Science and Technology links (June 6th 2020)

  1. A small number of people are responsible for a disproportionate number of inventions and innovations. Why are these people different? Using neuroimaging techniques, scientists find that superior individuals may not have distinct processes per se, but rather they use common processes differently, in a more economical fashion:

    (…) extraordinary creative ability is not the outcome of a unique set of neurocognitive processes; rather, it is associated with the same neural mechanisms that support ordinary creativity, but to a different degree (…). Indeed, our findings would support the argument that similar creative outcomes (…) come about with a less extensive recruitment of brain networks shown to contribute to creative thought (…), which we speculate may allow eminent creators to pursue concurrently, for example, multiple lines of creative thought.

    This suggests that most of us with a healthy brain could potentially become highly creative thinkers. It would seem important to determine whether that is true.

  2. The average female mammal lives about 20% longer than the corresponding male. In human beings, womens have only an 8% advantage (men have significantly shorter lives). This difference is not attributed to the riskier behavior of males. Rather, a credible explanation is that males have a weaker immune system.
  3. Sea urchins can regenerate appendages throughout their lives. They come into different subspecies with long and short lives. The end of our chromosomes contains repeated sequences called telomeres. These telomeres get shorter with every cell division, unless they are replenished (e.g., via telomerase). It is often theorized that aging is characterized or explained by telomere shortening. However, in sea urchins, the telomeres do not get shorter with life because of constant telomerase activity. And yet, there are short-lived (i.e. aging) sea urchins.
  4. Scientists have created hair-bearing human skin from stem cells. Though the authors do not stress this possibility, it seems obvious that it could lead to therapies for treating hair loss in human beings:

    Moreover, we show that skin organoids form planar hair-bearing skin when grafted onto nude mice. Together, our results demonstrate that nearly complete skin can self-assemble in vitro and be used to reconstitute skin in vivo.

    This was not tested in human being. Yet some doctors are optimistic:

    This achievement places us closer to generating a limitless supply of hair follicles that can be transplanted to the scalps of people who have thinning or no hair.

  5. The sun creates skin damage over time and contributes to a particular form of skin aging that is quite visible in some older people. The damage goes deep in the skin and is therefore challenging. Scientists have used stem cells to attempt to reverse the damage. In at least some (human) patients, the results can be characterized as an extensive reversal of the damage deep in the skin.
  6. Our cells need a compound called NAD+ to produce energy. As we age, we tend to have less and less NAD+. A particular disease called mitochondrial myopathy leads to NAD+ deficiency. Scientists found that niacin (an expensive supplement) was an efficient NAD+ booster in these patients. (It does not mean that you should take niacin.)

Daniel Lemire, "Science and Technology links (June 6th 2020)," in Daniel Lemire's blog, June 6, 2020.

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Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

2 thoughts on “Science and Technology links (June 6th 2020)”

    1. It is very cheap. Note that I do not necessarily recommend taking niacin. It has obviously been helping some people, but dosing yourself with niacin you do not need may have undesirable side-effects.

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