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getty images/istock

Charles Darwin’s Barnacle Room

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getty images/istock

Barnacles latched onto a special place in Charles Darwin’s heart. By the time On the Origin of Species was published in 1859, the father of natural selection had long since become a self-taught expert on these fascinating arthropods.

Why’d he start studying barnacles? As with many interests in Darwin’s career, it all began aboard the HMS Beagle. During the early 1830s, he served as her designated naturalist on a fateful, five-year voyage that took him around the world. One day, while exploring an archipelago near Chile, Darwin happened upon a conch shell riddled with holes. Back in his quarters, he placed the prize under a microscope and thus became acquainted with a curious little creature. Seated inside one of these holes was a tiny barnacle—invisible to the naked eye—whom Darwin nicknamed “Mr. Arthrobalanus.”

In those days, very little was known about Mr. Arthrobalanus’ spineless kin. As recently as 1832, barnacles had been widely misidentified as mollusks by those in academia. That they’re actually crustaceans was a fact scientists wouldn’t recognize until after the Beagle had already set sail.

Through focusing on barnacle studies, Darwin figured an up-and-coming naturalist could really make a name for himself. Besides, he felt that their classification was painfully unorganized. In his words, “literally not one species is properly defined… the subject is heart-breaking.” Obviously, someone needed to clear things up.

By 1846, Darwin had married, started raising a family, and taken up residence in the house he’d call “home” for four decades. He proceeded to spend the next eight years on what became a barnacle project of epic proportions. Day after day, Darwin would toil away in his study, dissecting and classifying his subjects. Soon, the room was overflowing with box upon box of barnacle specimens from all over the globe, delivered to his door by mail. As one might expect, this was hard, monotonous work. “I hate a barnacle as no man ever did before,” Darwin vented, “not even a Sailor in a slow-moving ship.”

Still, he managed to discover much about them. For example, Darwin refuted the notion that all barnacles were hermaphrodites—in some species, it turns out, males bury themselves within the shells of much larger females and essentially become sperm-spewing lumps. Also, by writing several much-needed compendiums on barnacle biology, Darwin established himself as a highly-respected naturalist. When the time came to finally publish his ground-breaking views on evolution, that credibility went a long way.

So, how did all this affect his private life? Well, a weaker marriage might’ve been sorely tested by the stockpiling of lord knows how many barnacles inside the house. But Darwin’s wife and children quickly got used to being around scores of dead crustaceans. Case in point, while visiting a friend’s home, Darwin’s son George was shocked to learn that the boy’s father didn’t have a study. Bewildered, he asked, “But where does he do his barnacles?”

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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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