, roughly representing the male genital organ, was also found nearby several years ago and was probably part of the Old Norse fertility rituals, Diinhoff said.

Ceremonies would have been held in the god house for important festivals on the religious calendar, such as the midsummer and midwinter solstices — the shortest and longest nights of the year, respectively.

Meat, drink and sometimes precious metals like gold would have been offered to wooden figurines within the building that represented the Old Norse gods — in particular the war god Odin, the storm god Thor, and the fertility god Freyr, who were commonly worshipped in the Old Norse religion and gave their names in English to Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

As the gods could only partake of the festival food in spirit, the physical food and drink would be enjoyed by their worshippers. “You would have a good mood, a lot of eating and a lot of drinking,” Diinhoff said. “I think they would have had a good time.”

The Old Norse religion was suppressed from the 11th century, when Norway’s kings forcibly imposed the Christian religion and tore down or burned buildings like the god house at Ose to enforce worship in the new Christian churches.

So far, there’s no evidence that the god house at Ose was part of that purge, Diinhoff said. 

Further work could reveal the house was among the pagan buildings destroyed at the time. “It would be ideal if we could explain that,” he said. “But we’re not there yet.”

As the gods could only partake of the festival food in spirit, the physical food and drink would be enjoyed by their worshippers. “You would have a good mood, a lot of eating and a lot of drinking,” Diinhoff said. “I think they would have had a good time.”

The Old Norse religion was suppressed from the 11th century, when Norway’s kings forcibly imposed the Christian religion and tore down or burned buildings like the god house at Ose to enforce worship in the new Christian churches.

So far, there’s no evidence that the god house at Ose was part of that purge, Diinhoff said. 

Further work could reveal the house was among the pagan buildings destroyed at the time. “It would be ideal if we could explain that,” he said. “But we’re not there yet.”

Cheese Preservative Slows Oral Cancer Spread in Mice

Oral cancer cells (left) are infected with one of three periodontal pathogens (stained in green) for two hours before being injected into the mouth of mice. Treponema denticola (right) can be seen invading oral cancer cells, which researchers found leads to a more aggressive cancer.

In the last few decades, scientists have identified more than a dozen pathogens—from human papillomavirus to Helicobacter pylori—that contribute to the progression of cancers. In a study published today (October 1) in PLOS Pathogens, researchers demonstrate the mechanism by which three oral bacteria found in cells of the gums promote oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) tumor development and progression in mice. And they show that a bacteriocin, an antimicrobial peptide that bacteria produce, counters the effects of the oral bacteria and slows tumor growth.

“This study fits in nicely in a growing body of evidence that a variety of known pathogens contribute to the initiation and progression of different cancers,” says Mark Herzberg, a biologist at the University of Minnesota who has studied oral cancer and was not involved with the report. “Oral cancer has been known to be caused by tobacco smoking, alcohol use, and HPV, but now they are presenting mechanistic evidence that the bacteria in the oral cavity exacerbate carcinogenesis.”

Yvonne Kapila, the vice-chair of periodontology at the University of California, San Francisco, says she first conceived of the idea to do this research when she noticed that some of the patients she treats in her clinic developed oral cancer in the same areas of the mouth where she performed gum surgery or inserted dental implants. Prior research suggests that there is a link between inflammation and cancer, and Kapila wanted to understand if there was something else, such as oral pathogens, that predisposed those areas of the mouth to cancer.

To find out, Kapila and her colleagues took human OSCC cells that were infected with one of three periodontal bacteria—Porphyromonas gingivalisTreponema denticola, and Fusobacterium nucleatum—and injected them into the floor of the mouth of six-week-old mice. F. nucleatum is commonly found in the mouth, whereas P. gingivalis and T. denticola are rarely found in healthy gum tissue. Two weeks later, the mice were divided into a control group that was given water and a treatment group that received the bacteriocin nisin.

After seven weeks of treatment, the researchers euthanized the mice and harvested the tumors to study them. The presence of the periodontal bacteria caused cancerous cells to replicate and migrate more efficiently, leading to a more aggressive form of OSCC. Using immunoblots, researchers discovered that the pathogens activated two signaling pathways within the tumor cells: integrin/FAK and TLR/MyDD88, both of which are key to cell migration.

Tumors in mice that received nisin showed decreased movement, invasion, and size. Tumors in the nisin-treated mice also appeared whiter in color, which the researchers say represents a decrease in blood vessels, typically a good sign for recovery, as tumors require a large blood supply.

“This report shows that cancers can be treated with antimicrobials, which is really new—nobody’s ever really thought of treating cancers with antimicrobials or something as simple as bacteriocins,” Kapila tells The Scientist. “This is also confirmation that oral bacteria that are associated with disease really aggravate other diseases like cancers.”

Nam Joo, a former postdoc in Kapila’s laboratory, was the first to raise the possibility of nisin’s therapeutic role. Joo began his nisin research while studying kimchi, which is rich in bacteria that produce nisin, for his master’s degree in South Korea. He wondered if the bacteriocin might work as an anticancer agent because of its known properties in promoting cell death in other cell systems.

While most bacteriocins inhibit only closely related species, nisin acts as a broad-spectrum antibacterial that is effective against many Gram-positive bacteria. In this study, nisin did not target the oral pathogens, but the cancerous cells themselves. The bacteriocin inhibited the effects of the bacteria, deactivating the signaling pathways they enabled by latching onto the cancer cell membranes and allowing calcium to flow into the cell.

Kapila says she is currently investigating why nisin binds to tumor cells, rather than healthy cells, but she says it may be because nisin preferentially binds to phosphocholine lipid bilayers, which cell membranes are made of, previous research shows.

“It’s particularly noteworthy to modulate a microbial community to prevent a noncommunicable disease,” says David Moyes, a microbiologist who studies oral pathogens at King’s College London and was not involved with the study. “Bacteriocins are a fairly new kid on the block for use in clinical therapy.”

The bacteriocin was first isolated in the 1920s from Lactococcus lactis, a bacterium used extensively in the production of cheese and buttermilk, and was approved as an additive to protect food against harmful bacteria in the 1960s. 

Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) is the seventh most common cancer worldwide, with 600,000 new cases diagnosed each year, according to the National Institutes of Health. OSCC is a subset of HNSCC that is extremely prevalent in some countries such as India, where OSCC makes up more than 50 percent of all cancers.

Kapila has submitted a grant to test the bacteriocin on patients with oral cancer in a clinical trial. Herzberg emphasizes nisin’s potential, particularly because it has long been deemed safe enough to include in food products, so it may be easier to approve if there is conclusive evidence from human trials that it helps fight cancer. Indeed, in a 2015 study, Kapila notes that that people in the US consume 0.94 to 2.24 mg of nisin per day, according to an estimate from the US Food and Drug Administration. There is no indication that this helps prevent or treat oral cancer.

Kapila’s team also examined the mice’s internal organs such as the liver, kidney, and lung to see if nisin led to downstream consequences but found no differences between these animals and those that didn’t get the treatment.

Oral pathogens have previously been shown to promote other cancers such as colorectal cancer, so Kapila remains hopeful that her study opens the door for research on antimicrobial peptides to treat other cancers.

“One of the real negative side effects of the current gold standard treatment, chemoradiation, is the really nasty off-target effects of these medications and treatment,” she says. “It would be fantastic if we can find a treatment that does not have all these side effects.”

P. Kamarajan et al., “Periodontal pathogens promote cancer aggressivity via TLR/MyD88 triggered activation of Integrin/FAK signaling that is therapeutically reversible by a probiotic bacteriocin,” PLOS Pathogdoi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1008881, 2020.

Coffee may help protect you against Parkinson’s

By Nancy Clanton, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Studies have shown drinking coffee might protect against the development of Parkinson’s disease in people who have no genetic risk factors for the disease. A new study, however, suggests coffee might protect people who have genetic risk factors, too.

“These results are promising and encourage future research exploring caffeine and caffeine-related therapies to lessen the chance that people with this gene develop Parkinson’s,” study author Grace Crotty, of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, told Medical Dialogues. “It’s also possible that caffeine levels in the blood could be used as a biomarker to help identify which people with this gene will develop the disease, assuming caffeine levels remain relatively stable.

This recent study, published in the journal Neurology, looked at a genetic mutation that increases the risk of Parkinson’s; the mutation is in a gene called LRRK2, for leucine-rich repeat kinase 2.

The Boston study compared 188 people with Parkinson’s to 180 people without it. Both groups were composed of people who had the LRRK2 gene mutation and those who didn’t. In addition, 212 research subjects filled out a survey about how much caffeine they consumed each day.

The researchers then looked at not only the amount of caffeine in the participants’ blood, but also other chemicals that are produced as caffeine is metabolized in the body.

“Among people carrying the LRRK2 gene mutation, those who had Parkinson’s had a 76% lower concentration of caffeine in their blood than those who did not have Parkinson’s,” Medical Dialogue wrote. “People with Parkinson’s with a normal copy of the gene had a 31% lower concentration of caffeine in their blood than non-carriers without Parkinson’s.

“Carriers of the gene mutation who had Parkinson’s also had lower consumption of caffeine in their diet. The gene carriers with Parkinson’s consumed 41% less caffeine per day than the people who did not have Parkinson’s, both with and without the gene mutation.”

The Boston study examined participants at only one point in time, Crotty noted, so it isn’t helpful in understanding what effect, if any, caffeine has over time on the risk on Parkinson’s. The study also doesn’t prove caffeine causes a lower risk of Parkinson’s; it only shows an association, she pointed out.

Sleep apnea severity tied to greater buildup of Alzheimer’s brain plaques

Stephen Robinson, Ph.D.

n a research first, Alzheimer’s-like amyloid plaques have been found in the brains of people with clinically verified obstructive sleep apnea, according to the results of a small study published last week in the journal Sleep.

Sleep apnea and Alzheimer’s are thought to be related, but the reasons for the connection remains unclear, the researchers said. In the new study, plaques were found to develop in the same place (the hippocampus) and spread in the same way in the brains of people with obstructive sleep apnea as they do in Alzheimer’s. In addition, the severity of sleep apnea was linked with greater plaque build-up.

Notably, the use of continuous positive airway pressure (the standard treatment for moderate to severe sleep apnea) made no difference in the amount of plaques found, reported Stephen Robinson, Ph.D., of RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia.

The study participants had no clinical symptoms of dementia before they died. This suggests that they may have been in an early pre-dementia stage of disease, the authors concluded.

“While some people may have had mild cognitive impairment or undiagnosed dementia, none had symptoms that were strong enough for an official diagnosis, even though some had a density of plaques and tangles that were sufficiently high to qualify as Alzheimer’s disease,” Robinson said.

The authors hope to conduct a larger clinical trial of the study, and plan to further analyze the current samples for additional understanding of how the participants’ brains had changed.

Sleep apnea severity tied to greater buildup of Alzheimer’s brain plaques

Horses help in the development of emotionally well-adjusted teenagers, study finds

The study team found that the equine students had fewer emotional and behavioral problems, and their prosocial behavior was about four times better than that of the control group. Photo by Philippe Oursel

Interacting with horses is great for the development of emotionally well-adjusted adolescents, the findings of a new study show.

The differences between adolescents involved with horses and those without such contact were found to be quite profound in some areas.

For their study, Imre Zoltán Pelyva and his fellow researchers focused on a group of healthy students, aged 14–18, without special educational needs or problems.

Those with contact with horses attended 10 agricultural secondary schools in Hungary. They all took part in a four-year equine program. These students had no diagnosed physical or psychological difficulties.

Within the curriculum, they spent two days — 9 to 13 hours each week — with horses. They fed and groomed the horses, cleaned the stable, and worked with the horses on the lunge, from the saddle, and also undertook carriage driving.

Members of the control group comprised students from the same schools who studied non-horse related, agricultural, or food industry vocations, such as gardening, animal husbandry, meat processing or baking.

They did not take part in any activities involving horses.

All the students — there were 525 in all — underwent evaluations at the beginning and at the end of their studies. Central to this was a recognised questionnaire to assess their emotional and behavioral problems and psychic disturbances.

The results between the equine students and the control group were then compared.

The study team, writing in the journal Environmental Research and Public Health, found that the equine students had fewer emotional and behavioral problems, and their prosocial behavior was about four times better than that of the control group.

Prosocial behavior is social behavior that benefits other people or society as a whole, such as helping, sharing, donating, co-operating, and volunteering.

The study team, from the University of Pécs and the University of Szeged in Hungary, characterized the differences as remarkable.

“Our results indicate that students of equine-related vocations are more helpful and empathetic, and have fewer behavior problems than those studying other vocations.

Equine students were assessed as having fewer behavior problems upon admission to their school (all of them had regular contact with horses before). However, impressively, the rate of decline in these problems was found to be more significant than in the other group.

The study team, discussing their findings, said the findings that favorable characteristics were already present at the admission of equine students to the institutions might suggest that adolescents with stronger social skills are attracted to horses.

“On the other hand, the fact that the decline of behavior problems is more remarkable in the equine group than in the control group suggests that equine-assisted activities might play a role in strengthening these skills.”

Their analysis showed that equine-related activities were a significant factor leading to these favorable behavior traits.

“It is important to mention that these beneficial effects of equine-assisted activities are mostly based on the students’ understanding of and susceptibility to equine communication.

“The mere presence of a horse is less likely to be effective if the equine professional present does not give meaning to the horse’s behavior.

“Students have to learn to treat the horses as subjects and not as objects in order to get involved and become receptive to positive influence within the interaction.

“At the same time, this knowledge (that is, understanding equine communication and behavior) is also essential just to be able to work safely and effectively with these animals.

“This means that no therapeutic goals are needed to teach students to pay attention to and respect horses — it is the basis of all equine interactions in professional environments.”

That, they said, is why the standard school environments, without any therapeutic element, could produce such results.

“We strongly believe that the relationship humans build with horses shows them a way to build trust, acceptance, and understanding toward humans, as well.

“Our results suggest that young people who learn to listen to and take care of the horse can transfer this knowledge to intraspecies communication and behavior, as well.

“Equine students’ prosocial behavior is four times better than that of non-equine students. This result is remarkable and supports the idea that being around horses improves students’ social competences.”

Adolescence, they said, is a difficult period in life. They have to cope with many difficulties during these years.

“They need help to understand and find their place in the world, or to just generally get around successfully. The lucky ones get enough support from their family and friends, others — a very limited number — get professional help with more serious problems.

“Our study showed that with a little care and attention, normal school programs can improve competencies that are useful in life.

“If horses can be used to help adolescents and there are schools with horses and adolescents, why not exploit the possibility? With a little investment, gains might be great.”

The results indicate that equine-assisted activities have a protective effect on the behavior of adolescents, they said.

“These results also show that equine vocational schools or programs have — to the best of our knowledge — so far unidentified potential to help adolescents with behavior problems, or possibly to prevent their development.

The full study team comprised Pelyva, Etelka Szovák and Ákos Levente Tóth, all with the University of Pécs; and Réka Kresák, with the University of Szeged.

Pelyva, I.Z.; Kresák, R.; Szovák, E.; Tóth, Á.L. How Equine-Assisted Activities Affect the Prosocial Behavior of Adolescents. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020, 17, 2967.

Horses help in the development of emotionally well-adjusted teenagers, study finds