Feline groovy: Catnip provides more than a pleasurable high for your kitty

January 25, 2021

The rapturous and intoxicated behavior that cats exhibit when they are gifted with catnip is a good enough reason to keep it in stock for most pet owners. But now, a joint research project conducted in Japan and the UK has found that when felines respond to catnip they aren’t just getting high; there’s a side benefit. Catnip helps protect them from mosquitoes, The Charlotte Observer reports.

It’s all thanks to a substance called nepetalactol, which can be extracted from catnip leaves and from those of a related plant, silver vine. The team learned that this is the substance that causes the crazed rolling and rubbing cats do when they sniff the herbs.

And calling the fuss a “high” isn’t a figure of speech, either. The researchers discovered the substance activates the part of cats’ nervous systems responsible for “euphoric” effects, similar to those found in and experienced by people on drugs.

It’s an event that can last anywhere between five and 15 minutes, according to the study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, and is typically followed by a period of unresponsiveness.

After applying a synthetic version of nepetalactol on laboratory paper strips and giving them to cats in the study—both domestic and wild—researchers documented them rubbing, licking, and rolling around, just as they do with catnip-filled toys, the Observer reports. They even tested the substance on larger felines, including a jaguar, leopard and lynx.

But the team didn’t stop there.

Scientists have always been aware of catnip’s ability to ward off thirsty insects, so the researchers placed more nepetalactol-slathered paper strips on the floor, walls and ceilings of some cat cages and unleashed a dozen or so mosquitoes.

Cats that rubbed themselves on the chemical substance were gorged on less than those that did not have the natural repellent on their fur. The same happened when cats were placed in “a more natural setting,” the researchers said.

“We found that the cats’ reaction to silver vine is a chemical defense against mosquitoes, and perhaps against viruses and parasitic insects,” project leader Dr. Masao Miyazaki, a veterinary scientist at Iwate University in Japan, said in a news release.

The research team agrees there’s more to be discovered about catnip and mosquito activity. In future studies, the team hopes to find answers by identifying the gene responsible for cats’ reactions to the plants.

Research contact: @theobserver

Contest: Can Robert Bigelow (and the rest of us) survive death?

January 22, 2021

Is there an Other Side? Robert Thomas Bigelow would like to know—and he’s offering nearly $1 million in prizes to the person(s) who can give him the answer, The New York Times reports.

Bigelow is not just anyone, or any 75-year-old, mourning a wife and a son, and confronting his own mortality. The Times describes him as “a maverick Las Vegas real estate and aerospace mogul with billionaire allure and the resources to fund his restless curiosity embracing outer and inner space, U.F.O.s, and the spirit realm.”

But, specifically, what he is looking for is “the best evidence for “the survival of consciousness after permanent bodily death.”

It’s a daunting quest, perhaps fringe to some, but the shaggy maned and mustached entrepreneur, the sole owner of Bigelow Aerospace and Budget Suites of America, is not easily discouraged.

The money he has made from his business ventures has enabled Bigelow to indulge a celebrated, if sometimes derided, interest in what he called “anomalous events” including his 20-year ownership of a spooky Utah ranch overrun by flying orbs and other creepy phenomena.

Indeed, the strange goings-on at the ranch drew the interest of the Defense Intelligence Agency and, through funding secured by Harry Reid, the former Democratic Senate majority leader, led to the formation of a Pentagon effort to study unidentified flying objects—the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Programrevealed by The New York Times in 2017.

Now retired, Reid told the Times that Bigelow is “brilliant” and said they developed a close working relationship—noting, “He’s looked into areas other people only think about.”

Last June, four months after bone marrow disease and leukemia claimed the life of his wife of 55 years, Diane Mona Bigelow, at 72, Mr. Bigelow quietly founded the Bigelow Institute for Consciousness Studies to support research into what happens after death. But he may have been interested in the afterlife for more than a decade before that: His son, Rod Lee Bigelow, died of suicide in March 1992.

Entrants must qualify as serious researchers by February 28, with a record of at least five years of study of the field and preferably an affiliation with groups like the Society for Psychical Research in Britain. Submissions of up to 25,000 words are due by August 1, to be judged by a panel of specialists. Bigelow said he had an idea what that best evidence might be, but “it would be prejudicial to say.”

The panel to judge the submissions includes Dr. Christopher C. Green, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist at the Detroit Medical Center and Wayne State College of Medicine who served with the Central Intelligence Agency; Jeffrey J. Kripal, a professor of philosophy and religious thought at Rice University; and the investigative reporter Leslie Kean, the author of the 2017 book “Surviving Death: A Journalist Investigates Evidence For an Afterlife,” the basis of a six-part series on Netflix.

Winners will be announced on November 1. Bigelow said that of two “Holy Grail” question—whether bodily death marked the end of existence and whether we are alone in the cosmos—he put survival of consciousness first, with a special moral aspect. “It may matter what you do while you’re here,” he said. “It could make a difference on the other side.”

Research contact: @nytimes

Battle royal: Thomas Markle’s plans new documentary on his split from Meghan

January 20, 2021

In January 2020, Meghan Markle’s father Thomas Markle, starred in a Channel 5 British documentary in which he tried to set the record straight about the seemingly strained relationship between him and his daughter. However, Markle has since revealed to The Sun that he wasn’t happy with the finished product, and intends to release a new film; which will chronicle his life from his career in television and raising Meghan to more recent event—including his absence from the royal wedding.

Now, Good Morning Britain has aired “everything we know about Thomas Markle’s new documentary”—and Bustle has reported the details.

Hoping to have the documentary “completed later this year,” Markle told the Sun that he hopes the project will help him to “figure out what went wrong” in his relationship with his daughter. “It begins with my life, my family, and my love of theatre and television and how I got there,” Markle explained. It will follow his “life with Meghan, growing up, her school days until she went off to college, and when her career began.”

Featuring unseen home footage of Meghan’s upbringing, Markle wanted to portray what he believes to be a truer version of events than what was shown in the previous documentary. “It was not edited in the correct order, dates were wrong, and it had too much generic public domain film added,” he told the Sun. “My documentary will have some new videos and my favourite photo of my ‘baby girl’ […] I think we will do a good job.”

The former Channel 5 version, titled Thomas Markle: My Story, saw Markle set the record straight in a one-on-one interview with the broadcaster. It covered the “staged” paparazzi photos that were released prior to Meghan and Harry’s wedding, as well as Markle not being able to attend the wedding due to serious health problems. The documentary also covered the publication of Meghan’s private letter to her father, and why Markle decided to publish part of it in British tabloids.

Research contact: @bustle

Gasp! If you have asthma, researchers find you might be at lower risk for COVID

January 20, 2021

You know the factors that put you at an increased risk of a severe battle with the novel coronavirus: your age, your weight, and any preexisting conditions you may have, to name a few.

But what factors might keep you safer? According to new research published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, one surprising group may be less apt to contract COVID-19—and that’s people with asthma.

According to a report by Best Life, the research was conducted by an Israeli team, who tested 37,469 patients— 6% percent of whom were positive for the virus. Among that infected group, 6.75% had asthma. However, among patients who were negative for the virus, 9.62 percent of them were asthmatic. As a result, the researchers concluded that there’s “lower COVID-19 susceptibility in patients with preexisting asthma.”

According to the U.S. enters for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that means that the 7.7 percent of American adults and 7.5 percent of American children who have asthma may be somewhat protected from the virus.

Given that COVID-19 most commonly attacks the lungs and breathing system, these findings may seem counterintuitive. But there are a few possible explanations for this, according to researcher Eugene Merzon, MD, of Tel-Aviv University.

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Merzon gave three reasons for the extra level of safety that people asthma enjoy:

  • First, asthmatics have lower levels of angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptors—the mechanism by which the novel coronavirus attaches to and infects cell;
  • Secondly, asthmatics take more lifestyle precautions that could help them avoid contracting COVID-1, because they know that the impact of it may be more serious; and
  • Thirdly, the treatments patients routinely take for asthma, specifically inhaled coricosteroids (ICS), also may reduce their risk of catching the virus.

That being said, according to Best Life, Merzon advised caution, as the study only looked at hospital in-patients. “All these prevalence data were derived from the COVID-19 inpatient population,” the researchers wrote. “Therefore, the prevalence of asthma may be different in outpatient patients with COVID-19.”

However, the research supports previous findings on asthma and coronaviruses: In studies also cited by the researchers, patients with asthma appeared to have fared better in earlier outbreaks of acute respiratory conditions, like the 2003 SARS epidemic.

Research contact: @BestLifeOnline

‘Human Etch a Sketch’: GPS art and ‘burbing’

January 19, 2021

As Henry David Thoreau once wrote: “This world is but a canvas to our imagination.” Now, more than 150 years later, a new generation of artists is proving that Thoreau’s words were remarkably prescient. They are tracing their own movements via GPS over the ‘canvas’ of entire cities and regions in order to create sketches, The Guardian reports.

That’s what Strava art is at its core. Named after the fitness tracking app that has previously helped reveal secret US military bases—and also referred to as GPS art or GPXthis medium allows you to “use your movements as the paint” and “a city block as your brush stroke.” Think of them as 21st century digital geoglyphs.

 Michael Wallace, also known as WallyGPX, is one of the more prolific Strava artists online. The high school teacher from Baltimore, Maryland, has completed more than 700 pieces across his city—ranging from a map of the world, to a scene from the game Donkey Kong, to multiple tributes to the late Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia.

“I like to consider what I do is more like being a human etch-a-sketch,” he recently told The Guardian. “While I’m out there pedaling around the city, I’m sort of creating this imaginary digital spray paint behind me.”

Wallace’s artistic career began in 2009 after the proliferation of GPS technology in smartphones. His approach to planning is simple: Using a printed map and a pencil, he allows the streets and city parks to guide his lines and curves. He then jumps on a mountain bike and works his way around the path, likening it to tricking himself into exercising.

The artwork, itself, dictates the length of the ride. His largest piece required 44.7 miles (72km) of cycling as he took all day spinning a spider web across his city.

“I’ve never really cared about how fast I’m going,” Wallace says. “Like on Strava, everyone’s sort of obsessed with pace. For me it’s about where I am.”

An alternative approach to Strava art has also grown in popularity during the coronavirus outbreak. “Burbing” takes the same concept, but rather than sketching an image, you cover every street in a suburb.

It began as an alternative to Everesting —in which you ride the equivalent of the elevation of Mount Everest (for example, when two friends crisscrossed the roads of their respective Melbourne suburbs). It has since grown in popularity as the city went into strict COVID-19 lockdown with movements heavily restricted.

“Riding your suburb has a certain attraction,” Cameron James, one of Burbing’s founding fathers, told The Guardian. “You discover different places, different houses and areas you’d never have the occasion to go down.”

“There are some people who get a little bit anxious about missing a certain road or a couple of streets and feeling like they haven’t done the activity,” James says. “But at the end of the day, it’s about going out there, having fun and enjoying the experience.”

Research contact: @guardian

Remember British hero Captain Tom? Now he’s heading to the big screen

January 18, 2021

The uplifting story of 100-year-old British hero Captain Sir Tom Moore—who kept a nation in lockdown inspired by doing laps around his garden to raise money during the pandemic—is being turned into a feature film, fast-tracked for production in 2021, The New Daily reports.

Britain’s Fred Films and Powderkeg Studios won a bidding war for the life rights to the former British Army captain and World War II hero, who raised £38.9 million (US$52.9 million) for the country’s National Health Service by walking laps around his garden in the run-up to his 100th birthday during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sir Tom— who was knighted by the Queen at a private ceremony at Windsor Castle in May for his mammoth fundraising effort—had set out to raise just £1000 (US$1358.80) by walking 100 laps of his garden with the aid of his walker.

But the campaign went global after his family turned to social media to help raise donations.As the money topped the £1 million mark, Sir Tom described it as “almost unbelievable,” but there was so much to come.

In the fallout from his incredible donation, he also recorded a hit single, You’ll Never Walk Alone, that rose to No.1 on the British charts.

In the process, he broke two Guinness World Records—for being the oldest person to achieve a British No.1 track, displacing Tom Jones; and also for raising the most money on an individual charity walk.

Sir Tom had a couple of ideas for who might play him in the movie about his life.

“I don’t know of any 100-year-old actors, but I’m sure Michael Caine or Anthony Hopkins could do a wonderful job if they were prepared to age up,” he told The New Daily.

This is a story about the power of the human spirit and Captain Sir Tom personifies that,” the producers said in a statement.

“We are honored to be telling this unique and inspiring story and are excited about audiences getting to know the man behind the headlines.”

Research contact: @thenewdaily

Wee-wee in the sea: Fish use their own urine to communicate with each other

January 15, 2021

Some fish apparently use their rear ends to communicate with one another, a Swiss research team has determined, according to a report by Study Finds.

The research was carried out by a team of three researchers from the University of Bern in Switzerland and published in the journal of Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.

The team staged scenarios and observed the interactions between cichlids—any of more than 1,300 species of primarily freshwater fish that are found in tropical America, mainland Africa and Madagascar, and southern Asia.

The species of fish that was used is known in the science community as the cichlid Neolamprologus pulcher. The N. pulcher species of fish is more commonly referred to as the “daffodil” cichlid. This specific species of fish is endemic to Lake Tanganyika located in Africa, which is regarded to be the second largest freshwater lake in the world.

Some interactions included transparent physical barriers in the fish tank. Other scenarios incorporated barriers with either holes or opaque coloring. This enabled the researchers to analyze the different sensory exchanges between the fish.

“Animals use different sensory modalities involving visual, acoustical and chemical cues. While visual and acoustic communication used in aggressive encounters has been studied extensively in a wide range of taxa, the role of chemical communication received less attention,” the authors wrote in the research report.

The team selected different sizes of fish to determine if it was a variable in aggressive nature. The amount of urine was tracked by injecting the fish with blue dye.

Several previous studies by various universities have revealed that urine is often used as means of communication among a range of different species. So, the researchers figured it was only logical that fish may use a similar communication system.

The research suggested that fish emit far more urine when they can fully encounter one another without barriers of any kind. Similarly, they emitted more urine when they could see one another through a solid transparent barrier. However, when urine was exchanged through a barrier with holes, smaller fish had a tendency emit less urine while reducing aggressive behavior.

Research contact: @StudyFinds

Why pink is the ‘statement-making’ hair color trend of the pandemic

January 13, 2021

In a time of pandemic, many celebrities are going out of their way to show that they are “in the pink.” Just last weekend, Chrissy Teigen unveiled a pink-purple do, while Jennifer Lopez’s stylist showed the actor and singer sporting a similar shade just before Christmas.

Variants of the color have dominated 2020’s biggest pop culture moments, and that looks set to carry on in 2021, reports The Guardian.

Justin Bieber went pink for his Yummy video in January, while Lady Gaga went pink in February for her Stupid Love video. And others such as Dua LipaMadonna and comedian Whitney Cummings dyed their hair rose, fuchsia, and bubblegum.

 “In the past year, we’ve sold one pink hair product every 30 seconds,” Alex Brownsell, co-founder and creative director of hair company Bleach, told The Guardian, adding, “which is a 50% increase from the previous year.”

There’s no doubt pink translates well on social. “As beauty influencers and consumers, we tend to lean towards things that are eye-catching and statement-making,” Los Angeles-based celebrity hair stylist DaRico Jackson told the news outlet. “Not only does pink pop on your page, but it matches up on all sides.”

Despite the apparent extremity of choosing the shade as a hair color, it is not an allegiance that needs to last forever. “It’s a low-commitment color that fades or washes out when you get bored of it,” commented Rachael Gibson, editor of the Hair Historian on Instagram.

She added the obvious:  “Pink is a very joyful, positive color, which is frankly what we all need.”.

Research contact: @guardian

Meet the woman who created ‘Skinstagrams’ and #free the pimple

January 13, 2021

Lou Northcote spent most of her childhood in Dubai flipping through glossy magazines and dreaming of becoming a cover girl. With a tall, thin frame; a beautiful face; and a modeling career that started when she was just ten years old, her fantasy seemed perfectly within reach.

“Modeling was my whole life, and I thought I would always do it,” Lou says. But when she was 16 and began getting acne, she was mercilessly dropped by her agency and pushed out of the industry, told not to return until she had cleared her skin, Women’s Health Magazine reports.

After moving to England for boarding school a year later, Lou’s breakouts went from bad to worse, and she soon found herself wearing makeup around the clock to cover up her cysts. “

Indeed, it wasn’t until six years ago that she felt comfortable going makeup-free. With the help of dermatologists, good skincare products, and some antibiotics, Lou’s acne started to clear up. And in 2017, a return to modeling seemed in sight. She was offered a place as a contestant on Britain’s Next Top Model, which she eagerly accepted. But as soon as she arrived on set, the breakouts reappeared.

“The first challenge was to take all of your makeup off and go bare-faced,” she says. “I just remember I kept apologizing for my acne, as though it were something to be sorry for.” Lou’s time on the show eventually came to an end, and she had to battle her acne all over again—and an entire country’s worth of television viewers had seen her pimpled skin.

When the first episode aired in the fall, the then-20-year-old was worried she’d receive hate and criticism from those watching, so she decided to take things into her own hands. “I thought, ‘I’m just going to post a photo of my acne and talk about my struggle with it and see if there’s anyone else out there like me,’” Lou says. Wearing a sweatshirt that had “Free the Pimple” emblazoned on the front, she snapped a selfie that showcased her acne-ridden face and shared it on Instagram alongside a lengthy caption detailing her fight against acne.

“I have heard it all before: pizza face, crater face, I’m ugly because of my skin, wash ur face, ur dirty, ur disgusting, ur greasy, etc., the list goes on and on,” Lou wrote—fully expecting the post to be met with mean or negative comments. Instead, the response was quite the opposite. Not only did she not receive any hate, but her bold move actually encouraged others to do the same, and pretty soon, dozens of others were taking to Instagram and Twitter to share their own experiences with acne.

In the following months, Lou continued posting about acne, taking her followers along on her personal journey and offering general acne awareness. But it wasn’t until she wrote the story, This model wants to #free the pimple, for i-D Magazine, published in April 2018,  that she started to see some real opportunity in so-called Skinstagrams.

With a goal of not just sharing her own acne battle but instead providing a forum for anyone to tell their story, Lou created the @freethepimple_ page and #freethepimple hashtag in August 2018. “It was important to differentiate it from my own personal Instagram because it wasn’t only about me and my struggles,” she notes. “It was an entire movement.”

Nearly two years and thousands of posts later, Women’s Health reports, Lou’s vision has indeed become a movement. “Social media is such an amazing tool, and I feel so lucky to have this platform,” she says. “If I’d tried to do something like this back in the day, I probably would have had to go petition parliament or something.” But rather than shout, “Free the Pimple” in the House of Commons, the model-turned-activist and her more than 43,000 followers, between the @freethepimple_ page and her personal account, have shared raw, unedited photos of their blemishes and embraced what’s long been treated like a plague for exactly what it is: just a part of life.

While Lou’s efforts have been instrumental in shaping the Skinstagram movement, she is now joined by a host of other activists and influencers, who are similarly using social media to bring acne into the mainstream. There’s Kali Kushner, the 24-year old behind @myfacestory, blogger Em Ford of @mypaleskinblog, and Costanza Concha of @skinnoshame, alongside thousands of others sharing their breakouts and acne journeys with the world. The acne-positivity movement has also been embraced by celebrities like Kendall JennerLili Reinhart, and Bella Thorne.

As Lou’s #freethepimple campaign has grown, so too has its purpose. She now seeks not only to normalize and destigmatize acne among her following but also to provide useful and accurate information in a sector where truth is often hard to find. “I really try to use my platform to educate people,” she says. “I’m lucky to have had access to all these dermatologists and all this different skincare, so I try to share that.”

That being said, she never tries to push any products on her followers or insist that they use one thing over another. Rather, Lou uses her accounts to identify various ingredients and explain their benefits, to discuss the lesser-known side effects of acne—like the excruciating physical pain it can cause—and even to determine which makeup won’t irritate acne-prone skin. After posting a recent series on foundation that can be used with acne, the #freethepimple creator heard from one appreciative follower, who for years had tried and failed to find a foundation that worked for her breakouts—but thanks to Lou’s reviews, finally had an answer. “It’s really amazing to think that I’m actually changing people’s lives,” she says.

Research contact: WomensHealthMag

Film festival is ‘screening’ candidates for solo 7-day stay at remote lighthouse to watch movies

January 12, 2021

The Gothenburg Film Festival is conducting a “pandemic cinema experiment” in the form of a contest. For the experiment, one candidate will be chosen from applicants around the globe—and that plucky individual will self-isolate and watch films at the famous Pater Noster Lighthhouse on the craggy island of Hamneskäroff the west coast of Sweden, reports Good News Network.

The annual festival, launched back in 1979, is the largest such event in Scandinavia. Over ten days each year at the end of January and beginning of February—in 2021, from January 30 through February 6—about 450 films from 60 nations are screened for 115,000 visitors.

However, things have changed during the age of the coronavirus pandemic, Creative Director Jonas Holmberg recently told CBC’s “As It Happens.” He says the experiment aims to examine how social distancing has transformed the movie-watching experience. The most obvious change is the shift from in-person to online and at-home movie viewership.

While on the island, the winning cinephile will get free room and board along with unlimited access to this year’s festival roster of films. “They are totally isolated. They are not allowed to bring anyone, of course, but also no phone and not even a book,” Holmberg said, adding, “…It will be only this person and the sea, the waves, the sky and the 60 different premieres that we are screening at the festival.”

According to the festival website, “Göteborg Film Festival 2021 will be anything but conventional. No crowds, no parties, no sold-out cinemas. This year’s festival focus, Social Distances, explores the new world that has emerged in the wake of the pandemic. What does film mean to us when we are isolated from everything else? To investigate, we are opening a brand-new cinema. In the middle of the ocean.

Requisites for the winner, according to Holmberg, are the following:

  • The person must be a true film fan
  • He or she must either enjoy or tolerate solitude; and
  • Since he or she will be expected to document the experience with a video diary, it’s crucial to be an adept communicator.

“They will talk about how life is on the island and how these special conditions have affected the relationship to the films that they have seen,” Holmberg says.

The winner will live in the lighthouse keeper’s home but all movies will air in a purpose-built, one-person cinema inside the lighthouse. Interested film lovers should apply at the festival website by January 17.

Note: For security reasons another person will remain on the island during the winner’s stay there. Each day, the two will have a short meeting to see if any assistance is needed with practical matters. During this short meeting, the winner also will get access to a computer  Pad to record his or her daily video diary, which will be sent to the film festival’s communication department for distribution.

Research contact: @good newsnetwork