NOAA, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
NOAA, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

How Blobs of Sea Snot Help Keep Our Oceans Clean

NOAA, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
NOAA, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

There’s so much in our oceans we have yet to explore—in part because life down there is so weird that we can’t even figure out how to study it. Now scientists have made some progress with new technology that lets them peek inside one strange animal’s floating, goopy house. The team described their progress in the journal Science Advances.

The giant larvacean (genus Bathochordaeus) is a bizarre critter. Unlike better-known filter feeders like baleen whales, Bathochordaeus has a little mouth, so it’s taken to outsourcing the actual filtration process. Every day, the larvacean blows an enormous, sticky mucus balloon, which snags all kinds of morsels as the animal drifts through the water column.

Each trapped morsel contains a little bit of carbon. After the larvacean eats its fill, it discards the now-cluttered snot bubble, which sinks, thereby bearing some of that carbon out of circulation and onto the sea floor. These delicate mucus houses are quite beautiful, in their way. But they’re also kind of a pain to study, as they tend to disintegrate at the slightest touch. Grabbing one in a net or jar has proven almost impossible.

Oceanographers at the Monterey Bay Area Research Institute (MBARI) decided to take a more hands-off approach. They adapted a technology called particle image velocimetry (PIV), which is commonly used to study the movement and flow of water. They attached a PIV laser and a camera to a miniature remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and sent it down, down, down into the depths off the California coast. When the ROV’s camera spotted a larvacean, the researchers activated the laser, which spread a sheet of light over the animal and its dwelling, illuminating every particle within.

“We were all shocked by how well it worked,” principal engineer Kakani Katija said in a statement. “There was a lot of oohing and aahing in the control room. It wasn’t just the scientists who were shocked and amazed—it was everyone on the research vessel.”

The researchers are excited to apply their new technology to all kinds of deep-sea research.

“Now that DeepPIV is available to the oceanographic community,” Katija said, “it opens up all kinds of possibilities.”

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Health
Feeling Down? Lifting Weights Can Lift Your Mood, Too
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There’s plenty of research that suggests that exercise can be an effective treatment for depression. In some cases of depression, in fact—particularly less-severe ones—scientists have found that exercise can be as effective as antidepressants, which don’t work for everyone and can come with some annoying side effects. Previous studies have largely concentrated on aerobic exercise, like running, but new research shows that weight lifting can be a useful depression treatment, too.

The study in JAMA Psychiatry, led by sports scientists at the University of Limerick in Ireland, examined the results of 33 previous clinical trials that analyzed a total of 1877 participants. It found that resistance training—lifting weights, using resistance bands, doing push ups, and any other exercises targeted at strengthening muscles rather than increasing heart rate—significantly reduced symptoms of depression.

This held true regardless of how healthy people were overall, how much of the exercises they were assigned to do, or how much stronger they got as a result. While the effect wasn’t as strong in blinded trials—where the assessors don’t know who is in the control group and who isn’t, as is the case in higher-quality studies—it was still notable. According to first author Brett Gordon, these trials showed a medium effect, while others showed a large effect, but both were statistically significant.

The studies in the paper all looked at the effects of these training regimes on people with mild to moderate depression, and the results might not translate to people with severe depression. Unfortunately, many of the studies analyzed didn’t include information on whether or not the patients were taking antidepressants, so the researchers weren’t able to determine what role medications might play in this. However, Gordon tells Mental Floss in an email that “the available evidence supports that [resistance training] may be an effective alternative and/or adjuvant therapy for depressive symptoms that could be prescribed on its own and/or in conjunction with other depression treatments,” like therapy or medication.

There haven’t been a lot of studies yet comparing whether aerobic exercise or resistance training might be better at alleviating depressive symptoms, and future research might tackle that question. Even if one does turn out to be better than the other, though, it seems that just getting to the gym can make a big difference.

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Uncombable Hair Syndrome Is a Real—and Very Rare—Genetic Condition
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Keystone/Getty Images

Everyone has bad hair days from time to time, but for roughly 100 people around the world, unmanageable hair is an actual medical condition.

Uncombable hair syndrome, also known as spun glass hair syndrome, is a rare condition caused by a genetic mutation that affects the formation and shape of hair shafts, BuzzFeed reports. People with the condition tend to have dry, unruly hair that can't be combed flat. It grows slower than normal and is typically silver, blond, or straw-colored. For some people, the symptoms disappear with age.

A diagram of a hair follicle
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Although there have been only about 100 documented cases worldwide, one of the world's leading researchers on the condition, Regina Betz, of Germany's University of Bonn, believes there could be thousands of others who have it but have not been diagnosed. Some have speculated that Einstein had the condition, but without a genetic test, it's impossible to know for sure.

An 18-month-old American girl named Taylor McGowan is one of the few people with this syndrome. Her parents sent blood samples to Betz to see if they were carriers of the gene mutation, and the results came back positive for variations of PADI3, one of three genes responsible for the syndrome. According to IFL Science, the condition is recessive, meaning that it "only presents when individuals receive mutant gene copies from both parents." Hence it's so uncommon.

Taylor's parents have embraced their daughter's unique 'do, creating a Facebook page called Baby Einstein 2.0 to share Taylor's story and educate others about the condition.

"It's what makes her look ever so special, just like Albert Einstein," Taylor's mom, Cara, says in a video uploaded to YouTube by SWNS TV. "We wanted to share her story with the world in hopes of spreading awareness."

[h/t BuzzFeed]

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