This Week in Genius
Many people in Boston are smarter than you. Here are some of them.
Um, I forgot
Genius breakthrough: Harvard researchers have discovered that sleep plays a key role in not only what we remember, but also what we forget. While previous studies have shown sleep’s mechanistic role in memory preservation, this new study demonstrates that during sleep, the brain makes a trade off: It selectively preserves and enhances those aspects of a memory that are of greatest emotional resonance, while at the same time diminishing the memory’s neutral background details.
Real life application: Now you know why you can’t forget the traumatic awkwardness of that blind date, but you can’t for the life of you remember which restaurant you went to.
Path to Doomsday
Genius breakthrough: Only a tiny fraction of the meteorites that frequently hit our planet are the same type as the majority of asteroids that come near the Earth, and scientists at MIT believe they have figured out why. The smaller rocks that most often fall to Earth, it seems, come in on a “fast track” from the main asteroid belt out between Mars and Jupiter, rather than from the near-Earth asteroid (NEA) population. Now that we can identify which asteroids are the planet’s biggest threat, the researchers say we can better prepare to deal with them.
Real life application: We were under the impression that the type of asteroid doesn’t really matter; Bruce Willis would still be able to nuke it for us.
Genius breakthrough: Scientists at Tufts’ School of Engineering have demonstrated the possibility of designing “living” optical sensors that have biological readout functions, are biocompatible and biodegradable, and can be manufactured and stored at room temperatures without use of toxic chemicals. These sensors could be placed in produce bags to detect harmful levels of bacteria in veggies, or they could be implanted in your body to monitor blood glucose levels for a year before dissolving.
Real life application: We’re slipping one into our reusable bags next time we go to Whole Foods.
Chronic Pain: Now Treated with a Cream
Researchers at Northeastern have developed a synthetic molecule that could be used to treat chronic pain in patients with diabetes or shingles, and would be applied as a cream. The new molecule, called AM1346, mimics anandamide, a naturally occurring neurotransmitter that regulates pain, controls heart rate and blood pressure, and modulates mood and appetite.
The scientists say that AM1346 could serve as a test compound to study and better understand the body’s endocannabinoid system (basically, the system involved in things like appetite, pain-sensation, mood, and memory). It could have potential therapeutic implications as a topically applied pain killer.
Real life application: Wasn’t this the plot of Brave New World?