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Talk nerdy to me

This week, we take a look at coffee’s effect on teamwork, how our brains interpret personal space, deep sea discoveries led by sharks, and other happenings in the world of science and technology.

More good news about coffee

<strong>Coffee = harmony.</strong> New research suggests that people who drink coffee before meetings have better outcomes and view their colleagues more positively. Sorry, decaf doesn’t work.It seems as if every few months a new study comes out touting the health benefits of coffee. Coffee consumption has been linked to lower rates of heart disease, liver cirrhosis, type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. Now there’s evidence that having a cup of joe can improve the quality of your work meetings.

This Ohio State News article looks at research conducted by Amit Singh, Vasu Unnava, and H. Rao Unnava. In the study, some participants drank coffee before having a group discussion on a controversial topic, while others had their coffee after the meeting.

The researchers found that those who had coffee beforehand were more likely to have a favorable view of themselves and the others in the group. In a second study, all participants drank coffee prior to the dialog, but some drank decaf. Drinkers of the caffeinated brew rated themselves and others more positively than did the decaf drinkers.

Perhaps these findings could help families with differing political views enjoy a more peaceful Thanksgiving this year. It’s worth a try.

Keep your distance

Does it bother you when someone invades what you think of as your personal space? Dr. Wataru Teramoto at Kumamoto University studies an area around one’s own body known as Peripersonal space (PPS). He found that the brain warns us when an object gets too close to ourselves, but also to the invasion of another’s PPS. Is this how empathy works?

Sharks know best

Secret menu. Great white sharks travel thousands of miles to feast in a remote patch of ocean scientists previously believed to harbor little life. Courtesy Schmidt Ocean Institute.

Speaking of getting close, twenty years ago Stanford marine biologist Barbara Block began getting close enough to great white sharks to attach tracking tags to them. She and her colleagues were surprised to find that the great whites were moving away from the food-rich waters off of the western coast of North America. Instead, they were swimming to a location a thousand miles off the coast of Baja California thought to have very little life. The scientists wondered what drew the creatures to this spot.

To find an answer, they tagged 30 sharks and followed them to what turned out to be an area of nutrient-rich plant life existing too deep under the water to be detected by satellites. This “White Shark Café” contains an entire food chain that can support big animals like tunas and sharks. UNESCO is considering protecting the area by making it a Wild Heritage Site.

Looking for the Loch Ness Monster

<strong>What lives in Loch Ness?</strong> Scientists hope to finally get to the bottom of the Loch Ness mystery by sampling and analyzing the DNA found in the UK’s largest freshwater body.In other underwater news, scientists are using DNA to hunt for the fabled Loch Ness Monster. Scientist Neil Gemmell of the University of Otago in New Zealand is leading a global team to survey the biodiversity of Scotland’s Loch Ness. Gemmell doesn’t believe the monster exists, but says there’s a lot of knowledge to be gained about organisms living in the lake. Let’s hope the legend of Nessie survives his work.

Seeing is believing

The cornea is the transparent area in the front of the eye that covers the iris and pupil. It plays a big role in the eye’s ability to focus. About 15 million people around the world require a corneal transplant, but corneas are in short supply. Hope is now in sight thanks to researchers at Newcastle University.

Custom cornea. A unique bio-ink made from stem cells mixed with alginate and collagen can be used to 3D-print a custom cornea, potentially saving millions of people from blindness. Courtesy Newcastle University.

The team has figured out how to 3D print custom corneas by replacing the plastic used in 3D printing with a stem cell-infused bio-ink. The size and shape of the cornea to be printed are determined by scanning the eye that requires the transplant. Once printed, stem cells grow around the artificial cornea to form the finished organ.        

Like any other medical breakthrough, bio-ink will have to be tested and reviewed before it’s ready for use in real patients. Still, it will be interesting to see how this one plays out.

How well does your food know you?

Jason Cohen is the founder and CEO of Analytic Flavor Systems. He wants to go to the grocery store and see food designed for him, not the masses. That’s why his company created a smartphone app called Gastrograph.

<strong>Flavor science.</strong> The Gastrograph app collects user data on flavor experiences in 24 categories, in pursuit of personalized food that tastes exactly the way you want. Courtesy Gastrograph.The app features a 24-spoke wheel in which each section represents a food-related sensory experience such as “bitter,” or “mouthfeel.” The user defines their experience by matching the spokes corresponding to perceived qualities. The taster records the intensity of each perception on a scale of one to five, and assigns an overall rating of between one and seven to a food. The app also collects demographic data about the user and uses it to model and predict flavor preferences for specific groups.

The next step will be to provide food and beverages producers with the info they need to create food products just for you. Maybe one day you’ll eat a potato chip with your name on it.


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