All posts by Max G. Levy

About Max G. Levy

Science Journalist

This Protein Predicts a Brain’s Future after Traumatic Injury

WIRED

A blood test of “NfL” proteins answers questions about damage severity that doctors—and families—desperately need.

NEIL GRAHAM SEES a lot of head injuries: “Car accidents, violence, assault, gunshots, stabbing—the works, really,” says Graham, a neurologist from Imperial College London who practices at St. Mary’s Hospital nearby.

Doctors stop the bleeding, they relieve any pressure building inside the skull, maybe they’ll put the patient into a coma to keep the brain from overworking when it needs to relax and heal. Imaging can also help—to an extent. CT scans or MRIs pinpoint bruising or specks of hemorrhage in gray matter, the brain’s outer layer where neurons do most of their processing. But a clean scan isn’t a clean bill of health. Trauma to axons—a neuron’s root-like fibers that extend toward other neurons—often appears only in the deeper white matter, sometimes eluding simple scans.

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The Long-Lost Tale of an 18th-Century Tsunami, as Told by Trees

WIRED

Local evidence of the cataclysm has literally washed away over the years. But Oregon’s Douglas firs may have recorded clues deep in their tree rings.

ONE NIGHT IN late January 1700, two tectonic plates running along the Pacific Northwest coast released the tension they had accumulated during a centuries-long tête-à-tête. In a tectonic roar, the Juan de Fuca plate slipped past the North American plate, and a roughly 9.0-magnitude earthquake rattled the entire region. The coastline dropped and tsunamis washed over the entire Northwest coast.

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Dolphins Eavesdrop on Each Other to Avoid Awkward Run-Ins

WIRED

The new finding underscores the complexity of marine mammals’ social life and cognition. It may also help save the snoopy cetaceans.

YOU’D THINK IT would be easier to spy on a Risso’s dolphin. The species frequents nearly every coast in the world. Their bulging heads and streaky gray and white patterning make them some of the most recognizable creatures in the ocean. And as with other cetaceans, they travel in groups and constantly chitchat: Clicks, buzzes, and whistles help them make sense of their underwater existence. Their social world is a sonic one.

“They’re a very vocal species,” says Charlotte Curé, a bioacoustics expert. “Sound is very important for them.”

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You’re Not Alone: Monkeys Choke Under Pressure Too

WIRED

Now you can blame the primate brain. And neuroscientists are eager for a deeper look.

SITTING ALONE IN a dim room in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Earl flung his arm to the left. He slowed his movement down, examining the position of a cursor on the computer screen in front of him. Where his hand went, so did the cursor. Earl gestured the dot closer to a colorful target zone, just as he had done thousands of times before. This time, he expected a big reward, but instead—time’s up. Earl, a rhesus monkey, choked under the pressure. He didn’t move the dot into the target before the timer ran out.

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This Barnacle-Inspired Glue Seals Bleeding Organs in Seconds

WIRED

The paste sticks onto wet tissue firmly by repelling blood. Surgeons hope it can save time—and lives.

EXCESSIVE BLEEDING IS, in some sense, an engineering problem.

“For us, everything is a machine, even a human body,” says Hyunwoo Yuk, a research scientist in mechanical engineering at MIT. “They are malfunctioning and breaking, and we have some mechanical way to solve it.”

About 1.9 million people die every year from blood loss, sometimes from trauma, sometimes on the operating table. Bleeding bodies are wet, prone to infection, and need urgent care. Yet it’s hard to create a seal on wet tissue, and most commercial products used to stop dangerous bleeding rely on coagulants which take minutes to work. Some people don’t have minutes.

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The Squishy, Far-Out New Experiments Headed to the ISS

WIRED

Muscle cells, 3D-printed lunar regolith, and le Blob will soon orbit 250 miles above Earth.

ON TUESDAY, NORTHROP Grumman’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft will haul slime mold, human muscle cells, 3D printer parts for simulated moon rocks, and a mishmash of other exploratory scientific projects to the International Space Station.

The ISS has a long history of hosting experiments designed by scientists eager to explore how rocket launch, microgravity, and handling by astronauts might affect well-established (but Earthly) phenomena. The technologies behind experiments aboard this week’s rocket range from advancing human space exploration to solving health problems on Earth.

A 3D “regolith” printer may end up on a future moon build, and muscle cells grown aboard the ISS may help find drugs to treat age-related muscle loss on Earth. The mesmerizingly complex growth of the slime mold, on the other hand, is largely meant to be educational; it’s aimed at entrancing the hundreds of thousands of students who will be following its progress.

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What Rat Empathy May Reveal About Human Compassion

WIRED

Rats may feel concern when cage mates are trapped. But, like people, they don’t always care enough to help.

AGONY IS CONTAGIOUS. If you drop a thick textbook on your toes, circuits in your brain’s pain center come alive. If you pick it up and accidentally drop it on my toes, hurting me, an overlapping neural neighborhood will light up in your brain again.

“There’s a physiological mechanism for emotional contagion of negative responses like stress and pain and fear,” says Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal, a neuroscientist at Tel-Aviv University in Israel. That’s empathy. Researchers debate to this day whether empathy is a uniquely human ability. But more scientists are finding evidence suggesting it exists widely, particularly in social mammals like rats. For the past decade, Bartal has studied whether—and why—lab rodents might act on that commiseration to help pals in need.

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This Device Could Tune Your Heart—Then Dissolve Away

WIRED

The latest in “electronic medicine” offers an alternative to temporary pacemakers and could help reduce tissue scarring.

THE HEART—THAT PARAGON of natural rhythm—sometimes needs help to stay on beat. Permanent pacemakers, which supply jolts of muscle-contracting current to regulate each thump, can correct chronically irregular hearts, and temporary ones can resolve fleeting dysfunctions that follow open heart surgery. Doctors wire up the heart with electrical leads that pass through the skin, and the muscle tissue envelopes the intruding electrodes like quicksand.

But if the pacemaker is just a temporary precaution, it’s all got to come out. And that’s where it gets tricky.

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The Experimental African Houses That Outsmart Malaria

WIRED

A field test of custom-designed homes proves that when carbon dioxide can flow out, mosquitoes stay out too.

WHEN STEVE LINDSAY first traveled to Gambia in 1985, he met a man living in Tally Ya village whom he remembers as “the professor.” The professor knew how to keep the mosquitoes away.

That’s a big deal for people who live in this small West African country, which serves as the namesake for one of the most deadly bugs on the planet: Anopheles gambiae. “It’s probably the best vector of malaria in the world,” says Lindsay, a public health entomologist at Durham University in the United Kingdom. Malaria kills 384,000 people a year in Africa, 93 percent of whom are under 5 years old. The mosquito exploits human behavior by feeding at night when people are sleeping, transmitting the Plasmodium parasite that causes flu-like symptoms, organ failure, and death. “It’s adapted for getting inside houses and biting people,” says Lindsay.

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The Race to Put Silk in Nearly Everything

WIRED

The fiber has been considered a “miracle material” for anything from body parts to food. Has the revolution finally arrived?

ALI ALWATTARI STILL remembers the day he met the goats. It was mid-May, 19 years ago, in Quebec. The sun was lighting up the old maple sugar farm—and small huts where the goats were living. Alwattari, a materials scientist, had spent his career tinkering with chemistry equipment for Procter & Gamble, developing fibers used in Pampers and Swiffers. But the startup Nexia Biotechnologies was aiming to use an entirely different kind of polymer producer—and it was gazing back at him with its rectangular pupils.

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