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Sep 16, 2017: As humanity teeters on the edge of annihilation, take comfort that some people are staying focused on the really important questions of life, such as: What Superhero Would You Be?
A discussion of that exact question in this column caused a massive flood of emails, which included a link to astonishing recent findings about the naked mole rat, a phrase I am not using as a metaphor for a certain type of politician, although I do understand how suitable it is for that purpose. No, I am referring to an actual rodent of that name with real “awe-inspiring super-powers”, according to reader Janvi Shah.
This columnist was not totally convinced about its suitability to give its attributes to a superhero, but you decide.
First, naked mole rats don’t feel most types of pain and so you cannot hurt them. Tell them they have a stupid haircut or you don’t like their cooking and they go on smiling. Cool.
Second, naked mole rats are creepily age-proof, like Cher or Jennifer Lopez. After a year or so, the average mouse is using a Zimmer frame and dropping its dentures into its soup. But naked mole rats live for decades, equivalent to a human living for 20 or 30 generations. These critters are the immortals of the rodent world and must be mightily annoying at woodland dinner parties: “Seems like yesterday I was chatting with your great great great great great great great great…” (All guests exit.)
Third, naked mole rats have special cells that eat cancer cells, so save a fortune on health insurance. However, getting dread diseases is one of long list of human characteristics that superheroes don’t share. Superfolk also don’t go to toilets, get anxiety-induced bloating, or faint at the sight of a blackhead being popped (readers, don’t pretend I’m the only one), etc.
Fourth, naked mole rats can alter their metabolisms in emergencies, surviving for up to 18 minutes without oxygen by “effectively becoming plants”, researchers say. Not sure that’s all that amazing, as every Friday night at the bar I find myself surrounded by humans who are effectively becoming vegetables, aided by the consumption of certain popular amber-coloured beverages.
So all in all, naked mole rat abilities get a mixed review as the basis for super-powers. The longevity thing is nice but honestly not much use for a person in tights and a cape who fights bad guys: “You evil super-villains may have used your powers to destroy the city, but I have a longer life expectancy, so there.” Lacks drama.
But the one thing that ultimately disqualifies it as part of a superhero origin story is that it looks horrible. Sorry, Janvi. Pictures show creatures with pale, flabby, unhealthy-looking bodies, horrible skin and bad teeth, reminding me of beach days spent with my middle-aged male friends.
A colleague raised another issue: “People might refuse to go to the eventual superhero movie, because you can read the name as (Naked Mole Rat) (Man) or as naked (Mole Rat Man),” she said.
I decided it was time to avoid that unpleasant thought by “effectively becoming a vegetable”. Cheers!
(Nury Vittachi is an Asia-based frequent traveller. Send ideas and suggestions via his Facebook page)
The US researchers have discovered a class of immune cells that plays a role in miscarriage, which affects about a quarter of pregnancies.
Researchers at the University of California-San Francisco found that the recently discovered subset of cells known as extrathymic Aire-expressing cells in the immune system may prevent the mother's immune system from attacking the placenta and fetus.
The researchers showed that pregnant mice who did not have this subset of cells were twice as likely to miscarry, and in many of these pregnancies fetal growth was severely restricted.
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"When you're pregnant, the immune system is seeing the placenta for the first time in decades -- not since the mother made a placenta when she herself was a fetus," said Eva Gillis-Buck, from UCSF.
"Our research suggests that this subset of immune cells is carrying out a sort of 'secondary education' -- sometimes many years after the better-known population of the educator cells have carried out the primary education in the thymus -- teaching T cells not to attack the fetus, the placenta and other tissues involved in pregnancy," she added. The findings are published in the journal Science Immunology.
The immune system has to be educated not to attack one's own tissues and organs to prevent autoimmune disease. But pregnancy presents a unique challenge since the fetus expresses proteins found in the placenta as well as proteins whose genetics are distinct from the mother.
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"It was a conceptual leap to link Aire-expressing cells, which are critical for preventing autoimmune disease, to pregnancy," said Tippi Mackenzie, Professor of Surgery at UCSF's Center for Maternal Foetal Precision Medicine.
In the thymus, Aire-expressing cells begin interacting with other immune cells very early in life to teach them what not to attack. The thymus begins to shrink and is nearly gone by adulthood, by which time most immune cells have been educated. But as the thymus shrinks, the population of eTACs in lymph nodes and the spleen expands, the researchers explained.
The study suggests a healthy pregnancy may depend on having these cells around, they added. (IANS/KB)
The tiny emojis being shared on billions of devices worldwide can play a major role in digital communication, with most people saying that emoji compels them to feel more empathy towards others, according to an Adobe report.
Adobe's global emoji study found that emoji even helps people overcome language barriers and form connections that would otherwise be difficult to do.
"We were surprised and delighted by the discoveries made in the survey, most notably how enthusiastic respondents were for emoji as a means to express themselves," the company said in a statement.
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Emojis sometimes get criticized for being overly saccharine, but this sweetness is key when it comes to diffusing some of the heaviness of online communication.
"Many of the emoji are focused on positive emotions, so it's easy to insert them into our conversations and lighten the mood," the Adobe study said.
It's not surprising that over half of those surveyed feel more comfortable using emojis than talking on the phone or in person.
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This applies to less intense situations too. Dating, for example, can be tricky — especially when it's online or via digital apps, as it often is now.
The study also found that emoji even helps people overcome language barriers and form connections that would otherwise be difficult to do.
In celebration of World Emoji Day on Saturday, Adobe's '2021 Global Emoji Trend Report' surveyed 7,000 people in the US, the UK, Germany, France, Japan, Australia, and South Korea. (IANS/KB)
Following the grand Richard Branson show where he carried Andhra Pradesh-born Sirisha Bandla and fellow space travelers on his shoulders after successfully flying to the edge of space, it is time for Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos to applaud Sanjal Gavande, one of the key engineers who designed the New Shephard rocket set to take Bezos and the crew to space on July 20.
Billionaire Bezos is set to fly to the edge of space aboard what is touted as the world's first unpiloted suborbital flight. Born in Kalyan, Maharashtra, Gavande is a systems engineer at Blue Origin who always dreamt of designing aerospace rockets.
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After completing Bachelor's in mechanical engineering from the University of Mumbai, she flew to the US in 2011 to pursue a Master's in mechanical engineering from the Michigan Technological University. She also applied for an engineering job at the US space agency NASA but finally landed her dream job at Blue Origin
Sirisha flew to the US in 2011 to pursue a Master's in mechanical engineering from the Michigan Technological University.IANS
Bezos, his brother Mark, aviation pioneer Mary Wallace 'Wally' Funk, and other passengers are set to liftoff from west Texas and travel just beyond the edge of space on July 20. Blue Origin announced this week that Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old high school graduate from the Netherlands, would join the crew.
Oliver is the son of millionaire Joe Daemen, Founder, and CEO of the Dutch investment company Somerset Capital Partners. Blue Origin, however, did not reveal how much Daemen paid for his son's trip to space. Bezos chose July 20 as the launch date to honor the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
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The launch site for Blue Origin's first human flight will be in a remote location north of Van Horn, Texas, from where the firm had launched New Shepard for previous flights. Blue Origin has received final approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to carry humans on the New Shepard rocket into space.
On July 12, Bandla touched the edge of space with three others, including Virgin Galactic's billionaire CEO Richard Branson. Bandla vaulted into space onboard VSS Unity 22. After the successful spaceflight, Branson carried the Indian-American on his shoulders while celebrating their flight to space, at Spaceport America in New Mexico. (IANS/KB)