10 interesting stories served every morning and every evening.
In a study that raises profound questions about the line between life and death, researchers have restored some cellular activity to brains removed from slaughtered pigs.
The brains did not regain anything resembling consciousness: There were no signs indicating coordinated electrical signaling, necessary for higher functions like awareness and intelligence.
But in an experimental treatment, blood vessels in the pigs’ brains began functioning, ﬂowing with a blood substitute, and certain brain cells regained metabolic activity, even responding to drugs. When the researchers tested slices of treated brain tissue, they discovered electrical activity in some neurons.
The work is very preliminary and has no immediate implications for treatment of brain injuries in humans. But the idea that parts of the brain may be recoverable after death, as conventionally deﬁned, contradicts everything medical science believes about the organ and poses metaphysical riddles.
US scientists have partially revived pig brains four hours after the animals were slaughtered.
The ﬁndings could fuel debate about the barrier between life and death, and provide a new way of researching diseases like Alzheimer’s.
The study showed the death of brain cells could be halted and that some connections in the brain were restored.
However, there were no signals from the brain that would indicate awareness or consciousness.
The surprise ﬁndings challenge the idea that the brain goes into irreversible decline within minutes of the blood supply being cut off.
Thirty-two pig brains were collected from an abattoir.
Four hours later the organs were connected to a system made by the team at Yale University.
It rhythmically pumped (to mimic the pulse) a specially designed liquid round the brain, which contained a synthetic blood to carry oxygen and drugs to slow or reverse the death of brain cells.
The pig brains were given the restorative cocktail for six hours.
The study, published in the journal Nature, showed a reduction in brain cell death, the restoration of blood vessels and some brain activity.
The researchers found working synapses - the connections between brain cells that allow them to communicate.
The brains also showed a normal response to medication and used up the same amount of oxygen as a normal brain.
This was all 10 hours after the pigs were decapitated.
Crucially there was no sign of the brain-wide electrical activity in an electroencephalogram (EEG brain scan) that would signal awareness or perception.
Fundamentally they were still dead brains.
The research transforms ideas about how the brain dies, which many thought happened quickly and irreversibly without a supply of oxygen.
Prof Nenad Sestan, a professor of neuroscience at Yale University, said: “Cell death in the brain occurs across a longer time window that we previously thought.
“What we are showing is the process of cell death is a gradual, stepwise process.
“And that some of those processes can be either postponed, preserved or even reversed.”
The pig brains came from the pork industry; the animals were not raised in a lab for this experiment.
But the Yale scientists were so concerned the pigs might become conscious that they gave drugs to the disembodied brains to reduce any brain activity.
And the team were constantly monitoring the brains to see if there was any sign of higher brain functions.
In that case they would have used anaesthetic and ended the experiment.
Ethicists, writing in Nature, say new guidelines are needed for this ﬁeld because animals used for research could end up in a “grey area - not alive, but not completely dead”.
The immediate beneﬁt of this work will be for scientists studying the brain in diseases like Alzheimer’s.
The organ is the most complex structure in the known universe, but techniques such as freezing slices of the brain or growing colonies of brain cells in a dish do not let researchers explore the full 3D wiring of the brain.
In the long term, scientists hope to ﬁnd better ways of protecting the brain after traumas such as a stroke or being starved of oxygen at birth.
Dr Andrea Beckel-Mitchener, from the Brain Initiative at the US National Institute of Mental Health, said: “This line of research could lead to a whole new way of studying the post-mortem brain.
“It also could stimulate research to develop interventions that promote brain recovery after loss of brain blood ﬂow.”
However, the researchers say it is still far too early for the ﬁeld to make a difference to patients after injury.
Prof Sestan said: “We don’t yet have knowledge whether we would be able to restore normal brain function.”
At the moment no, but some ethicists say we should have the debate now as people who are “brain dead” are a major source of organs for transplant.
Prof Dominic Wilkinson, a professor of medical ethics and a consultant neonatologist in Oxford, said: “Once someone has been diagnosed as ‘brain dead’ there is currently no way for that person to ever recover.
“The human person that they were has gone forever.
“If, in the future, it were possible to restore the function of the brain after death, to bring back someone’s mind and personality, that would, of course, have important implications for our definitions of death.”
But that is not currently the case.
Prof Tara Spires-Jones, deputy director of the Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, said: “This study is a long way from preserving human brain function after death as portrayed in the cartoon Futurama where heads were kept alive in a jar.
“It is instead a temporary preservation of some of the more basic cell functions in the pig brain, not the preservation of thought and personality.”
In this experiment the answer is a clear no. The brains were effectively silent.
But the research does ask as many questions as it answers:
* How long can the researchers keep brains going?
* Would the results be even better if the researchers did not wait four hours before starting?
* Also, the team used drugs to suppress brain activity - would the decapitated brains have been aware if they hadn’t?
Widely held myths about sleep are damaging our health and our mood, as well as shortening our lives, say researchers.
A team at New York University trawled the internet to ﬁnd the most common claims about a good night’s kip.
Then, in a study published in the journal Sleep Health, they matched the claims to the best scientiﬁc evidence.
They hope that dispelling sleep myths will improve people’s physical and mental health and well-being.
So, how many are you guilty of?
This is the myth that just won’t go away.
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously had a brief four hours a night. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has made similar claims, and swapping hours in bed for extra time in the ofﬁce is not uncommon in tales of business or entrepreneurial success.
Yet the researchers said the belief that less than ﬁve hours’ shut-eye was healthy, was one of the most damaging myths to health.
“We have extensive evidence to show sleeping ﬁve hours or less consistently, increases your risk greatly for adverse health consequences,” said researcher Dr Rebecca Robbins.
These included cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks and strokes, and shorter life expectancy.
Instead, she recommends everyone should aim for a consistent seven to eight hours of sleep a night.
Thatcher: Can people get by on four hours’ sleep?
The relaxing nightcap is a myth, says the team, whether it’s a glass of wine, a dram of whisky or a bottle of beer.
“It may help you fall asleep, but it dramatically reduces the quality of your rest that night,” said Dr Robbins.
It particularly disrupts your REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep, which is important for memory and learning.
So yes, you will have slept and may have nodded off more easily, but some of the beneﬁts of sleep are lost.
Alcohol is also a diuretic, so you may ﬁnd yourself having to deal with a full bladder in the middle of the night too.
Have you ever thought “I need to wind down before bed, I’m going to watch some TV”?
Well, the latest Brexit twists and turns on the BBC News at Ten might be bad for sleep.
Dr Robbins argues: “Often if we’re watching the television it’s the nightly news… it’s something that’s going to cause you insomnia or stress right before bed when we’re trying to power down and relax.”
And as for Game of Thrones, it’s hard to argue the Red Wedding was relaxing.
The other issue with TV - along with smartphones and tablets - is they produce blue light, which can delay the body’s production of the sleep hormone melatonin.
Will the light from your phone kill you?
You’ve spent so long trying to nod off you’ve managed to count all the sheep in New Zealand (that’s about 28 million).
So what should you do next? The answer is not to keep trying.
“We start to associate our bed with insomnia,” said Dr Robbins.
“It does take the healthy sleeper about 15 minutes to fall asleep, but much longer than that… make sure to get out of bed, change the environment and do something that’s mindless.”
Her tip - go fold some socks.
Who isn’t guilty of reaching for the snooze button on their phone, thinking that extra six minutes in bed is going to make all the difference?
But the research team says that when the alarm goes off, we should just get up.
Dr Robbins said: “Realise you will be a bit groggy - all of us are - but resist the temptation to snooze.
“Your body will go back to sleep, but it will be very light, low-quality sleep.”
Instead the advice is to throw open the curtains and expose yourself to as much bright light as possible.
Snoring can be harmless, but it can also be a sign of the disorder sleep apnoea.
This causes the walls of the throat to relax and narrow during sleep, and can brieﬂy stop people breathing.
People with the condition are more likely to develop high blood pressure, an irregular heartbeat and have a heart attack or a stroke.
One of the warning signs is loud snoring.
Dr Robbins concludes: “Sleep is one of the most important things we can all do tonight to improve our health, our mood, our wellbeing and our longevity.”
As well as their cost-saving appeal, the rationale for large open-plan ofﬁces is that they are expected to act as a crucible for human chemistry, increasing face-to-face encounters between colleagues to the beneﬁt of creativity and collaboration. Unfortunately it’s well-established that most workers don’t like them, such is the fundamental human need for privacy and control over one’s environment. Now a pair of quasi-experimental ﬁeld studies published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B suggest that the supposed collaborative advantage of open-plan ofﬁces also doesn’t pass muster.
Ethan Bernstein and Stephen Turban, at Harvard Business School and Harvard University, respectively, recruited 52 employees at the global headquarters of a Fortune 500 multinational company that was about to undergo a redesign of an entire ﬂoor, stripping out the individual cubicles to create a fully open-plan workspace.
The participants, whose roles included sales, technology and human resources, wore a “sociometric badge” and microphone for three weeks prior to the redesign. Then a couple of months after the ofﬁce reﬁt, they wore the badge and microphone again for another three weeks.
The bluetooth-enabled electronic badges and the microphones allowed the researchers to monitor the frequency of the employees’ face-to-face interactions. The company also granted access to their servers so the researchers could look for any changes in use of email and instant messenger.
The results were stark: after the shift to an open-plan ofﬁce space, the participants spent 73 per cent less time in face-to-face interactions, while their use of email and instant messenger shot up by 67 per cent and 75 per cent respectively.
A second study involving 100 employees at another Fortune 500 company was similar but this time the researchers monitored changes to the nature of the interactions between speciﬁc pairs of colleagues before the shift to an open-plan ofﬁce compared with afterwards.
There were 1830 interacting dyads and, of these, 643 reduced their amount of face-to-face interaction after the workspace became open-plan, compared with just 141 showing more physical interaction. Overall, face-to-face time decreased by around 70 per cent across the participating employees, on average, with email use increasing by between 22 per cent and 50 per cent (depending on the estimation method used).
If you’ve ever sought refuge from the gold-ﬁsh bowl of an open-plan ofﬁce environment by cocooning yourself with headphones, or if you’ve decided you’d rather not have that challenging conversation with a colleague in front of a large group of your peers, and opted to email them instead, then these ﬁndings will come as little surprise.
However, while a great deal of research has established employees’ negative feelings about open-plan ofﬁces, both in terms of lost privacy and adverse effects on communication, this is the ﬁrst study to provide an objective measure of the impact of an open-plan space on how people interact.
The real-life setting of this research is a major advantage but it does of course come at the expense of full experimental control and it remains a possibility that other factors, besides the ofﬁce design change, may explain the results. The researchers did attempt to mitigate this possibility, such as by allowing time for the employees to settle into the new ofﬁce design before resuming data collection.
“While it is possible to bring chemical substances together under speciﬁc conditions of temperature and pressure to form the desired compound, more factors seem to be at work in achieving a similar effect with humans,” the researchers said. “Until we understand those factors, we may be surprised to ﬁnd a reduction in face-to-face collaboration at work even as we architect transparent, open spaces intended to increase it.”
—The impact of the ‘open’ workspace on human collaboration
Yet Mulvaney and his deputies provided little feedback or direction on the proposals, according to former Silberman staff members I spoke with. “It was radio silence from them on what direction they wanted to take,” the former staff member told me. The process stalled. Payday lenders, who had expected quick action from Mulvaney, began to panic. Cordray’s ability-to-repay rule would go into full effect in August 2019, in a little more than a year. Mulvaney’s team might come up with a new rule before August, but it might not, and in the meantime payday lenders would have no choice but to reconﬁgure their businesses — or shut them down — to prepare for the old one. Shaul, the leader of the Community Financial Services Association, told me that he had difﬁculty getting any sense of where the bureau was headed. “I was not able to get to see Mulvaney,” Shaul told me. “I was hoping we could convince Mulvaney to repeal that rule and craft a new rule.” What they needed was certainty, or at minimum some kind of delay. As months passed without any word, Shaul told me, his members were increasingly set on suing the agency.
What happened next underscores some of the absurdity and complexity of turning an agency inside out. In early April, Johnson granted Shaul an introductory meeting at the agency’s headquarters. At the last second, Shaul emailed to say he would be bringing Chris Vergonis, one of the association’s lawyers at Jones Day — and one of the people who would prepare any lawsuit against the agency. His presence was potentially dangerous for Mulvaney’s team; it could raise questions about whether the bureau was improperly coordinating with the industry. According to notes of the meeting, taken by a career bureau employee and obtained by the consumer group Public Citizen, Shaul told Johnson that the association had in fact been preparing to sue the C. F.P.B. to stop Cordray’s rule but now believed that it would be better to work with the bureau to write a new one. With the Cordray rule looming, Shaul stressed, they would need to move quickly.
A person familiar with the meeting, who asked for anonymity because of the legal sensitivities involved, told me that Shaul and Vergonis kept pushing for details of the new rule and at one point asked outright what reaction the bureau would have to a lawsuit. According to the staff notes, Johnson replied carefully, as a good lawyer would; it would be inappropriate for him to discuss either the rule or the lawsuit, he told them. Shaul gave me a similar account. “I found them so cautious as to preclude our having any real discussion,” he told me. “We came away from the meeting thinking that we were not going to get many answers.” Four days later, the Community Financial Services Association and another industry group ﬁled suit against the bureau.
The C. F.P.B.’s response was atypical of a regulatory agency. In mid-May, the bureau’s lawyers called Vergonis with a proposal: They now wanted to in effect join forces with the industry, by asking a judge to stay both the compliance date of Cordray’s rule and the lawsuit. In a kind of regulatory jujitsu, the bureau would cite Mulvaney’s own decision to reconsider the Cordray rule as an excuse to stop the clock on the August 2019 implementation. There was just too much fog. “The bureau’s decision to initiate rule making to reconsider the payday rule creates inherent uncertainty,” the bureau lawyers and Vergonis’s team wrote in court papers ﬁled later that month. “There is no way to know whether plaintiffs’ members will ultimately need to comply with the payday rule, a modiﬁed payday rule or no rule at all.”
The bureau still had not explained what kind of rule it planned to propose, much less implement, and in June, a Texas judge rejected the request for a stay of the compliance date. But that October, the C. F.P.B. announced that its new rule would indeed target the ability-to-repay requirement. Not long after, the judge agreed to grant the stay, in effect delaying the core of Cordray’s old rule. Inside the bureau, according to two former employees and an industry lawyer I spoke with, the regulation-writing team lurched into high gear, rushing to deliver what the bureau had promised. The industry had won what it needed most: time.
Earlier this week, Samsung sent out its remarkable new folding smartphone to a number of media outlets, including the BBC.
Perhaps now it wishes it hadn’t.
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.
Samsung said it had received “a few reports” of damage to the main display, and would “thoroughly inspect these units in person to determine the cause of the matter”. But it’s a significant setback to the company’s hopes of wowing the world with what, at ﬁrst glance, was a very impressive feat of engineering.
It appears one explanation for the problems is that some reviewers removed a ﬁlm that went over the screen, thinking it was the typical protective layer you ﬁnd on all new smartphones to keep the screen in good condition until you buy it.
Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman removed his, as did the highly-regarded YouTube reviewer, Marques Brownlee.
Steve Kovach, however, didn’t remove the ﬁlm - and said he still had major issues.
The device the BBC handled, incidentally, was taken away by Samsung shortly after ﬁlming was ﬁnished, so our team hasn’t had a chance to see these issues for ourselves. Our reviewer Chris Fox said the way the screen folded together - leaving a small gap - made him nervous about accidents that might occur with small objects.
But if the device struggles to this degree in the hands of seasoned reviewers, the return-rate could be huge, if and when it goes on sale to the wider public. Remember, this is a $2,000 smartphone.
The reviewers having problems insist there’s been no rough-handling of the devices.
“Whatever happened, it certainly wasn’t because I have treated this phone badly,” wrote Mr Bohn at The Verge.
“I’ve done normal phone stuff, like opening and closing the hinge and putting it in my pocket. We did stick a tiny piece of moulding clay on the back of the phone yesterday to prop it up for a video shoot, which is something we do in every phone video shoot.”
Samsung stole headlines from its competitors by getting its apparently consumer-ready device out there quicker than anyone, a technological two-ﬁngers in the direction of Huawei, the Chinese ﬁrm breathing down Samsung’s neck in the smartphone game.
But it’s no good being ﬁrst if you get it wrong - and put out a device that isn’t quite ready.