Issue 16


In this issue:

  • How stressful environmental conditions can mess with reproduction.

  • What's that ringing sound? People suffering from tinnitus might soon have some relief.

  • Why "organic" doesn't automatically mean healthy.

  • Bacteria doing big things and a grab bag of recent psychology findings.


It's getting hot in here.

So take off all your clothes secrete male-attracting pheromones to encourage mating. That’s the remix nematodes will probably be singing as global temperatures rise.

Context please.

By now you’re probably aware that the world is getting warmer, with obvious environmental impacts. But can rising temperatures also affect species’ mating patterns? That’s the question this group of scientists set out to address with a group of C. elegans nematodes (aka smol worms).

Sounds steamy.

Before we get to the good stuff, some quick background on C. elegans. These worms have two sexes (males and hermaphrodites), and the hermaphrodites spend the prime of their youth reproducing asexually (i.e. without the need for males). When they reach old age, they do end up needing the males, and start to give off sweet, sweet pheromones to attract the ones nearby.

So what happens when you turn up the heat?

When hermaphroditic C. elegans are raised in warm temperatures, they speed up their reproductive clock and start secreting their male-attracting pheromones earlier than usual. This leads to higher rates of mating, since the males and hermaphrodites join forces to pump out more offspring. The sudden rush to mate probably means that nematodes see the increase in temperature as an extinction alarm and begin sexually reproducing as a countermeasure. What’s more, this tendency to secrete pheromones that ~bring all the boys to the yard~ can pass down to future generations (now that’s what we call a family tradition).

Anything else?

Worms aren’t the only organisms feeling the heat — another recent study honed in on how droughts can affect mosquito reproduction. For this experiment, scientists simulated drought conditions in a lab and observed how this influenced female mosquitoes’ mating behaviors. When conditions became too dry, female mosquitoes laid fewer eggs and instead opted to retain them in their ovaries. To keep these eggs viable until conditions improved, the mosquitoes expressed proteins derived from two genes called tweedledee and tweedledum (what can we say, sometimes researchers make up weird names for stuff ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ).


The Leak: It’s official — reproductive tendencies get weird when it's too dry or hot. For C. elegans, a slight bump in temperature can lead to a multi-generational increase in sexual reproduction. Mosquitoes swing the other way and hang on to their precious eggs when things get too dry. Just something to think about as we barrel towards an ever-warming future…


We tried calling the tinnitus hotline.

Unfortunately, it just kept ringing. Tinnitus is a frustrating condition that affects more than 10% of the population (you probably know someone who has it). The main symptom is ringing in the ears, which is sometimes loud enough to be debilitating. Given the prevalence of this condition, scientists have been hard at work testing out various therapies to see what might help cut the noise.

How's that going?

Kinda mixed. The TL;DR is that some treatments (for instance, nerve blockers) sometimes work for some people. This has led scientists to suspect that the underlying causes of tinnitus probably vary greatly from person to person. So how do you address a condition that doesn’t have a consistent cause? Simple — you try multiple treatments at once.

The experiment: A cohort of tinnitus patients was given two therapies in conjunction. The first therapy involved electrical stimulation of the cranial nerves (aka nerves that connect your brain to your face, head and neck). For the second therapy, the scientists then flipped the script and administered a series of nerve blocks in the same spots.

What did they find?

The vast majority of patients reported either a significant reduction or even complete disappearance of their symptoms. The effect was so dramatic that some scientists have even begun to throw the c-word around (cure).


The Leak: If you or someone you know suffers from tinnitus, help might soon be on the way. Thanks to a combination of nerve stimulation and blocking, patients with this condition could soon know the sound of silence. In the meantime, keep an ear out for good news from upcoming clinical trials.

⭐ Thanks to Nicholas Norberg for sending us this. Want to participate too? Check out our Leak Curator program! ⭐


Feeling good about your organic food purchases at Whole Foods?

Then you might wanna skip this story because we’re about to put a real damper on that. You might know that organic foods are produced without using synthetic pesticides. But did you know that organic foods can still be grown while using organic pesticides (which may also not be good for you)? Sneaky.

Seems like a weird loophole.

Spinosad is one such pesticide that is considered less harmful to beneficial insects, and is approved for use in organic agriculture. But according to a recent study, exposure to low doses of Spinosad can cause severe neurodegeneration and blindness in flies, raising questions about whether it really is any less harmful. Not to mention, Spinosad has already been shown to negatively affect people in higher doses.


The Leak: While organic foods avoid synthetic pesticides, new research suggests that organic pesticides might not be that much better. So the next time you’re out grocery shopping, maybe take a second to check out the ~fine print~ on the labels.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

At least that’s how evolution works. We know that bacteria can sense specific chemicals in their surroundings using proteins called chemoreceptors. According to a new study, neurons in our brains sense the exact same chemicals, and the receptors appear to have been genetically passed on from bacteria to humans. And here you thought your brain was special.

Have you been all up in your feels?

Pigs too. A new study looked at thousands of acoustic recordings gathered throughout the lives of pigs and found that their cute little grunting noises reflect their emotional state. We love a sensitive porcine.

Sick of all the recent reboots?.

You might wanna give them a second chance — turns out nostalgia can help reduce chronic pain.

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