Curating the Internet: Science and technology digest for March 9, 2020

in STEMGeeks2 years ago

Study finds that low-carb diets may prevent and reverse age-related cognitive decline; IEEE Spectrum's weekly selection of awesome robot videos from March 6.; a Steem essay describing the current state of knowledge on the novel coronavirus (COVID-19); A podcast argues that bitcoin mining might be returning to the US, and that it might represent a new business model for power plants; and a TED talk describing research into how specific neural pathways in the brain impact behavior


Fresh and Informative Content Daily: Welcome to my little corner of the blockchain

Straight from my RSS feed
Whatever gets my attention

Links and micro-summaries from my 1000+ daily headlines. I filter them so you don't have to.

First posted on my Steem blog: SteemIt, SteemPeak*, StemGeeks.

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pixabay license: source.

  1. Low-Carb Diet May Reverse, Prevent Age-Related Cognitive Decline - A March 3 study was published in PNAS describing research into the effect that aging has on brain functioning. Using imaging, the researchers found that cognitive decline can be observed starting (on average) at the age of 47, and it generally accelerates around the age of 60. They also found, however, that this decline can be avoided or reversed by switching to a diet that avoids simple carbohydrates. In short, they report that "they found that glucose decreases the stability of brain networks while ketones have the opposite effect, promoting stronger and healthier brain networks."

  2. Video Friday: NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover Captures 1.8 Billion-Pixel Panorama - Here is IEEE Spectrum's weekly selection of awesome robot videos from March 6. Videos include: A video describing the Mars Rover's video-capture of 1,000 images that were subsequently assembled into a single 1.8 billion pixel panorama image; An update on Sarcos Guardian XO powered exoskeleton (previously covered in Curating the Internet: Science and technology digest for December 11, 2019; an ambulance robot from AIART Lab; An adverse event video of a snake robot trying to climb an obstacle; and others.

    Here is the exosuit

  3. Steem @rt-international: What's coronavirus & who faces the greatest risk? - This article describes the results from discussions with scientists from Russia and the United States. It begins by saying that there are 40 families of coronavirus, and most have evolved to be relatively benign for humans, but the novel strain that emerged from Wuhan is likely to have emerged from an epidemic among bats or some other animal species. As such, it can be more deadly to humans. As the virus continues to adapt, however, it may well become less deadly. As of now, it is believed that anyone can be effected, but cases among young people are rare, with susceptibility increasing rapidly after the age of 20, and lethal outcomes are highest among people aged beyond 50. Describing the mechanism of infection, the article says that the virus mimics a protein that is useful for humans in order to trick human cells into fusing with it. Apparently, this substance is more necessary among the older population, because their cells are tricked more readily. Medics and first responders also fall into a higher risk group, because their level of exposure is so much higher than the average person. According to official numbers, the disease has a higher mortality rate (3.5%) than the traditional flu (0.5%). However, that rate varies by location, suggesting that the virus is evolving to be less deadly. It also has a lower infection rate, which means that the traditional flu kills more in terms of raw numbers (these numbers don't seem to recognize the widely believed notions that statistics from some countries may be unreliable and a large number of mild cases have gone unreported because they weren't tested and didn't seek treatment). According to one doctor, the disease has four phases, of which most patients only experience the first - which is like a cold or flu. In the second phase, which comes after 7-9 days, the virus breaks into previous sterile areas in the lung - causing viral and bacterial pneumonia. At this point medical treatment is necessary. If medical professionals fail to arrest the disease here, acute respiratory distress can develop in phase 3. In phase 3, artificial respiratory assistance is needed. Even if patients survive through this phase and shake the virus, staying on artificial respiration for so long can cause fungus to develop in the lungs, which might also lead to death. That scenario describes the experience of about half of the fatalities to date. As to testing, the article says that current testing tools may yield false positives and that testing is only useful for people who are displaying symptoms of the COVID-19 disease. (A 10% beneficiary setting has been applied to this post for @rt-international.)

  4. Why Bitcoin Mining Might Be the New Business Model for US Power Plants - The power-plant portion of the discussion begins at about 10:45 in the podcast at the link. That's the only part I listened to. It talks about how Greenidge Power Generation has completed a $65 million power-plant renovation that converted a plant from coal to natural gas, and added 7,000 mining rigs that are mining about 5 1/2 BTC per day by using "behind the meter" power to power the rigs at an extremely low cost. This is interesting, the narrator says, because it's happening in NY State, which is one of the most hostile states to cryptocurrency, and also because it's part of a larger trend towards a return to BTC mining in the US. I also shared this article on LinkedIn with the following commentary:
    I've been wondering for a year or two why someone doesn't harness the heat from the underground coal fires in Centralia, PA for a power-plant and data center that services cryptocurrency mining and cloud computing. That coal is gonna burn anyway...

    Power plant discussion is at about 11 minutes into the podcast.

    (More about Centralia here -

And here is the Centralia video:

  • What investigating neural pathways can reveal about mental health | Kay M. Tye - This TED talk by Kay M. Tye was posted in November of 2019, and it came across the ted.com RSS feed on March 5, 2020. Tye opens the talk by challenging the notion that mental and physical illnesses should be studied differently. If the mind comes from the brain, she argues, shouldn't mental illnesses be studied as a sort of physiological condition? As a result of that line of reasoning, she set out to study the mind by investigating the connections in the brain. She accomplishes that goal by using technology to devise experiments and study the brain activity of mice. The work involves making use of knowledge that was borrowed from other scientific fields to change the neurons, using a technique called optogenetics in the brain and to observe how the mouse's behavior changes in response. Optogenetics involves shining a laser on a mouse's neurons in a way that was borrowed from research into certain varieties of algae. The talk also includes video demonstrations of how the behavior of a mouse can be changed, simply by throwing the light-switch on or off, without a need for sedation or any other form of medication. Here's what she says about why this is important:
    In the near future, I expect to see a mental health treatment revolution, where we focus on specific neural circuits in the brain. Diagnoses will be made based on both behavioral symptoms and measurable brain activity. Further in the future, by combining our ability to make acute changes to the brain and get acute changes to behavior with our knowledge of synaptic plasticity to make more permanent changes, we could push the brain into a state of fixing itself by reprogramming neural circuits. Exposure therapy at the circuit level.
    and
    Mental health professionals, we're always thinking about what's the next new treatment. But before we can apply new treatments, we need people to feel comfortable seeking them. Imagine how dramatically we could reduce the rates of suicides and school shootings if everyone who needed mental health support actually got it. When we truly understand exactly how the mind comes from the brain, we will improve the lives of everyone who will have a mental illness in their lifetime -- half the population -- as well as everyone else with whom they share the world.
    One of these days, maybe I'll be able to embed these TED talk videos through a Steem front-end, but as of now it still doesn't seem to work. You can click through to see it.


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    I had a lot of problems with the @RT article you cite, which is why I didn't cite it in a post myself.

    A few of the issues are it's assumption of a zoonotic source for the pandemic, which numerous highly credential researchers have contradicted, despite risk to their careers, freedom, and even their lives. While there is no proof of lab engineering, the circumstantial evidence for it is very strong, and far stronger than evidence of a zoonotic source. One of the most striking evidences for SARS2 having been engineered is that the infection entered the human population only once, and has since only been transmitted from person to person.

    This is not known from zoonotic pathogens to my knowledge.

    Other issues I had with the article include neglecting SARS2's many separate pathways of morbidity, such as lymphopenia, sterility, and latency in neural tissues that permit re-emergence after apparent recovery. Also, I dispute the CFR reported for flu as ~5 times too high. The CFR of infuenza is not .5%, but .1%, unless referring to specific strains like the Spanish Flu of 1918. Neither does SARS2 have a lower R0 than the flu. First, we don't even have a hard R0 we know, and high estimates for SARS2 R0 range above 7. No competent research claims R0 for SARS2 below 4 presently. R0 for influenza is below 2, except for the Spanish Flu, which is 2 precisely.

    Given the extreme degree to which coronavirii have been studied in labs around the world, and gain of function research that largely prefigures the pathogenic effects of SARS2, it's locality of origin, the nature of it's attacks on humans alone, in addition to it's being introduced only once into human populations, it is highly unlikely that SARS2 originated from a natural, unmodified source. Multiple highly unlikely mutations specifically tailored to humans would have had to have occurred in a wild setting that somehow involved Malaysian pangolins and Chinese bats thousands of miles away in order for SARS2 to have a zoonotic origin.

    Two labs in Wuhan were studying gains of these specific functions in SARS and CoV mere yards from ground zero of the start of the pandemic, and researchers from those labs were also sending home similar work from labs in Canada, N. Carolina, and Australia concurrently. SARS also has escaped from labs multiple times in China in previous years from similar research. Employees of such labs have been known to sell carcasses in wet markets rather than incinerating them, violating safety protocols, in the past.

    The preponderance of the evidence strongly supports lab origins for SARS2.

    Thanks for the reply!

    I'm still refraining from judgement as to the origin of the virus, but I agree that I was put off by the article's level of confidence on that topic. As far as I can tell, it's still an open question. I do think that the research lab's proximity to Wuhan should raise eyebrows.

    The stats that you point out also surprised me because they were inconsistent with other sources that I've read. With the probable politicization of data in some countries along with the likely number of mild and unreported cases, I really doubt if anyone has accurate numbers at this point.

    But, I like to come at things from as many perspectives as possible, and I thought the descriptions of the stages of progression for the illness in the article were interesting. That description is not something that I've read elsewhere.

     2 years ago Reveal Comment