A new study clarifies an amazing defense tactic of octopus and cuttlefish: the ability to erect 3D spikes out of their skin, hold them for an hour, then quickly retract them and swim away.
New information about the neural and muscular mechanisms that underlie this extraordinary defense tactic appears in the journal iScience.
“The biggest surprise for us was to see that these skin spikes, called papillae, can hold their shape in the extended position for more than an hour, without neural signals controlling them,” says Paloma Gonzalez-Bellido, a lecturer in neuroscience at University of Cambridge and a former staff scientist at the University of Chicago’s Marine Biological Laboratory.
This sustained tension, the team found, arises from specialized musculature in papillae that is similar to the “catch” mechanism in clams and other bivalves.
“The catch mechanism allows a bivalve to snap its shell shut and keep it shut, should a predator come along and try to nudge it open,” says corresponding author Trevor Wardill, a research fellow at the University of Cambridge and a former staff scientist at the MBL. Rather than using energy to keep the shell shut, the tension is maintained by smooth muscles that fit like a lock-and-key, until a chemical signal (neurotransmitter) releases them. A similar mechanism may be at work in cuttlefish papillae, the scientists found.
Gonzalez-Bellido and Wardill began this study in 2013 in the laboratory of Roger Hanlon, an MBL senior scientist and the leading expert on cephalopod camouflage. Hanlon’s lab had been the first to describe the structure, function, and biomechanics of skin-morphing papillae in cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis), but their neurological control was unknown.
Hanlon suggested the team look for the “wiring” that controls papillae action in the cuttlefish. As reported here, they discovered a motor nerve dedicated exclusively to papillary and skin tension control that originates not in the brain, but in a peripheral nerve center called the stellate ganglion.
Surprisingly, they also found that the neural circuit for papillae action is remarkably similar to the neural circuit in squid that controls skin iridescence. Since cuttlefish don’t have tunable iridescence, and squid don’t have papillae, this finding raises interesting questions about the evolution and function of the neural circuit in different species.
“We hypothesize that the neural circuit for iridescence and for papillae control originates from a common ancestor to squid and cuttlefish, but we don’t know that yet. This is for future work,” Gonzalez-Bellido says.
“This research on neural control of flexible skin, combined with anatomical studies of the novel muscle groups that enable such shape-shifting skin, has applications for the development of new classes of soft materials that can be engineered for a wide array of uses in industry, society, and medicine,” Hanlon says.
When Facebook had its IPO in 2012 and raised $104 billion, Chris Hughes walked away with $500 million. As Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard roommate, and Facebook’s second ever member, he managed to turn a few years work into a vast fortune. He didn’t even have to code. Hughes’s role in the early years was as Zuck’s “empath”–the one person in the geek team who could communicate and relate to the outside world.
Hughes, who left Facebook in 2007, recounts this in Fair Shot: Rethinking Inequality and How We Earn, his new book arguing for a basic income. His point isn’t to downplay his achievements. He says he worked hard to mold the early brand. He didn’t come from wealth: his beginnings in North Carolina were modest. He got financial aid to go to prep school (Andover) and then Harvard. He earned his opportunities. But Hughes does think $500 million is a ridiculous reward for what he did. When, years later, he was feted at college commencements (and in Fast Company), he didn’t recognize the hero presented. His success wasn’t old-fashioned American Dream-type success–not the hard-won sort of his parents and grandparents.
Winning The Lottery
“I knew what it felt like to achieve great things after working hard for them, and Facebook was indeed an incredible success story. But it was a starkly different kind of success than any of my ancestors had lived. . . . What we’d experienced at Facebook felt more like winning the lottery,” Hughes writes.
Of course, Facebook is an extreme case of extreme wealth. But Hughes links his experience to the modern economy at large. He argues that the same forces that allowed Facebook to control 80% of the world’s social media traffic are not dissimilar with those that allow 160,000 American families to control as much wealth as the bottom 90% of the income scale. Technology, globalization and the pre-eminence of financial capital propelled Facebook to what it became. And they also propelled inequality, instability, and wage stagnation among a large number of people in the lower and middle classes. We’ve created an economy that creates the most winningest of winners–people like Hughes and Zuckerberg—while it does little for millions of others.
“The problem is not that our new economy has fueled the rise of Facebook and mega-winners. It’s that the growth of the ultra-wealthy has come at the expense of everyday Americans,” Hughes writes. “Rapid technological advances, globalization, and financialization are pulling the rug out from under the middle class and lower-income Americans.”
Hughes isn’t really in that camp. He’s less concerned with 2030 or 2050 and more concerned with now. He says a lot of economists think the “end of work” thesis is ahistorical hokum anyway. And, even if they are wrong this time, he says basic income makes sense in our current circumstances. The working poor are already finding it hard to live on what they earn at Walmart and McDonald’s. And the middle class is doing worse than income levels might suggest (the median income is about $59,000 a year). Though food and many consumer goods (big screen TVs!) are cheaper than ever, the big stuff like college, healthcare and housing, keep costing more. The stuff that families need to be more financially stable and socially mobile are the most out of reach. Between 1995 and 2015, the cost of living, including these key items, rose by 30%, according to an analysis by NPR Marketplace.
Hughes proposes giving everyone earning less than $50,000 a year an extra $500 a month, provided they are working in some way. That includes not only people with jobs in the classic sense, but also freelancers and contractors on less stable incomes. It also includes people bringing up kids or looking after “dependents,” who are often excluded from poverty-reduction discussions, but who arguably do as much work as anyone. A family of four on $38,000 a year would, therefore, see their income bumped up to $50,000. About 90 million Americans in total would benefit.
“The guaranteed income would create a floor below which people could not fall, a reliable foundation for people to build on,” Hughes writes. “It wouldn’t be enough money on its own for anyone to live on. It would be supplement income from other sources like formal labor, a job in the gig economy, informal work, or other government benefits.”
Hughes’s version of guaranteed income (his preferred phrase) isn’t as ambitious as some other proposals. Some purists would like a benefit paid to everyone, even the rich, as this might be an easier sell politically (nobody can complain about preferential treatment) and easier to administer (no need to check out what people are earning). Hughes prefers to set the threshold at $50,000 because, well, poorer people need it more. The money would come from an additional tax on people earning more than $250,000 a year. He’s not in favor of collapsing other social assistance programs to pay for a unified basic income scheme, as some advocates, particularly on the right, have suggested.
We already have a workable way of paying for a basic income, Hughes says: the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The program, which sends $70 billion in tax refund checks to 26 million families and individuals a year, is a proven success story. It lifts more people out of poverty than food stamps, unemployment insurance, and housing vouchers combined and it helps people into employment. It also has supporters on the left and the right. Hughes suggests simply expanding the EITC to include more people and making the program more visible and dependable. Currently, EITC amounts depend on earnings and annual checks arrive unpredictably. Hughes would make the EITC payments monthly, by direct deposits, for the guaranteed amount.
Hughes says there needs to be more “movement building” before basic income becomes a reality. He’s trying to achieve that through his Economic Security Project nonprofit, which brings together academics, activists and technologists, and funds research, including a basic income trial in Stockton, California. Democrats may get behind basic income in the 2020 election cycle if they’re looking for bold, non-traditional economic ideas, he says.
Hughes is certain, though, that we can’t wait too long. Maybe there will be plenty of jobs in the future, maybe there won’t be any jobs. But, in a sense, the future is already here: the jobs that are available tend to be less secure, pay less well, and come with fewer benefits, than in the past. We already need new ways of supporting people other than simply saying “get a job.”
“People find it hard to find financial stability even in the jobs they already have,” Hughes tells Fast Company. “We have near-record unemployment and record high stock prices, and yet median wages have barely budged [in recent years] and jobs are unreliable. We keep talking about 2050 and self-driving cars. But if we’re talking about starting today, we need something that’s affordable and doable and that has a real power to help people who need it the most.”
The cuttlefish is often called the chameleon of the sea, but where the land-based version can only change its color, the sepia-squirting, tentacled one can change its skin texture as well as its tint in seconds. How it does this has been a mystery, but scientists from the Marine Biological Laboratory and the University of Cambridge have found that the cuttlefish controls its stealth ability using a giant neural circuit that similar to the one that squids use to control their iridescence.
The original factory streetfighter gets a tasty upgrade for 2018, with 4% more torque and 7% more horsepower in a new 1050cc triple engine. There’s a new color TFT dash, cruise control, and an RS model with smarter electronics, Ohlins suspension and keyless ignition.
$400 doesn’t really give you much in the way of budget, something small with fenders will be fine. I’d suggest just going to your local bike shop and seeing what they have in that price range and also letting her ride a few different variations to see what she prefers.
For a 5 mile commute I would personally recommend something less hipster (straight bars vs very swept back – those bars are cute but ergonomically poor and offering fairly bad control on a long ride). Something more like a hybrid with a step through frame. Your shop can add fenders on.
Also, depending on your area, my $100 used commuter (20 year old Cannondale road bike) got stolen after 3 weeks and I wound up just replacing it with a $150 Amazon China bike so when it gets stolen again I don’t feel as bad.
Children born into housing compounds with improvements in drinking water quality, sanitation, and handwashing infrastructure were not measurably taller after two years compared to those born into compounds with more contamination, a new study suggests.
Although children who received the interventions were significantly healthier overall, and despite mounting research over the last decade linking poor sanitation to stunted growth in children, sanitation improvements seemingly did nothing to improve growth and development.
The WASH Benefits Bangladesh trial is one of the first to examine what are known as water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) interventions as a way of improving children’s growth in low-income communities.
How well a child grows in the first year can indicate overall well-being and is linked to both survival and brain development. Interventions were proposed as a way of improving child growth and are being implemented in many communities around the world, but haven’t been rigorously tested.
“Part of what we learned is that this problem of stunting is not going to be easily fixed by a little bit of attention to water, sanitation, and hygiene,” says Stephen Luby, professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases and geographic medicine at Stanford University.
“Modest efforts to marginally improve environments are not going to be sufficient. If we want children in the lowest-income, most resource-constrained environments to thrive, we’re going to need to make their environments radically cleaner.”
Children in the Bangladesh trial who received nutritional supplements in addition to WASH interventions did grow taller and were less likely to die during the study—but WASH interventions alone didn’t improve growth.
Researchers examined the health and growth of children from over 5,000 pregnant women in rural Bangladesh after two years. The mothers were grouped according to geographic clusters and randomly assigned to one of six interventions or a control group.
“…these interventions, even with high uptake, likely didn’t clean the environment enough to impact child growth…”
The six interventions included: integration of chlorinated drinking water; upgraded sanitation facilities; promotion of handwashing; a combination of chlorinated drinking water, upgraded sanitation, and handwashing promotion (WASH) efforts; nutritional supplements; or WASH and nutritional supplements.
After two years, nearly all the interventions reduced diarrhea. Although expected, the result is important because it suggests that families did adhere to the interventions. It also creates hope that WASH interventions could beat back one of the greatest killers of children globally—the World Health Organization estimates 361,000 children younger than 5 years of age die as a result of diarrhea each year.
Of all the interventions, providing nutritional supplements in addition to combined water, sanitation, and handwashing interventions had the greatest effect on curbing mortality, in addition to improving growth. Children receiving this intervention were 38 percent less likely to die compared to children in the control group.
Past research showed that WASH strategies are effective at reducing diarrhea and improving child health, Luby says, but evidence of the impact of these strategies on child growth and development has been sparse.
In response to this lack of data, Luby began laying the groundwork for the current study more than a decade ago. One of his concerns was ensuring the group developed a rigorous and transparent trial design that included close community partnerships and innovative ways of encouraging village residents to adopt new behaviors. Unless most people in the community adopted the interventions, the results wouldn’t be conclusive.
With the large number of children in the study, good adoption of the interventions, and careful design, the study had the statistical power to detect small effects, so Luby was able to note the absence of growth improvement with WASH interventions was genuine.
“We developed an intervention that the community really liked and were able to achieve really high uptake,” says Luby, who is also director of research for Stanford Global Health. “What this tells us is that these interventions, even with high uptake, likely didn’t clean the environment enough to impact child growth. This is a disappointment, but it also helps to provide direction as a way forward.”
While a great amount of knowledge has been gained from the primary outcomes data, Luby and his team are continuing to analyze the broader range of health benefits that could have resulted from these successfully integrated WASH strategies, including the impact on bacterial, parasitic, and viral infections, anemia and nutritional biomarkers, and child cognitive development.
Scientists from the University of California, Berkeley; Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; the University of California, Davis; Emory University; the University at Buffalo and the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Dhaka, Bangladesh are coauthors of the study, which appears in The Lancet Global Health.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation supported the work.
Yes, they still need them. But not to control the direction.
This week, the self-driving car company Waymo placed an order for thousands of driverless cars that will hit the streets of Phoenix later this year. Ubiquitous autonomous vehicles are on their way, even as car companies, lawmakers, and ethicists struggle to answer questions about how they should behave in the real world.
Just a few months after we looked at the multipurpose Deseo 400 TR camping trailer, one of our favorites of 2017, Knaus is back on the show circuit with the equally impressive Travelino Skyview Concept. This light, compact caravan slides a tint-adjustable picture window between campers and the great outdoors so they can enjoy a restful night of sleep behind dark glass before waking up to clear, clean views of the sun mountain-climbing up the craggy horizon.
We want more control over our data and user experience, not less.
In a new update to Instagram, the service is borrowing a feature from Facebook Messenger. It now lists the “Activity Status” of every user in the direct chat area of the app, allowing your followers to see when you were last active on the service.