Issue 27

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In this issue:


  • Find out what you and your doppelgänger have in common (besides a face).

  • Some insight into the relationship between altruism and sleep.

  • No gametes, no problem — an update on synthetic embryos

  • A leukemia treatment, the secret to a happy marriage, and the pleasures of tool use.


Ever wished you had a twin while growing up?

How about a doppelgänger instead. There’s something fascinating and eerie about meeting someone who looks just like you (in spite of being completely unrelated). In fact, the intrigue of doppelgangers has even inspired art projects, like this insta-popular photo compilation by artist François Brunelle that brings together look-alikes from all over the world.

Wait, why are you telling me about an art project?

Because sometimes art and science go perfectly hand-in-hand. Upon seeing Brunelle’s work, a group of scientists started wondering what exactly makes a doppelgänger. How do two unrelated people end up looking so alike? So naturally, they did the nerdiest thing they could think of and contacted the people whose pictures were featured in the art project to ask if they’d be willing to participate in a study.

The experiment: 32 doppelgänger pairs submitted DNA samples and completed questionnaires about their lifestyles. The researchers then took their photographs and ran them through facial recognition software to objectively score and quantify each doppelgänger pair’s similarity in appearance. Of the 32 initial pairs, the software scored 16 of them as if they were identical twins. The other 16, not so much.

Wha did they find?

The 16 “true” look-alikes (aka twin-level matches) turned out to also be far more similar to one another at a genetic level than the 16 who the software deemed less alike. In other words, the reason these people look so alike is that their DNA sequences have a lot in common.

But how would such similarities even arise?

Simply by chance. Considering the fact that there are almost 8 billion people in the world (yikes), it’s not entirely unexpected that two unrelated folks might have somewhat similar genomes, and by extension, similar faces.

That's pretty cool.

Not only that, but the researchers also believe that these findings could have implications for predictive disease diagnoses (for instance, if two people look alike, they might also be at similar risk for various illnesses). But that’s a study for another time.

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The Leak: A new study shows that people who look alike also have very similar genomes. So if you’re looking for a doppelgänger to help you get away with mischief and light crimes, you may want to start by analyzing the DNA of any potential candidates to help you pick the best one.


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Hoping to ask a friend for a favor?

Make sure they’ve had enough sleep recently — a new study shows that sleep deprivation can make people behave less generously.

No wonder I’m so grumpy without my morning coffee.

You’re hardly alone. In the study, the scientists had a group of young adults spend a couple of nights in the lab. On one night, they were allowed to sleep as much as they wanted and on the other, they were forced to stay awake all night long (and not in a fun, “meeting the love of your life in a summer romcom” kind of way). On each subsequent morning, subjects had to fill out an altruism questionnaire that quantified their likelihood of helping people in certain scenarios. The researchers also scanned participants’ brains using an MRI machine.

What did they find?

80% of participants scored lower on the altruism questionnaire when they were sleep deprived. Interestingly, this decrease in altruistic tendencies was accompanied by reduced activity in key brain areas that are involved in prosocial actions (i.e. behaviors that are intended to benefit others).

Anything else?

In a different experiment, the same researchers analyzed charitable donations made to a nonprofit organization and found that donations went down by ~10% for a week when people lost sleep thanks to daylight savings time. In Arizona and Hawaii, states that don’t observe daylight savings time, the number of donations remained unchanged. Just one more reason to abolish daylight savings — for charity!

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The Leak: People are less generous when they haven’t had enough zzz’s. Guess we’d better start getting 10 hours of nightly sleep, y’know, to boost our altruistic tendencies.


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When a man and a woman two scientists love each other very much…

They use science to culture embryos in a lab without using either eggs or sperm. Or at least one day in the future they might, thanks to two new studies that have managed to grow mouse embryos using only stem cells.

That puts a new spin on the phrase “test tube baby”.

Well, they’re not quite babies — the embryos can only be grown for 8.5 days. But since mouse pregnancies are only around 20 days long, 8.5 days was long enough for the scientists to observe the embryos develop a beating heart and certain parts of the brain.

What’s the point of this?

The researchers hope that one day we could use this embryo growing technique to better understand the genetics of developmental disorders and birth defects. TBD on how the ethics of synthetic human embryos might shake out.

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The Leak: Mouse embryos can now be grown in a lab without an egg or sperm (guess everything we learnt in high school biology was wrong).


Did someone order a treatment for Leukemia?

A new study takes on this disease by figuring out how to slow down the rate at which cancerous cells replicate, effectively turning them back into harmless, normal cells. If harnessed for treatment in humans, this technique could prove to be a real lifesaver (literally).


What do my iCloud devices and married couples have in common?

They seem to work best when they’re perfectly in sync.


Think you’re pretty good at using tools?

These monkeys might just have you beat (and they’re having a good time while they’re at it).


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